Thursday, December 31, 2009

A place for me, myself, and I

John Schroeder: "'I give over,...I submit,...I listen,...I obey....' These are the 'I's' that God wants from us. These are the legitimate use of the word 'I.' These should be the desires of our heart."

Living in a Genesis 3 world

Mike Leake has been writing on suffering and the church. Here's how the first installment begins:
I remember in college being told that every church needs a purpose statement. In fact this principle extends to even the marketplace. Wal-Mart has a statement of purpose, your local car dealer probably has a statement of purpose, even my barber has a purpose statement. However, there is one statement that the Church needs that Walmart, the car dealership, and hopefully your barber does not: a statement on suffering.

The reality is that we live in a broken world filled with broken people. We live in a Genesis 3 world and not a Revelation 21 world. Therefore, people suffer. And when people suffer people have questions. We all want answers to suffering. The church needs a robust statement on suffering. Better yet, the church needs a robust statement on suffering that fuels a meaningful response to suffering.
Part 2 is also worth reading.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Falling for less

Glen Scrivener is right to call this a "cracker" of an essay by Ron Frost on not settling for a miniscule god.

Honoring our elders

Jared Wilson gives some challenging thoughts on revoluationary ageism and the church. Here's how the essay begins:
There's a reason, I think, the Bible makes it a commandment to honor our parents and the New Testament commands us to care for the old folks in our family: God knows we tend to hate them.

Yes, I know that sounds harsh. But can anyone doubt that the modern evangelical church has marginalized seniors and the elderly into ecclesiological inconsequence?
And these thoughts really hit home:
Look around the average attractional mega-whatever: are there many old people there? Do you care? Do you think you're better off because you think old people are unbending, unhip, unsophisticated, unable to get "the vision"? Then you're an idiot. When we get to heaven we will fully realize all the wisdom and experience and authority we not only squandered, but ridiculed.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Committed to truth

Preachers, are your sermon illustrations fact or folklore?

Fully clothed in Christ

J.D. Hatfield writes insightfully about spirituality and assembling with the saints:
Saying that you can be a believer without going to church is like saying you can be a tennis player without stepping on the court, or that you are a pro, but you don’t own a racket. People say that they have a problem, that is why they couldn’t make it to church, but in truth they wouldn’t make it church, and that is why they have a problem. God knows your heart, and God knows if you are looking for an excuse. If that problem weren’t there, would you have gone then? Then why didn’t you come that one particular week you didn’t have to work, or when you didn’t have that problem? You had better go when you can or God will make sure you can’t.
Amen. I recommend J.D.'s whole article.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Learning to preach

From Paul T. McCain, here is some solid advice for aspiring preachers.

A little reminder

Pouring some more

Vicki Gaines is serving up a cup of holiday tea: "Drink deeply this Christmas from the water of Life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

"One quick thought. The early church and New Testament writers didn't seem to make a big deal about what we now commemorate as Christmas. Obviously far more time and attention is spent on the crucifixion and resurrection. But historically Christmas came to be celebrated in the early centuries of church history because of heresies that denied the full humanity of Jesus in the Incarnation. And celebrating Christmas became a practical way that the church could remember that Jesus was in fact physically born of a woman, that he indeed took on our flesh and blood. If he had not truly become one of us, he could not truly save us. Christmas is at its heart a Christological proclamation that the Word truly became flesh and dwelt among us."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Truth and love

The Seeking Disciple tells "Why we don't play Santa Claus with our children."

"Have a well-informed Christmas"

Jeff Weddle offers the top four candidates for most annoying Christmas beliefs.

Sleeping body

Will Willimon has made an interesting discovery:
Sleep is the predominate posture for the church. I first noticed this in the Book of Acts. Some of the most important intrusions of God, such as the revelation to Peter (Acts 10) and the release of Peter from prison (Acts 12), occur while the church and its leaders are fast asleep.
I recommend Dr. Willimon's whole article.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A better Joshua

As a literature teacher I especially like this kind of Bible study: ways in which Joshua foreshadows Jesus.

