Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The cornball and the pulpit

Peter Mead, ever the homileticist, finds helpful lessons on preaching from watching TJ Hooker reruns: Part 1 and Part 2.

The unkind kind

Tony Myles has several theories on why so many churches are full of unkind Christians. I found this most striking:
We don't always know if we've grown or if we've just gotten more intelligent about spiritual things. So we create a lot of rules that smell like Scripture but really are our own desire to feel in control... and we use them to tear others up.
"Rules that smell like Scripture." That's a keeper.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On God-centered preaching

"Ultimately, preaching is a reflection of our theology of God. If one believes that God is all-sufficient, and that all things exist in relationship to him and for his glory, then preaching will center itself on God. If one has a lesser view of God, then that preacher will speak on lesser things."

A balanced view of balance

It's refreshing to read an essay on balance--on a weblog no less:
Now balance is a word that portrays, to some, a sense of the safe, of the non-committal, of the middle-road. I would counter that balance is, in actuality, exciting, dangerous and very hard work. . . . Unfortunately, balance doesn't sell books or get people to read a blog post . . ."
Too true, but I do hope you'll read Bill Roberts's, eh, balanced thoughts on balance at Out of the Bloo.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Running blind

Is the North American church "blind to sinister forces"?

Praying and preaching

The relationship between prayer and preaching is one preachers need always to remember. The latest on the topic is from Colin Adams.

Read, read, read the Bible

A Steward of the Secret Things is running a weblog series on 2 Timothy 2:2 and the training of beginning preachers. These words from Dr. Geoffrey Grogan on Bible reading are especially rich advice for aspiring preachers:
You should read, read, read and go on reading, and you need to start doing so straight away. A daily portion for devotional meditation is important and indispensable, but a preacher or prospective preacher needs to go way beyond this. Turn off the television and spend several hours each evening with your Bible open, and make a start TODAY. Use a good sturdy Bible, probably with a hard cover, with good marginal references, and any method - marking, taking notes, circling in red ink any marginal reference that seems particularly significant - any method at all that will impress the inspired text on your memory, your imagination and your heart. Get inside the Bible and ask God to enable you to get it inside you.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Community and calling

This is good advice: "I would strongly suggest to any would-be preacher that he get all the help he can on whether or not he is gifted for such a work.

Not reductionism or "content dump"

Word for word, Steve Mathewson's essay on the challenge of application is one of the best I've read.

Blogging idolatry

Tom Rush is exploring his own experiences with blogging and pride. At the risk of fueling Mr. Rush's pride (and stepping on a few blogging toes), I'd like to share a few of his insights:
Those of you that pastor; you have people that complain about you, and people that applaud you. Have you ever noticed how ready you are to classify them as those that “don’t get it” and those who “do”? The people cheering you on are especially perceptive, aren’t they? Reliable and godly, salt-of-the-earth types. They must be, because they like you.

Take that foolishness and apply a measurable scale to it, that you can check daily. Watch your blog stats climb. You can actually look at a line-graph of readers’ perception of your greatness! And, with a young blog, that line graph is almost always climbing! See how often others refer to your words and help build your esteem! Finally, the globe is waking up to my significance! At last, the dream is alive!

And of course it’s only ego that’s alive. A sluggish idol has been revitalized. A run-down pagan temple is getting a spruce-up.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Prayer request

Mark Lauterbach, his neighbors and congregation are being affected by the wildfires in California. For details and specific prayer requests, see Mark's recent posts at GospelDrivenLife.

Worth reading

Richard A. Rhodes offers insights on perfectionism, Bible translation, and discipleship.

Real power of transformation

How will the church attract the next generation to Christ? Eric Jones is banking on two truths: "the evident power of God and...the evident display of transformed lives":
This means that we must be living out the Christian life. We must be effected by the cross in real and obvious ways. The power of God must be doing its work in our lives. The fruit of sanctification and the Holy Spirit must be evident.

That’s all good, but what does this look like in a church service? Well, let’s stop trying to be relevant by focusing on how we all have so many shortcomings, by celebrating mediocrity, and by always acting so broken. Instead, let’s share the victories we are experiencing in Christ. Let’s celebrate the change that people are experiencing. Let’s offer testimonies of breakthrough, healing, restored relationships, and real transformation. Let’s offer hope.
Amen. I wonder if that wouldn't work for my generation, too. As much as I hear people talk about Christians wanting ministers who "lead with a limp," I can't say I've ever met very many of them. Weakness and brokenness is everywhere. But only the church has the transforming power of God's Holy Spirit.

