Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Do the Work of an Evangelist

“Do the work of an evangelist.” (2 Tim 4:5)
One of the odd things about the English language is how many words it has. For example, English has about three times as many words as French. That doesn’t mean that the working vocabulary of the average English speaker is larger than the working vocabulary of the average French speaker, of course. Most competent speakers of any language use only a small part of the total vocabulary of the language in which they are speaking. Nevertheless the difference in size of the total vocabulary is curious. The primary reason for the difference in vocabulary size between English and French lies in the different ways in which the two languages were formed. In keeping with other romance languages, French has depended on Greek and Latin for much of its word formation (though of course it has “borrowed” plenty of words from other languages). By contrast, English arose out of not only Greek and Latin, but Anglo-Saxon, with side input from Norse and Celtic languages.

The result is that English has many synonyms that have sprung up from separate linguistic heritages. These synonyms rarely share exactly the same semantic range; usage introduces distortions. The subject is deep, we say; it is very profound. In this context, it is difficult to discern a substantive semantic difference between deep and profound. On the other hand, we happily affirm that the well in the farmyard is deep; we would not say it is profound. Why not? Simply because we do not use profound in that way. By contrast, a French speaker will have no difficulty averring that both the subject and the well are “profond,” and will render both English deep and English profound by the French “profond.” If a scholar were trying to translate a French document into English, however, and came across the French word “profond,” he or she would have to think carefully about whether to choose deep or profound.

This is a rather roundabout way of reflecting on the fact that both translational and theological pitfalls lurk in the underbrush when moving from one language to another. In modern English, we distinguish expiation and propitiation. The former is the sacrificial act by which sin is canceled: the object of the action is the sin. The latter is the sacrificial act by which God is made propitious: the object of the action is God. Granted who the God of the Bible is, it is difficult to see how you can have one without the other: the same sacrifice that cancels sin by the sacrifice that God has ordained also turns aside his own the judicial wrath. Nevertheless it is useful to distinguish between the two notions. French has only one word, “expiation,” and it can convey both the cancellation of sin and the setting aside of the wrath of God, depending on the context. Competent French speakers simply do not have a word equivalent to the English propitiation. That is not to say that French theologians know nothing about the concept of propitiation, of course, for the concept depends on much, much more than the meaning of a single word. But it is to say that they do not have one word that univocally means what English-speakers mean by propitiation. And that in turn means that the history of debate about what the cross achieves differs significantly in French and English scholarship. Keep reading

Latest Issue of Themelios Now Online

The Gospel Coalition just released the latest issue of Themelios, which has 212 pages of articles and book reviews. It is freely available in three different formats:
  1. PDF (ideal for printing)
  2. Logos edition (ideal for research and mobile access)
  3. web version (ideal for interacting and sharing)
It contains the following contributions.... Keep reading

Biblical Literacy in the Church: Three Benefits

In my book I Am a Church Member, I reference the envelope check-off system. Some of you are older like me. So you remember these envelopes.

Each week at church you would turn in your offering in an envelope. On the outside of the envelope was a place for your name, the amount you were giving, and a series of boxes to check if you were diligent in several spiritual activities for the week.

So you would check the box that indicated you were attending worship service. Another box said you were going to a Sunday School class. Still another communicated that you were tithing.

And then there was that other box. I can almost remember my hands shaking as my pen approached the minute cube: “Read Bible daily.”

Ouch. I read the Bible five days the previous week, but not all seven days. Wasn’t that sufficient for the inquisitive box? I would be tempted to check the box but, alas, I couldn’t tell the lie.

After all, I had read Acts 5 and the story about Ananias and Sapphira.

I was taking no chances. Would you? Keep reading

Mohler, colleagues publish e-book refuting new book, ‘God and the Gay Christian’ [Free PDF Download]

A new book’s “exceedingly dangerous” assertions that homosexual orientation and gay marriage are consistent with a high view of the Bible is refuted by President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and four of his colleagues at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in an e-book, published today.

God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines released this morning, the same day as the official release of Vines’ volume, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, which has garnered significant attention in the days leading up to its release.

Vines, a 24-year-old former Harvard student, weaves his personal biography of growing up as an evangelical Christian and “coming out” as a homosexual to his parents and now former home church. In the process, Vines left Harvard in order to study the Bible’s claims about homosexuality, which later resulted in the publishing of his book.

