Tuesday, May 31, 2005


I'm about to remove the cable modem from my CPU, pack the whole thing up, and move tomorrow afternoon to Lexington, Virginia. We'll be living in a rental place for a few days till our house is ready. That means I'll probably have to use public computers and post only once or twice a day during most of June.

Please pray for me and my family. We're supposed to close on selling our house tomorrow afternoon, and I don't see how we can possibly have everything out of the house by then. If we do, it will be a prime occasion for giving glory to God.

Being the church is being missional

Keith at under the acacias recently looked at Acts 2 and reminds us of the centrality of Christian mission:

This central feature of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost - the proclamation of the wonders of God in other languages to people “of every nation under heaven” tells us something. Its message is that we are and must be a missionary people. Our identity is inescapably tied up with mission. We are not only the recipients of his grace, but the channels of it to the world. When we are not missionary, we are not the church.

That final sentence is a harsh assessment, isn't it? It's also true, I think. So how about it? Are our congregations missionary?

Preaching resource: BibleGateway

BibleGateway.com's free passage lookup service is an essential Internet Bible resource. The lookup page allows you to choose a passage of the Bible (up to a whole book) to be displayed in the version of your choice. Versions are available in more than 30 languages. Nineteen English translations are available. Choices go far beyond public domain translations and include the ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, The Message, and others. The site allows free online access to 16 Intervarsity Press New Testament commentaries.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Discipleship isn't about being more moral

One of the main purposes of this blog is to help Christians not only live better lives, but new lives, transformed by the power of God. One of the blessings of blogging is finding Christians all around the world who share that passion. One of them is Brian Colmery, a man who is praying that the church will live as the supernatural people God has created us to be:

God desires that we live different lives. The question is how far we're willing to let Him take us. Most of us think different involves living a more moral life. God thinks that different involves losing your life to gain it. Count the cost. And then get ready, because discipleship takes you past the lines you've drawn in the sand

Amen, and amen.


Posting may be sparse around here the next few days. We're loading the truck today and tomorrow for our move Wednesday to Lexington, Virginia. I'll be starting a new job there this week preaching for the Lexington Church of Christ. It's a wonderful opportunity to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the colleges and community. Please pray for my family for the move and the work. I'll miss checking up with my blogging friends and sharing some of the jewels I know I'll find there, but I'll still be posting when I can.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

New preaching series at Sycamore

Brian Colmery is beginning a series on preaching at Sycamore. Here's a sample from the series introduction:

What we are interested in, then, is not good preaching, but great preaching. The Word of God does not go out void, and we must understand walking into this that preaching that is focused on God’s word is good preaching. Yet, as preachers, we must move beyond an interest in being good. We must yearn to be great (this is not sinful ambition, but a full immersion into the calling we have been given). And we must learn what greatness in preaching is, because few of us have given much thought to why we evaluate preaching the way we do.

Brian is an excellent writer and serious thinker. I look forward to his series.

Preaching Resource: New Testament Gateway

Here's another first stop for Bible study and expository preaching: The New Testament Gateway, maintained by NT scholar Mark Goodacre of the University of Birmingham in England (Dr. Goodacre, by the way, is preparing to begin a new job in the U.S. at Duke University). I could try to summarize what's at the NT Gateway, but if you haven't visited, you really ought to see for yourself. Also, the Old Testament Gateway contains helpful resources from that side of the Bible.

Interpreting the world through the Word

Jollyblogger David Wayne has re-posted his reflections on Marva Dawn's Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down. David looks at two particularly valuable points. His post is worth a look, especially for shedding light on biblical preaching.

"The subversive and radical nature of the Kingdom"

Adam Ellis considers the effects of "safe" Christianity in the effort to bring the gospel to youth:

When did the church start being viewed as "safe"? When did Christianity become so nice and palatable? It seems to me that Jesus and His followers were thought of as neither "safe" or "palatable" by the powers that be and the culture at large. Is it possible that one of the reasons that Jesus (and the idea of following Him) seems so uninteresting to most teenagers is that we have presented Him as something He wasn't (safe, bland, neutered, etc.)?

Adam believes it's possible to harness the energy behind teenage rebellion for the good of the Kingdom.

However, it will require that we stop remaking Jesus in our own image and instead remake ourselves into His. It will require that we reveal to our teens the subversive and radical nature of the Kingdom. We will have to show them the Jesus that bucked pretty much all the systems. We must show them the Jesus who stubbornly swam upstream against the currents of power, greed, control, selfishness, and pride, by the power of love . . . . Oh, and one more thing: we have to be the rebels who model the Way for them, not the sellouts who paint a picture of Jesus that makes us feel comfortable and safe.

What if teens rebelled TO the church instead of away from it? What if that was the plan all along?

What if, indeed.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Preaching resource: Preaching Now

Perhaps the best free online periodical on preaching is Preaching Now, a companion publication of Preaching magazine. Preaching Now, posted weekly, is full of brief articles on preaching and a wide range of illustrations. There's something of value in every issue, and you sure can't beat the price.

Preaching magazine, a paid publication, posts a free daily illustration on its main page. I recently received a free one-year, online subscription to the magazine. I plan to pay for a hardcopy subscription when the year is out though, because Preaching contains helpful, encouraging articles not only about the nuts-and-bolts of preaching, but about shaping our hearts to proclaim the Word.

Knowing real biblical preaching

John Ortberg writes that transformational preaching is biblical preaching (Hat tip: Preaching Now):

The core value of preaching that changes lives is it's biblical. You and I don't change lives; God changes lives. For 2,000 years, God has used the power of this Word to convict stubborn hearts of sin, to move cold spirits to repentance, and to lift faltering lives to hope.

Ortberg goes on to say that biblical preaching is not about form. It's about "relevance, application, and enablement." And, he says, "it's about working the soap of the Word deeply through the stained fibers of hearers' hearts."

Why the emphasis on "social"?

At Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight considers the meaning of justice beyond the qualifier "social" (Scot and company in the comments section, by the way, consider even more).

Moses, Joshua, David, Peter, Paul, and Puddleglum

At tabletalk Craig Williams uses a scene from C. S. Lewis's The Silver Chair to illustrate some important lessons about faith and modernist thought. Craig tells how, under the influence of modernist thinking, the church tried to describe Christian faith using the language and proof-systems of the world:

When we decided we needed to be rationalistic in our proofs for God, we abandoned our main story. We began to give evidence to demand verdicts. We spoke of the faith as though it were something to be learned in law school or the science lab. We lost our way because we forgot our homeland.

Despite the modernist promise of progress through science, our postmodern time, Craig says, has found that "though there have been some remarkable technological advances the human condition is not largely improved." Our time thus has little room for modernist apologetics:

One thing that we must be careful of is not submitting to modern rules again. We cannot make the argument for the faith from a superior position, as though our facts are indisputable compared to others. We must adopt the posture of Jesus in addressing humanity. We come humbly and open and serving and dying. No high-handed manipulation. No oppressive authoritarianism. Simple service will do. It is the way of Jesus.

