Friday, November 30, 2007

Christ-centered preaching

Of the hundreds of articles I've read this year on preaching, this one is by far the most challenging and exciting (HT: Unashamed Workman).

Church and community

Dan Edelen: "Want to hurt the Church in this country even more? Increasingly force congregants to move every few years to chase jobs."

Money ministry

So preachers, are we letting money become our god?
. . .when you sign on to a church or a ministry organization, you don't sign up for the money. You sign up because you believe in the mission. And when you don't whole-heartedly embrace the mission any longer, or the methods that are being used to accomplish that mission, it's time for you to go – regardless of the financial impact.

But people don't do that. Why? Because the false security that money provides becomes our God. We worship it. We bow to it. We sacrifice our character and integrity for it. We lose our soul for it. And we get trapped by the big paycheck. And we'll look back at our lives and realize we spent significant chunks of our time here on Earth laboring for a cause we didn't truly believe in. We'll realize we were hypocrites. We were acting. We were playing a part.
And what makes that dynamic so deadly is that few if any admit what's really happening.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Praying for others

Keith Brenton wonders, "As followers of Christ, do our prayers for others outnumber our prayers for ourselves?"

Getting out of the way

Godblogging has the potential to be the best tool in God's arsenal to turn the church universal around, to bring it to a point where His mission and desire is being fulfilled. But like all things He seeks to accomplish, we put ourelves squarely in the way.

Language of the Kingdom

Jared Wilson reminds us that the Kingdom of God is a counter-culture with its own language and concepts. Although we always should try to bridge the gap to the lost, we mustn't abandon the language of the Kingdom:
Some examples of words and concepts that are good, that we should protect because they belong to the kingdom counterculture:
-- grace
-- atonement
-- redemption
-- Gospel

Those are words and concepts that are fuzzy outside their home culture. The mistake we make is when we abandon these words and concepts as "not useful" or "no longer meaningful" rather than to put them to good use and lend them meaning by both teaching them and living them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Exegesis online

Here's an online tool for doing studies of the Greek NT (and thanks to B2W for the link).

Update: And here, compliments of an anonymous commenter, is another useful site.

Words and warmth

Eddie Arthur: "The Gospel is about the kingdom of God being experienced by living communities of redeemed people. Not about disembodied words."

Sanctification and the gospel

Amid the culture of instant gratification, it's good to be reminded that service in the Kingdom is life-long. Along those lines, J.D. Hatfield tells how "applying the Gospel to all of life IS sanctification":
The kingdom of God within you comes slowly but surely, the blade, the ear, and then the full corn in the ear. It is a progression, you see. And this progress is a process, one where we have a part to play. The farmer doesn’t know how the crop of corn grows but he does plant the seed, water it and cultivate the soil itself. Which type of ground are you?

There is a process, a molding of our character and will into the image of God. “Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity” (Romans 12:2 – JBP).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Faith and discipleship

"Faith comes standing at the cross, discipleship comes on it."

Best of the new

Ray Van Neste, remembering that "The beginning of wisdom is knowing what not to read," looks at helpful Bible and reference works published in 2007 (HT: Between Two Worlds).

All authority in Christ

Thanks to Kouya Chronicle for pointing to this quote from N.T. Wright on scriptural authority:
. . . I’ve been trying to stress that the risen Jesus does not say to the disciples, “All authority on heaven and earth is given to the books you chaps are going to go off and write.” He says, “All authority on heaven and earth is given to Me.” So that if we say that Scripture is authoritative, what we must actually mean is that the authority which is vested in Christ alone is mediated through Scripture.

That’s a more complicated thing than simply having a book on the shelf, full of right answers that you can go and look up. It’s more a way of saying that when we read Scripture and determine to live under it, we are actually saying we want to live under the sovereign lordship of Jesus mediated through this book.

When you say it like that, then all sorts of other things happen as a result, like what is the sovereign lordship of Jesus all about? Is it simply to fill our heads with right answers to difficult questions? Well, right answers to difficult questions are better than wrong answers to difficult questions. But no, the authority of Jesus Christ is there to transform and heal and save the world, to make the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. So the question then is, how does the authority of Scripture serve that purpose?. And that’s actually much more interesting than simply using Scripture to settle or raise indeed doctrinal disputes within the church.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Beyond busyness

Peter Mead reminds preachers to keep first things first.

