Friday, May 30, 2008

Economy of Words

I spoke with a pastor this week and he mentioned the importance of speaking in brevity. In other words, don't take fifty words to say what you could say in ten. This is important for Christians, we should always choose our words wisely, but especially when it comes to spiritual matters. Often our loquacious tendencies are aimed more at flaunting our knowledge and understanding than at shedding light on God's holy Word.

Never say in few words what needs thourough definition, but always say as little as possible. It's strikes me that saying as little as possible is much like me decreasing and Him increasing (see John 3:30).

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Saturday Night Special

This is primarily for pastors. I just read that Preaching Today reports the most downloads of its message manuscripts happen on Saturday. Outside of the fact that downloading sermon manuscripts hardly equals sermon preparation, to wait until Saturday to prepare a sermon is definitely not giving God your best effort, nor is it giving the people to whom you preach the best opportunity to experience God's word.

Pastors, the Sunday morning message is the most important task you will undertake all week long. Make it a priority and not an afterthought. Sure, things come up that make it difficult to prepare your messages, but when the preparation of your message is THE priority for your week, its amazing how much easier it is to be prepared on Sunday. Take the time and give God and your people your best effort. God will be glorified and they will be edified.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Gospel of Judas

Just recently I wrote a very short review of N.T. Wright's book, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus at my blog devoted to book reviews, Craig's Reading List. The May 30 issue of The Chronicle Review has an article by Thomas Bartlett discussing more recent scholarship surrounding the so-called Gospel of Judas.

The controversy, though not as public and media-grabbing, is far from over, especially since the original documents have been made public through high resolution imaging within just the past year. The blatant misinterpretations and the overly good picture painted of by the original translators of this gnostic text have caused somewhat of an uproar among scholars.

All of you might not be interested in such a conversation, but for those who might be, the full text of the article can be found here.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

With Age Comes Wisdom (AKA: Sometimes we need to be quiet)

It is true that the blogosphere is dominated by younger generations. I do not have any scientific data to back this up, only my experiences. Let me say that I am sometimes obsessed with blogs, I even have a book by Hugh Hewitt called Blog (which I highly recommend), which claims to be a guide to understanding the information reformation. Blogs have given anyone with a computer and an internet connection the opportunity to be a published author and to have your ideas read by hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people.

With this technology, I would suggest, especially to those younger generations, that we temper our blogs with humility and respect. I just read the blog of a masters level student blasting a theology professor in an accredited seminary with absolutely no respect for the professor's credentials, accomplishments, or heart.

This reminded me of Paul's instruction to Timothy, Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father (1 Tim. 5:1). Let us all remember that with age comes wisdom and often temperance. It is our responsibility to stand for the truth of the Word regardless of age, in fact, Paul also commands that even young men be an example to all.

Let me offer this suggestion, before you get too excited about how much you know at 25, 26, 27, or 28 years old, remember that Timothy was probably older than that and was still being called a young man. Remember also, that those men twice our age have had access to twice as many years of learning and experience. May we all be quick to listen to our elders and slow to speak...who knows, we migh actually learn something from them (and, they might even be more open to our ideas if they see us as respectful rather than repugnant).

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Eating Can Make You Smarter?

Eating is definitely one of my favorite pasttimes, but I ran across a Psychology Today article today that outlines The Brain Power Diet. In this article, the author gives suggestions for certain ways of eating that actually improve your mental performance. In reading this article, I was reminded of Jonathan Edwards' resolutions on healthy eating and I pulled this quote from an article written by John Piper in 1988. You can find the whole article, The Pastor As Theologian, here.

With regard to his eating habits, not only was he willing to skip dinner for the sake of his study if things were really flowing, he also, Dwight tells us, "carefully observed the effects of the different sorts of food, and selected those which best suited his constitution, and rendered him most fit for mental labour." (Works, I, xxxviii) Edwards had set this pattern when he was 21 years old when he wrote in his diary,

By a sparingness in diet, and eating as much as may be what is light and easy of digestion, I shall doubtless be able to think more clearly, and shall gain time;
1. By lengthening out my life;
2. Shall need less time for digestion, after meals;
3. Shall be able to study more closely, without injury to my health;
4. Shall need less time for sleep;
5. Shall more seldom be troubled with the head-ache. (Works, I, xxxv)

I commend for your consideration whether such care to maximize time and effectiveness in devotion to the ministry of the word is what Paul meant when he said redeem the time and when the Preacher said, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might."

