Grace For Bad Preaching

I found this story from one of the news articles about the move of God at Asbury encouraging:

It all started on Wednesday, February 8, when Zach Meerkreebs, a volunteer soccer coach who had addressed the student body only twice before, gave an improvised sermon about love.

“Some of you guys have experienced radically poor love,” Meerkreebs, a tattooed 32-year-old with a penchant for kombucha, told the crowd. “Some of you guys have experienced that love in the church. Maybe it’s not violent, maybe it’s not molestation, it’s not taken advantage of—but it feels like someone has pulled a fast one on you.”

Then he uttered the invitation that ignited a movement: “If you need to hear the voice of God—the Father in Heaven who will never love you that way, that is perfect in love, gentle and kind—you come up here and experience his love. Don’t waste this opportunity.”

In a final, kind of corny throwaway line, he said: “I pray that this sits on you guys like an itchy sweater, and you gotta itch, you gotta take care of it.”

Meerkreebs told me he was certain that he had “totally whiffed” the sermon, and immediately got off stage and texted his wife, “Latest stinker. I’ll be home soon.”

Why Students in Kentucky Have Been Praying for 250 Hours (The Free Press)

I don’t know whether his preaching was actually bad that day or not — I haven’t seen the video. But I know he thought it went badly.

And here’s the encouraging thing for preachers: the move of God is not contingent on our rhetorical skills. Do your best to bless God’s people, but don’t despair if you “totally whiff” and lay your “latest stinker.” An amazing outpouring might follow!

Why? Because grace is as fundamental a principle as you can find in Christianity. It is well-known that God offers forgiveness to sinners, freedom for captives, and joy in place of mourning. Moreover, His power is made perfect in our weakness! Why should we be surprised when God pours out His Spirit generously in response to mediocre preaching?

Happy Thanksgiving!

At Thanksgiving I often think of Corrie Ten Boom and her fleas. 

If you don’t know the reference, Corrie and her sister Betsie were Christians who were thrown into a Nazi concentration camp and placed in a barracks infested with fleas. Straightaway Betsie said that the only way to respond to such a place was with Scripture and reminded Corrie of the Bible passage they had read that morning from 1st Thessalonians 5, especially verses 16–18.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thess 5:16–18

So Betsie led Corrie in prayer, giving thanks that at least they were together, that they had a Bible with them, and then Betsie began to give thanks for the fleas which had bitten their legs. Corrie thought that was silly and said, “Betsie, there’s no way even God could make me grateful for a flea.” But Betsie insisted.

Later they learned that the fleas which afflicted them also protected them. The guards wouldn’t enter the barracks because they didn’t want to get fleas. Corrie realized that Betsie had been right to be thankful for the fleas — the fleas prevented assaults by the guards and the fleas also gave them a measure of privacy allowing them to lead a Bible study in a concentration camp.

This story and many others are told in Corrie Ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place and I highly recommend it to you (the story of the fleas unfolds from pages 218–231 in the edition I consulted to get Corrie’s quote right).

Even in challenging situations there are occasions for gratitude. I don’t know all you’re going through right now (I barely know all I’m going through right now!) , but I’m sure there’s at least one part of your life that you wish was different than it is. Whatever the hardship, I pray it passes quickly. I also pray that while it lasts God opens your heart to experience genuine gratitude in the midst of it. 

May you have a delightful Thanksgiving — and remember the fleas!

Praying With Scripture

(the following is adapted from an email I sent to our students and to our prayer team recently):

I encourage you to make it your goal to grow spiritually as we celebrate the birth of Christ. Come back to school more on fire than when you left!

Here are some resources to help you grow in your prayer life by rooting your prayers in God’s Word. Tim Kerr explains the power of this very well in his book Take Words With You (available online as a free PDF).

There are two words that are very powerful when used in prayer. These words are simply, “you said”. In Genesis 31:2, God makes a promise to Jacob. Involved in that promise is one of the most faith-giving promises in Scripture—“I will be with you”. A promise that means God will do us good and pour out his favour upon us! Then later, when in deep crises, Jacob cries out to God in prayer and reminds God of his promise to him. Listen to what he says:

But you said,‘I will surely do you good’… and Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me,‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good.’ Gen 32:12, 32:9

The fuel of an intercessor is the promises of God.

