God, the original fashion designer (a theology of fashion, part 1)

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In my vanity, I’ve always liked to think of myself as a serious-minded woman. In high school, I didn’t go to parties; I stayed home and did my German homework. And although I like to consider myself an intellectual, I can’t help one thing:

I love clothes.

My favorite recurring dream is one in which I find my closet stuffed full of dresses I didn’t know I owned. I watch Downton Abbey episodes twice: the first time for the plot and the second time to stare at the costumes.

But I’ve always dismissed my love of fashion as flighty and shallow. The weak underbelly to my otherwise oh-so-wise self.

As I’ve grown older, my delight for clothing has only grown stronger, although my main accessories these days are spit-up and a diaper bag. What I’ve only begun to accept recently is that my love for fashion might not simply be a vain pursuit of youth—as I so snobbishly supposed—but a genuine, God- given love for creativity and beauty.

“See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28)

I often think of this verse as I hike in the mountains near my home in Colorado. The tiniest wildflower of the tundra will have the most extravagant and intricate design. Looking at nature and the animal world, it’s clear that God has a flair for design. A God who creates the peacock is not a purely utilitarian God.

Recognizing the God-given creative spirit, Christendom has often embraced the arts, from music to sculpture to painting.

But many of us still eschew the realm of fashion.

So often fashion is fraught with vice. Whether vanity, excess, immodesty or the backbiting world we envision in The Devil Wears Prada, clothing hardly seems like an arena for worship.

But zoom back from our own culture and picture the dress of past times and other places. The intricate beaded collars of the Maasai tribe in Tanzania and Kenya. The stately headdresses of Native Americans. The scarlet pomegranate tassels on the Israelite High Priest’s garments.

God is the original fashion designer. He specifically enumerated how Aaron’s garments should be made, from the turban to the tassels. He also gifted certain individuals in clothes making:

“Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest.” (Exodus 28:3)

Just as God gifted some to be wood cutters for His glory, He created others to be clothing makers. If we look at almost any culture, we see the inevitable desire to adorn the beautiful form God created with beautiful attire. Even the noble woman of Proverbs 31 is clothed in fine linen and purple.

But often, in an attempt to dodge the many moral trapdoors, we Christians have turned to asceticism when it comes to fashion. The Bible certainly does give guidelines and warnings when it comes to dress (more on that in the next post). But this doesn’t mean the wholesale abandonment of this expression of creativity.

My point is not that we should all run to the Banana Republic for some dangly earrings. But I think we should reclaim creativity—in all of its forms—for God. He is the one who put the seed of fashion within us.

If you aren’t the fashionable type—as I suspect some who read theology blogs might not be—that’s fine. But encourage the people around you whom God has gifted in creativity to embrace it for God’s glory. This might look different for different people.

In my own life, I’ve found an outlet in making paper dresses with my preschooler (whose current passion in life is twirling in circles wearing dresses). She loves it as a way to spend time with mommy and play with scissors. I love it as a way to infuse some creativity into my daily life with two kids.

God created us in His image and that implicitly means we are creative beings. When we allow ourselves to express that creativity in its various forms, we are paying homage and honoring His original design.


Amber Van Schooneveld is a writer, editor, wife, mom, nature lover, world traveler and follower of Jesus Christ. She is the author of Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration and can be found online at ambervanschooneveld.com.

Photo credit: Alba Soler Photography via photopin cc

How to share the Gospel with someone who thinks all Christians are hypocrites

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I’ve heard it before and I’m sure you have too–the common skeptic complaint that all Christians are hypocrites. To back up this claim, many point to being burned by a Christian in the past, abuse that has taken place in the church, or media portrayals of Christians and come to the conclusion that because of that failure, Christianity must be a hoax.

I hope to encourage you and equip you to not only respond, but be able to steer these types of conversations into great opportunities to share the gospel. There is no one-sized-fits all approach to any evangelistic endeavor, but here are a few steps you could take to steer this type of conversation somewhere eternally productive.