“Not every book deserves a response, but some books seem to appear at a time and context in which response is absolutely necessary,” Mohler told Southern Seminary News. “The kind of argument that is presented by Matthew Vines, if not confronted, can lead many people to believe that his case is persuasive and that his treatment of the Bible is legitimate. I think that it’s very important that evangelicals be reminded that the church has not misunderstood Scripture for 2,000 years.” Keep reading

Download PDF version free from SBTS Press

God, the Gospel, and the Gay Challenge — A Response to Matthew Vines

Evangelical Christians in the United States now face an inevitable moment of decision. While Christians in other movements and in other nations face similar questions, the question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no way to remain silent. To be silent will answer the question.

The question is whether evangelicals will remain true to the teachings of Scripture and the unbroken teaching of the Christian church for over two thousand years on the morality of same-sex acts and the institution of marriage.

The world is pressing this question upon us, but so are a number of voices from within the larger evangelical circle — voices that are calling for a radical revision of the church’s understanding of the Bible, sexual morality, and the meaning of marriage. We are living in the midst of a massive revolution in morality, and sexual morality is at the center of this revolution. But the question of same-sex relationships and sexuality is at the very center of the debate over sexual morality, and our answer to this question will both determine or reveal what we understand about everything the Bible reveals and everything the church teaches — even the gospel itself.

Others are watching, and they see the moment of decision at hand. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University has remarked that “it is clear to an observer like me that evangelical Christianity is at a crossroad.” What is that crossroad? “The question of whether gay Christians should be married within the church.” Journalist Terry Mattingly sees the same issue looming on the evangelical horizon — “There is no way to avoid the showdown that is coming.”

Into this context now comes God and the Gay Christian, a book by Matthew Vines. Just a couple of years ago Vines made waves with the video of a lecture in which he attempted to argue that being a gay Christian in a committed same-sex relationship (and eventual marriage) is compatible with biblical Christianity. His video went viral. Even though Matthew Vines did not make new arguments, the young Harvard student synthesized arguments made by revisionist Bible scholars and presented a very winsome case for overthrowing the church’s moral teachings on same-sex relationships. Keep reading

See also
Sexegesis: An important contribution to a vital debate

WaterBrook Multnomah readies pro-gay God and the Gay Christian

A publishing group known until now for its evangelical worldview will release a book arguing for gay-Christian compatibility under a new imprint intended to avoid alienating its evangelical market.

Convergent Books, a publishing imprint under the same corporate umbrella and leadership as the evangelical WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, is scheduled to release "God and the Gay Christian" by Matthew Vines on Tuesday (April 22). Vines, a 24-year-old former Harvard student, attempts in the book to refute biblical passages that declare homosexuality a sin.

WaterBrook Multnomah, known for its best-selling Christian titles such as John Piper's "Desiring God" and books by evangelical authors David Jeremiah and Kay Arthur, began as the printing arm of Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Ore. But mainstream secular publisher Penguin Random House now owns the imprint and groups it under the same corporate umbrella, Crown Publishing Group, as Convergent.

Stephen W. Cobb, who heads up both WaterBrook Multnomah and Convergent from the publishing group's Colorado Springs offices, said Convergent's audience is "actively exploring and practicing faith and framing that faith in Christian terms, but they're very open in their approach to issues that face the church today, and they really defy conventional labels."

The most visible link between WaterBrook Multnomah and Convergent is Cobb himself, who said he makes the final decision to publish each imprint's books, including God and the Gay Christian. Keep reading

ERLC Leadership Summit: How Should the Church and Local Congregations Respond to Today's Sexuality?

Those participating in the three-day Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Leadership Summit beginning today plan to address the Gospel and human sexuality in an effort to equip pastors and church leaders on critical issues such as broken marriages, pornography, and homosexuality.

Joining ERLC President Russell Moore at the Southern Baptist Convention building in Nashville at the leadership summit will be more than 20 pastors and Christian leaders mostly from North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama to share their expertise on the intersection of sexuality and Christianity.

Moore, 42, a Johnny Cash aficionado, is set to deliver a keynote address on Tuesday entitled "Walking the Line: The Gospel and Moral Purity." Keep reading

Livestream: ERLC Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Human Sexuality”

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is hosting a summit on the gospel and sexuality, beginning today and going through Wednesday. You can stream the main sessions and panels here. The schedule is below. All times are central. Keep reading

Monday, April 21, 2014

Moving Toward Multiplication Movements: Celebration Influences Destination

Churches become what they celebrate, so churches must examine both what they celebrate and what they want to become.

What you celebrate, you become.

