Friday, May 29, 2009
This is the simplest, most beautiful explanation I've ever seen on speaking the truth in love.
Jeff Weddle: "If the Holy Spirit is real and active, seems we’d shut up more. Most of the splits and divisions in the church are because people, quite simply, won’t shut up. We cease fighting for faith and start fighting to be right."
Dan Edelen reflects on dealing with Christians who walk around "skinless":
I look around and it just boggles my mind how skinless we are in the United States. It has become impossible to carry on a conversation with anyone who differs from you on a subject or who needs vital correction. The skinless person howls in pain the second you open your mouth to speak.Yes it does. And Dan is soliciting comments on how the church ought to deal with this condition.
When a skinless person makes like a banshee, all important conversation grinds to a halt. We have been culturally conditioned stop everything we are doing, because the skinless person has a right to remain skinless, to dwell in a constant state of vigilance against the salty words of the wise.
The conservative–liberal conversation is a skinless one that somehow finds a way to lose even more skin as years go by. And sadly, skinlessness exists in record amounts in the Christian Church in America.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Preaching Today blog's Weekly Intersections has some rather interesting items this week.
Haddon Robinson warns preachers about the heresy of application:
More heresy is preached in application than in Bible exegesis. Preachers want to be faithful to the Scriptures, and going through seminary, they have learned exegesis. But they may not have learned how to make the journey from the biblical text to the modern world. They get out of seminary and realize the preacher's question is application: How do you take this text and determine what it means for this audience?There's a whole lot more good stuff at the link. And thanks to BibleX for pointing to it.
Sometimes we apply the text in ways that might make the biblical writer say, "Wait a minute, that's the wrong use of what I said." This is the heresy of a good truth applied in the wrong way.
For example, I heard someone preach a sermon from Ruth on how to deal with in-laws. Now, it's true that in Ruth you have in-laws. The problem is, Ruth was not given to solve in-law problems. The sermon had a lot of practical advice, but it didn't come from the Scriptures. . . .
One effect of this is you undermine the Scriptures you say you are preaching. Ultimately, people come to believe that anything with a biblical flavor is what God says.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Victoria Gaines shares something wonderful she recently discovered about Jesus' promise in Mark 11:24 to give us whatever we ask for in faithful prayer:
Something hit me as I read this verse today. So many times I've prayed for peace, patience, strength, victory - whatever- when all along they're readily available to me in Christ. Fear and pain may cloud this truth, but grace opens our eyes to remind us of His keeping power to sustain us through the most difficult situations.Amen.
As I see this more and more, truth changes the way I pray. Instead of begging for all these things - which are never given apart from Christ anyway - my prayers can now acknowledge His Spirit's work in me. Confessing my need and dependence on Him is the first thing I do, trusting His Life to come forth moment by moment, grace upon grace, as I go about living.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Will Willimon shares more wisdom for new ministers right out of seminary. In case you're wondering if it's worth reading, here's one of five points:
And even though it's cheating to include this much of another writer's blog post, I want to share with you one more point:
. . . be open to the possibility that the church has a tendency to bed down with mediocrity, to accept the mere status quo as the norm, and to let itself off the theological hook too easily. One reason why the church needs theology explored and taught in its seminaries is that theology (at its best) keeps making Christian discipleship as hard as it ought to be. Theology keeps guard over the church’s peculiar speech and the church’s distinctive mission. Something there is within any accommodated, compromised church (and aren’t they all, in one way or another?) that needs to reassure itself, “All that academic, intellectual, theological stuff is bunk and is irrelevant to the way the church really is.” The way the church “really is” is faithless, mistaken, cowardly, and compromised. It’s sad that it is up to seminaries to offer some of the most trenc hant and interesting critiques of the church. Criticism of the church ought to be part of the ongoing mission of a faithful church that takes Jesus more seriously and itself a little less so. I pray that your theological education rendered you permanently uneasy with the church. Promise me that you will, throughout your ministry, never be happy with the church.Wow.
