Monday, December 31, 2007

Never is, never was

More than mega

In the North American church, bigger is too often associated with better--but not with everyone. Michael Spencer writes about Christians who focus not on building a new sanctuary, but on rebuilding houses ruined by a hurricane:
They’ve come into the ruins and incarnated Jesus, the carpenter, by serving and loving the homeless. They build and repair houses. The reputation of Jesus in that community is not displayed on a neon sign, but in the finished houses and tears of those who will live in them.

Those Christians are a different kind of church. A footwashing, gospel-living, Kingdom-embodying, incarnational movement of Jesus followers.

I’ve got a prediction: They never will be big.
Thanks to The Gospel-Driven Church for the link.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Why we still preach

R. Scott Clark does a solid job of answering the question, "What's the big deal about preaching?"

We have a high view of preaching as a means of grace because Paul had a high view of the “foolishness” of gospel preaching (1 Cor 2). It doesn’t seem like it ought to “work” and if you’re looking for big numbers then call Bill Hybels or Bob Schuller. They know how to pull a crowd. If you want to know about preaching, however, look at Paul at Mars Hill. He preached the law and then he preached the gospel. Did he get a great response? Well Dennis (Dionysius) and a few others (Acts 17:34) followed him. That’s what happens sometimes. The Spirit blows where he wills (John 3).


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Let's not keep this one secret

I haven't mentioned it in a while, but A Steward of the Secret Things has been running some good articles lately on preaching, especially of the expository kind.

"All of the above"

Jared Wilson has put together a brief, Scripture-packed essay on the richness of what the gospel really is--and its implications:

Can we stop cherry-picking verses now and saying the Gospel is this but not that?

Faithful gospel preaching will include a cogent articulation of the gospel that reflects the fullness of the biblical gospel.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Faith, work, competition, idolatry

Ekklesia shares thoughts from Jonathan Dodson on jobs and discipleship.

Ministry method

Randy McKinion looks at Jeremiah and Paul to shed light on methodology issues in ministry. Here's Part 1, and here are some conclusions from Part 2:
False words will be readily received if presented in an appealing way. Moreover, an appealing presentation might very well breed false conversions. Even more, if you are relying upon your own abilities and talents to build the ministry in which you are involved, then you are really fighting against Christ in the building up of His church.
Too true.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cézanne's Greetings!

Basket of Apples by Paul Cézanne (early 1890s)

Preaching in a hostile environment

The post is brief but packed full of wisdom: lessons from Acts 14.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Beyond the "need trajectory"

From In the Clearing: "If, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, the call of Jesus Christ is always a call to come and die, well, that dying is not something the church can build a program around."

Worth a thousand lies?

This is one of the best perspectives I've ever seen on sermon illustratons:

Friends, get this and get this good: Illustrations are pictures not proof. And despite popular opinion and cherished cliché, yes indeed, pictures can and do lie, quite often, in fact.

If that little sample doesn't leave you saying, "Amen," I recommend you read J.D. Hatfield's entire post.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The self-righteousness Jones

David Wayne: "Self-righteousness is like sugar - it is sweet and delicious and it is something we can hardly ever lose a taste for."

What lessons?

Dan Edelen has concluded that God may not always expect Christians to come to a conclusion on the lessons behind trials and turmoils:
Truthfully, “You’ve got me” is what comes out of most of the trials I’ve faced in life. If you had to rank my ability to discern lessons and their spiritual import, I’d have to say that Balaam’s ass ranks about a hundred times higher on that chart than yours truly.

It just may be that I’m a thicker brick than some folks, but I gotta say that whatever lessons I’m supposed to be learning, especially amid trials, they don’t vary much off the same old lesson I learned a long, long time ago: Repent and have faith in God.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Seen and heard

Cal Habig reminds us that sermons are seen and offers nuts-and-bolts advice for how our bodies influence the message.

Time will tell

I predict that long after You Tube is an embarrassing un-kewl joke to the next generation what will matter is not how many we packed in to see the performance but how faithfully we proclaimed Christ and to what degree he owned our ministries in the salvation of those he came to save.

