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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Taking Stock of My Preaching

It was a great joy to share Joshua 8:30-35 with our body this week. As we discussed burnt offerings and peace offerings, we naturally found ourselves in Hebrews 10:1-25, where the author discusses the intent of the offerings. In the midst, we stopped at verse 14 to discuss the author's use of the word sanctification.

Unfortunately, sanctification is largely misunderstood by the church today. We fear teaching a "works righteousness" (becoming justified by my deeds) so much that the church has quit expecting the righteous to do works (Ephesians 2:8-10). However, the Scriptures articulate that God will sanctify those whom He has justified. In fact, in moments of personal doubt, the Scriptures tell us to examine our lives and look for sanctification. It's not about looking back to see if you prayed a prayer one day, or looking for a particular date in your Bible where you came forward at church (neither element is remotely described in Scripture), but rather taking yourself through a simple test:

Since the time that I have come to understand the gospel, do I see more of Christ evident in my life than before?

Now, some people panic over this question. If they've had a bad day, week or month, they panic that they must not be saved. Sanctification is not like that. It does not mean perfection (that is called glorification). Sanctification does not mean each day must be better than the day before. However, it does mean you need to be able to see evidence that God is doing a work within you (Philippians 1:6).

In our first service, I used the stock market to illustrate this point. It may go up and down. It may even seem a bit volitale to you. But when you step back and observe the bigger picture, you see growth. I thought it was a pretty good illustration.However, as I was sharing about the market, nearly every person I made eye contact with looked a little troubled. Even as I'm sharing, I begin to wonder, Oh no. Is this a bad illustration? Are there elements about the market I don't understand that are actually making a point to the contrary? Am I misinformed about the market, or worse yet, about sanctification? Am I bordering on something heretical???? The beauty of preaching two services, is that I had the opportunity to chuck the illustration for the second group (and I think that's the one we recorded).

Then we enjoyed a New Member's Class that evening. One man, who sat through both services approached me before we began. He was very complimentary about the message (Side note: There are few things better than hearing the Lord used His Word to encourage, grow, strengthen and challenge a brother) but then stated, "You gave a really good illustration in first service and then you didn't use it in the second. Why didn't you mention the stock market again?"

Doh! I hope preaching is like sanctification. You don't nail it everytime, but over time, hopefully it is getting better.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Humility and the Word

How should believers respond to movements that seem to illuminate weaknesses in the church? From the footnotes in The Christian Counselor's Manual:
False teachings, whether they be the teachings of cults like Mormonism or whether they be pagan systems of counseling, usually make gains by capitalizing upon those areas that have been neglected by the church. Rather than rush to adopt the views and methods of such groups, one should thank God for the chastening He has given and return to the Scriptures, the one and only proper source for all that is necessary to life and godliness. Group therapies, for instance, have shown the need for stressing community and fellowship among Christians. The answer to the problem, however, is not to bring Integrity Therapy or Transactional Analysis or Encounter Groups into the church; rather, it is to search the Scriptures faithfully to discover what God says about groups, beginning with such passages as Hebrews 10:24-25. (76)
But some worry, if we go to the Word, and teach others what the Word says, aren't we being arrogant for claiming to know what the Word says? Adams offers this analogy:
Constructing a biblical methodology takes critical care; it is going to take much time and much effort to build that foundation adequately. No one has a foundation and methodology that is totally scriptural. Such work has only been begun. My foundation surely has planks that are rotten and some that are missing. The reader must watch where he walks. There may be planks that have been nailed in backwards or upside down. But of one thing I am certain: there are a number of biblical planks that are solidly nailed down. At present I am measuring and sawing others. But in order to get them nailed all the way across, other Christians must also lay hold of the hammers and nails and help. On a foundation of biblical presuppositions, there must be built a fuller methodology that grows out of them and that is appropriate to them at every point. The methodology must be oriented biblically and remain within the framework of scriptural principles. When you have constructed a platform like that, then you are able to stand upon it, look around at what is happening elsewhere, and you can pick and choose and adapt from that perspective whatever nuggets that an unbeliever (in the common grace of God) has unearthed. (92)

Who Cares about Translations?

Many people in our church, especially teens, know that I do not like to preach from the NIV. I sometimes joke about the NIV, and many cannot understand why. While I agree with Piper, who I once heard say, "If the only Bible you'll ever read is an NIV, then I would encourage you to read it from cover to cover," I do have some concerns about a dynamic equivalence translation being a person's only Bible. Mark Driscoll has the same concerns. His church has switched to the ESV and Mark wrote an impressive, comprehensive letter to his congregation. (You can download the .pdf here.

