Friday, February 22, 2013

Around the Horn

Leading off with a solid single, gives eight ways to engage the culture. It’s easier than you think. In fact, it’s a lot of what thoughtful Christians are already doing, and have been for years. They just didn’t know it was called “engaging the culture.” So keep at it. And call it whatever you want.

At second, Roger Olson gives his perspective on fundamentalists and fundamentalism. He is an outsider, and not a sympathetic one. This is a follow up to his article about why he is not a liberal Christian. One value of an article like this is that it shows just how broad fundamentalism is to outsiders. And it shows just how useless the term can be around some.

At third, here’s a good short piece about word studies. Word studies make legitimate contributions to the study of the Bible, but only when done legitimately. Take heed to this.

The home run today is erstwhile celebrity-(don’t)-wanna-be Carl Trueman talking about Tim Tebow and the world we live in. It’s worth a read, if for no other reason than to see Trueman invoke a “homicidal foot fetishist” in the cause of cultural transformation. I had no idea they existed. In fact, I am not even sure I know what one is. And that is probably a good thing. But I sense Trueman is not praising them, whoever they may be.

It’s also worth a mention that spring training is is full swing, which means that Cleveland is officially out of the pennant race.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lizards on the Loose

I know most of you don’t like golf (sanctification is progressive though), and probably fewer of you like lizards (though I hear a little ketchup and some green peppers and onions help them go down okay).

But go here, push play, and watch the background.

Church Works Media

Many of you might be familiar with Church Works Media.

Even if you don’t know the name “Church Works Media” you might have heard hymns like “His Robes For Mine” or “My Jesus Fair.” Or you might have heard of the “Gospel Meditations” booklets (for Women, Men, and Missions, and some to come I think).

All of these (plus more) are part of the excellent ministry resource known as “Church Works Media,” headed up by my friend, Chris Anderson along with Joe Tyrpak.

Starting this week, the site has been redesigned and relaunched with some new features, including a team blog. This blog will include some excellent writers and thinkers, along with me. I promise to write. Others will no doubt cover the excellence and the thinking.

I encourage you to check out CWM and add it to your blog reader.

If you haven’t yet, incorporate some of these songs into your repertoire. You can download PDFs of the songs for free. Octavos are available for your choir. A new CD has just been released for purchase and soon will be available on ITunes I think.

Check it out, and pass the word along to some friends.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Three Shaping Factors in Sermons

Pastors, as we approach our weekly sermon preparation, let me suggest three factors that should shape every message.

First, the text itself should shape the message. The text sets boundaries for a message. A biblical message always accurately explains the text, and is limited by the text. The text draws boundaries around the possible sermon subject and themes. If you don’t know what the text says, and what it means, then you aren’t ready to move on yet.

Second, the “big idea” should shape the message. Any given text only has one meaning. But it may have multiple implications, and almost unlimited applications. We should recognize that we cannot say everything that could be said about a text in a single message (or at least should not say everything that can be said, though I have heard a few attempts, and probably committed that sin a time or two). It is necessary to single out a theme and a big idea, and then preach that. That means some things are going to be left unsaid, at least for now. We must be willing to leave some stuff on “the cutting room floor.” On the upside, it may mean that you can use the same text and the same exegetical work next week to preach a different theme and a different big idea. For instance, a message on Exodus 3 might focus on the faithfulness of God in his character. It might focus more on the response of people to the faithfulness of God. It might focus on God’s sovereign control over history. A single message should not focus on all three, however. Focus on one idea. Save something for later. As Bryan Chapell says, “How many things is a message about? One thing.” As Larry Rogier says, “I am going to be here next week anyway, so I will preach that then.” (Only one of those sayings is worth writing a book about though.)

