Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
I'm convinced that thanksgiving opens us up to options - options that we don't see or hear when we are dissatisfied with what life is giving us. Thanksgiving loosens the claim of sin on our lives, and causes us to be open to the gifts of God in Jesus. Thanksgiving actually gives life to thanksgiving. Like begets like.It's a message worth reading, even if the fourth Thursday in November has already passed.
Why was it that seemingly righteous, good people found it necessary to ply Jesus with textual questions, cultural questions, relational questions, historical questions---all serving as a covering for their hatred of him?That's worth thinking about. So are these:
Why is it that some people are so threatened by questions that you end up thinking these little audible puffs of air are going to blow their whole house down? Are they building on the Rock or on their human understandings of things?Good questions.
Monday, November 28, 2005
It's fascinating how much has happened since we moved to Virginia. In the past ten weeks all three of our surviving parents have been hospitalized for emergency surgery: Carolyn's mother for complications from cancer surgery, her father for bowel adhesions, and my father for a broken ankle. It's enough to make us wonder if some force doesn't want us working with the church in Lexington.
I could be wrong. The devil may have had nothing directly to do with any of these misfortunes. But it's certainly a reminder of the battle all Christians face: "For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). The fact is that spiritual evil does have temporary control of this world, and there is a war going on for souls. That's why we need to remember to put on our armor.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Five days off
We moved to Virginia in June, and in the past ten weeks all three of our surviving parents have been in the hospital for emergency surgery. I may have something to say on that next week. Bye for now.
The issues I'm concerned about are the distinctives of Calvinist, Arminian, dispensational, or Pentecostal theology. When they try to go some particular direction that's specific to their theological system, that's precisely the point in their argument at which they are exegetically weakest.
Part of the problem is the temptation to form our theology almost independently of doing our exegesis. We run to the biblical text to shore up or find proof texts for things we already believe.Amen. Although I haven't yet read Dr. Witherington's book I take hope, like Steve Wynkoop, in what I've seen so far. It's also encouraging to read Steve's blog and discover my own true breed: theological mutt.
In addition, we are all children of the Enlightenment, so we've tended to treat the Bible as if it were a history of ideas, where topics like soteriology, justification, the new birth, sanctification, going on to perfection, and glorification were the main themes, and our job was to link one idea to another. But in Scripture, we're not talking about a history of ideas but about spiritual realities in people's lives, about people who have stories and encounters with God. If you read the Bible carefully, on or below the surface of all of these texts is narrative, especially the story of Christ, but also the Old Testament stories of Adam and Moses and Abraham, and the story of Christians as recounted in Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament.
I think part of the problem is that we are still doing theology in an Enlightenment frame of mind, as if it were a string of ideas that we should logically link together, and once we've produced a nice logical circle, then we're home free. The truth is that life is a lot messier than that, and the Bible is more about stories than the history of ideas that are embedded in the stories.
Monday, November 21, 2005
God is still holy and loving
John Luke writes about both the love and vengeance of God at Blogcorner Preacher:
God has always been, and will always be, first and foremost about love. That love includes judgment against those who deny Him. But it also includes divine compassion, love without equal, for the least of us.Phil McAlmond writes on a similar theme at Winter's End:
From the very beginning, the ancient paths have always been the same, Listen to the voice of God, Obey the voice of God, walking in all that He commands and there, He will bless us His people. It is so very straight forward, Listen, Obey, doing the will, word and ways of God and He will be our God and we will be His people, prospering under His righteousness.God has always been both holy and merciful. Let's remember that even though we're saved by grace, not works, God still wants us to live differently from the world: "My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1&2-RSV).
Sunday, November 20, 2005
The uniqueness of Christianity is that it comes to us and informs us of our absolutely helpless and perilous state. The Gospel does not first reveal Christ to us as a guide and example. No, it first reveals Christ as our Deliverer, our Rescuer. Christ came to earth and before most people knew what was really happening He had already accomplished every thing needed for the deliverance of his hobbit like people. He accomplished our redemption before we even knew we were perishing and unable to recover ourselves. This is the Good News of the Gospel.Yes.
