Saturday, April 30, 2005

"Second best" to the glory of God

Conrad Gempf has written a beautiful post on how God can use "second best" solutions to glorify him.

Courage to preach what we don't practice

David Wayne of Jollyblogger urges preachers not to fall into the trap of thinking we have to practice everything we preach:

I say this because I am preaching much these days on the grace of God. I'm preaching things which I know in my head are true and which are the fruit of my study. But I know in my heart that I have not yet grasped the full greatness of grace in my own life. I have tasted it, but I don't think I have guzzled it - and I want to guzzle it.

That's a great metaphor--tasting but not guzzling. So much of the Christian walk is moving beyond baby steps to a full-blown stride. Many preachers, however, feel the urge to be not only proclaimers but experts. It's easy to feel hypocritical, David notes, for preaching about an area in which we ourselves still struggle:

I am sympathetic to that and I think the solution to the hypocrisy problem is simple - we can simply admit to our hearers that we haven't attained to what we are preaching. This is why I often remind my hearers that I am so adamant on preaching about grace because I need it more than they do.

When we preach we try to hold out to our hearers a goal to which they ought to strive to attain. There is nothing wrong with the preacher holding out a similar goal to which he himself has not attained.

Certainly preachers are expected to have some degree of maturity and experience in not only talking the talk but walking the walk. But if we believe we have to master the material before preaching on it, then we'll either be silent or deluded. One key for having the honesty to admit our own weakness from the pulpit is this: to remember that in the ways that matter most, preachers are part of--not apart from--the congregation.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Genesis: Narrative patterns and community

Scot McKnight makes a fascinating observation about redemption and community in the book of Genesis:

Have you ever observed that the narrative pattern from Adam/Eve to Abraham found a dead end in the individualistic tendencies of Genesis 4--11? It was then, with Abraham in Genesis 12, that God "started all over again" and the first thing he did was form a community of transforming presence. With Abraham the theme of community -- a theme from Abraham to the Apostle Paul -- lays a foundation for understanding what the gospel is all about.

I'd never thought of that before. As a Christian in the United States, I've spent way too much time viewing salvation as an individual event. The kind of narrative pattern Scot points out here is helpful in beginning to see salvation as a people event in which each Christian is blessed to be a part. Scot has other important ideas on the topic of salvation, transformation, and communtiy. I recommend the whole article.

Who is the church for?

In his online class notes on Acts 15, Prof. Conrad Gempf refers to the story of a young Bill Hybels being fired from his youth pastor position "because his group was attracting the wrong kind of kids." Conrad takes issue with his course textbook author who asserts that the church is for outsiders:

If the question is "Who is the church for?" isn't the real answer that it's for God? Have we lost that focus? Acts 15 does not say that the church is for the people; it's inclusiveness consists of this: that anyone who is ready to follow the Lord Jesus Christ should be welcomed and they don't need to become just like us.

But there is more to the Acts 15 compromise than inclusiveness. There are demands as well. (The chapter is not, of course, about outsiders who are unbelievers, but those from a Gentile background who have committed themselves to Christ.) New believers from a pagan Gentile background do not need to turn themselves into Jews but neither may they remain pagan Gentiles (15:19-31). I wonder if we've misunderstood Bill Hybel's critics: were they really worried that church was attracting outsiders or were they worried that the church was coming to be made up of people whose lives were no different from unbelievers?
A big frustration for many Christians today is that the lives of Christians as a whole are not much different from the world at large. Could it be because we've paid too little attention to repentance and sanctification?

The need for theological literacy

"Failure to study scripture and tradition is a failure to form our conscience, the most critical of church imperatives. Ignoring history makes us guilty of the deadly sin of sloth. It opens the door to hierarchical dishonesty, ecclesial waywardness and, worst of all, Bible-based bigotry."

The urgency of our mission

Mark Loughridge reminds us of the urgency of proclaiming the gospel. It's a well-worn metaphor, but still powerful and worth remembering:

If we arrived home late one night and saw our neighbours house on fire and no sign of them outside. We wouldn't worry and shouting and yelling and embarrassing ourselves. We would do all we could to alert them to the danger.

But when it comes to the gospel, we don't. And perhaps part of the reason that we don't is that we aren't sufficiently convinced of the danger people are in.

Some people think it is wrong to speak about Hell and God's wrath, because we are scaring people into Heaven. They think that we should speak only of the love of God, and the wonder of being loved. What nonsense! When someone's house is on fire you don't stand outside telling them that really the grass is a wonderful place to stand, and that the view is better outside, and that the people are much nicer here. You tell them to get out because their house is on fire. And they thank you for it.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

What have we really lost?

Amid a resurgence of popular interest in so-called "lost" writings about Jesus, Paul McCain warns against looking for truth in these works (which, somehow, the church long ago decided to reject):

The Devil is creative, that's for sure. If he can not steal away people from the Faith by getting them to reject it, or ignore it, or otherwise disregard it, he will plant in their minds the idea that there is really something MORE out there. Wait a minute....creative? Nope, just a variation on his classic trick of bait and switch. "If you eat shall be like God!" In other words, there IS something more out there and God is keeping you from it. How dare He? What kind of God is He who would keep you from what will REALLY satisfy.

And so we have in recent years had a spate of speculation about the "Hidden Gospels." One scholar, Elaine Pagels, has made a mint on fobbing off the so called "missing Gospels" on an uneducated and ignorant public. The DaVinci Code novel has captivated people with its suggestions of Christ's marriage, hidden secrets and so forth. All this is nothing more, or less, than warmed over heresy.

Pastors and churches today need to warn their flocks in no uncertain terms about these things. They are soul-destroying and faith-corrupting errors which, if taken to heart, will result in a person's eternal torment and death in hell fire. It's just that serious.

Yes it is.

More on men in the church

Bowden McElroy continues the discussion on bringing men into the church. His "two cents worth" is worth far more than its face value. Meanwhile, Dan Edelen, who started this thread, comments on Christian men and pornography.

Marriage and spiritual formation

Brad Hightower offers incisive evaluations about the place of marriage in spiritual formation of churches. The "anemic witness" of North American churches, he contends, is related to rates at which Christians divorce--rates closely paralleling those of non-Christians in our culture:

Could it be that making a commitment to Jesus Christ makes no difference in the most important area of life - our relationship with our spouse? We can point to any number of causes. We can blame men. We can blame women. We can blame pastors. We can blame the world and the flesh and the devil. But none of this blaming will help us to turn these trends around.

The fact of the matter is this: People are going to church and going home and fighting and arguing. These people are not equipped with the tools to get themselves into a joyful marriage. Worse than this where is the church as these marriages fall apart?
In my own lifetime I've seen churches' stands against divorce soften as more and more Christians and members of their families divorced. This is the very kind of "contraint" on the church's teaching and preaching, I think, that was addressed in one of yesterday's posts.

Preaching and teaching against divorce doesn't mean we ignore the hearts and hurts of human beings for the sake of cold, hard doctrine, or that we heap shovelsful of shame on already wounded souls. It does mean that we take seriously the gravity of marriage--a relationship that, over and over in the Bible, is held up as a living metaphor of God's relationship with his chosen people.

It also means that Christians must begin to put into sometimes-hard practice our commitments to one another and to God. If we can practice those commitments in faith, with a sincere desire to follow Christ, our efforts may become a catalyst for the workings of God's transformation and joy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Our mission isn't to be friendly or cuddly

Conrad Gempf looks at Acts 13 & 14 and finds some lessons about being a missional church:

The early Christians' idea of being missional wasn't about shaping the gospel in a way that made sense to everyone and conformed to their culture and expectations. The early Christians' gospel conformed to Jesus. And Jesus was about provoking a decision: are you for him or against him?

