Thursday, June 30, 2005

The United States and a "Christian nation"

As U. S. Independence Day approaches, Jollyblogger David Wayne writes about what it really means to be a Christian nation. His conclusion? The U.S.A. doesn't qualify:
I have gone on record time and again here as disputing the notion that our founding fathers were all Christians . . . I think our founding fathers were far more of a mixed bag than some of our modern gatekeepers of the Christian right think. And by the way, I don't believe that statements of certain founding fathers who said we are a Christian nation prove that we were a Christian nation. The Word of God defines what constitutes a "Christian nation," not men, no matter how sincere or devoted they were. I don't think the American nation meets the biblical criteria outlined above for a holy or Christian nation.
And what about today? Christians need to remember our true citizenship in the Kingdom of God:
Where this leaves us now is that, rather than trying to reclaim America for Christ, we need to first reclaim the chuch for Christ. The church needs to learn to think biblically about itself and its citizens need to learn to think biblically about their responsibilities as citizens.

U. S. Independence Day preaching

Textweek blog has posted these resources for preaching on the Sunday before U. S. Independence Day.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Overcoming the idolatry of nationalism

This article at Christianity Today online is a great reminder that, for Christians in the United States, our citizenship is not primarily here (I'm sorry, but I don't remember on whose blog I found the link):
George W. Bush is not Lord. The Declaration of Independence is not an infallible guide to Christian faith and practice. Nor is the U.S. Constitution, nor the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. "Original intent" of America's founders is not the hermeneutical key that will guarantee national righteousness. The American flag is not the Cross. The Pledge of Allegiance is not the Creed. "God Bless America" is not the Doxology.

Sometimes one needs to state the obvious—especially at times when it's less and less obvious.
The article goes on to show subtle and not-so-subtle ways Christians in the United States seem to forget these simple facts. It also reminds us of "the most potent political act": worship.
In worship we signal who is the Sovereign, not of just this nation, but of heaven and Earth. In worship we gather to be formed into an alternate polis, the people of God. It is here that we proclaim that a new political order—the kingdom of heaven—has been preached and incarnated by the King of Kings, and will someday come in fullness, a fullness to which all kingdoms and republics will submit.

Keeping topical preaching biblical

The latest edition of Preaching Now excerpts an article by Donald Sunukjian, "Topical Preaching Can Be Truly Biblical." Sunukjian offers basic, helpful advice with good illustrations of what to do and not do in topical preaching. To summarize: preachers should use biblical passages in line with the context in which they were written.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Church and business: What to do

In part 12 of his series on Christians and business, Dan Edelen begins to offer ideas on what Christians can do to not be swept away by thoroughly un-Christian worldviews.

The Fallen Condition Focus and preaching

Bryan Chapell, in the May-June 2005 edition of Preaching magazine, writes about the "Fallen Condition Focus" and its impact on preaching. Chapell defines the FCF as

the mutual condition that contemporary believers share with those for whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage to manifest God's glory to his people.

In addition to helping relate a passage's original context to our own, a FCF helps the preacher give credit where credit is due:
Since fallen creatures cannot correct or remove their own fallenness, identification of the FCF forces a sermon to honor God as the only source of hope rather than merely promoting human fix-its or behavior change . . . . The acknowledgment of human fallenness that undergirds the text's explanation and the sermon's development automatically requires the preacher to acknowledge the bankruptcy of merely human efforts and to honor the wonders of the divine provision.
Amen. Chapell has put together an excellent article.

Note and disclaimer: Access to articles at Preaching requires a subscription. I got a free one-year online subscription during the recent promotion with the stipulation that I would review articles from time to time. I'm passing on reviews of the best I find, and I do plan to pay for a hardcopy subscription when the free one is up.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Nuts and bolts: Effective PowerPointing

Work Smart offers Five Rules for Better PowerPoint Presentations:

  1. Don't give PowerPoint center stage.
  2. Create a logical flow to your presentation.
  3. Make your presentation readable.
  4. Remember, less is more.
  5. Distribute a handout.

That looks like pretty good advice to me. I don't care much for using PowerPoint in preaching, but in many cases I find it very helpful for teaching, especially if we follow rule number one (Hat tip: Smart Christian blog).

Update: Terry at Pruitt Communications offers his thoughts here.

