Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Evangelists in context

Expository Thoughts has an excellent illustration of the limitations in cross-referencing from one Gospel writer to another.

Be still. Really.

John Frye shares some challenging thoughts on laziness, stillness, and discipleship.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"No matter what"

Jared Wilson offers simple advice on how to avoid at least one emotional roller-coaster in worship and ministry.

Barth on preaching

"Preaching is not a neutral activity. It is not an action involving two equal partners. It can mean only Lordship on God’s side and obedience on ours.” - Karl Barth

Monday, April 28, 2008

Making it to the cross

In the Clearing, with a little help from Justin Buzzard, offers advice to preachers and expositors on making it to the cross.

Using and abusing the Bible

John Frye reflects on 2 Cor. 3:2-3 and Christians' use of the Bible:
I’ve noticed two undeniable ways that the Bible is not given its rightful place in our lives and in the church at large. First, there are those who shout about inerrancy, authority, inspiration and they “battle for the Bible” in the public square. We must not remove the 10 Commandments from the courthouse lobby! What are the 10 Commandments? “Well, uh, uh, something about no other gods…uh, don’t kill…y’know.” Some claim to be all about protecting the Bible, but they hardly ever read it. Secondly, there are those who read it…diligently…so they can slice and dice it and so they can slice and dice anyone else who does not slice and dice the Bible the way they do. Oh, they know it all too well…as a weapon to bludgeon those who disagree with them. “We have the BIBLICAL view of the end times.” “We have the BIBLICAL view of baptism.” “We have the BIBLICAL view of women in the church.” “We have the BIBLICAL view of the atonement.” And on it goes. The Bible is used to winnow out the chaff from the otherwise pure church (and usually the “pure church” is some little tiny theological ghetto of adherents). They are the contemporary version of the Essenes of Jesus’ day; God’s pets.

Another version of those who do read the Bible a lot is that group who read the Bible as a diversion from the Holy Spirit. It’s much easier to have a relationship with a book, than with a Person, especially the third Person of the Trinity. Some say in effect, “No thank you. The B-I-B-L-E that’s the book for me. Don’t talk to me about a growing, intimate relationship with God the Spirit. The Spirit freaks me out. I’m told the Spirit can sneak up on you like the wind. He comes and goes at his own will. No thank you. I need to stay in control. I prefer the book.”

Some have so divorced the Bible, the written Word, from Jesus Christ, the living Word, that some feel they have the right, even the duty to use the Bible in very unChristlike ways. And do they feel righteous when they do! They’re daring! They’re prophetic! They’re powerful! They don’t compromise! And every unbeliever in their sight runs for cover thinking, “If that is the kind of person the Bible produces, I’m outta here fast!”
Again, John, ouch! And, by the way, his post is quoted extensively here, but the whole article is still worth reading.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Free mapping software

This looks helpful: creating maps with Bible Mapper. I've downloaded the application, received the free validation key, and plan to start using it soon.

"Don't Judge"

Darryl Dash shares quotes and a link on what Jesus was really getting at in his command to not judge. You can find my own thoughts here.

Politics and the resurrection

William Willmon considers how much time Jesus spent--before and after his resurrection--not in the city of Jerusalem but in the outback of Galilee:
One might have thought that Jesus would do something effective. If you want to have maximum results, don't waste your time talking to the first person whom you meet on the street, figure out a way to get to the movers and the shakers, the influential and the newsmakers, those who have some power and prestige. If you really want to promote change, go to the top.

I recall an official of the National Council of Churches who, when asked why the Council had fallen on hard times and appeared to have so little influence, replied, "The Bush Administration has refused to welcome us to the White House." How on earth can we get anything done if the most powerful person on earth won't receive us at the White House?

But Jesus? He didn't go up to the palace, the White House, the Kremlin, or Downing Street. (Jesus never got on well with politicians.) Jesus went outback, back to Galilee.

Why Galilee? Nobody special lived in Galilee, nobody except the followers of Jesus. Us.
Amen. Even considering how much I've excerpted here, I recommend Dr. Willimon's whole article.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Acts treasure chest

Unashamed Workman has links to online commentaries, sermons, and articles on Acts. Thanks, Colin.

On Gospel and culture

The terms modernism and post-modernism are bandied around too easily (including by me) but the bottom line is that there is very little connection or comprehension between the values of my parents’ generation and the culture of my children. This means that if the church is to be effective in reaching the rising generation it needs to rethink some of the cultural trappings that have become associated with the Gospel. There isn’t space to go into this in detail, but can I suggest that the idea of church as a performance, where people sit in rows and watch the professionals do their stuff at the front is a cultural expression which may no longer be appropriate.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Dead people don't have rights"

Ever since reading Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue I've been convinced that the whole idea of human rights is not a Christian concept at all. I've also had a hard time explaining the reasoning without simply urging people to read MacIntyre's whole book. Now, I'm happy to find that Finishing Well sums up the basic argument in one sentence.

