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Get free shipping on Not Just a Soup Kitchen at Westminster Bookstore

Westminster Bookstore is offering free US shipping when ordering one or more copies of David Apple’s new book, Not Just a Soup Kitchen: How Mercy Ministry in the Local Church Transforms Us All ($9 each). Enter coupon code MERCY at checkout (good for one use only). You can also save 50 percent off the cover price when ordering five or more copies.

Also on sale at Westminster:

The real significance of the “eighth day”

Nick Batzig:

In recent decades, the “eighth day” has been taken up by American pop-culture as something of a rhetorical literary device. When I was in high school there was a somewhat annoyingly catchy song about God making sweat tea on the eighth day. Then there was the Superbowl commercial about how God supposedly made farmers on the eighth day. While these attempts to employ the idea of the eighth day are an apparatus to show appreciation for the goodness of beloved objects, there is a divinely invested theological significance to the eighth day in Scripture–both with regard to the day on which the Israelite boys were to be circumcised (Genesis 17:12), as well as to the ceremonial Sabbaths in the Old Testament ceremonial law concerning the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:36-39 and Numbers 29:35). The Eighth Day (on a seven day week structure) denotes new creation–one and eight representing creation and new creation.

Gospel Affection

Joe Thorn offers ten ways to show love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Moral Ambiguity in a Selfish Culture.

Erik Raymond:

How can we in America go hoarse yelling about a child who is abused and then likewise lose our voice yelling for the rights of mothers to kill their unborn children?

This is moral ambiguity.

Burial vs cremation

Mike Leake on why he prefers the former over the latter.

When Your Church Is Not Revitalizing

Scott Slayton:

It is hard to overstate the difficulty of working in a church where revitalization is not happening. There are years with more funerals than baptisms. Teenagers graduate, move on to college, and don’t come back. Families with young children leave and go to the church with “better” children’s ministry, music, and preaching. The church’s leaders stare at you and wonder what you are doing wrong to keep the church from growing. The pastor hears countless stories about church’s glory days and how great was the pastor who led them in those years. When those stories are told, the pastor hears, “We wish we were in those days again, and we wish he was still our pastor instead of you.”

Links I like

A gospeled church

Jared Wilson:

The gospel cannot puff us up. It cannot make us prideful. It cannot make us selfish. It cannot make us arrogant. It cannot make us rude. It cannot make us gossipy. It cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, and it stands to reason, the less we would see those things antithetical to it.

You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear.

The Secret of Joy

Jim Martin:

What God promises in return for obedience is astounding: a level of connection to God, a level of joy that is hard to imagine. And in my repeated experience, it is a level of joy that cannot be achieved by direct pursuit. Who stands to benefit more from God’s people being obedient to his mandate? Certainly the oppressed who are set free will benefit greatly. But it seems like God wants to show us that the people of God in general have at least as much to gain.

Churchoholics Anonymous

Mark Dance:

Since my computer didn’t recognize the term churchoholic, it vainly attempted to change it to the ignoble addiction of a chocoholic (def: a person who is excessively fond of chocolate). If you love the church, but suspect that your love has grown into an unhealthy obsession, consider getting help soon. Here are seven symptoms to love for that will help you to confirm and confront your addiction.

Jesus Cares About Your Words

Jeff Medders: “A day will come when Jesus will raise our bodies from the dead; I think he can transform our speech.”

Remembering Sermons

Aimee Byrd:

I stumbled upon a journal I had totally forgotten about. It is a sermon journal. I usually take notes on Sundays, but eventually, when I declutter my Bible, they get tossed as well. So back in 2008 I came up with the idea to keep a sermon journal. In rediscovering it I thought, “How the heck did I forget about this? It’s awesome!” The sermon journal is easy to do, great to go back and read, and therefore got promoted to a shelf on my desk. It’s just three easy steps.

