What Makes Church Boring?

I recently ran across a quote from a book I read some years ago, and which I think remains immensely relevant. I wanted to share the quote, and a short meditation on it here. Often, churches get accused of being boring because of musical style, programs (or lack thereof), or the production value. But that’s not what makes churches boring. Listen to the following quote from Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (p. 102):

Church isn’t boring because we’re not showing enough film clips, or because we play an organ instead of a guitar. It’s boring because we neuter it of its importance. Too often we treat our spiritual lives like the round of golf [where we just talk about what we think about God]… At the end of my life, I want my friends and family to remember me as someone who battled for the gospel, who tried to mortify sin in my life, who fought hard for life, and who contended earnestly for the faith. Not just as a nice guy who occasionally noticed the splendor of the mountains God created, while otherwise trying to enjoy myself, manage my schedule, and work on my short game.

In other words, church isn’t boring because of style. Church becomes boring when we make the gospel secondary, make our entertainment primary, and stop bearing one another’s burdens to fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).

I can think of countless churches with organs, hymns, and liturgy that are very much alive because they take God and his Word seriously. I can think of churches that resemble rock concerts that are nearly dead, because they’ve become all about entertainment and hardly at all about keeping God central to all their hustle and bustle of ‘doing church’. There is no ‘style’ that keeps churches alive. Only the Spirit, working in the substance of the Word, to transform men and women into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:17-18).

Hilarious Christmas Pageant Moments

Thanks to COVID-19, the worst party crasher of all time, we don’t have many Christmas musicals or Christmas pageants. To help folks get by, I wanted to share some hilarious Christmas Pageant moments to help us get through 2020 until—hopefully!—we can get them back next Christmas. Until then, may these bring you just a little extra Christmas cheer.

1. A sheep kidnaps baby Jesus.
You can’t just dress like a sheep. You have to be the sheep. Otherwise, you may wish you were Mary instead and decide to steal baby Jesus out of the manger. Credit to Mary for protecting her kid.

2. Not such a silent night, after all.
The Bible does say to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. This child took it to heart. My favorite part is knowing the parent’s faces are turning blood red while their siblings laugh about 10 pews away.

3. Grandma got run over by a….camel!
A friend of mine insists on one rule for all church events: no live animals! You can see why here. What starts as a journey to Bethlehem ends with a matron of the church being squashed by a camel! Even better, this happened at Jimmy Scroggins’s church.

4. “Someone please turn Jesus back around!”
In 2011, a small church in Florida decided to put on Handel’s “Messiah”, to show Christ to the community. They showed more than they intended.

5. “Where are my background singers?”
Pattie LaBell doesn’t have a lot of bad moments, but this one is one for the ages. Technically not a church Christmas event, but I had to include it.

Honorable Mentions:

Christmas According to Kids

The Worst ‘O Holy Night’ Ever.

Finally, in case you haven’t had the pleasure this Christmas season, here’s “The Christmas Shoes.”

Attending to God in an Age of Distraction

If you don’t feel distracted by the entertainment, information glut, and noise of the world today, I think I speak for everyone when I say: are you an alien?

Jokes aside, it’s nearly impossible to focus these days. More than that, it’s nearly impossible to focus on the things that matter most. It’s especially difficult to focus on God and his word.

John Starke pointed out these lectures on that very issue on twitter from two thinkers who I greatly admire: James K.A. Smith and Alan Jacobs.

Smith has made his reputation in popular theology with his writing on how habit (which he calls “liturgy”) shapes and forms the heart (and our loves). In short, to borrow the title from his most famous book, “you are what you love.” Alan Jacobs is an excellent writer and one of the most reflective and intentional thinkers of our day. His recent book “Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind” is an incredible gift to the church.

I hope you find these lectures interesting and a blessing in your life. Here’s the description from the event where the lectures were given:

For this summertime retreat we’ll dig into how our technological environment—what Nicholas Carr has called our “glass cage”—has qualitatively changed our capacity for attention. Especially since the habits of attention, contemplation, and introspection are so crucial to the Christian life, and in many ways one of the great gifts of Christianity to the West.

What does a “liturgical audit” of our technological habits reveal? What spiritual insights emerge from an analysis of distraction? We’ll take up all of this (and more) in the blissfully cellphone free environs of the Frio River Canyon.

New Article at Credo Magazine

I have a new article that has just been published in the December 2020 issue of Credo Magazine. This issue is devoted to the doctrine of eternal generation. Eternal Generation has become the subject of my own doctoral research in theology. My article is The Bulwark of Trinitarian Theology: Eternal Generaton: What it is and what it is not. In the article I try to map the foundations of the doctrine and help readers get a foothold on how to think about it as part of doing theology. Here’s an excerpt from my conclusion:

Eternal generation is the bulwark of trinitarian theology. It will not often be mentioned in the average sermon. The phrase itself would likely be met with confused look from people in the pew. It is critical, however, for pastors and theologians as they consider who God is. As a bulwark, it keeps heresy at bay. It protects the essential nature of God, providing terminology to help Christians understand what it means to worship one God in three persons, particularly how the Son is not less than the Father, but is one with him: one in power, glory, majesty, will, and essence. By this Trinitarian grammar, Christians are helped to know God as he knows himself and sing, pray to, and confess him as “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

Some Good Study Music

I do a lot of studying these days, and almost almost with AirPods in and music on. If you’re like me, finding good study music is like finding solid gold. I wanted to just recommend a few good albums for study, and maybe they’ll help you as well. None of them have lyrics, or the lyrics are very minimal. The only exception tho that rule is the last album from Josh Garrels. It does have lyrics, but is so pure and calming that I return to it again and again.

