Monday, March 31, 2008

Fundamentals of leadership

William Willimon shares perspective on qualities leaders need for "reaching a new generation of Christians, starting new churches, energizing established congregations, making disciples."

Repentance and refreshing

This one stings:
You hear it all the time. Jesus loves you, and he wants to save your marriage, heal your back, treat your depression, etc. He's God, so he can do it. And as I said, he loves you. So if you want him to save your marriage, heal your back ("I'm getting the word 'back pain'"), get relief from depression, etc., just come forward and let us pray for you. Isn't God incredible!

There, that's what they call "the gospel" these days. But of course it is not the Gospel. Clearly, you don't have to be preaching the "prosperity gospel" to be preaching a "me-centered" message. In my experience, there are many church-goers who simply don't understand what the gospel is, because they have never really been told what it is in their own churches.
That's Bob at In the Clearing, one of the best gospel-centered blogs out there. I recommend Bob's whole article.

Friday, March 28, 2008

"Banking on God"

Dan Edelen has completed his Banking on God series at Cerluean Sanctum. His series compendium contains final thoughts and links to all the posts in the series. If you're interested in a biblical picture of how the church should comprehensively deal with money issues, this is the series to read.

Why preach?

The apostle Paul gave the purpose of the work of the preacher when he wrote to Timothy. He said, "By so doing you will save both yourself and them that hear you." How save himself? Because when a man has reached the conclusion no matter how it came into his mind, that it is his duty to preach and make that his business he will be lost if he does not do it. Just as neglect of duty in any other matter will bring down the wrath of God in the day of judgment. If there is any of you who really and conscientiously believes that God wants you to preach the gospel, do it at the peril of your soul.

Arrogance and authenticity

Chris Wignall offers some powerful observations on spiritual leadership:
Today I was reminded of the great transformation from Genesis 32 where Jacob (whose name means “schemer”) finally finds himself in a situation he can’t deke, duck, or dance his way out of. The guy who was always able to slip out of trouble is caught in the grip of someone who can’t be shaken off. After battling all night he is released to go on in life with a permanent limp and a new name, Israel (which means “He struggles with God”). It turns out that Israel is much more useful and deeply connected to God than Jacob ever was.

I’m nervous around leaders of any age who don’t have that limp; who never seem at a loss and always have complete confidence in their direction. They seem impenetrable, which is dangerous.

I’m drawn to those who have faced struggle, failure, and deep disappointment and continue on transformed. Not with the struggles all behind them, but with the quiet faith that doesn’t guarantee results or rely on their self assured abilities. I’ve always loved drawing out that sincerity in others.
Thanks to Gospel Driven Church for the link to Mr. Wignall's post.

Update: John Schroeder shares further thoughts here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Online Parallelomania

Once again Rob Bradshaw has contributed substantially to the availability of online biblical studies resources. One of his latest additions is Samuel Sandmel's classic work, "Parallelomania," from the 1962 volume of JBL.

Which will it be?

"Christ will either be our physician or our executioner. If His Word is not the instrument of our life, it will be the instrument of our death, if not the instrument of our justification, then the instrument of our judgment."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Jollyblogger David Wayne links to a thought-provoking video on the subliminal effects of advertising--and comments on the implications of claiming that we're "just reading the Bible."

"Superapostles" and ordinary ministry

Every preacher would probably benefit from reading Michael Horton's essay on ordinary ministry. Here's a sample:
Just as traditionalism is a parody of a living tradition, a ministry defined by the entrepreneurial, creative, and innovative capacities of today’s “super-apostles” should not be mistaken for genuine growth and outreach. Marking the remarkable missionary advances of the apostles, we meet repeatedly in the Book of Acts the phrase, “the word of God spread.”

Mission was about Christ as he is delivered to sinners through the gospel, not about us and our frantic efforts to make a sale. In fact, that is the last clause in Peter’s invitation: “The promise is for you and your children, and for those who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” The church is not called to mimic the world, but to feed the world the Bread of Life and incorporate strangers and aliens into the story of his redeeming work. . . .

In the same context where the church’s ordinary life is described in terms of preaching, sacrament, fellowship, prayer, and the sharing of resources, “praising God and having favor with all the people,” we read, “And the Lord added daily to the church those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Instead of focusing ecclesial faith and practice on marketing Jesus to the “unchurched,” the apostolic pattern was to draw aimless drifters into the covenantal drama already in progress.

