Monday, November 18, 2013

Chapell on Preaching

“At some point in your preaching career, you must make a decision: Will you preach to people, or will you preach for preachers? The latter may win you acclaim, but the former will far more likely win souls. Deep thought, plainly expressed, most clearly exposes a pastor’s heart” (Christ-Centered Preaching, p. 341).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Foundation for Preaching Christ from the OT

The OT should be preached from the perspective that it is part of the Word of God to us from an earlier stage of progressive revelation, that reveals part of the one Story of God in which he pursues his glory through his reign over his creation, a reign that will be brought about through the redemption and reconciliation that is found in Jesus alone of which we are now made aware even though OT saints were not fully aware, and which redemption and reconciliation we must preach since Jesus is the necessary and sufficient Redeemer of all mankind.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Eaten By Cannibals – The Life of John Gibson Paton

Last Sunday, I presented the life of John G. Paton to our church here for their encouragement and for their challenge to the call of the gospel, not in the South Pacific only, but here in our own lives and community for the sake of the Lamb who [was] slain, and purchased for God with [his] blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev 5:9).

Paton went to the South Sea’s New Hebrides Islands in the middle of the 1800s to reach the cannibalistic tribes there with the gospel. He is perhaps most famous for his response to Mr. Dickson, which Paton recounts this way:

Amongst many who sought to deter me, was one dear old Christian gentleman, whose crowning argument always was, "The cannibals! you will be eaten by cannibals!" At last I replied, "Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms, I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer."

The old gentleman, raising his hands in a deprecating attitude, left the room exclaiming, "After that I have nothing more to say!"

So Paton embarked on a lifelong journey, having left a ministry in which he was offered “any reasonable price” to stay. He refused that offer, recognizing that there were many who could do what he was doing there, and none who were willing to go to the cannibals. He went, like so many in those days, with no exit plan.

Paton endured much, more than can be conceived by most of us. He endured the death of his first wife and son, largely due to the location in which he built the first mission house. He experienced repeated threats to his life and property. He ultimately fled his first mission station without seeing much fruit. He experienced the travails of traveling to raise money, and then he returned to try once again, this time in a new location.

And he did it all with faith, an unshakeable conviction that heathen needed the gospel. In reflecting on his suffering on the island of Tanna he says, 

In the darkest moment I never doubted that ultimately the victory there, as elsewhere, would be on the side of Jesus, believing that the whole Earth would yet be filled with the glory of the Lord. But I sometimes sorely feared that I might never live to see or hear of that happy day! By the goodness of the Ever-merciful One I have lived to see and hear of a Gospel Church on Tanna, and to read about my dear fellow-Missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Watt, celebrating the Holy Supper to a Native Congregation of Tannese, amid the very scenes and people where the seeds of faith and hope were planted not only in tears, but tears of blood,—"in deaths oft."

In the end, he saw the victory that he longed for, both on the island of Tanna (from which he fled under threat of life), and the island of Aniwa (to which he returned and lived and worked with visible success). He was instrumental in raising funds for missions, and encouraging others to go.

The story of Paton is too long to recount anything of substance here. Suffice it to say, for now, that reading his story is a great challenge.

As I have said before, reading stories like these make you think you can do anything for Christ, and at the same time make you think you have done nothing.

I commend to you the life of John Paton for your edification and your challenge. Feel free to weep in his pain, to fear in his danger, to laugh in his humor (particularly when you read of the lady who desired to show her conversion by the clothes that she wore), to rejoice in his ending, and “having considered the result of his conduct, [feel obligated to] imitate his faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

**In preparation for this I read The Story of John G. Paton Or Thirty Years Among the South Sea Cannibals and J. Theodore Mueller’s short biography entitled John G. Paton: Missionary To The New Hebrides 1824-1907.

If you are interested in my presentation, you can hear it here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Brief Thought by Luke (Actually Me) on the Authority of the Word

At least twice in the gospel of Luke, Luke shows how the Word is to be preferred to a sign.

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, while the rich man suffers in hell, he begs Abraham to send a risen Lazarus to warns his brothers, arguing that “If someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (LUke 16:30).

Father Abraham says, “Nah, they have the Old Testament. That’s enough. Signs will do no better” (Luke 16:31; my paraphrase).

Later, when Jesus encounters the two men on the road to Emmaus who are mourning the death of the one they thought (based on the OT) was to be the redeemer, Jesus could have very easily opened their eyes immediately to see him, the resurrected Savior. Surely such a sign would have been the best and most direct route to faith for these two men.

Yet Jesus instead points them to the OT (Luke 24:27), to the words that they had believed only a part of (Luke 24:25). In fact, it is not until he leaves that they understand, “That was him.”

In this day when people are desperately seeking signs as reasons to believe, we should follow the example of Abraham and Jesus. Point people to the Word.

It’s not that signs don’t work. John reports that Jesus did many signs in order to bring belief.

It’s rather that the Word does work, and it needs nothing else. We need not live in an age of miracles in order to see the gospel spread. We need not be able to call down fire from heaven, or bread or healing or any other thing from heaven.

We need to take seriously the Word given to create life and bring belief in the lives of those who hear it.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Around the Horn

At first this week, though the Huffington Post is generally not worth the paper is isn’t printed on, here’s a decent article on teen texting, or just texting in general. I say decent in that it makes some great points about texting, but only decent in that it doesn’t really address the problem of relationships or the problem of technology. If I find an article that addresses it better, I will text it to you. And you better respond within a few seconds.

At second, here’s a good article on evangelistic conversations with skeptics. Be wary of the temptation and tendency to desire to “show them what’s what” or to be ready with easy answers for all their questions. The goal of evangelistic conversations is evangelism, not winning. This article gives some good tips for engaging others in conversations. Be wary of confusing evangelism with talking past people.

At third, for all you word geeks out here, here are some “contronyms,” words that are their own opposites. It proves that context is everything in communication. Chances are, none of these words would confuse you if they were found in a sentence in everyday communication.

The homerun today is this interesting site, showing the progression of time on the planet through thirty years of satellite images. Some changes are pretty drastic, and others are barely noticeable. Dial up your home town and see how things have changed, and by all means, check out some of the links at the bottom of things others have found. (When you click on them, you need to manually scroll back up to the top to see it.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Around the Horn

It’s been a while since I have posted much here. It’s been a busy summer with some other writing and study priorities, not to mention life.

But here goes another edition of Around the Horn.

At first, here’s Sam Storm’s list of things he wished had learned earlier in ministry.

At second, today is a little more than a double, since H. B. Charles took Storms’ ten things and turned them into 103, but this list of things learned in ministry is also interesting.

At third, for those interested in the situation in the city of Detroit, here’s one man who says It Didn’t Have To Be This Way. For those who haven’t followed much of the Detroit scandal (not the financial one specifically but the mayoral one), here’s an article that details the case against former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who is due to be sentenced today for his convictions on public corruption. I post it because it’s a good reminder that power without character is deadly, whether you get caught or not. Kilpatrick got caught.

Last, here’s an article about what ebooks are doing to libraries, but it’s probably not what you are thinking. I had no idea.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Three Relations of Biblical Preaching

Preaching is not, or at least it should not be, a “one-size fits all” type of endeavor. Preaching should have variety, not just in content, but in its total package. The cultivation of intentional variety will likely improve most preaching calendars in the local church. Or to put it differently, if the only thing different about your sermon from week to week is the text and the content, you may be depriving your flock of great opportunities for spiritual growth.

Here, I suggest three relations of biblical preaching to encourage pastors to consider some of the different ways you can preach. A given message will likely choose one from each category, though it may involve two (or rarely more).

Preaching as it relates to the text:

  1. Topical
  2. Textual
  3. Textual-Topical
  4. Expository*
  5. Lectio Selecta
  6. Lectio Continua
  7. High Altitude
  8. Low Altitude

*Expository as a method of preaching is different than expository as a method of handling a text. The main text (or texts) of a sermon should always be handled in an expository manner, even if the sermon itself is topical or textual. Supporting texts or illustrative texts may not necessarily be handled expositorily, though one should exercise great care here.

