Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fee>>What Biblical Narrative is Not


I  am pondering several things today.  The first is the German movie Das Leben der Anderen (“The Lives of Others”) which I watched last night.  I would call it one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen.  It won best Foreign Picture Oscar in 2006 and was nominated for Golden Globe Best Picture of the Year in 2007. It won Best Film, Best Actor and Best Screenplay at the European Film Awards. It is (in a nutshell without a spoiler) the story of the East German Secret Police (Stasi) being assigned to spy on the most famous (and loyal) playwright in the DDR.  Part of what makes the film so powerful is what the the chief surveillance officer (played fabulously by the late Ulrich Mühe) discovers as he listens in and how his attitude toward the East German leadership, the playwright (played by German über-star Sebastian Koch) and his live-in girlfriend (played by Martina Gedeck-ranked #1 by Gala magazine as "the most important German actress of today") changes over the course of the film and changes all of their lives.

Have you seen it, and if so, what was your impression of it? (If you’re put off by having to use English subtitles, don’t watch it).

But the reason I mention that is because today I am reading in Gordon Fee’s “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth.”  Tonight I am teaching at the Genesis Training Center on Interpreting Old Testament genres.  And in reading Fee, he lists three things that Old Testament is NOT: 

He begins by saying that Old Testament narratives are NOT allegories or stories filled with hidden meanings. OK.

But his second thing that OT narratives are not says: 

imageIndividual stories are not intended to teach moral lessons. The purpose of the story is to tell what God did in the history of Israel, not to offer moral examples of moral right and wrong. Very often you will hear people say, “What we can learn from this story is that we are not to do [or say]…. Unless the author of the narrative makes a moral point from the story, on what grounds do we make it? We may rightly recognize the negative effects of parental favoritism, but that is not the reason for this narrative in Genesis. Rather, it tells us how Abraham’s family line was carried on through Jacob & not Esau; it is one more illustration of God’s not doing a “right” according to prevailing cultural norms, in not choosing the first born to carry on the family line. While the narrative illustrates the outcome of the parental rivalry, this has little to do with the reason for the narrative as such. (p. 92)

Now Fee does go on to say that OT narratives can serve as EXAMPLES of what is “taught explicitly and categorically elsewhere.”  He uses the example of David’s adultery with Bathsheba.  Unless we had explicit statements elsewhere (which we do) that adultery is wrong, we could not use the story of David & Bathsheba to teach that adultery is wrong.

I am (admittedly) struggling with that.  I get his point, and you don’t want to descend to the level of allegorizing the entire Old Testament. And it could be that Fee is talking priorities.  Don’t draw the lessons and ignore that the primary reason that story was told was to narrate the acts of God in human and Hebrew history.  But I still am uncomfortable with the categorical nature of what Fee says. I would think that even if we didn’t have the explicit statement that adultery was wrong elsewhere, we could legitimately take the consequences that came upon David (unintended pregnancy, misuse of power, murder, polygamy) to concluded that adultery is a wrong action.

It is kind of like Das Leben der Anderen.  It is a powerful story.  But if you only see it as a story, I think you miss out on so much.  What do we learn about human nature from the recurring theme of the “Sonata for a Good Man.”  What do we learn about guilt, or people being forced to do things against their will and then being held accountable for those actions?  How does secret-keeping or gathering (ala the chief surveillance officer) keep us from relationships with others.  Weisler, the Stasi officer, is the most lonely man in the film. Is that a necessary consequence of doing that type of work?  What about secrets that all of us keep?  How do they separate us?  What do we learn about personal/familial security vs.. doing what is right?  I guess I think so much is missing in the film if you are only allowed to see it as the story of the Stasi surveillance and cannot extrapolate from it principles of right and wrong? 

I know that if you haven’t seen the film, you are limited in understanding this post, but what do you think of the Fee quote?  Is it sufficient?  And if you have seen the film, what is your reaction to my questions about it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Danger of Misusing Greek and Hebrew Word Studies-Part 2

Yesterday, I talked about the difficulty that arose in my sermon on John 21 last night.  I was speaking to a group of churches in Brownsville, OR and had been asked to speak on “Trust” within a healthy church.  I chose to use John 21 as the text and Peter’s restoration to relationship with Jesus (or however you want to describe it). 

The principle that I ended with yesterday after all was said and done was: “you should only use Greek & Hebrew when it provides insights that cannot be recognized by reading the English translations.”

And I struggled with what to do with the word “love” in the passage. 

The NIV (which is what they had in the pews) is quite unhelpful. 

John 21:15-17 (TNIV)
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

You MIGHT (from the English) wonder why Jesus keeps asking, except to make Peter feel guilty for denying him three times, so he makes him say three times that he loves Jesus.

That is exactly what is NOT going on. But you wouldn’t know that from the English. In fact, two different Greek words are used there:

In our English Bibles, the meaning of this interaction is blurred because of the use of the word “love” for two different Greek words. There are two words that are bounced back and forth by Jesus and Peter: agapao, which is usually God’s unconditional love. And phileo, which is generally described as brotherly love or affection.

