Being present, as Christians, with lost people

Jeremy Writebol (@jwritebol) is the husband of Stephanie and daddy of Allison and Ethan. He lives and works in Wichita, KS as the Community Pastor at Journey the Way and the director of Porterbrook Kansas. He is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and The Resurgence Training Center. Catch up with him at jwritebol.net.


everPresent

For years in ministry I’ve struggled with how to get the gospel to the lost. I’ve wanted to be a good evangelist and share my faith. I’ve wanted to help people who don’t know Christ to see how great and gracious he is and come to faith in him. I’ve wanted to see new-birth, conversions, life-change, salvation or whatever you want to call it. The problem for me, however, was that I was paralyzed in living on mission. I was stuck trying to wade through the mountain of techniques, methods, and skills required to find, invest in, and hopefully convert a non-Christian to Jesus. I was frustrated with my lack of ability and felt disobedient to the call of Christ to “make disciples of every nation.” Theologically, I knew how it worked. God is the one who draws and saves at the declaration of the word of Christ. Practically, however, it was not happening.

As I spent time reflecting on my problems, I had to take a look at all the methods I was relying on to make me a better missionary. As I processed through the “how” of making disciples, the Holy Spirit brought into focus the real issue. I was lacking presence with unbelievers. I didn’t know any of them. And they didn’t know me.

Then I had a moment. A friend one day was pressing me on what it looked like practically to live on mission in the midst of unbelievers. We were discussing sports and how we can build relationships based around the common interest of sports. My friend challenged me to come up with practical ways that the sporting-life would transfer to Christianity. I had to admit, I was a bit stumped. The only thing I could come up with was the opportunity it created to be present with lost people. And that idea, of being present with lost people, became a watershed moment for me.

The watershed moment brought a further insight about the nature of God. He is a God who is present everywhere. Theologians have labeled this attribute God’s “omnipresence.” Wayne Grudem defines omnipresence: “God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.”1 As I reflected on this truth about God, I had to move the theology of God’s presence into the practice of my life. As image-bearers of God, we are called to reflect who he is to the world. This includes attributes like omnipresence. This is where the watershed moment was for me. How do I, as a limited, finite creature, reflect God’s omnipresence? By being present.

Understanding God’s presence throughout the Bible and our relationship to him as the ever-present God has transformed my understanding of missional living. Once I realized he is present everywhere, in and through his people, I discovered that the method for being on mission to the lost was really simple. I had overanalyzed it. The method is: be present, as a Christian, with lost people.

My goal in everPresent is to help you see how being present in the everyday places we inhabit is missional living. You don’t need amazing practices or innovative techniques to help you live on mission. If anything, I’ve already told you what the technique is. Be with lost people. Even that is difficult in today’s world. We are promised the ability to be everywhere through technologies that replace face time with Facebook. At a recent birthday party for one of the children in my daughter’s school, I observed several parents who were present, but they weren’t engaged. They were lost in their smartphones and Instagrams. Even though they are physically in the room, mentally they have left it altogether. As we consider the theology of God’s presence and place, that theological reflection should lead to practical application. My purpose in this book is to help you understand God more fully so you will live as his people more faithfully. I want to bring the technique of disciple-making down a few notches to show you how God equips everyday, ordinary people to be his “sent ones” as they live their lives in the presence of unbelievers.

I am eager for you to see God’s presence in your life so that we can go and be present in the lives of unbelievers for the sake of the gospel. When this happens, we will reflect an ever-present God by holding out an ever-present gospel.


Jeremy’s new book, everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present is now available at Amazon (paperback) and Gospel-Centered Discipleship (eBook).

What’s your small group story?

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Today’s post is by Ben Reed. Ben is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN area. In addition to pastoring, preaching, and writing, Ben has a great passion for coffee. Good coffee, that is. And CrossFit. But not at the same time. You can journey along with Ben at BenReed.net and learn more about his new book, Starting Small, at smallgroupblueprint.com.


Nobody ever stated it outright, but the way our local church was structured growing up made me feel like the Sunday morning experience was the most important aspect of my walk with Jesus. Maybe it was self-imposed, but I felt like if I missed a Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Tuesday evening, Wednesday evening, or the random youth trip, I’d be smote. Or smoten? Or smitten? No… that’s something else entirely.

