Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New address for PreachingNOW

PreachingNOW, the free online newsletter of Preaching magazine, has a new address.

A little perspective

Here's a fine little reflection on happiness, from Conrad Gempf.

God repents

John Frye considers those uncomfortable OT accounts where God changes his mind:
At least 36 times in the Old Testament we read that God changed his mind, or relented or repented. These 36 occurrences cause severe mind cramps in many people. They get knotted up because they reason like this: God is perfect. Perfect can't change. If perfect changes for the better, then it wasn't perfect to begin with. Yikes! We can't start with an imperfect God. Continuing, if perfect changes, then it must be only for the worse. Yikes again! We can't end with an imperfect God. Therefore, the Bible is dead wrong 36 times when it flat out tells us that God changed his mind.

The insider, wise ones among us help out here. What we have 36 times, they propose, is an anthropomorphism. This is a long, catchy word for "These 36 verses don't fit our theology." The mantra is: "God can't change! God can't change!" God is the great unblinking unfeeling stare. We're told that God condescends to our childish state ("baby steps") and merely reports that God seems to be like us--we can change our minds after all--but, really, God is not like us. We can do something that God can't do. Doesn't that make you feel really special? You can change your mind, but God can't change his. What a mighty God we serve!
I encourage you to read the whole article; John's conclusion is worth the effort.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The choice

A lawyer provides a little perspective on the foundation, if any, for human rights.

Resolving the impossible

Dan Edelen is running up against Enlightenment hyper-rationalism in the church and wondering if any North American Christians really believe God can do the impossible:

Is God a fairy tale? Then why do we treat Him like one? Knowing adults wink at each other when surrounded by children who believe in Santa Claus, and sadly, it seems we do the same to people who believe that God is the resolver of the impossible. We’ve made the Lord of All into just another figment of the imagination.

Is it pride? It seems like it to me. We don’t want to have to explain why our involving God in a situation didn’t work for some untold reason. It might make us look stupid. And we all know the worst thing that can befall a self-respecting American, Christian or not, is to look stupid.

Pride it may be, and simple unbelief. As many times as God has resolved the impossible in my own life, still I struggle to believe at times that he will take care of us, his own. Maybe it's not such a bad thing that we struggle, because we're forced not simply to coast, but to decide and declare whether or not we'll really trust God.

And just so you'll know, Dan: Believe God for the impossible. And I'll join with you in believing for it.

Friday, July 27, 2007

No small thing

There are consequences to living in a culture of pornography.

Worth considering

Preachers, even if you don't care for lists, you might enjoy reading these fifteen benefits of expository preaching. If you do like lists, have a look at fourteen common pitfalls of expository preaching.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What kind of light?

Here's a reminder from Mike Russell that preaching is a whole lot more than style.

Willimon on Luke 11:1-13

In Theolog's "Blogging Toward Sunday" feature, William Willimon reflects on the Lord's Prayer:
Prayer, at least prayer in “Jesus’ name,” as Jesus practiced it, does not come naturally. Most people I know think that our prayers ought to be “heartfelt” or “sincere.” Jesus apparently could care less about such sentimental mush. He has a definite, peculiar notion of what constitutes prayer. Prayer is not whenever I spill my guts to God: prayer is when I obey Jesus and pray for the things that he teaches me to pray for and when I pray the way he prays. Prayer is bending my feelings, my desires, my thoughts and yearnings toward Jesus and what he wants me to feel, desire and think.

In most churches I visit, a time of prayer is often preceded by a time of “Joys and Concerns.” I notice that in every congregation, the only concerns expressed are concerns for people in the congregation who are going through various health crises. Prayer becomes what we used to refer to as “Sick Call” in the army. Where on earth did we get this idea of prayer? Not from Jesus. He healed a few people from time to time, but he doesn’t pray for that. He prays for the coming of God’s kingdom, for bread (but only on a daily basis, not for a surplus) and for forgiveness for our trespasses. It’s curious that physical deterioration has become the contemporary North American church’s main concern in prayer. Jesus is most notable for teaching that we are to pray—not for recent gall bladder surgery—but for our enemies!