Suffering with Christ

These are pretty thoughtful reflections on faith and pain:
Wisdom comes in pain for the believer who seeks it. It may seem a perverse wisdom, but few of us understand the ways of God enough to know how He molds us in the midst of pain.

For me, pain teaches about the human condition. It reminds me that we are all dust, that we dwell in a fallen world, and that people in pain need relationship desperately.

Some cultures handle pain better than ours does. We have much to learn from them.
There's more worth reading in Dan Edelen's whole article.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reading for preaching

At Talking the Walk, Cal Habig shares some of what he's been reading on preaching and invites us to share what we've found helpful.

Update: Steve Mathewson at PreachingToday Blog shares what he's been reading. Steve also recommends this study tool.

Cell phones and the Incarnation

Christian, have you considered what your cell-phone usage says about Christ? Ken Myers has:
I'd like to suggest that Christian people in particular give some attention to cell phone etiquette. A thoughtful set of manners regarding cell phones could be a small but significant way of reducing the sum total of dehumanizing behavior in American culture. Such manners could demonstrate the high value Christians place on embodiment, expressed in our doctrines of Creation, Incarnation, and Resurrection.

What could cell phones possibly have to do with the Incarnation? Both involve the significance of physical, embodied presence before others. The presence of another person before us is a kind of moral claim, asking for the recognition appropriate to a fellow human being. Likewise, when we make ourselves present to others, we are showing respect. Thus when we visit someone in the hospital or in prison (a situation Jesus alludes to in Matthew 25) instead of just phoning or sending flowers, we demonstrate by our presence a higher level of regard for their well-being.

The idea of presence is an important one in Biblical religion. In his second letter, the Apostle John writes, "I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face." The Church is called the ekklesia, the assembly, the place where believers are present to one another to encourage one another to love and good works.
By contrast, holding a telephone conversation while walking down the street or up an aisle at the supermarket pointedly ignores the presence of others. The importance of physical presence is thus de-valued. It also poses a kind of challenge to passers-by.
Mr. Myers is correct. That rather extended quote, by the way, comes via The Christian Mind.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Unashamed anniversary

Unashamed Workman is now one year old, and Colin Adams has selected his 10 most favorite posts from the past year. Colin has a good eye for good preaching; if you're interested in improving your own preaching, I hope you'll give his blog a look. At least one of his favorites, by the way, is one of my favorites too.

Light in the darkness

In his ongoing Advent reflections, Doug Floyd considers light and darkness:
The Christian faith doesn’t hide from this darkness or deny its existence, but it looks beyond the darkness to a God of light and hope and love. Some people scorn this faith as blindness or Pollyannaish piety, and they are free to do so.

In the midst of their sneers, we will continue to look into the darkness of a starless night with eyes to see the Uncreated Light of love. Isaiah looked out upon a crumbling kingdom. He saw the impending demise of a once great hope descending rapidly into darkness. Morality was fading and the enemies came crouching: ready to descend upon the prey of God’s forgetful people.

He saw the darkness. Yet he also saw the light. He saw the lion lay down with the lamb. He saw a little child playing in the midst of snakes. He saw men turning weapons of war into tool for planting and harvesting. He saw beyond the horizon of man’s wisdom to a God will reveals a peaceable kingdom in the midst of a world that appears to be lost for good.

His words continue to inspire and stir of world of believers…and unbelievers. No matter how deep the darkness. No matter how loud and how long the scorners scorn. The people of God are called to look beyond the arm of human flesh to the Creator who dwells in unapproachable light.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Light speed and existence

They may be only tangentially related to the topic of sermons that transform, but Bill Gnade's ruminations on God, faith, and the speed of light certainly encourage out-of-the-box thinking.

Purpose, passion, and preaching

Preachers, this ought to speak to many of us: a college journalism teacher writes on what's really involved in following one's passion:
Forget about Rick Warren and his rigid “Purpose-Driven Life.”

Take a lesson from deadline writers, who often must accept an assignment before having every detail worked out. If journalists can train themselves to take a leap of faith every time they are dispatched into the field, so can we all.
Good point.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Making each sermon count

Peter Mead reminds preachers that "Today may be the last time some people in your congregation hear you preach."

