Posts Tagged 'preaching'

Introduction

Contemporary Christians often feel Hebrews to be a strange and difficult book. There are, I think, two reasons for this. First, it seems to ramble about and discuss a lot of themes which have never made it into the ‘top ten’ of Christians discussion tops. It begins with a complex discussion of angels; continues with a treatment of what Psalm 95 really meant in talking about ‘entering God’s rest’; moves on to Melchizedek; lists the furniture in the Tabernacle; and ends with an exhortation to ‘go outside the camp’. Well, you see what I mean; were I a betting man, I would lay good odds that none of my readers have found themselves discussing these things over the breakfast table within the last month or two. Small wonder that most people don’t get very far with Hebrews, or let it get very far with them.—NT Wright, Following Jesus, 4

I think he’s probably correct in his assessment. There is a lot going on in the book of Hebrews—and most of the stuff going on is terribly complicated to understand. The arguments are complicated, the exegesis is tricky, and the logic is sometimes a maze of confusion. I’m not suggesting for a minute that I have it figured out entirely. Not at all. That is not to say, on the other hand, that I am completely wordless or thoughtless about this magnificent book.

Exegesis, Patterns, and the Big Idea

What I like to look for when I am reading is patterns: patterns of thought, recurring phrases, foreshadows, double-backs—you know, all those things we were taught to pay attention to when we were learning to interpret writing back in junior high. Reading through the book of Hebrews has given me an opportunity to notice a pattern repeated without fail over and over again in the book at least 14 times in the book. It’s a simple pattern and really helps us understand what the book is about or, at minimum, what small sections of the book are covering.

I add one small caveat: the book does, I believe, have an overarching point. I again agree with Wright who is very careful to write that

The book of Hebrews offers us, quite simply, Jesus. It offers us the Jesus who is there to help because he’s one of us, and has trodden the path before us. It offers us the Jesus who has inaugurated the new covenant, bringing to its fulfillment the age-old plan of God. And it offers us, above all, Jesus the final sacrifice; the one who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, who has lived our life and died our death, and now ever lives to make intercession for us. (Following Jesus, 10)

Jesus is the Big Idea in Hebrews, without doubt. What I would like to demonstrate is a pattern for how we understand what the smaller arguments in the book of Hebrews and thus how they all tie together to help us understand the bigger argument of Hebrews, viz., that Jesus is enough.

I think if we break up Hebrews into small chunks and see how the author ends each argument then we will begin to understand the greater point he is making within each argument. That is, each argument he makes leads naturally to breaks and conclusions which are set off by key words or phrases. Then all of these smaller arguments, when clumped together, give us a grand picture of Jesus. Throughout the book, leading up to this grand climax, the author has taught us how to live—not leaving theology without a point because all good theology has, ultimately, the point of teaching us how to live because of Jesus. So we learn how to live because of Jesus or what Jesus has said or what Jesus has done and when the book is done, we can say, “Yes, I will join him outside the camp.”

Conformity to Jesus

Barth noted that “Christian speech must be tested by its conformity to Christ.” Unless ‘speech’ is a metaphor for an entire life, then I would expand upon his thought and say that Christian life must also be tested by its conformity to Christ. We have concocted all sorts of ways to judge one another (how often do we go to church, how much money do we give, how much do we serve, etc.), none of them without some merit and some with more demerit, but it seems to me that the best way to examine ourselves, the Bible way, is to judge ourselves and see if we, I, in fact conform to Christ. I’m fairly certain the apostle Paul wrote something to this effect at some point in Romans or Ephesians or both. And this only makes sense given that Paul did definitely write that we are being transformed into the image of Jesus, renewed in the image of our Creator who is Christ Jesus.

So all throughout Hebrews, the author will give frequent pauses, after short or lengthy expositions of Old Testament Scripture, and say something like, “OK, here’s a conclusion. I just said this and that, therefore, here’s how to check yourselves against what I just wrote.” Or, “OK, I just said this and this about Jesus, now, therefore, here’s the way you ought to be conducting yourselves.” He does this over and over again; I count at least 14 times where this pattern is used. The key, if you are reading in English, is to find the word ‘therefore’. In our English translations, this word will signify the need for the reader to pause and consider what has just been read. It’s a good exercise in exegesis that when you see the word ‘therefore’ to ask what it is there for.

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“Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:15-17).

“Jacques Ellul insists that this resurrection life must be lived in this world, but at the same time he insists that the Christian ‘must not act in exactly the same way as everyone else. He has a part to play in this world which no one else can possibly fulfill.’” (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 261)

Graduate school is a lot of fun. I am learning so much about achievement gaps, high-stakes testing, functional behavior assessments, response to intervention, No Child Left Behind, and more. I am learning about Bloom’s Taxonomy, KWL, Evidence Based Practice, content standards, teacher accountability, labor unions, graphic organizers, charter schools, magnet schools, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and…well, there are more ways for a human to be ‘broken’ than I could have ever imagined…and I could go on and on for a while. I have learned more than I thought I needed to know, and less than I probably need to know. Who would have thought that teaching children to read would be such a complicated ordeal?

Education is a serious enterprise in the United States. I am getting my money’s worth out of this experience and I am glad for it because I am spending a lot of money getting this education.

