Friday, May 30, 2014

What We Need: Biblical Bluntness

Effective preaching is characterized by a biblical sort of bluntness.  Another way of saying it is that faithful preachers are willing to speak the truth - however hard hitting that truth might be. Such bracing bluntness marks out the preacher who makes his mark. Think of the greatest expositors down the centuries. Were these men not forthright rather than mealy-mouthed?
Bluntness, by the way, has nothing to do with temperament. It has scant reference to a man’s volume or his tone. There have been softly spoken men whose preaching could shatter rocks!
Neither is bluntness the same as rudeness. To be blunt is to be direct and outspoken. To be rude implies a certain disregard for a person. But the preacher proclaims God’s truth in a spirit of love.
Bluntness – The Bible’s Own Style
Bluntness should be seen as consistent with biblical proclamation. After all, the aim of preaching is to proclaim the Scriptures, and the Scriptures themselves are characterized by bluntness. If the Bible is anything, it is direct. Consider the following examples:
“Unless one is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
“Whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mat 10:37)
“You cannot serve both God and money.” (Mat 6:24)
“I am astonished that you are…so quickly turning to a different gospel.” (Gal 1:
“Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.” (Jam 1:21)
“Out of the same mouth come both praise and cursing. Brothers, this should not be!” (Jam 3:10)
“Dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position” (2 Peter 3:18)
Direct, wouldn’t you say? The Bible – in contrast to much contemporary speech – does not um and ah. We do not find the words of the Prophets, Jesus or the Apostles to be littered with maybe’s or perhaps’. If God had spoken uncertainly, we would be obliged to speak with diffidence. But if God has spoken clearly, then so must we.
A Few Guidelines Concerning The Right Kind Of Bluntness
a) Love the people you are being blunt with
Truly love them. If they are lost, feel an ache that they are headed for hell and preach to them bluntly so that they will be snatched from the fire. If they are children in the family of God, love them enough to tell them hard truths when they need to hear it. Examine your motives. Pray for God’s love to fill your heart, even as his truth fills your mouth.
b) Stick tightly to the Scriptures in your bluntness
When the Scriptures speak bluntly on an issue, we should speak bluntly too. But too many preachers speak forcibly on hobby-horses that are either extra-biblical or non-central to the Bible’s message. Let’s be direct and passionate at the same points where the Bible is.
c) Steer clear of crudeness in your bluntness
There is a difference between being direct and crude. I think the Bible itself models this distinction, especially when it comes to addressing sexual sin, where the Bible speaks directly but never crudely (see Paul doing this masterfully in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).
d) Show a range of emotions in your bluntness
As I said earlier, being blunt does not necessarily require that we always be raising our voice. Nor does it mean that we speak with a constant furrow on our brow! Direct and challenging preaching can sometimes be delivered with humor and a smile. At other times, the bluntness will be accompanied by the preacher’s tears and a whimpering voice. Still at other moments, we will be middle-of-the-road in our delivery: speaking the truth in a calm, straightforward manner. Bluntness wears all sorts of emotional clothing.
 Still Learning To Be Blunt
I must admit that I am quite shy by temperament. My tendency is to speak with caution, rather than just ‘say it as it is’. But as I open the Bible daily, I discover that God’s Word is forthright. Blunt even. May God teach me, then, to speak as plainly as He does.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How to Preach on Controversial Theological Subjects

I remember with some fear and trepidation the first time I taught on election!  We should always be truthful and pastoral in preaching or teaching on hard topics.
In regard to preaching unpopular doctrines, such as election before some audiences, future punishment, depravity, and even missions, before others; one comprehensive rule maybe given, be faithful and fearless, but skillful and affectionate.

