Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Cruciform Press launched its “five days five books” sale, with the following titles being offered for 99¢ each:

Also on sale:

Finall, Christian Focus has a few of their Jungle Doctor books on sale for $2.99 each (note: I noticed some availability issues on Amazon, so they may or may not still be available for purchase):

Is Evangelical Morality Still Acceptable in America?

Alan Noble kills it:

Behind all of these charges is the suspicion that evangelicals are simply refusing to accept contemporary American mores; they are privileging their faith over the moral spirit of the age. But for many evangelicals, these beliefs are not actually a sign of retreat from public life. Instead, there is a fear that in an increasingly secularized society, there will be less tolerance for people who wish to act upon their deeply held religious beliefs, except in narrowly defined, privatized spaces. This is a fundamentally American concern: Will I have the right to serve God as I believe I am obligated to?

Why Christianity Doesn’t Stand a Chance At Your Local Library and How to Change That

Mike Leake:

“Maybe there really is a God.”

Young Sam has had this nagging sense in his heart for a few weeks now. But he’s always been an intellectual, so he’s not the type of guy that just goes on feelings. So he does what he always has done when he wants to find the answer to something—he goes to his local library.

Third World Osteen

Dustin Germain applies Osteen’s Christless nonsense to the poorest of the poor. The results are about what you’d expect (go see).

Deleting the Devil

JD Payne:

The problem with deleting the devil from our theology is that we also delete what the Bible teaches about the devil.  Certainly, Church history has created numerous satanic caricatures: pitchforks, red dress, cloven hoof, etc.  And though these unbiblical traditions have made him out to look more like a nasty clown, such is no excuse for discarding the biblical teaching on Satan.

Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that’s not a joke

This is a fascinating piece over at Science 2.0:

Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged.

While this idea may seem outlandish—after all, it seems easy to decide not to believe in God—evidence from several disciplines indicates that what you actually believe is not a decision you make for yourself. Your fundamental beliefs are decided by much deeper levels of consciousness, and some may well be more or less set in stone.

This line of thought has led to some scientists claiming that “atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think,” says Graham Lawton, an avowed atheist himself, writing in the New Scientist. “They point to studies showing, for example, that even people who claim to be committed atheists tacitly hold religious beliefs, such as the existence of an immortal soul.”

Was Luther a Calvinist?

Douglas Sweeney:

…perhaps it’s worth a minute or two to walk through the ways in which Lutherans came down on the five “points” of Calvinism. We should all understand by now that there’s far more to Calvinism than five simple points, that the five points themselves were sharpened after Calvin’s death, and that some think that Calvin himself did not affirm them all. So Calvinist friends, hold your fire. The goal here is not to oversimplify your faith, but to scan the ways that leading early Lutherans addressed the matters fought about most fiercely at the Reformed Synod of Dordt (1618–1619), and in the subsequent debates between Calvinists and Arminians.

Five books I’m (probably) not proposing

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One of the scariest part of the writer’s life is proposing books. When I first finally mustered up the courage to send out a proposal for Awaiting a Savior, I was more than a little overwhelmed by the whole experience. The book sat with multiple publishers, most of whom rejected it, before Cruciform Press kindle picked it up and made it the moderately profitable book it is today.

But there have been many (many!) other book ideas that have come up since then. At present I’m hoping to see at least one come to light, but only time (and the Lord’s sovereign hand) will tell. But there are others. Some have the potential to earn tens of dollars, some are purely entertaining for me, and others would probably be best left in a folder called “don’t ever, ever try to write these.”

Which is which? You tell me:

Idea #1: Contentment and the Art of Ministry-Mobile Maintenance

What my franken-car taught me about contentment and humility in the face of strange noises and all-too-frequent repair bills.

Idea #2: How to Win Friends and Pants People

Become an influencer in the wrong crowd with this surefire self-help bestseller.

Idea #3: Your Average Life… Now!

While every day might be a Friday for some people, the rest of us have a case of the Mondays. Own your okayness as you learn that you don’t have to have it all, that a “meh” day isn’t a sign of unfaithfulness and sometimes “success” just means getting your pants on right the first time.

Idea #4: Discipline (Is) For Dummies

Join my children and me on a journey of discovery as we seek to learn about “consequences”.

Idea #5: The Prophets’ Diet

More prophets than Daniel have something to say about your eating habits. With advice from the likes of Ezekiel, Elijah and John the Baptist, this is guaranteed to be the last Christian diet book you’ll ever (want to) read!


