Terri Schiavo Dies

That's the headline on MSN. A lot of internet ink has been spilled over this issue. Until now I've done little more than pray for right to be done in this matter. My prayer was not answered in the way I would have hoped, but that is God's choice. He remains sovereign regardless.

Where is Terri now that she has died? I hope she knew Christ. I have no knowledge of her background. She is in heaven with Christ if she embraced salvation by faith in Christ alone. If this was not true of her, I can find no place in Scripture where there is reason to hope that there is some special exemption. I suspect that some within the broad Christian context will make efforts to canonize her in some way. I hope SHE is with the Lord. I hope WE don't forget the Gospel.

So what have we learned? More specifically, the better question is what have I learned? My thoughts on this go beyond the right to life issue. I have no need to state a position that others articulate far better. What I learned or been reminded of from this mess is that we live in an evil culture.

Why is it that our culture is so eager for our kids to lose their sexual innocence? Why is sex outside of marriage glorified? We see regular statistics of the ruin of lives through unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Yet we see our culture rushing headlong to promote sexual expression and experimentation by our children. Why do they lie to our children? WHY?

Why is it that our culture is so eager to kill? Whether it be the inconvenience of a pregnancy or the killing of Terri Schiavo, why does our culture promote the death of human beings? Why do people get arrested for mistreating their parakeets and dogs, but the death of people made in God's eternal image is encouraged? WHY?

The answer is in Jesus' own words: John 8:44 - "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing todo with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (ESV). And as John says, "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one."

So that's what I've been reminded of or learned. We can legislate, we can picket, we can protest, we can blog, but ultimately we oppose only the pawns of the father of murder and lies.

But take heart. Jesus beat him big time. That's what this past weekend was all about.

What's Christianity All About?

I began my sermon introducing Romans this way two weeks ago. After reading some things about life in the church today, I thought I'd share it with you. For what it's worth.

Let’s send a few imaginary fact-gathers out in search of an answer to that question.

One is going to visit a Christian bookstore. He comes back after a few hours and reports that Christianity is about having a life that is purpose-driven, about being fulfilled, about learning to believing in yourself so that you can live your best life now. It’s about fixing the family, about rising above life’s difficulties. Even Bibles are being targeted for different needs. His conclusion: Christianity must be all about self-improvement.

Another of our friends turns on the TV. She watches for several hours, noticing that those who claim to be Christians are well-dressed, though the women look like Dolly Parton on a bad hair day. When you ask what she’s learned about Christianity, she says that Christianity is about how God wants to have you drive a nice car, to pay your bills, to make you prosperous. He doesn’t want you sick, and he can make you well – but of course you have to send in that special seed offering. Christianity, says our second fact-finder, is all about being successful.

Still another person is watching a different set of TV programs. He is hearing a about how Christians need to reclaim America. He hears about homosexuality, abortion, and other kinds of social ills, and how those bad liberals, mostly democrats, want to remove any vestige of God from our public life. Christians are called on to protest, to stand up for their rights. Christianity, says person number three, is about being conservative.

Our last fact-gatherer decides to go right to the source. So he visits a conference on church life. After all, Christians go to church, so he might found out something there. He sits through speaker after speaker who talk about being appealing to the seeker, about being non-offensive and not using messy words like sin or blood, about being positive so that no one is offended. Christians should be affirming, warm, tolerant and culturally hip. Our fourth person says:
Christianity is all about being relevant.

While our four friends are talking amongst themselves, trying to sort this out, a small old man holding some parchment joins them. He holds up the first page and begins to read (read Romans 1:1-6). When he is finished he looks at them and says, “I wrote those words in a letter to some Christians in Rome. And here is the answer to your question. Christianity is all about the Gospel.”

Heads Up: Review of "Fools Gold" & Other Stuff

Tim Challies provides us with a review of John MacArthur's latest book, Fools Gold. A friend brought me back a copy from MacArthur's Shepherd's Conference, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

If you were not able to attend the Shepherd's Conference (like me, for example *sniff*) you can download the general sessions and many of the seminars. I thought that MacArthur's General Session 1 and Sproul's General Session 2 were great. Have not listened to the others yet. They are a few bucks each, a bit cheaper if you are a member of the Shepherds Fellowship.

More on the ESV

My last post on the ESV was picked up by several other bloggers. One, Faith Untamed, has an interesting article on the ESV switch along with links to others. If you are contemplating making a change, you might want to read his site.

