Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Generation’s Weeds Problem

Written by a millennial but relevant to all of us who follow Christ - weed out your life! From TGC.
I’m a Millennial, and my generation has a weeds problem.
In Jesus’s parable of the sower, no fewer than three soils turn out fruitless. There’s the soil so hard that seeds bounce off just to be snatched up by birds. There’s the soil so thin that plants never take root. 
And then there’s the soil that does sustain life but, so to speak, there’s no room at the inn.
Those reflecting on the rise of the “nones” have noted that the growth of this “no religious affiliation” demographic doesn’t necessarily mean steely eyed atheists. Yes, young people are leaving organized religion, but as a recent Pew study shows, spiritual pursuits are growing even among atheists. The young unaffiliated seek transcendence, prayer, and hope at least as much as our forebears. The enthusiasm frothing in “Generation TED” reveals that Millenials are pretty rich soil for something.

Cacophony of Voices

Our problem isn’t that we take in too little “spirituality” or “wisdom,” but that we take in too much. Our culture’s conscious teachings and subconscious liturgies—on sex, on joy, on meaning—take root beside our Bible’s teaching. Without realizing it, we become humanists on flourishing, materialists on mental illness, and a patchwork of other things—all while sincerely thinking of ourselves as Christians.
For example, my pastoral team recently preached on living through suffering. We addressed unbiblical approaches to facing suffering, such as the humanistic one: that we find strength inside ourselves to carry on against whatever storms we’re facing (e.g., the film version of Unbroken versus the actual story). Though humanism’s “inner strength” may seem like the Christian approach to finding strength through prayer, the sources of strength couldn’t be more different.
In discussions afterward we heard multiple people say they’d never considered that difference before. Men and women—Christians in a healthy relationship with God—unknowingly carried around a view of perseverance more reflective of Eat, Pray, Love than 2 Corinthians.

Overrun with Weeds

Why does my generation have such a weeds problem? One reason is the radical democratization of authority epitomized by, for example, Wikipedia. We’ve imbibed the idea that authority must be decentralized, so we find “authority” in the voices loudest and closest to us. Instead of submitting all “truth” to God’s Word, we shop. A little here, a little there.
Another reason is that, more than any other generation, we position ourselves to receive “wisdom” without reflection. Our smartphones buzz, commanding us to look at whatever we’ve signed up for. Our social media feeds plaster our screens with messages filtered only by what is loud and urgent. We’re encouraged to read, to “like,” to love whatever comes our way without reflection or digestion.
Perhaps more than anything else, my generation needs help with the ideological and spiritual weeds in our hearts. We need to put deep roots into the risen Jesus, the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit—but we first have to clear the soil so they can grow. The Western church must learn to help Millennials here if God’s kingdom is to grow well in this next generation. Tim Keller sums it up nicely in his recent book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism [20 quotes | interview | review]:
It is a mistake to think that faithful believers in our time are not profoundly shaped by the narratives of modernity. We certainly are, and so when you unveil these narratives and interact with them in the ordinary course of preaching the Word, you help them see where they themselves may be more influenced by their society than by the Scripture, and you give them important ways of communicating their faith to others. (118)

