Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Prescription for Christian Renovation

I have written beforehand on the Three R's needed in modern church life and habit--Revival, Reformation and Revolution (Postscript in The Two-Talent Church: Truths for Health and Growth, Second Edition, 2010). Other writers have noted concern for revival (e.g. David Mains, 1990s; www.glotorch.org by The Sentinel Group outlining great city-wide revival movements and needs), reformation (John Piper, Mark Dever, but see Barna's work in http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/447-reformed-movement-in-american-churches) and revolution (a term coined by Christian Schwarz in Paradigm Shift in the Church: How Natural Church Development can Transform Theological Thinking; Frank Viola, Reimagining the Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity).

May I say, however, all to little or no avail! The latest Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in America notes an overall decline in Protestantism in America and a rise in the "Nones" -- those who say they have no religion (now one in five Americans). We are becoming a nation of "heretics" (See Ross Douthat in Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation of Heretics). Don Sweeting of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL notes that "spirituality and religious pluralism in America are on the rise" in http://www.worldviewchurch.org/wvc-digest/reasoning-together/18585-reflecting-on-the-protestant-decline-in-america. Yes, there are individual churches doing individual things for the gospel and the glory of God (See latest issues of Outreach Magazine at www.outreach.com), and we are thankful for them and their efforts. But the truth is we are fast losing the battle for souls and for the soul of this nation. Christian churches and institutions are becoming more and more marginalized. One example is that my wife and I were on a recent vacation and decided to walk this small town we were in on a Sunday morning. The restaurants were packed. On another trip, the malls were packed on a Sunday morning. Our hometown restaurant, long closed on Sundays, has recently opened its doors for business on Sunday--especially for the church crowd!!  And then there is the whole homosexuality battle with traditional Christian viewpoints being blasted, even by some in supposedly evangelical ranks. No longer is the Christian church the sounding board for morality and right thinking in America.

So, I propose a fourth "R" to my previous mix -- Renovation. The term means restore, refresh, reinvigorate, bring to a state of repair. We need a breath of "fresh wind, fresh fire" as Jim Cymbala would say. We need to start seeing things once again from God's point of view and not our homogenized, refined, American-laced Christian point of view. We need to repent, individually and corporately, as churches and as the Church in America. We need to own our spiritual poverty and desperate state. And we need some new champions of the faith, some Joshua's and some Paul's, to give us new challenges from God's Word.

Long gone is the Puritan hope of a "city on a hill" or America being a beacon of gospel light for the world. In many places we need the gospel to be freshly brought to us, along with the rest of the world. So, here's a five-point suggestion for renovation:

1.  Stop kidding ourselves!! We need to own the sad and poor state of the church and evangelical Christianity in America. We need to stop "pumping ourselves up" and waving our fading banners. We need to own our failure to really influence society around us. This has to be done church by church and movement by movement. We need to admit our need, to God especially, for major repair.

2.  Repent! Individually, corporately, nationally, denominationally, large and small churches and movements, parachurch organizations and everyone who wears the mantle of evangelical. We must repent of our pride, our insulation from this society and world, our puffed up sense of "having it together." We must repent of our failure to impact our own people who fill our pews Sunday by Sunday. We must repent of making converts but not disciples. We must repent of our laziness as ministers of the gospel and minister the gospel!! We must repent of building our own empires, our own churches, our own movements while ignoring the world going to hell in a handbasket.

3.  Reframe the gospel message for a new day! Not change the message, or massage the message, or dumb down the message. We must bravely and courageously make the gospel message relevant and pointed to our people and our society. This requires more study, more prayer, more sweat by preachers and teachers today. We need to stop preaching each other's sermons or one another's packaging. God has called us if we are preachers and teachers of the Word of God to labor with God in prayer and with His Word until renovation begins in our own contexts.

4.  Seek to work together for God!  We have ineffective ministeriums in many towns and cities across this nation. We have fundamentalists refusing to work with evangelical Catholics. We are splintered, and this needs to stop. We must answer the call for "oneness" that Jesus wanted in John 17. We must join forces, work together for God's glory and the good of everyone around us.

