Friday, February 29, 2008

Bondage in seeking God's will

The gospel and suburban nomads

Al Hsu offers helpful insights on reaching out to relos.

Costly celebration

Yes, let us celebrate Jesus. But we will never come close to understanding his worthiness until we understand the depths of our own unworthiness. If it was necessary that Jesus go to the cross for sinful men, that is then the fundamental basis of all our celebration. Our joy is based on nothing less.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Not about working harder

My friend Bob offers some much-needed warnings against the temptations for preaching the "gauntlet sermon."

The fountainhead of holiness

The call to holiness is a call to follow Christ. A pursuit of holiness that is not Christ-centered will soon be reduced to moralism, pharisaical self-righteousness, and futile self-effort. Such pseudo-holiness leads to bondage, rather than liberty; it is unattractive to the world and unacceptable to God. Only by fixing our eyes and our hope on Christ can we experience that authentic, warm, inviting holiness that He alone can produce in us. . . .

No amount of striving or self-effort can make us holy. Only Christ can do that. As we turn our eyes upon Him, we will find Him to be our "priceless treasure, source of purest pleasure." We will begin to desire him--His beauty, His righteousness--more than we desire the sparkling enticements this world has to offer. And we will be transformed into His likeness.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Six questions for sermon preparation

These are helpful. So is this seventh question.

Update: In the Clearing has more thoughts here and here.

The adversity of discipleship

J.D. Hatfield looks at the idea of so-called Christians who choose not to assemble with a church:
You have probably heard it said, or thought or even said it yourself: “I have never had a negative experience studying the Bible or in prayer, but have had many negative experiences in church or from people that I thought (at the time) were Christians.” My answer to that is: if you have never had a negative experience with God, what Bible have you been reading? Did it not convict you? Was there no tension? Did you read the pages and still miss all the adversity found there, even among those who were on the same side?
Good point. If we're really reading and living the Word of God, it's going to do some serious tearing down of our old, comfortable, sinful ways. Being part of an association of believers will too:
If you cannot handle adversity with those of like precious faith, and those closest to you, how do you expect to handle it out in the world?
Good question.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Choosing whom to offend

Greg Heisler: "Preaching that is soft on sin and fearful of confronting people reveals that we prefer the Spirit of God who comforts us but run from the Spirit who convicts us."

Feeding the sheep

Michael Mckinley makes the case against pastoral laziness (via).

Theological and practical

It is important to demonstrate the consistent link between the biblical/theological and the pastoral/practical. We do our listeners a disservice when we imply a disconnect between the two. People need to understand that the most theological or doctrinal passages in their Bible have real-life relevance to them. People need to recognize that instruction purporting to be practical and relevant but lacking a solid biblical grounding is inherently weak.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The price of doing business

Is the North American church guilty of reductionism of the Gospel? Larry Chouinard thinks so, and he offers this explanation: "I don't think it was a deliberate and calculating effort, just the cost of doing business and maintaining customer satisfaction." Ouch.

Best online resources for expository preaching

Every so often I share links to the best free online resources I've found for sermon preparation. Here are the ones I use week-in and week-out for help in preparing my own expository sermons and Bible studies:
  • These studies, arranged by book of the Bible, are often insightful and helpful--especially the work of Bob Deffinbaugh. I don't recommend simply appropriating another man's lesson as one's own. But Mr. Deffinbaugh's work, as with others listed here, usually contains some good, sound ideas worth using with proper attribution.
  • IVP commentaries. Sixteen NT commentaries are available online. While preaching through Philippians I've been blessed in using Gordon' Fee's commentary.
  • Piper's Notes. Sermon texts from John Piper, arranged by biblical text.
  • Ray Stedman's Expository Studies. Mr. Stedman had a tendency to not clearly separate biblical fact from speculation, but his observations are as a rule insightful and helpful.
  • The Sword Project. Several Bible browsers and their modules are available free online for downloading. This one is my favorite.
  • The Text This Week. This site offers resources for lectionary preaching, but the Scripture index is helpful for any expository preaching. The "Contemporary Commentary, Studies, and Exegesis" sections are especially rich and relevant.
There are many more that I use occasionally, but these are definitely the A-list. How about you--any links you'd like to share?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Considering our hearers

This one is worth reading: the virtues of preaching to those you wish were present.