Third, the audience should shape the message. In the course of preparation, you need to imagine the audience that will be sitting in front you. That’s right, the actual audience. See faces. See couples. See families. See enemies. See guests. See people you saw in the coffee shop, the park, or the diner who might show up. Think of conversations you have had. Think of conversations you need to have. Think of conversations you would like to have. Think of the questions they would ask. Think of the things that would cause them to crease their brow and cock their head to one side. Think of the things that would cause them to say, “No way.” Anticipate their unbelief, and then address it. As a general rule, I am thinking in terms of preaching to “just below the midline.” I am not trying to impress the most knowledgeable, though I might have something in there for them. I am not trying to impress the least knowledgeable, though I want to be clear. I am trying to preach to the majority of people. That means I am going to assume a mid-line of maturity and understanding, and then stay around there or just to the simpler side of it. If you do that, you will probably find (as I have found) the greatest impact.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Favorite Reagan Joke

Ronald Reagan was a great story teller and jokester. Here’s a good sample.

One of my favorites begins at about 4:53 where he tells the story of a Russian commissar who went to a collective farm to check on the crops.

It’s worth a listen if you having a bit of a slow afternoon. Or even if you’re not.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, Thom Rainer gives Ten Reflections on a Decade of Church Consulting. There is some thought-provoking stuff here. 

At second, here’s a good use of 26 minutes and 35 seconds. It’s the speech at the National Prayer Breakfast given by Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon. It’s worth watching, not for the spiritual content (there’s very little), nor for the dramatics (there is almost none), but rather for the style (always learn from communicators of all kinds), and for the content (is it convincing to you? What would make it more convincing?). 

At third, here’s a comparison of answers to a question about rebaptism. One is from a paedobaptist (one who baptizes infants) and one from a credobaptist (one who baptizes only believers). There are a lot of good reasons not to be a paedobaptist and this article exposes many of them. The credobaptist answer is a good one. By the way, you should remember that many paedobaptists don’t believe that babies are saved when they are baptized sprinkled (which makes me all the more curious as to why do it). Presbyterians who baptize infants do so for a different reason than Catholics who baptize infants. Please don’t confuse them. Presbyterians are our brothers, even if they are disobedient to the command to baptize.

And last, here’s a good discussion between Ligon Duncan and Thabiti Anyabwile about baptism. I am a Baptist by conviction, but it’s good to here a discussion about it.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Spirit of the World

The Bible talks about believers avoiding worldliness. But there is a lot of a confusion about worldliness. I don’t intend to try to settle that confusion here, but I suggest as a starting point this definition from my friend:

Worldliness is fallen values expressed in culture.

Here’s a helpful comment from Francis Schaeffer:

The Christian is to resist the spirit of the world.  But when we say this, we must understand that the worldspirit does not always take the same form.  So the Christian must resist the spirit of the world in the form it takes in his own generation. If he does not do this, he is not resisting the spirit of the world at all. (Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There)

It seems, at least at times, that some believers are fighting the worldliness of a world that no longer exists. This is because they fail to recognize what Schaeffer says, and what we see all around us—that culture changes as people express their values.

Fallen values are not always expressed in the same way. Therefore, worldliness is not always the same.

Believers must avoid worldliness. But we must give careful thought to what it actually is. Otherwise, we will avoid things we don’t need to and embrace things we should not.

Monday, February 04, 2013

I Admit It … I Feel Violated

So I watched a bit of the Super Bowl last night.

(Not sure I am allowed to say that, what with trademarks and copyrights and all. If you never hear from me again, it is because the NFL filed a lawsuit to shut me down for using their property.)

But I watched some of the game, when I wasn’t talking about more important stuff like taxes, house maintenance, guns, and other man stuff. And eating chili, meatballs, pizza, wings, nacho chips and queso, chocolate brownies, chocolate cupcakes.

And drinking water, because I am a devout health nut who refuses to defile my body with junk food like pop/soda/coke (depending on what part of the country you are from; gotta be inclusive you know).

Then I saw the Paul Harvey commercial. And I was riveted to it. It’s the only commercial I actually paid attention to.

In it was the greatest recorded voice of all time with a beautiful, sentimental (and probably a bit blasphemous) little thing about farmers. It was heart-warming, inspiring, and at the end, it made you want to run out and hug a farmer, and get some milk from him to wash down the chocolate brownies.