To be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, is to pray like Jesus. Therefore Luther called the Lord’s Prayer “a summary of the whole gospel.” A Christian is someone who talks to God about what the Lord’s Prayer talks with God about. Thus this prayer is not only a gift that Jesus gives us, but also judgment against us as we measure our own fidelity against the standard of Jesus.
Amen and Amen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More on prayer and preaching

"Sometimes the obvious needs stating. Preachers should be pray-ers."

Legalism and obedience

Eric Jones shares thoughts on obedience and legalism:
We cannot go around telling someone they are being legalistic unless we truly know their heart. Instead, what I would encourage is that we all daily examine our own hearts and make sure they are pure, circumcised, and repentant.

Do you cry out, like David did, “create in me a clean heart O God. Renew a right spirit within me.” Is this your prayer? Is this your deepest desire? Are you willing to allow this to happen? You will have to give up yourself for this to happen. The focus must change from self to God. Do you know what that is to turn from a self focus to a God focus? It is repentance. It is exchanging your desires and the things of this world for a life lived solely for God.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The privilege of funeral preaching

Advice on reading the Bible

I like Richard Hall's four rules for reading the Bible, especially this one:
My third rule is read in fellowship with others. Remember that the Bible arises from the Church, the gathered people of God. It is in the Church that the meaning of the Bible is authentically discovered and, barring extreme circumstances, you will need to be in fellowship with a Church community to really grow in understanding of the scriptures.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Religion or the Gospel?

Here's a short, two-column .pdf chart to help Christians see if they're living religion or the gospel (Thanks, Bob, for the link).

Boiling down Paul

Looking at Paul's preaching in Acts, Eric Jones thinks the Apostle's essential message can be distilled to two points: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. You could also make a case for Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Melting in the heat

Is the church in North America full of "triple scoop Rocky Road Christians"?


Peter Mead makes the case for leaving some parts of our message on the cutting floor during sermon preparation: "Perhaps when your sermon is on a DVD you can make it available, but for now we are still preaching in VHS."

Also at Biblical Preaching, Mike Roth writes about keeping the main thing the main thing.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Answering questions

Jeff Weddle, reflecting on a new book by Philip Yancey, doesn't take many words to cover a lot of ground with his post on prayer, Scripture, and right standing before God.


The author of Tantaliing if True is "too busy following Jesus to spend time being politically conservative":
Feel free to have an opinion, even a strong opinion, about immigration and illegal aliens. But don’t call your opinion Christian if it’s not in the Bible. Leviticus, in fact, talks quite a bit about aliens. You could look there.

Don’t call your opinion about war Christian if it’s not in the Bible. Yes, many people in the past have called their war Christian, most famously the Crusaders. The Crusaders don’t count. They weren’t prophets or apostles. They weren’t inspired.
Sounds right to me. Also, I hope Tantalizing if True is too busy following Jesus to be politically liberal too.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Life progress

Here is some practice advice on helping ministers "watch your life and doctrine closely" (1 Tim. 4:16).

Not only for you

Here's more light on the "if you had been the only sinner on earth" trope:
That statement about Jesus dying just for you makes us feel good about ourselves, and our worth, but we need to realize that we are supposed to worship God, regardless of what He has done for us; He is God Almighty. He died just for His Father, and you as the beneficiary of that plan. This does not diminish His love for us in any way; it lifts up the holiness of God and shows it to be the spring from which God’s mercy and justice can be met together in Christ.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What's the real problem?

Maybe it's nothing more than unbelief.

Update: Be prepared for a little Bach if you follow the link.

Preaching in a foreign language

Preachers, do we use terms the lost don't understand when we present the gospel?
I saw one recently that proclaimed "REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL" If I was a betting man, I would lay a wager that 9 out of 10 people who read that sign had no idea what it really means. But hey it made the people inside the church feel better, they were proclaiming the gospel!