Unmasking the Church of Oprah

The virtues of Oprahism. . . appear to be subordinate to, and ordered by, the prime virtue of self-realization and self-actualization rather than that of finding the self by losing it in sacrificial service to others, subject to the will of God. Its heroes tend to be Prometheans injured by, and in defiance of, the Traditional Moral Order (let us all weep for them a bit), lap-christs for the entertainment of silly women. Oprahism, to be sure, is chock-full of "virtues," but the order in which they are placed relative to one another in the scheme of the whole makes the phenomenon a veil of evil.

The "one worthy soul"

At In the Clearing, Bob writes about why we need a savior, and a cross:
Each one of us a deceiver. Each one of us a posturer. Each one of us deeply fearful that the real truth about ourselves will be discovered. And from this lifetime task we never can rest or let down our guard. When from time to time we have foolishly done so, we have often been badly wounded. Judged inadequate. Found wanting. For everyone everywhere is always and ever a potential judge and jury. No one can be trusted. And even were we to hide ourselves from the world, there would remain the judging voice within, speaking the same condemnation we so feared from others. Loser. Failure. Never-ever-good-enough. Fool.
Amen. I recommend reading Bob's whole post.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Powerful hope

From Out of the Bloo: encouraging words on the virility of hope.

Not a commodity

J.D. Hatfield writes about the missing ingredient in many so-called gospel sermons:
Are you saved? If so, what are you saved from, a lack of self-esteem, a bad marriage, a bad childhood, a lack of money? No, looking at Romans from 1:18-3:23 we see that salvation is from the wrath of God, which has been being revealed against all who suppress the truth with their unrighteousness. Jesus Christ is the answer to sin, and His death propitiates (appeases) the wrath of God.

None of those other needs requires God to become incarnate, live a sinless life, die on a cross and rise again. Is it necessary for Christ to have been crucified; that is a good criterion, do you need a bloody savior to preach this? The problem is that people aren’t looking for salvation as being reconciled to God. The old (real) gospel starts with an offended God. The new (false) gospel starts with a wounded “us”. The truth is not that we are wounded but that we are dead!

The gospel is not a commodity, and unlike what we hear preached as the gospel these days, Jesus isn’t very passionate about some of your greatest felt needs
Amen. And what, in fact, is the gospel? J.D.'s full post is a good start in answering that question.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reaching for revival

Jeff Weddle's observations on how to bring about revival in a church are spot-on. His conclusions on Jonah, by the way, are alone worth the effort of clicking over and reading.

The possibility of peace

If Alan Kreider's essay on becoming a peace church impacts you as much as it did me, it will be worth the effort of reading. Here's a sample.
For the church to make a contribution to the healing of the world, we must allow God to change us, its members. God longs for us to be a people who believe that the Gospel is true, and hence who are becoming a people of peace and forgiveness. God invites us, in Christ, to accept his peace and to learn how to be peacemakers....

We won’t do this by avoiding conflict. We will do it by developing...reflexes that enable us to deal with conflict positively and hopefully. Through Christ God has made peace with us; and he wants to equip us to make peace with each other – and through this to become peacemakers in the world. The church has nothing to offer to the world other than what it has learned to live in its own “domestic” life.
If that excerpt piqued your interest, the whole article might well knock you flat.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lectionary helps: John 4

I notice that one of this coming Sunday's lectionary readings is from John 4. If you're looking for helpful commentaries on that pericope, you might be interested in this article from To the Word and this one by Walter J. Burghardt and Katharyn Waldron.

Total health

Overcoming man-centered preaching

Dave Bish continues the discussion on God-centered preaching:
Man-centred preaching will either become self-esteemism that tells us what we want to hear, or it'll be sin-focussed which will unwittingly end up convincing us that our sin isn't quite so bad as it actually is. By contrast God-centred preaching that cries 'Behold your God' and feeds on the grace of Christ will be reviled by sin but delighted with the gospel of Jesus. It'll drive changed living out of clear conviction about who God is and our new life in him.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Which will it be?

