Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Just Mail It In

Crank alert. Rant warning. Consider yourself notified.

Ben Wright quotes Mark Driscoll:

Pre-recording 2 sermons today. Allows me to go to Zac’s baseball tourney with my family rather than not seeing them on Father’s Day.

This is, as Ben says, a “minimal and rational step” when you conclude that you don’t need a pastor to preach to an assembly to have a church, though this goes a bit beyond “I can’t be there to preach because I am over here preaching the same message to a different assembly.”

Apparently, preaching on video in order to get to a baseball game is the only way to clear up a few hours to spend with the kids on Father’s Day.

And while I am here, If Driscoll is all about redeeming culture, why not start with little league baseball tournaments? Why not get them moved off of Sundays? 

Listen, I love sports. I played them growing up and I coach them today. I had my 5 year old son over hitting golf balls at the range last week after his swim meet, and took him swimming last night. I was out Sunday night at the ballfield pitching to my son and then chasing him to first base when he hit it. So this is not an anti-kids sports rant. Nonetheless, I remain unconvinced that kids’ sports are a good reason to miss Sunday worship, even occasionally, particularly if you are the pastor.

Furthermore, once we start this where does it end? What are the boundaries? Why not record the preaching video on Saturday when it’s raining so you can take the kids to the lake on Sunday when the sun is shining (cuz you know we need family time, right?)?

Here’s another thing: One of the things Driscoll recently claimed, in his table talk with Dever and MacDonald, is that they (Mars Hill) are raising up all kinds of pastors who can preach.

Apparently all of them were at baseball games or something, too.

Interesting that out of the 10,000+ people at Mars Hill, not a single person with the gift of preaching was going to be able to show up to handle the preaching on Father’s Day.

Which raises the question: Why do you need to train up other preachers if you can just video yourself? I suggest it’s an unhealthy, dare I say ungodly, celebrity culture.

I wonder how Driscoll would respond if those 10,000+ all decided that Father’s Day meant they needed to be somewhere else, so they would just watch the service later online? And fax in their offering checks?

I would say I am speechless, but if you have gotten this far, you know that’s not true.

Seriously, this reminds me that ecclesiology remains a weak subject for the modern church.  

Hyles, Hybels, Driscoll, and Warren (and lots of others) have taught us that all the stops can be pulled out to draw the crowd. And we can pull out a few stops to avoid the crowd if we have a better option.

There is, among these leaders, an admirable goal to reach people. I am challenged by it.

Hybels says something like, “We are not just seeker-driven; we are seeker-obsessed.” I think most of us could stand a little dose of desire to reach the unreached. Hyles had a similar philosophy, as do some others I know of, though for my dollar, I am not sure that the pop music, drama, and stage show at Willow Creek are all that much worse than the live goldfish swallowing, southern gospel music, and stage show at FBC Hammond. The preaching surely can’t be any worse. If I am going to endure some nonsense in the name of evangelism I would just as soon do it at Willow Creek than FBC Hammond. At least I wouldn’t have to wear a tie at Willow Creek.

Of course, some will be offended that I even make that comparison. It won’t bother them that I mentioned Hybels. It will only bother them that I left the “b” out.

But I digress.

I think we need a stronger ecclesiology, one that includes interaction with the question of whether or not the preacher should actually show up to preach.

On the other hand, perhaps Driscoll is on to something here.

I have a lot of friends I could play golf with on Sunday morning. If I video myself, I can go play golf on Sunday mornings, and still get home in time to see my family.

I could even take my wife, and we could call it a date, ‘cuz you know I am pretty busy the other 167 hours during the week and I gotta take care of my marriage.

And besides I need someone to carry my bag.

But don’t worry ‘cuz I tip good.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Tale of Two Churches

This past week on vacation, I took the opportunity to visit two different churches. I found these two churches to be an interesting contrast.

One church was predominantly young. There were only a few hoary heads in the place, from what I could tell. I felt like an old guy. The other church seemed like at least half, if not more, of the people in attendance were older than me. To be fair, the latter church was a Sunday PM service, so I am not sure what effect that might have had, though I doubt that there is enough young people in the AM service to offset this factor.

So I wonder why this difference.

I think there is some merit to the idea that churches tend to reflect their leadership. One pastor is 30ish, and the other is probably close to 60. It is probably unlikely that the older generation will flock to hear a younger man preach every week. At the same time, the younger generation probably feels a bit disconnected to an older man. Of course, these are generalities. But I know as a pastor, I definitely feel these relational issues.

Let me tell you about these two churches.

Comparing the churches, there was a very distinct difference in the atmosphere of the service. One church had a piano, organ, full orchestra, and a choir. The other had a piano, an organ, a strong lead voice with two backup singers, and a recorder/flute player.

