Friday, March 29, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, Jeopardy uber-champion Ken Jennings clarifies the commonly misused phrase, “That begs the question.” This begs the question, “Do you actually know what it means?” (If you do, you get the irony.)

At second, Bill Combs on the Detroit Baptist Seminary blog points to this good article by my friend Jared Compton on the resurrection. If you don’t have DBTS on your blog reader, add it.

At third, Jonathan Parnell mentions two antithetical things going on right now. You can read his point. Mine is a little bit different: There has never been more Christian media/communication/writing/blogging/preaching/gospel-centeredness/etc than ever before. Has there ever been less Christian influence? Perhaps, but it sure seems that for all our talking, there isn’t much influence.

Closing out today, R. Scott Clark has a good article here on distance education. I continue to be skeptical of it. I think it makes sense primarily from a financial standpoint—meaning schools get your money.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Til The Day She Died She Prayed

A dear godly lady passed this week. She lived a long life, but it wasn’t wasted.

Not even in her golden years.

Especially not in her golden years.

Most of you don’t know Grandma Schaeffer. She wasn’t actually my grandmother. She was the grandmother of my friend. And she was a long time member of the church I spent many of my growing up years in. But through the years, she was just Grandma Schaeffer.

Over the last few months, her health declined, but I am sure her spiritual life did not. I am sure the list of people she prayed for was long. And I was on it.

From the time I left home twenty years ago until the last time I saw her this past Christmas Eve, each time I saw her, which was not very often in recent years, she asked about my church and my family. She wanted to know how things were going, how the family was, how the church was.

And each time I saw her, she assured me that she was praying for me.

I believed her. I was encouraged by it.

I don’t think for one minute she said, “I’m praying for you” like I say it sometimes, which is probably the same way you say it sometimes—because it sounds like the right thing to say and it closes out a conversation so you can move on to other things. It’s a promise that quickly fades from memory.

No, I think she actually prayed for me.

Real prayer.

Regular prayer.

Because that’s the kind of lady she was.

This past Christmas Eve, our family went on a surprise visit to see Grandma Schaeffer at her daughter’s house where she was recuperating. We talked with her for a bit. The kids gave her hugs and sat on her lap. We sang some Christmas carols to her, and the kids recited a couple of verses for her (at least the two kids that can talk did).

I’m glad we did. It’s something I would have regretted if we hadn’t. It was a small act of love for a lady who had done so much praying.

And she seemed to enjoy it.

Then, two weeks ago, she took a turn for the worse. And then, suddenly almost, Old Death came, and took her. And now she’s resting in the bosom of Jesus.

Grandma Schaeffer reminds me that no one is too old, too ill, too immobile, or too far away to minister to others. There are some kinds of ministry that require no face-to-face interaction, no exchange of smiles, or hugs, or material goods. They require no study, no outlines, and no public speaking. In fact, you may rarely even see the people to whom you minister.

You see, the simple ministry of prayer requires none of that. It only requires someone with the willingness to bombard heaven with the names of people in need.

It’s a lesson worth learning.

It’s a ministry worth having.

It reminds me of the great missionary Paul, who prayed all the time, as we can see in his letters to his churches (Romans 1:9-10; Romans 10:1; 2 Corinthians 13:7; Ephesians 1:15-23; Philippians 1:3-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:11; and more).

Why did he pray? Because he believed prayer works.

This same Paul also frequently requested that others pray for him (Romans 15:30; Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2Thessalonians 3:1; and more).

Why did he make such a request? Because he believed that more prayer works.

Too often, “I am praying for you” is a noun. It is just something we say. It should be a verb—something we do. For Paul, it was definitely a verb, and he encouraged others to make it a verb in their own lives.

Would that the world were filled with Grandma Schaeffers spending time in prayer, following both the example and the request of Paul.

Surely the mission of the church would be more fruitful, and the name of God more famous because of simple prayer.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, here’s an article on an encounter between a German fighter pilot and an American bomber pilot in WWII. It reminds us that there is, in most people, a basic sense of humanity connected with the image of God in man. This basic sense of humanity is why many soldiers struggle greatly when they return from war. We certainly need a greater awareness of it, even when we are not at war.