5.  Get involved in our communities for the sake of the gospel! We need to return to the older model of being ministers to the town or city or area God has called us to. We need to see our parish as everyone in that place where God has called us to labor. We need to serve as police chaplains, as hospital aides and prayer partners, as Chamber of Commerce board members and influencers. We need to pray for and with our business leaders and political representatives. We need to stop preaching AT them and start bringing Christ's love and Word TO them in meaningful service.

There are most likely many more points to make. But enough for now. Renovate!!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Gay Debate: Critique of Matthew Vines

This post is an objective critique of Matthew Vines presentation on March 8, 2012 on "The Bible and Homosexuality" that has been posted on YouTube. Let me say first of all, that the critique is not meant to be derogatory or out of rash responsiveness. We have had too much of that kind of response from the non-homosexual community. So, I write out of Christian concern and love, but also concern for the veracity and authority of Scripture on the subject. Readers can listen to Matthew's presentation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezQjNJUSraY&feature=player_embedded.

First, this is a well-constructed and seemingly persuasive argument for loving, caring and faithful homosexual relationships in a Christian context. Matthew appeals to caring for God's creation, and part of that is to respect and honor one another, including faithful, committed homosexuals and their relationships. He maintains that the few selective passages in the Bible that specifically address homosexual, or supposed homosexual, behavior have not been understood in context or biblical theological honesty. He appeals to the Christian community to take another look at homosexuality from a positive and affirming perspective.

But he makes a presumptive argument here that can be debated. He assumes that homosexual orientation is God-given and always good. He never critiques or questions homosexual orientation, but affirms it as part of God's intended purpose and creation. He buttresses this assumption with the argument that since "aloneness" is not "good" (from Genesis), and Jesus wants what is "good" for us (from Mathew 7), that "forcing" homosexuals to be "alone" deprives them of what God and Jesus want for them and for all human beings. He would also say that heterosexuals don't "understand" this "good" orientation and thus cannot appreciate it as a "natural" orientation, just like their heterosexual orientation. However, has homosexuality been proven or demonstrated to be a normal orientation? What is normalcy in sexuality? And, it is gratuitous to assume I can simply affirm my orientation as part of God's "good" creation.

This is especially the case in bestiality. If I am "naturally" sexually attracted to dogs, and after all a dog is man's best friend, then having sex with my dog is "good!" Few people would say so. But I could argue that I am committed and faithful to my dog, that my dog fulfills me and cures my loneliness, that I am committed to only this one dog and not others. And, that I cannot help myself since that is my "natural" orientation. Do we really want to go there??!

The other problem here is the definition of "goodness" in God's sight. What is "good" to me may not be good to God. God's goodness is built on His character, His definitions, His revelation of goodness in the Bible. Just assuming or saying something is "good" does not make it so to God. For instance, many people assume humankind is essentially "good" and that is their natural or normal state. Sin comes into being when they violate that natural state of goodness. But that is not what the Bible proclaims or describes. Humankind is essentially flawed, essentially sinful and depraved. It needs redeemed and delivered, and that is what Jesus came to do. This teaching or doctrine of "total depravity" is biblically pervasive and must not be ignored in the discussion of homosexuality. This is not to say that homosexuals are by nature and desire "bad" because of their homosexuality. EVERYONE is by nature, temperament and desire essentially bad. It is only by God's restraining grace or redeeming grace that any "good" can come from us.

So, to argue from what is "good" is to assume a whole lot about human nature and God that Matthew Vines does, incorrectly, I believe.

Second, to say that the Old Testament (OT) passages in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 do not apply to anyone, especially believers in Christ today is a bit premature. It is declaring that the Old Testament no longer applies to Christians today, especially the legal code of the OT. If so, then the ten commandments should no longer apply. And, scholars have noted that the ten basic commandments really give the basis for all of the OT law code. So, the commandment not to commit adultery applies across the board to all sorts of sexual sin, not merely the narrow act of adultery by a spouse of a heterosexual couple. Is sex before marriage O.K. because I am in a loving, committed, faithful relationship? No it is not O.K.

