All Christians would agree that what is most needed in the present age is a loosing of the power of God among us, but what is often forgotten is that the proclamation of His word has always been God's chosen channel of power.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
The political realm is God's accommodation to us, not his plan for us. All the talk of Christian nations, or manifest destiny, or the divine rights of kings, or theocracies, is completely human originated. God gives Israel a king not because it was his design, but because it wasn't. If the people of God were to be the people of God, there would be no need for a human king. "We would do from our hearts what is right." This was God's point. He gives Israel a king, so they will understand this is not God's ways.Amen. Craig, by the way, briefly expresses thoughts developed nearly a hundred years ago by David Lipscomb in Civil Government. Lipscomb compared human government to hell--something ordained by God, but not really the way things ought to have to be.
Undoubtedly someone will quote Romans 13 at me here. But Romans 13 is about how to behave toward secular governments so that you can be a witness. It is not a justification for their divine origins. They are a divine accommodation, but never God's plan.
Monday, February 27, 2006
The Christian life, here in America at least, begins to resemble nothing more than a carnival midway. The barkers compete with one another to grab your attention, making euphoric promises. The colored lights, the jangling music, the cotton candy and the plastic prizes - our senses are filled but our minds are empty. Stay too long, and you begin to feel a little queasy. Your head aches. Your body yearns for substantial fare. But someone just hit the bull’s eye and won a Christian CD. Her face is ecstatic. Surely it’s a God-thing. And someone else just bought a ticket on the carousel of "purpose." He just knows it’s going to change his life. Meanwhile, at the other end of the midway is the big tent where the miracle-workers promise power from on high. You’ll have to wait in line, but that’s okay. It’s all so much like "the world," you feel right at home.I'm glad to see Bob reposting that one. It's a repost for this blog, too.
Meanwhile, on a hill far away stand three unattended crosses.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Why? Basically, it was because I tried to be like Jesus. I ... I.... I tried to be like God. But that wasn't my job and for years and years the frustration grew because I was in the wrong job. I plopped myself into an impossible career, one no person on Earth can handle, though I tried for the next 25 years.How did she overcome that sad condition? Well, if you've read this far, why not read Debra's whole article?
I'd go to church every Sunday and was preached at that I should tell people about Jesus (tell, tell,tell..that's the main thing) and I thought that meant telling strangers about the Jesus in the Bible. And my guilt grew like trees because talking to strangers like that scared me to tiny pieces.
I was told to 'be ye perfect' and I tried so hard and wrote up so many plans and read stacks of books and tried and tried to be perfect. But I never even came close. And guilt grew taller and a sense of failure, too, as well as the need to wear a mask to hide all this mess. To appear as something I should be, but wasn't.
Update: Swap Blog has more here.
Friday, February 24, 2006
The sad truth in the lives of many Christians today is that striving is what we're all about. We're expending considerable energy attempting to win every race, no matter how small, even if that race has no spiritual significance. We not only want to have a gold star on our Sunday School attendance chart, but we want the rest of the box the gold star came in, even if that means no one else gets one.The essay is valuable, and the accompanying graphic is priceless.
The key to unforgettable preaching is packaging truth in ways that are biblically sound and culturally relevant. Let me borrow from the parable of the wineskins. Think of biblical exegesis as the wine. Think of cultural relevance as the wineskin. If you have one without the other, you’re not going to quench anybody’s thirst. You need the substance (biblical exegesis) and the container (cultural relevance).That's worth remembering. I'm reminded of an older article by David Mains on "Killer Applications":
If we divorce Biblical exegesis and cultural exegesis we end up with dysfunctional truth. It doesn’t do anybody any good. Either we answer questions no one is asking. Or we give the wrong answers.
The 66 books of the Bible are not primarily informational. They expect people to do something—to live a life worthy of the Lord, for instance—to obey the commandments; to look after the poor and the powerless; to honor the covenant; whatever.Of course, it's easy to take relevance too far. At bottom the Word itself is inherently relevant; God will provide the relevance. But these two articles have helped me, at least, to remember that the Word should be preached with the lives of hearers in mind.
