Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interesting Reading

Several items of interest to me have recently passed my way.

First, I got an email advertising a “free Bible college.” They offer, and I quote, “correspondance courses.” That’s right. By “correspondance” you can get a four year Bachelor of Theology degree.

I suppose that spelling is a fifth year master’s level course.

This church and Bible college uses, and I quote, “the only error-free Bible in English: The King James Version.” It’s too bad that the translators of the King James Version didn’t get to attend this school. They surely would have been disabused of the notion that their version was imperfect. Of course, they couldn’t have translated very well. But they probably could have spelled “correspondence” correctly. Oh what a dilemma …

Second, there is the matter of this statement promoting a collection of music that I saw several days ago:

Red Letter joins lyrics born out of profound gospel reflection with aggressive music that matches the depth and weight of the text.

The irony is that this organization believes that music is neutral. So, what does it mean that music matches the text? If music is neutral, wouldn’t all music “match depth and weight of the text”?

I downloaded the album in question several nights ago to experience the “depth and the weight of the text” through music.

It was interesting, to say the least.

This is the same organization that had the strangest version I have ever heard of “What Child Is This?” on a Christmas album. If you haven’t heard it, look it up. Mary and Jesus will never be the same to you.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thom Rainer on Hubris and Leadership

This is worth reading for a number of reasons.

Rainer lists four characteristics of leader with hubris.

  1. Leaders with hubris see others as inferior.
  2. Leaders with hubris are slow to see deteriorating conditions in the organizations they lead.
  3. Leaders with hubris are quick tempered.
  4. Leaders with hubris expect to be served.

Now, that’s pretty basic. Nothing profound there, and it’s not a fancy presentation. But I think he is right on target.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Don't argue with angry bloggers. It's like wresting with a pig—you both get dirty, but the pig likes it.

— Ed Stetzer, Twitter

Friday, March 19, 2010

In the Diner

It’s different in here this morning.

The radio is off and the silence is deafening in an eerie sort of way. It’s not a bad thing necessarily. It’s just different. I can hear the juice machine like a small waterfall. I can hear the voices back by the kitchen. I can hear the hum of the compressor in the refrigerator. This is the first time in all the years I have been coming here that I recall the radio being off.

To make it worse, I got here late and someone was in my booth. I had to sit in another booth (until he left and I could move back to mine).

And on top of that I have a different waitress. I know her well. She normally works the afternoon shift. I actually had to order this morning. Usually I order with “Yes,” because it’s the response to “The usual this morning?”  I couldn’t even just say “the usual,” because she doesn’t know what that is. She even brought me cream. I haven’t cream in coffee in close to twelve years probably.

And so now I am thinking about tradition, and how uncomfortable it is to change things.

It reminds me that most people in our churches aren’t traditionalists for theological reasons (whether that’s right or wrong is another issue). They are traditionalists for comfort reasons.

When we change something and they don’t like it, they often have no reason other than “It’s just not the way we do things.” What they mean is “We have always done it another way.” They don’t have a verse for it. They are not principle conservatives. They are just comfortable.

How do we address this kind of traditionalism in our churches?

I think it must be by careful and consistent teaching, by gradual change where possible, and by just changing things when the time comes. If you don’t teach you will create confusion and discontent. If you change too fast you will create anger and resentment. If you wait until everyone agrees, you will never do it. People will not naturally leave comfort until they see a need for it, or until they are forced, or both.

So we as leaders have to know why we are doing things—either why we are maintaining traditions or why we are changing them.

We have to communicate why we are doing things. Remember, a leader’s most powerful public tool is his teaching ministry. In the NT, teaching is the primary means of leadership, from Jesus right on through the apostles. That hasn’t changed. When you want someone to do something, you have to convince them to do that.

And sometimes, it’s good just to change for no reason. Sometimes. Not always. But sometimes.

So I changed today. I came in almost an hour later than normal. I sat in a different booth (for about fifteen minutes). And I am either enjoying or enduring the silence—I’m not sure which yet.

Good News Bad News

The good news is that I had Murray State (along with 5 out of the 6 upsets).

The bad news is that I had Georgetown … to win it all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Apostles or apostles

There is some debate about the nature of the NT “apostle.” Is it a gift, an office, or both. Is it only historical or is it continuing?