About 9 months ago or so, I began to realize something strange. It goes something like this. I am in school to learn about more than the multitude of variations of ASD that a child might have. I am learning about more than the thousands of children’s books published every year in the United States. I am learning about more than what is required to be a certified teacher in the state of Ohio (3 different praxis exams including HQT requirements for NCLB, comprehensive exams, 52 hours of graduate school, a semester of student teaching, a portfolio, and more).

You know what is scary? I have been learning about myself. You know what I realize? I’m ugly. I realize that I am pretty much un-fun. You know I have had to learn how to laugh and be the class clown again? I’m boring. I’m sensitive to rebuke. I Hate failure (I recently lost three points on an assignment; not happy). I’m jealous of the success of others. I’m impatient (the trip to Cleveland about kills me). I’m arrogant. There are a few people who are smarter than I am (I didn’t get the highest grade on a recent mid-term). I’m comfortable. I like leading, and not so much following. I like talking, and not so much listening. I like being in charge, and not so much taking orders. And, trust me, there’s more.

I am learning not just what is required of a teacher, but I am also learning the sort of teacher I do not want to be. This has been the most important lesson I have learned and not just from going to class at CSU, but also from working a part time job at a local school. And I realize, most importantly, that the teacher I do not want to be is a teacher who is not the things I just listed, above, that I am. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. I’ll say it this way then: not having my own pulpit any longer is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is harder to lose a pulpit than it is to gain one.

What I have learned, though, is that those things I described above are the very things that I had become. I hate mirrors. I keep asking God, ‘Is it safe to land?’ He keeps saying, ‘Wait’ (which I suspect is God’s way of saying, ‘Oh, I have a few more revelations for you.”) As I look back on nearly fifteen years in the pulpit I realize that I had quite forgotten what it was to be a terrified 25 year old fresh out of Bible School and stepping into a pulpit for the first time. I had grown quite comfortable with my skills. Frankly, I had become impatient, arrogant, condescending, comfortable, boring, sensitive, jealous, boring, and un-fun. And more. You know what I forgot most? People. I did a lot of serving, but I think sometimes I did it so I could be up front, in charge, and not (always) because I loved people.

I forgot what it was like to work 60 hours a week and have to get up on Sundays to worship. I forgot what it was like to have visitors in town and want to stay up late Saturday thus necessitating an absence on Sunday. I had quite forgotten that most people do not have Bible College educations and even less have seminary educations. I forgot to be with people and their hurt. I forgot what it was like to serve because I was called to and not because I was paid to. I used to complain that the money I was paid tied me down, bound my hands and prevented service, real service. As I look back I realize it did so, but not in a way I expected: that is, I stopped serving because I could and wanted to and started doing so because I had to.  I forgot what it was like to drown in sin, to struggle with addiction, and to feel hopelessness. I forgot what it was like to think God had moved a million miles in the opposite direction.

I forgot how to suffer. I forgot how to hurt. I forgot how to feel. There is a certain amount of pleasure and satisfaction that comes from a sermon well-written and better-delivered. And don’t get me wrong: a great sermon goes a long way on paper. But for all that I suffered, I forgot to suffer. I forgot to weep with my people. I forgot to hold them. So protective of myself was I, so angry at not having leadership, so frustrated by the lack of growth, so bitter at betrayal, so jealous of fellas half my age preaching in churches a hundred times the size of mine…I was becoming more and more the person I was warning the congregation not to become. I gave up the safety of insecurity and vulnerability and weakness for the caves of strength and clarity and well-spokenness. I traded. In the end, the only way for Jesus to awaken me was to destroy me.

Now, here I am, alone with the self I hate, the one I created in the image of the world. Here I am, now, alone with my introspection. I am the Bob Eucker of preaching: thought I belonged in the front row only to find out…not so much. Here I am, now, saved by grace only much more aware of it than ever before in my life. I am learning what I had forgotten: how to love and be loved, how to be known by Jesus, how to walk by faith. I am learning to let Jesus be in charge. I am learning to follow and listen. Learning that temptations are all around and there are people who will spoon feed them to you if you ask.

I’m in no way undermining the consequences or the failure or the sin of those who hurt my family. But, and this is a huge but, but, neither I am clinging to them for dear life and breath any longer. Holding on was probably worse than experiencing them to begin with. Genuine love, true joy, is possible when the person counts on Christ for his love and joy and not on the perfection of circumstances or identity. I spent almost ten years forging an identity in this community where I live only to have it taken away in a matter of hours and days. I spent the better part of 20 years becoming a preacher, but along the way I forgot how to be a disciple.

Sad. But true.

I should wrap this up for now. In learning what sort of teacher I do not want to be, I have inadvertently, or not, learned the sort of preacher that I had become. I also have learned why I became not so useful in the church. You see, I let My Ministry become that which defined me and my life and my existence. I learned from Tim Keller that this is a bad thing to do. My identity, Paul wrote, is not wrapped up in who I am or what I do. That is why he writes that we are to imitate Christ. Our identity is wrapped up in who He is which is, precisely, why Paul writes that we are to become like Christ.

I do not know yet what part I am to play in this world, but I am learning that if I must continue that I must find myself in Jesus first. So all I’m really trying to say is this: be careful. Maybe you are a young preacher, setting out on your way and looking to forge an identity or be the next big thing on youtube or the next big itunes podcaster. Don’t give in. You were meant for less.

Maybe you are a long time faithful person in Jesus. Don’t despise the wilderness.

