Friday, October 30, 2009

In a world of "blacktopped souls & concrete hearts"

Anthony Esolen shares a few thought-provoking ideas on faith, community, sex, and "the last green thing in the world."

On the North American church

Jared Wilson: "The legacy of license, corruption, and theological superficiality in the modernist church suffocates community by affirming the Self and its prerogatives as the Christian's real gods."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Growing and dying

Learning from disease and death

Barry Maxwell shares some challenging thoughts on faith, disease, and death. Here's a sample:
God intends your disease (severe or not) to be a catalyst for seeking him. He may or may not cure you. In fact, he ultimately won’t in this life. He will let you die despite every guarantee of the world’s finest physicians. God sees to it we face the depth our sin, either now in faith and/or later in death. Will we die with disappointed faces as though we’ve been duped? Or will we rejoice that God promises to all in Christ: “Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits” (Is 26.19)?
Good questions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Testing our understanding

J.I. Packer: "Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption."

Who do you say?

John Frye has posted a spot-on assessment on why it matters that Jesus is the Messiah. Here's a sample:
Who do the people today say that Jesus is? Some wrap Jesus in the red, white and blue and say he’s America’s savior. Some wrap Jesus in a white lab coat and rest in the presence of the ultimate therapist. Others grab a beer and cigar and talk about Jesus the Dude. Others endorse the social activist Jesus out to feed the poor and bring down the Man. Curiously there are some even within the evangelical camp who promote the antiseptic, clean Jesus with no gory blood and no rugged cross. Others revere “Jesus, the Family Guy,” whose sole purpose is to focus on and to preserve the USAmerican nuclear family unit. Of course, there is the massively diminished Jesus of the Jesus Seminar crowd, but who gives a rip about that Jesus? I don’t. The very last vision people today have of Jesus, even if they have one, is that he is the Messiah—the unconventional One who ushers in a revolutionary kingdom that turns our little, petty, self-centered kingdoms upside down. “Christ” is just Jesus’ last name to a lot of these folks.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Idolatry of the walk

John Schroeder: "We must step back and examine ourselves. Is there some aspect of Christianity we find so appealing that it borders on lust?"

Really kind

At The Thinklings, Philip Schroeder shares something significant about the ever-popular "love chapter," 1 Corinthians 13:
One of the things I notice when I read it is that nowhere does it say what love feels like. Much of society and popular culture talks about love like a feeling that comes and goes. But love is described here by what it does. Love is action. And love without action isn’t love at all. Even just saying, “I love you” isn’t enough.
Good point, and the rest of the article is worth reading, too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What not to expect

This sounds right, especially the part about youth groups: "A Warning List For Those Who Would Join a Missional Church Gathering."

Instruments of compromise

J.D. Hatfield: "In a fallen world, there will always be people who will only invest as much of themselves as is necessary to get the required benefit; we see it in church all the time."

Changing the scorecard

Darryl Dash writes on insecurity in ministry. He acknowledges that ministers have probably always struggled with insecurities, but makes this observation about the present day:
. . . it can’t be any easier these days for a generation of pastors weaned on conferences and books promising that we too can have a church that measures up. The problem is that reality never looks as good as the conference brochures. It’s never quite good enough, and most pastors feel like failures at least part of the time.
I think Darryl's right. That's one of the reasons, by the way, I prefer not to spend money on ministry conferences. Blogs are a whole lot cheaper, and if we handle them well they don't take us away from our families.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gospel of grace

Vicki Gaines: "People fear that grace is "soft on sin." But looking at sin realistically causes us to see how utterly wretched we are apart from Christ, so much that we finally give up trying to fix ourselves, relinquish our pride, and put the focus back on Him. "

Worth remembering

"Evaluate your next message before you preach it. Where does God fit in the message? Is He the main character? Is He the real hero of the story? Is the message pointing us to respond to Him?

"It is easy to leave God as a background assumption as we preach a human level story with human level applications – be good, be better, be like so and so. May God never be a background assumption as we preach the self-offering and self-giving revelation He gave to us!"