Preaching as it relates to the theme or focus of a message:

  1. Theological/Doctrinal/Catechetical
  2. Ethical/Pastoral/Topical
  3. Biographical
  4. Apologetic
  5. Evangelistic

Preaching as it relates to the presentation or delivery:

  1. Inductive
  2. Deductive
  3. Declarative
  4. Dialogical
  5. Pragmatic
  6. Narrative
  7. First Person Monologue

Friday, September 06, 2013

Shared Mutuality

Recently a blog post has gotten a lot of attention. It was written by a mom of boys giving some (very reasonable) views on the kind of pictures that young women are putting on sites like Facebook. It is a concern that could be extended to any number of other places.

It has been responded to in several places, with (IMO) varying degrees of helpfulness.

Predictably, the backlash came against her for daring to suggest that the way women dress might be a legitimate issue, when instead men and boys just need to control themselves and their thoughts.

Can I make a plea for some shared mutuality, as redundant as that might seem?

I believe that men and boys are solely responsible for what they think and what they imagine and even what they see, at the least the second time. It is sin for them to think lustfully about a woman, and they need to repent. They may also need to establish some boundaries about what they will look at on the internet, the TV, as well as real life in pursuit of holiness. And they need fathers to model this for them and teach it to them. They need to be taught the value and dignity of women as fellow image bearers of God.

I also believe that women are responsible to dress in such a way and to act in such a way that helps, not hinders. And by “helps” I don’t mean simply helps the boys. I mean helps the girls as well. Of course it should help the boys and the men. But let’s recognize that our society is overwhelmed with the message that the value of a woman is tied up in how she looks. When young women (or older women) live that out, they are not helping themselves or other women. They are often making the problem worse. They need to be taught the value and dignity of women as image bearers of God.

I further believe that fathers (and mothers) may be doing a bad job at teaching their daughters about modesty, and about the affects of their appearance and their actions on men. Young women may not even think about it. And if they don’t, I would suggest there may be a lack of fatherhood going on there. The man who should be the most important man in her life until the day she is married should be teaching her and guiding her.

Dads, it’s okay to say “No, you can’t wear that.” Or “No, that picture is not going on Facebook.” Calling it names like “slut shaming” simply isn’t helpful. And it isn’t accurate. Lovingly helping a young woman understand dress and modesty isn’t slut-shaming. It is called parenting. It’s called being a dad. Or a mom. Or in the best case, both a mom and a dad. Or at least, in the words of Titus 2, an older woman.

If these young women are, as one friend wrote, “innocently posting things,” let us step in to help them out of their innocence—gently and appropriately to be sure, but clearly and practically.

This is not a call for burkas, and no, it will not lead there (in spite of some people saying it does). It is not a call to dress unattractively, or never to wear something “cute.” It is simply a call to common sense and love, to portray human dignity and value.

My point is that it is both the responsibility of both men and women to address the problems.

Yes men are absolutely responsible for what they think and what they imagine and what they dream about. If a man has sinful or lustful thoughts, he is sinning. He needs repentance. And he needs not repent by blaming someone else, even if something they did might have helped.

But the idea that we are never responsible for someone else’s sin is simply not biblical.

Jesus was clear that those who cause a little one to stumble should be drowned with a millstone around their neck (Matt 18:6). That’s a bit more significant than being defriended on Facebook.

In Romans 14, Paul says “if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” In other words, one person’s actions can be destructive to another person. Paul said he would never eat meat again if that would cause a brother to stumble (1 Cor 8:13).

In none of these cases, did Jesus or Paul blame the sinner. Paul’s admonition wasn’t, “Just think about something else,” or “Control yourself.” It was to show love and kindness to the person who was in danger of stumbling by refraining from doing something, even if that something was perfectly acceptable to do.

So why are these clear teachings of Scripture abandoned or ignored when it comes to simple issues like modesty?

The idea that we live in a community and have responsibilities toward each other goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. It didn’t stop when Facebook started. Neither men nor women get off the hook for the behavior of others, but we should act in common grace and love towards others because there is a real sense, a biblical sense, in which we are culpable in someone else’s sin.

So let us dispense quickly with the notion that our actions have no role in the sin of others. Such a view is unbiblical and unloving. It is self-centered and individualistic to refuse to think about the affect that our choices (even good ones, in Romans 14) may have in causing others to sin.

Dear friends, let us have some common sense on both sides in the pursuit of biblical holiness.

Be kind, loving towards each other. Have mercy and thoughtfulness towards others.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

50 Years Since “I Have a Dream”

This coming week, August 28, 2013, is the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on the mall in Washington, DC.

Fifty years later, race is still an issue in our country. It is an issue far too complex for my knowledge and experience, and far too complex for a simple blog article.

Today I encourage you simply to think about the image of God in man, and what that means for how to we think about and treat others.

As gospel-believing, Jesus-loving people, we should, no must, love everyone who is in the image of God, regardless of their outward appearance, their socio-economic status, their neighborhood, or any other outward thing.

We must treat them with the dignity that the image of God deserves.

James wrote of the tongue:

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3:8-10).

Should we merely refrain from speaking these things? Dare we think that because these thoughts never made it to the tongue that they are therefore acceptable? I highly doubt James would grant such an exception.

Brothers and sisters, do not look askance on those who have been made in God’s image while getting ready to worship God tomorrow.

You don’t have to agree with MLK, Jr.’s politics to embrace his dream of a world without racial divides.

After all, that isn’t just the dream of MLK, Jr.

It is the promise of God that looks forward to a day when, in a world freed from the curse, those who have been purchased by the blood of Christ from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation are unified is glad worship before the throne of God (Revelation 5:9-10).

At least part of those “other people” (whoever “other” is for you) is the body which Christ purchased with his own blood. Dare we love them less than the Savior does?

50 Years Since “I Have a Dream”

Today, August 28, 2013, is the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on the mall in Washington, DC.

Fifty years later, race is still an issue in our country. It is an issue far too complex for my knowledge and experience, and far too complex for a simple blog article.

Today I encourage you simply to think about the image of God in man, and what that means for how to we think about and treat others.

As gospel-believing, Jesus-loving people, we should, no must, love everyone who is in the image of God, regardless of their outward appearance, their socio-economic status, their neighborhood, or any other outward thing.

We must love them in their sin and treat them with the dignity that the image of God deserves.

James wrote of the tongue:

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3:8-10).

Should we merely refrain from speaking these things? Dare we think that because these thoughts never made it to the tongue that they are therefore acceptable? I highly doubt James would grant such an exception.

Brothers and sisters, do not look askance on those who have been made in God’s image while getting ready to worship God tomorrow.

You don’t have to agree with MLK, Jr.’s politics to embrace his dream of a world without racial divides.

After all, that isn’t just the dream of MLK, Jr.

It is the promise of God that looks forward to a day when, in a world freed from the curse, those who have been purchased by the blood of Christ from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation are unified is glad worship before the throne of God (Revelation 5:9-10).

At least part of those “other people” (whoever “other” is for you) is the body which Christ purchased with his own blood. Dare we love them less than the Savior does?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Demographics by Dot

Here’s an interesting site to see demographics represented by colored dots.

The information is taken from census responses and you can zoom in on various parts of the country down to a pretty close level.

While demographics won’t tell you anything about people as individuals, it will give a helpful view of the surrounding area.

How helpful? Well, it depends on what you do with it, I suppose.

I think demographic knowledge is important, but I am not sure how important it is for ministry.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Pastor, Have You Taken My Survey Yet?

As I mentioned previously, I am finishing up my Doctor of Ministry degree and I am requesting the help of pastors to fill out a survey about their preaching.

If you are the primary preaching pastor at your church, would you be willing to help me out by setting aside about 15-20 minutes and taking this survey sometime before September 1?

I would be extremely grateful to you.

If you have any friends or acquaintances who are pastors, or perhaps even your own pastor, and you feel the liberty to pass this link on to them, I would greatly appreciate that as well.

You can take the survey here: Preaching Planning Survey.

Thanks to all who have taken it so far. Later this fall I will post some results for those who are interested in comparing yourselves among yourselves.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Pratt on Missions

Tonight, on my regular Saturday evening walk (my best of the year), I took the time to listen to this 9 Marks interview with Zane Pratt. Pratt is a missions professor at Southern and has some excellent insights into missions in so many different areas.

Among the highlights are his comments on social media, particularly how technology is keeping missionaries closely tied to their home and perhaps preventing them from a more effective ministry. I am reminded that Adoniram Judson said something very similar in To the Golden Shore. Well, actually Courtney Anderson said it in To the Golden Shore, but it was from Judson.