Modeling pharisaism for our children

At Unveiled Face Mick writes about the dangers of pharisaism in parenting. So much of parenting is modeling the behavior we want our children to follow. But for Christians, do we really take into account our own sinfulness in being those models? Here's Mick:

There would always seem to be a need to teach children moral obedience (which is a good thing), but this a major pitfall if we don't take the necessary next step and teach them the whole gospel message; there is nobody righteous, not one - and DEFINITELY not Mummy and Daddy!

And that's probably the biggest link, right? The Great Legalism Trap is for parents to start setting themselves up as the example to follow. It may be very implicit and unintentional, but that's exactly how it ends up being. And unless we as parents do what C.J. Mahaney suggests and tell our kids often that Daddy is a sinner, and unless our homes are dripping with a rejoicing in God's incredible mercy in sending his Son to die for us, the moral teaching will certainly become moralism, and the gospel will slide out of our children's grasp.

I think Mick's on-target here. One of the best gifts my mother gave me before she died was sharing her rock-solid conviction that any righteousness she might have came from the blood of Jesus Christ alone. Today my wife and I do what we can to share that same message with our children.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Ageism in the church

In one of his recent posts on Christians and business, Dan Edelen explains how ageism in business has bled over into the church:

The "old is bad" meme has caught on even within God's Body. Churches preach that your appearance does not matter and that age means nothing--while at the same time they kick out the gray-haired worship pastor in favor of the trendy postmodern guy who loves Coldplay.

You can't go a day and not her some radio preacher talking about bringing legal challenges to abortion, gay marriage, or some other pet Evangelical cause. But where was D. James Kennedy when a guy in his fifties got a pink slip in California for being "too old?" Why isn't Jim Wallis camped out in Sacramento protesting? Where's the book by John Maxwell decrying "employment euthanasia" amid all that talk about leadership? . . . .

This is no way to live folks. And the Church's silence is pervasive.

Dan's one of the best writing craftsman in the Christian blogosphere, and his latest series is incisive as well.

Clarification: I don't intend this post to be critical in particular of the three Christian writers listed (nor do I interpret that to be Dan's purpose). As I see it, Kennedy, Wallis, and Maxwell are listed as examples of a wide range of prominent Christian writers---none of whom are writing about the issues Dan addresses in his series.

Update: Blogotional's John Schroeder continues the discussion here.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Going deeper through expository preaching

Stronger Church has a strong post today on the value of preaching the biblical text as opposed to topics. A sample:

Some object to expository preaching because it (in their minds) fails to address issues that people struggle with today. I would argue against that. In the last year I have been able to deal with a variety of issues that people struggle with. But I've done so as they are introduced in the text. Some object that the "seeker" might be turned off to what seems impractical. But that betrays a view of our role as preachers that is not biblically accurate. I'm the messenger. God delivers the message. If I stick to popular topics, I'll merely perpetuate the kind of shallow Christianity that we currently have. We've had people come, listen and stay because of the teaching. Others may not. So be it.


Reflections on motivation and discipline

Here's a little post that's worth a minute's reading and a little more reflection: Conrad Gempf relates motivation, discipline, and new ways of "doing church."

Friday, June 24, 2005

Preaching resource: Desiring God online library

The Desiring God online library is a useful stop for sermon and teaching preparation. The site contains many audio and written resources from the ministry of John Piper. My favorite feature is the sermon manuscript collection arranged by scripture text. I certainly don't recommend simply preaching one of Dr. Piper's sermons. But whatever your theological orientation, you ought to find his work illuminating in helping you explore topics and texts yourself.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Preaching and the anointing of the Holy Spirit

Pete Porter at Brian's Nonsense offers this advice on preaching and the Holy Spirit:

The Anointing of the Holy Spirit always accompanies the cross and resurrection of Jesus. If you want the Lord to move in your midst, then, as Paul, preach Jesus and him crucified. In this alone is the focus of all God's dealings with man. By this the love of God is manifest to the world. By this sin is put away. In the cross is healing of all sickness and infirmity. Through the resurrection is all authority over all the works of the devil. And by Jesus death we have access to the presence of the Almighty. And in the ascension of Jesus we have received the Holy Spirit.

The more I look at problems in the church, from personal sin through empire building and doctrinal quibbling, the more I appreciate Paul's words to the Corinthians: "For I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him cruficied" (1 Cor. 2:2). Amen.

More thoughts on 4SL and evangelism

Scot McKnight, in his final post on Campus Crusade's Four Spiritual Laws, makes this point:

This . . . has not been a gripe session so much as an attempt to think through how gospel tracts present the gospel. I know for a fact that Campus Crusaders are taught well how to use the 4SL and I'm quite sure that they are effective because they are, as embodied gospels themselves, advocates who give a living witness to the impact of the gospel. In other words, it is effective because they carry forward the Word of God as people of the Church.