You and I would be convinced we were doing something wrong if, say, we planted a new church and it angered half the neighbourhood -- we'd want the non-believers in the area to find the new church a pleasant or at least innocuous addition to the neighbourhood, not something that they'll find so irritating that they rise up against it (and us). When this happens to Paul and Barnabas they are filled with joy -- it's a job well done. It's not that they seek to irritate, it's just that their goal isn't primarily to be friendly or cuddly, but to tell the truth about God and Jesus Christ.

Amen, and amen.

Update: Dan Edelen has more to say on Conrad's post at Cerulean Sanctum.

How authentic do we have to be?

Mick Porter asks how our preaching is affected as certain behaviors become more culturally acceptable:

To clarify a bit with an example - picture yourself preaching on James 1:27 - "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." So, where would you be comfortable to go in applying this? Would you be happy to exhort people not to watch TV, or would that be a problem because (a) you watch lots of TV, or (b) it's too counter-cultural (or perhaps (c) that you don't see this as a valid application). So how about preaching on submission of wives, leadership by husbands, servanthood of leaders . . .

I like the way John Piper went and adopted a child, so that he could speak out on the abortion issue and back it up with his own life. I wonder how much we really constrain our sermons by our own examples and not wanting to preach hypocritically. And how much we constrain them by not wanting to rock the cultural boat.

Good questions.

Letting the Bible read us

Greg Taylor recently shared some challenging ideas about reading the Bible:

In Spiritual formation, we're moving from reading the Bible to the Bible reading us. Yes, the Bible reading us. We don't stand above Scripture, shaping it to our image, but we are read by Scripture, undone by it, being shaped into the image of Christ by it. That's part of Spiritual formation.

I like that concept of the Scripture reading us. There's a certain danger in having the Word of God between book covers--something we hold in our hand, carry with us or leave behind us as we choose. The more we read the Bible the more we're tempted, I believe, to feel we have mastered the Scriptures. In reality, we won't get anywhere until we allow the Word to master us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Preaching, authenticity, and style

Several bloggers have commented lately on style and Spirit in preaching. Brian Colmery offers some intriguing thoughts about style and authenticity:

. . . all preaching should really be the same “style” – the style of somebody sobbing before God. . . . .The style of the pastor is one of passionate plea before God, absolute surrender to his own inability. . . . True authenticity comes only when we let the word impact our own soul to the point that our motifs are left behind, because we are too moved as we are on our knees, pleading for the hearts and souls of the congregation, to act as we normally do. This is not overheated emotion. This is appropriate, legitimate, and necessary gravity. And this is what the world is searching for—something so important that it never needs manufactured passion to make it impactful. Style shouldn’t get in the way of this. In fact, it can’t – every man has the same “style” when he is on his knees.

While I wouldn't go so far as to say that every preacher should have the same style (and I don't think Brian is, either), Brian is right on target in asserting that humility before God should completely overshadow the particularities of individual style.

David Wayne comes at the issue from a slightly different angle but comes to a related conclusion. The Jollyblogger points out that it's easy to confuse tone of voice, gesturing, and crowd effect with "Spirit-filled" preaching: "the work of the Spirit is measured by genuine lifechange, not the emotion or reaction of the moment." David's post, by the way, is an expansion on these comments from Jeremy Price.

Today, David explores the story of Marjoe Gortner to show how easily workings of the "Spirit" can be counterfeited using standard tricks or rhetoric and working a crowd.

The lesson in all this? That the real power is in the Word of God. Our value as preachers is only as strong as our own proclamation, in word and action, of that living Word.

Rusty Peterman is doing better

Believer Blog's Rusty Peterman, who had a stroke last month, continues to recover. I was very pleased today to get an e-mail from Rusty himself. He says he's getting stronger and stronger every day. Let's continue to pray that Rusty is back with his fellow bloggers---and, more importantly, preaching to his congregation---very soon.

What is true spirituality?

I like Eugene Peterson's answer:

I've been a pastor most of my life, for some 45 years. I love doing this. But to tell you the truth, the people who give me the most distress are those who come asking, "Pastor, how can I be spiritual?" Forget about being spiritual. How about loving your husband? Now that's a good place to start. But that's not what they're interested in. How about learning to love your kids, accept them the way they are?

How about it?

Monday, April 25, 2005

On the offensive for the Word

Conrad Gempf reminds us that the Apostle Paul wasn't the kind of guy who tried not to give offense:

He was offensive to all spiritual traditions -- and not out of ignorance, but deliberately.

He evangelizes people of other faiths. A Christianity not spreading the word is like a political party not trying to win votes, except among those already of your own party. If the early Christians hadn't done this, there wouldn't have been any Christianity. If Saul hadn't been so on the offensive, you might still be doing obeisance to Zeus and Hermes.

And you and I? If we're not on the offensive, who will we leave worshiping false gods?

Good question. Well, what can we say?

Preaching from our weakness

I've come across a couple of good articles recently on the need to preach from our weakness. In this article, Alistair Begg uses the story of King Jehoshaphat as an example of depending on God, not ourselves, for strength (HT: Preaching Now):

“God’s purpose is that we might depend entirely upon Him,” Begg said. “Jesus didn’t say, ‘apart from Me you can do a few things.’ He said, ‘apart from Me you can do nothing.’ We cannot do anything as we ought without the help that He gives.”

Phil McAlmond expresses a similar idea at The Spirit Formed Life. Speaking from his own personal experience, Phil relates how his own preaching didn't really begin to flourish until he quit depending on talent and really drew near to God in a close relationship:

I began to learn that, apart from him I literally could do nothing (Jn 15:5) and I mean nothing of Kingdom value. I began to learn what it meant to become absolutely dependent upon the Lord Jesus and His Holy Spirit. I began to become, in a very great way, for me at least, a broken man of God. The Lord began to reach deep into my heart and soul and speak to me of things within myself that I did not know about or understood. He began to move deeply into my heart revealing my real motivations for ministry, preaching, life, etc. He began to open up in me a yearning to be more and more real and available to him, that He would have his way, in spirit and in truth, within and through me, in all things and at all times. He began to deeply change me from the inside out; authentically! . . . .

I have learned that to be one whose preaching transforms others, I must first be a preacher who is transformed, in spirit and in truth, in the presence of my Lord Jesus. As a result, my study has come to flow out of my deep times and seasons of prayer and fellowship in and with my Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. Prayer has become such a pivotal point of readiness in my life to preach, minister or simply walk the walk of the Spirit Forming Life of Christ Jesus each and everyday, that I cannot imagine going forward without this vital link of intimacy in and with Christ Jesus.

To transform others we must first be transformed ourselves--that's a pretty high standard, don't you think?

More meditations from my homeland

Craig Williams in his latest Narnia musings reminds us that (unlike much cheap literature), the Bible doesn't portray evil as ugly on the surface:

Remember the scripture portrays evil not as something repulsive but enticing and attractive. It is something we want but it can't deliver what we desire.

In creative writing classes, I've noticed that inexperienced fiction writers always make the bad guys physically ugly and immediately recognizable. Not so in good fiction (like C. S. Lewis's) nor in life. It's good to be reminded by Craig, Lewis, and the Bible that evil masquerades as something beautiful and good (can you relate?)---but leads to destruction.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The dangers of insipid preaching

Adrian Warnock offers a reminder for preachers to "act and speak in such a way that it is not possible for anyone to disregard him:

Every time we stand up we are tempted to hold back a little, not to challenge too much, to speak for consensus and approval just a little. The trouble is that insipid preaching gives rise to insipid listening. I want to preach for response, such that the one thing my hearers cant do is ignore me. They must either respond with rejection or choose to accept the message and live in the good of it.