Anyway, take a walk and listen to this. Or listen to it some other way. Just listen to it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Quotable on Great Sermons

“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.”

Miller, Marketplace Preaching (1995), 9–10

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Word for Disheartened Pastors

“You can mark it down that if you are a preacher God will hide from you much of the fruit he causes in your ministry. You will see enough to be assured of his blessing, but not so much as to think you could live without it. For God aims to exalt himself, not the preacher.”

Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (1990), 19

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Hirsch, Meaning, and Hermeneutics – Part 3

In two previous posts (part 1 and part 2), I have proposed that the traditional two-fold structure of meaning and significance, be made made a three-fold structure of meaning, implication, and significance.* (Hirsch included implication in meaning as do many, but a new book by Robert H. Stein reviewed here apparently makes this same three-fold distinction that I have offered.)

In a nutshell, meaning is what the human author intended to communicate. Implications are those things which are inherently connected with the author’s intention, but outside of his conscious thought and intention. Significance is the application of meaning and implication to any situation to which it might relate.

So here’s why I think this matters.

In Hirsch’s two-fold division, you end up with human authors “meaning” things that they have no knowledge of, much less intention of. In other words, an author “speaks better than he knows;” he has an unintentional intention. The passage’s meaning is then no longer subject to exegesis based on intent, since the meaning cannot be drawn out from the words the author used to communicate his intended message. If it’s in the words, it is separate from the author’s intent in context, in which case normal exegesis cannot draw it out, and which opens a rather large barn door to a text meaning anything at all (since the author’s intent is no longer controlling; future implications are of the reader’s world, not the author’s). The historical part of literal-grammatical-historical interpretation has reduced significance (no pun intended).

This problem has been answered in a number of ways, primarily some form of sensus plenior, the idea that there is a “deeper meaning, intended by God but not clearly intended by the human author, that is seen to exist in the words of Scripture when they are studied in the light of further revelation or of development in the understanding of revelation.”[1]

While there are a number of problems with sensus plenior, but a major one is that it removes the possibility of exegesis of a text to arrive at the complete meaning, because the meaning is no longer in the words as the author used them to communicate to his readers. The fuller meaning is found in later words by different authors in different historical contexts, which which the original readers would not have had, and could not have known. Typically, this fuller meaning is found in the canonical context, which means the whole text of Scripture.

This is where the category of implication is helpful. It allows for there to be truth in a text that is not part of meaning. These implications are seen in later revelation, but they are not what the author meant his original readers to understand and respond to (which is what meaning must be connected to: what did the original author intend his original readers to understand, believe, or do in their lives at that time as a result of this text, including antecedent revelation).

Simply put, this means that God, the divine author (who knows all implications exhaustively) inspires the human author (who knows much less) to write a particular message to a particular audience. The human author then writes with a particular goal of informing or persuading his readers based on a truth that he is communicating. By intending something, he is not intending other things, and he is intending to not communicate still others things.

The divine author, aware of all the truth inherent in a given message (implications), also knows the full canonical context prior to the writing of the entire canon. He knows how the text lays a foundation for later revelation. In other words he knows what the implications are because he (and he alone) knows how those words will be used in generations to come.

So acknowledging a category of implication—those things which God knows and which the human author is not consciously intending—protects the integrity of the text and the author from “speaking better than he knew.” It also protects the later understanding of the text by showing how something can have truth that is ‘hidden.’ It also means that the human author and divine author can have the same meaning.

With this three-fold distinction, we can actually exegete the passages based on the traditional literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic. This takes into account what the original author intended his original readers to understand, based on the language and syntax he used at the time of writing. We can focus on what it says, rather than what else it might say.

Having done the exegetical work, we can then turn to the canonical context to see what implications this passage might contain that later come to fuller flower. We can also speak of how the truth of the text lays a foundation for later revelation in the canon of Scripture yet to be revealed, or how the text might be typological or analogical. These implications can then be preached as eternal truth because of the canonical context.

Having then done the exegetical and canonical, or biblical-theological work, we can turn to the homiletical work of application, of presenting the “world in front of the text” that the listener should inhabit having listened to the text (cf. Kuruvilla, Text to Praxis, esp. 24ff.)

So we can preach what the text meant in its original context. We can preach how the truth of text lays the foundation for the work of God in subsequent history. And we can apply the the text to the hearers by using both the meaning and the implications as the ground of significance.


[1] Raymond E. Brown, “Hermeneutics,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968), p. 616.

*

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Pastor as a Generalist

The exegete has to find the meaning of the text and its witness to an event and for this the tool is grammatical-historical exegesis. To relate it to other events recorded into the Bible is the task of the biblical theologian and historian; to relate it to the modern Christian experience is the task of the preacher.

This is from an article by David L. Baker entitled “Typology and the Christian Use of the Old Testament” (Scottish Journal of Theology 29 (1976), 155).

Though there is much about this article not to like, this is helpful.

Good preaching (by which I mean biblical preaching that engages both the ancient text and the modern audience) must do all three things. It must engage the text itself to find it meaning, it must relate that text to the rest of the revelation of God (the canonical context and redemptive-historical context), and it must also relate both the text and its place in the canonical context to the life of the person listening.

Failure to do the first (exegesis), but only the second or third, might result in a message based on something God never said or did.

Failure to do the second (place it in its canonical and redemptive-historical context), but only the first or the third, might result in moralistic, “Be” preaching that ignores the redemption on which “Be” preaching should be based. (Remember Chapell’s comment that "Be messages are not wrong in themselves; they are wrong messages by themselves" (Christ-Centered Preaching, p. 294).

Failure to do the third (relate it to the modern Christian experience), but only the first and second,  might result in messages with lots of information, even interesting stories, that fail to be the voice of God to the individuals.

This means that the pastor has to be a generalist of sorts. He must be able to do all three, each week.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Around the Horn

At first is a great story about Buddy Ball, a special needs baseball league in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. The commissioner, who is doing all the talking is Tommy Lee Kidd, who is my wife’s cousin’s husband. And Abigail, who shows up in the middle of the video is Tommy Lee and Lesa’s daughter.

At second is an article entitled How to Preach Like D. A. Carson Without Sounding Like Him. Some helpful reminders on the task of preaching.

At third, Trueman has done it again with an incredibly insensitive piece about reality. Some people never learn.

Last, here’s a disturbing video about Drugs in Detroit. The sadness and emptiness of leading these kinds of lives should shock the system. It’s about forty-five minutes long, but it’s a good way to get some insight into a world that most of my readers probably know little about.

Monday, July 01, 2013

A Word on Video Preaching

While I am here, a good word on video preaching.

Preachers and churches buy easily into the concept of personality-driven ministry. Many evangelicals have, perhaps unknowingly, embraced the rise of the self and combined it with consumerism, resulting in a parade of powerful personalities of every theological persuasion who set the tone for church ministry, hawking their books and sermon series [and I add preaching DVDs]. Their offerings replace the need for the local pastor to assess prayerfully and thoughtfully his or her life and the life of the congregation and then preaching his or her flock to maturity. God has called you to love and nurture the people where you are, and he wants you to do it! The danger of buying into the hype of personality-driven ministry is that pastors can bypass their responsibility of determining what their congregation really needs. …

Haddon Robinson wisely observes, “Today many more ‘kings’ rule the homiletical landscape. Media preachers are some of the most gifted, and they enjoy extra advantages like researchers, audio and video engineers, and freedom from the drain of everyday pastoring.”[ 93] The truth is, the communication kings don’t know your church. You do. People may be impressed with this celebrated personality or that evangelical icon, but the evangelical luminary doesn’t have a clue about your church, what they need, and what God wants you to communicate to them as they move toward maturity in Christ. And that’s good!

Gibson, Scott M. (2012-03-01). Preaching with a Plan: Sermon Strategies for Growing Mature Believers (pp. 61-62).

Haddon Robinson’s quote is from Haddon W. Robinson, “Competing with the Communication Kings,” in Making a Difference in Preaching, ed. Scott M. Gibson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 109.

