What makes a person divisive?

It doesn’t take an in-depth understanding of the New Testament to see an important truth:

God really isn’t pleased with divisive people.

A totally unexpected and mind-blowing truth, I know. In Paul’s day, there were many who were stirring up division and dissension; the super-apostles in Corinth, the Judaizers in Galatia, former ministry colleagues throughout the land who’d abandoned the gospel…

These are some of the examples of overtly divisive people—but you don’t have to be someone who’s openly defying the Lord and proclaiming a false gospel while seeking to destroy God’s people to be divisive.

Being divisive is a lot easier than you think. In fact, you might be a divisive person and not even realize it.

All it takes is a little bit of pride.

My wife and I both love to be right. And it’s usually over the most trivial matters. In our efforts to help ourselves recognize our behavior, we’ve given it a title: being the rightest person in the room. It’s a silly term, but it helps snap us back to reality when we’re getting ridiculous.

Imagine, though, if we didn’t do this. Our meaningless debates would escalate into a serious conflict eventually. We’d dig our heels in, refuse to give ground and, sooner or later, say something we’d regret.

That’s why we need safety measures in our lives. We need silly names to defuse our own goofiness. We need people who can call us on our guff and tell us to chill out.

This is what I’ve seen people desperately needing in the recent Driscoll ballyhoo, on both sides. The folks who are looking to lynch him need to look at themselves for a second. It’s not that the idolatry of celebrity isn’t a crucial issue (it is), but what does the response of many say about the state of their own hearts?

Remember the behavior Paul charged Titus to teach: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). Does the delight some seem to take in thrashing this particular person online reflect this kind of attitude? Worse, do they think it’s really going to help him be responsive to legitimate concern and attempts at correction?

When you look at a guy like Driscoll, it’s not hard to make a case that he’s a divisive figure—but are the rest of us any better? There’s a certain extent to which we’re all that guy. The difference is, we just don’t get as much airtime, and it’s but by the grace of God that we are not also being torn apart by people who, arguably, care little to nothing for us as people. Who don’t necessarily want us to get better, but just don’t want us to have a voice anymore.

But we ought to remember that, as Paul says, all of God’s people “were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). This is what God rescues us from. Why sink back into that kind of divisiveness?

Critical thinking is good for your soul

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

There’s a line I shared in my little eBook on how to write book reviews that goes like this:

“Brothers and sisters, we are not to be sycophants. Don’t write a review that sounds like it was written by one.”

I want to take a bit of time today to expand on that a little more.

One of the mistakes I see less experienced bloggers make—which, by the way is a really bizarre statement to make (when did I become one of the more experienced bloggers??)—is always writing positive reviews. They seem to be wowed by every single book they read!

Now, I know there are some bloggers who only write reviews of books they like, and that’s fine, if your genuine, heartfelt conviction is you only want to talk about books you unabashedly love. But honestly, I can’t go there. Why?

Because critical thinking is good for your soul—and it’s a skill we sorely lack in our culture, Christian and otherwise. The Bible calls critical thinking “discernment,” which is referred to as both a discipline and a spiritual gift. Basically the idea is being able to identify truth from error, and doing so requires effort. It’s like exercising. The more consistently you do it, the stronger your muscles get, and the more your endurance increases.

So what do you need to do? The best way to know how to identify truth from error is to know the truth really, really well. So you read your Bible, you study it diligently. You work hard at this.

But then you need to put it into practice. There are two ways I do this: the first is I periodically read books I know I’m unlikely to align with theologically (such as A Year of Biblical Womanhood or Love Wins). This allows me to both test my own assumptions as well as think through the arguments and implications of other works. The goal, particularly when reading a book like this for review purposes, is to develop a balanced, helpful critique.

The other way I put it into practice is by, as I explained in the eBook, treating the author as secondary to the message. This is especially important when reading someone you like. Because you’ve got your own biases at work, you’ve got to be diligent to push through and not assume—whether because the author is a personal friend or an influential figure you admire from afar—what’s being written should be given a pass. Doing so is both dishonoring to the author’s intentions1 and damaging to you as a Christian. Thinking critically about the material from trusted sources has allowed me to dig into my own assumptions in a way that even reading opposing views doesn’t.

