Happy Reformation Day!

This is the Wittenburg Door.  496 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses here and started the Protestant Reformation.  I like to celebrate this event every year by carving pumpkins and taking my kids trick-or-treating.

This is the Wittenburg Door. 496 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses here and started the Protestant Reformation. I like to celebrate this event every year by carving pumpkins and taking my kids trick-or-treating.


How To Ask a Question (or how not to) – Part I

It is often said that there’s ‘no such thing as a stupid question.’  That is abundantly true.  Questions are great!  Questioning can mean searching for the truth.  Questions can seek light, information, and answers.  Asking questions is also an important way to connect with another person.  Questions search out who another is, where they are at, and what they believe.  This is important while engaging someone with the hopes of telling them the Gospel.

Questions are important in Church too!  That means Christians must always be asking questions of God and the Scriptures.  We need to always be on a quest for truth, and that quest is impossible without questions.  Any good pastor or preacher loves it when people ask questions.  Sometimes there are answers, sometimes there isn’t – but an honest search is always encouraging to me.

While there no such thing as a stupid question, there are ways we question that aren’t a real search.  Let’s look at the very first question ever asked in God’s Story – the Bible.

Eve!  Don't listen to him!  He's asking questions to bring darkness not light!

Eve! Don’t listen to him! He’s asking questions to bring darkness not light!

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”  Genesis 3:1

Now the questioner here is the serpent in the Garden of Eden.  Who is the serpent?  *he’s the devil!*  Here he is asking a question.  But is he looking for an answer?  Almost certainly not.  Look how he asks.  Instead of asking “what has God said?”, he asks “has God really said…?”.  He is not seeking knowledge but rather wants to cast doubt and confusion on what God has clearly revealed.  Eve was not helped by this question, neither did she learn anything.  The Serpent certainly didn’t want to learn anything or be changed  by any knowledge.

This is a stunning reminder to us that as we ask questions of God, the Bible, and one another that while questions are good they must be asked to receive more light and not darkness.  Many questions don’t seek to illuminate but only to obscure.  Many questions don’t seek truth but instead want to deny it.

Questions are so important.  Why are we here?  Is there a God?  If so, what is He like?  What is His will?  How then should we live?  The world, both those inside and outside Christian faith, needs to explore those continually and learn what answers we can.  But we can only arrive at truth if we approach our questioning humbly and honestly.

When you ask a question, are you seeking truth or trying to obscure truth?

Stay tuned for How To Ask a Question (or how not to) – Part II

Fact-Checking Sermons – or – what any good preacher should never fear

Preacher!  Don't be afraid of this young gentleman!  If you've done your job properly, his fact-checking will only make him more confident in your message.

Preacher! Don’t be afraid of this young gentleman! If you’ve done your job properly, his fact-checking will only make him more confident in your message.

Christianity Today has just reported that a large amount of young millennials are using tech to fact check their pastors sermons.  At first this might make us nervous.  Good grief!  Imagine all those people making sure you don’t run your mouth and say something silly, non-factual, or un-Biblical.  Funny, though, as I read the statistics, I wasn’t afraid or dismayed.  In fact, I was encouraged.

I would love it, love it, if people would care so much about the Word of God that they would fact-check my sermons. And not just young millennials either! Every single one of God’s people needs to take responsibility for what they hear.  This is Berean behaviour if ever there was any.  Assuming it’s done with the Berean attitude of course.

A serious, careful, and responsible preacher has nothing to fear from informed and diligent folks.  Maybe smart phones in Church are a good idea!

What Does Worship Do To Us?

What are we doing when we worship?  Worship meaning engaging in the practices which draw us close to God and in which God draws close to us – prayer, praise, song, hearing the Word, communion…and so on.  We are loving the God Who has made Himself known to us and given us everything.  We are giving and receiving from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit.  Worship is wonderful but it is also vitally necessary.  We need to express our love for God.  We need to meet with Him and He meets with us.  It is encounter, it is experience, it is essential.

What is worship doing to us?  Here’s the flipside; and a different way to look at it.  What do the practices – prayer, praise, song, hearing the Word, communion… – do to us in return?  Without for one second cancelling out the expressive side to worship, we can also think about the formative side to worship.  Worship in a sense, trains us to point our lives toward God.

Nobody is more helpful in this than philosopher, James K A Smith.  Below is a 45 min talk where he talks about worship in the very broadest sense and shares some big ideas.  Those big ideas are:

1)  Human beings are not primarily thinkers.

2)  We often think something but then behave differently.

3)  This is because human beings are primarily lovers/desirers/wanters.

4)  We behave according to what we love, desire, want.

