Monday, October 31, 2005

On the "theological need-to-know"

I like The Holy Dog Pound's analogy between our desire to know God's purposes and the "need to know" concept of classified information.

Refusing to play the Calvinism-Arminianism game

Graham at Anabaptist Blog has a refreshingly clear-headed post on the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. On the issue of perseverance of the saints, Graham tries to read the Scripture as it was intended, and in some cases he's willing to say that he doesn't know:

My ignorance does not stem from not having looked into this, or not having encountered this pastorally. My 'I don't know' stems from my conviction that that is the correct (biblical) answer. In that respect I refuse to play the Calvinist/Arminian game and must step aside to concentrate on persevering to the end and encouraging those under my care to do the same.

Well said, Graham.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Life on the front lines

Phil Johnson reminds us that we're on a spiritual battlefield:
May I say as gently as possible that you . . . cannot be a good soldier unless you take this warfare seriously? You must be spiritually earnest, sober-minded, sound in the faith, strong in the Word of God, and diligent in the battle.
And remember that life on earth is a battle. All the time.

Discerning the call

Wondering about whether or not your work in the church ought to include preaching? Adrian Warnock has posted excerpts from an article at Sovereign Grace Ministries on discerning the summons to ministry. For starters, there's this important reminder:
The quickest way to determine whether a man is qualified to lead a church is to assess how effectively he is leading his chief member (his wife) and his principal congregation (his kids). If led well, these voices will rise to confirm his selection and testify to his credibility. If led poorly, they will shadow his candidacy with gnawing questions and contradictory messages.
Perhaps that's why Paul reminded both Timothy and Titus that elders in the church should manage their own households well.

Most importantly, though, is this:
The ultimate test of a called man is whether he desires the advancement of the gospel more than the advancement of his own ministry.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Recovering from friendly fire

Swap Blog has a valuable post this week on how Christians can recover from being wounded by those inside the church. One key is knowing the difference between God's actions and those of sinful human beings:
This ability to see the difference between God’s will, God’s way and God’s purposes and the will, way, and purposes of God’s people that are acting selfishly largely determines if you will survive within the body or not.
That's a sobering thought, but too true. Another key? Forgiveness.

The texture of the Transfiguration

Professing Professor John Mark Hicks has posted an essay on the richness of the Transfiguration scene in Luke's Gospel. The essay is especially enjoyable if you like finding narrative patterns in the biblical text.

"Let me learn by paradox"

Reading my 1950s version of The Interpreter's Bible, it seems that preachers used to quote poetry fairly often in their sermons. This is the first time I've linked to a poem here, but Shizuka Blog has posted a beautiful Puritan prayer, "The Valley of Vision." It's worth reading--and maybe even preaching (Hat tip: Out of the Bloo).

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Christian manhood and womanhood

Christian bloggers have written some valuable posts this week on the roles of men and women in the church.

Mike Russell has posted a long excerpt from Robert Hicks's Uneasy Manhood. Hicks writes about why men don't attend church services, and offers some sobering thoughts for the role of the preacher in that dynamic.

Dan Edelen, responding to Brian Colmery's post on protecting women in the church, has written a long and penetrating essay on the consequences for the church of accepting society's views of manhood and womanhood.

These are some good resources that I recommend for anyone trying to address the roles of men and women not on in the church, but in God's plan for humanity.

Update: The discussion continues at Run to Win.

Update 2: Michael Duduit has included an article in this week's Preaching Now about men and church attendance.

The real issues with Halloween

Catez Stevens shares an interesting persepctive on Halloween, which only in very recent years has begun to be recognized in her native New Zealand:
My main objection to Halloween is that it is a cultural imposition driven by financial profit. It's also focused on kids getting something. We have no tradition with this event - and for the kids here it is all about what they will get, as is very evident when they knock at the door. Except that my door has a "No trick or treating here. Please do not disturb" sign on it. Because if I'm going to spend money on kids I don't know it will be kids who have nothing to eat, not kids who already have plenty. Businesses want me to spend. I'm not playing along, no matter how hard they try to market it as some new aspect of our culture.
Catez makes a point more North Americans need to recognize: for Christians the biggest problem with Halloween is not the veneer of ghosts and goblins, but the underlying themes of greed and consumerism.

