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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Grace Undefined

As I have stated earlier, this post does not bring me pleasure. There is no serious agenda against anyone. In fact, I know less about David Jeremiah than I did about Brian McLaren, when I wrote. Much like my McLaren review, I do not intend for this to be a personal assessment, but rather an evaluation of a sermon. I'm sure Dr. Jeremiah has a long standing ministry that has impacted countless people.

Amazing Grace
(Unlike before, I can neither get my hands on a transcript, nor can I get my computer to download the message. All of my thoughts are coming strictly from my memory.)

Dr. Jeremiah chose to speak on grace for his session at the Evangelism Celebration. Since grace is at the foundation of our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), it certainly is an appropriate topic. The more we comprehend grace, the more motivated we are to evangelize, and the clearer our evangelism will be.

I wondered what text Dr. Jeremiah would use. I reached over for my Bible and anticipated. But first, Dr. Jeremiah shared an interesting story of a woman from Long Island. She had suffered a tragic injury at the hands of some pranking teenagers. At the guilty teenager's trial, she pleaded for his charge to be lessened, and at the end of the trial, she hugged the young man and told him she forgave him and loved him. He used this story to establish that grace can leave people baffled.

...More Precious than Silver
Next Dr Jeremiah took us to Les Miserables. He set the scene with Jean Valjean at the Bishop's residence. Valjean steals the church's silverware and flees. The constable returns Valjean to the Bishop, prepared to press charges. However, the bishop sends the constable away, claiming he gave the silver to Valjean. In fact, he even gives Valjean the candle sticks. Dr. Jeremiah uses this to illustrate that grace does the unexpected.

What is grace?
Dr. Jeremiah explains that grace is "unmerited favor." Grace, Dr. Jeremiah explains, is different from mercy. He then procedes to ive countless illustrations where we see grace and mercy working together but in unique ways. He uses this exercise to establish that grace is unique.

Finally, the text
Dr. Jeremiah explains that John Newton was an old english slave trader. He did nothing to make himself worthy of God's favor, yet he is blessed immeasurably by God. Upon his conversion, he ends up serving Christ in full time ministry. While in the ministry, he pens the words to "Amazing Grace." Dr. Jeremiah goes on to explain that we see grace in action, not only in the lyrics of the song, but in the story behind it.

At this point, we have approached about 40 minutes in his message. I have come to the conclusion that this may be the longest introduction I have ever heard. I'm craving for him to direct us to a text. However, he concludes his message by having us all stand together and sing the song, "Amazing Grace."

So what's the big deal?
Dr Jeremiah spoke no heresy. He chose a topic which is central to biblical understanding and used many sources/illustrations to make his point. However, I believe his method was so flawed (in the abandon of any text--yes, he quoted two verses, but quite briefly and without genuinely working with the passage) that it ended up affecting his message.

Timothy was not told to preach. He was told to preach the Word. This is not a casual mistake for a pastor to make, it has deep deficiencies, which I plan to illustrate in future posts.

The Post(s) I Don't Want to Write

A new series is coming (either will start tonight, or tomorrow) which I really don't want to write. Seriously, I'd rather not, but I feel I must. The reasons I don't want to write it:
    1. It's critical of a pastor many have enjoyed. I know and respect people who lovingly have grown under this man's ministry.
    2. It's critical of a sermon some enjoyed. I've already talked to one man I love and greatly respect who enjoyed the message I will be examining.
    3. Previous attempts to analyze a sermon may have cost me a friendship or two. This could possibly cost me even more.
See why I'm not really pumped?

However, I feel I must post my analysis of this message for the following reasons:
    To be Fair
My dad will cringe if he sees this reason, and may even call me to remind me, "life is not fair." It certainly isn't, but I want to let those who were bothered by my last critique know that it wasn't because it was emerging/emergent/whatever I should call it. It was because I had a problem with the way the pastor handled the text.
    Exposes the solution
The pastor I will review is possibly the farthest thing from emerging to most people's minds. Therefore, I want to be clear when I critiqued McLaren's sermon, I was not thinking that this gentleman's style of preaching was the solution either. I don't want a caricature of preaching to come from my critique. I hope this (upcoming) review will draw a clearer picture of the Biblical preaching I believe the Lord calls us.
    Relevant topic!
The topic the pastor chose to preach is the same topic some brothers and I have been discussing. Interestingly, this gentleman contrasted the style I call for, and chose the methodology I have been questioning with this one brother.
    Irrellevant Preacher
This man was preaching before the emerging generation, yet all the bells and whistles he pulled out to speak their language went over like a lead balloon. Interestingly, when he and the speaker to follow him were introduced, the speaker to follow him received applause (in anticipation) though he did nothing to cater to the generation.
    Beautiful Juxtaposition
This brother's message was followed by a brother I have never found disappointing. The contrast was startling and refreshing. The room was full of pastors and would-be pastors, and I pray they all decide to emulate Voddie's preaching and not the sermon of the upcoming series.
    Life is Good
Clearly, I have much to celebrate, so I'm not writing this because I'm in a foul mood or angry at the world. I believe we have to be discerning and joy filled.

