Friday, May 30, 2008

Sharing the riches

These are good reminders: "Five core values from three experienced preachers," Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

"Upside-down kingdom"

“Worldly kingdoms fail or succeed based upon the willingness of the people to lay down their life for the King. In God’s kingdom, success is due to the fact that the King has laid down his life for the people.”

Bearing fruit

Eric Jones looks at Hebrews 6 and comes to this conclusion about faith and works:
Some people argue that our actions don’t matter in relation to our salvation. They say that we can’t do anything to lose our salvation. This passage is one of the many scriptures that debunk that line of thinking. Take another look at verse 8. Our actions matter. How we live matters. Our fruit matters.
Amen. Although we're not saved by our good works, they are a sign of our standing with God. Quite simply, faith without works is dead. In a similar vein, John Schroeder shares thoughts on faith and action:
Being a Christian begins with faith, but if it ends there, I am not sure it is worth the effort. Did Jesus come just to save us from hell? What about the hell right here, right now? Is it just about what I think and believe, but my life is composed of so much more, who I love, how I love, what I feel, what I do....

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The real test

"Belief and unbelief is not determined simply by our thoughts, but more clearly by our actions – how we live." - Eric Jones

Leadership and action

William Willimon, reflecting on the work of Gil Rendle, shares thoughts on "non-synoptic leadership":
In the complex and conflicted human organization called today's church, Rendle says that leaders can no longer function well with either problem-solving or strategic planning. It is unproductive in a conflicted organization where people feel very differently about many different subjects to spend so much time negotiating, bargaining, and planning for a distant future. Now leaders must act, even if they aren't sure if they have a consensus backing them up, even if they are unsure of the results of their actions. This is "non-synoptic leadership."

When I was a young pastor, put upon the church with virtually no training in pastoral leadership, an older, more experienced pastor gave me a couple of bits of advice that I have not forgotten.

"I am sure someone has told you that you shouldn't change anything when you go to a new church for at least a year," he said to me. Indeed, someone had told me just that. "Well, forget it! Don't change anything in a new church unless you become convinced that it needs changing! Change anything you think that needs changing and anything you think you can change without the laity killing you. Lots of churches are filled with laity who are languishing there, desperate for a pastor to go ahead and change something for the better. Lots of times we pastors blame our cowardice, or our lack of vision, on the laity, saying that we want to change something, but we can't because of the laity. We ought to just go ahead and change something and then see what the consequences are."
Sounds good to me. It helps to remember that transformation takes place not only in the heart of the individual believer, but in the community of the church.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Growing and swelling

Jared Wilson: "The American Church is addicted to the conspicuous consumption of the culture it means to transform."

Mission and commission

Larry Chouinard doesn't post at Spiritual Conversations very often, but when he does, it's usually worth reading. His latest essay is on the Great Commission in Mt. 28:16-20:
It is a mission involving remarkable subversive acts that challenge the ways of the world with an alternative vision. Baptism was not so much a way to reserve a seat in heaven as it was a dramatization of a preferred journey.

It is a mission that embraces Jesus as both teacher and core curriculum. From the beginning our mission sensitizes new believers in the way of the Kingdom as an alternative vision of justice, the plight of others, and creative responses to violence and oppression.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Improving preaching

Here's some rock-solid advice for improving your preaching.


Thanks to Gospel-Driven Church for linking to these words from Rick Warren:
"The way you bring members in is the level of commitment they will live up to."
Whether you agree with his methods or not, Rick Warren is spot-on in this assessment.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Still serving

Al Hsu has written a poignant essay on serving God after being passed over for a position of service.

Meaty bones

J.D. Hatfield: "Let me tell you something about church life, and people who claim they are not being fed . . ."

Mission and metrics offers these insights on evaluating a church's success:
If the church were a business we would measure our profit and if we weren’t making enough we would change. If we were a hospital we would measure how many of the sick and injured become healthier. If we were a vocational training institute we would measure how many people get jobs and keep them in their area of training.

Now imagine a school that measured how much people enjoyed the classes, how great the day care was, how inspiring the teacher was, the levels of enrolment and the amount of funding they had but only passively cared about the success of their graduates in the workplace. That my friends describes most of the church in North America today.