We might rephrase the dialogue like this (from my sermon): image

Jesus asks, “Peter, do you love (agapao) me more than these?” (“These” being the other disciples—Peter had said “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”-Matthew 26:33)

Peter replied, “Lord, you know that I have affection (phileo) for you.”

Peter refuses to claim the strong type of love (agapao) and now refuses to say that he loves Jesus more (or even as much) as the other disciples.

Jesus then asks a second time: “Simon, by your silence with reference to these others you have indicated that you no longer believe that you love me more than they do. But now, dropping all comparison, do you really love (agapao) me?”

Peter replies his answer as before, “Lord, you know that I have affection (phileo) for you.”

A third time, matching Peter’s three denials, Jesus descends to Peter’s own level, using the very term for love which Peter had used. The Lord seems to question whether Simon really had even such humble affection as he was claiming.

“Peter, do you really have affection (phileo) for me?”

And it says that Peter was grieved when Jesus asked him this.

How could Peter not be grieved when Jesus seems to call in question even his subjective attachment, his affection for the Lord (phileo)? Within his heart Peter is convinced that he possesses this humbler love. But he has learned his lesson. He does not dare to appeal to anything within himself. So he appeals once more, and now more emphatically than ever, to his Lord’s omniscience. Says he, “Lord, you know all things.”

And because Jesus knows all things, he must be able to realize that Peter has affection (phileo) for Jesus.

Although I tried to heed Strauss’ words, how could I NOT bring out this differentiation?  I believe it is critical to understanding what is going on here. 

But that being said, Strauss is correct.  Much quoting of Greek and Hebrew is simply posturing by preachers.  We must be very careful to make sure to only use Greek & Hebrew when it provides insights that cannot be recognized by reading the English translations.


(The picture is “St. Peter Repentant” by Goya, painted appx. 1823-1825.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sermon Specs: Get Your Pair Today!


Thanks to Charles Savelle of BibleExposition.net for pointing this out to me.

The Danger of Misusing Greek and Hebrew Word Studies

Tonight I preached on John 21, and I was in a quandary.  I had listened this week to Mark Strauss talk about the danger of misusing Greek and Hebrew in your sermons.

And he is absolutely right: Word studies are an extremely helpful tool and part of Bible study.  If you are at all able to read (or decipher) the Greek, you need to.  BUT, Strauss warns that you must be very careful what you take into the pulpit.  Strauss notes that there are several issues.

1. Some preachers use Greek and Hebrew as a way to exert spiritual power over their listeners.  (“I know what the Bible REALLY says, and you don’t.  Therefore you need to follow me and don’t get out of line, because I am the authority here….”)  That may happen, but I think it is a fairly infrequent abuse.

Related to that is the danger of preachers using Greek & Hebrew (G&H) to impress others. (“See how educated I am.”)  WHY is it necessary to use the Greek words? Cannot the sermon simply reflect the insights that come from the G&H meanings?

2. The bigger difficulty is “eisegesis”.  (Reading into a text what you want say. As opposed to exegesis, which is trying to determine what the text actually says). 

Part of this difficulty arises because ALL words (including Greek and English) have a RANGE of meaning. (technically called “a semantic range”). That means there is a range of ways words are used.  Strauss uses the English word “field”: what does “field” mean?  image

  1. a cultivated piece of ground (“He planted corn in his field”)
  2. a background area (a flag with a field of blue)
  3. a topic subject of academic interest (“He is an expert in the field of mathematics.”)
  4. a place where sports take place (“the players took to the field”)

Which is “the correct” meaning?  All of them are. You have to use the context to determine which of the possible meanings is being used in this place.

An example in Greek:  “charis” is usually said to “mean” grace.  And that is one common meaning.  But it also means:

  1. favor (Luke 1:30)
  2. credit earned (Luke 6:32)
  3. good will earned (Acts 7:10)
  4. thanksgiving (Luke 17:9)

Which of these are correct?  ALL of them are in their context.  The context, again, determines which sense is meant. 

Related to that is that words generally only have one sense in a passage. You can’t find “hidden” meanings because a word means something else somewhere else. Just because “charis” means on thing in Luke 1:30, does not mean that it can legitimately ALSO mean “credit earned” as in Luke 6:32.

3.  You must also ask yourself WHEN the word is being used.  Because words in all languages change meaning over time.  This is most noticeable for us in the church in the King James Version of the Bible. 

James 5:11 says in the KJV “The Lord is very pitiful.”  When the KJV was translated it means the Lord was full of pity [compassionate] for others; Today it would mean that God is weak or to be pitied.  

James 2:3 –“You have respect to him that weareth gay clothing” Again, in  1617 (when the KJV was published, “gay” meant fancy or expensive, not homosexual.  Today most of us would not want to be wearing what others might call “gay clothing.”  And so, in Strauss’ words: “So both historical context and literary context determine a word's meaning.”