This was certainly the case when reviewing Why Cities Matter, which actually helped me to focus my views on urban ministry a little more definitively (in that I’m now far less comfortable saying we should focus on urban contexts at the expense of rural ones in order to “reach the culture”). Driscoll’s new book helped me work out my views on video preaching and think about the implications of a teaching pastor divorced from the body.

Finally, moving beyond the personal, there’s the benefit to those reading the review: when you read a critical review, you’re seeing a model of how to think critically. When I write a critical review, I don’t want you to just know what I think, I want you to see how I got there. I want you to see how I think and use what’s helpful in your own thinking.

Obviously I’m not advocating slamming books for the sake of slamming them. And I don’t want anyone to feel bad about writing predominantly positive reviews. What I am advocating for is careful, consistent, thoughtful discernment. A little good ole fashioned critical thinking is good for the soul, both your own and your reader’s.

The day God waged war

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I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with Christmas, or at least a lot of the trappings surrounding it. The struggle to create a “perfect” Christmas, the whole Christmas-karma nonsense… But one of the things I desperately struggle with is our lack of understanding of what Christmas is really all about.

Christmas—the incarnation—is a declaration of war.1

And yet, more often than not, we shy away from this understanding, don’t we? We joyfully embrace what happened that day and all the details of the story—

The Son born of a virgin, the shepherds attending Him, the angels singing, all of it.

But we forget to talk about why. Why did Jesus come to be Emmanuel—”God with us”? Why was it necessary for Him to come at all?

And, of course, we know the answer. We know why Jesus came. We know the baby didn’t stay a baby, but became a man who would die in our place, perfectly satisfying the wages of sin. We know the Easter story… and yet we don’t seem to connect the it to our Christmas celebrations.

We need to connect the dots. We need to remember, as some have said, that Jesus was born in the shadow of the cross. To see, as Simeon did, who this baby truly was and rejoice as he did:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)

Simeon doesn’t rejoice simply because he’s seen the baby Jesus—he rejoices because he’s seen God’s salvation. He’s held Him in his hands. That’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?

Can you imagine what our Christmas celebrations would look like if we had that same sense of awe?

This year, remember Christmas not just as “Jesus’ birthday” as some of us tell our kids, but as the day God waged war on sin and death. For when we do, it changes the celebration. It doesn’t remove the joy or the excitement. It doesn’t turn what should be thrilling into a funeral procession. If anything, remembering this only deepens our excitement.

For Christmas is the day God waged war—and it’s a war He wins.

Celebrating Christmas is telling the story of world history

candle-lr

In our celebration of Christmas, we are telling the story of world history. Just as the Fourth of July tells the story of independence from Britain, so Christmas tells the story of our successful war for independence from the devil. Christmas, and all the symbols of it (whether trees, carols, or Handel’s Messiah), are markers, monuments built from stone. They are an Ebenezer—thus far the Lord has helped us.

And practice. We order our lives around the life and accomplishments of Jesus. We do this, not so that we might live like pagans in between our holidays, but rather so that these holidays will mark and bound our lives, lives that are lived in the light of the conquering gospel.

And since we believe that the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, by this celebration we are not only living out our own worldview, we are declaring to unbelievers what the worldview of the entire earth will someday be.

Douglas Wilson, God Rest Ye Merry: Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything

Is it the method or the message?

Discipleship can be tricky business. You don’t always know what’s going to work with an individual, a small group or the larger congregation. Sometimes we think the solution to discipleship is giving people more books they won’t read. Sometimes we think it’s talking only about how we apply the truth to our lives (even if we don’t necessarily talk about how we arrive at said truth).

