Monday, September 24, 2007


I have thought of writing along these lines in several comment sections of some blogs I've read the past few months but decided it is too long and should be said on my own blog. So I will say it. Whether anyone reads it or not I will have gotten it off my chest.

When I'm personally offended by a comment or post on a blog I write a personal E-mail which I've done on a few, very few occasions. But what I wish to say now is not an offense as much as a deep burden for us all as Christians.

We are to never forget, I would think, that we are going to face in some fashion some day--our words. The "give account for every idle word" is of enough significance that perhaps a guard is needed for us all in our present day more than anytime I can remember. Words are to be used to speak the truth and are always to be spoken in love. That is a given. And-- we have problems that do need to be corrected--we have people who need to be confronted--that is a given also. The Scriptures themselves give us guidance and even illustrations that these things are sometimes needed.

It goes without saying that when correcting a problem the personal views that contradict those of another are necessary and will be spoken--or written--if a blog is used. That's using language properly. It may not be pleasant but it is certainly biblical to do so.

When confronting a person facts are essential and will only be said publicly after a private word has been given if it's a personal offense with which one is dealing. If not, at the very least--keeping it to public things said or done that are on record--is necessary. That too may not be pleasant but is also biblical as Paul and Peter illustrate.

But what I'm concerned about is the use of language/words to asperse one another. To use our words in such a way is a serious matter it would seem to me. A word shows expressive value in what it refers to but can take on deeper meanings if we're not careful. It can show our emotion, judgment, or a predisposition toward putting a person down with ridicule or shame. It is the put down remarks that I believe are clogging the Internet--especially on blogs--and will cause us to reap a whirlwind of coarseness that could spill over into our pulpits and churches and may already be doing so. I may be refering to a tone as much as words--but the end result is we can become Calumniators--which is an oxymoron when used with the word Christian--or even minister.

May God deliver us from this devastating atmosphere and restore us to being people of the Spirit who is Himself confrontive--even corrective-- but always gentle and gracious. Just my thoughts on what I perceive to be a very present danger.

Paul Burleson


"Asperse" is used as a verb and means to slander or defame one's character.
"Calumniator" is used as a noun and refers to the person who makes false and malicious statements.

Monday, September 10, 2007


I'm now reposting this final statement on "The Foolishness of Preaching"

Our modern day concept of sermons comes from the Latin word "sermo" which meant "conversations" and originally indicated a question and answer time. There has been a later metamorphic process resulting in a monologue style. In modern times it is certainly more the monologue, often harranging in style, rather than the conversation of early on.

I suspect that early use of the word would come nearer capturing what happened when believers gathered and worshipped as described in 1 Corinthians 14:26 where they all came together and all participated. [I'm assuming women participated as well since it could be, as Ray Steadman said, "Too many people, especially women, were praising God in tongues and it became overloaded on emotion and the women were told to be silent for a while.".] One man's view of it.

However, I'm not going to fight against what we are doing in our modern churches on Sunday mornings for reasons that will be seen in a moment. I've participated. I still do. What I am going to do is assist us in our modern times in the delivery of our message. This will be done by helping the messenger see what is needed in order to not personally get in the way of communicating that message. Before I do this I do want to offer a couple of slight caveats on the way we__ do church__ on Sunday mornings. [Or any other time when there is a Body assemblage.]

When referring to the Old and New Covenants, Jesus spoke of a need for new wineskins. What was needed was simply to move from one Covenant to the other. New wineskins were definitely needed for that transition. I think it wise for us to be reminded of our need to rethink carefully the way we worship and new wineskins that will help from time to time also.

I read one fellow who said the characteristics of wineskins are important to know. So he listed them. His list included....

They__ [the wineskins]__ are constantly changing shapes and forms.

They age and must eventually be replaced.

They are to be filled...then emptied...then filled...then...[you get the picture]

Their value is ONLY in reference to their content. Wineskins were not valuable alone.

Their shape is changed by the amount of wine they contain and they are seamless.

"As God pours Himself into a gathered Body in new and fresh ways...some changes had better take place and those changes are to reflect better ways of getting our message across." I don't think it can be said better than that.

A second caveat is that the text of the scripture DOES NOT reveal the form that a gathered Body is to take. What is revealed is that all are to be benefited by everyone's spiritual gift when excercised therein. So there is a real need to be careful of saying someone CANNOT minister when the Body gathers. That's a serious restriction. It better be one based on what the text says/means for a person to be told they can't excercise their giftedness in the Body.

Now if we say the restrictions given to the Corinthian Church [1 Corinthians 14] and the Ephesian Church [1 timothy 2] are literal in meaning and are eternal principles for church-life for all time, we better make sure we stay with the whole of the passage. This means everyone is to come with a psalm or speaking in tongues or teaching a doctrine or interpreting tongues. The guys had better raise holy hands and the gals had better not braid their hair or wear gold or pearls, and, at every gathering, the Body had better pray for all the leaders in power. [1Timothy 2:1-2] Wow.

