08/20/2015

Are You Called to Share the Gospel?

William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, replied to those who said that they were not called by God by saying, ” ‘Not called,’ did you say?  ‘Not heard the call,’ I think  you should say.”  He continued:

Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull poor sinners out of the fir of sin.  Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitying wail for help.  Go and stand by the gates of Hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house, and bid their brothers, and sisters, and servants, and masters not to come there.  And then look the Christ in the face, whose mercy you profess to have got, and whose words you have promised to obey, and tell Him whether you will join us heart and soul and body and circumstance in the march to publish his mercy to all the world.

William Booth, The General’s Letters, 1885 (London: Salvation Army, 1890), 4-5.

08/10/2015

Is Preaching Passé?

Here’s the unedited version of an article I wrote for the latest Illinois Baptist on the topic of preaching.

In his little book, The Priority of Preaching, Christopher Ash writes what every pastor has thought at some point – “Is it really helping when we spend so much of our week laboring at the word of God, preparing to preach it to the churches we serve?  …Is it worth slogging away preparing Sunday’s sermon with such a world of need outside?”  Maybe you are a pastor and you have doubted whether your preaching is really doing anything.  Maybe you are a church member who sometimes falls asleep during sermons and you wonder if there is a better way of connecting with today’s postmodern culture.  Is preaching a thing of the past?

We are far from the Puritan days when one minister apologized to his congregation for preaching a two hour sermon and they all replied, “For God’s sake sir go on, go on!”  During the era of the Baby Boomers preaching in many churches became a casual talk on how biblical principles can address felt needs, bolstered by the use of multimedia technology.  Many Gen Xers and Millennials are now looking for new expressions of church, and the very idea of preaching is being re-imagined.  Wouldn’t it be more authentic to have a dialogue about the Bible where everyone could share his or her own experiences and insights?

I define preaching as one-directional, verbal proclamation of God’s word culminating in the gospel.  And I still maintain that this is an absolutely essential practice for the church.  Why?  We see it happening all over the Bible (i.e. Acts 10:33-44).  That’s descriptive, not necessarily prescriptive.  Well, it is also expressly commanded elsewhere (i.e. 2Tim. 4:2).  But couldn’t the intent behind ‘preach the word’ be fulfilled in other ways than one person talking at other people for an extended time?  I certainly believe there are several different legitimate styles of preaching.  But the method of preaching is critical.

We need times when we bite our tongues as we are confronted by the authority of God’s word.  In an age of relativism and rebellion against authority, it makes sense why we don’t want to sit under preaching.  We don’t want doctors; we’d rather self-diagnose.  The idea of a wiki-sermon that we all have a hand in constructing is much more appealing.  But our great need is to hear, “Thus saith the Lord,” and let his external word rebuke us, call us to repent, make us ready to receive the message of the gospel, and then respond in faith and obedience.

Plus, the medium is the message.  Hearing a declaration of something that has happened, something to which you can’t contribute a thing but must respond to with either belief or disbelief, best comports with the gospel.  If that slot in the weekly life of the church is conceived of as a time for merely teaching doctrinal truths, then a pure lecture format is probably not best.  We should experiment with different methods, be more Socratic, have opportunities for interaction, and be mindful of different learning styles.  If the goal is simply effecting a lifestyle change – how to be a better parent, how to manage finances, how to share your faith – then we should consider role playing exercises, skits, worksheets, and modeling.  But since there is a constant need to have the double-edged sword of God’s word pierce our souls to expose our sinful hearts and then graciously present Christ to us in all his resplendent glory so that we can trust in him as our righteousness and healer, then preaching will always be indispensable.

Preaching is not the only thing for the life and health of a church.  There is a place for small group discussions and seminars and life-on-life mentoring, but preaching is an essential element.  The practice of preaching can be abused (when it becomes a chance to express one’s own ideas instead of expound a text), but that shouldn’t cause us to avoid its proper use.  Some preachers are more gifted than others, but the mark of a mature believer is to be easily edified as long as the word of God is being preached.

Charles Spurgeon said that God “has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers….  This shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.  I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it.  The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her.  It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches.”  May he do it again today!

07/31/2015

Bring It Under the Blood of Jesus

From Francis Schaeffer, The Finished Work of Christ: The Truth of Romans 1-8 (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 127-28:

     When I became a Christian, I realized that Christ’s blood was enough to cover my past sin.  By the same token, I can also know that it is enough to cover the sins I have committed since I awoke this morning.  From time to time I do something so bad that I realize that, if it depended on me, I would surely be lost again.  When those times come, I must realize that I can bring those things under the shed blood of the Lord Jesus, and that His blood is enough to cleanse me.  Then I can simply say thank you.  This is the source of peace in the Christian’s heart.  It isn’t just an emotional experience.  It doesn’t require sitting on a pillar or going to a Bible retreat every other weekend.  It’s the objective reality of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, applied to our present necessity in day by day, moment by moment cleansing.

Someone might ask, “How often can we do this?  How often can we claim forgiveness for these endless daily sins?”  We can do so as often as we need to.  When Peter asked Christ, “How often shall I forgive my brother?” Christ said, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22).  If we humans are supposed to forgive each other that often, surely God’s forgiveness of us is infinitely greater.  How often should we ask His forgiveness?  As often as we need to!

Someone might object: Doesn’t this do discredit to the work of the Lord Jesus, to fall into temptation and an hour later to fall into the same temptation – and both times to “bring it under the blood of Jesus?”  Doesn’t this trivialize Christ’s work?  Quite the contrary, there is really only one thing that can minimize Christ’s saving work, and that is our failing to lay hold of it.