Gospel-Centered-Teaching

My friend Trevin Wax gets the frustration; more importantly, he’s voiced it in his new book, Gospel-Centered Teaching. What I really appreciate about what he’s written so far—and I’m only just a few pages in, so this isn’t a review by any stretch of the imagination—is he also get where the frustration stems from: it’s that we’re focused on the wrong thing. He writes:

I get the feeling that a lot of leaders are weary of running to the newest fad. Tired of trying to stir up enthusiasm for doing the same old thing. They realize it’s not enough to give the newest method.… I’m convinced that the method is not what matters most anyway; it’s the method. Get the message right, and God will work through a variety of methods. But miss the message, and the best methods in the world won’t bring about transformation. (Gospel-Centered Teaching7)

When we’re focused on methods, it’s easy for people to hide what’s really going on in their lives. It’s easy to hide your personal sin and struggles behind a video curriculum. It’s easy to ignore conviction when reading a how-to book.

It’s a lot harder when you’re being challenged to think in light of the gospel. Discipleship stems from the “therefores” of Scripture. “Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received,” Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1 (HCSB); but the message comes first. We can’t walk in light of what we don’t know. That’s what Trevin’s talking about, and that’s what we need more of in our thinking on discipleship, whatever method we employ.

Encourage your pastor by being fruitful

Hands Holding a Seedling and Soil

How do you encourage your pastor? In some ways, the answer seems obvious. We know we should pray for them (and hopefully we do). We know we should thank them. We know we should find ways to help them (all ideas I’ve discussed here). But there’s another way we can do this—simply, by being fruitful.

I love the way Thomas Watson explains this in his work on the Beatitudes. Watson writes:

Encourage God’s ministers by your fruitfulness under their labors. When ministers are upon the ‘mount’, let them not sow upon the rocks. What cost has God laid out upon this city! Never, I believe, since the apostles’ times, was there a more learned, orthodox, powerful ministry than now. God’s ministers are called stars (Revelation 1:20). In this city every morning a star appears, besides the bright constellation on the Lord’s Day. Oh you that feed in the green pastures of ordinances—be fat and fertile. You who are planted in the courts of God, flourish in the courts of God (Psalm 92:13). How sad will it be with a people, who shall go laden to hell with Gospel blessings! The best way to encourage your ministers is to let them see the travail of their souls in your new birth.

It’s this last line, “let them see the travail”—the difficult labor—”of their souls in your new birth,” that made this click for me. Pastoral ministry, one-on-one discipleship, small group leadership… there’s a great deal of pain that comes along with these things. When a leader sees someone they’ve invested in walk away from the Lord, it’s painful. When they see ongoing patterns of sin unaddressed, it grieves them. There are more tears in these roles than most of us realize.

But what brings much joy is to see a young man or woman “get it”—that lightbulb moment when they understand why an important truth is really important. When a leader gets to rejoice with them over the defeat of a particular sin. When they get to pray together over how to share the gospel with a family member who is far from the Lord.

Growing in grace—being fruitful—whatever language you want to use, if you want to encourage your pastor or lay leader, that’s the way to do it.

The gateway drug of ghostwriting

keyboard

There’s a lot of talk these days of ghostwriting, brought to the surface by the allegations of plagiarism facing Mark Driscoll. Ghostwriting is a serious issue—one that seems to be pretty clear cut, and yet many don’t see it that way.

Ghostwriting is the practice of writing books or other material where another author—usually someone who’s public notoriety can sell books, even if they’re incapable of actually writing them themselves—receives full credit. This is a pretty standard practice in publishing, one many don’t think too much of. In fact, if you’ve read an autobiography of an actor or politician, chances are you’ve read something that’s been ghostwritten.

And if you’ve read a book by a pastor, sadly, there’s a decent chance a ghostwriter’s been involved, too. A number of notable Christian pastors and leaders—among them Driscoll and John Maxwell—have employed ghostwriters over the years.

Writing a sermon and writing a book are entirely different animals. The only thing they have in common is they’re a form of communication. They require words. But how you write a sermon is not remotely like how you write a book. I remember being involved in a conversation with a big-name Christian pastor who admitted he has a really hard time sitting down to write—not do sermon prep, but actually write. It takes courage to admit that. And when he finally did release a book, he credited the person who helped shape the book, taking his sermons and making them actually make sense, as his co-author.

