Friday, August 29, 2008

Understanding events

A nugget of homiletic and hermeneutical truth is shining at the center of this little article on the autobiography of E. Stanley Jones.

Abiding in Christ alone

Victoria Gaines: "All the devotionals in the world won't help during a crisis if we're not abiding in Christ. Every believer needs to be strengthened and renewed daily in the confidence of His love. The Lord God lives to provide for us in this way."

Christ and him crucified

Gospel-centered blogger Jared Wilson has crafted a fine essay on the imperative of preaching the gospel:
We all want to grow the kingdom, right? We all want to seek and save the lost, right? We all want to lead as many people as possible to salvation, right?

Then, why, for the love of God, do we preach all manner of behavior modification, none of which could save a single one of us, when only the gospel saves?

Paul writes in Romans 1:16, " I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes."

Yet if we could label our churches with the Nutrition Facts found on your can of soup, I reckon many would say in the fine print, "Not a significant source of gospel." Are we ashamed?

If the gospel is the power to save, shouldn't it be the meat of the message, not saved for the add-on invitation or for a special service every few weeks?
That's a long quote, but only a sampling of the riches in Jared's whole essay.

Also, In the Clearing offers further thoughts on Jared's essay.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Of powers and principalities

Jollyblogger David Wayne is sharing his thoughts on the spiritual world and spiritual warfare. They are refreshingly sensible and biblical: Introduction and Part 1.

Modernism, postmodernism, and gospel

Eddie Arthur, reflecting on the work of Dave Burke, writes on modernism, postmodernism, and the gospel:
One of my gripes about much Christian critique of post-modernism is that the often do little more than point us back to modernism. This sort of approach fails to recognise that both modernism and post-modernism are human cultural expressions which need to be challenged by the Gospel.
Exactly. I recommend both Eddie's post and Dave Burke's essay.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fully engaged

Don't settle for a half-touch in preaching.

Addicted to contextualizaton

David Fitch shares worthwhile reflections on the problem of gospel contextualization and niche churches:
Contextualization extracts the gospel message (like a concept), reduces it to a narrow point of contact and seeks to attract people via this appeal to this contact. Contextualization by its very nature is attractional in the Frost/Hirsch sense. I would suggest then that contextualization makes it almost impossible for the church to be transformational.

Incarnation on the other hand seeks to incarnate the gospel over long periods of time culturally within a context. It enters into a culture as a communal presence whereby it is able to discern its surrounding contact points. It will accept some things in the surrounding culture and bring them into captivity for the gospel. It will flat out reject others. In the process it becomes a display of a redeemed form of that culture.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No room for fruit pickin'

If for no other reason, Kinney Mabry's post on judging is worth reading for the way he works Metallica lyrics into a post on righteousness in Christ.

Grace, gospel, and Galatians

At Gospel Driven Blog, John Fonville is writing some spot-on reflections on Galatians. Here are a couple of lessons (especially for ministers) from his first post:
First, we should respond to slander when the usefulness of our Gospel ministry to others is threatened not our egos.
All who preach a Gospel of grace and Christian freedom will be slandered.
Amen. John's second post on Galatians is also worth reading.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Word and community

This little quote from Bonhoeffer (via Nancy) is worth reading and thinking about.

"Embedded in the very creation"

Ray Ortlund is looking for quietness of heart and is wondering if a truly biblical view of Sabbath isn't the place to start:
The very concept of “the weekend” is unbiblical. It turns Sunday into a second Saturday. Home Depot may gain, but we lose. It turns Sunday into the day we catch up on the stuff we were too lazy or disorganized to do on Saturday. It also turns Sunday into a day to ramp up for work or school on Monday. It hollows out not only Sunday but our whole week, because it marginalizes God and church and sermons and all the other vital things that happen in our lives only when we make the vital things also the central things. If we accept the world’s concept of “the weekend,” we inevitably end up “fitting God in” rather than centering the practical reality of our every week around him. We trivialize him, even as we allow secondary things to hijack the sacred place of centrality, we live soul-exhausted lives, and then we wonder why God isn’t more real to us, why church isn’t “working” for us, why we're grumpy, and so forth.

If we want to find our way back into quietness of heart, the first step might be simple. Bold, but simple.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Humility and humiliation

What's really at the heart of Jesus' teaching about turning the other cheek? I offer some ideas today at Milton's Daily Dose.

Too true

"Everyone is born a legalist by nature. Our default mode is the ancient heresy of Pelagianism (i.e., self-salvation). Even after our conversion, something of a legalist/Pharisee still remains in all of us."

