Monthly Archives: January 2009

Fine Line Between Transparency and Vanity

At what point does regular vulnerability in the context of Christian community — being “open,” being transparent, revealing all problems and perils — stop being about humility and confession and start being self-indulgent vanity? Isn’t it possible that inordinately dwelling on our problems and pasts can turn us into martyr-complexed whiners?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, particularly as many of us — myself included — seem to push more often the revelation of our victimization rather than the revelation of our victimizing (confessing our “pasts,” as opposed to confessing our sins, in other words).

So it was timely to find my friend Bob Spencer’s post today, a reflection on some thoughts from Total Church‘s Steve Timmis on Creating Crises. It is not specifically on the issues I’ve been thinking through, but I think it runs parallel. I hope Bob doesn’t mind if I reprint it entirely:

Steve Timmis has a good post at the elephant in the room blog. Steve is touching on one of my old complaints about church people. Everybody wants to be your comforter. The whole idea of church life, they seem to think, is to find out what’s hurting and pray for that. Nothing makes them light up more than to hear that you’re feeling down, or you have some back pain, or your job is boring. It gives them something to “intercede” about!

I hope I’m not sounding too awfully cynical here. I certainly do appreciate prayer, but I think we’re training ourselves to …

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Pastors, Take to Your Pulpit "Hot with Christ"

Some unique (but understandable) focus on John Updike this week brings us this great passage from Rabbit, Run, the accosting of a “newfangled” pastor:

Do you think this is your job, to meddle in these people’s lives? I know what they teach you at seminary now: this psychology and that. But I don’t agree with it. You think now your job is to be an unpaid doctor, to run around and plug up holes and make everything smooth. I don’t think that. I don’t think that’s your job…. I say you don’t know what your role is or you’d be home locked in prayer…. In running back and forth you run away from the duty given you by God, to make your faith powerful…. When on Sunday morning, then, when you go out before their faces, we must walk up not worn out with misery but full of Christ, hot with Christ, on fire: burn them with the force of our belief. This is why they come; why else would they pay us? Anything else we can do and say anyone can do and say. They have doctors and lawyers for that…. Make no mistake. Now I’m serious. Make no mistake. There is nothing but Christ for us. All the rest, all this decency and busyness, is nothing. It is Devil’s work.

Timely words in 1960 and prescient for today.

(HT: Reid Monaghan)

Related:Pastors, Don’t Waste Your PulpitCross-Centered Pastoring: The Burden and the PassionRead the Bible Like You Mean It

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Prognosis Negative

(That’s a Seinfeld reference, for those of you not in the know.)

According to a new Barna Group poll, 1 in 3 self-identified “Christians” says Jesus sinned.

Doesn’t surprise me in the least.

And it won’t occur to many pastors/churches that even though they have never said that Jesus sinned (and even though they don’t believe that themselves!), their preaching and mode of ministry has nonetheless produced the sort of thinking that arrives at that conclusion.

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. . . At Rest

One assumes.

In my former (and future) life, I was a novelist. I can only hope that one day I might write nearly as masterfully as my favorite contemporary novelist, Pulitzer Prize winning John Updike, who died today at age 76 from lung cancer.

Updike’s writing isn’t for everyone, and I am feeling a bit like worlds colliding mentioning him in this space, as I doubt he’d be of much interest to the majority of my readers here, if only for some the explicit content in his books. But he wrote unabashedly and frankly, and while this could belie his Protestant upbringing, this frankness in a weird way reflected it: Updike didn’t mind at all showing sin in all its sordid glory. That forbidden fruit probably did not look rotten, after all. Updike’s work is infused with a through-running quality of God-hauntedness.

This is from my tribute today at The Thinklings:

I was a late adopter to Updike’s writing, but I quickly became obsessed. He easily supplanted Paul Auster as my favorite contemporary novelist, and he might have been America’s greatest living novelist. Until today.