That said, my wife and I still plan on taking our boys trick-or-treating this year. Theoretical considerations aside, it's one of the best ways we've found for meeting neighbors we wouldn't otherwise talk to. Frank Trexler, by the way, has posted many more ideas for building community.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The whole message of the gospel

As part of a series following up an earlier post, Scot McKnight writes more about the whole message of the gospel.

The wisest words ever on open mindedness

While reading Northrop Frye's The Great Code, I came upon the best advice I've ever found on keeping an open mind:
. . . an open mind, to be sure, should be open at both ends, like the foodpipe, and have a capacity for excretion as well as intake.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

More on discipleship and transformation

The goal of discipleship is transformation, steadily becoming more like Christ. It is Christ in us and the hope of this transforming presence that continues to give meaning to our lives. We must remember that discipleship should not happen alone. We must have community for discipleship to be effective. We need relational intimacy with those that have walked this journey ahead of us and understand the highs and lows and the ins and outs of this roller-coaster ride we call the Christian life. And as we have been poured into by seasoned souls we too must pour ourselves into the lives of others.

To do or to be?

Debra at As I See It Now is turning in her To Do list for a To Be list:
A To Be List frees me. It stretches out Time because it takes time to become who God created you to be. It takes time to get to know Him and be changed by Him. It takes time to gain wisdom and to learn to walk by obedience instead of by what seems right to your head.

How's it working? Says Debra, "It amazes me that the more I let God change me, the more I get done--because I'm being led by His way of seeing and doing things, not mine."

Monday, October 24, 2005

Discipleship and transformation

John Schroeder, reflecting on similar ideas by Brad Huston, looks at what Christian discipleship is really about:
Christianity is not a "belief," it's not an "experience," it's not a "lifestyle," it's not even a "worldview," though it includes all of those things. Christianity is nothing less than the total reconstruction of yourself by the God of the universe.

The good news is not that we are saved, the good news is that we are remade. We sell Christ well short when all we sell is "salvation." I am not entirely sure I can envision church based radically on the transformative nature of Christianity, but try we must. One thing is for sure, we have to quit limiting the potential of the gospel.

How does graciousness look on the ground?

Here's something worth thinking about: Ten characteristics of a gracious person.

Friday, October 21, 2005

No more Saturday posts

I think I will slow down just a little bit. Typically I post two items each weekday and a couple on the weekend. I enjoy blogging, but Saturday is the day set aside to hang out with the Stanleys. From here on, I won't be blogging that day.

On the virtues of slowing down

Douglas Groothius urges Christians to slow down their multi-tasking. Reacting to Douglas's post, Dan Edelen thinks the problem goes very deep into our culture and that the church's response needs to be deeper than simply unplugging.

Update: Brad Hightower responds to both Doug's and Dan's posts.

Update 2: Alexander Jordan has also added to the discussion.

Discipleship is much more than a happier life

Jeff Weddle takes issue with the popular idea of faith in Christ as an instrument for simply making our lives happier:
The problem I have with Christianity is that it’s producing too many “happy” people and not enough who realize there’s a struggle, a war to be fought. We’re content with happy.
Amen. Along similar lines, Out of the Bloo is looking at the issue of sadness and depression among Christians.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Don't seek God's results with devil's methods

Preacher Smith has reprinted an article from Rubel Shelly on the need to avoid shortcuts in spiritual growth:
Both individual believers and whole communities of Christians seem to fall prey to the temptation. We try to get God's results with the devil's methods. We market to someone's felt needs. Manipulate him with a Christian version of ads that worked in the last political campaign. Manipulate her with guilt into joining a study group or attending a weekend retreat. Something fishy is going on here.

Authentic faith doesn't lend itself to slogans. Doesn't advance by mass marketing. Doesn't transform hearts and lives over a long weekend. Spiritual life is created through a personal relationship with God, nurtured in churches where people challenge and encourage one another, and brought to maturity through struggle and failure over time. There are no shortcuts. The growth of souls in love and faith, joy and peace, self-control and uprightness is slow work.