Spending like barbarians

Americans have an unrealistic expectation of what their lifestyle should be like that is probably rooted in the media culture we are submerged in. The result is like wild barbarians we get what we want without concern if we can actually pay for it. We are looting stores, malls, ebay, and the rest by selling our and our children’s future. It is killing people financially, socially, mentally, and I would say even spiritually.

Not about us

Here's some good advice on resisting the urge to make even Christmas sermons about us:
Luke 1 is not ultimately about marriage stress. We need to be on guard against inserting ourselves and our needs into the center of every passage. Luke 1 is ultimately about one of the most significant events ever - the announcement of the arrival of the Messiah. It’s a pivotal moment in all of history. We risk trivializing the passage when we make it a how-to sermon on dealing with marriage stress.

As preachers, let’s help our people find their place in the grand story of God’s mission. Preach Christ and what his arrival means for the world today. It’s a story that deals with marriage and all the other stresses we face - but it is much bigger than that. Preach Christ this Christmas. It’s not all about us!
Amen. Human beings naturally prefer how-to sermons. Yet the Bible insists on giving us not a set of operating instructions, but Jesus the Christ. Preachers, regardless of what our sinful natures want, what we need is Jesusborn, crucified and resurrected for the sins of the whole world.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The hard work of sitting

Gratitude as mindset

It seems to me that the basic Christian mindset is, or ought to be, gratitude. What are we Christians, anyway? What defines us? Isn't it the fact that, completely apart from any merit of our own, we trust in Jesus' sacrifice for our sins? In other words, our only standing before God--the only thing that sets us apart and gives us hope for eternal life--is having received a gift. A gift of infinite value to us and inestimable cost to the Giver. A gift that we could not possibly deserve--a gift that was necessary precisely because we did not deserve it.

What possible response should that engender apart from gratitude? Certainly not the religious, moralistic pride that all-too-often we can exhibit. We forget that we are a community of sinners before we become a community of saints, and that anything good in us is a gracious gift of God.

Deep down, you just don't know

Jared Wilson cautions against certain human-centered evangelistic appeals:
Christians, when discussing matters of faith and spirituality with unbelievers, I suggest you never tell them "Deep down you know this is true." I suggest you never push them to respond based on your appeals to their pride or defensive nature. That's a trick and it doesn't trust the Holy Spirit to awaken whom he will.

I personally will never say to an unbeliever "Deep down you know this is true" because I know that deep down they not only think the gospel can't be true, but deep down they hate it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reading the Word

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has chosen to reveal himself not through images or statues, but through the Word. In a contemporary culture growing increasingly image-oriented, it's good to see Christians giving attention to reading the Bible in the assembly. One of those is Cal Habig at Talking the Walk, who's written a four part series on the practical aspects of reading the Bible out-loud: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

"Church with benefits"

This article from The Jonah Syndrome is scathing--and, I'm afraid, on-target:
Essentially, the one night stand or the FWB is intended to produce a maximum amount of immediate pleasure with little to none ongoing commitment towards the other party. In the same vein, as I experience emotional or isolational lows, I can immediately begin looking through my iPhone for my next hookup to relieve me of my crisis and the great thing about the "booty call" is that it is on demand, when I want it, and there's no expectation that I have to respond to anyone else's expectations of me. It is 100% on my terms.

And millions are doing the same thing with church. I attend when I want to, and only for my benefit. I am there because I am experiencing a personal spiritual, relational, or emotional crisis, and I want God to give me my "spiritual booty call" to make me feel better. But don't ask me to make any ongoing investment in the church. Don't have any expectations of me as someone who came to that church. Just allow me to come in, use your church as I would a prostitute (I might even pay you for your services), and then I can move on, go back to my life and I'll get back to you if I need you again.

The book of Hosea pretty clearly describes us as playing the role of the prostitute. It pretty clearly draws the analogy that how we tend to act sexually with one another, is also the way we tend to interact with God. And if you'll look closely enough, you'll see that it's absolutely true.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In the 99 but...

I suspect most Christians are "surrounded by ones."