I am meant for less. Thankfully. Because where there is less, there I will find Jesus, the one who has been looking for me all along. And now that I am exposed, undone, out in the open…now, I suspect, he can finally see me, and I can finally see Him.

And He is a sight to behold!

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Daily Office

“I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” –1 Corinthians 9:23

I have frequently and publically lamented the fact that I have no ministry, no particular service to the church in the sense of the paid clergy. I do not wear a collar or preside at the Eucharist…sometimes, I don’t even particular feel like partaking of the Eucharist. It’s not an easy way to feel or to live. I have spent a good part of the last year sobbing at the loss of my pulpit and my voice and my identity. Then I got to thinking—which is never a good thing—and I didn’t like the conclusions I came to.

Preaching is no easy task. Ask anyone who does it and they will tell you that it sucks the life out of your soul at times because, for one reason or another, the preacher typically really believes in what he is saying. I always, and I say this without equivocation, always preached to myself first. I went to the pulpit ready. I was so ready in fact that there was simply no challenge that could be mounted against my impeccable grammar, my on point theology, dead on conclusions, gripping introductions and weighty, challenging, and artful main body. I can say without blinking that I had mastered the art of preaching.

And it is for that reason, I suspect, that I was never able to conjure up a congregation. As a preacher, as a minister, I was an abysmal failure. I was better at shrinking churches than growing them. I did a lot of things and did them well, but there is a spot in my heart that knows I did these things for very wrong reasons. This is hard for me to admit because I loved preaching and I was good at it. I believed in preaching and the Word of God I preached. I believed it would do its work and not return to the Lord void. The problem is this: I wanted the Word to return to me. I say this too without equivocation: I wanted little more than to grow a church, be recognized by my peers as an outstanding preacher, and get an invitation to preach at some convention, or earn a chance to preach at a bigger church. This is not easy for me to admit, but it is true.

I loved preaching; I miss it terribly. But I know the truth is that I did not always preach only in service of the Gospel. Sometimes I preached the Word of God and it worked in spite of me…like those days when I was convinced the sermon stunk and someone would really be challenged by it. Those days the Spirit of God worked in spite of my best efforts, but I never really figured that out quickly enough. I confess here in public: I was a very self-centered preacher often more, and too, concerned with the form, the art, the process than I was with the Gospel I claimed to be preaching. There was more than once that while preaching I would come across a typo in the manuscript and instead of blowing past it I would note it to the congregation, take out my pen, and correct it then and there. We laughed, but inside I seethed with self-hatred that I had made such an error. Then I would regret sharing the news with the church. And so on and so forth.  Like I said, I have been a terribly ugly person.

So now I work at a video store and if there is one thing I have learned it is this: I am not there for myself. I am there in service to the corporation that owns the store. I have individual sales goals but they gain me nothing when I meet them and earn me scorn when I do not. They gain the store only the slightest recognition. They earn me no spiffs or perks or bonuses. They simply keep my name on the schedule because, as you might have guessed, I am good at it. I am good at it for the sake of the corporation. Period. I have no choice but to do everything I do there for the sake of the corporation. Frankly, I am more selfless working at the store than I ever was preaching.

Sad, but true.

It may be that someday I end up preaching again; maybe not. I will take this knowledge with me wherever I end up though: I do not preach for the sake of grammar, church growth, or for personal opportunities and advancement. Whatever I do, I must do for the sake of the Gospel. It’s a hard lesson to learn that those who serve the Gospel serve the Gospel alone. I talk a lot about taking up the cross, denying the self, and following Jesus—a lesson I clearly did not learn until the very thing I did to accomplish such a trifecta was taken away from me.

It seems to me that when we serve the Gospel alone, we share its blessings. In the meantime, we are just serving the self, alone It’s a difficult lesson to learn. The Spirit of God is still working on me. He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.

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OK…I know there is a lot of…uh…controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll. People don’t like his mouth…they don’t like his Calvinism…they don’t like that he hangs around with the so-called ‘big-wigs’ of the Reform party church, they don’t like that he talks about s** from the pulpit, and much, much more. The guy can’t win. I understand. Driscoll is a complicated kind of fella. Here’s where the irony comes in in this post.

Our good friend and truth defender Mike Ratliff wrote this the other day at Walk By Faith:

The vast majority of evangelical Christians exist in an extremely shallow spiritual condition. The Church worship they experience is man-focused. The sermons they hear from the pulpit are specifically designed to offend no one. There is little if any mention of sin, the need for repentance or Biblical discipleship. Their shepherds are guilty of being more concerned with numbers rather than the health of the flock. To these ministers, size matters. The larger the better, therefore, they preach vanilla, seeker-sensitive, feel good sermons that attract those who have no use for what the Bible says about sin and its consequences. They design their Sunday morning worship service to entertain the goats rather than to feed the sheep. The flock’s Bible knowledge is rudimentary at best. (My emphasis.)

OK. OK. So everyone, or at least the ‘vast majority’ of those of us who actually have the calling and nerve to stand behind pulpits and preach on Sunday mornings are white-washed here by Mr Ratliff–and, as you can see, our congregations aren’t any better. You know what they say about preachers. Those who can, preach; those who can’t sit in the pews and throw rotten tomatoes. It’s rather easy to do isn’t it Mike? What did the church do before we discovered the Holy Spirit given spiritual gift of blogging?