And even though it's cheating to include this much of another writer's blog post, I want to share with you one more point:
Try not to listen to your parishioners when they attempt to use you to weasel out of the claims of Christ. Much of the criticism that you will receive, many of their negative comments about your work, are just their attempt to excuse themselves from discipleship. “When you are older, you will understand,” they told me as a young pastor. “You have still got all that theological stuff in you from seminary. Eventually, you’ll learn,” said older, cynical pastors. Now it’s, “Because you are a bishop, you don’t really understand that I can’t….” God has called you to preach and to live the gospel before them and they will use any means to avoid it. Be suspicious when people encourage you to see the transition from seminary to the parish as mainly a time finally to settle in and make peace with the “real world.” Jesus Christ is our definition of what’s real and there is much that passes for “the way things are” in the average church that makes Jesus want to grab a whip in hand and clean house.Amen. Halleluyah!
Monday, May 25, 2009
In case you missed it this weekend (and in case you're interested), I've recently posted my first full-length essay in two years, "An Answered Prayer," at To the Word.
Here's the order for Christian leadership: "obedience, submission, service, and then, and only then, leadership." There's much more worthwhile information at the link.
This is rich:
One of the things I’m slowly learning is that God uses even that group of people who drives you nuts. You know, the ones who are doing it wrong in your estimation, whatever the it might be. Their way is not your way, so they naturally irritate you.You can read Dan Edelen's whole essay here.
The Church of Jesus is overrun with people who give advice. They seem to be the mature ones who have it going on. They always have a sure word in season and out. Problem is, most of the time it’s out of season, especially when you’re in the middle of the worst battle of your life and they come around with their Scripture hammer and whack you upside the noggin.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
There's so much good writing on the web that I rarely feel the need to try adding my own meager efforts to the bounty. It's been more than two years since I posted a new essay online, but I finally have something to say. You can read my essay at To the Word about an answered prayer. If you have the patience for reading a much longer piece of writing than you're probably used to seeing from me, I'd like to know what you think.
Friday, May 22, 2009
This has got to be one of the best statements I've ever found on preaching: "I do not aim to be immediately practical but eternally helpful."
Tony Myles: "One thing to look forward to about standing before God? All the masks and games disintegrate."
Mike Leake wonders to what degree our evangelistic efforts should appeal to the sinner's selfishness. Here's a sample:
Consider Jim. Jim is ridiculously selfish (like most of us). We send a team from our church to canvas our neighborhood. A team stops at Jim’s house. We ask Jim why he does not come to church and we ask what it would take to get him to church. We find that Jim is not the only one that has these problems with the church. His suggestions seem to resonate with many of the unbelievers in our area. Here are his suggestions:You can leave your thoughts in the comments section of Mike's post.
1. I hate long sermons; give me 20 minutes maximum.
2. I don’t like boring songs but I also don’t like repetitious cheesy love song either.
3. Never ask me for money; I can stay home and listen to TV preacher’s do that.
4. I want people to be friendly but not overly desperate and acknowledging me in front of everyone else. Notice me but not too much.
5. If I have to walk too far or park in a cramped space just forget me coming. I face traffic to get to work on Monday, I don’t want to do the same on Sunday.
These are his suggestions. So, what is the church to do with them? Do we say, “well he’s a lost guy and lost people are not to dictate what we do in the church”? Or, do we say, “he’s a lost guy and if we want to reach him then we need to reach him where he is at”?