It’s easy for churches to slide into this mindset, because whether you like it or not, Sunday morning is coming. It doesn’t matter what kind of dreaming, strategic planning, or structural work you do throughout the week. If you don’t prepare for Sunday you’ll fall flat on your face.

So you dump more time. More resources. More energy. More staff. More planning. Into ensuring Sunday morning is air-tight.

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Don’t get me wrong, corporate worship is vital to our faith. It’s an environment that corrects, teaches, energizes, and worships Jesus.

But without relational connection, The Church isn’t the Church. At best, it’s a show. At worst, it’s a complete waste of our time, energy, and resources.

You and I are the Church. Not the buildings we build. Not the walls we construct. Not the pews we sit in.

The Church exists outside the four walls of our church buildings. You know that, right?

That’s why I wrote Starting Small. To promote small group health. To lay out a strategy for starting small groups, no matter the size of your church. No matter the location. No matter the demographics.

And to help small groups become more effective disciple-makers.

I’ve told my story through group life, failures and all, to help build healthy, authentic, biblical, God-honoring small groups around the world.

What’s your small group story?


Ben has kindly offered two copies of his new book, Starting Small, to give away to readers here. How do you win? Simple: share your small group story—what have you loved; what’s been most challenging? Ben will pick his two favorite answers at the end of the day Wednesday. Winners will be notified by email. 

Cultivating a culture of worship: four practical suggestions

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Today’s post is by Nathan Clark George. Nathan is an award winning singer/songwriter, and serves as Chief Musician at Parish Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN.


As God called Adam to tend and care for His creation, God calls the church musician to name, distinguish, care for and cultivate musical settings and compositions that enable and promote biblical, meaningful and vibrant congregational worship. Over the years I have done my best to stay out of the worship wars, but from my experience and what others have taught I do have practical suggestions that I hope are useful when considering music in the context of worship:

1. Focus. Our focus must be on God’s Word, for our singing is, in almost all cases, prayer. In prayer we usually spend less time talking about how we feel, and more time speaking about how God feels about a subject. Therefore, most of our music and its text should be God oriented, much like our spoken prayer.

2. Congregational vs. Individualistic. I have had several people ask if they can use my older settings of the Psalms, which were written for the purpose of presentation and performance and personal meditation, in congregational worship. My response is usually “good luck.” Now, there is certainly room to train, learn parts, practice, and get better, and we should do so, but there is also a reason Come Thou Fount is going nowhere soon. It’s singable. It’s not individualistic pop music. The rhythm and melodic movement employed is predictable, simple without being simplistic, and is accessible to the folks – it is true folk music. It is congregational.

3. Style. If we get sidetracked into thinking about how someone may or may not like our style, we will have gotten off track already. Remember, as John Frame pointed out, it’s less about style than content. I would add to that it’s less about style than purpose. Is our purpose to impress? Is our purpose to sound like Bach or Vaughn Williams? Then we have miss God’s purpose.

4. Sing the Psalms. Though I do not fall in the exclusive Psalmody camp, the importance of singing Psalms can barely be over emphasized. I would challenge us to look hard at our song choices and see how often we are singing the Psalms. Is it once a month? Once a week? Never? I would humbly and forcefully suggest that we begin to sing and write with the Psalms as fixtures before our eyes.

Above all, the Word of God and the worship of God must be the fertile soil in and out of which a musician cultivates a culture of worship that reflects God’s nature and glory.


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Nathan’s new album, To Live is Christ, is now available. You can download “Calm Content” free here.

Pray for your pastor

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Today’s post is by Dave Jenkins. Dave is the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries. You can follow him on twitter@DaveJJenkins or read more of his work at servantsofgrace.org.


Pray for your pastor.

Those four little words may not currently be on your radar, I pray they will be by the time you’re done reading this.

Pastoral ministry is difficult and demanding work. The pastor is expected to be on call 24/7, preach one to three messages a week, lead Bible studies, small groups, speak at funerals, weddings, make hospital visits, or to meet many other needs as required of a shepherd of a church. The demands of pastoral ministry can wear down a pastor to the point of exhaustion.

The Schaeffer Institute’s research paints a disturbing picture:

  1. 50 percent of newly appointed ministers will not last 5 years;
  2. Over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month;
  3. 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression; and
  4. 80 percent of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.

