Monday, June 30, 2008

Sounds about right

Soft-pedaling the truth

Are you guilty of abusing Christian euphemisms?

Faith, hubris, and the price of gasoline

North American Christians' reactions to rising gasoline prices are the subject of a recent essay by Michael Spencer:
Most Americans are inconvenienced by gas prices because of the value they place on mobility and the decisions they’ve made about the kind of life they want to live, decisions made with the assumption of cheap gas in the background.

So somewhere a homeless man or a family struggling to put food on the table will see a group of middle class suburban Christians gathered around a gas pump, praying that God will have mercy and get things back to where we can all go about our business.

I don’t have to spend much time asking if Jesus would join such a prayer meeting.
The whole article is worth reading. Thanks to Cerulean Sanctum for the link.

Friday, June 27, 2008

New preaching resource

I'm long overdue in posting about this new online preaching resource: What is it about? Here's a description from the site: is all about promoting the practice and values of dialogical, experimental, communal and practical preaching.

Reflecting this, our site aims to be as interactive and open-source as possible. We intend to address, in numerous ways, the issue of moving beyond monologue sermons and include articles, tutorials, reviews and sermons. In keeping with the spirit of the site, you actually have the opportunity to edit or add to one another’s preaching (think Wikipedia!).

When we move out of Beta stage, we'll be adding a section discussing non-verbal preaching through song, dance, drama, film and so on. There you'll have the opportunity for users to upload and/or view movie clips of interactive preaching.

The site includes a forum to stimulate and facilitate discussion. Our hope is that this will develop as a safe place for practicioners to discuss their experiences with dialogical and interactive preaching and to offer one another tips and advice.
The project is being developed by Graham Old and Stuart Murray. I hope it goes well, guys.

Resting in Christ

Ray Ortlund shares thoughts on technology and communion with God. His conclusion? "Blogging is good. But my soul at rest in Christ is better."

Not faith, but Christ

Matt Jenson makes the case that faith is nothing. Consider:
Faith, as Karl Barth puts it, is a ‘relative concept’ which ‘lives by its object’. Phil Cary puts Luther’s view nicely in writing that ‘to believe Christ’s word is to be uninterested in the fact that I believe but captivated by what Christ has to say to me. Even apart from its character as word of address, the gospel is good news for me because it is Christ’s story, not mine….I appear in Christ’s story as object, not subject – not the doer but the one on the receiving end of the good things Christ has done.’

Trouble is, we ever so subtly undermine the logic of faith when we too glibly exhort a person to ‘have faith’. It’s not so much that these exhortations must run counter to faith’s rhetoric of indication as it is our own recalcitrant tendency to smuggle in works. We relapse, again and again – and if you’ve been around addiction, you know relapse seldom happens once – into creative, but vain attempts to justify ourselves. We pay lip service to grace and then call people to drum up faith, to work with all their might to squeeze out enough of it to make their lives worth saving. We convert faith, in other words, into a work.
Amen. Thanks to Daniel Hames for the link.

Community and evangelism

I remember cringing a few years ago when the Mel Gibson Passion movie came out, and I noticed a number of ministers...making foolish pronouncements like 'This is the greatest evangelistic tool there has ever been in the entire history of the church.' When anyone uses that type of language you can be pretty certain that they know almost nothing about the history of the church.

What about the church? Doesn't Jesus teach us here [John 17:20-23] that His single greatest evangelistic agency is the church? And notice--I think this is significant--not the church simply as a random collection of individuals who have been converted, but the church as a new, counter-cultural community in which the fellowship of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit comes to expression in the unity, and community, and joy, and sense of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ among His people.

That's the reason, you know, in the New Testament there's hardly any instruction whatsoever about how to be a witness. And by contrast, in our evangelism manuals all the emphasis lies on 'How can you as an individual be a witness?' and 'Here are the questions you need to learn to ask.' Now what's that a sign of? That's a sign of the bankruptcy of the church, because when the church is full of the power of the Holy Spirit what happens is what Simon Peter describes in 1 Peter, chapter 3--that you're in a situation that you need to be ready to give an answer for the hope that's in you.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Measuring success

This is eye-opening: 19 ways to measure success in a church (via).

