Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Who wants Old People in the Church?

This week I have another post up over at Christians in Context entitled "Who Wants Old People in the Church?"

In our age, it is quite common to view the elderly as passé and unequipped to respond to new trends like development in technology, emerging ideas and shifting values. Youth and vitality are prized against the wisdom that can come with age. It is the cult of youth, and you can find it in the church. The push today is for young pastors to revel in being unbalanced towards Generation X or younger. It is sad when church leaders then set no goals in correcting the imbalances as if older people are poison to the church.

All things being equal in the Biblical mandates for a church, young people typically choose young people to be around. Even a church meeting the Biblical marks can turn younger people away if too much gray hair is present. But can we be more balanced and see value of every generation? In this post, what I would like to do for the reader is commend to them why elderly are vital in the life of the church today... 
Far too many blog posts have been written on the value of church planting and starting afresh with the new, hip and young than have been written about ministering to those closer to the end of life. Older generations are often rightly challenged to accept the younger in church life while few, if any, issue challenges in the reverse. I hope this post offers a small correction to that imbalance... 
Young people can benefit from the wisdom age brings. Older individuals can benefit from youthful exuberance and energy. Old generations, just as much as the young, can be powerfully reshaped by God’s Word if the Spirit is at work. 

Here are the seven reasons I think a church can benefit from the elderly in its midst:
(1) Opportunities for mentorship.
(2) Mutual care for one another in the body.
(3) Opportunities for younger generations to use their gifts.
(4) Children treasured as a gift. 
(5) Prayer warriors and encouragers. 
(6) A Bible that is alive.
(7) Honesty and familiarity with the realities of the end of life. 

Read the rest here as I unpack them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Are we Trinitarian enough?

Last week, I posted a series of wise quotes from Sinclair Ferguson, including this one which has stuck with me:

"We actually think that the Holy Trinity is the most speculative and the least practical doctrine of our theology. But those who are wiser than we, believe it is the least speculative and the most practical. And the one who most believed that was of all the theologians... was the Lord Jesus Christ." 
But also this one along the same lines:
"The reason that most of us as evangelicals have so little time for the early fathers is because we would never be so worked up about Christology as they were and we would never be so worked up about the Trinity as they were. Which means if its true we are the ones verging on heresy."  --Sinclair Ferguson

Why is it today that of all the topics that evangelicals spend so much time discussion, meditating on an policing our Biblical understanding, we give the least amount of time to one of the most central matters of orthodoxy: The Trinity? 

Ask most Christians and they can give you Biblical arguments for a wide range of topics and a host of subjects. But when it comes to a simple Biblical explanation and reflection on the Trinity--there is little meditation or consideration into his practicality for all areas of doctrine.

Of course, or doctrinal statement reflect an understanding of the Trinity. In our written confession we articulate the Trinity. But is the average really Trinitarian in a way that shapes their theology, their thinking, their prayers and meditations and their heart?

Even more we love debating positions on alcohol, sex, abortion, and a whole host of topics that are important issues to take stands on. But we rarely enjoy talking about the Trinity.

Our are prayers sufficiently Trinitarian? Do we consider our communion to be with the Triune God? Do we see how each of the persons work distinctly in the accomplishment and application of redemption? Do we see together their unity in the work of salvation--so that taken as a whole the work is indivisible?

Is our worship and practical devotion shot through with Trinitarian thinking? Does uniqueness of God's Trinitarian being enrapture our heart?

The Trinity should be like jet propellant to how we think, act and worship as evangelicals--as Christians. It seems to me we are contented in our day to relegate to a statement on the page of our doctrine but necessarily something that courses through our veins. Our thought-life and devotional life should be such that that if pricked, we would bleed the Trinity. This then begs the question: are we really as God-centered and gospel centered as we claim to be?

