Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New blog from "Mr. Standfast" creator

Bob of Mr. Standfast fame has started a new blog, Gratitude and Hoopla. If it's anything like his other blog, it will be a favorite of mine very soon.

God and human suffering

Dr. Andy Jackson asks a thought-provoking question at SmartChristian blog: Does God suffer less when we lessen human suffering? I'm intersted in hearing responses to that question. If you have anything to add, please go to SmartChristian blog and join the discussion. Update: I hope you have better success than I have posting at SmartChristian. For months the site has consistently rejected my comments.

I imagine some things never change

Scot McKnight and Brad Boydston have begun reviewing Doug Pagitt new book, Preaching Re-imagined. You can read the first installment here.

I especially enjoyed this insight from Brad on preaching by the OT prophets:
The OT prophets often spoke against the community and would have thought it nonsense to engage the community in the process of coming up with the word. For them, the problem WAS the community and they had a message from God that needed to be communicated to the community regardless of whether the community heard or understood. They were driven by an individual mandate from God. These were often INDIVIDUALS speaking down to the community in a society which valued community above the individual. In other words, it was quite out of sync with how the culture functioned.
Yep. The process, the situation, and the calling may be different today, but being out of sync is the nature of good preaching.

Update: Part 2 and Part 3 are now online.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Dialogic preaching

Brian Colmery has begun looking at dialogic preaching at Sycamore:
Preliminary evaluation: dialogic preaching can be a good thing. What we need is a theologically sound definition, and we are working towards one now. We have two boundaries (one, really): God’s word must be allowed to stand as authoritative over and above the thoughts, emotions, or logical arguments of those in the congregation. And over the preacher.
Why not visit Sycamore and dialogue on the subject?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Sorry, friends

In response to a sharp increase in comment spam, I've added word verification to the comments section of this blog. Sorry to add that little layer of extra keystrokes to the process, but I really appreciate your real comments and don't want them swallowed up by a sea of spam. Thanks for reading, and may you be blessed by reflections at this site on the transforming power of the Word.

Godly anger

Jeff at anti-itch meditation considers Eph. 4:26 and godly anger. Do Christians believe anger is somehow inconsistent with the new nature? Well, Jesus certainly didn't seem to think so:
Read Matthew 23 and tell me Jesus wasn’t angry. Look at the cleansing of the temple, the cursing of the fig tree, the impatience with his slow disciples who ask about their seats in heaven instead of worrying about whether their seats will make it there to begin with.

Jesus had an underlying anger and frustration with life--yet He never sinned.

Boy do I feel that anger. Sin has messed up our world. God made this place beautiful and lovely, it was all good and stupid bonehead satan comes and ruins the place. He takes life and makes it miserable. He took nature and made it corrupt. He took God’s perfection and stained it.
There's a reason Jeff is feeling anger: his father is dealing with terminal cancer.

The treasure of street preaching

Chris Erdman has written at Odyssey about the value of street preaching. It's certainly the pattern of preachers in the Bible:
. . .the Word, while it did find itself from time to time inside religious buildings, was most at home out beyond them. And this kind of street preaching (the only kind of preaching most of these preachers ever knew) was always offered in service to forming a people who with their bodies made known the Word in the midst of daily life.
What about in contemporary Western culture?
In our day, street preaching has become a caricature. Images of doomsday prophets on street corners, tract toting evangelists working feverishly and not too differently from ticket scalpers at the entrance to a stadium, and sweaty, shrill, wild-eyed harbingers of God-knows-what fill our minds when we think of street preaching. And if most of us preachers ever think on such things, we quickly dismiss this kind of preaching as an aberration, something beneath our skills, or at the very least something a long way from our interests.

The caricature humiliates the Word because the street is its natural habitat and street preaching cannot be . . . relegated to the fringe of the church’s life or to the most bizarre of its witnesses. The Word lives amid all the ordinariness of daily life. The fact that so much preaching and Bible study is done inside the safe confines of church buildings is a testimony to the aberration preaching has become and the degree to which the Word is humiliated in our day. Street preaching must be reclaimed from this caricature, but that doesn’t mean that preaching on the street will ever be fashionable in American or anywhere else.
Amen. Well, guys, who's ready to start proclaiming on the street?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The imperceptible arc of transformation

This blog is dedicated to transformation, and Dan Edelen has written a fine article at Cerulean Sanctum on accepting the speed (or apparent lack thereof) of its progress:
Sanctification is a process; we "are being transformed," not we "are transformed immediately." The light of the Holy Spirit flicks on in that place of our formerly dead spirit and we are justified, but that soul of ours is still in need of a heap o' work. Years of it, in fact.