True, there are many portions of the Levitical law code that do not apply today, but the PRINCIPLES behind that code certainly do apply for all time. Or, maybe Vines would say God made a mistake with the people of Israel and gave them restrictive and extraneous laws to subjugate them and their "natural" and normal sexual orientation, which must have included homosexuality?? To say that Christ fulfilled the Law and we are free from the Law is a blanket statement that must be qualified biblically. Older commentators have noted the threefold use of the Law in the OT--ceremonial, civil and moral. Matthew Vines has not taken this into account at all.

Third, his understanding of Romans 1-3 is flawed, I believe. Paul IS talking about the universality of sin in these chapters, not just about idolatry, unless we broaden the concept of idolatry to define the essence of sin. It is a unique interpretation to say that Rom. 1:18ff refer to select people who willfully choose idolatry and thus engage in unnatural sexual relationships, AS IF he is not referring to ALL humanity in their rejection of God as God. ALL humans choose idolatry in some form apart from God's grace in the gospel in Christ. This is a condemnation of all people without Jesus Christ, and thus the great need of Romans 3 and 4 and redemption in Christ for those who live by faith.

Fourth, his treatment of what is commonly translated "homosexuality" in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:9-10 as "economic exploitation through sexual coercion" is wanting. It is not a done deal exegetically or linguistically. Just looking at the massive literature on the terminology Paul uses does not at all rule out what we would consider normal, homosexual behavior. "Whatever the specific meaning of [the term] in 1 Tim 1:10, it denotes a type of illicit sexual activity that breaks the seventh commandment" and "homosexuality was especially common in Ephesus." (Word Biblical Commentary, William Mounce) The point is that the modern translation of "homosexual offenders" or "perverts" is not out of line linguistically, biblically or theologically. To say, as Vines does, that this does not refer to "loving, committed, faithful homosexual relationships" cannot be sustained. It is his opinion against many substantial New Testament scholars and writers.

I do feel saddened by those who experience rejection by the Christian community, no matter what their sin may be. This should not be among those who claim the love of God and the power of the gospel in their midst. However, to move into a blanket affirmation of homosexuality as a "normal" or "natural" practice and habit for those "so oriented" goes beyond the Scriptures. It becomes a humanistic argument, feelings based, human-centered and not God-centered.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is Gay Marriage A Problem for the Church?

Geoff Surratt has recently written on gay marriage in his blog (http://geoffsurratt.com/blog/2012/05/11/ my-thoughts-on-gay-marriage/). Actually, I mostly like it. It is refreshing, positive, and focuses on a real issue--and that is making marriages healthy and God-centered. He takes a biblical stand AGAINST gay relationships and announces what he is for and against in that area, but is unwilling to major "on the minors" as he sees it.

The exception I would make is that I think gay marriage is a "litmus test" as to the Christian or not-so-Christian state of America. And it comes up looking pretty bad. To publicly endorse gay marriage, especially from the Oval Office, is to "bless" gays and their agendas. It is more than just recognizing them as legitimate. It is sanctioning them and making them "normal" for the country as a whole. Of course, the President maintains that religious institutions do not have to recognize gay marriage or relationships. The problem here is that whether or not a church or ministry recognizes it or not, such a marriage is legitimate and must be seen and acted upon as such by everyone. To not "accept" gay marriage in the church is meaningless at best and temporary at worst. Sooner or later the church will have to come to the issue of recognizing gay marriage and gay life as "normal" in America and treat it as such. I believe down the road will come legal action against churches who hold out against gay marriage and gays in general. After all, the union is legitimate and sanctioned by state law and government force.

What distinguishes gay rights from civil rights is its decidedly anti-biblical stance and basis. While slave owners and Southern sympathizers "used" Scripture to try to justify slavery and its vices, most biblical writers and scholars and churches saw the evil in such a stance. They rightly discarded slavery and its advocacy in a biblical framework. This was not socializing the Bible, nor accommodating the Scriptures. It was about honoring the image of God in a person of different race than white. It was about treating them with God-honoring respect and acceptance. Their color was not a "choice" they had, as the gay and lesbian person has. To maintain that "gayness" is hereditary or a "necessary" human trait has not and cannot be validated. It is a choice, and an anti-biblical one at that (cf. Romans 1). Sodom and Gomorrah will be re-visited, and God's judgment will be similar. To claim that is harsh and unloving is to claim God does not know what He, as a loving and just God, is doing.