Killing the Roots

So how can we as church leaders help Millennials identify and root out the weeds in our lives?
1. Beef up the “diagnostic” component of our preaching.
Preaching to weed-ridden congregations means we must identify cultural patterns and prejudices so that our people can see them clearly. The humanistic approach to fulfillment; the prosperity-gospel take on suffering; majority-culture blind spots that hinder racial reconciliation—just as Paul exposed the pagan Greek approach to sexuality in 1 Corinthians 6 before rebutting it, so we should help our people identify the unseen weeds in their lives as weeds.
Two quick caveats:
First, most churches do a good job at diagnosing one set of “blind spots”—whether cultural or political—but tend to sweep others under the rug. As G. K. Chesterton once said, “Men do not differ much on what things they will call evils, but they differ enormously on what evils they will call excusable.” Our churches must be willing to identify and critique errors on both sides of our natural fences: Millennials and Boomers, right and left, traditionalists and progressives.
Second, we should take care to polemicize against ideas, not people. We can quote those who epitomize the ideas we’re discussing, of course, but we mustn’t turn polemics into ad hominem rants. Again, Keller puts it well:
Contemporary people are the victims of the late-modern mind far more than they are its perpetrators. Seen in this light, the Christian gospel is more of a prison break than a battle. (156)
2. Build reflection and application into our Bible study times.
Like Thomas Chalmers observed in his classic sermon “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” the surest way to remove one heart affection is to replace it with another. We need to encourage our people to study the Word, to memorize it, to learn it.
That said, the late-modern mind tends to drop truths in the playpen without considering whether they can actually play together. So in our “Bible study” rhythms—Sunday school, small groups, and so on—we need to help people reflect on how truth affects their lives. Ask questions like, How would this change how you think/value/act if it were made real in your life? What cultural voices does this Scripture passage contradict or challenge? Providing space for unhurried reflection will help our people identify the weeds in their own lives.
3. Encourage spiritual disciplines, especially reflective ones.
In Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith makes a compelling case that the cultural “liturgies” we participate in—the practices we habitually live out—can shape our hearts at least as much as do our thoughts. In other words, the spiritual disciplines are habits that submit our wills to God’s authority and position our hearts to be changed by his Spirit.
As important as teaching is, churches should also help their people practice the disciplines well. The habits of studying the Word, praying, fasting, and so on will help young people think more deliberately on truth. Likewise, reflective disciplines like journaling and fasting can help Christians look into their own hearts and, with God’s help, “see if there be any grievous way” within (Ps. 139:24).
4. Hold the beauty of Christ beside the emptiness of worldly powers.
Finally, we should pick fights. As we help people grasp what’s growing in their hearts, we must also show how Jesus offers a life that’s far more beautiful and worthwhile than anything else on the market. Secular humanism would have me build a castle on the quicksand of my own will; Jesus will drain the marsh and lay a firm foundation. The therapeutic world would have me love my own foul heart; Jesus will forgive me and muck out the stables. Materialism tells me I suffer, I die, the end; Christ offers me resurrection by his grace.
The more we can elevate the beauty of God over everything else in the world, the more we’ll see people’s hearts look less like a box of weeds and more like the garden of God.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Two Most Important Elements of Preaching

Thoughtful post on two essential ingredients in effective preaching from CT online

