Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two types of sermon illustrators

Media and ecclesia

Here are some helpful thoughts on the value of being involved in a local congregation:
One reason we have to go to church is that we cannot do self-evaluation properly. When you pray like David in Psalm 19:12-14 or Psalm 139:23-24 for the Lord to reveal sins to you, God often answers you through other people. For David it was the prophets like Gad or Nathan. For us it will be through the loving, caring, covenant community of the local church.

We can complain all we want about that certain local church not being a “loving, caring community”, but consider this. In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus talks about having a beam in our eye. Now consider how having a beam makes us see everything as having a beam in it. Sometimes we don’t notice a certain type of car all over the road until you own one yourself. You see a problem because you ARE a problem, we all are, but God uses the means of each other to help us all out. If you think that you don’t need church you are wrong, but even if you didn’t, even if you did have it all together well then you should come help the rest of us.
That's J.D. Hatfield, and his whole article (and his weblog in general) is worth your time.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mapping vice

I don't know how significant this is, but it is kind of interesting: a geographical description of the Seven Deadly Sins in the United States. Seems like there ought to be a sermon illustration or two in there somewhere.

Paramount blogging

Gospel-Driven Blog has a new home.

Programs in perspective

Brandon O'Brien shares some helpful thoughts on the place of programming in the church. Here's a sample:
In some circles, the term "church programs" has become an epithet for all that is wrong with the institutional church. For a generation hungry for authenticity and community, "programs" feel staged, impersonal, and cold. For a generation increasingly skeptical of government, big business, and corporate machinery in general, "programs" reek of institutionalism, bureaucracy, and insensitivity to human need. Programs may not be the problem, but they are certainly a symptom. They give us something to throw stones at.

To a certain extent, these feelings are justified.
Brandon goes on, however, to show how the book of Acts casts a good light on programs in the local church--if done along certain biblical lines. His article (and the book of Acts, of course) is worth reading.

And J.D. Hatfield, by the way, shares further insights from the same passage in Acts.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Away message

I won't be posting here today or tomorrow, because my oldest son will be married Friday evening. I'm officiating at the service tomorrow, and my wife, Carolyn, is hosting the rehearsal dinner today. There are a million tasks to complete between now and Friday evening, but we're overjoyed that our son has found his life mate and that we'll soon have a daughter-in-law. If you would, please say a prayer for Milton Jr. and Shelly, and for all friends and family members scurrying to finish all the preparations. Hope to be back with you Monday.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sometimes it's better not to share

Jeff Weddle: "Much of faith, your “personal relationship with Christ,” is supposed to be between you and Christ, not you and the millions upon millions of potential readers on the internet."

More on distinguishing gospel and what follows

John Fonville has expanded on the post I linked to yesterday with an examination of what the gospel is and isn't. John makes some very valuable points, including this one:
The gospel is not man’s response to it. The gospel is not about what man does but rather about what Christ did. Faith and repentance are the proper responses to the gospel (Mk. 1:14-15) but neither faith nor repentance are part of the gospel.

The response demanded by the gospel is not the gospel. The gospel is not simply calling on people to make a decision. Establishing man’s alienation from God and his need of the gospel is not the gospel. Calling people to repent of their sins and to trust Christ is true and necessary but neither is the gospel. Calling on people to obey and live upright moral lives is not the gospel.

The distinction between the content of the gospel and its demands must be kept utterly distinct. To confuse one’s duty with the gospel is to leave the impression that the essence of the gospel and the Christian faith is what a man does rather than what God has done in Christ (2 Cor. 5:19).
Good point.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gospel and effect

Here's a reminder, at The Gospel-Driven Blog, on the benefits of distinguishing between the gospel and its effects.

Being "churched" and being saved

The Seeking Disciple is afraid the popular term "unchurched" may be part of a larger effort to avoid the language of sin and redemption:
The Bible uses specific terms to describe the lost. The Bible describes all of us as guilty before God (Romans 3:23), we are all depraved and lost (Isaiah 53:6), our "righteousness" is said to be filthy rags before a pure and holy God (Isaiah 64:6). Paul described himself in 1 Timothy 1:15 as the "chief of sinners" (KJV). Peter, on the day of Pentecost, not only told his hearers (potential customers to church growth experts) to repent and be baptised (Acts 2:38) but he said that they were to be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40 NASB). Paul, speaking to the "unchurched" or "unsynagogued" of Athens, told them that God has previously overlooked their ignorance (wow) but He now commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30-31). Jesus Himself said that all people were to repent lest they die (Luke 13:1-5). Jesus further taught His Apostles to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins (two terms not to be found with the "unchurched"; see Luke 24:47). . . .

