Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Preaching as an escort service

The current issue of Preaching Now is an especially good one. I particularly like this quote from Beeson Divinity School's Robert Smith, who likens the preacher to an escort:
The exegetical escort is an individual who serves in the Lord's service by taking this Word of God and exegeting it, expounding upon it, dissecting it and saying what it says. . . The exegetical escort is designed to embrace the text of Scripture in order to usher the hearers into the presence of God for the purpose of transformation.
Dr. Smith is on-target in expressing the proper direction of homiletical flow: not bringing the text to hearers as much as bringing hearers to the text. The Preaching Now excerpt, by the way, comes from this longer article at BP News.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Remembering wrath

Preachers are tempted to keep our congregations happy, both by what we do in and out of the pulpit. I prefer preaching grace to wrath (more flies with honey and such). Preaching grace is not only happier, it's less threatening in most cases to entrenched sin in the congregation. That's one reason I like being reminded (in this case, by Scot McKnight) of the place of wrath in the Word:
There are many today who shy away from this theme in Paul’s writings, and some even suggest this theme is catastrophic for grace or something we should today tone down since it is so incredibly aggressive. Perhaps so, perhaps so. But is there any way to read the Bible, and you can begin with Deuteronomy 28 at least, and not see that a fundamental and unvarying warrant for getting the attention of humans is to warn them of finality? Is there any other way to read the prophets? Even if the focus of many of the OT passages, perhaps even most, is historical judgment, is there not in this something invisible being revealed through the visible? Is there not a clear and enduring strain in the Bible that says we will ultimately be accountable to God?
Yes, there is.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Wealth: taking Jesus at his word

Brad Hightower calls for Christians to take Jesus at his word when it comes to the dangers of wealth and treasure:
Jesus’ first and foremost saying about money is very simple. Do not store up treasures on earth. This is a very simple command. It means do not store up treasures on earth. For where your treasure is so too is your heart. Those Hebrew rabbis were a very practical bunch. Some think Jesus is saying, if you treasure something then there is your heart. But that is a nonsense or no value statement. Jesus is not saying “where your heart is there your heart is” of “if your heart is in earthly things, then your heart is in earthly things”. No Jesus is saying that you know a tree by its fruit and if you have treasures on earth then that shows objectively that your heart is carnal and worldly. If we have lots of stuff, then it means we are valuing things by the world’s definitions of values. Our kingdom values and principles are the exact opposite of the worlds values. Simply, we as Christians value people over things.
Simple indeed.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Idols in our living rooms

Douglas Groothuis, reflecting on a popular television show with a surprisingly candid title, reminds us that idolatry is not dead in North America:
Now idols are a way of life (and death). Having abandoned the Real (in art, in religion, in music, in politics, in relationships), we revel in the unreal, making it "real" to us. Heroes are out; idols are in. The knowledge of people with commendable character passé; reveling in media personality is hip. Some Americans even consider TV "personalities" to be their "friends." Over sixty million people voted for their idol of choice on "American Idol" and cannot get enough of their instant celebrity. Instead of reading books together, or singing around the piano, or reciting poetry, or just conversing or praying together, people sit mindlessly, but breathlessly in front of multiple idols: the television itself is an idol and a keeper of a myriad (its name is Legion) of restless and rampaging idols. In fact, the entire "living room" (oxymoron now, for most homes) is configured to honor and worship the television: all is directed, not heavenward, but television-ward. No seat is out of range of the TV.
As scathing as those words are, they probably don't go far enough in describing just how damaging television is to the church. And, Dr. Groothuis's post points up how little Christians are writing about them.