Real sermon strength

Peter Mead regularly offers solid, practical advice on the many aspects of good preaching. Lately he's been offering some good words on preparing hearts for the task:
The real strength of a sermon is not found in delivery, although that aspect matters much. It is not found in the structure and content – try stealing a sermon and notice that it feels weaker than when you heard it from its source! The strength of a sermon has to reside in the roots. So check the roots of your sermons, of your ministry as a preacher. Are they deep into the soil of life’s struggle? Are they deeper still in the subsoil of the eternal Word? Let’s be sure we are not preaching impressive, but rootless sermons . . . a breeze might just blow them over!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A reminder

Overturning the coffee shop tables

Jared Wilson offers some hard-hitting observations on the church and suburbia:
The suburbs smother the Christian spirit.

I know, because I live in suburbia. The message of the suburbs -- heck, the message of the city too, the message of culture -- is self-empowerment. Self-enhancement. Self-fulfillment. Self is at the center, and all things serve the self. (Self-service!) Suburbia's highest virtues are convenience, abundance, and comfort. In suburbia you can have it all, and you can get it in a super-sized cup with an insulated sleeve.

The suburbs birthed the megachurch and its attractional paradigm, and this odd conflation of consumerist values and Christian religion has birthed a perverted sense of Christian entitlement. The suburbs have been good for spread of the prosperity gospel beyond the consumer ghetto of the poor.
Jared goes on to offers ways of subverting the rhythms of suburbia.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hebrews links

I don't intend to plug the new website every day, but today's expository links for Hebrews are especially rich, particularly in the historical section.

The bottom line

"Face it, the Bible is pretty straightforward: people who love money and stuff do not love God."

A question for church leaders

Royce Ogle asks:
I just wonder what it would be like if for six months if all of us had preachers like those in Acts 6:4. If the preachers’ only task was preaching and praying. If deacons really did what deacons are supposed to do, I wonder how different our churches would be?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gospel and righteousness

"The gospel is not, ‘Try doing things this way’. The gospel is ‘It is finished!"

Faith and worry

Thanks to Blogotional for this gem from Mark Daniels:
The opposite of faith isn’t unbelief. The opposite of faith is worry. May we live in the assurance that God has given us eternity and so, free from worry, glorify the God Who gives us everything! May faith supplant fear. When we do worry, may God help us remember all His blessings, including our crucified and risen Lord. And may we, instead of worrying about tomorrow, learn to truly live.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Spontaneity & preparation

Biblical Preaching shares some worthwhile thoughts on preaching, spontaneity, and preparation.

1 John links now posted

Links to expository resources on 1 John are now posted at Expository Links.

Power of the cross

"I did a Bible study last week about how Paul talks about the cross and the crucifixion. In each context Paul explains that the cross is an active force in our life, ridding ourselves of what we were and becoming what Christ is.

"Many view the cross as back there, already done, I did all that when I got saved. But the cross isn’t just an entrance into salvation; it’s the life of faith. Paul always explains the cross as having an impact on what you are doing right now."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

2 John resources

I don't usually post on weekends, but have just put up links at Expository Links for studying 2 John.

Friday, August 15, 2008

3 John preaching links

Today at Expository Links: resources for preaching and teaching from 3 John.

Right reading for the little ones

We need to pay attention to this one: hermeneutical errors in children's Bible curricula (via).

Whom do we glorify?

"For our gospel to be Jesus' gospel, it must move. It must be embodied. Faith without works is dead, of course.

"But works outside the context of the proclamation of the gospel isn't the gospel at all.

"The danger within the new church movements, even as we seek to be the gospel in healing, comforting, clothing, and feeding, is that we practically confuse our good works for the gospel of Christ's good work. As I've argued elsewhere, my neighbor being loved by me may be the gospel, but me loving my neighbor is not.

"If we divorce the sharp edge of the gospel -- the scandalous message of sin and grace -- from our missional efforts (or whatever you want to call them) we are not glorifying God at all. We are glorifying our own compassion."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Links for expository preaching (& teaching)

The last couple of weeks I've been consolidating links to the best free, online Bible study resources for sermon preparation. Now I've started sharing them on the web. The site is called simply Links for Expository Preaching.

These links are aimed at being especially helpful for preaching and teaching in contrast to purely academic or devotional resources. I've tried to find works that reflect both methodological rigor and a faithful approach to the Word. I'm posting links each day for one biblical book, in reverse canonical order. So far I've posted links to author bios, Revelation, and Jude.


I've been tagged by faithful TS reader Nancy to be part of an ongoing blog meme. If you're interested, you can read my responses here.

Boiling down

John Frye is tired of "the American sound byte gospel."

True relevance

A while ago I posted an excerpt of an article on church, evangelism, and "relevancy." John Schroeder has been thinking about the same topic and came to this conclusion:
People come to church, like anywhere else they might go, because church has something they need or desire. So the essential question is what does church have to offer that people need or desire?