We need to change what we measure and how we measure our success.
Good point. And thanks to Jared Wilson for the link.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Worth considering: sin as a man curved in on himself.

Loving Jesus first of all

Bill Roberts has composed a spot-on evaluation of the missing piece in many Christians' lives:
First, a question: Do you love Jesus? Have you ever known anyone who loved Jesus with all they had? I hope you have. I have known people like that. One thing becomes clear when you're around someone who loves Jesus with all their heart: things in their life are focused, straightforward, and simple (in the best meaning of that word). There is a joy and a confidence in such people, regardless of circumstances. They are imbued with a thrilling and contagious courage.

They are wonderful to be around. Because their love for Jesus marks their life as a life of love and service toward others.

As Christians, our primary goal, our primary duty, is to love Jesus. Out of that love for Jesus flows love for all those around us.
Amen. Bill goes on to describe what happens when we love others but forget to love God. It's worth reading (HT: The Gospel-Driven Church).

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

By way of reminder...

"Preachers are like frail sailing craft with their individual and different sails, and without the wind of the Spirit, no matter how well equipped they may be, their words accomplish nothing." - Derek Prime

Learning who we are

Bob at In the Clearing writes clearly and succinctly about the process of growing in discipleship:
Here's the point. We who are in Christ are being renewed and reformed, quite shockingly, into the likeness of Christ. And here's the other point. Most of the time, we do not believe it. Oh, we accept it as a theoretical matter, as something that always remains conveniently "spiritual," but not as something that can be experienced in our own bodies and minds. This is how I understand that faith can grow. By a growing faith I do not mean a growth in intensity or passion, but an application of faith to more and more areas of our lives, and in part that means to more and more areas of our own self-identity. Believing, in the midst of the brutal scrum that is life, that God is working in us what he said in his word he would work in us by the Holy Spirit, and walking that out, by faith, in specific areas of our lives.
Amen. I recommend reading Bob's whole post.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Online database

This looks helpful: online searchable database of hundreds of journals and festcschriften.

Prayer and compassion fatigue

Amid news reports of widespread suffering in Burma, China, and elsewhere, Dan Edelen's thoughts on "The Pain on the Far Side of the World" offer some hard-headed but much-needed perspective:
I’ve thought for many years that this constant stream of anguish and pain coming at us from every corner of the globe is an aberration of our age. God never intended Man to process so much misery at once. If we’re increasingly a nation of people on psychoactive medication, should we be surprised? Isn’t there enough pain within ten miles of our homes to last us a lifetime? What then do we do when we hear an orphanage was buried under a mudslide in Ecuador or a bus full of nuns holding babies in their arms went off a cliff in Singapore?

If you and I were serious about praying for others, we’d have enough prayer requests from hurting people in just our church alone to last most of us from week to week. Isn’t that the case with you? I know it is for me.

I could probably spend two or three hours a day just praying for the crushing needs of people I know. So how can I shoulder the rest of the world’s problems?

I believe that many of us are suffering from compassion fatigue. The flood of misery washes over us and we’re just numb to it anymore. That’s a problem, because God never intended that we live our lives as if anesthetized to pain.

Somewhere, though, we have to draw the line.
For those whose hearts are grieved from massive suffering in the world, Dan's essay is worth reading.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Idolatry of seriousness

Thanks to my blogfather Doug Floyd for this choice thought from G.K. Chesterton: "I do not like seriousness. I think it is irreligious....The man who takes himself too seriously is the man who makes an idol of everything."

"Enduring, abounding, all-satisfying grace"

Bob at In the Clearing shares some clear-eyed observations on grace:
You hear it all the time. People say, "I know that God has forgiven me, but I'm still having trouble forgiving myself."

I understand that people really do believe this when they say it. They believe they have diagnosed their problem sufficiently to explain their lack of joy, their depression, their inability simply to move on. They are trapped, they realize that much, and they sincerely believe they will break free once they learn to forgive themselves.

But they're wrong. However plausible it may seem, it's a dark and nasty lie. They're confused and deceived. The devil has kicked sand in their eyes. They're operating in a fog. They have added . . . listen to me . . . they have added to the grace of God.
I recommend Bob's whole article.