Pictures & principles of interpretation

This looks like helpful advice for interpreting the Bible.

Learning discipleship

We must help our people to be immersed in the story of Jesus and allow that story to transform how one sees the world -- e.g., politics, economics, war, justice, at risk people-groups, the environment, ethnic cleansing, and poverty. We must come clean on our prejudicial readings that only reinforce our white, affluent, consumer, nationalistic, market-driven, cultural bias, and learn how to read Scripture through the lens of first century realities. For the most part, Scripture is the product of people who were exiled, enslaved, marginalized, poor, and largely excluded from the ranks of the powerful and the cultural elite. The Bible is one of those rare documents that tells its story from the vantage point of those at the bottom rather than the spin of those with social clout and status. That may be why the faith resonates so powerfully in third world countries.

Friday, November 23, 2007

"The final act of grace"

Worth remembering during Thanksgiving week: graciousness.

Update: John Schroeder shares further thoughts on graciousness: "I am convinced that more than any single trait a Christian can have, graciousness is the one that will make converts. Simple acts of human kindness will tell people, particularly in this brusk and rapid world that we are different, and what we have is good." Amen.

Expository prayer

'“Lord, of all the things I can say about this text, what do your people need to hear this week?”'

Praying big

Preacher, do these words stir your heart?
At the end of Ephesians 3 Paul tells us that God is able to do immeasurably abundantly more than we ask or even imagine. I suspect that with many Christians, God is not feeling stretched. If we don’t imagine big, then we don’t ask big. God can do more than we ask or imagine, but too often we make fulfilling that Scripture far too straightforward for our Lord. Let’s not only approach the throne of grace with the jaded requests of a tired minister. As preachers who seek to stir the faith of others, let’s take some time and dare to dream big dreams.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Preaching and hero worship

Thanks to Out of Ur for this link.

Facing the tough question

Preachers, are you offering sermon substitutes?

Holidays and character

Theologically, I suspect this writer and I differ widely, but this is still good stuff:
Many Americans, especially women, are so tired from all the preparations that by the time Christmas arrives, they are completely unable to enjoy it.

Holidays also signal another unique kind of stress: The “oh, my god, we have to spend time with the relatives” variety. Sadly, this time of year is all-too-often rife with anxiety, consternation, and emotional upheaval because folks are expected to spend time with their extended families, as well as a variety of friends, neighbors, acquaintances, business associates, and, last but not least, fellow church-goers.
Too true, especially when we put ourselves under pressure to be jolly. Check out this conclusion:
We can all deepen our enjoyment of the upcoming holiday season if we remember that the purpose of Christianity is not to avoid difficulties with our relatives, in-laws, boss, coworkers, neighbors, fellow parishioners, et al., but to produce a character adequate to meet those difficulties when they come.
Very true, especially if we remember that for Christians, that character is being produced by, for, and in the image of Christ Jesus.

Thanks to BlogWatch for the link. And thanks, most importantly, to our mighty God for his ridiculously overwhelming grace.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Crux of the matter

Jared Wilson, with a little help from Os Guinness and Mr. Standfast, writes about the centrality of the cross in Christian discipleship.

"All things in common"

Here's a noteworthy illustration on Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-37, compliments of PreachingToday.

On death and doctrine

". . . in the face of death and existential terror one has a choice to make. You can either move forward into the anxiety with courage and authenticity or you can retreat from the anxiety and clutch at comforting illusions. You can either take the risk of authentic faith along with its accompanying doubts and fears, or you can choose safety and use "faith" as an existential sleeping pill."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Grace and judgment

Richard Hall offers some brief but helpful thoughts on salvation and Mt. 25:31-46.

OK, fess up

Tantalizing if True asks, "Are you holier than God?"

Mongrel discipleship

The Web is a wonderful means for sharing insights into God's Word and discipleship. But a downside of blogging among Christians is that it does tend to deepen sectarian ruts. It's refreshing, therefore, to read Dan Edelen's insights into what he's learned from a number of different Christian denominations. Dan has wrtten a good essay, and I particularly like this observation:
If this makes me a “mongrel in the Faith,” then I’m a mongrel. In defense of mongrels, I’ll say this much: we aren’t prone to genetic diseases that afflict the purebreds, and we’re certainly not inbred to the point of weakness.
Amen. Good to see some Christians don't allow theological sectarianism to hide the truth. And the metaphor is certainly apt.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Preaching as long-distance running

Sometimes it helps to remember that most Christian transformation happens over the long haul.

