Monday, December 26, 2005
Sunday, December 25, 2005
* The Baby Jesus is easy to get excited about, because there are few, if any, demands.
* The God-Man Jesus brings with Him all of the baggage that sacrifice demands.
* The greatest throne we set up is the throne of Self, and so we serve the God-Man at our leisure -- we worship at our leisure, we pray at our leisure, we serve others at our leisure and we give at our leisure.
Leisure, of course, is different from rest and refreshment. May this Christmas be a time of rest and refreshment for you.
Friday, December 23, 2005
When preparing to preach or teach, the question that I ask isn’t, what do I need to preach or what can I preach or what do I want to preach, etc. no, I ask, “Lord Jesus, what is it that you are preaching or that you are teaching”? In order for me to declare prophetically that which He is speaking I need to hear clearly what it is that He is saying, now. I dare not presume upon this vital question with some sort of simplistic or presumptuous answer. No, I need to seek Him, wait upon Him, hear Him and then declare what I have seen and heard or even am now seeing and hearing, in His presence (1 Jn 1:3).That's putting the emphasis where it belongs--not on the preacher, not even on those to whom we preach, but on the God whom we proclaim.
Why do I say that Dickens may have been the father of the de-Christianization of Christmas? Because this most famous of secular Christmas stories depicts a reformation of the heart and soul that is prompted not by a revelation of our desperate need for a Savior, and the corresponding realization of the "good news of great joy" that that Savior has indeed come. No, Scrooge is merely confronted with his own mortality. Scrooge is born again, yes, but apparently not from above. In fact, Dickens' story, though it is saturated with fine feeling and Christmas ideals, carefully skirts the real issue.I think Bob's right.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
I am thinking that it would do us all good to either laugh heartily or yawn sleepily whenever an exciting idea for church growth, or theology, or a paradigm shift in whatever is marketed to us as new. Now it may be new to us, it happens all the time that I learn something I didn't know before. But nothing is new. I am thinking it would do us a great deal of good to assume that, even if we don't know anything about this new thing, that somewhere in history something similar was propounded. Thus we ought to look to the past to evaluate the idea rather than listen to the future promises this idea proposes.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
And yet, God surprises
Here's a sample:
The preacher is a commissioned agent whose task is to speak because God has spoken, because the preacher has been entrusted with the telling of the gospel of the Son who saves, and because God has promised the power of the Spirit as the seal and efficacy of the preacher's calling.It's a strong, readable series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
I am . . . convinced that Christ is not revealed to the world through any one man, but through his people—the church. We live in a culture that promotes autonomy and individualism. As a result we foolishly take the mission given to the church, and we make it the mission of the pastor. We elevate individuals on a pedestal, and become disillusioned when they fail to meet our expectations. No single man embodies the fullness of Christ, and we should not expect one to.Amen. The error of expecting the minister to do the work of the whole church, by the way, can be found even in congregations that don't call him "pastor." How, then, should the church reclaim a right perspective? By keeping our eyes on Jesus:
. . . I am convinced that the church will only fulfill its calling when we embrace the reality of Christ in us, the hope of glory. For too long our hope has been in programs, strategies, politics, or leaders. We have confused the wisdom of the world for the wisdom of God. Our hope is not in these things, but in the mystery that Christ dwells in us; ever ready to reveal his glorious wisdom that is foolishness to the world.Amen.
Monday, December 19, 2005
But, discovery of something new is not the sole, or even the main, purpose for reading the Bible. So let me suggest that there is another way to read the Bible — with our ears. The longer you look at that idea that we read the Bible to find something new the sillier it becomes. If the purpose of reading the Bible is to find something new, the older we get the less we would need the Bible for the more we know the less we would consult the Bible.Good point. Maybe we don't continue searching the Scriptures for new information, but I should think we never stop going to them for transformation.
Update: John Schroeder offers additional thoughts at Blogotional.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
At least John the Baptist's mother wanted to get pregnant. Poor Mary. From the very beginning, the salvation of the world meant nothing but trouble and heartaches for her personally. Couldn't God have waited a year until they were married; or couldn't he have caused Joseph to pop the question a few months earlier? So much for the idea that God is going to work in culturally appropriate ways, eh? An unmarried woman -- pregnant -- in that culture? Forget about it.Amen. That's something we can always benefit from remembering, isn't it?
Yet she's gonna start singing about it, praising God, within the space of a chapter. Why?
The trick is not letting culture determine what is good about your relationship with God. The trick is letting your relationship with God determine what is good.
