Thursday, August 31, 2006

Carolyn update

My wife, Carolyn, is out of surgery and did well---all growths were benign. I thank you for praying for her and our family, and I praise God that he is so very generous to us.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Free podcasts of Jesus Asked

Conrad Gempf is posting podcasts of the entire text of his book, Jesus Asked. I'm usually not interested in the slow speeds of listening to rather than reading a book, but I like Conrad's work so much that I've already begun downloading and listening

Jesus + nothing

Jared Wilson reminds Christians to take a Christ-centered approach to interpreting the Word:
Here is my guiding principle for reading the Gospels: The point is Jesus. Every saying, every story -- Jesus. If the main point you're getting out of the story doesn't center squarely on Jesus, I respectfully suggest your aim is off.
Amen. Jared gives lots of good examples from the Gospels; the post is full of insights for teaching and preaching.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

John 6:28-29 and the work of God

Mark Galli writes on the Christian duty of doing nothing.

Lessons from Jeremiah

Claude Mariottini has written an illuminating post on Jeremiah's complaint in Jer. 20:17. Jeremiah's life and ministry, as Dr. Mariottini points out, can help ministers today:
In the end, there is one thing we learn from Jeremiah’s experience with God: notwithstanding the fact that divine call may bring rejection and loneliness, the call must create a stubborn refusal to abandon God, even when this refusal to give up on God may be the source of our complaint.
This one's a keeper. Claude, a professor of Old Testament, has also written good articles on the Exodus and Qumran.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The most obnoxious generation

Preachers are aware that it helps to know those you're preaching to. If you ever preach to baby boomers, you might be interested in a recent BBC News article evaluating that generation:
Baby boomers like to trumpet their generation's achievements. But their fondness for conspicuous consumption and foreign travel has led to many a modern-day ill, from rising debt to environmental woes.
The article quotes Joe Queenan, who wrote, "If you want the God's honest truth, baby boomers are the most obnoxious people in the history of the human race."

Not a party, but a battle

Jeff Weddle says that, when it comes to Christian discipleship, "victory is overrated":
We do have victory in Jesus but we won’t experience it until Heaven. Right now, we have a fight to fight, a race to run. People who celebrate before the race is over often find themselves beaten by the end. Prepare yourself for battle not for the party, and your victory will be sweet.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Latest 1 Corinthians sermons now posted

The texts from my two latest Sunday morning sermons, on 1 Cor. 5 and on 1 Cor. 6:1-11, are now posted at To the Word.

The greatest apologetic

God doesn't need football

During the 1980s and 1990s, Reggie White was not only a standout defensive end, but a well known Christian and evangelist. A recent article on Mr. White's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, however, mentions a major repentance shortly before his death in 2004:
"Really, in many respects I've been prostituted," White said. "Most people who wanted me to speak at their churches only asked me to speak because I played football, not because I was this great religious guy or this theologian. ... I got caught up in some of that until I got older and I got sick of it. I've been a preacher for 21 years, preaching what somebody wrote or what I heard somebody else say. I was not a student of Scripture. I came to the realization I'd become more of a motivational speaker than a teacher of the word."

"I used to have people tell me, 'God has given you the ability to play football so you could tell the world about him,' " White said shortly before his death. "Well, he doesn't need football to let the world know about him. When you look at the Scriptures, you'll see that most of the prophets weren't popular guys. I came to the realization that what God needed from me more than anything is a way of living instead of the things I was saying. Now I know I've got to sit down and get it right."
Jesus promised that if we seek we'll find, and Reggie White found a precious truth not long before he died. God doesn't need our fame, our money, our rhetorical skill or our social networks to spread the Good News. His grace is sufficient.

HT: Culture Watch

Friday, August 25, 2006

Missing the old girl

Rick Davis misses the "frumpy, chubby church, obsessing about her looks, sure and certain that, wherever she was going, she had a closet full of "'nothing to wear.'"

Biblical studies journals online

Thanks again

Well, it's good to be back. After further testing, my wife's surgery has been postponed one week (to August 31) so that a urologist can also work on her after discovering a cyst on her bladder. I've made preparations, however, for teaching a college composition course this semester, and I've cut back on my own academic load. Thanks again for those of you who sent words of encouragement to me and words of prayer to our heavenly Father.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Back August 25

Demands on my time and attention have become so burdensome that I'm going to take a ten-day break from blogging. I'll be preparing to teach a college composition course
and helping my wife prepare for surgery to remove a complex adnexal mass. By August 25 we hope to know whether or not it's malignant. I plan to begin posting again August 25. Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Life depends on change

Rusty Peterman has posted a short, encouraging essay on change in the church: "Want a clinical definition of death? No more changes."