Language of idolatry

Tim Keller shares his personal experience of how the biblical concept of idolatry showed him what his ministry workaholism really was:
It wasn't until I began to search my heart with the Biblical category of idolatry that I made the horrendous discovery that all my supposed sacrifices were just a series of selfish actions. I was using people in order to forge my own self-appreciation. I was looking to my sacrificial ministry to give me the sense of "righteousness before God" that should only come from Jesus Christ. People make idols out of money, power, accomplishment, or moral excellence. They look to these things to "save them" -- to give them the sense of purity, value, and acceptability that only Jesus can give. In my case, I was using ministry (and my own people) in this way.
I recommend the whole article.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Copying in ministry

Peter Mead: "Look around for a great Christian leader, one with a deep devotion to God. Don’t cut and paste. You can’t fake that, although you may be tempted to try. Don’t fake. Don’t ignore. Don’t methodologize. In the right sense: Copy."

Faithfulness and conflict

In a recent blog post, Will Willimon reflects on real churches and conflict:
During a recent discussion with a conflicted congregation one of the leaders said, “If this were a truly Christian church, we wouldn’t be having these problems.” The assumption was that the congregation’s crisis was due to a failure to be real Christians.

Sometimes that’s the case. But not always. Sometimes we find ourselves in a painful, conflicted and difficult mess not because we’re not faithful to Jesus but because we are following Jesus!

In Judges 6, amid all sorts of defeats and struggles related to the conquest of Canaan, an angel appears and tells the Israelites that God is with them. Gideon impudently asks the angel, in effect, “If the Lord is really with us, why are we in this mess?” The implication is that, if the Lord were really behind us, we wouldn’t be failing.

But when the Lord promised to give Hebrews land, the Lord did not promise it would be easy. When Jesus promised us salvation he did not promise it would be painless.
Amen. I recommend Dr. Willimon's whole article.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Really connected

Tony Miles: "One of the things that gets in the way of us having a true connection with God is the way we define that connection."

Preaching success

Jeff Weddle shares some spot-on thoughts on successful preaching:
It is often true that the best preachers, the ones who proclaim God’s truth, are ones who are rejected.

John the Baptist preached his head off. Christ preached His way onto a cross. John preached his way into prison. Paul was left alone, in prison and then beheaded.

Don’t be surprised when the world hates you. Nor be surprised when the “church” hates you, they’re often the same thing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good point

Well, it looks like a Cerulean Sanctum two-fer today: Church "Halloween alternative" parties aren't much different from Halloween itself.

Our favorite idol

Dan Edelen shares some scathing observations not only on money and society, but money and church. Here's a sample:
We equate our jobs with money, so we let our jobs define us. “So what do you do for a living?” is usually the second question we ask someone after “What is your name, please?” A person’s answer usually tells us all we need to know about his or her salary. And from that we decide whether this is a person with whom we can be friends or who can benefit us as we claw our way to the top.

Heaven knows we need the right people in our churches. We make the business owner an elder and relegate the convenience store cashier to dumping out the Sunday nursery diapers.

And it’s all about money.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Be careful out there

Jesus' strategically poor choices

John Frye reflects on who Jesus chose as his disciples and notes that our Lord's choices run counter to "current conventional evangelistic wisdom" :
Can you imagine if Jesus had chosen Nicodemas? That would have been a foothold in the door to the Sanhedrin, Israel’s supreme court! What if Jesus won Israel’s supreme court? But to choose Thaddaeus? Who’s Thaddaeus?

I love the observation mentioned in Acts 4:13 where the religious opponents to Peter and John acknowledged that the two disciples were unlearned, unschooled, ordinary men. The other observation was that “they had been with Jesus.”

Living water is like ordinary water: it flows to the lowest points. The Gospel runs in street gutters (as Mother Teresa so ably demonstrated). Not too many influential, smart, movers and shakers made up the Corinthian church, but when they gathered together Jesus was in their midst. . . .

Friday, October 16, 2009

More links for expository preaching

I've added a bunch of new links to commentaries at Links for Expository Preaching. If you're not familiar with the site, I hope you'll click over and have a look. The site is a collection of links to the very best free, online commentaries, sermons, and exposition studies, by book of the Bible. For now the site is limited to NT books, but I haven't given up on covering the OT books some day. And please remember that Expository Links can be helpful to anyone, not only preachers.

