Friday, September 28, 2007

Scripture and "the heart"

Steve Mathewson reminds preachers: "Let’s not separate what God has joined together!"


To be a Christian means gradually, Sunday after Sunday, to be subsumed into another story, a different account of where we have come from and where we are going, a story that is called “gospel.” You are properly called a “Christian” when it’s obvious that the story told in Scripture is your story above all other stories that the world tries to impose upon you and the God who is rendered in Scripture is the God who has got you.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Blog reconstruction

Unashamed Workman has a new format.

Witnesses to powers and principalities

Christian, if you're ever tempted to see Christians as shiny, happy people or anything other than an active threat to the powers-that-be, then it might be good to remember that we're called to be revolutionaries.

Not indespensible

Jason Byassee wonders why so many ministers feel the need to be in touch all the time:
I can understand why some professions would cause one to need to be accessible 100 percent of the time: firefighters, psychologists with mentally ill patients and (given recent floods in this part of the country) plumbers come to mind. But why pastors? Certainly on large church staffs it's a venerable practice to have one of the pastors on-call at all times in case of emergency. But I worry when I see wired pastors, ubiquitous as they are at church conventions and gatherings of clergy. I fear they conflate importance with accessibility, as if being incommunicado even briefly will lead to spiritual crisis. Must we be like other professions—doctors or financiers—and have a loop around our ear at all times? Or does pastoral wiring suggest anew the loss of confidence of the clergy vocation?
Good questions. Mr. Byassee, by the way, doesn't merely complain; he offers an alternative worth reading about.

Along similar lines, Jim Martin has learned that he is very expendable:
If life is about meeting everyone else's expectations, then I can begin to feel far too essential. In fact, I can begin to feel so overloaded and burdened that there is no longer any joy in day-to-day living. It is one thing to recognize one's vocation/calling and to live as a servant. It is quite another to define my existence by my ability or inability to measure up to the expectations of others. At some point, I need to wrestle with these expectations and take a hard look at which ones really seem to matter, which ones have been thrust upon me, and which ones I have gravitated toward out of my own insecurity.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tools of the trade

The latest preacher's toolbox at Unashamed Workman is pretty full this week.

Inward and outward

Richard Hall considers how to answer the question, "How do I know that I'm saved?" In finding the answer, he uncovers some uncomfortable truths about Christians in Western culture:
Somewhere along the line we began to accept that Christian faith is a branch of therapy, the purpose of which is to make people feel better about themselves. Following Jesus, it is sometimes claimed, is a panacea for all ills, whether they be spiritual, emotional or even physical. Faith is “sold” on the basis of the benefits to the individual. Some of those benefits are long-term to be sure, but what’s important is what faith will do “for you”. Because of this, many Christians are given to periods of intense introspection, even self-absorption. I’ve been there myself.

I wouldn’t want to say that faith never brings benefit to the individual, still less that there’s no place for emotion in the Christian faith. If the Incarnation - “God amongst us” - means anything, it is surely that there is no aspect of our life with which God is not engaged. But to expect faith to mean a permanent sense of well-being and certainty is to ignore the evidence of scripture and the experience of Christians through the generations. Being a Christian has never meant any such thing.

The deeper issue here is whether an emphasis on individual benefit distorts the content of the Christian gospel. Remember how Jesus warned his followers that to be his disciple means to take up a cross? This is hardly a therapeutic image! In fact, it’s remarkable to me given the way the church operates today that Jesus doesn’t appear to have done any “selling” at all. More often than not we find Jesus trying to put people off. “Take up a cross”, “sell all you have”, “count the cost” are not the most obvious advertising slogans.

Amen. After reading Mr. Hall's article, by the way, it looks like he's found a pretty good answer to the original question.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Deceiving our hearers?

In Part 3 of his series, "Pastor What Are You Eager to Preach," John Fonville observes, "Those who think following practical advice, steps to victory, secrets for success, etc… will lead to holiness and obedience are deceived." John covers much more ground than I can deal with in a extract-post. Please read the whole thing.

