Monthly Archives: August 2007

The Gospel of the Beatitudes

Getting a hold of Dallas Willard’s instant classic The Divine Conspiracy is worth it for the chapter on the Beatitudes alone. I refreshed myself with it this morning. Fantastic stuff.

It may not come from Conspiracy (I couldn’t find the exact quote in the book), but here’s a Willard quote on the Beatitudes seen at The Boar’s Head Tavern this week:

The Beatitudes cannot be “good news” if they are understood as a set of “how-to’s” for achieving blessedness. They would only amount to a new legalism. They would not serve to throw open the kingdom — anything but. They would impose a new brand of Phariseeism, a new way of closing the door — as well as some very gratifying new possibilities for human engineering of righteousness.

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Tips for Worship Leaders

A couple of introductory points:

a) I am talking about the leading of the congregation in worship through music in the context of a worship service or gathering of believers. Every time I mention worship in this context someone tries to remind me that worship is more than music, as if I didn’t know that or didn’t believe it. I do. I firmly do. I just preached on worship a few weeks back in Element’s “Kill Your Idols” series, and while we talked about music a bit, it addressed the total life of Christ-following worship. So . . . save it.

b) I am not a worship leader. I have tried my hand at it a few times eons ago. I am not a musician. I think I can contribute some important thoughts to a casual conversation on the pastoring of worship in the Church, but it is quite likely, due to my lack of hands-on experience and lack of calling, that I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Some thoughts on the leading of worship in the churches and some tips for leadership:

1. Worship leaders, ask yourself while choosing songs and arranging a set list (and even choosing musicians), “What is the purpose of this?” You may say it is to bring people into worship of God, but everyone says that. Look at your songs, look at your arrangements, look at the people assisting you. Are they all on board with that purpose?

2. The vast majority of your congregation is not …

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Better Than Best?

Okay, logically speaking, if the first book is about creating Your Best Life Now, how do you do better than that? How do you get better than best? The new book is Become a Better You. Why should anyone buy and believe this one? If I have already achieved my best life — which I assume means it is as good as it gets — is it possible I can still get better?

Do you see yet that this stuff, for all its claims to create success and satisfaction, is just a self-perpetuating cycle that creates dissatisfaction, discontentment? This “being a better you” stuff is self-idolatry; it is the new legalism, because it exalts the ever-“improving” self over satisfaction with Christ.

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Where the Gospel Wins Out

I don’t wish to deadhorse stuff around here, but I wanted to highlight a couple of blogospheric compositions related to topics discussed in these parts recently, because I found them extremely touching and poignant, and because I think they cut through the conversational smoke and exalt the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was thankful to have read them, so I am honored to share them.

First, this from a pastor named Scott Eaton in the comment thread of this iMonk post:

Permit me a moment of transparency. As an overweight, 40 year old (in October), graying, unathelic, not so cool pastor who loves Jesus and people and finds his only hope in the gospel, the cross, and grace, your post encouraged me deeply.

Many times I get so discouraged in ministry precisely because I am “not cool.” How stupid is that? Yet, this is the message communicated today. If you are not cool – wearing cool clothes, cool glasses, with cool facial hair, having a cool staff, a cool building, a cool sound system, a cool band, a cool (fill in the blank here) – then you are irrelevant, washed up and ineffective for Christ. It has been enough to make me wonder if, being rather “uncool,” I should continue on in ministry.

But this is foolish and silly. I will not quit the ministry for that reason (I am not that pathetic!). I was called into the ministry by the one who “had no form or majesty that we should look at …

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The Culture-Driven Church

A provocative interview with David Wells by 9 Marks Ministries: Satanism, Starbucks, and Other Gospel ChallengersAn excerpt:

9M: Apostles of church growth tell us that pop culture is our friend and the best vehicle for advancing the gospel. Why do you think that pop culture poses a threat to the church’s ability to hold onto and articulate the gospel?

DW: Let me start by saying there isn’t a lot of difference between popular and elite culture at some points. The main difference is in the number who participate. So the real question, I think, is what does our culture, in its different layers, have in its life that is contrary to the truth of God and the gospel? That’s the question we’ve got to be asking. The people that you mentioned are asking the question, “What is it in our culture”—and the more popular the better—“that we can utilize for our own success?” These are the folks who get their surfboards out and wait for any wave that they can ride to the shore. They look at the culture as a means to their own success.

What we should be doing, however, is looking at the culture—whether high or low—and asking the question, “At what points is this antithetical to the Word of God?” Now that’s a question not often asked—I don’t really see it.