We are not the gospel

John Schroeder, reflecting on another web essay, considers transparency in ministry: "The power of the gospel, the real gospel, the genuine gospel, lies not in our perfection, but our imperfection and the journey towards perfection." Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Advent reflections

My blogfather, Doug Floyd, has begun an Advent series that's worth a look. Here's a sample from his opening reflections:
In pause of Advent, I am reminded that I do not verify the truth, it verifies me. I do not defend the truth, it defends me. I cannot grasp the truth--for long before I even knew the truth, I was grasped and held in the hands of the One who is and always has been truth.
Amen. Blog on, Doug.

"Seeker sensitive" hopelessness

At In the Clearing Bob tells why the "therapeutic gospel" is really greasing the skids to hell.

True to his nature

"God loves because it is His nature to love, unmotivated by what He finds in us or fails to find in us. It is who He is. He cannot do otherwise and remain true to Himself."

Relying on grace

Vicki Gaines writes about the futility of Christians trying to live righteously by our own strength:
It took me a long time to realize that perfectionism counts as rubbish in God's economy. I can't live the Christian life out of my flesh. People-pleasing, striving, and following religious rules to impress others is not genuine spiritual fruit, either. The striving wore me out. The young woman that others saw in me might have appeared efficient, good-natured, giving, faithful, and God-honoring, but on the inside I was angry, resentful, and tired of trying to measure up.
Vicki also made her way through the seductiveness of the recovery culture:
Sharing the secret of an abusive past connected me to other survivors. It also caused me to feel special in an unhealthy way. I built an interior kingdom around everything abuse-related and rode the recovery bandwagon for all its worth. Never would I have denied God, but neither did I trust Him. I grew increasingly distant from the Lord and very close to my therapist. I quoted her but never questioned her half-baked theology. When she said the Bible didn't really help folks in my situation, that's what I believed. After all, she was a professing Christian with all these impressive counseling degrees.

I read compulsively about my diagnoses (major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress name it, I had it) and my new-found identity (abuse survivor) rather than go to the Lord for healing. Truth is, I just didn't know Him very well back then. Educating myself seemed the road to freedom but kept me self-focused. Knowing about Christ certainly wasn't enough to sustain me because I wasn't abiding in Him.
What finally made the difference in Vicki's life? Please read the whole essay to find out.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Worth remembering

Since beginning to read blogs, I've begun to suffer from Spurgeon fatigue, but this Spurgeon quote is worth reading and remembering.

Honoring God's Word

Preaching is very important, in that it elevates the authority of God over the entire congregation. It sets the tone and agenda for the church. If people do not honor God’s Word, they will not grow and the church will be tossed around by every wind of doctrine. And there are plenty of strong winds blowing these days!

We already have enough

This has to be the best essay I've ever read on mustard-seed faith:
This whole perverted theology "if you only have enough faith..." makes faith into something it isn't. It's not something to accumulate for a blast at my problem, it's not measurable or powerful of itself. Faith can do nothing. Did you hear that? Faith can do's the one you have faith in that performs the miracle. Faith has NEVER performed a miracle, and never's GOD who does the miracle.
Please read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Powder keg faith

John Frye looks at the politics of the first century and how it parallels today's "empirial globalization of Money as god."

Much more than breaking a rule

Marc Backes, with a little help from Jonathan McIntosh, reflects on Christian obedience and relationship:
The essence of the Gospel is not rules but a person. A person who is the same in His humanity as our spouse. And once we are united in faith to Jesus, we are engaged in an intimate (non-sexual-but still intimate) relationship with Him. And to violate that relationship by placing other gods, other desires, other motives ahead of that relationship is to play the part of a whore once more. It puts our sin in a whole new light. You're not just breaking a rule. You're cheating on Jesus. And that's imagery, especially in the book of Hosea, that the Bible uses repeatedly. It's funny, I would never do anything to hurt my wife, not because I feel bound to obey her rules, but because I couldn't take doing something to wound her heart. I love her. I care for her. However, I don't think twice about wounding the heart of Jesus. Mainly because, too many times, I reduce the Savior to a set of rules to follow.
Amen. Good word.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Preaching and genre

At Biblical Preaching Mike Roth has begun looking at the importance of genre in preaching. He's off to a good start.

