Monthly Archives: September 2012

Simple Church and Small Groups

Michael Kelley connects the importance of “underprogramming” our church to the small group dilemma:

Are churches overcomplicating small groups? from Ed Stetzer on Vimeo.

Previously: 10 Reasons to Underprogram Your Church

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“Who Are My Mother and Brothers (and Sons)?”

Christianity Today reports that post-evangelical provocateur Brian McLaren has officiated the same-sex wedding of his son. Denny Burk has some good reflections, as does Carl Trueman. There are some obvious “talking points” to engage in here, about the trajectory of McLaren’s hermeneutic, slippery slopes and all that. The reality is that you can’t close the flue and not expect the room to fill with smoke. But upon reading this news I was immediately taken back to my preaching text Sunday:

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

— Mark 3:31-35

Jesus is providing a foundation and a watershed at the same time, a connecting point for his other provocative statements about letting the dead bury the dead (Luke 9:59-60), bringing division to families (Matt. 10:34-37), hating mom and dad on his account (Luke 14:26), no marriage in heaven (Matt. 22:30), and how his mom ain’t so special (Luke 11:27-28). We also get some grounding for Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:29.

Confronted with the well-meaning concerns of familial loyalty, Jesus will not take his eyes …

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Extra calvinisticum

“It may seem absurd to say that he ‘is in heaven’ while he still lives on earth. If it is answered that this is true about his divine nature, then this expression would mean something else—namely, that while he was man he was ‘in heaven.’ I could point out that no place is mentioned here and that only Christ is distinguished from everybody else as far as his state is concerned, since he is the heir of the kingdom of God, from which the whole human race is banished. However, as very frequently happens, because of the unity of the person of Christ, what correctly applies to one of his natures is applied to another of his natures, and so we need seek no other solution. So Christ, who ‘is in heaven,’ has clothed himself in our flesh, so that by stretching out his brotherly hand to us he may raise us to heaven with himself.”

– John Calvin, John, Crossway Classic Commentaries, eds. Alister McGrath and J. I. Packer (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), 74-75.

“For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done …

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Worship as “Play”

“In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”
— C. S. Lewis

When Pastor Matt Chandler shares online what text he will be preaching from next at The Village Church, he will sometimes then invite people to attend the worship service by saying, “Come play.” I like that a lot. If it is true that when God’s people gather to exalt him together, he is in the midst of them in a special way, great joy waits for us in doing so, for, “At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11 KJV).

It is not out of bounds to think of hearing the gospel proclaimed as playing, if we are receiving the word with gladness, savoring its declarations like honey, joyfully submitting to its authority, and reveling in the infinite excellencies of its Author. Authentic worship is in many ways a childlike wonder. When we are fixated on the greatness of God, we become caught up, unself-conscious, utterly and joyfully dependent, without pretense or worry. From N. T. Wright:

Worship is humble and glad; worship forgets itself in remembering God; worship celebrates the truth as God’s truth, not its own. True worship doesn’t put on a show or make a fuss; true worship isn’t forced, isn’t half-hearted, doesn’t keep looking at its watch, doesn’t worry what the person in the next pew may be doing. True worship is open to God, adoring God, waiting for God, trusting God even in the dark.

Wright’s scope for worship extends …

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Look Up

Cultivate the habit of fixing your eye more simply on Jesus Christ, and try to know more of the fullness there is laid up in Him for every one of His believing people.

Do not be always poring down over the imperfections of your own heart, and dissecting your own besetting sins.

Look up.

Look more to your risen Head in heaven, and try to realize more than you do that the Lord Jesus not only died for you, but that He also rose again, and that He is ever living at God’s right hand as your Priest, your Advocate, and your Almighty Friend.

When the Apostle Peter “walked upon the waters to go to Jesus,” he got on very well as long as his eye was fixed upon his Almighty Master and Savior. But when he looked away to the winds and waves, and reasoned, and considered his own strength, and the weight of his body, he soon began to sink, and cried, “Lord, save me.” No wonder that our gracious Lord, while grasping his hand and delivering him from a watery grave, said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Alas! many of us are very like Peter-we look away from Jesus, and then our hearts faint, and we feel sinking (Mat. 14:28-31).

– J.C. Ryle, “Our Profession”


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What Do Pharisees Do?

