Update: Articles like this remind me that linking to a particular piece of writing doesn't mean I approve of the totality of that person's life or writings.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Update: Articles like this remind me that linking to a particular piece of writing doesn't mean I approve of the totality of that person's life or writings.
Anyone can worship the “Santa Claus” of the health and wealth gospel (if you are nice and not naughty [i.e., if you have enough “faith”], he will give you what you really want: a good family, material security, and a long life that is free of sickness!). But Paul’s willingness and ability to endure in the midst of adversity for the sake of Christ and on behalf of Christ’s people demonstrate the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Phil 3:8-11) and the incomparable value of our life with Christ in the age to come (2 Cor 4:16-18; Rom 8:18). The ultimate testimony to God’s power and glory is the praise that arises in the midst of affliction. This praise arises because of our conviction that God is at work in and through our suffering for a future good in his presence that is so great that all present suffering seems merely “light and momentary” (4:17). Moreover, our endurance with praise now testifies that knowing God and being conformed to Christ’s image is already of more value than anything the world has to offer!The article, by the way, is in .pdf format.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Let me simply say this: The Enemy HATES you. Lucifer and his legions would gleefully destroy your body, your home, your marriage, your children, your church…anything and everything is fair game to them, save for God's grace on your life. Many Christians do suffer from those attacks; justification does not end our encounters with the demonic! When a marriage goes south in the Christian community, Satan orchestrated that destruction from the first "I do" to the last "This marriage is over! I'm out!"Dan offers helpful, biblically sound advice for Christians to deal with the demonic realm. We'd do well to pay attention. Why? "the chthonic is actively plotting ways to make each and every Christian rue the day he or she confessed Christ. Believe it."
We're fools if we don't take this war seriously—and it is a war.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Update: After reading Dr. Packer's post, a reader asks in the comments section here: what exactly does it mean to "give glory to God." Thoughts?
The problem over time is that, going from victory to victory, expecting victory after victory, cultivates a contagious form of spiritual greed. (Is it any wonder that this sort of teaching often goes hand and hand with talk of financial riches and prosperity?) The real stuff of discipleship -- what Eugene Peterson calls "a long obedience in the same direction" -- involves hard stuff like discipline and the fruit of the Spirit. In pop discipleship discipline is replaced by steps, tips, and amazingsupercolossal breakthroughs.
It's good to see Jared blogging again.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
The primary move of preaching will not be sentence-by-sentence exposition & explaining, then an application. Instead the primary move of the preacher will be to describe the world as it is via the person and work of Jesus Christ, then invite the hearers into this reality by calling for submission, confession, obedience, or the affirmation of a truth.I don't see how good expository preaching doesn't do this, but in any case I'm looking forward to Part 3.
In Brueggemann’s words, we preach to “fund imagination.” Through proclaiming the Word, the Spirit reorganizes perception, experience, and even faith to enable hearers to live in the reality of Christ’s work, respond to Christ, and obey. This kind of preaching subverts the dominant habits of thinking and the ways our imaginations have been taught to see the world. Instead of dissecting the text, making it portable, and distributing it to people for their own personal use, the preacher re-narrates the world as it is under the Lordship of Christ and then invites people into it.
When I preach I see my role as the herald of the new world that has been inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ. Whether in the Old or New Testaments, I am unfurling the world as it is under the work of God down through history and ultimately in Jesus Christ. I always start by narrating a common experience from a personal story, a movie, a piece of literature. I try to expose the way we might be living under an alternative interpretation of the way things are. But then I move to the text for the day, read it and start to unfold the reality as it is in God thru Christ. Finally, I then move to invite the gathering into this Christ-reality, looking for responses we can all make to live more faithfully out of who He is, what He has done, and where He is taking us and the world.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
When Christianity is centered in Christ, Jesus becomes my personal guru. Then I will participate in the Church to the extent that what you believe about your personal guru matches what I believe about my personal guru. At the point of diverging views, my arm doesn’t need your leg because I have my own little Jesus tucked under my pillow.
No wonder that so many people believe you don’t have to be in church to be a Christian....When salvation is reduced to “going to heaven when I die” it is understandable that many folks don’t see church as relevant to salvation. They aren’t really thinking of God saving and transforming the world, but only of whether or not they will “get theirs.” Maybe they will, but in the process they will have to watch the world continue to groan.
Remember: the quote here is merely a sample to encourage you to read further. Please read Joel's original post before commenting either here or at connexions.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Update: Swap Blog reacts to Dr. Jacob's post: "I do not think it is the nature of blogs that reduces debate, but the nature of people today."