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Christian, is your desire to serve God rooted in a sense of self-importance? Consider:
Service without submission can be well-intentioned, but will be ineffective; it is often professional, paternalistic, problem solving, and wanting to do good by “sharing” from a position of superiority. The Bible deliberately pushes us into the area of discomfort, forcing us to accept a posture of submission until our pride is exposed, and our desire to be controlling is revealed.I suspect this tendency is more common than any of us like to admit.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Reflections on listener satisfaction
How many Christians are operating under the impression that all sin is the same? J.D. Hatfield explains that such a conception is, quite simply, wrong:
Some sins are worse than others. Yes they are. They are worse in what they do. They wreck you faster and more completely. They damage others more severely. They reach out further and make it harder for you to come back to God. Oh, His hand isn’t so short it cannot save you, but the further you are away, the more it is going to hurt you to get back, that is for sure.Indeed.
How many people are leaving the door open for the devil? Many, but how many are assigning him a permanent place at the dinner table? It is a different question, and I want to give an example for us to think about.
People are trying to convince themselves that living together, as an unwed couple, is the same as any other sin. Well, it is the same in THAT it is a sin, and it is the same in that it is the same as some OTHER types of sin, but it is NOT the same as any old sin. It has much more disastrous consequences than many people realize or are willing to admit. Staying in sin is much worse than playing with sin. Yes any sin is bad, but inviting it to stay is like inviting the devil to come in through an always-open door.
There is a difference between continuing to make bad choices, falling back and repenting, etc., and having ONE choice to make but refusing to do it. . .
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
"Many people think nastiness ends Christian community. The gospel says nastiness is where Christian community begins."
Erik Raymond encourages preachers to sweat out the text:
. . . the preacher is one who has worn out a path to the throne of grace petitioning for the hearts of his people to ‘get it’. The preacher is convinced of the urgency and power of the message; he really believes that what he is about to say is exactly what God wants these people to hear; therefore, it is the most important thing in the world for them to attend to at that very moment.That sounds right. And thanks to Borrowed Light for the link.
To put it simply: the preacher is the one who has personally bought the importance of the text, prayerfully applied it to himself and then, convinced of its importance, wants to deliver it to the congregation.
Monday, May 18, 2009
John Frye has posted a rather scathing assessment of Bible reading among Christians in the United States. Here's a sample:
Bibles might be best sellers, but they aren’t read much. They lie limp on the bedroom dresser or backseat of the car waiting until next Sunday. What is sturdy reading for USAmerican Christians? Lucado? McArthur? Piper? Our Daily Bread? Oswald Chambers? Joyce Meyer? Beth Moore? I have nothing against these fine people, just like I have nothing against taking vitamins. The Bible is the wholesome meal; all other writers are mere vitamins, even N.T. Wright and Scot McKnight. And these two men would agree.And what's the deal with the Dali reference? Read John's whole article if you care to find out.
John Wycliffe died for putting the Bible into English and into the hands of the common man and woman, even the plough boy. For all the rants against the “Catholics” in past eras because they couldn’t read the Bible for themselves, we USAmerican evangelicals now have our Protestant “popes” filling the pulpits telling us that we are not trained well enough to get at the wonderful “systems” hidden within the messy, messy stories of the Bible. . . .
Lazy Christians run around crying, “Feed me! Feed me! My pastor is supposed to feed me.” And there is a kind of pastor who is suckered right into this whining because it gives him or her a sense of value and a place in the lives of those needy folk.
Friday, May 15, 2009
"I have made it a habit not to chase every Christian visitor to our church. . . . There are simply many Christians who are looking for something that we cannot and probably should not offer. I do not often chase Christians, who after a time with us, choose to leave. I think pastors/leaders have often spent inordinate amounts of time trying desperately to cater to Christians who have, for better or worse, a consumer mentality. . . . I think we are to spend our time searching out the lost however. And I think we should listen deeply to one another as COMMITTED MEMBERS of a community to the complaints, concerns, issues of our community. And I think we should nurture the practice of hospitality to all strangers"
Arminian Today looks at baptism in scriptural and doctrinal perspective:
In the book of Acts we find the Apostles of our Lord obeying His words to go and make disciples of all the nations (Mark 16:15-16). We also find them baptising in obedience to Jesus' commandment (Matthew 28:19-20). From Acts 2:38, 41 to Acts 22:16, baptism appears time and time again. The urgency of baptism is what is interesting. In the United States is not uncommon to hear of people waiting months to be baptised and some never are baptised. Yet in many nations around the world, baptism is the clear call that you are a Christian. In India, for example, you can not join a fellowship of saints unless you submit to baptism first. In Vietnam, China, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Omar, Sudan, Colombia, and many other nations baptism has to be done in private since open baptism is illegal and the penalty of being baptised as a disciple is death (at least in many Middle Eastern nations this is the case).It's kind of surprising, really, that any Christian could find fault with these conclusions. Perhaps those who do should read AT's earlier post on characteristics of a critical spirit.