There are some who hold to the idea of a “five-fold ministry” based on Ephesians 4:11, where Paul outlines the gifts of the risen Lord to the church. This five-fold ministry is abbreviated either as APEST or APEPT (using the first letter of each gift).

Those who hold this five-fold ministry believe that each of these gifts is ongoing. They would say the apostle here is a “little a” apostle. It is a gift, not an office. It is someone with gifts of proclamation and movement making ability (as in leading church planting movements or large churches). Some denominations have an official recognition of “Apostle.” Some people just put it on their business card.

Those who reject a five-fold ministry believe that some (usually two—apostle and prophet) of these gifts were uniquely first century gifts. They were needed in an age of ongoing revelation. With the ending of revelation, these gifts are no longer needed. Apostolic authority is conveyed through the Scripture, not through people. Revelation is conveyed through Scripture, not through prophets.

So what was Paul talking about? Is “apostle” an ongoing gift to the church?

My answer is no, given Paul’s usage particularly in Ephesians 2:20, where “apostles and prophets” are what the church was built on, and is now being built up on (cf. Ephesians 3:5). “Apostle” can mean “one sent” (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:23) But that meaning would have very little useful distinction in Ephesians 4:11, it seems to me. The distinction there is not between one who is sent, and the other four. All of them as “sent,” so to speak.

It is better to see Ephesians 4:11 as the apostolic office, and therefore a gift that keeps on giving in the Word, not in person.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Things Worth Listening To

Here is a good message on preaching from Matt Chandler. I am not an expert on preaching and not totally in love with Chandler’s preaching, but I am challenged by this good reminder on the necessity of faithful heralding. (As with everything, spit out the bones. I don’t endorse or recommend everything Chandler says or everyone he hangs around with.)

Here are some free recordings of Bach’s organ works. I am not an expert on Bach’s organ works and not totally in love with organ music (since I prefer a full orchestra), but there is a lot of stuff here will perhaps provide some enjoyable listening for some, as it has for me. (There are no bones in this one. I do endorse Bach’s organ music without reservation.)

Reading on Leadership

In the last month or so, I have read about 1500 pages on leadership, particularly church leadership in the changing context of today. This particular selection of books has a common theme: today’s society is markedly different than previous generations and therefore requires different leadership.

Here’s a few random thoughts:

First, several of these remark that their seminary training of X number of years ago prepared them for ministry in a society that no longer exists. My response is that they had bad seminary training. I have commented on this elsewhere (such as here and here), but I will beat this drum again, particularly for the younger men who may be making choices about seminary.

Choose a seminary where you learn theology, the languages, and how to study. Those things will never change. They will never go out of style. And when the context changes, you will still know theology and the languages and how to study.

If you choose a seminary that has a heavy preponderance of classes (as in more than a half dozen hours or so) that deal with methodology of ministry, you will be hurting yourself in the long run because that methodology will soon be out of date. In fact, it may not even work on the other side of town. You can get that stuff other places.

Second, these books on leadership in the church deal very rarely (almost not at all) with the biblical material on leadership in the church. That is a glaring error. It is an inexcusable weakness. If you are going to talk  about leadership in the church, you must talk about leadership in the Bible.

Third, these books almost completely reject the baby-boomer approach to church of the last generation for the emergent type approach to church. But when reading them, the basic philosophy seems unchanged. It seems that the belief is that church leadership is about practice—that if we organize the church in certain ways, and find good mission statements and the like, the church will take care of itself. It comes across as saying that the problem with your church is organizational (too much power at the top) and lack of clarity of vision (people don’t know what it is about). Again, there is a disturbing lack of interaction with the biblical text on these issues of what the church should be.

Now, my office notwithstanding, I am all in favor of organization and order. A church should be organized. But great organization is not the key to growing a church.

I find these books helpful, but deficient. Learning to lead in a new context is imperative for ministry in our world. Building on the foundations of Scripture needs more attention than it is given by some.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Seasoned with Salt — The Power of Words

Salt is a common seasoning, used almost daily by almost everyone. For some it is used too much, causing health problems. Unfortunately for many Christians, it is used too little and it has nothing to do with our food. It has to do with our speech.