Friday, November 18, 2005
I’ve preached a lot of sermons that were more about my opinions than God’s Word. Sure, they were based on biblical principles (“love your wife,” “don’t worry,” “work hard”) but not grounded in the biblical story of redemption. Then, Donna (my wife) told me, that after all our years together, she felt that she did not know the Bible well. As her pastor, I had taught her how to be a godly person, but not how to understand our God revealed in the Bible.Ed's right. Are we listening?
The need for biblical preaching has never been more urgent. Biblical preaching is more than common sense truth with biblical proofs taken out of context. Instead, it is letting the agenda and shape of Scripture determine the agenda and shape of the message. I’ve learned that I have not taken it seriously enough – and I think I am not alone.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Could it be that anything labeled in my life like "the past" or "the way it's always been done" or "the way I've always thought" is fair game for Jesus to touch and change in some new way?Rusty is no latest-new-thing sort of guy, and I find his words refreshing. They're a reminder that Jesus doesn't want us to stand still, or simply to "remain faithful." Instead, "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18).
Am I letting Jesus take me through new places in my walk with Him, being careful not to take another path just because it seems safer, easier, and more familiar?
What doctrines, beliefs, and practices do I have that I need to let Jesus replace with new wineskins and fill with new wine?
I've been a Christian for decades. But I'm more open to Jesus--what He's up to in me and around me and through me--more open than I've ever been.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Old Testament Jews were brought up to understand that if they obeyed God, they would be protected. For us today, obedience doesn't bring protection, it brings persecution.Amen.
Our performance, successes and results will always be in flux and mixed. ‘Tis true: ya win some, ya lose some. Yet, for those of us who need to win all of them to be okay with us, this means trouble. For me, that means I am only as good as my next sermon, which puts me in deep trouble.What, then, is the answer?
Read slowly a few times these words of Jesus that redirected my life: “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20 - NIV).Yes.
If I may paraphrase: Do not find your joy and source of identity in what you have done for Me. That fluctuates. Rejoice in what I have done for you – provided salvation. That is settled, secure and cannot change.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
What struck me -- and I made a point to mention it to my wife -- was how much the young man reminded me of my younger self: Sold out to the wrong cause for the right reasons and the best of intentions. It was not my politics that were inherently wrong. It was how my politics always got in the way of the Gospel.Matt brings up an important point--when Christians become dogmatic in partisan politics, what messages do we send about the gospel:
It heightened in me the need to always be about the Gospel, about Christ and the Cross. Even if I am not speaking of it, I need to live it, so that people do not know me by my politics, or my social causes, or my extraneous theology. Even to those who I fellowship with as believers, I want them to see Christ in me so that I do not stumble them. Especially to those who I fellowship with who are not believers, I want them to see through me to the One who has rescued me and redeemed me.Amen.
Monday, November 14, 2005
Many Americans are growing suspicious of the modern assumptions that drive us to work harder, produce more, and spend more time at work; Modernity has not freed us but has made us captives of the totalitarian regime of industry. What’s more, we no longer have the reflective space to do the mental and spiritual work necessary to form the kinds of communities whose intellectual and moral life can sustain us through the “new dark ages which are already upon us” (Alastair McIntyre) . . . .Chris looks squarely at his own co-option into the cult of "herculean labor" and the toll it takes on his ministry and his life. All Christian leaders would do well to do likewise.
It saddens me that the church is slow to lead in this revolt and even slower to lead us into a recovery of the kind of life that can save us. Significant to the problem of the Modern church’s malaise is its failure to be reflective, to enter and practice the grace of Sabbath, a holy stillness. It saddens me more that I am a huge part of the problem.
Could it be that the emphasis on counseling methods has led our shepherds away from some of the tools that could really help the flock “to lay down beside the cool waters”? Could it be that we need more poets and less couches to set our hearts to love the savior more and worry less?Good questions.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
One of my great concerns is the narcissistic way in which we view salvation. It's all about me and my personal relationship to the Lord. Of course other people are important and we are to love and serve them. But ultimately, I think we frame the Christian life in such an individualistic way that we love and serve others in the way that we love and serve support staff. We love and serve them because it helps us in our own personal relationship with Christ.
The Jollyblogger's on-target here. Jesus didn't just die to save you and me; he died to save the church. As someone has said, salvation is not an individual event; it's a univeral event in which individuals become a part.