Christians, pastors especially, before you indulge in all of those carbs and fats at lunch, maybe you should consider your ability to focus on the task God has given your hands to do in the afternoon even as you mind your waistline.

Footnote: Someone probably needs to preach this to me too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Contextualization Does Not Only Mean Contemporary

Part two of Contending, Contextualizing, and Seeking Converts.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is given by most people as the standard scripture passage on contextualization, and rightly so. Regarding his practice of contextualization, Paul writes,

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Unfortunately, in many circles, contextualization has become somewhat of a bad word. I think that is true because of a common misconception by many people that contextualization is merely mimicking another ministry or becoming “contemporary” (whatever that means anymore, if we could become post-modern, I think we should begin examining the term “post-contemporary” for churches). When we relegate our contextualization simply to styles of music, we reduce relevance to worship only and forget that relevance begins in the grocery store, on the job site, and at the gym. If we Christians are not careful, we will lose relevance with those outside of the church long before they ever enter one of our buildings.

Contextualization is not a bad word that aims to rid our churches of senior citizens. Neither is it a code word for, “let’s turn the church into a rock concert.” Instead, the term contextualization simply implies that we should all seek to live our lives as the apostle Paul lived his…by becoming “all things to all people, that by all means [we] might save some.” Contextualization is the process by which churches and individual Christians seek to alter their lifestyle or preferences (while still holding true to the teachings of Scripture) for the intent purpose of sharing the gospel.

I like what one person said recently, contextualization could be redefined as seeking to be relevant. Of course, as I have often said, relevance is relative; relative to your location, situation in life, and cultural context. Relevant in Camden, SC, for instance, is not the same as relevant in San Francisco, but relevance in each situation is necessary for the purpose of spreading the gospel.

We dare not go so far in our efforts of contextualizing, as many have done in throughout the history of the church, that we forsake the true and pure message of Scripture. This is the argument with many in the Emergent Church stream. In an effort to seem relevant, they have forsaken their first love and have ceased to contend for the true faith. Relevance without pure doctrine is misleading and harmful. I fear that many who have diluted or even outright rejected the teachings of Scripture in our day have misled many into a false hope in a false faith.

The gospel is relevant to all peoples in all places in all generations. It is not our job to contemporize or contextualize the teachings of Scripture. We must only be certain that the package in which we share the Good News continues to be as relevant as its content.

Fear not, if you enjoy your traditional church setting, continue to worship in that context, but work to be certain that your context continues to be relevant to reaching the culture around you. And, if you want to worship with incense and candles, then by all means, light up, but be certain that your worship is true to God’s word. The command of Christ to make disciples is too important for us to fail simply because we refused to be open minded about the way in which we deliver the gospel.

Contextualizing is a great word to summarize what missionaries have always done in foreign lands, it is just that in our global society, contextualization is necessary in your own neighborhood as well as Botswana. So, go, be missionaries to your world, share the good news, see people get saved.
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This is Great!

If you win after I advertised this, I expect a free book at least.

May Giveaway

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Contending For The Faith

Part One of Contending, Contextualizing, and Seeking Converts.

Jude 3 says this, Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Jude, the half brother of Jesus, is very open with his readers here. It was his desire to write to them about their common salvation, but instead, he found it necessary to change course in his letter in light of the opposition he discovered to be present among his readers. As evangelical Christians, it is important that we cling to important truths about the Bible. The simple fact that we refer to ourselves as evangelical Christians, rather than simply Christians, is a sign of the importance of giving some definition to what it means to be evangelical.

In many circles, the term Christian is even being dropped in favor of terminology such as Christ Follower. Why? Because the terms themselves have become so ambiguous that in, the estimation of many, they no longer represent the truth in which they were rooted. So, for instance, those who claim the Christian faith must identify themselves as mainline, evangelical, and/or born again, etc... An evangelical understands that being a Christian requires regeneration, but to the world at large, the lack of understanding about these terms has required further explanation. Even last week, evidence of this desire to define evangelicalism was given in the release of the Evangelical Manifesto, which is the attempt by some scholars and well known evangelicals to define what evangelicalism is and is not.

In light of these things, if we are to be missional, before we can ever talk about our common salvation we must be willing to contend for the faith that was once delivered for all the saints.

