Thursday, April 30, 2009

Worth considering

On and on

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On soul idolatry

This is challenging: 13 manifestations of soul idolatry (HT).

Letting the light shine

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Preach the gospel

Next time you hear the saying, "Preach the gospel; if necessary, use words," consider this: "IT'S ABOUT WORDS. REALLY IT IS."

In praise of patience

J.D. Hatfield reminds Christians of the benefits of patience:
There is no “secret” of spirituality or “formula” for faith. There is a plan, and it involves staying the course, walking the narrow path. We depend on Jesus for our life, and our Father for our daily bread. The Holy Spirit will lead us into a more passionate relationship with God if we will only take the time to struggle with the questions. Then we may learn lessons that will enable us to overcome our problems at the root level. It’s the difference between a brief and a broad victory.
Amen. I recommend reading J.D.'s whole article.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Firm footholds

Stop living in fear of the slippery slope.

Summary of a summary?

Jeff Weddle points out the value of, you know, actually reading the Bible: "How much of your theology is based on some guy’s summary of the Bible? Have you actually read the guy’s summary? Does the whole version of the Bible make sense with that summary?"

Friday, April 24, 2009

What's it all about?

Avoiding consumerism in preaching

"I am convinced that the most opaque curtain in North America blocking our view of God is consumerism. Therefore, it is our responsibility as preachers to name this darkness, show how it is warping our view, and pull it back from the eyes of our people. But critiquing the darkness is never enough. Once the curtain is removed, we must shine the light and illuminate a flaming vision of life with Christ in his kingdom. This is the inspiring sight that should fill our people and lift them to new heights. We must help them see the treasure in the field for which they would sell all they have to buy."

Spirit leadership

Victoria Gaines asks Christians how "just do it" discipleship is working for them. Why?
Because I can't do it. Thankfully, the Christian life is not about morality, willpower, or trying our best. This truth bears out as we finally admit discouragement with our own behavior. Sometimes, even as we're grasping truths that we're desperate to experience, our personal battles seem more fierce than before. But I'm here to tell you - we're living in the Promised Land when we truly believe that Christ is our Life.

Thoughts rush in: If faith is the victory, what kind of faith is it when I'm relying on myself to grow more or do better? Christ is already my Victor. I don't want to naively nullify His work in me by glorying in my failures. Look to Christ, I say.

Because if I keep confessing the same sins over and over again, trying harder "next time" rather than let the Lord deal with my self-life, I'm sunk. This cycle is burdensome. But His forgiveness is a fact - I rejoice in it. His provision for my relief (self addiction; bondage of self) is a fact, too - sometimes called the crucified life, the exchanged Life - simple reliance and trust in His life living through me. His grace draws us to His Life when we're sick and tired of ours.
Amen, amen.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hello, Death

This is worth reading any time of year: a conversation with death (via).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review of Good Book

Rarely do I review a book, and even more rarely do I accept a complimentary copy from a publisher. But—full disclosure—I’m doing both here, and with a good conscience. I hope you read on and come to see why.

The review is of David Plotz’s Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible, released last month by HarperCollins. Mr. Plotz, editor of Slate magazine and a self-decribed “non-observant Jew,” based Good Book largely on his recent project of blogging the Bible. As I noted earlier in a brief review of that undertaking, Mr. Plotz’s work offers Christians a rare glimpse of the Bible from outside the traditional bounds of biblical interpretation. For preachers and Bible teachers, Good Book has two very significant benefits: shining new light on some very old passages, and showing how an intelligent, secular writer views the Scriptures when he actually sits down and reads them. But be warned: as insightful as Mr. Plotz’s observations may be, don’t expect them to politely skim over the Scriptures’ more colorful passages. Consider, for example, these thoughts on Joshua 2:
What's with all the prostitutes? There's scarcely an unmarried woman in the Bible so far who isn't a prostitute, or treated like one. Tamar turns a trick with her father-in-law Judah. The Moabite women whore themselves to the Israelites. The Midianite harlot is murdered by Phineas. The loose behavior of Jacob's daughter Dinah sparks mass slaughter. And now Rahab. No wonder they call prostitution the oldest profession—it's the only profession that biblical women seem to have.

