25 February 2011

All People

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." Luke 2:10

One of the ways to test the authenticity of our message, the truth of our Gospel, is to stop and think if it applies to "all the people." Can I preach my Sunday sermon to persecuted believers in other countries? Would it "fit" if my congregation was poorer, or more urban, or less urban?

I'm not talking about illustrations and the peripheral things. Obviously, those may need tweaked. But, would the core of my message, the heart of what I am proclaiming--the theology and application--would that apply to any Christian, anywhere?

I am coming increasingly to the conviction that if the answer is "no," that I am not really proclaiming the Gospel. I may be proclaiming a church, a culture or my own hopes and dreams, but if it is not "for all the people" then it is not what the angels told the shepherds they were receiving in Christ.

And If that is not my message, why am I talking at all?

22 February 2011

Of Power Tools and Sanctification

Well, I'm 40 now. But this isn't a post about my aging. It's about a present. My wife bought me a router for my birthday. Not the computer type, the send sawdust flying in the garage type.

I'm pretty happy about this. I like building things, and this will allow me to build more and different things.

What does this have to do with sanctification?

Well, my dad, I am sure like many of your dads, passed along some sage wisdom as I was growing up and we would make birdhouses or pine wood derby cars together. One of those bits was, "Let the tool do the work." Most of us who have spent much time with a tool in our hands understand that bit of wisdom.

Funny thing about tools. I have several in my garage already, and I feel pretty safe in assuming this router is no different. I can set them in that garage, have wood, and even plans sitting on my workbench, and nothing will happen. I can't completely let the tools do the work. I have to put some effort into the process.

God has given us everything we need in Jesus. We are justified by his sacrifice in our place on the cross. He has given us a workshop, if you will. He has given us gifts in his word and his Holy Spirit. The tools. But unless we put our hand to them and use what he has given us, not much will be produced.

We can go out in our garage and look at the wonderful tools he has given us, and proclaim that they are, "All of the Lord." And we would be right. But we would also not be "Working out our salvation...."

Can I be saved without "doing something?" A lot of people would argue on both sides of that one. Can I have a workshop without ever building anything? Obviously. The question for both of those is, "What's the point?"

So, in the next day or two, off I will go to Lowes. I will buy some router bits and some wood, and I will put this router to use. Just like I open God's word and pray. Both produce more in my life, when I set my hand to them, to use what I have been blessed with.

16 February 2011


In this excellent article for the Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology, Dallas Willard lays out a brief history of discipleship (commonly called spiritual formation in recent years) and how we have arrived, as evangelicals, in our current vacuum regarding this biblical injunction.


14 February 2011


Authority is not a really popular concept, at least not in the United States, or in the churches that reside there. We'll talk and read about leadership until the cows come home, but authority is rarely discussed.

I find myself often distressed by the lack of "higher authority" in most churches. what do I mean? I mean there seems to be nothing that can be appealed to as the standard. Sure, we all look to Scripture. But the way we interpret it varies greatly and depending on who is doing the interpreting. Even heretics appeal to scripture.

I think a lot of this authority-aversion comes from 2 sources. First, it is a carry-over from the Protestant Reformation. Papal authority was challenged on many fronts and declared invalid by most of the historical reforms. The Radical Reformation took this a step further and clung to the idea of sola scriptura in a manner that excluded all else in most cases. With these streams, we tend to knee-jerk against anything that would claim authority over our belief and practice.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, is the influence of modern thought, primarily the existentialists thought that appeared in the 19th century. This idea that I am the center of my universe (to over-simplify the movement to be sure) is at the core of much of American, and Western thought.

We do not submit to authority willingly. We pick and choose and want the ability to quit whenever we want. This very idea gives a lot of business to chaplains in basic training units, believe me. ("You signed a contract and swore and oath--you can't quit.")

In the church this causes issues as well. Who is the authority? Pastor? Deacons? Elders? Congregation? Mr. Jones? Bishop? It varied from denomination to denomination in what the "official" church government is. Variety is okay, but even within those models, the "real" authority is often different than the "attributed" authority.

On matters of belief and doctrine, what is the authority? Scripture, right, I got it. Who's view of it? If we say we are an XYZ Church, what does that mean? (I would even question some groups using the word church at all...) What do we point to and say, "Here we stand"?

Is it negotiable? How much variance do we allow? I know Jesus spoke against the "polity police" of the Pharisees. I cannot help but think that in fear of that, we have allowed the pendulum to swing too far the other way in many circles. Orthodoxy and orthopraxis are both important to the church. All we have to do is read the Pentateuch to realize God is concerned with the way we believe and the way we worship.

We do not have as clear-cut guidelines in the New Testament. Obviously.

But, I think there is something to be said for saying "We believe this is the best way to do it, we believe this statement of faith and doctrine." And sticking to it. How else can we know what we are joining and aligning ourselves with? I don't know that we have to nail every last possible item down. But having our "core doctrine" as a non-negotiable certainly seems like a good place to start.

Without a firm authority to appeal to, we are likely to be blown by the winds of change and culture, instead of being the rock in the midst of these otherwise shifting sands.