One church sang gospel songs from the early 1900s (including Love Lifted Me, All That Thrills My Soul is Jesus). The other sang a mix of modern hymns, Sovereign Grace, and old hymns (including And Can It Be and Be Thou My Vision).

One church sang songs in succession, with no speaking in between; there was only an instrumental transition. The other church took breaks for some instruction (welcome people on this next verse, ladies sing the second, everyone sing acapella, etc.).

Both churches featured a sermon from an OT text. In one church, the pastor took great lengths to labor in the text (a very difficult text), pointing carefully to words, verses, and constantly referring to the overall argument of the chosen text. In the other church, the pastor gave what seemed a fairly brief and surface overview with some applications that made me uncomfortable in terms of preaching the text faithfully.

In one church, there was a quick mention of Jesus at the end of the message. In the other, there was an more extended discussion of Christ and the gospel towards unbelievers.

Now, two caveats:

1. I realize some could suggest my description is prejudiced. And that may be true. I was asked by a friend at one of the churches to critique the service, and I will send him some thoughts. But I am trying not to be critical. In fact, when he asked me what I thought, I hadn’t thought of anything to say really. He needled me to give him more.

2. Even though my description above is randomized in terms of presentation, I imagine that most of you could put the service together and get all the right pieces in the right church.

So why is one church younger and one older? What are the dynamics and factors of age in church?

I wonder.

Any thoughts?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Thanks for Fifty Years

June 17, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad,

Today, we celebrate fifty years of your marriage. In a world marked by popular fads, passing trends, and quick fixes, which too often treats marriage as a matter of convenience to be entered at one’s leisure and ended at one’s desire, your marriage shines as a marriage to be honored and an example to be followed. So today I say, “Thank you.” 

Thank you for your example of love and commitment to one another. Through everything that God has brought your way in life, you have walked through it together, showing us what it means to love and ቶ commit to a life lived with your spouse “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do you part.” In both joy and pain, you have served each other faithfully and well. Thanks for showing us what it means to love.
Thank you for your example of longevity. Fifty years is an amazing milestone, one that has become rare in a time where integrity and permanence are too easily exchanged for ease and immediacy. Fifty years ago you made promises, and for fifty years you have kept them. Thanks for showing us what it means to do what you said you would do.

Thank you for your example of following God. Through the years of our lives, we have been constantly shown the importance and centrality of following after God. You have loved God, his Word, and his Church, and you taught us to do the same. You have taught, not just in word but by life itself, that there something bigger that we must live for and follow after. You have believed that God was supreme over all things, and that life belonged to him, and you lived that way. Thanks for showing us what it means to be a Christian.

You have left to your children and grandchildren a legacy that will not be easily surpassed. It certainly will never be forgotten. It reminds us that it is possible to have a marriage lived the way God designed, lasting for a half-century and longer.

Should I reach the age of 84, may it be said that by God’s grace I loved and cared for the same woman for fifty years because I saw it in my parents who taught me by example what God said marriage was to be.

We honor you today as an example of loving God and your spouse more than yourself.

I love you both.

Quotable on Preaching

Great sermons are not prepared. At least they do not become great by preparation. They are great because they issue from a preacher whose littleness has dissolved in the immensity of God; from such a life nothing that is little or without consequence can spring forth.

Great sermons are not born in illustration books but in the needy lives of preachers. Here, where the preacher’s inwardness is fashioned by yearning and desperation, is the womb of important preaching.

Calvin Miller, Marketplace Preaching, pp. 9-10

Thursday, June 16, 2011

This and That

At breakfast with a friend this morning: Good times. We talked about a lot. One issue was the fact that Spurgeon, for all his acclaim, was not a particularly good model for preaching. In fact, no one should preach like Spurgeon.

Which reminds me there are a lot of ways to get the job done, and the fact that a way works does not mean we should emulate it. Work hard at studying and understanding the text. When it comes to delivery, listen and pay attention to a lot of people (particularly those known for their communication abilities). Then develop your own style rather than copying someone else.

We also talked about the politics in church and theological circles. It’s not just “fundamentalism” that plays politics. Evangelicalism does too. Neither should. A guy who can bring visibility and money does not deserve a place on the board for that reason. A guy who can bring students and money does not deserve a place on the chapel platform for that reason. I am sure that I will have neither. Which is usually fine with me. Until my pride rears up.

But I am also glad that no one sends me emails about what I do or where I go. No one questions who endorses my books. And I like that.