Unless we properly define the faith, it is impossible to have an adequate discussion of that faith. Jude knew this, and illustrates it well for all of us to model in his epistle. According to Tom Shreiner, the faith here spoken of here does not refer to trusting God. In this context, "faith" refers to the traditional teaching that was to be safeguarded. Paul and Luke also mention the "faith" on several occasions when they have in mind the message of the gospel (Gal. 1:23; Eph. 4:5; Col 1:23; 1 Tim 3:9; 4:1; 6:10, 21; 2 Tim 3:8; Acts 6:7; 13:8).[1]

The faith of which Jude spoke was and continues to be the truth of the gospel. The truth and purity of that faith was of such great importance to Jude, that he turned from his original intent, and wrote a different letter. In this letter, he encourages his readers to contend for the faith. The word contend in the New Testament means exactly what you probably think it means; fight on behalf of the faith. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, says fight with everything you have. In fact, in a brief survey of modern translations (I only checked about 5), I could showed no translation that uses any word other than contend.

It is possible that this word has its roots in either military engagement or athletics, but the truth of that is not verifiable, neither are those illustrations necessary to communicate the earnestness in the message of Jude. Jude meant for his readers to fight for the truth in the face of some who had gained admission to the church and were perverting the truth of the gospel and the grace of God.

If we are to be truly evangelical, as we must not only share the Good News of Jesus, we must define that Good News and constantly fight for the purity of that definition within our churches. Will Metzger has said that truth is the measuring stick for evangelism, but it is also the measuring stick for evangelicalism. Without absolute truth, we are just liberals.

In the Affirmations and Denials of Together for the Gospel, gospel is affirmed this way:

We affirm that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s means of bringing salvation to His people, that sinners are commanded to believe the Gospel, and that the church is commissioned to preach and teach the Gospel to all nations.

Affirmation of this Gospel, however, is not a definition of the gospel and it is not enough. John Stott says that the Good News is this:

That Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.

This may not be a comprehensive definition, but it is pretty good for a concise statement about the truth of the gospel, and is a statement with which I readily and heartily attach myself. It is this faith that we must contend for. The gospel of social activism or environmentalism or prosperity is not the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Those instead are messages that have recently been delivered to itching ears (see 2 Timothy 4:1-3).

If we are to be truly evangelical, which is a word that comes from the transliteration of the Greek word for gospel, then we must be gospel people and we must have such a firm grasp on the concept of gospel that we can and are willing to contend for it. If we preach a false gospel, a fake gospel, a wrong gospel, we have ceased to be evangelical and have become accursed (Gal 1:8), to use Paul’s language. A false gospel is false hope and offers to no one the promise of salvation, only one of delusion and confusion. Salvation from anything other than our sins is little more than self-help, and no one will ever help themselves out of their sins and into God’s grace.

Missional people are evangelical by definition. Evangelical people are gospel people by definition. The gospel is the root of all that is Missional and evangelical, and the truth of the gospel must be fought for whenever it is questioned; not because the truth changes, but because only a truly taught gospel can bring salvation to sinners.

[1] Schreiner, Tom. The New American Commentary: 1,2 Peter, Jude. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2003, 434.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Our Mission

I picked this up in a Mark Driscoll sermon the other day. As evangelicals, here are three things on which we must focus:

1. Contend for the truth of the gospel.

2. Contextualize the message.

3. Seek the conversion of sinners.'

Over the next several days, I'm going to look at each one of these points in greater detail. I hope that you will join me as we probe deeper into what it means to be an evangelical Christian.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Rules Equal Freedom

We find true freedom in submission to the commands of Christ and under his lordship. Christians, at least most Christians, would claim to belive this, but how well do we truly exemplify this in our every-day lives. For instance, do we bow to the commands of Scripture always and rejoice in the freedom we find in those restrictions?

Western culture seeks to throw off all rules and defend "personal freedom," but the absence of rules does not equal freedom, it leads to danger and disaster. I read recently that one may feel totally free when driving at 100 MPH, but if the road is only built for a speed of 35 MPH, going off the side of the mountain, the driver will soon realize that he was not free at all, he was stupid. In like manner, obeying the commands of God give us freedom to live into the abundant life that Christ has given us.

Avoiding sexual immorality seems crazy when you want to sleep with your girlfriend in high school, but when she gets pregnant, you realize that you lost your freedom because you disobeyed God's commands. Gluttony seems fun, but heart disease will keep you from the activities you enjoy. Ultimately, however, the greater freedom we lose is freedom in relationship with God when we are separated from him by our sin.