Paul says, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6).

Paul uses this metaphor for speech particularly in the realm of evangelism, and connects it with grace. But evangelism is not the only time when graceful, salty speech is needed. It should be the characteristic of all of our speech.

I confess that I too often speak wrongly. My words become instruments of hurt, usually unintended. It grieves me when I am misunderstood and I hurt people or give the wrong impression. It grieves me more when I am not misunderstood and I hurt people or give the wrong impression. By God’s grace, the latter happens far less than the former these days.

The blogosphere and email are particularly challenging venues of communication because of the lack of personal interaction and personal knowledge. The lack of voice tone and body language can be great inhibitors of communication, particularly for those predisposed to thinking the worst.

I am thinking tonight of the power of words, the ease of misunderstanding, and the necessity of godly speech.

I am reminded that personal attacks are hurtful, that ungracious speech is troublesome for the gospel, and that words are permanent. I am reminded that speaking without benefit of the facts often leads people to say things that aren’t true. I am reminded that the gospel is not furthered by people who insist on being disobedient to the biblical commands regarding speech. I am reminded that no amount of patient teaching, confrontation, assembling of facts, or genuine appeal will convince someone who is determined to be foolish in their speech.

I am also convinced that the most guilty are often completely unaware of what they are actually doing. They don’t even know it. They are right in their own eyes and completely justified.

I am reminded that accountability is a good thing, if you have the right people. I have routinely over the years asked for input on my own speech, particularly online where misunderstanding is so easy. Some of you, my readers, are among those people. (All of you are invited to be. If you think I have stepped over the line, feel free to say so … here, to me, either by email, or comment on this blog. Don’t say it on your blog since that won’t help.)

I am reminded that accountability is only as good as the integrity of the people to whom you are accountable. If you surround yourself with “yes men” (or “yes women”), you will rarely grow. If your friends never say you are wrong or unwise, you probably have the wrong friends.

So how can we be salty in a good way?

Let the gospel transform your attitude first and your speech later. We too often try to manage speech. We need to first be transformed in our attitude from which our speech comes. Only the gospel can bring such transformation. Sins of the tongue are dealt with just like all other sins—by the death of Jesus. Our participation in that death brings a new way to view the use of words.

Speak calmly. Agitated responses usually lack grace. They are often the fruit of sinfulness in the heart, the idol of unmet expectations.

Speak later. Rarely is something so important that it has to be said right now. Usually, I wish I had waited. Rarely do I wish I had said it earlier. Sometimes, I wish I had never said it at all.

Speak the truth, even about people you don’t like. Lies or misrepresentation of someone else never enhances credibility. A good point does not need dishonesty or misrepresentations to be a good point. A bad point will not be made better by dishonesty or misrepresentation.

Reply by assuming the best about someone’s speech or conduct. When responding to someone else, assume the best from them. Assume that you are the one misunderstanding.

Speak about issues not people. Personal attacks do not help solve issue problems. Focus your attention on the matter, not the person. Personal attacks won’t help a bad point, and a good point doesn’t need them.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Introducing the New Testament by Andrew David Naselli

This week, my friend Andy Naselli gave me a copy of his new (and first) book, Introducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to Its History and Message.

Some time ago, I had seen a manuscript of this book and am delighted to see it in print. It is a short introduction to New Testament that gives basic introductory information about each book of the New Testament such as author, date, recipients, and message.

It also has some broader chapters such as the Synoptic Gospels (discussing how Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate to each other), The New Testament Letters (sometimes called the epistles), and Paul: Apostle and Theologian. Each chapter includes discussion questions and additional resources for study.

This book is a condensation of the excellent Introduction to the New Testament written by Don Carson and Doug Moo, two top-rate NT scholars. The first edition had contributions by Leon Morris (hence it was called “Carson, Moo, and Morris”)

This is an excellent resource for those who are interested in studying the New Testament but are somewhat overwhelmed by the five hundred plus pages of Carson and Moo. It would work well in a local church setting for teaching a NT survey class, for individual study by a Bible study teacher or leader, as a quick reference when you don't want to read the big one, or for someone who just wants to know more.