Then tonight, as if I am not stupid enough, I decided to go to Slice of Laodicea for a quick laugh before bed and I saw this: I’ve Had it with Mark Driscoll and His Mouth (posted by ‘admin’). When I clicked the embedded link it took me here: I’ve had it with Mark Driscoll and his mouth. Now it’s Personal. When I get there, I read this:

My wife told me about a sermon Pilgrim Radio was playing on the radio as she was returning home from the grocery store with our young children in the car. She said that the man preaching (she had no clue who he was) was talking about “prostitutes,” “whores,” and “lesbians” and that he kept using these expressions as if trying to be shocking.

Bingo! My wife who knows very little—if  anything—about Mark Driscoll hit the nail on the head in her evaluation of him.

She then told me that this same man began talking about wives in submission to their husbands and how oftentimes men abuse this. Instead of using an innocuous example to make his point, what did Mark “The Cussing Pastor” Driscoll do? Why, he did what apparently comes so natural for him: Driscoll expounded on such abuse by illustrating an example in which men misuse their wives’ submission by making them watch porn!

Are you kidding me? That’s the best example he could come up with? For crying out loud, my kids were in the car and heard this trash before their mother turned it off. Does this guy’s mind ever come up out of the gutter for air? (Their emphasis.)

Now for the record, I happen to agree that Driscoll’s ’sex sermons’ are, well, dumb. However, you know what? No one is forcing me to listen to them. I also understand that he is speaking to a specific audience.  And, to be sure, I don’t listen to ‘Pilgrim Radio’ so that’s not an issue either. I guess as the adult in my family, I have the right to censor what my children listen to also. We prefer listening to my own recorded sermons and I don’t let my wife go anywhere alone with my children. (*smile*)

What bugs me is that this person, the one hosting ‘DefCon’, gives us no context whatsoever for the words he cites as offensive. Interesting, isn’t it, that those words are offensive in a sermon but not in a blog post? And if it was offensive on the radio, how is less offensive to repost the same words on the internet where it is more likely that children will find them? I might need to put a net nanny on my computer to block DefCon and protect my children! Still, all jesting aside, what is the context of the sermon? Give us a link so we can hear it and see if you have judged Driscoll correctly.

Please, provide some documentation. As it is, this is just hearsay. Without context and documentation, none of us has any clue if you are telling the truth or just randomly attacking someone you don’t like. You mean this was the first time, you who had Pilgrim Radio linked on your blog, that you heard Driscoll at that hour? You mean you didn’t warn your wife before letting her go? I seriously don’t understand why you didn’t just warn your wife ahead of time to avoid that hour of radio broadcasting.

On another note, fact is there are a lot of whores in Scripture. It might be fun to do an entire sermon series on the whores of the Bible. We could talk about The Great Whore in the Revelation; Mary Magdalene; Rahab; Israel (as described by several prophets); the whore that anointed Jesus with her tears; the whore that Jesus saved from a stoning; the whore in the book of Judges who was cut up and mailed out to various parts of Israel; and so on. So many whores, so little time. (Oh, wait, that doesn’t sound right. Strike that last phrase.) Still, I guess if we are to follow the advice of DefCon, then we preachers must leave out a significant part of the Bible’s witness. ATTENTION ALL PREACHERS: Don’t use the word ‘whore’ in sermons because there might be women and children listening whose ears will fall off if they hear such words.

We live in an impure world. There are whores and queers and lesbians and dykes and transsexuals and crossdressers and pedophiles and prostitutes and alcoholics and murderers and thieves…oh, and the list could go on and on and on and on forever ad infinitum. Are you offended by words? Seriously? Then you should hide in a room with ear muffs. These are the very ones Jesus himself spent considerable time with during his earthly life. “The whores all seem to love him, the drunks propose a toast.” Only Rich Mullins could use the word ‘whore’ in a song and have it sound so elegant, so wonderful. (Better break all my Rich Mullins CD’s this weekend.)

I am angry; spittin’ angry. Let me ask you what is worse. Is it worse for a preacher to preach the truth and use words like whore, prostitute, lesbian, and porn (you know, words that Mike Ratliff wants to hear since these are words that describe ’sin’ he believes is missing from most sermons in American churches); or, is it worse to sit behind a computer monitor and blather on criticizing a man called and ordained by Christ to preach the Gospel because he does use words like whore, prostitute, lesbian, and porn?

I guess we’ll just forget about ever preaching from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Song of Solomon, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, the Prophets, The Gospels–ah, we may as well just forget about preaching anything from the Bible because there are all sorts of offensive words in the Bible, words like whore, death, murder, s**, prostitute, and so on and so forth. God once told Ezekiel to cook food over human excrement. What word does God use when he talks about human excrement? (Better throw away my Bible tonight so that I am not offended by God’s use, his own God-breathed use, of the Hebrew word for ‘human excrement.’ (See Ezekiel 4:12.))

So here’s my question, to either Mr Ratliff or DefCon, or anyone else who wants to answer: Are we preachers to be offensive or not? Driscoll clearly offended someone, and yet it was too much. What about the offense of the cross? Can we preach that? Oh, probably not since there were actually, shhhh!, naked people there being crucified. Can you people please make up your minds about what we preachers can and cannot say from the pulpit so that we don’t hurt your precious ears? Could you, like, write up a list of words your itching ears want and don’t want to hear? And Mike, if you are listening, I guess you should start listening to Driscoll. Since you want sermons that are designed to offend someone I’m guessing Mark’s your man!