4. Etymology is never a reliable guide to meaning.  what is etymology?  It is the words historical derivation or component parts.  Strauss gives a host of examples in English:

  • “pineapple”. A pineapple is neither from a pine tree nor is it an apple.
  • “Understand”: does not mean to stand under.
  • “Undertake”: does not mean to take under. It means to begin.
  • “Quarterback”: the leader on the offensive side on a football team. It’s component parts do not tell us what it is.
  • Monday-derivation—Moon Day. The day dedicated to the moon.  How is that relevant to our use of the word Monday today?  It’s not except as an historical trivia question. 
  • Sunday-The day of Sun. We don’t mean “’the day we worship the Sun.”  Historically that may have been how it was used, but you cannot presume that we in the 21st century still worship the Sun because we use the word.
  • Sophomore: a second year student. If you take the Greek words from which it comes, it would mean: a wise fool.
  • In our months of the calendar,
    • September-Sept= seven
    • October-Oct=Nine;
    • November; Non-Nine;
    • December-Deca = ten  But you would be wrong to presume that September was the seventh month. It is the ninth.  (It USED to be the seventh in Roman days, but then July was added to honor Julius Caesar and a jealous Caesar Augustus demanded that they add a month in to honor him as well and it had to have the same number of days as July lest he be thought of as less important.  So both days have 31 days. 

The conclusion of the matter is two fold. 

1. How do you determine what a word means?

  • Contemporary semantic range (what the word CAN mean)
  • Literary context in which it is used. (which of its possible uses the word means here)

2. Strauss stresses that you should only use Greek & Hebrew when it provides insights that cannot be recognized by reading the English translations.

That brings me to tonight’s problem.  But this has gone on long enough…so I’ll continue this tomorrow. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Business Summaries.com>>The Power of Speaking Like Obama

I subscribe to a service called BusinessSummaries.com.  They take current (and past) books on business and business practices and summarize them in 6-8 pages. image A helpful service. 

But today they published an original article by Samantha Melissa Johnson, their marketing manager.

Whatever you think of Pres. Obama (and I didn’t end up voting for him), no one can deny the power that he has exhibited through the spoken word.   I recognize that preaching is not simply a matter of technique, but technique is involved. 

Let me quote the start of the article and then direct you to the rest if you are interested:

Barack Obama has brought the power of oration back to American politics. Using well-practiced public-speaking skills, he not only rouses roaring applause but inspires real change in his listeners. In speech after speech, Barack Obama has “fired up” millions of enthusiastic supporters with his inspiring vision, rousing rhetoric, and charismatic presence. His outstanding communication skills gave rise to an unprecedented political movement and fueled Obama’s success in becoming America’s first African American president. But inspiring and persuading millions isn’t simply a product of innate ability—Barack Obama honed techniques that made him a highly effective speaker before audiences numbering thirty to 200,000.

Creating Strong First Impressions – Image and Body Language

The strong first impression that Barack Obama makes reminds us that body movement and image speak a language to the audience as potent as anything said out loud.

Barack Obama is adept at establishing excellent first impressions. Good eye contact has also been valuable to Obama. Audiences perceive this as respectful – the behavior of a person welcoming them.

Effective Use of Body Language and Voice

In the delivery of his 2004 keynote address, Barack Obama demonstrated outstanding use of body language. In short, Obama created a very strong first impression.

The deep timbre of his voice, his natural asset, heightened the positive impression. Similarly, placing his hand over his heart at key moments conveyed the sincerity of his words. Obama came across as authentic.

As Obama adeptly recasts the dialogue to stress commonalities rather than differences, he focuses on key aspects such as shared dreams and values. When preparing remarks, consider this: What common-ground elements can you bring to the fore to establish strong ties to your audience?

As political commentator Jamal Simmons noted on June 3, 2008, Obama has succeeded in presenting his life story as a “uniquely American story… Like Bill Clinton’s story, Ronald Reagan’s story, Harry Truman’s story…” This has helped him connect with audiences; his life story is viewed as a classic story and it has endeared Obama to millions of Americans.

Practices for Earning Trust and Confidence

Given Obama’s tremendous success, leaders have much to learn from the way he uses excellent communication practices to earn the trust and confidence of others.

To read the rest of the article look here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mark Strauss: Suggestions on Selecting and Using Commentaries

image As I prepare to teach my Biblical Interpretation class tonight, I found a series of questions by Dr. Mark Strauss of Bethel Seminary helpful. 

He suggests twelve questions in examining any commentary to see whether it is worth using/purchasing: 

  1. It is well organized & easy to use?
  2. Does it provide a good introduction, including literary genre, historical context, purpose & occasion
  3. Does the author demonstrate competence in the original languages?
  4. Does the author discuss interpretational problems? Some are too brief & skip difficult issues or passages.
  5. Does the author give a fair & balanced treatment of problems or does he/she demonstrate a bias?
  6. Does it comment on each verse or is it only section by section?
  7. Is there a bibliography to pursue further research
  8. Does author show familiarity with recent works regarding the issues dealt with in the book or is it only older works
  9. Does the author document sources? esp. ref to ancient writers in regard to customs.
  10. Does the author include hints for application/contextualization
  11. Does the author take unusual or novel interpretations which appear to go beyond the biblical author’s meaning?
  12. Does the commentary follow the main theme or argument of the book well, relating each section to the flow of the book or are there just many scattered exegetical comments?