Amazon says it will be available April 1, 2010.

Congratulations, Andy, and I am looking forward to more from you.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Quotable: Dumber Than Demons

When radicals deny Christ’s deity they show less insight than the demons, for the latter are constantly acknowledging it.

— William Hendriksen, Mark, p. 66.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Quotable: The Power of Oratory

“What would have happened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Deam’ speech if he made it a PowerPoint presentation or decided just to send out flyers?”

— Will Mancini, Church Unique, p. 170.

Quotable: Stetzer on Clergification

Clergification is “the idea that is very prevalent in the church that there is a certain class of people, a certain hierarchy, a priesthood if you will that does the work of the ministry and the job of the normal people is to pay, pray, and get out of the way.”

“Most churches look more like pre-Reformation Catholic churches than they do like churches that have an empowered priesthood of the believers.”

“It’s remarkable to me that so many churches look like pre-Reformation Catholic churches where there’s a priestly class and then there’s a people who is unengaged in mission and ministry.”

“We are teaching people that they need us [pastors] more than God wants them to believe they need us.”

“Somehow we have to stop letting them believe—and maybe us acting as if we believe—that our role is to do the work of the ministry.”

“All God’s people are called to ministry.”

“When we do for people what God calls them to do, everybody gets hurt and the mission of God gets hindered.”

“We are going to have to break the cycle of codependence where we’re the ones who do it and they’re the ones who watch”

From the Exchange beginning about 21:00, lasting about ten minutes.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Dever on Pastoral Ministry

“If you’re not willing to be disliked, you shouldn’t be in the ministry.”

This and tons of other good stuff from Mark Dever when he preaches about the four P’s of evangelical (meaning “gospel”) ministry.

  1. Preaching
  2. Prayer
  3. Personal discipling relationships.
  4. Patience

It’s worth your time (as it usually is when Dever speaks about the church or pastoral ministry). You can get it here.

Monday, March 01, 2010

In the Diner

“Pastor, you know I smoke. You gotta pray for me.”

This was said to me by someone heading out the door, with a cigarette in hand. (By the way, if you are around me after I have been in the diner, be reminded that the smell of cigarette smoke emanating from me is the price I pay [along with $4 for “the usual"—three eggs over easy with white toast, strawberry jam, coffee, and tip] to get these insights from the diner. It is not my habit.)

First, I think, why would that even be brought up? No one say, “Pastor you know I wear red shirts. You gotta pray for me,” or “Pastor you know I drink cold water when it’s hot outside. You gotta pray for me.”

But this is different. There is something that tells us that something is wrong that prayer is needed for. 

Secondly, my thoughts are drawn to Ed Welch’s excellent book, Addictions: Banquet in a Grave. This is the most significant, clear, and theological treatment I am familiar with on the topic of addictions. It is a must have book.

Welch argues that addictions are worship disorders.

So how do we pray for addicts? And how do addicts pray for themselves?

Praying for freedom from addiction is too small a prayer.

We need to be praying for a new kind of worship, a worship that will have only one Master—Jesus; a worship that will bow to no other.

Yes, addictions are real. They are sometimes physiological (in the body) and sometimes psychological (in the mind), or sometimes both. And sometimes we cannot be sure which it is.

Yes, addictions are hard habits to break. That’s why people don’t break them.

The truth is that addictions can be broken a number of ways, all involving a transition of worship, but not all involving the Creator God and Savior of the universe.

Remember, we are all worshippers by nature. Romans 1:23 teaches us that people who don’t worship God haven’t stopped worshipping. They have actually exchanged the worship of God for the worship of something else—they have exchanged the Creator for a created thing.

When a person worships their family more than their use of alcohol which is destroying their family, they will find a way to stop drinking … until the time that they being to worship alcohol  more than their family.

When a person worships sobriety more than drunkenness, they will find a way to stay sober.

When a person worships saving money more than spending it, they will find a way to quit spending $7.50 a pack for cigarettes.

They are not sick. They are doing what worshippers do.

And that’s why I think the sickness model of addictions is inherently hopeless. It wrongly diagnoses the problem and puts the hope for fixing it in the wrong place.

Only a worship model can bring true hope.