The ADM’s of the world are fond of throwing out some Scripture on their blogs so as to prove their point. Well, I am a preacher so let me throw out some Scripture too:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

Preach the Word, he wrote. He didn’t say leave any parts of it out of our sermons–All Scripture is God-breathed; even the parts we find offensive. Like when David’s son had s** with David’s wives in public!  He said ‘preach the whole counsel of God.’ I agree with this conclusion written to a very long essay on this very topic:

So, when we teach the whole counsel of God, we, like Paul, shall emphasize the things unique to Christianity and in the process give godly instruction about living by faith in this sinful world. The “all truth is God’s truth” credo is not helpful in this and often serves as a stumbling block. The question “is it true” is a good one, but inadequate in itself. More important is: did Christ command us to teach this?

Paul told the Ephesian elders: “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable.” He wrote this to Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2Timothy 3:16). Timothy was also ministering in Ephesus. It is clear that “all Scripture” is profitable and the Christian teacher and preacher should not avoid any of it. Though we may not be able to expound every single verse of the Bible in a lifetime (though surely a worthy goal), we should never avoid a verse or a topic for fear the audience might not like it. The whole counsel of God is relevant, applicable, and needful to every generation in every culture throughout the church age. There will be no situation in which it will be any less “profitable” than it was for those under Paul’s and Timothy’s ministries. May God give us grace, courage, tact, and insight as we set forth to proclaim the whole counsel of God. (Bob DeWay, at Critical Issues Commentary on line. From the essay, “The Whole Counsel of God: We must teach what Christ commanded to be taught; not what people consider “relevant)

Yes. Yes. Yes. Preach on! This is true! That means that occasionally us preachers are going to have to use words like whore, prostitute, lesbian, and porn in sermons because, evidently, even these words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, or, if you prefer, God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). I guess you pew-sitters are gonna have to decide if it is better for those of us who are ordained and called to preach to obey our God’s call or back down in the face of your complaints. You seriously need to read Scripture some time–to your wives and children and yourselves. You need to be offended, and if you are not, I seriously doubt it is the Word of God you are reading.

PS-The author at DefCon was complaining because in Driscoll’s sermon, he was talking about porn. Re-read this:

She then told me that this same man began talking about wives in submission to their husbands and how oftentimes men abuse this. Instead of using an innocuous example to make his point, what did Mark “The Cussing Pastor” Driscoll do? Why, he did what apparently comes so natural for him: Driscoll expounded on such abuse by illustrating an example in which men misuse their wives’ submission by making them watch porn!

Are you kidding me? That’s the best example he could come up with? For crying out loud, my kids were in the car and heard this trash before their mother turned it off. Does this guy’s mind ever come up out of the gutter for air? (Their emphasis.)

Again, we have absolutely no context whatsoever for this assessment. Still, I wonder how this is different from this.

When we began dating, I noticed that he would never ever comment about a passing woman or look at an attractive female. In the mall, he deliberately turns his head away from stores that feature immodest and in some cases, pornographic displays. Nothing said, just quick evasive action. That sends a message to a wife that she alone is valued and cherished. (See also the last comment left by ‘Steve.’ I don’t see much difference except that Driscoll is in a pulpit and ‘Steve’ posted on a blog.)

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One of the reasons I am convinced that the ADM’s of the blogosphere are not, have not, and cannot be ministers in any useful sense (such as located, local church ministry) is because of the very nature of the ‘work’ they do. So at the Boar’s Head Tavern, Paul McCain wrote:

But it got me to thinking. Where is the line between pathological negativity and the necessary identification of error? And it got me to thinking, when am I so caught up in finding wrong that I miss what is right [my emphasis]

People who are ‘in’ ministry simply cannot engage in the nefarious ‘work’ of unbridled criticism. Why? Because those who are ‘in’ ministry know all too well the rigors of the ministry. Why? Because those ‘in’ ministry understand all too well how much the criticism hurts and, to be sure, how much of it is nonsense and simply untrue. Why? Because those called to ministry had better have a profound working theology of grace.

I think it is tremendously important to keep ministry in perspective because ministry done by ‘ministers.’ Ministers, those who are of that un-hallowed club of so-called professional clergy, are necessarily weak, fragile, broken, and nervous people. Did you catch that? People. I think it is this ‘person’ aspect that is altogether forgotten when it comes to preachers of the Gospel. Preachers, or ‘ministers’, are simply forbidden, however subtly, to be human.

Ministers are not allowed to make mistakes, lose their temper, have bad days, or sin. Ministers are called upon by congregations to be the most legalistic bunch of Christians there is. Preachers are expected to live by the rules and die by the rules; preach the rules; expound the rules. (Sadly, most preachers are not allowed to actually enforce the rules and when they do, well…use your imagination.) When preachers start talking about grace, asking for grace, or offering grace that’s when congregations, and ADM’s, start getting really antsy.

Ministers are the leaders, so we’re told, and if they fail somehow, preach a bad sermon, be at all emotional, or discouraged…well, we can’t have that because ‘we’ might lose those folks who visited the church on Sunday. It’s much better for the preacher to be fake and have those visitors think everything is alright than for the preacher to be real and risk that they might go to the church down the road. Personally speaking, the dehumanizing of humans who preach is one of the most insidious of all the services provided by the ADM’s of the church, both those in the blogosphere and those in the pew.