I have a rudimentary theory about this. In many tribal cultures, women have been essentially banished from the public sphere in order to control their virtue. We see this today in strict Islamic cultures, where women aren’t even allow to speak to men other than their husbands and relatives. Throughout the Bible, the Israelites have been obsessed with controlling the sexual behavior of their girls and women. That’s why there are so many darn laws about female purity, sexual misbehavior, and intermarriage. Presumably because of these sexual constraints, the Israelite women seem to have played no role in public life. Except for Moses's sister Miriam (and, in passing, Noa and her sisters), there hasn't been one woman since the Exodus who's had any public presence. Perhaps we keep hearing about prostitutes because all the other women were locked up in the kitchen. (pp. 100-01)
How accurate is Mr. Plotz’s rudimentary theory? Off the top of my head, I don’t know for sure. But he’s certainly gotten me thinking along lines I don’t usually consider in studying the book of Joshua.

While many of Mr. Plotz’s observations are surprising and even delightful, the conclusion of Good Book is sobering to say the least. In short, he considers the God of the OT to be “awful, cruel, and capricious” and concludes that “He is no God I want to obey, and no God I can love” (p. 302). Mr. Plotz’s own agnosticism (or even atheism), however, does not take away from what is nevertheless a book overflowing with unexpected insights on the Bible.

For months I’ve used Blogging the Bible as an online resource for Scripture exposition. I’m glad to now have a hardcopy of Mr. Plotz’s book on the shelf with my OT commentaries (as a Jew, Mr. Plotz limits his blogging to the Old Covenant). It’s not your typical commentary—which is precisely what makes it such a uniquely valuable resource.

Mr. Plotz has offered to give an interview with Transforming Sermons, which I hope to do and post here soon. In the mean time I recommend getting your own copy of Good Book.

A servant's heart

Darryl Dash: "When I feel the need to validate myself through ministry, I need to be reminded: 'You don't have anything to prove to us or the world. The work is finished at Calvary, and that work has unlimited meaning and value. Keep your focus there.'"

Difficult and wonderful

Tony Myles has written a very accessible essay about Christian discipleship and tensions within the Bible. Here's a taste:
. . so often it's easy to live on one side of the Bible instead of the other. The Scriptures are full of amazing truths that live in tension with each other while both being equally true... which may seem hard to wrap our brains around until we recognize the heart of the Father."

Amen. You can read Tony's article here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"The Gospel According to Proverbs"

The Blue Fish Project has a very good overview of Proverbs, with links to more writings on the book.

Kingdom laws

"The key to understanding the laws that govern God’s Kingdom is to realize that the processes of the kingdom are inverted; they are exactly the opposite of what the world teaches, and at first glance, they seem to be counter-intuitive. To obtain what we desire, we have to do the opposite of what we would normally do. When the world says stop, Jesus says go. When the world says go for it, Jesus says no. The laws of inversion are actually the fruits of a Christ-centered life, and this, as Christians know, is diametrically opposed to the world’s views."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Preaching to the heart

Peter Mead shares thoughts on motivation and manipulation in preaching.

True victory

"Are you living an up and down Christian life, frustrated by a seeming lack of progress or spiritual growth? Maybe you're standing in your own way. Because God isn't holding a measuring stick, and the Christian life is not a self-improvement program.

"Life in Christ has nothing to do with rededicating ourselves or doing our best to live for Him; that very notion contradicts grace. To experience His life, growth, and sufficiency, we renounce the self-life (after all, we've been crucified with Christ), and start trusting Him as our very life.

"I remind myself of this very thing: Victory in the Christian life doesn't come by trying harder. Victory comes by trusting."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Whose face is that?

