Wednesday, October 31, 2007
We don't always know if we've grown or if we've just gotten more intelligent about spiritual things. So we create a lot of rules that smell like Scripture but really are our own desire to feel in control... and we use them to tear others up."Rules that smell like Scripture." That's a keeper.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Now balance is a word that portrays, to some, a sense of the safe, of the non-committal, of the middle-road. I would counter that balance is, in actuality, exciting, dangerous and very hard work. . . . Unfortunately, balance doesn't sell books or get people to read a blog post . . ."Too true, but I do hope you'll read Bill Roberts's, eh, balanced thoughts on balance at Out of the Bloo.
Monday, October 29, 2007
You should read, read, read and go on reading, and you need to start doing so straight away. A daily portion for devotional meditation is important and indispensable, but a preacher or prospective preacher needs to go way beyond this. Turn off the television and spend several hours each evening with your Bible open, and make a start TODAY. Use a good sturdy Bible, probably with a hard cover, with good marginal references, and any method - marking, taking notes, circling in red ink any marginal reference that seems particularly significant - any method at all that will impress the inspired text on your memory, your imagination and your heart. Get inside the Bible and ask God to enable you to get it inside you.Amen.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Those of you that pastor; you have people that complain about you, and people that applaud you. Have you ever noticed how ready you are to classify them as those that “don’t get it” and those who “do”? The people cheering you on are especially perceptive, aren’t they? Reliable and godly, salt-of-the-earth types. They must be, because they like you.Ouch.
Take that foolishness and apply a measurable scale to it, that you can check daily. Watch your blog stats climb. You can actually look at a line-graph of readers’ perception of your greatness! And, with a young blog, that line graph is almost always climbing! See how often others refer to your words and help build your esteem! Finally, the globe is waking up to my significance! At last, the dream is alive!
And of course it’s only ego that’s alive. A sluggish idol has been revitalized. A run-down pagan temple is getting a spruce-up.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
This means that we must be living out the Christian life. We must be effected by the cross in real and obvious ways. The power of God must be doing its work in our lives. The fruit of sanctification and the Holy Spirit must be evident.Amen. I wonder if that wouldn't work for my generation, too. As much as I hear people talk about Christians wanting ministers who "lead with a limp," I can't say I've ever met very many of them. Weakness and brokenness is everywhere. But only the church has the transforming power of God's Holy Spirit.
That’s all good, but what does this look like in a church service? Well, let’s stop trying to be relevant by focusing on how we all have so many shortcomings, by celebrating mediocrity, and by always acting so broken. Instead, let’s share the victories we are experiencing in Christ. Let’s celebrate the change that people are experiencing. Let’s offer testimonies of breakthrough, healing, restored relationships, and real transformation. Let’s offer hope.
At the same time, Jared Wilson is on-target in his assessment that "I don't trust anyone who says following Jesus means everything should go great for me, because nobody who's ever lived has ever had everything go great. It is not honest to say one can avoid suffering and defeat and failure."
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Our society and systems seem incapable of handling the never-ceasing expansion of want and need. Our souls are groaning and the planet is buckling beneath the collateral damage of growth. Landfills are full, the air is thick, and we cannot drink from many of our streams.Amen. For Christians, issues of environmental stewardship should be focused not so much on how consumption damages the planet, as in how it damages the soul. I recommend reading Mr. Hall's whole article--if nothing else, the penultimate paragraph makes the whole essay worthwhile.
In light of our growing problems, maybe the church should give small a chance. I propose that ministry leaders are just the ones to help Christ followers exchange big for small. After all, leaders are supposed to help usher others toward something better (not just something bigger), so maybe we should start ushering folks toward living lives that are less hectic, less cluttered, less selfish, less toxic. And maybe instead of a big ad campaign advertising “LESS!” we should start living with less ourselves. Instead of just preaching it from the pulpit, maybe some personal choices would help slow down the growth, bring some sanity to our lives and make the world more livable.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
But what happens to our view of evangelism if the primary focus is the advancement of the Kingdom not the growth of the church? Then evangelism is not concerned with numbers, budgets, or corporate effectiveness, but with embodying the prayer — “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Monday, October 22, 2007
I’m a firm believer in helping my listeners apply the Scriptures to their lives. . . . But I find that incorporating application into my sermons on a week-to-week basis is a challenge.Good, uh, point. Peter Mead has posted this follow-up to Steve's essay.
For me, the challenge is reductionism. By this, I refer to the practice of reducing application to a list of ‘life application points’ at the end of each sermon. Our culture is fond of lists. Number them, or put bullet points in front of them. Either way, listeners are eager to write them down and then, we hope, to work on fleshing them out in their lives.
But one comment I heard a few years ago made me pause. A believer who attended a midwest church known for its pastor’s preaching ministry complained, “If my pastor gives me one more life application point, I’m going to scream. I’m still trying to work on the ones from four months ago!”