Fittingness of technology in worship

The church in North America has far too much faith in the latest technologies (think PowerPoint, Wi-Fi) to accomplish what only God's Word and his people can do. In such a context, it's good to see Quentin Schultze's observations in a By Faith article on "Technology and Worship":
Perhaps the best term we could use today to talk about the value of new technologies in worship is the biblical concept of "fittingness." Does the use of particular technologies in particular ways fit with the purpose and flow of the worship? We don't use a hammer to drive a screw, and we ought not to use communications technologies in ways that interfere with communication in worship -- with communication among God, the congregation, and individual members. Again, think of the flow of worship as a kind of dialogue; as soon as the dialogue is interrupted, worship is no longer "fitting." Worship is not meant to be like a performance or movie, where "consumers" passively take in the messages from the experts.

Fittingness is not just a matter of style. In fact, the so-called worship wars between contemporary and traditional services are leading us astray. The question is not whether worship is contemporary or traditional, high-tech or low-tech, PowerPoint-inclusive or PowerPoint exclusive. Instead we need to ask the more difficult questions about fittingness: Is God being glorified and praised? Are we being moved to worship in Spirit and truth? Do we "hear" from Jesus during the service? Do we "see" our sins more clearly? Are we filled with gratefulness for the journey ahead? Are we challenged to go out into the world as agents of God's Kingdom?
Hat Tip: Theologica.

Monday, August 14, 2006

More-than-amazing grace

Jared Wilson observes, "Grace isn't just amazing; it's ridiculous." (Thanks, Jared. I used that line in my Sunday morning sermon this week).

A little perspective

Here's something to think about if you're an information junkie. In a First Things article, "American the Comfortable," David A. Westbrook makes this observation about journalism:
Journalism reports, but to what end? Like its signature medium, photography, journalism is rarely completely untrue. The photographed event occurred and was mechanically documented. Even advertisements are true in this sense: A beautiful woman got into a car—that really happened. The implication that one should buy the car is a much more dubious proposition.
Right. As a student of the Scriptures I find myself asking, how do we shape our worldview: through the world or through the Word?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The folly of ignoring God's gift

At To the Word I've posted today's sermon text on 1 Corinthians 4:6-21.

Christians and consumption

Ben Witherington and other bloggers have recently taken stands on anthropogenic global warning with predictable responses: you're out of your area of expertise, Al Gore is a demagogue, there's too much misinformation, etc., etc.. A couple of things, however, should be clear to Christians, whatever side we take.

Second, as with every issue with political implications, there's a great deal of misinformation on both sides. Arriving at a balanced picture of the truth takes generous amounts of time and effort. I haven't come across a single opinion on the issue that I unequivoclly trust; everyone has an angle, however innocent or unconscious it may be.

But first and foremost, whether or not anthropogenic global warming is real, the solution would be something Christians in the West ought to be doing anyway: spending less time and money on indulging our whims, wasting and consuming less, living more simply, and glorifying God through serving others. For Christians, at least, the scientific facts on global warming should have little bearing for how we ought to be living our lives. Whether or not Western consumerism is damaging the planet, there's no doubt it's damaging our souls.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Praying for what really ails us

David Powlison has written a spot-on evaluation of what's wrong with how churches pray for the sick:
The colon cancer in room 103 with uncertain prognosis… the lady in room 110 with a gall bladder that’s not yielding to treatment… the broken leg that’s mending well…

Such public prayers may be medically informative, but they are spiritually impoverished. They usually center on physical healing. And they typically amount to nothing more than requests for effective doctors, procedures, and medicines.

Visitors of many churches might be pardoned if they get the impression that God is chiefly interested in perking up our health, and that radiant physical fitness is our greatest need. They might also be pardoned for thinking that God can’t do what we ask, because so many chronic illnesses remain unhealed.
As much as I've quoted here, this one's too good to pull out a money quote. The whole thing is worth reading (HT: The Christian Mind).