Right up until the last image of truck.

And then I felt dirty.

I felt used.

I felt violated.

All this beautiful stuff and I was being sold a truck?

All these farmers God created were just unwitting salesmen to sell a truck to a group of people whose farming experience ended in the third grade when their antfarm and tomato-plant-in-a-dixie cup both died in the same sad weekend.

And it makes me think about the emotional impact of rhetoric.

When Paul talks about using cleverness of speech for the gospel, I think he is talking about this very kind of thing.

No, I don’t think Paul cares whether or not Dodge sells trucks or not.

I think Paul cares about whether we play on people’s emotions about one thing and then ask them to do something totally unrelated to it.

Every week, pastors stand up and preach. We use stories, word pictures, explanations, poems, and just plain old speech to try to explain the Word to people and convince them that they need to respond.

And we are tempted to think, how can I get the people emotionally involved, so that they will see how significant this is. So we are tempted to resort to sad stories that play on people’s emotions, make them cry, and whip them into a frenzy. We have video intros and outros, cool lighting, humor, street talk, or philosophical talk, and a host of others things.

About the only thing we don’t have is Paul Harvey talking about farmers.


Some of these things may show a lack of trust in the simple stories of life in Scripture and the simple explanation of the gospel. We use emotional appeals through stories because we don’t think the Scriptures are enough. Scripture has plenty of stories, and some are heart-rending. So use them.

Don’t get cute. Don’t be clever.

Be different.

As pastors, it is vital to the Word ministry in the church that we avoid cleverness of speech. It may not always be clear exactly where that line is, but we must constantly be aware of it, and refuse to cross it.

Pastors, don’t pitch trucks to city dwellers with an incredible voice telling a great story.

Just When You Think …

Just when you think you have seen or heard it all, someone comes along to move the line once again.

Scot McKnight links to this video of a guy who tried to communicate the prophetic ministry of Isaiah. You can’t make this stuff up.

It is hard for my small mind to imagine that a lame knock-off of Frank Sinatra sung to a piano in a church with a great pipe organ does justice to the seriousness of Isaiah’s message.

I would think being a naked prophet would be bad enough without doing this in memory of your experience.

What kind of thinking spawns this kind of “ministry?”

Saturday, February 02, 2013

An Interesting Parallel and the Gospel in the OT

There is an interesting parallel in Exodus 2:11-21. It’s not one I have seen emphasized elsewhere, so I offer it with caution. Nonetheless, I think it is helpful.

As you might know, stories in the Bible are often arranged to highlight differences and similarities. A key example of this is the interposition of Genesis 38 between Genesis 37 and 39. At first, the story of Judah (in Genesis 38) seems out of place, like a break in the story of Joseph. When it is read in its context, it shows a stark contrast between two men, Judah and Joseph.

So in Exodus 2, there are two stories that present a contrast between how Moses is treated by two groups of people—his own (both Israel and Pharaoh) and strangers (Midianites). Notice the following chart.

Exodus 2:11-15

Exodus 2:16-22

Acts of Deliverance

Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came to draw water and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them and watered their flock.

Highlighted Conversations

He went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, "Why are you striking your companion?" But he said, "Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and said, "Surely the matter has become known." When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moses.

When they came to Reuel their father, he said, "Why have you come back so soon today?" So they said, "An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock." He said to his daughters, "Where is he then? Why is it that you have left the man behind? Invite him to have something to eat."

Divergent Outcomes

But Moses fled from the presence of Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.

Moses was willing to dwell with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses. Then she gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, for he said, "I have been a sojourner in a foreign land."

In both stories, Moses plays the part of a deliverer, something that becomes significant later on in the story.

In both cases there are conversations which take up a relatively short amount of actual time (narrated time), but make up a large percentage of the story (narrative time). In the first story, the conversation is 63/160 words (39%). In the second story, the conversation is 71/153 (46%).*

What this ratio indicates is that Moses, the author, wants to highlight these conversations as significant, even though they would have passed relatively quickly in the time scale of the events. So he slows down the pace of the story to get us to think about this particular part of it.

