Monday, August 31, 2009


Dividing line

Brian Lowery: "One thing I've learned in pastoral ministry is that trials and tribulations either make us better people or worse people. There's not much middle ground."

We always need Christ

"No doubt some Christians need to be shaken out of their lethargy. I try to do that every Sunday morning and evening. But there are also a whole bunch of Christians who need to be set free from their performance-minded, law-keeping, world-changing, participate-with-God-in-recreating-the-cosmos shackles. I promise you, some of the best people in your churches are getting tired. They don’t need another rah-rah pep talk. They don’t need to hear more statistics and more stories Sunday after Sunday about how bad everything is in the world. They need to hear about Christ’s death and resurrection. They need to hear how we are justified by faith apart from works of the law. They need to hear the old, old story once more. Because the secret of the gospel is that we actually do more when we hear less about all we need to do for God and hear more about all that God has already done for us."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New answer to an old question

Living with idols, then & now

Matthew Malcolm probes Paul's teaching on meat sacrificed to idols and wonders about ways in which questions of idolatry might arise within a capitalistic culture. Some of the comments section is pretty thought-provoking, too.

Gift of laughter

"A leader that frets and stresses under pressure is not a leader that followers will find reassuring. There is a need for a certain calmness that comes from confident faith in God’s purposes. Likewise, there is a benefit in a certain laughter. Not drunken laughter. Not distracting myself from reality laughter. Not immature laughter. But confident in God, all is in control, Easter laughter."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Away message

This coming week Carolyn and I will be celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, so I'll be away from the blog till Thursday, August 27. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to be back with you soon.

Good question (even better answer)

Hanging together

Dave Bish shares some very helpful thoughts on preaching that cuts with the grain of the Bible.

Not trivial

Ray Ortlund: "God did not give us a comic book. But precisely because the Bible is so challenging, it's satisfying. God treats us like adults."

Update: On the other hand, John Schroeder notes that "comic book" is not synonymous with childish.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Church signs and "evangelingo"

John Frye has some stinging comments about church signs--and the first observation in the comments section is simply withering.

Making disciples

Messages behind the message

Peter Mead asks preachers what convictions we convey, not through the words of our preaching, but through our whole being in preaching:
Over time, listeners catch things from the preachers they hear. Its not just the content of each particular sermon, but also the personal convictions of the preacher that will mark listeners over time.

What do listeners catch from hearing you? Do they catch a conviction that God’s Word can be trusted? That it is enjoyable to read and study? That God is knowable? That God is in control? That Christianity is firmly founded on fact? That we are deeply loved? That . . .
Good questions.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On prevenient grace

If you're not familiar with the concept of prevenient grace, you can read a very clear and accessible treatment of the doctrine here.

On the "postchurch" movement

Frank Viola is really on to something when he writes about "postchurch Christianity" in North America, the idea that whenever two or three gather together as Christians (at home, at a restaurant, on the net), then that's church. Frank shows, sensibly and biblically, why that's simply not true: Part 1, Part 2.

Helping sermons stick

Brian Lowery, reflecting on the work of Larry Osborne, explains the benefits of sermon-based small groups:
Small group leaders have often been trained to lead a group of people through a study of a book of the Bible (Philippians), a book by a Christian author (Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew), or a hot topic item (The Da Vinci Code). In sermon-based small groups, leaders help their small group focus on what was learned in Sunday's sermon. In other words, small groups are not a supplemental or additional study. They are more of an extended study. To put it another way: The aim of small groups has often been to get one more Bible lesson or life lesson into people's minds. The goal of sermon-based small groups is to make sure people explore every nook and cranny—related themes, related texts, points of application, issues for prayer—of the one lesson they just had together in worship. One idea, one theme, one text, contends for people's minds at a given time.
I've believed strongly in the power of sermon-based small groups for quite a while. If you're interested in starting them at your congregation, you might be interested in my handbook for training small-group leaders.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rite or not?

And elsewhere, too

Here's a reminder to pray for the church in Brazil.

Describing God

Glen Scrivener makes some delightful observations about idolatry, resume-padding, and the one true God. Here's a sample:
Beware lists of adjectives in your theology. It might be a sign you’ve stopped describing the Living God. Beware getting embroiled in discussion of what God’s like, more than what He’s done. Especially beware discussions of what He can do rather than a concentration on what He has done.
Glen's really on to something here. I recommend the whole article.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Buried under marriage & financial advice?