All joking aside, this is an enormously important issue in Western culture. The words we use to convey the meaning of what it means to become and live as a Christian are largely incomprehensible to the average person in the street.
I agree (Link via Kouya Chronicle). For a linguist's view on the same basic topic, read Wayne Leman's recent blog post.

Monday, July 16, 2007

More on verse jacking

John Dunham has more to say on doing away with Bible additives (chapters and verses).

Too true

Here's an insight into the conversions at Derbe as told in Acts 14:
With all that was going on in the region, the news of Paul’s stoning, and the beaten appearance of Paul himself, it is just incredible that they “won a large number of disciples” in Derbe. Maybe it is hard for us to understand how this could have happened when we see people in America having difficulty being disciples of Christ because they need to give up some TV time, say no to sin, congregate with other believers on a regular basis, and spend time in God’s Word.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

More than an outline

The outline of a message is often compared to the skeleton in the body. The most transformational and life changing encounters with a person are never focused on their skeleton. I stayed awake through an anatomy lecture as I learned the difference between a clavicle and a scapula, but my life was forever transformed by meeting the beautiful lady who would become my wife. Her beauty required the presence of a skeleton, but my heart was captured and my life transformed by the smile, the character, the life, but not the lower mandible’s connection to the cranium. As we preach the Word of God, may the goal be the transforming life and beauty of His Word, rather than an unnecessary display of the skeleton of our thoughts.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sizzling sermons

Remember, preachers, "generalities are as gripping as generic goods in a grocery store. Specifics sizzle."

Sweet or unsweet?

Whoever came up with the idea of "my sweet Jesus"?
The last adjective that comes to my mind to describe Jesus is "sweet." Having rummaged around in the four Gospels for some years now, I can think of a lot of good adjectives for Jesus, but sweet leaves a sour taste in my soul.

I prefer Salty Jesus. And I don't mean salty as in "salty language" (profanity). Jesus was high potency salt. He even describes his followers as "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). Why do we try to be "sweet" people?
Amen. John Frye's blog post on "unsweetened Jesus" is a must-read. One of John's earlier posts shows how Jesus was in fact a trouble maker:
From one perspective, Jesus was a trouble-maker. For the "don't rock the boat" crowd, Jesus danced in the canoe. What is a trouble-maker?

Anyone who instigates change will be viewed as a trouble-maker. Anyone who questions the way things are because of a vision of the way things can be will be called a trouble-maker. Anyone who knows "the pecking order," but does not peck or allow his followers to peck in their proper places will be called a trouble-maker. Anyone who knows where the boundaries are and then lives like he doesn't care where the boundaries are will be called a trouble-maker. Anyone who is not threatened by the powers that be will be viewed as a trouble-maker.
Once again, John has spoken truly.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On topical preaching

Unashamed Workman considers the pros and cons of topical preaching: Part One and Part Two.

Of hyenas, the Dark Lord, and sin

That the Enemy preys upon our weaknesses is well known and often acknowledged, but how often do we recognize or think that he also exploits the disorder in our souls to gain a foothold and trip us on the path of righteousness? A disordered soul is a painful and troubling existence, made worse by him who seeks to devour us. It is through our disordered souls that he most often finds his greatest and most consistent success.

It is in subtlety and deception that Satan excels. Most of us, corporately and individually, are too astute and prepared for frontal assaults that are designed to exploit our weaknesses. But by appealing to our soul’s need for order, he makes attractive what we otherwise would eschew: he offers knowledge - gnosis - to help us order our thoughts and lives. His teaching is attractive to us and is only a slight, almost-imperceptible deviation from the truth of God. We follow and, like the proverbial boiled frog, realize too late how far we have strayed - not from the truth, but from our first love.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gempf again

Good news: After more than a month of silence, Conrad Gempf is posting again at Not Quite Art, Not Quite Living.

