Let’s do some catalytic visioneering… and stuff!

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I have to be honest: I really, really miss the days when leaders were cool with just being called managers or leaders. You know, when people weren’t adding qualifiers to boost their self-importance self-esteem?

Today, instead of being managers, we’re leaders. But not just leaders, catalytic leaders. Visionary leaders with fireworks shooting out our rear-ends with every decision we make. (And not just because of the Taco Bell we ate at lunch.)

We get it, okay? You’re a big deal. You’ve got people skills, dag-nabbit!

But could you maybe shut up about it?

There’s a problem in leadership circles when you have to declare yourself a catalytic, visionary such-and-such with mad woo skills (which is just as creepy as it sounds). The problem is simple: you’re clearly not one.

Your vision is seen in what you’ve accomplished, not by what you say you’re doing.

Your ability to move people to action is less important than what action you’re calling them to.

Your charisma is less important than your character.

Who are we trying to kid, honestly? The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it’s ourselves.

We want to be seen as important. We want to be seen as big deals. We have a brand to uphold and promote, after all. We want to matter… because, well, we are deeply insecure. We are unsure of our ability to lead faithfully, so we mask it in bravado. We are insecure in our relationship with Christ, so we look to our performance for comfort.

But it’s a little bit like a foodie blog operated by someone who only knows how to make Kraft Dinner. The disconnect is often obvious to everyone but us.

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth,” says Proverbs 27:2, “a stranger, and not your own lips.” There’s a reason the Lord inspired these wise words. When we praise ourselves, we reveal our insecurity.

But, brothers (and sisters, too!), we do not need to be insecure. The fruits of our labors will be apparent to all in time, if they are not already. And in time, if the fruit is good, the lips of another will praise our efforts. So we don’t need to!

Leader, let another praise you. Worry less about calling yourself a catalyst or a visionary. Vision and charisma is fleeting, and your security is not in those things anyway.


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What loving our enemies looks like

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You know how there are some passages of the Bible people seem to reject quicker than others?

Romans 1 is one of those.

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to preach on this text, one of the most divisive chapters of the Bible. Much like Genesis 1, which presents God as the authority over all creation, Romans 1 reminds us that, despite our best efforts, we cannot deny His existence, for He has made it plain to us in the things that are seen.

And yet, people do deny Him. Thousands of people die every day clinging to this rejection of God… Thousands live every day clinging to it, and embracing its fruit with abandon. Idolatry, foolish thinking, sexual immorality, gossip and slander, disobedience to parents—evil of all sorts and kinds. For these, who are haters and enemies of God, only one thing awaits them at the end: the unrestrained wrath of God.

And even as we know this truth, that punishment awaits, we are also called to love the lost, to love our enemies. So what is one of the most important ways for us to love them?

The answer is, for many, something that seems so counterintuitive, and yet it is the one thing that can turn away the wrath of God from those who are perishing: the gospel.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). This is the only hope those any of us have. And so loving our enemies, loving those who mock and jeer, who treat us as intellectually incompetent because we believe such silly things, means telling them this truth—stuffing our pride and often our hurts so that they might also be saved.

We plead with them, knowing that they might reject us. But we do it because God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked. Think back to Ezekiel 33:11, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and life,” God says. “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?”

There is no act of righteousness committed by man that will satisfy God’s anger. We need the righteousness of another to save us, a perfect righteousness. And so God, in love for His people, provided. God loved the world in this way, by sending His only Son so that whosever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. And at the cross, Jesus took the full force of God’s fury against sin, bearing the burden for every sinful thought, word and deed ever committed by those who would believe in Him. And then He rose from the grave as proof that sin had been defeated, that forgiveness had been achieved, and could be found in Jesus.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” Paul wrote in Romans 1:16-17. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

And so we must go and we must plead with those around us, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?” We must plead with them to repent and believe the good news. We must offer them the grace God has so richly provided in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Because those who have rejected God’s authority are perishing, we must plead with them to repent. We must show great love to the lost. Great affection toward those trapped in the worst of sins. But most of all, the most loving act we can possibly do is tell them that their only hope is to repent and believe.