But the whole issue is not resolved by the quality of the commentary.  There are four questions to ask yourself

  1. What are you needs?
  2. What are your original language skills?
  3. How much time do you have to study the text in question?
  4. Ask those with experience what commentaries they would recommend. There are also commentary surveys. DA Carson: NT Commentary Survey; Tremper Longman, OT Commentary Survey [pictured above] (both published by Baker)

And last, he give five tips for USING a commentary:

  1. Don’t let using a commentary replace your personal Bible study
  2. Do an inductive study of the passage before referring to the commentary
  3. Consult more than one if they are available to you. (especially with problem passages).
  4. Beware of simply seeking a commentary that simply agrees with you. Be willing to listen to other eyes.
  5. Watch out for the theological biases of the author and your own biases.

All pretty basic, but also pretty useful.  When you do use a commentary (and you need to avoid looking at them until you have done your own Bible study and exegesis of the text), these are some basic helpful guidelines.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

“Saints” or “Holy Ones”?: Mounce on Biblical Metaphors

image I am way behind on my blog reading and just today came across Bill Mounce’s reflections on the job of translating Biblical metaphors.  Mounce is a writer and Greek scholar who lives in Spokane, WA and was involved with the translation of the ESV.  He begins his article:

For some metaphors, the answer is simple. If it conveys no meaning to the target language, or if it is going to be misunderstood by the majority of readers, then most translations will simply interpret the metaphor. One way that Hebrew says a person is patient is to say that they are "long of nose." Does this phrase "literally" mean that their proboscis is of unusual size? Of course not. The metaphor/idiom literally means they are patient. I doubt any translation is comfortable saying "long of nose," although the KJV’s "longsuffering," while no longer part of colloquial English, is a tad more transparent to the imagery than "patient."

On the other side of the spectrum is a statement like the "hand of the Lord." Does this "literally" mean God has a physical hand? Of course not, and translations generally are comfortable allowing this type of metaphor (i.e. anthropomorphism) to stand (cf. Luke 1:66). It is not going to be misinterpreted.

But where does a translation draw the line?

Read the rest of his article here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Visiting a Virtual Anglican Worship Service

Anglican services_001

I had an interesting experience tonight.  Mark Brown is the CEO of the Bible Society of New Zealand and an ordained Anglican priest. (I take it he also works on staff at a Cathedral in Wellington, NZ). He is also the pastor of a virtual church—The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life.  Second Life is a virtual world much broader than just the worship services at the cathedral. Don’t look for much spiritual significance in the name.  (You have to download the free software in order to view/participate in the service). Tonight was the first night of their fifth (count them, FIVE) virtual worship services.  That is not five individual worship services…but five different times per week that worship services are being offered. I attended the service at 3p.m. New Zealand time (or 6 p.m. Portland, OR time). The picture to the left is a snapshot of the service.  It appears like there were 10-15 people there.  In this picture, I believe that Mark (or Arkin Ariantho, as is his screen-name) is preaching from the pulpit at the upper right. 

It was a traditional Anglican service (I am told).  Lots of scripture and prayer—I liked that.  There were a few technological glitches at first…not in the program, but in people’s ability to maneuver the program…but it seemed to iron itself out. You are even given an order of service so that you can follow along.

The whole service was right at 45 minutes.  There was more “dead” time than I expected. I’m not sure if it was when stuff was not happening right, or if it was specifically time for prayer. I suspect it was the first, because there was a specific time for silent worship. 

“How in the world do you worship online?” my wife asked, skeptically.

I told her: you type your responses.  If there is a question, you type it or the answer.  When you want to say Amen, you type it. You also see what everyone else is typing. When we prayed the Lord’s prayer in unison, everyone typed it as Mark ‘prayed’ the prayer.  It was actually kind of meaningful to me (she didn’t buy it).  When it came time for prayer time, people named all sorts of people’s names to be lifted up in prayer.  There were two foci.  The first was those suffering because of the economic downturn.  The other was prayer for those suffering in Australia because of the fires there.  Mark is an Australian living in New Zealand and his heart has really been torn by the fires there because of first hand knowledge of the area and the peoples. (I did ask for prayer due to being laid off & my cancer). Then Mark prayed for all those who had been mentioned.  


Mark’s sermon (12-15 minutes long??) was simple, but effective:

What is the Point of Going to Church? (3 C’s)

Scripture: Mark 7:14-23.

1. You should be CHALLENGED

     a. We need to be challenged to grow

     b. To care for the poor & disenfranchised.

2. We must CHANGE: Acknowledging that we need to change, especially our heart.

3. We need to be COMMITTED to the change.

Concl: What is the point of church?

     Not to simply walk through a ritual.

     But to be challenged & equipped to change our hearts.

I logged back on 20 minutes after the service was done (to get Arkin’s correct name, for this post) and there were still a half-dozen people there visiting (by chat). I “overheard” one conversation about one man’s bad experiences with church.  Another conversation related to the fires in Autstralia and one man badly burned in the fires receiving last rites over mobile phone.  He survived and is being treated in a hospital.   My wife also asked, how is there accountability or fellowship.  And I would gather that this happens in those times around the service.  I really don’t know what (if any) follow-up Mark does with the congregation….I guess I will find out.

Anyway, a new (or newer) technology used for an old format.  Different, but (at least for me) good. 

The broader context of the “Second Life” world can be found here.  If you are interested in checking out Mark and the ministry of the Cathedral specifically, his blog post here is probably the best place to start.