Kingdom allegiance

This may be July, but it's still a good time for Christians to consider Larry Chouinard's meditations on June, the month bracketed in the United States by two holidays that celebrate victory in warfare:
What makes this time particularly difficult for me is that while I grieve the loss of lives in our nation’s wars, and feel particularly blessed to live within the national boundaries of the USA, I am also a citizen of an alternative Kingdom, not of this world, to which I owe my ultimate allegiance. Hence, rather than salute or commend those who kill or who were killed for nationalistic causes, I grieve that fallen humanity continues to resort to military force and intimidation to resolve worldly tensions. It is even more disconcerting when Christians seem to applaud such efforts as heroic, and give their unqualified support to a imperialistic agenda of empire building.

God’s Kingdom knows no boundaries, and its appeal does not come by military force or capitalistic propaganda, but by the loving message of Christ and the sacrificial power of the cross. Ours is the true mission of liberation that seeks to rescue fallen humanity from the tyranny of sin. While the nations resort to wars and the barrel of a gun, we preach a message of peace modeled after our King and calculated to create “one new humanity” (Eph.2:14-18), without national or ethnic boundaries that divide. Surely the means God used in Jesus to respond to human injustice and violence ought to be an authoritative model for those who embrace his Reign (see Rom. 5:6-8).

Why then has the church continually muted the message of the Crucified One, who calls his followers to a different course of action when confronted with evil and the brutality of unrestrained political power?
Good question. I recommend reading the whole essay.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Are we paying attention?

Here's an enlightening article on what non-believers really think about seeker-sensitive churches.

Simple discipleship

Jeff Weddle writes that "life is boiled down to a simple state":
Pretty simple. Truly wise people hear God and go do what He says. It’s called faith, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. When do you know someone has heard? When they go do what they were told.
Sounds about right to me.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Living the epic

Do most Christians practice novella thinking in an epic world?

Update: More here.

Justice at the heart

How do we make justice an integral part of the gospel proclamation? David Fitch has written a couple of articles on the topic. In Part 1, he urges Christians to see the gospel as more than individual salvation. In Part 2, he shows what justice can look like in the local church:
The main culprit here is that we pastors teach justice as a concept instead of a practice. For instance, we often make justice about the concept of individual rights or equal opportunity. It's an easy default move when we don't have visible justice going on in the local body itself. Yet defining justice in this way, as a concept born out of democracy and capitalism, individual rights or equal opportunity, too easily enables us to forget about doing justice in our local church by deflecting attention to national arguments. If we wish to see justice take shape in our midst we must go beyond rights to seek the simple righteousness of God fulfilled in our immediate locale. I remember becoming an advocate (along with others in our church) for someone who was poor and an ex-convict who was unable to pay the rent. He and his wife were being evicted out of their apartment. We could have advocated renter's rights. We could have brought the person to a point of contention between himself, the owner of the apartment and the church. Or we could bring everyone around a table to discuss the situation (even though the building owner had never been to our church gathering). We could pray, confess sin, seek reconciliation, offer to step in and make things right. We did the latter, with coffee and pastries. The building owner was amazed. He forgave two months rent. I saw a miracle happen there that changed the ethos of our entire church. Perhaps now we were ready to make a statement about renter’s rights on a larger scale.
The concept of the gospel being more than simply individual salvation is something I'm trying to learn more about, and Dr. Fitch's work is helping me do that. I hope you find it helpful, too.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Preaching Christ

Emphasis is important. Our distinctives, whether they are church polity, worship style, etc., are not to be our main focus. What people should find first and foremost is Christ and everything ancillary to that had better be pointing to Him or it is pointing the wrong way. We need to seriously consider that as we heap on programs and policies and such. It sounds so obvious, but upon further inspection, you might be surprised at how much of our lives and church functions have either drifted or not had Him as the center at all.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Action-figure Jesus

American evangelicals, it seems, have a hard time recognizing the comic caricature that they have become (via).

