Friday, January 30, 2009

Prayer or sin?

Christian, are you guilty of the sin of prayerlessness?

On mission and ministry

"Experience...tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission."

Busy gluttons

Bob Hyatt considers the relationship between busyness and gluttony:
I've been thinking about busyness as though it is a problem to be managed—increase my productivity and I could, of course, accept and keep more commitments, more on my plate... more to feed my ego.

Maybe the problem with busyness isn't it. Maybe it's me. Me and my ego and pride.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Worth reading

Dan Edelen writes insightfully on Gen. 15 and the hell birds.

Against academic sacerdotalism

Peter Mead offers good advice on the importance of seminary-trained preachers avoiding the arrogance of the academy:
We need to be so careful. I think it is good to get the best academic training possible (a matter of good stewardship), but we need to be very careful not to develop the easily associated arrogance that comes with training, nor to carry that arrogance into the pulpit. We serve the priesthood of all believers; we are not the priesthood for all other believers.

Let’s make sure we open up the Bible in peoples’ laps, rather than moving it further away from them. Let’s make sure we communicate well, rather than impress with lofty language that the ploughboy doesn’t understand. Let’s make sure we prepare for ministry and prepare for a message as fully as we are able, but not let that show in any way that will hinder our listeners.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Creating crises?

Bob at In the Clearing has really got me thinking with this observation about church people:
Everybody wants to be your comforter. The whole idea of church life, they seem to think, is to find out what's hurting and pray for that. Nothing makes them light up more than to hear that you're feeling down, or you have some back pain, or your job is boring. It gives them something to "intercede" about!

I hope I'm not sounding too awfully cynical here. I certainly do appreciate prayer, but I think we're training ourselves to be perpetual spiritual invalids, rather than forgetting ourselves and getting involved in the mission of God in the world around us.
I think Bob may be right. Thoughts? If so, please visit In the Clearing and let Bob know.

Update: John Schroeder shares his thoughts here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Leading change

This is helpful: advice for leading change in the church.

What, a friend?

Have North American Christians forgotten what friendship really is?
A real friend is one that is intertwined and intermingled in your world. One who knows about you even when you are not even around each other. One who can read you when you are totally silent. One who runs in to aid you when the rest run out in fear. One who carries you when you can no longer carry yourself. One who does not keep count of wrongs. One who does not mind serving you when you don’t even deserve to be associated with. One who does not record debts, and who only ask to share in successes. That is a real friend.

Unfortunately today, we don’t strive for that we just look to connect with people and then call those connections friendships. Sure we are connected, but we connect at the Twitter and facebook level – one or two lines of pithy comments. We don’t really connect where we know people. Making this condition worse is the fact that even with those surface “friendships” as the norm, we are still more likely to know more about our online “friends” via short comments then we are our next door neighbors. We chat online, we surf the web, we goggle for info, but we never walk next door. We don’t want to KNOW people we want to KNOW ABOUT people. Sad, but true.
Please read the whole article to see how this impoverished view of friendship affects our relationships with Jesus.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Worth serious consideration: thoughts on comedy and Christianity.

Invisible church

"It's time we stopped counting church involvement as the mark of true faith. And while a Christless Churchianity is running rampant across this nation, there is still good news. Jesus is building His invisible Church and it is not falling apart."

Friday, January 23, 2009


"...gangs paint a better picture of loyalty and family than the local church body does."

Deconstructing The Shack

Gospel-Drive Blog is reposting Dr. James DeYoung's critique of The Shack. I spoke with a woman in a physician's office the other day who was reading the book, and I wish I'd read Dr. DeYoung's essay before that conversation.

Building better boasting

Glen Scrivener has written a simply outstanding meditation on 1 Corinthians and boasting. Here's a sample from near the beginning of the essay:
Wisdom, strength, riches - do they tell you who you are? Is that where you turn for an ego boost? We really- Forget that stuff. That’s small-time boasting. That’s like being proud of your long bushy nasal hair. “Hey guys, check out my new perm!” You’re being ridiculous. Stop it.
It gets better; please read the whole thing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ten or eleven

Are you guilty of any of the ten worst habits of preachers?

End times discernment

Prof. Claude Mariottini may not be a prophet, but he notes that his predictions about the Bush presidency and the Antichrist turned out exactly as he foretold two years ago.

Faith and unbelief

At In the Clearing Bob is giving serious thought to Mark 9:14-24 and issues of belief and unbelief among Christians:
There are some popular "worship songs" out there that encourage us to see ourselves as only bringing the best of ourselves to God. What hogwash. I imagine God saying, in such a case, "Don't kid yourself, chump. You're no better than your ancestors Adam and Eve with their silly fig leaves. Get real!"