Welcome Back, My Old Friend

Tim Challies:

Summer had some great moments of fun and relaxation. We had lots of good times vacationing and staycationing and otherwise enjoying the season. But it has also been tough. The day the kids left class for the last time and came home chanting something about “no more pencils, no more books…” I saw Routine following along behind them. His bags were packed and he was holding a ticket to somewhere far north, or maybe it was far south—I don’t really know. But I do know that he waved goodbye and disappeared that day.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Also, be sure to check out Amazon’s monthly collection of books at $3.99 or less.

You will not say this on your deathbed

True.

7 Characteristics of Spiritually Beneficial Friendships

Nick Batzig:

When I was a boy, my father always prayed that God would make us “wise beyond our years.” One of the ways that the Lord does this is by surrounding us with friends who are wise beyond their years. If you want to be the best doctor, lawyer, teacher, mechanic, chef, etc. one of the best ways to reach your goal is to study the lives and techniques of those more skillful than you in that field. In the business world, those who excel most are those who surround themselves with those who give wise counsel about what they did to excel and how to best go forward. As the Proverbs explain, “In the multitude of counselors there safety” (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6). This is, of course, first and foremost speaking of the multitude of counsel in Scripture and from the Lord in prayer–but it also has applicability to the counsel of biblically mature and spiritually-minded men and women that God places in our lives.

Here are seven characteristics of friends with whom we should seek to surround ourselves.

Victoria Osteen, the glory of God and reformed worship

Ligon Duncan gives a thorough response to the Victoria Osteen video that’s been floating around for the last week or so.

Ten Ways to Double Your Church Volunteer Recruitment and Retention

Thom Rainer:

Without volunteer labor and ministry, our churches would not exist. The recruitment and retention of volunteers should be one of the highest priorities of church leaders.

While we typically honor our paid labor force on Labor Day, I want to take the opportunity to focus on volunteer labor in our congregations. Specifically, I want to share with you ten ways the most effective churches are recruiting and retaining volunteers. In many cases, they have more than doubled the success of those churches where these approaches are not taken.

A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Louis Markos shares a novel every Christian should read in Justin Taylor’s new blog series, and it’s a good one: Hard Times by Charles Dickens.

Making a case for books

This is some impressive stop-motion work:

Brothers, abandon the green room

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Every so often, I’ll be reading a book by a pastor and see mention of a green room at the church. For those who don’t know, a green room is one in which in which performers can relax when they are not performing (typically, they’re found in a theaters, concert halls, and studios).

Which, of course, is one of the goofiest things ever.

Now, I get it: I am not a natural “crowd” person. My favorite time at a party is when it’s time to go home. Most pastors (at least, most of the pastors I know) tend to have a more introverted temperament.

And while I get that, I hope we all realize that the green room runs completely contrary to the gospel.

No matter how we over-spiritualize it—whether we say that area is used for pre-service prayer, or yet another review of our sermon notes—it represents more of a detriment to our spiritual well-being than we might realize, both those of us in the congregation and those who preach. The green room is about isolation, about creating barriers between the shepherd and the sheep.

The green room is a place to hide.

The gospel, however, refuses to let us remain isolated. It connects us to God through Christ; but it also connects us to others. That whole “body” metaphor Paul kept using? Yep. The vine and branches analogy Jesus used? Ditto.

No matter how much we believe, “No one knows what it’s like to feel these feelings,” autonomous Christianity doesn’t work. Ever.

If a pastor does not feel that he can be present with the congregation while waiting to preach, there is something dreadfully wrong, internally. And if there’s a lesson for all of us—both congregation members and pastors alike—it’s that. Pastors cannot be disconnected from congregations. When they cease to be connected, they cease to truly be pastors. They become something else entirely. And this should never be.

Brothers, abandon the green room. Do not hide from the congregation; do not perpetuate the leadership is lonely garbage. Worship with the congregation, seeing your place in the body so you might experience the ministry of the body.