Prayer is a mighty weapon and a means of grace God has given His people—and your pastor needs your prayers. Here are four ways you can be in prayer for your pastor:

1. Pray for your pastor’s growth in the gospel.

Paul tells the Colossians to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word…” (Colossians 4:2-4). And again, “Brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

Your pastor spends a great deal time reading, studying and meditating on the Word. Pray as he studies that he would be freshly affected by the text he is studying. Your pastor faces an immense amount of pressure to do anything but grow in and preach the gospel. Pray that he would be faithful to constantly saturate his heart and mind in the gospel so the overflow of his life will result in the outpouring of God’s grace into the lives of those under his care.

2. Pray for the integrity of your pastor’s heart.

Pastors are not super human. They are normal men, facing the same temptations, struggles, and even circumstances you do. He faces temptations on every side, temptation to compromise the gospel, temptation to engage in immorality, among other things. When you pray for integrity of heart for your pastor, you are praying not only for your pastor to grow in grace but also that he guards his heart, marriage, and that he hides the Word in his heart. Integrity begins with the Word of God massaged deep in the heart of the pastor. The result of this is godly character and conduct that, while not perfect, is worthy of imitation (1 Corinthians 11:1).

3. Pray for your pastor to lead courageously.

Making decisions that affect others is taxing and stressful. It is easy to raise a voice of criticism against certain decisions, and your pastor gets criticized all the time. Even the thickest skinned pastor can be negatively affected by criticism.

Rather than criticize, pray for your pastor’s leadership. Pray God would bless it as he seeks to keep watch on his doctrine and life. Pray for his family as he seeks to lead them. Pray that he would not sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry. Encourage your pastor to love Jesus, love his family, and to care for God’s people through preaching, teaching and pastoral care.

While the pastor is the one preaching the Word, church members can create a culture where the ministry of the Word and your pastor can flourish. This is accomplished by being a people who properly submit to the pastor and church leadership as they seek to follow the Word and declare the Gospel through the act of praying for the church leadership.

4. Pray for your pastor’s time.

Pastors have huge demands on their time and often have to make hard choices on who to spend time with. They need to go visit the ill person in the hospital and the couple struggle in their marriage, but they also need to meet with the young man seeking to grow in the grace of God and pursue a call to minister. Which one is more important? These are questions the pastor must deal with and you must learn to be okay with what they decide. Pray for wisdom for your pastor. Pray that God would give him the necessary level of wisdom to know how to balance his time in the Word with time among God’s people.

Conclusion

Pray for your pastor. Pray for his growth in the gospel, for his integrity, for his courage and for his use of time. In doing so, you are not only lifting up your pastor, but helping to create a culture of prayer in your church—a culture where the gospel may speedily advance. A praying people are a gospel loving people, and a gospel loving people create a gospel-centered culture where the gospel is declared to the glory of God.

3 hindrances to hearing God’s Word

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Ben Riggs blogs at pageflipping.blogspot.com, contributes to Gospel-Centered Discipleship, drinks too much coffee; not enough water and you can follow him @corduroyhat02.


When you handle God’s word with others, you encounter portions of Scripture that feel like trying to hold a screeching wet cat. Nobody wants it, not even cat people. Some accept the challenge: years of experience or their personalities thrive in it. Some dare avoid it, insisting it’s not the “right time.” In any case, whether it’s homosexuality or predestination, dust is doing to be kicked. Be sure to have been faithful when it settles. In that effort,to understand how people react to controversial issues can be helpful.

You want to exegete your Bible and your people. People’s reactions aren’t solely based on only one process: rational, emotional, or psychological, etc. People react as a whole; a collaboration tightly wound together by their personal narrative.

These are three responses I’ve encountered with a touchy topic. They aren’t exhaustive, they have kids of their own. They’re real, but unhelpful. Some are defensive. Some are offensive. All are hindrances to hearing the realities of God’s Word.

1. Put walls up

Many revert to a sort of psychological heisman, “Nope—won’t have any of that.” Or a brand of pseudo-sophisticated agnosticism, “Don’t know, don’t care.” The worst is when they appeal to a certain kind of Jesus, “I’m just good with Jesus”—as if He never said or did anything controversial or unpopular. For some, they feel like an exposed nerve from being burned the last time this came up. We need to help others see while the Gospel is immediate and central, it isn’t guaranteed to just a top layer. Just because you’ve moved toward a controversial issue doesn’t mean you’ve moved away from the realities of grace.