A blog friend of mine, Jason Goroncy, posted an absolutely brilliant post at his blog the other day titled: The Scandal of Weak Leadership: A Sermon on 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10. I think you should read it and be encouraged, especially if you stand week after week in any kind of pulpit. In the post, Jason wrote:

This is the sort of ad that I can imagine the church in Corinth writing. How disappointed they must have been when they got Paul! He was not the eloquent speaker for which they had hoped. Instead of providing the ’strong’ leadership they wanted, he treated them with gentleness. And while he was prepared to teach about spiritual gifts, he hardly ever talked about his own ’spiritual’ experiences, even less gloat about them. And rather than mixing with the influential, he insulted them. Even worse – he would not take their money!

Instead of getting Arnold Schwarzenegger or Napoleon or Takaroa, in Paul the Corinthians were given a weak, sick, persecuted, afflicted and bruised human being. And then to add insult to injury, Paul had the audacity to tell them that his weakness was actually proof that he was genuine!  [Are you kidding me?--jerry]

[...]

And as for that mysterious ‘thorn in the flesh’, who knows? The commentators have a field day here: Paul had a theological opponent; Paul had an unbelieving wife; Paul had poor eyesight; Paul had homosexual urges; Paul had malaria – all of which are possibilities, but must remain speculations. Whatever it was, and however much Paul at times wished it removed, it served as a constant reminder to him that the integrity and effectiveness of his ministry would rest not on his worthiness or credentials but on God’s grace.

There’s that word again: Grace! Jason’s paragraph that follows the above quote is simply beyond words in its brilliance. Here’s a snippet: “Here is grace’s way – that God has a deliberate policy of positive discrimination towards nobodies, that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor and that the earth will be inherited by the meek.”  Yet the ADM’s of the blogosphere and pew continue to believe that weakness is just that: weakness. They refuse to see weakness for what it is: God’s grace.

I love God’s grace. It is no mystery to me any longer why last year I was able to take one seminary class and it was Doctrine of Grace. It is one thing to know grace. It is something else entirely to experience it, believe it, and conduct oneself in accordance with what one has believed and experienced. In my estimation, there are some people in the world of blogs who simply have not experienced or believed God’s grace. I’m convinced of it. Furthermore, they simply do not understand that in their fervor to protect God’s orthodoxy, they are destroying the ones called to proclaim it.

I wonder who is really held captive?

The coup de grace, where power-criticism is finally silenced, comes at the end when Jason quotes from Henri Nouwen, (*sarcasm* alert) which I know automatically disqualifies the sermon as orthodox and legitimate. Still, it is worth repeating and perhaps committing to memory:

The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross … Here we touch the most important quality of Christian leadership in the future. It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest … To come to Christ is to come to the crucified and risen One. The life-giving apostle embodies in himself the crucifixion of Jesus in the sufferings and struggles he endures as he is faithful and obedient to his Lord. So Paul preaches the crucified and risen Jesus, and he embodies the dying of Jesus in his struggles to further point to the Savior. His message is about the cross and his life is cruciform, shaped to look like the cross … I leave you with the image of the leader with outstretched hands, who chooses a life of downward mobility. It is the image of the praying leader, the vulnerable leader, and the trusting leader. May that image fill your hearts with hope, courage, and confidence. [Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 62-3, 70, 73.]

So be encouraged you who preach or you who find yourself at the barrel end of an ADM AK-47. You are in good company. I send this blog post out to all those who have found themselves the subject of negative or critical or downright hateful blog posts this week. I send it out to all those who have no voice of their own or who cannot defend themselves or choose not to. I also thank Jason for writing this sermon and preaching it.

And finally, a word to the ADM’s of the church, both in blogs and pews, learn about God’s grace. I promise it will free you from that nagging, persistent feeling you have that your ‘ministry’ is to stand guard at the door of God’s throne room in order to prevent any weak, sinful, decrepit loser from finding God’s grace time and time again. It will free you to be so caught up beholding what is right that you won’t even have time to look for what is wrong.

Soli Deo Gloria!!

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I’ve been trying to think about what I would like to preach this year. Back in November and December of ‘08, I wrote out two complete series of sermons-each 10 weeks long. I was ready for ‘09. Then, well, let’s just say there were some issues with my mouth and my pen and then, well, let’s just say that I won’t be preaching either of those series of sermons anytime soon. Sermon schedules aren’t that helpful when the preacher is being undone by the Spirit.

So that leaves me here, wondering, staring at snow and a computer monitor, drinking a cup of hot tea, contemplating…what shall I preach? What does my church need to hear? What do I need to wrestle with in prayer and what Scripture do I need to be confronted with over and over again so that it becomes the breath in my lungs and the blood in my veins and every waking thought in my head and heart? No, not that one!

Then on the way home from the gym this morning, I was suddenly overcome by a thought, one word, something had toyed with but that seemed too convenient at the time. I mean, of course I should preach about that. Always; who shouldn’t? It’s not that I don’t preach about it, every sermon I preached is infused with and under-girded by this. And I think also, at the same time, even though the thought has continued to regurgitate itself, I have been fighting against it. Seriously: there is a part of me that does not want to preach this. There is a part of me that thinks if I preach it now it might seem choreographed to justify myself or something silly like that. Strange that I cannot get beyond trying to discern the motives of others when I should really be examining my own motives.