Scot's posts remind us of one important truth: no evangelistic aid is a substitute for God's people going into the world to preach, teach, and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Tracts may help us do that, but they can't do it for us. That's the work of the saints.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Evangelism and the fullness of the gospel

At Jesus Creed Scot McKnight is looking at Bill Bright's classic "Four Spiritual Laws." So far, Scot has posted an introduction along with reflections on the First, Second, and Third spiritual laws. The series is useful in reminding us that salvation is more than an individualistic affair and that the reign of God is much more than a tidy little plan. Consider, for example, the diagram used for the Second Spiritual Law:

Here there is "Man" and "God," and it is the Cross of Jesus that enables the human being to get back to God. Once again, we are dealing here with a truncated gospel: the diagram depicts a gospel in which the problem is separation and the resolution is reconciliation. The gospel is always defined by the problem it depicts, and the Bible describes this problem in a number of ways, including but not limited to separation. In other words, if you define the problem as separation, once separation is resolved in reconcliation, the gospel has run its course. Once a person crosses the Cross to get back to God the gospel's work is done. (Few admit this; but the image seers it into the mind of those who are being evangelized and it leads to Christians who see the Christian life as the "second phase" and not the "gospel" phase; it leads to seeing fellowship/ecclesiology as something in addition to the gospel and not integral to the gospel; it does to the same to holiness, etc..)

Is reconciliation of individuals all there is to it? What then of the Church? What then of the World? Whenever the gospel is understood as an individual person finding his or her way back to God, the gospel is reduced to Individualism -- and anyone who reads the Bible knows that page after page is about the people of God (Israel and then the Church) and that the "plan" of God is to build a people for the good of others and the world.

It's important to take Scot's observations as they're intended. I don't think he's finding fault with the Four Spiritual Laws as much as he's pointing out the risks of seeing the fullness of the gospel in overly stylized or abbreviated terms. In that he's right on target.

Genesis 22 resources available at Textweek

Genesis 22 resources, some more helpful than others, are now posted at Textweek weblog.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Countercultural capitalism

Over at Wallo World, Bill Wallo has reviewed Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter’s A Nation of Rebels. According to Bill the book makes a radical assertion: that the so-called counterculture is really not counter-cultural at all. Rather than trying to offer an alternative to consumer culture, so-called counter-cultural movements simply focus on consuming different things. That sounds right to me. Bill's review is worth reading, and it's made me want to read the book.

Preaching resource: Religion Online is a treasure trove of high-quality, full-text articles organized by topic or author. Using your browser search function, you can also find individual texts in the Bible commentary section. Most articles come from Christian Century, but many full-text books (including As One Without Authority) are also available.

The quality of scholarship is high. Authors include lots of heavyweights, including some of my favorites: Karl Barth, Robert McAfee Brown, Walter Brueggemann, Fred B. Craddock, Stanley Hauerwas, Joachim Jeremias, Kenneth Scott Latourette (two complete books), George Lindbeck, Thomas G. Long, William C. Placher, Will Willimon (30 articles), Philip Yancey, and John Howard Yoder.

This is one of those sites that's leading me more and more away from hardcopy to online resources in sermons preparation. I recommend it highly.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Nothing but the gospel

Steve Camp at Audience One reminds us of the absolute need of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the life of the church (HT: Slice of Laodicea).

Questions on spiritual gifts

Duncan at Pacific Highlander asks some probing questions on the topic of spiritual gifts. Among them:

Why do we talk about 'spiritual' gifts? Aren't all gifts from God? Do we need to have a distinction between a natural inclination to provide backup help and a supernatural capacity to provide backup help?

Do individual Christians possess spiritual gifts? Or do they belong to the whole church and get shared around as the Spirit enables people to respond to need?

Should we stick with the inventories provided by Paul in Romans, Ephesians and 1 Corinthians? Or can we start recognising the huge varieties of giftedness that God creates in the 21st century church?

Good questions.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Text of 2 Cor. 12:7-10 sermon now posted

The text of this morning's sermon on the power of weakness is now posted at To the Word.

What about when the foundation is broken?