2. Put gloves on

Approaching a controversial topic turns some into Rocky Balboa. They’re ready to rumble, yet sorely ready to actually deal with it well. Appearing to be gracious, they put on debate gloves. What you don’t see is their theological brass knuckles hiding underneath. Sure there’s some cushion, but the real bite hides underneath- like a serpent in a pillow. A good amount of satire goes a long way here, but don’t steamroll everything with a joke. Soon enough, you’ll be the joke.

3. Glassy eyes

Lights are on, no one’s home. In an increasingly post-Christian nation, three to four syllable words that end in “-tion” are an invitation to punch out. If you’re going to use them, do so at the end of explaining what they mean. Irrelevance is a culprit. More and more, people want to know how what you’re saying coheres with reality. Thankfully, a faithful explanation of God’s Word ought to cohere nicely as Scripture is reality’s lens, critique and clarity.

Tim Keller talks about being “message-centered and receptor-oriented.” You can be faithful to the text and know your people to enter into their reactions in your exposition: expose the problems in their posture and show how the Gospel gives us better ways of thinking about tough topics.

Everyone commissioned to draw out God’s word will encounter people’s watersheds. As long as Romans 1 is the case, the Gospel will reveal God’s righteousness and confront the unrighteousness in and by any person in any culture. The difficulty is to not address it in a way that tips your hat to it, paying homage to it. You can, in an effort unravel controversial issues, but find yourself tangled up in it. Watersheds are controversial, but they can’t hold a match to the controversy of God’s Gospel, the watershed of history.

At the end of the day, the biggest watershed for any person, any culture, any nation is the Gospel.

How do your favorite preachers do sermon prep?

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Kevin Halloran is a blogger at KevinHalloran.net and for Unlocking the Bible and loves baseball, coffee, and Spanish. You can follow Kevin on Twitter@KP_Halloran.


One practical way to improve a skill is to study the methods and practices of the skillful and see what they did to become great.
Although preaching is so much more than knowing technique, learning about the sermon writing process from today’s great preachers can be a great help and example for preachers.

Below are videos of some of today’s great preachers explaining their process in writing a sermon:

Tim Keller:

John Piper:

Mark Driscoll:

Alistair Begg:

Bonus: Josh Harris shares how John Stott prepared his sermons.

Live As You Are Called

photo by Piotr Bizior

photo by Piotr Bizior

Joe Henegan is a Christian writer based in South London, UK, and blogs regularly at Be Rooted.


How do you make the big decisions about your life?

There are things that the Bible gives us explicit instructions on – do not get drunk, do not commit adultery, give generously, meet with other believers etc., but the majority of the decisions we make in our lives are not guided by a step-by-step manual. For the last few years now I have found myself in what I believed to be in a state of limbo, waiting for God to give me distinct and unmistakable guidance on what to commit my life to.

When it comes to figuring out our calling in the Kingdom, the temptation is to look at the ministries that God has given other believers and emulate their exploits.

It’s easy to look at the way that John Piper preach and assume that is God’s best for everyone or see how Heidi Baker or Shane Claiborne live out their mandate and assume that our lives must look like theirs for it to be considered a success.

It’s very easy to get drawn into thinking that God is not using you unless you are preaching like Keller or influencing young men like Driscoll. It’s easy to miss the fact that there is no other Joe Henegan in the world; no one else can reach the people around me in the way that I can.

I went through a period where I was really envying what God was doing in the lives of my friends around me. Some were planting churches, some were being sent on missions and others were being asked to pastor existing churches. What about me? When am I going to do what they are doing?

God knew my thoughts and spoke to me during a morning devotion. I had been reading through 1 Corinthians and one day I came to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:17:

Only let each person lead the lifethat the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.

The context here is that Paul had been dealing with some of the big decisions about relationships that may face a Christian after conversion: Is it better to get married, should I stay with my unbelieving spouse? Is it okay to remarry after getting divorced?

When we find ourselves facing incredibly complicated and emotionally draining decisions it can be very easy to look around us and envy other people’s lives. In commanding us not to covert our neighbour’s house, God was really using shorthand to tell us not to covet other people’s lifestyles, opportunities or circumstances.

When we covet anything that someone else has we are really telling God that has made a mistake. That we should have everything we want because we know best.

Look around you. How has God uniquely placed you to speak into the lives of people in your life? No one else lives where you live at this moment in time.