I’m just embedding the albums below. Right now, I’m doing this to procrastinate studying. So, I’m going to return to studying. You dig into this great white noise. I hope it helps you study, or whatever else you do.

One last thing: what’s your favorite study music? Leave your favorites in the comments.

A Theology of Looking Over Your Shoulder

Have you ever been in a season of looking over your shoulder? For some, this is a season of pining over the things left behind or the things we wish were not drifting away. For others, it’s tremendous regret at things past. On occasion, it is the impulse of shame and guilt of what came before. It is the inability to look ahead because of the attachment to where you have come from.

The Bible is full of these moments. Lot’s wife is unnamed in Genesis. She is known only for her looking back, pining over a worldly city she was attached to as God destroyed it. This look was her last, and God cursed her for it as he said he would. The Israelites looked back at Pharaoh as he pursued them at the beginning of the Exodus and were filled with fear. Later, they would love back on their enslavement with the angst that only bitter nostalgia can produce: “We sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full (Exod. 16:3)!” Peter denies the Lord for the third time and hears the rooster crow. He looks back—Matthew 26:75 says he “remembered”—and he wept bitterly.

In Christian circles, looking back can often be met with scorn! The faithful don’t look back! We keep our eyes on the Heaven ahead! There’s something to that. Hebrews 11:10 tells us that Abraham looked forward to the city that had foundations, designed and built by God.

Not every look over the shoulder is like Lot’s wife. As Christians, we need to develop a theology of looking over our shoulder. We need to learn to see who was at work when all of our own works failed us.

We need to develop a theology of looking over our shoulder. We need to learn to see who was at work when all of our own works failed us.

What Jacob Saw

Genesis 46 is the one where your eyes glaze over. In the middle of one of the grandest narratives in Scripture—God’s salvation of Israel through the faithful suffering of Joseph—we stumble upon a genealogy. Nothing causes Bible readers to skip ahead like a genealogy. But if you skip this one, you’re going to miss something important.

The passage walks through all of Jacob’s descendants: 70 in all, plus his son’s wives. Like a good baseball game, the stats tell the story: Four women who bore him children. Two wives. Eleven children. Ten sons.

Not learning from Abraham’s mistake, Jacob has taken multiple wives. More than that, he has also had children by their female children. Jacob’s life is one of struggle with God. We do not have the space in this post to retell his story, full of failures, unfaithfulness, and grief. Now Jacob is leaving his home to take his people to another nation for salvation from a famine.

When Jacob looks over his shoulder, what does he see? The children born from his lust, his lack of self-control, and his lack of wisdom. Two of his sons are killers. All of them, with one exception, contributing to the “death” of Joseph. His past is full of blood, deception, and sin.

It would be easy to stop there—easy to stop in this moment where Jacob is fleeing to Egypt in desperation, hoping this man whom his sons met will save them. It would be easy to see Jacob looking over his shoulder and only seeing failure. But there’s more to the story.

When Jacob looks over his shoulder, what does he see? He sees 70 offspring. God’s promise to Abraham so many years before was to give him a land, to multiply his offspring, and to bless him. He told Abraham he would make his descendants like the sand on the shore.

When Jacob looks over his shoulder, it is difficult to miss his own unfaithfulness. At the same time, when Jacob looks over his shoulder, he cannot miss God’s faithfulness.

In the midst of Jacob’s failures, the starvation of his family, and the uncertainty ahead in Egypt, God inserts a genealogy to remind the readers that God is fulfilling his promises, just as he said he would.

What Do You See?

I find myself in a season of introspection. I’ve been doing a lot of looking over my shoulder. What mistakes have I made? Where could I have taken a different turn? What if _________ hadn’t happened? What if I had handled this or that differently? Where have I done well? What do I need to remember next time?

It is easy, in a season of looking back, to look at the past like a mirror. Mirror, mirror on the wall, have I really blown it all?

This is not how Christians are called to look back. In the middle of famines, God builds families. In the middle of pain, he keeps his promises. In the middle of tragedies: a genealogy.

For believers, a look over the shoulder is as far away as we can possibly look from our own navel. Robert Murray McCheyne says it best: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”

Yes, our look over the shoulder will come with reminders of our sins, our failures, and our faults. Christians don’t do evasive autobiography. We are sinners. But Christians also life their eyes. Christians don’t find the good news within. Jesus Christ came to the world to save sinners.

Our look over the shoulder means seeing God’s faithfulness. It does not mean the alleviation of pain or grief or necessarily even regret.