Pastors cannot lack these two things: passion and authority.
When Jesus came along two thousand years ago not all of His teaching was brand new. His message of repentance had already been preached by prophets for centuries. His teachings about loving God and loving people, the Great Commandment as we call it, was not a new teaching. You can trace this sermon all the way back to Deuteronomy and the Ten Commandments. The Scribes and Pharisees had been teaching sermons on these subjects for years when Jesus came along. Yet when Jesus comes along, everyone begins to leave the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees and flock to Jesus by the hundreds and thousands? So here’s my question: If Jesus’ sermons didn’t necessarily contain much new content, what made his teaching so attractive? So irresistible? We find the answer within the first few sentences of the first gospel ever written:
“They were astonished at His teaching because, unlike the scribes, He was teaching them as one having authority.” Mark 1:22 (HCSB)
In other words, even though Jesus was teaching some of the same content as the Scribes and Pharisees (ie, the Torah), there was something different about the way in which Jesus spoke it. When Jesus spoke, He spoke as one having AUTHORITY. When Jesus spoke, He spoke as if he really believed what He was saying. When He spoke, He spoke with conviction. He spoke with urgency. He spoke with compassion. He talked to people rather than just preaching at people. He told stories that made the Scriptures come alive. He made the Word come alive between sermons by living what He taught. He possessed moral authority in His teaching. People saw a difference in the way He lived that made His teachings more attractive. What was it that made Jesus’ teaching different? AUTHORITY and PASSION. These are the two elements that Jesus brought to His teachings in a way no other of His day possessed in the same way.
Two thousand years later I still believe these are the two most important elements of our teaching. Authority comes in the belief of knowing that God has spoken to us, and we MUST speak for Him to His people and they must respond! Authority comes in having experienced the truths of the Gospel so deeply we can’t help but share them and compel people to respond! Authority then produces passion. Passion is not something that’s manufactured insincerely. Rather, passion comes out of the overflow of a clear filling of the Holy Spirit in our teaching that both convicts and liberates. E.M. Bounds called it “unction.”
“This unction vitalizes God's revealed truth, makes it living and life-giving. Even God's truth spoken without this unction is light, dead, and deadening. Though abounding in truth, though weighty with thought, though sparkling with rhetoric, though pointed by logic, though powerful by earnestness, without this divine unction it issues in death and not in life.” [1]
Passion and authority is the cry of our day in our teaching. However, do you know what I see? We have too many pastors who are cool, cute, and clever and correct in their exegesis, but lack conviction. We have too many pastors who are culturally relevant and theologically accurate, at the expense of being consumed by His Spirit. Too many pastors are saying all the right things but lack the two most important things: PASSION and AUTHORITY.
Would you like for your teaching to be more attractive? Would you love to see the crowds coming to your teaching grow? Would you like for your teaching to draw more people toward Jesus and His church? You only need to focus on two things: authority and passion. This week ask God to consume You with His spirit. Stop worrying about being clever, cool, cute, perfect, or even polished. Let go of professionalism. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you in new ways with His Spirit. Pray, fast, and prepare, but then step away from your notes. Step away from the pulpit. Step down to people’s level. Don’t preach at them. Talk to them. Share your heart. Be vulnerable. Speak with conviction and clarity. Speak with unction. Speak with authority. Speak with passion. If you can and will, trust me: Jesus in and through us will become more attractive to a watching world, crowds will begin to grow, and the church with it!

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Biblical Theology of Resurrection

As usual, DA Carson is as profound as he is clear. . . 