Rules and guidance free us up to live as God has called us to live. Live for his glory and into his blessing by exercising obedience in your everyday life.
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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Did You Know That Pentecost is This Sunday?

There's a great article on Pentecost at Reformation21 by Rick Phillips. In part, he writes:

The Christian calendar practiced by most evangelicals today is extremely illuminating. What it shows is our generally weak appreciation for the fullness of Christ's saving work. Two big holidays occupy our minds completely: Christmas and Easter. So we focus on the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord. So far as it goes, that is perfectly wholesome. But what a huge event Pentecost is in the life of the Christian church (not to mention the Ascension)! There can be little doubt that while most of our churches faithfully observe Mother's Day thsi coming Lord's Day, most will completely ignore our Lord's great redemptive-historical gift of the outpoured Holy Spirit.

You can read the rest of the article here.
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Where Are You Needed?

In an age of consumer driven church life, everyone seems to be looking to be "fed," but I wonder how many of us consider our ministry options not based on what will be best for me, but rather on how can I best be used in the kingdom of God? Of course, I'm not just talking about church members here, I'm talking about church leaders too. How many pastors, associate ministers, teachers, etc... consider their vocational options based on where the greatest need is rather than where can best fit my desires for advancement?

We need to be careful when considering movement in our life. The place of my greatest desire may not always be the place of the church's (universal church) greatest need. Keep these things in mind the next time you are considering your next place of ministry (vocational or voluntary). Sometimes the small church down the road has a much greater need for your leadership as a deacon, than the large church does for you as a pew sitter. Where will you most impact the Kingdom?

Sheep feed's called grazing. Shepherds lead sheep to the grazing grounds. So, shepherd, where do the sheep need your leadership the most? Sheep, feed yourself and see where you can best serve. It is never the pastor's responsibility to "feed" you, only to show you the way.
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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Church Discipline for Assurance of Salvation

Thanks to the efforts of men like Mark Dever, church discipline is once again a hot topic among Southern Baptists. Church discipline was a marker of healthy church life among baptists of previous centuries, but in the early 20th Century, the practice simply faded away. Of course, the biblical texts mandating discipline and disciple-making never changed, merely the willingness of the church to be obedient to the full counsel of God's Word.

There are many biblical arguments in favor of church discipline (which is really the process of disciple-making, not some form of punishment) that we should note as careful students of God's word. But, I'd like to suggest today that one argument that is rarely addressed is the argument for the assurance of salvation. I argue (along with Dever and many others), that there is no assurance of salvation for anyone who is not committed to membership and regular attendance in a local church.

The accountability of the local church provides one avenue by which men and women can find assurance that they have indeed received the doctrines of grace. Conversion must be personal, but it is not only personal. We are converted into the body of Christ which is a community of believers. The true penitent convert will seek out relationships with other Christians whereby he can minister and be ministered to. After all, the spiritual gifts that all Christians have received are given, not for personal edification, but for the building up of the body.

So, by reclaiming members not in attendance, we offer them the assurance of their salvation. By dismissing members who choose not to be active in attendance in the local church even after attempts at reclamation have been made, we erase confusion over what we affirm as a church to be authentic Christianity. This is not a practice in most Baptist churches (or any others for that matter), but it is an issue that we should all investigate seriously, seeking God's guidance for our activity.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Pray for Myanmar

Report: Almost 4,000 Killed in Cyclone, 3,000 Missing

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is recovering from a devastating cyclone early Saturday morning. Myanmar is special to baptists, as Adoniram Judson, the first American Baptist Missionary, spent his life ministering to the people of Burma. Burma was then and continues to be today, a country hostile to the spread of the gospel. However, in times of great disaster, Christian witness through mission efforts providing relief often open the door to the gospel in ways not known before.

For instance, in Indonesia, after the devestating tsunami, areas of the country that were previously closed to Christianianty opened their doors wide to receive Christian relief workers who provided food and clean water in the name of Christ. In fact, in these predominantly Muslim areas, the question often asked was, "where are our Muslim brothers?"

Pray that through this horrible tragedy in Myanmar, a new opennes to the gospel may be found. Pray for our missionaries who will no doubt be on the scene soon providing disaster relief, and eternal hope with the message of Christ.
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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Help For Starbucks

The NY Times is reporting today that Starbucks earnings declined 21% in the second quarter of the 2008 fiscal year. Read the story here if you are interested. I personally want to help Starbucks a store in Camden, SC and I promise to personally increase your earnings!

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