Friday, December 16, 2005
A lot of blog awards are going on this time of year, including the 2006 Evangelical Blog Awards at the Evangelical Underground. I've nominated several blogs, based on quality of writing, consistency in posting (which left out some of my favorites--you know who you are!), and purely subjective taste. Also, some of my favorites I didn't nominate because there were simply too many worthy choices for each available category. With that caveat, then, here are my nominees: Allthings2all, anti-itch meditation, Believer Blog, Blogotional, Broken Messenger, Cerulean Sanctum, The Christian Mind, Contratimes, Eternal Perspectives, Gad(d)about, Gratitude and Hoopla, Jesus Creed, Jim Street, Kingdom Adventure, Not Quite Art-Not Quite Living, Odyssey, Purgatorio, Scotwise, Stronger Church, Sudan Watch, Sycamore, Swap Blog, Under the Acacias, The Upward Call, The View from the Nest, Windows to my Soul, Wind Scraps, and Winter's End. I know I've left out many worthy blogs, so I encourage you to go to the EBA page and post your own nominations.
Note: I choose to take the Evangelical Blog Awards at face value--that they recognize those who hold to the euaggelion, or good news of Jesus Christ. Although the EU includes plenty of political commentary, I'm trusting the awards remain non-partisan.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
In short, the relationship is this: Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of God against all the sinfulness we have dumbed ourselves into enjoying.Rob has some good insights, particularly about how popular media lure us into laughing at sin. His post gave me something to think about after spending a good part of the past weekend laughing at This is Spinal Tap.
Update: The Bluefish Project reacts to Rob's post with this trenchant comment: "I do not exist to be amused."
Sometimes, the Bible doesn’t give you enough evidence, one way or the other, to settle a question beyond the possibility of a continuing discussion and debate. If this is true, and if the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit does not remove this ambiguity, then there are points beyond which dicsussion and debate ought to proceed only with considerable and generous amounts of respectful humility.Michael goes on to discuss how, years ago, he and his fellow seminarians never entertained the notion that some issues might better be approached with humility than certainty:
It never occured to us . . . that maybe, just maybe, the Bible wasn’t unambiguous on this topic. [It] never occured to us that we could put all the pieces on the table, arrange them in different ways, and come to different conclusions ALL DAY/YEAR LONG. It never occured to us to conclude that this wasn’t a question like “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” It was a question like, “What will heaven be like?”While the Bible's teaching is clear on the gospel, many issues are not nearly so clear. Thus the value of humility--and love (HT: Adrian Warnock).
Why did this never occur to us? Because, in our respective communities, we were constantly assured that the Bible was unambiguous on EVERYTHING. It was absolutely clear on all issues, which is why we all knew we were right all the time.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I cannot help but wonder about the relationship of grace to the resolution of our own dilemmas. In other words, how do we open ourselves up to the possibility of grace when we are torn between options or confused by events that occur in our lives?I wonder, too. And I also wonder if I'm one of the people Jim writes about.
I write "the possibility of grace" because I see that grace cannot be ordered up like eggs and bacon. One can no more command grace than one can command a river to run uphill. (I have often thought that addictive or compulsive actions may be vain attempts at "grace on demand.") Grace is a gift and gifts, by definition, are given out of the giver's freedom to give or not give.
To demand a gift is to paralyze the giver. . . .
Sometimes we wonder whether God is waiting for us to act! We mutter to ourselves, "Well, God, gave me a good brain. God gave me choice. God expects me to do the best I can with what I have and what I know. God expects me to assume responsibility for my actions." And while I understand that (and have acted on that basis more often than not), it leaves me wondering whether acting on the basis of my "best lights" short circuits the possibility of grace. (And I wonder how many of those who regularly proclaim that philosophy are people of prayer and hope.)
I've railed for years against the ugly commecialization of Christmas, which should be a Mass for Christ. Period. The decorations, the forced gaity, the giving and receiving of gifts, the scrum in the box stores after Thanksgiving for the "must have" presents, all stinks to high heaven of paganism. Of worship of self and of things made by the hand of man.Too true. Along similar lines, Ben at Open Switch slams the hypocrisy in many who speak against the commercialization of Christmas yet join in the buying frenzy:
I’ve really gotta hand it to vegetarians. They don’t believe it’s right to eat other animals and honestly, that’s a perfectly viable option. What’s important to note, however, is that they’re not saying, “Don’t eat meat” as they chow down on their steak. They live out what they believe.True (Hat tip: Swap Blog).
Similarly, before we criticize companies for their commercialization of Christmas, we must check our own behavior and make sure it lines up with what we say we believe.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Jesus calls his disciples to a daily death to self. However, dying to self does not imply passivity. Dying to self entails being reborn to Christ. After all, Jesus links dying to self with following Him.