The righteous don’t go with the flow

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The happy man (or, the man enjoying God’s blessing) is the separated man, a man who is not in neutral but who has a bias against evil in all its forms.… So… how happy the man who does not… He is countercultural. He is, in a word, different. He is not just a nice, easy-going, tolerant chap who likes to share a Löwenbräu with you. There’s a difference between the righteous man here and what my culture calls a ‘good old boy.’ He resists the vacuum-cleaner power-moves that evil puts on him. Mardy Grothe tells of a long-lived lady who, when asked what was the best thing about being 104, replied, ‘No peer pressure.’ But the righteous man in [Psalm 1:1] is not 104 and he meets plenty of peer pressure. It may cost him. But the righteous man is the one who does not go with the flow.

Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12, 15

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Being all about Jesus: thoughts on Mark Driscoll, anger, forgiveness and grace

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So… Mark Driscoll.

Yeah.

By now, you’ve probably read scores of blog posts from all corners of the Internet talking about his removal from membership with Acts 29, the church planting network he co-founded, and its board’s call for him to take an extended leave of absence from ministry.

You’ve read accounts from his apologists and antagonists alike, responding to the charges of abusive behavior, vulgar language, and sinful anger, to name but a few of the disqualifying charges leveled against him.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably had a mix of emotions.

“How could I have been so foolish?”

I first learned of Mark Driscoll in 2006, as a fairly new Christian (about 18 months as a believer), and just beginning to come to some doctrinal convictions. I was a member of a church that followed a seeker-sensitive model, but with little gospel proclamation. Hearing him was refreshing, even if I could have done without the yelling and whooping. He was relatable in the way he spoke. He talked about Jesus a lot. He preached the Bible as if it really mattered.

Those are things I’m truly grateful for.

But over the years, as my own discernment and convictions grew, his shininess became tarnished. Questions and concerns started growing: about the quality and content of his preaching, about his responses to criticism about his books, about the concerns I was seeing more and more frequently in my newsfeed and hearing from people in the circles I travel in.

And then the plagiarism allegations came to light, which have been more or less proven true (whether you agree with how they came about, well, that’s a different discussion). And then the revelations of the culture of fear and abuse from former—and well respected—elders and staff members. And then the… You get the idea.

With revelation after revelation, my disillusionment started to turn into anger—anger at the numerous and carefully crafted apologies that seemed designed to absolve oneself of guilt, but lacked true contrition. Over the number of people damaged, even as numerous people came to know the Lord. Over the way the Lord’s name was being defamed as one man continued to act with impunity and without accountability.

What do I—as someone watching this mostly from a distance—do with this? What do I do with this anger, this heartbreak, and this feeling of “oh my goodness, how could I have been so foolish?”

Turn away from anger

As hard as it is, turn away from anger. When anger is left to fester, it becomes bitterness. And bitterness is death. When we let anger linger, the offense we feel can lead us to rejoice in Driscoll’s downfall. What was hidden has been revealed, as the Lord said it would be. But the last thing we need to do is point and say, “I told you so!”

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,” Proverbs 24:17 tells us. If you see Driscoll as an enemy to the gospel or as your enemy, you must not rejoice in all of this, as tempting as it may be. It’s disrespectful to him, it’s unbecoming of you, and it’s dishonoring of the Lord Jesus. To not put too fine a point on it, if you are rejoicing over Driscoll’s downfall, consider your ways.

Similarly, remember that we live in a culture that distrusts authority of any kind. You and I are not immune to this. And seeing the actions of a prominent figure like Driscoll can exacerbate this tendency. When a leader falls, we easily say, “And that’s why we shouldn’t have leaders,” when the truth is we shouldn’t have leaders who don’t have true accountability. God established leadership in the church, but he also established accountability for that leadership. It’s why we’re told that Jesus walks among the churches, and stands in judgment over them. It’s why we always see a plurality of elders—not in name only, but in practice—and teaching always tested against Scripture. It’s why laypersons can and should be able to raise concerns about our leaders, just as we can about one another.