How can be better recover this centrality of the Trinity in our doctrine and in our life?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Request: Make this Video

Anyone out there who is good with video, is creative and a bit artsy? Please make this into a YouTube video:
What is "the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism"? We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest to his forefinger, demanded without preface: "What is the chief end of man?" On receiving the countersign, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever" --"Ah!" said he, "I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!" "Why, that was just what I was thinking of you," was there joinder. 
It is worth while to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow up to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God. So apt, that we cannot afford to have them miss the chance of it. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it."
--B.B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings, vol 1, p.383-84

I can see this in my head but don't have the video skills (equipment or money) to produce it. 

I can imagine this wild west looking town. 

Here's how I propose the script go:
Classic western. Guns slingers. A mustached guy in a sombrero popping up behind the watering trough with his six shooter. Some guy on the roof with his long rifle. Smoke rising from the barrel as you hear the crack of the rifle.

Pan to a shot of officer's boots walk aside of a building towards the main street. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. A steady rhythm of walking. Move to a wide shot as the officer steps out from along side the building. He pauses and surveys the dangerous situation--camera angle from behind his head as he turns slightly to survey. With barely a pause he begins again and walks straight out in the street. He turns and proceeds down the center of the street.

You can see a crowd running along the sides of shops as there is a growing fear and people grab items and run. It is a bit chaotic and riotous. No one ventures into the street except the soldier.

As the officer walks down the street, off the side the only other man in the street but not in the crowds who are fearfully staying close to the shops, there is a tall strong man. At first glance, he almost looks like an outlaw with his rough exterior and exuding confidence. He walks upright head held high--like a man on a mission.

He passes the officer and their eyes lock. Camera angle from above: as they have passed the outlaw looking fellow turns, moving to the center of the street.

The army officer turns. They lock eyes. Camera angel from under the boots of one of the men as the stair  at each other. The impression is that there is about to be a gun fight--the crowds hush. Women pull their children close shielding their eyes from the impending violence.

Close camera angle on the officer and he looks like he is about to get gritty.

Army officer: "what is the chief end of man?"

Quite movement of camera to zoom in on the other man.

Tough-looking fellow: "To glorify God and enjoy him forever"

Army officer, facing becoming light and joyous: "Ah! I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!" 
Tough-looking fellow: "Why, that was just what I was thinking of you," 

The two men grasp in a firm shake as they grab each other's forearms. 

The camera angle pans upward, the words 'The Westminster Shorter Catechism' as a deep announcer voice says: "It is worth while to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow up to be men."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Evangelical Sex Challenges

Over at Christians in Context, I have a post up about Evangelicals and our sex challenges. Specifically, the 'sex challenges' that Scripture gives of abstain for a time for prayer is the one that pastors never mention. Here's an excerpt:

Spend any amount of time in the evangelical world or blogosphere and you have probably run across a sex challenge of some kind. I have seen the challenges come in the 7-day, 10-day, and 30-day varieties. Their basic common trend is: have sex ____ number of days in a row to revitalize your marriage. In the last week or so several prominent pastors have published books on sex further adding to the evangelical preoccupation with the topic. 
Sex challenges, along with preaching through Song of Solomons, are often propagated as means by which one can grow the church. After all, since the world cares about sex, it needs to know that God and church care about sex. Sex challenges, the paragon of  niche marketing, can miss the need to minister to the least among us. I fail to see how the challenges aid the parentless child brought to church by their grandmother, the widow grieving the loss of a spouse, or the aging who just worry if they can faithfully care for their spouse up to end. 
Even more, in our zeal for sex challenges, evangelicals miss the one sex challenge that Scripture actually does give us: the challenge to abstain for prayer. Scripture clearly states: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5)” 
When was the last time you heard a pastor challenge a zealous young couple deeply passionate in their intimacy that they might mutually agree to take some time off for a season of prayer together? It makes me wonder: in our zeal to recover Biblical sexuality have we lost the balance of Scripture? What if prayer can do more for your marriage?
Read the rest here. I make that case that I am not against healthy marital intimacy. Instead, it is rather telling though that 1 Corinthians 7:5 and abstaining for prayer is marked missed in today's evangelical world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wisdom from Sinclair Ferguson

Last week I listened to Sinclair Ferguson's seminar "Preaching the Word: Reflections at Sixty." It was a joy to listen to the reflections on ministry, theology and hear stories about John Murray, William Still, John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

One thing he noted as a common thread between the godly pastors was that despite all their great differences in education and background they were men of deep and broad prayer lives. Deep as they prayed but broad in the number of people they prayed for over the years.