So be patient with yourself and others. Be skeptical of pat answers and shortcuts but open to struggle and questions. Don't get fixated on programs for your spiritual growth, but focus instead on caring about others and helping them.
Sounds like good advice to me.

Two new Warnie winners

Adrian Warnock has bestowed the latest Warnie Awards on Questions and Answers and Justin Taylor. Way to go, guys.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The gospel: growing in understanding

Scot McKnight has posted an interesting post on his own journey in coming to understand more fully what the gospel is.

Remember the cross

Dan Edelen offers an insightful post on the five most pressing needs of the church in the United States. What's the very most pressing? Going back to the cross:
Many of our churches no longer preach the cross. The cross demands too much for the majority of people, so they bypass it altogether. As a result, we have too many fleshly, half-baked disciples who may be deceiving themselves as to the truth of their actual conversion. What could be more deceptive than to believe that Jesus is ours without a trip to Gethsemane? Only by that journey can we take that next step in making our calling and election sure. Preachers who do not preach the cross are not preaching the Gospel. If they were, we'd have a whole lot fewer megachurches and a whole lot more folks who have died to the world and are now doing great things for the King and His Kingdom.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Nothing but the gospel

Jason Retherford is considering Paul's letter to the Galatians while thinking out-loud about the gospel. What does Jason find?
Sometimes in our ambitiousness we equation that resembles the following:

Jesus + our own little hangups = the Gospel

What does he tell the church in Galatians? Basically anything plus Jesus is not the gospel.

Lessons from suffering

Since I've discovered his writings at Odyssey, Chris Erdman probably has the highest "blogging average" at Transforming Sermons--that is, I link to a higher percentage of his posts than any other blogger (including Conrad Gempf, Dan Edelen, Mike Russell, and Peter Bogart). Chris's latest deals with the role of physical suffering in the life of a preacher. Chris himself is struggling with Crohn's disease:
Disease can make it difficult to preach. Sometimes we may need to stop preaching (and doing much else) for a season, but suffering in our humanness does not disqualify us, and I am finding it does not make our preaching as a witness to Jesus Christ less effective. Rather the opposite is true. Instead, I am learning that our humanness qualifies us to preach. Humanness, especially suffering, inducts us into the life of Christ, who suffers and is “effective” because of suffering. That we don’t understand this, or welcome it, doesn’t make it untrue.
I think Chris is right. Are we willing, then, to give God thanks for our suffering?

No posting yesterday

No posts yesterday because the cable company cut through my phone line. We'll see if Sprint (our local land-line provider) comes through as promised and fixes it by 7 p.m. tonight.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Prayer and preaching

Phil McAlmond's former blog site seems to have been hijacked by a purveyor of porn (a lesson, I think, on the dangers of abandoning the URL of an old blog). At his new blog, Winter's End, Phil writes about the role of prayer in preaching.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

No constitutional freedoms in the Kingdom of God

Here's a distinction worth remembering. Travis Stanley explains the difference between political freedom and freedom in Christ:

The freedom Christ offers is not freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, freedom of press, freedom to marry, freedom to get an education and get a job, freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Christ’s freedom is the ability to say, as Paul said, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” It’s the freedom to find life in the midst of death, joy in the midst of sorrow. It is the freedom to live life with joy and courage, even when other freedoms that we hold so dear are not available.

If the American definition of freedom was what God intended, then Jesus would have set up a democratic form of government in 1st century Palestine . . . . Instead, God, through Jesus, called us into the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom which transcends national boundaries, is not dependent on national definitions of “freedom” and the “good life”, and calls us all to place our allegiance solely in Christ and the Christ-like life.

I'm glad Travis made that point. It's distressing to see many of my fellow countrymen proclaiming a faith in Christ yet becoming more passionate about the country than the Kingdom. It's all too easy for the church and Christians to go off-message fighting political battles when our real mission is much more urgent. All Christians need to remember that, although we're called to obey the human governments placed over us, our primary citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. And that Kingdom, brothers and sisters, has nothing to do with rights.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The real enemy

Continuing the theme of spiritual warfare, Tim Challies reminds us that the lost are not the enemy:
The real enemy is not next door. He is not human flesh and blood. The real enemy has been given temporary rule over this world and seeks to destroy us by leading us to rebel against the Creator. And he extends his rule when he convinces us that rather than battling against him, we battle against the enemy next door.
Amen, amen, and amen.