I remember reading Rabbit, Run, the first in Updike’s four Rabbit novels, and being blown away. I’ve been reading novels, including literary novels, since I was a kid, but in my late twenties I had no idea someone could write like that. And by “like that” I mean “apparently just for me.”

Since then I’ve rather quickly been making my way through the rest of his works. Updike’s stories …

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Brothers and Sisters

Almost every day I see the teenage brother and sister who live next door to us as they exit their bus after school. I leave the house to get my girls from the elementary school as their bus is dropping them at the corner, so just about every day I see them step off the bus and make the (about) 40 yard walk to their house.

They make this short walk on opposite sides of the street from each other.

A brother and sister, one year apart, maybe two. They get off the bus together. They go to the same door. But they don’t make that walk together.

Every time I see this, it makes me sad.

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Know Your Place

I have a love/hate relationship with Jesus’ disciples. I love ‘em because they’re just like me. I hate ‘em because they’re just like me.

All along they’re wanting the Romans physically overthrown and Jesus on a literal throne in Jerusalem, and all along Jesus is consistently telling them the kingdom of God isn’t like that. No swords and horses. Palm branches and donkeys. No ear chopping. Foot washing.

So he goes all the way to the cross, dies and is buried. He resurrects three days later. And as he’s ascending into heaven, they’re asking, “So, um, do we get that kingdom of Israel now?”

This is me. This is you.

“Gee, thanks for the cross and resurrection, Jesus, but do you think I could have a little more? Something for me?” It’s sort of a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of faith, and none of us is immune.

We naturally and sinfully lose perspective. We put ourselves at the center.

Prime example: The story of David and Goliath.Do you know where you and I are in that story?

Countless preachers, teachers, and inspirational writers have gone into 1 Samuel 17 with applicatory guns blazing. The story makes for some great applicational translation. Like so:The Christian is David. Goliath can be all manner of personal problems and anxieties, social issues, anything plaguing us personally or the Church corporately. And then the five smooth stones David picks up lend themselves so easily to five points, keys, or tips.

Let’s say Goliath is financial insecurity. The expositor …

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A Singular Moment in History

I’m swamped this week so blogging will be sporadic, if not non-existent. But I couldn’t let the historic moment of today go by without saying a little something.

First of all, it is phenomenal. These United States have their first black President. The leader of the free world is a black man. That’s something to be happy about, and that’s something to be proud of America for.

Honestly, though, I am no more proud of our nation today than I was yesterday, or four years ago. We live in a great country and enjoy great freedoms. Last night I sat around a table in a public cafe with Element’s public small group and we confessed sins to each other, prayed, and celebrated communion. And while any one of us may have felt an odd stare or two, none of us feared being dragged off to jail or worse. We are very privileged, very blessed. The majority of the world’s Christians don’t have such freedoms. And this is something the hyperbolic, histrionic haters of the administration of the last eight years ought to remember. That you can say such vile things about our president without repercussion is proof you’re wrong.

We take religious freedom, as we take every freedom, for granted. We take freedom in Christ for granted.

And so today I congratulate and salute President Obama, and I congratulate and salute the people of our great nation for putting another nail in the coffin of racial hatred. But I do not hope in our …

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Otherwise He is Not a Christian

“We conclude, therefore, that a Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor.”

– Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty

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Defy Yourself

And preach to yourself the gospel.

From Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s classic work, Spiritual Depression:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc.

Somebody is talking. Who is talking? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: “Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you . . .”

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: “Why art thou cast down” — what business have you to be disquieted?

You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: “Hope thou in God” — instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.

Then having done …

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Jesus Rules

One of my favorite Dallas Willard quotes:

[Jesus] knew how to transform the tissues of the human body from sickness to health and from death to life. He knew how to suspend gravity, interrupt weather patterns, and eliminate unfruitful trees without saw or ax. He only needed a word. Surely he must be amused at what Nobel prizes are awarded for today.

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