We live in culture of 24-hour news cycles, unnatural celebrity lifestyles, exorbitant wealth, and the illusion that something spectacular should be happening all the time. But life really isn’t like that. G.K. Chesterton once observed that one of the signs of fallenness is our inability to exalt in monotony. We continually want something new, more exciting, more stimulating.If not like the culture around us, then how should our attention be directed?
The kingdom of heaven is often slow and hidden. God may spend hundreds if not thousands of years working out his purposes. In our own lives, we often want his work to be faster and more visible. Then we would feel like we’re making progress! And who knows, we might write a book about our own spiritual encounters, and we might even get to headline conferences.Amen. As good as Doug's writing has been during his recovery, I'm tempted to suggest he have a kidney transplant more often. But only tempted.
But the transforming grace of God usually penetrates the secret places of the heart and often works in and through the most ordinary circumstances.
Monday, July 24, 2006
As Job discovered, the recognition that anything can happen - and, as Job’s friends didn’t, that from this fact no conclusions can be drawn - is crucial to the life of faith. You know the phrase “with God all things are possible”? I now understand it to mean, not that God can do anything, but that nothing is necessary. Creation is grace.Kim does a find job of expressing the place of contingency in the life of the believer:
Above all: how totally misconceived is the relentless search for explanation, and how utterly repugnant is the notion that there is a reason for suffering, that suffering is for something, let alone that it is sent, as a trial perhaps, or worse, as a punishment. I am more convinced than ever that theodicies are not only inherently futile essays, they are indeed potentially (how ironic!) evil projects, in intention justifications of God, in practice demonstrations of human pride, projects that satisfy our piety at the cost of both our moral sensibility and the moral integrity of God. The only theologically appropriate theodicy is the anti-theodicy of the cross - and at the cross one does not speak, one falls silent in wonder and praise.The irony of theodicy. Yes.
Friday, July 21, 2006
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Jesus is both Lord and Christ because of his heredity and because of his obedience, and every doctrine logically crumbles apart from the cross. Worse, every other doctrine preached is lifeless if the hearer can’t see this one doctrine solidly at work in the preacher’s life.Amen (Hat tip: Gratitude and Hoopla).
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
In Acts, we read that the cross-cultural missionary thrust did not begin in Jerusalem. It began in Antioch, on the periphery, the margins. But Jerusalem is not ready for Antioch! In fact, even when they go to Antioch, it's just to check on what's happening.How can Westerners overcome our arrogance? Mr. Niringiye suggest we remember Jesus' words, "Follow me."
I have come to the conclusion that the powerful, those at the center, must begin to realize that the future shape of things does not belong to them. The future shape of things is on the periphery. The future shape of things is not in Jerusalem, but outside. It is Nazareth. It is Antioch.
If you really want to understand the future of Christianity, go and see what is happening in Asia, Africa, Latin America. It's the periphery—but that's where the action is.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
What more perfect symbol is there of Western culture and society than the cigarette? It is an affectation. It has no nutritional value and even its neurochemical stimulation is so slight that one doesn't consciously notice it until it's withdrawn.As good as he is with cultural observation, Conrad is even better in his observations on the New Testament.
It is the perfect consumer item. The stuff grows in the ground like a weed, it's subtly but fiendishly addictive. And, best of all, here's what makes it a better consumer item than the iPod: people have to keep rebuying cigarettes because the way that you use them is to destroy them. Nearly a perfect capitalist artefact except that it kills the consumer. At least it does it slowly.
Monday, July 17, 2006
Revival isn't going to come through movies, no matter what George Barna thinks. Nor books, though it pains me to say so. The Spirit of God isn't all that interested in entertainment, Christian or worldly. He's calling out to you and me to die to self so that others might live for Him. . . .Amen. For a related thought, see this post at Gratitude and Hoopla.
In short, we need "spiritainment" like we need an electric dog polisher. All this entertainment is a drug that keeps us numb to what we should truly be doing: serving the Lord Jesus until there is nothing left of us.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Update: Mike Mudock points out that there's another side of this story (the engineering side) here and here. Ironically, even if the SoJoNet story is wrong, it still illustrates something important about doing business (in the broadest sense) in a fallen world: Arriving at the truth isn't always easy or automatic, is it?
Although Jesus talks about money a lot, he never talks about the need of the church to receive. Jesus always talks about the need of the giver to give. This is the Bible’s stewardship message.It's a small distinction, but it's important.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Has the cross reached this state—is it so commonplace that it has no real value as a symbol in 21st-century America? When you see a cross—in a church, in a museum, on a website or a business card—what do you feel? Awe, sorrow, humility, worshipfulness, annoyance, anger, or nothing at all? Has it retained its symbolic power and majesty after so many years of use and misuse? Or is it now just a decoration, one whose historical and cultural baggage actually gets in the way of meditation on Christ’s sacrifice?See the comment section of the original post if you'd like to join the discussion.