Friday, November 11, 2005
I have seen so very much and experienced so very much of the negativity of man, his personal agendas, ambitions and subversions and self destruction within the church that I have been at times so very discouraged and I have wanted so desperately to quit and give up on the church and God’s people. Yet, in truth, how could I?With the church so clearly flawed, what is the source of our hope? Christ Jesus, of course. Learning to abide in that hope, as Phil's own story shows, is a long process.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
The SoM has to be understood as Matthew’s presentation of who Jesus is, what he teaches, and what he calls people to be and to do. This is not secondary teaching for the fully committed after they have chosen to “accept” Jesus, but it is what must be understood as the very summons of Jesus itself. In other words, this is Jesus’ evangelistic summons.Scot followed that post with more insights on the Beatitudes in which he address the two views on what they're really about:
In the first view, what we have is a list of virtues; in the second, a list of people groups whom Jesus is now declaring approved by God. Do you realize the difference between these two options? It is nothing short of remarkable.I recommend reading both posts in their entirety. They, along with most of what Scot writes, are valuable stuff. And with the wonders of the Net, you don't have to take one of Dr. McKnight's classes to find them.
Of all the terms for Jesus, one of the most comforting is knowing that Jesus is the Truth. For me, proclaiming the truth in a world of lies and half-truths is one of the most satisfying elements of preaching. Maybe that's why Brad Huston's recent post on truth really struck a chord:
Just as Christ proclaimed that he is the ultimate end of the law given to Moses, the Gospel is the ultimate end of truth. And if this truth is the testimony of Christ, and if we are in Christ as receivers of his truth, then we have the mind of ChristIn preaching we proclaim the very mind and essence of Christ--the Truth. What a burden, and what a joy.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
Just because you can’t figure out how predestination and free will exist at the same time, doesn’t mean they don’t.Amen.
Just because you can’t explain the Trinity, doesn’t mean it aint true.
Just because the virgin birth makes no sense doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Just because you can understand something doesn’t mean it’s true.
There are many things in Scripture that don’t make sense. Things that have confounded the wise for centuries. But if the Bible says it, it’s true, whether you can explain it or not.
All theological truths eventually boil down to “I believe it because the Bible says it.” If your theological beliefs boil down to “I believe it because I understand it fully” be careful.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
It's a good point. One worth considering. Looking at the daily news of religion, it becomes clear what we are attracting people into churches with--images, miracles, free prizes, gimmicks and happy thoughts. We've created people dependent on these things. How many are attracted to dependence on Christ?Good question.
It is the constant search for a “muscular” witness that pushes us to make claims that seek to have legitimacy alongside the worldly claims of Hollywood and its surrounding culture. We do this with celebrities, with athletes, with films, with secular leaders, all whom we would consider successful or important. When the successful of the world affirm what we affirm we hope to ride their star to legitimacy. We want to say to the world, “See – if this film is successful, or this successful person embraces the faith, or this athlete converts – that proves we are not crazy and our position is one people want. We appeal to the culture’s definition of what is cool or strong or important and say “See, Jesus is just like that.” We want to bask in the light of worldly glory and success alongside the gospel.Amen. There's a lot of wisdom in Craig's post, and I recommend you read the whole thing.
Unfortunately, Jesus says this isn’t the way to legitimize our faith or gain standing. His ways are subversive. They are quiet, they are humble, they are bold as they stand over and against the culture or as they introduce an alternative sense of value, an alternative story. Jesus’ way is sacrifice, back-alley, backwater, behind the scenes, of where the culture is looking. He resists the red carpet and bright lights of the world. And in that way he chooses that which is insignificant in the world to bring down that which is self-important, great, and powerful in the world.
Monday, November 07, 2005
. . . both church culture and broader culture have emasculated men in subtle and in some not so subtle ways. Ask any man what their favorite movie of all time is, and you will be sure to hear them recite a list of movies where the principle character is honorable because of their willingness to go against the crowd, fight on behalf of justice, or simply stand up for what they believe in . . .Amen.