A Word from the Spirit

In one of the synods of the Evangelical Church in Germany a young minister testified that he never prepared his sermons, but trusted the Spirit to put the right words into his mouth. When the turn came for an older man to speak, he said, ‘We heard our young brother say that he did not need to prepare his sermons because the Holy Ghost would speak to him and tell him what to say. As for me, the Holy Ghost never spoke to me in the pulpit. Yes, I remember, he did speak to me once. When I was going down the pulpit steps after a poor sort of sermon, the Holy Ghost spoke to me. He said only three words, and what he said was, “Heinrich, you’re lazy.”’”

Gibson, Scott M. (2012-03-01). Preaching with a Plan: Sermon Strategies for Growing Mature Believers (p. 43).

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wondering Out Loud about Marriage and the Church

Help me out here.

In the wake of the gay marriage rulings from SCOTUS yesterday (June 26, 2013 for those who will read this in centuries to come, since everything on the internet is permanent … so they say), there are renewed calls for the separation of civil and religious marriage, to “get the church out of the marriage business.” My question is, Would this change anything? Read on to see how it might.

In many countries, civil and religious marriage is already separate. A civil marriage must be performed by a civil judge or magistrate and a religious marriage is performed by a pastor or priest. The only one that counts for civil and legal benefits is the civil marriage. So a couple might get married at the courthouse on Friday afternoon and at the church on Saturday. Thus, they are legally married on Friday, but they are not “married in the eyes of God” until Saturday. My guess is that most pastors in these countries would forbid (as much as they could) a couple from engaging in intimacy on Friday (that particular Friday anyway).

In the US, currently pastors perform civil marriages under the purview of a marriage license obtained from the government. Some say this makes the pastor an illegitimate agent of the state. I disagree, but whatever. Whatever else, the pastors are performing legal, civil marriages.

This raises an interesting (at least to me) issue. In ethical debates about marriage, the issue is sometimes raised of a man and woman who would like to marry. However, said marriage would result in the loss of benefits from now deceased spouses (such as pensions and health benefits, survivor benefits, etc. which, for some, can only be received so long as a spouse does not remarry). But that remarriage is determined by civil law, which is to say that a couple could cohabit under civil law, and maintain the benefits so long as they are not civilly married.

If civil and religious marriages are separated, could this burden of staying single be lifted. If a couple does not intend to apply for governmental marriage benefits (i.e., tax filing, spousal privilege, hospital visitation, etc.), they could refuse a civil marriage. They could however have a religious marriage for religious purposes.

QUICK TRIVIA QUESTION: What do Michigan, Mississippi, and Florida have in common? They are the only three states with laws against cohabitation of unmarried people (though I have never heard of it being prosecuted).

Given that forty-seven states have no civil laws against cohabitation, this couple would not be breaking any civil laws (and thus not be in violation of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2). In such a case, they are only prevented from civil benefits that accrue from civil marriage (such as tax filing, social security survivor benefits, hospital visitation, etc., all things which the gay marriage crowd was intent on having).

Since this hypothetical couple would not be violating any civil laws if civil and religious marriage is made a separate issue, could this couple now pursue a religious marriage (a “marriage in the eyes of God”) and live together with all the marital benefits ordained by God, while not having a civil marriage and losing the benefits to which they are entitled?

Up til now, most have said that this couple, if they desire to live together, should get married and give up the benefits. Or stay single and keep them.

Does this provide a solution by retaining the civil status of single/widowed/unmarried, but having the religious status of married?

I am not wild about the idea (yet), but I am curious.

What say ye?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Quick Hits on SCOTUS and Gay Marriage

Remember back in 2000 when the left was all up in arms that SCOTUS overruled the will of the voters. Boy those were the days, weren’t they? Now those same people are rejoicing that SCOTUS overruled the will of the voters. Twice. Just today. Funny how times have changed. Actually, it’s just naked hypocrisy.

Remember all those people who said that the Republicans and Democrats were the same and they voted for some unknown third party candidate or sat it out because it didn’t matter? Well, here’s why you were wrong. Those two justices appointed by Obama would have been someone else. There are no guarantees what they would have been, but there would have been a chance for them to be significantly different. Yes I know that Kennedy was a Republican appointee. And so were Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito. Even if you don’t like either candidate particularly well, you have a moral authority to vote for the better of bad options. And this is why. Your sitting out or wasting a vote on someone with no chance will last far longer than four years till the next time. These court appointments are for life.

Obama apparently said he wouldn’t force churches to marry gays. Huh? Did he actually think he could? Churches can’t marry anyone; only ordained pastors can. And pastors don’t have to marry anyone, much less everyone. Color me really unconcerned about this one. Any attempt to force pastors to perform marriages for homosexuals would likely result in a blanket refusal to perform civil marriage for anyone. A religious ceremony would likely be maintained. This is already the way it is in other countries.

UPDATE: My friend Bill has helpfully reminded in the comments that this may affect our military chaplains, who might be forced to either perform these marriages or leave their posts. He says it could result in there being no evangelical chaplains in the military anymore. It will be interesting to see how it turns out. But it’s a real danger.

So here’s my political prognostication: This brings a Republican landside in 2014. There will be more Tea Party type candidates elected than ever before. And the government will continue to spend way more than it takes in.

Here’s my religious prognostication: Nothing changes for gospel-preaching, Jesus-loving churches. We will go about doing what we have always done. If you thought the government’s laws against homosexual marriage were any part of the hope of the gospel and the church, then you severely misunderstand the Bible and the promises of God.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Failure of Superficiality

I am convinced that most of people tend to think very superficially about the issues of life. We form our opinions about right and wrong without much genuine thought, even though we might use sophisticated words and ideas to express it. This is perhaps because we are self-deceived, thinking ourselves to be wise. It is perhaps because we are hoping that the mere expression of our thoughts will validate them.

Today’s example comes from a traveler, who claims his experiences of school and travel have convinced him to be a humanist, to believe that there is nothing supernatural. In other words, he’s an atheist, though he says he doesn’t like the word. However, another name won’t change the issue.

In the article, he has some thoughts worth thinking about, a bit more carefully than he has thought about them so far.

By way of introduction, he describes himself as from a religious background (Catholic) but claims that going to university had an effect of turning him away from that:

Science (not just physics, chemistry and biology, but even the science of human behaviour; psychology) tends to explain many things about how the world works. There are still some questions left unanswered, but religion never satisfactorily provides those answers to me, over a much more honest “We don’t know”.

This sentence alone raises a few points of question.

It is true that science tends to explain many things about how the world works. But why does science itself work? And why is there any reason to have  confidence in science? And why would that contradict the existence of the supernatural? I would suggest these are questions that must be answered.

It may be true that religion never satisfactorily provides those answers. But what if that says something about you, and not much about religion? And doesn’t the science you appeal to (which explains “many” things, but not all things), also frequently appeal to “We don’t know”? Why is it okay for science to say, “I don’t know” but not okay for religion to say, “I don’t know”?

In other words, at this point, superficial thinking as led you to accept something you have no warrant to trust, which frequently ends up at the same place you don’t like about religion (i.e., “We don’t know), which reveals a double standard. So why is the humanist way any better, particularly given all the failures of humans for millennia?

Our author further muses on the possibility that the lack of religion removes moral restraint, thus allowing one to live however he wants, particularly when traveling in places he is unlikely to return to to experience the outcome of his actions. In response to this, he says,

I don’t need a force [i.e., religion] to punish me for doing evil; empathy is all I need to make sure I don’t leave a place worse than when I got there.

This too raises questions: How does he define “worse”? What standard does he use? He later appeals to a “good moral standing” and being a “good person.” But how does he determine this, particularly in different cultures? If he appeals to some to some tribal or cultural sense of good and morality, then he has no guarantee that his own sense of evil or good has any meaning in the particular place he happens to be. Who is to say that good and evil in place X is the same as in place Y? Or that it is the same in place X today as it will be in place X tomorrow? Should you doubt the possibility, just remember race relationships both now and in times past. It is not the same everywhere now, and it is not the same today as it was yesterday. Without any overarching morality, we have no basis on which to condemn anything—past, present, or future.

Furthermore, what if good in place Y requires him to violate his own sense of moral understanding and satisfaction? After all, he has already appealed to his own sense of satisfaction as the judge of morality and truth. He is now placed in the position of possibly having to deny his own sense of truth in order to do good in light of another person. This would be truly unsatisfactory. It places one in a “no-win” situation.