On discouragement in ministry

Barry Maxwell offers several points of advice on pastoral discouragement. This one in particular caught my attention:
God has designed ministry to kill you. It killed Jesus and it will kill us. Paul spoke of his ministry perhaps more in terms of dying than living (2 Cor 4.11-12; Gal 6.17; Phil 2.17). The pangs of discouragement are the sounds of a man giving his life away for God's people. It's the sound of man making his home in a cemetery, hoping that today will be the day life springs eternal. God will make sure Jesus is the only one left standing in the battle royal for souls.
That's just a sampling. I recommend reading the whole article (and thanks to Ray Van Neste for the link).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

When Jesus just couldn't do much

In case you're interested I've just posted my, uh, weekly entry at Milton's Daily Dose.

What we preach

Here are a few brief and helpful thoughts on the content of the kerygma.

Sharing in suffering

Other than the Bible, this is by far the most concise, convincing explanation of why God does not always answer Christians' prayers for healing:
It seems to me that God has called us--I speak of Christian believers--into the world and not out of it. This may be one reason he does not heal us all and keep us healthy and give us all peaceful and pain-free deaths at the end. We are called into, sent, not so that we could demonstrate God's glory by floating above the "worldlings" in a cloud of blessedness and ease, but so that we can walk with the suffering as sufferers with . . . even as we "hold out the word of life."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Shrinking attention spans

Matt Dirks asks, "Is Google making you stupid?"

Preaching Christ

Glen Scrivener offers some spot-on ideas about David, Goliath, and preaching:
Our congregations need to hear the victory of Christ proclaimed week after week after week. We don’t need more combat skills – we need more Christ. If you take your eyes off the champion your eyes either go on Goliath or on your paltry combat skills – either way you’ll end up dismayed, shattered, terrified.

I hear so many sermons that simply crush the vine. They do Goliath’s job for him.

When you preach, preach about our Champion. Tell them about His fight, His sacrifice, His victory. Make them shout, make them sing, make them see brave, beautiful, loving, strong Jesus once again.
Amen. Please read the whole article. I've also written on David & Goliath at Milton's Daily Dose.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Connecting with the truth

J.D. Hatfield: "The next time you get an impression or hear some voice, tell it to come back later after you have consulted with your Bible first."

Don't assume the gospel

Haddon Robinson offers preachers some challenging thoughts on actually preaching the gospel:
How can a just and holy God declare sinners to be righteous? That is a key issue, but I don't find that being talked about much. I hear: "Jesus loves you, and he wants the best for you. He certainly doesn't want you to be sick, doesn't want you to be poor. It certainly isn't his will that you suffer." But you can't read the New Testament and make statements like that.

We want to reach people, but the clear terms of the gospel are seldom enunciated. It's probably an exaggeration, but I don't think in my lifetime I've heard twenty messages that I would say were clear gospel messages. If you didn't know any jargon, didn't have any religious background—if you came to church and wanted to know how to have a relationship with a holy God—the sermon would not tell you.

We'd be wise to tell our people that on every eighth Sunday, we're going to make every effort to clearly present the gospel. We should tell them, "If you have friends who are on their way to faith, by all means bring them!" If we do our job right, two things will happen: the unchurched who come will hear the gospel clearly, and our own people will hear it, too. The assumption that the guy who regularly sits in the eighth row has the gospel straight is not a good assumption.
That sounds right.

Update: I'm sorry to say that it looks like Preaching Today teased us with this interview. Although I was able to access it free last week, today the link leads only to a login page. Sorry about that.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Good stuff

Lately Peter Mead has been posting an exceptional abundance of nuts-and-bolts advice at Biblical Preaching.