A quick reminder: just like in any other evangelistic conversation, your speech needs to be gracious and Christ-like (Colossians 4:6). Our message of grace needs to be said in a tone of grace–we don’t want to be hypocrites!

1. When someone complains that all Christians are hypocrites, tell the person that they are right.

Thinking that all Christians are hypocrites is in line with Scripture and what Jesus taught. Jesus spoke against hypocrisy and railed the Pharisees for putting on an outwardly religious show but forsaking a deeper spiritual life (Luke 11:42). Because we are all sinners (including Christians), we all are hypocritical in one way or another.

Responding this way might catch them off guard by giving them a compliment. Most people won’t mind having something good in common with Jesus–in fact they’ll like it. Tell them that the Bible says all people have sinned and that hypocritical Christians are what you would expect in a world tainted by sin.

You could also share that when a Christian doesn’t live up to God’s standard, that doesn’t make God’s standard false, but rather shows the value of God’s standard. When the world sees a hypocritical Christians who cheats, neglects the poor, and hates others, this shows the value of the Christian virtues of honesty, charity, and love.

2. Explain sin and how nobody measures up to God’s perfect standard.

People will be glad to hear that Jesus agrees with them–but probably won’t be too thrilled to find out that they don’t measure up to God’s standard either. But everyone who comes to believe the good news has to believe the bad news first. You may want to say something like,

The Bible also teaches that we are all sinners and have been hypocrites. You, me, the hypocrites you just mentioned–everyone. We’ve all failed to love God above everything (something due Him as creator) and we’ve failed to love others by lying, stealing, hating, and living for ourselves.

Before moving on from step two, it is wise to gauge how the person you are speaking with takes this news. It may not be wise to continue to step three if they reject the fact that they are a sinner. Giving the riches of the gospel to people who will not acknowledge their sin could be like throwing pearls to swine to pigs to trample them. Humble hearts that acknowledge their sin are ripe to hear about the solution to their sin in Jesus Christ.

3. Present Christ.

Now is the time to proclaim the greatest news ever imagined: God saves sinners through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ–and that offer of salvation is available to all. Your words could be the most important words this person has ever heard. This is also a good time to remind yourself of God’s grace to you in saving you from the domain of darkness and bringing you into the Kingdom of His Son.

4. Ask for a response.

After presenting the gospel, ask people if what you shared makes sense and call them to believe in Jesus Christ. Even if they are currently 100 miles away from trusting Christ, asking them penetrating questions about how the gospel affects them will spur deeper reflection and show them the natural response to the gospel is trusting Christ by faith.

5. Pray.

Entrust this person to God and pray that your conversation would bear fruit in their lives. God is the one who saves–and can use the seeds you planted to bring that person to faith and repentance many years in the future.

May the Lord stir in the hearts of the people you talk to by His grace to show them their sin and need for a Savior so that they can proclaim what one hypocrite realized, “Salvation comes from the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9).


Kevin Halloran is a lover of Christ, drinker of coffee, and reader of books who has no real reason to continue being a Chicago Cubs fan (but is anyway). He serves with Leadership Resources International training pastors to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. Follow Kevin on Twitter or visit his blog.

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Sola boot strapa

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Everyone is born with limits, but we are seemingly born hating those limits. My oldest son modeled this well at an early age playing with “Zoob.” “Zoob” is the name of the “moving, mind-building system” of colorful plastic pieces that snap, click, and pop together twenty different ways, allowing my then five-year-old son to build some pretty amazing things, either by looking at the picture instructions or using his imagination. Dinosaurs, airplanes, 18-wheelers, crowns fit for a queen: the possibilities seemed limited only by my child’s imagination, level of concentration, and propensity for patience. And while his imagination would run wild with delight for hours, he did eventually lose focus. At the peak of his frustration, he would sweat profusely, viciously destroy his projects, and loudly whimper: “I can NEVER make these work! These are ALWAYS doing wrong ALL the time!”