Rally points behind the lines

Reflecting on C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, Craig Williams considers church attendance in light of the battle:
We are in enemy occupied territory. But our king has landed and we are to be carrying out subversive acts against the rebel. . . .

Going to church is a subversive act. Last Sunday I mentioned that we teach our children to be loyal members of their soccer, baseball, softball, football, basketball or whatever teams. We encourage our kids to stick with it, or be there for their teammates. You know, I don’t find that same encouragement when it comes to showing up on Sundays – among adults or kids. Our culture has the upper hand, which means the rebellion is winning. I never thought of going to church as being subversive until I realized that most people don’t.

It is the job of Christian people to act in ways that show. . . we belong to a different kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. . . . Go to church. Go every week. Don’t miss. Not because you get points. Not because you're impressing God. But by doing it you stick it to the enemy. Otherwise we are merely being complicitous with the enemy's plans.
Well troops---ready to go?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Please pray for Mike Russell

Mike Russell, who blogs at Eternal Perspectives and Theologica, lost his mother yesterday. Please pray for Mike and his family.

GodBlog Con Blog

Well, the first GodBlog Con is now underway at Biola University in California. I had wanted to make it this year but have more pressing issues on this side of the continent. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to read the blog.

Lessons from Hezekiah

Here's another short post: Rusty Peterman has written a short, strong article on imperfect churches here.

Reasons not to like Jesus

My posts have been too long lately, so here's a shorter one. Larry James makes a challenging point:
"You know what . . . . I have a hunch that if you didn't believe that Jesus died to keep you out of hell, you really wouldn't much like him."
Larry's post is a little longer than this one, but I recommend you read it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Being heard among powers and principalities

Broken Messenger's Brad Huston has reminded me why he's one of my favorite bloggers. In this post Brad explains how the church in the United States has gone off-message. While most Christians seem to think they're pretty mature, according to a recent Barna survey, the church in the U.S. increasingly focuses its energies on political and social battles:
If Christ’s church is to be the light of the Gospel shed abroad in a dark world, and that light grows ever dimmer, who bears the greater responsibility here: the church or an already darkened society? In an age where the Dobson’s and Robertson’s are decrying moral decay due to the prominance of a major political party, while the party they champion grows less distinguishable from the other and comes riddled with its own hypocrisy, we have chosen the lesser of evils and have called it acceptable.

But where is the concern over a lack of preaching a complete Gospel? Better still, why is it not being preached? It is almost as if the church has become a shop of curiosities where the real treasure is tucked away in the little backroom to be shown to those few who take the time to wade through the trinkets of political discourse and church culture long enough or be deemed "ready enough" to be shown it. Are we not to put that best treasure up in the front window to be proudly displayed for all to see: Jesus Christ and Him crucified?
As Brad points out, the real gospel is being preached, but not prominently in the great media marketplaces. Let's not let that discourage us, though. The prince of this world still carries strong influence among the powers and principalities of large-scale media. And Christians will always be tempted to listen to false teaching. Preachers, let's give them the truth anyway (2 Tim. 2:1-5).

Update: Swap Blog joins in the discussion here.

Update 2: Brad's post has prompted a rather strong and lengthy discussion in the comments section of Gratitude and Hoopla.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Love and obedience

Bob at Gratitude and Hoopla has recently written a beautiful post on love and obedience. Here's a sample:
In the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, we read this: "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."

All that talk of love kind of gives me a warm feeling, but did Jesus have to mar the picture with that dreadful word, "obey"? It's certainly not a winsome word. It smacks of legalism, of religious forced marches, of holier-than-thou pulpit thumpers. Yet Jesus, the lover of our souls, connects obedience inexorably with love. Obedience is all about loving.
Bob goes on to talk about how God can transform and renew heart and mind. Good stuff.