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. (Acts 17:26)

The Christian art of Floccinaucinihilipilification

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Jason Tucker is a pastor in southwestern Ontario and blogs at tippingsacredcow.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JasonTTucker.


I am about to disclose something that might out me as a closet nerd. A risky proposition to be sure, but I am willing to take this bullet for the common good. Having been adequately warned, allow me to share my dirty little secret with you. I secretly enjoy exploring the etymology of words, specifically the etymology of obscure and peculiar words. This little quirk of mine manifests itself in the strangest of ways, not the least of which is my tendency to ask, “Do you happen to know the second longest word in the English language?”

I know it’s an odd question. Convention would be to ask about the longest word. However, who really cares about a fabricated 45 letter monstrosity1 describing an occupational lung disease? No one, that’s who. But when it comes to the second longest word, well that is an entirely different story.  Not only does the 29 letter 18th century word have an amusing origin, but it holds relevance for our daily life.

Floccinaucinihilipilification (click HERE for pronunciation) was coined by the pupils at Eton College. As they poured over their Eton Latin Grammar text they came across a list of words which in order were: flocci, nauci, nihili, and pili. All of these Latin words had similar meanings in that they described something of little or no value. As academics with too much time on their hands tend to do they thought it would be fun to slap all four words together and stick –fication on the end to produce a new noun. Presto change-o four small words used to describe tiny insignificant things were recycled to form one mega word. By definition Floccinaucinihilipilification describes the act or habit of regarding something as unimportant, having no value, being totally and utterly worthless.

Now some might argue that floccinaucinihilipilification describes its own usefulness as a word – utterly worthless. However, I disagree with that assessment. Although you will not find it in the Bible, I believe floccinaucinihilipilification is very much a Biblical term. How, you might ask, could I say that? Well, the Pauline equivalent can be found in Phil 3:8.

Phil 3:8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Here we have Paul comparing all of the advantages of his heritage, citizenship and education to rubbish—literally dung—when viewed in the light of the magnificence of knowing Christ. Paul does not claim the rewards of this world to be of second importance to the knowledge of Christ. On the contrary, he is practiced at regarding all things—the world’s goods, substance, riches, fame, pleasures and pomp—as valueless in light of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

Lest we think Paul is alone in his floccinaucinihilipilification of worldly benefits, let us look to Solomon. Here was a man who knew the best the world had to offer, and his ultimate verdict was, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” With all of the world’s imagined worth, imagined pleasure and imagined gain, Solomon could, to quote the Rolling Stones, “get no satisfaction.” In all of his testing and indulging Solomon discovered something vitally important; the world without Christ is a very unsatisfying place. Fellow Christian, it would pay for us to remember this lesson well.

Although I have been “nerding out” in this post, I do hope you look beyond that to see the ultimate point of my ramblings. The Christian life is one marked by judging many things as worthless, not inherently, but comparatively when weighed against all we have in Christ. Whether it’s the pleasures or the pains (Rom 8:18) of life, both are eclipsed by the glory to be found in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This truth should be both treasured and paraded through our hearts as often as possible, lest we forget, and allow the cares of this world to choke out the truths we once held dear (Matt 13:22). Imagine the freedom to be experienced when you place all things in their proper perspective in Christ. Armed with your newfound knowledge, you too should go out and ask someone if they know the second longest word in the English language. It is a powerful concept, and it just might lead to a wonderful witnessing opportunity.

How to be a Quiet Radical

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Daniel Darling is a pastor, author, and blogger. His latest book is Activist Faith: From Him, For Him. You can follow him on Twitter at @dandarling.


Christians are notorious “pendulum” people. We don’t like living in the tension between two seemingly competing ideas. But obedience to Christ demands that we live in the tension.

One of these is the seeming war between a life of long and quiet obedience (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and a life of impact as a Christian living on mission (John 17, Matthew 28:18-20; James 1:22, Matthew 16:24). It doesn’t seem like you can do both, especially among our generation, my generation, of world-changing evangelicals. Hence the continuing radical versus non-radical, city versus suburb conversation we’re having in the Church.

But I think Christians can say a hearty “yes” to the radical life of service and to the quiet life of long obedience. This was the purpose for my new book, coauthored with Dillon Burroughs and Dan King.