It is when "forced" to recognize gay marriage as "normal" and legitimate that the church will have to take a stand and accept whatever backlash it will suffer, which could range from individual persecution to fines to jail time for its leaders and constituents. I agree that we cannot legislate morality, but we certainly should not legislate or legitimize sinful choices and behaviors. We will have to make a choice, as did Joshua in Joshua 24:15 -- "But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Evangelical Erosion

I remember an older book by Charles Swindoll in which he talks about "erosion" and the problem with it. Erosion happens without us ever noticing it until it is too late. Slowly, month by month, year by year, a beach is eroded away. Homes are placed in jeopardy. Roads become swallowed up by the sea. This can happen in anything, and it is happening in theology and biblical circles.

I recently attended a conference held by Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia on "Science and Faith." The speakers were top-notch. The subject was well-covered and documentation was adequately provided. The problem, however, was that one speaker, Dr. Denis Lamoureux from St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta postulated that although sin is real and that we all need a Savior, sin entered the world NOT through a historical Adam and Eve. Biblical folks, he says, have conflated the message of theology and salvation with an ancient phenomenological perspective. Because the Apostle Paul accepted ancient science and cosmology, his use of Adam to tie him to universal sin is a conflation we cannot make. Human sin simply manifested itself gradually over many generations. No historical Adam and Eve is necessary for salvation theology. He represents a growing tide and trend in the biblical-theological and church world.

Then there came the President's announcement that, though he affirmed the Christian faith, he now believes we must fully accept and bless and make same-sex marriage legal and acceptable. After all, his kids and co-workers who know many gays and gay couples can't be wrong!!! He believes he can maintain a Christian testimony and profession and fully endorse and support gay marriage and gay rights. After all, the Bible was written in ancient times with ancient formulas and ancient problems, such as those referred to in Romans 1. This is not the truth or necessary for today. Again, many evangelicals and seeker-targeted churches, especially the megachurches in this country, will buy into this way of thinking. That I can confess Christ and be a Christ-follower and bless homosexuality and gay couples and people. At the very least, I don't need to make declarations against it.

Erosion! Evangelical erosion is taking place. I predict that in a decade or less, many Christian churches and ministries will view homosexuality as a "choice" and not a "sin." Gay people and couples will be welcomed into our churches, as we now welcome divorced people and couples. Barriers to their service and use in ministry will be dropped. As long as they show a loving spirit, they can become caring deacons and astute teachers. Many will ignore Romans 1 or re-tool it and re-interpret it so that modern gays are not addressed by it. They will still need Jesus, still need a saving knowledge of Christ, still depend on Him for salvation and eternal life. And, some will hope that they might "give up" their gay orientation, but it will not become a requirement or expectation. This is where we are headed. No historical Adam and Eve. No barrier to gays. No problem! Erosion.

We cannot play fast-and-loose with biblical revelation or truth. We cannot have two "rights" and no "wrongs." We cannot say that part of the Bible is O.K. while the other parts are open to modern ways of seeing and believing. Not only will we lose our distinctives and truth...we will lose Jesus as well. Because if I can re-contextualize the Bible to fit my sensibilities, then I can do away with Jesus as the "ONLY" way, truth and life.

It is coming. Erosion. What will you do to stop it??

Friday, March 30, 2012

Comments on Preaching

I am using Chuck Colson's BreakPoint for morning devotions and studies now. He is quoting John Stott's Art of Preaching quite well and I often add my own thoughts to his and Stott's. This blog is a compilation of some of those thoughts. Hope you find this interesting. I would love any interaction you might have.

March 30, 2012

"Preachers must guard their time for study almost as zealously as they guard their times of devotion and prayer. How can we minister God’s Word to God’s people in this age in flight from God if we do not make the time, on a regular and disciplined basis, to have our own souls and lives formed accordingly? Set up a schedule for study – and for devotions and prayer – and then stay at it." and this note: "Good preachers are good learners, and not just of the Scriptures. They need to understand the times and the ways the times impact the people they are called to serve. Preachers who know their sheep well, as our Good Shepherd exemplified for us, will hear their concerns, understand their thoughts, discern their hopes and fears, and be able to preach in a way that speaks directly to their souls with transforming grace and power. Let us strive to be sons of Issachar when it comes to the ministry of God’s Word." So it is rigorous book study but also people study that is advocated here. Understanding the Word of God dovetails with understanding the times in which we live. Both exegesis of the Word of God and the culture are needed for relevant and penetrating sermons and messages. And this requires I would say CONSTANT study and observation and interaction--with God and with the world.