Blessings on Mark Brown and the Cathedral of Second Life and their ministry on-line.

Happy Valentines Day: Proverbs 31, Updated

Baked bean winnerCharles Savelle points to an article by Kat Dolan in the Miami Herald on an updated version of the Prov. 31 woman.  Instead of being discouraged at all the things the Prov 31 woman did that she doesn’t/can’t, one woman in her Bible study “looked at things she already did for her family and saw how they fit into the pattern of the 'noble wife.’"

Her “revision” begins:

A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth more than a Nintendo system with Rock Band and Wii Fit all bundled together.

Her husband trusts her with all the credit cards and the remote control.

She brings him excellent credit ratings all the days of her life.

She selects volunteer cutting assignments from the kindergarten teacher and works with eager hands.

She is like merchant ships, bringing in food from the store with the best coupon deals that week.

You can find Charles’ article here. and Dolan’s original article here.  (The picture is of my beautiful wife. Happy Valentines Day, dear).

Friday, February 13, 2009

Another Havner quote: Comfortably Unclear Preachers

image In looking for a picture of Vance Havner to put on my previous post, I found this quote from VH that I like even better than the last one:

“We preachers have learned the art of how to almost say something.” Ouch! He was right. We have learned how not to point. We have learned to be comfortably unclear. What is needed is courage. When a matter of weight and significance is at hand, we need men to have a point, get to the point, make a point, and be clearly pointed about the point they are making. If pastors are not willing to do this, then one may rightly ask, “Then what’s the point anyway.”

God’s “One Place” for You?

image Charles Saville has a Vance Havner quote arising from I Kings 17:2-10 that gets me thinking. I’m not sure I agree with it (but I’m not sure that I don’t).  Because God gave a command to one man, is it so that he works exactly the same way with another person.  I don’t know…but I find the quote makes me think.

I do not believe that the ravens would have fed Elijah anywhere else, not would the widow woman have appeared anywhere else except “there.” God did not say, “Elijah, ramble around as you please and I will provide for you.” “There” was a place of God’s will for Elijah- the place of God’s will for Elijah- the place of his purpose, the place of His power and the place of His provision.
“There” was the place of God’s purpose. God has a “there” for you, somewhere He wants you to be, something He wants you to do. You can never be truly happy elsewhere, nor can you please God anywhere but “there.” You may do lovely things and become a “success,” but always there will be the haunting sense of having chosen life’s second best.

What do you think?

I Have Fought the Good Fight


I am saddened to hear of the death of Joe Aldrich, who died here in Portland yesterday.  Dr. Aldrich was Pastor of Mariners Church in Newport Beach, CA, but most prominently known as the President of Multnomah Bible College & Seminary here on the eastside of the river that divides Portland.  His book Lifestyle Evangelism is a classic that predated (and precipitated?) much of the evangelistic efforts in America in the 1990’s & 2000’s. 

I only had the privilege of meeting “Dr. Joe” once and it was quick.  He became severely limited in his public ministry the paimagest decade or so by Parkinson’ s disease. 

I have been blessed, not only by his writings in books & journals, and somewhat by the ministry of Multnomah, (although I am always saddened by how little impact the Christian colleges and seminaries of Portland have here in the city that they call home). But mostly I have been blessed by the Prayer conference that he began at the Oregon coast years ago and continue to be put on by International Renewal Ministries.

The heroes of the faith that I looked up to as a young man & preacher are dying off, one by one.  It is time to step up and be our own heroes. 

Jay Adams on Proper Use of Commentaries

Over at Expository Thoughts, Matt Waymeyer has a great quote from Jay Adams on the use/misuse of commentaries in preaching: image

Speaking of exegesis, how do you do it? Do you cobble together bits and pieces from various commentaries into some explanation of the preaching portion? Or do you do the hard work of figuring out for yourself what the passage says, using various commentaries to help you? Between these two approaches to the text, there is a large difference. That for which you have worked will come through in your preaching as authentic. That which has been cribbed from some commentator who did the work, will come through as inauthentic (unless, of course, you are an astute actor). Hard work requires using a goodly number of sources to help you come to valid decisions about a passage. But it doesn’t mean abusing them by mere copying. Are you guilty of this sin, preacher? If so, repent, and begin to do the right thing that you know, down deep, you ought to be doing. Rightly handling the Word of God is not only work, but a great responsibility.

My philosophy has been…do all the hard work of digging & interpreting; but when you are done, check two or three “good” commentaries to see what they say. I have commented here before that there have been times when I was going a specific direction in interpreting a passage, but when I read the commentaries saw that I had missed the direction totally!  While that is a frustrating waste of time, it is better to find it out BEFORE you preach it than after! 

More often than that, however, the commentaries generally shed light on something I didn’t see.  I think that referencing them is critical, but as Adam says, “it doesn’t mean abusing them by mere copying.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Simple Reminder on Outlining Sermons

I was teaching the Biblical Hermeneutics class in Hillsboro that I am currently teaching for Genesis Training Center and this week was discussing something that is image pretty basic in sermon outlining, but still helpful: 

There are basically two ways of outlining the progress of thought in a passage:  Parallel Outlines and Progressive Outlines.