Preaching and breakouts

Here's something noteworthy from today's issue of Preaching Now:
In his book Breakout Churches (Zondervan), Thom Rainer points out that there was a strong sense of momentum (or "Big Mo") in most of the churches his team identified as "breakout churches" -- congregations which went through a period of plateau or decline, then turned around to experience significant growth. And a major factor in that momentum was the strength of their preaching ministries.

Raimer says there was a "common theme among many of the breakout church leaders. In the process of leading the churches in the breakout, these leaders reported a heightened awareness of the importance of their preaching ministries. Some of them expressed a belief that the Big Mo would not have taken place if they had not given greater attention to the ministry of preaching.
Let's hope that growth comes not simply from the appeal of the preachers' personalities, but from the power of the Word.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Internet classic: Preaching as worship

This article by Robert Spinney dates back to 1999 (HT: Stronger Church), so you may have read it before. If so, consider doing yourself a favor and reading it again. Look at this opening:

Most American Christians today do not understand how listening to an hour of preaching can be an act of worship. This is because we tend to regard worship as something inherently emotional. Worship, we believe, is something that we feel. We like to be "lifted up to the Lord" in worship, which seems to require heavy emphasis on songs. "Good worship" is worship that moves us, touches our heart, and causes us to sway a little. Because we equate praise and worship with emotions, we tend to think of our standard Lord's Day morning worship services as containing two distinct parts: the "praise and worship" part ( which consists of singing primarily of singing and perhaps public testimonies ), and the teaching or lesson part ( which consists of the pastor's morning sermon ). We see the sermon as a wholly intellectual and didactic event ( read: it doesn't move us emotionally ), so we think that the worship stops when the preaching begins. I get blank looks from otherwise energetic Christians when I speak of "worshiping while one listens to the Word being proclaimed" or "preaching as an act of worship for preacher and listener" or "meeting God in the preached Word."

What is the problem? In addition to placing too much importance upon emotions, we American Christians suffer from a sub-biblical view of preaching. But this may be because -- in spite of all our affirmations and orthodox statements of faith -- we have a sub-biblical view of the Word of God itself.

We can ( and should ) say many good things about the Word of God: it is infallible, it is inerrant, it is God-breathed, it is useful, it is relevant, it is the final authority in matters of faith and practice. But we should add one other thing, something our Protestant forefathers emphasized but we have forgotten: the Word of God mediates the presence of God to us. In other words, God does not normally speak to his people today through dreams or Isaiah-like prophets. He speaks through his Word. That means if I wish to hear God's voice and enjoy his presence, I need to sit before his Word. To put it another way, we meet God through his Word. The Holy Scriptures not only teach us, exhort us, and correct us ( although they do all these things ), God's Word is also the normal medium through which we encounter God himself and receive from him.

Right on. Now--please--read on.

More on opening a vein in preaching

Chris Erdman has expanded on his earlier post about opening a vein in preaching. What Chris describes is more than a sappy sentimentalism that gives listeners a false sense of intimacy with the preacher:
Preaching isn’t about stringing cute or entertaining stories together like pretty beads on a yard of yarn, or asking listeners to fill in blanks with handy principals for living. Preachers can do that, but when they do they urge us all to believe that real life is much more interesting than this ancient book that we’re supposed to appreciate. People might want us to do all this, but what they want isn’t always what they need. Deep inside they know they need another story to place alongside their own stories, giving their lives meaning and continuity and correction. They’re in church because they’re wagering that the Story told here might give their troubled and dull and fragmented lives a new significance inside a larger Life, a grander Story. They have trouble seeing their lives as beautiful and wonderful and on-the-way-with-God, and they’re gambling that we as preachers might have something to say that helps them see things differently. We owe it to them to tell that Story winsomely and faithfully and . . . bodily. . . .

I say to my students: Stay close to the text; stay close to your people; stay close to yourself and enter the sanctuary of the heart where Christ dwells. Do this and you’ll find your vein.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Illustration on cooperation

Because this blog is more about transformation than technique, I don't usually post illustrations for sermons. But this anecdote by Shannon Woodward is so engaging and well written, that I want to share it with you.