Yet again, what if, in his travels, he finds that someone’s idea of “leaving the world a better place” means killing this author? Is that acceptable? Why or why not? If the task is to leave the world a better place, and that is decided according to each individual, who can argue against someone else’s idea, even if it means your own death? You have already conceded the fatal flaw—that there is no overarching sense of morality in the universe, or at least there is no reason for one, that would preserve even your own life. And so your own standard, you cannot complain if someone kills you because it leaves the world a better place.

What if, in his travels, he finds that the basic sense of good and evil is the same all over? In fact, this is what we do find, and he agrees when he says, “humans have a lot more in common than we think.” That’s not to say that all culture are identical, but that there is a basic sense of right and wrong in all cultures that is very similar. Sure it is greatly distorted sometimes, but it exists. How do we explain this commonness in all cultures in all times? The answer is actually easy: The image of God in man which mediates a common grace to all cultures. But if you deny the supernatural, you have no explanation for this commonality.

What does he do about negativity and problems? He says,

I very simply try to not think about such negative things. I don’t see the point; every moment I think about the afterlife or lack thereof is time wasted in this life.

This, again, has problems. First, how does he know something is negative if he hasn’t thought about it, or at least thought deeply about it? Perhaps further thought would remove negativity, or create additional negativity. Second, will ignoring problems make them go away? Is  it really wasted time to think about the more significant things in life?

He says,

I only have one life, and I intend to use it wisely; living it, experiencing many things, meeting many wonderful people, increasing my chances of interesting things happening to me, trying to make a place a little better when I leave it, maybe inspiring a few people with this blog, and doing whatever else I can to leave a real mark in the world. That will be my “legacy”.

I would suggest that superficial reasoning has led him to adopt a position that may be true, but has no justification. He can’t explain why anyone should trust science. He can’t explain evil or morals by the value system he professes.

All of which points to a basic truth: He has denied the only thing that can explain anything, even everything, in this universe. Simply put, the existence of God (the supernatural) is the only explanation that account for the world as we know it.

Deny God and you deny any meaning. You have become a nihilist, or at least you should become one. I think this is the position of Francis Schaeffer who talked about the circle and the line of despair. The non-theists attempts to draw a circle large enough to encompass reality failed and led them to fall below the line of despair. The philosophers, and later the theologians such as Barth, Tillich, and Neibuhr, did not actually fall into pessimism, but it was only because they were nonrational.They gave up a unified theory of knowledge, and could not live in the world they created.

Once we deny the supernatural—the one true and living God—we have denied the only thing that can explain anything, even everything.

Of course the Bible prophesies this when it talks of those who suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness, deny the plain evidence of his invisible power and Godhead which is clearly seen through what has been made, and exchange the truth of God for a lie. They have professed themselves to be wise; they have become fools.

And fools find it very hard to live life in God’s created world.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, here’s a Newsweek article on “The Fight for Black Men.” It came to my attention via Ed Stetzer and it is a great read, worth your time and thought. While you might not like the point of the article, and for reasons having nothing to do with racism, it seems true that many people in our society are living life behind the proverbial 8-ball, and “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” just isn’t going to cut it. It may well be systemic in nature.

At second, here’s a free book from Westminster by Iain Daguid entitled Is Jesus in the Old Testament? It’s a popular topic and this is one contribution. I have not finished this short book, but I highlight it as one contribution. I have found a number of things so far to take issue with, and perhaps I will do that publicly some time.

At third, a rather disturbing yet not unexpected article (highlighted by Religious Affections) about how the producers of a movie on Superman are directly appealing to churches to promote this movie. It is truly shameful that movie producers think there are people in the church who will advertise their movie for free. Dear Pastor, if you are going to do something stupid like promote a movie, at least charge the prevailing advertising rates and take a vacation to Hawaii. While you are there, get someone to actually preach the gospel to your church from the sufficient Scripture and take some time to work on your resume, because you should not be a pastor if you do this kind of stuff.

Last is an article by a rabbi about the necessity of religion in society. He laments the dumbing down of atheism in our culture, but acknowledge that no society can maintain civil decency apart from religion. Is he right? Of course he is right. The problem is his solution: it is only partly tethered to reality. The general notion of God can be enough to spur a society on to basic respect and human decency, but it can never provide an firm foundation for life either now or in the hereafter. Let us as Christians be wary of general notions of God as the foundation of human society. While it is true that these are better than atheism, which is ultimately unsustainable and intellectually incoherent, it will never provide what is necessary for the life God created us to live.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Man Up, Boys

A Father’s Day Guest Post by my Wife (It’s a little personal but I like it. So forgive me. I didn’t write it. … And remember, if you are going to be a man don’t blame someone else for stuff.)

Who is teaching our boys of today to be the men of tomorrow?

Social media is splattered with pithy statements of “Just because you are a male it doesn’t make you a man.”

My heart is heavy as I look around our community and realize there are an astronomical number of homes with out a dad these days and so many little ones never know who their “real “ daddy is. Of course, many times when there is a dad present in the home he is often an absentee member of the family for a myriad of reasons…Fatherhood by proxy. There is quite a difference between donorship and ownership; isn’t there?

My heart especially aches for the precious little ones that never experienced the strength and comfort of their daddy’s hand folding around theirs because their mother made a choice. Created in His image and just discarded like common waste. It gives a new and heartsick meaning to one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Oh, what precious precious treasures. Yet, there is a certain comfort knowing that God promised when your father and mother forsake you, the Lord will take you up.

Some fathers, whether in life or death, are promoted to a convoluted form of sainthood. Sometimes because they are missed and memories fade (at least the bad ones) and there is an insatiable need to hold on to the hope that they are in a better place whether they are or not. Sometimes they want what they never had or maybe don’t want to lose what good they did have. Nevertheless, many fathers near Father’s Day achieve merit second only to Superman.

What about my Daddy, you ask? When he passed away there was one word that was reoccurring: Faithful. I know now that was the word he planned on ringing into eternity. Oh, he had a cause for which to be faithful. Faithful to what or to whom? His friends? His work? His church? His child? His wife? The one and only God? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and above all YES! He wasn’t perfect and he never claimed to be. He rested, he functioned, he thrived in the knowledge that he was a poor undeserving sinner snatched up in his Father’s grasp of grace. He taught me what my Heavenly Father looks like—His essence, attributes and character. He opened his heart wide to a little girl that needed the comfort and protection of a home; he provided himself as the example of unconditional love and the longevity and permanency of adoption. That proved useful as I began to appreciate my relationship with God as one of His children. He taught me the power and the patience of prayer. He taught me who my husband would be years before I ever met him … Ironic how they are similar in so many ways. Father’s Day is a celebration but not because of who they are but because of who they are in Christ and what He has done!

As I am writing, my “little man” of 7 years is next door doing yard work for our 80 something-year-old neighbor lady. He wasn’t asked. He wasn’t told. He just offered to help because…well, just because…just because he has witnessed his Daddy countless times help, fix, serve, and honor others without expecting seeking, or even wanting anything in return. I guess you could say, being a man is becoming a family tradition.

We are raising our boys to be husbands one day and ultimately fathers, if God so chooses. And someone out there is undoubtedly raising a little boy that one day will marry our little girl. (A thought that my husband might not want to process yet).

So, please teach your little fella to love God and serve Him with everything that he has; teach him to love his wife as Christ loved the church.

Teach him to be a MAN…a man after God’s own heart! Because we are teaching her to wait for that man.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, Michael Horton writes on pastoral task of study and preaching. He warns against farming out one of the primary tasks of preaching, the task of study. Perhaps there’s a fine line between paying someone directly to do research (“Here’s $X; give me a paper on this passage”) and paying someone indirectly (pulling a commentary off the shelf). But as pastors, we need to guard ourselves against the tendency towards shortcuts by preaching other people’s study.

At second, Phil Campbell at Matthias Media has a good piece on the preaching task here. It is well worth your time. A great many of us regular preaching pastors could stand to be tighter and more focused in our preaching. While you might not resort to manuscripting as Phil does, the thoughts he shares will help towards the much needed goal of clarity in preaching.

At third, a dissertation by Jason Allen comparing the “The Christ-Centered Homiletics of Edmund Clowney and Sidney Greidanus in Contrast with the Human Author-Centered Hermeneutics of Walter Kaiser.” It should prove to be a good read. Related to this is a blog article about the dissertation, which I post mostly for the lengthy comment section showing how people interact about the topic. I think what is highlighted there is a major issue—the difference between typology and allegory. While Greidanus and Clowney disavow allegory, I am not yet convinced that their method does not actually lead one in that direction. But I shall read this dissertation with interest. (When’s the last time you heard that line?)