If a denomination or church network celebrates missions and church planting at their meetings, members are going focus on and persuade others of their value. If they focus on everything else—organization, constant conflict, or theological debates, those are the focus. If you celebrate multiplication, it becomes the focus.

As I see it, every Church Multiplication Movement needs five elements to create a culture that can lead to such a multiplication:

Today, I want to focus on celebrating what you value. Keep reading

Photo: www.army.mil

Should Protestant churches include or exclude a reference to their denomination in the church name? There’s risk either way...

When a church does not reference its denomination in the church name, unchurched people tend to see that church as less formal, rigid, and old-fashioned, but this also makes them feel more uncertain and wonder whether the church is trying to hide its beliefs.

Study findings just released by Grey Matter Research (Phoenix, Arizona) among a demographically representative sample of 773 American adults examine the impact of including or excluding a denominational reference in church names. Most churches that are part of a denomination include a denominational reference in their name, but some avoid such references, selecting names such as Saddleback Church or Community Church of Joy. But what impact does that have?

In the study, Grey Matter Research asked both the unchurched and people who regularly attend a denominational Protestant church about the impact of a church including a denominational reference in its name. Interestingly, there are only a few places where churchgoers and the unchurched disagree. The research reveals that the decision to include or exclude a denominational reference in the name is a two-edged sword, with advantages and disadvantages to both choices. Keep reading

See also
Church names get shorter and catchier
The second article gives the story behind the church name in the photo.
Photo: gainesvilletimes.com

How Sinful Is Man?

Imagine a circle that represents the character of mankind. Now imagine that if someone sins, a spot—a moral blemish of sorts—appears in the circle, marring the character of man. If other sins occur, more blemishes appear in the circle. Well, if sins continue to multiply, eventually the entire circle will be filled with spots and blemishes. But have things reached that point? Human character is clearly tainted by sin, but the debate is about the extent of that taint. The Roman Catholic Church holds the position that man’s character is not completely tainted, but that he retains a little island of righteousness. However, the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century affirmed that the sinful pollution and corruption of fallen man is complete, rendering us totally corrupt. Keep reading

Who Chose the New Testament Books

The issue of “How We Got the Bible” has become one of the flash points of our day. The popularly accepted storyline today is that a state-sponsored Christian church chose the New Testament books fully three centuries after Christ. But does the historical data really support that claim? Explore the evidence in this essay by Dr. Charles Hill.

Charles E. Hill Charles Hill serves as Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, where he has taught since 1994. With a PhD from the University of Cambridge, Dr. Hill has published widely on New Testament studies in various journals, especially on the canon of the New Testament, the traditions of New Testament manuscripts, the early church fathers, and the Johannine books of the Bible (the Gospel of John, 1–3 John, and Revelation). Dr. Hill’s publications include Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy (Oxford University Press, 2010) and The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford University Press, 2012), edited with Dr. Michael J. Kruger.

Download the Essay

Don’t Waste the Easter Season

Every year, stores, businesses, and radio stations immerse our culture in the “Christmas season” by playing holiday songs from Thanksgiving until Christmas Day. Which begs the question: why do we spend a month to listening to Christmas music, but only a Sunday singing Easter music?

What if we are missing the opportunity to enjoy not just Easter Sunday, but also the Easter season, the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost?

Though every Sunday is a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, this time of year provides ample opportunity to give laser-like attention to the resurrection that empowers our Christian life. Keep reading

The challenges of putting on a Christian event in secular England

At the beginning of March Steve Lee and his team put on The Big Story, a free event telling seven dramatic biblical stories that reveal God's 'Big Story' of love for us all.

Now that Steve and his team has had a chance to reflect on the week, we asked whether it had met his expectations and if there were anything he would do differently another time.

As a self-confessed 'quirky evangelist' what can Steve teach the rest of us about putting on a week-long event in a UK town – and about simply engaging with our friends and neighbours about the Gospel? Keep reading

China on Course to Become 'World's Most Christian Nation'

The Story: The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America, reports The Telegraph.

The Background: The People's Republic of China remains, at least officially, an atheist country. But the number of Protestant Christians in China has grown from one million in 1949 to more than 49 million in 2010. Experts believe that number could more than triple over the next generation.... Keep reading

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze Weekend Edition: April 19, 2014

In this weekend's edition of Anglicans Ablaze:

Musings on Archbishop Wabukala's Easter Message to Confessing Anglicans

In his GAFCON Easter Message Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council, makes a remarkable statement: “…confessions of faith, whether they are the ancient catholic creeds or later statements such as the Church of England’s Thirty-nine articles cannot be seen just as historical documents to be reinterpreted as we wish.”