Avoiding manipulation

"My sense is that manipulation occurs when I, as a preacher, utilize my ability to make a mark in the emotions that is disctinct from the content of the biblical text. After all, the text is boss in an expository sermon, so if I am representing that text appropriately, then it should not be manipulation. But when I resort to “techniques” – stand-alone tear-jerking stories, turns of phrase, emotional outbursts of my own, etc. – that aren’t representing the message of the text, then I am on dangerous ground.

"If we remember that our role is to herald the Word of God, then we represent (re-present) the text of Scripture. In so doing we need to represent a Word that targets the heart very often, and is seldom focused purely on exhortation or education. We should be wary of manipulation, but not so that we ignore any textual targeting of the heart. If we fall into the trap of performing, then manipulation creeps in so easily and we can corrupt the pure Word of God."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Going deeper

Jeff Weddle: "One thing I have learned over the years is that as soon as you think you have a handle on a verse, keep reading! Something will come soon after that will shatter your previous understanding." Jeff gives a good example of this principle in his look at Isaiah 42."

Preaching and encouragement

Ray Ortlund offers some outstanding advice on preaching and encouragement. Here's a sample:
Do we find encouragement in one another? Sometimes. But that supply is limited. We come together at church not to amass the encouragement we bring in but to receive the encouragement he is pouring out. If we come to church only to draw strength from one another, that’s all we’ll get. And we will end up empty and angry at one another. Putting community first destroys community. Our encouragement is in Christ, and he is inexhaustible.
Amen. I recommend reading the whole article.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent and last things

John Mark Reynolds shares some advent reflections.

Pharisees, therapists, and gospel

Glen Scrivener gives links and a handy overview of the three basic models of ministry.

No more junk

Eric Jones reflects on Matthew 5:30 and urges Christians to jettison the junk:
We live in a culture where people love their sin. They are so comfortable with sin that they fill their minds and ultimately their hearts with it on a regular basis as they watch TV, go to movies, or surf the internet. We lie to ourselves and say we can handle it, but we can’t. What we put in us affects us and either builds us up or tears us down. It either brings us life or brings us death. It either glorifies God or it offends Him. What we look at matters. What we listen to matters. Where we go matters. Who we hang out with matters. It either builds us up and promotes holiness or it tears us down and breeds sin. We need more of the stuff that promotes holiness and lifts up the name of Jesus. And we need to remove those things from our lives that breed sin, that draw us away from God and into sin, that entice us to commit spiritual adultery and forget our first love – Jesus Christ. We have all we need in Christ Jesus to jettison the junk and live for God.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Spirituality in the USA

What will they mimic?

"We must preach as those genuinely captivated by the love of God in the Word of God. We must preach contagiously as those who enjoy delightful engagement with this God. Our listeners will subconsciously mimic our leadership in their own “spirituality”–the question is; what kind of spirituality will they mimic? Will theirs be an intellect-only spirituality? Or will it be a purely pragmatic, self-concerned spirituality? Will it be a pseudo-spiritual flight of fancy unearthed in the truth of God’s revelation in His Word? Or will it perhaps be relational, Word-based, heart-level, real?"

Intercession, prayer, and holiness

Jeff Weddle has made some valuable discoveries about intercession:
Intercession does not mean going through a list of troubled people and going off on them to God, knowing what they need, hoping they will get as smart as you to see what their problem really is.

Intercession for people is meeting with them, talking with them, being there with them. It’s much more than thinking of them in prayer: DO SOMETHING FOR THEM. I think you could sum it up with: love your neighbor.

If intercession is something you do that leads you to pride, you’re not doing intercession. When it’s done right it leads to a peaceable, godly life.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Telling and connecting

Peter Mead offers some brief, practical advice on preaching biblical stories.

An illustration: new life in Christ

Ray Ortlund shares a fine illustration of the "new, post-war world of grace, ruled by Christ."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christ at work

Possible deathbed regret: "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." Really.