To become a Christian was already to begin one’s lifelong journey in the company of pilgrims under the care of the church. Discipleship was defined by churchmanship. Personal faith in Christ was never set over against active membership in the visible body of Christ.
That's good stuff, and there's more at the link. And thanks to Ray Van Neste for pointing me to that link.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Comments on commentaries

This is still good advice on the value of commentaries in sermon preparation.

Narrative and culture

Al Hsu writes about the death of Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax and gives some helpful insights on what the church can learn from the cultural impact of D&D. Noteworthy is this observation about Bill Gothard and other Christians who condemn the game for its emphasis on magical and so-called occultic themes:
In short, Gygax created culture, whereas Gothard merely condemned culture. Gothard did not create a compelling alternative to D&D - he merely argued that it was evil. Whatever one might think about his perspective, the larger issue for Christians is whether we will create compelling, dramatic narratives and stories for people to participate in, or if we only react against what other people create.
That's a very good point, and one with implications far beyond role playing games. Preachers, we'd do well to pay attention.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Naturalness and familiarity

He's writing about Bible translations, but Wayne Leman's essay on familiarity vs. naturalness in biblical language deals with an issue preachers ought to be keeping in mind.

Grace not grit

Whatever your political proclivities, these words from J.D. Hatfield are helpful for keeping perspective on politics, meaning, and discipleship:
Rallying behind some political movement in the guise of some humanistic spirituality that says, “yes we can”? We need to realize that God says no we can’t; but that doesn’t leave us without hope; it turns us to the only real hope. Can we save the world, can we save our children, can we save our own souls – no we can’t. But can God save the world, can God save our children, can God save our souls – yes He can!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Browser Bible study

Eddie Arthur recommends a couple of Bible toolbars for Firefox and (for one of them) IE.

Hollywoodization of the church

It would seem that Barry Maxwell has his eyes open:
I have a love/hate relationship with the pastoral office. There, I've said it. I love what the office should be. I hate what it's become. I love the idea of the biblical pastor. I hate the idea of the 21st-century American pastor. I love what I could be, by God's grace. I hate what I'm pressured to be, by man's expectations. I love seeing the flock eat week-in, week-out. I hate the ecclesiastical steroids that tempt them between meals. I love what churches need to be biblical. I hate what churches expect to be successful. I love the institution. I hate institutionalism. I love that Jesus doesn't need me to adorn his bride. I hate that he doesn't need me to adorn his bride.

Like many pastors I've struggled to reconcile what I should be with what "they" say I should be. The tri-fold glossy pamphlets I receive peddle a pastor who is marketable, administratively brilliant, motivational, highly-starched and sharply-creased. A baptized Tony Robbins. A sanctified Gap model. A glorified spiritual guru.

Frankly, I have absolutely no desire to be any of those things.
Amen. And thanks to Ray Van Neste for the link.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Proclaiming the new earth

If you're preparing a Resurrection sermon for this coming Sunday, I strongly recommend you read Preaching Today's interview with N.T. Wright.

"Jesus was a failed leader"

Ruth Tucker makes an obvious but very neglected point:
Leadership is a hot topic today. Colleges and universities and seminaries and churches and Christian organizations of all varieties are developing leadership programs. I cite my own denomination, the Christian Reformed Church. To celebrate its 150th anniversary, it is raising millions of dollars to launch a leadership institute. . . .

I myself jumped on the bandwagon several years ago when I proposed a course on leadership at Calvin Seminary where I was teaching. I would approach the topic from a biblical, historical, and biographical perspectives—seeking to identify role models. It was not until I was teaching through the course a second time that I realized what a crock this whole topic is. It’s phony from beginning to end—especially as it relates to biblical models.

That Jesus was a failed leader both by example and by teaching is something we already know—at least unconsciously. Jesus taught that the first shall be last; take up your cross and follow me; to be a minister or to be great in the eyes of God is to be a servant. His teaching on leadership was upside-down and backwards. Indeed, it was no leadership teaching at all. We all know that, but we easily try to fix Jesus’ teachings or put the prefix servant in front of the word leadership. But the effort falls short.
Thanks to Jollyblogger for the link.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ashes and dust

As Lent comes to a close, William Willimon shows how the season is more than an annual formality:
Here we are, deep in Lent, Christian season of penitence and introspection, season of admission of sin and confession of our finitude. We are in a mess. We are not gods unto ourselves. We are sinners.

