2nd Great Commandment overload

Posted December 8, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Christ-centered preaching

As one component of my daily disciplines, I read and listen to sermons. The incredible bounty of the internet allows me access to Keller, Piper, Dever, Begg, and others. In an effort to resist the “cult of celebrity” (so-and-so may say it well, but it ain’t really said until Driscoll says it!) I’ve been filling my iPod with sermons from men who are earnest but not known nearly so well. I’ve been at it for a few weeks now, and I’m beginning to feel quite ill.

These men are not goofballs, they’re not fiddling around and they’re not pandering to their audience. They are earnestly desiring to be Biblical and textual. But I’m overdosing on the 2nd “greatest commandment” (1. love God, 2. love your neighbor).

Every text becomes exhortative (what’s the adjective I’m looking for, here?) — bloated with imperatives. It’s all about living out the Kingdom, everywhere. Three from this week’s listening:

Angels visit the shepherds and sing the birth of Jesus? God wants us in kingdom ministry to the poor, those “outside”.

Jesus claim to be prophecy’s fulfillment? We need to claim his kingdom, giving ourselves to the poor.

Moses sent with the message, “Let my people go”? So we cry freedom for the oppressed.

There’s much that’s wrong, here, and some that’s right. We could discuss the need of a Christ-centered hermeneutic, the nature of the kingdom, the neglect of true religion. But in this post I would like to raise just one simple protest: why do so many feel that love for God will be powerless?

The texts used as examples point to Jesus the Christ, Saviour and Redeemer. Much could be made of him in preaching those texts. We preach to people, ourselves included, who still do not recognize the fullness of his glory. Like his fellow Nazarenes, our perception of him is far too small. We erect idols in his place, and pour out our worship to them, thinking they will save us, fill us, satisfy us. We sin because we have bent our desires away from him; and bent desires, twisted affections, leave us bent and twisted and broken. We need Christ unveiled before our eyes, our hearts, in all his beauty and power and wonder. We need our hearts called up, yearning towards him like a sunflower toward the sun; aligning and straightening our affections — will this not have potent effect in our lives?

I think preachers feel they need to hammer out the imperatives because they have forgotten the power of new affection — of love for God. It’s not that they no longer love God. But the radiance of Jesus’s beauty has become occluded by the details of programs and the baubles that bob in the wake of consumerism, and the text has been obscured by hundreds of motivational messages. The congregation begins to wander, no longer stunned and skewered by the piercing brilliance from the cross — and the springboard for love for our neighbor is weakened. So the preacher tries harder, and hammers it more…and it grows weaker still. Because our love is response and fruit of the love of God.

I know there is preaching that fails to make application. I know there is preaching that never gets to the “So what” questions. I know there is preaching that emphasizes individual salvation and forensic righteousness and never touches on kingdom living today. I know “love your neighbor” must be preached as true religion.

I just wonder if we have forgotten what power will motivate this love? I wonder if we’re afraid the cross and the empty tomb are really not the power of God at the heart of everything we are?

Are pastors ever really in danger of overdosing their congregations on the loveliness of God in Christ? I truly wonder…

The desert’s edge

Posted December 5, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Christ-centered preaching, Gospel

OK, I *think* the long drought is over, and we might be coming out of a long desert period.  I may even be able to get back to my abbreviated blogging! We’ll see.

There’s a big stack of material on my desk that is “stuff I might blog about”. Above all, the focus that I tried to maintain is still before us: Christ-centered, gospel-centered, the great indicatives of our faith first. I’m as excited as ever about it all.

One of the most encouraging things I’ve ever received in personal correspondence came into my Inbox yesterday. It said, “By being transparent and Bible-centered, you’ve said, ‘I can be an absolute mess and I have the life to prove it. I am cherished and I have Jesus to thank for it.'” There was a time when I wouldn’t have been encouraged by those words, but today? Today they’ve made me whoop with delight and praise God with heartfelt joy. Because that’s the gospel, and that’s hope, and it’s glorious. And too many times being me-centric has meant my desires warred with that clear presentation — I wanted the message to be something like “I used to be a mess, but Jesus helped me, and now I’m really the best guy around, and just the kind of guy you need.” But there’s only one Saviour, and the Bible and history only have one ultimate Hero, and God will not share his glory — nor should he, nor would it be love if he did.

I don’t know who coined the following phrase — candidates in my mind include Miller, Bridges, Keller, and Lovelace, and I’m sure someone can let me know — but it’s a great summary of the gospel: I’m more sinful than I ever knew, and more loved than I can possibly imagine.

When we get that, when it sinks in real deep, we are transformed by it. Praise God!

Keeping my own promises

Posted October 20, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s been a month since I said I was back. That is amazing reliable blogging, no?

There’s a long list of serious reasons. I won’t go into most of them. I wasn’t sure I’d come back to blogging at all; I won’t bore you with  all my reasoning for attempting to start again.