Still segregated

"[The church] realized in the 1940s that we were not offering teens enough focused attention. So what did we do? We started offering them too much. All of a sudden churches had adult pastors and youth pastors, adult worship teams and youth worship teams, adult mission trips and youth mission trips. And there's a place for that. But we've ended up segregating--and I use that word intentionally--our kids from the rest of the church. Now we tend to think that we can outsource the care of our kids to designated experts, the youth and children's workers.... I think the future of youth ministry is intergenerational."

Table of joy

Ray Van Neste takes issue with the idea that the Lord's Supper is somehow supposed to be a gloomy event with a lot of sin and death but not much else. Here's Rayon 1 Corinthians 11 and the idea of remembering Christ's death:
Very often people do in fact approach the Lord’s table in this way, focusing exclusively on the tragedy of Christ’s death. The sense is that the purpose of this exercise is for us to focus on our sin, to remember afresh the depth of our wickedness and how much this cost God. It is almost as if God is that mother who constantly reminds the family how much she has suffered for everyone and wants to make sure you never forget it! But this most certainly is not the point Paul is making. . . .Yes, the table proclaims Christ’s death, but not simply- or even primarily- the tragedy of His death. Notice the point is that this is “proclamation.” Elsewhere in the New Testament what is being proclaimed when Christ’s death is in view? It is not tragedy, but hope! It is the fact that the death of Christ has made possible the forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, transference from being enemies of God to being children of God! What is proclaimed is good news, the gospel. We do wrong when our participation in communion is some sort of self-flagellating focus on tragedy. We do not gather to tell God we’re sorry He had to go through this. We are reminded of our sin, and the length to which the love of God went, but the focus is celebrating the grace of God and giving thanks to God for his amazing grace.
I've noticed the same thing. Christians, of course, ought to remember the suffering and death of our Savior. But how can we possibly remember the cross without remembering the empty tomb?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Review of Your Jesus is Too Safe

Jared Wilson has asked me to be part of the blog tour for his new book. So here goes.

He had me before I saw the first page. Pictured on the front cover of Jared Wilson’s new book, Your Jesus is too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Through, Feel-Good Savior, is a faux-ivory statue of our Lord amid a platoon of kitschy plastic statutes of every imaginable variety. In that visual concatenation of cheap and colorful baubles, Jesus, it appears, is positioned only slightly above Elvis and James Brown. And so the cover photo, at a glance, depicts the idea Jared’s book sets out to demolish: that the contemporary view of Jesus in U.S. culture is for the most part as cheap and unreal as the little statues collecting dust on a hard-to-reach knick-knack shelf behind the teevee.

Actually, he had me before I ever saw his book. For years I’ve respected Jared’s writing at The Thinklings, The Gospel-Driven Church and, in years past, Shizuka Blog. Even more than I’ve enjoyed Jared’s wry humor and craftmanship with words, I’ve come to appreciate and learn from his razor-sharp focus on the centrality of Jesus Christ and his gospel in every and all aspects of Christian discipleship.

It is that Christ-centered focus that makes Too Safe such a worthwhile book for Christians. Jared confronts contemporary, impoverished images of Jesus not simply by exposing and criticizing these errors and distortions, but by holding up Christ in his many-faceted splendor. The heart of Too Safe is twelve chapters, each exploring from Scripture a different quality of who Jesus really is. The result is to show the glorious, over-arching splendor of Jesus and why knowing him is central not only for the life of the church but, quite simply, for life.

Jared’s stated purpose for writing Too Safe is “to remind us, for the glory of God and the hope of the world, of the original message of the historical person of Jesus Christ who was, in fact, God in the flesh” (15). Assuming “us” to be Christian disciples, Jared succeeds in his effort. His book, I think, will be most helpful in aiding Christians already possessing the basic elements of biblical knowledge to grow in seeing the big picture of what God’s interaction with humanity is really about. That big picture clearly infuses all of Jared’s writings, and he is gifted at helping others see it, too. He’s certainly helped me over the past few years to begin seeing not only the trees of God’s Word, but the forest.

I also like Jared’s style and narrative voice: somehow he’s able to successfully combine phrases like “exegetical illumination” with “no duh,” and he’s the only author I’ve ever read to compare—successfully—the death and resurrection of Jesus to an em-dash. Jared also has a gift for the pithy turn of phrase (several of which I plan to post here over the next few weeks).

I predict, however, that some Christians (dare I say, those whose Jesus is too safe?) will take issue with what may come across as flippancy or irreverence in Jared’s occasional choice of words (for example, his references in a couple of places to Jesus as a “wannabe Messiah” could give you heartburn if you’re not reading carefully and sympathetically). If you’re one of those Christians who’s easily offended by what appears to be “modern” talk or references, I recommend you bite your lip and read the book anyway. Jared’s work is full of spiritual treasure, and his chapter on Jesus as King is worth the price of the whole book (Full disclosure: I got a free copy in exchange for this review, and I also told Jared I'd review his book if he'd review mine when it comes out. All such deal-making and self-interest aside, I think Jared's book is worth buying if you can afford it.).