We realize that God will call many to pack up everything and move to a foreign country to live among an impoverished people group, bringing the gospel and relief. But we also realize not everyone can or should do this. Many are called to live seemingly nondescript, ordinary jobs in their local communities. And yet, they can be a sort of radical right where they live. Not only can they contribute to human flourishing by producing Christ-honoring work in their chosen vocation, but they can also roll up their sleeves and get involved in pressing issues, helping people one life at a time.

Take, for instance, the issue of abortion. Most evangelical Christians would love to see it outlawed right now. And while we should work for that through the means of politics, there are limits. So after the elections are over, what can we do next? Well, we can support a local crisis pregnancy center, both financially and with our time. We can help young mothers raise their children, right now, in the context of our daily lives.

And abortion is just one of twelve issues we tackle. And there are many more. In fact, most of the best work done on behalf of the “least of these” is done by faithful, ordinary, unknown followers of Jesus who are motivated not by fame, but by the healing power of grace they’ve experienced in their own lives.

This is why the Church is the most effective institution in the world. For all of our problems and for all of the things we have gotten wrong, we are still the body of Christ, empowered by His Spirit. This life-changing message of the gospel calls some to abandon their ordinary life and do something many call radical. And it calls many others to stay where they are, bloom where they are planted, and make an eternal difference in the communities God has sovereignly called them to love.

It works both ways. You can be radical and local, a world-changer that nobody knows, quiet and effective, humble and yet robustly confident in the Spirit’s work.

After all, it was that curiously subversive Apostle who wrote a church striving for recognition and renown, “Not many wise, mighty, or noble” are called (1 Corinthians 1:26).

Reunited with . . . Jesus?

Photo by Matthias Wuertemberger

Photo by Matthias Wuertemberger

Thad Bergmeier is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Bible Church in Middlefield, Ohio, and blogs regularly at Changed by the Gospel. Follow him on Twitter at @thadbergmeier.


Death is certain. It is all around us. Whether we find ourselves reading the obituaries or watching the evening news, there always seems to be something to remind us about death. We are all born with a terminal disease that eventually finds us. Some people die early in life; some later. Some die quick and painless; others of long, painful diseases. No matter how it comes our way, it will come our way.

As a pastor, I often get the opportunity to come alongside those that are going through the pain of losing a loved one to death. Most of the time, the people I am shepherding through this time overwhelmingly profess their loved one who died was a Christian. They almost always believe they are now in the better place of heaven.

Now, it is true that Christianity is not only about what happens after you die. Jesus did come to give us joy and life more abundantly. But at the root of our Christian faith is the belief that when the life of the one who has come to Jesus with a penitent faith comes to an end here on earth, they pass on to live with Jesus forever in eternity. We speak in terms of “going home” or “passing on to the next life.” But whenever I hear these cliché’s, I become more and more concerned that what is meant has less and less to do with being reunited with Jesus Christ.

I have a growing uneasiness at what I hear at many “Christian” funerals these days. With increasing frequency, I hear people saying how glad they are their loved one is reunited with their spouse. I hear people talk about how they cannot wait to see their friends again in heaven. I overwhelmingly hear of people’s love for other people. But what I hardly ever hear is how great it is that their loved one is reunited with Jesus. I almost never hear a person on their deathbed confess their excitement to depart to be with Christ.

It is almost as if Jesus has become an afterthought. 

This is not the attitude of the Christian as I read the New Testament. The death for the Christian is about being reunited with their Savior. I do not doubt there will be a reunion with loved ones, but it is a secondary reunion. The first desire for the person who has come to know Jesus is about being reunited with Jesus.

The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that when the Christian is separated from their body at death, they are then at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6–8). The Christians in Thessalonica were distraught because their friends had died before Jesus returned for them. Paul’s word of encouragement was that they did not miss being reunited with Christ. In fact, their bodies would be resurrected when Jesus returned and they would “always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:13–18). Even Paul’s testimony was that he could not wait to depart from this earth in order to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23).

So then why is there a disparity between what the first generation Christians looked forward to in death and what is commonly thought of by today’s Christians? The only explanation I can think of is that Jesus is a secondary thought in death because He has been a secondary thought in life. That which we love and pursue in this life is what we will look forward to in our death. If you find yourself not looking forward to being with Jesus in death, it might be a glaring indicator that Jesus is not that important in your life today.

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37).

