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.

Photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via photopin cc

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.

Originally published at michaelkelleyministries.com. Photo credit: dbz885 via photopin cc

I want a patriotic church

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One of the things I love about being Canadian is we’re not a terribly patriotic bunch. Don’t get me wrong; we don’t hate our country, and we’re more or less quite happy to be here. But even at the best of times, like on Canada Day1, we shoot some fireworks, have some concerts… but it’s pretty unusual for churches to share a message like “What’s right about Canada,” whereas in America, this is apparently pretty common.

There are good things and bad things to this, of course. Our lack of a patriotic attitude might be a lack of conviction. We don’t seem to feel too strongly about most anything, except possibly government-run healthcare and how we’re “better than” or “fat, but not as fat as” Americans.2 And this would be a shame, as (despite our passive-aggressive goofiness) Canada’s a pretty decent place to be. After all, look what we’ve contributed to the world: poutine, The Barenaked Ladies, Nathan Fillion, Tim Challies, William Shatner… How bad can we be?

But there’s a danger here, too. Our lack of conviction about the nation in which we live can easily morph into a lack of conviction about our true citizenship. So we sing songs, we go through the motions, we give lip-service to being exiles and sojourners, citizens of some other place.3 But really, we’re just pretty… okay.

We’re glad to be Christians, but we can be a little “meh” about the whole thing.

But you know what? I don’t want that for me or my church.

I don’t want us to be silly and sad and kind of pathetic. I don’t want complacency about our citizenship. I want us to be a patriotic church—not one that’s consumed with what’s great about Canada or America, but what’s great about our true home, the kingdom of God.

  • To be people who “await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil 3:20-21).
  • To be people who are looking forward to the day when Jesus guides us “to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 7:17).
  • To be people who, along with Peter and John, declare, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

That’s the kind of patriotism I want in my church and in every church in this world: an unabashed commitment to the Lord Jesus, and an unquenchable desire to see Him glorified. Anything less just isn’t worth it.

“Just believe” & other nonsense you hear in the movies

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I’m a sucker for cult TV shows—y’know, the ones constantly living on the bubble, that no matter how great they are can’t seem to find an audience, either because of network interference or… well, network interference is probably the majority of the reason.

Chuck was one of those shows that took Emily and me by surprise when we discovered it on DVD. But years before that, we found a show called Firefly. The brainchild of Joss Whedon, this show was set in the far-off future mashing up Star Wars, westerns and a touch of Star Trek, with one of the central conceits being, “What if the Federation were the bad guys?”

Not surprisingly, the show didn’t last long on TV, but eventually developed such a rabid fanbase that a movie was released in 2005, Serenity. Last night, Emily and I were watching the movie on Netflix, and I was surprised at how well it holds up in terms of its aesthetic and overall storytelling… but there’s this one scene that absolutely ruins the movie for me.

At a pivotal moment in the film, the lead character, Mal (played by the perpetually-smarmy Nathan Fillion) is with Shepherd Book, a Christian (ish) preacher, who is moments away from death due to the machinations of the film’s villain, The Operative—a devout believer in “a better world, a world without sin.” And so, Book, with his final breath, tells Mal, “I don’t care what you believe—just believe.”1

This is the key to defeating The Operative.

It’s intense. It’s dramatic. And it’s complete nonsense.

But, of course, you likely already know that.

The problem, obviously, is not with the idea of belief, but it’s what are we being asked to believe in. This is the common problem we see in so many movies and TV shows, including those where an apparently “Christian” preacher appears. Either he’s a proxy for a belief in morality as the key to happiness, or the spread of ‘murican values, or he’s some sort of pathetic Oprah-in-disguise-wannabe-hippie.2

We’re told to look to ourselves, to listen to our hearts, to follow our instincts. We are constantly encouraged to look inward, but fail to realize that it’s looking inward that’s the cause of so many of our problems. As Rob Gordon famously said, “I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have [expletive] for brains.”

