Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reading, studying, preaching

It's on the outside

"Don’t believe Satan’s lie. It’s not what’s on the inside that counts."

Monday, September 28, 2009

"It requires Jesus"

"I confess, today, that it is easier to live by my ideals than it is to follow God on His terms."

When you're low

Peter Mead shares a few insights on low times in ministry: here and here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

On praying with impudence

Ray Ortlund: "We need to repent of our polite prayers, if they're treating God as recreational rather than essential."

Time to think and dream

Here's a convincing case for ministers to spend time with their feet up on their desks, dreaming.

His passion, not ours

Victoria Gaines looks at Facebook, Christian discipleship, and the need to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ:
Sometimes we lose focus.

My old pastor, now with the Lord, said he never lifted any banner from the pulpit, except the Banner of Christ. He was a wise pastor, but not everyone agreed with him. Took me all these years to understand. Many times we confuse our human zeal with Divine passion. Enthusiasm for a cause is not necessarily the same as a passion for Christ. Anyone can fight hunger, give money, help the poor. One person might do these things out of deep love for our Savior. Another person does the same because he thinks it gives his life purpose. Personal motivations are varied and many. But we don't have to rally folks around a cause; the Shepherd leads His own.

Causes are good - don't get me wrong. But it seems we're more gullible when we're not rightly focused. Besides, the flesh - our human efforts - can only produce so much fruit. Synthetic fruit, at that. Real passion is fueled by Him, giving way to greater and long-lasting fruit. These are the works propelled by His love. This is energy that completes the task and doesn't burn out. It's not pressured or guilt-induced, either.
Well said.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On saving the world

In the ears of babes

Stacy L. Harp:"Contrary to a popular caricature, the devil does not appear in a red suit, poised with a pitchfork. "

Condemnation and love

"Condemned people find it natural to condemn others; likewise, loved people find it natural to love. People who stand firm in the gospel of grace haven’t much need to cuss and swear when they make a mockery of themselves, because they find not their value in outward appearances and achievable results but in proclaimed truth."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wise theological advice

Jeff Weddle: "We get so caught up getting answers. Getting answers is fine, “buy truth and wisdom,” Solomon said. But if the answers aren’t in Scripture, don’t try to invent them."

The drama we're in

As both a preacher and literature teacher, I really enjoyed this essay (with illustrations) on drama and Christian discipleship.

Update from

Rob Bradshaw gives an update on how things are going at You might want to have a look--and give Rob a note of thanks--at a substantial addition to Rob's already rich online collection of F.F. Bruce's writings.

The membership-centered church

Will Willimon writes incisively, and at times witheringly, about the difference between building a congregation of disciples and a congregation of members:
Congregations and clergy seemingly have often misconstrued or misunderstood the closing scene in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus meets the disciples on a mountain and charges them with the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Somehow it seems we have heard Jesus say, “Go therefore, and make members . . ."

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Saved to Serve"

J.D. Hatfield has a gift for explaining the true inter-relationship of faith and works in Christian discipleship.

Practical question

The greatest test

"Perhaps the greatest test of a preacher is not preaching, but not preaching, if you see what I mean? Let me put it this way. Perhaps the greatest test of you as a preacher has very little to do with your observed ministry in the pulpit, but a lot to do with what is unseen. What if your listeners could watch you behind closed doors? What if they saw how you treat your spouse and your children? What if they could see the “real you” when no eyes are looking?"

Answering the call

Eric Jones offers some wise advice on Christian discipleship and obedience. He observes that amazing things happen when we do what God calls us to do:
When we fulfill the calling that has so clearly been placed on our lives by Jesus Christ Himself, we will see miracles. We will see the kingdom of God advance in power and in might. We will see things be made right again. We will see order come where there was confusion, we will see health where there was sickness. We will see freedom where there was bondage. We will see hope where there was despair. We will see life where there was death.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Finding Dr. Mike

I don't know how I overlooked his new blog for so long, but it turns out one of my favorite bloggers, Mike Russell, has of late been posting at Theologica. After a brief effort a year or so ago, I decided to quit being a member at Theologica, but it looks like Mike has been going great guns for some time. He's also started blogging again at Eternal Perspectives.

What we preach

Keith Brenton goes to the NT to answer the question, "What should we preach?" He also writes about what the church should teach.

On church renewal

Will Willimon writes on church renewal as theological recovery:
Churches, like other organizations, develop their structures, systems, and rituals for governance and continuity. These can be quite important, for they sustain common life and work, but such structures are in the end provisional. In Paul’s words, they are “clay jars,” not to be confused with the “extraordinary power [that] belongs to God” (2 Cor. 4:7). The church belongs to and owes its existence to God and not to us. God has created and claimed the church for God’s purposes.