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The edible savior

Yesterday I linked to this post by John Frye, but I didn't have an opportunity to give you a sampling. So here goes, from Part Three of John's series, "Jesus on the Margins":

Jesus did things. He broke bread with a violent fanatic and invited him to be a team member (a zealot); he called a tax-collector to be his follower and then ate with that tax-collector and all his traitorous friends. He allowed a known prostitute to touch him at an important and very public social gathering. He touched lepers and dead people. He spit in dust and made mud. He whipped animals out of the Temple. He ate lots of meals with marginalized people.

American Christians want an inedible version of the kingdom of God. We want nice ideas to prop up our materialistically smothered lifestyle. A nice, santitized idea of the kingdom that won't get dirt under our fingernails or snot on our clothes or blood on our hands.

We'd rather "believe" in Jesus than eat and drink him. That "meal" creates, just as it did when Jesus first offered it, a response of "this saying is too hard for us." Why?

It's concrete, not conceptual. It's strangers at our Martha Stewart tables. It's sick people sleeping between our Downy softened sheets. It's being in very hot places without air-conditioning. It's eating with people who don't know the Bible or Jesus or Doug Pagitt or Brian McLaren or Rob Bell or Marva Dawn.

Tell it!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Is it edible?

I have a few minutes of web service at Panera Bread this morning and wanted to point you to "Jesus at the Margins," a weblog series by John Frye. I especially like part three: "When Jesus broke bread, he broke Israel." What John has to say about Jesus shares common themes with Conrad Gempf's latest book, Mealtime Habits of the Messiah.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Blogging break

My wife's grandmother died yesterday afternoon and we're on our way to Tennessee today for the funeral service. She was my wife's father's mother, and she wasn't a Christian. I probably won't be blogging again till the first of next week.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Of course it's tough

Jeff Weddle is tired of hearing ministers complain about their how hard their jobs are: "Everyone struggles and suffers, get over it."

In defense of local preaching

Out of Ur looks at plagiarism in preaching. Causes include availability of online sermons and a culturally influenced "papacy of celebrity":
With a celebrity church culture is it any surprise that less celebrated pastors may lack self-esteem? With parishioners consuming excellent preaching Monday thru Saturday, it’s understandable why their expectations for Sunday are high. I can also understand why churches are happily adopting video venues to keep quality high and religious consumers satisfied. Some churches are even forgoing a preaching pastor altogether. Opting instead to use the previously recorded video messages of a celebrity pastor from across the country.
It's tempting to rely on technology to do our work for us. But video preachers aren't the ones living, working, and suffering with members of the congregation. A church isn't a gathering of consumers being entertained by the latest video. It's where the saints commune with God and one another. A video can't do that.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

It's a very small thing . . .

I've posted the text of this morning's sermon (1 Cor. 4:1-5) at To the Word. This one has something to say for ministers whose congregations are too hard on them and for Christians who are too hard on themselves.

Is it really about the children?

I've tended to avoid posting about social trends, because it all too easily leads into side tracks about politics. But because many trends in society can lead Christians away from faithful discipleship, you will see social commentary here from time to time. Here, for example, is something from Touchstone Magazine blog, where Russell Moore looks at the move toward all-day Kindergartens and wonders if something other than educational quality isn't involved:
The push toward all-day kindergarten or year-round grade school or "after school programs" that last until 6 or 7 PM are almost always framed in terms of educational quality, what's best for the child. If it's really about freeing up parents to work, then let's at least be honest about that. Only then, might we be able to have a conversation about how to address the very real economic and social strains all around us.

I'm less worried about public school systems putting scholar's caps on toddlers than I am about local churches not thinking through and teaching that it is okay to let children be children.

Friday, August 04, 2006

More Word in worship

Kirk Wellum makes a case for reading more Scripture in worship assemblies.

Christians, are we listening?

In making sense of world news, Dennis Prager offers some basic advice: "If you are ever morally confused about a major world issue, here is a rule that is almost never violated: Whenever you hear that 'world opinion' holds a view, assume it is morally wrong" (HT: Culture Watch).

Remembering our mission

Here's a follow-up to yesterday's post on advice to those considering devoting their lives to the ministry of the Word. In a sermon on 1 Cor. 4:1-7, the late Ray Stedman shared a story that defines the role of a congregational preacher:
A young pastor at a pastors' conference once said to me, "What would you do if you were in my shoes? My Board called me in and said to me, 'Look, there are some things we want you to understand. One is that this is our church; it is not your church. We were here before you came, and we are going to be here when you leave; therefore, we expect you to do what we want you to do and not what you think you ought to do.' What would you say to a church like that?" I said, "Well, I would call together the elders of the church and I would say to them, 'Brothers, I think you are suffering from two very serious theological errors: "'One, you think this is your church, but this is not your church. This is the Lord's church. All churches belong only to him; they do not belong to the people; they are not a democracy owned by the congregation. Jesus said, "On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," {cf, Matt 16:18}. So all of us are under the authority of the Lord of this church, and it is his job to tell us what he wants the church to be, and not our job to tell him what we think it ought to be.'"