But this is how the Thirty-nine articles are seen not only in the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada but also in the Anglican Church in North America. They are viewed as a relic of the past that contemporary Anglicans can disregard or reinterpret as they choose. For example, the new ACNA catechism distorts the meaning of Article 25.

North America does not have an Anglican province that fully accepts the authority of the Bible and the Anglican formularies. Consequently, it does not have an Anglican province that is truly carrying out the Great Commission. The two are inseparable. 

Resurrection and Judgement

In this third instalment the point of discussion will be centred upon the relationship between the resurrection and judgement. It may seem odd to associate resurrection with judgement, especially in a world that considers ‘judgement’ as some kind of swear word, but Jesus’ resurrection actually has much to say about judgement. Keep reading

...crucified, dead, and buried, he descended into hell... [Video]

The following video, filmed in conjunction with our book The Final Days of Jesus, features short explanations from and interviews with New Testament scholars Andreas K√∂stenberger and Douglas Moo. Dr. K√∂stenberger looks at the role of Joseph of Arimathea in Jesus's burial, the rules for burial at the time, and what we know about first-century tombs. Dr. Moo answers the question of where Jesus was between his death and his resurrection, focusing on 1 Peter 3, which says that Christ preached to spirits in prison. Is this a reference to Jesus descending into Hades?  Watch now

2 Barriers to Empowering Leaders

As the leader you are not the most qualified person on your team for every decision, every initiative, or every aspect of the team’s collective work. There are others the Lord has placed on the team who are more uniquely gifted and prepared to lead specific functions.

For example, the senior pastor may not be the most gifted to spearhead pastoral counseling or lead a new initiative. Or the team leader may not be the most creative or the best designer of systems that undergird the organization.

The team is stronger and her impact is greater when the leader of the team recognizes the gifting surrounding him/her, hands leadership to others, and graciously places himself/herself under their direction for specific initiatives and functions. Keep reading

Four Reminders for Those Who Might Be Unhappy in Their Present Places of Ministry

By my warped standards, it was not a good day. After nearly nine years serving as president and CEO of LifeWay, I have learned that criticisms are a part of the life and leadership I have. But the critics on this particular day seemed more numerous and more unrealistic in their expectations.

I’d had enough. I wasn’t sure I wanted another day of this job.

One of the members of my executive team came in my office. He too had a rough day. I was no help to him. When he asked me if I thought it was all worth it, I cynically responded, “I’m not so sure.”

How stupid could I be? Thousands of people would trade places with me in a heartbeat. I am blessed beyond measure. Yet I was whining, complaining about something so relatively small. And even worse, I was offering no hope to one of my own leaders. My leadership stunk! I was ashamed of myself.

I have given myself these four reminders in the past, but I needed to rehearse them again. I needed to hear them again. Keep reading

Vital Signs: 3 Bad Tests Pastors Use to Measure Ministry

How do most churches measure the health of their ministry? Very few leaders have an accurate method. Most rely on an unhealthy test to determine whether or not they are leading well. Have you ever used any of these three tests? Keep reading

10 Areas of Training Pastors Need in the 21st Century – Rainer on Leadership #051 [Podcast]

Pastors receive a great deal of training in seminary and Bible colleges. But even the most scholarly pastors do not learn everything they need to know in a higher education environment. Like any other field, there is always a share of on-the-job training that you only learn once you are in the field. This week, we discuss 10 of those areas in which pastors will likely receive no formal training but still need in order to be the most effective pastor possible. The 10 areas are.... Keep reading

Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 21:22 — 19.6MB)

The Easter Invitation: Calling People to Decide What to Do with Jesus

As I write this, millions of Christians and church leaders are getting ready for Easter weekend, and it’s a huge opportunity for the church to spring into action to invite and welcome lost people to hear the gospel. And so as we Pastors prepare to preach about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we desperately need the power of God – the same power that raised Jesus from the dead – to be at work in and through us.

The resurrection of Jesus was the greatest demonstration of the power of God in all of history. Let me explain why. Keep reading

8 Ways our View of the Bible Impacts Preaching

Nothing is more important for the long-term health of a Church than its preaching, and nothing more impacts preaching than a preacher’s view of the Bible. Keep reading

The Three days each Week the Pastor Should Turn off his Computer

(This is for pastors on the subject of sermon preparation.)