That's a message worth remembering.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The power of confession

Matt Self's recent post on confession in a friend's church has been getting quite a bit of attention among Christian blogs. It's such an excellent example of the power of confession that I want to link to it also, along with some comments on Acts 19:18-20.

Notice what happened in Acts? When the Ephesian Christians confessed their sins and took action in repentance, then "the word of the Lord continued to prevail and increase mightily." I pray the same thing will happen in our congregations today.

Christians as contrarians

The Broken Messenger has posted a fine article on how the Christian life is foolishness to the world. Is the Christian way really a life of mindless conformity, in opposition to the enlightened skepticism of the intellectual? Brad doesn't think so:
. . . boiled down, Christians are contrarians to the world’s general point of view. Often it is perceived that the progressive, the individualist, the intellectual and the separatist are the ones moving counter to cultural norms and to the traditional views of society. It is they, so they claim, who . . . champion freethinking, personal liberties and individuality. In reality, however, they are only attempting to grab the latest trend, counter-trend, or the vision of something greater than themselves in order to satisfy their dreams, to bring them health, to find inner peace or to gain wealth - all of which leads to one common thing and to fuel one ordinary hope that is neither new nor revolutionary: to draw attention to one's self.

Christians (that is, those who do not merely "play church") believe that God is to be the ultimate center of attention. It is the pursuit of God that is embraced to be the worthwhile cause. Instead of expending energies to please themselves, they seek to devote their time and attention to serving those things that promote Him and that proclaim Him. They see truth not as what is defined by the shifting sands of a skeptical and indecisive world, but defined instead by the foundation of God Himself. So it is that the Bible (believed as the Word of God) is the benchmark by which all truth is to be gauged, instead of a standard that is reliant upon the senses and capabilities of a humanity that is prone to habitual error and is in constant disagreement.
Amen, amen, and amen.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The startling power of the word

Karl Barth’s writings on interpreting the Word of God are an idol-shattering response to the kind of liberalism that was threatening the church in the early twentieth century (and still threatens today). Churches in Barth’s day had tried to tame the Word, to use it to justify the status quo of the world. In every age, it seems, human beings use the Bible to find the evidence for what they want to believe and practice anyway.

Barth understood that in the Bible is the very Word of God, yet human sin may keep that truth from penetrating our hearts. In his essay, “The Strange New World Within the Bible,” Barth wrote:
The Bible gives to every man and to every era such answers to their questions as they deserve. We shall always find in it as much as we seek and no more: high and divine content if it is high and divine content that we seek; transitory and “historical” content, if it is transitory and “historical” content that we seek—nothing whatever, if it is nothing whatever that we seek.
If we dare, however, to seek the Word of God, we’ll find the answer is far higher than we imagined—bigger and more powerful than we know how to deal with on our own. The Word, in short, is Jesus Christ, with his call to die to self and live a new life in Him.

The job of the Christian is not to make the Bible “relevant” to the world in which we live. The Christian, rather, is called to make his or her heart open to the “strange new world” the Bible presents. In other words, we do not use the Word as much as we allow the Word to use us, to reshape us. To do that, we have to approach the Bible with faith. Barth said,
The Holy Scriptures will interpret themselves in spite of all our human limitations. We need only dare . . . to grow out beyond ourselves toward the highest answer. This daring is faith; and we read the Bible rightly, not when we do so with false modesty, restraint, and attempted sobriety, for these are passive qualities, but when we read it in faith.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Laughing with God

At CoffeeSwirls Doug McHone writes (at the same time) about God's omnipotence and sense of humor. I liked it so much, I'm going to quote liberally from it:
When we look out at nature, we see all kinds of animals that don’t fit into the mold that we think they should be in. Giraffes, penguins, platypuses and others just don’t make sense to us, and that’s great! You see, if humans were to design and create different species, we would end up with a pretty boring world. If you don’t believe me, just look at the cars we have designed in the last decade. And after you get a picture of a normal car in your mind, picture a jelly bean with wheels!