What spirituality is not

It's good to see a minister expressing these sentiments. Ministry is a lot more than being nice, and love doesn't allowing someone to walk over and abuse you:
Sometimes love means saying "no." Love can mean being firm. Love can mean doing what you believe to be in the best interest of that person even if that person doesn’t appreciate what you are doing. Love can mean confronting. Love can mean speaking the truth in love.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Smashing icons

Bill Roberts observes that "honesty isn't everything;"

John Stackhouse (via PastorBlog) says "Jesus, I'm not in love with you"; and

Jeff Weddle has a spot-on answer for the old question, "What would you do today if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?"

Refocusing the Great Commission

This is thinking outside the box: Has Matt. 28:19-20 passed its prime as the rallying verses for missionary outreach? Eddie Arthur wonders if John 20:21 might be a more appropriate missionary focus for today:
God sent Jesus in humility, to serve and finally to sacrifice himself. Likewise, we should expect humility, service and sacrifice to be part of our lives as He sends us out. This sits very uneasily with some of the quasi-military rhetoric about marching and capturing and so on which is part of the current church scene. Our call is to be humble servants, not conquering heroes (and churches need to be prepared to support humble servants and not expect every prayer letter to be full of success stories).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nuts-and-bolts: Recycling sermons

Thinking about recycling a sermon series? Here's some sound advice from Steve Mathewson.

God at work

Mark Lauterbach, reflecting on the words of Eugene Peterson, points out that congregational ministry is more than preaching:
As I read various blogs about ministry, they seem to focus entirely on preaching. The calling of a pastor certainly involves preaching -- and preaching sets the tone and controls the atmosphere of the church. Well fed sheep nourished with well considered messages from the Word of God is crucial. Let us preach well! It is urgent to do so. If this is not done, all else is out of whack. But Peterson reminds me that ministry is more than preaching. . . .

It is hard work to look for God at work in my people -- it is easy to see sin at work. It takes prayer and reflection to see the workings of grace in the lives of people who are absorbed in the daily routines of life.

More than that, it is a work of faith to be a pastor who lives with integrity as a pastor -- to make sure I have folks who care for my soul and care for my ministry so that I am not drawn into a career path or become a therapist or a hypocrite whose life on the inside is not consistent in any way with my words.
Good point. Reading that post, by the way, made me wonder if Dr. Lauterbach reads TS.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

All of these

Taking care of ourselves

Preacher, have you ever run up against the expectation that a preacher work himself to death in ministry? Jim Martin won't have any of it:
. . . perhaps what churches need more than anything is to have ministers in their midst who are living healthy, godly lives. After all, Jesus makes a person fully human. I do not believe that Jesus intended for his followers (and that includes ministers) to live in such a way that we destroy ourselves and the people around us. I believe that the best thing that a mom and dad can bring to their children is an example of what it means to be fully human under Christ. The same is true of ministers and churches. The best thing I can do for the church I serve is to simply be human before them — fully human in Christ.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Well-applied pain

“The church or para-church organization that needs to change will invariably suffer pain....The best leaders are those willing to inflict the necessary hurt without doing harm”
- Leith Anderson
Dying for Change

In praise of proclamational preaching

Jared Wilson recently offered a few more thoughts on the centrality of proclamational preaching in worship:
It has been argued that you don't see examples of such preaching in Scripture. This is false. From Moses through the prophets to the Acts of the apostles, we see sermons.

We hear that this is a modern invention. It's not. In addition to Scriptural examples and precedent, we see examples of early church fathers preaching expository sermons.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Trusting in our sleep

I hadn't given this much thought, but it makes sense: A theology of sleep (HT: Between Two Worlds).

Willimon on preaching

Thanks to the fellows at Expository Thoughts for making Will Willimon's "Been There, Preached That" available online. Here's a sample:
The Bible doesn’t want to “help people.” It wants to help people in the name of Christ. Christ has a much different notion of our problems than we do. The Bible doesn’t just want to speak to us; it wants to change, convert, and detoxify us.

Each time we let the world set our homiletical agenda, scaling down our speech to that which anybody off the street can hear and understand without conversion or training, we lose the battle before it begins. We concede too much territory to the enemy.
The whole article is not long, and it's well worth reading.

Friday, September 14, 2007

To the next level

If preachers want to take our sermons to the next level, Steve Mathewson advises, always look in the scriptural text for "the vision of God" and the "depravity factor."