When baptism does appear in Acts, it is done quickly! In Acts 2 the Apostles baptised 3000 people (Acts 2:41). In Acts 8:34-39 the Ethiopian eunuch is baptised while traveling with Philip by his side. In Acts 9:18 Saul of Tarsus gets up and is baptised. A parallel to Paul's baptism is found in Acts 22:16 where Ananias tells him to get up and be baptised. In Acts 10:47-48 Peter commands that water be brought for Cornelius' household to be baptised. In Acts 16:14-15 Lydia and her household are quickly baptised. In Acts 16:30-34 the Philippian Jailer and his household are baptised at midnight!
Since I see the urgency of baptism in the book of Acts I believe that it is quite appropriate for us to urge new disciples to be baptised as soon as possible even tonight, even now! If a person is serious about wanting to know Christ, follow Him, and love Him for His sacrifice for their sins then by all means do the first step of obedience and submit to Him in baptism (Luke 6:46; 1 John 2:3-6).
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Will Willimon is posting a weblog series on the training of ministers and the intersection of academy and church. He writes from the perspective of a United Methodist bishop, but his observations are in no way limited to that denomination. Here's a sample:
. . . when my District Superintendents and I interviewed a group of soon to be graduates in one of our seminaries, we were distinctly unimpressed with their responses. Here we were before them saying, in effect, “We are a declining organization. We are looking for people who will come into the United Methodist ministry, take some risks, attempt to grow some new churches and new ministries, and help lead us out of our current malaise.” Yet the seminarians we were conversing with struck us as mostly those interested in being care givers to established congregations, caretakers of ministries that someone else long before them had initiated, and in general, to be people who were attracted to our church’s ministry precisely because they would never, ever have to take a risk with Jesus.Ouch. Please read Dr. Willimon's whole article and see why the outlook for academic training of ministers is by no means all bleak. Also, Part 2 offers practical advice for making the transition between the worlds of academia and ecclesia.
When I was critical of the students we were meeting, one of the pastors with me said, “Look, you have people who have spent a lifetime in school learning nothing more than how to be in school. They have been taught by tenured faculty who have given their lives to doing well in academia and thereby getting tenure and never having again to take a risk in their lives. Faculty who are not held accountable for their performance or results are not likely to educate clergy who are focused on accountability or results.”
When seminaries appoint faculty who have little skill or inclination to traffic between academia and church, is there any wonder why the products of their teaching find that transition to be so difficult? Alas, what many graduates do is quickly to jettison “all that theology stuff” that seminary attempted to teach and relent to the “real world” of the congregation, the rest of their ministry simply flying by the seat of their pants. The seminary may self-flatteringly think of itself as the vanguard of the thought of the church when in reality it is an agent for the preservation of the church’s boring status quo.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Over at Wilderness Fandango, Bob has discovered something totally counter-intuitive about the beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12: the blessings are not so much future promise as present condition. Here's Bob:
You see how none of this has anything to do with the great by-and-by? "Blessed" is more than a promise. It's a divine assessment of the the poor in spirit, the broken-hearted, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc.Yes, it is.
"They shall be comforted." That is promise. "Blessed are." That is an assessment.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Here's a good reminder of the need for Christians to be not conformed, but transformed.