Friday, May 26, 2006

"The Bible wasn't written to you"

Bible translator David Ker reminds Christians that the Bible wasn't written to you:
The Bible isn't a fortune cookie that you can crack open and get out a pithy little message that's going to help you through the day. Instead it is a collection of books, poems, histories, tragedies and more and if you want to "apply it to your life" you've first got to consider how that particular message was meant to apply to someone else's life. That's right, the Bible wasn't written to you. It was written to the people of Israel, and Philemon, and Theophilus and the church at Corinth. But that ain't you. So you're reading someone else's mail. Or listening in on one half of a phone conversation. If you want to apply it to your life, first you've got to approach the text carefully, even humbly and ask, "What was the original author saying to the original readers and why?" That's not an easy question. You won't be able to answer it in just five minutes of Bible reading a day. You won't be able to answer that question by jumping from one section of the Bible to the next as you go through your Bible reading plan. Imagine reading the Sunday paper like you read your Bible. Monday you read one paragraph of the front page, then you read one paragraph of the sports section, now jump over to the opinion page and read a paragraph there. That's all for today. On Tuesday you can continue reading the lead story and find out how the game ended and read some more of the op-ed piece. Is that the way you read the paper? Why not? Because chopping up the Sunday paper like that destroys the message.

The Bible isn't meant to be treated like a bag of "trail mix" where you fish out all the sweet parts that you like and leave the rest. There are treasures in "the Book" but only if you're willing to receive the message in the way it was intended.
Amen. As Mr. Ker points out, the Bible may not have been written to us, but it was certainly written for us. His article is worth reading. So is the Bible.

Thanks to SmartChristian for once again pointing to a top-shelf post.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

How not to minister yourself to death

Mark Driscoll offers practical advice for avoiding death by ministry (HT: SmartChristian).

More than just saving souls

One of my long-term goals in ministry is to change my orientation from a modernistic, individualistic view of the faith (i.e., "my salvation") to a Kingdom-centered outlook. Today I ran across this post by John Schroeder that stated the case very starkly:
. . . the church is not here to produce my salvation. The church is here solely to praise God and to reflect His glory and grace. Make no mistake, many will find salvation in that, but bringing that salvation is not the church's purpose. Again, I am not certain what metric truly reflects fruit-bearing - but it is not "saved souls." God's glory is so much more than that.

Wow. You got my attention with that one, John.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Choosing the cheap

In his series on "Unshackling the American Church," Dan Edelen writes against the North American church's appetite for spiritual kitsch:
The American Church's wholesale abandonment of that which is sacred and infused with meaning for that which is cheap has taken a terrible toll. Our attempts to prove culturally relevant have shown that we value what is cheap over what has meaning, rather than going the opposite way of the world.
At the same time he exposes the church's abandonment of quality and meaning, Dan offers specific advice for reclaiming it.

Put your own oxygen mask on first

Will Willimon reminds Christian leaders that you can't give what you don't have (HT: A Place for the God Hungry).

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Untangling our thinking

This blog is dedicated to helping Christians, especially preachers, not be conformed to the world, but rather transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). Here are a couple of recent blog posts that help Christians untangle their thinking from worldly attitudes: Skye Jethani writes about what's wrong with a corporate model of church leadership, and Dan Edelen shares a first-person account illustrating how empty modernity really is.

Update: Swap Blog adds additional thoughts.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Glory where glory is due

Doug Floyd reflects on the struggle to overcome the illusion of personal glory.

"I don't need positive thinking; I need Jesus."

The dangers to Christianity in the U.S. aren't at the movie theaters, says Victoria Gaines. They're on every street corner, where Christians "look for a cushy life just because we're the King's kids":
If we pursued God's heart with the same vigor we pursue the American dream, our faith would earth-shattering. Our lives would be turned upside down--for the good of Christ, not our own comfort.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Already alive

Tim Challies recently used quite a number of words to remind us to be more careful about how we use a very few. To wit: how can we possibly "bring the Bible to life" when it's already living and active?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Justification more than forgiveness

Mark Horne has written a wonderful, 141-word essay on the priority of justification to forgiveness in the letters of Paul. Dave of Rawson Street was so impressed that he posted Mark's whole essay on his own blog. I won't go that far, but I will recommend the post and link to it here (three times).