The most vulnerable time for any sermon is in the couple of days prior to its delivery.

At those times, the pastor does not need to be getting criticism or additional input from helpers (like myself!) or further ideas from deep study. This is when he needs to be putting the finishing touches on his message and getting it ready for delivery. Keep reading

Worship Leaders, Lead In Awe This Easter!

One quiet morning a few weeks ago, I decided to take some time to pray alone in our sanctuary. But as soon as I sat down on the front row, my mind began racing about all the stuff that still needed to be done before our Easter services: “How will the lights be set?” “Where will the extra projectors be placed?” “How will we transition between the songs and videos?”

Then suddenly, a still small Voice broke through to my cluttered mind and said, “Dwayne, where’s the awe? Why can’t you simply be still and know that I am God? Here you sit in my presence; yet your attention is captivated by technical details. They’re important, but they’re secondary to your primary responsibility as worship leader. As you stand and lead all those people on Easter, the most important thing you can do is be in awe of me.”

Needless to say, I was convicted and challenged by the Lord’s gentle rebuke that morning. And it drove me to dig deeper into God’s Word about this idea of awe. Here are a few things I discovered… Keep reading

15 Ideas for Songs this Easter [Video]

I asked Nils Holmgren from Tokai Community Church and Rob Booth from St James Kenilworth to share some ideas for new songs that churches could learn in the build up to Easter.

Below are their suggestions. I have no doubt that somewhere in the 15 songs below you will find one that will go down well in your church. Keep reading
Remember that Easter is more than one Sunday. It is a whole season. 
Photo: breathecast.com 

Starting a women’s led women’s Bible study

Talk to your pastor and ask him if you could put together some ideas about having a women's Bible study, following the suggestions below. Pray for God's guidance as you prepare your plan. Keep reading

Photo: wels.net

Why You Should Consider Offering a “NearlyWed” Class

It’s that time of year—weddings, weddings everywhere! If your church is serious about ministering to young adults, here’s a fresh idea: Plan an 8-week seminar, titled “It Takes Three”, for engaged or newlywed couples every spring and fall.

The class meets during your church’s Sunday School or small group hour, in an attractive, easy-to-find room of the church. A consistent leadership team hosts, mentors, promotes and plans the seminar, but the Bible teacher changes weekly.

Prayerfully select eight church members to prepare and present a relevant Bible class about an assigned topic, such as communication, intimacy, commitment, parenting and praying together. Instructors are respected couples or individuals. Their purpose is to teach God’s basic principles for marriage, using Bible, multiple handouts and visuals, current technology and personal testimony. Keep reading

The First 7 Questions I Ask When Evaluating a Small Group Ministry

I get a steady stream of emails asking for help with small group ministries. I also find myself sitting down with small group pastors and senior pastors when I’m at conferences (or when ministry teams stop in to see me in Vegas).

It’s fun and I love the opportunity to help. But I thought it might help you to know that I ask the same basic diagnostic questions in almost every case. Yes…there are exceptions and yes, the answers lead me to different follow up questions. But the set of first questions is such a pattern I thought it might help you to see what they are. Keep reading

Social Media and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Social media has opened up a wonderful new way in which Christians can express spiritual unity despite physical distance. As we repost awareness-raising reports written by Christian organisations about the persecution of Christians in Syria, we rightly feel a sense of solidarity with brothers and sisters all over the world who are as keen to raise awareness as we are. When a Christian friend posts about his sick daughter, within minutes our non-Christian friends can see that a whole bunch of us are praying for healing and strength.

But Christians are no less prone to abusing God’s good gifts as anyone else. The online world can just as easily facilitate expressions of Christian division as it can spiritual unity. In mediums where truth can seemingly be determined by consensus, popularity may become a highly sought-after tool through which factional agendas are furthered. Such popularity can be wrought and maintained by the subtle (or not-so-subtle) defamation of those with whom our agendas conflict. Keep reading

See also
Top 10 Ways to Win at the Internet

Free Ebook – Narrow-Minded Evangelism: ReThinking Evangelism…& The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is one of the best-known and most quoted scriptures in the Bible. But, what if we have it all wrong? What if The Golden Rule was never meant to be a simple and safe mantra—recited to children to get them to see the importance of sharing their toys with one another? What if we’ve looked at that verse too narrowly and missed Christ’s point altogether? What if The Golden Rule is really a profoundly dangerous mission statement—to be embraced by Christ followers and lead people away from the broad way that leads to death and back onto the narrow way that leads to life? In this FREE resource, and using The Golden Rule as a mission statement, pastor and author Arron Chambers shares the keys you and your church can use to help more lost people find the narrow way that leads to life. Keep reading