Last, and well worth making it to the end, Thabiti Anyabwile posts about pastoral wisdom in a great little piece called Everything I Know About Pastoral Ministry I Learned Riding with Pastors. Which reminds me of this: The best wisdom and guidance for just about anything in life does not come from long expositions of ideas, but from short conversations with people who have “been there and done that.”

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Baseball and PEDs

The news of a new scandal, or at least recently discovered scandal, concerning performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball is making its way through the news today. Up to twenty players are involved, some of them actually decent players rather than scrubs trying to make it or old guys trying to hang on.

It’s a travesty that it’s come to this. Baseball records are now like photography. I don’t trust it. Too many ways to photoshop … or juice.

If it were just a modern problem, it wouldn’t matter. But it’s a historical problem. When we compare, say Barry Bonds, to Babe Ruth, it is an issue. Ruth’s PEDs consisted of beer and hotdogs. And he looked like it. It is simply unfair to history to compare Babe Ruth’s statistics to Barry Bonds.

To solve the drug problem, or to at least make a dent in it, MLB needs to hit players where it matters … in the pocketbook.

So in the interest of changing the world and making it a better place, here is my solution to the drug problem:

For the first offense, any player caught using drugs (based on a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt) has an automatic one year suspension, and a mandatory and non-appealable fine, consisting of all baseball related income (contracts, endorsements, etc) over and above the league minimum (currently $490,000) for the next five years. To this fine is added all baseball related income above the league minimum salary for the previous five years. This means that the first offense for a drug violation receives a one year suspension and forfeiture of all baseball related income above the league minimum for ten years (five in the past and five in the future).

So for example, Alex Rodruiguez is slated to make $28,000,000 this year on his contract. Under this plan, he would make $490,000 for the next five years, which means his fine is $27,510,000 this year, in addition to all endorsements, plus the same for the next five years. Plus the same for the previous five years. If A-Rod knew that was the consequence, would he have thought twice before using PEDs? I bet he would have. No performance boost it worth over $100,000,000.

For the second offense, a lifetime ban is mandatory, including the immediate canceling of any contracts. This also includes a ban from the Hall of Fame, from any and all participation in any baseball related functions connected with Major League Baseball, including minor league assignments.

Draconian? Sure. But it sends the right message: Baseball won’t tolerate PEDs, and it will hurt if you get caught.

Now, this won’t bother the hangers on or those marginal player looking for an edge to make it. They are willing to take the chance that they won’t get caught. And if they do, they aren’t losing anything they wouldn’t have had anyway.

But it will tell the world, and the fans, that drugs will not be a part of the game.

Will it happen? Of course not, because the MLBPA (the player’s union) doesn’t want to solve the problem. They never have. And MLB doesn’t have the courage or the leverage to solve it.

But a guy can dream, can’t he?

Help!!

I am in the final stages of my Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (for which my mom and dad will be inordinately proud and my wife will be extremely grateful should I actually finish; my children won’t actually care, which is refreshing and helpful).

As part of the final project, I am conducting research into the preaching planning practices of primary preaching pastors. (The research does not include the predisposition towards or use of alliteration).

Throughout the course of the summer, I am seeking responses to a thirty-two question survey designed to gather information about how pastors plan their preaching. It should take less than a half-hour of your time.

This survey is completely voluntary and anonymous (unless you wish to contact me privately).

There will be no means to track your personal responses to the questions, and your responses will not be used individually unless you make individual comments at various parts of the survey.

They will be compiled into a full report which will be made available here at the conclusion of the project.

So if you are the pastor who carries the bulk of the preaching responsibilities at your church, please consider taking this survey.

In addition, if you have friends or acquaintances who qualify for this survey, please feel free to pass the survey link on to them. I would like to get as many responses as possible from a wide spectrum of pastors.

Thanks for your help. Please let me know if you have any questions.

And feel free to link to this post or repost this link for others to see. You can use the following code if you are willing to link to it from your blog or website.

<a href="https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/preaching_planning_survey">Click here to take survey</a>

Thanks for your help with this survey.

Click here to take survey

Friday, May 31, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, Tim Challies has a funny piece on preaching being like playing. It’s a good one for a quick chuckle.

At second, Jon Jackson asks four questions that are worth some careful thought. I don’t know Jon personally, but he is one of the guys who has moved his family into Detroit to plant a church. And by Detroit, I don’t mean the suburbs. I mean everything you think of when you think of Detroit. May there be more.

At third, Nathan Busenitz has a helpful short article on cessationism, namely, what it is not. Frankly, cessationists get beat up a lot, and mostly by people who just make stuff up, which is fitting coming from charismatics. Okay, that was probably a gratuitous cheap shot, but to say that cessationists don’t believe in the Spirit, or are scared of the Spirit, or don’t believe in spiritual gifts for today, or the like, are just not true. Nathan has done a lot of work in this area. Some of it he has presented at past Shepherd’s Conferences, and they are worth listening to. I would post the link, but I am too lazy and I trust the Spirit will lead you to it through a word of knowledge or prophecy. Otherwise, just Google it.

Last, Brian Croft has a good paragraph on the what makes an effective, powerful preacher. It is certainly true that education and study is necessary for true biblical and powerful preaching. But we dare not trust them alone. These are not sufficient.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dyer: 9 Ways Technology Will Impact Your Future Ministry

Here’s the second part of John Dyer’s talks on technology and culture and ministry. As with the previous, this is worth the thirty or so minutes of your time to watch it, and worth more time to give it some thought.

I will skip the comments this time and let you get right to the video.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

John Dyer on Thinking Theologically on Technology and Culture

John Dyer is the author of From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology, a book on technology and its effects. It is an interesting read.

Here is a talk he did on the same subject at Dallas Theological Seminary that, like the book, is filled with some thought-provoking stuff. The basic premise is that technology affects everything, some in good ways and some in bad ways, but often in ways that we don’t think about or recognize. The downside of this presentation is the technology—you can’t see the screen, which means that you miss some things he is trying to communicate, particularly around 29:30.

Anyway, here are a few highlights.

Projecting the Scriptures on a screen may cause people to stop bringing their Bibles. Bad, right? Except that bringing personal copies of the Bible is a recent thing (50-100 years). And the screen may actually be more in line with church history where there were no individual Bibles, and everyone experienced Scripture in the same way at the same time.

Reading books moved towards individualism because reading a book is something you (generally) do alone.

Verse numbers twitterized the Bible, and thus changed the way that we encounter it, moving away from stories to statements. The words haven’t changed, but the way we read it has.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, here’s a good article about two military doctors, one of whom I happen to have known back in college. On this Memorial Day, it’s a good reminder of men and women who serve. Thanks to all who have served.

At second, here’s an interesting article on ADHD and the US vs. the French. It’s worth a read and worth consideration as to whether ADHD is biological or psychosocial. For a short article, it covers a fair amount of ground.

At third, Larry Osborne chimes in on The Myth of Endless Growth. It’s a though worth having.

Last, Carl Trueman hammers for a bit on Andy Stanley's  "remarkably na├»ve piece of muddled thinking." As usual, Trueman is worth reading.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Quick Hit on Creation and Evolution

RJS is a contributor to Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, who usually writes on matters of science. Today she references a recent survey about pastors and their view of origins, and answers a question about the necessity of the Bible’s view of the fall and redemption. You can read it here, though I will pick out just one section.

There is no more certain fact than the “fallenness” of humankind. We don’t need a single mother, a single father, or a snake to convince us of this. It runs through human experience worldwide. Given a fallen creation (however it got there), we need redemption and a redeemer.

About this she is surely right. We don’t need the Bible’s story to convince us of fallenness. However, we do need the Bible’s story to provide a rational explanation for it. In the naturalistic or evolutionary theories of origins (she distinguishes the two and says naturalism is the real enemy of Christianity), evil exists, but there is no explanation for how it got here.

The universal existence (and recognition) of evil can be explained only by the Bible’s teaching of one man and one woman from whom the human race descended. This is why it is the human experience worldwide and has been from the beginning. All people worldwide find their sinfulness in one man. This is exactly the point of Romans 5:12-21, where the sin of one man is tied inseparably to the redemption by one man. So not only do we find our sinfulness in one man, we also find our hope in one man—the man Jesus, the second Adam, who did what the first Adam did not do.

