Sunday, April 20, 2014

Let Us Not Mock God with Metaphor

Seven Stanzas at Easter
John Updike, 1960

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sermon Preparation with the Bible in One Hand and the Hymnal in the Other

Karl Barth's pairing of the Bible and the newspaper is well known: "We should read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." True enough. But I would like to make a similar suggestion to my fellow preachers. Preachers should prepare with the Bible in one hand and with the hymnal in the other.

Let me explain what I mean. If you are a preacher and you do not use the texts of hymns (ancient or modern) to illustrate the truths you preach, you are failing to take advantage of an incredibly helpful and powerful means of illustration. Here are five reasons why incorporating hymn texts in your preaching can prove beneficial.
  • Hymn texts, and especially familiar hymn texts, often have deep emotional roots in the hearts of believers, which makes them particularly effective (and memorable) for vividly illustrating a biblical truth. 
  • Hymn texts are poetic in nature, and poetry can have a strong oratorical effect.
  • Hymn texts, in and of themselves, teach us something theologically (sometimes good, sometimes bad). So, why not utilize the good ones to help teach our hearers the truth that they are singing, and how the truth in that song is based on the truth of God's Word? This helps connect the biblical and theological dots for them - both in the biblical text and in the hymn that they may have sung hundreds of times before but never really thought about until you pointed it out to them. 
  • Hymn texts that are used well in a sermon illustration will be sung with much more understanding and appreciation the next time around. In other words, using that hymn text as an illustration makes that hymn even more meaningful for your hearers, which means you are helping strengthen and reinforce the importance of congregational singing (as well as the importance of singing good theology). 
  • Hymn texts that are quoted in a sermon, when those hymns either have been sung or will be sung in the same worship service, unifies the worship experience and teaches the congregation something about the holistic nature of public worship.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Signs of Life...New Life

The article below, my reflections on spring and the resurrection, originally appeared as a guest column in the recent issue of the Baptist & Reflector. I appreciate them publishing it.

Although the first day of spring has officially arrived, it seems as if winter wants to keep its grip on us. Temperatures have remained unseasonably cold, and we even set a record low in Jackson last week. However, there are signs that spring really has arrived. The days are getting longer, trees are sprouting leaves, and flowers are beginning to bloom.

But for most of us, it can't come soon enough. We have grown tired of the cold, dreary days. For the last few months, when we looked outside our windows, all we saw were evidences of death. But thankfully, we are now beginning to see signs of life everywhere - even in the changing color palette of the seasons. The morbid grays and browns of winter are giving way to the vivid greens and reds and yellows of spring. And even though it happens every year, it never seems to get old. We can rejoice in the fact that the cold death of winter has been overcome by the new life of spring.

It's as if creation itself is acting out a cosmic parable of resurrection power, teaching us the promise of new life. No wonder Martin Luther once said, "Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring time." The created order gives us a yearly reminder of new life; it provides us with a visual illustration of our Lord's victory over death. Or, to put it in poetic form:
The fallen leaves
from autumn trees
descend to their earthly tomb;
yet limbs which shed
their leaves all dead
trust new life again will bloom.

'Cause little mounds
of lifeless browns
are only half the story;
for, lively green
will soon be seen
with spring all its glory.

'Tis all a sign
of truth divine,
revealed for our reflection;
as one life ends,
a new begins -
yes, death brings resurrection.
So as we make our way toward Good Friday and the agony of Calvary, let us be mindful that Easter Sunday is coming too. As we approach the cross, let us do so with the hope of the empty tomb. Let us do so with the hope of the resurrection. And let us do so with eyes open wide to the world around us, seeing signs of new life, which point ultimately to the One who said, "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).   

Monday, March 31, 2014

An Opening Day Poem

A poem in honor of the Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.  

John Updike, 1932-2009

It looks easy from a distance,
easy and lazy, even,
until you stand up to the plate
and see the fastball sailing inside,
an inch from your chin,
or circle in the outfield
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.

The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops
between your feet and overeager glove:
football can be learned,
and basketball finessed, but
there is no hiding from baseball
the fact that some are chosen
and some are not - those whose mitts
feel too left-handed,
who are scared at third base
of the pulled line drive,
and at first base are scared
of the shortstop's wild throw
that stretches you out like a gutted deer.

There is nowhere to hide when the ball's
spotlight swivels your way,
and the chatter around you falls still,
and the mothers on the sidelines,
your own among them, hold their breaths,
and you whiff on a terrible pitch
or in the infield achieve
something with the ball so
ridiculous you blush for years.
It's easy to do. Baseball was
invented in America, where beneath
the good cheer and sly jazz the chance
of failure is everybody's right,
beginning with baseball.

--Taken from Endpoint and Other Poems, John Updike

Friday, March 21, 2014

Learning from the Birds

Overheard in an Orchard
Elizabeth Cheney

Said the robin to the sparrow,
"I would really like to know
why those anxious human beings
rush around and worry so."

Said the sparrow to the robin,
"Friend, I think that it must be
that they have no Heavenly Father
such as cares for you and me."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Timothy George to Give Scholar-in-Residence Lectures at Union University on "Christian Witness in Nazi Germany"

Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School, will be speaking about the Christian witness in Nazi Germany at the Scholar-in-Residence Lecture Series at Union University March 20-27.