The Value of Reading Our Church Fathers

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Joey Cochran served as the High School Pastor at Fellowship Bible Church Tulsa for four years before transitioning to serve as the Resource Pastor at Cross Community Chicago, a plant of The Village Church. He is a graduate of Dallas Seminary. Joey blogs regularly at jtcochran.com. Follow @joeycochran on Twitter.


History has always fascinated me. In studying history we discover where we come from and how we got here. We observe progress. We also observe errors repeated. Most often, when errors of the past repeat it is because we forgot the past.

In RetroChristianity: Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith, Dr. Michael Svigel, Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, warns, “It only takes one negligent generation to forget the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the entire history of the church” (Svigel, 50).

Do we run the risk of being that generation? To protect from this error, it is wise to read those who came before us, especially the Church Fathers.

Most scholars agree that the Church Fathers are the men who wrote during the beginnings of the Church up to medieval times. These are our earliest leaders. They lived closer to Christ’s time and offer solidarity to scripture’s message. The earliest of these men sat at the feet of our New Testament writers.

There is wealth in reading these writings. Here are three values of reading the Church Fathers:

Value 1: We learn from the Church Fathers’ challenges

In reading the Church Fathers, we read of the battles they fought. The creeds and the council’s primary purpose were to eradicate erred doctrine. Much of these writings were apologetic. The writer’s responded to those who perpetuated false-doctrine.

Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Tertullian wrote against Gnoticism and Marcionism. Athanasius championed Trinitarianism against Arianism. The Cappadocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Greggory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus) wrote against Arianism and Apollinarianism. Augustine wrote against Pelagianism.

Yes, a lot of big words and no time to explain. It seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? Likely, you have heard these terms but may not know the meaning. Does knowing about these controversies matter today?

[Read more...]

Grace at work in dementia

sanctuary

Dave Jenkins is a Christian, husband to Sarah, freelance writer, avid golfer, and the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries. You can follow him on twitter @DaveJJenkins or read more of his work at servantsofgrace.org.


It’s been almost a year now since I got a phone call from my older brother telling me that my dad was now back in my life. In that year, my dad and I regularly chat on the phone, and I’ve gone to see him a few times in Seattle. The past year has been a world-wind of catching up with him on what’s been going on in his life.

For six years my dad wasn’t in my life. He moved to Eastern Washington and no one knew where he was. When I got that phone call last July that he was in Harborview Hospital in Seattle, Washington, my wife and I jumped in our car and drove nine hours to Seattle from Boise, Idaho to see him. Since that time I’ve gone to Seattle two other times. Both times I spent significant time with my dad and greatly enjoyed seeing and visiting with him.

Recently I was reflecting on the past year with my dad and while doing that I asked some friends what they thought I should write about. One of my friends said I should write on “how I’m seeing God at work in my life through my dad’s dementia.” Since I was already reflecting on the events of the past year, I thought this would be a good time to sit down and write some thoughts on the issue of dementia, its impact on the individual, the immediate family, as well as what I have learned over the past year as one who has had to deal with this devastating disease.

First, to be frank, dementia is hard for me to deal with. I have a hard time reading about it or even thinking about what it will do to my dad. When I do think about it or read about it I have a hard time keeping myself composed, and I often break out in tears. While I don’t suppress how I feel, recently I’ve noticed that I’ve been handling my dad’s dementia in a much healthier way. As I’ve been able to do this, I’ve also noticed I’ve been able to have more regular phone calls with my dad and to be more of a support and encouragement to him. In turn I’ve become more aware of how dementia affects him. [Read more...]

Why you should sweat the small stuff

Kevin Halloran is a blogger at KevinHalloran.net and for Unlocking the Bible and loves baseball, coffee, and Spanish. You can follow Kevin on Twitter @KP_Halloran.


The book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff has been popular since its 1996 release because it teaches not to let the small things in life bog you down. For the most part, I think that the book’s message is a noble one, and something Christ followers can benefit from. I do think there are some small stuff you should sweat. Let me explain.

small-stuff-eye-chart

When I say we “should sweat the small stuff,” I don’t mean we should worry about mundane things.

As Christians, we know that we are to be anxious about nothing (Philippians 4:6-7). I do mean that we should seek to glorify God by putting forth effort (sweat) to make the “small stuff” in our lives bear the most fruit for Christ. We should recognize that a lot of “small stuff” often makes up the greater whole of our lives.