God designed this world in which we live to express His glory to us. We are to enjoy His creation as we worship the creator. He doesn’t make mistakes and every unusual creature has a place. This includes you and me as well. I don’t always feel that I fit in with others, but with the knowledge that God has created me for a purpose comforts me. I may not be a lion, tiger or bear (oh my!), but my giraffeness shines through as I fill the role that God intends for me.

On Sabbath

Shizuka Blog, with a little help from Dallas Willard, writes on the treasures of solitude, silence and fasting.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Reading it ourselves

Paul at Caught in the Middle looks at what happens when preachers "challenge the symbols of the faith." He gives examples both from Jesus' ministry and from his own. What does he find?
. . . if you are going to take your clues as to what to believe from your parents, grandparents or that preacher you loved growing up without testing and proving it by the Bible and in light of it's historical development then you may, like those religious people in Jesus day, miss God as he stands there in front of you. It was their firmly-held traditional interpretations of the Old Testament that prevented most in Jesus' day from seeing him as the one God had been promising sent to set the world aright.
What about today? Paul gives one example.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Transforming blogroll

I've cleaned up my blogroll to eliminate non-reciprocal links. If I deleted a link to your blog in error, or if I've never added your link, please let me know. I'm always happy to add reciprocal links.

On this page I've also deleted the Terri Schiavo blogroll. As much as I enjoyed being part of the efforts to save Mrs. Schiavo, I don't want to use her awful ordeal to further my linkage.

It's now been about two months, by the way, since I checked my ranking on the TTLB Ecosystem, Christian Top 1000, Blogdom of God, or Site Meter. I like people to read my blog, but checking my standing had become an absurd (and a-Christian) waste of time.

What's at the center of our faith?

Jason Retherford, with the help of Nicholas Townsend, comments on the danger of an "instrumental" view of the church (and no, it has nothing to do with music). One of the problems ministers face, says Jason,
. . .is portraying the importance of a faith that has as its center Jesus Christ and not the individual. When we take Jesus out of the center of things, when we are more concerned with what God can do for "me", when we aren't concerned with the process of discipleship, when we divide our lives into neat categories, we are left with a less than Biblical idea of faith, one that misses the mark of what the Gospel of Jesus intends for all who embrace such truth.
Preaching Christ as a means for getting our lives in order is appealing, simple, effective, and profoundly flawed. Preaching Christ as the Alpha and Omega who turns our lives upside down, on the other hand, helps give birth to new creations.

Prayer as relationship

Jim Street's been hitting longballs lately on prayer. Consider this post:
Prayer is the substance of our relationship with God.

To look at prayer in that way is to reframe the conversation from one about the external rewards of prayer (i.e. whether our prayers are answered, etc.) to the intrinsic value of prayer (i.e. prayer as a value in itself)

I do not spend time talking with my wife because it pays in some external rewards. ("Hey, maybe if I talk to her she will make my favorite dish for dinner!"). I spend time talking with her because conversing is an intrinsic component of our relationship.
Amen. Jim also offers ten bits of advice for avoiding the "chatterbox monkeys" that interrupt our prayer.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Conformed or transformed?

Mike at Eternal Perspectives shares his own journey from freak to respectable Christian. He then considers Rom. 12:2 and what it means not to be conformed to the world:
The church in general has been domesticated and boiled like the proverbial frog. We may cause some consternation politically from time to time, but we are no threat to the system itself because we have become the system and the system has become us. Our message is about preserving and protecting what we have, not about being willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And Mike drops this truth-bomb:
The church since the Enlightenment has subscribed to and become immersed in modernism; the Emergent church now seeks to move away from modernism and to embrace a postmodern stance. Either way, however, it is simply the church absorbing and being absorbed by the philosophy of the day. One is no better than the other: they are both worldly, only in different ways.
Mike shares his own anguish in seeing how worldiness has invaded his own life. How many of the rest of us, if we were really honest, could say the same?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

"It is written"