In his book Preaching, John Killinger says, in effect, that boring preaching is not only a waste of time; it's sinful. The power of our preaching comes through the Word of God, not our own strength. Still, in the words of John Schroeder, the best preachers "did not take themselves very seriously, but they did take their jobs and the Word of God deadly seriously."

Great preaching and discipleship

John Schroeder at Blogotional continues the ongoing discussion on preaching. Good preaching, John says, involves not only saying the right things but being the right person:

That means that first of all, I need to be able to call the preacher "friend" and see the evidence of the word he expounds in his life. Secondly, it means that preaching that serves to build the church, in the institutional sense, will send me out in a huff.

I like that idea of coming away in a huff. Life-changing preaching has to show us that our lives as they now stand need to change, and most of us don't like to hear that. As John notes, a preacher can sing with the voice of an angel but not really be a man of God. Thus true discipleship is important for both preacher and congregation:

A mediocre preacher will sound like a great preacher if he serves a congregation full of true and committed servants of the Lord. That's why I think a pastor should devote himself first to discipleship because discipleship will make the preaching better.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Practical advice on preaching and theology

Peter Bogert offers preachers some practical, detailed advice on staying theologically fluent.

Considering Haloscan

I'm wanting to add Haloscan commenting to get the trackback function. When I tried earlier today, however, I lost all my older comments, so I reverted to the old, Blogger commenting system. Does anyone know how to convert without losing the older comments?

Resisting the assault on manhood

Frank at Team Swap has added to the discussion on why men stay away from worship services. One of Frank's valuable insights is the idea that manhood is under assault by our culture:

The core of the problem that churches are reaping is the result of how society in general view men. Church has become just one more place that men are told they are failures, and they get that enough in the world. In general, men do not provide enough, they do not support enough, they do not love enough, they are never satisfied, they are boy’s with larger wallet, etc. A man comes into church hurting and he leaves with even more of his shrinking ego bruised and battered. It is not that the church is meaningly kicking him, but the sheer message of the gospel – sinner saved by grace – reinforces a man’s failures.

I think Frank's diagnosis is sound. In the United States at least, manhood has been under attack in popular media for at least the past thirty-five years. What, for example, is invariably the gender of the sitcom buffoon? What gender is it acceptable to denigrate across-the-board in certain academic circles? This assault has a couple of devastating effects on men. Even worse than causing men to be ashamed of the way God created them is the attitude that would turn men away from the gospel as just another attack on a man's self-worth. The truth, of course, is that we are all failures, all sinners, whether man or woman. And the great, wonderful news is that God reaches out to us through Jesus Christ anyway to come back into victorious relationship with him.

So how does the church proclaim the good news of salvation without reinforcing the assault on manhood? Here's Frank again:

Men need to be encouraged in church, from the pulpit, within Sunday school, in Bible studies, by others members, and by their families or friends. A man that attends church, even if it is not regularly, needs to be encouraged when he succeeds or is beginning to be consistent. That does not mean accepting lower morals, sin, and such, but it does mean being supportive when men make right decisions and right steps. It also means being patient as men move from a worldly focus to a Godly one.

I'm reminded of Adrian Warnock's imagery of the "drip, drip" effect of preaching over time in worship services. Men, and all Christians, need encouragement. And I know of nothing more encouraging than the truth that God loves us and cares about our eternal wellbeing.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Lots of discussion on preaching

These days it's good to see some of my favorite bloggers posting on preaching. Among them are Peter Bogert, John Telfer Brown, Dan Edelen, J. A. Gillmartin, John Schroeder, and Adrian Warnock (and we know it must be a popular topic when Mick Porter takes up the subject). David Wayne has once again offered some good reminders in "The Power of Spirit-Less Preaching." The power of preaching, he asserts, comes not from the preacher's own power (even his Spiritual power), but from the Word itself:

It is true that preachers need to be prayed up and Spirit-filled, but I think the reason for this is not so much to make the preacher more effective in and of himself, but simply to make him more effective as a conduit for the clear proclamation of the Word of God. If a preacher's message is powerful, its not because he himself is so powerful and Spirit-filled, it is because the Word of God came through loud and clear.

The good news of this is that no preacher ever comes to the pulpit without carrying a heavy weight of sin with him. Even on his best day, the most Spirit and unction-filled preacher has enough sin in his heart to disqualify him from the Spirit's blessing. But, if it is the Word of God he is preaching, if it is Christ he is preaching, the Spirit will attend that Word about Christ, even in spite of the preacher's sinful heart.

That's good news indeed.

Another reminder to focus

Pete Porter has some very sensible advice at Bryans Nonsense (HT: Scotwise). In his post, "What You Looking At, Pete has this to say:

This is the problem with us, we're looking at ourselves. Why look at us? We have been told to look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. If we only see us, then we will see lack, confusion, and mission impossible!

And that's all too true. We're weak. We sin. So what should we do?

Don't look at your lack, look at Christ's sufficient supply. Wisdom? It's in Him. Health, it's in Him. Strength, it's in Him. What ever you need, it's in Him. Your life is in Him. And all the promises to you will be fulfilled, in Him who lives in you. Focus on Him, he is the force and the power and the life that is in us. If God be for us, who can be against us?


Nuts-and-bolts of sermon prep and delivery

Jollyblogger offers some practical advice on preparing and delivering sermons (HT: Adrian Warnock). It's a nuts-and-bolts kind of article that should be of interest to new preachers. More experienced preachers might like the article as well, in comparing their development process to David's.

More on why men don't attend church

Dan Edelen further explores reasons why women outnumber men in the pews. He mentions two books that deal with the subject, David Morrow's Why Men Hate Going to Church and John Eldredge's Wild at Heart. Dan goes on to offer several of his own thoughts. Most importantly, Dan says, is that men need to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in worship. He offers another explanation, too, which I found particularly challenging for full-time preachers:

You almost never hear any sermons about jobs. Most churches have nothing in place to help the unemployed within their ranks. And the Church in America no longer speaks to the business world on issues of cut-throat downsizing, outsourcing, discrimination against older employees, and the relentless expectation that employees put in longer hours at work. In short, the Church in this country has almost nothing to say about the one thing men spend more hours doing than anything else in their lives. That silence speaks volumes to men.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Preachers! Avoid the agape fallacy!

The "agape fallacy" is the idea that whenever agape appears in the New Testament, it refers to a higher, more godly kind of love than phileo. You've probably heard something like that preached and, like me, you may have preached it yourself at one time. It's a neat explanation, but it has the downside of being untrue. For a beautifully concise explanation of the agape fallacy, see this post at You'll have to click a couple of times to open the PowerPoint presentation, but it's well worth the effort.

What do you mean post-Christian?

Joshua at RazorsKiss is amazed that many Christians in the United States still think we live in a "Christian culture":

Our country, and our culture, are in the grip of subjectivism, humanism, and a rebellion against all convention. We are NOT in the grip of the Holiness and Majesty of the Lord God, Omnipotent. We are in the grip of a worldview which says “live all you can, cause you just live once… you have the right to do whatever you want” - to quote a DC Talk song from a ways back.

The solution, Joshua aptly notes, is not trying to change the culture, but first changing ourselves--to be transformed into the image of Christ.

How does preaching transform?

Several Christian bloggers on my A-list have taken up the subject of preaching and transformation. It's quite a bit of material, but they cover some important ground. To read the latest, visit The Sheep's Crib, Adrian Warnock's UK Evangelical Blog, and Blogotional.