Easter changes everything — we saw that yesterday. But one of the most fascinating things about Easter is that the theme of resurrection is not something that takes the New Testament by surprise. In fact, if you study the Old Testament carefully, you will see all sorts of allusions that all point to Christ’s eventual defeat of the grave on Easter Sunday, and here to explain those connections on the phone is Dr. Don Carson, who is kind enough to join us again.
He joins us by way of our partnership with our friends over at The Gospel Coalition. Dr. Carson is the co-founder and president of The Gospel Coalition, and he is the editor of the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible which focuses on biblical theological themes as they develop in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
Dr. Carson, thanks for joining us again to talk biblical theology. As we move through various major themes in the biblical storyline, it’s fitting that today we talk about the resurrection as we celebrate Easter on Sunday. Take it away and in this session help us appreciate Easter.
In this session, we want to consider the resurrection — first of all the resurrection of Jesus and then our resurrection on the last day — so that we are in agreement as to what terms mean. Byresurrection I do not mean something like living forever in a spirit existence or the like, but living again in bodily mode after the body has died, coming back from the dead in real bodies, but, ultimately, in transformed bodies.
Let’s back off just a wee bit. There are lots of passages in the Bible that talk about existence beyond death. But there are some passages that talk about resurrection; that is, bodily existence beyond death. Many people think that there are very few such passages in the Old Testament, and certainly they are not as common in the Old Testament as in the New, but there are more of them than people think.
For example, in Genesis 22, which is, after all, not very far into the Bible, we have the account of Abraham almost sacrificing his son and then God himself provides the sacrifice in a ram. Now that is all that is said. Nothing more is revealed about Abraham’s motives.
But a sensible and intelligent inference is drawn on that chapter by Hebrews 11:17–19. The only way that Abraham could have believed that this instruction came from God to kill his own son, his firstborn son, the son in whom God himself had promised that the line would run, is that he believed that God had the ability to raise his son Isaac from the dead.
“In Jesus’s resurrection body the stigmata, the marks of the wounds, are still there, but his resurrection is unique over all the other resurrections in that his body has been transformed.”
And that has to be a bodily existence. It is not some sort of mystical or ethereal or non-corporeal new life. It has to be life from the dead, because Isaac would then have to pass on his genes to the next generation and the next generation and so on, or the promise would have been invalid. In other words, there was already some sort of notion of resurrection and its possibility under the mighty hand of God that was grasped by Abraham right at the beginning of the covenant promises to the messianic people.
Then there is a very famous passage in Job. I know that there are problems in translating it, but I think that the NIV has it right. Job, in the midst of his sufferings, still says, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand on the earth, that after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him with my own eyes, I and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25–27).
If you take that at face value, it is pretty dramatic. After his skin has been destroyed, he has rotted in the grave, yet “in my flesh I will see God.” Not just, “I will see God, perhaps in some spirit-to-spirit fashion,” what is later called the intermediate state, but, “in my flesh I will see God,” which presupposes that the flesh has come back to life. “I myself will see him with my own eyes. I, and not another.” That is a personal resurrection with a personal resurrection body. All of that, it seems to me, is presupposed.
Then there are passages which use resurrection language, but which in the first instance are not talking about physical resurrection, but about the restoration of the people of God after they have been swept away into captivity. The most famous one of these is Ezekiel 37:1–14where the prophet has this vision of the valley of dry bones and from this we get the famous negro spiritual: “Them bones, them bones, them dry bones. Now hear the Word of the Lord.” And in the vision the bones are connected, but they are still not alive. The bones are connected and flesh covers them, but they are still not alive until the Spirit of God comes upon them and they stand up as a mighty army in the valley of what was dried bones, but now is full of life.
Now in the context of Ezekiel 37, this is an imagery having to do with the restoration of the people to the land after they have been banished by God himself from the land in the exile. But the thing to observe is that, although it is talking about the restoration, the imagery is of resurrection. In other words, those that say that the Old Testament saints don’t know anything about resurrection — you have to wait for Jesus before you get that — overlook the fact that, even though Ezekiel 37 is not explicitly talking about resurrection per se, in the immediate context, the imagery that is used to talk about the return from exile is resurrection imagery, which shows that the category is already there in Ezekiel’s mind and in the minds of the people.
And the same is also true in Isaiah 24–27 and to some extent in chapter 56 as well. Isaiah 24–27, these chapters are sometimes called the Isaiatic apocalypse where there is a lot of apocalyptic imagery of one sort there other. And in that context, in Isaiah 26:18–19, for example, we read, “We were with child. We writhed in labor when we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth and the people of the world have not come to life. But your dead will live, Lord. Their bodies will rise. Let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning. The earth will give birth to her dead.”
“All of God’s sovereignty is mediated through Christ Jesus. And the last enemy to be destroyed, we are told, is death itself. All of this hinges on the resurrection of Christ Jesus.”
Now the exact flow of thought in those chapters is, inevitably, somewhat argued about. But even if you conclude that it is talking about return from exile or the like, it is, again, cast most definitely in terms of resurrection from the dead with the bodies rising from the grave and so forth. It is very strong language.
And then the are certain miracles in the Old Testament like the resurrection from the dead and the Shunamite widow’s son, which clearly is flat out miracle (2 Kings 4:8–37).
When you come to the New Testament, Jesus himself raises a small number, but certain specific individuals, from the dead. The son of the widow of Nain, for example, he raises that son from the dead as the son is heading out to burial (Luke 7:11–17). And then there is the remarkable event in John 11 where he raises Lazarus from the dead. And in that case, the man has been in the grave for four days, so that putrefaction has set in. There is no way that you can confuse that resurrection from the dead with a calling somebody back to life who has simply gone into heart fibrillation, is not really dead. There is decay that has taken place. And that is the context in which Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). In other words, just before that promise in John 11, Martha confesses her orthodox faith. “I believe that there is a resurrection at the end. I believe that my brother will rise on the last day.” And Jesus asks her, “Yes, but I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe that?” (John 11:24–26).
In other words, Jesus is thrusting himself in the center of everything. It is not just that there is resurrection on the last day, but that there is no resurrection apart from him on the last day. He is the one who makes resurrection possible. And that is finally demonstrated in the spectacular display of his own resurrection.