Update: The more I think about it, the more it looks like AV and FW are dealing with different issues. Both are nevertheless valid and worth reading.

God's agenda

Have you thought lately about what Habakkuk has to say for a consumeristic culture? Me either, until reading Jared Wilson's thoughts on Habakkuk 2:20:
God has an agenda and it is not only not ours, it frequently and constantly interferes with and opposes ours. We are used to thinking in terms of God helping us in our life, that our life is "our story" and we invite God to participate in it, and that is so bass ackwards. It is God's story, God's world, God's life, and we get to participate in it.
Amen. Jared also gives a memorable precis of Habakkuk's conversation with God.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chasing relevance

This is a welcome find. Christians' zealous pursuit of "relevance," it seems, didn't begin with the twenty-first century. Or, for that matter, the twentieth.


John Frye is being provocative again. Consider:
Why doesn’t some Bible publishing company come out with “The Fortune Cookie Bible”?

Many Christians treat the Bible like they do a fortune cookie after a nice Chinese food dinner.

Pithy, little positive sayings that perk up your life and create a little, fun curiosity, that’s what fortune cookies do. And that’s all that many Christians want from their Bibles.

Life is about me, most American Christians conclude, and so the Bible should be about me, too. God is nice, but nice (and disposable) in a fortune cookie kind of way. Maybe his Word will tell me something I really want to hear, and if it doesn’t, I’ll close it up until I want another fortune told.
I'd like somebody to convince me that John is way off target with this one, but I'm afraid there's more truth to his words than most of us would like.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Rising above mediocre discipleship

These are challenging thoughts on discipleship and effort.

More than power

In the Clearing continues to be one of the best blogs out there for encouraging Christians to keep the gospel in our hearts and our eyes on the cross:
Everybody wants a god they can work with, don't you think? Assisted-living, you might call it. A god that is big enough to solve our problems, and forgiving enough to leave us alone about our sins. Even in OT days, some of Israel's neighborhood pagans would ask the God of Israel for help, simply because he seemed to be the strongest one around. Everybody needs a strong god tucked away in an easy-to-reach pocket. Powerful, but never pushy. Strong, but willing to fade into the wallpaper as soon as the need-of-the-moment is met.

The thing is, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not about a strong god, not exactly. It's not about an easy-access power-source, able to help us over whatever obstacle presents itself. It's about a god who made himself weak, who made himself nothing, and who, in so doing at a point in time in history past, received the terrible justice we ourselves deserved.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On break

Well, I had planned to post while traveling but found when we arrived in Tennessee that I left the required flash drive at home. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to be back Monday.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Practical advice on prayer and preaching

This article is encouraging: "Pray for Those Who Preach." Thanks to Between Two Worlds for the link.

Telling real from fake

This one ought to flatten some toes: seven counterfeit gospels. And in being aware of the fake, let's remember the real.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"I am Mephibosheth"

Barry Maxwell shares some beautiful thoughts on fostering and faith.

"Destroying imago dei"

"I don't think it's possible to overestimate the sheer depravity of this whole situation" (HT).

Monday, April 14, 2008

"The most dangerous prayer"

The whole essay fits easily onto one computer screen. I urge you to simply go and read it.

"Coming to faith is a process"

Peter Mead reminds preachers that conversion is not always a single event. As a consequence, preachers should not tire of preaching the Gospel over and over:
It takes repeated exposure to the gospel for people to gradually be drawn closer to that point of heart-level understanding and response. Even once people are saved, the process continues. So let’s not have the mentality that says, “I’ve already told them this, they should get it now!” Our listeners, just like us, are notoriously slow and gradual in responding to God.
Amen. Peter's essay, only three paragraphs long, is worth reading in its entirety. Another of Peter's recent posts, on not assuming too much subject-matter knowledge in your listeners, is also worth reading.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Easter" as a verb

William Willimon shares valuable insights on Modernism, imagination, and The Way.

Holding to the center

If preaching is not your center, then you will not preach. You will give all of your time, all of your energy, and all of your heart to other areas of ministry. However, if you are called by God to preach, if you burn to preach, if preaching is your center, then you will do whatever is necessary to make preaching central to your week of ministry.


At In the Clearing Bob offers more good advice:
We are called to be ministers of grace and reconciliation, carriers of the Good News to a hurting and sin-corrupted world. That commission is laid on us whether we are sick or well, poor or rich, etc. Our circumstances change, but our commission remains.