At Odyssey, Chris Erdman writes about preaching during politically charged times. The challenge, particularly during heated elections, is "to form congregations that remain more serious about discipleship than about the party affiliations and political opinions that could easily divide them," Chris notes. And here's his conclusion:
Preaching is always risky business and there may be no riskier time than when the nation’s needs loom large. But there may be no time more important for the church to be the church and for preachers to preach the Word. When we preach during a time of national election (or at any other time of political significance), we preach Jesus Christ and by doing so form congregations loyal first to Christ and who therefore can hold their political affiliations loosely. It is terribly easy for preachers to unwittingly allow the Word of God to be domesticated and nationalized—and there’s been too much of that tomfoolery in recent times. But it’s far more than tomfoolery, it’s a sin against Jesus Christ and his church; it puts the church in danger, and if the church is in danger than so is the nation.
Chris gives a personal example of putting these ideas into practice in his own preaching. The account is well worth reading.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Knowledge and love

Jeff at Anti-itch Meditation has been looking this week at 1 Cor. 13 and the idea of knowledge puffing up. Knowledge need not be in opposition or contrast to love, Jeff points out. In fact . . .
Knowledge of God comes first. "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. (Philippians 3:10)" Learn it, love it, live it.
You can read Jeff's original posts here, here, and here.

Preaching truth conferences coming

Michael Duduit of Preaching magazine will be leading preaching conferences at various locations around the United States between now and Christmas. The theme is "Preaching Truth in a Whatever World." Here's more information.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

On leaves, walking, and grace

If you have two minutes to savor a sweet little post, then read one of Debra's latest at As I See It Now. Today is a hectic one for me, and I appreciate the pause her writing gave me.

Links on Darfur

As a follow-up to the first Darfur Collection, Catez at Allthings2all is collecting links for blog posts on Darfur.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What we have here . . .

Writing at Connexions, Bene Diction comments on a recent Harper's article on what North Americans believe about the Bible. Preachers, it's sobering stuff and something to think about when we consider our preaching and teaching.

Political, traditionalist, or faithful?

Audience One has been on a streak this week with long-ball, gospel-centered posts. Here's a long quote on church growth and spiritual emphasis:
Seven highly effective habits of the Contemporary Church that almost always guarantee church growth with very little spiritual impact:
1. Go political, not biblical
2. Go pragmatic, not theological
3. Go psychological, not discipleship
4. Go anthropocentric, not Christocentric
5. Go postmodern, not transcendent
6. Go “share your story”, not “all for His glory”
7. Go sickness, not sin; go disease not, disobedience

Seven highly effective habits of the Traditional Church that almost always guarantee church stagnation with very little spiritual impact:
1. Go traditional, not spiritual
2. Go legalistic, not grace
3. Go corporate, not community
4. Go “count converts”, not “make disciples”
5. Go pastoral/elder ruler, not shepherd/servant leader
6. Go more information, not Christlikeness
7. Go programs, not prayer

Seven highly effective habits of the Biblical Church that almost always guarantee God’s blessing and spiritual impact:
1. Go supremacy of God and His glory in worship
2. Go sola fide, sola scriptura, sola gratia, solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria
3. Go The Great Commission and the Two Great Commandments
4. Go take care of the poor, the widow and the orphan
5. Go discipline of sin
6. Go pray without ceasing
7. Go equip the saints for the work of the ministry
Which set of habits best describes your congregational leadership?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Remember to go to the source

Kim at the upward call offers some bracing reflections on the derivative nature of blogging:
We ought not to fall into the trap of relying upon tenth-hand ideas. There is nothing wrong with reading blogs and websites, but that is not an adequate substitute for reading Scripture, prayer and our own personal study. We can even do this with our computers off.


Quote of the day

Mike Murdock's blog has the quote of the day (even if he did post it yesterday).

Monday, August 15, 2005

Power, love, and self-discipline

Mr. Standfast consistently offers strong devotional readings of the Word. This week Bob offers valuable insights into 2 Timothy 1:7.

Preaching as worship

In a three-part blog series this past week Albert Mohler discussed the decline of expository preaching in evangelical churches (Thanks to Peter at Stronger Church for pointing to this series). Part one looks at the dangers of downplaying the role of preaching in corporate worship:
Though most evangelicals mention the preaching of the word as a necessary or customary part of worship, the prevailing model of worship in evangelical churches is increasingly defined by music, along with innovations such as drama and video presentations. When preaching retreats, a host of entertaining innovations will take its place.
Too true, too true. In part 2, Dr. Mohler defines expository preaching and makes this observation:
Authentic Christian preaching carries a note of authority and a demand for decisions not found elsewhere in society. The solid truth of Christianity stands in stark contrast to the flimsy pretensions of postmodernity. Unfortunately, the appetite for serious preaching has virtually disappeared among many Christians, who are content to have their fascinations with themselves encouraged from the pulpit.
In part 3, Dr. Mohler challenges Fred Craddock's idea that preaching is by "one without authority":
In the final analysis, the ultimate authority for preaching is the authority of the Bible as the word of God. Without this authority, the preacher stands naked and silent before the congregation and the watching world. If the Bible is not the word of God, the preacher is involved in an act of self-delusion or professional pretension.