The fuel of an intercessor is the promises of God. Wow. Isn’t that inspiring? Here are three articles that have helped me root my prayers in the Word.

I hope these articles (and Kerr’s book) are as much of a blessing to you as they were to me.

Race and Grace in a Broken World

UPDATE 12/4/2014: Last night was our first Chi Alpha gathering since the Ferguson non-indictment — the same day as the NYC non-indictment. As a prelude to the sermon, I gave a more comprehensive take on race and the gospel. If you’re interested, check out the first few minutes of

I emailed this to the students in my ministry earlier today and they seemed to find it helpful. I share it in the hope that it will also prove useful to you.

I know many of us are reflecting on racism and justice this week. As a follower of Jesus, I encourage you to remember that the journey Christians are on is a journey alongside “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.”

Why should we remember that fact? Because it reminds us that racial unity is one of the outcomes of the gospel. Christ brings people together by drawing them to Himself.

So I urge you to think in a Christian way about these issues. Here are some resources to stimulate you.


If you are wondering where the church has been in the midst of all of this, the answer is front and center. I mention this because it is frequently overlooked:

Thabiti Anyabwile has some useful things to say in this eight minute video. He is speaking before the grand jury’s decision was revealed. If you want to read more of him, he blogs at

White Christians in particular will find Ed Stetzer’s thoughts helpful —


If you have more time this Thanksgiving break and want to go beyond reading an article or two, pick one of these books and dive in:

  • Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian (John Piper) [like many (all?) of Piper’s books it is free on his website as a PDF — )
  • From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (J. Daniel Hays)
  • Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Emerson and Smith) [this book is quite critical of the church — it is painful but helpful reading]

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving, and may the Lord continue to heal this broken world.


March 17 Means More Than Green Beer

St. PatrickThe man we call St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain around 385 as Maewyn Succat. Two of his original letters survive: his Confessio and his Epistola ad Coroticum, the latter being notable for making him, in Thomas Cahill’s words “the first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against slavery” (How The Irish Saved Civilization, page 114).

At 16 he was captured in a slave raid and taken to Ireland where he was sold to a Druid chieftain. For the next six years Patrick labored as a shepherd.

Although Patrick was raised in a Christian family, he had not truly believed in Jesus. His slavery gave him time to reflect on life, and as he explained, “the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son” (Confessio 2).

Patrick’s devotion to Christ intensified, “More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number; besides I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, in rain, and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time. And it was there of course that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me: ‘You do well to fast: soon you will depart for your home country.’ And again, a very short time later, there was a voice prophesying: ‘Behold, your ship is ready.’” (Confessio 16–17).

After receiving this vision, Patrick fled 200 miles to the coast and found a ship preparing for a sea voyage. He journeyed back to his homeland, experiencing miraculous guidance and provision along the way.

After living at home for a few years Patrick had another vision, “I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as it from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: ‘The Voice of the Irish’, and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.’ And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke.” (Confessio 23)

So Patrick obediently returned to Ireland. As before, he was a slave. But this time he was a slave of Christ. His mission to Ireland brought fierce opposition from the Irish Druids. He faced them with great faith: “Daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises. But I fear nothing, because of the promises of Heaven; for I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God, who reigns everywhere.” (Confessio 55)

Eventually, tradition tells us, Patrick found himself debating the Druid leaders before an Irish king. The debate was rancorous, and at one point the Druids began attacking the doctrine of the Trinity. Patrick plucked a three-leaved clover and asked them whether it was one or three. The Druids had no answer, and this debate was pivotal in persuading the king to convert to Christianity.

By the end of his life, Patrick had planted over 700 churches and trained around 1,000 ministers. One third of the tribes of Ireland became Christian through his ministry. He thus ranks as one of the greatest missionaries in history, and became known as the one who “found Ireland all heathen and left it all Christian.”

If you want to learn more, you should read his Confessio – it’s only 62 verses long and is available many places online (at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, at Robot Wisdom, and at the Catholic Information Network, to pick three).

And so remember – St. Patrick’s Day is about far more than green beer and pinching people. It’s about honoring one of the most effective ministers of all time.

What Does The Bible Require of a Church?

Agios NikolaosAn alumna of my ministry recently sent me an email asking what the Biblical requirements of a church were. I thought about it for a bit, and this is what I came up with. I’m sure the list of requirements that I have below is incomplete, and I welcome suggestions for improvement.