And note this: we carry out this commission in a battle-zone! Maybe the toil and trouble of the week has caused us to forget our high calling, and maybe we have at times set it aside in favor of other things (as did Demas). On Sunday, when the called ones come back together for encouragement and equipping, it's so that they might return to the battle with renewed hope.

So Preacher, remind me of who I am in Christ. Re-commission me each week. If you are preaching to believers, you are speaking to people whom God has made "competent to be ministers of a new covenant . . ." [2 Cor 3.6] What a powerful statement that is. Whatever competence we have comes from God, of course, but if it comes from God, it's nothing to sneeze at! Yet, in my experience, we often do not realize our competence as ministers. We need to be reminded. We need to be taught. We need to know who we are in Christ!
Amen. I'll do my best, Bob. And through God's grace, I'll do better than my best.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Context, context, context

Peter Mead offers good exegetical advice on the dangers of spiritualization.

Redefining leadership

Barry Maxwell has been comparing present-day leadership ideas with the New Testament and is uncomfortable with the idea of pastoral leadership as currently defined:
I discount "Google stats," but I thought a quick survey might help the cause. A search (as of writing) for "leadership conference church" revealed 700,000 related sites. A search for "pastors conference church" revealed 229,000 related sites. And I'm sure the advertising for leadership conferences was directed mainly at pastors. The larger church culture has (unwittingly?) shifted its emphasis from the pasture to the boardroom. Now the church no longer needs pastors, but leaders. Not shepherds, but executives.

I don't think this is merely a matter of semantics. Some might say that "leaders" are simply the new "pastors." It's a distinction without a difference in the name of cultural relevance. But any drift from biblical language is a slippery slope. For instance, "life partner" is the new "spouse." "Issues" is the new "sin." Redefining biblical words leads to redefining biblical categories. Redefining biblical categories leads to redefining the biblical community.

There is something qualitatively different about pastoring than leadership. And we do well to redefine the redefinition of the office.
You might well benefit from reading Barry's whole article. I don't remember now who first pointed me to this post, but I'm grateful nevertheless.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Taking a stand

Transforming hearts and glorifying God should be our goals, but let's make sure little things like how we stand don't distract from the message.

Gospel truth

Victoria Gaines has been posting some real gospel-centered work lately. Here, for example, is one of Vicki's recent posts, in toto:
The Lie: Salvation is *You* Giving Your Life to Jesus Christ

Nope, the title of this post isn't a misprint. Salvation is His Life coming in to us, not the giving of our life to Him. But I've heard this all my adult life. If you have time, listen to Steve McVey's short clip for clarification and feel free to share your responses. There are so many lies being taught by well-meaning preachers who don't understand the concept of grace. If interested, I'll post more.

May the Lord help us unlearn the lies, however subtle they may be, so that we will grow in His truth and knowledge, to understand this precious Life He has called us to. The Holy Spirit is faithful to illuminate our understanding as we come to His Word in confession of need and a worshipful heart.
Good stuff. I recommend reading more of Vicki's work at her blog, Windows to My Soul.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Making it to the cross

My friend Bob is not a preacher, which is one reason I especially value his thoughts on preaching.

More alike than different

Darryl Dash has been writing lately about the validity of categories. In one post, he offers these thoughts on categories and rampant individualism:
I have a hunch that even though we've identified this as a problem, we are part of that problem in ways we aren't even aware of. For instance, isn't our resistance to being categorized as part of a larger group a form of individualism, in which we assert that we are utterly unique and can't be lumped in with anyone else? It's not a surprise that we believe this, since many of us have been taught this from birth. But it's not true, and it's also a little arrogant. If we are going to move away from individualism, we also need to recognize that we are not utterly unique. Like it or not, we're part of larger groups, and we're a lot [more] alike than we like to think.
Indeed. I recommend Darryl's whole article.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Of splinters and railroad ties:

A theme in a lot of blogging by Christians: "I've identified the problem, and it's you" (via).

"Don't finish a great message in mid-air"

Peter Mead offers some helpful advice on concretizing a sermon:
Many great sermons turn out to be good sermons. Sermons looking set to be good often end up average. How is it that the last few minutes of a sermon can change it from powerful to pleasant? One key element is the final descent of the preacher down the ladder of abstraction.

The text must be understood in its original setting for the detail to make sense. Then the process of theological abstraction moves the preacher toward relevance for the contemporary listeners. But this is not enough. It is easy to stop at this stage of the process, and a natural place to let off the preparation pressure (after all, surely listeners can take the abstract and apply it specifically in their own situation?) Actually no, listeners do not generally apply abstracts to their own lives. Don’t stop with “trust God!” or “love God more!” or “love one another!” or “be faithful in your relationships!” These are all abstracts.
Good point.