Expository preaching must once again be central to the life of the church and central to Christian worship. In the end, the church will not be judged by its Lord for the quality of its music but for the faithfulness of its preaching.
While I think Dr. Craddock's work is worth more attention than Dr. Mohler seems to give it, when it comes to his thoughts on the value of expository preaching, I say, "Preach on, brother!"

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Do we preach the "Jesus of Suburbia"?

At Odyssey Chris writes about the worship among North American Christians of the "Jesus of Suburbia":

... their Jesus has been fashionably refashioned to be the god of safety. "Jesus died to get me to heaven." "Jesus wants me to get others to heaven." "Jesus blesses the guns and bombs and planes and policies that keep me safe and happy until I get there." So much of this non-Christian Christianity is really about creating a safe world where I'll never have to love my enemy, deny myself my creature comforts, or die as a witness to Jesus Christ. This is a gospel but it is not the Gospel.

Week after week, year after year we break open the Text among our people, disentangling a worldly Christianity from the tales, fables, myths of a broader culture that is too often the real text we all hear and obey. And while we preach, we preachers are disentangled too--for none of us can hope to live safe from the entanglements of so many alluring counterfeits that masquerade as the real thing.
Preachers, are we up to the challenge?

Friday, August 12, 2005

The vulnerability of God

Mike Russell reflects on a startling truth from Ezekiel 6: that the sins of God's people wound God's heart.

Preaching and the cross

Coffee swirls considers the value of expository preaching and the cross:
“The Old Rugged Cross” is a favorite hymn where I come from. I imagine it is still sung in many churches today. I can’t help but wonder why it is, then, that so many churches see that rugged, ugly device and take a belt sander to it. Why smooth out edges made rough by Christ? I can appreciate the concept of removing the sting from the sermon, but there are some stings that God placed into the cross for a reason. Is it offensive? Heck yeah! But the cross is offensive so that we can guide others into the same saving faith we have without offending them on our own.

We need to preach the unvarnished gospel message to all, whether they be visitors in our service or regular attenders. There is no group in all the world that cannot profit by hearing the gospel as it is described in the Bible. Some will deny their need for such a concept, others will be drawn by the Holy Spirit due to the stark reality that is proclaimed from the pulpit. The church is not a place to get away from reality. The gospel is reality!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Balancing predestination and free will

In a similar vein to David's recent post on immanenace and transcendence, Jeff at Anti-Itch Meditation briefly outlines the problem with siding with either the Calvinistic or Arminian view of predestination:
Without getting into the debate--I believe both sides are equally true as both have biblical support and both sides are equally false when they ignore handy parts of scripture. . . . The issue centers more on people than it does on Scripture, hence the names Arminianism and Calvinism--named after two guys. When you argue the issue you are threatening heroes of the faith.
Jeff's post reminds me of this post where Mick Porter offers some sound advice:
Personally, I find it hard that we could read 1 Cor 1:12-13 and then continue to so boldly label ourselves "Calvinists" or "Arminians" or anything else:

Balancing immanence and transcendence

Jollyblogger David Wayne, quoting J. I. Packer, offers these helpful thoughts on the transcendence and immanence of God:
What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it - the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.
That image balances to me immanence and transcendence. Yes, God loves us dearly and personally, but he is the one who initiates the relationship. The idea of God knowing me is a beautiful, comforting thought. Isn't personal attention one of the greatest gifts we can give or receive? And we have God's attention all the time.

Welcome new Warnie winners

Dave Warnock and Cadmusings are the latest Warnie recipients. Well done!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Wealth in biblical and historical perspective

The current issue of Prism includes a long excerpt from Christopher A. Hall's Reading Scripture With the Church Fathers. The article offers a helpful perspective on wealth and possessions with quotes from Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Jerome, Chrysostom, and Augustine.