The answer of course, has nothing to do with culture; it is Jesus Christ - Him crucified and resurrected for the sake of our transformation into the beings we were created to be. Why don't people find that "relevant"?

I would submit to you they do not find it relevant because they HAVE NOT SEEN IT. Why did the first century church succeed so well when we do not? Because they genuinely reflected the glory of the risen Lord!

Relevancy does not lie in presenting ourselves in a package that appears more culturally in tune with our times. Relevancy does not lie in changing our culture into something that is more in tune with the church. Relevancy does lie in each of us coming to be more in tune with Jesus Christ - and allowing that fact to transform us into something the likes of which the world has never seen.
Amen and amen.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Being humbled

Wise words on youth ministry

This one pretty much speaks for itself:
The best ministry we provide teenagers is the equipping of their parents, who in turn invest the passionate pursuit of Christ's glory in their children. I'm afraid this is much more intimidating for the parents than teenagers. It's time we confess that we've played fast-and-loose with our children's souls, and begin the long march back to biblical faithfulness. It's time parents seriously recover the grandeur of Christ in their own hearts for the sake of their children. God help us be strong and courageous.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sermons and community

They may, as the author asserts, be random and partially developed, but Eddie Arthur's thoughts on preaching are worth considering.

Beyond attraction

I'm looking forward to David Fitch's new series of weblog posts on church growth and when they will not come. Here's how it begins:
A lot of my interaction with students, pastors and church planters is over the issues of post-Christendom and the revolutionary change required of us who seek to engage those outside Christ with the gospel. It truly is stunning to recognize how things have changed in this country over the last fifty years. Over and over again I hear the stories of churches and the lament "all we're doing is shuffling discontented believers from one form of church to another." Or I hear "another mega church has moved into the area and emptied out three traditional local churches." It's post Christendom and we're competing for customers.

For those who refuse to enter this ugly frey, we are left to plant churches and think about the Christian life in a different way. There simply are not a ready made group of people out there ready to join your church-plant in just a few months of your beginning (hallelujah). Salvations don't just fall out of trees . . . and disciples take several years to grow. There are no simple techniques or boot camps. I'm ok with this. For indeed church planting now has to be life on life - sustainable over many years.

This is the situation of "when they will not come." It is church planting, church pastoring and church life as it is after the "attractional" nature of the church has disappeared. Now all we have left is "us."
Amen--as long, of course, as "us" includes Jesus.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Celebrating what?

Matt Dirks, with a little help from D.A. Carson, asks Christians in the United States, "Do we worship democracy more than God?"

Faith that overcomes

"This isn’t about living some successful, victorious, abundant, physically rich and healthy life; it is about things that money cannot buy, and the devil cannot steal. The abundant life that Jesus says Satan is trying to steal, kill, and destroy, he can’t, because it is spiritual abundance (John 10:10). Our faith is what teaches us that (1 John 5:4). The victory that overcomes the world, even our faith, doesn’t mean our faith gets us out of the problems; it means we remain faithful even while we are in them! We have been granted the faith and the power to endure suffering, not to remove it. It isn’t the more faith you have the less suffering and trials you will have but the more faith you have the more faithful you will be during them! We keep on conquering what the world would try and have us do, turn our backs on God, and instead, our faith turns us back to God, crying Abba Father (Romans 8:15)!"

Transformation, week-by-week

Peter Mead offers some good advice on not expecting a Big Idea every time we preach:
When you come up with a stunning Big Idea that absolutely nails the meaning and relevance of the text, then use it (and publish it, etc.) But most weeks you will have to make do with the best you can come up with. An idea that is hopefully accurate to the text, fairly succinct, somewhat memorable, or perhaps just plain clear. These are the sermons that gradually transform lives. They may not make the preaching books, but the fruit of good honest prayerful preaching preparation will last for eternity. Don’t feel intimidated by the “big guns” and their best bullets. Remember that they preach some very average Big Ideas too.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Stepping on toes, not massaging feet

Brian Lowery writes on the need for preachers to resist the temptation of playing to the crowd: "we aim not for the affirmation of applause or laughter or hearty slaps on the back, but the affirmation of transformation, in all its messy glory." Amen.

What's relevant?

Here's Bill:
It's common to talk about "making the Bible relevant". As you're reading the Bible, or listening to a sermon, or sitting in Bible study, thoughts of relevance can invade your attentions, if you're like me.

"Is this relevant to me?"

But how many of us ever ask,

Just how 'relevant' am I?
Good question.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

More online resources

Here's a new site I was pleased to find (thanks to Charles Savelle) : Biblical Studies and Technological Tools. Keep scrolling and browsing the labels. The site really is full of riches.