It's not as if Jesus is God's faith-proctor, administering a cosmic faith-exam that we are required to pass in order to merit his help, with some "anointed ones" passing with flying colors, the rest of needing to go back to the books and study hard, hoping we don't die before the next scheduled exam comes around.

In reality, like the father in Mark's story, our faith is accompanied by unfaith. For most of us, a little faith, a lot of unfaith. What had Jesus said just prior to this episode? "How long must I bear with this faithless generation?"
Amen. I believe. Oh Lord, help my unbelief.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Upcoming conference

Nathan Colquhoun e-mails about an upcoming conference in Oakville, Ontario. Against the Powers will feature several speakers, including Stanley Hauerwas and David Fitch, both of whose work I recommend as challenging and thought-provoking. The conference will be held March 21, 2009. For more information, click on the link above.

Relieving the pressure

Not taking faith too seriously

David Fitch has written poignantly about decaffeinated belief:
A recent visitor to our church’s Sunday morning gathering told me “we really enjoyed the service.” At which point I felt the urge to puke. I understand this is most often the nicest and best of things people can say to a pastor after a church worship gathering. Yet it belies the problem of Sunday morning worship in our day. Sunday morning worship is a spectacle,it too often distances us from God as a spectator event.

I believe despite all the missional protestations, that the Sunday gathering is essential to the Mission of God’s people in the world. Yet I agree, that the worst thing that can happen is this gathering becomes “attractional,” an event for spectators. When someone says they enjoy something it belies the reality that that person has now become a user, a consumer, someone who has put the object at his or her disposal for his or her enjoyment. Continental philosopher/cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek argues this same idea. Zizek argues that when we say “I enjoy my religion” this implies that I don’t take it TOO seriously. For we really don’t want to take it too seriously (this is what the fundamentalists do according to Zizek). We keep it at a distance so to appear to be a Christian with all of it comforts and accoutrements yet not requiring any great disruption to a comfortable way of life. This distance, between the subject and the Symbolic Order, is what allows the subject’s Christianity (or religion) to be subsumed by the existing order. Nothing will change. Zizek calls it “decaffeinated belief,” “belief without belief.” In many ways, the same dynamic happens in our worship, leading to what we might call decaffeinated worship, worship without worship.
Ouch. I recommend reading the whole article.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Christians' reflections on the new President

Here are thoughts on the inauguration from a few Christians I admire:

Darryl Dash: "Go easy on Barack; the job of Saviour is already filled."

Dan Edelen: "Unlike some, I believe that we Christians are called to support our leaders, even when we disagree with some of their policies."

Bill Gnade: "Has there ever, in the history of the American people, been a more blind, conformist, passive and incurious mass than those who have deified Barack Obama?"

J.D. Hatfield: "Our prayer is that through this man, through these times, your righteousness would prevail."

SWAP Blog: Let's "remember the thing that made America great - the drive and determination of the individual who chooses freely to unite with others for a better future for all, not one who looks to others for their own brighter future."

Jared Wilson: "I do not hope in President Obama, but I do hope for him."

What are my own thoughts? Let's be diligent in praying for the newly inaugurated most powerful man in the world. He is sure to disappoint those who deify, but let us pray he far exceeds the expectations of those who vilify.

Conditional grace?

Jeff Weddle: "You have to do something to get grace or else everyone would have it and grace wouldn't be grace, it would just be there, the way things were."

Honest idolatry

Jonathan Christopher writes incisively about advertising and idolatry. As an example, he looks at a recent Harley-Davidson ad:
The idea that sculpted metal and rubber from a factory in Milwaukee is going to unleash your soul is so over the top ludicrous that it travels past ridiculous and comes all the way back to hilarious.

And I'm cool with Harley. I think they have a great brand, an amazingly loyal fan base and an important role in American pop culture. I like all those things, but what I like the most is how upfront they are about wanting to be your idol. Rarely does something desiring our adoration come right out and say, "Think of me less as a motorcycle and more as a soul liberation machine."

I wish all our idols were that obvious. I wish that when I got a glimpse of something I was tempted to idolize, I would laugh at it like I laughed at that Harley Davidson ad and move on. But I usually don't. Usually I sit and stay awhile. I feed my idol an hour here, an hour there until it grows big enough to start eating weeks and months. Even something that starts good, like a new job opportunity, can grow into a monster of attention, as I start to ask it to rescue me, to save me from boredom and give me adventure and happiness and complete me. To unleash my soul.

If I'm being honest, the book I'm writing and this blog are two things I constantly find myself attempting to idolize.
Indeed. I recommend reading the whole essay. And thanks to finding grace for the link.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Abandoning the prosperity gospel

"It’s time to put prosperity teaching to bed."- Phil Cook (via)

Interpreting the book of Revelation

Cheery-faced with cancer?