A couple "nuggets" from his paper:

Why translations matter:
Therefore, having the best possible translation of Scripture is important because it helps us to hear God most clearly and therefore know Jesus most intimately. By way of analogy, if Jesus were to call us on our cell phone we would want to have the best possible coverage so as to hear Him most clearly. In some ways, a good Bible translation is akin to good cell phone coverage in that it facilitates the most effective communication.
Why thought-for-thought is not ideal:
Before we can interpret the meaning of Scripture, we must first accurately understand the message of Scripture. Or, to put it another way, only after knowing what Scripture says can we understand what it means. Practically, this requires that Bible translations be separate from and prior to Bible commentaries. A word-for-word translation best enables this to occur by seeking, as much as possible, to not insert interpretive commentary into the translated text of Scripture; rather, it lets the text breathe as a living word and speak for itself. The general problem with thought-for-thought translations and paraphrases is that their English interpreters include commentary that is not part of the original text and thereby commingle Bible and Bible commentary. For the average reader, this is problematic because they do not know which parts of their Bible are from the original text and which parts have been added by commentators who were trying to convey their interpretation of its meaning.
The hypocrisy of gender neutrality:
even more insidious is the effort by some to feminize God. Perhaps the worst example of this is a recent translation released by a group of fifty-two biblical "scholars" called The Bible in a More Just Language. In an effort to remove what the group sees as unjust treatment of women and homosexuals, God the Father is now "our Mother and Father" and Jesus is no longer the Son of God but rather the "child" of God. Satan, of course, is still referred to as male.
A mutual concern that I have:
Like all preachers who love Scripture, I need to be able to read the English translation to our people and tell them with confidence that they are hearing what God, through the original author, actually said. When I have to tell our people that their translation is not accurate, I wince because I fear I am weakening the trustworthiness of the Bible they are holding in their hand. What I do not want is our people to put their Bible down or read it halfheartedly because they are uncertain of its accuracy. Conversely, what I do want is for our people to continually enjoy their Bible and read it in faith that God is speaking to them through it. For this to occur I need to preach from a translation that is accurate and does not need me to clarify it in order to accurately teach.
The place for multiple translations:
At Mars Hill Church we believe that the student of Scripture is best served by enjoying multiple translations of God's Word. By way of illustration, one evening recently I went in to check on my first grade son, Zachariah Blaise. I found him awake on his top bunk studying. I asked what he was doing and he said that he was examining a verse in Scripture that he had been thinking about all day. He was using multiple Bible translations to see how they each articulated God's truth. As a father, I was delighted both to see my son so interested in God's Word that he had to have his theological curiosity assuaged before falling asleep, and also his willingness to examine multiple English translations to further his theological development.
While Mark's paper is about switching to the ESV, he also states, Probably the best word-for-word translations are the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the New King James Version (NKJV). Many of his points articulate exactly why I've chosen to preach from the NASB.

I know I am bucking against the most widely sold English Bible translation, and I own more than a few NIV Bibles. I'm not saying NIV is bad. Use it! But use it to help you study from a word for word translation. And hopefully Mark helps you understand why I don't preach from it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My State of the Union Rules

I've stated before that I am not a fan of the standing ovation, so it's no surprise that the State of the Union is almost unbearable for me. I know as a good citizen, I should care what the President has to say. However, the droll and inane practice of interupting applause is more than I can handle.

I certainly can't control the content of the President's speech, but here are some suggestions for the presentation:

    1. Lay it out.
I'd like the President to take the podium and simply state, Some of you don't like me, and I don't like a few of you. Therefore, let's quit the mendacity and just get on with this.
    2. Bubble gum.
Both the Vice President and Speaker of the House should be forced to chew bubble gum during the President's speech. During most of the speech, I couldn't tell is Dick Chaney was still alive, and poor Nancy Pelosi looked like she was trying to suck some lettuce out of her teeth. I'd rather see her blow a bubble and pop it than make a quasi disapproval face.
    3. Supreme Court function.
They just sit there during the speech, unable to express any partisan agenda. Therefore, we should get them involved in the process. The Supreme Court should police the evening to make sure the following rule is kept...
    4. 3 second rule
If you do not begin to clap within 3 seconds of an ovation, you cannot begin to applaud. If you want to stand for an ovation, you must do so within the first 4 seconds of the applause. If you violate this standard twice in one speech, you are escorted out of the room.
    5. Inappropriate Applause.
For those awkward few who clap at the wrong time, they should be required to clap for at least 3 seconds, so that TV cameras can find them and point them out.
    6. Amen and Boo
It just seems more efficient to have the audience acknowledge the President's words with either an "amen" or a "boo."
    7. The Penalty Box
If you have filed for or are investigating your Presidential campaign possibilities in the next election, you should not be allowed in the room. You should be isolated from others and watch the speech via satelite. However, you should be visible to the American people via picture windows in the television set. Therefore, with every comment the President makes, the American people can see your response without you having the privilege to gauge the room and sway with the crowd. If you are running for President, you need to operate on conviction and principles, rather than the mob mentality of a room.

