Monthly Archives: November 2011

Glory

For all the blessings of common grace we receive from the ongoing and rapid advances in technology, one thing we have struggled to receive from ever-morphing gadgets and gizmos is a sense of awe over God and a sense of expectation about what he may do next.

“Behold, I am making all things new,” declares Jesus Christ. The same promise is made by the inventors of electronic doodads. But only Jesus is telling the truth.

His renewing work killed him. But that is the way it’s supposed to work. Disobedience unto death is undone by obedience unto death, and only Jesus was Man enough to do that. Crushed by the weight of the cross, pinned there by envy and nails, stricken and open, he achieved victory most epic. The veil between heaven and earth tore,the grave gave up its dead, the universe tightly wound in its own burial shroud rapidly unravels. Can you feel it shaking? “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

And so the Scriptures tell us that Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory andthat the heavens declare the glory of God, that the glory of God is evident in creation. For this reason, John Calvin spoke of creation as “the theater of God’s glory,” a worldwide proscenium under which the wonder of Christ was to be beheld, projected, and enjoyed. Every jot and tittle of general revelation is meant as an arrow to the special revelation of the living and sovereign Word of God. Mark Talbot …

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Foisting Christ at Christmastime

My friend Burk Parsons tweeted something a couple of days ago that prompts me to revisit a topic I broached last Christmas season. Burk says:

Saying in a corrective tone “Merry Christmas” in response to a store clerk’s mandated “Happy Holidays” greeting is not a form of evangelism.

I agree, but taking a step back, I think we ought to contemplate why it is some evangelicals get so offended by this practice. I know we don’t like the idea of a Christless Christmas — and we shouldn’t! — but let’s think about it for a second: Is insisting that a store clerk throw out Christ’s name in a thoughtless cultural greeting any meaningful kind of redemption of the reality that what we’re encouraging is hollow cultural Christianity and what we’re doing is buying stuff?

I submit that “Merry Christmas” as an empty cliche is equally Christless to “Happy Holidays.” And in fact we ought to reckon the perfunctory “Merry Christmas” as more offensive than a cheerful “Happy Holidays,” not less.

Why? Because God commands us to revere his name and keep it holy. I don’t think getting irked that the clerk at Target didn’t Jesusify his mandated holiday greeting meets what this law demands.

I guess what I’m saying is, why do we want to force people to claim our Christ? Let’s not foist Christ at Christmastime. We ought to take care we aren’t campaigning for Christ’s name to be taken in vain! But I fear this is what we’re doing.

Boycotting …

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My Friend Nellie

In a couple of hours I will be at the funeral for my friend Nellie. She was is a really sweet lady I’ve been blessed to know over the last 2+ years.

Nellie was a member of my church although she’d never attended while I’ve been pastor and has never, as far as I know, heard me preach a sermon. When I arrived here in 2009, the retired pastor, Roland, began introducing me to the dear ladies in area nursing homes and I inherited pastoral care of her from him. She stood out right away. Despite being in her mid-90′s, fairly immobile, somewhat hard of hearing, and enjoying vision in only one eye, she was always spirited, joyful, flat-out mighty with cheer.

Her beloved King James Bible was always near at hand. Once she told me the print was too small for her to read any more. So I got her a giant print KJV. She said she couldn’t read that either. But I think she just didn’t like the idea of a “new” Bible. She knew a whole lot of it by heart anyway.

One thing that always struck me about Nellie was her phenomenal memory. It could sometimes be a month between my visits but she always remembered details about my family and things going on at church. I remember her asking about Becky and how she was doing while we spent 9 months living in different states. I was blessed and impressed by that.

Nellie and Kate, another …

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5 Leadership Signs Your Movement is Dying

One or two of these in isolated instances are likely handle-able. A pattern of any one or any combination of these signs in a pastor or the leadership culture of a church likely indicate a stalled or dying movement.