It is certainly true that true Christians can be evolutionists and deny the historical Adam and Eve. But they cannot do so rationally. They undermine the whole reality that pervades our world and end up grasping at straws. In essence, they have sold the farm in hopes of hanging on to the barn. In the end, they lose both.

While many do not want to make a big issue of either end of the world (creation or eschatology), these things still matter. We best not pretend they don’t.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Questions without Answers (at least for now)

“Why does God do stuff like that?”

Except “stuff” wasn’t the s-word he used when he asked me that question last night about the tornado that tore through Oklahoma this week.

There wasn’t much time for a treatise on the sovereignty of God in a broken world, and he wasn’t looking for information. He, like many, was looking to vent. And so the conversation moved quickly on.

Perhaps you are asking the same question.

The truth is there is no easy answer. There is nothing that will make sense to us. It would be somewhat easier to stomach if a tornado had ripped through a maximum security prison where people are doing hard time for their crimes.

But when it’s a school, a neighborhood of families, churches, schools and the like—people just doing what they did the day before, last week, and last year—then there’s nothing that will really make sense.

We can talk about God’s sovereignty and justice. We can talk about the whole creation groaning together under the weight of the curse. We can talk about the gospel and how eternity is brighter and better, and how brokenness like this makes our hearts yearn for a new creation.

But all that talk will mean little to those who will bury their loved ones this week.

For now, we weep with those who weep. We resist the urge to give answers. Tears speak so much louder and more tenderly.

Where possible, we look for opportunities to serve and love.

We remember that it is God’s mercy that we are not consumed (Luke 13:1-9).

And with poet and hymn writer William Cowper, we rest (however fitfully) in the mystery of God’s sometimes frowning providence.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Radical Minimum Standard

Recently my mind was drawn to a chapter in a book I read a number of years ago. Overall, the book was unremarkable, but the last chapter was worth reading and rereading.

A couple of quotes from the chapter are worth hearing.

“A honest evaluation of the dramatic number of callings that the church has created would reveal that we have found extraordinary ways of describing the overwhelming amount of Christless living in the church.”

And

“In the process of creating a theology that accommodates apathy, disinterest, compromise, and even rebellion, we have lost the essence of the movement for which Jesus died. We made a mistake of making heroes out of those who were simply living a normal Christian life.”

To me, this strikes hard at modern Christianity. Simply put, it seems to me that we have largely lost the mindset of early Christians that we read about in Acts. To quote an old proverb, soft times have made soft Christians. And soft Christians like to take it easy.

There’s some talk going around today about the new legalism of missional living (and a response here), accidental Pharisaism (Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith which comes highly recommended, at least if you consider my friends high).

But it’s hard for me to imagine that the early Christians would have considered our dilemmas to be anything other than, well, inane pursuits of narcissistic immaturity.

The body of Christ, for many, is not the center of our lives. It’s just another social club where we hang out each week. Or whenever, depending on soccer schedules, baseball schedules, sales flyers, holidays, TV shows, movies, the temperature outside, the relative position of the clouds to the sun, the time we managed to crawl in bed on Saturday night, whether or not the game goes into overtime.

The body of Christ is not a place of ownership, but a place of consumption. We go, get a meal (probably more like just snacking a bit), tip the waiter, err, the pastor. And head out to our real lives. You know, the things that start around noon on Sunday.

The mission of God to be disciples and make disciples at high cost to ourselves is less important than whether we ourselves are taking care of ourselves. We have created false dichotomies, saying things like “I need to care for myself right now,” or “I need to take some family time,” or “I need to take care of my marriage,” as if those are things that cannot be done inside normal New Testament commitment to the body of Christ and the mission of Christ.

There’s another old saying, “I would rather burn out than rust out.” I seriously doubt there are many in danger of either.

We seem mostly to float, aimlessly meandering through the meadow of life, deaf and blind to the warfare that it taking place on all sides.

But at least we are comfortable.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Oops! Or What’s in a Name?

Here’s a place for a few laughs, where some pastors are sharing stories of embarrassing moments in the pastoral ministry.

It reminds me of a funeral I did. This lady was a long-time former member who had moved away and they brought her body back for burial. Her daughter and son-in-law were kind and gracious people who sat in the front row of the auditorium for the service where I preached one of my funeral sermons.

One of the first people to pass by me as they filed by the casket at the end was a member of our church, who had been in the church long enough to know everyone for multiple decades. She was the go-to person for names, identities, and history.

With an intense, and not slightly angry look on her face and sound in her voice, she leaned in and said, “I want to know who Helen is.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

She said, “You did that whole funeral for Helen. I want to know who Helen is. Her name is Sarah.”

I said, “No I didn’t.”

She said, “Yes, you did.” And she turned and stormed off (in a funeralistic, paying-last-respects-at-the-casket, stormy way).

So at the funeral dinner, I pulled the son-in-law aside and said, “Did I call your mother-in-law ‘Helen’ during the message?”

He smiled and said, “Yes.”

I said, “I am so sorry. I had no idea I was doing that.”

He laughed. “It’s okay. We thought it was pretty funny.”

I am sure he was just being gracious. I was mortified.

I am glad that the success of a funeral doesn’t depend on burying the right person. So far as I know, dear Miss Sarah is still dead and buried.

At least she hasn’t come back to haunt me.

And Helen is still dead and buried too, though at least she had the decency of actually being buried by name instead of by proxy.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, here’s a great little piece about motherhood, or not. Spend some time meditating on this and how it should equip us to minister to hurting people.

At second, Julian Freeman writes on the Top Mistakes He Makes in Preaching. It is a helpful tool for evaluation. Many of these things (too much study, not broad enough an audience, too long, preaching commentary, giving too much detail) are indications that a preacher loves his message rather than his audience. I think it is a mistake to fall in love with a message. We need to love the audience.

At third, Gretchen Rubin writes about “decoy habits,” the list of “gonna do things” that we never seem to get around to. She says, “Decoy habits are harmful, I think, because they allow us to pretend to have certain aims or values that we don’t really have.” This is probably true in a lot of churches and ministries. The truth is that we never seem to get some things done because we never do them.

And last, just for fun, watch about a minute of this from the 1:08 mark. What’s interesting is how these well-known songs change character by changing their style. If you know the originals (someone told me about them once), then you experience a bit of disconnect hearing these short snippets. And it should make you think a bit about what style does to the effects of music.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

“No One Is Saying That”

When making an argument, sometimes the response comes that “No one is saying that.” That is often (usually) used as an argument against the argument. It is used to shut down argument. It is used to assert a straw man: “You have created an imaginary opponent since no one believes what you are arguing against.”

This may be true, but it is not always true.

One of the tactics of argumentation is to show how someone has not followed their argument to its conclusion. The fact that “no one believes that” may be simply because they have not actually embraced their argument. Thus arguing against a “straw man” is actually a tool that shows the fallacy of the actual “man.”

This is often an apologetic tool. By leading people along the road of their belief and helping them to take the next step, it shows them that they can’t really live by their belief.

It is an exegetical and theological tool as well. By leading people along the road of their theology and showing how the next step is untenable, it helps to call into question the theological road.

So when someone says, “No one argues that,” think carefully about it. But realize that it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker because it is entirely possible that someone should be arguing “that.” They just haven’t gotten there yet.

Monday, May 06, 2013

The Sky is Falling!!! Oh Wait …

Christians are quick to jump on the bandwagon of persecution by evil government forces. As Ed Stetzer has written about several times recently, this is not a good thing. As Christians, we, more than anyone, should be concerned about actual truth.

In keeping with that, I point you to this article about the German family supposedly under threat of jail and losing their children for homeschooling. This article points out a number of fallacies and problems with the narrative that many Christians are following.

It’s worth reading.

And it’s a good reminder not to jump on these bandwagons.

The narrative goes something like this: The Obama administration wants to let 11 million illegal immigrants stay with amnesty, but is trying to deport this poor German family who was suffering religious persecution simply because of their religious beliefs.

The problem is that the narrative just isn’t true.

While Obama wants amnesty of some sort, the Obama administration is reportedly deporting about 50% more illegal immigrants than Bush per month, on average. And the German family isn’t suffering religious persecution, as you can read in the article.