It takes integrity to do that.

Unfortunately, many don’t do this. They fall on the “accepted practice” clause, but fail to think through their actions biblically. The Bible doesn’t say, “thou shalt not employ a ghostwriter,” but it sure does say, “do not lie.” And using a ghostwriter and failing to credit them is lying. This is the same point Kevin DeYoung made just yesterday when he wrote:

Whether in sermons or in print, it’s not okay for pastors to take credit for something that is not theirs. Granted, the lines can be blurry. But that doesn’t mean the line doesn’t exist. And just because it feels like the sin of sloth more than the sin of theft doesn’t make it less of an error.

Randy Alcorn is even more forceful in his rebuke of what he calls the scandal of evangelical dishonesty. He reminds us that lying only begets more lying—ghostwriting is the gateway drug to larger integrity issues:

If we teach them it’s okay to lie by taking credit for a book they didn’t write, why should we be shocked if we discover they lied when they claim to have graduated from a college they didn’t, or to have fought in a war they didn’t, or to have done a job they didn’t? Isn’t it ironic that Christian publishers would consider it an ethical breach if they discovered an “author” gave them a resume containing false information, when the same publisher has knowingly led the public to believe this person wrote a book he or she really didn’t write? Which is the bigger lie?

Alcorn is quite clear: ghostwriting is lying. Period. In writing this, I realize I’m dangerously close to violating Paul’s admonition that the younger man should not rebuke the older. My goal here is not to do that. Instead, I want to ask the older men, particularly those who’ve employed ghostwriters: Why is this okay—and what does it teach those of us who are coming behind you?

To the younger, particularly those of you who are writers, I don’t have a rebuke, but I do have a plea: If someone asks you to be a ghostwriter, say no. If you have been ghostwriting, please stop. I know it pays pretty decently, but is the money worth the cost of your—and others’—integrity?

Of bloggers and book hoarders

pressgram-readingpile

Up until recently, A&E ran a creepy show called Hoarders, showing the struggles of people who can’t part with their stuff and their road to recovery. These are people who are living surrounded by overwhelming amounts of stuff—and often in terrifyingly unhealthy situations.

One of the things I really appreciate is the kindness of a number of publishers who send me a lot of books. This is really kind since they don’t have to do this (and I don’t always read what is sent—because it simply isn’t possible). But it also makes me a bit nervous. How do I balance the self-imposed sense of obligation that comes with receiving a book? Do I read it? Give it a shout-out and be done with it? Say nothing at all?

Worse, there’s a tendency to want more (which may well be an example of what the Bible calls “coveting”). It doesn’t matter if I can get through it or not, it doesn’t matter if I can start it or not—when I see a book I get excited about, there’s a temptation to get it.

And before you know it, my shelves are double (or triple) stacked, and my kids are building forts out of my book collection.

Which brings me back to Hoarders. Something that really hit home for me (and my wife) over the last year is the similarity between bloggers—whether they receive books or other products—and hoarders. If we’re not careful, we can let these things pile up and they overwhelm us.

Because of this, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about three basic rules that help me keep a bit of control over the growing number of books in our house. Hopefully these will be helpful for you too:

1. Pass up. If someone sends me an email asking if they can send me a book, there are times when I wind up not responding at all (usually because it gets lost in the sea of awful that is my inbox). But often, I find myself having to respond and say “thanks, but no.” Sometimes even to books that sound interesting to me.

Even if you’re not in a position where people are asking to send you material, if you’re just going to the book store, this is an important practice to get into the habit of. When you’re looking at a book, maybe ask, “But what I really need is…” and see what you’d actually fill in the blank with. Chances are, it’s not the book that’s in your hand.

2. Prioritize. One of my early mistakes as a blogger was failing to prioritize. I signed up for too many review programs (which I now don’t use) and requested too much material. I wound up in a place where I didn’t really know where to start.

