Preaching the Psalms Canonically: A Postscript

the-psalmsInstead of a Sermon Discussion guide this week, I’ve written up something of a Post-Script to the Psalms, a few reflections on reading and preaching the Psalms as one unified book. For the PDFs of each book, see Book 1Book 2Book 3Book 4Book 5. Hopefully, in the next few days I can publish the bibliography of resources (books, chapters, articles) that I found useful in reading the Psalms canonically.

We Seek What We Love

There is a basic two-sided principle in learning:

Those things we love, we love to learn about.

Those things we hate, we hate to learn about.

Whether it is music, travel, history, economics, a particular nation, or the spouse whom we love—if we love something, we’ll have no trouble learning about it. Or at least, the love of the subject matter drives us on to learn. Even complex subjects become (increasingly) enjoyable when love motivates our learning.

This principles applies across disciplines, but it applies especially to reading the Bible. When God regenerates a person, he implants in them a hunger for his Word. For instance, Psalm 19 speaks of God’s word as sweeter than honey. To the converted man or woman, their newfound taste buds long the pure milk of God’s word (1 Peter 2:1–3). Likewise, Psalm 119 overflows with delight in the Law of God. How else could a Psalm run to 176 verses, unless the author loved the Word.

According to the Bible, when we are born again, God gives us a new appetite for himself and his word, so that Ps 111:2 rightly explains the transformation of the heart towards learning: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied (or sought out) by all who delight in them.”

The point is not that when God saves a man, that man becomes an academic. But it does mean the children of God love to learn the ways of their father. And thus, like a girl who loves to read the letters of her deployed father, so too God’s children earnestly seek to know him through his word. Continue reading

Spiritual Blindness Takes Jesus Time to Cure: A Scriptural Meditation on Mark 8

lightWhen I put glasses on for the first time, it made a world of difference. The fuzzy signs on the other side of the parking lot became clear, and instantly my ‘blindness’ was cured. The same is not true for spiritual blindness, however. As we see in Scripture, spiritual blindness is not cured with prescription lens, nor is it fixed instantly. Instead, what we find is multi-step process in the hands of our gracious God. Let’s consider.

Jesus and a Two-Part Healing

In Mark 8 Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida. There, some people brought this blind man to Jesus as he begged Christ to touch him (v. 22). By this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had already healed “a man with an unclean spirit” (1:21–28), a leper (1:40–45), a paralytic (2:1–12), and many others (3:1–6; 5:1–20, 21–43; etc.). Thus, by this time in Mark’s Gospel the body of evidence for Jesus’ power in healing is great. Still, this healing is unique because of the way it foreshadows and interprets the events that follow.

In the case of the blind man at Bethsaida, we find the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus must heal the same man twice. Verses 23–25 read,

23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Notice, after Jesus causes the man to have sight in v. 23, the man’s vision is still impaired. Jesus, in response to the man’s cloudy vision (people who look like trees), must lay hands on him again to fix the man’s vision. Only after Jesus’ second attempt is the man’s vision “restored.”

What is going on here? Did Jesus lack power on the day he strolled into Bethsaida? Was he “unable” to heal the man fully on this day? Or was something else going on? Could it be that this unique healing—again, no other healing takes two attempts—is meant to teach us something about the way God heals, especially with regards to spiritual blindness? I think so. Continue reading

Gone with the Wind: Malcolm Muggeridge on the Effervescence of Geo-Political Rulers

warMy best friend from high school posted this Malcolm Muggeridge quote today on his Facebook account. In light of the world’s unrest, and our need to pray for international peace, they are quite fitting. In an essay entitled “But Not of Christ,” Muggeridge writes,

We look back upon history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’

I look back on my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own ascension to power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka.

I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people desired, they could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.

All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime. All gone with the wind. Continue reading

Preaching to the Late Modern Mind: Five Cultural Narratives to Know

preachingIn his book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller addresses how Christianity confronts culture. Wisely he speaks of the way we must (1) affirm truth in culture, (2) confront idols in culture, and (3) show how truth in culture is derived from and only satisfied by the Christ who reigns supreme over all cultures. Thus, instead of just being for or against culture, Keller describes a “Yes, but no, but yes” approach for preaching Christ to culture.