Download from Exponential

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Good Friday Propers from An American Prayer Book (2009)

The Collects

Almighty God, in your great mercy look upon this your family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.
An English Prayer Book (1994), altered

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the church is governed and sanctified, receive our prayers which we offer to you for the many different members of your holy church so that every one of them in his vocation and ministry may truly and devoutly serve you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
An English Prayer Book (1994), altered

Merciful God, you have made all people and hate nothing that you have made, nor do you desire the death of sinners but rather that they should be converted and live: have mercy on the Jewish people and all who do not know you, or who deny the faith of Christ crucified. Take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart and contempt for your Word; and bring them home to your fold, blessed Lord, so that we may all become one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.
An English Prayer Book (1994)

The Readings

The Epistle

Hebrews 10:1-25

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

   “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
      but a body have you prepared for me;
    in burnt offerings and sin offerings
      you have taken no pleasure.
   Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
     as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

   “This is the covenant that I will make with them
      after those days, declares the Lord:
     I will put my laws on their hearts,
      and write them on their minds,”

then he adds,

    “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Therefore, brothers,since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The Gospel

John 19:1-37

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

    “They divided my garments among them,
        and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

The Cross Is Not a Celebration of Suffering, But of Jesus’ Victory Over It

There is nothing noble about suffering.

Pain, sorrow, poverty, sickness, disease, violence and death have no redemptive value.

They are not a part of God’s plan to save the world. They are what Jesus came to save us from. We need to remember that this weekend.

This Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we will have remembrances and celebrations of the cross. Some crosses will be backlit and draped with cloth. Others will be decorated with lilies. We will sing songs about the Wonderful, Beautiful Cross. All of that is good.

But let me encourage and caution my fellow pastors about something as we honor and praise what Jesus did on the cross. We must leave no room for misunderstanding. Let’s be very clear that this is not a celebration of violence and death, but of Jesus’ victory over it.

I’ve never known a church to glorify violence on purpose. But over the years I’ve heard far too many sermons and watched too many passion plays that seem to emphasize the pain and violence of the cross as if pain was the point.

Pain was never the point.

The cross did not become glorious until the tomb was empty. Keep reading

What Do Expiation and Propitiation Mean?

When we talk about the vicarious aspect of the atonement, two rather technical words come up again and again: expiation and propitiation. These words spark all kinds of arguments about which one should be used to translate a particular Greek word, and some versions of the Bible will use one of these words and some will use the other one. I’m often asked to explain the difference between propitiation and expiation. The difficulty is that even though these words are in the Bible, we don’t use them as part of our day-to-day vocabulary, so we aren’t sure exactly what they are communicating in Scripture. We lack reference points in relation to these words. Keep reading
This excerpt is from R.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. Download the digital audiobook free through April 30, 2014.

Crucified With Christ—Calvary

“One of the reasons we exhibit very little spiritual power is because we are unwilling to accept and experience the fellowship of the Savior’s sufferings, which means acceptance of His cross.” —A.W. Tozer

“May I see your I.D.?” These are familiar words to us today in our security-conscious world. Before boarding an airplane, the most important item we must have in our possession is some legitimate form of identification. Otherwise, we won’t be allowed on the flight.

Someday at heaven’s gates, we will be checked to make sure we have the correct “identification” as well. I call it our Easter I.D. When we have a correct Easter I.D. we live our lives in view of his, the way God wants us to—as “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).

The events in that final week of Jesus’ ministry on earth—the Garden, the Cross and the Resurrection—serve as a roadmap of reassurance for us. When we have a correct Easter I.D. we do more than simply believe in Jesus Christ; we identify with him and correlate the events in our lives to the events in his. Keep reading

Jesus’ Thirst and Our Spiritual Rehydration

Those who gathered around the cross, on that dusty hill, could feel Jesus’ raspy cry reverberate in their own dry throats: “I thirst!” These are the words of One whose vitality was almost dried up to death. Yet, in those words we witness the thoughtful tenderness of the Good Teacher as He breathes these words into Scripture for our edification (2 Tim. 3:16–17). The words I thirst reveal rich truths about their speaker. Keep reading

3 Big Questions Kids Ask on Good Friday

Good Friday is a weighty and somber reminder of Jesus’ suffering and death. How do you explain these difficult truths to kids?