Dan Edelen: "I find it odd then that when many Christians look into the mirror, they immediately rebuff any thought that what they are seeing reflected is Jesus."

More than knowledge

Peter Mead reminds preachers to speak to the whole listener:
Some preachers preach merely to inform. Perhaps they are under the impression that the mind is the control center of the human being. Perhaps that think that their task is merely educative. Perhaps they are in a tradition that reveres the intellect, but pulls away from other aspects of human complexity. Perhaps they’ve never known any other approach.

As preachers we must inform, we must explain, we must educate, we must teach. But our goal is not knowledge. We do not aim to transfer information. Rather the goal is transformation. Consequently we have to consider how God’s Word transforms lives and preach accordingly.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

All we need to know

Being known

Anti-itch Meditation: "Many folks think they know Jesus Christ. They base this knowledge on many things, few of which are Scriptural."

Integrating the gospel

John Fonville shares his own experiences in explaining the relationship of an effective ministry and the gospel. Here's a sample:
. . .pastors and churches today may theoretically profess a belief in the person and work of Christ (i.e, the gospel), but in practice the operative gospel becomes the dominant focus of all the preaching and teaching (e.g., Three Keys for a Happy Marriage and so on).

The problem with this understanding of discipleship is that it is not integrally related to the gospel. Such a truncated, narrow view of the gospel is one of the greatest problems plaguing the Evangelical church today.

The relationship of the Bible’s imperatives (i.e., the things we are commanded to be and do; e.g., “Be holy,” [1 Pet. 1:15]; “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” [Eph. 4:26] etc…) to the Bible’s indicatives (i.e., the things that are already a fact; e.g., “we have redemption through His blood,” [Eph. 1:7]; “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” [Rom. 5:1]) is critical.

Sadly, a great majority of preachers, believers and churches have no idea of this essential distinction, it is not even on the radar screen. Yet, without this distinction, one doesn’t possess a true knowledge of the Christian faith and therefore effective ministry is impossible.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Short-term or short-sighted?

How many "short-term missions" are really Christian tourism?

Right with God

Where are you looking for validation of your life or ministry? J.D. Hatfield reminds Christians to be careful in that regard:
Sometimes we will never be validated, justified, or recognized as being right by anyone but God. The scriptures depict many righteous men and women being falsely accused. Sometimes they are vindicated, and sometimes, from an earthly perspective, they are not.

Consider Joseph. Potiphar’s wife had accused him, but he was an innocent man. Yet, she had his garment, and he had probably been seen running away. She was royalty, he was a slave – it would be her word against his. So there was a claim by a more credible person of reputation, there was the physical evidence, and perhaps other personal witnesses to his fleeing the scene of the supposed crime. By all appearances, it would seem Joseph was guilty.

We always talk of how Joseph was vindicated, how he rose to fame and power, how he got out of the pit, out of the prison, and into Pharaoh’s highest courts. He was vindicated before his father and his brothers. However, we may have forgotten that Potiphar never saw him as right. There may be people who you will never look right to, no matter what you do with your life. Sometimes, you might have to let the garment go.
That's a good point, and worth remembering.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Subtle power

Ministry by coolness?

John Schroeder, responding to an essay by Scot McKnight, examines the idea of preacher as "the coolest guy in the room."

On the Resurrection

Thanks to Kouya Chronicle for a link to N.T. Wright's essay on Easter. Here's a sample:
Easter was the pilot project. What God did for Jesus that explosive morning is what He intends to do for the whole creation. We who live in the interval between Jesus's Resurrection and the final rescue and transformation of the whole world are called to be new-creation people here and now. That is the hidden meaning of the greatest festival Christians have.

This true meaning has remained hidden because the Church has trivialised it and the world has rubbished it. The Church has turned Jesus's Resurrection into a “happy ending” after the dark and messy story of Good Friday, often scaling it down so that “resurrection” becomes a fancy way of saying “He went to Heaven”. Easter then means: “There really is life after death”. The world shrugs its shoulders. We may or may not believe in life after death, but we reach that conclusion independently of Jesus, of odd stories about risen bodies and empty tombs.