I see two major approaches: first, preach discipleship harder — rail away on the weakness of individual Christians today and highlight those weaknesses by showing just how committed Jesus wanted us to be. I would say I followed this approach from the time I read Bonhoeffer as a sophomore in college until I began teaching college students when it dawned on me that such an approach might get the whole notion of gospel and law mixed up. So, the second approach is to speak of God’s embracing grace, of the gospel of God, and of the power of God’s Spirit.Scot is looking at an issue preachers face weekly. It's tough, but he gets it right.
It would be unwise to choose between these, but I will offer this: If it is God’s grace that transforms, focus on God’s grace, God’s Spirit, and the gospel as the power of God for all of us in every way imaginable.
Update: A reader has raised some questions for discussion in the comments section, and the comments so far are very much worth reading.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
In our day prophetic preaching seems to be little more than pandering to the popular prejudices of the populace. The Inquisition, run as ever by the fundamentalists of both parties, essentially exists to salve the psychic wounds of their followers by arousing rage at objects of collective hate/fear. The folks on either side who wave the Bible with most vigor apparently read it the least.Rick's question: "should Christians leave the 'church' to live a Christian life?
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Evangelicals tacitly assume or overly claim that they believe the whole Bible; they practice the Bible much better; and their theology is based on the Bible and the Bible alone. The contention is simple: liberals deny the Bible; we (evangelicals) don’t; we (evangelicals) are faithful and liberals are unfaithful.
Let me suggest that evangelicals, too, do plenty of Bible-denying but they deny in a different way. They question the sufficiency of Scripture.
I call this problem Zealotry. Here’s what I mean: Zealotry is conscious zeal to be radically committed, so radically committed that one goes beyond the Bible to defend things that are not in the Bible. Which is the mirror image of the accusation made by many evangelicals against liberals. The “beyond the Bible” stuff is not in the Bible and it means evangelicals get themselves committed to things that are not in the Bible. What’s the difference, I ask?
No longer merely an economic system, consumerism has become the American worldview—the framework through which we interpret everything else, including God, the gospel, and church.And how has consumerism affected the church?
Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, co-authors of The Churching of America, 1776-1990, argue that ministry in the U.S. is modeled primarily on capitalism with pastors functioning as a church’s sales force, and evangelism as its marketing strategy. Our willing indoctrination into this economic view of ministry is so complete that most pastors never question its validity or recognize how unprecedented it is within Christian history.Ouch.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
If the goal of ministry is to "equip the church for works of service," then how should we preachers feel about a comment like "I would have never been able to understand that psalm without you?" Sure our egos purr like a kitten with that sweet stroke, but what about the dear saint who has just confessed an inability to discover the riches of Scripture on her own? Shouldn't our preaching lead our listeners to become better and better interpreters? Won't good preaching make others less dependent on the preachers?I think so. How about you?
In the little epistle to Jude near the very end of our Bible, the unknown author warns about "ungodly people, who pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." Notice how closely associated are the perversion of grace and the denial of Christ's lordship. Christ and grace are inextricably bound. To preach grace is to preach Christ, and especially His cross. A preacher may have many other things to say and do, but if in the midst of it all he loses this focus, he is no longer preaching the Gospel.Amen.
Monday, July 10, 2006
. . . historical-critical methods in the hands of individuals have not yielded a singular consensus meaning as “intended by the author” in over 100 years. Instead what we have is thousands of commentaries on books of the Bible that present numerous unresolved options for interpreting grammatical lexical issues for practically every verse in the Bible. Historical critical exegesis hasn’t generated more unity over Scriptural interpretation, it has generated less. The reality therefore is that what guides interpretation is not scientific individual interpretation of the text. It is the broad consensus interpretation for the Biblical texts found in the ongoing history of church doctrine. The myth then that expository preaching based upon such exegesis is more true to the text is simply not true. There is plenty room for all kinds of human interpretation even in expository preaching.True. Although Dr. Fitch makes the common error of equating "myth" with "common misconception," he is on-target in asserting that expository preaching needs to be done "in and of community of the Spirit."
Dr. Fitch has also written a follow-up post (Hat tip: connexions).
Embraced by the leadership of all the mainline Protestant denominations, as well as large segments of American Catholicism, liberal Christianity has been hailed by its boosters for 40 years as the future of the Christian church.Ms. Allen's essay describes the decline in attendance of mainline Protestant churches and offers this assessment of why:
Instead, as all but a few die-hards now admit, all the mainline churches and movements within churches that have blurred doctrine and softened moral precepts are demographically declining and, in the case of the Episcopal Church, disintegrating.