Links I like

How to Raise Up Leaders in the Church

This is a conversation that, if you’re not having already in your own church, you desperately need to begin:

To Trust in Men

Lore Ferguson:

A few months ago I sat across from a pastor who took my shameful history and held up his own, point for point. It wasn’t a competition, it was a “You too? Me too.” I am grateful for men like him who do not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but stand on the level ground before the cross and say, “There’s room here. There’s room here.”

Am I a Horrible Parent for Moving My Kids (Back) to Africa?

Stacy Hare:

Currently our kids are used to playing in the Olympic stadium just around the corner from our house. They know where the neighborhood castle is, and if ever we visit a different city, they are always on the lookout for that city’s local castle. They go to a school where they are being taught how to properly brush their teeth, how to recycle, and of course how to speak French. It is not uncommon for me to come home with a handful of birthday invitations that their little friends gave them at school. And if they cannot go to school, they cry. America is a faint memory, but France is their home, and being surrounded by the amazing Alps is their normal.

Now we are taking them to a remote, poor village in Africa without electricity, a school, or a nearby hospital.

Ferguson is Ripping the Bandages off our Racial Wounds

Trevin Wax:

The policy successes of the Civil Rights movement have given rise to the narrative that the worst of our racial and ethnic prejudices are behind us. Unfortunately, politics and policies show only one side of the story.

The truth is, we are still a country divided.

Get Economics for Everybody in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get t<em
Economics for Everybody: Applying Biblical Principles to Work, Wealth, and the World a teaching series by R.C. Sproul, Jr (audio and video download), for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Psalm 51 teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • The Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton (paperback)
  • The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson (hardcover)

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

God uses two “gardens”

JD Greear:

In Psalm 127, Solomon refers to children as a “heritage” or an “inheritance” from the Lord. It’s easy to miss how revolutionary that statement is. Solomon isn’t saying that children will receive our inheritance. He is saying that they are our inheritance. But what doesthat mean?

It means that the most important task we have as a church is to teach the next generation the gospel.

Which comes first: the text or the theme?

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I’ve been spending a lot of time in Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic book, Preaching and Preachers, which is simply one of the most helpful books I’ve read on preaching, even while affirming Warren Wiersbe’s encouragement to read it “at least twice: once to disagree and once to be helped.”1 Lloyd-Jones stresses that the text should almost always come before a theme, for a simple reason: the theme should come from the text, lest a theme be forced upon it.

There’s a lot of wisdom in this. Too often, especially when we play Bible roulette, we come up to a verse or a passage and attach personal significance that has little or nothing to do with the text’s actual meaning. When you see Jeremiah 29:11 used as a verse on a coffee cup, or on a beautiful landscape painting, this is what I mean. You also see it in most—nearly all—uses of Isaiah 58 in poverty alleviation circles, overlooking the context of the rebuke.

I was talking over this very thing with a good friend last night, since I’m preparing to once again to preach to a small congregation a few hours from where I live. And as I pray and think on the needs of this congregation, I keep coming back to a key theme, rather than being drawn to a specific text.

But during our conversation, as my friend and I talked through this, it was easy to see where the theme aligned with Scripture, with texts where it is clearly visible.

This was just a helpful reminder for me that there isn’t always a hard and fast rule about such things. Sometimes you’ll have a clear idea for a text—you’ll want to preach Obadiah, and then you’ll realize you’re preaching on (among other things) eschatology. Sometimes you’ll feel compelled to speak on contentment in sacrifice for the sake of Christ, and you’ll easily find yourself in Philippians.

Which comes first: the theme or the text?

The short answer? Yes.


Photo credit: A.D. Wheeler Photography via photopin cc

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

PROOF by Daniel Montgomery & Timothy Paul Jones (which I reviewed yesterday) is $3.99, and What’s Best Next by Matt Perman is $3.79. Also on sale:

Should I Tell My Spouse about Struggles with Sexual Purity?