Jeff Weddle, who recently lost a Christian friend to cancer, shares thoughts on cancer and the church:
Several cancer sufferers have mentioned to me how hard it is to keep a cheery face around Christians. They feel they are letting down Christians and their prayers and faith because they keep getting worse.

This is undue pressure no one needs while suffering through a horrendous disease. Do we have any concept how rude we healthy, happy Christians are? It's better to embrace reality rather than try to force your happiness on others' sufferings.
I agree. Also, you might be interested in David Wayne's second entry on finding out he has cancer. The first entry, by the way, is simply sublime.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Verify before preaching

Quickening the deadened

Peter Mead offers some million-dollar advice here and here on dealing with deadened motivation.

Culture of top-10 lists

Craig Brian Larson looks at what top-ten lists tell us about ourselves:
In a culture obsessed with the best, average people lose value. Top-10 lists reflect our competitive culture where winning is everything. A competitive world has few winners and many losers. Being the best, or at least ranking in the top 10, is important for our own self-respect. The good news of the gospel is we don't compete for God's love. God doesn’t favor the top-10 “righteous” folks, or even the top 50 percent. Instead, God loves us freely through Jesus Christ whether we are winners or losers in the game of life, whether we are rich or poor, beautiful or homely, smart or dull, moral by human standards or morally messed up. God's grace comes to us based not on our merit but on his mercy through Jesus Christ his Son. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who's the king?

"He's either the King of Kings or He ain't. If He is, no other king matters."

Those who do, teach

Peter Beck offers some sound advice about doing and teaching:
I heard it in the Army. I heard it in advertising. I heard it in seminary. That old adage just won’t go away. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.

The idea behind this cliche is that those who are truly gifted and competent in their respective field will find gainful and meaningful employment in that field. Those who are incompetent and can’t find meaningful employment retire prematurely to the classroom to teach the next generation of erstwhile students.

While this proverbial statement has the staying power of a 40 year pitcher on steroids, problems abound.

First, if someone isn’t competent and can’t or hasn’t worked in his respective field, who on earth would choose to take classes from him?
Good question. And thanks to BibleX for the link.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Slow, radical growth

Jeff Weddle has been posting some dynamite essays lately at anti-itch meditation. These thoughts, for example, on regeneration are worth reading.

Cool chickens

Ray Ortlund: "Submerging the Bible for the sake of our cool personas isn't really cool at all. It's a way of avoiding risk, chickening out."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Jesus is still human, and here's why it matters.


"Mainstream Media Seems Indifferent to Persecution Of Christians."

Keeping focused

Peter Mead offers some good advice on the value of preaching one text.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Growing & budding

From ears to eyes

Matt Waymeyer offers some good, simple advice on the value of sermon illustrations: "First I heard, and then I saw. And even now, more than ten years later, I still understand and remember."

Literal when convenient

Jeff Weddle: "My problem with many of my fellow brethren who interpret the Bible literally is that usually their literalness stops at a point where being literal is inconvenient to maintain a pet doctrine."

Acts preaching

Peter Mead contemplates why so much of the book of Acts is devoted to accounts of preaching. Here's his conclusion:
Before we even give ourselves to consideration of appropriate hermeneutical principles for interpreting and applying the book of Acts; before we engage in rhetorical analysis of the speech material; or before we enter the debate about whether the speeches are accurate representation of the original speaker, or Lukan theology placed in their mouths, etc. Before any of that engages our attention, let’s not miss the obvious. The history of the early church is carried forward by the planned and impromptu speech of preachers. Much of it is evangelistic, some is primarily to believers, some is perhaps opportunistic. But this much is clear – the history of the church, in the early years, down through the years, and in these years, is carried forward in the preaching of those to whom God gives opportunity. Let’s allow that truth to soak into our souls, fire our hearts and ignite our ministries

Friday, January 09, 2009


A test of love


My friend Bob has written an beautifully concise essay on the process of how God's grace can be brought to bear in our efforts at overcoming sin.

More on preaching narrative

Peter Mead continues to write about preaching biblical narrative, and he does a fine job of expressing the challenges of this type of preaching:
On the one side you have some conservative preachers who treat the narratives as historically accurate, but essentially no different than any other biblical text (just dissect and deliver!) On the other side you have other less conservative writers who may recognize the literary skill, but deny historicity (my mind goes to Robert Alter’s term “historical fiction” in reference to the Hebrew Bible). . . .

As we prepare to preach biblical narratives, let’s make sure we don’t fall into the either/or thinking. Historical accuracy. Literary artistry. Two truths that sit comfortably together.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

I agree


"We Christians seem perfectly willing to tell other people all about our church, but we seldom talk to people about Jesus."