Why The ESV

John, who blogs at Locusts and Honey left a comment under my last posting about recommended books, asking if I would share some thoughts on my translation preferences.

My credentials for evaluating translations are almost non-existent. But I have several reasons for choosing the ESV to use as my preaching Bible, after almost 20 with the NIV. In no particular order, here they are:

1. I believe that the words of Scripture are important. The discussion between formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence is not going to be resolved here. But my preference is to use a formal equivalence translation because it has a greater focus on the words. As someone who is attempting to do exposition of a text, being able to deal with individual words is important. Try doing that while preaching from the New Living Translation (which I do enjoy reading) or the Message. Of course, the preacher can say, "now this literally means . . . " or "perhaps a more literal/better translation would be . . .", but that does two things. First, it conveys, perhaps subtly, that the Bible that people have is not really reliable, and second, it can lead to the preception that you can't really understand the Bible without original language knowledge.

2. The NIV was the best of both worlds for a long time. When I was in Bible College (we're talking 1971-76) , there were four choices. The KJV (or the New Scofield derivative), the RSV (which evangelicals did not use because of the apparent liberal bias), the NASB and the NIV. The NASB is hard to read. I was listening to one of our small group members read from it last week and thought, "Man is that confusing." The NIV was both accurate and easier to read. When I moved to my present church in 1980, I began to move over to the NIV. There was another reason for that as well. Most of the newer theological resources - commentaries, dictionaries, etc., seemed disposed to use the NIV as a principal translation. In addition, it enjoyed huge popularity, with numerous study Bibles, etc., being released in NIV format. So the NIV and KJV probably accounted for 90% of what our congregations were using.

3. The ESV - to me - is now the better choice for best of both worlds. I like the way it reads. It's not as easy to read as the NIV, but not that far off. And it's worlds better than the NASB, even from the 1995 NASB update. From charts that I have seen, it occupies a place of middle ground between those two translations.

4. There is no clear translational consensus in our church. Based on an informal survey that I did before preaching the other week, I would estimate that about 40% of our people use the NIV. The rest is split between the KJV, NASB, NKJV, and a few NLT and ESV'ers. Given that fact, no matter what translation I use, the majority of our people are using something different than I use.

5. With the current translational climate, I would prefer to move our people in the direction of a more formal equivalent translation. Some will disagree with me on this. That's fine. Let's just say I have concerns and leave it at that.

So that, in essence, is why I am using the ESV. There are other translations I could have chosen, I suppose, like the Holman one, or the NKJV. I use the NET Bible too, and use it with my Logos/Libronix software. But I like the fact that the Reformed community has gotten behind the ESV - that gives me hope that it will lead to resources with the ESV as the foundational translation.

I should note that only about 10 people ordered the Bible on the first Sunday. I've explained clearly that I am not out to change their translation. I am providing this for those who want to be able to follow what I am saying without the confusion of trying to jive my reading with theirs. I'm making this available for another 2 Sundays. I'm not trying to accomplish anything other than that.

I also want to say that we're not doing pew Bibles. They are great for visitors, but make today's Christians who are already disposed to be lazy even more lazy. I want our people to be acquainted with their Bible, so that it becomes a dear friend. We don't have enough of that today, and the proof of that is in the lower degree of biblical literacy that we have in our churches. I project my sermon outline through a powerpoint presentation, and only rarely will display the verses I refer to, and that only to save time if I am drawing their attention to several passages or to a passage in passing. This last paragraph has nothing to do with John's question, but they are companion thoughts. (By the way, I regularly encourage people without a Bible to share with someone who has one.)

I purchased the ESV Reformation Study Bible two weeks ago. The print was sufficient for my eyes to see while preaching, and the cursed red letters (boy is that guy gonna get it when I get to heaven *grin* - and don't be mad - it's a visual thing for me) are absent. In addition, it has a fine series of notes edited by a list of fine Reformed scholars and pastors. If you're in the market for a new study Bible, I'd recommend it. Westminster Seminary Bookstore has it for under $40 in genuine leather. You may have to call them, since the leather version is not on their website. But they have a $5 flat rate for shipping, not matter how large or small the order, for the 48 states.

Anyway, I hope that answers John's question, and yours too.

A Quick Book Recommendation

I began a series on Romans this past Sunday, and made provision for our people to order two books over the next three weeks that would help them in understanding the letter.