Let grace triumph

But more positively, what we can do is, where we need to, seek forgiveness. If, in my failure to voice concern about a leader I have failed my brothers and sisters in Christ, I need to ask their forgiveness. If by my actions, I have allowed an abusive leader to continue unchecked, I need to repent. If in my desire to believe the best about someone (which we should always seek to do), I have failed to examine that person critically, I need to admit I was wrong.

I am not personally responsible for Mark Driscoll’s continued pattern of sinful behavior (and chances are, if you’re reading this, you aren’t personally affected by it, either). But while I am not responsible for his actions, I do need to confess something: I was not discerning enough about him. I wanted to think the best of him. I wanted to believe that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, he had true accountability. I was wrong, and I am sorry because, had I realized how bad things truly were, I would never have recommended his books, nor would I have recommended his teaching. But here is my hope in this: that grace would triumph.

And that’s my prayer in this ugly situation. I’m praying that those who have been hurt by Driscoll’s abusive behavior, those who have been maligned and slandered, will find healing and restoration. I’m praying that Mark Driscoll would heed the call from his brothers in Christ to take an extended leave—even a permanent one—from ministry and get the help he desperately needs. I’m praying that the existing elders who remain at Mars Hill will have the courage to humble themselves as they attempt to pick up the pieces and restore trust among those who make it their home. I’m not praying for former glories to return. But I am praying that, true to their tagline, every decision made from here on out would really be “all about Jesus.”


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Three warning signs I’m too busy

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These days I’ve been feeling pretty distracted. Pulled in a lot of directions. Focus hasn’t been coming easily to me. I’ve spent the last two months working more than I should, although with good reason, which help that whole “work/life balance” thing. I periodically go through seasons like this, where—either because of external factors or my own tendency to take on too much—I find myself with waaaaaaaaaay too much on my plate.

So how do I know when I’ve gotten there? Here are three signs that usually clue me in:

1. Reduced sleeping time. While I’ve always been a six or seven hours a night guy (which is barely considered healthy), when I am too busy, it’s really not good. It usually starts with bedtime getting pushed back just a bit later. And then a bit later. And then a bit later again.… And then the morning starts coming earlier. And a little earlier than that. And then a little earlier than that. And then consistent sleep becomes elusive, to the point that I’m waking up periodically throughout the night, getting maybe 2 hours of sleep in a row… and only four to five hours of sleep total.

2. Forgetfulness. Because I’m trying to do too much, I start forgetting things. At first it starts small, like forgetting a piece of a conversation, but it escalates from there. This one is probably the most frustrating for my wife, even more than my occasional irritability, because it is so disruptive to our daily lives.

3. Unfocused reading. Honestly, this is the sign that almost always clues me in. When I’m way too busy, I can’t focus easily. And because I can’t focus, reading just one book becomes challenging. So I start a book… and then I start another. And then another. And then another… and before you know it, I’ve got up to 12 on the go. Which is dumb.

It’s also where, I realized this week, I’m at. I’ve been way too busy lately. But I have a hard time realizing it. This is, in part, because one of the ways I unwind is by… working. When I’m not working at my day job, I’m writing a blog post, or working on a documentary script, or a book proposal or doing some marketing consulting work.

(My wife likes to joke that my hobbies are jobs.)

For me creative outlets—which usually come in the form of work—help me unwind.

But when I’m not careful, when my employer’s needs increase during a particularly busy season for example, even the things that help me unwind can actually add to my feeling of being way too busy.

At this point in an article like this, it’s typical to include the “and here’s what I’m doing to change all that.” Well, I’ve got some bad news: I don’t have anything profound to say on that. I can only give the first step: recognizing the problem. But that’s probably the most important one because if you don’t see the problem—if you don’t know how to recognize the warning signs—you won’t be able to work toward finding a solution.


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You know it’s not that hard, right?

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I don’t always do something stupid, but when I do, it’s usually reading comments on blogs.

Seriously. I’m very thankful for the helpful quality and tone of 99.9 per cent of the comments I receive on this blog. But, dang, you all are the anomaly, I think. That or I’m just reading the wrong websites.