The loss of expository preaching

Alistair Begg writes about the decline of expository preaching:
Why is expository preaching absent from so many of today’s churches? Because of a loss of confidence in the Scriptures, preoccupation with the wrong battles, and a sad lack of excellent role models, many preachers compromise on their calling and revert to the expectations of the culture.
Mr. Begg also suggests ways preachers can reclaim exposition. (Thanks to Unashamed Workman for the link).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bible study resources

Wayne Shih shares links for online Bible study. You can find a few on the right-hand column of this page too.

Rob Bell on celebrating mystery

The true orthodox faith is deeply mysterious, and every question that's answered leads to a new set of questions. A lot of preaching tries to answer everything. At the end of the sermon, people walk out with no more questions. But if it's truly proclamation of truth rooted in God --

The rabbis believe that the text is like a gem: the more you turn it the more the light refracts. I heard a guy one time say, "Oh yeah, I got a sermon on that verse. I got it pretty much nailed." What? Are you out of your mind? You have that nailed? I just endlessly turn it.

I did a six-month series on John 3:16. I did a sermon on the word that. You have to ask questions. Some Christian traditions think a text has a meaning and if you apply the right method, then you can pull out the correct meaning. That's the ultimate in arrogance. If it's a living Word, then turn the gem.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Moralism and truth decay

PreachingToday blog, with a little help from Haddon Robinson, looks at "cotton candy preaching."

On church and state

David Opderbeck writes on what a recent cathedral visit demonstrates about church and state:
The Cologne Cathedral, started in 1248, is so enormous, and so ornate, so Gothic, that it generates a tangible feeling of heaviness. It’s a beautiful building, but beautiful in a “terrible” way. At some level, the terror of that beauty can serve as a reminder, I think, of what power can do when mixed with faith. In the presence of the Cologne Cathedral, there is no doubt that this was intended as an assertion of the Church’s authority over every sphere of life. It’s interesting that the Cathedral was unfinished in the middle ages, and was only finished by Prussian romantic nationalists in the 1800’s. The Prussians knew that this massive edifice could serve as a symbol of power and pride. That Prussian pride, and the desire for power it produced, was one of the streams that fed the grisly death mills of the two world wars.

We who call ourselves “the Church” would do well today, I believe, to remember what happens when we try to assert political power in Jesus’ name.
True enough. It should also be a reminder to the church of looking for our validation and security in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ.

In his post, Patriotism and the Church Randy McRoberts considers the difficulty in the U.S. of proclaiming Christians' primary allegiance to Christ, not the state:
If seems so crystal clear to me that what we are doing is so much bigger than nationalism. Why can’t other people see it my way? Once again, I’m the heretic. People look at my like I was painted green if I mention anything about it.
The comments section in Randy's post are also enlightening. I've been away from Randy's blog for too long; thanks to Connexions for the link.

Update: Kirk Wellum reminds Christians that every nation, including both his and mine, is ultimately a part of Babylon.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Preaching tips from Hemingway

Yes, Papa Hemingway does have something useful to teach us about proclaiming the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Loving and trusting God

Dan Edelen may be speaking for many Christians when he describes the difference between loving and trusting God:
No greater area of struggle affects me like this one. I love God very much and have served Him for many years, but I don’t always trust Him. Yes, I’m fine when I’m trusting the Lord for other people’s faith needs, but when it comes to my own I don’t do so well.
Dan also faces the pain of being "dropped" by God.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Unavoidable controversy

As much as we may long for peace, if we care about truth then sooner or later we find ourselves in controversy. Justin Taylor offers valuable resources on The Ethics of Controversy.

Just me and God

Skye Jethani, looking at the writings of Scot McKnight, considers how the message of modern evangelicalism effectively marginalizes the church. I recommend Skye's post as a call to move beyond a formulaic presentation of the gospel.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Like carbon monoxide

Surely the poll numbers are inflated, but who can seriously doubt that pornography is a silent killer?