Dan Edelen has finally cut to the heart of the matter in the latest installment of his Cerulean Sanctum series on Christians and business:

Plenty of fingers point in thousands of directions by well-meaning Christians attempting to out the causes of the cultural death-throes we see around us. Yet the fact that our business practices may be a major component of the downward spiral is never questioned by Christians. Christian authors write Christian books about how to be Christian business leaders without ever questioning if the fundamental structure of business itself is hopelessly broken. Well-known pastors hold up Christian business leaders as examples, particularly to men, but never ask if the very system those leaders uphold is deviant at its core.

Dan's series offers a valuable perspective on the relationship of business and the Kingdom of God. The best thing I can say about the latest post is this: Read it. Please.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The need for theology

Doug McHone at CoffeeSwirls offers a simple defense of the need for theology in the church, despite an aversion to doctrinal matters in some quarters.

If you take the teachings about God, His expectations, His glory and other factors out of the church and make it into a weekly affair of the emotions only, you begin to have shallow Christianity that cannot be taken seriously enough for any culture to be changed. Suppressing theology from the church is akin to suppressing the use of words in English 101. If the church does not teach the congregation, who will?

Far too much theology divides rather than builds up the body of Christ. But some doctrines--the holiness and love of God, the sinfulness of humanity, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ---are essential for every Christian to understand. That's why we preach to the saints as well as the lost.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Responding to the book meme

The Lord My Dad's Soldado De Oracion has tagged me on the book meme. I'm honored, and I hope you'll forgive me for taking the blog a little off-topic with this post.

Total number of books I've owned ever: To borrow an abbreviation from ninth grade biology lab: TNC (too numerous to count)

Last book I bought: The Streets of Lexington by Winifred Hadsel (Lexington, VA: Rockbridge County Historical Society, 1985). Back home in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, I worked as a geographic historian with a special interest in the history of roads (go ahead, laugh). Here in Lexington somebody has actually written a book about the history of the town's streets. Woo-hoo!

Last book I read: Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman (I don't know the rules; can a meme have hyperlinks?). Dr. Seligman's book was recommended by Jollyblogger's David Wayne, and now that I'm halfway through it, I have hope that I will one day finish the whole thing.

Five books that mean a lot to me:
1. The Bible.
2. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. When I was eleven, it introduced me to the great struggle of good against evil in Middle Earth. At a time when I was rejecting the church as I perceived it, the trilogy helped me to devote my heart to goodness, in whatever form it took.
3. Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric (third edition) by Howard Kahane. When I was sixteen years old this book gave me the comfort of knowing I was not the only person troubled by insincere language, and that just about every rhetorical flaw I could think of already had a name.
4. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. When I was a young Christian struggling with the intellectual foundations of the faith, the scene of Puddleglum in front of the witch's fireplace stirred my heart like no other in all literature, before or since.
5. Preacher by Milton Stanley. I poured my heart into this novel, and I really love the protagonist, Jason Sain. The fact that so few people have read his story make me love him even more.

This was fun, but now I don't know what to do. The five-more routine reminds me of a chain letter. Plus this thing's been going so long, I don't remember who's already done it. I think I'll tag two guys whose work I really like when they actually get around to posting: Floydville and The Pastor's Buzz. The other three--well, I don't want to leave anyone out, so please tell me if you want to be tagged. You won't be egotistical for asking. Update: I've also tagged Unveiled Face (one of the best-named Christian blogs, BTW), and Gad(d)about (which, although I've been reading it regularly for months, somehow eluded my blogroll till today).

The "gaping need for evangelism"

Brad at The Broken Messenger has this observation about Western Christians and the occupation of Iraq:

So far, I have heard little to nothing as to how the church plans to respond to the Iraqi issue. Whether you agree with the war or not at this point is moot, but how we Christians plan to address the huge, gaping need for evangelism and ministry in Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc. is a completely different issue. Sure, we can be politically involved, but are we to detach ourselves from the spiritual issues as well?

It really is an amazing thing to consider if we apply some introspection here. Here we have multiple avenues to spread the Gospel in ways only dreamed about in past decades, and the church today looks at the region with little more than shrugged shoulders in the hopes that our interests and ideologies are satisfied and met over here in the U.S. and in Iraq, while a cornerstone of our faith is ignored. The Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed and accepted widely in the Middle East? Now that would truly be revolutionary.

Brad has shown me that my own thinking is inadequate on the relationship of world events and world missions. Is anyone else troubled by the concerns Brad has raised?

The cross: God the Father getting what he deserves

Believer Blog's Rusty Peterman offers this thought from Jim Mcguiggan: the crucifixion is not only about Jesus getting what we deserve; it's about the Father getting what he deserves.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Another go-to site for Christian scholarship

Here's another site for finding writings of Christian scholars and theologians. The site is maintained by Andrew Goddard, tutor in Christian ethics at Oxford, and contains links to several of my favorites, including Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, George Lindbeck, and John Howard Yoder. It's a very clear, clean layout with oustanding resources.