Tim Keller: "there are two ways and only two ways to read the Bible."

"This is the will of God..."

Eric Jones reminds Christians that "sanctification is not optional":
If you have ongoing sin in your life that you are aware of, yet you are not putting it to death, then there is a good chance you are not experiencing sanctification. If you knowingly stop the sanctifying work of Christ in your life because there are some sins you just won’t let go of, then you are putting yourself in great peril. Sanctification is not optional, it is absolutely necessary for salvation. Just as you cannot experience salvation without justification, you cannot experience salvation with[out] sanctification. Praise God that through the work of Christ in us, he gives us all we need for both justification and sanctification. But, just as we must accept his justification, we must also accept, allow, and cooperate with sanctification. It is not forced on us, we must willingly participate. Are you participating?
Good question.

Update: John Schroeder joins the discussion by reminding readers of confession's place in sanctification.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Preaching the Word

Thirty years ago I was surprised when Chuck Murphy visited our Episcopal church declared that his church preached only from the Bible. At the time I couldn't really understand why that should be the case. Of course, thirty years ago I hadn't read this article by John MacArthur (via).

Primarily true

"The longer I live and interact with other Christians the more I realize the importance of knowing the difference between what is primary and what is not. If we confuse the two we will slide off into error sooner or later. If we do not distinguish between the two we will not know when to hold the line and when to allow for diversity of opinion and practice. Too many of the problems that Christians face will never be resolved if we do not figure out what is non-negotiable and what is nothing more than personal preference or the best way to proceed given the situation."

Well said

Eddie Arthur asks, "what's wrong with systematic theology?":
Now, I might be awkward, but I’m far from convinced that studying a systematic theology is a good way to learn about the Bible. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s a good way to learn anything, apart from the cultural and theological presuppositions of the author.

The problem with systematic theologies, is that they are systematic. God’s revelation to us in the Bible is not systematic. It’s messy, it’s complicated, it tells the story of people who mess up, of God who gets involved in the life of his creation and redeems it. The Bible narrative is compelling; sometimes exciting, sometimes complicated but it is not systematic. God did not give us a system, he gave us a story.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Preaching Christ

"We must never assume the gospel. We must always assume that those we serve need to hear the gospel yet again. Any sermon we preach is incomplete and insufficient until we explicitly reference Christ and him crucified."


What does it really mean to "confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord"?
Unfortunately, many Christians today cheapen what it means to be a follower of Christ and think that it is all about words. Just say it, get that warm fuzzy feeling, and you are in – you’re a Christian who will be saved. Because it is “just words,” many continue living for themselves and actually demonstrate very little change. Oh, maybe they go to church a few times each month. But what about the radical change? What about being all-in? What about complete obedience, boldly sharing the gospel, putting on the mind of Christ, and completely changing what you say and do. What about giving every aspect of your being to follow Christ – even when it hurts?

We need to be careful to not throw around Romans 10:9 casually. When we use this scripture make sure we, and those we share it with, understand that confessing “Jesus is Lord” is an all-in proposition that requires our everything and must completely and forever change us. Don’t just give Christ lip service, give him your life. That is what he demands.
Amen. The long quote above, by the way, is from Eric Jones.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Long, boring, good

Michael Mckinley: "I am suspicious of arguments that make the rate of information retention the deciding factor in how we teach the church" (via).

Living light

Dan Edelen offers some helpful thoughts on casting off:
Whenever I consider the American Church’s state, I can’t help but think that much of our problem stems, not from the weight of glory, but from the burden of worldliness. Our inability to resist the weight of the world has rendered us fat and lazy, shackled to things, and far from the heart of God.

A simple gut check here: we don’t do the things Christ asks of us because if we did, we’d have to lose our lives. We’d have to step away from the TV, turn off the iPod, stop planning the vacation in Cancun, and get serious about the work of the Lord. We’d have to stop wondering how to insure all the debris we lay claim to and start investing in the Kingdom.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Slaves to words?

From Better Bibles Blog: "We must escape the slavery of words and give loyal adherence to meanings instead. Words should express ideas, not originate them."