This is why “just believe” or believing in belief or listening to our hearts and all the other nonsense we hear is just that—nonsense. And secretly, I think we all know it. We’ve seen it not work time and again, but we keep running back to it, hoping that this time it might be different.

This vain hope isn’t what the Bible calls us to. This false belief isn’t what Christianity is rooted in. We don’t belief in believe, as though that were somehow possible. We don’t believe in being good, despite what some preachers might tell you. We don’t believe in listening to our hearts, because we know how prone to wander they are. Instead, we believe in something sure and trustworthy.

We believe that God created all that is. We believe God is so far above us and yet so intimately near us. We believe in the promises of God and we believe He keeps His Word. We believe Christ truly rescues us from our sin through His death and resurrection. We believe that a day is coming when God will transform this world into a new and better one, one free from sin and death forevermore. And we believe this really does change everything in a person’s life.

That’s what Christians believe in. That’s what everyone needs to believe in.

But we don’t believe in belief, and neither should you. That’s just a road to nowhere.

Why am I thinking about getting an education (again)?

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“Why don’t you just go to seminary? You’ve got the mind for it, and you could probably get it done without too much difficulty.”

I’ve had that conversation a lot over the last few years. And I’ve had it at least a couple of times over the last few months.

As some friends know, I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with the idea of seminary. I love learning, I love the Bible, and I love learning about theology from older, wiser people. Years ago, thanks to iTunes U, I listened to a number of courses from RTS and loved it. To this day, I’m still feeling the influence of those lectures.

But there are other things that make me nervous about going to seminary. The potential for crushing amounts of debt is absolutely terrifying to me. On top of that, I have the added problem of only having a 3-year diploma, rather than a bachelor’s degree. This, as you can imagine, has the potential to limit my options pretty drastically. And then there’s also my need to maintain my job in order to provide for the needs of my family…

So why am I here once again thinking about this?

Am I foolish? Maybe. Probably.

But there are a few really practical reasons for it, but the biggest is simply this:

There are real limits to what I can do without a formal education.

I’m not an education snob by any means. I don’t believe a degree makes one person more qualified than another. I know of many journalism majors who are actually pretty terrible writers. I know of graphic design grads who have no visual sensibility. And I know of men with PhDs in theology who most assuredly don’t know Jesus.

But the fact is, I do run up against barriers because I don’t have a formal education. Sometimes it’s a knowledge gap issue for me (which I usually resolve by reading more books). There are also the limitations on where I could go in terms of service in a church, depending on the leadership’s position on whether or not an M.Div is required for pastoral ministry (that’s not me saying I’m planning to move in that direction, by the way).

But I also have the challenge that sometimes my position—no matter how well reasoned it may be—essentially amounts to being just my opinion in the eyes of some. It’s not that this happens often (by and large, I tend to deal with people who are very humble and open on these matters), but it does happen. And, as you can imagine, it can be incredibly frustrating, especially in those times when it really matters.

From a positive perspective, though, I’d be interested to see what kind of doors a formal education could open for me. Would it be beneficial to me in my current job or in a future one? How would it shape my ministry within my local church and beyond? Would it allow me to help people know and love Jesus to a greater degree than I can now?

These are some of the questions I’m wrestling with right now, even as I send off emails to various schools (including RTS and Covenant Theological Seminary, which seem to have the best online/distance programs available) to see what possibilities exist for a guy in my position.

What do you think: Does a degree matter? Have you thought about going to seminary? What factors played a part in your decision?


Photo credit: kern.justin via photopin cc

God loves us because He loves us

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Word of advice: if you ever want to set a pack of Max Lucado fans, address a concern about some of this theology.

A few years ago, I reviewed his book on social justice (it was also, outside of a kids’ book I received about a year back, the last of his books I read), a book that had some good points, but was kind of weird. Strangely graphic descriptions of temple guards that read like a cross between the movie 300 and something you’d find in a non-Amish romance novel, his typical lackadaisical attitude toward doctrine, and, most alarmingly, an extremely deficient view of humanity’s real state before God.