More on interpreting scripture

Peter Bogert of Stronger Church has more to say on preaching and biblical interpretation. The comments section is pretty interesting, too.

Managing murder

Brad at 21st Century Reformation looks at what it means for the Christian to have a true heart of mercy. He considers the many ways Christians harbor resentment and animosity in our hearts and makes this stop-you-in-your-tracks observation: "Hidden resentment is just managed murder."

How can we be saved from a heart filled with the propensity to be so easily disturbed? Why do we pick up our weapons and defend ourselves? The first step is to reveal to ourselves that the resentments are there and that unless we can replace these resentments with mercy we shall be of little use to Christ and His kingdom. Here is the beginning movements of our hearts toward finding more of God and a heart of mercy.

I so much appreciate Brad's words on the subject, because it affirms what I am dealing with in my own life and congregation. Only when we confess our weakness do we accept our need for God's grace. And when we make that confession, we open ourselves to overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit. To confess our weakness is to give up the illusion of managing our own discipleship. When we accept that in our own flesh we fail, we open ourselves to the peace that comes from knowing God's grace is sufficient, and that his power is perfected in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). An appreciation of that peace, in turn, opens us to joy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Business, discipleship, and worldview

Dan Edelen has smacked another extra-base hit with his latest installment on the church and the business world.

Links to Christian scholars

Here's a cool resource: Christian Scholars blog, compiled by Angus Nicolson, includes links to the web sites of one hundred Christian scholars (HT: . . . I don't remember!). The site has annotated links to websites of David Black, Thomas Constable, Norman Geisler, Conrad Gempf, Mark Goodacre, Alan Hultberg, Bill Loader, Scot McKnight. Jerome H. Neyrey, John Mark Reynolds, and ninety others.

While at Angus's place I also found a link to Sites Unseen, where Mike Morrell and Philip Scriber have compiled hundreds of "the best Jesus-infused sites you never knew about." Their Important and Treasured Writings From Excellent Authors section includes links to outstanding Christians writers, including one of my favorites, Stanley Hauerwas.

The rise of Jesus, CEO

Dan at Cerulean Sanctum continues his series on Jesus and the business world. His most recent installment looks at the post-World War I United States and how social Darwinism, eugenics, and the idea of "Jesus, CEO" helped shape a view in which the church assimilated the views and values of business.

Even today, the fallout of this mentality reigns in Corporate America. People work eight or more hours a day in an environment controlled by a worldview that is, quite simply, anti-Christian, yet few understand the pernicious nature of the worldview governing most of our work. . . . In Christian circles, particularly in men's groups, the business mantra is to be a "leader." However, more often than not, "leader" does not mean "servant," but rather "the one who made it to the top of the food chain." Jesus is looking for disciples and it is the nature of disciples to be followers. But the average Christian bookstore would quickly fold if it sold Christian business books that claimed to teach people (men especially) how to be good followers.

Dan's series is important, I think, because it's shedding light on how much of the church's worldview is not truly in line with the mind of Christ.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Adrian's cooking up something big

Adrian Warnock promises to announce something big in the Christian blogosphere soon. He's teasing us with announcements of an annoucement but is mum on what, exactly, is coming.

One thing that I can tell you is that the size of the Blogdom of God Alliance which I administrate over at TLB is going to explode dramatically. I have now gathered over TWO and a HALF THOUSAND christian blogs. I am now trying to establish if there are any I have missed.

Stay tuned.

"The Bible is not a personal love letter from God"

Peter at Stronger Church has followed up his earlier post on poor expository sermons with this one explaining why expository lessons disconnected from the original meaning of the biblical text are a problem:

There are a number of reasons why this kind of interpretation/application of a passage is problematic. . . but let me note one thing in particular that we need to keep in mind when we preach or teach: We model how to read the Bible to our people.

If this is the approach we use for a text, what are we teaching them? We are modeling a highly suspect subjective approach to Scripture that makes "what I think it says" or "what it says to me" or even the highly pious-sounding but still dubious "what the Spirit led me to think" the authority rather than the text itself. How can we encourage our people to deal with the objective truth of Scripture when we model subjectivity?

More than a modernistic view of objective truth is at stake in our interpretation, however. As Peter explains, the Bible was given for the church and for the world, not for isolated individuals.