Our best isn't good enough

God wants us to live holy lives, but "trying our best for God" can simply be a way of denying the cross, as Bob reminds us at Gratitude and Hoopla:
Somehow, we're missing the Gospel badly. We hear it, I presume, each Sunday morning. We listen to preaching tapes, Christian radio, and watch our Christian TV. We've seen The Passion three or four times, and yet we continue to fail to comprehend the relevance of the cross of Christ to our lives.

People, the good news is NOT that God has lowered His standards. If your best effort was ever good enough, then Christ's heart-rending cry from the cross ("Father, why have you forsaken me?") hangs in the air unanswered.
We aren't saved by our best efforts or our best intentions, but by the grace of a loving God. Our best service, I believe, grows not from the desire for heavenly pats on the head, but from gratitude for God's gift on the cross.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Helps for a stronger church

Peter Bogert has lately been collecting links to items of interest for Christian leaders. His latest is here.

A theology of the cross

Although I don't want to take sides in the discussion that prompted the following quote, I do want to pass along this word from The Holy Dog Pound on the state of evangelicalism in the United States:
American evangelicalism is a theology of glory, not of the cross. Americans have largely forgot that the human condition is to suffer. Hence, when any little thing goes wrong, we throw a conniption fit and call our lawyer. Yes, we ought to prepare for evil times - not because of some coming "judgment", but because it is wise. Evil times are the mark of this age, and we have deluded ourselves into thinking otherwise.
And what does the church in the United States need? A theology of the cross.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

"Nothing quite like it"

Jim Martin at A Place for the God-Hungry has written an outstanding post on preaching. Jim tells of the special, personal nature of preaching, and of the trust and expectation congregations put in their preachers in allowing them to speak to the depths of their beings in proclaiming the Word:
They trust that you are a person of integrity. They know you are not perfect. Many of them know that you don't need to be on that pedestal even if they have placed you there. Yet, they have every right to trust that you are not living a double life. That you are not involved in something immoral or unethical during the week and then hold the Word of God before them on Sunday. This moment is far too personal but even more importantly, far too holy for such behavior.

Forget the silly caricatures on television. Forget those images of the benign, spineless minister who is either irrelevant or immoral. I can take you to some real preachers. The kind who every week come into assemblies, brush off the dust of the world, and who dare to look into the eyes of real live human beings. Human beings who have sinned. Human beings who hurt. Human beings who need to be taken to the cross once again. These preachers open the word of God and for a few moments something mysterious takes place.

There is nothing quite like it
Amen. Preachers, if you're discouraged right now in your work, I recommend you read Jim's whole post.

Peacocking each other while hellfire burns

Mike Russell thinks many theological debates between different flavors of Christianity are akin to peacocks strutting or gorillas thumping their chests. Mike gives several reasons why he avoids these kinds of arguments and concludes with this assessment:
Finally, I stay away from these fights because they are distractions and nuisances. These are not the battles we should be fighting: other believers who adhere to different nonessential doctrines are not the enemy. The time we spend fighting one another would be more wisely spent battling against truly dangerous doctrines and beliefs that are infiltrating our local churches. Or we could focus our energies on confronting our culture and endeavoring to demonstrate the viability - and necessity - of our common faith. Or even - perish the thought! - evangelize people instead of arguing with the redeemed.
Amen. Of course, a big problem is that one man's non-essential is another's grounds for salvation (or so we believe). But I think we all agree there are souls outside Christ headed for an eternal hell. Could we not at least quit arguing niceties with those we believe are saved?

Mike has a follow-up post here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


I've found so many good thoughts to write about that I planned to do more than my ususual two posts per day for a while. And I woke up early enough this morning to have time for plenty of posting. But lately I've been spending way too much time on the computer and far too little time in prayer.

This blog was created to help Christians, especially preachers, yield ourselves to the transforming power of God's Word. Today, rather than filling your screen with more words or offering links to yet more web pages, I urge you: simply go to the source and pray.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

More on narrative and the Bible

I really appreciate this post by Rusty Peterman:
Lately, I've been re-thinking my own understanding of what the Bible really emphasizes, not a bunch of relgious forms I was trained to rattle off. I still hold strongly to the incredible place of the Bible for coming to know God. But based on my own experience and years of interacting with other Christians, I'm convinced that we've systematized and propositionalized the daylights out of the Bible.