When your religion says "whatever" on doctrinal matters, regards Jesus as just another wise teacher, refuses on principle to evangelize and lets you do pretty much what you want, it's a short step to deciding that one of the things you don't want to do is get up on Sunday morning and go to church.Years ago I defended liberal Protestantism as superior to evangelicalism because it was in step with the most progressive thinking in the broader culture. Now I see how very naive and worldly I really was.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
The gospel message is that God is not like us, but we are called to be like God: and that means we become agents of God’s embracing grace.Why is it a good thing? Read Scot's post to find out.
One further thought: God is not like us, and that’s a good thing.
Friday, July 07, 2006
See why I like the book?
Many ministers include in their sermons a joke or two which may or may not be relevant to what the sermons are about but in any case are supposed to warm up the congregation and demonstrate that preachers are just plain folks like everybody else.
There are two dangers in this. One is that if the joke is a good one, the chances are it will be the only part of the sermon that anybody remembers on Monday morning. The other is that when preachers tell jokes, it is often an unconscious way of telling both their congregations and themselves that the Gospel is all very well but in the last analysis not to be taken too seriously.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
In general, I don't think we notice. I don't think we notice that little by little our standard rises. If it happened all at once, it might be a jolt. No--it is slow--acceptable--reasonable--gradual.
Exactly. Jim does a good job of showing how easily we fall into "upgrading" our big-ticket items of consumption: house, car, etc. I don't think he goes far enough, though, at least in this essay. The real extravagance of middle-class, U.S.A. standards of living lies in the things most of us never give a thought to: $9 movie tickets, clothes at Wal-Mart, Sunday dinner at Cracker Barrel, $25-a-person meals at Applebee's, impulse buys in the grocery-store check-out line. One blessing of not having much money the past few months is to see how very, very frivolously I, like most of my neighbors, spent it when I had it. I pray that if God ever gives my family that kind of money again (e.g., something left over after paying the mortgage and buying food), that we make it count for something.
One of the clearest indicators of this idolatry is the insistence of evangelicals that their pastors not challenge the definition of “the Good Life.” Catholics have a priest who lives in simplicity and poverty as an example of sacrifice and a reminder of what discipleship should mean. Yet millions of evangelicals want their pastors visibly living as high up the scale of American success as possible, precisely because this baptizes these values and insures that their leaders are, like themselves, swimming in the pool of “the Good Life.”
It is a common compliment to contemporary pastors that they are “just a regular person.” With all due respect, shouldn’t we admit what is really being endorsed? We do not want leaders who live the Christian life so seriously that they make us uncomfortable with their example, and challenge our lifestyles with their own.
I recommend reading I-Monk's article and looking around at the the lives of ourselves and those around us to see how deeply the pull to idolatry runs.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Monday, July 03, 2006
Whether I am in the mountains of Guatemala, the slums of Africa or in India, Indonesia or Turkey, I find "ordinary" Christians making extra-ordinary sacrifices to follow Jesus. Somehow it hasn't hit them that Jesus is to provide them with personal satisfaction, money, health and happiness. I wonder why?Good question. Mr. Mueller offers a pretty good answer in the rest of his essay.
The Text This Week, edited by Jenee Woodard, is an invaluable resource for expository preaching (especially for those following a lectionary). In addition to resources on each week's lectionary passages, The Text This Week links to a well chosen collection of commentaries, exegetical notes, studies, and sermon notes indexed by scripture passage. It's one of the first places I go for information on preaching a given text. I suggest beginning with the Index by Scripture. The site's companion blog, textweek, has been dormant for several months.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
At Cerulean Sanctum Dan Edelen has completed his thirteen-part series on Christians and the business world. Links to the entire series are here. In his final post of the series, Dan offers alternatives to swallowing undigested the values of how the world does business. His seven alternatives are both reasonable and biblical --- and therefore radical. I won't pull them out of context here but recommend you read them for yourself. One, however, is worth mentioning. The church needs to stand behind the brethren:
. . . whenever a person in a church is unemployed, we need to do everything possible to help that person find work ASAP. There is no sense for me to be buying $4000 plasma TVs when another family in my congregation is burning through their life's savings while trying to find work.I can relate. Being fired from my job with a previous congregation put my family in a financial bind and left us hanging without the spiritual support community we had been a part of for years. Some members seemed to forget us. Others--in most cases not the "pillars" of the church--came to our aid with their time and money. As the first few chapters of Acts show us time and again, we shouldn't view our money or property as our own. Not only helping but sacrificing for one another should be standard operating procedure for the church.