Doing church

If we were to spend as much energy - and even money - on doing church as Scripture tells us to do church, we wouldn’t have to advertise or have special programs or promotions to get the attention of the lost. We would be so attractive that they would be drawn to us without us having to go out of our way to make them notice us.

The church needs to go to the lost, but she needs to go in ministry and mission, not with marketing and machinations. We need to show them our love for God, one another, and them, not just talk about it.

Training for hardship

This looks like a pretty good take on Paul's exhortation to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:1-7):
Paul looked his beloved child right in the eyes and said, "This world is mobilized in total war against the Lord Jesus. Look around you. You see the brutality everywhere. This is why. But our Savior is committed to an all-out campaign of liberation, and we are in his army now. He will deploy you in battle. You will suffer. Don't run from it. Accept it. When this war is finally over and we all go home, we will live on with no regrets. We will live forever with the satisfaction of having fought in the greatest conflict in the universe, and we didn't turn tail and run. We followed orders and pleased our Commander (2 Timothy 2:4). He will be so pleased to pin those medals on your chest. He will be so pleased to toast you at his victory banquet. Think about it, son."
Good word.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


"God wants his children to show the world the right way to suffer."

Chance and providence

Dan Edelen looks at the problem of those who follow the rules and yet suffer for it:
And that’s a troubling reality to me that I’ve never quite been able to reconcile either in my own life or in the lives of others. The Bible speaks to this conundrum in what I find to be one of the most inscrutable verses in the Bible:
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
—Ecclesiastes 9:11
In other words, you may do it all right and yet still fail for reasons outside of your control. Just like Commodore Decker. You may try to recover, but chance so dashed your jigsaw puzzle and trashed its pieces that the final image is irretrievably lost.

It's a very thought-provoking article. And not only does Dan raise some important questions about Christian discipleship, he does so with a strong reference to Star Trek.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Right identity


You might be interested in Jared Wilson's essay on five ways God speaks to us today. And if you like that one, try Jared's writings on five rhythms of "putting on Christ".

Looking again at stealing sermons

In looking at what's wrong with sermon plagiarism, Scot McKnight asks what a sermon really is. The answer is worth sharing:
Well, it’s a whole life brought to bear on a text each week for a single 30 minute or so sermon before a specific congregation. It shames the preacher not to be who he or she is in the pulpit, and to pretend to be someone else. It de-localizes the sermon from the local context. It distorts who the preacher is before the congregation.
Good point. And thanks to Preaching Today Blog for the link.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Knowing when to quit

"Preach as if you’re going somewhere and when you get there, stop preaching."

Good question

Cal Habig wonders if North American Christians are Bereans or Athenians:
Acts 17:21 says that the Athenians did nothing all day long but to listen for something that was new . . . fads, novelties, theological innovations, tricks, and gimmicks. I think that’s where too many preachers/churches are. We are more Athenian. You’ve seen it – people trying to make relevant that which can never be irrelevant.
I recommend reading the whole article.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Saving ourselves

"The only way to prevent ministry from becoming an idol is to find our identity in Jesus rather than in the church."

Righteousness through faith

Of this righteousness which is by grace through faith Paul asked, “Where is boasting? It is excluded”. Or he could have asked, “Where is religion? It is useless”. Religious but lost. Who are they? Perhaps it is you or the man who has been on the same pew with you for decades. It is really simple to understand. All one must do is honestly answer only one question. On what basis do you expect to be given eternal life? If that answer includes anything that is acheived by human effort, anything that satisfies the human ego, anything that assumes the glory that only Christ deserves, you have given a wrong answer.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Preaching Christ in every text

If you read only one article on preaching this year, this one ought to be it.

(And thanks to John for the link).

Change and effectiveness

"One of the primary reasons the church in America is becoming so ineffective and irrelevant is because the world is being allowed to change the church rather than the church changing the world." - Eric Jones

You, not the screen

Peter Mead is sharing some helpful thoughts on PowerPoint and preaching. Here's a sample:
Powerpoint may be helpful. . . If you use it, please be professional, be subtle, don’t turn to look at it yourself or even refer to it unnecessarily, don’t overload the screen and don’t lose sight of the fact that it is you who is called to be the preacher, not the screen.
Those last words make a, uh, powerful point.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Walking right

Brandon O'Brien reflects on shoes, spiritual discipline, and the "indispensable protection of pain."