Others may continue to use the term "unchurched" but if the "unchurched" are not becoming true disciples of Jesus and simply members of the organised church, they will never have eternal life.

Monday, June 22, 2009

On suffering in ministry

Ray Van Neste shares some very helpful perspective on those times when our work just doesn't seem to be producing much fruit.

Really a blessing?

Mike Leake examines the idea of what really constitutes a blessing from God. Here's a sample:
Living with gold-lined lives is not necessarily a sign of God’s unstipulated blessing; it may be a sign of your disobedience. God may have blessed you with a six-figure salary, but he did not do it so you could have a six-figured salary life.
Good point. I recommend reading Mike's whole article.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fatherhood and dying to self

Bridging to Christ

Preachers, do you include Christ in preaching the Old Testament because he's really there, or because we're supposed to?

The real danger

Thanks to The Thinklings for posting these thoughts from Raymond C. Ortlund Sr.:
Your danger and mine is not that we become criminals, but rather that we become respectable, decent, commonplace, mediocre Christians. The twentieth-century temptations that really sap our spiritual power are the television, banana cream pie, the easy chair and the credit card. The Christian wins or loses in those seemingly innocent little moments of decision.
The same is true for the twenty-first century too.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Indicative before imperative

Thanks to John Schroeder for sharing these thoughts from John Jay Hughes on good preaching.

In Christ's name

J.D. Hatfield: "No work you do for God that comes from your own power will survive the judgment seat of Christ, and anything good but not for him is of no eternal worth either." It gets better; I recommend J.D.'s whole article. Plus, these related thoughts from J.D. are also worth reading.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Not the usual picture of Sodom

Dan Edelen writes about the real sins of Sodom and how much they're like the U.S.A. today. And please don't assume you know what those similarities are before following the link (or reading Ezekiel 16).

Tips on sermon writing

These look like good advice, but please don't read these 10 sermon tips if you're easily offended by earthy language.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Gospel is not about fixing your life

Mike Leake: "A good portion of Christians live as if the gospel has no effect upon every square inch of their life. That is sad. But it is equally dangerous to present the gospel as the effects of the gospel. "

Sermon battle zone

J.D. Hatfield reminds Christians that we are in a spiritual war zone and that one of the fierces battles rages every time the Word of God is preached:
The sermon is a skirmish in the heavenly realm, which will play itself out in the physical world. The most intense place of spiritual warfare is in proclaiming God's Word. We as people in the pews are also involved in this warfare. When we are at church, listening prayerfully to the Word of God being expounded upon, we are in a battle the likes of which many never realize.

They ought to. The preacher is battling long held notions and wrong-headed thoughts. He is trying to exalt God and His Word and Christ and His authority in the lives of believers. He is trying to foster correct doctrine and put down incorrect doctrine and it is a battle for the listener as well. Alan Redpath said that every time the preacher gets up in the pulpit he is making an attack on hell. We are combating things, “for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 – ESV).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Faithfulness to Scripture and God

This looks helpful: Fourteen-point sermon evaluation questionnaire. I've downloaded a copy for myself; if you preach, you might benefit from it, too.

Free D.A. Carson books online

If, like me, you been blessed by the work of D.A. Carson, you'll be glad to find seven of his books available free online.

Not worth fighting

Jared Wilson shares some spot-on observations on why the so-called culture war is not really worth fighting. Here's a sample:
It is the height of weirdness to expect people who don't know Jesus to act like they do especially when we can't get our own house in order. So long as large numbers of Christians continue contributing to the divorce statistics, the porn industry, and more acceptable sins like gluttony and gossip and greed, we have zero business telling the world how to act. Judgment begins at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Repent, Church!
There're nine more where that comes from, all nearly as strong as that one.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Which dream?

Paul Tripp: "You can’t fit God’s dream (if I can use that language) for his church inside of the American dream and have it work. It’s a radically different lifestyle. It just won’t squeeze into the available spaces of the time and energy that’s left over…"

Power today

"How would we ministers and churches change, if we were possessed by the conviction that our gospel preaching might work with power so surprising it would have to be compared with apostolic times? What difference would that conviction make in us right now, before seeing evidences of revival? What would we give up? What would we embrace? What price would we pay in advance? What benefits would we begin receiving immediately?"

Fruitfulness and failure

Jimmy Davis is moving on from an effort at church planting in the Knoxville area. The effort hasn't allowed him to stay in vocational ministry, but Jimmy still sees the effort as fruitful:
If our goal was to make something happen, we failed. If our goal was that we and others would be more conformed to the image of Christ, then call it success. Please do not hear me saying that these two goals cannot co-exist. It is certainly the goal of most church planters to do both: establish a growing, self-sustaining organization that exists to help its people mature in Christ and make disciples. We would have loved to accomplished both goals at Riverside, but one had to take priority over the other.
As Jimmy points out, fruit takes time to grow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Inventory time

"Do you want to know what you really desire? Take a look at your life. What are you pursuing?"