Have you been there? Have you made six trips to the local hardware store in order to install a new ceiling fan? Have you tried to do the P90X work out program for a few days? Have you changed your child’s bed sheets yet again, only to have him vomit for the 7th time at 3 AM? Have you washed your hands religiously and still gotten the virus? Have you emptied a box of Calgon into your bathtub and cried out for deliverance? Have you been completely helpless?

If so, you probably pushed against back against your helplessness. In your own strength, you finished that home improvement project. With all the resolve you could muster, you finished that workout routine. You held back your daughter’s hair over the toilet with a Mona Lisa smile. Your Latin life motto in those moments was Sola Boot Strapa: You picked yourself up by your bootstraps.

Now, I’m all for pushing myself beyond my current limits, but at some point I have to come to the humbling realization that I can’t be all, do all, or have all. Those life experiences that lead us to finally throw up our hands and shout “OK … enough! I can’t do it all!” are God’s gracious gifts meant to show us exactly what’s required if we want to be right with Him and be used by Him. It’s helplessness, not self-determination, that Jesus requires for us to come to Him. That’s where Peter, Andrew, Matthew and all of the disciples were when Jesus chose them, and it’s where you must be if you want to follow Him and be used by Him. You have to come to the end of yourself. You have to be helpless.

Jesus highlighted this truth from the very beginning of his teaching ministry. Among His earliest words to His disciples at the Sermon on the Mount was the mandate to be helpless. “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3).

By teaching us to be poor in spirit, Jesus encouraged the kind of helplessness exhibited by many people throughout the gospels. People like the man with leprosy who desperately cried out to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12). People like Jairus, who pleaded with Jesus to heal his dying twelve year-old daughter (Luke 8:41). People like the rich, squatty, social outcast named Zacchaeus who put aside all pretense and personal dignity by climbing a tree to merely get a glimpse of Jesus. These were people who, for one reason or another, came to the end of their rope and ran to Jesus. And in so doing, they became happy.

It’s an un-American, even inhuman, idea that happiness is tied to helplessness. In our culture, happy people are strong. Happy people have the resources and reputation to make things happen. But Jesus turns these American ideals on their heads. The things that we love most about ourselves are the things we must reject, and the things we hate the most about ourselves are the very things we must embrace, because doing so puts us into a position to be filled with Christ, who is every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).

But Jesus did not say, “Blessed are those who initially experience a sense of helplessness, run to Jesus, and then live proving to Jesus how grateful they are.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Our sense of helplessness is not merely a once-in-a-lifetime experience we must have in order to be saved, but a way of life we must embrace as his followers. Helplessness is not something we initially grasp then move on from, but something we realize and grow deeper in. This is why God gives us multiple life experiences to teach us to accept the fact we are helpless people and He is a strong and gracious God. I’ll elaborate on this truth in my next post.


Rob Tims is a Christ-follower, husband, and father of three and lives in Nashville, TN. With more than 20 years of ministry experience in the local church, Rob now works at Lifeway Christian Resources on a team that provides trustworthy, customized Bible studies for individual churches. He also is an Associate Professor for Liberty University Online and enjoys preaching and teaching in various venues throughout the year. His first book, Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, is available exclusively on Amazon for Kindle or in print. Rob blogs at SouthernFriedFaith.com and you can follow him on Twitter @robertltjr.

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Raising kids to be readers

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When I read that Aaron and Emily are going to be homeschooling their children, I was excited for them, and little envious. I was excited because I think homeschooling is a great educational choice, and envious because they are going to have the fun of teaching kids to read. Teaching reading was one of my favourite parts of homeschooling. Teaching a child to read is like giving him them the keys to the kingdom.

This post does not presume to suggest that only children who are homeschooled can become good readers. My oldest daughter was taught to read—and read well—in public school. That being said, the flexibility of the homeschool environment is a great way to raise children who are readers. And we want them to read, don’t we?