Friday, May 16, 2008


At Biblical Preaching Peter Mead has posted a short, insightful essay on shifting in preaching from we to you.

"Grace is so freeing"

The truth is that no amount of doing/being/trying will get us "there" (wherever that is). And when we realize that harsh reality, the heavy truth that our efforts are constantly insufficient (that although we must obey the command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we can't in actuality obey this command perfectly), we have two options: despair completely or despair of ourselves and press further into the perfect love of Christ.

"Spiritual is Gospel"

Dave Bish looks at issues of charismata in 1 Cor. 12-14 and comes to this rock-solid conclusion:
Confessing the gospel is not something to take for granted. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit will men and women delight to confess the glory of God's gospel about Jesus Christ who was crucified. Only by the Spirit will we love God's wisdom and God's power at the cross. The gospel sets the stage for our thinking about all things charismatic. Whatever our thinking about gifts of the Spirit our framework is of being Spirit-indwelled justified-by-grace people.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Not so fast

David Wayne does a fine job of showing why developing and understanding doctrine is not as straightforward as simply reading the Bible.

Visible representatives

Jeff Weddle considers Psalm 69:6 along with current day stories of ministers, "visible representatives of the church," who have fallen into conspicuous sin:
I fear that I will fall.

What fears me more is knowing how often I don’t think I should have to fear this. "This stuff only happens to truly evil people."

No, it happens to proud people. People who think they are strong and in control. People who are, to all appearances, good. People like me.
Too true. OK guys, let's be humble out there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Already time to plan

Steve Mathewson offers ideas for a three-part back-to-school sermon series in the fall.

Transformation and self-justification

As he grows in Christ, one disciple has noticed that "self-justification ain't what it used to be":
I have a settled internal system of self-justification. It used to be a smoothly-whirring machine, silent and reliable, so that I never even sensed its presence. If I got angry, the anger was always automatically justified. In fact, it was most definitely "righteous indignation" of the Christlike kind. If I lashed out, the victim always deserved it. Ah, those were the days. . . .

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Best of both

NET Bible editor W. Hall Harris explains how digital Bibles allow readers to keep using their dynamic equivalence translations while enjoying the benefit of literal or word-for-word clarity.

From rebel to legalist?

It's rare that I quote an entire post from another blog. But this post from Biblical Preaching's Peter Mead is so short and insightful, that I want to share the whole thing:
Preach Grace Not Moralism

Tim Keller makes a critical point. Too often as preachers we preach a gospel that moves people from rebel to legalist. We so easily preach so that younger sons become older sons, but somehow miss the glory of the father’s prodigious grace in humiliating himself for the sake of both sons.

Let us be careful to distinguish rebellious sin and moralistic self-righteousness (still sin), from true grace. We cannot overstate the danger of preaching that turns worldly rebels into pew-filling moralists, but fails to preach the unique distinctive of grace that only the Christian gospel has to offer.
Amen. I also recommend Peter's one-paragraph post on preaching to ordinary people (But you'll have to follow the link to read that one).

Monday, May 12, 2008

At the heart

"Thus the central theological principle of the Bible [is] the rejection of idolatry."

Well, that and Jesus Christ.

Ministry wisdom

William Willimon recently asked retired ministers to share their insights on what it takes to be a faithful minister of the gospel. Dr. Willimon's summary of their responses includes this point:
The only enduring reasons for being in ministry are theological. Pastors must constantly refurbish their sense that this is a "God thing," that ministry is more than a mere "helping profession." Pastoral ministry arises out of theological commitments and is dependent upon what God is doing in the church and the world.
Amen. I recommend reading the whole post.

Friday, May 09, 2008

More treasures online

Rod Bradshaw has been posting some real online gems lately from F.F. Bruce. If you haven't visited lately, you'll find some excellent additions.

For congregations big or small

Be content. With a lot or a little. Learn contentment. Preach Jesus in word and deed, love others, glorify God, be faithful in things big and small, and He will take care of whether your efforts are best made manifest as mega or mini.

The standard

Clear thinking is rare in any place and time, so it's good to see these straight-to-the-heart-of-the-matter thoughts from Ray Ortlund:

We should not look for some higher, more relevant perspective to validate the biblical gospel. That gospel is the light by which we see everything else. It judges everything else as true or untrue, relevant or irrelevant. It liberates us from our unbelief and darkness, so that we see and understand and really come to the point.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Application challenges

Unashamed Workman clearly explains the challenges of either overly general or overly specific sermon applications.