On holiday grief

Dan Horwedel reminds Christians that December is not "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" for some:
I know it's hard for some people to believe, but Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's do not bring out the same emotions in everyone. While many people see this as a most joyous time of year, many also grieve more now than during the rest of the year.
Dan's right, and he offers advice and a link for helping those whose holiday is framed in gloom.

Update: Victoria Gaines shares similar thoughts at Windows to My Soul.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Getting to know Jesus

In praise of judgment

Monday, December 14, 2009

Technology, risk, and active parenting

Tony "Not Veronica" Myles offers some good, practical advice on children and electronics.

Accepting the gift

Jeff Weddle: "God gives grace to the humble. Don’t be embarrassed to take God’s free gift."

Moving deeper into the Gospel

"Contrary to what many Christian’s have concluded, the gospel doesn’t just ignite the Christian life; it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going every day and in every way. Once God rescues sinners, his plan isn’t to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. After all, the only antidote to sin is the gospel—and since Christians remain sinners even after they’re converted, the gospel must be the medicine a Christian takes every day. Since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Whose righteousness & strength?

Glen Scrivener offers some dynamite insights on two ways of doing Christian ministry.

Gospel of transformation

"Some think of the gospel as so slender it does nothing more than get us into the kingdom. After that the real work of transformation begins. But a biblically-faithful understanding of the gospel shows that gospel to be rich, powerful, the wisdom of God and the power of God, all we need in Christ. It is the gospel that saves us, transforms us, conforms us to Christ, prepares us for the new heaven and the new earth, establishes our relations with fellow-believers, teaches us how to work and serve so as to bring glory to God, calls forth and edifies the church, and so forth. This gospel saves — and ’salvation’ means more than just ‘getting in,’ but transformed wholeness."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sniping in the church

Thanks to Nancy for this link: Is anonymous your first or last name?

A different take on 'climate change'

Glen Scrivener asks, "And really – who’s running this show? Christ or carbon?"

Glen also shares another incisive observation about the Gospel of Climate Change:
Walking through a London train station yesterday I had to weave my way through hundreds of protestors. . . . And at least 20 000 gathered in the capital to remind us of this: we’ve got the whole world in our hands.

Maybe it’s coincidence but it’s pretty close to a Guardian headline this week that said, regarding Copenhagen, “Our destiny is still in our hands.”

Wouldn’t we love that to be true!? How we long to be this world’s solution! And therefore, however costly it might be, we are eager to cast ourselves as the problem. . . .

The cost we seem willing to pay to keep ourselves at the centre beggars belief.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Worth remembering

Paul Lamey reminds preachers that there's "no need to 'trick things up' with NT narrative."

Consumurism and cultural combat

Matt Dirks shares some top-shelf wisdom on why he won't be joining any Christmas boycotts:
By centering the battle on the money we spend to celebrate Christmas, we’ve already lost the war. We’re admitting that the “centerpiece” of our faith isn’t Jesus Christ, it’s our own desire for more stuff. We’re just making ourselves feel better about our crass consumerism by attaching Jesus to it. . . .

Here’s an idea: instead of boycotting certain businesses who aren’t religiously-correct enough in their advertising, why don’t we boycott the whole thing?
Good question. Bob Spencer offers a similar challenge:
You can wear all the "reason for the season" buttons you want, but most Christians I know keep a pre-dominantly secularized Christmas with a Creche in the front yard to emphasize that our hearts are in the right place even despite the conspicuous over-consumption.

Ebenezer Scrooge famously said, "You keep Christmas your way, and I'll keep Christmas mine." If you want to do something healthy for the Christian holiday known as Christmas, you might start by severing your celebration of the birth of Jesus from the consumerist impulse altogether. Buying nothing for Christmas is a good way to start.
Well, Christians. . . do we dare?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Good point

Jeff Weddle: "Doing what God says is not legalism, nor is it legalism to tell people to do what God says."

