Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Keith Brenton gives chapter and verse for the various ingredients of his gracefaithworks sandwich.

Idolatry of the bottom line

Brian Lowery considers, with examples, what popular television shows are really teaching us in the United States:
Can you see how easy it is to find yourself justifying the means in light of a glorious end? And can you begin to see how such situational ethics, played out again and again to great ends on our television screens, can subtly creep into our everyday lives—even in the life of the church? The influence of these shows is made all the greater when you consider the chief idol of American culture that's second only to sex: the bottom-line. How often have you been encouraged to do whatever it takes to meet and even exceed that line?
Good questions. Brian has also posted another fine essay on what our thirst for television antiheroes really tells us about ourselves and our view of justice:
As you mull over ideas for preaching a Christological pursuit of justice, keep in mind that you'll also need to preach the "however long" quality of such a pursuit. While we must proclaim the upside-down nature of Christ's ethics of justice, we must also be honest about its timetable. The nature of a Christological pursuit of justice—going a mile more than one, constant concern over the appropriateness of action, doling out grace and mercy, taking up the cross daily—takes time. Things are further complicated when you look at the matter of justice from a big-picture perspective. God's work in Christ is both now and not yet. An incredible-but-mysterious act of justice began at the Cross and will not reach its climax until the new heaven and new earth. Though justice makes cameo appearances, it has not yet entered the stage in all its glory. Because this leads to a seemingly schizophrenic life of both celebration and waiting, weariness is inevitable—and weariness is the root of all evil in matters of justice. More often than not, it leads to resignation, which is a breeding ground for misguided action.

The key responsibility we hold as preachers is a tricky one: we must acknowledge that we live in a constant state of pleading ("How long, O Lord?"), while we also push all believers to adopt a resolute state fueled by hope ("However long, O Lord!"). If we can help our listeners live in the tension of the two, the chances of corruption decrease significantly, while space for a Christological approach increases.
That sounds right.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ministry of reconciliation

These are worthwhile thoughts on law, love, and reconciliation.

Life and death

This highlights a great divide in our culture, one that will not go away all by itself, and is widening, as it devours everything from the unborn to those who are dying, with killing on both ends, called choice and euthanasia, sweet words for a bloody business. Many citizens, including many who call themselves serious Christians, and intend to be, are dancing on the edge of this abyss, seemingly unaware of the dangers as well as ignorant of the clarity of the long moral tradition upon which the Christian faith has stood for ages.

Dead or alive?

Is the Word of God really alive? If so, why do Christians so often feel the need to make it "relevant"?
. . .it seems we are obsessively focused on convincing seekers through a self-trusting fixation on programming and style, when we ought to be relentlessly focused on inviting sinners through a Spirit-trusting enjoyment of the undiluted gospel and a scandalous grace.
Amen, Jared.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Knowing and loving

Eric Jones explains, in few words, why sincerely loving others comes as a result of knowing God.

No buyers

"...how likely is it, outside of the intervention of God through the Holy Spirit, that we will identify our needs as those arising from our rebellion against God? No, the product we will seek naturally will not be the gospel. It will be therapy of some kind, a technique for life, perhaps a way of connecting more deeply with our own spiritual selves on our own terms, terms that require no repentance and no redemption. It will not be the gospel. The gospel cannot be a product that the church sells because there are no consumers for it. When we find consumers, we will find that what they are interested in in buying, on their own terms, is not the gospel."

Wise words on the Holy Spirit

These words from S.M. Hutchens on the Holy Spirit are some of the best I've ever read:
. . . the Holy Spirit, while mysterious, infinitely subtle, and often counter-intuitive is for all that no fool. The gabbling of enthusiasts is not his favored means of communication, nor is he a private gentleman. If he has a message for one who speaks for him, it meets what he has already placed in many of his own, and agrees. He is a friend to reason because he invented it, a friend of counsel, because he is eternally in counsel himself (some would even say, and not without reason, that he is Counsel), and a friend to the wisdom of age and experience, for he is the one who has given it, presumably for use toward his ends. (The presence of these virtues in the church virtually eclipses, I believe, the need for much of what is commonly regarded as charismatic gift. Since they are themselves part of the concrete and enduring telos of the Spirit’s work, there is good reason to suspect that the overuse and overvaluation of charismata--which may indeed be from God--is also, in whatever age and in whatever church they appear, a sign of spiritual infantilism.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Missional and attractional

Is church a meeting you attend or a network of relationships?