And if reclaiming our masculinity means becoming in some way “wild at heart”, I’m all for it. I’ve never really liked the image of pastor as demur, timid, and accomodating anyway. Perhaps if more pastors had the courage to stand in the pulpit, sit in a board meeting, or greet in the narthex and speak the truth about the Gospel, the church would be healthier and poised to actually compete for the hearts of a generation of men who left the church a long time ago, and who won’t likely be back until six of their friends carry them back– in a wooden box.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Given the fact that Jesus came into a violent world preaching, rejecting the military option and armed only with the Word . . . it’s strange to me how our preaching has too often formed congregations that are essentially acolytes to state-sanctioned violence rather than an alternative and challenge to it.
Christian preaching was meant to be an alternative to violence. Jesus is God’s alternative to violence . . . and the church is to be his disciple. Some will say that all this isn’t what preaching is for. We can say this only because real preaching hasn’t been dared. We can say this only because our reliance on violence and our practice of offering our preaching in service to the state is a witness to our evangelical loss of nerve, that we really don’t believe in the power of the Word of God.
Friday, November 04, 2005
The early Christians did not start political parties or political movements. There were no political action committees or fundraisers or grass roots organizations created to defeat a certain political ideologies. . . .So what does that mean for Christians today? Here's what Brad says:
And in the wake of each of these men’s lives the face of the Roman Empire was changed without a single piece of legislation passed, a single election won, a victorious revolt or the successful expulsion of a single ruler or senator of the establishment. The apostles sought after the hearts of men for Christ by living Christ, and their legacies changed the world.
I am convinced that if we as a Church devoted ourselves wholly to the pursuit of the righteousness found in Christ through faith by grace, and disseminate his name to that end; that we will be far more affective in changing the climate of American society than any rally, campaign or movement ever could.Amen. The comments section of Brad's post, by the way, is pretty interesting, too.
Update: See John Schroeder's related post at Blogotional.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
It’s difficult in an age where publishers of Sunday school material are more concerned with making things “fun.” Silly activities that have nothing to do with the lesson, shallow lessons; I’ve seen a lot of it. Publishing houses of Sunday school material are rife with topical studies that examine issues such as self-esteem, peer pressure and friendship. Now, those topics are all fine, but personally, I’ve discovered that if one simply teaches in an expository manner, she’ll end up touching on those subjects.Amen. There is a place for topical preaching and teaching. But the problem arises when we turn to topical instruction as a shortcut to learning information as opposed to really internalizing the full truth of God's Word. As someone has said, the point of preaching is not to take the Bible into our world and make it relevant to our lives; it's to take ourselves into the Bible and let our lives be shaped by the truth of the Word.
But all this is missing the point. Prayer is not a problem to be solved, nor is it a technique to be learned. Prayer is a relationship to be entered into. True friendships are not forged on the basis of what good the other will be able to do you. Friendships exist for their own sake. They are a good end in themselves. We do not pray to God because of what we expect him to do for us. We pray because of who he is, the eternal Father who loves us beyond our understanding and who longs for us to respond to him.We do have a name for the mechanical approach to prayer---the idea, as Richard says, that if you "turn the handle the right number of times, at the correct speed and your desire will be met from the little slot at the bottom." It's called magic, and it has no place in Christian discipleship.
Being focussed on “technique” and “results” in prayer is all about being in control, clinging on to a sense of self-determination and pride. But at best, prayer is the opposite of those things for it means letting go of ourselves and acknowledging our weakness and helplessness. We come to God, not as skilled negotiators or clever bargainers. We come as little children to our daddy.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
There is indeed something entangling the Church today, with chords and currents and the din of anything but His voice. God does not speak to His people in any manner that damages their hearing, their hearts, their souls. It is not Him speaking at concert levels. He is in the silence drowned out by the din, the cacophony.The Western world is obsessively afraid of silence. As much as the church assimilates the values of the world, so are we.
What the Church is hearing is itself.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
For instance. . . we are saying something important both about our religion and about our citizenship through the display of the American flag in our places of worship. That symbol is informing us about who we are, where we are, what is wrong and what the solution is. The question becomes "Are we allowing our geopolitical citizenship to shape our Christian practice?" I think the obvious answer is a profound "Yes."Mr. Littleton touches on a topic critical to Christian transformation. As far as possible within the bounds of discipleship, Christians must be good earthly citizens (Rom. 13:1-7). But our citizenship is first and foremost in the Kingdom of God. You can't serve two masters.