[As a side note, if you are going to refer to Dikembe Mutombo in your speech, it should be required that you allow him to have the mic for a second. Hearing a man who talks like cookie monster would do great things for the nation's morale.]

Friday, January 19, 2007

Getting More of God

There's another new post at Perspicuous Perspectives.

It's on Matthew 18:20
For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.
Yes, it's my second consecutive post from Matthew 18, but I think these passages have been greatly misunderstood by many, and largely ignored by far more.

O how glorious if He were truly seen in our churches!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Top Sign You Shouldn't Preach

You own this:

The description for this product reads:
Do Monday mornings find you wondering what to preach about next Sunday? Does it seem there's never enough time to prepare sermons? Help is on the way! Let this time-saving tool help you produce and present relevant biblical sermons all year long. Includes 104 outlines, ideas for creating a preaching schedule, and bulletin inserts. 224-page notebook with CD, from Beacon Hill.

OK, maybe that's a little harsh. I'm sure this could sit on the shelf in your office and you could still be qualified to preach. However, there are few concepts I find as troubling as the first sentence: Do Monday mornings find you wondering what to preach about next Sunday?

I will acknowledge that preaching once is a very difficult task. When you are only given one Sunday, it is nearly impossible to narrow down to one passage. However, if you are the regular preacher, how in the world can you have no idea what you will be preaching on?

Please, if you struggle to know what to preach one, try two things: a) Preach a book of the Bible. Let the text determine your message. b) Read a good book on why we should preach. If it an exercise in your church simply because it has always existed, that's not the reason to preach.

For if you don't understand why you should preach, no resource can help you produce and present relevant biblical sermons.

Friday, January 12, 2007

I'm an Idiot

I was sent this email from a friend:

and I fell for it...hook, line and sinker.

You can see my embarrassing response (to the fine people at Shepherds, none the less) in the comment section.

Why would I post this?

    1. Because David got me good. He should be proud of his work, a serious work of art and great prank.
    2. Speaking of Pride. I got a pretty cool compliment from my dad this week. Kind of had me riding high for a while. It's good that I get knocked down a peg.
    3. James 1:19. You can hold me accountable as to whether I am being slow to anger, slow to speak, and quick to listen. I blew it this time.

But David, slow to respond to you only means I get more time to think how to get you back!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Caribou Commentary

My blog has been slow, but I have been blogging lately. I'm excited to introduce Perspicous Perspectives, "Trusting that a Sovereign God can clearly present His Infinite Glory to finite man."

Honestly, I get much less excited to comment on current social events, and find myself getting frustrated when I comment on the current church landscape. Therefore, I decided to focus more of my time on what I thoroughly enjoy: God's Word.

I am by no means claiming to know all there is to know about passages. I am merely offering my understanding of what I believe was the authors original intent...and you get to participate with comments.

I've copied and adapted some of my commentaries from this site, but my first new post is up:

Matthew 18:18; Losing It on Binding


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

We Have a Piper Down

It's good to know that one of the country's best preachers says things he regrets now and again.

Next time, I just hope I respond with the same humility.

Friday, January 05, 2007

So Long Srgt Slaughter

Rumor has it that Bill Cowher is retiring today. Cowher accumulated a 161-99-1 record (including playoffs), including two Super Bowl appearances and a Championship during his 15 seasons. In my opinion, Cowher gave Steeler fans a great legacy and we have nothing to complain about. (Of course, part of that legacy--a major part--is due to the Rooney's and that stability they create. They stuck with Cowher through some lean years and it paid off.)

However, there are three things I'd like to ask of Cowher:

1. Enjoy your family.
Reportedly, a major factor in Cowher's decision was time to spend with his wife and daughters. Sadly, many sports figures claim they want to spend time with their family, but once given that opportunity, they almost appear to not know what to do. Take your time getting in the booth (where I think he'll be great) and decline some public speaking opportunities. Enjoy some time with the wife and kids in Raleigh.