One book was a hardcover ESV - only reason I made that available was because I have been preaching from it since January. I took an informal poll one Sunday and while the NIV is the translation that is most used, over 50% of our people used other versions. I am making the ESV hardcover available at a discount for those who are interested.

The other book is more significant, though. It is something I would heartily recommend to you to make available to your congregation. Written by Rick Cornish, 5 Minute Theologian is a book that explains clearly and simply what various theological terms mean. I'd recommend it highly as a good basic book on doctrine.

Christ-Centered Preaching - Second Edition

Bryan Chapell's book Christ-Centered Preaching was released in 1994 and was just re-released in a second edition this month. The book, subtitled Redeeming the Expository Sermon, runs about 400 pages including an extensive bibliography.

There were two ways in which I felt I benefitted from Chapell's first edition, which I purchased this past Fall. One is his focus on what he calls the Fallen Condition Focus, which he says reveals both the text's and sermon's purpose. This is far more than a cute concept or tool. It contributes to our task of speaking what the passage says, rather than using the passage to support our ideas.

The second benefit came through his discussion of what it means to preach Christ-centered sermons. I think we are all guilty of preaching moralistic messages, or what he calls the "Be" messages based on a biblical character and not attaching it to Christ. However, we can also feel that we attach it to Christ when we throw the Gospel in at the end of a sermon. This, says, Chapell, is not the point. Rather, we need to present the redemptive lesson (using the idea in a broad sense) that we find in the passage.

I've been teaching the Bible to adults for nearly 30 years, but only preaching regularly for two. I've read several books on preaching, and I would suggest this as one of the better ones I've read. Chapell seems to have a good grasp on both what goes into a sermon and what a sermon ought to look like.

I've made a commitment to read a book about preaching once or twice a year. If you do something like that for your own growth, this is one to put on the short list.

Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Paleo-Evangelicals and Separation

Jon Trainer (Pastor of New Hope Bible Church and blogger at Personal Trainer) had some reaction and response to a seminar Phil Johnson gave at the 2005 Shepherds Conference. You might find it interesting.

In my brief interaction with Jon, I've found a kindred spirit. He's involved in a new church, and has a blog worth visiting regularly.

Improving Retention

I referenced an article on the 9marks.org website a few days ago entitled My Flock is Poorly Educated, Should I Preach Expositorily?

Without offending our good people, it is probably true that most of our people lack in the area of biblical and theological literacy. When I first entered ministry in the mid 1970's, it was standard fare for Christians to attend Sunday AM, Sunday School and Sunday PM, plus prayer meeting. Many, if not most churches have fewer meetings where the church gathers for teaching. A positive is that it has allowed us to address some community/fellowship needs by introducing small groups, but one negative is that we have lost some opportunity for exposure to systematic teaching. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that the average Christian layperson is not as well educated as previous generations.

This probability makes it imperative that we maximize what we do on Sunday morning. That is why I introduced this subject a week or two ago. Over the weekend Phil Newton, who contributes to the 9marks.org website, shared some ideas in an article entitled How Do I Preach Expository Sermons to Uneducated Hearers. I would recommend reading his article and gleaning some of his insights.


On a totally different subject (though perhaps not), there have been numerous mentions on various blogs about the CT interview with Eugene Peterson. Definitely worth a read!

Revisiting Pastors - A Request for Input

I appreciated the comments that were left by several people on the issue of making our preaching last beyond the final Amen of the morning service. Several people commented on needs within the preacher himself. Others commented on tools that we might use to accomplish the task of helping our people revisit/remember the topic being preached.

I think that the use of the Sunday text in small groups, which again is hardly novel, is a very helpful way of solidifying the sermon in a mid-week meeting. But I have been thinking of other things that might work.
  • a mid-week recap by email
  • a devotional-type guide that gets you into the passage a bit more - perhaps 3 or 4 days worth of review and 2-3 days of preview
  • a late-week preview of the coming sermon by email

I guess I come back to my original point - we work hard (or should work hard!) at putting together a sermon that we desire to see God use in the lives of our people. In the rush of information, what we said from 10:00 to 10:30 (your time slot may vary) on Sunday can be easily forgotten. While the Spirit of God is responsible to apply the Word to our people, he has ordained what we do to be a big part of that.

Thanks again for your comments. Keep them coming if you like!

More Resources

Milton Stanley, a pastor and blogger (Transforming Sermons) shares a resource he got from another blogger (Rebecca Writes) that she calls the Best Link Ever.  I'm not sure if it is that, but it has links to resources that I've not seen on other links.
Check out The Bible Centre and see what it has to offer!