An earlier version of this post was first publishing in April 2011. Photo credit: geoftheref via photopin cc

First impressions

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I’m a big believer in first impressions. Whether it’s meeting with an important client or interviewing for a job, my clothes are wrinkle free, my hair is neatly brushed, and my breath is minty fresh. This tendency was heightened as I drove with my family into a new town for a new position as Senior Pastor. We were to live with the chairman of the deacons and his wife for a month while work on our home wrapped up. Their generosity saved us a few thousand dollars, and I wanted to show our gratitude from the very beginning.

A little ways into the seven-hour drive, the chairman called, inviting us to dinner with he and other extended family members he was sure we’d enjoy meeting. We eagerly agreed. Yet when we arrived at the restaurant, we were not in the best shape. We neither looked good, smelled good, or felt good after being in the car for seven hours with two preschoolers, especially not after having said teary “goodbyes” to our closest friends over the last five years. We were utterly exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally.

Nevertheless, dinner went fine until dessert. Our two year-old son was not yet fully potty-trained, and clearly did something in his diaper at the table. I was on the outside of the semi-circular booth, and I was happy to serve my wife in the presence of our deacon chairman. In the restroom, I discovered my son was wearing underwear instead of a diaper, and I had no underwear or diapers to put on him. I managed to clean him up, but he returned to the table “commando,” wearing nothing under his blue jeans.

A few minutes later, as we all stood up to leave, my son froze in his tracks and began to whimper. Fortunately, the smell hit me before the sight. I wrapped my arms around both of his thighs like a tourniquet and whisked him into the parking lot, leaving a putrescent trail of methane in our wake. I don’t typically have a gag reflex when it comes to strong, horrid odors, but I nearly vomited a few times in the van during the 15-minute drive to my deacon chairman’s home.

Fortunately for our host family (did I mention he was the chairman of the deacons?), their guest quarters were in the basement. We pulled around back to the entrance, and I carefully carried my pitiful son inside. While I cleaned him up in the bathroom (there is never enough water pressure when you need it), what he left in his jeans continued to wreak havoc on the 1000 square foot apartment. My deacon chairman’s wife came downstairs, armed with some sort of masking aerosol, leaving the room to smell like methane and roses.

God gave me a gracious and down-to-earth deacon chairman who did not judge us by our first impression, but I fretted over the experience. “If I can’t even drive into town correctly, how could I ever pastor the church?” God had me exactly where He wanted me to be: helpless. He was teaching me before I even got in the pulpit that the best pastors are those that constantly acknowledge they are utterly helpless to be great pastors. The same is true regardless of your calling or profession. The key to being a happy, joyful follower of Jesus is to be constantly aware of your helplessness to be righteous and his graciousness to give you His Son’s righteousness.


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

Photo credit: chuckp via photopin cc

Sola boot strapa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Photo credit: Ani-Bee via photopin cc

Oh, what a scandal it would be!

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We are Christians… We are not born in a land of heathenism, in gross darkness and in the shadow of death, and therefore our piety and virtue should far exceed all the practices of the heathen world. We are not left to the teachings of the book of nature, and to the silent lectures which the sun, moon and stars can read us: nor are we abandoned merely to the instructions of religion that we may derive from “the beasts of the earth and the fowls of the heaven,” or any of the works of God the Creator.

We are not given up in the things of religion merely to the wandering and uncertain conduct of our reason, feeble as it is in itself, corrupted by the fall of Adam our first father, beset with many sins and prejudices, and turned aside from the truth by a thousand false lights of sense and appetite, fancy and passion, by the vain customs of the country, and the corruptions of our sinful hearts. We are not bewildered among the poor remains of divine tradition delivered down from Adam to Noah, and from Noah to his posterity in the several nations of the earth; we are not left to spell out our duty from those sorry broken fragments of revelation, which are so lost and defaced amongst most of the nations, and so mingled with monstrous folly and delusion, that it is hard to find any reliques of truth or goodness in them. We are not given up to foul idolatry and wild superstition, nor to the slavish and tyrannical dictates of priests and kings, who contrive what ceremonies they please, and impose them on the people, which is the case of a great part of the heathen world.

Poor and deluded creatures! feeling about in the dark for the way to happiness, in the midst of rocks and precipices and endless dangers, and led astray into many mischiefs and miseries by those whom they take for guides and rulers. And what an infamous and shameful thing would it be for us, who have the divine light of the gospel shining among us to direct our paths, if we should read among the records of the heathen nations, that any of them have behaved better than we have done, either in duties to God or man, and exceeded us either in personal or in social virtues? Nay, what a scandal would it be to our profession, if we should not abundantly exceed all the shining virtues of the heathen nations, since the divine light that shines upon us, and the divine lessons that are published amongst us, are so infinitely superior to all that the heathen world has enjoyed?