But there are three things I want to say, for anyone who might still be reading:

1. A huge sin problem in my life is pride. One aspect of this is the temptation to live well in the applause of others — to draw my identity and my sustenance not from the gospel but from its opposite; not from God’s glory lighting up my face, but from my own glory, reflected in the esteem of others. This sin goes to the root of The Fall, and has been the occasion for mighty falling in my own life. I have lived it out in preaching and pastoring and leading — and I found this blog an unexpectedly powerful furtherance of that temptation.

A blog goes worldwide in a short time. It’s a rocket-blast of people reading, and thinking about, your thoughts. Intelligent interaction on a global scale, and it’s your writing that has caused it. I got a few responses from people that disagreed with me, but an over-whelming response from people saying, “Good work! Well said! Right ya’ are! We need more of this!”

Those of you that pastor; you have people that complain about you, and people that applaud you. Have you ever noticed how ready you are to classify them as those that “don’t get it” and those who “do”? The people cheering you on are especially perceptive, aren’t they? Reliable and godly, salt-of-the-earth types. They must be, because they like you.

Take that foolishness and apply a measurable scale to it, that you can check daily. Watch your blog stats climb. You can actually look at a line-graph of readers’ perception of your greatness! And, with a young blog, that line graph is almost always climbing! See how often others refer to your words and help build your esteem! Finally, the globe is waking up to my significance! At last, the dream is alive!

And of course it’s only ego that’s alive. A sluggish idol has been revitalized. A run-down pagan temple is getting a spruce-up.

And the poison is seeping into the soul once again.

I’ve been in that prison-house of a temple before. I’ve felt its destruction; I’ve visited that destruction upon others. I’ve drunk the poison deeply, and then vomited it up on those who loved me.

I don’t want to do that again. Not ever.  This blog started alarm bells ringing. I didn’t want to come back to it until I had some accountability mechanisms in place, some clear thinking, some strong gospel reminders ready to ring and keep ringing whenever I looked at the blog.

2. Back in August, Justin Buzzard posted “7 Reasons you may want to stop reading my blog.” It was a great list, although I didn’t stop — if I only read a few blogs in a day, his is always one of them. But that kind of thinking has always made me wonder if my blog is really worth the time and mind-space that it costs me, and costs you.  More, I want to “restrain the rant” — when ranting is the most popular form of blogging (and is often totally warranted).  Blogging is an expensive enterprise (I refer, mostly, to time spent); is it a worthwhile investment for me?  I wonder.

And blogging implies some sort of responsibility to the reader; if you’re going to check my blog every so often, I should probably put something up on it.  Of course, there’s no such contract, and no sin in disappointing the reader — but how often do you read, “Sorry I haven’t posted more”?  It’s easy, especially for the people-pleasing prideful like me, to feel the guilt.  Especially in a blog about “Promises Kept.”
So I wonder some more.  Is it worth it?

3.  But that’s the last thing:  if, by God’s grace, I can be disciplined, accountable, and above all gospel-focused in blogging, it’s good for me.  I’ve seen the value in blogs, in my own heart, and in the souls of others.  It’s good for me to keep at my journal, to examine my inward life, to think about implications of what I read and hear.  It’s good for me to talk about heart-motives and the promises of Jesus Christ, always and every day.  It’s good for me to have a blog that drives me to be Christ-centered and gospel-rejoicing and promise-saturated, every day.  So this blog is mostly good for me, and so I’ll continue.

You’ll have to decide if it’s any good to you.

And congratulations for reading this far, and holding on this long waiting for the writing to come back.  Thank you.

He’s baaackk

Posted September 24, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Uncategorized

Well, it’s nearly Tuesday…weeks after I expected to be back. But things should finally be in place to pick it all up again. If anybody is still out there….thanks for your patience, and we’ll resume regularly scheduled programming shortly.

Back at…

Posted September 7, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Uncategorized

Several emails asking what’s up and when this will be back.  Nothing critical, just a time-consuming concern, but a definite end in sight following the weekend.  I’ll shoot for Tuesday for first post back.

I’m amazed at the continued interest in gospel-centered blogs, and thankful.  Grateful for the concern shown.  And, Lord willing, we’ll be back up soon.

Monotony or repeated delight?

Posted August 31, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Uncategorized

The hardship that sidelined us for much of last week continues, so I’m still posting slower than I’d like. And this in a week when I’ve had so many visitors! Thanks for stopping by; I hope to pick up the pace towards normal by Monday.

As I was completing some “drudgerish” tasks today, I was grumbling a bit inside about the things that need doing day after day after day. And I remembered this quote from G. K. Chesterton, that has brought me much joy:

“The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again,” and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun, and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”



Posted August 28, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Uncategorized

I don’t really know who reads my blog, nor how many. I know of a handful; maybe there are more. So I don’t know if most of you are the type to have Brant Hansen’s Kamp Krusty in your Reader. You really should. He’s brilliant, humorous, and piercingly thoughtful. While I have seriously disagreed with him several times, I’ve never regretted reading his blog (except once, and we won’t go there). In fact, awaiting a new post is an anticipation to be savored.