Who but the poor old church will - in this upbeat, feel-good, progressive society - tell such truth about us?
Good question. Whether or not you choose to celebrate Lent, Dr. Willimon's point is spot-on.

Sermon podcasts

If you're interested in what I preach (and can tolerate the sound of my voice), you can now listen to .mp3s of my latest sermons.

Update: In this week's sermon on church growth lessons from Nehemiah I made one of the most boneheaded mistakes I've ever made in my preaching. Can you catch what it is?

Getting clear on blessings

Nathan Colquhoun looks at Genesis and exposes three common misconceptions about blessings.

Ego and ministry

He's sharing personal thoughts, but Bob Martin is by no means alone in his concerns about ministry and ego:
Who I am has everything to do what God thinks of me. It has everything to do with understanding that no matter what, my ministry is far beyond my ability to do this on my own. My life and work are not about proving to others that I am adequate and able. Rather, it is about relying on God who raises the dead. My hope is not on finding the right church or getting recognized in some way that might stroke my ego. My hope is in only one who is worthy of my complete reliance.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Preaching as dialogue

Bob Hyatt makes a brief but intriguing case--particularly from the NT and history--for dialogical preaching (via).

Money and the Kingdom

Dan Edelen's series on the church and finances is a must-read. Here's a sample:
I’m convinced that when we get right down to it, for many of us, our so-called faith is a sham. We may pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” but which of us actually lives from one day to the next dependent on God to provide that day’s food? Can’t we buy our way out of almost any trouble we encounter? Why do we need God for anything?

Sure, Christ died and with His blood secured eternity for us who believe. No, we couldn’t do that ourselves. But beyond having faith that He will take us to heaven at some future date, how well do we live in the dark moments before then?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Growing in grace

"It takes time"

Peter Bogert asks why we preach:
Why do we preach? Preaching, after all, seems to be considered by some to be suited to a former era. Today we are to have conversations and tell stories. One of our members told me that an unsaved friend recently shared that she liked listening to one well-known TV preacher because "He makes me feel better about myself."

In the end, we preach because people need to hear from God. We. . . long that people might be edified with divine truth. We want to see them grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, to see them mature in their faith, to see them live out the truth of Scripture in their lives.

But that is not an easy thing.
Indeed. I heartily recommend Peter's whole post.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Loyalty and testing

Claude Mariottini shares some valuable thoughts on Moses and the Lord's testing.

Primer in (and at) Theocentric Preaching

In a series on God-centered preaching, Darryl Dash writes on how poor much of today's preaching really is:
Few preachers set out to preach sermons that trivialize Scripture, reduce a passage to a set of how-to lessons, and push God to the side. Yet it appears that this happens frequently, and with disastrous results.
Too true. Also worth reading are Darryl's evaluations of therapeutic preaching, moralistic preaching, and allegorical preaching. He's also begun writing about what preaching should be: here and here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

In the shadow of the cross

Dave Bish offers a few helpful thoughts on blood, theodicy, and the cross.

"Standing in the stead of God"

C.J. Mahaney's view of preaching is a pretty high one:
Just as in the ancient Near East a king, in vast provinces he cannot travel to, would set up huge statues of himself which represented his presence and authority, in the same way God has set up an image of himself to represent and reflect himself. And that is man. And this impacts the way God communicates, as he speaks through divinely appointed messengers. After man was ejected from the Garden, God has communicated to his people by mediating his word through someone. Even the Scriptures were mediated from God through someone.
Thanks to Gospel Driven Blog for the link.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


"If we honor the Groom, we will love the Bride."

Cross without the bridge?

Dave Fitch is looking at problems with the bridge model of salvation:
Consumerist society has trained all of us to think, feel and breathe all things as products to be consumed "for me." Jesus, Son of God, very God, has been reduced to an object to be used for some benefit. At this point this simply is no longer a salvation recognizable by Paul, Luther or the Christian church.
Too true. His other two concerns are also worth considering.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Suffering the children

S.M. Hutchens offers some thoughtful reflections on sermons and crying children.


At least one other preacher has looked in the mirror and come to the conclusion that he simply isn't cool:
It's tempting to want to fix this. I get a magazine for pastors. . . that is all about chasing what's cool and relevant. We scour magazines and books and attend conferences in pursuit of the cool factor. It doesn't work. People trying to be cool just aren't cool.

There's another group of people I find myself increasingly drawn towards. They don't even try to be cool, and they're not. The trends they follow are centuries old. They read old stuff by dead guys and talk about concepts from dusty theology books. The funny thing is that they end up being more relevant than the next new thing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Should Christians hate?

Whose credentials?

Jared Wilson offers some spot-on thoughts about self-esteem in ministry:
When God called Moses to demand release of the Israelites from Egyptian captivity, Moses felt inadequate and unqualified. He asked, "Who am I to do such a thing?"

Now, when I ask this question of God, I usually ask in false humility. What I really want is God to reassure me of my qualifications and giftedness. What I really want is God to pump up my self-esteem. "Please remind me how awesome I am so that I'll be confident enough to do this," I ask God. And I fully expect God to respond, "Jared, you're good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like you."

This not what God said to Moses. In fact, he really didn't even answer the question "Who is Moses?" He answered the question "Who is God?"

The answer, of course, is God.

Friday, March 07, 2008

"God's prescription anyway"

Making the connection

Preaching ought to invite listeners, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to fill in the blanks.

The hard work of transformation

Only God can change our hearts, but for some reason he wants us to be part of the process. Consider:
Many people talk of wanting to change but they say it is too hard to do. They look for some magic formula, or expect God to just bail them out of working at it. They also overlook this whole idea of slowly changing, and slowly sliding back. So some think it is too hard to change. If this is you, I want to tell you the truth. The reason it seems so hard is because your heart is so hard. Your heart has become so hardened because of what you have let in.
Ouch. Those words are from J.D. Hatfield, and I recommend reading his whole essay.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


"The hard truth is that where you turn when things get tough is the real god of your heart.

Moving, not merely being moved

Voice of Vision offers a valuable insights on studying the Bible:
To study the Bible and not have a living relationship with Christ will ultimately do you no good. You are either changing, which means movement, or you are just reading about Him like you would any other ancient person. You can read about a famous or noble person and be inspired and go do those things you want to do, but Christ leads you to do what He wants you to do. His is not primarily the power of inspiration but of transformation. If you are truly learning from Him you will become more like Him. You will not only be moved, you will move.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Praying together

John Schroeder reminds readers of the value of corporate prayer.

Easy steps to effective Bible teaching

Jeff Weddle looks at the standard recommendations for effective Bible teaching and comes to his own conclusions:
We all want easy steps to miraculous effectiveness. The Bible is the sole source we have for what God wants us to know and He does indeed want us to know it. That being the case, He has given us three easy steps for effective Bible teaching.
What are the three steps? It's easy to find out at Jeff's full post.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Who really does the forgiving?

Darryl Dash: "It's popular to say that we need to forgive ourselves, but is that a valid concept?"

The practical and the heavenly

At In the Clearing, Bob shares some worthwhile thoughts on "practical" preaching:
The point is, the muck and mire of daily living can easily distract us from these heavenly realities. In the heavenlies, we are seated with Christ. But in the earthly, well, it ain't pretty. In most cases, the "already" ain't yet.

Which is why, I think, that Paul says elsewhere, "set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." You notice how so many of Paul's imperatives bring our attention back to the indicatives? I think that Paul would say that there is something very practical about setting our minds on heavenly realities. That in fact, from heaven we get the most truly realistic perspective on ourselves and our world.

This is not to argue against practical application in sermons, but I do think that the highest and correspondingly most difficult task of the preacher is to remind people and drive home to their imaginations the realities of the new birth, because all the practical advice in the world won't help if this is not first understood and grasped by faith.
Amen. Bob, by the way, has been influential through his blogs in convincing me that the "heavenly" approach to proclamation is in fact the most "practical."

Monday, March 03, 2008

Expositor as theologian

Peter Mead: "Know your theology, and preach the Bible well so that people can see not only what to believe, but how to derive that belief from the pages of Scripture."

The job of evangelism

PamBG shares some worthwhile reflections on the idea of minister as evangelist. Here's a sample:
The purveyors of what I call 'The Spiritual Prosperity Gospel' repeat the mantra 'If you preach the Real Gospel (tm), people will flock to your church. ' It doesn't work like that. If the church is short of ministers and it wants more people to serve as ministers, making a realistic job description is a good way forward. Don't expect every minister to be Billy Graham and Mother Teresa rolled into one. Don't expect them to single-handedly defy cultural trends. And don't expect them to singlehandedly 'do' discipleship for the entire congregation.
Good point. And there are more in Pam's full posting (HT).