But if we believe those verses are correcting problems in those places and would be good/right/biblical for us to practice were those same or similar problems to ever arise in our congregations, then we really can create new wineskins. No forms are explicitlity commanded for the gathered Body times in this view. You can choose which view you accept. I've chosen my view.

Now to my point. When I speak/preach, as I will be doing at a church in Little Rock this next Sunday, I always pray over my part of the work to be done. That's probably a good thing to do, don't you think? My prayer for myself, has a two-fold emphasis. One is that I, the messenger, will deliver the message I'm preaching, [which I've sometimes preached before as a traveling speaker] with the Holy Spirit making it so fresh to me that it will be as if it's the first time I've ever shared it. I want this for any message at any time__ as do you I'm sure. What isn't fresh and real to me will not speak life/freshness to the listener. But that freshness, I've found, is in direct proportion to how that message is being built into my own life. In other words, the messenger is NEVER off the hook of practicing what is being preached.

The other part of my prayer for myself is that I will be committed to bringing the message as one of hope and not one of judgment and criticism. Even as Jeremiah had to deliver a tough message of rebuke, my prayer is that I, like him, will deliver my message, whatever its' content, weeping the whole time, pointing people to the finished work of Christ on our behalf. [If not literally weeping, at least metaphorically in my heart.] My identification is to be clearly with the people as a hearer from God NOT as the Lord of the message. The people are not stupid. They know if a message is real to the speaker and whether or not that speaker is longing to build it into the fiber of his/her own life or is just delighting in telling others what to do.

People will join you on a journey of life, but if you're not a sojourner with them, the authority of the message is lost. I personally believe this is why the early church was told to not suffer a novice to teach. [And neither should we.] In the heat of a brand new conversion experience, the new believer often thinks, "Sins forgiven, heaven is my home, Jesus is coming__man...this is easy." Later they discover "Jesus is delaying his coming, I'm to pray, study scripture, witness, pay tithes and offerings__boy...this is hard." Later they find out "Jesus said love as you are loved, even love your enemies, do good to those who despitefully use you and forgive as you've been forgiven__ oh my...this is impossible."

Now they have it right and are ready for the message of Christ BEING [not just IS] their salvation, forgiveness, sanctification, righteousness. There is now hope that their life can really change. That Christ is our hope. But that message being real to the messenger doesn't come without failure, trials, pain and struggle and folks, that takes time. See why ultimately the Truth of__" With God__All things are possible"__brings such confidence? [It would need to bring confidence because there is none in oneself, for good reason.]

Finally, after I have delivered any message, I like to ask myself "was I conversational?" [By this I mean did I talk TO people and not AT people.] If that little boy had been there, would he be able to ask a different question at the back door? Better yet, would adults have heard a message from God not having to wade through a personality gone wild?

I think a simple summary would perhaps help us remember any salient thoughts that might be in this rather long post.. These are things I've picked up along the way from others and bottomline what preaching is to me.

#1--The emphasis on real preaching is on the message. He IS the message as revealed in the text. The text carries the authoritative message for us and can be life changing for all__ speaker included.

#2--The messenger does not proclaim his/her own grievances, applications, opinions, or interpretations of private issues where the text is silent but faithfully delivers a message from the text as he/she sees it. It isn't the time to ride my favorite hobby horse application and ways to do something in the Christian life. If I DO talk about a way of doing something__I carefully show__that's just my way and not a divine way.

#3--The messenger confines himself/herself to the message and does not unduly influence the listeners to accept or agree with the message by loudness, anger, emotional appeals, personality dynamics or bullying techniques, but leaves the hearer in the capable hands of the Holy Spirit and the hearer is then free to wrestle with the acceptance or rejection or even understanding of the message as shown from the text. Manley Beasley used to say, "Good preaching raises as many questions as it answers." I think he was correct.

And last but really foremost...

#4--There is only One Lord__and He isn't Paul Burleson. [Or any other messenger.] So I will misunderstand what the text means on occasion. I will not hear Him correctly on occasion. I will present my bias and see through my filters on occasion. But that isn't devastating since He's the perfect Lord, not me. I'm a fallible messenger who is still growing, learning, and ever increasing in my ability to hear from Him and presenting to others what I'm hearing.

Paul Burleson

Monday, September 03, 2007


Many times I've heard the statement that if we don't deliver the gospel message God can raise up stones to do it. That of course is a possibility but two things I would say about it. One is that what Matthew 3:7 is referencing is not about preaching the gospel but birthing children to Abraham which would demand a competely different metaphor than speaking. The other is while God could use stones to cry out a message He has chosen to use people. It is also true that as usual people can/do get in the way of what God is doing. In other words__ for our purposes__ the messenger can get in the way of the message. I'm going to address in this post and others to follow in a practical way that reality.