Friday, April 04, 2008

"Fire, blood, and smoke"

This is timeless advice on the weight of the preaching office.

A savior, not a coach

Salgoud offers insights into why Christians continue to try to shape Jesus in our own image. The temptation, he says, comes from the deep-down effort to save ourselves:
We do not need the self help Jesus for we cannot possibly help ourselves. We need the savior. The reach over the rail of the ship and catch me from the waves savior. The run through the flames and snatch me from the burning building savior. The step out into the firefight to pull you to safety savior.

And after he's taught us who God is, and humbled us because we are not that and cannot hope to be, he goes to the cross and saves us.

And only then can we be transformed into that which was impossible before and only because he makes up the difference. He bridges the gulf and now we are free to acheive that which had been impossible before.
Amen and amen. And thanks to Keith Brenton for the link.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

On good and bad religious art

Anthony Esolen's reflections on kitsch, cynicism, sentimentality, and truth in art is worth reading. The essay is for general readers, but preachers in particular would do well to pay attention.

Real uses for plastic fruit

No matter how hard we try to do it ourselves, only the Holy Spirit can produce Spirit fruit. With that truth in mind, Vicki Gaines has written a beautiful article on religion and relationship:
One can only produce so much synthetic fruit before realizing what a crock religion really is. But this disillusionment can move a heart towards Christ. After all, synthetic fruit = all our striving to serve God, to earn (or stay) in His good favor. But religious rules are a pain. When we mess up, we're loaded with guilt and unsure about our standing with God. If we manage to perform well, suddenly we're puffed up with pride, looking down on those around us. Kind of a no-win situation, this business of religion.

Yes, religion has always been man's attempt to reach God, whether through duties, disciplines, or rituals. But God reached out to us when He sent His Son to pay for our sin. He made provision; He closed the gap. No longer are we bound by religious obligations. We don't have to fret about our standing with God. When we belong to Him, Jesus Christ becomes our peace, our rest, our Life.

But whether we have this living, breathing relationship with Christ or not, anyone can be religious. Anyone can go to church, read a bible, hang out with Christians, or follow the moral teachings of Christ. Jesus is a pretty good role model, after all - just ask your local Buddhist, Mormon, or New Ager. But doing religious things is not the same as knowing Jesus.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"Awesomely awesome" leadership

Letters from Kamp Krusty shows--clearly and hilariously--the emptiness of so many church leadership books. I highly recommend this post as entry point to a series on the topic (via).

The discipline of discipline

Church discipline isn't very popular in twenty-first century North America. But it happens to be something the church must practice. Ken Sande has written a wise, biblically sound article on church discipline:
Biblical discipline is similar to the discipline we value in other aspects of life. We admire parents who consistently teach their children how to behave properly and lovingly discipline them when they disobey. We value music teachers who bring out the best in their students by teaching them proper technique and consistently pointing out their errors, so they can play a piece properly. We applaud athletic coaches who diligently teach their players to do what is right and correct them when they fumble, so that the team works well together.

The same principles apply to the family of God. We, too, need to be taught what is right and to be lovingly corrected when we do something contrary to what God teaches us in his Word. When this is done as God commands, it usually leads to repentance, change, and restored relationships (see 2 Cor. 2:5–11). But when people harden their hearts, it is entirely appropriate for a church to take the rare but necessary step of removing them from fellowship, both as a warning about the gravity of their sin and as a means to protect the innocent and weak from harm

Update: John Schroeder shares related thoughts on ministry, money, and parachurch service.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"The 3 a.m. test"

'If your spouse or roommate were to roll you out of bed at 3 A.M. and ask, “What is the sermon about this Sunday morning?” if you cannot answer in one crisp sentence, the sermon’s not ready to preach."'

Bedroom sewage pipes

Albert Mohler has written convincingly about the dangers of allowing children to have televisions in their bedrooms.

And if you're wondering whether or not that topic will preach, consider these words from Cornelius Plantinga on Rev. 2:17 and television:
Do you know that even conservative Christian parents buy TV sets for the bedrooms of their ten-year-olds and then let them watch pretty much whatever they want? They buy a TV set for their fifth grader, hook it up to the cable system, hand their child a remote, and let their child close the door.

And now, day by day, night by night, their child’s soul is in the hands of the Philistines. The Lord wants to give our children a white stone with their true name on it, but our children are finding out who they are from people to whom Lord is just another four-letter word.
Kyrie eleison.