Good news for the spiritually bankrupt

Can you relate to these sentiments at Letters from Kamp Krusty:
You know that feeling, when God is right there, this close, and you can just feel His loving arms around you, and you can literally hear His voice, whispering in your ear, telling you how much He loves you?

I don't.
Me, either. I recommend reading the whole post (and tip my hat to In the Clearing for the link).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dosing again

I've begun posting again at Milton's (not so) Daily Dose. The doses won't be coming daily, but I do plan to put something up weekly.

Following the NT pattern

Do we really want to pursue church growth like they did in the book of Acts?

Back into the fire

Although we certainly ought to preach at times about hell, Buzz Trexler's take on the subject is nevertheless worth thinking about:
To me, a faith that has legs is a faith that goes beyond the fear of Hell.

The faith that has legs is a faith that has its roots in the knowledge and understanding of the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The reality is this : Love is far more stronger than fear.

To those who concentrate on the fires of hell, I would note this: Fear will cause you to flee a fire. Love will drive you into the fire to save someone else.

Update: Buzz seems to have removed the original post, but I hope he doesn't mind my sharing this part of it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Pious tourism"

Jason Byassee writes about the shortcomings of short-term mission trips.

Working at holiness

Yes, Christians' holiness is a gift from God and not the product of our own efforts. But shouldn't the gracious gift of holiness in Christ motivate us to work hard at living up to our new condition? Eric Jones looks at 2 Peter 3:14 and reflects on the idea of striving for righteous living:
In light of God’s new heaven and new earth, Peter exhorts his readers to aggressively pursue growing in holiness and righteousness. He is exhorting them to work hard at making sure they don’t have any sin in their lives. Peter tells them to do everything they have to in order to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with God. Spotless means without any spots. Peter didn’t say mostly spotless or almost blameless. He is saying go all the way, and aggressively participate and cooperate with God’s desire and plan to purify you – now, not just when you die.

I find it interesting that if a pastor today makes this same cry that Peter did for Christians to work hard at holy living; they are chastised for promoting legalism and works-based Christianity. Peter’s message isn’t necessarily politically correct today. Nonetheless, it is truth, and we shouldn't be afraid to repeat it.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Something I read. . .

John Piper: "Much reading and little thinking makes for a second-hand pastor. And it is not easy to preach and teach second-hand truths with power."

Testing the spirits

Whatever you may think about the so-called Lakeland Revival, here are some wise words on the religious scene today:
1. Have we forgotten how to test the spirits against the Word of God? 2. Is the indwelling Lord Jesus Christ not enough for us anymore?

Because I'm thinking, we don't need more power, we need more brokenness. We don't need more of Jesus, we need less of self. We don't need to seek after signs, wonders, and experiences; we need to seek after Jesus and learn how to abide in Him. That's where the power is, after all. . . in Him.

Sadly, we want the resurrection power without having to go to the Cross. We sometimes want the healing more than the Healer. I guess we all prefer quick fixes and miracles. But brokenness? We don't want that.

But it's through our brokenness that we find mercy and grace in our time of need.

Friday, June 06, 2008

A little perspective

Effective teaching and preaching

"Remember . . . effective teaching is much more about identity and integrity than mere technique."

Have we crossed the line?

Nowhere perhaps, is the idolatrous encroachment of consumer culture in the North American church more stark, or disturbing than in the Lord's Supper. Modernist, consumerist encroachment on the Supper has been going on longer than anyone now alive, but as Skye Jethani notes, it's now rising to new levels:
For example, I’ve heard that some in the congregation have requested the use of sugar-free juice during communion. Apparently the thimble cup of grape juice contains enough fructose to agitate their insulin levels, or disrupt their strict adherence to Dr. Atkins’ low-carb lifestyle. I know another church where people have insisted that only whole-grain bread be used for communion. Heaven forbid constipation-inducing white bread be used.