Some examples. When at a doctor's office or dentist, arrive early and spend some time flipping through the magazines on the waiting room table, or chatting with some of the other people there. Read--listen--learn and imbibe. Have a constant reading plan of three or four or five books that you are reading and taking notes on. What helps me is meeting with five or six other guys and reading different books with them. Writing down questions and answers on what is read. Discussing it in depth and analyzing and digesting it. This should be a constant practice and a habit of ministerial excellence.

Also, write articles, blogs, even work on a book or so. Not so much for others or publication (that is really easy today through Lulu and others), but for self-discipline and study. I believe it was Augustine who was ordered by God when seeing the Bible to "pick it up and read." He did so and changed much of Western thought through his writings.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 7:40 AM 

"Instead, it is our responsibility to teach them with clarity and conviction the plain truths of Scripture, in order to help them develop a Christian mind, and to encourage them to think with it about the great problems of the day, and so to grow into maturity in Christ.” (Colson, BreakPoint, quoting Stott, Art of Preaching) Harry Blamires wrote on the necessity and importance of the Christian Mind a few years ago (2005 edition available from Amazon.com). Again I must agree with Stott and Colson on this topic. The LEAST developed part of a Christian in this world is the MIND--the lack of a thoroughly biblical world-and-life viewpoint. George Barna noted the same thing in his analysis a few years ago. We have Christians who are "baby" Christians mentally speaking, or their thinking is like "mush" or just scattered all over the place. And a large part of the blame is due to shoddy preaching and teaching.

Much of preaching has addressed the emotions of people, seeking to woo them and convict them and move them emotionally to God. This is only part of the task of a faithful minister of the Gospel. We must focus on and address the mind. Why is this lack so prevalent? For several reasons I believe. First, some are just unschooled--a kind of anti-intellectualism claiming the Apostle Paul as their champion with his words from 1 Cor. The problem is that Paul was one of the most schooled men of his day and used very sophisticated argumentation in many of his messages (cf. Acts 17). This excuse is simply laziness and lack of due diligence in their study of the Word.

Second, some believe that preaching should only address the "heart"--that it should "touch" people in their relationship with God. This is partly emotionalism but also partly mysticism. It is the conviction that the things of God must be deeply felt and SENSED to be true preaching and teaching. The problem here is that only God the Spirit can really reach the "heart," and we are attempting to do what only God can do.

A third problem is from the vast majority of intellectually qualified preachers themselves. It is what I would call pseudo-intellectual preaching and teaching. Quoting a few Greek words or commentaries or philosophical insights is not what Stott is talking about. He is talking about preaching and teaching with CLARITY and CONVICTION. Preaching is not giving a history lesson or merely tantalizing the mind with obscure facts that mean little to the person in the pew. True thinking preaching is speaking with so much clarity and elegant simplicity that the text is profoundly opened to the people, forcing them to grapple with its implications and insights to their day to day lives and needs. This takes study, patience, more study and loads of prayer and full dependence on God the Holy Spirit. It is not false intellectualism.

A final problem is the attempt to be "relevant." Relevancy is much overrated, I believe. Whether it's post-modern or post-post-modern relevancy or whatever, what most people, including twenty-somethings want and need is a clear declaration and understanding of the Word of God. Yes, applied to them and their situations but not with all the "options" we THINK they should have-like a mystical reading of the text themselves so they can pick and choose what is "truth" to them. They need to hear God through His Word clearly and convictionally. We need not "dumb-down" the Bible to reach them. We need not adapt the Bible to them. We need to address their minds and hearts and emotions fully and authentically. That is what they want and need.