In his sight

I seldom link to poetry, but here's a poem I want to share with you. My favorite line: "my every moment is ripe with wrongness."

Starting with the right question

Thanks to Theocentric Preaching for pointing me to these thoughts from Bekah Mason:
Too often when we study scripture, we start with the wrong question: “What does this say to/about me?” If we start our study asking, “What does this tell me about God?” then we really get down to the deep riches of the Word. After all, if we are called to conform to the image of Christ, shouldn’t we be learning more about him and less about us?
Yes, indeed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Our ultimate concern?

Worth reading: thoughts on idolatry and fear.

One direction or the other

What does size say?

Kent Brandenburg takes a hard look at the Gospels to answer this question: How did Jesus evangelize? Here's a sample:
Over 80% of Americans say they’re Christians, but only 9% of them say they have a biblical world view. Could it be that today we have massive crowds, but only a relative few who are saved? While U. S. churches exult in the size of their gatherings, Jesus tried to shrink His. They try to lure as many unbelievers as possible into one place, but the Lord repulsed them. . . .

People won’t get into His kingdom who won’t agonize to get there. In almost every way, for decades evangelical churches in this country have gone polar opposite of what Jesus did and said. They have changed His methods to attract unbelievers and altered his message to make it easy on interested hearers. Most often the very truths He taught that spurned the unsaved in His day are left out of today’s presentations.

What is most often missing that Jesus emphasized in His evangelism was “counting the cost.” He not only wouldn’t leave the hard part out, but He stressed it more than any other.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Blue Fish offers a few valuable thoughts to Christians on taking ourselves less seriously.

Really meek

Meekness is easy to counterfeit but hard to find in its purest form. Vicki Gaines shares insights on the real deal:
Meekness, I think, is the fruit of brokenness. When I try to manufacture it, I fail miserably, and my reserve of kindness flies out the window. I desperately need Christ to speak and act through me. "Rest in Me," He says.

To walk and live meekly is to grow from a place of utter humility and brokenness, trusting in His Life and not my own. No need to pray for patience. Christ IS our patience, manifested more and more as we abide.
Amen. I recommend Vicki's whole post.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nuts and bolts of preaching

Biblical Preaching is always full of solid, practical advice on the art and craft of preaching. Lately Peter Mead has been doing some especially strong work. I recommend going over and seeing for yourself.

Part of the story

I’Ching Thomas nails it here:
The gospel is often condensed into a story that affirms the basics of our faith: God loves us and has a wonderful plan for us. But we have sinned and are therefore separated from Him. Jesus Christ on the Cross is the answer to our predicament, and if we will accept him as our personal savior, we will have eternal life.

Though accurate in what it highlights, such a simplified presentation can wrongly convey the idea that the gospel is primarily about our own fulfillment and satisfaction. “God loves YOU and has a wonderful plan for YOU.” “Live your best life now!” Such a shortened story seems to place us in the center of the message and not Jesus.

On the contrary, the heart of both the Old and New Testaments is the fulfillment of God’s plan. The story of our redemption is God’s complete and multifaceted movement among history and people and nations. It cannot be reduced to mere highlights without compromising the story. What about the resurrection of Christ? What about his return and the promise of our own resurrection? What about the new heaven and new earth? There are many books that make up the Bible, all of which tell a part of a great and magnificent story.”
Amen (HT: finding grace).

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Truth

This is challenging: not all truth is God's truth (And thanks, Nancy, for the link).

The one that matters

"A man who lacks humility, no matter how gifted he might be, will have that lack taint everything good in his nature. On the other hand, a man who is humble will bolster the excellence of every positive trait he possesses." - Dan Edelen

Recognizing the therapeutic gospel

David Powlison has begun another trenchant series on the therapeutic gospel. And what, exactly, is that?
It's structured to give people what they want, not to change what they want. It merely makes people feel better. It centers exclusively around the immediate welfare of man and temporal happiness. It discards the glory of God in Christ. It forfeits the narrow, difficult road that brings deep human flourishing and eternal joy.