The first way the messenger can get in the way of the message is by changing the message with a dogmatic declaration of meaning where there may be some ambiguity within the text of scripture itself. The emphasis of real Keirugma [preaching] is on the message as stated in my previous post. Someone in authority has given another [the preacher/speaker] a message to deliver and the speaker does not proclaim his/her own grievances or opinions or viewpoints on private matters as authorative, but must faithfully find and deliver the meaning of the text as he/she sees it. [I'm using both genders here as the women prophesying in the NT were delivering a message from God and__ it seems to me__ it can happen under His assigment today.] This must be done with humility because it is not the messengers prerogative to declare absolute meanings when there may be ambiguity

This is where I came to in 1980 in my own preaching when I determined to not preach anything as absolute except what I personally saw as clearly presented in the text. My message changed beyond anything I could have imagined. I came to grips with the fact that much/most of the things I was saying in the pulpit was coming from what I'd heard others, whom I admired, say was in the text or was generally Baptist held viewpoints because of traditions that were baptistic in reputation but had no real foundation in the text itself.

I also began to see that what Peter said of some of the things Paul the Apostle preached was correct. [This is also true of several matters in the text of scripture.] Some of the things he delivered WERE hard to understand and those that were the most difficult I decided I'd better hold my personal view as to their meaning lightly because the correct meaning was more important than my interpretation.

This is not out of a lack of confidence in the integrity or authority of the text but a true awareness of my own inadequacy to hear God accurately on occasion. Some things are clear. Some things are not that clear. When the text isn't totally clear I won't be dogmatic as to it's meaning. 1Timothy 2:15 and the "she shall be saved in child-bearing" is an example. From my present perspective the whole of that chapter may have been delivered through a glass a little darker than some are willing to admit. But that's another post.

Since the true biblical messenger is to be careful of proclaiming his/her own viewpoint, opinions or grievances, I tread lightly on some passages and some theological positions that others seem to state the meaning of with great personal conviction. More power to them. All I'm saying is the messenger CAN get in the way of the message if we declare as absolute our personal views on some issues where there are good people on both sides of a possible meaning of any given text.

I'm not sure but what God may have left some of His total message a little less clear than say the gospel so we will make clear with conviction that gospel and keep trusting Him for greater understanding of other theological areas. I love what Gene Bridges said... and I quote___"And, with that in mind, I think we can be more confident about our reliance on probabilistic reasoning, for if God has wanted us to have more evidence or better evidence, then it was within his power to do so. Hence we are judging certain questions on the basis of the evidence which he has left at our disposal. Therefore, we shouldn't be plagued by nagging, gnawing doubts about the possibility of being wrong. Even if I were wrong some of the time, it's out of my hands, and I'm in his hands. As a Christian, I don't require a godlike control over the evidence. I can go with what I've got because it's what God has given me to go by." I have to say "amen" to that statement. I can give my understanding of difficult passages but respect others who differ with me trusting the God who gave it in the first place to be able to make clear His message ultimately.

My goodness, no human father I know would give ALL information to his children as soon as they are born. Even Jesus increased in WISDOM, stature, and favor as time went along. The messenger of God's Word is still going along and had better be open to greater light if the true message is to, in fact, be ultimately delivered. But that's just me.

Someone may object and say "but don't you believe the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of giving you the true meaning of any passage including the difficult ones?" My answer is__"absolutely." My only problem would be to assume I'm the one He's given the true meaning to. This especially if there are others who genuinely love Jesus and His Word but are on the other side of my interpretation of a difficult to understand text. It could be that I'm the one in the dark or the one with baggage or filters that hinder my being granted understanding by the Holy Spirit. It sure helps me to know of my need for community. Body life is helpful even to the messenger. You can see why I'm one who believes there ARE some essentials that must be clearly understood and declared by all the Body and other things less clear and less essential to fully understand or it would have been given through a glass not quite so dark. [But that would have ruined our need to search the scriptures diligently and be open to each other wouldn't it.] All this comes from my deep conviction that the messenger can, in fact, hinder the true message which I DO NOT want to do.

I like what Trevor Hart, Professor of systematic theology in at St Mary's School of Divinity in Scotland said with these words..."[W]e should never take the fatal step of identifying our interpretations (however careful they may be) with the text itself, or with “the meaning of the text itself.” To do so is to bestow upon them a finality, a sufficiency, which lifts them above the text and out of reach of criticism. Far from establishing the text’s authority, therefore, this is a strategy which effectively overthrows it, and enthrones our interpretation in its place. . . . [We] are no longer genuinely open, therefore, to consider it afresh, or to hear it speaking in any other voice than the one which [we] have now trapped, tamed, and packaged for observation." Apply this to difficult texts [or lesser doctrines] about which good people disagree and while I don't know the Doctor's full theology, I sure like his humble approach to hammering out his theology.

You can see I believe any messenger must be more concerned with the message getting delivered than whether or not they are the one who has the correct view of difficult things or whether they are the one who is delivering it. Our desire that the message be delivered is to take precedence over our concern for being right in our interpretation or being the one people look to as the preacher who says it well. The messenger is not the focus in New Testament proclamation. It MAY BE this is the primary problem in our current mega-church mentality and our creedal mentality.

Next will come an inner examination the messenger/preacher must be honest with in order to not hinder the message. I know this is long and wordy but__ after all__God took an extra forty years with Moses because He is ALWAYS concerned with getting the messenger out of the way before that messenger is sent on the way to deliver "Thus saith the Lord.". Many of us as preachers/speakers are, in fact, our own worst enemy.

Paul Burleson