1. Insulation from criticism and/or interpretation of any criticism as attacks or insubordination.

Of course there is such a thing as malicious attacks, divisiveness, and nitpicking busybodies. But too many leaders treat all criticism as on par with those sins in an attempt to deflect or retaliate against any challenge to their sense of authority or rightness. In some cases it gets really bad when affected leaders treat any question, no matter how innocently or sincerely asked, as an affront to their authority, or when leaders cultivate a system that prevents questions, criticisms, challenges even reaching their eyes or ears. The minute leaders start insulating themselves from valid criticism is the minute they begin exalting themselves. And exaltation of anyone but Christ is death. Self-reflection, accountability, and openness to sharpening/correction are musts for healthy biblical leadership.2. Paranoia about who is and who isn’t in line.

If a leader is constantly worried about who’s on their side and who’s not, who’s saying or thinking what about them behind their back, who can be trusted and who can’t, who are allies and who are obstacles, etc. etc., he is entering a world of insecurity that is hostile to the confidence of Christ’s righteousness. And really, most times a leader frets about who may not be unquestionably …

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The Goodness of Gift-Giving

There can be an undercurrent of guilt-tripping in some of the recent campaigns to redeem Christmas generosity. Programs like Advent Conspiracy are great. (Our family started our own version last year where we spent money on those in need instead of each other and then shared about who we helped and why with each other on Christmas morning.) The subversion of materialism and consumerist idolatry is a very, very good thing. But let’s be careful not to take pride in it or to shame those who, you know, buy gifts for each other.

One of my concerns is that programs like Advent Conspiracy or even rhetoric meant to shame Black Friday shoppers become ways materialistic Christian suburbanites do penance for their year-long accumulation. But year-end rebuke of consumerism doesn’t mitigate consumerism the rest of the year. Instead — and how’s this for a novel concept? — let’s just be generous people, year-round.

There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts to friends and family. There’s nothing wrong with even buying those gifts, rather than making them. And there’s nothing wrong with trying to save money when buying those gifts. Gift-giving is good, and so is saving money on gifts you were going to buy anyway.

Flee consumerism this holiday season. But flee also smug abstention.

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Preaching with the Grain

Most preachers know the experience well. You’re chugging along, preaching your text, expounding and exulting (or trying to, anyway), and suddenly you hit the jet stream. Remember that scene in Finding Nemo when the searchers join the sea turtles and suddenly — whooosh! — they’re swept into a current that sweeps them along surf-style? It’s like that, isn’t it? There are moments where the Spirit just sort of anoints the experience, and the trajectory of the sermon starts to move in unanticipated but ecstatically orderly ways.

My latest experience of this was this past Sunday. I was simply minding God’s business in Ruth 2:1-13. In that text we find this verse: “Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn” (v.9).

I didn’t think anything “special” of that verse. I highlighted it simply as Boaz’s tender and protective concern for Ruth, his show of care and provision for her. But in a moment of gospel exultation near the end of the sermon, as I compared what Boaz the redeemer has done for this foreign widow to what Christ the Redeemer has done for we alien sinners, I was further comparing Ruth’s faithful hard work and our obedience, making it clear that we obey in faith as she obeyed in faith, and when the Redeemer rewards us, he …

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Three Things I’ve Learned from Lewis

On this day in 1963 the world lost C.S. Lewis. (Aldous Huxley also died the same day, but both deaths were overshadowed by the assassination of President John Kennedy.) Every year on this date, I’ve run some variation of a tribute to the greatest Christian writer of the twentieth century, but this year a little something different. A list of what Lewis has taught me over the years:

1. Wonder. My first introduction to Lewis was not the Chronicles of Narnia, actually, but as a child, Out of the Silent Planet. It was completely weird and wonderful. When I got to Narnia shortly thereafter — I was about 8 or so, probably — I consumed each book one after another lustily, like a compendium of Turkish delight. Lewis’ space capsules and English manses and wardrobes and attic spaces grabbed ahold of me, broadcasting where my neurons were tuned, man. I was the kid who saw a treasure map on the back of a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal and was convinced it led to buried valuables in my Brownsville, Texas neighborhood. Reading the Space Trilogy (well, the first two books when I was little, the third well into high school) and Narnia was like warp speed for my already truckin’ along childlike wonderment.