Garrett Kell:

“Should I tell my wife?” Daniel leaned back with no interest in the meal before him. He’d looked at racy pictures again and the weight of conviction was inescapable. He had confessed his sin to God and to me, but should he confess it to her? What would you tell Daniel?

The Elder’s Vows

Thabiti Anyabwile:

This past Sunday I stood with four other men to be ordained as elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I’ve had the honor of being ordained an elder on four occasions now, twice at Capitol Hill. Each time it’s been a sobering and joyful experience. Each time I’ve been reminded of the seriousness of shepherding the Lord’s people, sheep purchased with His own blood. For me, the most solemn part of the day is the taking of vows before the Lord, my fellow elders and the congregation.

For Some Reason, Anger Never Works The Way I Think It Will

Stephen Altrogge:

I have this idea that if I get sufficiently angry with a person, I can get them to change. If I raise my voice to a high enough decibel level, my children will get the point, repent of their sin, and be healthy, happy, productive members of the family. If I communicate forcefully, and with enough fury, my friend will stop looking at the porn that is destroying his life. If I give someone the silent treatment long enough, they will be brought to their knees in sorrow. Yeah right.

Searching for Fellowship amid Friendliness

Here’s a really good piece highlighting TGC Atlantic Canada. Really excited by what they’re doing on the East Coast.

What Loving the Unlovable Looks Like

Mike Leake:

You’ve likely never heard of her. She died a recluse in 1933. Having never married and living most of her life deaf and bedridden by a spinal problem, her name threatened to fall through the cracks of history. That would have been a shame because she single-handedly changed the course of American history. Her name is Julia Sand. The world was unaware of her name and her profound influence until a stack of twenty-three papers were uncovered in 1958. Encased in those letters were words that changed a would-be president.

5 words on extemporaneous preaching

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“Not for faint of heart.”

There’s your five words. (Just kidding.)

Extemporaneous preaching isn’t for everyone, but it is for me. I cannot manuscript. I mean, obviously I can, I write a lot and I love to do so. But I don’t like to write out sermons. My writing voice is far too different from my speaking voice. My one attempt at using a manuscripted sermon in a dozen years of preaching was an intolerably, uncomfortable preaching experience. So, you don’t want to come to me for advise about manuscripting a sermon. However, if you want to take a stab at preaching extemporaneously, then listen up. Here are five words of advice:

1. Preach your sermon to yourself during the week

For whatever reason, I don’t preach a dry run of my sermon in front of a mirror, in an empty auditorium, or in front of my family filled couch. No. Instead I preach it in my car, on my face, in the shower, on my bed, and in coffee shops. I do it in clips and in sections. I don’t do it out loud; it’s all in my head. Most of it is prayer. Sometimes you may catch me pacing my study trying to smooth out certain ideas, but I won’t preach the sermon from beginning to end until I’m in front of my congregation.

And it’s likely that what I preach to myself will sound and be different than what I preach to my congregation. Why? I’m preaching to myself, so I need to hear more, less, or different than what my congregation needs.

If you’re not preaching to yourself first, then you won’t preach to your congregation well. The Word of God has to lay ruin to the miserable ways of your soul and refresh you with the grace of God first before it will effectively do so for others. I want the Word of God to strike me between the eyes before I admonish God’s flock with it.

2. Let the text guide your outline

Quite honestly, I think that extemporaneous preachers are going to be twice as likely to be expository preachers. Allowing the text to guide your sermon outline makes it so much easier to preach without a manuscript. You read the text; then you expound on that text. You read the next text; then you expound on that one. This makes the preaching task fairly straightforward. Its less likely you’ll get lost in your outline.

3. Make a legible, coded outline

If you’re going to preach extemporaneously, you’re going to need a concise outline. I use the perforated pages in the back of my moleskin where I’ve been jotting down notes throughout the week to construct my outline.