The flexibility offered by homeschooling helps meet the individual needs of children while they learn. The student who learns quickly can move ahead at his own pace, and a child who needs more time can have it. It is frustrating to be the child always waiting, or the child for whom everyone must wait. Or worse, to be the child who is totally lost. I spoke to a homeschool mom whose children had reading challenges, and she said the freedom of the homeschool environment prevented her children from hating school. In those first few years of reading, a child who has success has incentive to read. If it’s frustrating or difficult, it might be something he hates.

There is also flexibility with regard to content. In addition to being able to use books that will challenge and develop a reader, there is a lot of room for a child pursuing her own particular interests. If she wants to read ten books about spiders, she can do that. If she wants to read about the Amazon rain forest for an entire month, she can. Homeschool days are generally shorter than public school, and there is more time to pursue independent interests after the required work is done. It’s an opportunity for a child to pursue the things he is really excited about, and that makes reading fun. Our daughter went through a phase where she read historical fiction extensively, and today, she has a very solid grasp of English history she may have not had otherwise.

The flexibility of homeschooling feeds into family time, through reading aloud. I cannot endorse reading aloud enough. Not only does it show the kids that mom and dad like reading, but it promotes discussion. Being able to talk about a book is a good way to make sure children understand what they’re hearing. Reading out loud provides a safe environment to read that book everyone’s talking about, but that you’re not really sure about. Parents can also introduce classic literature through reading aloud, and acquaint them with books they may meet again in the future. When we studied ancient history, we read a lot of Greek mythology. My son, in a first year university course in Classical Studies, knew those stories intimately already.

Often, the most closely held habits in life begin in the home. Make reading one of those habits you foster, regardless of your schooling choice. We don’t have to homeschool to read aloud with our family. Building kids who are readers actually starts right from the time they are old enough to sit in your lap with a chubby board book for a few minutes.

Of course, homeschooling is not a guarantee that every child will grow to be a voracious reader. Of our three children, one is not as much of a reader as the other two. However, he is a good reader, and reads with discernment. Ultimately, that is the goal: to read well, and with discernment. There are many benefits to homeschooling. If you’re going to do it, use the time to encourage good reading habits. You will be encouraging something that will benefit them their entire lives.


Kim Shay lives in southern Ontario, Canada. She has been married to Neil for 27 years, and has three adult children and is a former homeschool mom. Now an empty nester, she fills her time teaching ladies the Bible, reading, blogging, and taking pictures. She blogs regularly at The Upward Call and Out of the Ordinary.

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Lapel clipper or boy bander?

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Most preachers I know are pretty particular about their microphone preferences.

They know their options – the lapel clip, the pulpit stand, the handheld, boy band-left ear, boy band-right ear, etc… and they’ve made their choice.

As a boy band lefty myself, I even have a routine for how the cable is run down my shirt, paper-clipped to my collar, and tucked the appropriate way into the appropriate pocket of my pants. It’s odd, I’m aware, but preachers want to know they’ve done as much as they can to ensure the message is delivered well.

This mentality of course impacts sermon development also. I know pastors, whose primary responsibility is to preach, who give 40+ hours of prep to each message. Others with less time are no less consumed with finding the best angle, the memorable phrase, or the knifing illustration. Preachers feel the weight of ministering the Word and work accordingly.

This is how it should be. 1 Corinthians 12 informs us that God’s purpose, His primary calling for some men, is to be His mouthpiece for His people. “God has arranged members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. (v.18)” “He has appointed in the church… teachers. (v.28)”

Preachers are designed to deliver sermons to the church. They love to talk and their people love to listen because that is the way God wants it. That is the way the body needs it. So, preachers take seriously their God-given mandate to teach, even if that means spending 30 hours studying and learning the ins and outs of sound equipment.

But, how many give similar effort to helping their people process the truth after it has been taught?