I am the problem

This blog is dedicated to Christian transformation, not disputation, so I avoid linking to writing with the slightest whiff of internecine church trouble. This link is an exception. But even though Darryl Dash's essay is critical and names names, he brings it back around strikingly to where the focus ought to be: that the strongest work of every Christians is always tainted with sin:
Even our best efforts fall far short. Therefore we can never think that we're doing better than "those people" over there. We are a mess just like anyone else. This makes it hard to point the finger in judgment at others, even when their flaws are plain to see as they often are.

I am in a church that has a traditional structure and some history, and people would occasionally ask me why I hadn't abandoned these in frustration. I always had to answer that I firmly believe that the greatest problem within my church is me. I could leave all that is bad around me, but I would still be stuck with me at the end. I would still be dealing with the biggest problem of all.
Kyrie Eleison.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A key to biblical preaching

'Somewhere the preacher has to think (and say), “Here is the book that will explain your life and the God behind everything. Now listen!”'

Lazy, hazy assurances

Larry Chouinard is tired of the shallow and sometimes arrogant spirituality embodied in the cliche, "everything happens for a reason":
I find neither consolation nor an acceptable theology in the notion that everything that happens has a divine reason behind it. Certainly, as Paul affirmed, even in the most tragic events, God can "work for the good" (Rom. 8:28). But, God does not will evil, instead works to bring his soothing powers to diminish its sting. In Jesus we see God bringing order out of chaos, healing in the midst of disease, and life in the face of death. God has entered our pain and suffering and works from within to overcome its deadly effects. But how does the "everything happens for a reason" slant on life lead to the overthrow of injustices and unmasking evils masquerade? Maybe slavery was God's way to teach Afro-Americans humility?? I wonder what he's teaching a white affluent consumerists by blessing him with power and status?

Suppose, as suggested by Greg Boyd (Satan and the Problem of Evil), the world is a battlefield and all creation has been invaded by evil and sinister forces? Imagine a fallen world where even our physical environment has been so polluted and distorted from the original intention that moments of awe and peace are rocked in the next by nature's fury. A world where Satan stalks the planet like a roaring lion preying on the vulnerable and orchestrating an environment where the powerful think nothing of slaughtering the innocent (Mt.2:16-18). Though Satan has been defeated, his terrorist acts of war are calculated to undermine and hinder the emergence of God's Kingdom. We counter such efforts by embodying the way of the selfless lamb who will ultimately put an end to the destructive dragon and his schemes of enslavement. But, until we can identify our true enemy and understand his destructive ways we will not be a movement of liberation and deliverance.
Amen. Mr. Chouinard's essay, by the way, does more than simply diagnose the problem. He goes on to give a biblically sound view of bad events.

Monday, December 03, 2007

For preachers and congregations

In case you're still not convinced, here are fourteen more benefits of expository preaching.

Bigger than business

If you've been in ministry any length of time you've encountered the ministry-as-business paradigm. Recently mega-church leader Bill Hybels explained the leadership differences between business and church:
. . . the church demands a higher and more complex form of leadership than business does. In fact, I believe the church is the most leadership-intensive enterprise in society.

I've been on both sides. Running a business is challenging, but the leader of a company has a clearly defined playing field and enormous leverage with his or her employees. The business leader delivers a product or service through paid staff who either get it done or get replaced.

Church leadership is far more complex than that. The redeeming and rebuilding of human lives is exceedingly more difficult than building widgets or delivering predictable services.
If you're interested in the "here's why," portion of Mr. Hybels's thoughts, I recommend you follow the link. And thanks to Redeeming the Time for that link.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Not about me"

The school basketball season is underway and so I have spent the day in various gymnasiums around the city watching my two youngest sons playing basketball. As I was watching one of the high school teams go through their warm ups I noticed that instead of having their surnames on their warm up shirts they had written across their backs 'Its Not About Me." That, I thought to myself, is an excellent slogan! 'Its not about me' should be written on the backs of a lot of Christians I know, and maybe not on their backs but on their foreheads, so they would be reminded of it every time they look in the mirror. In that case, it might remind us all that like John the Baptist we are to decrease while Jesus is to increase in importance and significance.