Parallel outlines are those where the sub points are all “parallel” to one another.  They are facts or statements about the thesis statement.  The sub points can often be found by turning the thesis statement into a question.   (The outline examples come from Dr. Mark Strauss of Bethel Seminary).

Scripture: Phil. 1:12-18

Thesis statement: In spite of Paul’s imprisonment, the gospel is advancing.

Question: In what ways is the gospel advancing in spite of Paul’s imprisonment?


  1. Through Paul’s testimony to the palace guard (v. 13)
  2. Through the courage given to others to proclaim it (v. 14)
  3. Despite the false motives of some (vv. 15-16)
  4. Conclusion: the most important thing is that Christ is preached. (v. 18)

The other method is a Progressive Outline.  This is where the author is (usually) making an argument and you note the development of the “progress” of the argument:

Scripture: Romans 12:1-2

Thesis statement: In light of God’s free gift of salvation, Paul calls believers to present themselves as living sacrifices in God’s service.


  1. The command to present your body as a living sacrifice (v. 1a)
  2. The reason to present your body as a living sacrifice (v. 1b)
  3. The means of presenting your body as a living sacrifice (v. 2a)
  4. The result of presenting your body as a living sacrifice (2:b)

The same Progressive Outline works in preaching a biblical narrative:

Scripture: Mark 2:13-17 (call of Levi)

Thesis Statement: Mark presents Jesus mission as not directed to the self righteous, but to sinners who recognize their need of salvation.

  1. The call of Levi
  2. The meal in Levi’s home
  3.      i. The challenge by the religious leaders: why does Jesus eat with sinners?
  4.     ii. Jesus’ response:
  5. The proverb-only sick people need a doctor
  6. The application-the son of man came to call sinners

Outlining a passage is a HUGE step in the development of the sermon. 

“Never, Never, Never Give Up”

image “Heroes are not the ones that never fail, but the ones who never give up.”(Ed Cole)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Humor, Yes; Jokes, Seldom

“I deeply believe in humor; not in jokes.  Humor is spectacular!”

--Tom Peters

One of the signs of a neophyte preacher is the misuse of humor.  For people to stay interested in what you are saying and to identify with you a person, a sense of humor is essential to effective preaching.  That is not the same as telling jokes. 

image Every once in a while through the years, I have just “told a joke” in the midst of a sermon.  Sometimes I have prefaced it as “This really has nothing to do with the sermon, but…” or “The best joke I heard this past week was…”  

The goal of joke telling is often stated as two fold: to get the congregation in a mood to “hear” the sermon, and to provide a break from the sometimes hard work of thinking or working through a difficult passage.

I have pretty well abandoned that type of joke telling.  And the reason is that it almost always that it does the opposite.  If the joke is too good, people think about it and want to remember it to tell their friends on Monday morning. And if it is too bad…well, you know about that.

But a bigger reason is that I can’t waste a moment.  It is ALWAYS hard for me to stay within an allotted time period.  I always under estimate how long a sermon is going to be.  Therefore, I have to be tight with what I allow in the sermons. 

Therefore, the jokes pretty much have gone. 

Humor is a different thing.  A sermon MUST have humor.  I asked one of my associates one time to preach a sermon on the humor of Jesus.  People said it was the best sermon he ever did. Jesus is not thigh-slapping funny, but his words are filled with all sorts of things that surely made his hearers chuckle quietly, or give one another a knowing look.  “He gets it.  He understands.”

In think through this, I remembered a Q&A I had heard Fred Craddock do a number of years ago. It was on a PreachingToday tape.  Here is what Craddock said:

I do not tell jokes in sermons—the chances of that being a mistake are awfully high. You can wade about half way in and then by the faces realize that everybody’s heard it & you don’t know whether to wade back or jump on the cross & apologize.

I had such a Messianic intensity when I first started preaching–that I couldn’t use any humor, because humor is actually a display of freedom. God was fred_craddock doing quite well before me and will probably keep the store open after I’m dead. Therefore, I developed a sense of my own unimportance as well as importance. And that sets you free.

In the world of communication, humor is the clearest indication of the grace of God. I don’t mean silly or painful things. But if you think about it, there is no humor that doesn’t deal with something serious. Humor has to have something significant. You actually have humor about funerals, about Eucharistic services….Where does humor take place? School, church, and places where something very serious is going on. There can be no humor about anything not serious.

It is a way of celebrating the freedom and the grace of God in the midst of what we’re doing. But it took me a long while to feel that. Part of it was I felt it was out of place. And then my own uptightness.

An old retired minister who saw I was too serious about everything, and he said to me, “When you get up to go to the church in the mornings, pause at the door of the house and have a prayer that God will be with you and bless your work. Then, put on your hat and go out and as you leave the house say to yourself, ‘Here goes nothing!’”

That will kind of set you up; free you: I’ve tried that and it seems to help.

I don’t know what it takes to have a sense of humor except freedom and the sense of pleasure and a sense of awe and amazement that we are doing this: that God has called us to do this of all things. Humor is good for that.