Pastors - A Request for Input

I had an interesting experience the other night in our small group.

I made a comment about all of us being products of information overload. In order to support the point, I asked them to share the general topic of discussions they were a part of, heard, saw or listened to in the media, etc. I was surprised at how few specifics they were able to recall. I wondered at first if it was reluctance, but these folks know each other well and are not afraid to talk to each other. The more I've thought about this, the more I'm coming to suspect that what I fear happens with our preaching and teaching (in one ear and out the other) happens with everything else too.

One of the topics that frequently runs through my mind is how to extend the benefits of our preaching and teaching beyond just Sunday. We used the general text I've preached on during my recent series on Proverbs 1-9 as the basis for our small group discussions. I usually write the study questions on Sunday night, after I've preached that morning, and distribute them to our group leaders. My hope is that as we review the theme again mid-week that it will help to solidify what we studied together on Sunday.

This is hardly a novel approach - churches have been following this for years. But I am wondering - and would very much like to hear from others in ministry, especially preaching pastors - what you do to extend the benefits of your preaching and teaching. When you consider the time we spend (or should spend!!) preparing a sermon during the week, wouldn't it be great to get more from it than a 30-40 minute chunk of time?

I know that God's Spirit is the one who performs the work of teaching our people. But we also have our part to do as well. What are some ideas that you have used - or would like to?

I have no clue how many pastors read this blog. I may be the only one! [grin]. If you are a pastor and are reading this, would you share this with some other pastors and let's see if we can generate some feedback on this subject. I think it will do all of us some good.

Another Call to Return to Our Roots

Check out this review of Whatever Happened to the Reformation by Randy Brandt who blogs on Contend 4 The Faith.  Looks like a worthwhile read.

Some More Resources & Some Stuff on the New Perspective on Paul

I wish I could remember who to give credit to for this one, but there are some very interesting and timely MP3 downloads available on this website by Craig Blomberg (on the DiVinci Code) and Walter Kaiser (on the reliability of the Scriptures). There are a couple of dozen other downloads by noted Christian philosophers, teachers and authors. Help yourself!

Ron Smith, who serves our church as Youth Pastor, is a student at Westminster Theological Seminary here in the Philadelphia Area. We've been talking about the New Perspective on Paul (I'm not a proponent), and he shared this link with me which represents the essence of some discussions between N.T. Wright and Richard Gaffin (of WTS) on the subject. I found it helpful reading as both men interacted with each other's ideas.

Fellow Pastors: Many of us who serve in churches find it hard enough to keep our heads above water with ministry responsibilities let alone keep abreast of what is going on in the world of theology. If that is the case, you will find the above summaries very helpful.

I recently listened to a fine audio interview of Ligon Duncan by Mark Dever on the NPP. It is downloadable for free download via the always-worth-visiting www.9marks.org website. You can find it here, but don't let the direct link stop you from looking at the other things that Dever offers.

Book Review - Here We Stand

Here We Stand might surprise you in that it is nearly 10 years old. The book, subtitled A Call From Confessing Evangelicals for a Modern Reformation contains articles and some transcripts of lectures that in hindsight seem almost prophetic.

The editors of the book are the late James Montgomery Boice and Benjamin E. Sasse. There are contributions from the likes of David Wells, Sinclair Ferguson, R. Albert Mohler and David Wells and I found each chapter to be stimulating and focused on a reaffirmation of historic Reformed theology.

Wells' chapter, "Our Dying Culture" calls us to realize that the present culture presents both challenge and great opportunity. Mohler speaks about the weakness of a postmodern approach to Christianity, and notes:

"The absence of doctrinal precision and biblical preaching marks the current evangelical age. Doctrine is considered outdated by some and divisive by others. The confessional heritage of the church is neglected and, in some cases, seems even to be an embarrassment to updated evangelicals. Expository preaching - once the hallmark and distinction of the evangelical pulpit - has been replaced in many churches by motivational messages, therapeutic massaging of the self, and formulas for health, prosperity, personal integration, and celestial harmony."

Sounds all too familiar.

Michael Hortons's chapter on the Solas of the Reformation provides both a call to regain priority of the evangelical message and an understanding of how bankrupt the Christian faith is without these standard beliefs.

I would suspect that emerging/postmodern believers will not appreciate the book as much as I did, but if you look around you and shake your head at the state of evangelicalism, Here We Stand will both challenge and encourage you to hold the course.