On leadership

Kirk Wellum reminds leaders that "Christian ministry is no place for insecure men":
While there is much that we can learn about leadership from the world around us, Christian leadership is different because it takes its cues from the one the world crucified. Only as our lives are transformed by the Holy Spirit do we understand what it means to walk in the footsteps of the Savior.
Kirk's article is only two paragraphs long; why not read it all?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Sounds right to me

What do you think of these six criteria for a good sermon introduction?

Models of evangelism

Churches need always to be thinking about how best to reach the lost. With that truth in mind this report, from Grace Toronto Church, ought to make us think:
The church recently asked community members to describe their objections against Christianity. They found that many didn't have objections; they just find Christianity irrelevant. Going to church doesn't even make the list of options for Sunday morning. The seeker approach assumes that people will attend church if its relevant. But many won't go to church no matter what we do.
The sad fact, as Jesus taught us, is that most ground is not receptive to the gospel. Still, we're called to sow.

Update: John Schroeder offers more spot-on observations here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Praying all the time

Nehemiah is often cited as a biblical example of godly leadership. Jeff Weddle points out why: Nehemiah prayed all the time. You can hear some of my own thoughts on Nehemiah and prayer here (Note: 7 MB file).

Looking at a television culture

Some of the most important characteristics of a given culture are usually immediately obvious to an outsider and completely invisible to those inside. With that in mind, it's striking how clearly David Mallinak sees when looking at North Americans, television, and what the latter says about the former:
. . . here we are, right smack-dab at the start of the Twenty-first century, where Television has replaced baseball as America’s favorite pastime. To borrow a line from Neal Postman’s delightful little book, we twenty-first century Americans are consumed with amusing ourselves to death.

One might say that this new pastime of ours has had an impact on our culture. That would be irrefutable. And yet, one gets the vague feeling that such a statement somehow gets off the train a few stops short of reality. Television has had more than a mere impact on culture. Television has become our culture. Other cultures were farming cultures, were reading cultures, were fighting cultures. We are a television-watching culture. They planted, they debated, they worked. We watch television. Television defines us. It defines our culture. It defines our nation. To the rest of the world, America is the place where they make TV shows.
Mr. Mallinak challenges his readers to examine the place of television in their own homes and to recognize what it says about our values and priorities. It's a long article but worth a look.

Monday, May 05, 2008

"Don't be deceived"

Good works are critical for discipleship, but "Doing good does not make up for a corrupt heart."

Following Jesus

In the Clearing has some very worthwhile thoughts on preaching and discipleship:
Any teaching within the church that is not consciously aimed at explaining the consequences and ramifications of the gospel as it is walked out from day to day, however Biblical that teaching may be in other ways, is of secondary importance.

To put it another way, any preaching and teaching within the church that does not consciously aim at helping people to "work out" what God has "worked in," namely the truth of his grace toward us in Jesus Christ, is a missed opportunity.
Amen. I recommend Bob's whole article.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Stealing fire

Brian Lowery warns preachers against experiential plagiarism.

Preaching dynamite

Preachers, do these words strike a chord?
It is easy to let the normal-ness of ministry diminish our sense of expectation. It is as if we don’t really expect people to be transformed or the Spirit of God to be at work. It is understandable, but it is wrong. As Haddon Robinson has put it, “we’re handling dynamite, and we didn’t expect it to explode!” The Spirit of God is at work, the Word of God is powerful, and whether we see it or not, we should prepare and pray with great expectation.
Thanks, Peter, for the reminder.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Is efficiency a Christian virtue?

Richard Hall offers some balanced advice on the place of management in the church.

All or nothing

Jeff Weddle has a gift for summarizing Bible truth simply and memorably. Consider, for example, these insights:
Old Testament history illustrates New Testament doctrine. Or at least that’s how I like to view it. A consistent pattern develops in the OT: God tells Israel to do stuff and they do part of it. The part left undone comes back to bite them. Always.
Jeff goes on to explain why that OT pattern is relevant for Christian discipleship today.