Even now, I am afraid somewhat to post this, lest someone misunderstand MY motives. It is a terrible thing, it seems to me, to live for nothing other than trying to discern motives when even the apostle Paul didn’t care about motives.

William Willimon wrote, “Preachers, by the nature of their vocation, are those who speak because they have been told something to say. Can you imagine Paul pacing about his prison cell, agonizing because ‘I have nothing to say to First Church Corinth?’” (Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 47). We speak, he notes, because God has spoken. I am normally very organized in my preaching schedule. Right now I’m not. This is one of those times when I have to ‘not worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit is teaching me what to speak’ and, I am fighting it. I don’t want to preach what the Holy Spirit is telling me to preach. I want to preach from my neatly organized sermon schedules that are lying upon my desk on nice clean paper not from some fit of inspiration that certainly did not come from within me. He’s stalking me.

Seriously. I don’t want preach this word, but as I was on my way home from the gym this morning, was so overcome by this that I literally had to pull off the road. I’m not like that at all. I’m organized. I’m a planner. I want to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. “Oh God, don’t do this to me. I don’t want to preach on that.” Christus Victor, yes! Resurrection, yes! Anything but this. But it is a losing battle. I can’t shake it. I’m defeated. I’m undone.

” ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

” ‘Lord, where are you going?’”

Jesus commands us to love. Why? Because if it is not commanded we will likely not do it. Seriously, loving one another is hard work and not work we are likely to engage in if we don’t have to. How many of us make an effort to love the ‘least of these’? How many of us go out of our way to ‘love one another’?

I don’t want to preach on love, not now. How can I love now when I know there are ‘issues’ and when I feel like some haven’t loved me. It might seem too fake, too contrived, too choreographed. Right. Like preaching a ten-week series on church leadership isn’t contrived! Still, God is not being at all merciful to me right now. I don’t want to do this, but…

And here’s the worst part of it: I know he’s talking to me; first. I looked briefly at another blog yesterday (I won’t mention which one, but use your imagination) and saw that the top three posts on the front page were all scathing attacks against pastors, men who stand in a pulpit each week and proclaim the Gospel of Christ; imperfectly all, yes, but done nonetheless. And Christ empowers their words or he doesn’t. My heart broke when I saw those blog posts. I am asked to love a person who has not a kind word for even these preachers? How can I do that?  ”I don’t want to preach on love! I can’t preach on love! I am too angry to preach about something so redemptive, something so resurrection empowered, something so kingdom oriented as love. Can’t I just preach on something else. What words could come out of my mouth now about love.” That Hound of Heaven has me in his jaws and the more I wriggle around and excuse myself and justify my Jonah-like attitude about this sermon, the deeper in those jaws sink to my flesh and spirit.

Who cares if we don’t love one another? And how will preaching change any of that at all? Then I was slapped in the jaw with this: If we don’t love one another, how on earth are we going to love our enemies and the poor and those who persecute us? That is, if we don’t, won’t, or can’t love one another-those whom it should be easiest to love-then how on earth are we ever going to be able to love those it is the most difficult to love? Or, worse, if I cannot love those I can see in the flesh, then how can I ever begin to love the God whom I cannot see?

It is far easier, I think, to simply pretend that I love ‘one another’ and go on in life without any real level of commitment to those persons. Words can be terribly empty at times, can’t they? I think it is far more complicated and difficult to be obedient to the command to love one another when there is nothing to gain except a possible rejection. Yet the command is not abated or rescinded. Jesus didn’t say, ‘Wait until everything is A-OK and then love one another’ He just said, “Love one another” and he qualified this in no way at all. Love. We are the only ones who qualify love.

Paul wrote that ‘love keeps no records of wrongs,’ but that doesn’t mean love begins with a clean slate. It means that love wipes the slate clean and starts all over again-each second, each minute, each hour, each day. It means that I forgive 70 times 7 70 times 7 times a day. Do you understand why my flesh is rebelling against this? Jesus has commanded us to do the most difficult thing imaginable: Love one another. My God, I cannot love one another. Or maybe, I don’t want to. Either way, what you are asking Lord is too difficult. Lord, how do I love those and preach love to those that I am struggling to love right now and who are not struggling at all to love me? Is there room in the church for this love? Better: Can the church survive without it right now?

And I don’t want to preach it. I really don’t. Wouldn’t it be safer for all of us if we didn’t have to love those we are like and unlike? Wouldn’t it be safer if I didn’t have to extend and expend myself for someone else and take the risk that they might just be in need of love or that I am commanded to love regardless of reciprocation? Loving one another might mean I have to forgive or humble myself or repent or admit that I am wrong-sometimes even if I am not wrong. Loving one another might mean that I have do all that I can to secure peace even if means that I have to ‘be wrong’, which Paul seems to think is far better (1 Corinthians 6:7). What is impossible with man, is possible with God.

Why is it easier to love those outside the church than those inside it? Why does our flesh rebel against this command of Christ? Why is it that ‘loving one another’ has to be commanded in the first place? Well, I sure don’t understand that at all!

Jesus three times said, “Love one another.” Yet when he was finished Peter looked at him and said, “Lord where are you going?” You know why I don’t want to preach it, love, that is? That’s why. What Peter said.