Anyway…

The last time I made the mistake of reading the comments section on a blog, it was on an article talking about some of the latest blunders and buffoonery coming out of Seattle (I can’t remember the site, which may or may not be a good thing). As I read these comments, some thoughtful, some obvious trolling and attempts at gaining some attention for their own blogs, I stumbled upon a statement I never expected to see:

“I don’t believe any pastor needs to be above reproach.”

I… What do I even do with that besides say: “Well, you should, because the Bible tells you so (1 Tim 3:2)?”

The thing that’s funny about this blanket character qualification for a pastor/elder, this whole idea of being above reproach, is, really, it’s not that hard in some ways. I mean, at a basic level, being above reproach could be summed up simply as being a person of good character—you’re the kind of person who, as Thabiti Anyabwile puts it, “no one suspects of wrongdoing and immorality” (Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, 57).

It doesn’t mean you’re perfect. It doesn’t mean you’re sinless.

But it does mean your character is such that others would be absolutely shocked if you were accused of some wrongdoing or immoral behavior or speech.

It means people would be surprised if you were accused of trolling on a website, swiping from other people’s sermons, only allowing your kids to watch the prequel trilogy, fudging your taxes, sexually harassing your admin assistant…

You know it’s not that hard, right?

When we no longer believe a basic character requirement—one that, at the lowest possible bar, means adhering to “Wheaton’s Law“—is actually a requirement, it’s sad. When we no longer believe it’s attainable, something is dreadfully wrong.


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Accidental double agents in the pulpit

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You have heard it said, “Pray like a Calvinist and work like an Arminian”—or, “pray as though everything depended on God, but work as though everything depended on you.”

But I tell you, this silly nonsense should never be heard coming from the lips of a consistent Evangelical Protestant.

Ever.

The reason is simple: aside from being stupid, it’s heresy.1

This realization hit me as I continued my trek through Bruce Shelley’s wonderful Church History in Plain Language. There, as he writes about the founding of the Jesuit order, the Catholic Counterreformation, and the Council of Trent, he explains:

Luther, Calvin, and Grebel stressed salvation by grace alone; the council emphasized grace and human cooperation with God to avoid, in [Ignatius of] Loyola’s terms, “the poison that destroys freedom.” “Pray as though everything depended on God alone;” Ignatius advised, “but act as though it depended on you alone whether you will be saved.” (Kindle location 5346)

One should quickly and easily see the problem with this kind of thinking.2 Whether we’re using this concept in thinking about our own growth in godliness, encouragement to fellow believers, or in ministry to the lost, it is a failure to recognize that everything does depend on God, both in prayer and in practice.

Praying as though everything depends on God is right and true—but we also must work as though everything depends upon Him. Because everything does.

This is the truth of Philippians 2:12-13—that, as we work, God works through us. This is the reality of John 15:5—if we abide in Christ, we will bear much fruit. But apart from Him, we can do nothing. This is the fact of John 14:12—that we who believe will do the works Jesus does!3

There is no dependence upon us to get things done. God is not passive. Nor is He is impotent.

We work, knowing that it is God who works through us. We are instruments in the hands the master craftsmen, and joyfully so!

A cute soundbyte makes for a memorable quote, but if we don’t think about our words, we may also be acting as accidental double agents in the pulpit.


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A prayer for contentment

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Oh Lord, You are my shepherd and I should not be in want,
but so often I struggle to be content and do want;
forgetting that you have graciously provided me with every spiritual blessing in Christ
and everything I need for life and godliness.

Thank you for often not giving me what I want
because my desires would draw my heart from being satisfied in You.
Help me to be content in You with what You have given me
and to not be focused on what my flesh wants or the world tells me I should have.

Protect me from coveting possessions or people,
talent or influence, relationships or prestige.
Keep my heart from being anxious for what I don’t have
and make me thankful for the numerous gifts that You have already given.

According to Your Word and steadfast love,
fill me with the joy and satisfaction of contentment in Christ.
Help me learn to be content in any situation like Paul
and to quickly reject the idolatry that dwells beneath the surface of my coveting.