Amen.  Good words, FC.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Proud Papa

One of the advantages of currently not preaching weekly is that Loretta and I got to go to Seattle (actually Duvall, but nobody's ever heard of Duvall, WA...) to hear our son Ryan preach. Ryan is actually the worship pastor of The Duvall Church, but since his preaching minister was between series, Ryan got to preach. I have never heard him preach in that context, and it actually has been several years since I've gotten to hear him preach, so we spontaneously decided to venture up north (about 4 hours) and surprise Ryan and hear/support him preach.

The only problem was that both Loretta and I were convicted by what he said! He preached on "Loving your enemies"...actually the title was "The Economy of Mercy"

Must say...I am a proud papa. If you are so inclined, you can watch the sermon here:

If you have problems with the link, you can go to the original site which is www.duvallchurch.org. Click on media and then his is the sermon for Feb. 8. It is available in .wmv, .mov, and mp3.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Leadership in a Time of Downturn

image While not strictly about preaching, Mark Brown of the Bible Society of New Zealand (and pastor of the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life—a totally online church with five weekly services) has a short, but helpful piece on Leadership In a Time of Downturn: 5 Helpful Strategies.

I found #1 (below) particularly helpful, but the other four are just as good.

Number 1# Be present When things start to fall apart, don’t leave the building.  Stick with you team, as much as to show them you are prepared to battle the downturn, but also as such circumstances require extra engagement from the leader.  The recent decision by Cricket Australia to rest the One Day Captain, Ricky Ponting after 4 straight losses is an example of how not lead in a downturn.  At perhaps the lowest point in the teams performance in at least 5 years and the captain is removed from the team. Very poor.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Church Growth Barbie?



As I was packing up my office I had pulled stuff out of my sermon “props” tub.  My Salvation Army Barbie was laying spread out in the middle of the floor. My secretary for the past eight years walked in, took one look at Barbie and said, “Please tell me there aren’t things I don’t want to know about you…” 

Barbie is now safely stuffed away in the props tub stored in my garage. Thought the above “ad” was too good not to pass on.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Review of “Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy”

image Karen James. Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy. Nelson, 2008. (Find it here: Holding Fast by Karen James)

This book was of initial interest to me because I live in Portland, OR and many of the events depicted happened on the mountain we see every day (at least when it isn’t covered up by clouds): Mount Hood. I have had friends and relatives climb Mt. Hood and know it is do-able if you are in good shape and have a good guide, but I also hear of the dangers. Those dangers came to be no more real than in December 2006 when three men were reported as lost on the mountain.

This book is the recounting of the story from the eyes of one of the wives of the three men (and the only one whose body ever was found): Karen James. Her husband, Kelly James, was a climber with 25 years experience. Karen gives a brief, but sufficient, relaying of highlights of Kelly’s life and of their marriage and life together, but she does not dawdle in getting to what the book is about: how God moved in the situation of the lost climbers. It is a heart wrenching book. It is a book of faith. It is an honest book…Karen shares her anger, her doubts, her fears. But in the end it is about God shaping one woman and using the worst experience of her life to do so. The recounting of the story is the familiar news story and a fascinating read. The events, the news reports and the once-in-a decade snow storm are things I remember well.  But that is not really the point of the book. The point of the book is what God was doing in Karen James’ life through this most tragic of events.

In a Bible study briefly before Kelly left for Mt. Hood, the subject was that of being open to being used by God. Karen had great fears, however, of being used by God. After the study, she prayed:

“’I really don’t want You to use me right now because I am very happy and thankful for my life. If You use me, I am afraid You will take something away.’ To this day that conversation haunts me. He would soon show me that as a loving parent, He decides how, when, and what we will face in life. God knew that my biggest fear was losing Kelly. It was what I feared most, and it happened…. In time I would understand that He wanted Kelly with Him and He wanted me to carry on in a new direction. It was a role I would be forced to have without Kelly.”

It is a book that is part adventure story, part love story, but mostly an inspirational story about one woman’s journey of faith through the valley of the shadow of her husband’s death. I would highly recommend it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Max Lucado’s “For the Tough Times”

For the Tough Times Lucado, Max. For the Tough Times: Reaching Toward Heaven for Hope. Thomas Nelson (2008 reissue of 2006 For These Tough Times).

When I was asked to review Max Lucado’s book For the Tough Times it seemed providential. I had asked to review Karen James’ new book, Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mt. Hood Tragedy, but it had sold so well upon release that it had gone out of print and Nelson was reprinting it and had no review copies. And so, I was asked to review “For the Tough Times” instead. The timing, as I said, was providential. I had just been diagnosed with cancer and, concurrently, informed that my job would be ending at the end of January.

Lucado’s book is small (81 pages). It seems designed almost as a gift book. A book for a pastor to hand to a family in crisis; a book for a friend to attach to a flower arrangement at the funeral; a book for one friend to hand to another after a heart to heart talk over coffee. (It is an adaptation of articles previously published in America Looks Up, The Great House of God, In the Grip of Grace, and When Christ Comes.”) The theme of dealing with suffering and tough times is all around us. And Lucado deals with it typical Lucado style.