Like the last time I publicly critiqued a sermon, the next series will not be fun for me, but I believe it is necessary.

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Wright...

But two Wright's do make a baby! (or four)Praising God for this gift!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

How to Exegete the Audience

Thursday, February 22, 2007

God at Risk?

From John Piper:
Why is there such a thing as risk? The reason there is such a thing as risk is that there is such a thing as ignorance. If there were no ignorance there would be no risk. Risk is possible because we don't know how things will turn out.

This means that God can take no risks. He knows the outcome of all his choices before they happen. And since he knows the outcome of all his actions before they happen, he plans accordingly. His omniscience rules out the very possibility of taking risks.
Whether an open theist or a men's author trying to rile men up for action, it is important that we counter this point when it is made. God makes sacrifices, but He does not take risks. He knows the outcome before it happens.

While God does call us to take risks for the gospel, He Himself, is not a risky God. He did not offer His Son hoping that people would respond and receive His gift. He offered His Son, with His elect in mind, knowing He would draw them to Himself.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Missionary or Theologian?

You're answer should be, "yes." Consider this quote from John Piper, when discussing Andrew Fuller:
What shall we learn from this? We should learn the vital link between the doctrinal faithfulness of the church and the cause of world missions. The main impulse of our day is in the other direction. Everywhere you turn there is pressure to believe that missions depends on not disputing about doctrine. As soon as you engage another professing Christian in controversy over some biblical issue, the cry will go up: “Stop wasting your time and be about missions.” What we learn from Fuller is that those cries are at best historically naïve and at worst a smoke screen for the uninhibited spread of error.

One crucial lesson from Andrew Fuller’s life is that the exegetical and doctrinal defense of true justifying faith and true gospel preaching in the end did not hinder but advanced the greatest missionary movement in world history. Getting Christian experience biblically right and getting the gospel biblically right are essential for the power and perseverance and fruitfulness of world missions.

What I'm Giving Up for Lent...

For the forty days preceding Easter (which just so happens to fall on the same day as Resurrection Sunday), I have decided this year to give up Lent.

That's right. My "sacrifice" is to not do lent. (It's the same sacrifice I make every year.)

I plan to eat burgers and fries.
I plan to continue watching 24.
I plan to read my Bible.

Who's joining me?

(Of course, the burgers and fries may kill my diet plan.)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

My 40 Day Experiment

On January 3rd, I decided to attemp my own experiment:

It's origin
Perhaps this kind of thing already exists, but I decided to use some modern American church practices for my inspiration...
    Sketchy translations
By using the Commonly Mispelled Translations Bible (hereafter referred to as the CMTB), I was able to see my need. In the CMTB, it states
Yet those who weight for the Lord will gain new strength.--Isaiah 40:31
Clearly, God was promising victory and strength to me if I would just commit this diet to Him. But I needed one more method to complete the genesis of this nosh.
    Quasi-gnostic knowledge
If I could just access some "truth" that was difficult for others to validate (or more importantly, refute) then I may be able to make a deeper claim to my method. Then I stumbled upon this:
and if the scale has not spread and no yellowish hair has grown in it, and the appearance of the scale is no deeper than the skin, then he shall shave himself, but he shall not shave the scale.--Leviticus 13:32-33
What may appear as an obscure passage, can really bring a world of light to the situation. My cousin Mark's pet dog's manicurist's boyfriend's neighbor actually knows this guy who once met a man whose family lineage included a Jewish rabbi. This man explained to this neighbor that the "yellow hair" of the scale is actually the needle pointing to your weight. Therefore, if you stand on the scale and do not break it (has not spread) yet due to your excessive weight, the needle is not visible (no yellowish hair has grown), then you are to lose some weight (shave yourself) but not assume the scale is broken and replace it (shave the scale). This neighbor explained this was the typical reading of peasant illiterate yak farmers in the south west region of Lachish during the closing of the first temple period. Naturally then, we should assume this to be the reasonable reading.

Test and see

So with what appeared to be all the Biblical support I needed, I then proceded to the real test...pragmatism. If the pounds came off, then certainly this must be of God. The results came in:

Initial weigh-in: 231.5 pounds
40-day weigh-in: 203 pounds
Total lbs loss: 28.5 pounds
lbs loss/day: .7125 pounds

I'm quite pleased with the results (though not finished) so it seems ready to test according to the greatest current standard...