Monday, March 26, 2012 7:36 AM 

"How can we help church members to think Christianly about a particular topic of debate? It seems we have a fourfold duty. First, we must expound with courage, clarity and conviction the biblical principle or principles which are involved...Secondly, we should seek to summarize fairly the alternative applications which biblical Christians have made...Thirdly, we should feel free, if we judge it wise, to indicate which position we hold and why. And fourthly, we should leave the congregation free, after grasping the principles we have taught and weighing the issues we have sketched, to make up their own minds.” (Colson, BreakPoint, quoting John Stott, The Art of Preaching) I like Stott's outline of the "fourfold duty" of preaching. I especially resonate with his appeal not to simply excite the emotions of the hearers, which many preachers and teachers try to do. The issue is engaging the mind of the hearer, many of whom have the "mind of Christ," with Christ-centered facts and logic and data so they can make up their own minds and hearts about this or that. This is the role of preaching, especially expository preaching, but ALL preaching needs to do this.

Some would say that Stott deals only with mental and theological stimulation and that there are many learners who learn rather through experience, or visually, or emotionally or through their "hearts." Thus, the need for all forms of preaching. I must, however, agree with Stott and others that the mind is the gateway to the heart, the emotions, the will and the life of a person. The Proverbs remind us, "As a man thinks in his heart..." So thinking is at the center of a person's being and life.

The other need today especially is that the Christian mind needs training and development and meat, not just milk and pablum. Without such meat no long-term growth can and will result. People who stay mental babies all their lives are ill-equipped to face the trials and temptations and struggles and stands that a Christian must live through in this life. Churches cannot grow healthy without meaty Christians. Ministries cannot accomplish God's goals for them without meat. "Line upon line, precept upon precept" should be the rule of a preachers and teachers life.

Friday, March 23, 2012 7:23 AM 

"Doctrine without duty is sterile; faith without works is dead. But what are the ‘works’ which are the fruit of faith? It is here that disagreement begins. It may be helpful to consider the matter as a series of concentric circles, beginning with personal ethics, and then moving on through the churchly, the domestic and the social issues which have a political dimension.” (Colson, BreakPoint, quoting Stott, The Art of Preaching) Yes, sanctification is indeed the outcome of justification. And for the preacher/teacher that means covering the whole range of life and affairs--cultural, scientific, philosophical and socio-political. Not as a hobby-horse, as I have seen some do, however. And not as a main attraction either, as I believe Jim Dobson and others have done. Rather as ancillary to the Gospel message and presentation.

It is the Gospel alone that changes men and nations!! Social and political action, even right and proper action, cannot change the hearts of men. I know all about Wilberforce and his 25 year campaign to rid the British Empire from slavery. And that was laudable. BUT, and this is a big "but," he was NOT a preacher! His main task was that of a politician and as a Christian politician the ending of slavery was like the preacher centering in on the Gospel. It is only the transformation of the heart that can ever lead to a truly changed mind and actions. Yes, that heart needs instructed in God's ways, but it needs divine transformation to begin with. And that is what the Gospel does and promises as it is faithfully taught and declared.

Monday, March 19, 2012 7:26 AM 

"it is across this broad and deep divide of two thousand years of changing culture (more still in the case of the Old Testament) that Christian communicators have to throw bridges. Our task is to enable God’s revealed truth to flow out of the Scriptures into the lives of the men and women of today.”What do we as preachers have in common with the Scriptures, the believers of two thousand years ago, the believers sitting in our pulpits, and the lost world and its culture? Many things, no doubt, but chief among them – the Holy Spirit. He gave the Scriptures" (Colson, Breakpoint, quoting John Stott, the Art of Preaching, Mar 19) The "glue" that holds all cultures together and enables us to speak God's Word in all seasons to all cultures is the Holy Spirit. It is, after all, His Word and His power that makes His Word applicable and powerful.

A couple of other reflections. First, we must "exegete" the culture(s) we speak to and interact with. This is sometimes hard work, but it is the necessary work for any missionary--and we are all missionaries. This requires adequate immersion and knowledge of the culture(s) and the ability to extract what is important enough to communicate well enough. Second, we must study and apply God's Word in its applicability to TODAY. Too many conservative preachers and teachers use applications and information of another day and another time. Like using Spurgeon's applications for the modern world. While some may say they "still apply," the fact is proper application of Scripture is an art, not a science, and we need to pay attention to the direction of the Holy Spirit in our world today. Third, in all of this we still need to stay true to the Word and not devalue or limit or change its essential message and import. Application is application, not exposition of a passage.