Monday, May 26, 2014


A review by Sam Alberry.
Matthew Vines. God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. New York: Convergent, 2014. 213 pp. $22.99.
Matthew Vines is a man on a mission to persuade evangelicals that the truly biblical position on homosexuality affirms same-sex partnerships. That is no small aim, and yet Vines is in some ways well placed to attempt such an undertaking. Vines dropped out of his studies at Harvard in order to investigate what the Bible teaches on homosexuality. In the book he is open about his own experience of coming to terms with homosexual feelings, and of how he found sharing this with his conservative Christian family. His 2012 video arguing that Scripture has been misunderstood went viral. So it is no surprise to see that he has produced a book, and that it comes with a lot of anticipation. Those commending it argue that it is game changing. It certainly intends to be. Vines calls on evangelicals to radically reassess their reading of the Bible on this issue. He is looking for no less than what he describes as a reformation.
Axiomatic to Vines’s argument is that the traditional evangelical position on homosexuality has produced such “bad fruit” that it must be seriously questioned. He recounts heart-wrenching accounts of young gay Christians driven to despair by the position of churches and Christians they have encountered, in some cases with tragic consequences. Taking his cue from Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7:15–20, Vines argues that this kind of fruit can only be indicative of a bad tree—that the church has misunderstood this issue for much of its history. This conviction then propels him into questioning the church’s insistence on “mandatory celibacy” for same-sex attracted Christians, a wide-ranging reassessment of what the Bible actually says about homosexuality, marriage, and humanness. He concludes with a plea for evangelicals to affirm and celebrate same-sex relationships in the church. 
So is his case compelling? Overall, it’s well crafted and presented. Vines is clearly an able and passionate communicator. The book is well written and, for the main part, winsome in its tone. Some will feel assured by Vines’s claim that he writes as an evangelical who has a high view of Scripture. Such affirmations, coupled with a smattering of approving quotations from the likes of Tim Keller and John Piper, mean his evangelical credentials look to be sound.
Yet for all this, there are some deep flaws in Vines’ approach, and especially in his anthropology.

Opposite Approach

Though Vines claims to be evangelical, his approach in God and the Gay Christian strikes me as the opposite. His unquestioned foundation is his belief that the “bad fruit” of those who cannot affirm same-sex relationships must be indicative of bad theology. He then looks for every possible way to make sure each biblical text can’t be saying what he’s already decided it doesn’t say, before concluding that indeed it doesn’t and could never have possibly done so. It is not hard to see where the real authority lies in his thinking, and it means his handling of both Scripture and scholarship is profoundly uneven.
On scholarship, different writers on this issue are given different weight depending on which side of the discussion they land. While the findings of those advocating a revisionist position are advanced with cast-iron certainty, arguments from the best conservative scholars are frequently dismissed with a wave of the hand as being “speculative.” Only by such means can the traditional understanding of marriage predicated on gender difference be so quickly brushed aside.
Similarly, there are numerous instances of poor exegetical thinking. Vines insists that gender complementarity cannot be foundational to biblical sexual ethics unless it is restated as a principle at each point where it’s applied. But its foundational nature is why such repetition is not necessary. He also has a habit of determining the meaning of key biblical terms not by their biblical context, but by their use in literature outside the Bible. This is particularly frustrating in his discussion of arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9, where the background of Leviticus is quickly dropped in favor of later occurrences in Greek literature. At times the book doesn’t feel much more sophisticated than saying, “If you close one eye and tilt your head to the side it starts to look like its saying something else.”
If we were to apply this sort of reasoning to his own book we would be forced to conclude that the word “Vines” on the cover is not the author’s surname because (1) in none of its occurrences is there any explicit indication that it’s meant as a surname, and (2) in contemporary usage the word is overwhelmingly used to denote either grape-bearing plants or short videos about pets posted online. And if we can no longer assume “Vines” is his surname, we have no confidence to continue asserting that “Matthew” is his Christian name. I won’t even start on how the first part of the publisher’s name is “Con” . . .