5)  There are many options for what to worship – some bad stuff!

6)  Christian worship is formative.  That means, it trains us to love the right thing – God!

Smith isn’t really a boring guy, so I’d encourage you to watch the whole thing:


Doing the Lord’s Work the Lord’s Way

Everyone who follows Christ wants to do His work.  But how do we do it in a way that lets His Spirit move through us.  Sometimes we fall into approaching Christian work where muster up all of our resources and try to get it done ourselves.  This surely is not letting the Holy Spirit work through us.  Instead it is us trying to accomplish it in our own strength.  But when we are moved by the Spirit, does that mean we will be expending no effort on our part.  It is always as though God swoops down and does it requiring no cost/effort/initiative of ourselves?

I have often wondered about this dynamic – and been confused by it.  A great help has been the wisdom of Francis Schaffer who comes at the issue with his trademark balance and thoughtfulness:

Let us not think that waiting on the Lord will mean getting less done.

The truth is that by doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way we will accomplish more, not less.

He's working right now - in the Spirit.

He’s working right now – in the Spirit.

You need not fear that if you wait for God’s Spirit you will not get as much done as if you charge ahead in the flesh.

After all, who can do the most, you or the God of Heaven and earth?

Nor should we think that our role will be passive. The moving of the Holy Spirit should not be contrasted with either proper self-fulfillment or tiredness.

To the contrary, both the Scriptures and the history of the church teach that if the Holy Spirit is working, the whole man will be involved and there will be much cost to the Christian.

The more the Holy Spirit works, the more Christians will be used in battle, and the more they are used, the more there will be personal cost and tiredness.

It is quite the opposite of what we might first think.

People often cry out for the work of the Holy Spirit and yet forget that when the Holy Spirit works, there is always tremendous cost to the people of God-weariness and tears and battles.

Francis Schaeffer, “No Little People”

via Justin Taylor

A God of Wrath? Or a God of Love?

Have you ever been bothered by the idea of God’s wrath?  You’re not alone.  Many people don’t want to believe in the God of Christianity because he sometimes appears dangerously angry in the pages of the Bible.  Many people who are completely devoted to God still struggle with understanding this notion.  Sometimes we avoid thinking about it or we make apologies for it.  For skeptics and believers alike God’s wrath seems to contradict God’s love.  Isn’t God supposed to be loving?  How can Someone who supposedly ‘is love‘, be also full of wrath?

These are good questions to wrestle with.  They need to be seriously chewed upon and not placated with pat answers.  One of the most helpful voices on this for me has been the theologian Miroslav Volf.  He sees God’s wrath and His love as two sides of the same coin.  It is because God is loving that He must be wrathful, and His wrath is a corollary of His love.  Perhaps this comes into focus when we learn a little of Volf’s biography.  He is from Croatia and has seen his share of bloodshed in his homeland.  With that in mind, see how he twins God’s attributes of love and wrath:

MIroslav Volf

Miroslav Volf

I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God.  Isn’t God love?  Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath?  God is love, and God loves every person and every creature.  That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them.  My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come.  According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced.  My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry.  Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days!  How did God react to the carnage?  By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion?  By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness?  Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them?  Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil.  God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love.  God is wrathful because God is love.

-Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge:  Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, page 138.

This by no means answers every question about God’s wrath and anger towards sin.  But it helps us to begin to see that wrath and love are not necessarily opposed.  There is good news about God’s wrath even for those most deserving of it.  *we all deserve wrath in some measure*  It is that there has come One who has borne wrath for us, saving us from it.  That is the greatest love there is.


How does God’s wrath help us to be free of it?  Check out this post from the vaults:

The Real Reason Christians can love Our Enemies

Looking for a Perfect Church? Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Advice

No church community is perfect.  But we often behave as though it ought to be.  Bonhoeffer’s wisdom helps us in this regard.  In his seminal little book, Life Together, he celebrates God’s church not as she should be but as she is.  One of his most powerful ideas is how we can damage the true community that God has made by bringing in our own ideals of how it ought to be.  He calls these our ‘wish dreams’.  But I’ll let him speak for himself.

Looks like he found a good church.  But it wasn't the one of his dreams.

Looks like he found a good church. But it wasn’t the one of his dreams.

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.

A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse.

Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.

He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise.

We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily. And is not what has been given us enough: brothers, who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of His grace? Is the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day?

Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ?

Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary (=favorable), because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together—the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.

In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for the daily gifts.

We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious.

We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even when there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our  fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ . . .

When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him in to this predicament. But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God.

Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief. Let him pray to God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren. Let him do what he is committed to do, and thank God.

Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature.

The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases. Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.”  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, chapter one “Community”