If you haven't read The Silver Chair I would almost recommend reading the entire book--perhaps the entire Chronicles of Narnia--before reading Craig's post. The scene he describes, where the children and Puddleglum are subject to the witch's enchantment, is my favorite in all literature; I wish you could get the full effect! In any case, Craig is doing a wonderful work with his ongoing series of Narnian Musings: looking at the world of Narnia to reveal vitally important truths about the world in which we live.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Overcoming "intellectual Christianity"

Can anybody else relate to the struggle to overcome a strictly doctrine-based faith? By that I mean a discipleship that focuses on knowing the right things while neglecting the transformation of heart and action. I'm challenged daily to move beyond a facts-dominated faith, and I appreciate the efforts of folks like Grant Fickel of Maverick Mindset, who shares his personal efforts to overcome "Christianity of the head."

More light on Darfur

Jason Retherford has posted eight links to articles on the situation in Darfur, Sudan.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Preaching resource: Bible.org

Here's another site I almost always turn to when preparing an expository sermon. Bible.org has a strong collection of exegetically sound Bible studies arranged by book, topic, date, author, language, and series. Most if not all of the writers are associated with Dallas Theological Seminary.

Bible.org is also site of the NET Bible, one of the best footnoted translations available. To see a frames version, click here. The main page even has links for downloaded Hebrew and Greek fonts. To download a free NET Bible, click here.


Today I had the privilege of breaking bread with Frank of Swap Blog. He's at least as interesting in person as he is at Team Swap. Frank's got abundant mental energy and wide-ranging interests, as readers of his websites can attest. I recommend his wit and wisdom to you.

Choosing Jesus over religion

Phil McAlmond warns against choosing religion over Jesus. How will we know the difference? At The Spirit Formed Life, Phil explores the question in depth, and finds this dynamic at the heart of the matter: "We will cross the line of personal relationship in and with the Lord Jesus Christ, when what we have built in His name becomes an end in itself." Phil, of course, shows us the alternative:

Let us get back to the simple and yet Oh so very powerful truth, message and relationship of Jesus, the Christ of the Most High God. Let us cast off everything that is religious and return to the simplicity and unity of our faith, Jesus, Jesus, no one and nothing but Jesus, the Christ of the Most High God.

There's nothing implicitly wrong with religous structures -- until the means, as they so easily and subtly can, become the end. Phil's post reminds us again of the simplicity of the gospel message: Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Strong and shocking words in Acts

David Smith gives a preview this week of his upcoming sermon on Acts 10:1-11:18, the story of Peter, Cornelius, and Peter's vision. David considers it to be perhaps the "strongest and most shocking word in all the book of Acts":

But you'd never know that from the way it has usually been presented. How have you usually heard it taught or preached? In my hearing, I've almost always heard the emphasis placed on one of two points: (1) positively - it's about how Cornelius became a Christian and/or (2) negatively - it's about how the Spirit doesn't typically work in conversions the way he did with Cornelius. . . .
Luke simply does not put the emphasis on either one of those two points! This passage isn't about what someone did to become a Christian initially (though that gets mentioned) nor is it about how God does or doesn't work in conversion. It is about how a long-time Christian was finally converted to an essential aspect of Christ-like living in which he had been in denial! It is about how God confronted a disciple and how that disciple repented of their prejudice. It is about how someone very strong, experienced, respected and mature in Christ still had plenty of growing up left to do, namely in the way others - all sorts of others - are perceived, valued and accepted. It is about the death of pride, the birth of true humility, the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.

I wonder what David's getting at here? Could it be that . . . maybe some Christians today have a little growing up to do? It looks like David's on target here, and it makes me wish I could be in Baytown, Texas, this weekend to hear him preach it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Harvest time all year long

Swap Blog examines John 4:27-42 and considers what it means for the fields to be ripe for the harvest:

A lesson like this can really put your life in perspective. We look around and see warm long days and we think – ah time to rest and relax a bit before we get into the real grind in a few months. How many times do we say – well during VBS (vacation bible school), or during this mission trip, or during our fall festival, or during such and such God will really move and work. That is rubbish. There is a spiritual harvest to brought in around you right now, even if it is not a “traditional” time of spiritual harvest – Christmas, Easter, retreats, missions, summer outreach, etc. . . . In a few weeks during X, Y or Z, or in a few months during X, Y, or Z we will get some work done for God. The work is available now. God works both in and out of our “seasons”. The work of salvation, outreach, ministry, and missions is not just for a few times a year, it is day in and day out process.


Preaching resource: Textweek

The Text This Week and its companion blog, textweek, are both invaluable resources, especially for lectionary preaching. In addition to resources on each week's lectionary passages, The Text This Week contains links to a variety of homiletical resources indexed by scripture passage. It's one of the first places I go for information on preaching any given texts. Jenee Woodard edits both sites and has posted a collection of articles at textweek on Matthew 7.

So men want a challenge? Try this.

Dan Edelen of Cerulean Sanctum has been writing about the church's missing men. In reading on the subject, Dan has come across an "endless chorus of male voices chanting: 'Men want a challenge!'" In response, Dan offers men a simple challenge: Pray more than an hour a day.

The old nature: Following your nose

Shannon Woodward writes on how a freezer bag of rotten chicken is a symbol of the flesh:

"Flesh," in Christianese, is just another word for "old nature." My pre-Christ nature, the nature I was born with, is nothing more than a baggie full of rot. People will tell you otherwise. They'll say we're all basically good at heart and to prove their point, they'll mention someone they know who once spent an afternoon working in a soup kitchen. But Scripture tells us otherwise. Scripture tells us we're born with a broken nature, a nature given to sin, a nature at war with godliness (and with God). That's the whole point of a Savior--he came to free us from our old nature, give us his nature, and open the doors of heaven so we can abide forever with a holy God.

Looking at Romans 7, Shannon came to understand that the conflicts Christians face in trying to act spiritually come from the flesh itself:

I realized that the problem wasn't that I couldn't get my flesh to obey, the problem was that I was still dealing with my flesh at all. Dead things don't have power. I've been freed from the control of my flesh--unless I choose to obey that old nature. Sometimes we do that, simply out of habit. . . .

How, then, can Christians access that freedom in Christ?

The only sane solution for a Christian is to render their flesh as dead, focus on Jesus, and walk in the Spirit. Or not. There's always the other option: stick that baggie in your pocket and walk around stinking.

Well said. Shannon, by the way, is an exception writer--one who brings drama and insight into an anecdote about rotten meat.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Conference coming: Consumer culture and Christianity

This looks interesting: a conference on Christianity in a Consumer Culture will be held April 28 & 29, 2006, in Minneapolis. Here's what conference planners have to say:

Consumerism is the driving force in our society—a spirit of our age. It is enmeshed within the fabric of our society. . . . Christians need to intentionally and carefully navigate our consumer culture, responding to its dangerous complexities with a deepening awareness of its promises and perils. The Conference on Christianity and the Consumer Culture will be both informative, fostering a deeper understanding of consumerism and its role within our society, as well as formative, providing strategies for faithful living in light of the promises and perils inherent to our consumer culture.

Sounds good to me. Conference sponsors are the MacLaurin Institute, Mission: Think, and Mission Dei. I don't know much about these sponsoring organizations. Any input? (Hat tip: Knightopia).

Preaching Resource: Expository sermon texts

As the name suggests, Expository Sermons from Genesis to Revelation at Monergism.com has links to expository sermon texts from every book of the Bible (excluding the deuterocanonicals). The site contains links to thousands of sermons, arranged both by biblical book and by preacher.