Here are some of the quotes I jotted down:

"The most difficult thing to get the evangelical church to do is to pray." 
"Most of us waste most of our time reading books that are at best third rate. Why? Because they are cutting edge, because they are now, because people are postmodern today. The result: we know all about postmodern people but we are very shallow on understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ." 
"The reason that most of us as evangelicals have so little time for the early fathers is because we would never be so worked up about Christology as they were and we would never be so worked up about the Trinity as they were. Which means if its true we are the ones verging on heresy." 
"We actually think that the Holy Trinity is the most speculative and the least practical doctrine of our theology. But those who are wiser than we, believe it is the least speculative and the most practical. And the one who most believed that was of all the theologians... was the Lord Jesus Christ." 
"A firing of one's devotion in these areas leads to the profoundest applications." 
"Often lacking in our ministry is our Christ is not big enough to propel the indicatives in our lives." 
"When people say your not practical enough the real problem is probably that you are not being Christocentric enough; not being Trinitarian enough. Because being real practical is not a matter of saying here are three things you need to do, being really practical is so exalting God, the Trinity, the work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that people are carried out into practical application."

He spoke generally about the lack of depth in preaching. He noted he often goes to seminaries and preaches and is complemented on what depth he brings but then thinks to himself, he'd dare not tell them he preached that a few weeks ago at his church in an evening service. To me, it was the testimony to how much a pulpit ministry can grow in a church.

He had a few good comments about mentoring and pouring your life into someone as was done to him.

He remarked on his education in Scotland under professors who were unbelievers teaching Hebrew and higher critical theory but not loving the Bible and the God of the Bible. It was a challenge to his seminary audience not to take their education for granted, particularly the joy of learning Hebrew under men who love the God's Word believing it is written in Hebrew.

He also make remarks about catechisms as a 'velcro' or a grid to lay down thoughts on for deeper growth (AMEN! Motivated me to keep working the catechism with my girls).

He pointed out that a young man in Calvin's Geneva, with all the Catechizing that was going on in the Reformation, would have a better understanding of doctrine and Scripture than the seminary graduate today.

He also remarked that Romans and John's Gospel are sort of the catechism of the NT--they lay the thought pattern of major categories of doctrine. He remarked that what Romans does for redemption/salvation, John's Gospel does for Christology.

He encouraged Christians to outline books of the Bible and not just read them for 'what they are saying to us' in a sort of autobiographical way.

I particularly appreciated his remarks about seminary professors and pastors. He said something to the effect of 'don't go to be a seminary professor thinking its a step up--it's really a step down from the pastorate.' In fact I once wanted to teach in college or seminary and often thought of it as 'a step up' and more 'noble' particularly because of the scholarship involved. Yet, God's higher offices are in the church.

I loved what he said when he quipped: 'the difference between the seminary professor and a pastor is this: a seminary professor is like a magician. He stands of stage and dazzles people by putting the swords into the box' Then on the struggles of the pastorate: 'the pastor is the guy in the box, having the swords put into him'.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Holy Spirit's Job

I've been thinking about posting on the role of the Holy Spirit to glorify the Son and not to glorify himself. Just as the Son humbled Himself to glorify the Father (and the Father thereby exalted him) the role of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Son. As it relates to spiritual gifts, the role of the Spirit is not to glorify himself with his presence but to glorify the Son by forming God's people into one body. This is why, as Edwards taught, the distinguishing marks of the Spirit of God are not the excitement that accompany's conversion but the lasting change of character in fruit of the Spirit.