Moreover, his own resurrection is unique. You see, if it were not unique, you could say that Lazarus was resurrected before Jesus and so he is the ultimate prototype of resurrection. Or the Shunamite widow’s son in the Old Testament is resurrected before Jesus. So he has got to be a prototype before Jesus. And in one sense they are images of what will come.
But they are not the prototype in the sense that Jesus is, because when Jesus comes back from the dead, his resurrection, though it ties his resurrection body with his pre-death body, nevertheless, his resurrection is unique in all resurrections up to that point in that his body has been transformed. There is a connection between his old body, that is, his pre-death body, and his resurrection body in that the stigmata, that is, the marks of the wounds, are still there. That is one of the main points of John 20.
So it is not as if a twin was suddenly brought forth or somebody that looked a lot like Jesus so that there was mass hallucination. In addition to the regular marks of crucifixion that Jesus had, he also had the highly unusual mark of a spear thrust up under his rib cage to pierce the pericardium and, thus, the resurrected body of Jesus that the disciples see in experience after experience — at least ten or eleven of them recorded in the New Testament to one or two, to groups of seven, to groups of ten or eleven, and finally to 500 — all of these depict continuity with the pre-death body. That is to say, this is the Jesus that went into the tomb. The tomb was empty and the resurrected body of Jesus is at some level the same as the body that went in. And this is Jesus — the historical man, Jesus.
“The ultimate hope of the Christian is not simply to be with Christ in some immaterial existence, but to have resurrection bodies in a renewed heaven and a renewed earth.”
Yet, at the same time, he is now in resurrection glory. He is in resurrection life and he does things now that he never did before, appearing in a locked room, for example. We would say today: Materializing or dematerializing. And in some sense, he exists in another sphere. Exactly what the connection is at some sort of scientific or ontological level, between his pre-death body and his post-resurrection body, we cannot possibly know.
Where this is teased out at greatest length is in 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul draws some analogies, but he himself acknowledges they are analogies. They are analogies, nevertheless, that are meant to tell us something. An acorn doesn’t look like an oak tree, yet with the death of the acorn as the shell rots away and the little life that is bound up inside begins to grow, ultimately it issues in a mighty tree. It is only an analogy, but it is a telling analogy. And he speaks of the different glories of different entities: of stars, of the moon, the sun, and so on. There are different orders of being and so also he speaks of the resurrection body as being of a different order.
And there are two or three other passages that are really important for us to understand. Consider the passage in John 20 that I briefly mentioned where there is a huge emphasis on the stigmata, the marks of the wounds on Jesus.
The stigmata are the things that convince Thomas, who has doubts, about the reality of the resurrection. They are things that convince Thomas that the resurrected Jesus, the resurrection body of Jesus has genuine continuity with the pre-death body of Jesus. This is the wounded, slaughtered Messiah who now is alive and reigning as Lord. And in consequence, he falls before him and cries, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
Indeed, there is a lot of emphasis on the demonstration of who Jesus really is, the promised one of God, that the eternal Son of God, the one who is Lord of all is precisely grounded in the historical witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The cumulative evidence that this New Testament of ours, which speaks so powerfully and frequently of the resurrection of Christ, is not the result of hallucination or some conspiracy by early Christians. The cumulative evidence is very, very strong indeed.
These Christians were prepared to die for what they had seen. “We cannot help but speak of the things we have seen and heard,” they say (Acts 4:20). They take it as a mark of privilege to suffer for this Christ who suffered so much for them. This is not people who talked themselves into it. All the records show how slow and low they were to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. But if he has risen from the dead — as they came to see, as even Paul came to see, in his vision of the resurrected Christ on the Damascus road — if Jesus really has risen from the dead, then he is approved by God. He is vindicated by God. His death was not to pay for his own sin, or else he would be dead. There is no way he would be vindicated by being raised by God from the dead.
No, no. He paid for the sins of others. And his sacrifice was so acceptable in God’s own plan that the vindication is demonstrated not least in the resurrection of Christ Jesus. This establishes him now as the reigning Lord already. And all of God’s sovereignty is mediated through Christ Jesus, who is the mediator of God’s authority in every domain in this age until he has crushed his last enemy. And the last enemy to be destroyed, we are told, in1 Corinthians 15:26, is death itself. And all of this hinges on the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
Another passage that is really quite important is 2 Corinthians 5:1–10 where Paul makes it very clear, it seems to me, that his ultimate hope is not simply to die and be with Christ. Paul’s ultimate hope is not to die and be with Christ, as wonderful as that would be. That is something he looks forward to in Philippians 1. But his ultimate hope is not to be, as he puts it in 2 Corinthians 5, unclothed, that is, without a body. His ultimate hope goes beyond what Christians have sometimes called the “intermediate state.” His ultimate hope is to be clothed again with a body, a resurrection body, a body like Christ’s glorious body, that will have the capacity to live and work and eat in this terrestrial, renewed earth, but also to be in the very presence of God. The ultimate hope of the Christian is not simply to be with Christ in some immaterial existence, but to have resurrection bodies in a renewed heaven and a renewed earth.
And all of that then ultimately issues in hope. There is a wonderful passage in 1 Peter:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of his salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief and all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him. And even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. For you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3–9)
In other words, we are receiving now already the salvation of our souls. But this all issues ultimately in a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead into an inheritance that, for us too, can never perish, spoil, or fade — the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness, with resurrection existence. So that, although there is in Scripture a resurrection to life — that is, a new heaven and a new earth, and a resurrection to death, to hell itself — yet for believers the confidence, the joy, the anticipation, the hope is tied absolutely to their confidence that Jesus rose from the dead after having offered himself to pay for their sins. And the cross and the resurrection tie together as the turning point of the ages on which all of history swings with the new age already dawning now and ready to be brought to consummation when the master himself returns in all of his glorified, resurrected existence on the last day.
That is a brilliant summary and a timely word for us, Dr. Carson, thank you and have a wonderful Easter weekend.
And a wonderful Easter to you, too. Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed.
Alleluia! Thank you Dr. Carson.