"'The second error is that you think you hired me to work in this church, but you have not. I did not come on that basis. I have joined you to share the ministry with you. I appreciate the fact that you have set me aside, and given me support from the congregation so that I do not have to spend time earning a living, but can devote my full time to the ministry of teaching and preaching. If you will not accept those terms then I will have to look elsewhere. I cannot work on any other terms because that is what the New Testament says.'"

He went back to his church and they fired him, but now he has another church and he made his stand clear from the beginning and things are working out very well with him.
Preachers, if we really want to preach transforming sermons, we must remember who our boss is: not the congregation, not the elders, but the one who transforms hearts and minds through the Word we proclaim.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Worth reading

Daryl Dash has some good quotes these days at Theocentric Preaching.

How to prepare for congregational ministry

Sad but true that S. M. Hutchens is on to something with this one:
If a young man were to ask me how he should prepare for pastoral ministry, close to the top of my list of advice would be, “Get and maintain--especially if you plan to marry and have children, and are not of independent means--a skill for which there is a ready market, for which you could leave the pastorate and quickly begin to support your family.” I am deadly serious about this.

I say this because I am convinced that doing the right thing in a great many churches will place one in a struggle where one’s livelihood is in immediate jeopardy, and that the normal result of the confrontation is the pastor’s capitulation to some wickedness or foolishness to save his job and feed his family. The conscience is thereby defiled, and the compromised pastor
becomes a dressing for some ecclesial disease—clean white gauze on its outside, the inside absorbing the suppurations of a festering sore which will not heal because it refuses to receive the treatment it needs. Such dressings are frequently, of necessity, torn off and thrown away.
On the other hand, if you're really called into the ministry of the Word, if you've really got the fire in the bones, if it really is woe unto you if you don't preach the gospel, then God will take care of you. Not that you'll like it or have a comfortable time of it, mind you, but the Lord will take care of his own.

Update: John Schroeder shares his own insight here. This one in particular is incisive: "Vocational ministry appeals to the insecure soul."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

What are we doing in the pulpit?

Doug Groothuis has asked some pointed questions about preaching today, including "Why don't preachers preach?" Doug also offers thoughts on how to improve preaching.

Interpretation through community

In his final installment on "the myth of expository preaching" David Fitch calls on Christians to respond to Scripture not as individuals but as a community:
If preaching starts and ends with the sermon on Sunday, and if the Word is distributed to individuals as portable property to be taken home in notes or a cassette tape, it cannot help but be the means of fostering interpretive violence. The violence comes when we put our own meaning or agenda onto Scripture. The violence comes when the preaching of the Word separates us as individuals each armed with the interpretation we want because we do not come together in mutual submission to discern the Scripture’s meaning for our lives today.

If preaching is to avoid this violence, it must foster communal practices that allow us to submit to one another as the Spirit works to interpret the Scriptures. We do this not as a democracy, but as a Spirit filled community where we submit to each other’s authoritative gifts. Of course, to even think of doing church this way requires a new imagination.
Once again, Dr. Fitch hasn't shown why expository preaching is antithetical to what he proposes. And once again, what he proposes is highly insightful.

Update: Glenn Lucke offers a response to David Fitch (HT: Jollyblogger).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Looking for a wizard

Mike Russell reminds Christians that "everybody needs a wizard."

Beyond self-helpy religion

It looks like during his recent blogging break Jared at Shizuka Blog was saving up spiritual insights, especially about self-help religion posing as the gospel. Here's a sample:
What graceless twits we are. (Okay, what a graceless twit I am.) One point I have tried to make to some of the newly married couples in our small group is that they must really work on getting to know the difference between doing good for their spouse in order to get something in return and doing good for their spouse simply because it's the right thing to do. I think lots of the stuff out there on his-and-her needs, love languages, etc. can be very helpful, but too often it somehow sets us up to be yinning and yanging each other. I do this and you do that, and then we will bring balance to the force. I wonder where sin and grace come into play.
Good stuff.