The power to keep on walking, to keep on following, comes to those who are dead and dying.
Whenever transformative change comes we must experience a kind of death. We must overcome our resistance to change (that is, to go on trying to preserve a way of life that has always worked in the past) and let go of our lives. We must die to the old self and open ourselves to being made new.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Or this: "Combine diligent study with fervent prayer."
You are not called to preach yourself or your ideas, but charged to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
Josh's post is full of excellent guidance, and I recommend you read it all.
We live in a culture where everyone could, in theory, run for president, or even be president. We live in a culture wherein we teach our children that there is no dream they should not dream; that they can be anything they want to be, even the CEO of America; or that they, as mere amateurs, can nonetheless critique with pride the performances of the best athletes, writers, philosophers, or religious leaders in the world.This quote hardly does justice to the post, in which Bill quotes Plato, Oscar Wilde, and Raphael Demos. I recommend reading the whole essay, because it sheds important light on what Christians really face in bringing the gospel to men and women in the United States.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Friday, December 09, 2005
I do not have a problem with people spending their money on ‘toys’ and stuff (I do it all the time) and enjoying life to the fullest…guilt free….PROVIDING that they are contributing in some fashion to the over all health of the world.In another scathing post, Mr. Michalski had this to say about "McChurch of Canada":
But when someone (who had just bought [an] XBOX 360) said that they do not sponsor a child…because they do not feel the need right now…because I do not really have the money…I almost fell over.
Consume, consume and consume and when you get ticked at the pastor or someone else you can move over to the other retailer, because they don’t know you or your history and THEY want your business. But since everything is cyclical they are bound to find out, within a year or two…because that is when you get hacked-off with someone and it is time to leave again. Patterns are so loud and clear and it is funny to see that most people are blind to them. . . .Perhaps he's right (HT: Caught in the Middle).
We live in a world where people get angry over the things that don’t matter and don’t get angry about the things that do matter. Perhaps it is time for the church to be come angry about the things that GOD is angry about.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
The official marketing for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe apparently includes a sermon contest, wherein the winner gets a free trip to London and $1,000 in spending money.The details on whether or not Disney itself is behind this campaign is not clear [Update: It looks like they are]. But can we all agree that product placements in sermons are a bad idea?
Coming clean: I won't say the same for blogs. I added a link here to the ESV homepage in exchange for a free Bible.
Update: Keith Plummer has a brief post with more helpful details on this story at The Christian Mind.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Is our societal trend to the moving picture, be that film or television, problematic? . . . .Well yes, it has. As others have pointed out, the shift in contemporary culture from word-oriented to image-oriented will have profound and as-yet unseen consequences. In biblical times, God's people practiced a Word-oriented faith in a sea of image-oriented paganism. In that context, what impact will the church experience from the rush to bring images--from blockbuster movies down to homemade PowerPoint presentations--into the assembly?
Do words reach deeper into us than images possibly can. Most people would argue the opposite, but now I am wondering. I have been moved by images, but my life was changed by words, well actual The Word. What about you?
This person functions as if he/she had been “filleted of their backbone.” Such a leader may be nice but spineless. Hearing the words, “I’ve never heard anyone in the church say anything negative about you,” only feeds his/her addiction to good feelings rather than God-centered progress.Jim asks, what kind of courage do Christian leaders need? He lists ten kinds . They're short, insightful, and worth reading.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
. . . bookstores are filled with purpose-driven messages on living the life of our dreams. Do what you love and God will bless it. I don't believe that. The word "driven" itself carries red-flag connotations. As a Christian writer, my spirit seeks to be led by Jesus Christ, never driven by anything, especially not my own ideas or dreams. In a world of sensual spirituality, it's easy to be led astray with smooth sounding words. We need firm grounding in biblical truth to spot subtle errors found in many teachings (and quotes) today. Perhaps I digress, but none of this "find your purpose" dribble enables me. Inspirational thoughts are just that, inspirational. There's no power in them.Too true. What should we be seeking, then?
. . . in my 49 years, I've failed enough to learn that my ways are not His ways. I've been fooled by well-meaning writers who invite us to explore our destiny. There is no purpose or destiny outside the life of Jesus Christ. We can't have life unless we have HIM. . . . So I'd rather cling to Jesus than all the motivational quotes in the world. I'm starting to see how power and enablement come, not through grand human effort, but by His Spirit. I want to work in tandem with His purposes, fueled by His Holy Spirit, but I need to be willing to pull away when all the world beckons. It also means giving up my dreams, my goals, my ambitions. It's a paradox. And it's a hard word: surrender. But in surrendering my agenda, I find His.Amen (HT: Gratitude & Hoopla).