We have a tendency to work-work-work to get the Word delivered, and then chalk up everything that follows to “God’s Word doesn’t return void” and “It’s God who gives the increase.” It doesn’t and He does, but are we really putting our people in a position to powerfully respond to the message of God?

If we do nothing, if we don’t prepare on the backend like we do on the front, people will sit in their chairs, with hearts full and affections stirred, and nothing will happen. Sure, they will commit to themselves to do something about what they’ve heard. To remember it. To meditate on it. To act on it. But instead of following through, they will get together with other similarly moved brothers and sisters to watch a DVD or listen to a lecture about something else from someone else, somewhere else.

Through the Spirit-led, carefully crafted messages of His preachers, God is already speaking powerfully into the hearts of His people, but when pastors fail to intentionally shepherd the flock to respond to that work, much of the fruit is missed. I’m convinced that thousands of beautiful supernatural intentions die every week because the planning stops with the sermon. It is as though we spend several days of our lives preparing a delicious dinner only to fail to provide a fork with which to eat it.

It matters little how much you plan to get your sermon out well if you don’t give your people a chance to work it out well.

Such preparation doesn’t even take as much work as the sermon itself. Providing people the opportunity to process what God is doing in their hearts through the preaching falls somewhere on the difficulty scale between crafting the message and donning the microphone.

The most obvious way for a pastor to provide that opportunity is to create a brief discussion guide designed to help the body share their conviction, clarify their concerns, and respond to the challenges of the sermon. Someone from the pastor’s team can do it. Someone from this team can do it. But somehow, the moments to which the work of the week has led must not pass without consequence. If the church is gathering at other times throughout the week, one of the centerpieces of those gatherings should be sermon-based, heart-exposing, response-generating discussion. If we don’t create such an opportunity, we shoot the foot of our own function in the body.

When God crushes hearts through the work of His preachers, His people need to huddle together to process and respond to what He is doing. The men, be they lapel clippers or boy banders, who give so much care to ensuring the message gets out in powerful ways, must also create the opportunity for that message to be thought out and lived out in powerful ways.


Brandon Hiltibidal is a husband to Scarlet, a daddy to Ever, an owner of the Green Bay Packers, and a strategist for discipleshipincontext.com. Connect with him on Twitter @bmhiltibidal.

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Life and death in marriage

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From a very young age my mother has told me that I should aspire to become a litigator. I am not well versed in legal definitions, and perhaps trial lawyer is what she means to say. But terminology aside, her point is this: I have long had the ability to wear others out with my words.

I am analytical, logical, and competitive by nature, and so debate is an understandable love. I recently confessed, however, that this strength has not served me well in marriage. Being competitive at its core, the art of debate is a fight for intellectual victory. It is arguing at its finest, and at some point your persuasive arguments will, without fail, become personal. They will be a front for the art of self-defense.

And so the idea that a rapid-fire tongue has not served me well in marriage is an understatement. My ability to defend myself verbally in our relationship is in reality a restless evil, a deadly poison (James 3:8). It is more than a desire to debate; it is a desire to be right. And more than a desire to be right, it is a desire to rule and control. It is a desire to be my own god.

The antidote to this pride is found in Matthew 16:24-25:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

The great paradox of the Christian life is one that we understand. Christ took on our sin, in all its poisonous forms, and released us from its hold. Unshackled, we are freed to not only leave behind our past self, but to die to it. And in this death we are given a new life that pursues righteousness and a glory that is not found in us, but in God alone.

And yet despite this knowledge, we sin. While writing this essay, I had the opportunity to put my message into practice, and I failed. My husband committed what I perceived to be a small offense against me, and I argued my way to moral victory, leaving little room for loving discussion.

My desire to be right is the visible evidence of a deep-rooted lie that I can’t trust God to be good. I continue to come back to behaviour that tries to preserve my name, even though I know that self-preservation only leads to death. And why? Because my desire often strays, and I end up wanting to be more than the bridegroom, rather than having a desire for the bridegroom (John 3:29).