Two rich

For lectionary preachers, the moment has already passed, but this reflection on Luke 18 and 19 is still worth reading.

Real citizenship

Paul Middleton shares his experiences in challenging the supremacy of the United States in the church:
The kingdom of God subverts every other kingdom. Including America. And that's not a popular thing to say. After saying such a thing in a sermon I was approached afterwards by one who seemed almost ready to argue over the virtues of living in America. I would have likely agreed with most everything that person would have said. In fact, I did agree with everything that person did say that day. But I was left with the distinct impression that if we had to choose between America and the church some would choose America. The fact that we can choose both, but subordinate the church to our country says something profound about our country and where some in the church in our country are in terms of the meaning of faith.
Too true, I fear.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Getting the most out of this blog

"This site is best viewed by turning off your computer and participating in real life." - Tantalizing if True

Consumerism and citizenship

BlogWatch has a couple of helpful links on the topic.

Whose story?

"When we try to fit God into our “life movie,” the plot is all wrong—and not just wrong, but trivial. When we are pulled out of our own drama and cast as characters in his unfolding plot, we become part of the greatest story ever told. It is through God’s word of judgment (law) and salvation (gospel) that we are transferred from our own “life movie” and inserted into the grand narrative that revolves around Jesus Christ."

Relevance and revelation

S. M. Hutchens has hit a home-run with these observations:
The relevance of the Church to modern society depends on continuation in preaching and teaching its old Message, that is, on what modernists, who are by definition not Christians, and whose relevancies are continually disrupted by the teachings of the Church, condemn as irrelevant. The attraction of the Church rests in its reliability, its deportment of itself in every way as though it believed that Truth does not change, and that one will find it here.

Yet everywhere we are seeing the death of relevance-seeking churches that profess above all things the desire of speaking to modern people in idioms they understand. The apology for this is, of course, How will they understand the Gospel message if we don't speak it in their language? But behind most of this talk is a lie. I have come to believe that church leaders who say this may be presumed, lacking evidence to the contrary, not to have an evangelical bone in their bodies. Behind it is, in fact, the question, How can I maintain the advantages Christianity has brought me and, at the same time, have the world reward me for playing its game? How can I be at the same time in the pay of God and the King of Sodom?

The Lord's answer to this is clear: one cannot serve two masters. The test of which master is being served is easy: Is the person who professes the desire to speak to the world in a language it understands willing not only to comfort, but offend those who hear him with the ancient faith, as the real Gospel, the old Gospel, always does? This is the Relevance of the Church, and the churches will never know if "religion" is actually on the decline until they test the waters by preaching and teaching the Eternal Gospel that calls men not simply to believe what the demons believe, but also to repent--which is part of believing--with all this implies about opposition to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and about the personal beliefs and behavior of the faithful.
Amen. I recommend the whole article.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Health and fitness

What's the difference between health and fitness? J.D. Hatfield shares a few spot-on thoughts (and a couple of top-shelf sermon illustrations).

Confessing or fixing?

Sad but probably true: the contrast between Augustine's Confessions and the church today.

Good works and idolatry

This is good stuff, from Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength:
The kingdom of heaven is where God is glorified, not just a place that happens to be up high. And we too can work very hard at seeking a higher ground and being better, but if our greatest goal is our own betterment, then we are self-worshipers and idolaters.

And if we strive, the purpose of striving cannot really be to reach God, since He is already here with us.
Amen. And thanks to BlogWatch for the link.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cud-chewing and exegesis

Preacher, do you take time to ruminate on the text?

Sustenance of the Word

I'm weary of books, blogs, and articles that tell us "how" to live the Christian life. The flesh counts for nothing, people. We are beating a dead horse when we keep trying to look/act like the good little Christian by following Christian principles. We need to be transformed. God's grace alone does that as we go to Him, day after day, for the sustenance of His Living Word.

Only natural?

"Naturalness" in preaching is not the same as what comes naturally, says Peter Mead:
I am not advocating performance. I am saying that effective preaching takes hard work, thought and much prayer. Just relaxing doesn’t cut it.
As always, there's lots of good, practical advice at Biblical Preaching.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Remembering our hearers

Blog at Bree offers good advice on targeting our sermons.