At the same time, Jared Wilson is on-target in his assessment that "I don't trust anyone who says following Jesus means everything should go great for me, because nobody who's ever lived has ever had everything go great. It is not honest to say one can avoid suffering and defeat and failure."

Amen again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In praise of "the naked text"

Preaching Now now available

After two-months of silence, Preaching Now is back online.

"Give less a chance"

Chad Hall is trying, personally and professionally, to move beyond the wasteful, consumeristic values of North American culture. He's learned that doing so comes down to simplifying:
Our society and systems seem incapable of handling the never-ceasing expansion of want and need. Our souls are groaning and the planet is buckling beneath the collateral damage of growth. Landfills are full, the air is thick, and we cannot drink from many of our streams.

In light of our growing problems, maybe the church should give small a chance. I propose that ministry leaders are just the ones to help Christ followers exchange big for small. After all, leaders are supposed to help usher others toward something better (not just something bigger), so maybe we should start ushering folks toward living lives that are less hectic, less cluttered, less selfish, less toxic. And maybe instead of a big ad campaign advertising “LESS!” we should start living with less ourselves. Instead of just preaching it from the pulpit, maybe some personal choices would help slow down the growth, bring some sanity to our lives and make the world more livable.
Amen. For Christians, issues of environmental stewardship should be focused not so much on how consumption damages the planet, as in how it damages the soul. I recommend reading Mr. Hall's whole article--if nothing else, the penultimate paragraph makes the whole essay worthwhile.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Utterly unlike an essay"

Preachers, do you deliver "sermons that attack"?

Spiritual diet

Re-imaging evangelism

But what happens to our view of evangelism if the primary focus is the advancement of the Kingdom not the growth of the church? Then evangelism is not concerned with numbers, budgets, or corporate effectiveness, but with embodying the prayer — “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Called to joy

Good take on Ecclesiastes

Applicationed to death

Bloggers have been publishing some worthwhile thoughts on application and preaching. Here's one from Steve Mathewson:
I’m a firm believer in helping my listeners apply the Scriptures to their lives. . . . But I find that incorporating application into my sermons on a week-to-week basis is a challenge.

For me, the challenge is reductionism. By this, I refer to the practice of reducing application to a list of ‘life application points’ at the end of each sermon. Our culture is fond of lists. Number them, or put bullet points in front of them. Either way, listeners are eager to write them down and then, we hope, to work on fleshing them out in their lives.

But one comment I heard a few years ago made me pause. A believer who attended a midwest church known for its pastor’s preaching ministry complained, “If my pastor gives me one more life application point, I’m going to scream. I’m still trying to work on the ones from four months ago!”
Good, uh, point. Peter Mead has posted this follow-up to Steve's essay.

Friday, October 19, 2007

It doesn't belong to us

Reflecting on church work, Jim Martin observes that "There is something very freeing about working hard, loving people, and then leaving all of this in God’s hands."


"It is Easier for a Camel to Go Through the Eye of a Needle than for a Cool Man to Enter the Kingdom of God."

That's Jared Wilson. You can find more insights on Christians and cool here.

"A reflection of our theology"

At Theocentric Preaching Darryl Dash hits a longball with his essay on "the basis of God-centered preaching":
There are many reasons why preachers don’t preach God-centered messages. One of the reasons, though, has to do with the fear that preaching about God will be irrelevant to people’s lives today. In other words, we fear that preaching about God will lead to sermons that lack relevance.

I can understand this concern: preaching has to connect with the people sitting in the congregation before us. It isn’t wrong for preachers to be concerned about relevance at all.

The challenge for preachers, though, is to truly believe that there is nothing more relevant to people today than God. Nothing is more relevant to God.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dufi disciples

He's taken heat in the past for what some readers perceive as a flippant attitude, but John Frye's take on Jesus, social status, and discipleship is seriously strong.