I was planning to right the post, and then I read this by Dan Phillips:

But there is one point of analogy [to Ed McMahon pointing out Johnny Carson and not himself as the star], and one only: the delight and joy of the Holy Spirit is not to train attention upon Himself. The Holy Spirit's great love, fascination, and focus, is the Lord Jesus Christ. 
Before the Incarnation, the Spirit moved in the prophets. And of what did He speak through them? Among other things, He spoke of the sufferings of Christ, and of His glories to follow (1 Peter 1:11).
The Holy Spirit performed the miracle by which the virgin, Mary, became mother to the human nature of the Messiah (Matthew 1:18,20Luke 1:35). He appeared at Jesus' baptism, not to flutter in mid-air while until everyone noticed and admired Him, but to rest on Christ, to mark Him out as Yahweh's anointed (Matthew 3:16; cf. Luke 4:18). 
And so the power of the Spirit continued in the ministry of Jesus, to guide Him in what He did (Matthew 4:1), and to bring glory and honor to Jesus, marking Him as God's Son (Matthew 12:28Acts 10:38). This He did preeminently in Jesus' resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). 
And what would the Spirit do after Christ's resurrection and ascension? More of the same. "He will glorify me," Jesus says of the Spirit, "for he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:14). It is worth repetition: "He will glorify me." In fact, the Greek is a bit more emphatic: "That one, Me will He glorify." The Spirit will come to bring glory, and it is to Jesus that He will bring this glory. 
Imagine that. God though He is, personal though He is, the Spirit's aim is not to glorify Himself. It is to glorify Jesus. And how does the Holy Spirit do that? By imparting inerrant revelation to the apostles, revelation which we have today in the Bible alone. He did this by granting them inerrant memory of Jesus' words (John 14:26), by bearing witness to them about Jesus (John 15:26), by convicting the world of truths related in each case to Jesus (John 16:8-11), and by continuing to tell them the "many things" that Jesus still had to say to them (John 16:12-13). Jesus emphasizes this last point, assuring the apostles that the Spirit would not speak aph' heautou, from Himself, but rather from Jesus. 
When the Holy Spirit wrote a book, what was it about? At least one has to confess that the Holy Spirit's recurrent theme, strain, melody, was the person and work of Christ (Luke 24:25-2744-46Acts 3:1810:43;24:1426:22-23). If I may put it this way, you could almost re-title the New Testament "Here's Jesus."

It should be a solemn reminder to us that the role of the Spirit in our lives is to point to Jesus. Most people look for the Spirit via displays of excitement and even displays of power that glorify the Spirit "look at all he is doing". But the Biblical model has the Spirit constantly pointing to Jesus.

This is why then for the believer, their present life takes on the character of suffering, difficulty, weakness and cross bearing. It is because we are taking on the image of Christ in his humility. One way the Spirit conforms us to Christ is to enable us to bear the cross of Christ and for that very reason not removing all trials and tribulations.

This also says something about the Trinity. One of the ways God displays his 'godness' is that each person does not glorify himself--even though they as God Almighty, far above all things, have every right and reason to do so. Yet each person constantly exalts and glorifies the other persons--giving credit, as it were, rather than taking it. This is a mysterious and marvelous ways of our God.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Abide in God's Word

The believer is always distinguished from the unbeliever by how they respond to Jesus’ Word. This forces us to ask the question: how do I respond to the Bible?

We have people today who claim to be Christians but they do not like the Word of God, or they do not believe all of the Bible is the Word of God. You became a Christian by putting your faith and trust in Jesus.

But the outgrowth of true saving faith is that you grow in your trust in the Bible. At some point in your Christian experience you should be moving to recognize that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God.

You see, just as you responded to Jesus word of salvation--the gospel-- how can you not respond to all of God’s Word?

The true believer will remain and abide in God’s Word.

On a scale of 1 to 10-- 10 being the most important: how important to you is sound doctrine? How concerned are you that we stick to the teachings the church has always believed?

Two grave errors often arise in our day:

(1) People today believe that doctrine evolves and develops over church history. I do not mean to deny the complexity of church history--the creeds said the same old truths with a new vocabulary to fight error. But the truth confessed did not evolve or change. The language of the creeds became important because people were trying to change doctrine. Knowing Church history can actually help us abide in Jesus’ Word.