But if you, like my former student, are looking for a church home then meditate on these points.

Here’s the email I sent her.

What does the Bible require of a church? Probably not the things you expect. The Bible doesn’t require that a church meets on Sunday morning (although it does set that as the pattern: Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2), nor does it require that a sermon be the centerpiece of the meeting (although that is certainly one way of fulfilling the criteria of Biblical teaching below).

The most important thing that God requires of a church is that it be built upon the confession of Jesus as God’s Son and Christ (Matthew 16:16–18; 1 Cor 3:10–11). What this means practically is that Christ is the center of the church and is the focus of its activities.

The church should be engaged in persuading unbelievers to become disciples of Jesus (Matthew 28:18–20; 2 Timothy 2:2; 2 Timothy 4:5), which the Great Commission defines as baptizing them and teaching them to obey Christ. Disciplemaking also includes taking sin seriously and disciplining impenitent believers (Matthew 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 1 Timothy 5:19–20; Titus 3:9–11).

The church should meet regularly and the meetings should be encouraging (Hebrews 10:24–25). The encouragement should not come just from the ministry leaders – the community as a whole should be one that strengthens you. Here is a representative list of passages describing how those in the church ought to treat one another.

  • Greet one another 2 Corinthians 13:12
  • Show hospitality to one another 1 Peter 4:9
  • Honor one another Romans 12:10
  • Live in harmony with one another Romans 12:16
  • Serve one another Galatians 5:13–14
  • Comfort one another 2 Corinthians 1:3–4
  • Encourage one another Hebrews 3:12–13
  • Teach and admonish one another Colossians 3:16
  • Be forbearing with one another Ephesians 4:1–3
  • Forgive one another Colossians 3:13
  • Confess sin to one another James 5:16
  • Bear one another’s burdens Galatians 6:2
  • Love one another 1st John 4:7–21
  • Search for the phrase “one another” to find more.

There should be singing motivated by gratitude to God (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19–20). Gratitude for who God is and what God has done (both on the cross and in our lives) is what I believe is in mind here. As part of its worship, churches should also celebrate communion on a regular basis (1 Corinthians 11:17–34).

The church should also be a community devoted to prayer (1 Timothy 2:8; Ephesians 6:18). We must remember that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to pray together (it is, after all, “our” Father not “my” father – Matthew 6:9). These sorts of prayers ought to be emphasized:

  • The elements of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13, Luke 11:1–4) should always be central: for God to be glorified, for His will to be done, for provision, for forgiveness, and for holiness.
  • For effective evangelism (Colossians 4:2–4, Ephesians 6:19–20). Note the emphasis of the prayer: it is not for the lost to be saved so much as for us to be bold and wise witnesses.
  • For government leaders to not interfere with our faith, especially not our ability to evangelize (1 Timothy 2:1–2).
  • For the needs of the church (Ephesians 6:18). The prayers of the apostles serve as excellent examples of the sorts of prayers one could offer on behalf of the church (Rom 15:5–6, 13; Eph 1:17–19; Eph 3:16–19; Phi 1:9–11; Col 1:9–12; 1st Thess 3:12–13; 1st Thess 5:23–24; 2nd Thess 1:11–12; 2nd Thess 3:1–5).
  • The elders of the church are specifically instructed to make themselves available to pray for the sick (James 5:14–16).

All the spiritual gifts should be welcomed (1 Corinthians 14:26; 1st Corinthians 14:39, 1 Thessalonians 5:19–20), although they should be deployed in such a way as to attract and not repel unbelievers (1st Corinthians 14:24–25). Their effect on the church should not be chaotic (1st Corinthians 14:40).

A church should be led by Biblically qualified leaders:

  • Who teach Biblical truth (2 Timothy 1:13–14; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Timothy 4:13; Titus 1:9)
  • Who exercise appropriate authority (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Tim 4:11–12; 2nd Timothy 2:22–25; Titus 2:15)
  • Who are above reproach in both character and relationships (1 Tim 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9)

The church ought to care for the poor, especially poor believers. (2nd Corinthians 8–9; James 1:27; 1st Timothy 5:16; Gal 2:9–10; Gal 6:10; Acts 6:1–4). And the poor should be welcomed into the life of the community (James 2:1–7).