“Of course, no one believed in people more than Jesus did,” Lucado wrote. “He saw something in Peter worth developing, in the adulterous woman worth forgiving, and in John worth harnessing. He saw something in the thief on the cross, and what he saw was worth saving…”1

Never so quickly have I underlined a phrase in a book. Oh my stars… how such a statement that runs so contrary to the gospel saw the light of day, I’ll never know (wait, that’s not true, I do know how…).

And that, of course, is what set off the Lucado fans.

Reading Titus For You by Tim Chester this week reminded me of the weird goofiness we have surround the reason why God loves us and why God saves us. Why do I describe it as weird goofiness? Simple: we have a really, really hard time taking what the Bible says at face value. Just consider the following:

In Genesis 6:5, we’re told that “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And then He killed everyone except Noah and his family.

At the end of Judges, the writer laments, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The context makes it clear that everyone doing “what was right in his own eyes” is a very, very bad thing indeed.

Jumping along, with incredulity and awe, the psalmist writes, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)

Proverbs 20:19 declares, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?”

On and on the Old Testament goes. And in the New Testament, this message gets even more intense.

Jesus declares that we are evil (Matt 7:11, Luke 11:13) and he did not entrust Himself to people because “He knew all people” (John 2:24). We love darkness and hate the light and are condemned because our works are evil (cf. John 3:16-21). Paul even goes so far as to spend the first three chapters of Romans unpacking this major issue, culminating with, “For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom. 3:22-23).

Anyone else sweating a little?

Let’s be honest: that’s really bad news for us, because if we’re looking for things about us to make us worth saving—in our actions and attitudes—then we’re pretty much up a creek.

So what are we to do? Are we to just wallow in despair, or is there something we can hold on to?

Here’s a great encouragement from Chester:

“He saved us … because”. The word “because” is key. Here is the reason for our acceptance by God, the grounds of our confidence and the basis of our hope. It is worth asking ourselves: How would I complete the sentence, “He accepts me because…”?

Everyone answers that question somehow. If I think I will be saved because of something I have done, then I am not saved. I can have no confidence. Our acceptance before God is: “Not because of righteous things we [have] done” (v 5). Saving faith involves removing faith in ourselves. It involves stripping away confidence in anything except God. “He saved us … because of his mercy”. That is our true and only hope.”2

Why does God save us? Because of His mercy. His mercy shows us His glory. His mercy makes much of His name. His mercy is what sent Jesus Christ to take our punishment on the cross—not because we were lovely, not because we deserved it, not because we were worth it, but because He is so magnificent.

That’s why grace is so amazing. Why, oh, why, would you want to settle for anything less?

Is abundance dangerous?

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Hosea is one of those books that’s both extremely fascinating and troubling, not simply because of the illustration of God’s pursuit of his adulterous people through Hosea’s marriage, caring for children not his own and purchasing his wife out of slavery. (Side note: when was the last time you heard a really great Jesus-focused sermon from Hosea?)

The reason Hosea makes me uneasy when I read it, though, isn’t because of my spiritually adulterous ways (Lord willing, I’m faithful in that regard). It’s because of a different, but related, danger: that of abundance.

Hosea 10:1-2 give us a picture of what happened to Israel:

Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.

God gave Israel great wealth and prosperity. And it seduced them. They had their fill—more than their fill—and they became comfortable. They became complacent.

They started to say for themselves, “We have no king, for we do not fear the Lord; and a king—what could he do for us?” (Hosea 10:3) They became proud and they forgot the Lord (c.f. Deut 8:14).

And so, God tore them down. He humiliated them, taking a great nation and making them a laughing stock. He tore down their pillars, destroyed their kingdom and sent them into exile.

Because God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

The great danger of abundance for us today is complacency and pride. That we’ll rely on our own abilities to provide for our needs, rather than on God who actually does provide it through the abilities He has given us. That we’ll stop seeing the wealth He gives us as a gift to be stewarded and used for His purposes and begin building kingdoms for ourselves.