Ultimate Meaning

But the most troubling aspect of this book is its anthropology. We in the West find ourselves amid a culture that increasingly encourages us to seek ultimate human meaning in sexual fulfilment. Our core human identity is found in our sexuality, which in turn is defined by our desires and attractions. Yet this is an appallingly inadequate way to account for a human being, and contributes as much as anything else does to the bad fruit that Vines so rightly laments. And yet so much of his anthropology seems to take this perspective in unquestioningly. And so to deny someone full expression of his sexuality is tantamount to causing him to hate his very self. Indeed, Vines goes as far as to say it makes them less human and less like God (166).
But this is not a biblical understanding of what it means to be human. My sexuality is not to be found in my feelings but in God having created me male; it is not primarily psychological but bodily. So I am not to read my core identity off my sexual desires, but to receive the sexual identity God has already granted me as a male as a good gift to be lived out and enjoyed. My sexual desires are part of what I feel, but they are not who I am.
This is incredibly significant. If my sexual feelings are who I am at my core, then they must be fulfilled in order for me to even begin to feel complete and whole as a human. My sense of fulfilment is cast upon my sexual fortunes, and everything seems to depend on it. But being a Christian gives me a different perspective. My sexual desires are not insignificant; they are deeply personal. But they are not defining or central, and so fulfilling them is not the key to fullness of life. I suspect our culture’s near-hysterical insistence that your sexuality is your identity has far more to do with the prevalence of torment, self-loathing, and destruction than we have begun to realize. Are we really to suppose that only good fruit has come from affirming same-sex relationships or encouraging Christians to self-identify as gay from a young age? Or that no spiritual and psychological damage has resulted from this?
And are we also to suppose that only bad fruit has come from the non-affirming position? What of those of us who experience same-sex attraction and yet are committed to the traditional understanding that the Bible prohibits homosexual behaviour? Many of us who have found the evangelical church to be a place of open-armed acceptance, support, and encouragement; Scripture to be sometimes hard but always good; singleness to be both costly and positive; and Christ to be our fundamental and everlasting joy.
This is not to say that the church has been perfect on this issue. Nor is it to say that life as a Christian with same-sex attraction is easy. There can be deep pains: battling with desires we wish we did not have, times of isolation and loneliness, and the absence of romantic companionship. But we do not need to write these hardships off as bad fruit stemming from bad theology.
A better fruit-themed biblical analogy to account for them may be Jesus’ claim to be the true vine, with his people as branches connected to him and God the Father as the gardener who sets about pruning us for greater fruitfulness. Yes, there are times when the gardener’s blades feel sharp, but we know the hands that wield them know nothing but kindness.
What makes God and the Gay Christian such sad reading is its failure to see the goodness of God in what Christians have always believed about homosexuality. I have no reason to doubt that Vines is a kind man. And so it is a sad irony that his book’s greatest failing is that it is, ultimately, not kind enough. 
Sam Alberry is associate pastor at St Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, UK, and previously worked on the ministry team at St Ebbe’s in Oxford. He is the author of Is God Anti-Gay? And Other Questions about Homosexuality, the Bible, and Same-Sex Attraction (Good Book, 2013), Connected: Living in the Light of the Trinity (P&R, 2013), and Lifted: Experiencing the Resurrection Life (P&R, 2012). He is one of the coordinators of Living Out, a ministry for those struggling with same-sex attraction. You can follow Sam on Twitter.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Are We Headed For A Crash? Reflections On The Current State of Evangelical Worship