The Works of the Rev. Isaac Watts, vol. 5, 5–6. (Image source)

You need something that can shatter evil’s power

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Everything that can appeal to the modern man, the last word in presentation is used, in the belief that when it is done, and you do it with a modern technique, then you will get hold of the modern man. But I think that the time has now come to ask this simple question: what are the results? Is the modern problem being touched at all? Of course these various methods, the apologetics and the others may indeed lead to individual conversions. We are all aware of that. Almost any method you like to employ will do that. Of course there are individual conversions, but my question is this—what of the situation, what of the bulk of men and women, what of the working classes of this country, are they being touched at all, are they being affected at all? Is anybody being affected, except those who are already in the Church or on the fringe of the Church? What of the spiritual and religious condition of the country? What of the whole state of society? Is this being touched at all by all our activities?

Well, my answer would be that it all seems to put us into the position of the disciples who had tried to cast the devil out of the boy, these men who had been so successful in many another case, but who could not touch this case at all. And our Lord gives them the explanation, ‘this kind’ can come forth by nothing like this. By what, then? ‘This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer, and fasting.’ You failed there, he said in effect to these disciples, because you did not have sufficient power. You were using the power that you have, and you were very confident in it. You did it with great assurance, you were masters of the occasion, you thought you were going to succeed at once, but you did not. It is time you paused for a moment and began to think. It was your ignorance of these gradations in power amongst evil spirits that led to your failure, and to your crestfallen condition at this moment. You have not sufficient power. I did what you could not do because I have power, because I am filled with the power that God gives me by the Holy Spirit, for he gives not the Spirit by measure unto me. You will never be able to deal with ‘this kind’ unless you have applied to God for the power which he alone can give you. You must become aware of your need, of your impotence, of your helplessness. You must realise that you are confronted by something that is too deep for your methods to get rid of, or to deal with, and you need something that can go down beneath that evil power, and shatter it, and there is only one thing that can do that, and that is the power of God.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival, 18-19

Links I like

So your child is dating a non-Christian

Kim Shay:

In a perfect world, our children would do everything we said without question and give us very few moments of concern. Of course, we do not live in a perfect world. Our children make choices that we recognize immediately as bad. One of the struggles many parents confront is the news that their child is dating someone who is not a Christian. It can be a terribly stressful time for the entire family when this happens. Our reaction may be anger, self-recrimination, despair or all three. None of those reactions will help us handle the situation in a godly way.

I have been on both sides of this matter; I was the unbelieving girl who dated someone’s son, and I’ve been the mother of a child who dated an unbeliever. The purpose of this post is not to teach about the issue of being unequally yoked. It is, rather, to offer some suggestions to moms who find themselves unexpectedly dealing with their adult child dating someone who is not a Christian.

Theology, the Last Resort

JD Payne offers a brief, gentle, but important rebuke to all of us.

eBooks now at Westminster Bookstore

Westminster Bookstore is launching their all-new eBookstore, and to help kick things off, they’ve partnered with Crossway to offer your first two books for $1.99 each. This offer ends July 12, so act quickly!

And speaking of eBooks, here are a few Kindle deals:

Reformation and the Critics

Douglas Wilson:

Those laboring in the work of reformation, those praying for God to grant us a great revival, often do their preparatory work in the face of great criticism. Often the critics are very capable, and their arguments are cogent. Those working for reformation are sometimes tempted to redouble their efforts, not to mention their prayers, in the belief that the arrival of a great reformation would finally vindicate them against their critics. What it would more likely do is triple the number of their critics. The critics don’t go away until the reformer has been dead for a safe number of years, and it is time to burnish his legacy.

Get The Parables of Jesus in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get R.C. Sproul Jr’s Economics for Everybody teaching series for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond (ePub + MOBI)
  • Hell teaching series by R.C. Sproul (CD)
  • God in our Midst by Daniel Hyde (hardcover)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

“I Think I May Be Gay”

Barry York:

Wondering about or even calling yourself gay is not just a matter of sexual activity, but of identity. Those who refer to themselves as gay see it as a lifestyle. Many gay people describe their experience as a journey of self-discovery, as they come to a point in their lives where they realize they are attracted to the same sex. Perhaps you believe that you have arrived at this very juncture in your own life.

What might Jesus say if He visited your small group?

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I wonder what would happen if Jesus stepped into your small group this week.