Pleasing to God

Mark Lauterbach looks at 1 Thess. 4:1-12 and the idea that Christians, here and now, can be pleasing to God. How? Through grace:
A number of years ago I had a member of my congregation come to me after a sermon. They said something very simple, "Pastor, we really are trying to do this. I am sorry we disappoint you." They did not mean it as a rebuke. They were sincere. But it was a massive rebuke. I was, apparently, conveying a "your life is not pleasing to God" perspective.

This is remarkable. How can sanctification be motivated by that? Don't we have to threaten and cajole? Thomas Chalmers speaks to that in his "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection." It is a remarkable essay, for two reasons. First, it was written in a day when I think pastors were paid for writing by the word. In other words, it is not concise. But the last few pages are well worth the labor. Second, it is grace motivating. Chalmers asks -- when you are engaged in admonishing people to be holy as the condition of a life pleasing to God, what can you expect but despair? Holiness is impossible. Telling people to strive for it in order to please God is not encouraging at all. But, he notes, when they begin their sanctification from a settled conviction that they are fully accepted (and not merely tolerated) before God because of the Savior -- they are free to seek to please God with joy. Far from encouraging licentiousness, grace enables godliness.

More than that, I resist this. I have begun to see how profoundly self-righteous I am. I simply do not want to believe that my life is pleasing to God in Christ. I do not want God to be pleased. I almost fear the idea. Because I am not yet pleased with myself and God must be mistaken. I must attain a level of godliness that I think is suitable and then I can accept this. I may not be alone in this.
I'm quite sure he's not.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Troubling but true

Peter Mead looks at application in preaching and comes to this conclusion: "Perhaps a lack of application in the pulpit is the fruit of a lack of application in personal study. The implications are frightening."


The joy of joy

Jared Wilson wonders about joy as a missing ingredient in discipleship:
When I weary of a doctrinal compatriot's constant knocking of the Church to the extent that it essentially becomes their raison d'blog, I stop seeing "prophet" and start seeing "scrooge." I see the pervasive unhappiness with the spiritual quality of fellow believers not as indication of the blogger's properly calibrated prophetic barometer but as indication of their thinly veiled joylessness.

Remember: only God gets to vomit people out.
Jared offers further thoughts on joy here. David Wayne has also posted on joy at Jollyblogger.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Understanding the difference

This is one of the best descriptions of preaching I've read lately:
We live in a dark world. Our hearts long for goodness, beauty, justice, and peace, but they are often hidden behind the shadow cast by evil and sin. This is why preaching is so necessary. Whenever the kingdom of God is proclaimed, it is like a bright burst of light. In those brief moments, the shadows recede and we are given a glimpse of a world behind the darkness. It is a sublime vision that reorders our perception of reality and leaves us hungry for more.

This understanding of preaching, the unveiling of an inspiring vision of God's kingdom, is not the one I've always held. I was formed to think that the primary purpose of preaching was instruction. This view of preaching expects the informed, articulate person behind the pulpit to teach the congregation divine truths and skills. The pupils are then expected to bury these seeds of biblical knowledge away in their brains where in time they germinate into godly values and behaviors, although few people seem surprised when they don't.
The writer is Skye Jethani, and his whole article,"Glimpses of Glory," is worth reading.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Planning application

This looks helpful: Mark Dever's six-point "application grid" for preaching.

More than individuals

Once again, David Fitch has written something worth putting up with the blinking page ads at to read:
Our churches are organized to meet the spiritual needs of individuals, and our salvation is incredibly individualistic. Calling Jesus “a personal Savior” sounds like Jesus is in the same category as my personal barber, personal trainer, or personal dental hygenist. . . The danger is making salvation all about me.

I know it didn't start out this way in evangelicalism, but it was latent in the structure of our soteriology. And so we have almost romanticized our relationship with God; created a narcissistic experience of it. And churches become all about preserving, maintaining, and nurturing this experience in their parishioners.

But the gospel is not about getting something, it is about participating in something—God's work of reconciling the whole world to Himself. And yes, we do have a relationship with God which becomes personal but it is inseparable from His mission.
Amen, amen, and amen.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Grace in discipline

Whatever we may think of these folks' theology, there's something to be said for "the grace of a disciplined life."

Not better, but new

"When one makes the connection between New Testament repentance and New Testament redemption, the picture is not, at its heart, better behaviors or better thoughts or more success in life. It's not about becoming a better us. The picture is nothing less radical than resurrection. It is going from death to life."