Typically, on Thursday afternoon I coalesce all of my notes into an ordered two column homiletical outline that fits on the front of one page. It’s made up of nothing more than single-word signals, transitional statements, verse references, markers for anecdotes, and crucial textual observations. I’ll use a highlighter to code different elements of the outline.

I actually tape this outline into my bible on the opposite page of my passage with special Scotch Magic 811 removable tape. I’ve used this tape in my Bible for some time and have never ripped a page when removing it. This is handy because then I don’t have to necessarily be tied to a pulpit. I can pace and preach with Bible in hand.

So what if I’m going to quote something? Any quotes I use I put in my phone. I just pull it out and open the note I made for the sermon. That note has a quote or two – I don’t think I’ve ever used more than two – and a benediction. Sometimes, I just memorize the quote, which is an effective way to do it. This lets your congregation know that the quote is valuable to you.

4. Record quotable thoughts

Here I’ll add that extemporaneous preachers run the risk of not being quotable. Manuscripted preachers are more likely to include really quotable statements in their manuscript. To overcome this challenge, during my study and prayer throughout the week, if a real quotable, pithy statement forms in my brain, I write it down in my notebook in a special section I’ve created. I go over that section daily to allow those quotes to settle into my mind. That way they will come to me naturally when I preach. Quotability is crucial; quotable becomes memorable; memorable becomes shareable.

5. Fill in your thoughts with other’s

Scripture guides most of my sermon preparation. My personal study of the text is where I lean in most heavy. After I draft my outline on Thursday, I usually read commentaries through the weekend to fill out my knowledge of the text.

This doesn’t mean that I avoid commentaries altogether Monday through Wednesday. I go to them when I have specific questions of the text that I am unable to answer. It could have to do with a word study, interpretive issue, or complex theological idea. I then permit commentaries to help me sort out the matter. I also allow all my other peripheral reading, study, and conversation to fill in and add thickness to what I’m going to say.

Conclusion

Like I introed, extemporaneous preaching is not for the faint of heart. It takes a long time to develop a rhythm and pull it off with a polished delivery. You almost have to begin your preaching ministry as an extemporaneous preacher in order to pull through the learning curve. But that doesn’t have to be the case. You can do it!

Both styles, manuscripting and extemporaneous, have pros and cons. In Preaching and Preachers, Martyn Lloyd-Jones provides sound balance here on preaching regardless of which method you use, so I’ll close it with what he says:

What I regard as being always important is that you should preserve freedom. This element can never be exaggerated. Yet, at the same time you must have order and coherence. As is so often true in this matter of preaching you are always in the position of being between two extremes, you are always on a kind of knife-edge. (Kindle location 3788)

Regardless of what model you use, preserve freedom while maintaining order and coherence.


Joey Cochran, a graduate of Dallas Seminary, is a church planting intern at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois under the supervision of Pastor Joe Thorn. Follow him at jtcochran.com or @joeycochran.

photo credit: A.D. Wheeler Photography via photopin cc

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the final day of Cruciform Press’ 5 books/5 days sale. Get these titles for 99¢ each:

A few others that on sale include:

Why Some Preachers Get Better

Hershael York:

On the first day of the semester, or the first time I hear a student preach, I have no way of knowing if he has what it takes or is willing to do what he must to be the preacher he needs to be, but I can usually tell by the second sermon if he does, because that is when he has to act on what I told him after his first sermon.

What makes the difference?

Dating Advice You Actually Need

Derek Rishmawy:

I’ve been working in youth ministry in some capacity for roughly eight years, and this is one of the most common questions I’ve fielded from young Christians: “How can (insert boyfriend/girlfriend) and I have a Christian dating relationship? How do we keep it centered on Christ?” As often I’ve heard it, I still love the the heart behind the question. A couple of youngins’ get to dating, and they want to “do it right.” They realize that God is concerned with every aspect of our lives, including our romantic involvements, so they’ve resolved to have a “Christian” dating relationship and sought guidance.