You’ve got one minute to explain the suffering of Jesus on the cross. Ready? Go.

This is a part of Christian parenting in a nutshell, isn’t it? Kids ask us big questions at random times, and we have a brief moment to engage their ready hearts.

Are we ready for the questions that come with Good Friday? As John Wooden put it, “When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare.” So let’s prepare! Let’s ask God to ready us to engage our children. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to open their hearts to ask questions and to hunger for Christ. Keep reading

The Two Paths Out of Trials

There are two paths for people to take in the midst of trials. They can take the path of self-reliance or the path of trusting in God.

The path of self-reliance sometimes sounds like angry recriminations against God, sometimes an upbeat can-do attitude. But in both cases God is rejected. Maybe he didn't cause the trial, but he surely could have prevented it. So he is charged, convicted, and imprisoned.

The path of trusting in God, admittedly, is difficult. It takes a childlike humility, like staring down at a piece of loathsome brocolli but trusting your mother when she says it's good for you and eating it. The trial doesn't make sense. It hurts. You don't think you deserve it. But you trust that, yes, God has assigned it, and so you accept it. You trust that he has something better in store--something somewhere in some way, though it's hardly perceptible right now. Keep reading

Holding Fast to Truth in a Doubting Age

Assaults on truth are nothing new. In the dock before Pilate, Jesus said he came into the world "to bear witness to the truth." To which Pilate mocked: "What is truth?"

The irony is thick in John 18:38. The Roman prefect missed the truth, even as Truth incarnate stood before him. Then again, Pilate may not have missed anything. He may have known too well what Jesus offered him and, unwilling to follow the king of the Jews, hastily dismissed him from his presence.

Not much has fundamentally changed since that fateful day. The question of truth continues to color theological, ethical, and political debates—and to plague human hearts. Christians need to have a good answer to Pilate's question. Keep reading

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Yes, My Church Still Calls It Easter – Here are 5 Reasons Why

I wish Easter wasn’t called Easter.

It would be great if everyone knew it as Resurrection Sunday. But they don’t.

Our church uses both terms. But Easter is our go-to. Especially when we invite people to join us.

Some ministers believe it’s outright wrong, even unchristian, to use the word Easter at all. If your church doesn’t use the word Easter, I’m not arguing that you should.

But before you criticize us for it, I hope you’ll hear me out.

Here are five reasons why we call it Easter. Keep reading

Photo: St. Mark's Episcopal Day School Austin

The Flesh and Bones of the Resurrection

The last instalment looked at how Jesus’ resurrection shapes our thinking on sin and death. This instalment discusses the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Now the first thing to affirm is that Jesus’ resurrection really was bodily. Thomas was able to observe and touch Jesus’ hands and side (Jn. 20:27). Jesus himself declared that he was ‘flesh and bones’ and not some ghost (Luke 24:39). Jesus was even able to eat (Luke 24:43). And lets not forget that the tomb itself was empty.

In a world that has always been sceptical about the resurrection this great truth must continue to be proclaimed. The temptation to alter what the Scriptures say must be resisted just as strongly. And so even though most find it absurd to think that Jesus rose from his tomb (let alone that every dead corpse will one day rise!), attempts to make the message more palatable should be rejected — Jesus rose bodily!

Having said this, the focus in what follows will not be on the reality of the bodily resurrection (this is taken as given), but rather on its significance. Again, as in the previous instalment, amongst the many aspects that could be explored, two will receive consideration: Jesus’ bodily resurrection in relation to our own bodily resurrection, and Jesus’ bodily resurrection in relation to creation. Keep reading

See also
Easter: It really happened! But so what?

Preach the Word

In the original Table Talk, a collection of informal theological conversations at Martin Luther’s dinner table, the German Reformer gave the following advice to a young minister: “When you are to preach, speak with God and say, ‘Dear Lord God, I wish to preach in Thine honor. I wish to speak about Thee, glorify Thee, [and] praise Thy name. Although I can’t do this well of myself, I pray that Thou mayest make it good.’”

This simple prayer provides a tiny glimpse into Luther’s theology of preaching. More importantly, it underscores to pastors in every age that faithful preaching must be about God, for the glory of God, and in utter dependence upon God.

First, the content of our preaching must be centered on the nature and works of God (2 Cor. 4:5–6). Evangelical preaching today can often be shallow, therapeutic, and man-centered. It commonly lacks theological substance and gravitas. Personal stories and amusing anecdotes crowd the sermon, leaving God as an afterthought. The gospel, the grand theme of Scripture, is vague at best.