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D. A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is a founding member and currently president of The Gospel Coalition.

How to Preach Through Books of the Bible: Selecting a Theme

Helpful advice to bible teachers and preachers . . . narrowing and simplifying our theme from Randal Pelton.
 One of the most difficult and rewarding facets of pastoral ministry is preaching through books of the Bible. I’m praying Christ returns before I have to preach through Ezekiel!

In this series of posts I want to share some of the things I’ve learned from 25 years of preaching through books of the Old and New Testament.

The first thing I do is select a theme for the series. Here are some I discovered:

  • Unfaithful People/Faithful God
  • So Great Salvation
  • God in Chaos
  • Broken Heroes

From Judges 2:19 I selected the theme: The Salvation Of Stubborn Hearts. I wanted to capture God’s gracious deliverance and our stubborn tendency to forget Him and worship idols.

The theme you select is important because it is heard and developed in every sermon.

One of the hurdles of preaching through books of the Bible is locating and communicating the relevance of each preaching portion in the book. The theme can be extremely helpful in showing this relevance.

If your theme is accurate–meaning it is found in the book and is a major, not minor, concept–then it becomes the foundation for the relevance of each individual sermon. So all the time it takes reading the book, figuring out how it functions for the church is well worth it. And selecting the theme for the series usually takes up a majority of my study time as I prepare for the first sermon.