These days, I tend to choose what I’m going to read based on:

  • If I have an outside assignment (such as when I’m reviewing a book for The Gospel Coalition)
  • If it’s part of my research for a book project
  • If it’s a book that will help me serve others
  • If it’s something dealing with a cultural issue that interests me

These are pretty broad categories, but they still help me a ton simply because they force me to be a bit more particular in what I’m reading and not try to do too much.

3. Purge. This is the hardest one for book lovers in general, but is the most exciting one for my wife. But if a book is on your shelf for more than a year and you’ve not opened it, it’s probably time to give it to someone else. If you read a book and it was terrible, strip the cover and recycle it.1 If you read a book and you loved it, but know you’re not going to read it again, give it to someone else. It’s rare that you’re going to have the chance or desire to go back to most of the popular level material you’re reading, so it’s just fine to say goodbye to it.

You don’t need the books you’ve not read, and you don’t need to keep most of the ones you have. There’s no shame in admitting it and a regular purging of your books gives others the opportunity to read something potentially really great.

Courage and the Christian life

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A couple weeks ago, a news story broke where a waitress who identifies as a lesbian claimed a family refused to tip her because they don’t agree with her lifestyle. The other day, the story returned to the news with a twist—it turns out the server lied.

While there’s a great deal one could say about the whole story, one of the things that struck me about it—even though it turned out to be false—was how much more difficult a story like this makes it for us to be effective witnesses to the gospel in the public square. Because Christians are typically depicted as backwards, hate-filled and homophobic by the media, stories like this make us want to stay quiet. We don’t want to speak up about anything.

And yet, speaking up isn’t something we can avoid—love won’t allow it. And so we need courage. Owen Strachan explains in his excellent new book, Risky Gospel:

…here’s the thing we must remember if we are to have a bold public witness: calling sinners out of sin is not hateful. It’s loving.

This is true of the gospel itself, right? It’s loving for someone to have shared the good news of Christ’s sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection with us. It’s unloving for a Christian not to share this message of hope. In the same way, it’s unloving for us not to speak the truth, whether in public or in private, about homosexuality—or adultery, lying, fear of man, pride, or lust.

It’s not hateful to tell your neighbor that he or she is trapped in sin. It’s kind and compassionate, and especially when you do so in a gracious and kind way. You can do it poorly if you speak without awareness of your own sin, of course. But if you’re humble and empathetic, and you courageously speak the truth about sin, you are by definition being loving. (190)

When the world calls “evil” “good”—whether we’re talking about homosexuality, lust, greed, adultery, pornography—it’s not unloving for us to say we disagree. There is a way to do it which is unloving, but what’s more unloving is for us to say nothing.

If we are Christians, we don’t have the option of being silent, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. If we love our neighbors, we must speak.

See it. Hear Him. Thank Him. Ask for more.

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

As the earth screams through space, balanced exactly on the edge of everyone burning alive and everyone freezing solid, as we shriek through deadly obstacle courses of meteor showers and find them picturesque, as the nearest fiery star vomits eruptions hundreds of times bigger than our wee planet (giving chipper local weathermen northern lights to chatter about), as a giant reflective rock glides around us slopping the seas (and never falls down), and as we ride in our machines, darting past fools and drunks and texting teenagers, how many times do we thank God? We are always in His hands, but we often feel like we are in our own. We can’t thank Him for every breath and every heartbeat, but we can thank Him every day for not splatting us with the moon or letting us drop into the sun.…

In a bed or on the battlefield or on asphalt in shattered glass beneath a flashing light, we are God’s stories to end. How many drunks has He spared you from? Thank Him before you ask to be spared from another. How many breaths have you drawn? How many winter winds have tightened your skin? How many Christmases have you seen? How many times has the sky swirled glory above your head like a benediction?

See it. Hear Him. Thank Him. Ask for more.

Search for moments in your story for which you can be grateful.

N.D. Wilson, Death by Living, 139-140

When you’re gun-shy about discipling others

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There’s this young guy I talk with most mornings at my daughter’s bus stop. He’s a really nice kid, not quite 25… but, man, is his life a mess (the details about which I won’t get into because, well, they’re none of your business). He’s also a professing Christian, and one who’s extremely young in his faith at that.

