Friday, February 27, 2009

Gift of righteousness

For those struggling to live a life of Christian discipleship, Victoria Gaines asks, "Do you trust or toil?" Vicki also shares some worthwhile thoughts on church growth and real heart transformation.

The real enemy

"It is clear that as long as I have confidence in my ability to live a life worthy of God’s ideal of sinless perfection, I will not fully embrace God’s provision for sin offered in the gospel. God doesn’t need my help or yours to make us righteous in regard to salvation. The exact opposite is true (Romans 5:18-20). Only when we come to the end of ourselves and believe God’s record that our best behavior, on our best day, is far short of God’s righteous demands (Romans 3:9-20) are we willing to throw ourselves upon His mercy offered in the gospel of Jesus."

The big skeleton key

Jared Wilson explains why the gospel is the antidote to everything:
This is how wonderful the gospel of Jesus is. It's the skeleton key for all of humanity.

Medicine doesn't work this way. You don't treat spina bifida with drugs for leukemia. (At least, I don't think you do.) You don't give a decongestant to a kid with athlete's foot. For every condition, there is a specific treatment. Different symptoms, different fixes.

But the gospel isn't like that. It fixes everything.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Made new

"Stay in your lane"

Barry Maxwell offers some sound advice on obeying God one step at a time:
How often we complicate God’s will by demanding to know what God would not have us know yet. God commands an obedient step and before we take it begin asking about the six steps later. For examples: If I forgive her then what will happen if she does it again? If I give my stuff away then what will I do if I might need it again? If I initiate that difficult conversation then what will happen to our relationship down the road? If I move there then what will our life look like in ten years? If I love him again then what if he doesn’t reciprocate? If I leave this ministry then what will happen with it next year? If I take on that ministry then what will become of it? Why do I need to this since it wasn’t what so-and-so needed to do in their situation?

Before long we complicate ourselves into paralysis. Because we can’t know everything we don’t do anything. But we simply cannot know all that God is doing “under the radar.” God will be trusted for who he is, not what he can prove.
Plus, Barry's article has the added benefit of a strong U.S. Army angle. Hoo-ah.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Good news on Good Book

I just heard via e-mail that David Plotz's Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible is coming out March 3. The book grew out of Mr. Plotz's recent work in blogging the Bible (Old Testament). Mr. Plotz, editor of Slate Magazine and a self-described "non-observant Jew," brings a somewhat unconventional array of wit and insight to the Word. For a variety of reasons, his observations should be enlightening for Christians. I look forward to reviewing the book here and perhaps interviewing the author. Please stay tuned.

"The objective reality of the cross"

David Wayne shares more insights on a theology of the cross.

Dissipating disputation

This blog frequently links to Reformed or Calvinistic writers without a corresponding emphasis on writers from an Arminian perspective. Recently I've made a point of reading explicitly Ariminian writers and have found some helpful insights. Here, for example, is a recent post from Arminian Today:

. . . only prayer truly causes doctrinal issues to dissipate. When I was in college I used to pray with a few Arminians and a few Calvinists and you would not have been able to tell who was who while we were on our faces crying out to Jesus. Our prayers (if they are truly prayed from the Scriptures) sounded the same and produced the same results. There is nothing like prayer that causes doctrinal issues of Arminianism and Calvinism to go flying out the window. When we are in prayer before a holy God, it does not matter what we think about supralapsarianism or infralapsarianism. In prayer it does not matter what we believe about the nature of free will. In prayer the issue of election is not debated. In prayer we don't have room to debate the issue of conditional versus unconditional election. In prayer it does not matter what John Calvin said about Romans 9:13 or what James Arminius thought about the passage. In prayer the issue of limited versus unlimited atonement is not being debated. For in prayer the glory of Christ and His kingdom is our focus. In prayer we want to honour the risen Lord and see His name lifted high. In prayer we truly believe that God is sovereign and that nothing can act against Him and His will.
Good points.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reading the whole Bible

John Schroeder, with a little help from Scot McKnight, cautions against following our favorite "Bible maestros."

Preaching from the source

Preacher, do your sermons have a heavenly echo?
You can’t fake it. I suppose we could try. But faked heavenly echoes will surely clang just like when people drop famous names to try to impress us in onversation. Genuine echoes of the glories of heaven’s throne room, of angel voices singing, of intimacy with God; these genuine echoes will not clang. They will usually be faint, even subtle, but resonating with reality if, in fact, they are real.
Of course, there's only one real way for our sermons to have that kind of echo (more here, here, and here).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Springsteen prophecy?