(2) People today will make “practical” and enemy of “doctrine.” 
There is nothing more practical than sound doctrine. Why? Because knowing the truth sets of free. People today think that Christianity is a practice, a life to be lived. Christianity is first a truth to believed. There is nothing to practice--there is nothing practical--if it is not first a truth to be believed. Do you believe Jesus’ Word are “true because ‘they work’” or do you believe “they work because they are true”? 

J. Gresham Machen has said:
“According to the Christian conception, a creed is not a mere expression of Christian experience, but on the contrary it is a setting forth of those facts upon which experience is based. But, it will be said, Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. The assertion is often made, and it has the appearance of godliness. But it is radically false...  But if one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work [or ‘practical living’/results], but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine.” Christianity and Liberalism, p. 19 and 21.
The first confession: “Jesus is Lord” --it is a doctrine, it is a creed. It is a statement of fact--something true. It is a Word we are to abide in.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Abide in Doctrine

One of the marks of a disciple of Jesus will be that they abide in orthodox doctrine.

2 John 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 

Just like Jesus’ day, Paul and John’s day, we live in a day and age when people like to get out in front with new doctrines. They like to be “relevant.” They like to change things and be creative in the formulation of doctrine. One of the marks though of an unbeliever is that they are discontent with doctrine. They desire to go on out ahead, rather than sticking to the faith that has been given to the saints 'once for all'.

The Christian is to be unoriginal in his teaching. Why? Because he stick to what Jesus has said--what Scripture has revealed.

We abide in these teaching. We remain steadfast, immovable. 

Our doctrine is to be uninventive because we are dwelling, remaining, staying on Christ’s Words. If you here a preacher or a church bringing some new teaching it is most likely abandoning sound doctrine--it is failing to abide.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Accidental Life Verse

I have another guest post this week over at Christians in Context.

Here's an excerpt:
I have never been a big “find your life verse” guy. But I think I can make a case for Proverbs 18:17 having become a life verse for me. Over the years, the events of life and ministry have inadvertently thrust Proverbs 18:17 into this position. In numerous situations I have found so many practical applications to the wisdom contained within it. It simply states: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (ESV)... 
This proverb says more than just “there are two sides.” It says that searching judgment of another can overturn what seemed easily and discernibly right when you first heard the case. Consider the analogy from our own legal system: the adversarial system is an important part of the process of discerning justice. If juries heard only the prosecutor present his case determining verdicts would be easy. 
As another example of this, I have been the chairman of a non-profit board and at times we are faced with tough decisions. At times we find ourselves in a situation that requires decisive action upon which someone makes a case for a specific response. The case seems right and clear. However, as chairman in particularly difficult instances I have stated things like, “I am here to guard the integrity of the process.” Discussions must be fair and full. At times that entails being sure that no one voice dominates the conversation. Consensus and decisions in the board need, at times, to have a bit of an adversarial process to them. Matters must be weighed and even debated. We need people who will examine the case that another proposes so that we are not deluded into thinking a certain course is right just because it was the first suggested. Sometimes our opinions are changed; other times they are not but we become more prepared for objections as we proceed. 
Let me ask you this: how do you respond to someone examining your best case? Often times we misconstrue a necessary and helpful adversarial process for an adversarial or enemy relationship. “If he disagrees with me, he must be an enemy.” To this end pastors and leaders can stack their boards with the aptly named “yes man.”

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

January Book Giveaway From Crossway!

January Book Giveaway From Crossway!

Zach Nielsen is giving these books away this month:

I'd love to win these ;)

Lowly Preaching

This past Sunday I preached on Matthew 13:53-58 where Jesus is rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. One of the reasons that Jesus is rejected is because they know his family, they know his humble hometown beginnings. They marvel at his teaching but they reject the power of his message because he was a carpenter's son, Mary's boy, one with normal brothers and sisters. Like Isaiah 53:2, Jesus had no stately majesty and people seem to reject him for that reason.

But this brings us to a point about pastoral preaching: don’t let the lowly origins of the messenger turn you off from the power of the message.