All too frequently, however, sermons fail to make clear the response being called for. Because of this failure, a listener can seldom answer the question, "In what way will I be different as a result of hearing this message?" . . . .
Few ministers have been taught to think in terms of "how-to's," and frankly, these are seldom found in the biblical text.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Something to remember
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if any virtue, if any praise, be thinking on these things.
Changing the way people act is the fruit of repentance. Repentance is not behavioral change; it results in behavioral change. Repentance happens in your mind. That 's why John the Baptist says to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. "I preach that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds" (Acts 26:20).As Warren points out, our actions are changed by our hearts, our hearts are changed by our minds, and our minds are changed by the Word of God.
Update: As one commenter notes, it was Paul and not John quoted in Acts 26:20.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
I do know it is possible for a church to live for months and years and rarely mention the name of Jesus. He sort of becomes an honorary figure. Jesus stops being the one who we look to as our leader who we are seriously following. We may do little more than give him a polite nod.Good questions. I recommend reading the whole post. Jim, by the way, has also posted an outstanding essay on Deadly Silence.
Far too often preachers, pastors, elders and other church leaders do not seriously grapple with the implications of the Jesus' life. Consequently, they do not seriously grapple with what he wants the church to do. What would our churches be like if we were to come at some of these decisions with open Bibles and seriously look at the way of Jesus. Would the decision come out differently?
The Bible is not a handbook for successful living. In fact it is the story of a people called to suffer and agonize and be conflicted and ultimately die. What is unique about this story, above all other worldly options, both religious and secular, is that it doesn't try to escape suffering, but suffering is uniquely tied to being the people of God. Eventually, all suffering will be overcome in the Kingdom of God, but in the meantime it is the way of salvation.Amen, and amen. Are you ever tempted to teach or preach an easy, step-by-step "plan of salvation"? I like reading Craig's blog because he reminds readers that the journey of salvation is more than an individual business transaction for acquiring a ticket to heaven. The step-by-step path of salvation is one for the whole church to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow in the steps of Jesus.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
The temptation with spiritual formation is to turn following Jesus into some detailed, endless practice on "to do" or "do not do" lists, which nobody seems to agree on anyway.
Whatever happened to Jesus' personal and simple invitation, "Follow me"?
The subordination of the text to doctrine has a lethal effect. We honor the Puritans for their love of Scripture and of preaching. Few eras in church history have listened to so much preaching so long as among the Puritans. But after some exegesis, the typical Puritan sermon concentrated on the doctrinal section and its uses or application. Very little text was exposed; one great Puritan preached four years on the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). This is the phenomenon of the inverted pyramid where a tiny piece of text is used as a base for the exploration of Scripture as a whole on its doctrinal concomitant. Seldom did the Puritan preacher deal with a natural thought unit. 18 sermons on John 3:6 is not calculated to model for any hearer how Scripture is to be used.To an extent we must always view the text through the lens of doctrine. Problems arise, however, when we allow those lenses to distort the real picture of what the Scripture says. It's distressing to conclude that all preachers allow this to happen to some degree. Preachers, then, need to ask ourselves this question: Are we willing to look at the text honestly enough to let Scripture continue shaping our doctrine--and our hearts?
Monday, February 20, 2006
Our preaching should leave some unanswered questions and a few loose ends dangling. Jesus was a master at this. If we're going to take Jesus as our preaching model, think of all the times he gave a sermon, and then his disciples would come later and ask, " Now what were you saying? What's the deal about the soil? " And he would explain it to them. In some ways, preachers today have been brainwashed into thinking we have to give people 100 percent answers, that they can't handle loose ends. Yet Jesus did that all the time. He did it in ways that helped people keep growing in their journey.Good observation. I recommend reading the whole article.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
A modern term for one people killing all of another so that there will be no intermingling of ideas is ethnic cleansing. And yet it is God who is the author, in the plainest of terms. This isn't a quirk of translation. The essential meaning did not change from the original Hebrew.But, as John Luke points out: he's the same, unchanging God. And why would God do such a thing? Because God loves his people. John Schroeder--no slouch when it comes to intellect--reminds us that human beings simply cannot get our minds around God's love:
This is where so-called mainline churches leave the room. Their God is love, don't you see, and would never ever countenance such a wicked thing as leaving alive "nothing that breathes." This is the same God that sent His only Son to die on the cross like a common criminal, without raising a finger to resist?