I ask you to continually bring to mind your faithful provision for all of my needs,
that Christ died for the sin of coveting,
that in Christ I am free to be content and live righteously,
and that godliness with contentment is greater gain than pleasing my flesh.

And may I be humbled and changed by the ultimate example of contentment;
of Christ becoming poor in order that I could become rich,
and being content to go to the cross to fulfill the Father’s will
to rescue a people for Himself who can be free from discontent and zealous for good works.


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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Everything hidden will be revealed

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Jesus scares me.

He absolutely terrifies me sometimes. Not because of the power He exhibits in His miracles, although that’s certainly a good reason to fear Him. It’s because of what He says. He tells us we have to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). He warns that some who do mighty works in His name will hear, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). And then He says things like this:

No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. (Luke 8:16-18)

On the one hand, there is great encouragement to be had here: You cannot hide who you are, it always comes out. If you are in Christ—if you are called “son” or “daughter” by God our Father, if you have been saved by Jesus, if you have been given new life through the Holy Spirit—you can’t keep it hidden. It will always be made manifest; the “light” of your faith will eventually be revealed, even if you try to cover it.

Negatively, the same is true. If your heart is rotten, if there is darkness in your soul, it will be made manifest. It will inevitably come through in your speech, whether in words of anger and hatred, or sweet words of manipulation. No matter how hard you try, no matter what kind of appearance you put forward, what you are will be revealed.

Anyone else a little nervous?

If it doesn’t scare us a little, then I’m not sure we’re really taking verse 18 seriously: “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

It’s not difficult to see how this warning is at work in the life of a guy like Mark Driscoll, who built his entire ministry on his persona as an edgy, “angry young prophet.” And many of us, who were either too immature to see it, or too caught up in the excitement of seeing the lost come to Christ through (or perhaps in spite of, depending on your point of view) his efforts, turned a blind eye to concerns that have only grown more serious.

And now it’s all coming to a head. Plagiarism. Manufacturing a bestseller. Questionable financial dealings. More and more stories of people coming out about their experiences at Mars Hill… And now, the unearthing of a thirty-ish year-old Driscoll’s actions as “William Wallace II” online—140 pages filled with some of the most foolish, ungodly, and downright evil things I’ve ever had the misfortune of laying eyes on.

“For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

No one knows for certain what’s going to happen to Driscoll or to Mars Hill Church, nor is it really appropriate for any of us to speculate. But it should make us consider our own actions—and do so with fear and trembling. What have we done that, if revealed, would end our careers, our marriages, our ministries? What have we said—or thought—that would put the worst of the Wallace rants to shame?

None of these are a secret to the Lord.

And if they’re online, they’re probably not a secret to someone else, either.

When we see a man besieged, and potentially undone, by controversies of his own making, we should weep—for him, for the people directly affected by all of this… And also for ourselves, for but by the grace of God go we.


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Dealing with pain

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One of the hardest aspects of my Christian life has been dealing with emotional and spiritual pain. Over the years I’ve had some pretty hard experiences, as I’m sure you have. One recent experience I’ve had has been due to my dad’s development of frontal temporal dementia and the subsequent exasperation of his mood disorder. Sometimes the idea of my dad’s dementia hits me like a ton of bricks. I can be just fine, working away, and then bam, I start thinking about what his dementia will do to him. It isn’t as if I’m actively thinking about what his disease will do to him. Sometimes it will seemingly come from out of the blue; while other times I foolishly “stuff down” how I feel. When I force this feeling back, thoughts about the situation with my dad bubble up suddenly to the surface like a rolling boil.

Maybe your mother or father has a disease that will end up crippling them and eventually lead to their death, the way my father does. Perhaps you’ve lost a parent tragically or you’ve experienced a massive amount of financial loss, or a relationship you’ve invested heavily in was abruptly over. We live in a fallen world that requires us to deal with pain. To neglect dealing with pain and avoiding one’s own feelings isn’t healthy. In fact, avoiding your feelings only leads to further issues such as compounded stress, guilt, shame, depression, and more. Dealing with pain is an unavoidable part of life.