Bony-fingered beauty

John Zimmer at letters from babylon relates the value of having an old woman in your life to poke a bony finger into your chest when you need setting straight:

My pastor frequently tells a great story about such a woman who took him aside when he was a young man. In those days he was living a double life of sorts, with most people convinced he was the model Christian youth. But one gray-haired lady didn’t buy it. She stuck a finger in his chest and said, “You’re fooling everybody but God and me.” Her words changed his life. Many of us need that kind of course correction once in a while. It is so easy to get caught up in our own lives, worried about our own needs and desires, believing our own truths. We forget the things we once knew and cling instead to lies. We surround ourselves with voices that affirm us instead of voices that speak the truth. The mistakes we make then can ruin lives forever. The seeds sown then can grow into unforeseen consequences of epic proportions. But the end need not be so. Grace is ever present and redemption near. What’s to be done? Find a Bible and a little old lady who will stick her finger in your face.

I've quoted most of John's post here, simply because its so concise and so strong. Thanks, John, for the meditation (And thanks to RazorsKiss for pointing to it).

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Leading with more than words

Adrian Warnock comments today on 2 Tim. 3:10-17 and reminds us that Paul taught not only with his words but with his faith, love, and conduct:

This is a good reminder for preachers of the need to share their lives with their hearers and is why despite the fact I love the internet and blogging I still believe that it should never take the place of a local church where all this teaching can be worked out in intimate relationships like the one Paul had with Timothy. Reading words doesn't change us rightly. HEARING a preacher proclaiming not just with words but with his life will.


Are we wrong on rights?

At Christianity Today online, Ted Olsen examines the problems Westerners have in looking at the world through the lens of rights. A rights-centered approach to life, Olsen notes, can be at odds with a Christian approach:

The language of rights is the language of power. Thus we are tempted to claim individual rights for selfish purposes and to forget our obligations. It's disheartening to see that the majority of Christian political rhetoric is about guaranteeing our "rights" as Christians: the right to hire who we want, the right to pray where we want, the right to preach what we want, the right to sell (or not to sell) what we want.

Olsen makes another good point:

Biblical freedom is not the "rights" of American autonomy. Paul was rarely shy about listing off his many rights—as a Roman citizen, as a Christian, as an apostle—but he recognized that invoking them can hurt, especially when they lend themselves to selfishness. Paul was entitled to funds from the church in Corinth, but noted, "We have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. … Though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all."

This is the kind of "Christian right" that needs much more attention.

Amen. I personally think, however, that Olsen may give a little too much weight to the value of human rights in a Christian worldview. For a powerful explanation of how the culture of rights-based morality arose, and its relationship to a Christian worldview, see Alisdair MacIntyre's After Virtue.

From "hopeless drunk" to warrior for Christ

Scotwise tells the story of Mel Trotter. It's a story that still carries weight after a hundred years.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Recommended reading

Peter at Stronger Church recommends Scott M. Gibson's Preaching to A Shifting Culture.

If you're looking for one of the must-reads to help you communicate more effectively, and encourage you to stay faithful in the task of actually teaching/preaching the Bible as opposed to letting the Bible be the launching pad for therapeutic pick-me-ups, I'd recommend this book highly.

Sounds like one I'd like to read. Thanks for the tip, Peter.

New ministry blog: Unveiled Face

Mick Porter of Queensland, Australia, has begun a new weblog, Unveiled Face, "dedicated to the discussion of preaching, teaching, and shepherding." Here's Mick:

As a "lay preacher" (meaning that I derive my income from a full-time secular job, and also have major preaching responsibilities), I have some pretty intense demands on my time - this may not be the most hyperactive place on the blogsphere. However, I love a hearty debate on most theological topics - particularly when preaching/teaching and shepherding are invovled.

In only ten days, Mick has managed to cop a Warnie Award, thereby shattering the previous short-time Warnie record formerly held by Transforming Sermons! Mick and fellow Warnie recipient John Telfer Brown of Scotwise both blog from Queensland, Australia. Welcome, Mick, to the international fellowship of Christian bloggers!

What's really threatening the church?

David Wayne at Jollyblogger evaluates predictions of God's judgment on our society for its collective sins. And what might those sins be? Homosexuality? Abortion? How about divorce:

If evangelicals are concerned about impending judgment from God we need to take the whole of the Scripture into account. There aren't that many practicing homosexuals in our evangelical churches, but if George Barna is correct, our churches are nearly half-full of folks who have been divorced. If evangelicals are serious about protecting the institution of marriage they need to focus the same amount of energy (or greater) on fighting divorce as they do fighting homosexuality. Granted, many do this and there are lots of ministries out there that focus on building marriage and preventing divorce. But they don't seem to be making as much headway as they could.

And for those politically minded Christians, the reversal of no-fault divorce laws should have as high a priority in their agendas as do the gay marriage issues.

As usual with the Jollyblogger, it's a strong essay.

On Narnia and the Lion

Craig Williams at Tabletalk has been writing lately about my homeland: Narnia. Here's one of his latest posts.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The language we use to interpret the gospel

To follow up on the earlier post about our use of words, Eugene Patterson recently commented on the language Christians use in our culture:

It's very dangerous to use the language of the culture to interpret the gospel. Our vocabulary has to be chastened and tested by revelation, by the Scriptures. We've got a pretty good vocabulary and syntax, and we'd better start paying attention to it because the way we grab words here and there to appeal to unbelievers is not very good.

Sin, repentance, justification, sanctification: they're some of the words worth remembering, repeating, and teaching.

Weight, honor, and the Name

Over at Puritas, Andrew reflects on our use of words, particularly as we use them in reference to God. In times past people seemed to appreciate the power of words more than today, Andrew asserts. And a realization of words' power is especially important in reference to God. In that regard, Andrew notes that the Hebrew word for light (not heavy) can also refer to cursing:

If we begin to think of God lightly (that is, as the Hebrew would tell us, to curse God), then no doubt our actions will follow the way we speak of Him. Our words have a powerful effect on our behaviour, to shape the way we think about the world (and if there is any truth in the Word-faith movement, it is in grasping the truth that our psychology is deeply affected by our own words). If we speak of God lightly, I think we will begin to live as if He was a light thing, a trifle. But God will not be trifled with. The infinite glory of God, that makes the Seraphim sing night and day, "Holy Holy Holy," demands that we take His name and our speech about Him seriously, with gravity.

Good point. How wonderful, then, that we can approach God directly crying, "Abba" (Daddy). We are called, somehow, to approach God with a full knowledge of both his infinite love and his infinite holiness. What a blessing that we can.

How to hear preaching

Gleanings of Grace has excerpted an article by George Whitefield on how to listen to a sermon. After more than two hundred years, the advice still holds. This link comes, by the way, via Peter Bogert of Stronger Church.

Preaching as art

Mike Cope discusses his change in approach to preaching. Mike used to look at preaching as a science that treats the biblical text as a lab speciment to be dissected, with applications pulled forth:

NOW I THINK of preaching more as art. The goal isn't to make points but to arrive at a point (destination). The message, like Christian discipleship itself, is a journey -- informed by the text, shaped by the text. Instead of seeing myself as the one who explains the Bible to everyone, I see myself as a leader in the journey who escorts people into the messy, marvelous, unbelievable, life-altering world of scripture.

In some ways, it's harder. (The exegetical and hermeneutical work still has to be done on the front end!) But it seems to correspond more to scripture, for the Bible doesn't often come in nifty little sections of points. It immerses us into a world shaped by the work of God in human lives. It is Jesus-formed.