As you sit in church and listen to the sermons what are you looking for in preaching? Some people look for an exciting, dynamic preaching, someone who can woo men. He can appeal to the ear. Some looking for someone who is bubly and outgoing. Everyone has an idea of what a perfect sermon is. Everybody has the idea of the perfect preacher.

Nobody likes a guy who is unassuming, unimpressive. This is true in our day, this is true in Paul's day.

The Corinthians wanted a cultured polished speaker but what does Paul say?
1 Corinthians 2:3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,
4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  
2 Cor. 11:6 “But even if I am unskilled in speech”

The Corinthians wanted “powerful” preachers, men who could boast in great ministry. They wanted men of polished rhetoric to speak to them. Paul refers to the type they listened to as "super-apostles" in 2 Corinthians. They were leaders who were “large and in charge”... there problem is Paul was that we was a weak and feeble preacher. Unimpressive, constantly held down by human weakness, struggle with physical problems and even constantly plagued by weakness:
2 Corinthians 11:19 For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly.
20 For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face. 

This is the type of leadership and preaching that was tolerate and even applauded in Paul's day. The speaker would make a seen on stage, even abuse the listeners. He would display his power and authority by even going so far as to smack his audience.

What's more, is that in our day, we often value speakers who exalt themselves. We, as evangelicals often flock to those who can attract large crowds. Those who have the most reputable ministries. We love a speaker who has made something for himself. Sure we pause for faux humility "God has blessed my church with such growth" but then we continue right on through with self-exaltation. Preachers publish their methods in books with reproducible 'how-to's'.

Let's be honest, if an apostle Paul came to us and his preaching was characterized by fear and trembling. If he wasn't much to look at and his voice did not resonate with power and personality--we would have no use for such preaching. It would be too weak and lowly for our test. If Paul failed to command the room and drive our attention to him by his style--we, like the Corinthians, would want nothing to do with him.

Consider this: What attracts you to Jesus? His lowliness, his humility, his weakness by which he died for us?

Are those the same things that attract you to the church? Humility, lowliness, an unassuming message that is basic and simple: rooted in God’s Word? If not, why not?

I would suggest it is a huge misplacement of priorities to love humility of Jesus and his spiritual power but to look for 'spiritual power' in preacher who are trendy, cutting edge and "can really bring it" by means of their own abilities and commanding presence.

Over and over again in the NT, the pattern of Jesus' earthly life before his exaltation is the pattern of Christian life and ministry. 1 & 2 Corinthians is replete with the theme of human weakness as the means by which God brings spiritual power. This is so that we might boast in the gospel but not in men.

Jesus’ powerful person and powerful message was cloaked in humble lowly origins. 

Sadly today, Jesus’ own bride does not welcome His message in unassuming means of lowly preachers, rather we are too often looking for thrills and chills. We want a power encounter orchestrated and manipulated by “power worship” and “power preaching” rather than activities of human weakness and unassumingness that come with God’s Spirit. We want a preacher who exudes confidence and excitement by the force of his personality, never one who stands meekly, trembling in fear and weakness. 

Are you willing to have an ordinary messenger, with an ordinary worship service so that the power can be in the Word and the Spirit can come as He wills? Or are you looking for a fancy show, are you wanting me to impress you, to pizz-az you? We live in a culture that values entertainment and hype and it has effected the way we view preaching.

The church faces constant pressure to “prove” it is relevant by trying to be more entertaining, more hyped. More exciting than everybody else. The worship better “rock us” and make us feel good. The preacher had better have the analysis of Dr. Phil, combined with the humor of the stand up comedians, all while having the brevity of a Dr. Abby column.

Are you willing to feed on simple exposition of the Word of God --oridinary origins of a sermon--so that God’s Spirit might touch your heart with power? Are you looking for the demonstration in power that comes solely from the Word of God--so that your faith might be in it? Or are you looking for a powerful preacher so that you might come to him?