Those who put their faith in Christ can look over their shoulder and see the most true thing: God kept his promises.

A Warning on the Enticement to and Deadly Danger of Sarcasm

(HT: Steve Weaver)

My attention was directed to this old panel discussion (from the 2000 Ligonier National Conference) this weekend by a Facebook Post from Steve Weaver. I thought that Piper’s comments here were insightful and wanted to pass them along. More than insightful, they are incredibly relevant for how sarcastic, razor sharp dialogue has become a primary vehicle of disagreement among a large subset of Evangelicals who write publicly.

What’s the main difference between me and Jesus? I am a sinner.

Does Jesus use sarcasm? Yes.

Am I liable to savor my own cleverness while sinfully tearing down those I disagree with, no matter how wrong they are? Yes.

Piper sums up: “You can’t exalt Christ and commend yourself as clever… there need to be more obvious tears in [our corrections].”

Take give minutes and watch the video for yourself from 24:03 to around 29:25.

Seven Ways To Preach Christ From the Old Testament

It doesn’t take long in a conversation about preaching Christ before someone says “Are you just trying to find Jesus under every rock?” Arguably, the bigger problem in Evangelical preaching is finding no Christ where it turns out Christ was the rock (1 Cor 10:4). Nonetheless, it’s a good question at root: how do we preach Christ in the Old Testament? But there’s a bigger problem at stake.

Too many Christ-centered sermons are boring.

It’s not that Christ-centered preaching is boring inherently. Done well, Christ-centered preaching is some of the most thrilling preaching that any Christian can hear. However, Christ-centered, or gospel-centered, preaching can often be formulaic. No matter the text, it ultimately ends up being about sin and the need to forgive. Every sermon is just the prodigal son with new characters. Or, if you’re onto recent trends, every sermon is about the “truer and better Jesus”, to borrow from Tim Keller. Typology takes over. Preachers plug their text into their typology formula and out pops the same sermon week after week, only with a new text.

There are countless ways to preach Christ that protect us from formulas, fads, and unfaithfulness to the original text.

In his book Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes, Sidney Greidanus begins with a really helpful summary of how to preach Christ in 7 different ways. It’s an excellent volume for preachers. Referencing John 5:39-40, Greidanus writes, “We should not just preach the Old Testament scriptures but link them to Christ so that people can have life.” Greidanus says he became convinced that he church fathers were right: “A Christian sermon must preach Christ” (24).

Below I’ll list his 7 ways to preach Christ from the Old Testament and try to provide a short summary of each. Note: not every passage can be preached in every way, but there is no passage from which a preacher cannot or should not preach Christ.

  1. Redemptive-Historical Progression
    Preach Christ by connecting the Old Testament passage to the plan of redemption: from the Fall, through Israel’s history, to the incarnation and saving work of Christ and then the Second Coming. How does this fit into God’s cosmic work of redemption?
  2. Promise-Fulfillment
    When the Old Testament makes a direct messianic promise, preachers have a clear path to show how Christ fulfills that promise. Some books, like Ecclesiastes, have no messianic promises.
  3. Typology
    Redemptive events, persons or institutions can function as types of a greater Antitype: the person and work of Jesus. Typology points to the intentional pattern or implicit claims of New Testament authors to show how Jesus is foreshadowed. Examples are Joseph redeeming Israel, the way Galatians uses the narrative of Ishmael and Isaac, and the temple.
  4. Analogy
    On occasion, the teaching of the OT will connect to the teaching of Jesus through analogy. For example, Jesus teaches “do not store up treasures for yourself on earth”, where the book of Ecclesiastes shows the vanity of that very thing.
  5. Longitudinal Themes
    The Bible is rich with themes that run from the Old Testament to the New Testament. These are the themes that cover the arch, or metanarrative of scripture. These themes include fearing God, holiness, wisdom, etc. Christ is wisdom (1 Cor.), wisdom is with God at creation (Prov 8), extoled throughout Scripture as the way of salvation.
  6. New Testament References
    Oftentimes, an OT passage plays a significant, explicit role in New Testament teaching. In nearly every case, it is done to show how Christ is the culmination or fulfillment of that text. (A great resource on this is Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.)
  7. Contrast
    Sometimes, Christ seems utterly absent from a passage. Where is Christ when the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “All is vain (Eccl 1:3)?” Where is Christ in the wickedness of the book of judges, as they divide up a concubine and send it around the nation? Where is Christ is the unfaithfulness of Saul? He is there by contrast. In the face of traps, lies, and death, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

I believe that Greidanus provides a really excellent grid for pastors and preachers to use in preaching Christ. He cautions against allegorical interpretation; the irony is that so much of what he does here is precisely what early church authors would have called allegory: typology, analogy, and thematic readings! Nonetheless, preachers are helped to think about texts in this way.

Greidanus says it this way: “It’s not a matter of trying to find Christ under every rock but it’s a matter of connecting the dots… the dots that run from the periphery of the Old Testament to the center of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.”


For more from Greidanus, here’s an interview he did a while back with Eerdmans for his Preaching Christ in Daniel volume.