Short answer is "yes." God took pains from the creation through this very moment to show us how deadly serious He is. You may wish it were not so. You may claim that, somehow, God was a "vengeful" God in Old Testament times, then, somehow, went on some sort of a heavenly retreat with some Buddhists or somesuch, and became the God of love, who would not harm a fly.
I am struck by how complex the character of God truly is, and how little we can understand it. God is love, and yet He orders His people to do something that to our eyes seems utterly evil.Amen.
Is God; therefore, evil? Of course not! But we certainly are not smart enough to figure out why not.
We cannot hold God to our standards, in fact only the opposite can happen - we must he held to His. Clearly He understands love in ways that we cannot begin to get our heads around.
Friday, February 17, 2006
This is the crux of the issue when it comes to hard stuff. It usually means subject matter that people do not want to hear. So the pastor had better be on solid ground when hard-stuff time comes. . . .
You're on it when you begin with a careful handling of Scripture. Not proof texts where one starts with an opinion and then seeks some sort of biblical endorsement. But a search of the Bible with the question: What does the Bible say to this issue? Which biblical people dealt with this matter and why? What are the implications if we do not change—or if we do?
This is just a sampling. I recommend reading the whole article.
I'm suggesting that we teach people to approach the Bible looking not just for answers, but for questions as well. It seems to me that the Bible wasn't intended to give easy answers. Rather, it seems to beg questions...questions that make you think. Scripture seems to want to be digested slowly. Instead of instant comfort it seems to want to stir troubling questions...questions that take time to process...questions that change you at the core of your beingAmen.
Update: Swap Blog offers more thoughts on the subject.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Too much preaching promotes pride in the congregation by throwing bricks over the wall towards other people’s greenhouses. Either the point of the passage is applied only to non-believers, suggesting that the Word has nothing to say to the church, or it is applied to problems that are rarely seen in the congregation that is being preached to. Thus the congregation becomes puffed up, and like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable ends up thankful that they are not like others. The response is not repentance and faith but, "If only Mrs Brown heard this sermon!" or "Umpteenth Baptist Smorgsville, Pennsylvania really ought to have this sermon preached to them!"(HT: Dave Bish)
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
There is something else youngsters should know about the Senior Adults around them. That is, there is more than one kind. To wit:Yep.
There is the Depression Era senior, or one closely associated with them. This is a person raised in a time of extreme need/want/poverty. This individual may live frugally, worry about "having enough" or "being ruined" and so may control the church checkbook with rigidity, just like at home. This is a person having lived through times of great affluence (and having come to affluence themselves) who still live with an attiude or perception of poverty.
There is the Boomer senior. Yes, we are getting there now. We grew up in a time of great affluence, have never really been without and so have a sense of entitlement. We may regard the church checkbook, whether we give or not, as something that must open to meet the perceived needs of our altruism, or children or our grandchildren.
One group, deeply insecure.
One group, feeling entitled.
Lotsaluck, there my friend. Remember we ain't dyin' soon.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Church members and even officers sometimes have a hard time appreciating how much time a good message from God’s word takes to develop, and furthermore don’t see the importance of the pastor studying anything else than for preaching and devotions. There is a strong dose of anti-intellectualism in our circles and it doesn’t encourage a man to do the hard work of developing the mind and expanding his knowledge.Amen.
But precisely because our people are bathed in trivial information in this day and age, they need a shepherd with real knowledge, much discernment and a nose for truth. This knowledge must be acquired and those qualities cultivated, and both require that you become a permanent student. This call to study is, of course, entirely biblical.
Monday, February 13, 2006
I have been disappointed in some bloggers who are continually criticising others who don’t see it their way. I have a simple message for you, and for those who want to criticise others in the future...forgive or forfeit forgiveness!Those are pretty tough words. But, as John reminds us, forgiveness is at the center of our salvation.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Offline resources for NT exegesis
- An accurate, up-to-date Greek NT. Even if you're not able to read the text without help, it's good to have the best text with variants. I use UBS 4th ed.