Despite what our "every promise in the book is mine" individual-American mind thinks, the Bible is not a personal love letter from God. It is a book written to a community, teaching the same thing to every individual of the community. Certainly there are applications to a passage that strike us differently, but let's realize that what we are reading is already the product of the Holy Spirit. Frankly there is enough there to hold us accountable and guide our lives and thinking without having to bend the meaning of the text to "get something personal" out of it.


Monday, June 13, 2005

The fracturing effect of youth ministry

Cerulean Sanctum's Dan Edelen looks back at the Industrial Revolution and its effects on the church, particularly in youth ministry. His conclusions are not cheery:

Youth ministry's long-term effect has been to take a family already fractured by societal changes caused by business practices coined during the Industrial Revolution and fracture it even further. While there is no doubt that on a granular level youth ministry has been effective in the lives of individuals (I include myself here), studies by researchers like George Barna have shown that, on the whole, the net effect of youth ministry today has been negligible on the spiritual and emotional welfare of youth. . . . We must consider whether the youth ministry model that was initially developed more than a hundred and sixty years ago is still valid.

The problems of youth ministry are compounded by the fact that it eventually sought to distance itself from conventional, whole-family ministry. In its infancy, youth ministry attempted to make the best of a bad situation in the lives of youth living far from home, but this is no longer the case. Most youth ministries in churches today appear to pride themselves on the fact they offer teens a chance to get away from their families and hang out with other teens. The net effect here has been that the typical youth minister has become the substitute parent for many teens. Since youth ministry tends to have its own separate teaching component, the incidental effect has been that parents have abdicated the Christian teaching role for their teens. This further alienates family members and leads to a loss of parental authority and respect.

Wow. Those are pretty strong assertions. Whether or not youth ministry is a worthwhile effort depends on a variety of factors; Dan has brought to light issues that, as far as I know, aren't being given a lot of thought in the church at large. What do you think?

Genesis 21 resources at Textweek

Jenee has posted a wide assortment of Genesis 21 resources at Textweek.

Reaching out to the frenzied

Mark Daniels looks at Mt. 9:35-38 and reflects on the gospel's appeal to the frenzied:

After seeing the desperate crowds of people around Him, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

Translation: We’re surrounded by people whose lives and experiences make them ripe for knowing Jesus. They need Jesus. Pray, Jesus says, for people who care enough about others that they’re willing to bring them to me. Who care enough to pray for them. Care enough to invite them to worship or a small group. To invite them out for coffee and conversation, or give them a book like a study Bible. Pray for people who will continue my work, who, everywhere they go, will teach people about Me, tell others the Good News of new life for all who follow Me, Who will bring healing and help to everyone.

For years I've read this passage simply as an appeal to get out there and get to work evangelizing. But Mark's "translation" brings out a central theme that had somehow eluded me. Did you catch it? Pray.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The "real" justification for Christian porn

KP at The Christian Mind, reflecting on Sommers & Satel's One Nation Under Therapy, looks at how the idea of "the real me" allows a professing Christian to commit just about any sin and still hold to the belief that "the real me" is a moral person. Just ask porn star Mary Carey.

Posting again at To the Word

Well, I've posted my first sermon text in three months at To the Word. It's about the example of Jesus on the cross.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Are you Christ's donkey?

Stronger Church, citing an anecdote from Ramesh Richard, has posted a humorous example of eisegesis of Lk. 19:29-40.

Is theology our god?

Tim Challies considers: at what point does theology become idolatry? He comes to several conclusions, including this one:

Perhaps we can best determine intent by looking at the results of our study of God. What is the result of your study? When you study theology are you brought to your knees in awe at the power and holiness of God? Do you feel righteous indignation at those who speak falsehood in the name of God? Or do you feel pride in your knowledge? Do you find yourself thinking about who you are going to use your newfound theology against, or do you find yourself anxious to turn that knowledge into practice in your own life? Are you seeking to apply theology to your life or to the lives of others?

As with all of Tim's articles, it's well written, and I recommend it.

Friday, June 10, 2005

"You can't win with miracles"

Have you ever heard the argument that Gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection are unreliable because Jesus appeared only to believers? Conrad Gempf has posted a brief, elegant answer. How, Conrad points out, could anyone not be a believer after seeing Jesus alive from the dead?
You can't win with miracles. One of the problems with them is that they are -- almost by definition -- not subject to objective independent verification. PLenty of the more mundane details in the Bible are open to ordinary investigation. And I'll tell you from my experience researching Acts and the Gospels, they check out. The Bible was never meant to be primarily a book of facts. But I think you'll find it trustworthy.
More trustworthy, in fact, than any other book of antiquity.