One story

Paul Tripp explains some basic truths about the Bible:
In case you hadn't noticed it, your Bible isn't arranged by topic. I know that this frustrates some of you. You wish that your Bible was structured like an encyclopedia which alphabetized tabs on the side of the page so you could easily find your subject of interest. But your Bible isn't organized that way and that is not because of Divine editorial error, but because of Divine intention. Your Bible is a narrative; a story. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that your Bible is a theologically annotated story; a story with God's notes. The grand, over-arching story of Scripture is meant to be the story that unpacks and makes sense of the story of your life and my life.

Your Bible is not a collection of religious stories. No, it is one story, the grand story of redemption. The Bible has one central character; God himself, specifically in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. From cover to cover the Bible is a narrative of the wondrous works of a God. Perhaps the four most important words in all of Scripture are the first four words; "In the beginning God..." You simply cannot understand yourself, your world, and the meaning and purpose of life unless you view them from the vantage point of the existence, character, and plan of God.
Those may be basic points, but I think they address a very real shortcoming in many Christians' thinking about the Bible. Thanks to Theocentric Preaching, by the way, for the link.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Costing us something

Cutting through the accretions

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On the need to keep looking at the text

Peter Mead: "Often it is easy to see something that will preach, and then stop looking. Let’s be diligent to wrestle more with the text, to believe there is greater unity to the thought than may at first appear. The writer had a clear thought, let’s honour that by pursuing the thought as we study."

Incarnation and Twitter

John Schroeder has noticed something about the North American church's obsession with communications technology:
I find it fascinating. People that want to be president of the United States spend months or years traveling - they try to touch as many people as they can, personally. Why is it those that minister in God's name seem to be working, tirelessly, to find a way to never leave the office?"
Good question. I recommend reading John's whole post.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Don't be afraid

Bride and groom

Dave Bish is inviting comments on his lesson outline for Song of Songs 3:6-5:1. Here's Dave on the Song as metaphor for Christ and the church:
He’s not besotted with ‘you’ (The Song isn’t "Jesus and me"); Christ is besotted with the church whom he loves. He is totally captivated with her, his death has made her shiny and beautiful.
Amen. It's important to remember that the bride of Christ is the whole church, not each Christian individually.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Cultural engagement and stick shaking

Mike Leake discusses the pros and cons of Christian stick-shakers.

"Go with truth"

Jeff Weddle takes a lesson in loyalty, sectarianism, and truth from Isaac Newton. Here's a sample:
Where truth differs from your guys: go with truth. There is no need to conclude they are heretic scum. Respect them for where they brought you and continue to press toward the mark of what we have not yet apprehended. If this were heeded how much more unity would be in the church today?
Sounds like a good plan. Jeff, along with Sir Isaac, also shares related thoughts on church jerks.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Passion or perfection?

John Frye reminds Christians that it's not both/and.

A little straight talk

Ray Pritchard offers some tough but faithful thoughts on homosexuality and the church in North America.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Understanding and preaching arcs

This looks like a helpful resource: graphical exegesis at Bible Arc (and thanks to Oversight of Souls for the link).

A story to keep us focused

From Christian Persecution Blog: Here's a parable on ways our adversary tempts us.

Helpful reminder

Arminian Today: "Too often I hear people say that they want to hear God speak to them about this or that and yet all the while the pages of their Bible lay closed."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A reminder

Minefield clearing

This is worth reading: sneaky landmines for preachers, Part 1 and Part 2.

If we dare

We have made Jesus into a flannel-graph figure. He has become a two-dimensional character at our mercy to move around and talk about the way we want. We can’t endure the wild-eyed Galilean prophet who bit off first century Judaism, chewed it up and spit it out. We like a Savior who is meek and mild. We refuse a leader who invites us into a life of insecurity and danger. We like a stained-glass Jesus who decorates our religious moments. We flee the blood-stained Jesus who shouts, “Pick up your cross and follow me, if you dare!”

Monday, June 01, 2009

Something to remember about monsters

Preaching formula

"I have a formula: Pain + time + insight = change. Sometimes people go through pain over a period of time, but that doesn't change them. But pain and time plus insight will, and that's where the preacher comes in."

The Bible we've got

Eddie Arthur hit it out of the park with this obeservation:
Have you ever wondered why the Bible is the way it is? Why did God inspire a long narrative with lots of wandering and digression, rather than give us a easy-to-digest book of wise theological insights? The answer is that God does not want us only to know about Him. If He did, He would have given us a systematic theology. He wants us to know Him, and so He tells us His story.