Who're we trying to impress?

“Is it not excessively ridiculous to seek the good opinion of those whom you would never wish to be like?”
- John Chrysostom (via)

Really different

Christian, do you sometimes become outraged by the slanders hurled at us by the world? Well then, you'd better pay attention to what a couple of bloggers have written on that very subject this week. The first is Jeff Weddle:
Kathy Griffin made a joke about Jesus and "Christians" are, once again, outraged. I put the term "Christian" in quotes because I’m a Christian and I don’t really care what Kathy Griffin says, other than the fact I feel sorry for her.

"Christians" who get outraged easily are doing so to show that they care. No, they won’t show they care by their life, but they will by their outrage. It’s overcompensation for their lack of faith on a daily basis.

"Christians" who get outraged at Kathy Griffin seem to forget the words of Jesus who said things like, "Don’t be surprised if the world hates you, it hated me first." These are people who have not counted the cost. These are people who don’t understand the reality of true faith.
David Wayne also shares some very worthwhile thoughts on the subject:
We say that Christians are different, and we are, and one of the main ways we are different from the world is that we don't take offense at offensive behavior or treatment. We are the people who love our enemies, who bless when cursed, who pray for our persecutors. We follow the one who only wanted forgiveness to be shown to those who crucified Him.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Getting out of the way

Theocentric Preaching has posted a keeper quote on resisting the temptation of trying to make the Bible relevant.

The Gospel-Driven Church shares related thoughts.

Faith in our systems?

How do Christians lose their joy and passion for Christ? Jim Martin has some ideas:
We spend our time and energy talking about our systems. "How will we get this done?" "When is the next meeting?" "Are you on the sub-committee?" Blah. Blah. Blah. Meanwhile, we may find that we can be in meetings (teachers, elders, staff, etc.) and talk with others for hours before anyone ever mentions Jesus or asks whether or not he is pleased with what we are about.
Jim's right.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lessons on preaching and serving

Eric Jones has distilled some high-proof lessons on preaching from Mark 6.

When good is considered bad

Eddie Arthur reflects on a report in the UK that more than half of Brits no think religion is harmful:
To my mind this represents a very important trend that Christians need to think about very seriously. The bottom line is that Christians and other people of faith are no longer seen as ‘good’ people. At one point a Christian might have been thought of as morally upstanding and a good member of society - someone you would cheerfully lend your lawnmower too, now they are more likely to be thought of as sexist bigots. People don’t think that religion is a good thing - even if they have some sort of spiritual beliefs themselves. (Yes, I realise that this may not make sense, but since when did people make sense?)
This information makes me wonder: how far behind are opinions in the US and Canada?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Loving the despiser in ourselves

This is thought-provoking: "When we are caught up in self-betrayal, 'admitting' we are unworthy is just one more strategy in our repertoire."


Early this morning Transforming Sermons welcomed the 100,000th recorded visitor since this blog began in January 2005. All I know is that the 100,000th visit came from Singapore. I began this blog as a way of sharing the best online resources to help Christians (and especially preachers) be transformed by the power of God. I thank our God for every one of you who reads and finds something helpful here.

Preaching's not all

Here's something to remember: Jesus not only preached; he also showed compassion:
We are commissioned by Jesus himself to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey all he has commanded. However, if you want to be like Jesus, then you had better be displaying real compassion and meeting both the spiritual and physical needs of people.
That's a good reminder. Thanks, Eric.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Why work?

John Schroeder writes on vocation and the gospel.

God- or self-entranced?

When was the last time you spoke on the holiness of Christians? J.D. Hatfield shares these thoughts:
The New Testament is centered on Christ, and its exhortations on the holiness of believers. This is not a simple call to obedience, but to holiness. Holiness is not righteousness, righteousness flows from holiness. Holiness isn’t simply obedience; it is being set apart for God and depending on God by drawing your boundaries, as God would have them. Obedience flows from holiness, and holiness is cultivated by a right understanding of God and what He has done for us in Christ. To understand Christ more fully is to be made more holy in practice.

