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.