2. Stay away from NFL Coaching.
Cowher is a winner, but a large part of his legacy is the stability. The Rooneys took a shot with Cowher after another sucessful coach (Noll). They stuck with Cowher during some lean years. The Steelers developed the personality of their coach and Cowher should only be seen in the black and gold. When he enters the Hall of Fame, there should be no conflict about which team he represents. You're a life long Steeler, Bill. Please keep it that way.

3. Use your retirement for the Lord.
Honestly, I have no idea if Cowher is saved. If not, I pray this time away from the game will cause him to see there are issues much more important than football. Perhaps this break will cause him to consider his soul. If he is saved, I pray that he sees his financial stability allows him to serve Christ with little restriction (something I wish more retired people would realize). However, if you do ever preach, Bill, please be aware you have a slight spitting problem when you get excited. You may want to give the people in the pew a little space (or a poncho).

Whatever Cowher decides, his time with the Steelers flies in the face of our instant gratification society and shows that consistency/stability far out weigh knee jerk decisions.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Dis' in the Church?

Over at Brethren Reformation, a conversation started regarding dress, respect, and the church. While David and I may never agree about whether I should wear a tie, he did get me thinking. Why is respect such a problem in the church? And in what ways does the church treat God most disrespectfully?

Top 10 Most Disrespectful Elements in Church

[Editor's note: At this point, I began a 10 point rant of what is disrespectful in many churches today. Then I had two thoughts: a) who cares about my opinion? and b) why not ask God what frustrates Him? So instead, we'll look at one passage where God was displeased with the worship He received from churches. If you'd like to see my original list, let me know and I'll email it to you.]

[Retitled:] 8 Disrespectful Elements in the Church

1. Churches that diminish the gospel for "weightier" issues.
In our effort to preserve doctrinal purity, we can actually deny the most beautiful doctrines of all. We begin to see the gospel as an introduction to Christianity, or basic/simplistic and start to move "beyond it." A church may even hate those things which are heretical, but if she does not center her truth where her love first started, she is disrespecting God's sacrifice.

2. Churches that must experience "prosperity" to survive.
God's pleasure is found when He is glorified. God is not necessarily glorified by our abundance of stuff and comfort, but by the believer's response in the midst of trial and tribulation. A church that builds a system that can only thrive in prosperity disrespects His ability to comfort the believer.

3. Churches that conform to the culture.
God does not claim it is easy to live in "Satan's throne," yet He calls the church to be His people. It is not enough to merely say we are not as bad as the world around us, God desires we have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness. A church that wants to look as much like the world as possible disrespects His calling.

4. Churches who depend on extra-Biblical revelation.
This is not simply those who claim to have extra books of the Bible, or even a seperate book from the Bible. This is also those who depend on prophecies, declarations, or even manuals to determine their spiritual vitality. His divine power has given us everything we need and often, where suppliments are found, false teaching is also found. A church that needs more than the Word disrespects His revealed teaching.

5. Churches that do not persevere.
A results oriented church will often start out obeying God's Word but grow tired when they do not see desired outcomes. But the church is not finished! A church that does not trust Him for the harvest disrespects His faithfulness.

6. Churches who rely on exteriors.
Since we cannot see the heart, it is tempting to set up external qualifications that we can see. "Those who claimed to be Jews" in the early church were calling for Gentiles to be circumcised and to adhere to laws for salvation. But Christ identifies that as the "synagogue of Satan." A church that imposes external issues upon a person disrespects His grace.

7. Churches who lack conviction.
An ecumenical-Rodney-King-can't-we-all-just-get-along approach to church is not glorifying to God. God calls us to be holy like Him. He calls us to follow Christ. A church with a "take it or leave it" approach to the faith disrespects that God is a Zealous God.

8. Churches who focus on the earthly.
The church does not bring the kingdom of God to earth (that is Christ's job), but can bring earthly people to the King. Yet it is easy to get distracted by events on this globe (political developments, accumulated wealth, prestige) and miss out on the great work yet to come. A churches that ignores that Christ's kingdom is not of this world disrespects God by ignoring His eternality.

[List derived from Revelation 2-3]

At anytime, a church can find itself prey to these elements. But praise be to God that He offers repentance in any of these situations!

Could a different style of dress, music or preaching be a sign of disrespect? Possibly, if it is borne out of a condition of the heart that disrespects God. However, a different style could also be a genuine expression of respect for God, especially if it borne out of repentance of a formerly disrespectful heart.

[But for the record, I do not believe dressing a dog in clothes can ever be the sign of a pure heart.]