The owner is God. Thus, the church is not simply a consumer-driven entity that exists to meet the religious needs of those who come to it. Churches may meet people’s needs, but they must do more than that. At least potentially, they transform people by drawing them into a larger purpose and identity. “Once you were not a people,” writes Peter, “but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet. 2:10).
Amen. I recommend Dr. Willimon's whole article.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Question on expository preaching

Truly changed

Jeff Weddle: "A changed life is the biggest glorification of Christ possible. It only happens by God’s grace. It is only begun and continued by an abiding faith. It is what the cross was for."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Enjoying the mess

Worldliness then and now

At Christian History Blog, Collin Hansen writes about "the bane of preachers everywhere" as the NFL season begins once again to compete with preachers for the Sunday attention of Christians in the United States:
Few preachers I know would dare mention this frustration in a sermon. You might as well complain about the weather as lament the NFL's popularity. You can't do anything to change either. Pastors don't want to come across as puritanical or legalistic. We have moved beyond previous generations' complaints about card-playing, dancing, theatre-going, and Sunday sports. What many Christians may not realize, however, is that these pastoral concerns run all the way back past the fundamentalists, beyond the Puritans, to the early church. Even those of us who love to watch the pigskin fly would be wise to consider the warning from the most famous preacher in early Christianity.
The preacher was John Chrysostom, and you might be surprised at how closely John's experiences preaching in the Roman Empire line up with those in the United States today. And thanks to Cal Habig for the link.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Preaching as renarration

David Fitch: "If anything then, far from trying to make the Scriptures relevant - the goal of preaching is to make everything else irrelevant. It is the renarrating of our selves corporately into God."

Part of the mission

"At the heart of God’s missional engagement with humanity is a profound humility and a willingness to suffer rejection and pain. We see this all the way through the Old Testament narrative as God reaches out to his beloved people who repeatedly reject him to follow after other gods. The prophecy of Hosea, married to an adulterous wife, captures the commitment, humiliation and pain of the creator faced with his ungrateful creation.

"This willingness to suffer on behalf of humanity reaches its climax at Calvary."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Humanity and God's commands

Calling to repentance

"When the light of God’s Word shines in all its radicality, in all its power, in all its uncompromising directness, let’s be careful not to undermine the whole thing by merely reassuring people. This is not a call for extreme holiness preaching without love – a sort of military-style duty-driven drill of responsibility. It is a call for the scandalous love of God in the gospel to reek havoc in comfortable self-absorbed lives. It’s the pulpit equivalent of a Keith Green concert – calling for deep repentance and response, rather than comforting listeners with the “everything is happy” jingles of some “Christian” music. God’s overwhelming love calls us to full followership, to radical reality and response, and sometimes to tears, silence, repentance and brokenness."

Dwelling in us

Victoria Gaines shares her account of how wrong doing the right things can actually be:
I was never any good at living the Christian life - not really. But, oh, how I tried! I read my bible and a ton of spiritual growth books, listened to good preaching, prayed, memorized scripture, had 'accountability' partners, attended bible studies, sang in the choir, joined intercessory prayer groups, witnessed, gave away bibles, handed out tracts, homeschooled, trained as a lay minister, opened my home to anyone who was hurting, and traveled near and far to Christian conferences, workshops, and spiritual retreats. I was all about living the Christian life. But you know what? None of that made me a better Christian.

While these things seemed key to my spiritual life, having gained a little knowledge, I found myself nit-picking doctrine when I could have been more loving, or trying to set people straight when I could have listened better. Knowledge sure puffs up. Pharisaical attitudes aside, my religious endeavors just didn't satisfy. It was a constant this, do that. Don't do this, don't do that. I heard about grace, but feared the scrutiny of legalistic eyes. In my fervor to live right, I hid my problems. What started with spiritual zeal, ended miserably in exhaustion. Before I knew it, my facade melted, giving way to a resentful woman who had stockpiled a lifetime of pain and rejection.

It wasn't until I fell broken beneath the weight of this inner pain and travailing, that I began to see Jesus.
Vickie shares related thoughts here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Doctrine and interpretation

Here's a fine essay by Roy Ingle on how our theological positions affect our hermeneutics.

What do you really want?

"If money, jail time, conscience, family, friends, and God were not constraints, would you spend your time following Christ, learning of Him? Be honest, because the way you truthfully answer this question will reveal to you a lot about where you are in your walk with God."

Raised right but hell-bound

In case you've been reading this blog and still haven't figured it out, here's Al Mohler reminding Christians why moralism is not the gospel:
In our own context, one of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this -- the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.

Sadly, this false gospel is particularly attractive to those who believe themselves to be evangelicals motivated by a biblical impulse. Far too many believers and their churches succumb to the logic of moralism and reduce the Gospel to a message of moral improvement. In other words, we communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straight.

In one sense, we are born to be moralists. Created in God's image, we have been given the moral capacity of conscience. From our earliest days our conscience cries out to us the knowledge of our guilt, shortcomings, and misbehaviors. In other words, our conscience communicates our sinfulness.
Add to this the fact that the process of parenting and child rearing tends to inculcate moralism from our earliest years. Very quickly we learn that our parents are concerned with our behavior. Well behaved children are rewarded with parental approval, while misbehavior brings parental sanction. This message is reinforced by other authorities in young lives and pervades the culture at large.
Thanks to Theocentric Preaching for the link.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Merciful and perfect

Repentence, gospel, and perceptions

Here are some brief but helpful reflections (in both the main article and comments section) on Christians and "holier than thou" attitudes.

Feeling Scripture

Jared Wilson looks at ways of moving beyond a purely intellectual exposure to Scripture:
My conviction is that evangelicals by and large have lost their ability to feel Scripture. The great irony is that now when the Bible is more available than any time in history, we are perhaps more biblically illiterate than any Christian generation in history.

The great opportunity in this, of course, is that our generation is now extra ripe for biblical transformation and a revival in commitment to the deep well of Scripture.
Jared goes on to offer five suggestions for developing a greater feeling for the Word. I recommend the whole article.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Greater grace

Here's an enlightening sample from one of C.S. Lewis's lesser-known works.

Being oneself while reaching others

Peter Mead: "Whenever we preach we need to be as aware of our listeners as possible. Whenever we preach we need to connect with our listeners. Yet that does not mean simply pretending to be the same as the listeners when we are not. Connect. But be you."

Authority of the Word

Roy Ingle has posted 15 truths about the consequences of either accepting or avoiding the authority of Scripture. Here's one of them:
When the Bible loses its position of authority in the church, the hole left often is filled by works. Liberal churches are not more socially active among the poor and the destitute than true disciples are but they do try to fill their holes in their worldview not by turning to the Scriptures but to liberal causes such as global warming, health care, and poverty.
What do you think?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

On church leadership

Dan Wallace makes the biblical case for a plurality of elders (HT).

Ministering to the generation of sarcasm

Skye Jethani has written one of those best-of-the-year essays on the generation of sarcasm. Skye sheds a lot of light the attitudes among the under-35 demographic and, even more insightfully, on how those attitudes arose. Most importantly, he calls on preachers to help disciples rise above the toxic swamp of sarcasm's underlying anger and fear.

Just 'church' enough to be dangerous

In considering 'virtual church,' Bob Hyatt takes lessons from efforts at drive-in worship from the 1950s. He makes a good case that we ought to learn the lesson from history:
The problem with the drive-in church model isn’t that it isn’t church—it’s that it is just “church” enough to be dangerous. What this almost-church does is park people in a cul-de-sac where they have access to the easiest and most instantly satisfying parts of church while exempting them from the harder and more demanding parts of community.

And while I’m glad such an absurdity has remained on the fringe, as I watch the discussion about “internet campuses” I can’t shake a certain feeling of deja vu.

Following close on the heels of the video venue push is that of the internet campus: real-time streaming of a church service, but with the added features of “live interactive features like lobby chat room, message notes, communication card, raise a hand, say a prayer, and even online giving.” At least 35 churches in America are doing internet campuses, with more jumping on board all the time. By one estimate, 10 percent of Americans will rely solely on the internet for their “religious experience” as early as 2010.”

Is this a problem? Something we should be concerned about or resist? Absolutely. Because it’s malforming for those involved (whether they know it or not) and because it’s sub-biblical.
Please read the whole article. Part 2 is also worth reading. Here's a sample:
I know that “virtual” baptisms are practiced online. I know too that every week thousands in virtual communities practice virtual communion, if not together, then at least simultaneously. And I have to wonder, Why can’t they see that’s not enough? That simultaneous is not the same as together, and that taking communion in this way completely misses the whole point?
Don't see it either? Then please read all of Part 2 as well.

Along similar lines, Dan Edelen suggests Christians ought to slow down our communication:
Like a decade-old, cotton T-shirt washed too many times on hot, our social fabric is growing increasingly thin. We still recognize the T-shirt for what it is, but we can see through it now.

Monday, September 07, 2009

On grievance and reconciliation

Jack Hammer blog has more helpful thoughts on Matthew 18, church discipline, and reconciliation. Again, this teaching may be one of the most explicit from the mouth of Jesus himself that the church seems to universally ignore. Folks, this is important teaching; it's worth knowing and following.

Retaining our humanity

"In a world struggling to retain its humanity while being drowned in technology, and in a culture fighting to remain deeply connected to a few while filtering through thousands of Facebook “friends,” the Church can and should be a counter-culture. We should use technology, but we must not let it shape (or misshape) us."

Swimming in poison

Scot McKnight shares his insights on how today Western civilization is awash in "a toxic combination of modernity and postmodernity":
If modernity gave our culture a sense of individualism that has been ratcheted up beyond what either Bible or philosophers would ever recognize, postmodernity tells us that individual choice itself is relative. I don’t believe we should dismiss postmodernity with the derisive, and far too often unthinking, label of “moral relativism,” but there is within postmodernity’s deepest impulses the belief that universal truth and all-encompassing metanarratives can’t be had. We are too finite and when folks believe they’ve found the magical metanarrative for all, they abuse power and turn violent.

Well, yes, there’s some truth to that, but that’s the whole problem with postmodernity. Genuine insights become, paradoxically enough, all-encompassing metanarratives against all metanarratives. This tendency is one of postmodernity’s addictions.

So, here we are. Staring at a unique cultural product: humans turned inward investing sanctity in the Self. We have constructed a postmodern castle wall around that Self believing it is so sacred that no one may violate your choice – you determine what to believe and what is right and wrong. The Self is protected by the Wall of Individual Relative Choice.
That one's a keeper.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Three-thousandth post

Just noticed that yesterday Transforming Sermons put up its three-thousandth post. This weblog has certainly been a joy to craft over the past few years, and I hope to keep posting for years to come. So much has happened since January 2005: I've left three ministries, moved my family from our native Tennessee to Virginia, then Pennsylvania, and back to Tennessee again. During that time this blog has been one of the few stable activities in my life and a way of keeping in touch with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. Thank you so much for writing the posts I link to, for visiting TS, and for encouraging me in the work.

Conversion and transformation

Do we practice evangelism on a catch and release basis?

Not nice, but loving

Here's an outstanding example of how being nice can actually be disobedience to God.

None of us is the hero

"There is only one hero in the gospel story. His name is the Son of God.

"One implication: While you and I should live wholeheartedly for him, we should not set for ourselves standards and routines that are unsustainable long-term. The truth is, we are weak. We must, and we may, factor into our lives the rejuvenation that weakness requires. Let's believe the gospel so much that, along the way, we goof off and have fun and even sleep in now and then. We'll be more useful to the Lord for the long haul."

Looking forward and back

Peter Mead has posted an outstanding short essay on preaching and modernity. Here's a sample:
You could probably list concerns about postmodernity, most Christian readers can. Hopefully you could also list opportunities that it presents to us as the church. But lest any of us simply dig in to fight against postmodernity, let’s not hold a rose-tinted view of what has gone before. As well as recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of what is coming, let’s also recognize strengths and weaknesses of what we may be leaving behind. It was not a golden age to which we must seek a return. The Bible, of course, is not anti-rational, incoherent or unthinking. Yet it is not merely rational. It goes much deeper. So must our preaching. While some may seem to check their rationality at the door, let’s not fight for rationality at the expense of every other aspect of the human soul’s functioning.
At four paragraphs, the whole thing is worth reading.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Shameless irony

Not enough dead

Dan Edelen: "The reason many Christians suffer needlessly is because we don’t know what it means to die to self. Nearly every problem we make for ourselves we make because we’ve skirted the cross and gone on our own merry way."

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What are you going to do about it?

No Scripture bullets

John Mahshie: "I do not believe Jesus ever intended his words to be fired off as uranium tipped motivational bullet points designed to impel people into productivity."

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Logical corollary. . .

Front-row seat

Ministers, are you grateful for the privilege of having a front-row seat for the most important events in peoples' lives?

A cure for legalism

"The way to avoid legalism is to believe that, as the Law teaches, only the perfectly righteous may be admitted into heaven. This counterintuitive premise accomplishes two things in a single blow: it crushes legalism and clarifies the meaning of grace. First, it crushes legalism because legalism cannot get off the ground unless the standard has first been lowered. But if the Law requires perfect righteousness, clearly the half-baked, imperfect obedience promoted by legalism will not do.

"Second, it clarifies the meaning of grace. Grace is that God provides and accepts the imputed righteousness of Christ, in place of our own inherent righteousness demanded by the Law, as the righteousness by which the unrighteous can attain heaven. Now that’s grace! The true Gospel, then, presupposes the Law as its antithetical counterpart. Otherwise grace is no longer grace."