The centuries-long influence of who?

Daniel Sullivan writes about how pervasively and persistently seventeenth-century minister Philip Jakob Spener has influenced North American Protestantism and life in general (HT: Christianity Today Weblog).

Spener articulated the central ideas that shape not only American religion, but the American personality. For Spener and the generation of evangelists he inspired, three principal concerns seemed to crowd out most others. The first was that the people of the church--the laity--should have a voice with the appointed caretakers--the priests--in its direction. The second . . . was the importance of the emotional experience of the faith--in particular, of a conversion as the pivotal experience of a Christian's life. Finally, the practice of Christianity superseded knowledge of its dogma. These seem typical of American attitudes: a resistance to a hierarchy that claims moral authority, a sentimental religiosity that tests convictions primarily by personal experience, and an emphasis on living a Christian (or perhaps merely virtuous) life according to how one feels rather than what one thinks.

American Christianity is famously inventive and free-wheeling. And while it might seem self-evident to do so, commentators seldom explain the state of American religion as a product of religious history.

Sullivan's article is valuable in helping Christians immersed in the particular values of North American Protestantism (like I am) to see how views of discipleship change through the centuries. And that knowledge helps break the tyranny of believing that our pet way of envisioning the faith is the only way.

"Tremendous opportunities for Christians"

In his ongoing series on The DaVinci Code, Rusty Peterman of Believer Blog suggests ways the book and movie may provide a boost to Christian discipleship and evangelism.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Roadkill evangelism

Eternal Perspectives' Mike Russell has posted a challenging message on what roadkill tells us about the Kingdom of God:
Death is a stark reality, a fact we are shielded from in our “civilized” (”sanitized”) society. Few of us have watched someone die before our eyes or seen the lifeless, baby-doll eyes of a corpse. We don’t fully comprehend the punctuation point at the end of our life sentence; as a result, we don’t really appreciate life or death as we should.
Yet death is at the center of the good news of Jesus Christ. Mike's an outstanding writer, and I recommend the whole article here.

The blessings of spiritual poverty

Brad at 21st Century Reformation reflects on the blessings of spiritual poverty. Blessings come to the Christian who admits his or her own poorness of spirit. And that means admitting our own spiritual shortcomings:

In fact, when I see my own sickness, it is so easy to see that the whole world is insane. So many people walk in this sickness, just like I am prone to, but I have a secret. I believe that Jesus can free me and lead me, through His teachings, into a truly happy and heavenly quality of life that is totally free from this sickness.
It's good to remember, particularly if we devote our lives to proclaiming Christ, that God's power "is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). In our weakness before a loving and empowering God, Christians find our own power and new life.

The intersection of discipleship and business

Dan at Cerulean Sanctum has begun a series on an important but neglected issue in Western Christianity: a Christian approach to business. Part 2 looks at economic systems and asserts that capitalism is the best--but with a few qualifications:

I don't think that God is all that interested in economics. . . He is always concerned with the righteousness of how we do business (Proverbs alone, for instance, reminds us numerous times that God is vehemently against fraudulent weights and measures), but the actual system that we conduct our business under is less focused.

Dan acknowledges that "no economic system functions justly in a fallen world. His conclusion?

We need to deal humbly before the Lord in every business transaction we conduct and I think this, more than the type of economic system we labor in, pleases God.
Today's Part 3 considers the nature of work itslef. There's also a series introduction, and Part 1 deals with Dan's qualifications for writing the series. I look forward to the rest of the series, where Dan promises to explore a ''radically different" work ethic for Christians.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Obedience and success

What makes a successful sermon? Brian at Sycamore has an answer: "success is obedience, and obedience is success."

Obedience, not legalism

Debra at As I See it Now reflects on how Christian obedience has unjustly developed a bad reputation among some Christians as being "legalism":

Not legalism--no... no... no! True excellence, true obedience is not legalism and it grieves me lately how often some excellence is immediately hushed and harshly, wrongly labeled legalism (but that's another post). Rather, obedience and real excellence are a deep, deep desire from the heart to serve God.... to do what He tells you, even if no one else is doing that one thing... It's a response to a heart-change only an excellent God could make in a woman or man.