  • Would he cry? Laugh? Yell? Flip over tables?
  • Would he sit down and eat some nachos with you?
  • Would he grab a cup of coffee and stay late?

If Jesus came to your small group, I think there are a few things he’d say:

You’re too easy on church people.

Jesus was never easy on people that claimed a relationship with God. He was much tougher on them than he was people outside of the Church. He held them to a much higher standard, and called them to be living, breathing examples of the Gospel. And when they weren’t, he let em have it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”- Matthew 23:27-28

You’re too tough on lost people.

Groups should be the place where “outsiders”feel comfortable exploring, disagreeing, and bringing the full weight of themselves into the conversation. And when they sin, we should expect it. Don’t be surprised when lost people act lost.

Speaking to a woman caught in adultery, Jesus said:

“Woman, where are they (your accusers)? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.”And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more. – John 8:10-11

You’re too stingy.

Groups should be the place where our combined resources make a dent in the Kingdom. Our generosity should shape neighborhoods, shake families, and leave people shaking their heads at our love.

Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. – Luke 6:30

Generosity is costly and formative. The strongest small groups are marked by lavish generosity in various forms. All too often, we in small groups just think, “What’s in this for me? How am I going to grow? How should I change?”It’s not all about us.

Why so serious?

People take spiritual growth too seriously. Too heavily. Too ominously. Spiritual growth happens in the serious moments, but it also happens in the laughter and the fun.

Jesus didn’t say this, but I can only imagine he obeyed it:

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. –Psalm 126:2-3

When they heard the people’s mouths filled with laughter and their tongues singing songs of joy, they said, “They must serve a great God!”Laughter and joy became attractional for the church. Outsiders began to notice the community of God-followers because they were laughing.

Just 1.5 hours?

Spiritual growth is much more all-encompassing than 1.5 hours. In no way can you expect to grow if you just spend 1.5 hours together in a week. Small groups build relationships with one another. Phone calls, cups of coffee, texts, lunches, and other relationship-building times are a must.

Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus not just teaching, but spending time with, his disciples.

What are you producing?

So many small groups have no idea where they’re headed. They think that small group is about the curriculum. Or about the meeting. Or about the project. The reality is that all of those are just the backdrop for the real mission: creating disciples.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”- Matthew 28:18-19

Let’s eat!

Eating together is such a vital part of the success of a small group. It gives depth to relationship as you meet one another’s physical needs, it gives a natural reason to congregate together (everyone’s got to eat), and through providing food for one another you inadvertently put a bit of yourself into your meal.

We see multiple examples of Jesus eating with his disciples, both before and after the resurrection.

What do you think Jesus would say to your small group?


Ben Reed is the author of Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint. He is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. Ben is also an avid Cross-Fitter and coffee drinker. But not at the same time.

Photo credit: Sathish J (CC)

Links I like

I am Ryland

This is so, so good:

I have been shying away from highly controversial topics on this blog recently because I just couldn’t take the drama that naturally associates with it. But I keep hearing the story of Ryland, a child who was born a female, whose parents have transitioned her to male at 5 years old. You can see the full story HERE, but in short, because their daughter identified herself as a boy, and liked “boy” things as opposed to “girl” things, they cut off her hair, bought her “boy” clothes, and have begun telling her, and others, that she is a boy.

I have no degree in early childhood development, nor have I studied psychology. I didn’t even graduate from College.

I am also not here to pass judgement on Ryland’s parents. I believe that they are doing what they believe to be the most loving thing for their child. I’m simply sharing my story because I see so much of my 5-year-old self in this child.

Evangelicals who aren’t evangelicals

Thomas Kidd:

I agree with Swaim [who reviewed Steven Miller’s The Age of Evangelicalism in the Wall Street Journal] that the term evangelical, as used in the media, obscures fundamental differences between those lumped together as people who “feel strongly about their faith.” There are at least four types of Christians who often get cast as evangelicals who really are not evangelicals, if that term has any meaning.

How long does it take to read each book of the Bible?

Helpful chart from Desiring God. Be sure to read the rest of the article, too.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

The latest Hollywood Bible movie, this time starring Batman as Moses:

Should be interesting, at a minimum.

The click-baitiest click bait you ever did click

Mike Leake reminds us of the power of a good title.

8 Witnesses to Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah

Richard Phillips:

Witnesses are essential in establishing any claim to fact. When a news station wants to report an amazing event, it interviews eyewitnesses. We accept the reports of credible witnesses, especially when there are a number of them who agree. The same principle guides our legal system. When credible witnesses testify to an event, we are morally bound to accept what they say as true. In like manner, John’s Gospel presents us with such witnesses to Christ. Leon Morris writes, “[John] is insistent that there is good evidence for the things he sets down. Witness establishes truth.” This emphasis on the validity of witnesses ought to inform our own presentation of the gospel.