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Encouragement through pain

The Swap Blog admin is one of the best encouragers in the blogosphere. Today Swap Blog quotes another favorite blog encourager and offers encouragement for praying through pain.

Discipleship isn't about being nice

This year Rusty Peterman has been reading through all four Gospels each month, and the effort's begun to change him:
I've reached the point that I'm ashamed at how much I watered-down the message of Jesus in my preaching and teaching for so many years. I mean it. Try to read through the Gospels and see if you get very far without finding something that Jesus said or did that shakes up your religious world.

For instance, what did growing up in church and being a preacher for a quarter of a century do for me?

It made me feel, well....nice.

But being "nice" isn't what Jesus wants to find in a person's life.
Amen, brother.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The gospel is not cool

A recent interview with Donald Miller helps shine light on another way the world is threatening the church:
There are many problems with trying to market the gospel of Jesus, not the least of which is that, in itself, it is not a cool or fashionable idea. It isn't supposed to be. It is supposed to be revolutionary. It's for people who are tired of trying to be cool, tired of trying to get the world to redeem them.

I attended the Dove Awards and was brokenhearted. I saw all these beautiful Christians, wonderful people, with this wonderful, revolutionary message of Jesus, who, instead of saying, "Look, fashion doesn't matter, hip doesn't matter," were saying "World, please accept us, we can be just as hip as you, just as fashionable, only in a religious way."

I would say we need to choose our God, choose our redeemer.
Amen. You can't serve two masters.

The power of fearlessness

Brad Hightower has written a tough, thought-provoking essay on why Jesus didn't play politics:
Jesus was fearless. Jesus lived perfectly aware of political realities, and He refused to play politics and actually intentionally surfaced the sinfulness and selfish motives of those in political power. For example, Jesus knew he had conflict in Jerusalem and knew that if he surfaced the hypocrisy of the political elite, they would crucify Him. Jesus predicted this outcome. So what did He do? Jesus fearlessly pressed the issue and rode into Jerusalem. He went straight to the temple, turned over the tables, and said, “You greedy money-changers have made my Father’s house into a den of robbers. My Father’s house shall be a house of prayer for all ethnicities.” The Jewish leaders had a racket going where they made money off the fact that families that were not ethnic Hebrews had to exchange their currency to pay their tithes. So they took a profit from the exchange. Jesus hit the political powers right where it hurts, in the pocket book. The result was that He angered those in power and six days later Jesus was dead.

Was it only Jesus that acted this way? Was Jesus the only prophetic figure that called the powers that be hypocrites and sinners to His own physical harm? No, actually all biblical leaders act contrary to what is politically expedient. John the Baptist told Herod he could not marry his brother’s wife so Herod killed him. Paul was told he would be beaten and killed if he went to Jerusalem so Paul went to Jerusalem. Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace but division.” Anyone who testifies to the truth, even with all their faults, will suffer. Yes, people will make up excuses and lies to justify their rejection of the word of God but in reality the problem is all political. Politics is the enemy of the truth.
What's the key to acting faithfully? Fearlessness.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gospel gardening

Mark Loughridge has posted a humorous and helpful Church weed watch.

In praise of mystery

One of the biggest challenges for a preacher is to avoid the congregation's desire for us to "close up" every passage of Scripture, to give the final answer of meaning so that each verse can be neatly shelved in its proper doctrinal box. So even though the gospel is simply and clear enough, I enjoy being reminded that much mystery still remains in the Word. Thus I hope my friend Bob will excuse me for quoting the final paragraph of his post on "the mystery of the faith":
Well, let us not drain the mystery out of the Gospel. Let us not think it is merely a matter of words, assertions, confessions, etc. God's ultimate plan is to draw us to Him, and that is a mysterious thing to say and believe. This is what we proclaim, a mystery. A secret knowledge now revealed and yet remaining, nevertheless, quite strange, deeply mysterious.
And if you've read this far, why not go and read Bob's whole post?