We are blessed with good worship leaders but her are some thoughts worthy of consideration from Jamie Brown.
1Last week I spent a couple of days attending the National Worship Leader Conference, hosted by Worship Leader Magazine, featuring many well-known speakers and worship leaders. The conference was held about 15 minutes down the road from me, so it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m glad I went.
I met some new people, heard some thought-provoking teaching, enjoyed some good meals and conversations with worship leader friends, and experienced in-person some of the modern worship trends that are becoming the norm in evangelicalism. It was eye-opening in many ways.
Over the last few days I’ve been processing some of what I saw and heard.
Worship Leader Magazine does a fantastic job of putting on a worship conference that will expose the attendees to a wide variety of resources, techniques, workshops, songs, new artists, approaches, teachings, and perspectives. I thought of Mark Twain’s famous quote “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait 5 minutes”. The same could be said of this conference. It’s an intentionally eclectic mix of different speakers, teachers, worship leaders, and performers from different traditions, theological convictions, and worship leading philosophies. You’ll hear and see some stuff you like and agree with, and then 5 minutes later you’ll hear and see some stuff you don’t agree with at all.
It’s good for worship leaders to experience this kind of wide-exposure from time to time, and the National Worship Leader Conference certainly provides it.
Yet throughout the conference, at different sessions, with different worship leaders, from different circles, using different approaches, and leading with different bands, I picked up on a common theme. It’s been growing over the last few decades. And to be honest, it’s a troubling theme. And if this current generation of worship leaders doesn’t change this theme, then corporate worship in evangelicalism really is headed for a major crash.
It’s the theme of performancism. The worship leader as the performer. The congregation as the audience. The sanctuary as the concert hall.
It really is a problem. It really is a thing. And we really can’t allow it to become the norm. Worship leaders, we must identify and kill performancism while we can.
It’s not rocket science.
Sing songs people know (or can learn easily). Sing them in congregational keys. Sing and celebrate the power, glory, and salvation of God. Serve your congregation. Saturate them with the word of God. Get your face off the big screen. Use your original songs in extreme moderation. Err on the side of including as many people as possible in what’s going on. Keep the lights up. Stop talking so much. Don’t let loops/lights/visuals become your outlet for creativity at the expense of the centrality of the gospel. Point to Jesus. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t sing songs with bad lyrics or weak theology. Tailor your worship leading, and the songs you pick, to include the largest cross-section of your congregation that you can. Lead pastorally.
I am a worship music nerd. I listen to a lot of it. I follow the recent developments. I know who’s out there (sort of). I try to keep up (it’s not easy). Even I didn’t know most of the songs that we were supposed to be singing along to at the conference.I tuned out. I sat down. I Tweeted. I texted my wife. I gave up.
You’re not reading the ramblings of a curmudgeony guy complaining about all the new-fangled things the kids are doing these days, with their drums and tom-toms and electric geetars. You’re reading the heart-cry of a normal guy who’sworried about what worship leaders are doing to themselves and their congregations. People are tuning out and giving up and just watching.
This is not a criticism of the National Worship Leader Conference, though I do think they could make some changes to more intentionally model an approach to worship leading that isn’t so weighted on the performance side. As I said, the conference exposes us to what’s out there in the (primarily) evangelical worship world.
It’s what’s out there that’s increasingly a problem.
Worship leaders: step back. Take a deep breath. Think about it. Do we really want to go down this road? It will result in a crash. Back-up. Recalibrate. Serve your congregations, point them to Jesus, help them sing along and sing with confidence. Get out the way, for God’s sake.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How I Set Up My Desks: One for Sitting, One for Walking

This is an extremely helpful post from Andy Naselli for those who sit at a desk all day.

I spend most of my waking hours working on my computer. I do a lot of reading, research, writing, editing, and emailing. And I do most of that at a desk.
I’ve customized my desk setup for what I do. Of course, this isn’t how everyone else should set up their desks, but my setup may give you some ideas for how to customize your desk for what you do.

My Desk for Sitting

Here’s my desk setup:
Perman_deskI had not given much thought to organizing my desk until Matt Perman published a series of blog posts on it in 2009. Matt recently revised and expanded his series into a handy little book: How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem. Here’s my endorsement:
Matt Perman has served me so well in applying a Steve Jobs-like approach to my workflow: simple, intuitive, elegant, and efficient. I’ve followed most of his advice about setting up my desk (as well as processing my email), and it works beautifully.
Here are five components to my setup:

1. Desk

  • I use the Galant model from IKEA. There are a lot options to choose from. I recommend getting as much desk-space as you can reasonably fit in your office, and I highly recommend an L-shaped desk.
  • Cheaper option: Place a smooth door on top of two short filing cabinets.

2. Laptop

  • I used a Dell desktop on my IKEA desk for over three years, but I switched to a laptop last year (15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display).
  • I like using a laptop much more because I have one hub that is versatile. I use my laptop in my home office, my work office, the classroom, at meetings, when traveling, and all throughout my home (e.g., on a couch or in bed).