It is also notable that Moses skipped many things that would be interesting to know, like where was the beating taking place, or how did the word get out, or how long had Moses been out observing the Israelites, or what exactly what Reuel’s religious role as a Midianite priest, and many other things.

Instead, Moses highlights how his own people received him as opposed to how foreigners received him. And he does it by recounting these conversations.

On the one hand, the slaves, desperately in need of a deliverer, question and reject the one who tries to help, and the deliverer flees the family structure (the Israelite community).

On the other hand, Reuel (the father of these Midianite shepherdesses in need of deliverance) questions and receives the one who tries to help, and the deliver becomes a part of the family structure.

Now, at this point, we can see obvious parallels to Christ who “came to his own and his own did not receive him.”  They desperately needed a deliverer, but rejected him much in the same way, by asserting that he really wasn’t sent by God (cf. John 5 and 8). And so Christ went to the foreigners, the outsiders, and began the church, built by Christ from people of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation through their belief in him as their deliverer.

Is this a legitimate Christo-centric meaning?

Well, I am open to being persuaded, but I am, as of yet, not entirely comfortable with it for these reason:

  1. It’s not exegetical. It doesn’t arise out of this text.
  2. There is no indication that Moses understood this as foreshadowing of Christ.
  3. No Israelite entering the Promised Land (Moses’ original audience) would have made that connection.
  4. No Israelite for the next 1500 years would have made that connection.
  5. Meaning must arise out of what the original author intended his original audience to understand, believe, or do. There is no indication in this text that Moses wanted his readers to read this story and believe in Jesus. He rather wanted them to understand something about their history, that would prepare and encourage them for their future.

Whether or not it is legitimate typology depends largely on how one views typology. I won’t write on that here since it is a longer discussion on top of this already long post, but let me add a few quick thoughts:

  1. Typology works by using a real experience to point to a greater, also real, future experience.
  2. Moses likely was a type of Christ, identified in the NT (Hebrews 4:1-6: Jesus was … as Moses was).
  3. The experience of Moses is recapitulated in Christ. Christ's experience is both similar to and greater than Moses’ experience, (but we only know that because we know the end of the story; Moses didn’t know that).
  4. Israel, both entering the Promised Land and for years to come, would constantly find themselves needing a deliverer. And they would often treat these deliverers (judges, prophets, and kings) with contempt  when they came. Ultimately, they would reject their greatest deliverer, and they live in rejection to this day because of it.
  5. So Moses reminds Israel, on the eve of the Conquest, that God used a man with a checkered past who was an outsider of sorts to deliver them. They hated him at times, questioned him at times, doubted him at times, and wished they could go back to Egypt. But God was still at work, never forgetting them, always remembering his covenant. And when they cried out to him, he would always show up (Exod 2:23-25). And they should know that in the years to come, God would remember his covenant, not because they were good and faithful, but because he is good and faithful.

So how would I preach this Christologically? Having told the story, highlighting the compassionate heart of Moses and his checkered background (outsider, murderer, fugitive, married-to-a-foreigner father,forgotten-for-forty-years shepherd), and having reminded us that we know God uses this kind of person to lead his people out of Egypt, I might conclude with something like this:

  1. Put yourself in the place of these Hebrew fighters: How would you respond to Moses? Would you be antagonistic? Would you be receptive? Would you be arrogant and self-sufficient?
  2. Put yourself in the place of these Midianite shepherdesses: How would you respond to Moses? Would you be appreciative, yet so consumed with your life you forget to respond appropriately? Would you be thankful and gracious towards him?
  3. Put yourself in the place of Moses: You have a checkered past. Is there hope for you?
  4. Now put yourself in the place of you: You have a checkered past. You have a deliverer. Like these Hebrew fighters, you think Jesus is an outsider, who doesn’t know what it’s like to be you. You get a little mad when Jesus comes along and shows you you can’t deliver yourself. Like these Midianite shepherdesses, you are pretty busy with your life, and you receive the blessings of a deliverer without appropriate respond.How do you respond to him?