Resolution renovation

At a time when New Year's vows are already beginning to unravel, Victoria Gaines considers the difference between resolution-based and Christ-based discipleship:
Resolutions never get me far. It takes His life operating in me to produce what He desires. He's the One who produces every good thing in us that is pleasing to Him. He's the One whose grace inclines us towards right choices and desires. Its better that I spend time with Him, jotting down what He impresses on my heart through His Word as I confess my need, than asking Him a thousand times to bless my plans. The more I live and move and have my being in Him, the better 2009 will be.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

On preaching biblical narrative

Matt Waymeyer: "One thing I’ve learned is that a significant part of preaching narrative simply involves telling the story and telling it well."

"A thousand times worse; a million times better"

Where's the real turning point in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son: in the pig sty or in the father's arms? Here's why the distinction matters.

Carefully molded

Every person on the planet needs spiritual leadership. Because they have been made in the image of God, they are instinctively hungry to discover more of him. They will either find and be guided by leaders who have had their own hearts carefully molded by God for their assignment, or they will be influenced by those whose hearts have been shaped by poor substitutes.

The leader whose heart has been wonderfully and meticulously shaped by God is a magnificent piece of work, a real masterpiece. God has sculpted a life that bears a remarkable likeness to his Son.

You choose how you respond to God's heart-shaping initiatives. These choices are the story of your life.
- Reggie McNeal
A Work of Heart

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Let's remember, once again. . .

Remembering family

Let's remember our Christians brothers and sisters in India suffering right now for the faith.

Theology of the Cross

Jollyblogger David Wayne, diagnosed the week before Christmas with cancer of the colon, lung, and liver, has begun writing about the theological implications of his illness. My attempts to describe his thoughts, however, probably can't do them justice. Here's a sample:

The theology of glory looks for God in the midst of the big, the spectacular, the powerful, the victorious - it is a triumphalistic approach to the Christian life. The theology of the cross says that God's clearest revelation of Himself is in the cross - therefore if you want to find God you will find Him in the midst of suffering, He will hide Himself from the world rather than display Himself before the world in great glory, and He is present in defeat as much as or more so than victory.

All of this started working on me around Thanksgiving and into December and one of the thoughts that came into my head as an application of this is that we tend to give God the praise when He delivers us from suffering. In other words, we believe we have found God and He has shown Himself at the moment of deliverance and this is the stuff of our testimonies - I once was suffering but now I'm free - praise be to God.

But it occurred to me that such a testimony only has resonance in the affluent west. What do we say of Chinese believers and others around the world whom God delivers unto suffering, not from suffering. For many Christians throughout history their testimony has not been the typical western testimony, it has been the testimony of illness, homelessness, and persecution, to be followed by further persecutions, beatings and death in anonymity.

All I can say, Christian, is please click over to David's site and read the whole thing.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Facing persecution

When persecution stares Christians in the face, will we ask "Why?" or "Are we willing?"

Hearing God

"If God wants to get your attention he doesn’t have to wait until you are still or get quiet."

What if?

Keith Brenton offers a challenge to preachers:
What if each one of us challenged our ministers and teachers to preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified for an entire year?

What might happen if our churches heard nothing but the pure, unadulterated gospel of Jesus the Savior for twelve months straight?

How many might come into a relationship - either for the first time, or an even closer one - with the God of grace through His only begotten Son and inspired by His Holy Spirit if their time of worship and learning revolved around the One whom the law and prophets anticipate, the gospels celebrate, the epistles inaugurate, and holy revelation consummates?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Ox, ass, and Christ

There are still three more days of Christmas left, so please enjoy this exploration of "Ox and Ass at Christ's Manger" (and thanks to David Ker for the link).

Failing at failure?

Did you know?

I didn't: the Ten Commandments are written in the indicative, not imperative mood.

Giving guidance

"There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our commitment to giving excludes them.”" - C.S. Lewis

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Better than need

Smiling at starvation?

Jared Wilson: "That's why I seem mean sometimes. Because I hate starvation."

Books in perspective

Jeff Weddle has been on a roll lately at anti-itch meditation. His thoughts on books and preaching are especially good:
I read this morning that a pastor should spend as much on his library as he does on his car. Well, depending on what kind of car you have that may not be much. But seriously? Do we need that many books?

The Early Church pretty much taught with the Old Testament and the new New Testament books being circulated. Other than that, they didn't have much to go with. Yet they preached and souls were saved.

I understand the value of books and I read all the time, but I get a little tired of hearing this idea that if a pastor doesn't read books his sermons and soul will run dry. What a charge to level against the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit!