Friday, January 29, 2010

True gospel

"Do we understand the essence of grace? I used to think grace is a doctrine. Grace is a Person. And anyone who tells us that the gospel is Jesus PLUS anything else we have to do, is gravely mistaken. The gospel means "good news," not "beat down and over-committed." The Lord not only forgives us of all sin and assures us of heaven, but He gives us His indwelling Spirit right now to empower us. This is His life, not a Christian code to follow."

"Risk taking, abundant giving..."

This blog post is rather brief but still one of the best meditations I've ever seen on Romans 8:28. Here's a sample:
A man who truly believes he loves God and is called by God should have a rock solid assurance in all he does. Fear of all things temporal should be eliminated. Confidence will override the system.

If this were true, this man’s life would be marked by risk-taking, abundant giving, and boundary pushing efforts.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Monday ministry

Darryl Dash writes on why ministers should consider working Mondays. Darryl's assessments, by the way, are pretty much accross the board my own on these issues. Mondays are good times to take care of the routine administrivia that has to be done but doesn't really require a lot of mental or physical energy. Darryl's also on-target on the need for real Sabboth (whatever day of the week you choose to find it).

In Jesus' name

Mart De Haan reflects on the idea of praying in Jesus' name:
It’s been interesting for me to be reminded that we are not just told to pray in the name of Jesus, but to be baptized in Jesus name, to teach one another in Jesus name, and also to say everything we say… and do everything we do… in the name of Jesus (Col 3:17).

One thing I can’t find in the New Testament (but maybe I’m overlooking something) is an example of anyone ending their prayers with, “in Jesus name”. Maybe I’m missing the obvious, but it seems like the one thing some of us think “praying in the name of Jesus” means… may be the one thing it doesn’t mean.

Yet more than a few of us (me included) have been afraid to not end our prayers that way, and probably were afraid of sounding faithless and disloyal–especially in public prayers– if we didn’t use some form of those closing words.

Mr. De Haan makes other excellent points. Thanks to BibleX for the link.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More than example

Glenn Scrivener reminds Christians of the most important lessons of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness.

At home and abroad

Mike Leake confronts the idea--one deadly to Christian discipleship--that foreign assistance shouldn't be done "when we have hurting people over here." A sample:
So, why should you take care of someone else when you are hurting yourself? Why should our nation send relief to Haiti when we have homeless people and orphans here? Because that is exactly what Jesus would do. Jesus would not refuse to serve a Samaritan because the Jews were under Roman oppression. You look at the Cross and compare that to this “I need to care of my own needs first”, New-Age, Oprah-driven, egocentric junk. I do not see my bleeding Savior climbing down off the cross and saying, “someone else will have to serve for awhile…I have my own needs.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Although we may not like the wording. . .

Only through the cross

This one would be worth reading even if it weren't short and to the point: "No 'End Run' Around the Cross" (HT).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Long enough

Todd Rhoades: "Very few preachers have the communication skills to go over 30 minutes. . . . I realize this may open a can of worms, but seriously, most sermons would be 100x better if you wacked them in half. "

Listening to the Voice

Paul T. McCain writes, "Scripture is Not a Set of Principles to Reshape the World: It is the Living Voice of Christ Speaking to Us." Here's a sample:
For most of Protestantism Scripture has become a book of rules to be followed, a set of principles to inform how we reshape the world, a set of practical tools to better your life, or a road map to lead you from here to eternity. But that is just plain wrong. Scripture is the voice of God. Scripture is the discourse of God in human words. This Word is powerful and can do what it claims and keep all its promises. This Word has the power to call and gather the Church. . . .

We act as if the gems of Bible study were the hints or conclusions reached from that study — like a school child reads the encyclopedia for things he or she can use in a paper that is due tomorrow. Bible study is important because it is time with God, it is the conversation in which God is the speaker to us and we who have ears tuned in faith can hear Him speaking. It is not what we learn from Bible study but what we learn in Bible study as a people gather to hear every word and as a people who know that this every word is important.
Amen. I recommend Mr. McCain's whole article.

Friday, January 22, 2010

God's love

Matt Dirks explains why Christians care for the poor.

Remembering our persecuted brethren

Here's a site every Christian would do well to visit from time to time: Christian Persecution Blog. The story of a Vietnamese Christian being forced to renounce his faith and return to the Hmong religion is especially memorable.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Please keep praying for Haiti

Coverage of the recent disaster in Haiti has been so pervasive and often graphic that it's tempting to grow tired of thinking about all the suffering. But even this long after the initial earthquake, there's still much work to be done to relieve and prevent suffering in that country. Please keep praying.

Faith and substance

Matt Dirks: "Faith isn’t the hope that God will give you everything you want. It’s the unshakable belief that God is in charge no matter what happens to you, and it’s based on solid evidence, not wispy hope."

Worshiping and welcoming

Darryl Dash has noticed a trend: Christians increasingly begin worship services with a welcome, as opposed to a more traditional "call to worship." That trend, he notes, has consequences:
There’s a subtle shift going on here. It’s hard to argue against making people feel welcome. But everything in a worship service communicates something. The Call to Worship emphasizes God’s invitation to us to approach and worship him. The Invocation focuses on God’s presence within the worshiping community. Both begin with God.

In contrast, beginning with a Welcome shifts the focus to us. It puts us in the driver’s seat. We subtly communicate that it’s our goal to make the guest satisfied. This may be subtle, but it’s a huge shift in focus. Rather than coming in response to God’s invitation, and focusing on his presence, we assume God’s presence and want to make sure everyone in the congregation is happy.
I hadn't really thought of this before, but I think Darryl's right.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Faithful worship

This looks helpful: 20 Thoughts on Worship Services.

Going deeper

Jeff Weddle considers how easy it is to take information out of context when using a concordance:
I have a plan to write a concordance that includes context. This plan has one fatal flaw: it’s impossible.

Instead, I urge everyone to just go ahead and read the Bible. Know the context by knowing the Book inside and out. When you use a concordance, don’t stop with your handy phrase; look it up to make sure it actually means what it seems to say in that phrase.
That sounds like a good method.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Good question, even better answer

Via the blue fish project: "Is a Christian a sinner or a saint?"

Big guns and local congregations

Barry Maxwell offers some excellent perspective on "pastoral and theological giants" and the local church (HT).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Good question

A reminder

Choosing carefully

Ed Stetzer considers matters of appropriateness and language in the pulpit:
My advice is simple. Be careful with your words. You only have so many to use in your upcoming sermon, so choose them wisely. Those words may comprise your very last sermon. Have you considered that? What words will be most useful in communicating truth, and the gospel? What words will help you best uncover man's hypocrisy, stubbornness and idolatry while pointing them to the hope of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? Your words should be appropriate for your audience and context, they should clarify truth, expose error and exalt Jesus. If you are a teacher, then you are not a child, so don't speak like one. Be thoughtful, provocative, and clear. Know your audience. Do not use words that will interfere with the message you are called by God to communicate, but do not neglect to use words that will arrest their attention and display the significance of the message.

The advice is thoughtful and worth reading in its entirety. And thanks to Todd Rhoades for the link.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Five years today

Five years ago today Transforming Sermons began. I started this blog to share links to online treasures with other preachers, and I soon found that many non-preaching Christians found helpful and encouraging links here as well. Since then I've made a point of linking both to works that help preachers transform their sermons into ones that show forth the transforming Word of God, and works that help all Christians be transformed by God's Word.

I won't pretend I don't like it when people read the blog and make comments, but one lesson I've learned in the past five years is to find joy in shining light on the work of others: those who say clearly and thoroughly what I have at best though only vaguely and inarticulately. Not so long ago I don't think I could have done what I'm doing now. It would have killed me to draw attention to those who write, think, and serve God better than I do. But now I take delight in pointing readers not to my work, but to others'. I confess this change of heart not to pat myself on the back, but to give glory to God. When I look at how the focus of my life has changed over the past few years, I know very well I can't take credit for moving from me-centeredness toward Christ-centeredness. This transformation is the work of God, and I thank and praise him for doing it.

One of the greatest delights in discipleship is seeing God transform hearts--both one's own and those of brothers and sisters walking faith's journey with us. The heart transformation I'm striving to realize and help others find is real. And it comes not from our best efforts or hard work, but from the power of God's Word.

'Peruse, ponder, and pause'

Peter Mead makes the case for slow-cooked sermons.

Angry all the time

Jeff Weddle is getting a little tired of Christians blithely saying "God is good all the time." And if you're familiar at all with Jeff's writing, you won't be surprised that he's discovered an antidote:
God is good all the time, but He’s also angry all the time. This is not a bad thing, unless you’re one of the folks He’s angry at, of course. Psalms contains a song about it, why don’t we sing this one ad nauseum?

If you do not love a God who is angry all the time, then you love a God who smiles warmly on things like child abuse, the Holocaust, and various other atrocities.
Hmm. Never thought of it that way before. . .

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reminder to Christians

Preaching parables

This one's a keeper: Craig Blomberg on preaching the parables (HT). Dr. Blomberg is one of the best NT scholars writing these days, and his work on Jesus' parables is especially insightful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Use words

Well, thanks to Justin Taylor, I've finally found something worth reading on Twitter.

Voice of majesty

J.D. Hatfield writes about the voice of God and widespread misconception about the "still, small voice":
In the Bible we don’t read of anyone who clears their mind to seek the voice of God and actually hearing from God. We see people going about their routine when God suddenly speaks to them.

If God wants to get your attention he doesn’t have to wait until you are still or get quiet. As a matter of fact, as we have said before, when Psalm 46:10 says “be still, and know I am God”, it isn’t God telling us to be still and then we will hear Him, it is God telling His enemies and His people that He is God and so we should shut up!
J.D. also shares some corrective thoughts on prayer and getting what we ask for.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Simplicity of freshness

Peter Mead offers some brief, enlightening reflections on education, preaching, and freshness.

On secrecy

Tony Myles has been writing about secrecy, instant information, and true understanding:
It's like we think we know people because we read their last Facebook status update. Or that we really know what is going on with celebrities because of a sound byte we caught from Access Hollywood. Or that we "probably" know the layout of a town simply because we have access to a GPS.

Maybe that's why secrets are such an interesting commodity. It's like they are our own version of control in a world where we simultaneously feel like a genius and doofus. If someone says something we like about us, we can say that they "know" us... but if they poke in a way that we don't like, we say, "You can't judge me! You don't know me! Only God knows me!"

Which brings up a few other things to consider when it comes to secrets. . .
Tony's whole article is worth a look.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stay away

Good news and pain

Will Willimon: "New birth and nativity, the cross and sacrifice get all mixed up in the gospel. When will we ever learn that nothing truly new, no large move of God occurs without some pain. Blood and birth go together."

"In my opinion"

As an English composition teacher, I encourage students to stay away from equivocating phrases and write boldly. Jeff Weddle points out that even more is at stake when talking Scripture:
“In my opinion” is the classic Dale Carnegie method of winning arguments and friends, supposedly. It softens the confrontation of ideas. It works quite well in many realms and I would recommend its strength properly applied.

Proper applications of this opening move work well when discussing politics, current events, top rated quarterbacks, whether beef is better than chicken and many other issues.

However, it is wrong to use this phrase when teaching Scriptural truth. Putting God’s Word on the level of opinion is blasphemy.
Indeed. Jeff's whole article is worth reading.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Breaking free of the tyranny

Simplicity and murmuring

Jeff Weddle: "Following God’s Word is not all that hard. it’s straight-forward stuff, it’s not hard to figure out what to do. The problem is when we talk about it. Soon, what seemed so easy, becomes difficult, maybe even impossible and stupid."

Planning for famine

Are churches in the United States doing enough to address the impact of the current economic downturn on their communities? Here's Dan Edelen:
For years, American Church leaders have failed to plan for the famine despite having the example of Joseph right before them in the Scriptures. Sixteen months after the American economy basically collapsed and still no plan exists. Churches with benevolence ministries got caught amid an onslaught of needy people and the wells ran dry. Yet Christian leaders, especially those on the national stage, act as if nothing happened.
Dan has a few ideas on how we got to this position.
The problem here is one of pride. Tightening one’s belt and preparing for tough times looks like failure or a concession to doom. Neither of those sit well with Church leaders interested in keeping up appearances.
Ouch. Dan has been writing for some time at Cerulean Sanctum on the church and economic issues.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Best articles of the year

Yes, yes, 2010 is only a week old, but I'll be pleasantly surprised if anyone writes an article more insightful and encouraging than either one of these:
Be blessed.

Hearing the hypocrite

Ray Ortlund: “Here is a prayer with no guarantee of an answer: 'Father, help my brother see his hypocrisy.' Here is a prayer with a guaranteed answer: Father, I am a hypocrite, more than I know. Please help me see myself. And help me to change.'”

Preaching what's there

Matt Waymeyer has written a short post on sermon illustrations, and perhaps, given Matt's main idea, it's appropriate that I quote his post here in full:
Nearly three years ago, I began preaching through the Gospel of John. Along the way, something interesting happened—I found myself using far less sermon illustrations than I had in the past when preaching other genres of Scripture. It wasn’t by design—at least not as part of a purposeful plan that I had going into John—it just sort of happened. More often than not, I simply found myself preaching passages in John which just didn’t seem to “need” an illustration.

In retrospect, I realize there is probably an underlying reason for this. If one of the purposes of sermon illustrations is to turn that which is abstract into something concrete—to turn your listeners’ ears into eyes and help them see what you’re saying—it simply makes sense that illustrations would be needed less frequently when preaching narrative material. After all, most passages in the Gospels and other narrative books are already concrete, and the best way to help your listeners see what you’re saying is to simply preach what is there.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Joy in the Lord

"I refuse to be completely serious. I refuse to be so rigorous that I become a pain to the people closest to me. That cannot be the will of God. If I am not under law but under grace, as the Bible says, then I can relax and enjoy life without a single thought that somehow that will jeopardize my standing with God. It is God himself who gave me this life and who explicitly authorizes me to receive it from his hand as a good gift — not an ultimate gift but a good gift — and who settles the question of my acceptability to himself through Christ my Substitute who was perfect for me."

New take on an old rule

Steve Scott shares some valuable insights on the old familiar 20/80 Rule that says 20 percent of church members do 80 percent of a congregation's work.
The 20/80 rule is a problem, yes, but I believe for different reasons than what I hear most. Most often, the reason given for so few doing so much of the work is that the 80% are lazy, uninterested, sinning, not with the program, unloving, uncaring, unsanctified, or simply just not acting out what God wants for their life.

But, the problem as I see it, is that the 20% are the ones who define what "ministry" is. Actually, the ones who define ministry are a much smaller group than the 20%, but the 20% go along with the definition. People are then expected to fit the ministry mold that has been created for them. Since the Master Moldmaker has created each one of us in a truly unique way, only a certain percentage of people are able to contort their bodies to fit the ministry mold. The others simply don't or can't fit the mold. Since they don't fit, they don't "minister," at least in the way that ministry leaders define ministry.
Thanks to Wilderness Fandango for the link to Mr. Scott's article.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Foolishness and wisdom

"Live into this"

Here are a few valuable thoughts on living into God's story.

Monday, January 04, 2010

On truth and trust

". . . this was yet another lie I was taught by Christian education."

On "wicked questions"

Jeff Weddle has a gift for stating theological truth very simply. Viz:
Wicked people are destined for hell. This is a clear teaching of Scripture. That being the case we should be on the lookout for how Scripture describes wicked people so we make sure we aren’t one of those.
I recommend Jeff's whole article.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Worth reading

Jollyblogger David Wayne looks back over a year of living with cancer.

Why we need a Savior

Bob Spencer shares some timely, spot-on thoughts about encouragement, negativity, and the Gospel. Here's Bob: "Does the dying man need to be told how wonderful he is, or does he need to be told that while he was a sinner, and in the full knowledge of his sin, Christ died for him."


Thanks to Ray Ortlund for sharing this gem from Luther's commentary on Galatians 1.7:
If you cannot believe that God will forgive your sins for Christ’s sake, whom he sent into the world to be our high priest, how then, I ask you, will you believe that he will forgive your sins for the works of the law, which you never could perform, or for your own works, which, you must admit, cannot possibly counteract the judgment of God?

The doctrine of grace can by no means stand with the doctrine of the law. The one must simply be refused and abolished, and the other confirmed or established.
Well, since you put it that way. . .