Monday, May 15, 2006


Carl Trueman asks, WWGKCD (What would G. K. Chesterton do?) and prays for more satire in the church:
God opposes the proud, a very frightening thought when you reflect upon it; and, dare I say, humourlessness is not infrequently a function of pride, of taking ourselves far too seriously. Satire is one of the best cures for that of which I know. Pray that God will raise up some decent satirists of the Chesterton variety to help with the kind of iconclastic work that is so necessary within the prideful human heart.
Amen (HT: Adrian Warnock).

Choosing joy

Bill at Out of the Bloo looks at Philippians 3:1 and the command to rejoice.
Joy . . . is the delighted response - a choice, mind you - of the heart when the fact of one's own unworthiness is uncovered, when the smallness of who we are compared to the Lord is made clear to our minds, and we realize the utter grace with which each breath is drawn. We are not destroyed! In fact, if we know Christ, we are beloved children of the King of the Universe, adopted and redeemed.

It's when we place that in towering perspective against our own small and petty trials, claims, and conceits that complaints die away and joy takes root.

Joy is a practice. And when life comes crashing down, and our world crumbles around us, it's a choice we can still make, if we have trained our hearts to sing its song.
Beautifully said.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Life on the threshold

Craig Williams, with a little help from Wilkie Au and Alan Roxburgh, has begun reflecting on church leadership and liminality (life on the threshold).

"The real power in today's church"

Jim Martin reminds preachers of the need for character in our own lives:
. . . ultimately, people do not change by a leader "willing" them to change. People do not change because I make an announcement, or because I decide to present a series on prayer.

Many people ultimately change because they see in us something of Christ incarnate. They are experiencing "Christ-in-you." This happens as the Spirit of God pours out the very life of Jesus through you and me. People experience this as they are in relationship with us over a period of time and they witness who we really are.

So often, Christian leaders just wear people out. We talk. We announce. We talk more. Sure, there is a time to talk. There is a time to announce. But--what is most important as a Christian leader or a Christ follower is to be a guy (or woman) who is living an authentic life before God. That is powerful. More importantly, that is real.
Amen and amen.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Beware of "Church in a Box"

Jim Street shares some incisive observations about the church's love affair with technique, and how those affections really square with the message of the Scriptures.

From fear to faith

In one sense, of course, fear of the Lord is a good thing. But in many other contexts, fear is the opposite of faith. Jim Martin has been addressing issues of fear and confidence in a couple of recent blog posts. Consider these thoughts, for example:
Fear can kill the ministry of a church. It is easy to get among believers and spread fear instead of confidence in the Lord. Satan uses bad news spread by joy robbers to defeat people -- to spread our anxiety instead of our God-given courage. We can leave one another even more anxious than before we came together.
Too true. So how do we grow beyond an unhealthy fear? Here's an important part of the answer:
Realize that God treasures you and is worthy of your trust. You can rest in the security of knowing God cherishes you. Go ahead and tell me you are not perfect. Tell me you make a lot of mistakes. Tell me you are weak at times and say or do all the wrong things. I will tell you that God absolutely cherishes you. His love for you does not come about because you finally got it together. His love for you comes out of his very character.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

No short cuts

May not the inadequacy of much of our spiritual experience be traced back to our habit of skipping through the corridors of the Kingdom like children through the market place, chattering about everything, but pausing to learn the true value of nothing?

In my creature impatience I am often caused to wish that there were some way to bring modern Christians into a deeper spiritual life painlessly in short lessons; but such wishes are vain. No short cut exists. God has not bowed to our nervous haste nor embraced the methods of our machine age. It is well that we accept the hard truth now: the man who would know God must give time to Him.