- A good interlinear NT. Because I can't sit down and read most of the NT in Greek, I like having an interlinear. I use Alfred Marshall's, which also contains parallel translations in English.
- A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed (BDAG). This is the one to have. If anyone knows of a better lexicon, please tell me about it.
- The Word: The Bible from 26 Translations. Twenty-six English translations are consulted to offer several different renderings for each phrase in the Bible. This is an amazing resource, especially if used alongside the Greek text.
- New American Standard Bible. No matter how many resources I use, it helps to look at the text in the translation I use for preaching.
Those are my choices. Well, preachers, what books are on your list?
Friday, February 10, 2006
Our Western culture allows us to participate in the joy and celebrations of others with cheering, laughing, lots of activity and noise. Yet in sorrow we are silent and withdrawn. Why is grief meant to by silent? Why we are afraid to let our lamenting be heard? Long ago it was said “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” I am sure you, like I, have been in deep sorrow yet there has been no one to sorrow with us. . .Steph makes a valuable point: that Westerners lack socially acceptable means of lamentation. That is no small loss.
Thursday, February 09, 2006
The problem is the approach to time that cell phones foster. Cell phones tell us that time is something to be used, maximized. We are to squeeze into a single hour, a single moment, as much as we possibly can. Even the verbs we use for time are telling; we use time, spend time, maximize time, save time — all metaphors drawn from finance! In the 19th century, people didn't speak of spending or maximizing time; they spoke of passing the time. . . .Ms. Winner gives a telling illustration of what she's talking about:
What I'm getting at is this: cell phones, for all their benefits, have distorted both how we inhabit time and how we go about being embodied people.
About a year ago, I was standing in line at the drugstore. The gal in front of me was talking on her cell phone. I (naively) assumed that when she got to the front of the line, she would hang up, or at least put her cell phone down. I was wrong. Where her turn came, Cell Phone Gal stayed stuck to her cell phone, paying for her gum, magazines, and lip gloss without so much as a hello to the cashier. It occurred to me that our gal was treating the person, the cashier, like a machine, and treating the machine like a person.That's something to think about (Hat tip: The Christian Mind).
2. Forget trying to be a big name. Most of that stuff is about who you know, anyway. Stop playing the game.Good stuff, espeially that last one.
14. Know that you are dispensable. Don’t take yourself too serious. After all, if you are hit by a Dr. Pepper truck today, the church will soon replace you.
29. Beware of sabotage. Edwin Friedman (Generation to Generation) taught that when you behave in a dysfunctional system as a healthy person, someone will attempt to sabotage you.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
As a sporting event, this Super Bowl, and many of its predecessors, was empty. It is as if middle America runs the NFL perfectly well until the playoffs, and then Madison Avenue takes over the party and it all becomes a gratuitous pomp-fest on a Hampton's summer evening. Unlike Jesus' miracle at Cana, where the best wine comes out last, the Super Bowl is the dessert that makes one wish for appetizers.To what degree does the Super Bowl, as the sacramental apex of American sports culture, really reflect the emptiness of North American consumer culture?
Manipulation defines Haskellism. He interprets his own sincerity as proof of God's authority. He attributes the immediate results of good works as proof of his divinely inspired leadership, and the ultimate undoing of these people as their personal failures, not his.Matt hits the nail on the head in describing "the scheming, heavy-handed ministers who have designs to spiritually fix everyone around them."
I can't claim myself as an authority on ministry, but I know enough to know that God is the one that does the fixing. He might use me to facilitate a path, but my operational tools are the Word and a truckload of grace. It's my job to be patient with those whom God has called me to minister to, as He does the work. Lord knows he's been working on me for 36 years, and I'm still a work in progress.
Update: Swap Blog has more on the topic here.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
"PEOPLE are experience rich and theory poor," the writer Malcolm Gladwell said recently. "People who are busy doing things — as opposed to people who are busy sitting around, like me, reading and having coffee in coffee shops — don't have opportunities to kind of collect and organize their experiences and make sense of them."Amen (HT: Conrad Gempf).