Being satisfied with God

This one's been around for a few years, but it's still very good advice: John Piper offers preachers thirteen ways to help Christians become more satisfied with God. Here's a sample:
6. Model for the people extended meditation and reflection on the word of God. Most people do not know how to take a word or phrase or sentence of scripture, commit it to memory and roll it over again and again in their mind and look at it from different sides and ask many questions about it and apply it to different aspects of their life and think of analogies of it in their mind. But it's precisely in this cogitating that the juices in the fruit begin to flow down and awaken the taste buds of the soul. . . .

9. Help your people to turn off the television. Few things in our culture are more spiritually numbing than the television. Even the so-called "good" shows are by and large banal and low-minded and anything but cultivating of a rich, deep capacity to enjoy God. And when you add to that the barrage of suggestive advertisements that accompany virtually every program, I do not wonder why so many of our professing Christians are spiritually incapable of experiencing high thoughts and deep emotions.
HT: Sycamore

Monday, February 11, 2008

Earth-shaking words on heaven

If you haven't read this week's Time magazine interview with N.T. Wright, you probably ought to.

What time is it?

Isaac Horwedel: "No white middle class American Christian needs to be told that Jesus loves them anymore...we've heard that's time to repent."

Willpower and "magic medicine"

This site is seldom polemical, but this assessment of Joel Osteen's negative message is worth considering:
Though Osteen claims he has positive sermons, I believe he is proclaiming the most negative, unmerciful message possible! Like telling a clinically depressed person to “just snap out of it!,” Osteen is giving people burdened by sin, guilt and despair more reason to despair.

Do we really think that more willpower will solve our problems? What is this message but the Law on steroids? There is no gospel in Osteen’s message, regardless of his rare references to Jesus Christ. Osteen’s idea of “good news” is telling self-centered people to look for salvation in more narcissism! Osteen’s preaching is like giving sugar to a diabetic, telling people that the magic medicine will help them, when in fact, it is speeding up their death.
HT: Gospel-Driven Church.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Two masters

"If you take a look at the average Evangelical Christian family in this country, they may talk about choosing to follow Jesus, but they didn’t. They chose money. That explains everything."

Preaching without pride

Honor God’s Word – Preach the Word. If it might make people uncomfortable, preach the Word. If people’s ears won’t feel tickled, preach the Word. Obviously be gracious and careful, but don’t preach always living in fear of offending someone.

Starting over

With several decades of vocational ministry already behind him, Jim Martin considers what he would do differently if he could start over. Here's a sample from Part Two:
I would know that self-care is critical to ministry. Far too many people just let themselves go spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Healthy ministry is rooted in self-care. I do no one a favor when I ignore my spiritual life, my health, and my relationships.
Amen. Part One is also worth reading.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Glory to God

Peter Mead: "Let us preach to the glory of God, but not hide behind that motivation as an excuse for irrelevant or application-free sermons."


Steve Wilson makes a case for ministry that both proclaims the truth and helps the poor :

Jesus' ministry methodology was not either/or; it was a weaving together of both. And it has not been superseded. He is at work in a very similar way through his people today. The redemptive reign of God comes upon broken people as we both proclaim the good news with our mouths, and as we embody (put flesh on) the love of Christ to our neighbours – perhaps particularly to the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised among us.

(HT: Unveiled Face).

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Regular and light

Can bad preaching make us lose our taste for the good stuff?

Five more?

Tim Chester offers some spot-on advice about discipleship and busyness:
‘So what can I do about my busyness?’ Perhaps that’s what you hoped I would tell you. But the question itself is flawed. What if I told you five things you could do about your busyness. Where would that leave you? With five extra things to fit into your schedule, you’d be busier than ever! Busyness is one problem we can’t solve by doing more! But the situation is not hopeless. We’re not doomed to be busy. Someone has done something about our busyness - the Lord Jesus Christ. You don’t need to ‘do’ more to overcome busyness because Jesus has already done all that is required. ‘It is finished’ he cried. ‘The job is done. The work is complete.’
HT: Theocentric Preaching.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Who we are in Christ

Andy Mason has gone through the NT and compiled a list of who believers are in Christ: here and here.