This therapeutic gospel accepts and covers for human weaknesses, seeking to ameliorate the most obvious symptoms of distress. It takes human nature as a given, because human nature is too hard to change. It does not want the King of heaven to come down. It does not attempt to change people into lovers of God who embrace the truth of who Jesus is, what He is like, what He does. . . .

In this new gospel, the great evils to be redressed do not call for any fundamental change of direction in the human heart. Instead, my deepest problems are merely limited to what has happened to me. It's not something about me that has also gone woefully astray.

It's only about my sense of rejection because others have not loved me thoughtfully and well. It's my corrosive experience of life's vanity, because I haven't been able to have the impact I want, to be recognized as Somebody Who Matters. It's my nervous sense of self-condemnation and diffidence, because my self-esteem is wobbly. It's the imminent threat of boredom if my music is turned off. It's how so much of life is routine; I love the adrenaline rush, and I don't like it when a long, slow road lies ahead.
There's a lot of good stuff in the whole article, particularly in showing what the real gospel looks like. And thanks to Theocentric Preaching for the link.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"One thing missing from your ministry"

The guy in this little story is not the only one, I suspect.

Knowing and caring

J.D. Hatfield shares insights on the idol of ignorance:
Our old man of the self tries to protect our self-interest at all costs. If you were in error, would you want to know? Are you so sure about that? Are you actually becoming more teachable? Or do you just want to protect your pet idea, and keep it insulated by ignorance? Would you parade that ignorance as somehow showing a superior form of piety? In other words, do you think it means you have more faith, or that you are somehow a more humble or loving person?
Good points. The rest of J.D.'s essay is also worth reading.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Keeping focused

Dashhouse shares worthwhile thoughts on "strategies and systems and the gospel."

Teaching the faith

"Woe to any pastor or congregation that gets preoccupied with merely caring for the congregation, managing and maintaining the organizational machinery of the congregation and neglect the duty to teach the faith."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


God's word God's way

Kent Brandenberg offers a few hard-edged words on scriptural evangelism:
God’s method glorifies Him. It is foolishness to them which are lost. People don’t get saved because it makes sense. They receive Christ because of the power of the Gospel. Bold preaching glorifies God. Adding to His way by doing it our own glorifies us, doesn’t act in faith, perverts His plan, affects the nature of the message, and provides a poor model for others. Instead, let’s by faith reduce ourselves to Scriptural evangelism.
Good point. I for one would like to see Ken develop this theme further, with some toe-stepping particulars.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rocking with Martin

Living under grace

Apart from continual re-saturation in the gospel, I see myself as under law when I've been bad, because I deserve it, and I see myself as under grace when I've been good, because I've earned it. Totally wrong.

Paul makes it clear where we stand now before God: "You are not under law but under grace." And then he looks us right in the eye and says to us, "I dare you to believe it and live by it."

Means and ends

J.D. Hatfield writes cuttingly about person ambition masquerading as service to God:
Too often Christianity or Christian principles are “sold” as the key to getting ahead in life. It is taught that following God’s plan for your life is the way to get the edge you need to be successful. We tell unbelievers that they need to add God to their lives in order to truly shine. We sell weak or make-believe believers the idea that they need to do this or that “scripturally based” plan for prosperity in order to get on with their faith walk.

Of course it is given a Christian veneer such as “being successful will help you to be a better witness” or “better able to help others”. Friends, you cannot baptize self-indulgence into sanctity by starting off a sentence or book with “it is not about you”. It may appease you conscience to think that you want to be successful so that you can glorify God, but in that case your conscience is seared, not cleared. You cannot want improvement for yourself first so that you can then serve God “better”; that is just covering up your own desire for comfort. It isn’t wrong to want comfort and relief, but you are called firstly to serve God no matter what, thanking Him for any and every opportunity you get, despite hardship.
Amen. Christians, I strongly recommend reading J.D.'s whole article.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Online expository resources

If you're looking for good online resources for expository preaching from the New Testament, then you may find something useful at my new site, Expository Links. If you haven't been by in a few days, you may find some new links have been added.

Sharp preaching

Peter Mead offers advice on going just the right distance up the abstraction ladder.