Through sanctification, we learn to desire correctly. In an interview with The Gospel Coalition, James K. A. Smith says that God’s goal in sanctification is “to set apart for himself a ‘peculiar people’ who are marked by their love for God and a desire for his kingdom – a people who show that as much as they tell it. The Lord wants us to be a people who are a living foretaste of his coming kingdom.”

What we are to desire is God himself, and marriage was designed to fuel this desire as it shapes and molds us into a greater likeness of Christ. The desire to be right is antithetical to this aim. And so we continue to flesh out the paradox of Matthew 16, as we are formed into the peculiar people who shed the habits that come so naturally.

And the result of our loss is pure gain.


Sarah Van Beveren is a thirty something mom to three little girls with boundless energy, wife to a suit wearing husband who keeps the coffee brewing, and the best kind of legalist– one in recovery and rocked by grace. She blogs at sarahvanbeveren.com, or you can connect with her on Twitter @sarahvanbeveren.

Photo credit: Brian Wolfe (CC).

Every open door isn’t meant to be walked through

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Imagine that you are visiting a friend who lives in apartment complex. You Mapquest your way to the complex, but your friend didn’t give you the specific number of his apartment, so you start walking up and down the hallways where every door looks the same. You’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for – maybe that welcome mat he used to have years ago? Perhaps a door knocker emblazoned with his family crest (cause that’s always there)? But not this time. There are no marks of identification to let you know which door is the right one. But finally, after walking down two or three hallways you finally come to a door that looks like all the other ones… except it’s open.

What do you do?

I can tell you what you DON’T do – you don’t just walk right through it, assuming that it’s the right one just because it’s open. You’re smarter than that, and depending on which state you’re in, you know about things like concealed handgun laws. You still knock. You still examine. You still use your powers of deduction and wisdom to know whether or not that open door is the right one to enter in.

Every open door isn’t meant to be walked through. But that’s precisely the way many of us treat God’s will in our lives. We glimpse an opportunity, we have a feeling, we see the seemingly greener grasses through that open door, and because the door is open, we conclude that surely this is what God intends for us. Here’s what it looks like practically:

  • God wouldn’t let me have these feelings if he didn’t want me to pursue this lifestyle.
  • God wouldn’t have given me this opportunity at work if He didn’t want me to go after it.
  • God would stop me from feeling bored in my current relationship if He didn’t want me to leave.

Just because the door is open doesn’t mean it’s the right one. Let me give you a case study from the Bible that helps us see this.

Though Saul was the king of Israel, his popularity had been surpassed greatly by David. David, the handsome young general. David, the champion over Goliath. David, of whom it was said had already been anointed by Samuel as the next king. And Saul would have none of us. In an obsessive rage, he launched out in a no-holds-barred manhunt for his once valued comrade. He chased him ruthlessly, and he chased him endlessly.

This went on not for days; not for weeks; but for years. All the while David ran, knowing that he was indeed the next chosen king. Knowing that as soon as something happened to Saul he would rise to the throne. Knowing at least at some level what God’s will was for his life. And then we come to the text in 1 Samuel 24:

When Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the wilderness near En-gedi.” So Saul took 3,000 of Israel’s choice men and went to look for David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. When Saul came to the sheep pens along the road, a cave was there, and he went in to relieve himself. David and his men were staying in the back of the cave, so they said to him, “Look, this is the day the Lord told you about: ‘I will hand your enemy over to you so you can do to him whatever you desire.’” Then David got up and secretly cut off the corner of Saul’s robe.