"Fording" the church

Thanks to Nancy for pointing me to these insights by Aj Schwanz on consumerism and the church:
. . . since the “Fordism” of America (when people starting working in a factory to create goods for others rather than engaging in the art of craftsmanship to meet their personal needs), people have become more and more dissected - segmented - taken apart. Just as the work place was analyzed and changed into a manufacturing line, human beings have been analyzed and taken apart into having certain “needs” that must be met by products they can purchase. Which we all know doesn’t work: the fires of consumption only grow with each offering, and yet I know I keep piling it on.

As work and individuals have been taken apart, so have religious practices. Instead of knowing why we do something, engaging in the practices and symbols and liturgy because of a wholistic lifestyle of worship, we take things apart: a little Celtic labyrinth here, a little Taize chant there, throw in some Quaker silence and postmodern couches/coffee/candles, and call it good! The practices we choose are to try and meet our needs - but that fire keeps burning brightly.
Once again, it comes down to whether or not Jesus really is enough.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Can you relate to this meditation on the Apostle Paul?

Staying on track

"It is clear that there is plenty for us to keep studying and stretching ourselves as preachers: from applied linguistics in discourse analysis to the epistemological paradigms of postmodernity. From family systems dynamics to unintentional perlocutions in the preaching event. There’s plenty to learn for all of us.

"But let’s not get caught in a fog of confusion here. The core issues are still the core issues. Preaching must always be concerned with the specific meaning of the biblical author and with the relevant and effective communication of that meaning to contemporary listeners. Preaching remains a spiritual endeavor very much concerned with the work of the Trinitarian God in you and through you. Excellence in Bible study, effectiveness in communication, relevance in presentation, and all of the above in a close reliance on the Spirit of God through prayer. Boil expository preaching down to its elements, and it is not much more than this: God, you, them & Bible study, communication and relevance."

Christ substitutes

Jeff Weddle writes incisively on how Christians often choose Christ-free substitutes:
*We focus on spiritual gifts and experiences. Because speaking in tongues and getting healed is easier than living the life of Christ.

*We focus on church. Because being busy in church is easier than living the life of Christ.

*We focus on legalism. Because keeping our hair cut, tithing, wearing slacks and not drinking beer is easier than living the life of Christ.

*We focus on our distorted view of liberty. Because continuing to sin is easier than living the life of Christ.
And what should the church be doing? "Instead of the substitutes we should be focusing on Christ. Because that’s the only way you’ll be able to live the life of Christ." Amen.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Business as usual

Jeff Weddle: "The world is reaching apocalyptic levels of stupidity. You’ve been warned. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Be wise."

Trying to believe

"I want to believe that a man can work a sixty-hour week, spend quality time with his wife and kids, be involved in his community, find time for leisure, and still be an effective disciple of Jesus Christ. He wants me to believe, too.The kind of man who prays big prayers and knows God intimately for those prayers. The kind of man who readily leads many others to his Savior and disciples those same people to maturity. I want to believe, but I don’t know any men like that."

In perspective

Kirk Wellum offers "a Christian perspective on Christian perspectives":
The recent sub-prime mortgage fiasco in the United States and subsequent shock waves that have rippled through the stock market reveals greed and incompetence at the highest levels of government and the financial industry as well as deep seated financial problems in the society as a whole. However, lest I be misunderstood or my comments put any further downward pressure on the stock market, let me say that I am not suggesting that all government officials or finance professionals are greedy and incompetent. Thankfully this is not the case! There are many fine people who work hard to make the system work. Nor am I saying that all people in our society are greedy and financially over-extended. Unfortunately, however, all of us tend to pay a price for the misdeeds, miscalculations or inattention of those who are not as reliable and who take advantage of the situation in one way or other. What I am saying is that for me this is another reminder that those who ultimately trust in human beings and the systems they put in place are fools. While some systems are better than others, no system will solve the problems unleashed into the world by the human rebellion against God. Although we should do what we can to alleviate pain and suffering and to restrain people from taking advantage of one another both personally and corporately, our ultimate hope is in the Lord himself.
Well said.