We are Barabbas

Eric Jones writes that in the Gospels, Barabbas gets a bad rap:
Why do Christians tend to think so poorly of Barabbas? After all, isn’t Barabbas just a picture of each one of us? Without the cross are we all not sinners deserving death? But, just as Christ took the punishment that was due Barabbas, He too took our punishment. Yes, Barabbas deserved to be the one on the cross, but Christ, who was without sin or guilt took his place and Barabbas was pardoned and declared a free man. Isn’t this what Christ has done for all of us who place our faith in Him alone?
Yes, it is. And I hope Eric doesn't mind my quoting his whole post here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Into the abyss

"We may discover the ultimate relevance to our preaching by becoming appropriately irrelevant. Preachers must be willing to take their congregations into the abyss where the Holy Spirit, speaking through the biblical texts, challenges our deepest convictions about the Christian life.”

Made new

Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas shares a testimony of his unlikely conversion and miraculous healing:
Why did God save the life of a man who had trashed, lampooned, and marginalized Him most of his life? Why did He take the time and the trouble to save me? It certainly wasn't because I had written Basic Instinct and Showgirls, right? Was it because my wife and I had four little boys we were trying to raise? Possibly.

Or was it God's divinely impish sense of humor? "Who, you? You're praying? After
everything you've done to break my commandments and after every nasty, unfunny thing you've written about Me and those who follow Me - now you're sobbing? Praying? Asking Me to help you? Hah! Okay, fine, I'll help you. But if I do, know this: My help will obliterate the old, infamous you. You'll wind up turning your life inside-out. You'll wind up stopping all of your excesses. You know what will happen to you? You'll wind up telling the world what I did for you. You'll wind up carrying my cross in church. Yes, I make all things new - and you will be new, too."
The whole essay is definitely worth reading. And if you recognize the name Joe Eszterhas you know there are a couple of miracles involved in what he describes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The problem of eloquence in sermons

John Piper (via Unashamed Workman) writes on the dangers of eloquence in preaching and concludes, "Pray for me. This is not an academic issue for a preacher."

The gospel and the church

Following up on yesterday's link about preaching the gospel to Christians, here are a few choice words from Glen Scrivener

Here’s my ill-considered overstatement of the issue: Our problem is not that we aren’t telling the gospel to our pagan friends. It’s that we don’t tell the gospel to our Christian friends!

When’s the last time you looked another Christian in the eye and said ‘Mate you’re a sinner. I know you have struggles, I know you’re tired but, deep down you’re wicked! That’s your real problem. But Mate - you’re clothed in the righteousness of Christ, carried on His heart before the Father, rejoiced over in the presence of the angels.’


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Preaching the Gospel to Christians

In praise of petty honesty

J.D. Hatfield writes on the value of honesty in matters small and large:
In Proverbs 20:23, we read that God “loathes all cheating and dishonesty” (TLB), and Paul wrote to Timothy about living a life of “honesty,” 1 Timothy 2:2. Madison Sarratt taught mathematics at Vanderbilt University for many years. Before giving a test, he would admonish his students, “Today I am giving two examinations – one in trigonometry and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there are no good people in the world who cannot pass the examination of honesty.”

Monday, September 08, 2008

More expository links

I put it together for my own use but want to share it with other preachers: Expository Links. Over the past week I've added links to several more top-quality resources for Bible exposition.

Preaching appreciation

Peter Mead: "It seems clear that many place no value on preaching, even though they may be preachers themselves, because they have not experienced the power and relevance of effective expository preaching."

Learning to preach "want to" sermons

Bryan Wilkerson writes about moving from "have to" to "want to" sermons:
Unfortunately, most sermons. . . fail to address the want-to factor in people's lives. They focus instead on what Dallas Willard calls "sin management"—teaching people how to grow, exhorting people to grow more, and warning people what will happen if they don't grow. The problem with such preaching is that it causes listeners to fixate on their fallenness and failures, establishing a self-fulfilling prophecy that often leads to more and deeper failure.

Yes, our fallen nature and sinful tendencies need to be exposed and addressed. The harsh realities and inevitable disappointments of life should not be glossed over by Pollyanna preaching. But when people are presented a compelling vision of what their lives can look like under the rule of God, they will be inspired to pursue that better future.
Sounds right to me.