There’s a lot more I could say, but I don’t want to write a review so long no one will read it. Bottom line: I recommend you read the book yourself.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

As Christ

There are helpful reflections on what it means to pray in Jesus' name.

Not bored

David Wayne: "Boredom is a decision we make, not something [that] happens to us. There really is no excuse for being bored. The 'bored' of the world are those who believe it is the job of others to make them happy and keep them entertained. But as far as I am concerned 'boredom' is simply laziness in all its forms and is simply driven by the decision to not pay attention." Amen.

More shameful alternatives to church discipline

Kent Brandenburg has posted the third installment in his series on shameful alternatives for church discipline. The latest installment is on how gossip grows in churches that don't practice biblical discipline. Here's a sample:
And in these churches that don’t practice church discipline, certain gossip is actually approved. You can gossip about people who deserve it. It isn’t gossip then. It’s a warning. Matthew 18 still hasn’t been practiced. No one can scripturally tell anyone else, because we haven’t had one-on-one nor two-or-three-on-one, but that’s OK. They’re bad people. People need to be told not to hang around them. Or that they are on the unofficial bad guy list. We’ve got trouble in River City with the billiard players putting a ball in the corner pocket. Inquiring minds want to know.

Without discipline, gossip becomes the great religious pastime of the church. It’s one way the church develops a good dose of self-righteousness. You good. I’m good. We’re both good. That’s good. He bad. That’s bad. Good thing you told me. It is. Thank you. Good thing we’re not bad. Yah, good thing.
Ken's really on to something here. The number of congregations which actually practice the form of discipline Jesus explicitly directed seems vanishingly small. We really do need to pay attention and do what Jesus says.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Are you a Christian?

To want to

J.D. Hatfield has written an excellent, concise article on sanctification and stages of Christian discipleship.

Learning to be content

Bob Spencer has an uneasy feeling about much of what passes for Christian fellowship:
It sometimes seems to me that many people would love to hear about your problems, but few really know what to do with your contentment.

If the substance of most of your conversation is discontent, people feel right at home. They feel good about giving advice and adding you to their prayer list. They are able to fit you into a familiar and often-utilized mental compartment.

Sometimes I sense that my Christian acquaintances only want to get together to "share" their problems. Over time, it gets to seem like Christians, though they may wax joyful about God from time to time, are not particularly satisfied with their lives.
Ouch. Bob may be on to something here. What's more, Bob does not simply express his discontent with this situation. He goes on to explain how Christians can learn contentment.

Update: John Schroeder shares related thoughts, particularly in regard to small groups.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bottom line

Matt Dirks reminds readers of the one thing Satan wants you to believe.

Preaching with genre in mind

Peter Mead: "Treat a text as a piece of purposeful communication. The genre matters. The form matters. The function of the text is a key factor to consider in understanding the text."

On 'Intolerant tolerance'

George Pell writes with insight and power in explaining why Western intolerence of Christianity is much more than simply inconvenient or bothersome for Christians. At the heart of the conflict are both the nature of reality and the witness of the church:
The great question that exercises modern culture is the meaning of human autonomy and especially sexual freedom. But this struggle is fundamentally a struggle over a religious question—a question that revolves around the reality of a transcendent order. One way of putting it is: “Did God create us, or did we create God?” The limited scope that secularism is prepared to concede to religious beliefs is based on the assumption that we created God. As long as the supremacy remains with man, as long as faith is understood as a private, therapeutic pursuit, it is permissible. But when people insist that faith is more than this and that the supremacy is not ours, religion must be resisted—increasingly through the law.

The use of antidiscrimination law to advance the autonomy project is not new, but the withholding or retrenchment of protections for church agencies and conscience provisions for individuals is a dangerous trend. A number of factors are at play here, but the broad effect is to enforce conformity. It seems that, just as the faith and convictions of individual believers have to be privatized and excluded from public life, the services that church agencies provide to society have to be secularized. The service the Church gives has always been a source of its growth and strength, and church agencies working in the areas of welfare, family, education, and health bear witness to the values that Christian leaders put forward in public debate. Part of the logic in attacking the freedom of the Church to serve others is to undermine the witness these services give to powerful Christian convictions. The goal is to neutralize this witness to the reality of Christian ­revelation.