Both Emily and I have spoken with him regularly over the last several weeks. When I talk to him about things going on in his life, I tend to probe to find out how aware he is of what it means to follow Jesus, does he know what the Bible says on particular subjects, how aware he is of how his background affects his decision making.

He’s a really nice guy, and typically very forthcoming. For example, today Emily learned he plays Bible Roulette. Crack open the book, read wherever it falls. So she asked if I had a book I could give him on how to read the Bible.

But when she asked, I realized, reading a book on his own may not be the most helpful thing. What he needs is someone to actually work with him in learning how to read and study the Bible.

In other words, he needs someone to disciple him.

If I were doing this what would I work through with him? Francis Chan’s Multiply. As I said when I reviewed it at the beginning of the year, this isn’t really a book for individual reading—it’s a discipleship tool, and a really good one at that.

But can I be really honest? I’m terrified of even suggesting the idea to him. Why? Because discipleship is hard. There’s the time commitment, sure, but it’s the emotional investment… and the risk of failure. I’ve had mixed results in my efforts to disciple some other young men in the past (some of which I absolutely have to own), so it’s got me a bit nervous. What if I fail with this guy, too? What if he sees what the Bible says about any number of areas of life and says, “yeah, no”?

But maybe I’m overthinking it. And maybe this fear also brings to light something I need to remember myself: the results of any sort of discipleship relationship are not in my control. When I worry about “failing” this guy, what I’m really saying is I want to control the outcome. Or at a minimum, I want a guarantee that things will work out alright.

But God doesn’t give us those kinds of guarantees.

Nowhere does the Bible say that every relationship is going to result in good fruit. After all, the apostle Paul experienced this when men he considered his brothers in the faith and co-laborers abandoned him and turned against him—including Hymenaeus and Alexander whom he “handed over to Satan” so they might learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20).

So why would I expect to have greater success than one of the authors of Scripture?

The thing I have to remember, again and again, is that I’m not responsible for the results of my efforts in this area. I can sow the seed, I can water, but only God is going to give growth. So that should probably be enough for me, shouldn’t it?

The terrifying sound of silence

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The worship gathering is coming to a close. The pastor makes his final comments. “Let’s pray,” he says. Everyone bows their heads and close their eyes, and all feel the movement of the worship team taking their position on stage.

The pastor begins to pray… and before long a soothing “ha-wooh” sound emerges from the keyboard, floating through the room.

The “spirit chords” are at work.

Some of you probably never notice this, and if you’re one of those I apologize for bringing something to your attention you won’t be able to unsee (or rather, unhear). But it is something maybe we should be talking about.

Music, like nothing else, has the ability to signal to us how we should feel. Music filled with major chords and a fast tempo amps us up and gets us excited. Minor chords make us more reflective or, if you’re a fan of the Seattle sound from the early nineties, make you feel sad and drink coffee on a rainy day in a plaid shirt. When you watch a television show or a movie, you’ll notice cliffhanger moments (usually at commercial breaks) are capped by a short piece of music that gradually builds in intensity as the scene reaches its climax. For example:

Sometimes the spirit chords feel like this in a worship gathering. Like they’re intended to manipulate us into feeling a certain way—to bring about a “me and God” moment where the Holy Spirit will impress upon us the key take away from the message.

And yet few, if any, worship leader mean it that way (except those that do).

So why do we do this? I’ve wrestled with this for a while, but it wasn’t until I was speaking with some friends over lunch a few weeks back that I think I landed on an answer:

Silence is terrifying to us.

We live in a world that’s constantly trying to drown out silence. We always have music around us. When we shop, when we drive, at the gym, at the office… It’s like we’ve set life to a soundtrack, hoping that it will make the day-to-day a little more interesting.