Friday, September 05, 2008

That makes sense

Here's a short post and link on preaching from a three-pronged exegesis of text, culture, and heart.

Avoiding "essentially Christless" preaching

I would that every preacher got up in the morning with the words of Paul stirring his heart: "Him [Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ." [Col 1:28]

Worldview Church at BreakPoint

The bi-monthly e-magazine Worldview Church, a part of Chuck Colson's BreakPoint ministry, has recently added a link to Transforming Sermons. Associate Editor Jimmy Davis has let me know you can sign up to get the magazine by e-mail. I've signed up for both Worldview Church and BreakPoint and cheerfully recommend both. I enjoy the work both of Chuck Colson and of Jimmy Davis, who also blogs from my old stomping grounds of East Tennessee. His blog is Cruciform Life.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Power line preaching

I guess this makes sense: advice on preaching from Winston Churchill. It certainly is good advice.

Not a tame lion

“Sixteen years old, stubborn to see the world for myself, I embarked on my first reading of the four Gospels. How it struck me to realize that Jesus of Nazareth, the "Lord" of the Lord's Prayer, was not in league with every person or in favor of every value esteemed in my world or my parents' world. He was not, after all, a member in good standing of that club that included Walt Disney, Betty Crocker, President Nixon and my Uncle Louie. In fact, in one way or another Jesus would undoubtedly have irritated every single one of them. This is a recognition from which I have never fully recovered.

“And it recurs over time. All that changes is the company of which I have too readily made Jesus a member, the values that I have too easily sanctioned in his name. I suppose we all do this. We place Jesus on a mental guest list with "our sort," only to have him say or do something that puts the entire party out of sorts. He is with us to the ends of the earth, yes, but on another level you can't take him anywhere.”

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Safe playing

It's not anything close to daily anymore, but today I've dispensed another dose at Milton's Daily Dose.

Sad but true

More than an outline in mind

Tony Stiff has written a strong essay about surfing as a metaphor for biblical exegesis:
The joy of finding an unsurfed break is a great metaphor for the ‘journey’ nature of biblical exegesis. You get to a point where you find yourself very used to the ’setup’ questions exegesis raises: history, literature, theology. And you pretty much know what are going to be the important areas to pay attention to in a passage. You kind of even have an expectation of what the text will mean at the end of the labor. But every once in awhile you find yourself starring into the face of an exegetical find that is captivating. Something that you were not prepared for and something that makes all the other routine experiences of biblical exegesis rich and meaningful.

You find something of God’s character you had under appreciated or played down in the past, or you see something of yourself that you had never beheld and you relish in the moment of being able to see it through His eyes. Biblical exegesis is a journey filled with wonder, with far away exotic places, and questions and answers and agonizings that are greater than you could have imagined. Studying God’s word ought to captivate us and fill us with the kind of anticipation a surfer has as she or he sets out to find that break that no one or few have surfed before.
Yes. And thanks to Dave Bish for the link.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Friendship, fairness, and grace

For many of us, accepting grace isn't easy at all. That truth is wonderfully illustrated in this amazingly short play. There's a trove of insight not only in the ultra-short drama, but in Glen Scrivener's insights on "seething civility."

Well said

Here's J.D. Hatfield on the value of finding excitement not in the latest church fad, but in the slow, "boring" process of settling into God's Word:
When people don’t get rooted and grounded in scripture, when they do not have their foundation for faith and practice established, they will use the Bible like a magic book, or an encyclopedia. They will become hard of hearing and ignorant of the truth, all the while thinking that they believe the Bible, but they will incorporate compromise into their understanding by seeing the scriptures through the lens of their life, instead of seeing their life through the lens of scripture. They twist the scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16-18). It is time to get rooted, grounded, established, it is time to grow up; enough is enough.
Amen. J.D. has more good thoughts along similar lines here.

Monday, September 01, 2008

New Testament links now online

Links for all New Testament books are now up and active at Expository Links. These are links to the best, free study resources I've found online for preaching and teaching the New Testament. I hope you enjoy the site, post links to it on your own weblog, and tell anyone else who might be interested. I don't make any money off this, but I do enjoy sharing the wealth of what I've found.