It’s easy at this point to start pointing fingers. We can look at the excesses of North American Christianity and shake our heads while tsk-tsk-tsk-ing until the sun comes up, even as we drive to church sipping a $4 latte. We can look at the pervasive goofiness of prosperity theology, with its tendency to store up treasure on earth for the promise of heavenly gain, and ignore our own natural inclination toward the pursuit of the same.

At the same time, though, we need to be careful not to demonize wealth and abundance. They’re not bad things in and of themselves. Wealth can be good. Abundance can be good… but it’s probably really, really healthy if we find that they make us a bit uncomfortable. When stewarded poorly, they bring about our downfall, but well stewarded well, they can be a great blessing to others.


An earlier version of this article was published in 2009.

The first and most important thing we can be absolutely sure of

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

…in days when life was smooth and easy, then people said how exciting it was to investigate truth and to examine it, and there were people who thought that was Christianity. It was to be a ‘seeker’, and you read literature and you compared this with that, and you said how marvellous it all was! But in a world like this one of the twentieth century you have no time for this, and thank God for that! We are in a world where black is black and white is white and that is in accordance with the New Testament teaching.

Christians are men and women who are certain, and John writes in order that these people may be absolutely sure. They were sure, but there were certain things that were not clear to them. That always seems to be the position of the Christian in this life and world. We can start with the truth which we believe by faith. Then it is attacked and we are shaken by various things but, thank God, these lessons are given to us to strengthen and establish us…. There are certain things that you and I should know. Christians have ceased to be seekers and enquirers; they are men and women who have ceased to doubt.…

But about what are we to have this certainty? Firstly, we are to be certain about ourselves. We know that we are of God. What is a Christian? Are Christians just people who pay a formal respect to God and to public worship? Are they just mechanically attached to a church? Do they just try to live a good life and to be a little bit better than others? Are they just philanthropists, people who believe in a certain amount of benevolence? They are all that, of course, but how infinitely more! Now, says John, we know this truth about ourselves as Christians. ‘We are of God’; by which he means nothing less than this: we are born of God; we are partakers of the divine nature; we have been born again; we have been born from above, we have been born of the Spirit, we are a new creation.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Fellowship with God p. 16-17

Do we make leadership more lonely than it needs to be?

word-balloons

“It’s lonely at the top”—but does it have to be?

On the one hand, I get it: yes, there are issues that only the guy on the highest point on the org chart has to deal with. Yes, there are appropriate boundaries leaders need to put in place in order to function… I get that because I’m a leader (although admittedly a mid-level one). Even at my level in terms of leadership hierarchies, there are limits to what I can do in order to balance my responsibilities effectively.

But when I hear this common bit of leadership “wisdom,” I just don’t resonate with it. Maybe it is simply because I’m in that middle area where I’m being lead even as I lead others, but the more I read about this, the more times I hear someone say “leadership is lonely,” the more I come to realize it’s not true. And the more I want to say one thing:

Leadership is lonely only because you’re making it more lonely than you need to.

This is the thing: when we’re lonely in this sense, it’s because, more often than not, we choose to be. But it doesn’t have to be so. Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely, no matter what the experts tell you. Here’s what I see as the primary cause of the “leadership is lonely” problem:

We think too highly of ourselves.”No one can understand what I have to deal with,” we might think. But you know what that is? Pride. I don’t know how else to put it. People might not be able to relate to the details of our circumstances, sure, but everyone’s pulling a Radio Flyer full of their own issues, the particulars of which we can’t necessarily relate to either. But if we let our “no one understands me” silliness isolate us, what we’re really saying is there’s no one as important as we are.

More often than not, when I see a lonely leader, it’s because he has chosen to be one. He isolates himself from others and has no discernible accountability structure. And what happens?

He self-destructs. His career ends. His ministry is discredited… and worse, some people cheer when it happens.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be all alone out there. We can choose to see ourselves as normal people—to engage with others, even if the particulars of their situations don’t match our own. We can seek out others who are in similar situations. As much as we believe it to be so, leadership doesn’t have to be lonely.