- A. W. Tozer

Monday, May 08, 2006

Resisting enculturation in a post-Christian society

David Bauer's sermon text on discipleship in a post-Christian culture is long but worth reading. Dr. Bauer reflects on the rise of secularism (in reality, a form of paganism) and the opportunities it affords the church:
This seismic shift to a post-Christian society is a traumatic thing for us Christians, of course. But I am convinced that in the end it will be a good thing for the Church. It was, after all, never a good idea for the Church to play down the differences between its faith and the larger society, no matter how “Christian” that larger society appeared on the surface to be; nothing has so blunted the witness of the Church to its gospel or so dulled its spiritual experience as easy accommodation to the preferences of the prevailing culture. Besides, the Bible claims that the Church is strongest when it is weakest, that God manifests his power precisely through our powerlessness and vulnerability. But most of all, this new secular setting provides us with a great gift: the possibility of hearing the Word of God in Scripture in a fresh, new way. For the Scriptures present a pre-Christian period in society; they addressed people who had never known such a thing as a Christian society, who faced the task of living out their faith in a clearly alien world, even as now we must.

It's good stuff; thanks to Ben Witherington for posting it on his blog.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Conrad Gempf on the Gospel of Judas

New Testament scholar Conrad Gempf has posted a brief but engaging three-part series on the Gospel of Judas. Conrad brings an excellent biblical and historical perspective to the issue. Here's a sample from Part 1:
People in the second and third century were becoming more and more interested in Christianity, but had trouble with its more radical teachings. In particular, the idea that salvation was conferred on the basis of gooey things like love and dying and faith must have seemed an unworthy set of beliefs for the powerful educated elite. They didn't like all the business about becoming servants of others or self-sacrifice, so they played down Jesus as Redeemer and played up Jesus as Revealer. They tried to make out that what was important was not love and servanthood but insider knowledge and secret wisdom (perhaps even handshakes). They either denied the cross or made it all about freeing Jesus' heavenly spiritual bits from the nasty dirty physical bits, in line with their pre-Christian philosophies totally unlike Hebrew thinking. And once you have that perspective on the death/release of Jesus' soul, of course, it's totally possible to recast Judas as his liberator.
Part 2 puts the Gospel of Judas in the larger context of Gnostic writings and shows them all to be found wanting:

Quite a few of the gnostic Gospels picture a Jesus who thinks all the disciples are schnooks except the one or two in which he confides. How come it's never the same disciple? Turn to the next and the author of the last one is one of the misled. In the Gospel of Philip, it's Mary, and Jesus kissed her on the mouth. . . . But in the gnostic Book of Thomas the Contender, Jesus says "Woe to you who love intercourse with anything feminine and the defilement that goes with it." Or how about the way that the Gospel of Mary affirms the feminine? The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas does the reverse and says that since she's female, Mary can only be saved by being turned into a male.

Now, come on. Does this sound to you like a group who has the true story and is being supressed? Or does it sound rather like a group who cannot stomach what really happened and is rummaging around to reinvent a new version which removes or alters things they found objectionable, like Jesus' salvific death?

If you're not familiar with Conrad's writing, his Judas posts offer a delightful example of the high energy and hard-hitting content he packs into few words. Part 3, by the way, is even stronger than the first two. Really.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Looking for "The Man"

Brad Hightower explains the all-too-common problems with a congregation looking for "The Man."

What if we really believed it?

At As I See It Now, Debra asks: what if we really believed Jesus loves us?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Truth telling and Christian curmudgeonry

Douglas Groothuis explains what it means to be a constructive curmudgeon:
The curmudgeon is constructive in that half-truths, bovine excrement, fashionable nonsense, unfashionable nonsense, and other offenses to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful need to be exposed so that the light may dawn and reality be revealed. Reality denudes us all in the end, no matter how much we hate it. The curmudgeon tries to love reality, deep reality—whatever the cost. She or he encourages others to love reality as well, come what may.