The dates, times, and lecture topics are as follows:
"The Road to Barmen" - March 20, 7:00PM

"Doing Theology as Though Nothing Has Happened: The Witness of Barth and Bonhoeffer," March 22, 3:00PM

"No One Left for Me: The Lonely Courage of Martin Niemoller," March 25, 7:00PM

"Giving Thanks in Hitler's Reich: Paul Schneider as Pastor and Martyr," March 27, 7:00PM
The lectures will be held in the Carl Grant Events Center and are free and open to the public.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Congregational Singing Starts with the Pastor

My article in the current issue of the Baptist & Reflector is an "amen" to the recent post by Keith Getty on improving congregational singing and a plea to fellow pastors to recognize our responsibility to lead in this area.

You can read the article in the virtual version of the B&R here.

Friday, February 28, 2014

His Blood Shall Over All Prevail

I love the last two lines of this stanza by Toplady:

The Sinner's Rest
Augustus Toplady, 1740-1778

Oh, that I now the voice might hear,
That speaks my sins forgiv'n;
His Word is past to give me here
The inward pledge of heav'n.
His blood shall over all prevail,
And sanctify the unclean;
The grace that saves from future hell,
Shall save from present sin.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What Baseball Can Teach Us About Christian Living

As Spring Training is now under way and Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season draws ever closer, I found this article by David Prince on What Baseball Can Teach Us About Christian Living to be an enjoyable read.
Baseball requires a kind of moral courage that keeps persisting in the face of inevitable repeated personal failures. - See more at:

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Bleeding Christ Is All They Plead

The God of Grace Delights to Hear
W.W. Horne

The God of grace delights to hear
The plaintive cry, the humble prayer;
Nor shall the weakest saint complain
That he has sought the Lord in vain.

With power to Jacob's seed He speaks;
His Word the heart asunder breaks;
While grace the rage of sin controls,
And deep repentance melts their souls.

"Seek ye my face," Jehovah cries;
With joy the contrite heart replies,
"Thy face I seek; with power descend,
From every foe my soul defend!"

A bleeding Christ is all they plead,
And all that guilty sinners need;
In whose dear name their fervent cries
Before the Lord like incense rise.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Keith Getty on Improving Congregational Singing

By now, I'm sure many of you have already seen the helpful reminders from Keith Getty on improving congregational singing, but if you haven't, I encourage you to read what he has to say in this piece on The Gospel Coalition worship blog:

Five Ways to Improve Congregational Singing

Monday, February 10, 2014

"That's My King!" - S.M. Lockridge

Yesterday morning, while preaching on the Kingship of Jesus Christ, I quoted a brief excerpt from the now famous sermon on the same theme by S.M. Lockridge. If you're familiar with this sermon, then you know that just quoting it (especially by a white man like me) doesn't do it justice. You need to hear it from Lockridge himself to get the full effect. So, I thought I'd post it here for those of you who may have never heard it before (I'm using the video just so you can see his actual words as you listen). And believe me, it's well worth the six minutes it takes to hear this!


Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Voice of Silence

Silence Has a Voice
Justin Wainscott

Silence has a voice.
Sometimes it whispers;
sometimes it roars.
It can sound like snow,
or it can sound like thunder.
But make no mistake,
it speaks - speaks
to those who have
the ears to hear.
Shhh! Can you hear it?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Paul Clark on "Media and Worship - Careful Consideration"

My friend, Paul Clark, has a great article on his blog regarding media and worship that is worth reading. Here's just a snippet:
Lest you think I am just a non-comformist, old fashioned stick-in-the-mud who refuses to keep up, I am, after all, writing this on a blog, ok?  Twenty years ago none of us had ever heard of the term, “blog.”  Give me a little credit here.  This is not some kind of a “burn your cellphone” rant.  Rather, my appeal to the church is for us to think about the implications, ramifications, and long-term impact upon our culture of these “advances” and more particularly, I would call for serious consideration of how embracing their use affects our worship, and how it might impact the spiritual lives of the worshipers.  Certainly, very careful evaluation as to how technology effects worship when it is used in the gathered worship event itself must be a concern for church leadership.  The field of media ecology has evolved into a field of study of which more Christian leaders, and particularly worship ministry leaders, must take note. 


I am not necessarily advocating an abandonment of technological devices in our gathered worship.  Like anyone I could provide a significant list of ways technology can and does contribute to the worship environment.  What I am positing is a need for prayerful, careful consideration of any and all technologically induced and produced materials in worship.
To read the entire article, click here.

And for those of you in and around Jackson, Tennessee, you might be interested in joining us at First Baptist Church the next few Sunday nights as we consider how we should think about and use technology in appropriate ways as followers of Jesus Christ (including in worship).  We will be led by Dr. Ben Mitchell and Dr. Justin Barnard, and the topics for each night are listed below.

Following Christ in the Age of Twitter (with Ben Mitchell and Justin Barnard)
First Baptist Church | Jackson, TN
Sunday Nights at 5:00 PM

2/9    "Saved, Saved, Saved: Technology's Promise and Problems" - C. Ben Mitchell

2/16  "Gadgets @ Hearth & Home: Technology and Family Life" - Justin D. Barnard

2/23  "Help! I’m LinkedIn and My iPad is Driving Me Google" - C. Ben Mitchell

3/2    "PowerPoint Praise? Technology and Church Life" - Justin D. Barnard