Staying on the point

Jake Belder has written a solid essay on how easily evangelicalism in North America misses the point on discipleship:
Our culture is so antagonistic towards rules and authority that both those raised as Christians and those who become Christians later in life seek out an expression of Christianity that requires very little of them. They don't want a God who, despite freeing them from sin by His infinite mercy, love, and grace, requires that they live to glorify Him in all that they do. They only want a salvation that makes their eternal destiny sure, not one that forces them to look at all of life through the lenses of a new paradigm. They don't want a gospel that transforms everything, but instead one that makes them feel good and loved and can be used whenever is convenient for them. And regrettably, the Church has made this distorted gospel readily available to them.

What pains me so much about this is that people in the Church, leaders and laymen alike, don't see it and continue to feed the problem. In a post the other day, I quoted D. A. Carson, who said that while the gospel may have peripheral benefits such as improving your marriage or how you handle your finances, that is not the heart of it. Yet that is what has become of it in the Church today. We turn Jesus into a weak, smiling figure who loves us and gives us some good advice on how to make our lives better.
I recommend reading the whole article, which offers a way out of the current mess. And thanks to BibleX for the link.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Failing and grace

Supper of life

Barry Maxwell reminds us that the Lord Supper is a remembrance not only of death, but of new life:
When we ingest the elements we, as it were, receive Christ and his work again to ourselves. By faith, we make Christ and his death a part of us from the inside out. It courses through our veins and satisfies our deepest hunger. We receive his broken body and spilled blood to ourselves so that God doesn’t take ours instead. The cup of God’s wrath is now our cup of blessing (1 Cor 10.16). We can drink it without being killed because it killed Jesus. We declare the death of our sin without having to die for our sin.

The Supper of the Lord doesn’t save us but the Lord of the Supper does. And he said “My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6.55-56). By taking the elements we say “Yes!” again to Christ’s death and redeeming work on our behalf. We testify that we live always and forever on the substance of the cross. We should celebrate communion as death-row inmates celebrate their pardons. We will not die but live! Praise to the King!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why some and not others?

This article (via James Lampley) is probably as good an explanation as we'll get as to why God allowed all 155 persons on board Flight 1549 to live while all 49 on Flight 3407 died.

Living Christianly

Do you ever side against yourself?

Teaching rule-breaking?

S.M. Hutchens considers the Harry Potter books and the contemporary children's book theme on rule-breaking:
There are indeed a great many children’s books these days which, along with other media, glorify it for its own sake, which make the will and desire to break rules a virtue, and the actual breaking a heroic slap in the face of the prigs and prunes who imagine they have the authority to impose upon the infant Invictus. The other day day I came upon this piquant title among the children's books in the New York Times Book Review: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove her Father Teddy Crazy.

I’m pretty sure I recognize the genre, and am decidedly of the Hillaire Belloc school when it comes to the like. I have not seen many Newbery or Caldecott Award books lately with titles like, How Johnny Smith Broke the Rules and was Chopped to Pieces Under the Wheels of a Train, or, How Suzy Jones Broke the Rules and Lost Both Arms in the Grain Auger, or, How Billy Bezel Broke the Rules and Lost Every Friend He Had, or, How Charlie Bungbluster Broke the Rules, and Was Regarded as a Fool by Everyone Who Knew Him for the Rest of His Short, Unhappy Life. Granted, there are counter-stories that are just as true-to-life: How Dickie Dodge Broke the Rules and Became the Richest Man in Town, all patterned on the original, How Lucifer Broke the Rules and Received All the Kingdoms of the World and Their Glory.
And, by the way, Mr. Hutchens has no problem with how rule-breaking is treated in the Harry Potter books.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fundamentals of church marketing

"So. You want me in your church? Here's how to get me" (HT).

Update: John Schroeder offers related thoughts.

Hard and soft

Glen Scrivener considers the preaching meme that “Soft words make hard people, hard words make soft people”:

The implication being - therefore speak hard words.

Well. Maybe. And maybe Proverbs 15:1 . . .

Let’s not forget how this dynamic usually plays out: Hard words produce hard speakers. And hard speakers produce hard people.
Good point.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On spiritual warfare

Eric Jones:"Let's make sure we are people who make prayer an integral part of our battle plans."

Turning Christians to pagans

I'd like to think this story from Francis Chan really is true. The fact that I find it hard to believe may say something about more than just about me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Lincoln on his critics

Whether or not he himself was really a Christian, Abe Lincoln's thoughts on performance and criticism are worth remembering for all Christians: "If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference."

Get over it

Bob is ready to answer Christians who say, "But I can't forgive myself." I share my own thoughts, by the way, in the comments section of Bob's post.

Ah, no

"Is it any delight to Him to see you carrying your burden of conscious sin day after day and week after week?"