Dealing with pain is part of dealing with reality. The day I sat down to write this article, I cried for a good half an hour while working on another project. I kept telling myself as I cried to “knock it off,” but the tears didn’t stop. Finally, I stopped telling myself to knock it off and just cried until I stopped. It’s important to remember that Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions, but never sinned. Jesus was beaten, scourged, and died the most bloody and brutal death known to man. He experienced betrayal by those closest to Him. When I feel like I do with my dad, I remind myself I have a Savior in Jesus who understands what I’m going through. Jesus is unlike me, however, in that He is sinless, while I’m a sinner clinging to and abiding in Him.

Preaching the gospel, and not a self-improvement message, is the key to rightly dealing with pain and reality. As Christians we have a big God who knows what we are going through, who is near to the broken hearted, and who genuinely desires to walk with His people through pain and suffering.

In my teenage years I struggled with telling people, “I love you”. There are times when I still struggle with this. While over the years I’ve grown better at telling people I care about them, even recently I struggled to say, “I love you” to someone I care about a lot. It wasn’t that I didn’t genuinely love this person, I do but I just didn’t feel very loving at that moment. Perhaps you’ve felt that way as well. How do we get over the feeling of feeling icky? The Bible talks about a word rightly spoken. You never know when you might offer a word of encouragement at just the right time. You never know how your prayers or ministry to someone might be the catalyst the Lord will use to genuinely help someone.

As we wrap up this article, I want to give you some (hopefully helpful) advice on how to deal with pain. First, understand that others around you are experiencing different degrees of pain in their own life. Experiencing intense pain whether emotionally, physically, or mentally will cause you to be more sympathetic, compassionate, and humble toward others. Second, get a good support system around you from your local church, family, and friends. Finally, I encourage you to open your Bible and engage in the spiritual disciplines. If you don’t know what those are, I encourage you to get Donald Whitney’s classic book The Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

Whatever you do, don’t be silent about your struggles and please don’t ignore or avoid them. Deal with your issues by facing them head on by the grace of God, and with the help if needed of trained professionals. Dealing with pain is an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. Look to Jesus and remember what He suffered. He knows what you are going through. Run to Him, cling to Him, and rest in Him; He is sufficient for all you need.


Dave Jenkins is the Director of Servants of Grace Ministries and Book Promotions Specialist at Cross Focused Reviews. He and his wife Sarah are members of Ustick Baptist Church in Boise, Idaho where Dave and his wife serve in a variety of ministries. You can follow him on twitter @DaveJJenkins or read more of his work at servantsofgrace.org.

Photo credit: freeimageslive.co.uk – Halloween

Links I like

Encourage your church to pray

The ERLC has just put together an insert about the continued persecution of Christians around the world. I hope you’ll print this out for your congregation and include with this week’s bulletin.

Two Questions that May Greatly Improve Your Church’s Ministry

Kevin DeYoung:

I’m no management consultant, leadership expert, or church growth guru. But if you love your church and want to see it as effective as possible–for the sake of evangelism, education, exaltation, and whatever other E’s you may have in your mission statement–try asking these two questions. One is from the pastor for his leaders, and the other is from the leaders for his pastor.

Coffee Shops and Productivity

This is a very helpful article discussing just how productive we really are at coffee shops.

The Use and Abuse of Video Church

Richard Phillips:

For all the blessings of this kind of technology, there are some important limitations to video worship of which Christians should be aware and which call for us to make a wise use of this resource. In short, our live webcast is designed for those who are not able to come to church, not as a substitute for those who would otherwise come to church. With this in mind, let me point out some reasons why we should greatly prefer attending church in person, along with some suggestions for our practice.

 Should My Middle Schooler Date?

The short answer is no. But for a more nuanced answer, read this.

Justice Needs a Face

Bethany Jenkins:

I studied law under some of the top legal minds in the world. I learned about foreign affairs and the Constitution from an adviser to the State Department, corporations law from a former SEC commissioner, and criminal investigations from a United States circuit judge.