"A glimpse of what can be"

One of the reasons spiritual immaturity is rampant in the North American church is that we too often present the gospel and discipleship within a consumeristic model: do this and you'll get that. A goal for my preaching and blogging is learning how to explain the gospel as more than simply personal salvation. That's why coming across this essay reminds me why Larry Chouinard is one of my favorite writers on the net these days:
So what can we learn from Scripture about God’s way of addressing the problem of evil and shattering its debilitating effects? In Jesus God’s justice takes on human flesh and counters the permeating effects of evil with a holiness that produces cleansing, a power that assaults the very strongholds of evil, and a Kingdom that provided a vision of an alternative way. Jesus has come to plunder the kingdom of the “strong man” (=Satan) and liberate all those held prisoner by his tyrannical power (Luke 11:21-22; cf. 4:18). The demonized and those crippled by sickness and disease are freed from their bondage and invited to participate in a Kingdom not of this world. His presence exposed institutional corruption (Matthew 21-23), and challenged the Empire with an alternative Kingdom (John 18:36). Jesus provided us a glimpse of the “powers of the coming age” (Hebrews 6:5), as the stormy seas are calmed (Mark 4:35-41), the possessed are restored to their right mind (5:1-20), the marginalized are brought near (5:21-34), and death is overcome by the giver of life (5:35-43). In Jesus we find a power fully capable of reversing the deadly effects of evil and its contamination at all levels of human existence.
Amen. And if this sample hasn't gotten you fired-up about what Larry is saying, I recommend you read the whole article.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Law of attraction

Jared Wilson reflects on evangelism, discipleship, and the idea that "What you win them with is what you win them to":
Does it even strike anyone as odd that the prevailing church model these days is only loosely based on an interpretation of the attractional aspect of Jesus' ministry?

I mean, attractional ministry and missional ministry don't have to be mutually exclusive, but the way the pendulum swings so far toward the attractional worship paradigm, you'd think Jesus and the disciples were playing clips from Sophocles, punctuated by some powerful ballad with Peter on the lute, and then a tidy little message on how to succeed as a fisherman.
This excerpt is only the smallest sample of Jared's essay. It's fairly long but worth the effort.

Baby food

Ever wonder why the church is so full of spiritual babies?
I have concluded that our branch of the Christian movement (sometimes called Evangelical) is pretty good at wooing people across the line into faith in Jesus. And we’re also not bad at helping new-believers become acquainted with the rudiments of a life of faith: devotional exercise, church involvement, and basic Bible information—something you could call Christian infancy.

But what our tradition lacks of late—my opinion anyway—is knowing how to prod and poke people past the “infancy” and into Christian maturity.
That's Gordon MacDonald, and I think his assessment is correct. The way the church comprehends and proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ affects where we go in discipleship. If we present the Gospel as nothing more than "do this and you'll go to heaven" and discipleship as "keep doing this and you'll stay on the Heaven Highway," then we shouldn't be surprised if many Christians care about nothing more than their own personal salvation. For the next couple of days, I'll be linking to articles that show a better way.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Asking for input

The folks at PreachingToday blog are asking for comments on how to improve the site. If you have a minute, please consider letting them know.

Rising above the sub-biblical

This blog focuses on spiritual transformation. It's good to be reminded, though, that sub-biblical transformation is not what God calls for.

HT: HarborChurch

Powerful stuff

Does anything stand out to you in this excerpt from Kent Carlson's account of shifting the preaching emphasis at the large, growing church where he ministered?
We became convinced that we—and much of the evangelical entrepreneurial subculture—were extremely consumeristic. We realized our ministry was oriented around providing religious benefits for people, and that we'd been encouraging people to choose the church they wanted to attend based on those benefits. So we pulled away from consumerism and became enthralled with our own process of formation as leaders. We began to attend to the details of our own lives, and then had to try to communicate this new focus to the people in our church. Sadly, the church did not respond very well to the shift of emphasis, and we witnessed [a mass] exodus from the church during this time. But we continued to stay faithful to the vision we believed God had given us for the church.
It's rare to find a preacher that frank and determined. I don't know anything about Kent Carlson, but I hope his account is for real.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Better OT preaching

Darryl Dash has posted a tantalizingly brief essay on a better way to preach Old Testament narrative.