Godly wonder

If you've ever been accused of having know-it-all tendencies, you ought to read this post on wonder by Dan Edelen. Consider:
The man who never wonders at the mysteries of life is a man cut off from God entirely.
Do you just know Dan's wrong about this one? Then read on. Please.

More on the cross

Rob Wilkerson at Miscellanies on the Gospel offers this perspective on the cross:
The center of the gospel is forgiveness. It forgives the pain others cause us because it teaches us that God forgave the pain we caused Him. All of life has already been rearranged around the cross and there all pain finds its consummation. It is an already/not-yet consummation, of course.

Therefore, we must arrange our pains and hurts around the cross, and bring it to bear with penetration and saturation on our pains, offenses, and hurts. If we live life in such a way as to avoid pain, the Christ of the gospel is not magnified. The gospel teaches us to take risks, knowing that others will hurt us, because that same gospel teaches us that love covers a multitude of sins.

The gospel is the only remedy for those who have been hurt so many times in so many ways.
That's a long quote from Rob, and I'd like to offer one more, this one from Rob's blog description: "beholding the wondrous glory of the cross and all [its] splinters." Beautiful.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Nothing matters without it

Mr. Standfast continues to be the best cross-centered blog I've seen. This week Bob offers this gem:
The Cross. I'm sorry, but without the cross, nothing matters. On the other hand, in the light of the cross, everything else comes into perspective, takes on its proper hue and proportion.
Amen. If you've never visited Mr. Standfast, I recommend you give it a read.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The problem with stealing sermons

Thanks to Michael Duduit and Preaching Now for pointing to this article, which includes advice from D. A. Carson on the dangers of stealing sermons:
I am not referring to the almost inevitable borrowings of a person who reads a great deal, still less to the acknowledged borrowings of an honest worker, but to the wholesale reproducing of another's work as if it were your own. My concern here, however, is not so much with the immorality of such conduct as with the desperately tragic way in which it reduces preaching and the preacher, and finally robs the congregation.

The substance of a stolen sermon is doubtless as true (and as false) as when the originating preacher first said it. But here there is no honest wrestling with the text, no unambiguous play of biblical truth on human personality, no burden from the Lord beyond mere play-acting, no honest interaction with and reflection on the words of God such that the preacher himself is increasingly conformed to the likeness of Christ. Any decent public reader could do as much: it would be necessary only to supply the manuscript."
Too true.

Have we forgotten sacrifice?

Craig Williams, reflecting on the work of Eugene Peterson, considers the role of sacrifice in Christian discipleship:
When was the last time you made a true sacrifice? What was the last act that cost you something dear? Would you describe your life as sacrificial in nature? Until we do, we're just play acting at following Jesus.
Good questions. Well?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Let's be comfortable with uncertainty

Dan Edelen reflects on the place of uncertainty in the life of discipleship:
When did "I don't know" become the hardest thing for Christians to say? Why do some Christians feel compelled to answer life's every question? Some of the men through whom God spoke, men who wrote the very words of the Bible, weren't so bold as to provide a running discourse on every subject imaginable. Some had the nerve to say

Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin. --Proverbs 30:18-19 ESV

The writer of Proverbs here didn't try to erect an entire epistemology to explain these wonderful things. Why do so many Christians today think they can do better? Has God left us no enigmas at all?
Amen, Dan. In the text I'm preaching on this morning (Rom. 7:13-25), Paul admits he doesn't understand something as close at hand as his own actions. Too many arguments among Christians, it seems, are about matters we simply don't and don't need to understand right now. Is it not enough that Christians have certainty on all points that really matter: the goodness and love of God, the offering of life through his son Jesus Christ, the assurance of salvation and membership in his kingdom? Let's praise God for the simple Truth he has revealed in Jesus Christ, and trust him to take care of the rest.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The best word on church attendance

Shannon Woodward has the best response I've ever seen for those who call themselves Christians but refuse to attend church. I recommend reading her entire post.

Is your preaching an instrument of war?