But “resurrection” to 1st-century Jews wasn't about “going to Heaven”: it was about the physically dead being physically alive again. Some Jews (not all) believed that God would do this for all people in the end. Nobody, including Jesus's followers, was expecting one person to be bodily raised from the dead in the middle of history. The stories of the Resurrection are certainly not “wish-fulfilments” or the result of what dodgy social science calls “cognitive dissonance”. First-century Jews who followed would-be messiahs knew that if your leader got killed by the authorities, it meant you had backed the wrong man. You then had a choice: give up the revolution or get yourself a new leader. Going around saying that he'd been raised from the dead wasn't an option.

Unless he had been. . .

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spot-on chart

On Christological preaching

Here's David Wayne:
I have committed myself to Christological preaching, but one of the pushbacks on Christological preaching, at least as I practice it, is that it is not practical enough. The standard preaching advice for many has been that each sermon should include or conclude with practical applications of the text.

I agree with this in a sense, but "practical" often takes the form of a "to-do" list, a series of actions we must take to "apply" the text. The problem with this is that it seems to me to render the gospel null and void. Our response to the gospel is always that of repentance and faith, not action. We do not "do" something to apply the gospel, the gospel "does" something to us. Thus I have been very cautious in offering "to-do" lists from texts."
Amen. I recommend reading David's whole essay.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Preaching authority

Beholding God's glory

"We become what we behold. We are to become conformed to the image of Christ, being transformed from one degree of glory to the next as we behold the glory of the Lord (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). We are to point the camera lens of our hearts toward Jesus as He is offered in the gospel, and let His glory shine in, burning His image on our souls and developing Christlikeness in our lives (Galatians 4:19; 1 John 3:2-3)."

Christians as natural enemies

This is simply beautiful:
We're constantly tempted to hang out with people just like us, who like the same things and who don't really push us out of our comfort zone. This is true even - or especially - in the church. No matter who you are, you can find a church where the people are just like you, and the music is exactly what you'd play if you had the remote control.

It's a lot tougher to choose to hang out with those who are different from us. There is no comfort zone then. It becomes costly. The music isn't what we would choose. In this kind of church, the common ground is no longer affinity around anything - except for Christ. Yet it's this type of church that displays God's wisdom, according to Paul in Ephesians. It's this type of church that gets me excited.

Show me a church in which people aren't there because they like the same stuff, and I'll show you a church that shows God's wisdom in a way that a homogeneous church doesn't. Show me a church in which people love each other who would otherwise have nothing to do with each other, and I'll show you something that can only be explained with reference to Christ. You cannot explain the growth of that church in human terms: everyone loves the same [fill in the blank]. It has to be about Jesus
The author of those words is Darryl Dash, and you can read his whole essay here.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The future is old

Voice of Vision: "When will we wise up and discover that the future of the church is in its old people not its young people? "

On reading the OT prophets

Jeff Weddle shares a few thoughts from reading the OT prophets. Here's a sample:
The prophets were despised and rejected, completely ignored. False prophets had a lot more followers. They kept people happy and people just want to be happy. But God’s guys have a depressing message no one wants to hear. But they don’t stop, and guess who’s right?
Amen. Preachers, be encouraged.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Through his people

Promoting kingdom-mindedness

This looks right: two tips for promoting eternal and kingdom mindedness in our preaching. (Thanks to BibleX for the link).

Trading off

Tony Myles considers Judas and what Christians can learn from his betrayal of Jesus:
Again - this is more than a moment in the Bible or human history. This is the daily struggle each of us faces when we toss around whether we will follow Jesus or trade Him for something else.

Some believe Judas made the arrangement with the Pharisees to betray Jesus on purpose because he'd grown tired of following Him; others believe Judas was a true "patriot" to the cause and was trying to force Jesus into a situation where He could exert His power, thereby revealing Himself to the world; still others think that Judas was simply greedy.