And occasionally, he writes something like this, that should be seared into our souls as all the stories are told.

Go read it. Please.

Mother Teresa’s “Dark Night of the Soul”

Posted August 28, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Gospel, Grace, Great Rescue

I know far too little about Mother Teresa. I have no pronouncements to make about the state of her soul. I cannot see around or through or under or beyond her crises of faith. God surely can.

I do know that true, faithful saints can experience long dark nights. Though the cry “Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22) was ultimately owned and redeemed by Jesus Christ, it was a true Davidic expression.

But in all the discussion and debate I have read over the last few days I have two other concerns; both of which point, I believe, to our tendency towards self-righteousness or gracelessness. The first concern has already been discussed many times: there is the loud cry of many that Mother Teresa must have been a true Christian, because look at all the amazing self-sacrificing work she did.

Forget about how this relates to any particular individual, including Mother Teresa. Simply look with me at where that statement points. We are pointing at her work. Her labor. Her sacrifice. Her earnestness.

Her merit.

The Gospel points us to Christ’s work, Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s merit. There is a great difference.

Jesus told us to “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good work and glorify your Father who is heaven”. So we do draw attention to our deeds (they see our good work). Well, then, how do they glorify our Father, and not us, for the good work? There must be words accompanying our workings, words full of the gospel, words full of how our work is a response to his work, how our faith is a response to his Promise, how our fruit is the fruit of the cross and the resurrection and the hope brought to birth and life in Jesus Christ. If, at the end of our lives people are amazed at our endless self-sacrifice and pouring out of ourselves for others, and this what they see and talk about… we will have failed the gospel.

The second concern is perhaps even more serious: there is a tendency in us — if we are honest — to rejoice in the weakness and failings of others. There are some that are quick to draw attention to this soul-struggle that is highlighted, and to say, “I told you so.” We spend our lives comparing and contrasting our standing with that of others. Pastors look at other pastors leading bigger churches and having a “more successful” ministry, and privately think “I’m actually better than he is, if only I had an opportunity to preach to thousands, they would know that. But I face evil opposition instead. My people don’t realize how blessed they are.” And with that mindset, we actually have inner rejoicing when that “more successful” pastor is caught in a scandal. “See, I knew I was better all along. Now maybe my people will appreciate me more.” Others must fall if we are to be raised. And our masks and robes must be carefully worn so that the status we have achieved is not defaced or lessened.

Our merit must be recognized.

I know all too well of what I speak.  It’s the idolatry that has run amok in my own life and soul, causing so much destruction; the idolatry that still visits far too often.

It is Pharisaism, pride, and self-righteousness.

Our people need to appreciate Jesus more. His merit. His grace. Not us, not me, not you…and not any other saint. And there is no joy in the sorrows of others. The fact that Mother Teresa struggled in her faith says nothing about the quality, for good or ill, of our own doctrine or the positioning of our ministry. Do those who encounter our ministry encounter the God of mighty works who defeats all our idols and draws all our love? This is the question for us.

Draw attention to the gospel, to the God who is with us in Jesus Christ. Draw out the redemption, the Rescue, that is achieved for souls in darkness when Christ calls from the cross, “Why are you so far from saving me?” and thus achieves for his people the sure hope that they are heard, they cannot be forsaken, they are transplanted into the kingdom of light.

Praise Jesus!

More “Total Church”

Posted August 27, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: What is church?

Two of my favorite bloggers, Darryl Dash and Dan Cruver, have encountered this book and are blogging about it. While I wait for my replacement copy to arrive, I’ll enjoy it vicariously. Check out Darryl’s first quotation here, and Dan’s here.

Without money and without price

Posted August 26, 2007 by promiseskept
Categories: Gospel

I hope to get back to regular posting within a day or two more. In the meantime, here’s a must-listen opportunity for you: I heard, today, a great sermon upon this, one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Amazingly, I heard this text expounded by Spurgeon!

Well, by someone (Tony Reinke?) reading Spurgeon’s message.

It was glorious!

There’s a wince-worthy point about a half-hour in, but Spurgeon’s point is that we are all worthy of despising, and all equally in need, and all equally invited to eat.

“You believe there must be some special entrance for you, so proper and moral are you. But the gate is so narrow that you must rub shoulders with drunkards and with murderers and with thieves and harlots to enter…”

“…you are feeling in your pocket and you find nothing there; you don’t need anything, come without money! You look into your heart, and you find nothing there…you find nothing of redeeming character…come, you don’t need anything, the gospel is without price!”

“Everything for nothing, and Christ for the asking!”

Head on over to The Shepherd’s Scrapbook, and scroll down the right-hand side in the list “Now on my iPod.” You’ll see this sermon, available as a Flash recording.

Give it a listen, you won’t regret it. And God willing, I’ll be back soon.