And yet, Sunday’s sermon is already written. Now I am free to practice what I preach. Better, now I am free to love. That is, Jesus didn’t tell me to preach love. He told me to love.

Semper Deo Gloria!

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Friends,

I read a brief post at Slice this morning and it actually got me to thinking about the Gospel, the nature of the Gospel, the people the Gospel produces, and the sort of work that the Gospel inspires us to do. I was actually thinking about it as I read Gary Haugen’s new book Just Courage. He asks a very though provoking question: “For what purpose have we been rescued and redeemed?” (28) Some of our friends might say something like, “We are saved for the glory of God.” Well, no one doubts that. But why? Haugen’s answer is that if our redemption and transfer into God’s Kingdom is simply a matter of ‘receiving the salvation of the life hereafter’ (11) then we are merely living a ‘Groundhog Day’ sort of life. (29)

Haugen believes (and I concur) that Jesus has called us to more. ‘God calls us to make the transition from being those who have been rescued from the world, to those through whom God is literally rescuing the world’ (31). I find it terribly difficult, bordering on impossible, to argue with such thinking.

So, the author of Slice writes, after quoting a short bit from Al Mohler:

Now we see the emerging church embracing the same social gospel that killed the protestant churches. What a lot of young people see as whole new ideas and concepts are really just the same old lies repackaged for a new generation. Only the biblical Gospel will ever have any impact on the world around us.

But the problem here is that I don’t see the ‘emerging church’ embracing the same social gospel at all. I could be wrong, and to be sure, I think there is a lot wrong with the ‘emerging church,’ (and I’m not about to start worshiping in a coffee shop or a brewery) but the way I have seen it is this: the emerging church is actually, well, rebelling against the mainline denominations who have abandoned Jesus’ radical call to discipleship. Have I read them wrongly? I see a call backwards to the Christianity that Ellul says ‘can neither win millions of Christians nor bring revenues and earthly profits’ (Subversion, 154); the Christianity that the mainline denominations have, actually, rejected. There is a radical nature to Biblical Christian faith, Haugen agrees too, that mainlines have rejected.

I think the author of Slice has misread Dr Mohler’s point: the mainline denominations failed not because they ‘embraced a social gospel,’ but for other reasons. Dr Mohler wrote in the bit quoted: “These denominations once fueled the great missionary movement that carried the Gospel to the ends of the earth.” Well, let me ask: What could be more of a social gospel than going into a culture and preaching the gospel that doesn’t just ‘impact’ a society, but, in fact, totally subverts it and turns it upside down? No. I would say that mainline denominations failed because they embraced a theologically inept position whereby and wherein they rejected the Scripture’s authority among other things. (He also wrote: “The primary injury caused by mainline Protestant decline is not social but spiritual.”)

Well, I’m not terribly interested in dissecting Dr Mohler’s essay or the bit that the author of Slice quoted and applied. I’m interested in the application of Dr Mohler’s quote by the author of Slice: It is just dead wrong. What killed ‘protestantism’ was not an embracing of a ’social gospel’ but a rejection of the authority of Scripture (among other liberal tendencies). This is exactly what Mohler wrote: “Committed to a radical doctrinal relativism, these denominations have served as poster children for virtually every theological fad and liberal proposal imaginable.” In the bit quoted, I don’t see anything about a ’social gospel’ but I see a lot about biblical relativism. He’s talking about doctrine, not practice. It was their doctrine that corrupted their practice not the other way around.

I do agree with the last statement by the author of Slice: “Only the biblical Gospel will ever have any impact on the world around us.” But here’s the thing: It’s not about ‘having an impact.’ I don’t disagree that only the ‘biblical Gospel’ will do something, but I do disagree that it will merely ‘have an impact,’ that is, I disagree with what that gospel will do. The Gospel is not about ‘impact.’ We’re not talking about mere impact; we’re talking about a world ‘blown up.’ The Biblical Gospel preached and lived will turn worlds upside down–not merely have an impact. I can’t imagine a more socially subversive thing. Wouldn’t social aspects of our nation change, necessarily, as this Biblical Gospel is preached and lived?

I think the disagreement here is, when it gets down to brass tacks, with methods. But doesn’t every single person called to preach have to be faithful to the methods God called them to? So Isaiah is different from Jeremiah. Ezekiel is different from Daniel. Paul is different from Peter. John is different from Peter. I am miles apart from, say, Rob Bell, but closer to Bell than, say, Mark Driscoll. But that’s OK; we don’t have to be the same. Some are called to the mega-church most are not. Some are called to coffee shops most are not. Some are Notre Dame fans and those with sense are not. But that’s OK. It is OK to be different and have different methods. What matters, Paul said, is that Jesus is preached: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.” Shouldn’t we be rejoicing that God has called some to preach the Gospel in ways, and to a people, that others of us are not particularly called to?

But isn’t this the point? I’m not disagreeing to disagree. What I am saying is that if the Biblical Gospel is merely about mental assent and happily ever after in heaven, then of what good is it? Isn’t God most glorified when we are most satisfied in him? (Piper) And if that is true, then wouldn’t he be more glorified if more people were more satisfied in him? And should there be any limits to the methods we use to help people be satisfied in God? Isn’t the whole of the disagreement here about the methods used by different people and not necessarily with the content of their preaching?

Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe many people said similar things about Martin Luther too.

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