Why is this not allegory? Because the events are real, and because I am not attempting to draw a one-for-one comparison to the story. You are not the Hebrew fighters, the Midianites, or Moses.

Why is this not moralism? Because the grace of this passage is a deliverer outside of ourselves, namely Jesus who was greater than Moses. Having heard this greater deliverer, do not harden your hearts as they did (Hebrews 4:1ff.)


*These statistics use the NASB as its base translation.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, here’s 10 Mistakes Preaching Pastors Need to Avoid. I am not sure there are ten different things here, since some are virtually the same. When you preach every week (usually multiple times a week), it it inevitable that you will make mistakes, both in wording, in content, and in approach. But this list helps us to think about some things we can minimize.

At second, here’s a fascinating blog I came across this week. In fact, I had a hard time closing it to move on to something else. Wayne Hale had a career at NASA, and was involved in the Challenger disaster in 2002. Here, he recounts lesson from his career at NASA, particularly the Challenger disaster, in a fascinating way. It is worth reading.

At third, here’s an interesting interview with a pastor’s wife who used to be a lesbian university professor. What is particularly interesting is the things she says about evangelism. It’s worth the hour or so it takes to watch it (or just listen to it if you are doing something else, because the visual doesn’t add much).

And lastly, here’s a nice article about my friend and soccer coaching partner Mark Kraatz. Give it a read.

And the good news: Opening day is just two months away.

Own It then Explain It

Yesterday in the Senate Confirmation hearings for Defense Secretary,  nominee Chuck Hagel committed a major error. Unfortunately, it is a common one—failure to own up to mistakes of the past.

In a heated exchange with Senator John McCain, Hagel refused to answer “Yes or No” to McCain’s question about the surge in Iraq. Hagel, at the time, had been opposed to the surge, as were many others. And there were some legitimate reasons to be. It wasn’t like they were arguing for a flat earth.

However, the surge worked.

Now, McCain was asking Hagel to say whether he had been right or wrong on the surge. Hagel refused, choosing in good senatorial fashion, to filibuster the question.

McCain several times requested a simple yes or no, and gave permission for Hagel to follow up with his comments. Hagel still refused.

Hagel said he would let history make the determination about whether he was right or wrong.

Apparently, Hagel is not aware that history has already made that determination.

What Hagel should have done was own his judgment. He should have said, “Yes, I opposed it. And the outcome showed I was wrong. But I opposed based on my best judgment at the time, a judgment with which many people agreed. Here’s what we learned from that.”

With that, the issue would have been off the table. But it wasn’t. So today, and probably for a bit to come, the issue will be in the news, along with a  host of other problems in the hearing.

As leaders, we make mistakes. We are prone to misjudgment about events of the future. Some are avoidable. Some are not.

You see, leaders have to make decisions, and it almost always with 80-90% of the information. You never have 100%. And you should be very wary of making decisions with less than 60-70%, so far as you can tell. If you don’t have any unanswered questions, you aren’t ready to decide. You haven’t thought deeply enough yet.

So mistakes in judgment are inevitable. As a leader, you will make them.

Here’s the key: As leaders, we must own those mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

This is what enables us to lead out of mistakes. People under leaders can sense a filibuster, an excuse, and arrogance. They can also sense a genuine leader who isn’t afraid to say, “I was wrong. Let’s learn and get it right next time.”

You will usually get a few passes on mistakes (though you won’t get a lot).

It is foolish to give an answer like Hagel’s. Those around you will no longer trust you when they can see what you so plainly cannot see. They might offer outward respect when you are in the room, but when you are gone, there will be no respect. They will not have your back. And they will not follow you.

So when it comes to mistakes in the past, own them. Everyone knows you said it, or did it.

Then explain why you did it (if you have a good reason; just don’t make excuses and rationalize).

Then explain what you learned from it.

Then move on.