Friday, February 13, 2009

Men or mommy's boys?

"A church should have a masculine ethos. 1 Corinthians 16:13 commands a whole church, 'Act like men.' There is cowardice, even effeminacy, in [North] American churches today."

For your convenience

This is a pretty messy but illustrative lesson on honesty in getting a message out (HT: Monday Morning Insight).

In praise of institutions

Here's the beginning of an article by Ray Ortlund:
To call anything an "institution" today is its death sentence, including a church. Should we be ashamed of the institutional aspects of our churches?

What is an institution? An institution is a social mechanism where life-giving human activities can be nurtured and protected and sustained. Some aspects of life should be unscheduled, spontaneous, random. But not all of life should be. What an institution does is structure and order a desirable experience, so that it becomes repeatable on a regular basis. Some things deserve better than to be left to chance. . . .
Well said.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In a church near you

Truer every day: "Emasculated men are the norm."

Struggling for meaning

Dan Edelen: "I believe that a whole host of Christians struggle with. . . unconfessed angst—and it's killing them slowly."

On dying to self

At In the Clearing Bob is thinking about Christians who tell him stories of their lives:
They frequently tell me their stories, the hero, the victim, the trickster. I want to say, "When you begin to die to self, your heroic self-image will die. Your whole story will shrivel up. It will be replaced by another story, greater by far than yours, a story with a different hero. You will be glad to give him the star part, the central role. When you begin to die to self, that is."

But I notice that a lot of Christian publishing thrives on promises that you too can be the hero of your story. That's why so many book covers depict people raising their hands in triumph atop rocky crags that they've just conquered. As if to say, read this book and become a hero, the prince or princess, the victorious warrior, the great man or woman that you are supposed to be.

This is idol worship, that's all.
Wow. Please read Bob's whole article.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Amen and amen

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for brethren is learning to listen to them."


Many thanks to blind man's fancy for pointing me to these words from T. David Gordon on so-called relevance in preaching:
People do not ultimately need to be delivered from their dysfunctional families, their media-saturated culture, their Oedipal urges, their neuroses, or their various alienations; they need to be delivered from God’s judgment and curse. And their perception that all of these other matters are more important or relevant than God’s judgment and curse are merely evidence that they are under his judgment and curse, and that they need to repent of these very misperceptions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Learning to be content

Worth reading: "...there’s a ginormous difference between the tantalizing idea that our faith will cause good things to happen to us, and the biblical portrayal of authentic faith: believing that God is powerful and good no matter what happens to us."

Redefining wisdom?

Scientist: "The world will be in a terrible state if scientists define wisdom."

Indeed, he does know

J.D. Hatfield reflects on one of the major excuses some folks give for not attending churches, that "God knows my heart." Here's J.D.:
Think about it, and how many people who think they are saved are counting on some experience or something they think is deep inside them that is good, and they talk about God when you are near, or they send you religious emails and all that, or they will come to church once in a blue moon and they will relate to you of some experience they have had, but they haven’t had the born again experience! It’s obvious.

Now I am not saying all religious emails are bad, but more often than not they are just promoting the American civil religion, the pick yourself up by the bootstraps, rugged individualism ideal that has nothing to do with the Spirit of God exalting Jesus Christ in your life. Again, I am not against people talking to me about things that inspire them, but this doesn’t justify them from their sin in God’s sight! You don’t need to prove to me how holy you are.
Amen. J.D. shares related thoughts here.

Monday, February 09, 2009

On wants and needs

Worth reading: David Waters on the late Millard Fuller and a Theology of Enough.

Converting both saved and lost

Thanks once again to Kouya Chronicle for outstanding linkages. Here, for example, is a noteworthy message on conversion for both saved and lost:
A missional approach to the Bible reminds us that the message of the Scripture is for both insiders and outsiders to the Gospel message. The Bible is interested in converting all of its hearers. How does an “insider” need to be converted? Insiders need to be called constantly to realign themselves with ongoing movement of the Gospel into the world as God seeks those who are lost. In fact, the Scriptures are perhaps harder on the insider than the outsider. They constantly call for God’s people to live fully as the people whom they were created to be. What about the outsider? The Scriptures exist to invite the outsider to become an insider by aligning with God’s missional purposes in the world.
Amen. You can read Brian D. Russell's whole article here.

Friday, February 06, 2009

"The only shot we have"

Jeff Weddle:
John Wesley used to hammer John 3:7 continuously. He was once asked "Why do you keep preaching 'ye must be born again?'"

His answer, "Because ye must be born again."

The emptiness of full-on production

Thanks to Blogotional for bringing attention to Doug Groothuis's article on God-free religion to-go. Here's a sample:
We have made religion God-free--and in the name of God!