The issue is not the presence of those with legitimate dietary restrictions at Christ’s table, but rather the growing expectation that the church must accommodate every personal need or preference. When the church is expected to supply not only a variety of programs, service times, worship styles, but now even communion bread and cup options—can we finally acknowledge that we have crossed the line into absurdity? Have we elevated personal preference so far above corporate unity that we have little imaginative framework for even understanding the corporate intent of the Lord’s Table?

I wonder if our first step down this slippery slope was the move away from a communal chalice to those ubiquitous communion cups—those hygienic disposable vessels that fit comfortably between thumb and forefinger but seem designed to never relinquish the final drop of Christ’s blood. The stylish (and hygienic) fluted cups reinforce the cultural assumption that communion is really about “me” and not “us.” Once communion ceases to be communal, the door is opened for personal preferences to be expressed, accommodated, and even demanded.
To answer Mr. Jethani's question about the communal chalice, I think the answer is definitely yes. Kyrie eleison.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

God does not have a plan

And he's not a micromanager.

Honor and need

In the United States need degrades a person; failure condemns a person, but not in the kingdom of God. To be in need is to be in a position of honor.” - Arthur C. McGill

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Golden or gilded?

"Churches in the fifties were filled, but were they faithful?"

Lecturing or preaching

Here's a little nail-head hitting from Erik Raymond:
Why do some guys walk to the pulpit and from first word to last seem to be clicking, dripping with passion, demonstrating some brokenness, and a visible burden for their people to ‘get it’? While others are able to deliver a biblically faithful message but seem to lack that extra ‘something’ that makes a good sermon different?

I think it comes down to what one is doing in the pulpit. There is a difference between being a lecturer and a preacher. A lecturer may get all of the points correct, be elegant, engage you with humor, and even give you something to think about as you leave. The preacher, on the other hand, has been powerfully affected by the truth that he is proclaiming. He himself has spent a considerable time canvassing his own heart for agreement with the text’s proposition. Where there is a deviation from the divine will the preacher has bent his own will through prayer and meditation that he might be aligned with heaven in truth. Furthermore, the preacher is one who has worn out a path to the throne of grace petitioning for the hearts of his people to ‘get it’. The preacher is convinced of the urgency and power of the message; he really believes that what he is about to say is exactly what God wants these people to hear, therefore, it is the most important thing in the world for them to attend to at that very moment.
Thanks to Unashamed Workman for the link.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Preaching joy

This is worth remembering: preaching the gospel with joy.

Savior, not CEO

Jesus the leader endangers our view of Jesus the savior. Frankly, Jesus the leader is less threatening. He’s an organizational director that would fit in wearing business casual and sitting in a conference room. I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus wants to control how I behave, think, and lead in when I’m in the conference room, but I don’t have much confidence in Jesus as the teacher of strategic leadership lessons.

I’d like to get back to Jesus the savior, the one who sends the Holy Spirit to lead us. I’d like to bring the Jesus-as-leader genre of books along with me. I have a number of such books on my shelf right now. Several of them misrepresent Jesus the Messiah as Jesus the executive director; the others more or less get him right.
- Chris Blumhofer

Update: Related thoughts here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Loving first

Steve Mathewson reminds preachers of the need to love our listeners.

"Left ahead"

Finding Grace reflects on the power of Jesus' promise to be with the church always:
Imagine this scenario: Jesus is ascending back to heaven as his disciples are looking on and he tells them, “I’ve got to go now. Hang in there, and best of luck.” Sound ludicrous? It would be almost impossible to continue following someone who left you like that. Even those of us who have blood type D (duty) would eventually need a transfusion of something; something to give us hope in this broken world. If that had been the case, then Jesus would have truly left us behind. But that’s not how the story goes.
I recommend reading the whole article.