On true freedom

The Christian gospel is a message of liberation to those who are enslaved by sin. In our presentation of the gospel we must not stop with forgiveness because as wonderful as that is, Jesus not only promises to forgive our sins, but to set us free from the power of sin. Even though our experience of complete liberation from sin, and from death which is inevitably attached to it, awaits the new heaven and earth, here and now, in this life, there is power to live a life of faith and repentance in the Lord.

This profound experience of liberation with the promise of complete liberation to come should make Christians sensitive to forms of human slavery that exist in our world today and we should be willing to do what we can to break the bonds of those who are oppressed by cruel and immoral masters.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tools for the toil

Judging Jephthah

Judges is filled with truth about God and his people, Israel. Darryl Dash reveals some of those riches in his comments on the story of Jephthah:
For the first time in Judges, they get a judge without God's involvement. God had written them off and told them he wouldn't give them another leader. Another leader wasn't the solution. They needed to repent.

Instead of listening to God, they go, "Okay, I guess it's up to us." They go looking for their own leader, instead of dealing with the problems that they know they have.

Jephthah got to be leader because people were looking for a quick fix instead of dealing with the deeper issues, which is still a temptation for us today. We are still looking for Jephthah's - charismatic leaders with track records - to bail us out, but a charismatic leader and a strategic plan is not the answer to every predicament. Sometimes the issues run deeper.
That's an intriguing take on the Jephthah account. It's debatable whether or not God was actually involved in choosing Jephthah to deliver Israel. Based on Israel's repentance directly before Jephthah's appearance (10:16), I'm inclined to believe that God was, in fact, involved in the process. Nevertheless, Darryl's insights on the church's ongoing preference for skill over Spirit is certainly on target.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Upside-down, inside-out

"The key to understanding the laws that govern God’s Kingdom is to realize that the processes of the kingdom are inverted; they are exactly the opposite of what the world teaches, and at first glance, they seem to be counter-intuitive. To obtain what we desire, we have to do the opposite of what we would normally do. When the world says stop, Jesus says go. When the world says go for it, Jesus says no. The laws of inversion are actually the fruits of a Christ-centered life, and this, as Christians know, is diametrically opposed to the world’s views."

A new culture

Once again William Willimon has put into words an important truth about preaching:
I don't believe that the Bible wants to "speak to the modern world." Rather, I think the Bible wants to change, convert the modern world. . . .

Rather than reaching out to speak to our culture, I think our time as preachers is better spent inculturating Twenty First Century Americans into that culture which is called church. There is no way that I can crank the gospel down to the level where any American can walk in off the street and know what it is all about within fifteen minutes. One can't even do that with baseball! You have to learn the vocabulary, the rules, and the culture in order to understand it. Being in church is something at least as different as baseball.
Amen. I highly recommend Dr. Willimon's whole essay.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sound familiar?

". . .guilt---try harder---guilt---try harder. The treadmill never ends."

Holiness of the Lord

This week Jared Wilson is sharing an excerpt from his manuscript in revision:
The temple? Replaced by Jesus.
The Word of God? Incarnate in Jesus.
The Law? Fulfilled in Jesus.
The prophets? Culminated in Jesus.
The tabernacle? Foreshadowed Jesus.
The glory of the Lord? Present in Jesus. (Hebrews calls him the "radiance" of God's glory.)
Good stuff. And the parts I don't quote are even better.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More tools for the trade

The weekly preacher's toolbox is full once again at Unashamed Workman.

Holiness and help

This week at In the Clearing, Bob is looking at discipleship and holiness. He's on to something important. Consider:
"I know a lot of Christians who seem never to get beyond the prayer for help and move on to the prayer for holiness."
And this, from Monday:
"Christianity as crisis-management, crying out to God when all hell breaks lose, is one thing. But the long labor of building one's house "on the rock" of Christ's righteousness is another."
Or this, from yesterday:
How can it be that we have turned the Bible into a collection of encouraging sayings for every occasion rather than the great (and supremely encouraging) story of how God chose to face up to the problem of our sin? Mine. Yours.
For nearly three years I've been reading hundreds of blogs each week. At times, a blogger goes into a zone where his posts sizzle with truth and insight. Bob is there right now.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Philosophy, not form

"Let us be clear that expository preaching is a philosophy of preaching, not a form of preaching. It is about the authority, centrality and influence exerted by the biblical text in the preaching process and event."

Girly men?