3. Multiple Monitors

  • Some people are less productive with multiple monitors because they use one of their monitors to display their email and social media virtually all the time. So they rarely get “in the zone.” But with sufficient self-discipline, multiple monitors can significantly increase your productivity.
  • I prefer to have three screens (including my laptop), which I most commonly use to display (1) a document that I’m reading, writing in, or editing—usually a Word doc, Google doc, or PDF; (2) Logos Bible Software or another document; and (3) web pages or applications such as ZoteroBibleWorks, Finder, iTunes, and Evernote.
  • Good news for Apple users: The most recent MacBook Pro allows up to three non-Apple external monitors. It works beautifully.
Dell_horizontal Dell_vertical
  • Dell_sideTo display the highest resolution with a MacBook, use a cable like this (not an HDMI cable).
  • It’s more complicated to display the highest resolution with the latest MacBook Pro for two of these Dell monitors at the same time. (You might want to skip the next sub-bullet points; I’m including them for reference. In December 2013 I had to appeal to some friends who are IT experts to figure this out.) Use two cables like this, and follow the instructions here:
    • (a) Download this Zip file.
    • (b) Double-click the Zip file to show a folder titled DisplayVendorID-10ac. That folder has two items in it (DisplayProductID-4080 and DisplayProductID-a092).
    • (c) Drag and drop the whole folder into your Overrides folder, which you can get to in Finder this way: Macintosh HD > System > Library > Displays > Overrides.
    • (d) Restart your computer.
    • (e) If your displays are already set for “Best for display,” then they should be at full resolution when you restart. To confirm, open System Preferences > Displays > Scaled. The dimensions should be 2560 x 1440 for a standard (horizontal) view or 1440 x 2560 for a 90-degree rotation.

4. Chair

  • I’ve been using a Eurotech 4×4 Mid-Back Multipurpose Chair in my home office since 2009. It does the job. It’s comfortable and adjustable.
  • Before getting this chair, I used a much cheaper one; I upgraded because my back was often sore. I haven’t struggled with back soreness since upgrading to a higher quality chair.
  • Some of my friends highly recommend this chair by Realspace.

5. Accessories

I have no complaints about any of these products:
  1. Griffin Elevator Laptop Stand. My laptop rests securely on this. The stand raises my laptop screen to a height that matches my external monitors, and it allows my laptop’s temperature to remain cool. (Some of my friends use this stand by Rain Design.)
  2. Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad
  3. Apple Magic Mouse (Some prefer an Apple Magic Trackpad.)
  4. Bose Multimedia Speakers
  5. Bose Noise-cancelling Headphones. I use these when I need to get in the zone in noisy environments like airplanes or sometimes my home. (We have three little children.)
  6. Book stands. I use a couple of these. They’re invaluable for when you type out quotes from a print book or interact with it while typing.
  7. Stackable trays
  8. IMAK SmartGloves
  9. BrenthavenBrenthaven bag. I transport my laptop in this bag, and I love it. (And when you’re going through security at an airport, you don’t have to remove your laptop; you simply unzip the bag in half so that it unfolds and then send it right through the x-ray machine. If you have an iPad in the bag as well, make sure you put it on the other side of the bag [i.e., not in the same compartment as your laptop] or else the security folks will pull the bag aside to search it.)
  10. Camelbak water bottle. My family has ten of these (two per person). I invariably have one by my side at my desk.
My Desk for Walking
Here’s my walking desk setup:
vertical arm
I’ve been using this new setup (in conjunction with my sitting desk setup) for about two months, and I love it. I wish I would have designed this a long time ago. I think it’s a good investment.
Here’s what led to my designing this setup:
  • For years I have run a couple of miles three mornings per week. My regimen and motivation are similar to John Piper’s: “Physical Exercise: What I Do and Why: Part 1 | Part 2.”
  • My family moved from South Carolina to Minnesota last summer. I’ve almost always run outside. I know it’s possible to run outside in the Minnesota winter, but it requires purchasing high-quality running gear for extremely cold temperatures. And it takes extra time to put all that gear on before running and to remove it after running. And even if you own the right gear, the weather is often simply not conducive for running (e.g., heavy rain, ice, snow).
  • I periodically see studies concluding that sitting at a desk for long periods of time on a regular basis is unhealthy. The title of one infographic is “Sitting Is Killing You: The Truth about Sitting Down.” My wife repeatedly expressed her love for me by sharing her concern for me in light of such studies.
  • Here are three viable alternatives for a sitting desk:
    • A standing desk. I’ve tried working on a computer while standing still for a long period of time, and I don’t care for it. But it’d be nice to have the option for shorter periods of time. (I haven’t researched sit-stand desks, i.e., desks with adjustable heights to accommodate both sitting and standing.)
    • A treadmill that is designed to be a walking desk (like this or this or this). My problem with these treadmills is that they are for walking only. Their max speed is 4 miles per hour. I usually run not slower than 7 or 8 mph on treadmills.
    • A large desk that goes over a treadmill (like this). This is an attractive option if you have space for it, if you can find a desk that fits with your treadmill well, and if you can afford it. But if you also want to use your treadmill to run, you’d want to ensure that the desk wouldn’t be in the way at all.
    That helps explain why I designed my walking desk the way I did.
Here are four components to this setup:

Horizon1. Treadmill

  • My wife, Jenni, and I are very happy with our Horizon Fitness T101-04 Treadmill.
  • I can use it for both running (as an exercise machine) andwalking (as a desk). And Jenni uses it as well.
  • One of my uncles used to run a “Play It Again Sports” store, so I asked him for treadmill advice. He told me that the company he had the most success with was Horizon Fitness and that his best-selling treadmill was the Horizon T101. He said that it’s a great quality for the price. The motor is unusually quiet, and a warranty comes with the treadmill (lifetime on the motor).
  • When I use this treadmill while working on my computer, I’ve found that my sweet spot is 2 mph. I can type and use the mouse on my laptop with no problem while maintaining that speed. And I mix it up by changing the incline. (I’m typing this blog post right now while walking on the treadmill at 2 mph with a 2% incline.)
  • For my morning routine, rather than reading on the couch or at my desk, I’ve been spending the first part of every day reading, etc., while walking on the treadmill for about 30 to 90 minutes. And on days when I work at home, I’ve been walking an average of about 7 or 8 miles per day while working. I feel more productive because I’m more alert and energetic when I’m walking than when I’m sitting—especially in the afternoon.
  • I haven’t mastered this treadmill dance.
  • Two minor negatives:
    • Our treadmill arrived with a few damaged parts. But Horizon Fitness immediately sent replacement parts and sent out someone to put it together in working order.
    • The beeping on the machine is unusually loud. I think there may be workarounds to fix that, but I didn’t need to look into that because after the Horizon worker updated our treadmill, it didn’t make any beeping noises at all.

shelf2. Shelf for Laptop

  • I use the SurfShelf Treadmill Desk: Laptop and iPad Holder.
  • Before I purchased this, Iasked Randy Fenton, the man who invented this shelf, if it would work with the Horizon Fitness T101 Treadmill, and Randy swiftly confirmed that it would.
  • The shelf secures the laptop well, and it’s adjustable. It’s very easy to move out of the way if you don’t want it on the treadmill when you run. (I listen to sermons, lectures, interviews, and audiobooks when I run, so I move the shelf out of the way.)

Ergotron3. External Monitor with Monitor Arm Mounted to the Wall

  • I use a 27-inch Dell monitor with a 2560 x 1440 resolution. (I have two of these monitors on my sitting desk [see above].)
  • I use the Ergotron LX Wall Mount LCD Arm. The quality is exceptional. To get a better idea of how this works, see the two videos here (at the top left of the screen after the pictures of the product). This monitor arm allows me to easily rotate the monitor and adjust its height, depth, and tilt.
  • One advantage of having a second monitor like this is that I can place it directly across from my eyes. It is hard to maintain good posture when looking down at my laptop while walking for hours at a time.

4. Accessories

  • Shoes for running and walking. If you spend a lot of time running and walking, then it’s good stewardship to invest in a quality pair of shoes. Your body (especially your feet and knees) will thank you. I use a pair of Nike running shoes.
  • Audio-cable extension cord. My treadmill is close enough to my IKEA desk that I can still use my Bose Multimedia Speakers if I use an audio-cable extension cord.
If you intentionally organize your desk, I’d love to learn from you in the comments.