The church ought to also pay ministers – both those who teach and lead within the church itself (1st Timothy 5:17–18; 1st Corinthians 9:3–14; Galatians 6:6) and those who are sent out as missionaries (3 John 5–8; Romans 16:1–2; Philippians 4:10–20)

In order to facilitate these latter two points the church should be receiving offerings (Acts 4:32–37; 1st Corinthians 16:1–2), although it does not appear that they must be received in any particular way.

There are probably other things churches should be doing as well, but these seem to me to be essential. No church will be perfect, of course. Give them the same grace that you give to fellow believers, but avoid churches that are not at least attempting to fulfill these mandates.

[January 23, 2010 update: after some feedback on my Facebook notes page, I decided to add the paragraph about prayer. I also made a few small changes.]

Read the Bible in a Year

I shared this with my students last night and thought others might be interested as well. There are a lot of tools available to make reading the whole Bible very simple.

  • – has the widest variety of plans and will email you the readings for the plan you choose every day. If you only go to one site, go to this one.
  • One Year Bible Online has a facebook app and also has a blog that will give you commentary on every day’s readings (this is a very handy feature).
  • Bible Gateway is the standard site for Bible stuff for most Christians I know. They have a variety of reading plans

    , but a unique feature of their site is that they will start the Bible in 90 days on June 1st. That’s almost the exact length of summer break for most college students — and we had about a dozen students in our ministry do it last summer. If you’re looking for a way to make your summer fruitful, this might be the challenge you need.

  • – is, in my estimation, the best site for reading lengthy passages. They also have Bible reading plans on their site (registration required).

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If you don’t like sorting through a ton of options, just go sign up to get daily emails from the M’Cheyne plan in either the NIV or the NLT.

Hope these help you! awaken hgh

Selecting Good Workers

I just watched an excellent lecture by Malcolm Gladwell on the challenges of hiring wisely

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Very stimulating.

The same thing happens in ministry at both the clergy and the lay level. We over-value articulate extraverts and are dismissive of those who don’t fit the mold.

But I know several outstanding ministers who break every mold you can imagine. Everyone who knows lots of ministers does. And yet somehow we don’t internalize this real-world feedback. Like Samuel and David’s relatives, we measure the wrong things.

Anyway, all that to say that Gladwell’s talk is helpful at illustrating the extent to which we hire foolishly in our culture.

P.S. Extrovert vs Extravert. Either spelling is acceptable. I used “extravert” because I’ve noticed that’s the spelling most psychologists seem to use.

Praying The Psalms

One of my habits is to listen to something stimulating while I’m exercising or on a long drive — and this morning I hit a hybrid between a lecture and a sermon which is absolutely fabulous.

It’s about praying the Psalms, and I found it extremely insightful. If you’ve ever wondered why so many of the Psalms are downers, or how we can pray some of the more vengeful Psalms as Christians you need to listen to this. Gordon Wenham

talks about much more than just that, but the listening is worth it just for those nuggets.

And if you desire to create worship songs yourself, this is a must. The Psalms have always been the food of worship writers, and anything that helps you understand them better will help you compose better songs yourself.

Just download it and burn it to a CD so you can listen to it while driving or throw it in your iPod for when you’re jogging or whatever.

If you decide you want to begin praying the Psalms, you can either pray one a day (which will take you through the Psalter about twice a year) or you can pray 5 a day (which will take you through the Psalter in a month). A slightly different plan that takes into account the length of the Psalms (so that 119 stands alone, for example) is at

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Sacrifice a Song

We’re now offering brief meditations on the Bible that you can download to your portable MP3 player. Our challenge is simple–sacrifice a song. Take the time you would spend listening to one song and turn that snippet of time into a prayer oasis in the midst of your day.

Right now we’re thinking about the prayers that the apostles prayed and how they can serve as examples for us. Our hope is to make it easy for you to include prayer in your daily schedule.

You can listen to a sample (now fixed)

We’re using a technology called podcasting, which is just a fancy way of delivering MP3 files to your iPod (or other Mp3 player) over the internet.

If you use iTunes, just click on ‘Advanced’ and then ‘Subscribe to Podcast.’ Enter into the box that pops up. That’s it–you’re done!

If you don’t use iTunes but like to listen to MP3s, download the free iPodder, instead.

Check out our podXAst archives!