Breaking free of adrenaline

Abiding is enough

Victoria Gaines has written an outstanding article about the difference between trying and dying in Christian discipleship. After detailing a long list of ways Christians try to be more righteous, Vicki makes this observation:
Ironic, isn't it? The Lord says His yoke is easy, His burden is light, yet all this activity makes my head spin. When we focus on an area, trying to attain something, we lose sight of the Person. After several years, I realized I'd shot myself in the foot by, first, trying to hurry my own growth and, secondly, trying to keep up spiritual appearances. That's a lot of trying! Sheer exhaustion, growing irritability, and deep frustration about my many failures signaled something really wrong. The Lord didn't fail me; I had turned this Christian life into a chronic treadmill. Nothing destroys rest for our souls like striving to make something happen.

Abiding in Him is enough. He will work through any surrendered life, yours and mine, as we trust Him and believe in His finished work. Others may think I'm not doing enough to prove my godly devotion, but what a blessing to be freed from their opinion of me!
Amen. I recommend Vicki's whole article.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Recommended site

Occasionally a blog has so much good material, I simply recommend adding the whole thing to your bookmarks. For preachers and those interested in biblical studies, BibleX is one of those sites. BibleX, short for Bible exposition, is the work of Charles Savelle, who teaches at Center Point Bible Institute in Texas. Every week, it seems, Charles posts several links to keepers. Charles has just written his 1000th post, and I hope he gives us many more.

Already exploded

From Christ the Truth:
A friend of mine was counselling a woman who’d been cheating on her husband. She ended the affair and resolved never to tell her husband about any of it. She said “If I told him it would put a bomb under our marriage.”

What would you reply?

My friend's answer was inspired.
Could be; I recommend following the link.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Where are the youth going?

Jack Hammer has a very thorough analysis of why churches are losing young people.

Jesus: "What is there to like?"

Brad East makes a very good point about the old "I like Jesus but not the church" trope:
Lately I have found myself perplexed by this statement. . . .

Here is my question: What is there to like?

In a culture consumed with money, possessions, and endless creation of wealth, Jesus walks with the poor -- with single moms on welfare, with illegal immigrants in need of health insurance -- and says, "If you are righteous yet wealthy, go and sell all you have and give it to the poor. Then you will have eternal life." What is there to like about that?

In a culture obsessed with sexuality, whether expressed in chauvinist conquest or in personal preference, Jesus walks with the celibate and the faithful, and says, "In the beginning, one man and one woman. What God has joined together, let no one separate." What is there to like about that?

In a culture fixated on marriage and family, with "traditional values" and the white picket fence, Jesus -- a celibate man with no children -- walks with prostitutes and orphans, and says, "Unless you hate mother and brother and sister, unless you leave your own family and follow me, you have no share with me." What is there to like about that?
There's more at the link. And thanks to Glen Scrivener for the link.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Not practical

Preachers, this on is worth reading: Why I downplay the "practical" in my preaching.

Bravo for bivocational

David Fitch: "go on staff at a large church: Suddenly bi-vocational ministry doesn’t look so bad."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Handling Monday well

Peter Mead: "I can’t get away from the fact that Mondays are strange days for people who preach."

Knowing when to cry

"When we find ourselves in the middle of the battle. When we find ourselves under attack. When our lives feel threatened and when things are spinning out of control all around us, we must not retreat, we must not despair, we must not look to our own understanding or our own strength. Rather, we must cry! We must cry out to the living and powerful God of all creation. We must trust in Him and His ability to deliver us. We must allow the battle to be the Lord’s. This is when we will find victory. This is when we will find our prayers answered."

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Lust of rule"

Facing the conscienceless

Statistically, any church with 50 or more members probably has one, so it pays to be prepared: church discipline and the psychopath.

Assuming Christianity

Jared Wilson writes insightfully on being truly missional in the Bible Belt:
Once upon a time, reading on a Nashville church shopper's blog, I noticed a commenter urging her to look for a church that focused on Jesus. Her reply was, "I've already found Jesus."

