Lent has begun; the forty day preparation for the Holy Week, culminating in Easter. Although typically regarded as a Roman tradition, lent is making inroads into many protestant churches (see the last couple posts from Greg Wilbur). As I read the lent article at wikipedia, my animosity toward the event is lessening somewhat. To seek to join Christ in His sufferings is indeed biblical (2 Cor. 1:5), as is renewing one's vigor toward spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor.
The internal conflict comes, though, when I hear from real people. At the coffeeshop this morning, several people were discussing what they're "giving up for Lent." "I'm giving up bagels - hope that doesn't hurt your business!" "I'm giving up smoking." And then questions about the details: "Do our children have to fast between meals on Ash Wednesday?" "Why fish and not meat? Isn't fish just underwater meat?"
If, by fasting for forty days from a beloved vice, a person leads himself to believe that he is either approximating or earning the sufferings of Christ on his behalf, he is living blasphemy. Will you, by your giving up television or smoking or meat, come close to what Christ gave up when the second person of the Trinity subjected Himself to separation from His Heavenly Father? Or will you, by eating fish instead of steak, somehow earn more favor from God - "Look at how serious I am now!"? If used wrongly, lent becomes another list to check for us inveterate spiritual list-checkers; we are born legalists and my take on the modern practice of lent is that of another way for us to feel good about ourselves before God - instead of feeling bad enough to cling only to the risen Christ.
Christ's sacrifice and sufferings are meant to be participated in, but never to be copied. If you like the idea of Easter and Lent, fine and good - but realize that the work of Christ is meant to make us put off sin, not bagels. We are led by Christ to put our old selves to death everyday, not just these forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. If we are reminded to fast and pray more, great! If we are reminded of the scandalous sufferings of God the Son on our behalf, wonderful! If we are given to legalism, let us put a knife to our throat. If we in any way defame the work of Christ, let us repent of our own righteousness.
Preaching - Pure and Simple
We had the privilege of hearing Stuart Olyott speak on preaching from the gospels last May at the Banner of Truth conference. It was amazing to see so many men of God awestruck by the simplest stories from the life of Christ. So, when I found his book on preaching, and heard a strong recommendation from a friend, I picked it up.
This is, far and away, the best book I've read on preaching. There are a lot of good books out there, but this little one seems to get the whole package and hit me square between the eyes while it does so. Olyott covers the basics of conviction - what ought preachers to believe about what they're doing. Do I really come to my sermon prep with a sense of wonder that God, the Living God (!), has revealed Himself in a book?? Do I pray as much as I should as I prepare to bring to people the foolishness of the cross? With these questions and many more, I was reminded of what I already believed, but surely don't believe strongly enough, about preaching. What an amazing calling it is to bring the truth of the Risen Christ to His people!
Obviously, this isn't a book designed for everybody, but since some pastors read this sight, I'm happy to give them my strongest recommendation that they buy this book. In fact, if you're a pastor or seminary student, I'll even buy it for you. Just shoot me an email. (By the way, the picture on the book cover is a guy casting a net. Not entirely obviously at first.)