The question of autonomy, freedom, and supremacy plays itself out, among other places, in the contest between religious and sexual freedom. Absolute sexual freedom lies at the heart of the modern autonomy ­project. Well beyond preferences about sexual practices or forms of relationship, it extends now to preferences about the method and manner of procreation, family formation, and the uses of human reproduction in medical research. The message from the earliest days of the sexual revolution, always barely concealed behind the talk of “live and let live” and creating space for “different forms of loving,” was that limits on human sexual autonomy will not be tolerated. This is generating the pressures against religion in public life.
I strongly recommend reading Dr. Pell's whole article.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crucified with Christ

Glen Scrivener has written well on what grace is not.

Off topic: Twins separated at birth

Am I the only person who has noticed the similarities in appearance between a certain person and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev?

Update: Apparently not.

Don't overuse soundbytes

"It’s good to have principles that you live by and lead by, it’s good to be a clear communicator who is memorable, catchy, pithy and precise. However, you can have too much of a good thing. Don’t put your listeners through endless concatenations of cliches when you’re preaching. Even when you’re not preaching, in other leadership communication, don’t rely too heavily on soundbites. Listeners and followers would rather know you are authentic (communicated via natural style), than the king of cliche."

Friday, August 07, 2009


Doug Floyd is blogging about what he's thankful for. Today it's water.

Long arms, deep pockets

Taking it all seriously

This has got to be one of the most balanced overviews of biblical genre I've ever read. And thanks to Mike Leake for the link.


Jeff Weddle offers some stinging words on real joy. Here's a sample:

True joy comes from suffering. It’s what the beattitudes are all about. There’s no greater joy than getting rejected for Christ. You know something good is happening in you if you can withstand it and carry on in faith.
Amen. I recommend Jeff's whole article.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Don't wait so long to marry

I'm convinced: the case for early marriage.

On teaching 'naked'

There may just possibly be a lesson here for the church: tech-free classrooms are the most engaging.

Stealing sermons yet again

Peter Mead, reflecting on an article by David Lose, writes on plagiarism in preaching and why it's simply wrong:
It’s about integrity. It’s about the lying to your congregation and misrepresentation of yourself. The trust of the people in you as the pastor and in preaching in general, is eroded. This is true of whole sermons, as well as illustrations and other sermon content. Any time we pass something off in the first person as our own, we lie.
Peter goes on to give practical advice on reasonable methods for referencing sources in preaching.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I'm tellin' ya. . .

Follow God

"Too many people end up like a deer staring into the headlights of life and not moving – they’re frozen. They want to do what God wants them to do, but they keep sitting around, paralyzed, waiting for His direction. The problem is, most people are looking for some kind of miraculous sign or wonder – like a cosmic billboard with their name on it and a big blinking arrow saying “go this way!" However, God has already given them the answer in His Word. He wrote it out for us so that we would know exactly what we are supposed to do and which direction we are to take. He has shown us which way to go."

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

On God's anger

Royce Ogle offers some good reminders on God's wrath.

More good, free commentaries online

I haven't posted any links to free commentaries in a while, so let me share my newest find. Google Books has a number of full-view books published by the Society of Biblical Literature, including commentaries on Daniel and Ephesians. I don't know a practical way to download them, but they're easy to access with a relatively fast connection. I'll be adding links soon at Expository Links.

Why video hurts preaching

"I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching. And I think that, to the degree that pastors begin to supplement their preaching with this entertaining spice to help people stay with them and be moved and get helped, it's going to backfire.... It's going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn't save, preaching doesn't hold, but entertainment does."

Monday, August 03, 2009

On repentance

J.D. Hatfield, with a little help from Martin Luther, reflects on how all of Christian discipleship is repentance.

Welcoming idols

"Anything you believe about God that is not consistent with who He says He is brings on idolatry. Many believe in God; few believe in the God of the Bible. Idols are all over our churches. You may not see them, you may not think you are praying to them, but they are there and the God of the Bible is not too thrilled about this."

Grace of God and ego

Royce Ogle shares some spot-on observations about discipleship and legalism:
The consistent record of the Bible is that legalists despise the message of grace. The most religious people of Jesus’ time were the Pharisees. It was this ultra-conservative troupe of zealots who could not, and would not, allow the king of human self righteousness to be dethroned.

It was not the drunkards, thieves, whores, and murderers who crucified Jesus, it was legalistic religious people who cried out “Barabbas” when given the choice of who would be crucified or released, and they cried out “Crucify him!” in reference to Jesus.

Not much has changed in my view. The true, unvarnished message of the grace of God to sinners, as revealed in the Bible, is offensive to the legalist church member. It was true in the first century and it is true in 2009.
I agree and recommend reading Royce's whole article.