Update: Steve Mathewson also shares helpful advice on preaching longer OT narratives.

A useful distinction

Jared Wilson points out that "The full Gospel is not Christ atoning for us and then us doing good works; the full Gospel is Christ atoning for us and then reconciling us with each other." Jared goes on to explain:
This may sound like a distinction without a difference, but it really is different. It is the difference between seeing the Sermon on the Mount as merely "stuff to do" and seeing it as "stuff to be." The Sermon on the Mount is good news not so far as it is giving us a new law, but in so far as it announces that under this new law the poor in spirit are blessed, the meek will inherit the earth, those who hunger for righteousness will be satisfied, etc.

This is why the Gospel is news, not advice.
Exactly. Jared develops these thoughts further in his short essay, "Obedience is about reconciliation."

Monday, October 08, 2007

Learning to think

It's delightful to be shown fresh insights into old, familiar portions of the Bible. John Frye's article on Ecclesiastes did that for me.

Taking time for imagination

Peter Mead urges preachers to take the time to make the Word come alive in the minds of our hearers:
Just because a clear image comes into your mind as you read a text, do not assume others see it clearly or at all. Take time to describe what the text is referring to, not only so people have the facts, but so they can see it in their minds. Careful and vivid, specific and focused description will eventually lead to an image emerging in the shadows of their minds. This will take some time. If you are preaching about Paul’s thorn in the flesh, take the time to help people enter into the reality of a thorn in the flesh. If you are preaching a story with a terrifying storm, do what it takes for people not only to know about bad storms, but see the waves in their minds, to feel their hearts racing and their breathing become shallow.
Sounds like good advice.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Knowing our hearers

This is a little off-topic, but...

Dan Horwedel offers advice for weddings and honeymoons: "Take it slowwwwww."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Learning a thing or two

Jim Martin has learned a few things in his decades of ministry. At A Place for the God Hungry Jim lets us in on a few of them.

Knowing the basics

Peter Mead offers sound advice on the basics of preaching stories.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Yet more on expository preaching

Still not convinced of the benefits from expository preaching? Ramesh Richard lists seventeen of them at A Steward of the Secret Things.

Gospel according to Oprah

Matt Dabbs has a few thoughts on Isaiah 5:20-21 and pornography.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Extravagant for God

Eric Jones considers Mark 14 and asks, "Are you pouring out your best?"

Preparing ourselves to preach

It's probably worth wading through all the page ads to read this article by John Ortberg on preparing ourselves to preach:
How do we prepare our souls for this task? We are fallible people, yet we are to speak for God, so our preparation is not just getting our spiritual life "amped up" for a weekend service. It is a way of life: "What kind of person am I becoming so that preaching is the outflow of a certain kind of life, and it comes out of me in a way that God wants it to come out?" This means we should prepare our souls not just for a week of preaching, but for a life of preaching.

HT: Brian Lowery

Monday, October 01, 2007

No more peacemongering

Jim Martin, reflecting on the words of Edwin Friedman, describes the difference between peacemaking and peacemongering. Jim, by the way, has written helpful advice on this topic before.

Homiletic cross-referencing

Peter Mead offers some helpful advice on scriptural cross-referencing in preaching. For preachers in Bible-oriented churches, this advice is especially helpful:
If you do cross-reference, then…don’t make it into a sword drill. That is to say, don’t overwhelm or distract people by expecting, or even allowing, them to hunt down every reference. This is too much for many, and can create an inner crisis for note-takers!
Amen. That quote's from Part 2. Part 1 is also worth reading.


This weblog is an effort to share the best online resources I've found for helping preachers transform their sermons into sermons that transform. It has also become a way for other Christians, whatever their form of service in the church, to find resources for helping us not be conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

There's an overwhelming amount of information available online. Every week I read hundreds of blog posts and articles to find the best that's out there for my own ministry. I began Transforming Sermons in January 2005 as a way of sharing the riches. But at times the ocean of information is overwhelming, and so I'm taking a week's rest. I have enough posts saved up that the site won't look much different this week, but I'll only be checking in long enough to post a couple of articles each day. I look forward to the rest, and to getting back next week to reading your posts and comments.

I thank God for blessing me through those of you who read this blog. Your virtual presence allows me to share the treasures I've found.