No matter what the reason was, Judas chose not to do one one simple thing - follow Jesus "as is."

How often do we want to trade the real Christ for a different version? Whatever our motive may be, we seem to want the Jesus who nods and smiles when we do nice things, but who is somehow blind and whistles while looking away when we intentionally and selfishly break away from Him.
You can read Tony's whole essay here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Good point

John Schroeder reminds Christians that sometimes anger is OK (and offers advice on knowing when it's not).

Imperative and indicative

Between Two Worlds has published an excellent post on slaying the dragon of flesh. Here's the opening:
Yesterday I posted a quote . . . on the important NT theme of "become who you are."

This is getting at the crucial truth of NT ethics that the imperative (what you should do) is built upon the indicative (what God has done). It's a foreign way of thinking for many of us, and we have to adjust our mental compass in order to walk this way.

We see this all throughout the NT.
The rest of the article is even better.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Crass or cross?

Jollyblogger shares thoughts on a church of the cross.

Raising the dead

Dan Edelen makes the case for the ministry of church restoration.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Holding onto the Word

Here's another helpful article: tricks for memorizing scripture.

The gospel and the Spirit

"We must never think that the gospel can be understood by human reason alone. The reason is because an unconverted mind is darkened by sin (cf. Rom. 1:21; Eph. 4:17-18; cf. Gal. 1:13-14).

"If we, as well as others, are to hear, believe, enjoy and proclaim the gospel, we must be fully persuaded of our absolute necessity of the Holy Spirit’s illuminating and empowering work for both conversion (1 Pet. 1:3) as well as edification (Eph. 1:17-18)."

The accuser

Jeff Weddle considers the biblical picture of Satan as the accuser and finds relevant lessons for today:
Tattling on someone gives you a sense of superiority, holier than thou glorying. Tattling is an admission that you know you are wrong, you just hope others are worse.

Satan is the father of tattlers. He’s continually finding fault, hoping to make himself look better before God. Maybe God will lighten up on his judgment if he can distract God to look at other people’s sin.

Well, Revelation 12:10 also says this accuser is going to be cast down, defeated and punished, no escaping it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Resisting "supernatural lies"

If you believe you're right with God, is your belief based on personal experience or the Word of God?

Two kinds of people in the world...

"There are only two kinds of people in all of human history: Adam folk or Christ folk."

The article is by Barry Maxell, and it's worth reading for the strong exposition of biblical type/antitype.

Seeing, needing, receiving

Victoria Gaines shares her joy in reading Paul's letter to the Ephesians:
I notice this while reading, again, the first three chapters of Ephesians. The Apostle Paul is not asking us to do anything. He simply declares all that is true for us in Christ Jesus:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Eph.1:3).

What is wondrous - and sheer relief - is that I needn't labor for what is already mine. I merely see my need, confess it, and stand ready to receive His loving provision. This is not formula, but truth! Oh, the toiling and conflict I've suffered before learning deep within that Christ is truly my life.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A dare for church staff

How many church staff members are brave enough to accept this dare?

Faith and force

Eric Jones looks at OT passages on conquering the promised land and once again reminds Christians that discipleship is not passive:
These passages give us a picture of the nature God and His heart for His people. How does this apply to us today? Well, as children of God, we are supposed to take the land and bring His kingdom to this world. We have been commissioned to take the nations. Just like in the days of Joshua and Caleb, this requires some serious warfare. Taking the land involves a fight. It involves destroying the enemy. However, we are reminded by the apostle Paul that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood (people), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12

Warfare will be a common experience in the life of a Christian. I have said it before, “the Christian life is not a passive experience.” Rather, the life of a Christian is a life of action, a life of warfare against Satan and his demons, a life of passionate obedience to our Commanding Office, and ultimately a life of victory.
Amen. Eric also reminds us of the dangers of making peace with the enemy.

Update: John Schroeder shares related thoughts here.