You either love Max Lucado’s writings or you hate them…and I would say the same is true of this little book. If you are looking for biblical theology, don’t look here. (His section on Satan as a tool of God is both biblically questionable as well as almost blasphemous to God). If you are looking for well-thought arguments, don’t look here. Lucado is often clichéd (“If he drove a car, your name would be on his bumper sticker. If there’s a tree in heaven, he’s carved your name in the bark.” Puh-lease, it doesn’t get more clichéd than that).

And yet…

I was blessed by the book. It spoke to me. I was genuinely touched by many of the illustrations he used. The word picture he uses to explain how and why we “magnify” God will stick with me for a long time. Reading in another place, I just sat and marveled at Lucado’s perception when he noted that before the raising of Lazarus, the messenger said, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Not:”The one who loves you is sick.” Lucado notes: “The power of the prayer…does not depend on the one who makes the prayer, but one the one who hears the prayer.” So many of us need to hear that. The effectiveness of our prayers are not determined by the fervency of our prayers and our love for Jesus. Our prayers are heard and answered because we are important (“loved”) by the eternal Christ.

Times can be tough (per the title). People do lose their jobs. People do get cancer. Even much worse happens in this sin-filled world. As David asked in Psalm 11:3: “When all that is good falls apart, what can good people do?” Lucado’s answer is the same as David’s. A declaration that “The Lord is in his holy temple.” Look to Him. I would recommend this for situations similar to those mentioned above.

Preacher as Poet

In the current issue of Christian Century, M. Craig Barnes (the senior pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church and formerly professor of ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary ) writes about an important aspect of pastoral/preaching ministry that is often neglected. 

There are many good pictures of the role of the preacher/pastor:

"Some of us are attracted to the image of the shepherd who has sacrificed alternative plans for life and is now willing to lay life down for the sake of the sheep.  Others are drawn to the notion of the pastor as priest who stands between God and the people.  Still others are attracted to the New Testament notion of the pastor being the witness of the redemptive activity of the ascended and reigning Christ.  Some pastors prefer to think of themselves as fulfilling Christ's call to be prophet, priest and king, but only to the degree that they themselves live in Christ, who alone fulfills his holy offices.  And of course, the calling to be ministers of word and sacrament can center any pastor.


But Barnes then introduces another picture of the pastor/preacher:  that of the poet.  He admits that this is not one of the primary pictures that could/should  be used for the preacher, but a legitimate one none-the-less.  In fact, Barnes  states that it is “actually impossible to be a pastor without being a poet devoted to making sense of the word of God in human lives.” 

Why a poet?

Poets see the despair and heartache as well as the beauty and miracle that lie just beneath the thin veneer of the ordinary, and they describe this in ways that are recognized not only in the mind, but more profoundly in the soul….

“Poets are devoted more to truth than to reality; they are not unaware of reality, but they never accept it at face value.  The value of reality is found only by peeling back its appearance to discover the underlying truth.  That is why poets care about the text, what is said or done, but only in order to reveal subtext, which reveals what it means.  They value the reality they see primarily as a portal that invites them into a more mysterious encounter with the truth.”

I probably am attracted to this picture not so much because of my interest in writing, communicating and the use of words (poetry is not really the point of calling the preacher a poet), but I think that it is more because of my “pastoral heart” (whatever that is!) that encourages me to help people redefine what is happening to them and to see the reality behind what appears on the surface.  

I know how useful and beneficial it is when others do that for me.

My friend David Brashler is a youth pastor over on the north side of the Columbia River from us in Vancouver, WA.  Shortly after my diagnosis of cancer, he sent me two articles:  one was his testimony (last year this time he was in a fight for his life.  While it is very complex, his bowels became obstructed because of genetic abnormalities and he was in a coma for weeks and on death’s door for longer than that).  He also sent a link to the article Don’t Waste Your Cancer by John Piper.  This was a piece with which I was unfamiliar.

In a nutshell, Piper says that you will waste your cancer if you…

  1. …do not believe it is designed for you by God.
  2. …believe it is a curse and not a gift.
  3. …seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
  4. …refuse to think about death.
  5. …think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
  6. …spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.
  7. …let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.
  8. …grieve as those who have no hope.
  9. …treat sin as casually as before.
  10. …fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.

While Piper could never be accused of being a poet, his article did for me what Barnes is talking about. He stripped away the technical worries about cancer (at least briefly) and helped me see my heart and the deeper fears that were there.

It is the skilled preacher who can do that for his/her people.  Barnes uses the example of a couple upset because of the music style of the new worship minister.  Barnes, however, was able to point the people to the grief they were feeling over the departure of the former music minister.  He notes that just rising up and “fixing” the “problem” of the new worship minister would have done nothing for the complaining couple. They needed to acknowledge and feel their grief before they could move on. 

Perhaps this skill is best done in the counseling office or the coffee shop than the pulpit.  Obviously, you don’t single out an individual from the pulpit.  But I do think that groups of people tell themselves lies.  Communities of faith need reality re-defined for them.  Churches need the diversions that protect them stripped away by someone who the body knows loves them, in order to look at and deal with the real issues underneath. 

Good article.  I couldn’t find a link on the web, but if you can find it at a library or borrow it from a mainline denominational preacher friend, do it. (Christian Century could never be mistaken for an evangelical broadsheet).  It is worth the effort!

Visits Since Dec. 11, 2007