Biblical preaching, however, always and unmistakably makes the triune God and His marvelous works of creation, providence, and redemption the main subject matter. God is the main subject of the Bible, and thus should be the central focus of our preaching. Why is Peter’s Pentecost sermon, for example, so powerful and memorable (Acts 2:14–41)? Why were so many who heard it “cut to the heart” with Spirit-wrought conviction? It is because Peter’s sermon boldly and skillfully directed the people’s attention to almighty God, His Word, and the fulfillment of His redemptive purposes in Christ. Moreover, it is in light of God’s mighty acts of judgment and salvation that the Apostle clearly communicated the need for sinners to turn from their rebellious ways and receive Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Keep reading

The 3 Levels of Dynamic Preaching

Did you know that for musical arrangements, composers write more than just the notes to be played?

They also write the strength with which each note should be performed.

These markings are referred to as the “dynamics” of music.

A composer might write a pp, meaning pianissimo or “very soft,” or a ff,meaning fortissimo or “very loud.” There are multiple marks all meant to tell the musician roughly how strong or soft a note is meant to be played.

These dynamic markings make all the difference in a song. The best songs do not stay at the same level.

The dynamics of all great songs rise and fall from the forcefulness of a shout to the gentleness of a whisper.

I believe that preaching is very similar.

Great preaching doesn’t stay on one level. Great preaching is vocally dynamic. Keep reading

Would Paul have used video? Here’s a better question....

If Paul were ministering today, would he use video?

This is an important question, and it’s not one that is as clear cut as you might think. Many who have embraced video venue gatherings point to Paul as their example. Because he was all about becoming all things to all people in the hopes of winning some to the gospel, he would surely use any (non-sinful) means at his disposal to extend the reach of the gospel.

That’s generally how I’ve seen the argument go, anyway. (I realize I’m probably oversimplifying a bit.)

The question of whether or not Paul would use video is an important one, but I wonder if it might also be the wrong one. Keep reading

See also
Screen Saver: When our church went multi-site, video venue helped us transition to live preaching

Churches challenged to start 100,000 new Bible study groups

LifeWay Christian Resources is challenging churches to start 100,000 new Bible study groups by the end of this year.

The new groups initiative is a partnership between churches, state conventions and LifeWay.

It's designed to help longtime churchgoers jumpstart their faith and to help new believers grow spiritually, Bruce Raley, director of church education ministry for LifeWay, said.

Whether they meet on Sunday mornings or during the week, small groups are the best way to learn the habits of faith, such as prayer, Bible study and serving others, Raley said.

"Discipleship takes place best in the context of a relationship," he said. "And relationships are most likely to develop in a small group."

So far, about 17,000 new groups have been registered at GroupsMatter.com, which includes guides for starting new groups, resources for new leaders, and promotional materials. Keep reading

See also

Wales: Bible college to close due to lack of trainees

A Bible college in south Wales that has taught new church leaders for over 120 years is in danger of closing as not enough people come forward to enter the clergy.

St Michael's College in Cardiff has been training new ministers since 1892. It currently receives a £150,000 annual grant from the Church of Wales, but falling ordinand numbers have caused a financial crisis.

Currently, the college has only 18 residential students, 38 non-residential students and 20 full-time staff.

The situation has been further exacerbated by a £1.7 million refurbishment of the college's facilities completed in 2009. Keep reading

Photo: Patrick Comerford

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze Midweek Special Edition: April 16, 2014

In this midweek special edition of Anglicans Ablaze:

4 Do's and Don'ts for Engaging New Guests

In what I do, if I don’t know how to communicate with people I don’t already know, I won’t be very successful.

I have an occasion to speak to strangers frequently. Thankfully, our church attracts dozens of new visitors each week, I’m invited to speak other places often, and I encounter new people daily through this blog. I’m learning (it’s a continual process) that there are some specific ways I should and shouldn’t speak publicly to someone who doesn’t know me well. Most of these are true to any audience, but especially for an audience of visitors or strangers.

Here are 4 do’s and 4 dont’s when talking to people you’ve never met. Keep reading

3 Ways Your Church Facilities Communicate “You’re Not Welcome”

Growing up, anytime guests were coming to visit, we would “clean house” to get ready. The more important the guest, the more we cleaned up.

Every church (no matter the size, median age, location, or resources) can quickly communicate a lack of concern for visitors by the way they keep their facilities. Here are three quick ways to display a lack of welcoming hospitality.... Keep reading