The partiality that gets a pass

I’m currently going through the book of Matthew and paused at this passage;

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matt. 10:40-42)

It’s the phrase in vs. 42 that caught my attention “whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple.” We might be inclined to think that Jesus is referring to children but the context tells a different story. The chapter begins with Jesus sending out the 12, the ones who would proclaim the apostolic message on which the testimony of Scripture rests (cf. Eph 2:20). So by inference, the application today would be those who have a responsibility for testifying to the risen Lord. Yes, that is all of us but I think the context of this passage bears on those who are charged with preaching and teaching.

So the connotation of “little ones” is not about children but those of little reputation. These are the ones who go about proclaiming the name of Christ and speaking his truth. These disciples may not be well known, or seem to do big things for God but their heart is to be a witness for Christ and to live out his truth in their lives. What is Jesus saying here? That the ones who strive to honor him are the ones to be honored. Don’t neglect the “little ones” because they don’t have a big standing. Continue reading

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When have we sufficiently read the Bible?: on individualism and community

I came across this article the other day on The Gospel Coalition, Let’s Be Honest: Reasons Why We Don’t Read Our Bibles. Erik Raymond suggests 5 reasons:

1) It makes us uncomfortable

2) It’s too hard

3) We are undisciplined

4) We think it’s stale and lifeless

5) We have a dysfunctional relationship with God

He gets to the crux of the matter with this statement;

Let’s be honest: if you don’t read your Bible it is because you don’t want to read your Bible. And to bottom line this further, this is indicative or your relationship with God. We cannot separate a love for the Word of God and the God of the Word.

person holding bibleNow, a lot of this really resonated with me since I’ve written similar prescriptions of why we might find Bible reading boring. Anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time knows my passion for believers being serious about Bible reading and comprehension. In fact, I would expand on his 2nd point about the Bible being too hard in that Christians really need a framework to understand how the 66 books fit together as God’s complete story of redemption. When I consider my own trajectory in Bible reading, my comprehension of the holistic Christ-centered nature of Scripture has evolved and is evolving over time because of the direction of others. But especially because of how it is emphasized in the preaching and teaching of the Word at my church. Over the past decade, I have been increasingly exposed to preaching that considers the holistic nature of Scripture not just cherry picked verses to support whatever instruction the preacher wants to provide so that I do x, y and z. Continue reading

Preaching the Gospel on Sundays

I came across this quote recently on Facebook

The church, when it’s not seduced by consumerist spirituality, is in the business of cultivating ordinary Christians, people who are united to Christ by faith and are in it for the long haul, like people in a good marriage. It transforms people, not by giving them life-changing experiences but by repetition, continually telling the story of Christ so that people may hear and take hold of him by faith. For we do not just receive Christ by faith once at the beginning of our Christian lives and then go on to do the real work of transformation through our good works. We keep needing Christ the way hungry people need bread, and we keep receiving him whenever we hear the gospel preached and believe it. So what transforms us over the long haul is not one or two great life-changing sermons (although these can be helpful from time to time) but the repeated teaching and preaching of Christ, Sunday after Sunday, so that we never cease receiving him into our hearts. -Phillip Cary, Good News for Anxious Christians

One comment to this was worth noting

So I have a serious question – if I am to take literally what this writer says, I have one of two pictures that I know are not just my imagination; the first picture is the literal Sunday after Sunday presentation of the good news message. I have met many Christian refugees over the years and I seriously mean many, who simply could not endure their church after years and years of hearing essentially the same gospel message Sunday after Sunday. And while I certainly understand personal responsibility of the Christian to study the Word, the obvious and stark reality of that is that it rarely happens to any significant degree. And since the Pastor’s primary duty I believe is proclamation of the Word meaning the whole counsel of God’s Word meaning 66 books of the Bible you either get what I have already described week after week with Christians drying on the vine or you get a sound bite gospel message quickly and shabbily tacked on at the end of each message doing the wonder of the good news a disservice.

On the road to Emmaus when Jesus wanted his disciples to know who he was The text said something rather profound:

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in ALL the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27 NASB) Would it be totally unfair to assert that what the writer “seems” to be advocating may be part and parcel of the profound ignorance of the Scriptures in the church at large? Or am I pushing what he means too far?

pupit w bibleI think he’s on to something and why I can’t beat the drum loud enough about Christ-centered preaching. Sadly, it took a long time and a lot of exposure to all kinds of sermons before I actually realized what makes a sermon, Christ-centered. Just because you mention Jesus, does not mean he is at the center of the message. I’ve sat under all kinds of preaching. The topical sermon with made-up theology based on some innovative “spiritual” insight and cherry-picked, out-of-context verses. Continue reading

Big Sheep Need Food…and Know Food

Whenever I run across statements from pastors that I think run contrary to the witness of Scripture, it just makes me cringe. I do so because of their responsibility to their congregation and the orienting effects of what is being promoted.  And so it was with a statement I came across the other day;

Hebrew 5:12 speaks to those who should have matured by now but are still sitting in the pew waiting to be spoon-fed. When someone says I’m leaving my church because I not being fed it may speak volumes about their lack of maturity. Only babies need to be fed, mature believers know how to feed themselves and others.

Now I don’t want to pick on one person.  But I want to leverage this comment and express a concern that is relevant on a broader scale. Because I’ve heard this statement before, that mature believers shouldn’t expect sermons to feed them. I get that pastors are challenged with people who don’t want to read their Bibles and grow. I get it and empathize. But the idea that we should not expect to be fed is so grievously unfaithful to the witness of Scripture, the task of discipleship and the purpose of preaching,

First, to say we feed ourselves runs contrary to Ephesians 4:11-16

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are togrow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

sheep eating from troughWe always need the food of the gospel and Christ-centered preaching. Always! I can’t imagine that when Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep that he stipulated a caveat “until they can feed themselves”. The idea that feed ourselves runs contrary to what it means to be in the body of Christ. Maturity doesn’t happen because we feed ourselves but because we grow together in the Lord and learn how to apply godly wisdom. No matter how much even a pastor is accomplishing for the Lord, feeding of God’s truths from others is always needed. That is how we grow together in the Lord. Continue reading

Preaching Problems and Seminary Slaps

Pastor Holding BibleThis article came to mind that I wrote 1 1/2 ago 7 Reasons I Think Pastors Should Preach Through the Bible. Now I’ve been exposed to all kinds of preaching. But the past several years I’ve been fortunate to be part of churches where the pastors thought preaching through books was really important. Here are my reasons;

1) It connects the narrative to the whole meta-narrative of Scripture.

2) It anchors the congregation in one theme of thought for an extended period of time.

3) It treats the Bible as it should be treated as the revelation of God and not a self-help manual for living.

4) It teaches people how to approach Scripture on their own.

5) It keeps the pastor from focusing on pet agendas.

6) It keeps the pastor grounded in their task to connect people to God’s word in ways that are interesting.

7) It confronts everyone with hard truths.

But here’s the thing about preaching through books of the Bible, it takes skill and training. This is something that is learned in seminary, how to preach faithful to the text in ways that reach your audience. Now that’s not a commentary on whether women should preach or not, so don’t go there.  I’m often amazed when I hear pastors/preachers deride seminary as unnecessary as if they have actually been exposed to what seminary teaches. And yet just this training alone in preaching methodology is worth the price of admission for any pastor that dares to get in front of people and take responsibility for teaching them God’s truth. Continue reading