Lord, God, keep me true to Your Word and relevant to my culture today as I seek to teach, preach and share Your Word with others, especially those outside the faith.

Sunday, March 18, 2012 7:02 AM 

"Properly speaking, ‘exposition’ has a much broader meaning. It refers to the content of the sermon (biblical truth) rather than its lifestyle (a running commentary). To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view.” (Stott, The Art of Preaching, quoted in Colson, BreakPoint). I agree. The point of preaching is to herald or declare the Word of God, not our ramblings or thoughts or insights. And, Stott is not talking about a "running verse-by-verse commentary" either.He is talking about elucidating the text of Scripture so that its true meaning and application come forth to the group of people whom God has given you to shepherd.

I am most disturbed in these days about internet-provided sermons and preaching "helps." Without the labor and prayer over a passage of Scripture, God has not spoken to you and to your people. It is one thing to borrow hints and reflections from others; it is quite another to discern through study and the voice of the Holy Spirit what this passage has to say to you and your situation. The former veers toward plagerism. Yes, oher's insights may help as the sermon is formed, but they must not become the meat and heart of it. Or, just say to the people this is so-and-so's sermon re-preached for today! I once did that with a Spurgeon message since I felt that it accurately reflected what my people needed at the time. But I've only done so once or twice my whole career.

Lord, continue to make me faithful to Your Word and what You want me to say to the people week by week! Give me strength and energy and insight to study, wrestle through and prayerfully listen to You as I prepare lessons and messages.

Monday, March 12, 2012 7:37 AM 

"We must always remember that the Word of God is just that – God’s own Word to all generations. In our preaching we must exalt Christ and expound His Word, guarding against the tendency to be merely subjective or sentimental, indulging ourselves or pandering to the felt needs of our hearers. The Word of God is wiser than we are." (Colson, BreakPoint, Mar 12) Taken from John Stott, this devotional focuses on proclaiming the unadulterated Word of God, not our own experiences with that Word. Stott and Colson maintain that our preaching and teaching have become too subjective, pandering to the interests and concerns of the audience rather than letting God's Word do what it has been designed to do--convict, teach, transform and challenge people's minds and hearts.

I agree. In all the talk about reaching a post-post-modern generation, whose rejection of absolute truth has made it difficult for declarative preaching and teaching, we need to re-affirm and in some cases resurrect direct, bold and forceful teaching of the Word of God. That is the only ordained source of power and life-change, not our illustrations and subjectivism. So the question is always--Am I being faithful to the Word of God and let God be God in the transformation of lives??

O Lord, make it so in my life and ministry!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Manhattan Declaration--What should we do?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 7:33 AM

Today I signed the "Manhattan Declaration." It is a declaration prepared by Chuck Colson and others who are not simply annoyed but frightened by the present Administration's limits on freedom of religion in this country. The latest attack has come on the Catholic Church in their stand against the use of contraceptives, requiring them to hire and promote contraception procedures at their hospitals and agencies. This is outright limitation of religious freedom. Even though we as evangelicals may have no qualms about this, Colson asks, "What and Who's next??"

For those who have been following national agendas and politics, there has been increasing limitation on religious liberty in this country. While odd sects and groups have often been targeted for their anti-American or even dangerous terrorist-type tactics, now religious persecution and limitations are being placed on mainline Christian and Judaeo-Christian groups, especially evangelical groups and causes. The fragmentation and demise of our moral values is being united with increasing attacks and open belligerence against foundational evangelical tenets and voices. The gay agenda is winning the day and is being openly promoted in our nation's schools and public places as allowable alternative, even normal, behavior and practice. Gay couples increasingly are given the same rights as traditional couples.

While this behavior and open hostility should surprise no one, I am concerned that evangelical Christians continue to either silently protest or ignore these salvos. We hide behind our first amendment rights, but the meaning and application of those rights are being whittled away day by day. Government interpretation and secular humanism and anti-Christian thought is gaining an upper hand.

So, what should we do? I would invite some critical and biblical thinking about this. Let me know your thoughts and perceptions.