06/09/2015

Should We Want It Any Other Way?

When the world tells us, as it does, that everyone has a right to a life that is easy, comfortable, and relatively pain-free, a life that enables us to discover, display, and deploy all the strengths that are latent within us, the world twists the truth right out of shape.  That was not the quality of life to which Christ’s calling led him, nor was it Paul’s calling, nor is it what we are called to in the twenty-first century.  For all Christians, the likelihood is rather that as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware, so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then – and only then – may we become truly strong in the Lord.  And should we want it any other way?  What do you think?

J.I. Packer, Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ our Strength (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 53-54.

06/05/2015

Slapped Upside the Head

What we have lost… is a full sense of the power of God – to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hopeless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them up side the head with glory.

Barbara Brown Taylor, “Miracle on the Beach,” in her Home by Another Way (Boston: Cowley, 1999), 38.

05/18/2015

I Am Exactly Like Him

Yehiel Dinur was a Nazi concentration camp survivor.  Adolf Eichmann was the man who sent Dinur to Auschwitz.  Dinur was called to witness against Eichmann at the Nuremburg trials.  When he entered the courtroom and saw Eichmann’s face this is what happened:

Dinur began to sob uncontrollably, then fainted, collapsing in a heap on the floor as the presiding judicial officer pounded his gavel for order in the crowded courtroom.

Was Dinur overcome by hatred?  Fear?  Horrid memories?

No; it was none of these.  Rather, as Dinur explained…, all at once he realized Eichmann was not the godlike army officer who had sent so many to their deaths.  This Eichmann was an ordinary man.  ‘I was afraid about myself,’ said Dinur.  ‘…I saw that I am capable to do this.  I am… exactly like him.’

Charles Colson, Who Speaks for God? (Crossway, 1985), 137.

05/15/2015

Great Expectations or Delusions of Grandeur?

From John Koessler’s book The Surprising Grace of Disappointment : Finding Hope When God Seems to Fail Us (Chicago: Moody, 2013):

“Mary, I know what I’m going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that.  I’m going to leave this little town far behind and I’m going to see the world.  Italy, Greece, the Parthenon… the Coliseum.  Then I’m coming back here and I’ll go to college and see what they know and then I’m going to build things  I’m going to build air fields. I’m going to build skyscrapers a hundred stories high.  I’m going to build bridges a mile long.”

So says George Bailey in director Frank Capra’s beloved classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.  But George is wrong.  He doesn’t know what he’s going to do tomorrow and the next day and the next year and the year after that.  As it turns out, what he is supposed to do tomorrow is pretty much what he did today.  God’s plan for him is to do the ordinary thing, which of course is the last thing that George wants to do.  Because George Bailey wants to lasso the moon.

Like George Bailey, we want to do something extraordinary.  It is no wonder.  This is what we have been told that we should do by our parents, pastors, and teachers.  We have been urged to take our little lasso of Christian ambition in hand, shake it loose, and aim as high as we are able.  We are told to expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.  But for most of us the moon isn’t what God has in mind.  His plan does not call for us to streak into the heavens and leave behind a trail of glory.  God’s purpose is more down-to-earth.  God’s purpose for us is more mundane.  At times we might even call it dull.  And like George Bailey, we are not happy about it because we do not want to lead an ordinary life.

05/11/2015

The Announcement of Salvation

I’m not quite sure how to think about William Barclay.  There are some indications that his theology was heterodox.  But his commentaries have some great stuff in them!  Here’s one from The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958), 214-15:

Preaching is the announcement of salvation; it is the bringing of the gospel, the good news.  Preaching may at different times have many notes and many aspects, but fundamentally it is the proclamation of the gospel.  The preacher may at times have to warn, to threaten and to condemn; he may have to remind men of the judgment of God and the wrath of God; but basically, beyond all else, the message of the preacher is the announcement of salvation.

05/04/2015

God Talks to Us Through the Bible

A reoccurring theological question from my kids revolves around why God doesn’t speak to them directly, like in a voice they can hear.  I’ve tried giving them several different answers.  It came up again the other day.  I was opening up the Bible to read at bedtime and said something like, “Let’s see what God has to say to us tonight.”  The honest, genuine questions started coming – “I don’t want to have to read the Bible; I want God to just talk to me.”  I told them that God could speak like that to them.  He certainly has done that to people in the past.  But now he has given us a book and told us to listen to him there and we can’t demand that God speak to us the way we want him to.  This was not finally satisfying for them.

As I thought more myself about why God has primarily ordained to speak to us through a written revelation today, another reason came to mind (from the Holy Spirit?).  He doesn’t speak audibly to everyone in private with their own personalized messages because he wants our faith not to be a merely private, personal faith.  Rather, Christianity is supposed to be a communal reality where we’re all hearing and believing the same messages from God.  The Scriptures are objective revelations available to all so that we all can hear the same things and respond together.  “God told me this…”  “Well, God told me this…” (either audibly or subjectively through impressions) will only lead to further division and isolation.  God has spoken clearly in one place so we can all be together on the same page.

This was not ultimately satisfying to them… yet, but I pray that one day they will hear God’s voice distinctly calling them from the pages of Scripture into the people of God and they will find it truly satisfying.

04/27/2015

The Family

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Illinois Baptist newspaper on the final article in the Baptist Faith & Message on “The Family.”

The Family

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