The daughter of a friend of mine was born without much hair. Throughout the first 12 months of her life, she did not have much hair to speak of, and it did not appear to be growing quickly. I would see her about every weekend and at a certain point I began to see a noticeable difference in her hair that her parents and aunts didn’t always notice. Something that I noticed each week was not very visible day-to-day.

Growth is not usually noticeable day-to-day like it is over the long haul. But it is day-to-day growth that makes long term growth what it is. That growth is made up of “small stuff.”

Scripture mentions this idea at least a couple of times: we are called to redeem the time (Colossians 4:5) and make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16).

There is an unlimited number of examples to illustrate this point: grass grows a little each day before it needs cutting, going to school each day over time produces an education, practicing the spiritual disciplines each day builds a stronger Christian.

This means realizing that our small decisions and small pockets of time we make are part of a bigger work that God is doing in us.

During my college days, I had the great opportunity to study abroad in Ecuador and improve my Spanish quite a bit. Since that time, I have desired to grow my Spanish abilities for ministry– but I have not been able to learn and practice as much as I would like. In spite of that, I have seen that sowing little seeds like reading the Bible in Spanish daily, listening to music in Spanish, and making Spanish speaking friends has reaped a big harvest in my language skills.

The small choices I made had a compounding effect. Those small choices helped me improve a skill that otherwise I would have not had time for. Praying about this idea and meditating on the sovereignty of God gives me hope for two reasons:

  1. During the daily grind, I can remember that God will use what I am able to give him
  2. I can remember that God has control of everything and will accomplish his purposes in me

What small stuff can you do each day to better serve the Lord? How can you apply this principle to your study of Scripture or prayer life? Your professional life? Your family life? Your ministry?

My prayer is that God in his grace would continually to use the small stuff in our lives for his glory and purposes.

Delight and Grow!

jumping-for-joy

Today’s post is by Andrew Hall. Andrew is the Lead Pastor of Community Bible Church in Ilderton, Ontario (a small community just outside of London). He and his wife, Melanie, have been married for over 13 years and have four kids. Andrew studied at Providence College University in Otterburne, MB and received my M.Div from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and blogs at cruciformity.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewWHall.


One of my favourite past times has been taking seeds and growing little plants. Throughout the years, I’ve enjoyed growing little orange trees from my breakfast fruit; coffee trees from some beans that never got roasted; maple trees from the keys that fell from a neighbour’s glorious tree. There is something so incredible about planting, watering, and watching growth.

In gardening, there is something that feels like we are pushing against the curse that came when Adam disobeyed. There is the expectation of growth, of new life, of a future. There is the anticipation of fruitfulness, a harvest, and reward.

So it is no surprise that the Christian is expected to grow. The imperishable seed is planted within (1 Peter 1:23), germinates and creates new life, all with the expectation that there will be fruitfulness in our lives (Gal 5:22-23). The power of Christ’s death and resurrection applied by faith to the soul is the guarantee of a harvest to come in the lives of God’s people (Rom 8:23).

But what is striking is that we are commanded to grow. I cannot command a plant or seed to grow. But 2 Peter 3:18 tells us that we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. How shall we do that?

Growing in knowledge seems fairly straightforward: to grow in knowledge requires the intake of information. Reading, watching, listening all give us opportunity to grow in knowledge. But what about growing in grace? How can Peter command that we grow in grace?

The best fertilizer for life and godliness is the knowledge of God’s grace to us now and forever. Grace is multiplied in the knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:2). In other words, grace is multiplied when we come to know who God is and what he is like.

What if you knew a fraction of the future that God has prepared for you? What if you could feel your deepest longings being satisfied? What if every sight, smell, sound, taste and touch will only be magnified? What if every good and right relationship will be restored forever? What if we could believe that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind comprehended what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9), wouldn’t we rejoice? Fight temptation? Be freed from fear, greed, envy, and pride? We would escape the corruption in this world and become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4)!!!

That’s what knowing God does. Our need to grow in the knowledge of his grace will never cease. We will forever see the nail-scarred hands of our Saviour and grow in wonder and amazement from age to age to age (Eph 2:7). Our growth in grace is God’s declaration that the curse is not the final word…Grace is!

So grow! Know God! Delight in Him! Make it your aim to never be satisfied with your knowledge of God. Be a beggar for knowing Him. And His grace to you will multiply, and that fertilizer will cause you to grow!