The preaching that reaches deep inside me and rattles my bones is not usually very easy to outline--though that certainly doesn't mean it isn't carefully crafted. Often, it has seemed to me, the other kind of preaching tends to turn people into Bible Wonks who study scripture a lot but don't catch the overarching themes of scripture. In their search for "answers," they wind up with a reduced world.
It's good to see Mike's emphasis on "the overarching themes of scripture." One value of studying the whole Bible is finding the broad themes we miss if our focus is strictly on mining nuggets of "application" from a text. No matter how experienced we may be with the text, God's Word continues to surprise and change us if we're willing to submit to his working in our hearts.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Learning to focus

Dory at Wittenberg Gate reminds us of an important lesson we learn from pain:

So often we are hurt by people in our lives that let us down. It could be a parent, a pastor, a teacher, a spouse, a public hero or a friend. Perhaps there is no greater pain we can inflict upon another as when we betray a trust, when we who should be friends act like enemies. Yet we are fallen creatures, and even redeemed and converted souls are, in this life, bound to sinful flesh and prone to stumble. It is when we forget that truth and put too much trust in a person, and not enough in God, that we are most vulnerable to disappointment.

Any other view of man is unrealistic and unbiblical. The Bible tells us the tales of many human heroes, and yet it also tells us of the shortcomings of those heroes. Jacob was a schemer. David was a murderer. Peter denied the Lord three times. Yet all were used by an always-faithful, never-failing God to accomplish His perfect purposes. So we must view the heroes in our lives. The spouse we adore may let us down. The pastor we trust may betray us. The teacher who leads us may lead us astray. But if, when people do let us down, we can remember what the Bible says about man, we can say, "My Father told me it would be so. Let God be true and every man a liar."

It's encouraging for those of us who still struggle with sin to remember that even the great heroes of the Bible tended to have major character flaws. On the other hand, if even the greatest among us is sinful and flawed, where can we find any hope for real goodness? Seeing Christians in positions of authority sinning can be particularly devastating, Dory notes, and cause some to reject the faith altogether:

The solution to these errors is to remove our focus from men and return it to Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. . . . We must keep our Savior in view and walk on the path He illuminates before us. When the day comes, as it inevitably will, that we are the ones who stray, let us hope that our friends will love us enough to call us back, and let us pray that God will not allow us to cause others to stumble.

That's easy to say, but so hard to do. Oh Lord, may we, your people, seek first your Kingdom and your righteousness.

Doing what parents and professors won't do

Here's a follow up to Thursday's post on reaching out to young people (HT: Cross Blog). Mega-church preacher Greg Laurie says young people today want authority in their lives:

"When an adult stands up and says, this is truth, that resonates, because they are doing what their parents and college professors won't do," he said.

"Young people find that quite appealing. They have been raised in this amoral, hedonistic lifestyle, and it's sent them on a search."

In other words, preachers need to be less concerned with being seeker-sensitive and more concerned with proclaiming the Truth:

Those in spiritual leadership need to raise the standard, he said, and renew emphasis on repentance, obedience and the cross of Christ.

"The temptation is to water down the message in order to get a larger crowd," he said. "But if our crowds are smaller, then so be it."


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Fire in the bones

Brian Colmery recounts the story of a seminary professor who was asked, at the eve of his ordination, what he would do if he were not allowed to be ordained.

My professor replied, “I don’t know. But I won't stop preaching. I don’t need a pulpit. There will still be souls going to hell out there, and they'll still need to hear.”

He continued: “I don’t need a piece of wood. Just give me a box, or something, something to stand behind or in front of or on top of. I don’t need a building, I just need enough air to carry the sound of my voice. There are pagans everywhere, no? There are souls going to hell everywhere. I don’t need to be ordained to get out there and preach to them. When you are going in front of elders to send you to the mission field, and they ask you how many souls you’ve led to Christ, you should be saying, ‘thirty,’ or ‘sixty,’ or whatever it was that God did when you got out there and preached. When you say, ‘None…but I’m deep in the Greek, and the Hebrew.’ No one cares about that out there.”

Amen. Preaching the word is not about certification. It's about a fire in the bones (Jer. 20:9), and the redeeming, transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Good stuff at Eternal Perspectives

Mike Russell at Eternal Perspectives has been posting some strong material lately. "Why I'm Not an Evangelical (And Why You're Probably Not One Either)" explores the historical roots of modern evangelicalism and illuminates how deeply Western political philosopy has influenced the church. Also, in his commentary on Jonah 2, Mike makes a convincing case that Jonah's psalm was not one of repentance. And don't forget that Eternal Perspectives has a new web address, so you might want to update your links if you haven't yet.

One soul at a time

Andy Jackson at SmartChristian writes of Mother Theresa's ability to focus on one soul at a time:

Yes there were many of the sick, hungry and dieing around Calcutta, yet her energy was concentrated on the one soul created in the image of God she was ministering and interacting with. The many did not distract her from the one. As her eyes penetrated a single soul, the rest of the world seemed to disappear. Modern evangelicals seek after “crowds,” but Mother Theresa sought “one person” at a time.

That's a great reminder.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Praying for justice

I wish I'd mentioned this sooner, but it's not too late to catch Keith's series at under the acacias on Praying for Justice.

Christian hedonism?

Adrian Warnock has issued a challenge to Christian bloggers: react to a posting about the ministry philosophy of desiringGod ministries. It sounds like an interesting project. TS won't be participating directly; I'm committed at this site to not taking sides on doctrinal debates. But I'd be interested in seeing what you have to say.

Morality? Who cares, as long as you're healthy

At spiked, Frank Furedi examines why our culture devotes increasing attention and resources to sickness (HT: notes from the front lines). What Prof. Furedi finds, I think, is highly relevant for Christians in proclaiming and maintaining a Christian worldview.

One possible cause of the increasing emphasis on sickness, Prof. Furedi believes, is the rise of "medicalization," whereby every human condition, from shyness to falling in love, becomes a medical one. Another is the "presupposition that illness is as normal as health." Most significant for the church: that our culture increasingly "uses health to make sense of the human experience." Here's Prof. Furedi:

The more uncertainty we face, the more difficult we find it to make statements of moral purpose, the more ambiguous we feel about what is right and wrong, then the more comfortable we feel using the language of health to make sense of our lives. At a time of moral and existential uncertainty, health has become an important idiom through which to provide guidance to individuals.

This is now so prevalent that we no longer even notice when we are doing it. For example, we no longer tell teenagers that pre-marital sex is good or bad or sinful. Instead we say that pre-marital sex is a health risk. . . ,

There are few clear moral guidelines that can direct our behaviour today; but we have become very good at using health to regulate people's lives in an intrusive and systematic fashion. . . .

As we become morally illiterate, we turn to health to save us from circumstances where we face a degree of moral or spiritual disorientation.

I think Prof. Furedi is correct in his assesment that our culture is replacing a moral outlook with a health orientation. The question for the church is, How are we responding?

Psalms, Torah and Word

Jeff McCrory at Old Testament for the Church is doing a series on the Psalms. It's worth a look.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The source of bold, adventurous worship

Here's a follow-up to yesterday's post about David Murrow and the fact that far fewer men than women are attending church services. Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum cuts to the heart of the matter:

John Eldredge, bestselling author of Wild at Heart, claims that men find church boring. David Morrow recently wrote Why Men Hate Going to Church. I have the simple answer for that: they are not encountering the Holy Spirit in the churches they attend. Someone who regularly attends a church that is filled with people overflowing with the Holy Spirit and who experiences the Holy Spirit in power in those meetings will NEVER be bored and will NEVER hate gathering. . . .

You never have to advertise a fire. The Holy Spirit's fire in a church will obliterate whatever feeble gains a marketing campaign can create. The Holy Spirit's fire in a church catches in the community and changes lives profoundly. The Holy Spirit's fire cleanses, renews, and empowers.