Monday, December 05, 2005
Has it ever hit you that the early church very likely didn't end their house church gatherings with an altar call? As far as we know, no one came to the front, filled out a card, and said, "I haven't been the example I should be." The nature of their gatherings, however, offered ongoing chances to encourage each other, confess to each other, and pray for each other.
The whole post is worth reading (HT: Preacher Smith.)
At the same time the 2006 Evangelical Blog Awards are on the verge of being canceled because not enough nominations have been received. I hope that doesn't happen for two reasons: (1) there are several blogs I plan to nominate, and (2) this year's graphic is cool, and I'd love to have one on this page.
And that thought points to the bigger picture of Christians and blog awards. Fundamentally, our work should be to the glory of God, not ourselves, and the joy of service in the name of Jesus Christ should be sufficient. On the other hand, it's good to be appreciated. In congregational ministry, it's common to hear much more about what we've done wrong than on how much we're appreciated. Whether I get a single vote at Wizbang or am nominated for another award, I'm grateful to those of you who encourage me not only through awards but simply by letting me know that something on this site has been helpful to you.
So I encourage you to nominate your favorite blogs for an EBA, and to encourage one another in every way.
Update: I've nominated about 20 blogs for EBAs. A big problem I have with these kinds of things is that there are a lot more blogs I'd like to nominate than I feel I can get away doing. Also, at Wizbang running vote counts are being shown at the Weblog Awards, and TS is near the bottom. I hope it's not merely sour grapes that in a way I consider that an honor. As I said to my wife last night, "I guess people who read my blog aren't really into awards." And that can be a good thing. To God alone be the glory.
With the staggering statistics about how many people are ensnared in Internet porn, it's understandable that most of the exhortations we hear concerning information technology involve the moral content of the medium. We have to continue to sound that warning while also encouraging more thoughtful reflection about what other forms faithfulness to Jesus should take in how we use technological tools. Using them in humanizing rather than dehumanizing ways can be a powerful part of our witness to the world.Keith's essay is worth reading in its entirety. So are the comments.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
"There are multiple problems with working alone, including loneliness and busyness. One of the worst, though, is that a bad idea remains a bad idea. Most of the time, lone sermon planners don't know it's a bad idea until the words spring from their mouth as they are delivering the message. This is mostly avoided in a team environment where creativity is exponential and a bad idea is a path to a good one. Learning to trust in the power of a team takes lots of time and many small steps, but results in savings of time as well as better worship."
I've heard about these kinds of things but never knew any preachers personally who worked in teams to develop sermons. How about you?
I know a couple who were driven out of their church by folks who were more concerned about being correct than being loving. That couple's crime? They thought it was okay to read the Harry Potter books. When this opinion was expressed in a group of believers who did not share that belief, things turned ugly. To make matters worse, the couple was fairly young in the Lord and were new to that church. Now those final two elements aren't generally in themselves a reason to let things slide, but love should still have come first, then the acknowledgement that perhaps it is best to remark and let the Lord work it out in the lives of this couple. The result, however, was a bludgeoning, tears, anger, despair, and two fine people leaving the church.For years Dan has blogged with an unflinchingly incisive eye on the church, and his current series shows why some folks call Dan the "John the Baptist of the blogosphere."
Friday, December 02, 2005
In light of the recent discovery of the name “Goliath” in the remains of the site of the biblical city of Gath, the translation of the TNIV may be suspicious . . . . According to the archaeologist who found the broken piece of pottery with the name “Goliath,” the name was used one hundred years after the time of David. So, it is possible that the name “Goliath” was used to designate a special type of soldier, like “marines” or “navy seals.” If it is proved to be true that Goliath was the name of a champion warrior in the army of the Philistines, then David killed one Goliath and Elhanan killed another GoliathFor more thoughts on the passage, be sure to read the comments section of Dr. Mariottini's post.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
And what does "Christian" art have to do with preaching or the Christian life? Simply this. Using "Christian" to describe any human creation has consequences beyond the sphere of art. What, for example, are we really saying when we call workout videos, landscape paintings, auto decals, breath mints, and stores themselves "Christian"? In subtle ways we may be following the world, which encourages us to look for consumer items to give us what can only be found in each other, or in God himself.
For more on Christians and the arts, I recommend Franky Schaeffer's Addicted to Mediocrity. For more on "Christian" consumerism, check out these photos from Marc Heinrich.