Self-help legalism and the gospel

Once again Jared Wilson explains how much of what passes as Christian preaching is in fact smiling legalism:
And people love this stuff. They want to be told religion is not about rules and regulations while at the same time being told each week which four steps (with helpful alliteration) they need to do in order to achieve maximum what-have-you. They want to be reassured that works don't merit salvation while at the same time convinced salvation is about trying really hard to do things that unlock the power or secret of God's such-and-such. (And I've never seen what is such Good News about following a list of instructions in order to button-push God into granting me His favor.)

What I have also found is just how against-the-grain confusing it is when one simply and primarily teaches/preaches what Christ has done. In my little world, there's nothing more exciting or inspiring than knowing that Jesus has accomplished salvation and that all He has and all He has done is given to me in Him and through Him. I love talking about this reality. It is the true "anti-religion," and yet I can sense, subtly and innocently, a minute disappointment in some people that I'm not just giving them "stuff to do."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Heart and head

Cal Habig cautions preachers, "Don't substitute fact finding for thinking."

Ministry reflections

David Strain shares eight lessons he's learned in ministry. Here's a sample:
2. The gospel really is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Ministers can’t save anyone. Grasping this truth is the only thing that keeps me climbing the pulpit steps.

3. Churches turn corners spiritually when they pray together. If they don’t, generally speaking, they won’t.
Those are really gems. You'll find a few more here. And thanks to Gospel Driven Blog for the link.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

MTD in America

Here's a brief, incisive look at The American Heresy (thanks to Mere Comments for the link).

Another free expository resource

Last week I wrote about finding free online .pdf files of most volumes in the International Critical Commentary series. Another set of free oldies but goodies is the Expositor's Greek Testament, also available at the Internet Archive. I don't remember now which weblog pointed me to these volumes a couple of weeks ago, but, still, thank you.

Update: These links are some of the many excellent resources you can find linked at Biblical Studies and Technological Tools.

Truth and knowledge

Vicki Gaines has been reflecting on how info-gathering is not the same as truly knowing:
We desperately need an intimate, divine revelation of Jesus Christ in our own hearts, or we'll become spiritual parrots. Knowing things about Him won't change us. Abiding (there's that word again) is what changes us. Abiding in Him through His Word is the only way we're renewed and transformed, day to day. As we partake more and more of Him, we mature in Him. But remember - others can't reveal Christ to us, nor can I. Only Christ reveals Himself through the power of His Holy Spirit as we feast on His Word.

Too many in the Church today are reading and hearing regurgitated info about God, a poor substitute for going to the Source. His Word is precious, my friends. If ever it were removed from our close possession, we'd realize, sadly, how much we've taken it for granted.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Genesis study notes online

Good quality commentaries and study notes keep appearing free on the web. One of the latest is Mark Driscoll's study notes on Genesis (in .pdf format). Thanks to The Blue Fish Project for the link.

Scriptural story

Emily at Finding Grace has been thinking about ways Christians use the Bible to reinforce our own self-righteousness:
The Bible is not an encyclopedia. It’s not a reference book. It’s not meant to be used in fragments. It is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s about a bunch of lost and miserable people, and the God who has a plan to rescue them.

What happens when we use the Bible like an encyclopedia?

We lose sight of Christ, and we pervert the Gospel.
How do we approach the Bible rightly? You can find some pretty good ideas from reading Emily's whole article.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Best free Bible browser

The more I look at what free material is available online for Bible study and sermon preparation, the more I appreciate my favorite Bible browser. The Sword Project is not only the most low-flash, high-yield browser available for download, it's also the only major browser that doesn't charge for any of its modules. The current software for Windows is about a 6 MB download (less than 2 MB for Linux), and there are quite a number of add-on modules including commentaries, dictionaries/lexica, and Bible versions in 51 different languages. If you haven't tried The Sword Project, I recommend you do.

Disclosure: The only association I have with The Sword Project is as a grateful and satisfied user. Transforming Sermons is a completely non-commercial site dedicated to sharing links to other non-commercial resources available free online.

Limits of self-effort

"Resolutions are not your friend; they are a tool of Satan to get you to rely on yourself, causing your faith to falter and maybe even wander away."

The point of application

Christ the Truth has posted a helpful look at "applied preaching." Here's the opening:
State, Explain, Illustrate, Apply. That’s apparently the blueprint for the young preacher. Find three points in the text (regardless of the genre of the passage, regardless of how many ‘points’ the Scripture might be making). For each of the points (it’s best if they all begin with ‘P’): state it, explain it, illustrate it and - in a discrete section of the sermon - apply it.
This almost inevitably means turning each point into a law to be enjoined on the congregation.
Preachers, I recommend reading the whole article.