At second, here’s an article “In Praise of ‘The Long Thought’.” I find this resonates with me. Of course, I am guilty of perpetuating it by posts like these. But since you’re the only one who reads here, at least it isn’t affecting a lot of people. And of course, I have hours of reading, study, and thought behind every link I post here. I promise. So the problem is only you.

At third, John Dyer links to a fascinating picture from the announcement of the new pope. My how the time flies. By the way, I recommend Dyer’s book called From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology(Kindle Edition). It is an interesting perspective on how technology affects us.

At the home run, from San Antonio (my favorite place in Texas, mostly because it’s the only place in Texas I have actually been), word comes that Pastor John Hagee has built a $5,000,000 replica of Noah’s Ark. Call me skeptical, but I don’t see this as bringing on the next revival. In fact, I wonder if the $5,000,000 might have been better spent, perhaps on something, say, like sending my family and me to Hawaii for a vacation. In fact, if you send me money, I promise not to build an ark with it. I will instead buy airplane tickets and take my family to Hawaii. If you send enough, I will buy first class tickets so it will feel like riding in an ark, hopefully without the smells. Do you think Hagee spent some of that $5,000,000 on manure, or at least some spray stink to make it more authentic? Surely that would convince more people of the gospel if the ark smells like a barnyard on a hot summer day.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Curious News Sentence of the Week

Tonight, the Allen Park Inter-City Baptist Chargers boys’ basketball team faces off against Southfield Christian in a regional final game. says,

No. 3 Southfield Christian and No.7 Allen Park Inter-City Baptist should collide in what should be one of the best region title games in the state. The teams are 1-1 against each other with both games being decided by one point or less. Christian is the defending state champion and is led by scoring machine Bakari Evelyn.


“Both games being decided by one point or less?”

How much less than one point can you score and still decide a game?

Or better yet, how much non-editing can an editor do and still be an non-editing editor?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, here’s an article by Jim Hamlett on preaching. It addresses the ratio between the Bible and the rest in contemporary preaching. I remember preachers growing up who were story tellers. I remember someone commenting on another preacher saying, “He could tell a good story.” Brother preachers, we need to give serious consideration to the place of the Word in our preaching. The text of the Bible must not be reduced to a mere foundation, or worse yet, a prop. It is the Word of God.

At second, since no sermon is done until you conclude, here’s a good short article on on sermon conclusions. Conclusions probably get less attention than they should. They are looser than they should be. They are probably more shotgun than rifle. And it’s all probably a lack of focus and adequate study. Enough said. (How’s that for a really bad conclusion.)

At third, here’s a funny and good piece on the language we use as Christians. Let’s face it, some of it is just weird.

Winding up, here’s an NPR piece on music which is fascinating. Ryan Martin originally pointed to this. It shows some of the easily overlooked issues in discussions on music. Let’s face it: there’s a lot of stupid stuff that is being said about music. This piece provides some good input.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Saturday Evening Gospel for Preachers

“Evangelism of the humorous type may attract multitudes but it lays the soul in ashes and destroys the very germs of religion.”

Robertson Nicoll quoted in Iain Murray,
The Forgotten Spurgeon, p. 38.

Planning for Easter

Easter is just five weeks away. It is traditionally one of the biggest Sundays of the year for most churches. It holds great potential for the gospel and the church.

So how do we plan our preaching for Easter?

In the beginning of my ministry, I did one of two things in my Easter message. I either concluded a series hitting the capstone on Easter (such as preaching four weeks through Isaiah 53), or I preached a standalone message and returned to a series or started a new one the next week.

In recent years I have changed my approach. Now, I begin a new series on Easter, and the reason is simple.

We have a guests on Easter Sunday.

If I am concluding a series, they will have missed all of it. Chances are, much of what I say will be tied to something I previously said, which they missed. They have no context for the final message. I send a subliminal message that this really isn’t for them. These first-timers, or first-time-in-a-long-timers will probably turn out to be only-timers.

If I preach a standalone message, I miss a great opportunity for a built-in reason to return. I also do something I don’t normally do (which is the downside of Easter programs, cantatas, etc.). My goal on Easter is to make it as normal as possible so that guests know what we are about and what to expect. I don’t want to create false expectations.

By beginning a new series, I give an explicit invitation to come back next week and hear some more. I tell them, “You got in on the ground floor. Now, let’s build it.” The goal is to see them come back to hear more and be confronted multiple times with the claims and the relevance of the gospel. This gives the chance for an extended development of the gospel as it applies to life.