This is the default mode of Bible Belt Christianity. I've got my ticket punched, just give me the show now. I need a dynamic speaker on Sunday mornings, a rockin' band on the stage, a full service childcare facility, a big youth group, a coffee bar near the sanctuary, etc. I've got Jesus already; give me something that matters to me now, something "relevant," something applicable.

And there is a never-ending appetite for this stuff because this stuff doesn't fix or fulfill anything. Seven steps to conquering conflict in your marriage won't eradicate conflict. So there's always demand for seven more steps next time around.
Excellent point. I recommend Jared's whole article.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Swapping blogs

My friend of SWAP Blog fame has stared a new undertaking. Out from under restrictions from his erstwhile employer, he's now revealing at least his first name at Being Frank.

On narrative intelligence

John Frye shares his experiences of the difference between doctrinal and narrative intelligence.
I was raised and trained in a social network that prized doctrinal intelligence. A person’s ability to learn and repeat precise “biblical” ideas was rewarded with praise, affirmation and advancement. The particular lives of some of the people and a few of the communities who valued doctrinal intelligence were factious, argumentative, judgmental, petty, gossipy and blinkered. The world of these otherwise fine people was limited to those who accepted and affirmed the prevailing doctrinal expressions. It was a ghetto of Bible-based ideas. I have been discovering another perception for reality: narrative intelligence. Narrative intelligence emphasizes the power of story. Narrative intelligence, from my Christian point of view, does not minimize doctrinal intelligence, as many evangelicals think who get real jumpy about “story,” but gives doctrinal intelligence a home, a place where the energies of doctrine may flourish into actual life.
I recommend John's whole article.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Not feeling

Jared Wilson offers some time-tested advice on how to keep worshipers from being moved by the Word of God.

Sharing in common

Dan Edelen looks at the church in the United States and notices a conspicuous lack of discipleship as described in Acts 2 and 4:
Why isn’t the American Church taking more risks? You and I don’t want to be martyrs. We don’t want people to point fingers at us and go “ha ha!” We want our safe existence.

So the status quo goes on and on. The light goes under a bushel basket because it’s just a little bit too scary. And the world looks at the American Church and shrugs.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Really bold

What does true boldness look like for Christians?

By the power of the Word

"Preaching is powerful when it is biblical, when it takes the biblical witness with primary seriousness, when it is first interested, not in the limits of the hearers, or in our felt needs and cares, but in what God, in power, wishes to say to us, how the Holy Spirit, in power, wants to transform us. Nothing can create the church, nothing can raise up a new generation of Christians, we believe, other than the originating, fecund, life-giving power of the word."

Friday, October 02, 2009


Good question

Leadership Journal, in an interview with Kara Powell, looks at youth ministry and asks, Is the era of age segmentation over? Let's hope so. And if you don't understand why I would express such a sentiment, then I encourage you to read the interview. Still, allow me jump, literally, to the bottom line of the interview: "Adults underestimate how much kids want to be with us. Kids are far more interested in talking to caring, trustworthy adults than we think they are." Indeed.

Resting in grace

Victoria Gaines reflects on what it really means to live a new life in Christ:
God doesn't expect heroic efforts from me; neither must I suppress my hurt and pain to appear stoic or super-spiritual. What a relief! Because if you cut me, I bleed - just like you. But all He is, He is for me. Taking up the cross is not so much about enduring hardship as it is the daily giving up of my life for His life. Taking up His Cross means I no longer live, the old Vicki died, but Christ now lives in me. I'm responding to the Love that broke my bonds and set me free from self and sin. I trust in His work, not mine. I rely on His grace to live this enabled life.

Now if He's released me from my old life, why resurrect a corpse and gut it out - all in the name of Jesus? That's just crazy. Yet it took me years of bondage, pain, and failure before I was sick of my own flesh. I was tired of the trappings, charades, and "externals" of the so-called Christian life; a hunger grew. I began to see that His Blood took care of my sin, washed it away, and relieved my guilt and shame. But His Cross took care of my flesh (self life), delivering me from what I am (a sinner)! I stopped trying to live by rules and started trusting the life He had given me.

This new life emerged quietly, invisibly, but surely as I relied on the Holy Spirit to nuture His life in me.
Well said, Vicki.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Not played alone