Listened to some preaching recently: It reminded me that cute alliterated outlines, modified sword drills (turn over here with me), stories of your experience, and attempts at vigor and fire are no substitute for actually explaining the text. Tell me to look at the verse and tell me what it means. Show me where what you are saying is what God said. Engage me by engaging the text. Tell me a story only if absolutely necessary to help me better understand.

Browsing through a library recently: Came across a book entitled Great Preaching on Patriotism. Seriously. Seriously? Why would we preach on patriotism? Do we not have something better? Along this line, I recently saw an American flag in a church prominently displayed. I wondered how those from other nations would respond to that. I wondered how those from our nation who are not particularly enthralled with what it does at times would respond to that.

Walking across a well-manicured place recently: Reminds me that first impressions matter. Things looking good and being well-cared for are always better than the opposite. Our grounds and facilities should look at nice as we can make them. And by all means, be nice to people. In your organization, everyone should speak to or at least smile at every single person they see. It makes a difference.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Frame on Sola Scriptura

Here’s a word from John Frame about sola Scriptura in writing about the Regulative Principle of worship.

Nobody has ever claimed that Scripture is sufficient for every detail of life. Scripture is sufficient, not as an encyclopedia of laws or facts, but as the Word of God. To say that Scripture is sufficient (in public worship or elsewhere) is simply to say that Scripture contains all the divine words that we need. Scripture is sufficient for the civil magistrate, not by telling him exactly how much to collect in taxes, but in giving him all the divine norms he needs to make his decisions. [Frame is responding to T. David Gordon in his reference to taxation.]

People violate sola Scriptura, not by asserting that there are truths to be found outside of Scripture, but by claiming that there are extra-biblical words that have the same authority as Scripture, or higher. Those who believe in sola Scriptura hold that no extra-Scriptural words have divine authority, and therefore supreme authority. People violate the principle when they claim that their ideas, their norms, their political philosophy, their view of taxation, etc., have authority equal to or greater than Scripture.*

From A Fresh Look at the Regulative Principle.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Say It Ain’t So!!!

Word is in: USC* Stripped of 2004 BCS National Championship

What a tragedy for college football.

What a blight on the BCS.

What a joke.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that not a single one of those 55 points USC scored on January 4, 2005 are coming off the board. And Oklahoma will still have their 19 today, and a hundred years from now.

Somehow I don’t think the players on the 2004 USC team will suddenly change their story. In fact, they probably don’t care. The truth is that they got what they wanted—a chance to play in the game and a victory. Their celebrations are over, and they will always be able to say, “I was on that team that won.” And they will always be able to point and say, “Scoreboard.”

On a related note, I met a guy this week who showed me his national championship ring from the Texas Longhorns team he played on in 1969. It was a relatively small ring by today’s standards. If you saw it on his hand, you wouldn’t take a second look. But it is something he treasures because, in his words, “It was neat to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”

It was a pretty unglamorous ring, to tell you the truth. In fact, most class rings (the one’s you buy to congratulate yourself for graduating) are bigger. Perhaps after four decades or so, some of the gold has worn off. But not so much that you are unable to read “Texas Longhorns National Champions” on it.  And that’s what made it special.

He told me he couldn’t imagine how someone could sell their ring like the players at OSU did in the recent scandal that landed Jim Tressel in the back of the line that 9.1% of the American public are already standing in.

Of course, that’s the unemployment line though I doubt The Sweater Vest will be seen down at the welfare office anytime soon. I imagine he has enough to tide him over for a  while, and perhaps his boy Terrell can slip him a couple of Benjamins to get him through, and maybe give him a lift down to Kroger for a bag of rice and some bagels. Besides, I imagine he will be employed somewhere soon.

And his players will go on with their lives. Just like Reggie Bush and the rest of the USC gang has.

And there will be some who, like the man I met this week, are still proud to be part of something bigger than themselves and won’t their souvenir from that event for a tattoo, or a used car, or anything else.

College athletics are big business.

If you want to crack down on this type of stuff that got OSU, USC, SMU back in the day, and lots of of other schools in trouble, the death penalty is probably the only way to do it.

End the USC football program for five years for this offense, and warn them that next time it will be ten years. And fine them the gate receipts for the seasons in question.

You see, the penalty has to be a deterrent. It can’t be worth it to succeed when you cheat.

Oh, and the standard will be a civil trial standard: preponderance of the evidence as considered by a jury made up of your rival’s season ticket holders.

I like that plan.

Any chance of it passing?


*For my friends in my home state, the USC here is University of Southern California, not University of South Carolina. It is probably obvious since we are talking about football national championships and only one school in South Carolina has one of those. Truth be told, the last time that USC sniffed a national championship was probably the exhaust from the plane when Notre Dame flew over SC on its way to it's bowl game in 1988.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


I am starting a new category of posts called “Gleanings.” They will be posts of selected quotes from various articles. I will highlight certain quotes, usually without intending to pass judgment on the context of the quote. Some will have my thoughts attached; others will be presented without comment.