I think Dan's right. The question is, what must do Christians do or not do for the Spirit to work in power among us? And how can preaching catalyze the transformation to Spirit-empowered worship?

John 10 resources at textweek

John 10 resources have now been posted at textweek blog.

Grace from the other end

At Wittenberg Gate, Dory has written a sweet article about dogs and grace. "I am convinced," she says, "that God made dogs to enable us to see grace from the grace-giver's perspective, rather than our usual position as a recipient of grace." I agree, and I think the same goes for cats.

What generation gap?

Christianity Today has an online article about the book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers? and its implications for reaching out to teenagers. I haven't read the book yet, but I strongly recommend the article.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Not fickle? Well, maybe

Today Conrad Gempf rethinks his earlier comments on Barabbas and the crowd's fickleness.

Shining brightly in deed and word

Bob at Mr. Standfast reminds Christians that we are the light of the world. Walking in the light, Bob explains, begins with what we believe and proclaim:

The light you shine, Christian, is first of all (though certainly not last of all) in your confession. Answer the following questions: Who is Jesus? Why did he die? What happened after that death? Where is he now? Finally, what does it all matter?

In this world we like to devalue words in favor of actions. We think it a wonderful thing if a man can “walk the walk” whether or not he “talks the talk.” But your walk begins in your confession. What you believe, that’s what you walk out. Shine your light, Christian. Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks you, “How shall the world know who you say that I am, and also why it matters, unless you both talk it and walk it?” Word and deed, enabled by the Holy Spirit, this is the light of the Gospel shining through men.

It's good to hear Bob articulate the importance of confessing Jesus Christ. I occasionally meet someone who implicitly (or even explicitly) belittles those in my line of work as simply talkers. It's true that right action is important, as we see all through the pages of the Bible. But we are still called to shine the light through the Word.

Blockquote blockhead

I'm ashamed it took me this long to find the blockquote button on Blogger, but I've started using it today. I've also gone back and reformatted all of this month's quotes to make it really clear when I'm quoting someone else's material.

"Bold, adventurous, risk-taking" churches

Several blogs have addressed the recnt Washington Post article looking at the research of television documentarian David Murrow, who seeks to find out why women substantially outnumber men in US church attendance. This part of the article really caught my eye:
Murrow, a Presbyterian elder who has produced material for the Discovery Channel and Dr. Phil McGraw, believes churches can bring men back by offering activities that are "bold, adventurous and risk-taking." He has some advice for women who attend church alone, especially the 6 million who are married: "Allow the church to adopt language, customs and technology men understand."
Can you imagine your congregation being "bold, imaginative, and risk-taking"?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Choosing Barabbas

I love biblical commentary that turns one of my own cherished notions on its head. Conrad Gempf does that today in making a clear and convincing case that the Jerusalem crowd was not inconsistent in calling for Jesus' crucifixion:
Give us Barabbas. The crowd is not fickle. They have not turned from the ideals that had them making that palm-leaf red carpet at the triumphal entry. They want a leader, relevant to the needs of their generation. If Jesus is it, then they shower Jesus with Hosannas. But when he is meek before his captors, it's clear that he's not it and we turn to someone who still might be. Barabbas is relevant; Barabbas addresses the glaring need of the society and does so head on. Jesus is closeted up with Pilate talking about theology and other worlds. He can’t even defend himself, how will he defend us? Give us Barabbas.
Read the whole article (it's three paragraphs long) only if you want to see how devastatingly like the Jerusalem crowd the church today can be.

Knowing the court room from the family room

Over at Tent Pegs, Patrick Mead offers some valuable insights gleaned from watching his 7-year-old son's baseball team in action. Patrick recounts the story of how proud he was of his son, Duncan, after he scored his team's first run of the season. Duncan scored from second base--by running directly across the pitcher's mound:
No... his team wasn't good. They couldn't catch, hit, or even understand the rules of the game. Duncan couldn't, either, but he was brilliant.... because he was MINE. That made all the difference.

It does in eternal matters, too. Never confuse the family room with the court room. There are huge differences. Too many churches treat people as if they were in a court room where guilt is presumed and innocence must be proven by perfect doctrine and behavior. But God is our Father and we are in His family room. I may be one of the worst excuses for a servant God has ever seen... but I am His. And that means I'm saved -- thoroughly, completely, and totally.

I may not know where all the bases are and what all the rules are, but I'm running home and I know Who will be there to welcome me when I arrive. It may give the devil and some of my brethren an embolism -- but my Father will declare me safe!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Another word on transforming sermons

While doing a Google search, I came across this article on preaching transforming sermons. It comes from Sam Wood, a minister in San Juan, Puerto Rico:
To preach transformation is to be in touch with our own struggles and disappointments. If the message of transformation is to be more than a fairy tale or a "pie-in-the-sky" story, preachers must search their hearts and remember the now dulled pains and dimmed dreams of yesterday. From this personal identification with the human condition, the preacher can proclaim the gospel more effectively. And from this personal reflection, preachers themselves may find renewed vision for the work at hand and renewed hope for dreams left unfulfilled.
One message of transformation that's always true, Sam points out, is that "God is able to make a difference in our lives."

Declaring nakedness

John Hickey at Biblical Theology 2005 considers the role of the truth-telling little boy in the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes" (HT: NT Gateway Weblog). What place, he wonders, does that little boy's role have in the church:
Indeed, for story to work its magic, there must be conflict and there must be those who are willing to stand as that boy and say “The Emperor has no clothes.” In Paul’s version of the Jerusalem council, this is exactly the role he chooses to play (See Galatians, chapter 2). In this situation, Paul recognizes that he isn’t called to put on new clothes of “niceness” (especially when those clothes are primarily constructed out of an aesthetic of niceness), but rather to don “the whole armor of light” (Eph. 6:10-20).

While we may employ weapons such as kindness and patience, we must never lose sight that we are wearing armor because we are in a struggle. We may walk in newness of life, but we still walk in a fallen world – saved not by our own discernments, but by the grace of God alone. However, Scripture does put a bridle on those of us itching to shout “Bring it on!” – we must ask ourselves “Is this fight of God or is this a contest I desire because I want to be entertained?” (See 1 Tim. 6:3-5 and Titus 3:9-11). Of course, we can never actually know the certain answer to this question (that’s for our progeny to figure out), but there are times, when the light is just right, when our reflection looks back from the mirror and cries out “You have no clothes!”
That seems to strike the balance pretty well. We're called to practice patience and kindness, but we are in a battle after all.

Standing for the existence of truth

Michael Duduit points out something that's come to light with the death of John Paul II:
It hasn't been many years since the majority of American evangelicals would have seen Roman Catholicism as a distant religion filled with superstition and ceremony, while the average Roman Catholic would have seen conservative Protestants as fringe players on the American religious scene. Yet in recent years, cultural forces have turned evangelicals and Catholics into virtual partners in the defense of the sanctity of life and the struggle against a rising tide of secularism.