I wish there was a foolproof method for locating such a theme. I have discovered that theme-worthy concepts are often found at the beginning or ending of a book. That’s a great place to begin looking. It paid off for me in Judges as I said above. I’m sure a theme could be developed from the famous, final words describing God’s people: everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.

So, if you plan to preach through a book of the Bible soon, spend some time selecting a theme for the series so our Lord receives glory in the church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).


Thursday, March 24, 2016


In honor of Easter, from Jared Wilson . . . 
We are nearing the day many Christians look forward to all year. Yes, there’s the somber reflection and penitence of the Passion week, culminating in the resurrection of Jesus to celebrate on Easter Sunday, but there’s also some fabulous cash and prizes. Every year some churches seek to outdo themselves — and their local competition — by luring unbelievers (and I suppose interested believers) to their Easter service(s) with the promise of big shows and in some cases big giveaways. One guy in Texas made national news a couple of years ago for giving away new cars. More and more churches each year are dropping prize-filled Easter eggs out of helicopters to gathered crowds below. Local churches with more modest budgets sometimes promise door prizes like iPods or iPads or gift certificates to local restaurants.
I’m not against “Easter egg hunts” and kids having fun and all that, but I think the sort of large-scale, giveaway promotion that takes over this time of year in the church calendar is profoundly unwise and in many cases very, very silly. I want to offer ten general reasons why, but first some caveats: I’m not talking about a church giving out gifts to visitors. Gift cards, books, etc. to guests can be a sweet form of church hospitality. What I’m criticizing is the advertised promise of “cash and prizes” to attract people to the church service. Secondly, I know the folks doing these sorts of things are, for the most part, sincere believers who want people to know Jesus. But I don’t think good intentions authorize bad methods. So:
Ten reasons luring people in with cash and prizes is not a good idea.
1. It creates buzz about cash and prizes, not the Easter event. When the media takes notice, nobody wants to interview these pastors about the resurrection. They want them to talk about the loot.
2. It identifies the church not with the resurrection, but with giving toys away. It makes us look like entertainment centers or providers of goods and services, not people of the Way who are centered on Christ.
3. Contrary to some offered justifications, giving prizes away is not parallel to Jesus’ providing for the crowds. Jesus healed people and fed them. This is not the same as giving un-poor people an iPod.
4. It appeals to greed and consumerism. There is no biblical precedent for appealing to one’s sin before telling them to repent of it. This is a nonsensical appeal. We have no biblical precedent for appealing to the flesh to win souls.
5. Yes, Jesus said he would make us fishers of men, but extrapolating from this to devise all means of bait is not only unwarranted, it’s exegetically ignorant. The metaphor Jesus is offering here is just of people moving from the business of fishing to the business of the kingdom. There is likely no methodology being demonstrated in Jesus’ metaphor. (But the most common one would have been throwing out nets anyway, not baiting a hook.)
6. It is dishonest “bait and switch” methodology. Sure, the people coming for the goodies know they’re coming to church. But it’s still a disingenuous offer. The message of the gospel is not made for Trojan horses.
7. It demonstrates distrust in the compelling news that a man came back from the dead!! I mean, if nobody’s buying that amazing news, we can’t sell it to them with cheap gadgets.
8. It demonstrates distrust in the power of the gospel when we think we have to put it inside something more appealing to be effective. What the giveaways really communicate is that we think the gospel needs our help, and that our own community is not attractive enough in and of itself in its living out the implications of the gospel.
9. The emerging data from years of research into this kind of practice of marketing-as-evangelism shows the kind of disciples it produces are not strong. I have no doubt these churches are going to see many “decisions” Easter weekend. We’ll see the running tally heralded on Twitter. As questionable a practice as that can be, I’d be extra interested in how discipled these folks are in a year or two years or three. Hype has always produced “decisions.” Would anyone argue that after 30 years or so of the attractional approach to evangelism the evangelical church is better off, more Christ-centered, more biblically mature?
10. What you win them with is what you win them to.