This article is entitled “In Defense of My Coach.” Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel has been under fire recently for the goings on in the OSU program. This past week, he resigned from his job. Jon Thoma, a former player, wrote this article giving a different perspective on Tressel.

It is always sad to see a hero fall. – When people look up to you, you have a higher responsibility. Teachers are always judged by a higher standard (James 3:1). As a leader we should caution people about heroes who names aren’t “Jesus of Nazareth,” but we have to realize that people look up to us. Carry that trust carefully.

I am furious they cast aside our symbols of brotherhood and victory for a few hundred dollars. – There are some things you just can’t put a price on … unless you are young and immature. Then you will trade your heritage for a mess of pottage. What in the world caused a future millionaire to think that a tattoo was worth a national championship ring?

Show an 18-year-old some money and give him some power, and you have a recipe for disaster. – Enough said.

My freshman year he approached me, a mere walk-on back-up punter, and asked me how my parents and two sisters were doing.  He referred to them all by name! We had about 120 players on the team and he knew every person in all 120 immediate families.  He knew because he cared. – Leaders must care about people. Nothing says “I care” like knowing about the people under you.

We had a responsibility to present ourselves in a positive way, as we were representatives of so many things so much bigger than ourselves. – Self-centered people never see the things “bigger than themselves.”

He wanted to put us in the best position possible to succeed. – Leaders must try to get people in places that they can succeed according to their gifts and abilities. Nothing is more discouraging being in a position you aren’t gifted for.  Leaders should push people, get people to try new things, but your ultimate goal as a leader is to get people to be successful. In my short ministry life, I have seen people get frustrated and ultimately fail because they were in a position they weren’t gifted for, and no one had the courage to say, “You have a great heart to want to do that, but you should consider doing this because it fits better into your gifting.”

On your best days be great. On your worst days, be good. Every other day, get better. – Nothing will take the place continual learning. Stagnant minds can never lead others.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Around the Horn

Here are two quick hits:

Justin Taylor reminds me of this funny passage from Moises Silva that reminds me of just how bizarre some exegesis and preaching is. I tend to take the simple view, which means I might miss out on some great word associations. It also means I might not say things that aren’t true. Sometimes a word is just a word.

I would encourage caution in appealing to these ancient meanings and word pictures or associations. Modern translators usually do a pretty good job of getting the meaning right.

And think about how we use language (both as the speaker or author and the hearer or reader). In all but the fewest cases, we aren’t thinking of deep meaning in words. We are simply using conventional language. It should not stretch credulity to think that the biblical authors did the same thing.

Rick Thomas has a good post on resources today. I think the emphasis on resources might be a short cut, a cheater’s way, a lazy man’s guide to the universe.

In an age where books are being published at an astounding rate, we are constantly looking to someone else’s homework instead of doing our own. Even good resources can stunt our growth.

I wonder if reaching for a book instead of taking time to think things through ourselves is actually helpful.

I think resources are helpful, but perhaps we need to be more judicious in our use of them. Sure, we might not keep up on the latest and greatest books out there, but our personal growth and ministry might be more fruitful.

Knowing the Bible and knowing people might be a better resource than a bibliography longer than your arm.


I am no expert parent by a long shot. In fact, sometimes I think I am barely a parent. But I have two kids that live in my house and I am pretty sure I am responsible for them.

Having said that, here’s an article that interests me.

In what has become an annual event close to graduation, another lawsuit was filed about prayer at graduation. Here, a couple in Texas said “their son would ‘suffer irreparable harm’ if anyone prayed at the graduation.” And the judge agreed.


You have had eighteen years to raise your son, and a short prayer at a graduation is going to push him over the edge?

I am going to go out on a limb and suggest this isn’t a prayer problem. It’s a parenting problem.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

For You Conspiracy Theorists Out There

This book, The Man Who Knew Too Much: Hired to Kill Oswald and Prevent the Assassination of JFK, was a very fascinating book when I read it back in the 1993 or so when it first came out. There is apparently an updated version now.

I came across this synopsis of it today and it jogged my memory about Richard Case Nagell who, in September of 63, went into a federal bank and fired two shots into the ceiling in order to get arrested because he wanted to be in jail when Kennedy was shot so that no one could blame him for it. The rest you will have to read for yourself.

I tend to be a skeptical person, though I prefer that you call me discerning (or wise wouldn’t be a bad option either).

But no matter what you call me, if you have any interest in the Kennedy assassination, this book will be interesting to you.