3 passages I want to preach (but have been afraid to)

raffaello-sanzio-cartoon-for-st-paul-preaching-in-athens

I’m going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret: preaching is really hard. It’s a task that can (or should) make even the most confident man a little weak in the knees. One of the things that’s always freaked me out has been trying to choose the right passage to preach… What if it’s the “wrong” message for the church, or what if I do injustice to the text? And let’s face it, some texts are significantly harder to teach than others.

Here’s a look at three books I want to preach, but have been afraid to:

Obadiah. How many sermons on this book have you heard? Thanks to The Gospel Project, I think my kids have now heard more messages on it than I have (that being, one). But this book, despite being the shortest book of the Old Testament, is rich with gospel goodness, with its powerful reminder that the Lord is sovereign over all nations and that He judges all and He has made a way to escape His wrath.

Genesis. Specifically, Genesis 1. It’s not because I’m afraid to wade into the origins debate, but because I don’t want that to be a distraction from a larger point in the text: this passage is primarily about Jesus—His power, His wisdom, His character and His redemptive work. And too often the origins debate overlooks this important truth. (This, incidentally, I’ve been thinking about coupling with Romans 1.)

2 John. This one is challenging in some ways simply because it’s so short (13 verses!). But again, it’s packed with richness that we can overlook due to the letter’s length. But just think about 2 John 9-11:

Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

This is such a strong warning from the apostle John—if you don’t believe what He said and do what He commands, you’re not Christian. Worse, if you allow false teachers to be among you, you’re indicted along with them. That’s heavy stuff, isn’t it?

So, those are a few of the passages I’ve wanted to preach, but have been afraid to—at least up until now. I’m working on my summer preaching itinerary now (and if you’re interested in having me come to your church, drop me a line!), and now I’m praying about the texts to preach—and specifically whether or not to teach some of these. It’ll be interesting to see where He leads.

What are some books you’ve never heard preached? Pastors, what are some books you’ve wanted to preach but have shied away from?

If the gospel isn’t in it, should we be singing it?

keyboard

So there’s a completely accurate report rumor going around that I’m pretty persnickety about music. Like, to the point that I have trouble singing most Sundays. This isn’t because there’s anything terrible with the music at our church—far from it, our church has a pretty robust music ministry (but thankfully no lasers or smoke machines)—it’s just I find myself thinking about the words we’re singing more often than not.

The reasons for this vary: sometimes it’s considering how those words line up with my own life at that moment. Other times, it’s contemplating whether or not the words are actually undeniably Christian, or if they’re just kind of feel-good gobbledygook.

Thankfully I am not alone in this.

A while back while reading Mack Stiles’ great book, Evangelism (reviewed here), I came upon this helpful bit of commentary:

My daughter-in-law, Stephanie, told me that she sang a song at her graduation that’s often sung in church services—”God of This City.” Half of her classmates were Muslims, and they had no trouble singing the song with gusto. If people from other faith backgrounds can sing a song with gusto at a secular high school graduation, we can be pretty sure there’s no gospel in the song. (85)

This is worth considering. But first, notice what Stiles doesn’t say:

  • He doesn’t equate a song’s simplicity with a lack of depth. Simple is good, provided what it communicates is faithful and true.
  • He doesn’t say “songs with first person pronouns are bad.” We should be able to sing in the first person as appropriate, certainly.
  • He doesn’t treat the song as if it’s evil in and of itself—he actually says later it’s a better song than most of the stuff on the top 40 (which is true).

But what he does say—and I emphatically agree with—is it is devoid of the gospel.

And again, this should make us think: what do the songs we sing on Sundays communicate about Jesus? Some communicate wonderful truths about God and the gospel, but far too many focus on us in the negative sense—what I’m doing, what I’m feeling, what I want, and, at best, treat God as a cosmic problem solver.

“Greater things are still to be done,” and all that.

While it may be unpopular to say, if a non-Christian isn’t deeply uncomfortable with the songs we sing because of their emphasis on Jesus, we might be doing it wrong. And if the gospel isn’t in it—should we really be singing it?