Or perhaps it’s just an attempt to hide from what happens in those moments when silence does overtake us. When that happens, when the soundtrack is on pause, we have nothing to drown out our thoughts. We have nothing to distract us from what’s really going on in our hearts and minds. We can’t ignore the voice of our conscience—and we can’t run away from the Holy Spirit Himself.

  • It’s in those moments of silence that conviction comes upon us.
  • It’s in those moments of silence that we most strongly feel our need for repentance.
  • It’s in those moments of silence that we tend to most clearly “hear” the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.

Is it any wonder silence is terrifying to us?

This brings us back to the irony of the spirit chords. When the soothing “ha-wooh” begins, it may be doing the exact opposite of its intended effect—instead of helping us ease into a time of prayer, they drown out the Holy Spirit.

So what can we do?

Brothers and sisters, turn off the music on the commute. Sit in the silence and take note of what you “hear.”

Pastors and worship leaders, take a break from the spirit chords for a few weeks and see what happens.

Let’s let silence terrify us a little, and maybe see conviction and repentance come about.

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.

StartingSmall_Cover_LR

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. 

Five signs you need to quit blogging

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I’ve been at this whole blogging thing for about five years now. One thing I learned very quickly: blogging can be tricky business. Although it’s not actually all that hard to get attention in the Christian blogosphere, it can be fleeting. Deadlines can weigh on you. Life gets busy, and you have to ask: should I still be doing this?

(And for those wondering, no this isn’t my subtle way of saying I’m giving up the ghost.)

So when do you know you need to quit? Here are five signs:

1. You hear your wife making “jokes” about being a blog widow. Repeatedly. Within earshot. On purpose. This is usually a good sign that you’re spending too much time on the interwebs instead of ministering with and to your family. (And my wife wants you to know she doesn’t feel this way, for which I’m grateful.)

2. Your website is the sum-total of your ministry. Brother and sister bloggers, please hear me: I love you very much. I appreciate much of what you write. But your website is not your ministry. It should be an extension of your ministry, but if you’re not serving in a local church and being involved with flesh-and-blood people in any way, then can you please shut it down?

3. You’re always going to war—and usually over the wrong things. You might say you’re “truth-teller,” a “contender for the faith,” or some other such thing, I’ve got a news flash for you, Walter Cronkite: you aren’t.1 Seriously, building an audience on controversy isn’t hard. It’s probably the easiest thing to do, regardless of where you live on the theological spectrum. Evangelical “celebrities” make it really easy for you, too.

But you know what? It’s lame.

If your whole bag is saying The Gospel Coalition is full of gospel-compromisers, the “New Calvinism” is leading people back to Rome or drinking decaf leads you to liberalism, you need to get your head straight.2 You might feel tough using the word “heretic,” but you’ve got to take it easy. It’s a big word and can’t be taken back easily (the same goes for those who liberally toss about “fundamentalist” by the way). There are times when it’s definitely necessary, but you know when you should use it? When it’s really necessary.3

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2). If you’re always on the warpath, do you really think that’s not going to come back to bite you?

4. You turn every issue to your pet cause. I’ve seen radical egalitarian types lose their beans when a man says husbands should help around the house (because “helping” isn’t good enough), and pundits desperately search for a calvinistic conspiracy theory shaped needle in a haystack, but c’mon. Sometimes a comment is just a comment. If you’re always looking for the “thing” to justify your position, it’s a good sign you need to shut things down.

5. Your online persona and who you are in reality are unrecognizable. Confession: everybody’s got a little bit of this.4 Many bloggers find it easier to communicate their thoughts through words on a screen than words from their mouths. I get it. I’m like that, too. But if you’re a raging firebrand online and are about as gentle as a kitten offline, if being behind a domain name makes you feel mighty when you normally feel weak, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

If you travel around the Christian blog world at all, you’ll almost certainly recognize a few things I’ve listed here (which is also why I’ve chosen to forego naming specific sites). Heck, I’ve been guilty of a number of them myself (particularly being a bit too liberal with the h-word). Keeping the main thing (Jesus) the main thing can be tricky, but it’s worth it. And if you can’t, it’s okay to admit it. Just be willing to do something about it.