Jared Wilson reminds Christians that in studying Scripture, the point should be Jesus. Jared gives examples from the Gospels:
Lots of people look at the story of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple and think this is about how it's wrong to sell stuff at church (or some variation of such). But the point of that story is not "commerce and temple don't mix," because up until that point, commerce and temple had to mix for the temple system to work. (People from different areas needed to exchange money to buy animals needed to sacrifice.) No, the point of that story is that a) Jesus owns the temple, and b) Jesus replaces the temple system.You can read Jared's whole article here.
Similarly, people look at the Beatitudes and see a list of behaviors to aspire to. That's all well and good, but Jesus didn't come to show you how to be a better person. He came because you can't be. The point of the Beatitudes is that that list is what the kingdom of Jesus looks like. Those are the promises of Jesus to those who will enter his kingdom.
The point of the parable of the lost son is not some generic "God allows u-turns" sentimentalism; the point is that Jesus brings reconciliation to sinners.
Monday, May 11, 2009
John Schroeder offers some thought-provoking ideas on innovation and preservation in the local church.
John Frye looks at the contrast between the messy characters in the Bible and our own expectations of tidy, well-manicured lives:
Readers of the Bible discover very soon that the Bible is a messy book. Chocked full of stories—some familiar and others quite odd—and poetry about all kinds of subjects—speech, sex, enemies, searing pain and God—and enigmatic apocalyptic images with fire-breathing dragons and tattoos on the thigh of Son of God, the Bible distances itself from tidy Daily Bread devotionals and crisp, clean “principles” to support an anemic middle-class American life.Good points. I recommend John's whole article.
We don’t like mess. So we have pursued the self-appointed task of cleaning the Bible up. First, we categorize stuff. Like separating the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle according to color. We end up with piles of verses here and there, but have no clue about the “big picture’ they are supposed to offer. We like our little piles of verses here and there because we can ignore the picture they show us of God, of sin, of our self-absorbed selves. We also miss the variegated colors of grace, redemption and Jesus’ wildly radical life.
The Jesus most of us know is a theological construct whose most important, if not only role is “to get us to heaven when we die.” All that spitting and making mud, all his fierce rebellion from Jewish custom, all his simple stories for the very common people–these things are marginal to his ability to get us to glory at death (or more excitingly, at the rapture).
Friday, May 08, 2009
"The default mode of every fallen heart is to turn one’s obedience (works/performance) into the ground for one’s acceptance (justification) before God. It is as natural for a man to trust in his obedience (self-idolatry) as it is for a fish to breathe in water. And, it is about as unnatural for a man to seek peace with God by trusting in the gospel as it is for a man to breathe in water.
"Yet, we must seek to always recall the simple yet elusive truth of the gospel, which is: You and I are accepted by God, not on the basis of our personal performance, but rather on the basis of the righteousness of Christ alone."
Jeff Weddle makes a good point about the real benefit of reading the Bible:
Thinking that having a few verses rolling around in your head is going to protect you from sin is not the idea. Mentally rubbing a few verses like a lucky rabbit’s foot probably won’t carry you through.Yes. Sin problems are really faith problems; when we sin, we're putting our unbelief into practice. So how do we build faith? Again, the answer is in Romans 10.
Having God’s word overtake your heart, to live by faith, by hearing God’s word, is what allows us to overcome the world.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Scot McKnight has written a hard-hitting essay on how so-called love for Jesus can really be a counterfeit: courtly love or, more bluntly, spiritual eroticism:
Friends of mine today worry about consumerization or commoditization in the church. I offer a slightly different analysis of what might be the same thing: for many, Sunday services have become the experience of courtly love. Some folks love church, and what they mean by "loving church" is that they love the experience they get when they go to church. They prefer to attend churches that foster the titillation of courtly-love worship and courtly-love fellowship and courtly-love feelings.Dr. McKnight's article is definitely worth reading in its entirety.