Throughout my three years in law school, though, there was one word that my professors never uttered and my classmates and I never mentioned. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw it referenced in any of the hundreds of Supreme Court cases that I read. Yet this one word—hospitality—is integral to the biblical idea of justice, order, and flourishing.

When forgiveness becomes a discipline

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Peter was looking for an “attaboy.”

Jesus had just finished giving His teaching on the process of confrontation when a brother sins against you. Peter, hearing Jesus’ emphasis on honest and direct communication with the aim of restoration, came back with a very generous offer, at least in his mind:

“Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21).

Nice, Peter. I see what you did there. You hid a statement in the form of a question. It’s especially nice since the rabbis of the day taught that 3 instances of forgiveness was plenty. But you? You are going above and beyond. But Jesus wiped the smugness off Peter’s face with His next statement:

“I tell you, not as many as seven, but 70 times seven.”

So that’s more then. A lot more. And Jesus’ point becomes clear – there isn’t a specific number of times you should forgive another, but instead you should forgive generously as God has forgiven you. That’s what the subsequent parable is all about.

We get that at some level I think. Because God doesn’t run out of forgiveness for us, we must do likewise to our brothers. Forgiven people, forgive people. Most of the time we think of this in a situation where we have a friend who can’t seem to get his or her act together. They’re always messing up; they can’t seem to get their social graces in order. And time after time, they have to come to us apologizing again and again for saying the wrong thing, not thinking through their actions, que cera cera.

But let’s consider Jesus’ statement from a different angle – one that takes forgiveness out of the realm of “she didn’t include me when she tagged everyone on Facebook” and moves it into something much more serious. Some instance, let’s say, of deep, deep betrayal. Let’s consider that instance when one person has been irreparably harmed by another. Their life has been altered. Nothing will ever be the same, and now comes the opportunity to forgive.

Anyone who has felt that kind of pain, I believe, will testify to the fact that forgiveness isn’t so cut and dry. Sure, you can say the words simple enough; but it’s another matter to truly feel it. To live it.

In such a case, the “70 x 7″ is less about the number of times you have been wronged, and more about the number of times you must silently pronounce that forgiveness to another. It’s in such a case that forgiveness becomes an act of discipline – one that must be exercised sometimes daily, if not hourly, as you remind yourself over and over again that you forgive another.

Mind you this statement of forgiveness might not ever be said beyond the initial verbalization; but though you might not ever say it out loud passed the initial time, you think it. You have to. You say it to your heart. You preach it to yourself. The pain is so deep; the bitterness is so threatening; the anger is so fresh; that time and time again you must preach to your soul that you have forgiven. And then when you feel the anger or bitterness or anxiety, you say it to yourself again.

70 x 7 times. Or as many times as it really takes to grab hold. Discipline yourself to forgive, Christian, because sometimes it’s not as easy as doing it seven times.


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: minnepixel via photopin cc

Neglecting the Holy Spirit is as sinful as misrepresenting Him

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Because of certain exaggerations, excesses and freak manifestations, and the crossing of the border line from the spiritual to the scientific, the political and the merely emotional, there are many people who are afraid of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, afraid of being too subjective. So they neglect it altogether. I would also suggest that others have neglected the doctrine because they have false ideas with regard to the actual teaching concerning the person of the Holy Spirit.…

Let me put it very plainly like this: you would all agree that to neglect or to ignore the doctrine about the Father would be a terrible thing. We would all agree that it is also a terrible thing to neglect the doctrine and the truth concerning the blessed eternal Son. Do we always realise that it is equally sinful to ignore or neglect the doctrine of the blessed Holy Spirit? If the doctrine of the Trinity is true—and it is true—then we are most culpable if in our thinking and in our doctrine we do not pay the same devotion and attention to the Holy Spirit as we do to the Son and to the Father. So whether we feel inclined to do so or not, it is our duty as biblical people, who believe the Scripture to be the divinely inspired word of God, to know what the Scripture teaches about the Spirit. And, furthermore, as it is the teaching of the Scripture that the Holy Spirit is the one who applied salvation, it is of the utmost practical importance that we should know the truth concerning Him.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit, 5-6

Fleshing out the gospel

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A terribly puzzled look swept across the faces of those who had just heard me spill the title of our upcoming teaching series. “Fleshing—not flushing—out the gospel,” I emphasized in case they missed it. I thought it would help. But, they were confused nonetheless.