Have you thought about the challenges of faithful preaching during wartime? No? Then perhaps you need to read one of Chris Erdman's latest posts:
It’s hard to keep the Word and its people free from entrapment to powers that aim to enlist God and everything else in service to their agendas. It’s hard but it is necessary. Preaching in time of war can have great power to help people keep their bearings amidst such things, but unfortunately it can also do very little—it can even become an instrument of war itself.
Too true. I'm glad to find this one.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Problems with Potter

As one who's already blogged about Harry Potter, I'm intrigued by Conrad Gempf's concerns with the Harry Potter series. Conrad has written the best and most balanced critique I've read so far. The real issue, Conrad points out, is not with the supernatural or magical issues depicted in the series. No, the issues are much more down-to-earth. Take this point, for example:
For a start, Harry is a liar. I'm surprised not to find lots of other people commenting on this. He has no compunctions at all about lying. By coming to Hogwarts he has willingly placed himself under the authority of the teachers, yet when we have a scene with Harry interacting with a teacher, he's as likely to lie as not! And I'm not just talking about Snape, whom he doesn't like and who doesn't like him, though I think that is bad enough -- shut up or do something creative or take the consequences -- but he's just as likely to lie to the characters who are thoroughly on his side like McGonagall. I don't think he lies to Dumbledore in this volume, but I'm pretty sure he has in the past. And he certainly lies to his friends and to Mrs Weasley -- characters who love him and would do anything for him. How thoroughly unnecessary! Nor is any of this portrayed as wrong or even as an annoying bad habit. This is merely, the author seems to be implying, the way one acts.
Conrad's right. I recommend his insights to any serious Harry Potter fan.

Warfare and humility

Cerulean Sanctum's Dan Edelen has been on the blogosphere's forefront in writing about Christian manhood. This month he posts about the tension between the images of Christian as warrior and as humble servant:
By nature, humility and war are a hard marriage. The examples don't come as readily as the images we get of tough, swaggering men in bullet-shredded uniforms, each with a cigar firmly clenched between his teeth, mowing down one wave after another of Nazis, flamethrower in one hand, tank gun ripped off a flaming Sherman in the other. Such men ascend through the ranks and become twelve-star generals, husbands to nubile movie starlets, and CEOs of multinationals that consume lesser companies no matter how many poison pills are consumed. That's the role model of manliness we Americans hallow. (In the American Christian world, the model's pretty much the same, though the cigar is suspect.)
I love it. Then there's this:
The problem with Christian manhood today is not that there aren't enough villages to plunder, it's that humble, stooped grandmothers are out there on their knees fighting the battles that "real" men are too proud (or lazy or weak) to fight. Too many men in our churches moan that someone stole their warrior badge. Meanwhile, Satan is plundering OUR village. And he's doing it not in the obvious places, but in the spiritual realms, the very place that prayer alone works.

True Christian warriors are men of humility and grace. They understand that only when they are weak are they strong.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Make no mistake about mistakes

A tip of the hat to Conrad Gempf for pointing me to this post by Scott Berkun on learning from our mistakes. I found this observation particularly helpful for Christians:

An implied value in many cultures is that our work represents us: if you fail a test, then you are a failure. If you make a mistake then you are a mistake (You may never have felt this way, but many people do. It explains the behavior of some of your high school or college friends). Like eggs, steak and other tasty things we are given letter grades (A, B, C, D and F) organizing us for someone else’s consumption: universities and employers evaluate young candidates on their grades, numbers based on scores from tests unforgiving to mistakes.

For anyone [who] never discovers a deeper self-identity, based not on lack of mistakes but on courage, compassionate intelligence, commitment and creativity, life is a scary place made safe only by never getting into trouble, never breaking rules and never taking the risks that their hearts tell them they need to take.

Can anyone relate? I'm reminded that, for Christians, our value comes not from what we do or even who we are, but from whose we are---children of a loving God.

Update: It's rare that I draw attention in a post to comments on that same post, but Jeff of anti-itch meditation has added some good ones to this one.

New preaching resources at Textweek blog

Jenee has begun posting again at Textweek. This week's offerings include thoughts and links to resources on Matthew 14 and Genesis 37.

No "balancing" faith and works

Mick at Unveiled Face argues against the idea of a "balance" between salvation through faith or works:
I have become far more convinced that righteous deeds are in fact required, because they are the work of God in the believer's life; therefore there is no balance at all - true faith will produce deeds that should (actually, must) be attributed to God so that God gets the glory. . .
Yep. As Mick goes on to say, that's the bottom line: God's glory.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Practicing poverty of spirit

Poverty of spirit is to Christian discipleship what the double back flip is to gymnastics, according to Brad at 21st Century Reformation. Brad gives practical advice on how to develop it (poverty of spirit, not the double-back flip).