A little perspective on men

I realized that most men below the age of 50 have never experienced masculinity as a positive thing, especially given the relentless stream of messages about male misbehavior and ostensible male oppression of women, plus the mass media depiction of men as villains and buffoons. When was the last time you heard a news story that depicted men, collectively, in a positive light? And before I gave this talk, many colleagues warned me that it would elicit huge protests and get me into trouble. (Fortunately they seem to have been mostly wrong.) It is sad to think that people expect a message of gender equality will elicit protests from women, and it shows how deeply our society has embraced the taboo against saying anything positive about men.

Friday, September 07, 2007

More on Sabbath


Paul Middleton writes on the spiritual discipline of silence (and of the need, on occasion, not to be silent).

Eager to preach the Gospel?

At Gospel Driven Blog, John Fonville has begun a series on how preaching the gospel and how easy it is not to. He's off to a strong start:
In the quest for relevance, success, growth and influence pastors have opted for practical, tip-oriented talks (not sermons). . . .Preaching has become more like a large group, self-help therapy session than an announcement of Good News. . . .

In this ecclesiological therapeutic culture, sermons no longer aim for conversion but at “better living.” Themes such as sin, guilt, condemnation, judgment, justification, atonement and propitiation have been replaced with therapeutic topics such as relationship counseling, sexual counseling, Christian 12-step groups, eight recovery principles based on the Beatitudes . . . parenting strategies, self-fulfillment, i.e., Your Best Life Now, learning true commitment, finding true purpose and true satisfaction, even insights on fitness and nutrition . . . .

The triumph of the therapeutic in the church is an illustration of how the heart of man incessantly cries out for law instead of gospel. Here we see the true fountain of legalism in both principle and practice. Church history shows that this is the way of all declining and backsliding churches.
I look forward to part 2.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Treasures for preachers

Peter Mead continues to post strong content on homiletical craft at Biblical Preaching. Rather than link to each article individually, I recommend you simply visit the site and keep scrolling.

Idolatry of nationalism

The political analysis is harsh; but then, challenging powers and principalities is apt to sound that way. And these observations about idolatry of the nation are dead-on:
I’m saying it as clearly as I know how to say it. Christian patriotism in America has crossed the line into clear idolatry. We evangelicals are very close to apostasy, and I can tell you that many of our brothers and sisters around the world can see it. I believe this idolatry—not Sun Myung Moon, not the DaVinci Code, not Hillary Clinton--is our our last-days deception. Those other things are bad, but there’s little danger that evangelicals will be deceived by them.

It ain’t deception if it ain’t seductive.
I recommend reading the whole article (HT: Caught in the Middle).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


These ten commandments for a preacher's day off are a keeper (especially the last one).


Christ didn’t come just for smiley people. The church was not established as an outpost for the happy-go-lucky. While smiling people are still welcome, we need to make sure Christians hear loud and clear that so are the broken, so are the downtrodden, so are the humble and the meek, so are those who haven’t smiled an authentic smile in years. The call comes to all that in order to fulfill the law of Christ we must bear each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2). In order to do so we must be authentic.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sounds right to me

Ranting for the gospel

Jared Wilson pulls no punches in defending the gospel against creeping idolatry of the cool, the prosperous, and the how-to. First, against the gospel of cool:
I just hate this stuff. I hate it. It reduces the glory of the Gospel to a marketing campaign based on who's cooler than whom. That works well when you're selling computers (or soft drinks or what-have-you). But it is flat-out anti-Christian when you're ridiculing other members of the Body to sell your spiritual product.

This is reverse pharisaism. It really is. "I thank you God that I'm not like that lame, religious retard over there."

This is just symptomatic of the consumerist, self-centered, behavioristic, culture-driven lunacy passing for ministry today. It is an anti-gospel, and it is the spirit of the anti-christ at work.
He also challenges the good-life gospel in all its forms:
And if you think this crap is limited to the name-it-claim-it crowd, you are mistaken. It has been creeping into our evangelical churches for years, and you see this discontentment with the Gospel every time you hear a message that treats the Bible like an advice column or a self-help quote book or that treats worship like a performance. Any time the purpose of worship is YOU, you might as well be getting the holy spirit pixie dust from Rod Parsley. It's the same false gospel, just packaged for a different crowd.
Jared has taken heat for the force of his argument, and for naming names. He defends his original article here.