Gospels old and new

Kevin DeYoung writes persuasively about the danger of the New Gospel (HT). I particularly appreciate his conclusion:
Please, please, please, if you are enamored with the New Gospel or anything like it, consider if you are really being fair with your fellow Christians in always throwing them under the bus.
The whole article is worth reading.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Post-Christendom and sin

Preaching as pulling back the curtain

"If you want your sermon to stick, you must pull back the curtain to reveal who God is, who we are and what He really wants. It is too easy for preachers to slip into becoming moral teachers—religious instructors who pass out rules for spiritual living without pulling back the curtain on God and ourselves; pulling back that curtain is what our people need the most!"

Friday, December 04, 2009

Five levels of preaching

What preaching is about

"One danger for preachers who understand the value of doctrine, is that we can lose touch with the practical focus of preaching. We do not want to be like many whose preaching is shallow and lacking in any biblical substance. This desire is correct, but it can then be easy to fall off the other side, turning preaching into mere lectures with our aim becoming simply the transfer of data. It is good- indeed vital- for our people to know doctrine, but not abstract doctrine for doctrine’s sake. We need to know truth so that we might live in such a way as to please God. We preach not simply to create skillful hearers of the word, or even experts in talking about the word, but to produce people who live according to the word because they deeply love God."

Each other and the church

Barry Maxwell has written beautifully about the Christian's need for the local church. Here's a sample:
Without a local church you can neither know nor believe the love God has for you to the extent God intends. A deeply-entrenched commitment to the local church is necessary to see God’s love manifest in us. God hasn’t left us to imagine he loves us, but to tangibly experience and taste his perfecting love in the Spirit-filled ministry of brothers and sisters in the local church. Those distant from the new covenant community struggle to see, know, believe, glory in God’s love for them. They’re left to imagine what God’s love might be like rather than tasting what it really is. How would Jesus minister to you if he were physically here? He would do what his Spirit-filled brothers and sisters now do in his name.
Amen. There's more at Barry's blog.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Five levels of doctrinal error

Pastoring to hell

Meditating on Matt. 23:15, Glen Scrivener comes to some sobering conclusions on pastoral ministry:
Here’s my contention: Pastoral care is not good in and of itself. If you ‘help’ someone according to your own Pharasaical gospel, you will do nothing more than spread demonic influence. In fact you will make the pastored person twice the son of hell that you are.

It seems to me, therefore, the question is not whether we do evangelism so much as which evangel we preach.

And similarly, the big issue is not so much getting your church to be pastorally minded. The real issue is making sure they know the gospel. ‘Pastoring’ that is not a thoroughly gospel pastoring will do incredible harm.
Yes, indeed.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Basic reminder

Internet and ephemerality

"I'm amazed at the amount of time people spend on the internet. I'm not against technology, but all tools should be used to their best advantage. We should be spending our time on things that have staying power, instead of on the latest thought of the latest blogger—and then moving on quickly to the next blogger. That makes us more superficial, not more thoughtful."

Loss of anticipation

With the beginning of Advent, I thank my friend Bob Spencer for a link to "The End of Advent" at First Things. Here's a sample:
Christmas has devoured Advent, gobbled it up with the turkey giblets and the goblets of seasonal ale. Every secularized holiday, of course, tends to lose the context it had in the liturgical year. Across the nation, even in many churches, Easter has hopped across Lent, Halloween has frightened away All Saints, and New Year's has drunk up Epiphany.

Still, the disappearance of Advent seems especially disturbing—for it's injured even the secular Christmas season: opening a hole, from Thanksgiving on, that can be filled only with fiercer, madder, and wilder attempts to anticipate Christmas.

More Christmas trees. More Christmas lights. More tinsel, more tassels, more glitter, more glee—until the glut of candies and carols, ornaments and trimmings, has left almost nothing for Christmas Day. For much of America, Christmas itself arrives nearly as an afterthought: not the fulfillment, but only the end, of the long Yule season that has burned without stop since the stores began their Christmas sales.
Whatever you may think of the liturgical calendar, you would probably benefit from reading Joseph Bottum's whole article.