Afterward, David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the corner of Saul’s robe.He said to his men, “I swear before the Lord: I would never do such a thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed. I will never lift my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.” With these words David persuaded his men, and he did not let them rise up against Saul. (1 Samuel 24:1-7)

Talk about your open doors. The king was there, oblivious to David’s presence. And David was there, no doubt tired of running for the last four or so years. And his men were there, telling him that this was not only a golden opportunity, but that clearly this was from the Lord. After all, they knew God wanted David as king; and they knew that God had provided this choice circumstance; and they knew that it would be clean, quick, and easy. No more running and finally the chance to see what they all knew would eventually happen come to fruition. So up he snuck – quietly. Stealthily. Like the warrior he was, stalking his victim. The voices in his head were loud and clear: “This is going to be so easy. He’s completely unaware. The promises of God are true, you just have to take hold of them. Just reach out and…”

And then David blew it. I’ve got a feeling the text cleans up the conversation a little bit when David came back to the camp with a piece of a robe instead of the king’s head in his hand. So why didn’t he do it?

It’s because every open door isn’t meant to be walked through.

But that leaves us with a huge question, doesn’t it? How do you know? How do you know when to talk through the door and when not to? The text gives us at least part of the answer in David’s response: “I swear before the Lord: I would never do such a thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed. I will never lift my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed.”

The way you know if the open door is the right door is by comparing what you think God might be saying with what you know He has already said. David no doubt wanted to stop running, and he no doubt was tired of being pursued when he had done nothing wrong. He had all kinds of feelings telling him that this was the door for him to walk through, and yet even in the emotional tumult of those feelings, he had the ability to step back and evaluate the door before him not based on what he perceived in the moment but what he knew to be true.

God is the same now as He was then as He will be tomorrow. And if He said it then, He means it now. So how do you know if the door that’s open is the door for you?

Look to what God has already said. And then go with what you know rather than what you think.


Michael Kelley (M.Div.) and his wife, Jana, have three children. He’s the Director of at LifeWay Christian Resources. His works include Boring and Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal. Keep up with Michael on his blog at michaelkelleyministries.com or on Twitter @_MichaelKelley.

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When our culture helps and hinders our witness

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Though I was born and raised in a small agricultural community in northwest Mississippi, some may doubt my southern roots when they learn that I’ve never been to a county fair. I’ve never risked my life on a thrill ride that fits onto an 18-wheeler, never entered a farm animal into a competition, and never ridden a mechanical bull. I can’t see myself doing any of those things, ever.

But if I did go to a county fair, one thing I know I would do is enjoy the many deep fried delicacies. I’m not referring to potatoes or even pickles, but to things like fried Hershey bars, Oreo cookies, and blocks of butter. These treats are sweet to the tongue but sour on the stomach. They are so delicious that you can’t help but finish them and seek more, but they soon turn into lead balls in your belly and wreak intestinal havoc. Only time and liters of water can help the trials pass.

Neither of my grade school boys share my affection for deep fried delights, not even the savory varieties. Recently I attempted to surprise them with an unhealthy treat for dinner: fried chicken. As I ripped into a chicken leg that dripped with greasy goodness, my boys removed all of the skin and breading and pulled the meat from the bone. “I don’t like all that crunchy stuff, Dad. It’s too drippy with grease.” I was simultaneously proud and disappointed. That they prefer healthier foods is great, but I hate for them to lose a crucial part of their southern heritage. If they give up fried chicken now, they may give up sweet tea and watching college football tomorrow.

I confess my high level of ignorance when it comes to any Canadian cultural distinctives y’all have (that is, those of you who are Canadian1). Most of what I know about Canada I learned from Martin Short in that quirky tourism film y’all put on at Epcot in Walt Disney World. I’ll bet you a toonie there is more to Canadian culture than ice hockey, a two-four of Molson, Celine Dion, money that looks like it belongs in a board game, maple leaves, and Justin Bieber.2

I also imagine that in the same way I am grateful for my southern heritage, Canadians are grateful for theirs. When my wife and I got married 14 years ago, we were willing to live anywhere, but we preferred to root, bloom, and produce fruit in the South. We desired to go to restaurants that served sweet tea. We wanted Yankees to be the ones with funny accents. We hoped to use phrases like “I used ta could” or “I am fixin’ to do it” and not be questioned about our command of the English language. We sought the surroundings of hospitable, hard-working, kind and patriotic people who usually did the right thing just because you’re supposed to.