The real test

Can this baby sell? I've considered offering up that for $40 I will tell you all I know about his diet. Think about it, according to this plan, you could go from 535 pounds to 88 pounds in just 1 year, 8 months, 19 days and 8 hours. Astonishing!!! Who wouldn't get on board with these kinds of claims. Not only that, but I could write other manuals: "40 Day of Weightloss for the Warrior Man", "40 Days of Weightloss for Singles," "40 Days of Weightloss for Children." It could even spark an entire pet line: "40 Days of Weightloss for your Dog/Cat/Goldfish." Certainly, this diet system must be Biblical wisdom for it can be formed and refashioned in countless ways to produce a continual cash harvest for me!

Don't Miss Out

You'll feel so lame if you jump on the bandwagon too late. Be one of the first to join in. Send your $40 now and I'll make you a charter partner...allowing you teach and lead seminars as well.

[Of course, you could save yourself some time and money simply by: cutting out pop, eating smaller portions, cutting out snacking (especially nothing after 7pm), and simply exercising...but what would be the fun in that?]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fantastic Firn

With 6 inches of snowfall so far, and another 6 due (according to weatherperhour.com), I thought I'd point out my thoughts from the day:
    1. Recently, I was telling people how much I enjoy the quirks (broken fuel gauge, hood release, parking break release and arm rest. It requires ether during the winter) of my truck; they just give the truck personality. But I've finally found the feature that drives me nuts...the door doesn't seal all the way and leaves a pile of snow on the driver's seat!
    2. Street Department drives me nuts. I carved out the portion of our driveway that leads to the street, only to have the city street department plow me back in. It took me about 15 minutes to dig back out...only to watch them plow me back in again!
    3. Hooray for street department! Our kids were climbing on a snow pile in our backyard as a bulldozer zoomed through our alley. We all waved and he passed out of sight. Within seconds, he was back and plowing our driveway...saving my back and giving my some a cool bulldozer fix!
    4. Neither rain nor sleet nor...yeah right. The mail was not delivered today.
    5. Change of pace. I woke up this morning frustrated with the weather. However, the storm slowed life down around here and I was able to have an unplanned (but beneficial) meeting with one brother and connected with another over the phone.

It's warm in the house, I've got highspeed internet now, and I'm getting to watch Dora's Pirate Adventure. Let the snow keep coming!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Book Check

If you were the greasy haired bully in the third grade, and you were to "book check" me lately, here are the books you would scatter on the floor--for these are the books I've just recently finished:

Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp
    Incredible book! I received this one through my nouthetic counseling classes. I was confronted with how often I discipline because of annoyance or embarrassment. Tripp reminds you that no matter how young, and how cute, the parent is still called to shepherd the child's soul. A great compassionate guide for exposing the sin in your child and calling them to fall at the foot of the cross.

The Priest with Dirty Clothes by RC Sproul.
    About the time I finished Tripp's book, my mother bought me Sproul's for my birthday. So many people struggle to understand "the great exchange"--that on Calvary, Christ takes our sin upon Him and offers us His righteousness. Sproul writes a childrens' story that allows a mother or father to teach this principle to their children. The book is listed for ages 6-10, but my 4 and 2 year old enjoy it. [My mother said the only way she located a copy was through Ligonier's Canadian ministry.]

The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn
    I'm looking at doing a summer sermon series on Giving, Finances and Stewardship. I'd heard many people recommend this book, so I thought it would be a good place to start. I began the book at 9pm and was finished by 11:30! Actually, if I just bought a copy for everyone in the church, I probably wouldn't need to preach a sermon series.

Of course, I'm also reading through a couple commentaries on 1 John. Stotts was recommended by Derek Thomas and I do enjoy it. But the New American Commentary Series continues to be my favorite series, and I am enjoying Daniel Akin's work through 1,2,3 John. I'm also about a third of the way through Above All Earthly Powers by David F Wells. At this point, I'm loving it, and wondering why I don't hear it referenced more by those who love to tout postmodern ministry methods.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Theology of Cool

What is the place of hip/trendy/cool/fresh in the church?
Are these bad things to strive for?
Provided the adjectives apply to Biblical approaches, certainly not.

Is it a God honoring marketing approach?
I don't believe it is.

I was directed to a couple of commercials from a local church today. In each of the commercials, they present themselves as being cool, hip, much more fun than "normal church." I've met the pastor a couple of times, and I dearly love some people that attend the church. I have no doubt their desire is to reach the lost. However, I think they've made a critical error in judgement.

    Striving to be Biblical
I know, it sounds "high and mighty" when you first say this. But think about it. What other choice does the church have? If we strive to be biblical, I have an exterior standard (the Bible). I can assess successes (and failures) according to that standard. It's the same standard for all of us, despite the culture, language or era.