Letting the text speak to us over time

Rob Bell, as reported by Mike DeVries (HT: Michael Duduit and Preaching Now) offers insights on preaching with passion:

Weekly teaching can be destructive to creativity.

I don't teach something that has not been a part of me for six months to a year. You need to live the text... let it ferment in your soul. People will know whether you have lived with the text. Think about it, if I asked you to talk about your wedding or something else that has changed you, would you really need notes?

As a teacher, you need to live with a text - allow it to ferment in you, take up residence in you - then connections begin to be made.

This idea of living with a text goes beyond simply setting aside "prep" time each week. It involves letting the text speak to us over time. The idea of letting our ideas fully develop before teaching them, by the way, goes along with some of Mike Russell's recent thoughts at Eternal Perspectives.

Eating in heaven

Michael F. Bird at Euangelion offers helpful insights into the significance of the banquet in Mt. 8:11-12.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Recommended preaching resource

Preaching Now continues to be the best free online periodical on preaching. This week's edition was especially strong, and tomorrow I'll be sharing some of what I gleaned there. Its sister publication, Preaching magazine, is perhaps the best paid-subcription periodical (even if they did give me a subscription for free).

Listening to Africa

I'd like to join SmartChristian blog in recommending Keith's post at Under the Acacias on the importance of listening to voices from Africa. And why should we? Let's see what Keith has to say:
1. The church is now vastly non-western. It is African, Asian, and Latin American. These are the places where the church is not only large, but growing and vibrant.

2. Jesus is most often found among the poor and on the margins. If you want to know where Jesus is, and what he is doing today, look in Africa!

Has not God chosen the poor in the eyes of this world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom? We need to hear what Africa has to say to us about spirituality, faith, and theology. And we need to hear the concerns of our family there, and ask how Christ, whom we call Lord, would have us respond.

Most of the discussion among Christians on the internet simply reflects the situation in the western world - rich white guys arguing amongst themselves about issues concerning an ever-decreasing section of the church: English Bible translations, American politics, postmodern church, Calvinism and Arminianism....

Not that these things shouldn't be discussed, of course. But the issues that concern the vast majority of the world's population, the vast majority of Christians in the world, and the vast majority of the materially and spiritually needy in the world, barely raise a ripple. Poverty, hunger, suffering, and injustice raised their heads recently, only because they give us a chance to talk about rock bands and espouse our own views. Then we returned to more urgent things.
I'm convinced we do need to listen, and let's start by reading Keith's post.

What happens to us right after we die?

Professing Professor John Mark Hicks lays out a biblical picture of what happens to Christians after death in five parts here, here, here, here, and here (I told you he was a prolific writer).

Monday, August 01, 2005

Stop trying to be good already!

Odyssey continues to offer great posts on preaching. Chris Erdman now offers this post on how to be good (at preaching):
The best way to be a really good preacher is by not trying to be good at all. If you’re going to be good, you must put being good out of your mind. Trying to be good has at best produced some silly caricatures of preaching. At worst, trying to be good is an alluring Siren that has caused many a preacher to crash on the rocks of ambition. You are not sent by the Lord Jesus to be good. That said, I’ve no doubt that you can be good so long as you’re aiming in that direction.

Why is trying to be a good preacher the wrong approach? Read Chris's article and find out.

Not the Savior

Here's another reminder for Christians in the United States: Uncle Sam is not the Savior.

More on the need for history in the church

Peter at Stronger Church writes about the value of a historical perspective in the church:
Our culture is enthralled with the latest and greatest. We almost seem to need the latest and greatest to sustain our interest. And we view what came before us as antiquated and irrelevant. When we bring that approach to our spiritual lives and to our churches, we plunge headlong into a consumer driven mentality, and a mentality that suggests that youth is far superior to age and experience, and I believe we do so to the detriment of our people.

Those who came before us give us balance. Their wisdom calls us to faithfulness and devotion. We can ignore them, but in so doing we display an unusual arrogance. We certainly want to avoid the extreme that equates doing things the "old" way with biblical fidelity. But if using the contributions of those who have gone before us - even if their style is different than ours - can help deepen our people, then let's open that well from which they can drink.
I agree.