These message series can be part of an expositional series, such as it was for me the year I was preaching in Hebrews. In providence, I saw that I was drawing near to Hebrews 11 around Easter. So on Easter Sunday, I laid a foundation of faith in God as real and a rewarder of those who seek him. Then I built on that foundation through Hebrews 11.

Another year, I began a series entitled “The Story of Life,” in which I took five weeks to preach through the whole Bible. I began with “Creation and Fall,” then “Fall and Effects,” “Redemption and Reconciliation,” “Church and Mission,” and “Return and Restoration.” This is a type of narrative preaching, where the story take center stage, and the goal is to see ourselves in the story. In retrospect, five weeks was too short (or the Bible is too long).

Another year, I began a series entitled “Real Life,” in which I developed various spheres of life from the perspective of the gospel and the resurrection. So I began with “I Don’t Want Your Pity” from 1 Corinthians 15. Then I addressed “Living with Yourself,” “Living with Others,” “Working for a Living,” “How Jesus Meets Us in Real Life,” and “Putting It All Together.” I tried to show each week how the gospel is more than something for Sunday; it changes our real lives, you know, the ones we live between Sunday at noon and the next Sunday at 9:30 a.m. This is a kind of topical preaching, in which I tried to apply the gospel directly to areas of life to show how it changes the way we view things.

This year I am beginning a series entitled “Urban Legends: Is That Really True?” Each week, we will take a commonly believed religious idea and turn it inside out looking for truth. We will address the resurrection, whether or not God helps those who help themselves, if religion really takes all the fun out of life, does Jesus love everyone, and a couple of others. This type of preaching is best categorized as apologetic preaching in which a defense of biblical truth is offered against a challenger.

You will have to decide your own approach and your own series. But I encourage you to give some thought to starting something on Easter.

It gives people a reason to come back, and it maximizes two things that are going to happen anyway: You are going to preach and guests are going to show up.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Around the Horn

At first, Here’s an interesting interview with Justice Clarence Thomas. It’s on the long side at an hour and eleven minutes, but it is interesting in a lot of ways. Particularly interesting are his comments on clarity in writing. They come mostly towards the end, though I didn’t note the time. But among the gems is this: “The beauty, the genius, is not to write a 5 cent idea in a ten dollar sentence. It's to put a ten dollar idea in a 5 cent sentence.” Most preachers could stand a dose of this. And no, the fact that someone can watch a two-hour movie or a four-hour basketball game does not mean that they should listen to you drone and ramble for an hour.

At second, here’s another contribution to the theme of young people leaving church. It’s worth consideration.

At third, several weeks ago I saw an article (now lost) about a message by a charismatic pastor at Desiring God’s Pastor’s Conference. The speaker apparently said that cessationists were scared of the Spirit. I set it aside at the time to write against the idea that everyone who disagrees with something is scared. In the meantime, Eric Davis has written an excellent three-part series on this very issue (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), and it is much more than I would have written. So don’t be afraid. Just give it a chance. You never know. You might get a word of knowledge from these articles.

Coming in last today (or the home run, if you like to spin it that way) is Ed Stetzer’s recent article on the myths about megachurches. I found it interesting and instructive. One of the myths is that megachurches are growing from sheep-swapping. Ed disputes it, saying that only 44% of megachurches are “local church transfers.” If you look at the statistics Ed cites, it turns out that 90% are people with significant connections to church (local transfers, distance transfers, and dechurched). Which helps to remind us that the statistics show that megachurches aren’t growing primarily from conversions. Now, I am not complaining about that. But some people (not Ed) seem to think that megachurches are signs that people take evangelism seriously, and as a result they are really reaching people for Christ while small churches are just lazy and unevangelistic. Turns out, that’s not the case.

Ed also wrote an article about how megachurches are thriving. Some in the comments expressed some reservation, and Dave Doran expressed his reservation here, particularly about what “Christian” and “thriving” means. Ed responded to Dave that he was comfortable with how he used the words, which is, frankly, to miss the point. Being comfortable is not the same as being clear or being accurate. It is much more important to be accurate and clear than to be comfortable. And this points me back to the first link and Clarence Thomas: Write clearly so that people know exactly what you mean, and so that whether they agree or disagree, they do it with knowledge.