Approaching culture in this nuanced way means understanding the modern world in which we live. In a chapter entitled “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind,” he describes the difference between the pagan, pre-Christian world and the way in which Christianity brought dignity and personal value to the West. In other words, before Christianity emerged in the West, the pagan world with its philosophers conceived of the world as an impersonal universe. Belief in a tri-personal God, sovereignly directing history and seeking to redeem humanity changed all of that. And the bounty of the Western world, therefore, is a byproduct of Christianity’s influence.

In one place, Keller nicely summarizes five differences between the pre-Christian world with the Christian West. He then goes on to explain how secularism has taken Christian values to the extreme, making them idolatrous falsehoods. But in explaining how Christian values have gone rogue, he doesn’t include them in his compact table. On page 128, there is one column missing (that would help flesh out his argument on pp. 128–33).

So, I added the third column to the table below to help show the way in which the West has left Christianity behind and distorted many of the values it provided. By seeing in our culture post-Christian culture the traces of Christian thought, we can as Keller points out, begin to lead people back to the source of the values (e.g., science, individualism, personal choice) they embrace today. Indeed, if you value and enjoy science, justice, or personal choice today, it is worth noting where those cultural gifts derive. Keller’s chapter on preaching Christ to culture is an excellent place to begin thinking about that relationship.

Five Chief Narratives of Western Thought[1]

Before Christianity Emerged [in the West] After Christianity Came to the West After Christianity ‘Left’ the West
The body and material world are less important and real than the realm of ideas The body and material world are good. Improving them is important. Science is possible. Science is absolute. Materialism is absolute. Technology is sufficient to solve our problems.
History is cyclical, with no direction. History is making progress. Progress means history is unimportant. Everything novel is superior to the past.
Individuals are unimportant. Only the clan and tribe matter. All individuals are important, have dignity, and deserve our help and respect. Individuals are supremely important. Individualistic expression should never be questioned, even when detrimental to the group.
Human choices don’t matter; we are fated. Human choices matter and we are responsible for our actions. Choice is sancrosanct and must be guarded and guaranteed at all costs.
Emotions and feelings should not be explored, only overcome. Emotions and feelings are good and important. They should be understood and directed. Emotions and feelings are determinative. To feel authentic I must express my desires and never suppress them.

In sum, these “five axes,” which Keller adapts from Charles Taylor (The Secular Age), help diagnose some of the challenges in front of us. Together these five narratives can be classified as follows:

  • rationality (and an explanation of where the world came from and what we can know about it),
  • history (and the meaning of life),
  • society (and the relationship of individuals to groups),
  • morality (and who gets to determine right and wrong), and
  • identity (and where we get our sense of value and purpose).

To be sure, these realities do not drive our exegesis of the biblical text, but in communicating that text to others we must be aware of these ideas. Knowing these cultural baselines helps us affirm and deny the beliefs we find in individuals and in our surrounding culture. Preachers must be aware of these realities to wisely apply God’s Word.

Indeed, all Christians should have a growing awareness of cultural presuppositions. Why? So that we will not be ensnared by them, and so we can communicate the gospel by rightly affirming some cultural desires as finding their telos in Christ and by confronting others cultural idols as errant promises that ultimately lead to death (Prov. 14:12).

In short, Keller’s sections on preaching Christ in a post-Christian culture are worth considering. They challenge the faithful witness to love his neighbor(s) by knowing what his neighbor believes and loves. Therefore, while planting ourselves in God’s unchanging Word, we must also learn how to share Christ with others who embrace various aspects of the aforementioned narratives.

To that end, let us continue to give ourselves the Word and the world, so that we can take the good news of the former to meet the dire needs of the latter.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

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[1] Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Viking, 2015), 128. First two columns are verbatim; the last column summaries Keller’s prose.

Trust the Process: Learning to Make Disciples and Develop Leaders like Jesus

fireIf you go to church, I’m sure you’ve experienced the “foghorn announcement.” What’s the foghorn announcement, you say? It’s the long, droning, monotonous, unenthusiastic call for workers in the nursery, volunteers at the picnic, or helpers with an outreach event. It goes something like this:

Hi, the pastor asked me to make an announcement. So, here it goes. I know you are busy—we are all are busy, aren’t we—but we have an event coming up and we need help. We’ve made this announcement for the last three weeks. But we still don’t have enough help. It won’t take too much time and anyone can do it. Just sign up in the back as you head out today. 