What witnesses does John present? Let me list eight of them.

In Praise of the Quiet Time

Megan Hill:

Recently I read “Why I Don’t Pray or Study the Bible (Much),” a Patheos blog post by Ellen Painter Dollar. She recounts how her time in an evangelical college fellowship was her first exposure to the discipline of daily Bible reading and prayer.… Some of Dollar’s skepticism about prayer and Scripture-study comes from her underlying assumptions about the nature of both. I believe the Bible is complete truth, God’s perfect revelation of himself, and essential for a Christian’s life and godliness. Likewise, I have a high view of prayer as one of God’s primary means for communion with his children, for glorifying himself, and for accomplishing his purposes.

Lapel clipper or boy bander?

Bere Gratis live performance

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

Whatever He promises, He will perform

Ryle

But there is one grand difference between the promises of Adam’s children and the promises of God, which ought never to be forgotten. The promises of man are not sure to be fulfilled. With the best wishes and intentions, he cannot always keep his word. Disease and death may step in like an armed man, and take away from this world him that promises. War, or pestilence, or famine, or failure of crops, or hurricanes, may strip him of his property, and make it impossible for him to fulfil his engagements. The promises of God, on the contrary, are certain to be kept. He is Almighty: nothing can prevent His doing what He has said. He never changes: He is always “of one mind:” and with Him there is “no variableness or shadow of turning.” (Job 23:13; James 1:17.) He will always keep His word. There is one thing which, as a little girl once told her teacher, to her surprise, God cannot do: “It is impossible for God to lie.” (Heb. 6:18.) The most unlikely and improbable things, when God has once said He will do them, have always come to pass. The destruction of the old world by a flood, and the preservation of Noah in the ark, the birth of Isaac, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the raising of David to the throne of Saul, the miraculous birth of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the scattering of the Jews all over the earth, and their continued preservation as a distinct people,—who could imagine events more unlikely and improbable than these? Yet God said they should be, and in due time they all came to pass. In truth, with God it is just as easy to do a thing as to say it. Whatever He promises, He is certain to perform.

J. C. Ryle, Holiness, 382–383

Links I like

The Most Shared Verses In Their Context

Mike Leake continues to look at some of the most-shared verses in context. This time? Isaiah 41:10.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Marty Machowski’s excellent family devotionals are on sale: Long Story Short is FREE and Old Story New is $4.99.

Also on sale:

Forerunner of the Reformation

Burk Parsons:

John Wycliffe was the morning star of the Reformation. He was a protestant and a reformer more than a century before Martin Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation in 1517. Through Wycliffe, God planted the seeds of the Reformation, He watered the seeds through John Hus, and He brought the flower of the Reformation to bloom through Martin Luther. The seed of the flower of the German Augustinian monk Luther’s 95 theses was planted by the English scholar and churchman John Wycliffe.

The Landlord

Lore Ferguson:

For four years God has been bringing the doubters and ye-of-little-faithers into my life. They believe they were created to be a vessel of wrath, that they’re a jar too broken to be useful again, that God has not chosen them before the foundation of the earth, or that He has sprinkled fairy dust on the heads of others but never on them. No matter how long I listen or talk or hear or preach, I can’t make someone feel something they don’t feel. And I know how that feels.

Get The Parables of Jesus in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get R.C. Sproul’s The Parables of Jesus teaching series for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • The Spirit of Revival: Discovering the Wisdom of Jonathan Edwards by various authors (ePub)
  • Face-to-Face with Jesus teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio download)
  • Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt (hardcover)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Meet the Non-Christians Who Take the Bible Literally, Word for Word

Ted Olsen and Ruth Moon provide an interesting look at the results of a recent Gallup survey.

Two Cautions for Conservatives

Jason Helopolous:

I am a conservative. I am a conservative in religion, politics, family values, and even fashion. I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, prefer less government to more government, believe marriage is to be between one man and one woman for life, and believe men should never be allowed to wear open-toed sandals. I am by all accounts, a conservative. I don’t wear it is a badge of honor or as my identity. I am happy to move from any position I hold if convinced by a contrary argument, whether it is considered a liberal, moderate, or conservative position (though, you will never convince me that men should show their hairy toes in public). However, having said this, I find that I am usually one of the more conservative people in any given room. This has led me to watch and observe others who tend to lean conservative. There are two cautions that I would offer to myself and others who tend to be consistently conservative.