They leap to unnecessary and often absurd conclusions in order to see those they oppose in the worst light (Matthew 9:34, 12:24).

They watch in order to nitpick (Matthew 12:2).

They like conspiracy theories (Matthew 12:14, Mark 3:6).

They’re always looking to take offense (Matthew 15:12, Luke 14:1).

They seek to “win” with malicious tests (Matthew 16:1, 19:3, 22:15).

They seek to “win” by parsing words (Matthew 22:15, Mark 12:13, Luke 6:7, 11:53).

They grumble (Luke 5:30, 15:2).

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Fear and Trembling

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling
— from Philippians 2:12

Fear and trembling. Paul uses this phrase a couple of other times (2 Corinthians 7:15 and Ephesians 6:5), apparently with the connotation of submissive humility and receptive meekness. It is an affections-full being put into one’s place, I think. A disposition appropriate to the circumstances. The command in Psalm 2:11 is “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling,” showing us that fear is not without activity and trembling is not without joy.

Here I remember Emma Thompson’s beautiful portrayal of Elinor Dashwood at the end of the film Sense and Sensiblity when Hugh Grant’s Edward Ferrars reveals it was his brother who got married, and not himself. Thompson’s Elinor is an expert at keeping her emotions bottled up — until this moment where we see “fear and trembling” brilliantly and movingly in display. It chokes me up every time.

Pent-up hopes and dormant affections brought near the super-electric current of a fearsome reality. The hair on our arms stands up, gooseflesh springing, a sense of fresh air and being winded at the same time. Overwhelmed. That’s fear and trembling. As it pertains to having the living God draw near to us, fear and trembling assume it is truly God and the glorious Christ we have encountered and not some pitiful caricature. The god of the prosperity gospelists is a pathetic doormat, a genie. The god of the cutesy coffee mugs and Joel Osteen tweets is a milquetoast doofus …

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The Importance of the Pastoral “I Don’t Know”

“My happy conviction is that pastors ought not to be experts on everything.”
– John Piper

One of the most valuable sentences in a pastor’s arsenal is “I don’t know.” The pressure to know and be everything everybody expects us to know and be can be pride-puffing. I once worked at a bookstore where we were told never to say “I don’t know” to a customer. We must give them some answer, any answer, even if it was a guess or a likely wrong answer. Customers don’t want to hear “I don’t know” from service people, but even a wrong answer makes them feel helped. I confess the temptation to “satisfy the customer” has persisted through my ministry days, for a variety of reasons. I want people to feel helped. And I also don’t like looking like a rube.

Why is it important for pastors (and Christians in general!) to say “I don’t know” when they don’t know?

1. Because it’s the truth.

First and foremost, if you don’t know the answer to something, say you don’t know the answer. Making stuff up is not our calling. We all know some folks who seem pathologically unable to admit ignorance in any area. I don’t trust those people, and neither should you. Better a disappointing truth than a manipulative or misleading fabrication.

2. Because it impresses the right people.
I’ve done more than a few Q&A’s after preaching or on panels at speaking engagements before, and the desire to impress with wisdom and insight can be nerve-wracking. Once …

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Stay Messy, My Friends

It is my conviction that gospel wakefulness erupts from the intersection of beholding the glory of God in Christ in the midst of profound brokenness (see 1 Thess. 1:6, for example), and so it is my conviction that regular gospel enjoyment precludes the appropriation of comfort as a Christian’s chief virtue. Rest is good. Sabbath is commanded. But a life and ministry of comfort is dangerous to our souls. If you’re a pastor in particular, God bless you in times of great success and peace, but keep a close watch on your life and doctrine, because while we need not have martyr complexes and be thankless in our times of victory and relative ease, we ought not become numbed by those times into being ill-prepared for the trouble Jesus promised. We have not been called to avoid difficulty and conflict, but to trust Jesus within them.

Here are three areas we can stay in the thick of the messy ministry that is fertile soil for gospel joy:

1. Church
The temptation for ministry leaders is often to keep “graduating” to easier ministry. This usually means interacting only with “easy” personalities, but in some cases it means insulating from most people altogether. Indeed, it is a great temptation for lead pastors or busy church planters to begin to elevate themselves above the “hoi polloi,” removing themselves from street level ministry to focus on vision, study, writing, etc. Those things are important, but if you spend all your time by yourself or only with those …

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