Okay, this might be a bit overly dramatic—or underly dramatic. But these announcements are as common in well-meaning churches as foghorns on the coast of Maine. They begin with an apology; they make some non-descript invitation for everyone to do something; they often motivate with guilt, ease, or fear; and they fail to capture the wonder that the God of the universe who is building his church permits us to be a part of his work.

Surely, Jesus didn’t recruit leaders this way, did he? Therefore, the question hangs in the air: How do we recruit people to serve in the church? And how, especially, do we call leaders to follow us as we follow Christ? Continue reading

The Horizontal and Vertical Gospel

When I share the gospel at our Discover OBC Class—our new members class—I usually talk about the gospel from two angles. One follows the contours of the ‘horizontal’ storyline of Scripture (Creation — Fall — Redemption — New Creation); the other focuses on the ‘vertical’ relationship with God (Holy God — Man Dead in Sin — Christ — Response). For me, this has been a helpful way to present the gospel, as it sets the person and work of Jesus into the storyline of the Bible.

Typically, I draw these two aspects of the gospel on a whiteboard or a napkin. But this week one of our elders put those presentations into two graphic designs—far better than any napkin I’ve drawn. Here they are. I think they speak for themselves, but feel free to ask questions or suggest enhancements. But even better, go share the gospel with someone—from the whole storyline of the Bible and its centerpiece the person and work of Jesus Christ.

horizontal02vertical01

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Wisdom, Kingdom, Salvation: A Three-Paneled Window into the Psalms (Psalms 1–2)

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Wisdom, Kingship, and Salvation: Looking at the Psalter through Psalms 1 and 2 (Sermon Audio)

Few books have had a more personal or profound impact on the worship of the church than the Psalms. And for the next two months our church is going to meditate on their message. But what is there message? And how do we find it? Is it possible to read the Psalms as one unified book? Or must we only see them as a hymnbook with various authors, genres, and themes?

Starting in this introductory on Psalms 1 and 2, I argued we should read the Psalms as one unified message that begins with the David of history and leads to the Son of David, Jesus Christ. As the weeks go on we will look at each book of the Psalms, and how they develop a message of wisdom, kingship, and salvation.

You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and resources for further reading and viewing are below. If time is short, be sure to watch the Bible Project video about the Psalms. Continue reading

Playing Your Part in the Gospel (pt. 1): Planning, Giving, Going, Hosting, Helping (1 Corinthians 16:1–11)

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Playing Your Part in the Gospel (pt. 1): Planning, Giving, Going, Hosting, and Helping (1 Corinthians 16:1–11)

When Paul finishes his doctrinal defense of the resurrection, he says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58). Clearly, in his mind the resurrection is not an esoteric point of doctrine; rather, it fuels ministry and missions. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 16 we find a flurry of gospel activity that prompts us to consider how we are living in light of the resurrection.

In this Sunday’s message, I suggested that we play our part in (proclaiming) the gospel through planning, going, giving, hosting, and helping. You can listen to this call to action or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are a cadre of resources on these actions of ministry. Continue reading

What Does the Resurrection Mean? (1 Corinthians 15:50–58)

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What does the Resurrection Mean? (1 Corinthians 15:50–58) (Sermon Audio)

This week marks the sixth and final message on 1 Corinthians 15. Since Easter, I have preached 6 messages on the glories of this chapter. Whether the sermons are any good is debatable, but the chapter is indisputably glorious. So, take time to read it, and if interested you can listen to one (or a few) of the six messages below.

Discussion questions and resources for further study can also be found below. Continue reading

Raised with Christ (pt. 2): The Unfolding Reign of Christ’s Resurrection

obc-1 corinthiansRaised with Christ (part 2): The Unfolding Reign of Christ’s Resurrection

First Corinthians 15 is one giant meditation on Christ’s glorious resurrection. Verses 1–11 speak of the resurrection’s centrality in the gospel; verses 12–19 explain the necessity of the resurrection; and now in verses 20–34 we find how the resurrection of Christ applies to us.

In what follows you can find discussion questions about Sunday’s sermon and a few resources that may help you better understand the beauty and goodness of being raised to life with Christ. Sermon notes can be found here. Continue reading