But the American south, not unlike the frozen tundra that is Canada, has more than its fair share of cultural qualities that I, as a follower of Jesus, am not thrilled about. Take southern hospitality. When I talk with Yankees who are on vacation or have just moved down here, they almost always say, “Everyone is so nice.” Of course we are. But they don’t know what we may really be thinking. We may simply be keeping the peace, telling ourselves how much better we are than them so that we’ll be nice to them and they will think highly of us. If we’ve ever said, “Bless your heart” to you, we’re glad you felt better about whatever stupid thing you did, but that was really our way of saying, “We’re so much better than you! Aren’t you thankful for how kindly we have expressed our superiority?”

Isn’t it fascinating that a culturally ingrained commitment to kindness can also produce a sense of moral superiority over the person you are being kind towards? It’s moments like these that led me to explore the relationship between the cultural behaviors and habits I have and my faith in Jesus. What I’m discovering is that distinguishing between the seed of the gospel and the soil of the culture in which the gospel seed is planted can be a difficult task in cultures that are, by and large, moral.

Kind of like the American south.

Kind of like parts of Canada, eh?

So the trick in living as a Christian, then, is to separate our faith from those parts of our culture that taint it without a harsh disregard for the gift of the culture God put us in. There will always be things associated with our culture to peel away because they distract us from the gospel or distort our message to a lost world. There are also things about our culture that make us who we are and are God’s gifts to us to use for the expansion of His kingdom. The more we grow in our love for Jesus, the more we will see where to be more like our culture because it helps and less like it because it hinders.


Today’s post is by Rob Tims. Rob is the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt. He blogs at SouthernFriedFaith.com. You can follow him there and on twitter @robertltjr.


Photo credit: pengrin™ via photopin cc

Should every Christian be in a small group? Yep!

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Every fall at my local church, we talk about the importance of being in a small group and we invite people to participate in them. This type of thing is happening all across the country, maybe even the world: the call for Christians to participate in small groups. But why is it important for every Christian should be in a small group? Here are three reasons:

Firstly, we should be in a small group is because we need to grow in our faith. Small groups are the place where we take what we learn on Sundays and put our Christianity to practice. In my small group, we share openly and ask questions of the text we’re studying along with the prepared questions. We discuss—often intensely—what the passage means or what issues it raises that we deal with in everyday life. This leads us to discuss the intersection of the Bible and daily life. Our discussions are often passionate and opinions are made known on a wide variety of issues. We bring the mess of our lives in and deal with it together (even with people who we might not know all that well at first). We do all of this because we love one another and want to spur one another onto love and good deeds.

Second, we need to be in a small group because we need accountability and prayer. Once during small group, I got a text from my mom regarding my dad who has dementia. I was close to tears and we stopped our study so I could explain what was going on. I read, word for word, what my mom said and my response to her text message. While this hasn’t happened frequently, I have to say it meant a lot to me that the group stopped and prayed for me. This is what small groups are about, a place where we take seriously what the Bible teaches and apply it in practical ways by caring for one another.

Finally, we need to be in a small group because we need one another’s insights and perspectives. Everyone benefits in a small group when all the members participate. The amount of education we have is not important, we can all learn from one another (I’m a seminary-educated Christian, and I’ve been a believer since I was a little kid, and I greatly benefit from the insights and perspectives of the other people in my small group). We might think we’ve made up our minds on a particular issue, but healthy small group discussion can help us realize we haven’t understood it from all sides (I’ve had that happen many times). We can open up and share what we really think about issues from the Bible, and then discover what the Word of God teaches. We can take what we learn and share it with others. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

This is what small group is about: they help us grow together, the give us accountability, and they open us up to new perspectives. We desperately need this—we desperately need one another. So when your church invites you to participate, don’t wait—join a small group as soon as you can!


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.


Photo credit: NBC

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.


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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.