I thought as Christians we believe that Jesus is our only security and peace. . . . I thought as Christians we believe that every nation is in decline, even our own, and that the only everlasting nation/kingdom is the Kingdom of God. . . .Yes, to a degree it is. Romans 13 deals with that issue. It's probably no accident that Jesus came to earth and the Good News began its advance during a time when peace in the Mediterranean region was maintained by Roman military force. I give thanks to God that, because of the sword of government, I don't have to carry my own sword on the way to the store or the church house.
This post is not about whether the use and support of warfare and military power by a Christians is ever justified. This post is about the idolatry many Christians who live in the U.S. have bought into. Is our security and peace dependent on a government and its military force?
But whatever instruments God uses to protect us, true security and peace come only from knowing God. It's all too easy for Christians in the U.S. to be caught up in the idolatry of national might. As I preached in the fall of 2001, if our sense of security depends on winning the "war on terror," then we're looking for security in the wrong place.
Monday, February 06, 2006
Let's face it: life is not easy. No one said it would be and in addition to everything else Christians must remember that we face spiritual opposition that the world knows nothing about. It is not unusual to feel extremely tired when a time of prayer is scheduled or there is an opportunity to hear the word of God. Quite frankly, we just need to learn to expect such weariness, not take it too seriously and push beyond it. Chances are it will pass and we will feel just fine. Just because we are weary doesn't mean we can't work through it. The fact that anything is being done indicates that someone is doing just that!Kirk's essay takes up a theme discussed last month at ekklesia in "Praying When I Hardly Feel Anything."
This is a lesson that all useful Christians learn. With God's help they learn how to press on in spite of their feelings. If we are always ready to bail out on the basis of our feelings we will not be of much use to the Master. We need to realize that we can do all things through him who gives us strength! And we need to look for inspiration to those who have demonstrated what this looks like in real life instead of taking the path of least resistence.
Update: Swap Blog has a few more words on the subject here.
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Friday, February 03, 2006
Every preacher needs to keep in mind three great axioms: (1) Don't ever dare to stand in front of a group of people with a Bible in your hand and not expect change. We must have a holy confidence—confidence in God and his Word, confidence that God is going to change lives whenever we speak from his Book. (2) Remember that the goal of all ministry is transformation. It's not about being liked. It's not about being accepted. God's ultimate goal is to change lives. (3) At the end of the day, the effectiveness of our preaching will burst forth from the holiness of our personal lives.I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Loritts at a large event several years ago, and I think the man knows what he's talking about.
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Mystery is something whose utter strangeness and stubbornness forever resist all attempts on our part to domesticate it, dominate it, define it or dismiss it. Life is a mystery! Death is a mystery! The incarnation -- the coming of God in Jesus Christ -- is a mystery! The resurrection of Jesus from death is a mystery! Our life on this planet involves us in mystery. The Story of God's gracious dealings with us through grace involves us in mystery! We can experience the mystery, but, try as we might, we cannot explain it. We who preach are stewards of the mysteries of God. What we offer and extend through preaching can be experienced but it is more wonderful -- filled with what arouses wonder and awe -- than we can fully explain.The temptation for both preachers and those who listen to our preaching is to explain everything in neat categories that offer no room for doubt or wonder. Resist it.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
There is a lust for certainty about all kinds of things in and out of the Scriptures in the Evangelical or Conservative Protestant world and sometimes that 'itch' is scratched in ways that does [sic] no service to Biblical truth, and no justice to the Christian community. Sometimes it leads to fear-based practices-- take-overs of schools and churches because of the fear that something has been or might be said that does not square with one's particular narrow reading of Scripture, or even just because we do not like what has been said, even if it is perfectly Biblical!Amen.
It is a mistake for the conservative church to buy into and become a part of the problem of "the closing of the American mind". We need more dialogue, not less, more study, not less, more understanding, not less. More openness to learning and fresh insight, though of course as my grandmother used to say-- "don't be so open minded that your brains fall out". The call of the Protestant Reformation was 'semper reformanda' always reforming, and we certainly need to hear and heed that call here at the cusp of the 21rst century when it comes to our use and abuse of the Bible.