2. Reason. Even Lewis’s fiction is chock-full of logic. “Don’t they teach that in schools any more?” the Professor says to the Pevensies when they don’t believe Lucy’s fantastic story. Lewis’s faith was full of wonder but was, …

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Don’t Waste Your Exclamation Points

Generally speaking, a church will over time become affected by, influenced toward, and transferred into whatever her preacher is most excited about.

Pastor, our people don’t usually get excited about what we tell them to be excited about. Have you figured that out yet? Instead, they get excited about what they see actually excites us.

This means we ought to steward our exclamation points wisely. If you’re one of those rah-rah guys firing on all emotional cylinders for everything from bake sales and the book table to baptisms and baby dedications, you create an equality between minutiae and missional milestones that can be disorienting, and ultimately dulling. But more directly, just remember that if everything is exciting, nothing is.

Or if the real energy of your gatherings is reserved for knock-out musical productions and cool videos but your teaching is “low-key,” sit-on-a-stool, let’s chat about how to “let God be Lord” over your finances, you are cultivating dysfunctional discipleship. Check out Skye Jethani’s stuff on “experience-driven” worship in The Divine Commodity for some insight on this concept.

But we also have to be careful in our preaching about what we are most naturally reacting with awe to, driving home, and exulting in. If it is the biblical imperatives we communicate that what’s really exciting about God’s Word is the Law. And there is certainly a way to delight in God’s commands! (Note that exclamation point.) But over time, we will impress upon our bodies that the Law is more dazzling than …

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The Gospel’s Seasonal Effective Disorder

I’m recalling lately the opening worship service agony I put myself under in my previous life as a non-church planter pastoring a floundering church plant. There were plenty of gatherings where our worship band outnumbered congregants. I would read our call to worship and as the music began, I would make my way back to the building foyer, prostrate myself on the floor and beg God to send a few more people before I had to preach the word. It was a soul-wearying battle with pride, with unrealistic expectations, with distrust. Our church began as a young adult ministry in a megachurch, and preaching gospel-centered expository sermons each gathering was like re-landing an alien mothership each week. Once we’d gone out to find our own way as independent community, people stayed away in droves.

I’m in Vermont now. Our church attendance has nearly doubled in the last two years. Our giving outpaces our budgeted need each month. People are excited, sparkling about the eyes and bringing their lost friends. We’re baptizing adults and enjoying the exclamatory gurgles of babies in the service.

And I am not doing a thing differently than I did in the lean days. I’m in a different place, sure, and minister to different people, but my preaching, my counseling, my leadership, everything else is the same ol’ same ol’. I am the same guy stubbornly doing the exact same thing. I am insanely repeating the same “methods” and expecting different results. And it appears to be working. …

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The Spirit Before and After Pentecost

Did the Spirit not prowl the earth, seeking whom he may save before his coming at Pentecost? Is God’s Spirit not omnipresent? How did people love and obey God before Pentecost if we believe, as Jesus said, he would be sent after the Lord’s ascension?

John Piper explains with a neat illustration:

Now let me suggest an analogy to illustrate the experience of the Spirit before and after Pentecost. Picture a huge dam for hydroelectric power under construction, like the Aswan High Dam on the Nile, 375 feet high and 11,000 feet across. Egypt’s President Nasser announced the plan for construction in 1953. The dam was completed in 1970 and in 1971 there was a grand dedication ceremony and the 12 turbines with their ten billion kilowatt-hour capacity were unleashed with enough power to light every city in Egypt. During the long period of construction the Nile River wasn’t completely stopped. Even as the reservoir was filling, part of the river was allowed to flow past. The country folk downstream depended on it. They drank it, they washed in it, it watered their crops and turned their mill-wheels. They sailed on it in the moonlight and wrote songs about it. It was their life. But on the day when the reservoir poured through the turbines a power was unleashed that spread far beyond the few folk down river and brought possibilities they had only dreamed of.

Well, Pentecost is like the dedicatory opening of the Aswan High Dam. Before Pentecost the …

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