The site is oriented toward a Reformed perspective. John Calvin, Thomas Constable, John MacArthur, John Piper, Ray Ortlund, Wil Pounds, and Charles Spurgeon are among the many preachers represented. There is also an extensive collection of NT sermons from Martin Luther. Whether or not your theology is Reformed, however, there's quite a bit of biblical wisdom to be gleaned from these works.

I don't believe in preaching another man's sermon. When researching a passage, however, I've often benefited from others' work, including some of the preachers at the Mongergism site. You might also want to check out some of the resources from the Sermon Collections links on the right side of this page.

Forgiveness makes us whole

Phil Wilson at ALLELON Ministries considers Mark 2:1-18 in writing about "Forgiveness and Healing." Phil wonders if forgiveness is not a neglected virtue among Christians today. It's important we practice forgiveness, because, as Phil shows us, in it we are made whole:

You see, Jesus doesn't forgive sins and then give us a warning about not sinning again. He forgives us and welcomes us into new life with him. When he says, "leave your life of sin," he's saying there's a new way to live. A new way without the empty promises of money, the temporary pleasures of lust, the vain soullessness of pride. A fulfillment of what God has wanted for us from the beginning. A breaking out of a corner of the Kingdom of God.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Blown away by the Apocalypse of John

New Testament scholar Conrad Gempf, in his online class notes, gives the best description I think I've found on how to approach the book of Revelation:

To me, reading Revelation is like deliberately going out into a tropical storm to see what it's like. You don't go out expecting to understand everything at your leisure, you jump out, expecting to be buffeted and baffled and amazed.

Whenever teaching Revelation, I always say we simply don't understand many details in the book but that the whole sweep is pretty clear: things may turn tough for a while, but God's in control and one day he'll make things right in a big way. Still, we tend to want a definitive explanation of every sign and symbol. And there are plenty of folks who claim to be able to give them to us.

Preaching resource: Online interlinears

While most of the posts on this blog are written for all Christians, it seems appropriate to include some entries specifically for preachers. But, as I hope you'll find in today's post, other Christians can benefit from many of these resources as well.

Interlinear Bibles feature the original biblical languages (Hebrew or Greek) along with literal English translations between the lines. I've investigated several online interlinears, and here are a few you might want to check out.

The Scripture Resources section on this page features both Old Testament (OT) and and New Testament (NT) interlinears from Scripture 4all. The NT interlinear is interesting in that its Greek is written like the original NT manuscripts: in capital letters (uncials) without accents or breathing marks (For Greek scholars, the text is the 1881 Westcott-Hort with NA26/27 variants). In addition to Greek and English lines, there is a line where each word is grammatically parsed. The OT interlinear (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) is annoying in that the editors have made the Hebrew sentences read left-to-right while the letters within the words remain right-to-left. The vowels are without pointings.

If you do want accents, breathing marks, and pointings in your Greek and Hebrew texts, you might want to look at Crosswalk's interlinear. Strictly speaking, it's not really an interlinear because it lines up English with Hebrew or Greek verse-for-verse rather than word-for-word. On the positive side, each word is hotlinked to fairly thorough lexical information.

Heartlight's Search God's Word has another useful interlinear that allows you to search by verse and select which original language text you want to use (BHS or LXX for the OT and NA26, 1894 TR, and 1991 Byzantine for the NT).

So, I hope you've enjoyed today's preaching resource. Coming tomorrow: A site full of expository sermon texts.

Christian discipleship and the American Dream

Michael F. at Biblical Theology 2005 has written a well-balanced brief on the conflict between Christian discipleship and the American Dream. He gives special emphasis to a biblical view of material wealth. The essay's worth a look.

Following your heart and the Dark Side

A lot of bloggers are writing these days about Star Wars and Christian discipleship. Please forgive me for adding to the avalanche, but I've just finished watching all six movies with my wife and boys and am overwhelmed right now by the Star Wars galaxy. So at the expense of multiplying words, here are a few observations on the Force, righteous living, and Darth Vader.

Basically, the Force is simply that--a force, and nothing like the personal God of the Bible. It's a force Jedi warriors use and sometimes even control. Jedi religion may resemble Buddhism or Taoism, but Christianity it ain't.

Still, the basic message on personal maturity is light years beyond most of what's being offered today in popular culture. Jedi masters actually teach their apprentices to deny themselves and put others first. On the other hand the central message in Disney movies always seems to be, "Follow your heart; trust your feelings." Yet in Star Wars that is precisely the kind of attitude--passion, personal feelings, romantic love--that pushes Anakin to the Dark Side.

In Star Wars George Lucas set out to craft a drama of mythological sweep, and in the character of Anakin he succeeded. Have you ever found a more powerful story of fall and redemption than Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader? Anakin is a fictional symbol of the entire people of God, from Genesis to Revelation: temptation and fall; sin and struggle; triumph, resurrection, and glory.

Of course, there is one absolutely critical difference: Anakin (even with the help of prophecy, Luke, and the Force) ultimately saves himself. He turns from the Dark Side and emerges, at the end of his life, back into the light. The church, however, can do nothing to save ourselves; we are saved wholly and completely by the blood of Jesus Christ, the true Light of the World. That one difference, by the way, sets the Christian story apart from all others.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

So that we don't try to box the infinite. . .

Here's another series worth your attention: Tim Challies is writing about ways Christians try to put God in a box. In last week's introductory post, Tim relates a story of dams and waterways as an analogy of how Christians try to build barriers around God, "seeking to constrain Him within a system of theology." Yet at bottom we must approach God with humility, because much of his nature and workings are unknown, if not unknowable. Here's a sample of Tim's introductory article:

There is a difficulty inherent in attempting to define what is indefinable. The barrier is language. How can a finite mode of communication such as words, do justice to what is infinite? In truth, it cannot. Words cannot adequately express who God is and how He works . . . .

Thus we need a spirit of humility as we approach the Word of God, knowing that it tells us many things about God, but not everything. We would do well to keep several passages in mind. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29). "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9).

We must remember that while what He has revealed of Himself is entirely truthful, it is by no means complete.

That's a lesson in humility Christians would do well to remember. In subsequent articles Tim is writing on some of the specific forms our efforts to put God in a box may take. I recommend the series to you.

Eternal Perspectives wins a Warnie

Eternal Perspectives' Mike Russell is the latest recipient of the Warnie award for Christian blogging. Mike is one of my favorite bloggers and deserves recognition for his work. His insights are deep, his reasoning solid, and his writing strong. And (because he says nice things about me) his acceptance speech is my absolute favorite.

Going beyond simply knowing

Adam Ellis at Adventures in Following Jesus writes on the difference between knowing and believing--and the profound difference it makes for Christian discipleship.

Bible study series: A few recommendations

I'm overdue in sharing links to a few Bible study series I've been reading lately around the blogs. They're all either underway or recently finished, but earlier entries are still available. If you're looking to do a book study, these series (with the possible exception of mine) are scholarly sound, well reasoned, and well written:

Also, while not a book study, the series on the identity of the Christian at Mr. Standfast is a keeper.

Finally, you might want to visit The Minor Prophet library, which contains textual and topical studies arranged by author and book. My thanks go to Chad Dalton and company for the work in maintaining the library. It's a fine resource, and I've added a link in the SCRIPTURE RESOURCES section of this page.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Soaking up the blog shower

In case you haven't caught it elsewhere, here's a roundup (as I have it) of the blog discussion on the responsibility of directing congregational preaching to both the lost and found.

Diane of Crossroads made a case Tuesday that preaching should be for Christian discipleship and warns against watering down preaching "so as to not 'offend' the sensibilities of non-believers." Matthew Self of Gad(d)about made a good point: "I have a hard time understanding how maturing the flock is somehow a detour or deviation from the plain message of what Christ did on the cross."

On Wednesday Peter Bogert wrote that, as little time as Christian leaders have for feeding the flock, it's a shame to miss the opportunity for edification in the sermon. Mick Porter at Unveiled Face took a different angle and described ways to build Christian maturity outside the pulpit.

John Schroeder, who issued the initial challenge, summarized what had been written as of Thursday and made an important point: sanctification requires more than simply answering an altar call; it's a lifelong journey. He also makes a distinction between the roles of pastor and preacher. Broken Messenger's Brad Huston concurred and reminds us that the preacher merely plants and waters, while God makes the Word grow in the hearts of hearers.

Yesterday Agent Tim offered his thoughts on the subject including this critical point: "Our evangelism should go beyond the Word preached on Sundays."

As John said, the response to his challenge may not have been a "blog storm," but it's been a pleasant shower. At this point it looks like Christian bloggers have come to agree on this: if we preach Jesus Christ, the power of the Word can change the hearts of both the saved and lost. It's been a nice shower. Unless John or someone else comes up with some really earth-shaking new insights, this will probably be the last post on the subject here.

Keeping Darfur on the radar screen

Keith at Under the Acacias gives an update of the situation in Darfur, including this turn: the World Food Program has only half the money it needs to feed 2 million people in Sudan. Keith also provides a link to a site with suggestions on what folks in the U.S. or U.K. can do. Jeannine at Sharing Life points out that while the events in Darfur may not be genocide, they are atrocities nevertheless. I'm offering this information not from any political angle, but just to keep the terrible situation in Darfur on the radar screen. I'm curious: is anyone including Darfur in your teaching or preaching?

On Narnia and Postmodernism

Tabletalk continues to feature Craig Williams's Narnian Musings. Number 12 contains valuable insights into the opportunity Postmodernism presents for Christian evangelism:

Our time is so intent on giving everyone their due, the claim that there might be only one way to be and one story to unite us is an affront to our sensibilities. But this is not a bad thing, it is a good one!

What a post-modern world offers the Christian is the opportunity to set our experience of God in Jesus Christ against all comers. This is a time, much like the ancient world, where the marketplace will entertain the competition and people are willing to listen to lots of perspectives. We get a chance like Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal to let our God shine through his people and to verify the claims Jesus makes.

What will draw the lost to the Christian story? Only the thirst for Living Water. Here's Craig again:

We often underestimate the genuine thirst of humanity. People live in a parched and barren land. Thirst will drive people to seek water. Jesus is the living water of our lives. When our lives are parched searching begins. Can't we point people to the water?

Craig's latest Musing, on providence, mission, and the nature of God, is available here.

Finding humor in baals and fire from heaven

Peter Leithart considers the humor of 2 Kings 1. First, there is the interplay of "baals." Then, there is this:

There is a comical futility also in Ahaziah's cartoonish insistence on sending troops to apprehend Elijah. If 50 men are burned alive the first time, well, then, let's send fifty more with a demand that Elijah come quickly. That'll do the trick.

As my boys would say: yeah, right.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Seeing visions more clearly

Jeff McCrory, in his ongoing series on Daniel, gives some concise, practical advice on understanding biblical visions:

There are two rules for reading and interpreting visions:

1. Rule number one is that visions are about now and not later. Visions use the future to impact the present; they are preferred and secured futures that change the way we behave now.

2. Rule number two is that visions are about the reign of God and not about political and personal trivia. Visions aren’t personal Ouija boards or fortune cookies, given to tell us our career path and which person we are going to marry. They tell us how God is to reign openly in the future and does reign in an ambiguous present.

Good stuff.

Simple . . . with complexities

Conrad Gempf looks at the stark boundaries between lost and found in 1 Jn 3:11-4:21 and notices how pervasive the dichotomy is in John's writing:

I guess the point is that the whole Christianity thing isn't rocket science. It really is quite a simple matter at its root. Its about loving or not loving; about being God's or Not God's. In the end, whatever God has prepared for those two groups, there are only those two groups. Jesus could be like this too: "Anyone who is not for me is against me." God's word needs to be clear about that simplicity, but I'm glad we also glimpse in other books, something of the complexities as well.

I've often puzzled over how the gospel can be so simple ("Jesus Christ and him crucified" - 1 Cor. 2:2) yet discipleship and doctrine are areas none of us fully master on earth. Conrad has articulated that tension pretty well.

Resources for preaching on the Trinity

Textweek blog has posted a variety of resources for doctrinal preaching this Trinity Sunday.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Lessons in the "20th Century Two-Step"

Brad Hightower, drawing on the work of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, talks about the 20th century church's "embarassingly superficial approach to sanctification":

I call this tendency to “skip to the end” or skip the process of sanctification altogether the 20th Century 2-step. In the 20th Century, Christianity became two basic steps: 1) Make a decision for Christ or “get saved” 2) Tell others about Jesus.

I think Brad's right. On the positive side, Brad not only observes the problem with 20th century spirituality, but offers suggestions for making today's Christians spiritually deeper.

Broken homes are good for the U.S. economy

That's what I said, and I really do believe it's true (in a sense). To find out how divorce, illegitimacy, and most forms of family pathology benefit the economy, please read this post. It's a tad long (403 words) and bit off-topic for this blog, so I've put it in The Storage Room. I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Jollyblogger on the preaching challenge

Jollyblogger David Wayne offers some thoughts on Blogotional's challenge to relate Heb. 6:1-3 to whether or not congregational preaching should be directed primarily toward the lost or found. David's post is worth reading, particularly his emphasis on expository preaching and on trusting God to take care of the results.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Darfur Collection is now online

The Darfur Collection at Allthings2all is now online. The collection includes posts in three categories: Background and Overview, What Should be Done, and Getting Involved.

More on preaching to the found

The discussion on whether congregational preaching should be aimed primarily at soul-winning or disciple-building continues at Adrian Warnock's Blog, Jollyblogger, The Gad(d)about, and The Broken Messenger. There's too many good words to summarize here (although I may come back to one or two tomorrow). If you're interested, I recommend you follow the links.

Facing the truth about demons

Dan Edelen writes about the reality of the demonic realm. It's something that many Christians, including Mainline and Evangelical Protestants, don't seem to take give adequate thought to in the West:

Evangelicals simply do not take the issue of demons seriously enough. In a time that can be categorized by its unrelenting dereliction of truth, sources of deception and darkness must be exposed for what they are. Failure to shine the light on this infernal darkness means that it will necessarily increase in boldness.

Dan refers to the Screwtape Letters, where C. S. Lewis warned that either extreme--of obsessing on demons or ignoring them altogether--are both harmful.

We are doing a great injustice to folks in the Church when we shy away from talking about demons. Again, an unhealthy preoccupation is wrong, but so is leaving the chthonic unmentioned. We have too often treated the demonic like bogeymen, thinking that if we ignore them they'll leave us alone. But rest assured of this one thing: they do not exist to leave us alone. And for this reason, we ignore them at our peril.

It's clear that the New Testament writers considered demons to be real, living entities. Yet Modernism relegated demons to the realm of fantasy ("There's no such thing as ghosts"). Could it be that the 21st century church is ready to view the demonic realm in proper perspective?

Learning to think like the new man

Jollyblogger David Wayne has really gotten me going with his review and reflections on Learned Optimism by research psychologist Martin Seligman. David took an online learned optimism test and discovered he's very, very pessimistic. And that characteristic has serious implications for both leadership and discipleship. Although it's sometimes known as a "self-help" book, Dr. Seligman's work is orders of magnitude beyond positive-thinking platitudes. I recommend reading David's post and, perhaps, Dr. Seligman's book.

Preaching to the found

John Schroeder recaps the results of his recent challenge for bloggers to write, in relation to Heb. 6:1-3, on whether congregational preaching should be aimed more at the lost or the found:

Bottom line is this, I have yet to see a church that calls Sunday Morning anything other than a "worship" service. By definition, the unfound do not engage in worship -- we want them to, desparately, but they have to become found to even want to worship God. And that, in the end is why church is for the found, not the unfound. . . .The church has a lot to do, evangelism is a very important among those tasks. All I am saying is that Sunday morning worship is not the time for that task.

John makes a good case that the church needs more than full pews--it needs full hearts and mature disciples.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Who will be saved?

I'm not sure Sven and I see eye-to-eye on salvation and atonement, but World of Sven has an intriguing little test that may give us some indication of how we really feel about God's saving grace.

Preserving the truth

Blogotional's John Schroeder reminds us of the church's role as preserver of the truth:

Preservation means that we are not only keepers of the message, but we are defenders of the truth. Defending the truth means that we protect the documents, the doctrines, and the lifestyle of the Christian message. Our teaching and Christian education ministries are a part of this--we have to preserve the truth of the gospel first by education of our children and grandchildren before we can "speak the truth" to the world.

We must speak "the truth in love," as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:15. Speaking the truth in Jove is a tough balancing act. It means that we are in danger of being called intolerant. I think that many times Christians are ashamed to speak of the truth of the gospel, because if they do, society projects upon them that they are inflexible, or disagreeable.

I think one point of balance is in being called to be agreeable, without agreeing with everything. Preserving the truth means that we have a foundation of the truths about who God is, our relationship to him, and the facts of the gospel which leads us to lead a lifestyle of love.

Sounds good to me.

"Far out, off the charts radical"

Larry James reminds us that Jesus used to hang out with all sorts of folks. If we want to know Jesus, Larry points out, we need to read not only Paul's letters, but the Gospels. And they show how "Far out, off the charts radical" Jesus really was:

He wasn't too comfortable in church. Or, maybe its more accurate to say when he was in church, most other folks weren't too comfortable!

He wasn't into the status quo.

He was far too inclusive not to raise eyebrows. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was welcome to be with him.

If he were alive today, he wouldn't be welcome in most churches. As a matter of fact, he wouldn't be recognized for who he really is.

I expect he would be ushered outside on a regular basis, especially when he started talking!

Could that really be true? Have Christians today become so tame that Jesus himself would have a hard time being welcome among us?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Remembering where our truth and authority lie

Peter Bogert, with a little help from John Piper, offers some advice on biblical preaching.

Moving beyond obsessive-compulsive spirituality

Mike Russell has written an outstanding post about what spiritual transformation is not: obsessive-compulsive spirituality. It was a lesson Mike, like me, didn't learn easily:

Probably because it fit with my personality at the time, I confused obsessing about God with being filled with the Spirit and abiding in Christ. Almost every thought I had was painfully and rigorously scrutinized, examined under an unbiblical, neurotic microscope to see if or how much sin was involved. It was about “doing it right” all the time. I literally lived by the letter of the law and watched myself constantly, as though a mere observer of a tortured, failing lifestyle. I was consumed with my own “holiness,” not with Him who had made me holy (forensically, for all you doctrinal types reading this).

I was miserable; worse, I made my wife miserable, too.

I thought that this was what the Christian life was supposed to be all about: a constant, unrelenting preoccupation with God and His word. I lost interest in almost everything that had been in my life prior to my conversion. (In my case, this was not all bad.) I was quickly bored with any conversation that did not focus on Christ and impatient with Christians who were interested in “worldly” things like sports, movies, literature, music, dancing, or having fun in general.

I was suffering and insufferable.

Mike finally had to allow himself to "break" spiritually and pray to God this way:

“I quit! You said that Your Spirit would live in me and produce Christ in me. Well, I’m through trying to do it. God, it’s time for You to do it or not. I’m done!”

Mike is a clear thinker and outstanding Christian writer. I recommend you read the whole story. He's also posted a follow-up piece, "Walking in the Spirit with Pink Floyd."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Being safe can kill you

David at Light and Salt reminds us that, while pursuing physical safety is usually a good idea, the opposite is true in one's spirit:

Being safe in the spiritual world can kill you, and endanger the spiritual lives of those around you. "Kill you" meaning to make you ineffective and irrelevant. Have you ever seen someone you considered to be dead spiritually? Ever seen a congregation you considered dead spiritually? My bet is that in both instances you find being "safe" a priority. Are there examples in scripture of people and groups of people who put a priority on being "safe"? Ask Joshua and Caleb about the other 10 wanting to be safe, and the consequences. How long did choosing to be safe cause the Israelites to be ineffective and irrelevant to the world around them?

Just as safety was death in the Old Testament, David notes, Jesus did not call his disciples to be safe:

In our walk with him, He NEVER, EVER calls us to be "safe". Why? Because instead of leading to life, it leads to death.

Can anyone honestly say that Jesus' own walk--all the way to death on a cross--was safe? Christians need to stop worrying about being safe and work on being faithful. Can we really handle that?

More blogging on Sudan

I've been remiss in taking so long to mention Keith at under the acacias for his writings on Sudan. The Sheep's Crib also has a long, incisive post on Darfur today.

Confessing our need for confession

Confession is such a powerful human need, Nathan Colquhoun writes, that even in perverted forms it fuels programs like the Jerry Springer Show. In its purer forms confession also happens to be an important part of the Christian life:

We need to realize that confession, especially when someone confesses something to you, means we are sharing in a remarkable event that is sanctioned by Jesus Christ. It doesn’t give us grounds to judge or point the finger but it opens up a hurting life so you can love them. It’s time that we bring confession back to become about humans understanding their depravity and depending on the strength of Christ as opposed to humans sucking each other dry for the next bit of gossip that will only make us feel better.

Let's pray that it would be so in our churches.

Friday, May 13, 2005

John 20 resources at textweek blog

Jenee Woodard is posting again at textweek blog, with a collection of preaching resources for John 20:19-23.

Welcome back, Rusty!

After nearly two months away following a stroke, Rusty Peterman is back at Believer Blog. Welcome back, Rusty, and I hope you're back to full speed in all areas soon.

What it means to be salty

Bob at Mr. Standfast has been writing on our identity as Christians. This week he writes about what it means to be salty. It's good stuff, and I recommend it.

Taking the long view of life and faith

Paul Littleton borrows a term from one of Eugene Peterson's books to explain how the Christian life is about "A Long Obedience":

There is a huge (and I mean really, really big) temptation. . . to be programatic in ministry. By programatic, I simply mean that there is a push to jump from this program to the next so that you can continually maintain an atmosphere of excitement in the congregation. So, there's the 40 days of purpose thing, and the FAITH thing, and this, that, and the other thing. It's really pretty endless. And it would be easy to get sucked in to all of it. Especially when you feel like the congregation needs a "jump start."

The answer, Paul says, is not to hop from one exciting project to another, but to look at the bigger picture of our mission:

. . . I tend to look at ministry - and the Christian life - as a long-term project. And a part of the long-term project involves discouragement, doubt, questions that seem to have no answers and uncertainty, along with faith, hope, joy and the like. And we all know that if you stick with something long enough you'll have plenty of both. But the Christian life is a long-term project. Biblically speaking, what we are involved in even extends beyond the few years we're given here on this earth. The things we do today may have an impact well beyond our lifetimes.

Viewing the Christian life as a long-term project does indeed make it easier to accept frustrations and pain--even those extending our entire lifetime on earth. Taking the long term also gives us the opportunity for joy in knowing how the war will end, and that our Master's side will be victorious.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Leaving our little stories behind

Keith Plummer at The Christian Mind recently introduced me to the work of Jeff at texas theologue. Jeff, in turn, considers recent work by Scot McKnight and Doug Pagitt in looking at "relevant" preaching. Problems arise, interestingly enough, when we focus on making the Bible relevant to our lives today. This is a long quote from Jeff, but it's a keeper:

The Bible was not written to address the stories of autonomous, individualistic, self-absorbed 21st century Americans. When preaching focuses on our stories it ends up taking passages out of context and missing the main point of what the Bible is all about. Some Scripture passages are preached on hundreds of times while other passages are totally ignored because they don't seem relevant to today's listeners. That is what happens when we try to make the Bible relevant to our lives.

Instead, we should concentrate on trying to figure out if our lives could be relevant to the story of God. The Bible tells a story about a holy and loving God who is working for the salvation of His people through His Son, establishing and expanding His Kingdom on earth, working in all things for His glory and our good, and commissioning and sending out His people to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to all peoples on earth. The story is even broader and bigger than this brief summary. The greatest adventure in all of life consists in learning about this story and then following Jesus' radical call to be a part of this story. Truly relevant preaching must call people to leave their small, self-absorbed story behind and to figure out how they can play a role in this much larger and grander story. If we can get people to adopt this perspective, suddenly the whole Bible becomes alive and exciting, not just the few prooftexts that talk about marriage, finances, child-raising, or anxiety.

Amen. That message--that preaching must focus not on our stories but on God's story--is probably the best and most memorable lesson I learned in four years of seminary. I don't remember who first introduced the concept to my mind, but no one has said it better than Jeff has.

Prayer and evangelism

Scotwise writes this week on prayer and evangelism. It's a great reminder of our mission, and the quote by Spurgeon is a keeper.

Shining the light on Darfur

More blogs are writing about Darfur, including caught in the middle, Kingdom Adventure, and 21st Century Reformation (if you've written on Darfur and I've not mentioned your blog, please let me know and I'll add a link). You can find information on what's happening in the region here, and you can contribute to the blogging discussion here.

Update: Blogotional offers some thoughts today on Darfur. Kingdom Adventure has added posts here, here, and here. Clark Christian was already posting articles on Darfur here, here, and here in March.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Better than "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"

Caught in the middle, under the influence of Leslie Newbigin, explores the contrast between biblical and U.S.A. cultural values:

Those who proclaim America to be a "Christian nation" need to take a close, hard look at the economic, political, educational and social institutions in America today. Perhaps the founding fathers had a respect for Christianity, even if they had no personal commitment to the faith. But leaders throughout Western and American society no longer have that kind of respect. It isn't that we are losing it. We have lost it.

Evangelistically, then, Christians must view the United States as a mission field in which shared cultural values are positively in conflict with a biblical worldview:

So, insofar as the American Dream is unfounded on Biblical terms, it is also unfulfilling in life. We see lived out all around us the logical conclusion of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." And it aint pretty.

What is the alternative?

. . . loving relatedness. A community that is not interested in its own "inalienable rights" but is interested in loving community with others. It is a place where I no longer seek to "get ahead," but I'm free to use the resources God has given me to benefit others - even give it away. And that is just the economic impact. It has equally positive results in politics, education and the social structures in which we live.


Defying expectations

Conrad Gempf has an encouraging little post on parallelism in 2 Tim. 2:11-13 and what it tells us about Jesus.

Finding information on Darfur

Looking for up-to-date information on Darfur? Try Sudan Watch, authored by Ingrid Jones. The content is current, well written, and appears to come from reliable sources. There's a great deal of information, with pictures, so you might want to take advantage of the "Previous Posts" menu on the right of the page. Some of you might also be surprised to find your blog on Ingrid's blogroll.

Proclaiming the gospel to sinner and saint

Mick Porter has contributed substantially to the discussion on who should be the focus of congregational preaching. Mick leans toward preaching in the assembly as means of equipping the saints, but without neglecting the basic gospel, either:

The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe - and this must apply to both Christians and non-Christians. The apostles always preached the gospel, even/especially in the letters they wrote to Christian churches. 1 Corinthians was written as a strong challenge to a church that was tolerating worldly sin, yet it is chock-full of the gospel. Don't we use the epistles in evangelism today? Yet they were written to believers for the purpose of building them up. So the same maturity-directed teaching that was primarily directed at believers 2000 years ago is applicable today for evangelistic purposes. I say this because I think that any modern-day teaching aimed at maturity should still be gospel-saturated and therefore will always serve a dual-purpose in evangelism.

I like the idea that preaching "aimed at maturity should still be gospel-saturated." When preaching in the Christian assembly, I know that most persons there are already Christians. Those folk need sermons that don't simply go over the basics, but help them grow spiritually (That's where the challenge of Heb. 6:1-3 comes in). At the same time, there are often those present who may never hear the gospel anywhere else. "Gospel-saturated" preaching has the power to speak to the hearts of everyone: the lost, the baby Christian, and the mature saint. It's not necessarily easy to do, and I don't think it can be boiled down to any formula except, perhaps, for this: let us proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified ( 1 Cor. 2:2). In that Truth is the power of salvation for every human being.

Update: Broken Messenger and Dark Glasses have also joined the discussion. Meanwhile The Sheep's Crib warns against "taking the simple good news and making it something academic." That, in turn, brings to mind Adrian Warnock's exploration earlier this year of the simple gospel.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

On manhood and Mother's Day

Doug Mendenhall, writing last week in the Huntsville (Alabama) Times, provides men with "counter-programming" to the "pastel sort of religion" found among many churches on Mother's Day. It's true, Mr. Mendenhall notes, that Jesus welcomes women, and that Paul proclaims that all Christians are "one in Christ Jesus":

But still, guys, look back at the early days and remind yourselves that Christianity is a rough and tumble, guts and muscle undertaking. . . .
Jesus was a carpenter's son, and I've been around enough carpenters to know you don't want to arm wrestle one.

A bunch of His best friends were professional fishermen. Not the kind with endorsement packages and their own TV shows. The kind who smelled like fish year-round. The kind who knew as they hauled in a net that if it was empty they'd have to haul in the next one on empty stomachs. The kind not even the carpenters wanted to arm wrestle.

Mr. Mendenhall reminds men that the other apostles weren't weaklings either, and that the Apostle Paul went through some pretty rough experiences himself--including beatings, floggings, stoning, and shipwreck:

What's my point? Jesus and his followers weren't wimps. You know how Jesus died, and all but one of those rough and rugged apostles died equally horrible deaths that they could have gotten out of just by turning their backs on him. But they didn't because they were real men and they were real Christians.

If we attended church on Mother's Day, we probably heard sermons on the virtues of feminine strength:

Yeah, that's important, but the truth is that the church needs more real men who are really committed to the cause.

Think about that, if you have the guts, because your mothers and wives and daughters are counting on you.


Taking action for Darfur

21st Century Reformation offers several ways Christians can take action to relieve the suffering of the people of Darfur. Meanwhile, Allthings2all will continue gathering posts through May 15 for the Darfur collection. And preachers, please remember the people of Darfur in our prayers and homilies.

Death to fatalism

Most of my life I've struggled, usually unsucessfully, with the sin of overeating. That's not to say all overeating is sin, but in my case I often turn to food as a substitute for God's comfort and grace. That's not just bad nutrition; it's idolatry. One blessing from my struggle has been learning to appreciate how powerfully sin can pull upon the soul. That realization has helped me have compassion on anyone who struggles with a besetting sin--be it alcohol, drugs, sexual sin, or some other addiction.

This week at Mr. Standfast, Bob cautions against allowing a besetting sin to lead us into fatalism. Perhaps we, despite all our willpower and best efforts, have fallen again and again into the same sin, perhaps for years. After a while it's easy to say, as a man Bob recently spoke with said, "I just can't help it":

I know what he means, but I just can't accept that this sense of fatalism with regard to sin is really what God wants for us. And yet it's difficult to respond to this attitude. You come off sounding like a naïf; like someone who has not yet wised up to the power and persistence of the flesh. Surely it is good to be "realistic" about oneself. Good to face up at last to one's weakness.

And yet . . .

I just don't accept it. In effect, this makes confession and repentance an end instead of a beginning. As if Christ's exhortation, "Get up and walk," was not meant for us today. And this attitude seriously underestimates the power of the Gospel, it seems to me. As if it were only a future hope, but never a present reality. As if Romans 7 were the end of the story, and Paul had never followed his heartfelt confession of weakness with the great encouragement to spiritual victory that is Romans 8.

How beautifully expressed, and how true. It really is easy for the one with long-term sin to assume the role of the experienced one, more in the know than the naive Christian who thinks avoiding sin is easy. But, as Bob points out, living a righteous life is a major focus of Romans.

Romans 6-8 paints a picture of the Christian life that is, far from being static or fatalistic (as might be assumed by those who interpret Romans 7 as if it stood alone, apart from its context), a thoroughly new way to live. Paul is essentially an optimist about the Christian life. If I have any message to offer my friend, it must share in that optimism. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made [us] free from the law of sin and death."

Amen. As Mr. Standfast (and the Scriptures) proclaims: "Christian, there is an alternative to sin!" We who are in Christ are new creations, and we now have the power, whether we feel like it or not, to live a new life in Christ. If we're struggling with chronic sin, let our prayer be to walk with Christ in newness of life--today.

Monday, May 09, 2005

To whom should we preach?

John Schroeder (Blogotional) has reopened the discussion on who should be the recipients of congregational preaching: the lost or the redeemed? He's inviting discussion:

Now I'd like to issue a challenge to those in the "preaching can do both in the same context category." It's twofold. Please provide an exegesis of Hebrews 6:1-2 as quoted in my original post linked above and apply that to preaching within the context of regular Sunday worship. Also, what model would you have a church follow in terms of organization and structure to provide for both outreach and maturity within the context of a Sunday morning.?

John has received a couple of good comments and has prompted related posts from The Broken Messenger and Adrian Warnock. I'm sure he'll welcome more.

Calling bloggers for Darfur

Allthings2all is bringing together a collection of blog posts to direct attention to what's happening in Darfur:

I would like to take the opportunity to bring together a collection of posts on the Darfur, Sudan genocide issue, and the situation facing the 2 million refugees who have fled to neighbouring Chad. Estimates on the number dead from genocide range from 100,000-400,000 people. It is also estimated that a further 10,000 civilians are dying every month. The refugees are not all safe, and as well as facing lack of food, some are still targeted by militia intent on ethnic cleansing. . . .
The mainstream media have shown little interest in the Darfur situation even though it is the worst humanitarian crisis currently taking place in the world. One object of collecting posts together is to help bring information to people who will not hear of this through the media. Another object is to possibly get the media to realise that people do in fact want to hear about this. And your posts may also be able to present practical ways in which to help. Just writing something is one way of helping.

This is something we as Christian bloggers can do in the effort to bring relief for the people in Darfur. If you've already posted on Darfur, please let Catez know. If you haven't, then please familiarize yourself with what's happening there and join the effort to help "the least of these."

Update: Blogotional is also supporting the roundup at Allthings2all and has gathered a list of Darfur resources. Mr. Standfast adds his support and lists more bloggers writing about Darfur.

Trusting God to be among us

JD of Out There Hope Remains wrote this past weekend about Christian assemblies. JD's essay is full of good advice, particularly in pointing out that worshipping God really doesn't depend on how it makes us feel:

We want to feel connected to God. We should not put our FAITH in the FEELING that we are connected to God. The connection to God is a matter of trust in the revelation of His will ... and our feelings will come and go. Are we addicted to feeling God's presence? I hear worship leaders say things like, "God really moved here tonight" or "God is in the house" ... as if He wasn't there before. I know what they mean. They mean that there is a feeling that has been achieved. Truly, though, God is there when the feelings are all gone.

Amen. Years ago I attended a prayer retreat for ministers from a variety of Christian traditions. During the course of the weekend one or two of the men very nearly had temper tantrums in demanding that God move among us "in a mighty way." They prayed and prayed that God would show up and give us some kind of grand gesture. I honestly didn't know the best thing to do. I kept thinking of Jesus' words in Mt. 18:19-- "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them." God was already there, and we simply needed the faith to believe him. "The wind blows where it wills" (Jn. 3:8). It's great when God moves our hearts and minds in worship in a special way. But most of the time worship, like all areas of our lives, is practiced in the calm, familiar landscape in which faith in God's promises is the pathway to joy.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A key to the message in Romans

Here's what Peter Bogert found in preparing for today's sermon on Rom. 3:1-20:

The key to the message in Romans so far, from what I see, is not that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, but that you and I are standing on the precipice of eternal judgment and facing a God who is not at all impressed with whatever paltry goodness we offer Him. Thankfully the message continues with the words of 3:21 - "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."

Certainly we want lost people to think about their lostness. But is it good for Christians to consider this from time to time? . . . . I don't believe that we fully understand what we have or who we are in Christ unless we remind ourselves from time to time of what we would have gotten without Him.

It's good to be reminded that the center of Christian discipleship is not the purposefulness of our own lives, but the holiness of God. Only in the light of God's holiness does the gospel make good sense: God is holy; we are not. Because of our sinfulness, we are eternally excluded from the presence of a holy God. Yet because God loves us, he makes us holy and pure not by our own efforts, but through the blood of Jesus Christ. It's good to remember that it's not really about us, but about the God who loves us and makes us new.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

What shall we say about Darfur?