    Striving to be Cool
By nature, this is an interior standard. In one sense, I compare myself to the culture. I look for things I like (and others like) and then seek to emulate them, possibly even looking to improve upon them. I take that which looks attractive and try to adapt it to my setting. But to remain fresh and cool, I can't just "do it," I have to do it better than others. I try to use the most popular cultural devices to reach people with my message, gaining their attention, not by the message, but by my ability to use those devices better than others.

First, the church must compare itself with the culture. How do we compare to the latest music, shows, trends? But the hip/cool/fresh church isn't done here. If that church chooses to use its cultural relevancy as a marketing tool (let's call it what it is), it must then address a second standard. How do we compare to our brothers and sisters? You see, a church that chooses to fly under the banner of cool must do so by establishing other churches as "uncool." There message is rarely, if ever, that church in general is cool. Their message is our church is cool. Superiority is not merely implied by the cool church, it is often declared. Such statements as "better, different, fresh, new, "not like" often pepper their adds. Sentences launch with terms like "Finally," and "At last" to speak of their arrival. One is left to infer, "We should go to their church, it looks better than the other options."

But is this how we are to compete?
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.--1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules.--2 Timothy 2:5
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
If we are to race against one another, I don't want to run. There's no way I'm beating Paul and he says he's running to win. However, I think we have to understand the race analogy.

Sub 5 minute mile club Suppose a group of runners are competing against the 5 minute mile standard. Each runner trains, presses and disciplines himself to reach the mark. He is aware of the rules, not wanting to be disqualified despite his strenuous efforts. Yet, as he trains with others, he may notice a runner struggling. He may make suggestions, offer aid. Even in the race, the runners may encourage, challenge, push and even support each other as they all press for the similar goal. If only one runner in eight can acheive the mark, the reward is not greater for him than if all eight acheive the mark. They press, they work, they strive, they compete. But they can labor together.

The Mile Race However, if the runners are competing against one another, there is no such support. A couple of runners may train together, but for selfish reasons. Even if all eight runners record a sub-5 minute mile, only the very first person is truly the winner. Seven runners may have run a great race, but walk away "losers." In fact, they may all remain out of shape and not train. They all may have my physique. They may walk the race, yet someone will win. The "winner" may not be excellent, he's just not as bad as the others. There is no standard but just beating the other guy.

Paul is running the race. We are running the race. But we're not competing with one another. We're pushing one another, encouraging and exhorting. Our standard isn't the guy beside us (or the church down the street). Our standard is the Word of God. When a church makes obedience to the Word its goal, that church wins and can celebrate every church that does likewise. But when the church makes cool its goal, any other church becomes competition.

They no longer run to win, they run to beat the other guy.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Luther: Christ, Spirit, Word

On a fairly regularly basis, I have someone question if commitment to the Scriptures, diminishes a commitment to Christ and the Spirit. Some speculate that a life that searches the Book must not be the life that lives by the Spirit. Others see a "freedom and liberty" in Christ and the Spirit that they think runs in opposition to the Scriptures.

Luther dealt with these questions as well. In an audio biography, Piper pointed out a couple of things.

On the Holy Spirit and the Word
He said in 1520, "Be assured that no one will make a doctor of the Holy Scripture save only the Holy Ghost from heaven" (What Luther Says: An Anthology, Vol. 2, p. 1355). Luther was a great lover of the Holy Spirit. And his exaltation of the Book as the "external Word" did not belittle the Spirit. On the contrary it elevated the Spirit's great gift to Christendom. In 1533 he said, "The Word of God is the greatest, most necessary, and most important thing in Christendom" (What Luther Says: An Anthology, Vol. 2, p. 913). Without the "external Word" we would not know one spirit from the other, and the objective personality of the Holy Spirit himself would be lost in a blur of subjective expressions. Cherishing the Book implied to Luther that the Holy Spirit is a beautiful person to be known and loved, not a buzz to be felt.
On Christ and the Word
Another objection to Luther's emphasis on the Book is that it minimizes the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ himself. Luther says the opposite is true. To the degree that the Word of God is disconnected from the objective, "external Word," to that degree the incarnate Word, the historical Jesus, becomes a wax nose for the preferences of every generation. Luther had one weapon with which to rescue the incarnate Word form being sold in the markets of Wittenberg. He drove out the money changers—the indulgence sellers—with the whip of the "external Word," the Book.
Some picture Christ and the Spirit sitting in the corner jealous, as a believer digs into the Word. But this picture is incomplete. The Word (book) was written to reveal the Word (Christ). He is the subject of the Book.

So one studies the Word (book) to study the Word (Christ). But what of the Spirit, is He upset with the lack of attention? Paul doesn't think so. Neither does John. The Spirit wrote the Word and He illumines the Word for the believer. In fact, as a believer is in the Book, he is communing with the Spirit.

Praise God for His grace to help Luther see His Son through the work of the Spirit in His Word!