So Christians shouldn’t be repeating the narrative. It’s just wrong.

As the old saying goes, You only have one life and there’s a lot of hills out there. Pick the ones you die on very carefully.

This is not a good one.

Quite frankly, I think Christians look bad with this constant narrative of persecution. It’s particularly troubling in light of history (even current history) where Christians die for their faith in Jesus.

I am pretty sure home schooling wasn’t the mind of Paul when he talked about offering his life up for the cause.

And Jesus didn’t die so you could homeschool your kids.

Which is not to say I have a problem with homeschooling. Every parent is regularly involved in educating their children, whether or not they drop them off at a school building for six or seven hours every day. From the time you get up until the time you go to bed, you are teaching your kids how to think, how to live, how to speak, how to love, how to learn, and thousands of other things. Many parents simply don’t educate very well.

If you choose not to drop them off at a school building, fine.

But don’t confuse that with persecution for following Christ.

Breaking out the DVDs and the workbooks on the kitchen table isn’t denying yourself and taking up your cross.

And the gospel won’t be damaged if this German family goes back to Germany, or to some other country.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Quotable

“It is difficult to find many articles that so richly combine exegetical errors, historical misconceptions, and purple prose in so finely honed a synthesis.”

These are the words of D. A. Carson, in “God is Love” ([BSac] 156: p. 141) in commenting on Gilbert Bilezikian’s “Hermeneutical Bungee-Jumping: Subordination in the Godhead” ([JETS 40] 1997: 57-68).

This is probably not how you want to be cited.

Fortunately for Dr. Bilezikian, it’s in a footnote, and no one reads those anyway, right?

Around the Horn

At first, a Kindle freebie, The Story of John G. Paton or Thirty Years Among the South Sea Cannibals. A while back I read another book on Paton and was greatly challenged. My heroes seem to be the missionary I have most recently read about. In a day of disposable ministry, spending thirty years in one difficult place is going the way of the telegraph. That’s not a good thing. The age of ease and consumerism is not helping longevity and gospel sacrifice.

At second, Carl Trueman brings it strong here when he writes about celebrity (again). As with much of what Trueman writes, there is no further comment needed.

At third, related to this, Lark News writes a great little piece (parody for those who are not familiar) about church conferences. They can make people feel like failures, while inspiring them with hope all at the same time. It’s what Ed Stetzer called ministry pornography—seeing someone else’s church and wishing it was yours.

Last, here’s a short little video worth watching and thinking about, particularly towards the end where he gets into the actual presentation of the gospel and relating it in terms that the hearer can identify with. Whether you like this guy or not, we should strive for clear communication of the gospel in terms that the unbeliever can understand.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Around the Horn

Leading off with two articles on the origin of the universe. In the first, a brief report is given of a speech by Stephen Hawking about the big bang without God. Hawking asks,

“What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”

The answer is no. Hell is a part of creation, and therefore is not something God was doing before divine creation. And hell is not for people who asked such questions. It is for people who have sinned against God.

In the second (part 1 and part 2), Michael Buratovich at BioLogos writes two articles on why biological evolution is good science. Having read this, I am not sure what to say. Is this really all it takes to convince people? Is this kind of stuff (in either article) considered strong?

At third, Shai Linne responds to an response. Shai Linne has a song about false teachers in which he names some, including Paula White. White’s son responds to Shai Linne in defense of his mother. Shai Linne’s response is well done. It is gracious and strong. It is to the point and worth emulating. If you are going to accuse someone of false doctrine and false teaching, come with clear facts. Shai Linne does that.

Last today is a good article on singing in church. It is entitled “Why Men Have Stopped Singing” but it probably applies to all. New songs (whether new because they are lost to time or newly written) should be incorporated into corporate worship. But we should sing them enough to get familiar with them. Remember, just because you (the leader or planner) are very familiar and feel like you are oversinging it, the congregation probably won’t remember it for the first several times.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Required or Not?

Here are two lines from an actual church constitution:

As an act of obedience, born-again believers should be baptized subsequent to their profession of faith in Christ as Savior. (Matt. 28:19; I Cor. 11:23-33; Acts 18:8).

And

Persons who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, and who are in agreement with the doctrinal statement, covenant, and constitution of this church are invited to become members. Baptism by any mode shall not be a prerequisite.

What is interesting is that (1) the doctrinal statement affirms believers’ baptism, (2) church membership  requires agreement with the doctrinal statement, but (3) baptism is not a prerequisite for membership.

This doesn’t seem to work.

If you agree with the doctrinal statement then you agree that you should be baptized after profession as an act of obedience, and failure to be baptized is disobedience.

Yet baptism is not a prerequisite for church membership.

So if you aren’t baptized as a believer, aren’t you disagreeing with the doctrinal statement, and thereby precluded from membership?

Or are you just rebellious and defiant? (Which I presume is worse.)

I am not sure how to parse this. Anyone have any help for me? Does your church practice this way? Do you know how this works in practice?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mr. President, Have You Nothing to Say?

The USA Today reports:

"The president does not and cannot take a position on an ongoing trial, so I won't as well," White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Monday.

Obama is "aware" of the case but it would be inappropriate for the president or White House to weigh in on an ongoing legal proceeding, Carney added.

Huh?

Is this the same president who had no trouble taking a position on the ongoing legal proceeding known as gay marriage? Nobody’s dying over that one. Why wasn’t it inappropriate then?

When a gunman shot up a theatre in Colorado, he spoke up, traveled out there, and met with families.

A gunman shot up a school in Sandy Hook and he still hasn’t stopped talking about that. In fact, he is pushing for new laws because of it.

But when it’s dozens (perhaps hundreds) of little babies and their mothers, he develops lockjaw? Or laryngitis?

When it was Trayvon Martin, the president said if he had a son, it would look like Trayvon.

Guess what, Mr. President. Many of those little babies killed by Gosnell look just like you too.

They never had a chance to don a hoodie or to enroll in school at Sandy Hook. They never saw a movie in a theatre, or even on a DVD.

And there were more of them than Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Trayvon Martin combined. Every day. Day after day.

Yet you can’t bring yourself to speak a word about this horrible atrocity?

Where’s your moral outrage?

Perhaps there isn’t any because this is about abortion rather than guns.

Of course, abortion kills far more people.

Guns killed twenty-six people at one school in Connecticut in December.

Abortion has killed that many since you started reading this. And abortion will continue unabated and unchecked, regardless of the gun laws you get passed.

One reason is because you, Mr. President, won’t speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Gosnell is only part of the problem.

People like you, Mr. President, also part of the problem, perhaps even a bigger part. Gosnell was one man running one operation in Philadelphia.

You have the power of the bully pulpit, the power of legislation, and the power of the media. You have influence over thousands, even millions.

And you think it is inappropriate to speak up when dozens of little African-American and White babies have been brutally murdered after they were born alive?

What good is a voice if you won’t use it to speak up for the least and most vulnerable among us?

What will it take to get you to condemn this modern holocaust?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, this writer sounds a strong note on priorities when he writes about the relationship between church and sports—not professional, but kids.

At second, Dave Doran writes about the grace of God when his son (a high school senior) got hit by a semi-truck going 55 miles per hour. He hits a theme I have spoken of before, namely that God is always good. We sometimes talk about the blessing of God only in the good times. Where do the others come from? Is God not being good when bad things happen?

At third, David Murrow writes about church planting. It’s worth a read and some consideration, even if you don’t buy fully into it. I am in favor of church planting, but a little strategy and partnership is at least worth a look.

And last, here is a really disturbing article about a trial that isn’t getting much publicity. Abortion continues to be a major tragedy of epic proportions. If this story were to get more visibility, it might result in some outrage. It should.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Outrage of Reason

For some reason, I was looking at some old blog articles I had written and came across this quote in a comment from a self-professed atheist in 2008.

"Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason."

--Christopher Hitchens

I had to laugh at the humor of it. The contradiction of science and the outrage of reason are the basic building blocks of the atheism Hitchens professed.

The only reason science works at all in any intelligible fashion is because there is a God who created an orderly world. It outrages reason to assert that all that we see around us is the product of blind chance and randomness.

There is nothing reasonable about atheism.

The only thing that can explain anything is the existence of the Christian God as described in the Scripture.