That is not to say that evangelicals and Catholics have broken down all the barriers -- there are significant and substantive issues that still separate us, from the issue of grace vs. works to the place of Marian devotion in much Catholic theology. Yet in a culture that often seems to have abdicated truth and abandoned traditional values, evangelicals and Catholics have stood together in opposing those forces of secularism that would deny the very existence of truth.
Good point.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Still the cross

Last night I got to thinking that in all my postings here about transformation and deeper discipleship, I rarely mention the fundamentals of the gospel. That's why it was a joy to wake up this morning and read this post at Mr. Standfast. Bob has been focusing lately on the cross of Christ, and as his post today demonstrates, that emphasis is right on target:
The learning experience of the disciple is really just this--learning that the cross of Christ is never merely a memento, never simply a landmark event of the past. Instead, it towers over our present moment, eternally relevant, eternally sufficient. Blessed are the poor in spirit, even those that are "saved," for that shall remember that they are still in need of "being saved."
Amen. In my life, in my ministry, may I know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Sneak preview: Mealtime Habits of the Messiah

A few pages of of Conrad Gempf's soon-to-be-released book, Mealtime Habits of the Messiah, are now available at Conrad's web site. Here's a sample of that sample, about Jesus' cooking breakfast for the disciples in John 21:1-14:
When they get to shore, what do the disciples find? The risen Lord, master of time and space, who holds the galaxies in place and who knows all people’s hearts and will be both the judge and the criterion on the last day.

And he’s sitting there smoking ’em a few kippers for breakfast.

C’mon now, you’ve got to love him for that. If you read some of these so-called secret gospels, often written hundreds of years later by heretics who didn’t really know Jesus, you’ll find a risen Lord who is a glorious but ghostly oracle answering all their questions about the guardians of the seven heavens, the meaning of material reality and object-oriented programming languages. Not our Jesus. He’s concentrating on turning over the pita bread to keep it from burning, just the way he concentrated on drawing in the sand in the “cast the first stone” story in John 8—unconcerned with the people around him, apparently. Yeah, right.

And then, just when we think he’s going to look up and multiply his few fishes and loaves to feed all those disciples, we remember he’s already multiplied fishes: their nets are full.

What comes next is the most amazing and gracious thing, and the bit I love the best. Jesus is frying fish. He supplied a miraculous catch.What does he do and say next?
The excerpt is worth reading. And I look forward to reading the whole book.

Italicized text above is copyright 2005 by Conrad Gempf. Mealtime Habits of the Messiah is being published by Zondervan.

Wrestling with the text

Over at Stronger Church, Peter Bogert shares his experience in wrestling with a text for an upcoming sermon, in this case Rom. 1:16-17. And now, he shares some of what he gained in the struggle.

Two more Warnie winners

Adrian Warnock has added two more to the Warnie Awards fold: Christweb and Rebecca Writes. Adrian also continues to write about the English Standard Version, my own translation of choice since 2002.

Which one is our focus?

Conrad Gempf's two-paragraph post on Jesus and Lazarus ("4-day Corpse Raised! 'This stinks!' say Officials") is worth reading.

Rethinking our approach

Mike Russell explores one more lesson from Paul on divorce and remarriage in 1 Cor. 7--and is forced to rethink his entire approach to Christianity:
Once again Paul seems just a tad bit cavalier and incautious about the whole matter. This is not the Christianity I was trained in or led to believe was the spiritual way. Paul’s approach is casual. He doesn’t seem uptight or worried about offending God by eating meat offered to idols or holding the door open while an unbelieving spouse leaves.

I am faced with a choice: either my approach is right and Paul’s is wrong, or Paul is right and I’m missing something. This is not a difficult decision, but I’m not sure what I’m missing.
Mike's experience is a beautiful example of this truth: when approaching in faith, even the most experienced Bible expositors continue to be surprised and changed by studying the Word of God.

What is hip?

Bill Wallo looks at the essence of the "hipness of the world." What does he find? Hunger and death.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Jesus in the mosque

Keith, missionary to the Fulani of Burkina Faso, gives a compelling account of sharing Jesus in a Mosque. I highly recommend it.

Do we welcome the prophet?

Here's Paul Littleton at Caught in the Middle:
I've come to the conclusion that the church really doesn't like the prophet. I don't know why I'm just now coming to that conclusion. It seems pretty clear in the Bible. Prophets were never very popular. Some were censured. Others were beaten and killed. Church history is repleat with examples of prophetic voices being silenced (Martin Luther, anyone? anyone?). Well, I take that back. We like the prophet who calls out "those" people. You know. We rather enjoy hearing someone take abortionists and homosexuals out to the woodshed. Moral relativists? Secular humanists? Fair game. Amen, brother. AMEN! We like the prophet to those outside of the church. But we won't put up with one who speaks to the church herself.
Good points. Paul's words remind me of the prophet Amos, who prophesied in Israel. He began with oracles against surrounding nations and tightened the noose, closer and closer, before prophesying against the sins of Israel herself. I've got a feeling the people of Israel weren't too pleased with the man. What about today? Is the church any more receptive to preaching that calls out against our own sins? Certainly not by inclination. What can open our hearts to hear and receive the Word? God's Holy Spirit, and our own cooperation through prayer.

Worth remembering

Mr. Standfast has been posting some keeper quotes lately. Here's one on the cross that's especially strong.

Lessons in church growth from 1 Thessalonians

Mark Dever examines 1 Thess. 3:12-4:12 and finds valuable lessons about church growth:
This is the apostle Paul's example to us for what to do in order to help a church grow. Did you take note of what Paul did, when he wanted to see this church grow? He did what you should do if you want to see your church grow, or any other church, for that matter--He interceded for them to be holy and loving, he implored them to be holy and loving, and he instructed them in how to be holy and loving.

It's no accident that Paul was so concerned for these Christians to be holy and loving. Because God has called the church together, in order to be a picture, a reflection of His character. So in being holy and loving, these Christians would reflect the character of their Father, who has shown Himself to be, perhaps more than anything else, holy and loving.

The way to be a growing church then, is by reflecting the character of the one who called us to be a church in the first place. After all, if we're not going to do that, we're not growing anyway, however many people may be coming along.
Amen. Thanks to Peter at Stronger Church for bringing Dr. Dever's article to my attention.

National Conference on Preaching is this month

The National Conference on Preaching will be April 18-20 in Nashville. This year's theme is "Preaching With Passion." Speakers include William Willimon, Ray Ortlund, Jr., Robert Smith, and others. Preaching Now is still urging registration and has posted a list of airfare costs to Nashville from various cities.

Posting update

My Internet connection was too slow yesterday evening to allow any p.m. posts to go through, but it's back and running now.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Biblical divorce and remarriage series concluded

Mike Russell has finished his series on divorce and remarriage with a post on his own conclusions. It's thorough, well reasoned, and apt to arouse discussion from all sides.

Tough lessons from the God College

Debra at As I See It Now discusses her discipleship experiences in the "God College." Her first course was "Coming When Called 101," and it wasn't easy:
I've taken lots of courses since then and still have never found an easy one I can recommend to you.

But I will recommend this: Don't try to skip courses or cut class. Don't expect to sail through any course God puts you through in a measly week or two. All changes take time. But you can expect help from Grace. She doesn't hand out cheat sheets, or anything, but she will help you with your homework.
Amen. I for one have wasted too much time looking for shortcuts to discipleship, ways for growing in the faith without going out of my way. One of the valuable themes running through Debra's writings is the realization that spiritual growth comes one step at a time. That's a truth all of us need to remember.

Questions on the kamikaze swine

New Testament scholar Conrad Gempf has a way of asking fresh questions of familiar biblical passages. He's done it again today in his online class notes on the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). In particular, Conrad wonders about the baffling behavior of the demons in this story:
Yeah, I've read the commentaries and heard the explanations. I can't say that any of them really impress me. And, as I said, that's probably just as well. A Scripture that is really a glimpse into realities which are too large for me should contain stuff like this . . . I fully expect to be baffled no matter how long I study it, but when we get to heaven to say "Ah, of course, that's what was going on there."
That's a good reminder.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Luke 24 resources at textweek

Preaching resources for Luke 24 are now available at textweek. And, as always, The Text This Week is full of good resources, particularly for lectionary preaching.