Our forms are fabulous, enticing the eyes, tickling the ears, tugging at the heart, drawing in the designer demographic. The choreography is cogent, spectacular, impressive. Our numbers are up, the complaints are down; our path is wide, our message inviting and inclusive.

We have put God on a leash. It is a powerful image: God for us, in our way. We celebrate the love of God without a nasty cross; the power of God without judgment and narrowness; the presence of God without any censorious legalism on his part. O God, we are free of God!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Tending trends

Peter Mead offers some sound advice on trends in preaching.

Perspective on creation and salvation

Thanks to Kouya Chronicle for pointing to these enlightening thoughts on Christian commissions:
Failure properly to relate the Gospel Commission of the New Testament to the Commission of Genesis (the Creation Mandate) lies behind much of Evangelicalism’s current weaknesses and internal conflicts. The New Testament, when clarifying the radical nature of the gospel, appears at times to disparage the created order within which we now live. But this is to misunderstand it. The gospel must in fact be understood in terms of Christ’s restoration of creation, the supreme evidence of which is the resurrection of the body, rather than the immortality of the soul.
Yes, yes, yes. You can read Ranald McCaulay's whole essay, in .pdf format, here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Greek in preaching

NT scholar Bill Mounce is offering some thoughtful answers to the question, How do you use Greek in the pulpit?

Past due

Anthony Esolen looks at a number of recent Super Bowl ads and reflects on their larger, underlying messages:
So I am watching the Super Bowl. I am not sure why I am doing this. That is, I am not sure why Christians continue to put up with the abuse. We aren't married to the mass media, are we? It is not time for us to walk out on an exhausted fascination with self-loathing and animality; not time for us to turn our backs upon the anticulture. It was time years ago.

What, after all, do the haters of Christianity, who are also the haters of simple human decency, have to do to persuade us that we are not welcome in their midst? Do they have to go so far as to teach elementary children about sodomy? If only we were not so comfortable where we are, pretending to evangelize anticultural entities that now exist only to degrade. Some years ago, an evangelical group called for a mass Exodus by Christians from public schools. But we do get used to the taste of leeks and onions. Egypt is darned rich, and the desert is long and empty and dry.
This is another essay worth reading in its entirety.

Overcoming the tyranny of empiricism

John Frye has been thinking about empiricism and the Apostle Thomas. Here's a sample:
To reduce faith to requiring evidence for origin and growth would shove faith onto a tiny playing field and away from the grand scope of reality. Rationalism and empiricism for all their persisting dominance since the Enlightenment horribly reduced reality. Placing the human mind as the arbiter of truth based on scientific inquiry has made midgets of us all. Reality is too vast to wear only a lab coat. Perhaps that is why brilliant Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Amen. I recommend reading John's whole essay.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Fear of the Lord

"When we approach the Holy One with casual familiarity, we are not living in reality."

Loving the bride

Dave Bish writes on why he loves the church. Here's a sample:
The strange thing about church is that it can so often operate like any other social network. It can become a place where people who are like one another come to be with one another, united by their common class, status, age, income, language etc. The reality couldn't be further from that. Church is a supernatural community formed by the gospel. A community that requires the gospel to form it. When it looks like less than that will do then we're just papering over the cracks or have already excluded those who ought to be among us.

A church should be able to celebrate its differences and diversity of personality and preferences, and yet say - though we are unlike one another, we are descended from Adam and we are now part of the new humanity of Jesus. Though once objects of wrath today we are united to Christ. Once we were an "impious harlot", now being beautified together by Christ our great husband, rich in glory and grace. In view of Christ's love for the church, I want to be found in her number and to share his love for his bride.

Monday, February 02, 2009

On waiting

"What’s the distinguishing mark of the Christian? Waiting for Jesus."

The compulsion to preach

For your edification: a classic Ray Stedman text, "On Expository Preaching," (and thanks to Unashamed Workman for the link).

Who's watching?

Discipleship is not just about what you do when other disciples are around. We can talk about following Jesus and taking up our cross but in reality what we are when no one is watching is far more important than when we are meeting with other disciples. When I am alone do I continue to pursue holiness? When I am alone do I despise what is on television that clearly does not reflect the character of God. Job said that he had "made a covenant with my eyes" (Job 31:1 ESV) and you and I both need to know that God sees us when no one else is watching. God knows our hearts. We can talk about being a disciple. We can write blogs on holiness and having a passion for God and yet we can be living in outright sin. We can talk about Jesus and yet our hearts be full of pornography. We can speak of Christ and yet our minds be full of bitterness, unforgiveness, adultery, racism, selfishness, and all sorts of other detestable acts (Mark 7:14-22).