Perhaps the most counter-intuitive lesson of Christian discipleship is that good works don't save us. Once we grasp that truth, however, we are under a calling of obedience to God. The deep desire to live a life of obedience, as Debra suggests, is a joy of discipleship.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Preaching and teaching discipleship

Brad Hightower's sixth thesis at 21st Century Reformation is worth reading about:

Those who preach and teach in the church must possess the kingdom and understand the teachings of Jesus by experience if they are to lead others into the kingdom life and if the church is to bring the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world.

Our mission, Brad explains, is discipleship.

Catez on Sudan

Catez at AllThings2All has a good roundup today of what's happening in Darfur, Sudan.

Voiding the misuse of Isaiah 55:11

Along the lines of the recent post on preaching and art, Jeff at Anti-Itch Meditation reminds preachers and teachers that Isaiah 55:11 is not a license for delivering poor lessons. Jeff says he's heard too many teachers cite Is. 55:11 as an excuse for a boring message.

This is when I feel like screaming and yelling and pulling my hair out. Isaiah 55:11 was not written as an excuse to butcher God's word or make it irrelevant and still console yourself that it'll do some good.

Jeff reminds us that Isaiah's words were given for a particular purpose: "to remind the people of Israel that what God said about the future is going to happen, so shape up!" It sounds like that message might be helpful to some of us preachers and teachers, too.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Blog crash

All but about five lines of my template were erased today, and I'm in the process of rebuilding it manually. The lesson here: backup your template.

Preaching as art

In his preaching series at Sycamore, Brian Colmery makes a case for preaching as an art:

Good preaching is accomplished when a man speaks the word of God. Great preaching occurs when a man takes the scripture and sculpts with it, paints it, divides it properly and lays it in front of the people along with his own life.

Lately I've been leaning away from technique and more toward the Holy Spirit as the source of power in preaching. Brian's post has got me thinking about how Spirit and technique interact. What do you think?

Martial arts and ministry

Any other Christian martial artists out there? If so, you might enjoy reading what Jack Magruder's martial arts training has taught him about Christian discipleship.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

New Warnie winner

Phil Johnson at Pyromaniac is the latest Warnie winner, and he recently posted his Warnie acceptance speech.

Overcoming Christian consumerism

At The Ooze Mark Van Steenwyk discusses consumerism and Christianity. In addition to the consumerism that pervades society, there are dangers of viewing discipleship through a consumeristic paradigm:

Consumerism is the Spirit of our Age. We look at all things through its lens. Everything from goods--to relationships--to our God, falls victim to the consumerist impulse, and is thus commodified. . . . the challenge is for us to change the way we understand our ownership of resources, to change the way we understand our relationship to the larger world. We must stop viewing ourselves as autonomous and sovereign consumers, and begin to authentically understand ourselves as stewards or trustees.

Mark describes perspectives that arise from moving beyond the lens of consumerism: remembering that everything we own belongs to God, that relationships are not commodities, and that "churches are not dispensers of goods and services." Finally, he leaves us with this thought:

Our God isn't the ultimate commodity. We don't see Jesus. We don't buy-in to belief. Our response to God is one of worship. He consumes us.


What five would you choose?

Peter Bogert at Stronger Church has begun a discussion on sermon preparation. Peter asks: If you had only five books to take with you to prepare for sermons, and the rest were going elsewhere, which five would you choose?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The skinny on current sermon series

Adrian Warnock has posted a roundup of in-process sermon series being posted on the Internet.

Preaching resource: Ray C. Stedman Library

The late Ray Stedman's expository sermon texts are a fine resource for sermon preparation. Stedman had a gift of finding relevant truth for today in the biblical text, and for explaining the text in simple, convincing language. Hundreds of his sermon texts are available online at the Ray C. Stedman Library.

I've drawn on Stedman's insights for my own sermons but recommend his work with one qualification: Stedman had a habit of preaching interpretation with the same confidence as the text itself, particularly on background and introductory matters. He made the text easy to understand, but sometimes at the cost of oversimplification. If preachers can resist the temptation to let Stedman do our exposition for us, however, his work can be a boost to our own.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Matthew 9 resources at Textweek

Textweek has posted online resources for preaching Matthew 9 here and here.

The "sordid mess" of Jedi spirituality

Steve Kellmeyer has written a thought-provoking essay on the spiritual bankruptcy of Star Wars: Episode III:

In short, the whole series is not the clear-cut clash of good against evil that attracted thousands in the 1970’s. Instead, it is transformed into a sordid mess, a series of stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons.

Mr. Kellmeyer takes a different approach than I did in my recent post on Star Wars, but I do think he's on to something.