Few pretensions and disciplined performance

praying

My life has been blessed by some influential models. I must begin by mentioning my own parents. I remember how, even when we children were quite young, each morning my mother would withdraw from the hurly-burly of life to read her Bible and pray. In the years that I was growing up, my father, a Baptist minister, had his study in our home. Every morning we could hear him praying in that study. My father vocalized when he prayed—loudly enough that we knew he was praying, but not loudly enough that we could hear what he was saying. Every day he prayed, usually for about forty-five minutes. Perhaps there were times when he failed to do so, but I cannot think of one.

My father was a church planter in Québec, in the difficult years when there was strong opposition, some of it brutal.… In the ranks of ecclesiastical hierarchies, my father is not a great man. He has never served a large church, never written a book, never discharged the duties of high denominational office. Doubtless his praying, too, embraces idioms and stylistic idiosyncrasies that should not be copied. But with great gratitude to God, I testify that my parents were not hypocrites. That is the worst possible heritage to leave with children: high spiritual pretensions and low performance. My parents were the opposite: few pretensions, and disciplined performance. What they prayed for were the important things, the things that congregate around the prayers of Scripture. And sometimes when I look at my own children, I wonder if, should the Lord give us another thirty years, they will remember their father as a man of prayer, or think of him as someone distant who was away from home rather a lot and who wrote a number of obscure books. That quiet reflection often helps me to order my days.

D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 25–26.

Today is Father’s Day—although in my case, it’s the culmination of a weekend long celebration of Daddy. It started on Friday as soon as I got home, with cards and drawings, continued on through Saturday with a daddy-daughters date to the movies and a cake, and concluding today with, Lord willing, a nap.

One of the most touching moments of this weekend came from Abigail, with her hand-crafted Father’s Day card. Her message was simple: “I like it when you play with me. I am shure glad you are my Dad. You are true and I love you.”1 It’s her words “you are true” that got me. Whatever else Abigail thinks about me, she evidently doesn’t think of me as someone putting up some sort of pretense. And apparently it’s a good thing.

So many dads like me are flying blind. Either we didn’t have a dad in our lives growing up, or we did, but he doesn’t hold the same values we do today. So we’re kind of making the Christian father thing up as we go along. That’s where stories and examples like Don Carson’s father are so beneficial to us, and show us what we should be striving for: to be known as people of “few pretensions, and disciplined performance.” For our children to know us as men of the Word and of prayer, and who will gladly get down on the floor and play rather than run away to our books. If my children know me for these things, I think I will have accomplished far more than what could come from writing scores of books.

What do we do when “crazy” wins?

word-balloons

Yesterday’s provincial election was cause for celebration for the political left, with the Ontario Liberals winning a majority government in the midst of unbelievable scandals, crushing debt and deficit spending, and skyrocketing unemployment.

And so, here we are. Now the question is, what are those unsatisfied with the decision to do?

The way I see it, we have two choices:

The first is, we can grumble. We can lament what we perceive of as the insanity of the decision and rant about it. Honestly, this is where I was even as I wrote this—I was legitimately shocked (and more than a little annoyed) to see the results. That a scandalized party could achieve such success utterly confounds me.

There’s so much I could say on this, and am tempted to… but in the end, what would I be doing?

Grumbling.

And what good does that do?

None.

It doesn’t help me live joyfully—if anything, it robs me of joy as it encourages bitterness and taints my ability to love those with whom I disagree ideologically and politically (including some members of my local church).

Which brings me to the second choice. Instead of grumbling, I can pray. And truth be told, this is really hard for me, because, well, grumbling is easier (and in the moment, it’s sometimes much more fun). But it’s not what I need, nor what my family needs, nor what our province needs.

So, I can pray remembering that there is no government—even a thoroughly anti-Christian one—established except by the hand of God (Romans 13:1). I can pray for the wisdom of these leaders and welfare of this land, remembering that this pleases God (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and benefits the unbelieving world in which we live as sojourners and exiles (Jeremiah 29:7; 1 Peter 2:11). I can pray remembering that the actions of the government and the people—not simply in an election, but in all of life—are the result of Romans 1 at work, and that God is sovereign over all these things as well.