Who are we preaching to--"dormant men"?
Men have always been spiritually lethargic, but it seems to have reached unusual proportions these days, and lots of people are noticing it.

Some people believe this is due to the feminization of the church. They say that the overly emotional worship songs and sermons about meek-and-mild-turn-the-other-cheek Jesus are big turnoffs to real guys. In response, they inject their ministries with video clips of sports bloopers, songs about testosterone, and guys on stage who can bend wrenches with their bare hands. I’m not making that up.

Along similar lines John Piper, in his essay on men's duty to protect women (via), shows that God's purposes are not always socially popular (especially in a sick culture).

Monday, November 05, 2007

Splashing around in the shallows?

J.D. Hatfield : "Before you desire to teach some deep truths, you must be devoted to doing sound doctrine in your own life."

The beauty of baldness

Carl Trueman celebrates baldness amid "the extended adolesence of the Western male":
. . . baldness is . . . a great gift from the Lord, in that it imposes a certain dignity on the aging process by cutting off the various less dignified options (e.g., ponytails, which shouldn’t be sported by anyone over 30; and mullets which, frankly, should not be sported by anyone, anywhere, anytime. Period.). Of course, there are those, even Christians, who fight against this divinely-imposed dignity. Dreadful toupees abound in the church, along with frightful transplants, and the ubiquitous `comb-over’ or `sweep.’ The latter seems predicated on the false notion that, if you have six hairs to stretch across the barren landscape of your otherwise shiny pate, nobody will notice that you have gone completely bald. Or perhaps there is a belief somewhere that, in the country of the bald, the one-haired man is king. Come on, gents, parade your baldness with pride and accept the dignity which your divinely-imposed hair loss brings with it.

This brings me to my serious point: what is it with ministers and Christian leaders who seem to feel a compulsive need to talk about youth culture all the time and to adopt the styles of self-obsessed teenagers in order to demonstrate how `relevant’ their ministries are and how hidebound everybody else’s are. . . .

Go around looking like a pony-tailed and soul-patched metrosexual if you must, but bear in mind that you achieve the double whammy of making yourself a laughing stock to your peers and an embarrassment to your children.
Dr. Trueman's conclusions on this condition are brilliant. Please read (and thanks to Theologica for the link).

Friday, November 02, 2007

"Smell it, don't swallow it"

A Steward of the Secret Things continues to offer good advice to aspiring preachers.

Knowing God

Vicki Gaines notes that "Regurgitation is not revelation" while Tantalizing if True concludes that "If you want to know what God is really like, meet him."

What should the church be?

John Shroeder continues Jim Martin's discussion on church systems and discipleship:
The problem that Jim describes is about what we strive for. We strive to build an organization instead of striving to use an organization to build people. . . We lack vision for what the church SHOULD BE.

Think about that for a minute. We have a vision for what we as individuals should be, but what should the church be? Aside from "growing"? Come on, don't you think our vision should be a little more radical than that?
Yes, indeed. If Christians are truly going to move beyond self-centered discipleship, we need to have an idea of what the church should be.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

For better or worse

Are you guilty of "ecclesial adultery"?

Faith and fluff

Vicki Gaines opens a window into "true peace in the age of counterfeits":
. . . fluff and drivel won't teach us to abide in Christ. It won't sustain us when we're hurting or weighed down in pain. It won't emphasize discipleship, or teach us that life in Him is all about grace. Preaching nowadays gives formula fixes, easy answers, and "steps" to a better life. We eat it up. Not that anyone's ever transformed by these messages. Burned-out, maybe. But Jesus didn't die so we'd keep hammering away. Not until we exchange our life for His, and let Christ finally live through us, will we experience the beauty of a life at peace.

A buddhist once said he enjoyed Joel Osteen because his sermons have "something for everyone." That's not quite true. I, for one, get nothing from Osteen's preaching although he's a warm and friendly guy. Even bubble gum causes decay if you chew it long enough. If I want poignant stories, funny jokes, or pop-psychology, there are plenty other sources. I need a minister of the gospel to preach Christ - not entertain me. But the hireling shepherd feeds the sheep what they want, not what they need. Their positive thinking breeds false assurance. This is dangerous. Lives are at stake! The shepherd who denies us the whole truth and nothing but the truth is saying 'peace, peace,' when there is no peace. A good pastor will lead his flock through the narrow gate, to Christ, the Good Shepherd.
Amen. I recommend Vicki's whole article.