God doesn't need you

But he loves you. And in that knowledge is joy.

It seems that many Christians, especially preachers, labor in the illusion that God somehow needs our efforts. I'm guilty, too. I try to convince myself I'm God's go-to guy for my little particle of the world. But it's not so. Not one of us is indispensable. God doesn't call us into a relationship with him because he needs us, but because he loves us.

Realizing that truth, moment-by-moment, relieves us of performance anxiety and puts the emphasis of our thoughts and actions where it belongs--on God and his great love for us.

Me-oriented prayers, I think, are for spiritual toddlers. At certain times in our lives, though, they help us learn to walk with God:

Father, thank you for loving me. May I walk with you today and remember that you're in control, that you know and love me, and that through the blood of Jesus Christ you've made me one of the redeemed. In thought, word, and deed may we give you all the glory.

Bold initiative for life transformation

Thanks to Steve K. at knightopia for alerting TS to the changes at George Barna's organization. For twenty years Barna has been a sort of polling arm for the church in the United States, doing research on all aspects of the Christian walk. This week Barna announced that his organization is changing its emphasis from strictly research to a wider range of services "to work with ministries to facilitate genuine life transformation." This is a significant change. Here's a portion of what Barna himself has to say on why it's happening:
. . . our research has shown that most of the influence on what people think and do comes from just seven sources: movies, television, music, family, books, law, and the Internet. That same body of research shows that the local church has virtually no discernible influence on people’s lives. Consequently, we are striving to understand, influence and operate within the spheres of greatest influence to help facilitate genuine spiritual transformation in people’s lives.
In addition to research intended to help the church implement life transformation, The Barna Group will now be offering "implementation functions," too. These new functions include book publishing, film production, training of youth for church leadership, and establishing the "Transformational Church Network."

It's an ambitious iniative based on a very bold premise: that The Barna Group can effect changes the local church cannot. The thought that the church isn't making a difference in Christians' lives is a discouraging concept (and, I believe, a false one). That said, I pray that in their new role Barna and company will be instruments of God for helping transform the church more and more into the image of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The "transforming effect of preaching"

Albert Mohler, speaking at the recent Power in the Pulpit conference in Louisville, called for preaching to be "paramount in the worship life of the community of faith." Dr. Mohler is quoted here from David Roach's article at Baptist Press News:
"... When we preach the Word ... the Spirit is preaching alongside us. The Spirit is taking the words where we can never take them. And the Spirit is applying them in ways that are invisible even to the life in which they are applied."

The transforming effect of preaching may take time to manifest itself in listeners' lives, but preachers must remember that transformed lives eventually will result from their faithful exposition, Mohler said.
That's a good and encouraging point. The value of preaching in the church does on occasion manifest itself in the one convicting word to a Christian. More often the benefit comes from a steady diet of the Bread of life, rightly proclaimed.

What do these miracles have in common?

In his daily meditations to his students, Conrad Gempf discusses the relationship between two seemingly disparate miracles of Jesus: feeding the 5000 and the Transfiguration. I really like his conclusions.

A little cultural perspective

Here's an interesting idea from Andrew at Puritas:
It seems that the "postmodern" is starting to look an awful lot like the "premodern", and I'm not surprised. Human nature can only stand this "modern" thing we call "progress" for so long before we realize we're progressing right off a cliff.
I think he may be right, and it's a helpful reminder to those overly enamored with either modernism or postmodernism. You can read Andrew's original post here.

Monday, April 04, 2005

A life-changing concept

Today I visited notsodeepwater and found these words comforting:
I heard today that when God looks at us, all he sees is Christ. I don’t think that is completely true. Before I knew him, he loved me. He knew my name. Having come to Christ, he still knows me by name. He sees me. The big difference (and this is my comfort and joy today) is that he loves me in a special way because I am in Christ. Every morning I awake, he smiles and bids me to enjoy his love and mercy afresh. His favour rests on me whether my quiet time is 15 minutes or 2 hours. The resurrection tells me that God loved Jesus, and it screams out that God loves me... today, now, forever.
Of all the truths expressed in the Bible, I don't think any has more potential to transform our hearts than the truth that God loves us. If I were honest with myself, I'd have to admit that most of the time my concepts of God are flawed. Sometimes I blame my own hardships on him, as if he takes pleasure in seeing me suffer. I unconsciously assume he's as hard and judgmental on me as I am on myself. How liberating to remember that he really loves me and wants good things for me. In that knowledge is peace, joy, newness of life.

The importance of Scripture in preaching

Thanks to Peter Bogert for bringing this article to my attention. In "The Role of Scripture in the Missional Church" Phil Steiger at Every Thought Captive offers good advice for any church:
If we are to be salt and light, if we are to be the kind of witness people recognize as distinct from the outside world, then Scripture must be our focus and our text, no matter our style of pulpit ministry. How else are we, the flock of God, to learn what our God desires of us? If the church does not hold up the standard of Scripture, who will?
True, true. That's the value of expository preaching: we don't simply pick and choose the verses that support our pet doctrines. We allow the Word to have its way with us and our congregations.

Discipleship and deep cleaning

Nathan Colquhoun compares cleaning his room as a teenager to sanctification in the Christian life:
Now I cleaned my room in two different ways. Typically I would throw everything at the bottom of my closet, make my bed and throw all miscellaneous junk into my ‘junk drawer.’ That was it. My mom would come downstairs, give a quick five second inspection, usually be convinced and I would be on my way with my life. How often do we ‘clean up’ like this in our Christian lives. God tells us to love our neighbors, so when we run into the people we don’t like we’ll smile and tell them their sweater looks nice or maybe we’ll even go as far as carrying on a conversation.
Christian discipleship doesn't involve doing the minimum necessary to impress others, Nathan points out, or even trying to do the minimum to satisfy God:
I want to be the type of servant that serves God beyond the call of duty. I don’t want to be the type that draws a line and tries to inch closer and closer to that line. I want to be the type that doesn’t even know a line exists because my focus and desire isn’t on the line at all; it’s so far in the other direction that I can’t even comprehend a line. I want to be the kind of Christian who serves God and people that when I’m asked to go one mile I go two, or maybe three. God help us all desire to go three miles instead of trying to figure out if there is anyway to go half a mile.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Nehemiah and changing our lives

George P. Wood is doing a series on changing our lives, drawing from the text of Nehemiah. In a recent post, George looks at the scandal of Eliashib's renting a room in the Temple to an Ammonite:
And that brings us to the a key principle of change: Don’t compromise your faith! Changing your life is hard enough as it is. But your faith in God will carry you through difficult times, as long as you don’t rent a room to the enemies of change in the temple of your spirit.

It’s a constant temptation to do so, however. No doubt Eliashib thought he was doing the right thing. It’s easier to accommodate people some times than to hold yourself accountable to the Law. It’s easier to make allowances for little sins than to take a hard stance for holiness. But easier is neither right nor better. Once you’ve begun to change—whether becoming a Christian, or getting sober, or staying faithful to your spouse—it’s best to draw a line in the sand and not cross over it again. The firmer your resolution in the beginning, the quicker you’ll see positive changes take up permanent residence in your life.
Amen. I look forward to the whole series.

Sermons and changed lives

BP News reports on a presentation by Hershael York at a recent preaching conference. York pointed out that the purpose of expository preaching is changed lives:
"The text always shows us that there is something in us that is deficient that is in need of the grace of God to be applied," he said. "... We have to repent. We have to allow the grace of God to be applied to our lives in such a way that we grow in Christ's likeness."
I like the focus of the article--keeping the gospel at the center of our presentation. It also offers helpful advice on how to do that.