In this sense, Jesus was the ultimate Constructive Curmudgeon. He brooked no spin. He exposed all pretense. His life was in perfect harmony with Reality. In fact, he was Reality Incarnate
Douglas has also posted a follow-up on Christian curmudgeonry.

Update: Bob has further thoughts along these lines at Gratitude and Hoopla.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"A people at war"

From the very first paragraph, this post by Alastair Roberts hits hard:
One of the problems that we face in our world is that we are too apathetic to make the enemies that we need to make. Whilst we hear a lot about the need to be peacemakers in the Church today, I don’t think that we hear enough about the need to be those who have and even make enemies. All too often the peace that we enjoy is a peace that is enjoyed at the expense of the truth.
And, as the author points out, "The Scriptures will not make sense to us if we do not think of ourselves as a people at war."
This is one of the reasons why the Church needs strong men in its pulpits. Whilst not a primary argument against women preachers, I believe that, whatever people may say, the virtues that ought to characterize good preaching are primarily masculine in character. The good preacher should be someone who leads from the front, someone who establishes and guards important boundaries, someone who encourages congregations to think antithetically and to be willing and ready to engage in combat when the situation calls, even when the combat might be avoided by silence. Christian preaching should elicit courage and unswerving loyalty, calling us to be people of conscience, conviction and honour. The sort of preaching that elicits such a response is far more ‘masculine’ than the preaching that is found in most of our churches.
Too true. Well then, brethren, what shall we do? (HT: Caught in the Middle).

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Letter to the preacher

Brad at The Broken Messenger has posted an incisive "Dear Pastor" letter. Here's a sample:
So while I appreciate your encouragement to press on, in your remaining sermons could you also admonish me that repentance must precede maturity? Will you remind me that every revival in church history has been kindled by the mercy of God when its people are broken, seek God in response to that brokenness and then live lives pursuing the indescribable joy found in the holiness of God? Will you show me that the one who is greatest in the kingdom of God is the one who is the most humble? Will you demonstrate that it is the denial of every earthly thing, by my faith in Christ, that will lead me through that narrow gate that so few find?
Good questions. I know I've been guilty of preaching love and maturity without first preaching repentence, but Brad's right that brokenness has to come before strength.

What do you preach?

This week's issue of Preaching Now offers, as always, some thought provoking ideas. Here's an excerpt from an interview with Doug Pagitt:
If you look at New Testament/Old Testament preaching, it's very contextual. It's contextual to the experience, it's contextual to the hearers, it's contextual to the happenings, it's contextual to the Old Testament. Even the prophetic preaching is, "Israel, this is where you are right now, this is who you are, this is what's happening, this is God's word unto you in this situation." So I think this notion that what we do is preach the text is a really faulty notion from my vantage point. What preaching ought to be is preaching the good news, the kingdom of God, the kingdom of God alive in the world, the activity of God in people's lives.

What we ought to be doing is preaching to people in situations, sort of like that little adage that teachers will say when someone asks the teacher, 'What do you teach?' And they say, 'Oh, I teach students.' You know, the answer isn't, 'I teach math.' And that shows a difference in our focus. Are you more worried about the subject matter or are you worried about teaching people? Good teachers always remember, 'I teach people,' not 'I teach a subject.' It's that same attitude around preaching.
That certainly applies to teaching, but I'm not sure exactly the same can be said for preaching. Still, we do well to ask ourselves, "What do I preach?" I tend to bounce around between three basic answers: the Gospel, the Word, and Christ.

Monday, May 01, 2006

In support of expository preaching

Peter Adam has listed fifteen arguments in favor of expository preaching," including this one:
Preaching through the books of the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, respects and reflects God’s authorship. God did not gives us a book of quotable quotes, nor a dictionary of useful texts, nor an anthology of inspiring ideas. When God caused the Scriptures to be written the medium that he used was that of books of the Bible. If that was good enough for the author it should be good enough for the preacher.
Sounds right to me. The other fourteen are pretty strong too, by the way (HT: The Bluefish).