1 Corinthians 2:1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 
2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 
3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 
4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 
5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Honest But Profound

I found this via my Twitter feed this morning. It's from the Jollyblogger who is battling cancer. He writes:
I think it’s time to say goodbye the Christian industrial complex, the evangelical hype and marketing machine that promises life change every Thursday and promises that you, yes, you, and me yes me, can change the world.  Hogwash.  None of us is required to change the world for Christ, Christ has changed the world permanently, none of us can do anything about it.  Everyone wants to change the world, no one wants to do the dishes or take out the trash.  I would trade every kid who takes a mission trip to change the world for one who would stay home and clean his room, treat his brother like a human being and help mom around the house without being asked twice.  Changing the world is easy, the latter is harder and far more Christlike.

This resonates with me, probably because at times in my life I've wanted to "do great things for God" all measured by what are ultimately the wrong standards. The whole essay is worth reading, sobering.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Jeremiah 29:11 According to the Gospel

I have a guest post up over at Christians in Context's blog entitled "Jeremiah 29:11 According to the Gospel."On the one hand it comes out of my mild frustration whenever I see people quote Jeremiah 29:11 "‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’" and interpret it as personalized prosperity. 

As Americans evangelicals we can be particularly bad at interpreting this verse as individualized prosperity based largely American measures of prosperity. This verse is often used around the New Year to boost our spirits and remind us what we think we already know: "God's got good things in store." This mentality comes largely out of a set of beliefs that has been labeled Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

In this view, God is largely concerned with morals, your feeling good, and he is rather deistic--other than giving you good gifts, he pretty much leaves one along. Several characteristics of it include:
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.

In my post on Jeremiah 29:11, I point out that God has often calls Christians to suffer in this life. The reality is that Jeremiah 29:11 is often used wrongly and God's sovereign plan for your life may have nothing to do with it "going well" by Americanized standards. Even evangelicals have a mild form of the health and wealth gospel when they use this verse.

The context of Jeremiah is key:
Jeremiah 29:11 is about God’s plan for Israel. The point of Jeremiah 29:11 is that God will bring Israel back to Jerusalem and the promised land. 
Jeremiah is writing to Israelites who had just been taken captive into Babylon with more destruction of Jerusalem just around the corner. Jeremiah prophesies full exile is imminent and lasting as Israel will be in Babylon for seventy years (Jer. 29:10). But Jeremiah announces a hope and a future so that we might know God keeps all of His Word. Jeremiah’s own prophecies are reflections of God’s earlier words to His people. 
Centuries earlier in Deuteronomy 30:1, God had promised that the curses of the covenant laid out in Deuteronomy 29 would come upon Israel--including the climactic exile from the land. Yet the promise to Israel is her return from exile: 
Deuteronomy 30:2-4 "and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons,then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.“If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back." 
In Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, we have God’s overarching plan for Israel. After Israel’s seventy years of captivity, God will reestablish them as a nation. Notice that Jeremiah 29:11-13 calls Israel to national repentance just like Deuteronomy 30:2. Jeremiah, echoing Deuteronomy, promises that the fortunes of the nation will be restored (Jer. 29:14; Deut. 30:5ff). Both Jeremiah 29 and Deuteronomy 30:7 promise covenant curses on Israel’s captors.  After exile, God will prosper His people (Jer. 29:11; Deut. 30:9). God’s plan for Israel is made clear with this proclamation by Jeremiah.

Once we find the proper interpretation in context of Jeremiah and locate the passage within redemptive history, this verse actually is applicable to the Christian. The hope of Jeremiah 29:11 was the New Covenant (this expands on Deuteronomy 30's promise of the circumcised heart). Ultimately Jeremiah 29:11 is fulfilled in the Messiah and His union with his people.

The seed planted in Deuteronomy 30 is the return from exile which takes it’s ultimate shape in the New Covenant--God’s people receive a new circumcised heart (Deut. 30:6). Jeremiah 30-33 is about the New Covenant, the restoration of Israel and the establishment of the King of the line of David back on the throne (see esp. Jer. 31:27-37) 

Read the whole thing. Pay attention of how I expand the application that Jesus fulfills Jeremiah 29:11 and thus it is a verse that connects (e.g. applies) directly to the Christian. In short Jeremiah 29:11 and its context encapsulates the message of the gospel. 
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