Friday, October 19, 2007
That's Jared Wilson. You can find more insights on Christians and cool here.
There are many reasons why preachers don’t preach God-centered messages. One of the reasons, though, has to do with the fear that preaching about God will be irrelevant to people’s lives today. In other words, we fear that preaching about God will lead to sermons that lack relevance.Amen.
I can understand this concern: preaching has to connect with the people sitting in the congregation before us. It isn’t wrong for preachers to be concerned about relevance at all.
The challenge for preachers, though, is to truly believe that there is nothing more relevant to people today than God. Nothing is more relevant to God.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
A number of years ago I had a member of my congregation come to me after a sermon. They said something very simple, "Pastor, we really are trying to do this. I am sorry we disappoint you." They did not mean it as a rebuke. They were sincere. But it was a massive rebuke. I was, apparently, conveying a "your life is not pleasing to God" perspective.I'm quite sure he's not.
This is remarkable. How can sanctification be motivated by that? Don't we have to threaten and cajole? Thomas Chalmers speaks to that in his "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection." It is a remarkable essay, for two reasons. First, it was written in a day when I think pastors were paid for writing by the word. In other words, it is not concise. But the last few pages are well worth the labor. Second, it is grace motivating. Chalmers asks -- when you are engaged in admonishing people to be holy as the condition of a life pleasing to God, what can you expect but despair? Holiness is impossible. Telling people to strive for it in order to please God is not encouraging at all. But, he notes, when they begin their sanctification from a settled conviction that they are fully accepted (and not merely tolerated) before God because of the Savior -- they are free to seek to please God with joy. Far from encouraging licentiousness, grace enables godliness.More than that, I resist this. I have begun to see how profoundly self-righteous I am. I simply do not want to believe that my life is pleasing to God in Christ. I do not want God to be pleased. I almost fear the idea. Because I am not yet pleased with myself and God must be mistaken. I must attain a level of godliness that I think is suitable and then I can accept this. I may not be alone in this.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
When I weary of a doctrinal compatriot's constant knocking of the Church to the extent that it essentially becomes their raison d'blog, I stop seeing "prophet" and start seeing "scrooge." I see the pervasive unhappiness with the spiritual quality of fellow believers not as indication of the blogger's properly calibrated prophetic barometer but as indication of their thinly veiled joylessness.Jared offers further thoughts on joy here. David Wayne has also posted on joy at Jollyblogger.
Remember: only God gets to vomit people out.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
We live in a dark world. Our hearts long for goodness, beauty, justice, and peace, but they are often hidden behind the shadow cast by evil and sin. This is why preaching is so necessary. Whenever the kingdom of God is proclaimed, it is like a bright burst of light. In those brief moments, the shadows recede and we are given a glimpse of a world behind the darkness. It is a sublime vision that reorders our perception of reality and leaves us hungry for more.The writer is Skye Jethani, and his whole article,"Glimpses of Glory," is worth reading.
This understanding of preaching, the unveiling of an inspiring vision of God's kingdom, is not the one I've always held. I was formed to think that the primary purpose of preaching was instruction. This view of preaching expects the informed, articulate person behind the pulpit to teach the congregation divine truths and skills. The pupils are then expected to bury these seeds of biblical knowledge away in their brains where in time they germinate into godly values and behaviors, although few people seem surprised when they don't.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Our churches are organized to meet the spiritual needs of individuals, and our salvation is incredibly individualistic. Calling Jesus “a personal Savior” sounds like Jesus is in the same category as my personal barber, personal trainer, or personal dental hygenist. . . The danger is making salvation all about me.Amen, amen, and amen.
I know it didn't start out this way in evangelicalism, but it was latent in the structure of our soteriology. And so we have almost romanticized our relationship with God; created a narcissistic experience of it. And churches become all about preserving, maintaining, and nurturing this experience in their parishioners.
But the gospel is not about getting something, it is about participating in something—God's work of reconciling the whole world to Himself. And yes, we do have a relationship with God which becomes personal but it is inseparable from His mission.