We've dissected it and used it to try to convince others on the many ways they're missing the boat or being missled religiously. We've shrunk the Bible down to list after list of tips and techniques covering a variety of subjects ranging from parenting to marriage to finances to whatever seems to be the hot topic at the time.

But more and more I'm seeing how the Bible is a Story and God is its main character. As a story, it has more in common with "The Lion, the Witch, And the Wardrobe" and "The Wizard of Oz" and "Cinderella" than it does with the IRS tax code or the Yellow Pages.
Amen. And unlike any of those other works, it's always the truth.

Learning to say, "No"

Here's some good advice, complete with a football illustration, from Chaille's Weblogs. I couldn't find a permalink, but the post is called "Sometimes the Best Play Is to Throw the Ball Away":
Jesus didn't do everything. He knew how to walk away from a bad play. He knew when not to act or take things into His own hands. It can be real easy to think that everything rests on our shoulders. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to let something go and trust that it will work out.

We can't be everywhere all the time. We can't do everything. We can't fix all of the problems in the world around us. Why then is it easy to fall into this way of thinking? Even Jesus did not do fix everything He walked away from legitimate need at times. Jesus knew how to do only what He saw God calling Him to do.
Preachers, are we listening?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Obedience as connection

Brian Colmery has posted an outstanding blogrant against all things effective, relevant, post-modern, emergent, and otherwise trendy in the North American church today. The bottom line? Obedience:
Gentlemen, do you want to be as effective as possible? Do you want to see the church regain her status as a beacon of light amongst the world? Do you want to see the city on a hill calling all (boomer, postmodern, whoever) to God’s own bosom?

If so, forget about how to be more effective. And please forget about how to change theology so that you’re more effective. While you're at it, forget the idea that you have to reinvent church to do it--it's never been cool or hip, and maybe that's for a reason. Instead, figure out how you can love Jesus Christ as much as humanly possible. And then obey His word. No more misdirecting focus on methods instead of content.

More reflections on not boiling down

Richard Hall has posted some strong insights into why so much of the Bible, like the parables, is narrative. Richard's answer? That the Bible doesn't always offer us tidy little nuggets of meaning:

Stories, by their very nature, are open-ended. They may have a meaning, but the meaning you take is not always the meaning that’s intended. It’s easy to be suspicious of this. Most of the time we’d rather have clear, consistent and (preferably) concise. Stories offer ambiguity, and that can be hard to deal with. Textbooks for preachers often say something like: “Remember that a parable is not an allegory. It is a story with one clear simple message; the preacher’s task is to offer that message.” But the more I think about that sentiment, the more sure I am that it is rubbish: no story, however simple, has only one clear and unambiguous message.

That’s the point of parables, I reckon.

I agree. As I recently told the congregation with whom I preach, the job of preaching is not to "boil down" the truth for public consumption. God has already done the boiling down, and the result is called the Bible. And as Richard points out in his post, the ultimate revelation of God is the Word made flesh.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The case against goal setting in ministry

In his 1997 book, Renewing Your Church Through Vision and Planning, Jack Hayford lays out a strong case against setting goals in ministry. The problem, he explains, is in the carnality inherent in the goals-oriented approach:
My intention is not really to debunk goal setting but to confront the tendency to dissolve into naturalism—to pursue holy goals by merely human means. "No goals," in my mind, does not mean the absence of direction, strategy, or planning.

What, then, does it mean? Well, Hayford's book is a copyrighted work, and quoting the whole answer might exceed fair use. But you can read the answer, along with a lengthy excerpt, here.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

"I am" -- not "he"

Ever since reading Leon Morris's commentary on John, I've been puzzled by the apparent tendency of translators and interpreters to miss the import of Jesus' "I am" statements in John 18:4-8. That's why I'm glad to see Eric Ragle's concise explanation of the passage's importance. Eric is by no means the first to make this observation (as we see, for example, here, here, and here) but he's one of the latest, and he does it briefly and well.