“Fleshing out” was meant in a figurative sense. Just as we might flesh out a deep doctrine of Scripture, like the mysterious nature of God’s unity or the marginless end of God’s sovereignty, we must also flesh out the wondrous realities of the gospel. It’s not an option for believers. It’s necessary.

My father used to say to me, “Boy, you need to put some meat on dem bones” (best if slurred in a Cajun tongue). It was his way of telling me that I needed to eat. I needed substance. I was too lean.

Christians today are looking more lean than ever. But it is not because we lack the spiritual protein needed for strong faith. Scripture is a mealhouse of necessities and useful for godly growth (2 Tim. 3:16). Rather, it is because we’ve lost sight of who the gospel is what the gospel does.

When we flesh out the gospel, we put meat on dem bones, body to skeleton, substance to form, content to outline, mass to framework. It means to pack on, add to, fill up, increase, deepen, compound, reinforce. It is the process of feeding on the gospel in order to fill your soul and mind with the things of God.

Why the gospel? Why not marriage tips, parenting points, or business advice?

The gospel—contrary to popular belief—is more than an evangelistic message. It is the single thread woven into the fabric of Scripture that binds it all together. It is the main message—the foremoremost focus—of the Bible.

The New Testament writers affirm this. To them, the gospel included all revealed truth about Christ (cf: Rom. 1:1-6; 1 Cor. 15:3-11) and covered all aspects of salvation—from conversion to glorification. Since Christ is all over Scripture (Lk. 24:27), then all of Scripture contains the gospel. When you preach the gospel, you preach Christ—God’s living Word (Jn. 1:14).

Why else would Paul be so eager to “preach the gospel” to a community of Christians (Rom. 1:15)? To preach the gospel is to preach the Word. Hearing and learning the gospel brings biblical vision and changes us from the inside outward. In doing so, all aspects of our life are affected—even the mundane.

This is why we must flesh out the gospel. It helps us see Christ and see like Christ.

It Helps us See Christ

Since the gospel includes all revealed truth about Christ, then a deeper understanding of the gospel brings about a deeper understanding of Christ. He is the manifestation of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:9), and there is no gospel without Jesus. If the gospel is the main message of Scripture, Jesus is the main subject of the gospel. The two are inseparable.

When we put meat on dem bones and add substance to our understanding of the gospel, we see more clearly the subject of the gospel. We see more comprehensibly the flesh of God—the incarnate Word, the living Gospel—Jesus Christ. In other words, to sink ourselves into the depths of the gospel is to submerge ourselves in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The gospel helps us see Christ.

It Helps us See Like Christ

Additionally, the gospel transforms our mind (Rom. 12:2). It brings to us renewed vision so that we might see through the lens of Christ. He is our corrective eyewear. He helps us observe ourselves and the world with godly perspective. The more we douse ourselves in the Word of God, the more we are able to see as Christ sees.

Such perspective enables us to live holy lives before His holy gaze. This is what He had in mind while praying that we be “sanctified in the truth,” acknowledging Scripture as truth (Jn. 17:17). The gospel helps us see like Christ.

Conclusion

Just as the body becomes frail when deprived of food, the soul becomes frail when deprived of the gospel. Conversely, a soul who has probed the depths of the gospel is a soul who has been immersed in Jesus. It is a soul of tender mercies and courageous faithfulness—a soul solidified and shaped by Christ Himself. Fleshing out the gospel isn’t optional for followers of Jesus Christ. It’s necessary.


Jacob Abshire is the author of Forgiveness: A Commentary on Philemon and Faith: A Commentary on James, and co-founder of Resolute Creative. You can find him online at jacobabshire.com and follow him on Twitter @aliasbdi. Photo via Lightstock.