Friday, October 12, 2007
So what can we learn from Scripture about God’s way of addressing the problem of evil and shattering its debilitating effects? In Jesus God’s justice takes on human flesh and counters the permeating effects of evil with a holiness that produces cleansing, a power that assaults the very strongholds of evil, and a Kingdom that provided a vision of an alternative way. Jesus has come to plunder the kingdom of the “strong man” (=Satan) and liberate all those held prisoner by his tyrannical power (Luke 11:21-22; cf. 4:18). The demonized and those crippled by sickness and disease are freed from their bondage and invited to participate in a Kingdom not of this world. His presence exposed institutional corruption (Matthew 21-23), and challenged the Empire with an alternative Kingdom (John 18:36). Jesus provided us a glimpse of the “powers of the coming age” (Hebrews 6:5), as the stormy seas are calmed (Mark 4:35-41), the possessed are restored to their right mind (5:1-20), the marginalized are brought near (5:21-34), and death is overcome by the giver of life (5:35-43). In Jesus we find a power fully capable of reversing the deadly effects of evil and its contamination at all levels of human existence.Amen. And if this sample hasn't gotten you fired-up about what Larry is saying, I recommend you read the whole article.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Does it even strike anyone as odd that the prevailing church model these days is only loosely based on an interpretation of the attractional aspect of Jesus' ministry?This excerpt is only the smallest sample of Jared's essay. It's fairly long but worth the effort.
I mean, attractional ministry and missional ministry don't have to be mutually exclusive, but the way the pendulum swings so far toward the attractional worship paradigm, you'd think Jesus and the disciples were playing clips from Sophocles, punctuated by some powerful ballad with Peter on the lute, and then a tidy little message on how to succeed as a fisherman.
I have concluded that our branch of the Christian movement (sometimes called Evangelical) is pretty good at wooing people across the line into faith in Jesus. And we’re also not bad at helping new-believers become acquainted with the rudiments of a life of faith: devotional exercise, church involvement, and basic Bible information—something you could call Christian infancy.That's Gordon MacDonald, and I think his assessment is correct. The way the church comprehends and proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ affects where we go in discipleship. If we present the Gospel as nothing more than "do this and you'll go to heaven" and discipleship as "keep doing this and you'll stay on the Heaven Highway," then we shouldn't be surprised if many Christians care about nothing more than their own personal salvation. For the next couple of days, I'll be linking to articles that show a better way.
But what our tradition lacks of late—my opinion anyway—is knowing how to prod and poke people past the “infancy” and into Christian maturity.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
We became convinced that we—and much of the evangelical entrepreneurial subculture—were extremely consumeristic. We realized our ministry was oriented around providing religious benefits for people, and that we'd been encouraging people to choose the church they wanted to attend based on those benefits. So we pulled away from consumerism and became enthralled with our own process of formation as leaders. We began to attend to the details of our own lives, and then had to try to communicate this new focus to the people in our church. Sadly, the church did not respond very well to the shift of emphasis, and we witnessed [a mass] exodus from the church during this time. But we continued to stay faithful to the vision we believed God had given us for the church.It's rare to find a preacher that frank and determined. I don't know anything about Kent Carlson, but I hope his account is for real.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
This may sound like a distinction without a difference, but it really is different. It is the difference between seeing the Sermon on the Mount as merely "stuff to do" and seeing it as "stuff to be." The Sermon on the Mount is good news not so far as it is giving us a new law, but in so far as it announces that under this new law the poor in spirit are blessed, the meek will inherit the earth, those who hunger for righteousness will be satisfied, etc.Exactly. Jared develops these thoughts further in his short essay, "Obedience is about reconciliation."
This is why the Gospel is news, not advice.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Just because a clear image comes into your mind as you read a text, do not assume others see it clearly or at all. Take time to describe what the text is referring to, not only so people have the facts, but so they can see it in their minds. Careful and vivid, specific and focused description will eventually lead to an image emerging in the shadows of their minds. This will take some time. If you are preaching about Paul’s thorn in the flesh, take the time to help people enter into the reality of a thorn in the flesh. If you are preaching a story with a terrifying storm, do what it takes for people not only to know about bad storms, but see the waves in their minds, to feel their hearts racing and their breathing become shallow.Sounds like good advice.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
How do we prepare our souls for this task? We are fallible people, yet we are to speak for God, so our preparation is not just getting our spiritual life "amped up" for a weekend service. It is a way of life: "What kind of person am I becoming so that preaching is the outflow of a certain kind of life, and it comes out of me in a way that God wants it to come out?" This means we should prepare our souls not just for a week of preaching, but for a life of preaching.Amen.
HT: Brian Lowery
Monday, October 01, 2007
If you do cross-reference, then…don’t make it into a sword drill. That is to say, don’t overwhelm or distract people by expecting, or even allowing, them to hunt down every reference. This is too much for many, and can create an inner crisis for note-takers!Amen. That quote's from Part 2. Part 1 is also worth reading.
There's an overwhelming amount of information available online. Every week I read hundreds of blog posts and articles to find the best that's out there for my own ministry. I began Transforming Sermons in January 2005 as a way of sharing the riches. But at times the ocean of information is overwhelming, and so I'm taking a week's rest. I have enough posts saved up that the site won't look much different this week, but I'll only be checking in long enough to post a couple of articles each day. I look forward to the rest, and to getting back next week to reading your posts and comments.
I thank God for blessing me through those of you who read this blog. Your virtual presence allows me to share the treasures I've found.