They say they love worship, and by this they mean they love the courtly-love-like songs that extol the experience of loving Jesus or the experience of adoring God or the experience of a concert-like praise team that can generate the sound of worship intensely enough to vibrate the very soul of the worshiper.
Such folks might like sermons that create powerful contrasts between God’s wrath and human sinfulness or between our sinfulness and God’s gracious love; or they might like stories told so well as to usher them into the depths of human loves and hates and tragedies and comedies. What they like is the freshness of discovery or the flush of shame or the intoxicating sense of learning something new. They may create such a stir of silence in expectation of some great preacher or some great leader that the sheer presence of that person makes their soul swoon.
But this does not describe worship.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Jeff Weddle reminds Christians (and, really, all humanity) that the deceit in our hearts extends even to interpreting Scripture:
When we read Scripture the temptation is to read it for two things: 1) to find verses that back up what we already believe. 2) To find verses that justify our sins.Amen.
The real point of scripture is to reprove, rebuke, correct, instruct, train, guide, cut to pieces who we are. Why? Why would God’s Word be so cruel to us cute little fuzzy humans?
Because our heart is deceitful. Don’t trust yourself. Stick with what God says, don’t try to argue with it, don’t justify yourself in light of it, don’t dig for loopholes. Take it. Let it shine its light into the dark closets of your heart.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Eric Jones makes a good point:
The great and wise King Solomon tells us that, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he…” In other words, whatever you have imprinted upon your heart will eventually reveal itself in your character and how you live life. Your “heart” is the place of your deep-seated beliefs. It is the core of your identity and the hidden vault of your values. Your heart is where you develop an image of worth and value or of hopelessness and despair. Ultimately, your inner world always determines the success of your outer world. In order to live a life that glorifies God, benefits the world, and brings fulfillment to your soul, you will have to invest more time and effort into building your inner world than you do in building your outer world. So, what image is imprinted on your heart? Do you walk around with an inner image of despair that says, “Yesterday was bad, today is worse, and tomorrow will take me to new lows?” Or do you embrace the image that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me?”Our actions reflect our values, which reflect our true beliefs. And how do we change those inner beliefs? Romans 10 is certainly a good place to start.
Monday, May 04, 2009
Thanks to Kouya Chronicle for linking to Darrell Pursiful's article on "How to Read the Bible Like a Pagan." Here are a couple of samples:
The intellectual chauvinism of the Enlightenment is one of the reasons Western Christianity, particularly the Protestant versions, is currently in such upheaval. . . .Again, those are merely snippets. I recommend reading the whole article.
I’m convinced there is much wisdom to be found in reading the Bible—as much as possible—through non-Western, pre-industrial eyes. At the very least, one won’t get far in understanding the values and motivations of the people who populate the biblical narrative without it. As surely as I am not an African, none of the heroes of the Bible were Americans!
Friday, May 01, 2009
Never one to tiptoe around an issue, Jeff Weddle turns his attention to evangelism and sales:
Evangelism is often lumped into selling, whether by churchy-folk or not. We treat God as a commodity and we have to meet our quota, keep the Boss happy with our performance. I just need a bite. Just sign your name so I can tell the Boss I’m a good salesman.It gets even better, so I urge you to read the whole thing. Jeff also has a few thoughts on "seeker-sensitive" services.
The problem with this view of the Gospel is that it completely contradicts Scripture. Jesus Christ continually turned people away. Several times He even refused to talk to some people. The Apostles would leave if a town rejected them. Then, of course, the most amazing of all evangelism stories, we have Jonah himself who was the most reluctant yet successful apostle of all time.
The problem with treating the Gospel as a sales pitch is that we then market Truth. Hardly anyone wants Truth, so to make them take it, to sign their name, to get you closer to your quota, you have to change Truth so they’ll swallow it. Do whatever it takes to turn the No into a Yes.
This is a mockery of the Gospel.