What’s been lost in all of this is a serious working doctrine of sin. If Barna’s numbers are correct, the majority—54 percent—of those who claim to be born …

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Contra Pragmatism

The greatest threat to the gospel specific to today is the indirect challenge of pragmatism among evangelicals.Mark Dever

Some random personal opinions (of mine) related to this issue of pragmatism in the Church:

1) There was a point at which a considered concern for removing unnecessary traditional or religious cultural barriers between seekers and churches became a passion for doing “whatever it takes” to get people in the doors. I don’t know where that point was, and I’m sure it happened gradually, but it obviously resulted from changing a focus from saving souls to gaining numbers.

2) Consequently, and somewhat ironically, the current equivalent of the 80’s-90’s seeker churches are not really bringing the lost into the life of discipleship so much as they are attracting Christians who have become bored with their previous church.

3) Consequently, many churches have become suppliers of spiritual milk not to new believers but to “old” believers who have never matured into the desire for meat.

4) Worship time has become more entertainment driven not as a means to attract the lost but to ensure that a church’s “show” is better than all the other churches’ shows.

5) The embrace of pragmatism affects nearly all of a church’s aims, so that even the largest churches with the most resources do not actually plant new churches so much as they are franchising themselves. We see this currently with the satellite church movement, in which large churches with popular teachers do not raise up pastors to plant missional churches elsewhere …

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Reviving Biblical Preaching

Theocentric Preaching blog excerpts from Preaching for Revitalization by Michael F. Ross.

Ross points out that the current focus of preaching methodology “on communication theory and practice – style, SAIs (stories, analogies and illustrations), voice methods and time usage,” as opposed to formerly dealing with “content, theology, spiritual motivations and the character of the minister,” is a result of the decline of biblical preaching in the 1930s and 40s.

Basically, preaching got bad, and the way the Church fixed it was by concentrating on style and method.

Ross says this was the wrong fix, and goes on to say:

The crisis of the American pulpit is not one of communication theory, but rather one of content, conviction, and consistency of theology and life . . . This is not to say that communication theory and practice are not important, but rather to keep two concepts separate: homiletics and preaching. Good homiletics does not necessarily result in good preaching. Homiletics does not transform the soul; true preaching does!

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5 Reasons for Sermon-Centric Worship

In the meta of my recent Feeding the Sheep post, commenter Simon asks a really good question: Why the sermon over other elements of our shared life? I have experienced this in practice for the last 20 years, and I admit that I really don’t know why we elevate the sermon the way that we do. What is the reason for this?

First, rather cynically, I wonder if this general feeling of skepticism about the centrality of the sermon is not a testament to the ever-increasing superfluousness of evangelical preaching. Are we tempted to think the message of equal importance or less importance to corporate worship or to other elements of a worship service because we have taught for too long not the Gospel but “good advice” nobody really follows anyway?

Whatever the reasons for it, it’s a question that should be asked. Especially today when even some who think “teaching” is important in worship would like to re-define teaching to mean sharing, dialogue, conversations, testimonies, dramatic re-creations, what-have-you.

But we do have, in the momentum-gaining gospel-driven church movement, a glorious recovery of cross-centered preaching. This is not to say that all preaching is good preaching, that all sermons are created equal. Certainly there are good preachers and bad preachers, just like there are good worship leaders and bad ones. There are more dynamic speakers and more dry ones. There are people who wield the Word more deftly and accurately and those who treat it like a dictionary or quote book. But …

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Self-Regarding Worship

I promised more on worship, and Bob of the indispensable In the Clearing delivers for me. Here’s a bit from his recent post, Whitmanesque Worship:

Back in my long-lost liturgical days, I used to say the following words to God as a part of the confession:

I have not loved You with my whole heart, and I have not loved others as myself.

They were and are among the truest words we can ever say about ourselves, even at our finest moments.

Now, on the other hand, I am often prompted by the PowerPoint slides at church to sing songs about how much, how very much, I love God. In fact, I sometimes sing that I love Him with all my heart. Imagine that. Among all the changes I have gone through in terms of my spiritual understanding, this is not one of them. This sort of lyric irks me. They are not only effusively self-regarding, they are plain lies.

Anyway, this is the kind of thing that has a tendency to eat away at our worship, turning it into a Whitmanesque celebration of self . . .

The reason I need a savior is that I have not loved God with my whole heart. If I say that now I do love him with my whole heart, I needn’t any longer speak of Jesus or long for Him, because in fact I no longer need him.

Which might be a reason that, so often, Jesus seems so peripheral to our worship and preaching.

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