I admit that the violence in Darfur is so massive and far removed from my own spheres of influence that I really don't know how I, or Christians in the United States, should respond. For one thing, I have signed this petition from Sojourners calling on action from the U.S. government. In a wider sense, all Christians around the world should be praying for an end to the violence and suffering.

Christian leaders should also remember Darfur in our preaching and teaching. Granted, political or military action is not at the heart of the gospel, yet we are clearly called by Jesus to remember "the least of these" (Mt. 25:32-46). Any suggestions on how best to do that from the pulpit? Personally, I'm unsure how best to address this issue. "Wars and rumors of wars" are clearly not to be the focus of our preaching, but events in Darfur warrant more than a simple sermon illustration on the fallenness of humanity.

Update: Allthings2all addresses the issue in this post, and Mr. Standfast has a collection of links on the topic. Brad at 21st Century Reformation has also turned his attention to Darfur.

Sin, responsibility, and ghost stories

Richard Vernon writes in the April 2005 Sojourners Magazine about the recent proliferation of horror movies coming out of Hollywood. The appeal of horror movies, Vernon notes, draws on stirrings below the level of conscious thought:

Critics have long held that our most unspeakable fears are given voice in science fiction and horror films. Where does America go to understand how it feels about communism, atomic science, immigration, AIDS, or terrorism? Where it always has - the back row of the movies. Moviemakers deal in images and metaphor, and in film they give form to the darkest of our terrors.

Several high-budget ghost-thrillers with big stars have been released in the U.S. since the end of January. These ghost stories, Vernon writes, share

the concept of protagonist as innocent victim at the mercy of some larger, sinister scheme.

The success of this basic plot - the ghost is furious, it’s not your fault, but the ghost is going to kill you anyway - is arguably dictated in large measure by Western angst over terrorism and American terror of being misunderstood and hated abroad and divided at home. We are searching for someone to blame. And the darkest fear we nurture is that we are The Blamed.

People believe, deep down, that the world is a dangerous place but it's not our fault? That'll preach!

Vernon makes another fascinating observation: unlike ghost stories of previous decades, horror movies today are not built upon an underlying Judeo-Christian worldview. In fact, some of these films are remakes of Japanese movies with an underlying context of Shintoism. I recommend reading the whole article.

Friday, May 06, 2005

The importance of expository sermons

Today Tim Challies follows up an earlier post on the listener's responsibility in preaching with a reminder to both preachers and hearers on the importance of truly biblical preaching. Tim warns against being "swept up in all of the latest rages and programs" and reminds us that the best sermons are "firmly grounded in Scripture":

Expository preaching at its finest is the pastor being a mouthpiece for God, where he speaks the words of God, as revealed in Scripture, with confidence, power and authority.

Amen. Tim's latest post follows his recen review of Steve Lawson's Famine in the Land.

Accustomed to drinking dirty water

Grant Fickel at Maverick Mindset tells the story of finding his two-year-old son down on all fours, drinking out of the dog's water bowl. Grant believes many people in the world are doing the same thing spiritually:

They are so thirsty that they'll drink anything, whatever's placed in front of them so long as it looks remotely drinkable, or if they see others drinking it.

And that's the problem: people are so used to seeing others drinking dirty water, that they are prepared to accept it as good enough. When we know that it's not - but we need to let them know about the good water - the living water.

Jesus shared this idea with the Samaritan woman and she went back and evangelised a whole village.

The task of Christians, as Grant reminds us, is not to tsk-tsk at those whose only experience is drinking dirty water, but to offer them a better alternative through the love of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Why did Jesus have to let it happen?

When I ran across this example of Wendell Berry's writing, I was reminded of why he's one of my favorite authors. It's an excerpt from Berry's novel Jayber Crow. Not only does Berry have a profound grasp of the truths underlying rural life, American culture, and human nature, he is also gifted at theodicy. In this excerpt from Jayber Crow, the title character reflects on why Jesus chose the path of weakness and vulnerability, even to the point of death by crucifixion:

Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave. And why not otherwise? Wouldn't it have put fine comical expressions on the faces of the scribes and the chief priests and the soldiers if at that moment he had come down in power and glory? Why didn't he do it? Why hasn't he done it at any one of a thousand good times between then and now?

I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it. He didn't, he hasn't, because from the moment he did, he would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be his slaves. Even those who hated him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to him and he to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.

And so, I thought, he must forebear to reveal his power and glory by presenting himself as himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of his creatures. Those who wish to see him must see him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world.

Making deals with God

Miroslav Volf reminds us that God is a giver, not a negotiator.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Romans 8 and the Modernist West

Conrad Gempf reflects on Rom. 8 and Paul's assurance that "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." It's a message, Conrad asserts, that seems lost on Western culture today:

Modernity managed to lose the sense of responsibility and postmodernity doesn't seem to have found it yet. Everyone but us, before and after our time, recognizes Paul's message of freedom from condemnation as good news, while those of us in the modern (and just barely postmodern) era put our hands on our hips and say ironically "Oh 'there is no condemnation now'? Well, I should hope not!" with all the emotion of someone whose favourite TV show is not going to be postponed after all. . . .

Tell someone Christ has freed them from the Law and it's no biggie. For each of us, the Law of God -- like the speed limit, like copyright laws -- is something that applies to someone else, not me, because I'm a little different, I'm worth it. Tell someone Christ has freed them from the Law and it means nothing. But tell them Christ will free them from Murphy's Law and you've got their attention. How sad our state and how far down Christ stoops to pull us out of the waves.

Do Westerners today have enough sense of responsibility to see what a radical gift of grace God has given to the world in Jesus Christ? If not, how can the gospel message connect? Should we simply accept the idea that few will accept the gift of God's grace?

Update: John Schroeder and Brad Hightower offer their own comments on Romans 8 here and here.

Reflections on the narrow way

For narrow is the gate, and straight the way, that leads unto life, and few are they who find it. - Mt. 7:14

Christians from diverse backgrounds have been reflecting on Jesus' words in Matthew's Gospel about the unpopularity of Christian discipleship. Andrew Hamilton at backyardmissionary, for example, considers the implications of Mt. 7:14 for evangelism:

It is the road less travelled - the less desirable road - the road of true, cross carrying discipleship. . . . For an evangelist that's a hard message to hear! We all want to see as many people as possible come to faith, but I have had a gutful of trying to motivate people who don't want to be disciples to live like disciples.

Hamo's thoughts reflect similar ideas expressed by Joseph Ratzinger, better known as Pope Benedict XVI. This paragraph is from a recent Newsweek article:

In a series of interviews published as a 1996 book entitled "Salt of the Earth," Ratzinger said: "We might have to part with the notion of a popular Church. It is possible that we are on the verge of a new era in the history of the Church, perhaps very different from those we have faced in the past, when Christianity will resemble the mustard seed [Matthew 13:31], that is, will continue only in the form of small and seemingly insignificant groups, which yet will oppose evil with all their strength and bring Good into this world." Indeed, he added, "Christianity might diminish into a barely discernible presence."

That's a radical thought, but fully in keeping with yet more words of Jesus found in Matthew's Gospel: "For many are called, but few chosen" (Mt. 22:14).

Hamo wonders how this narrow-gate vision of the church plays out on the ground:

It seems that Jesus sees disciples as being few and far between - a rare commodity. I am still wondering what this means for how I lead and live my life in this community.

Good questions. Any thoughts?