When You Should NOT Submit to a Church

Jonathan Leeman (quoting from his excellent book Church Membership) identifies the characteristic behaviors of leaders we should not submit to, but flee from.

What’s All This ‘Gospel-Centered’ Talk About?

Dane Ortlund:

What does it mean, then, to be “Gospel-centered”?

As far as I can tell the phrase is used in two basic ways. One is to view all of life in light of the Gospel. We’ll call this a Gospel-centered worldview. The other is to view Christian progress as dependent on the Gospel. We’ll call this Gospel-centered growth. The first looks out; the second looks in. Take Gospel-centered worldview first.

Your Naked Truth

Aimee Byrd:

I read an article the other day that is still bothering me. I think that it captures a lie that many men and women believe about beauty and love. A 59-year-old wrote it, but this is the same problem I see in 18-year-olds.

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

The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther—free for Logos users

The Righteousness of Faith According to Luther by Hans J. Iwand is the free book of the month from Logos Bible Software. You can also pair this with Brett Muhlhan’s Being Shaped by Freedom: An Examination of Luther’s Development of Christian Liberty for 99 cents.

For the sake of the children, must we abandon Genesis?

Martin Olasky:

If for the sake of the children we can’t give up Darwin, and if by doing so the kids don’t turn their backs on the Bible, they have a Bible with lots of pages torn out and its overarching theme—creation, fall, and redemption—slashed. If we jettison Genesis, Jesus who made miracles will eventually go too. Jimmy, Kathy, and sweet Lorelei may go to church a bit longer, but they’ll eventually find a more amusing club.

What’s the alternative? Theistic evolutionists say we must bend or die, but when we bend on something so basic, where do we stop? Is our chief task to glorify our Creator or to be glorified by other creatures? When Darwin trumps the Bible, what are we worshipping?

 Kindle deals for Christian readers

Finally, several volumes in Zondervan’s How to Read series are $3.79 each:

What Does “First Among Equals” Mean on an Elder Board

Jonathan Leeman:

A non-staff elder friend from another church recently emailed me this question:

I need an education on the topic of “first among equals” as it relates to elders. I am struggling at times to find my way. I know that God has me here for a reason, and I know that it will take work to go from years of one man leading, to two men, to three, and so on. I know the challenges of working to change culture. I really want to make sure my understanding and heart are in the right place as I talk with the others…Any tips?

Evangelicals and Cities: A Discussion in Need of Clarity

Kevin DeYoung:

…I am thankful for people who feel called to an urban context. Whether it’s to alleviate poverty or embrace diversity or influence cultural elites or simply to be where lost people are, I have no problem with evangelical appeals to be involved in cities. In fact, I am entirely for it! But if this ongoing discussion about evangelicals and cities is to be profitable, we have to figure out what we actually mean by cities.

Do Prodigals Feel Welcome At Our Churches?

Stephen Altrogge:

In his kindness, God often brings a prodigal to the end of his rope. No money. Living on the street. Kicked out of college. A string of broken relationships. Tempted to eat food that is intended for pigs. You get the point. And when prodigals bottom out, they often return home and to the church.

When a prodigal returns to your church, what sort of welcome will he receive?

I want a patriotic church

canadian-flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

keyboard

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

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

Thankfully I am not alone in this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links I like

Finding Jesus In The Storm

Ryan Freeman:

At the end of their own physical strength these men, many of whom were lifelong fishermen, were also at the end of their personal and professional competence. Their obedience to Christ brought them to the end of anything they had to offer, and they saw the futility of their efforts. Personally, as a member of a church plant, and a church planting church, in a city where most churches have fled for the suburbs and real estate prices make churching nearly impossible, this struck a chord! When all our efforts fail, and our strength is not enough, we can either reason with ourselves that wisdom dictates a change of course … or we can hold fast to the instruction of our Lord and trust in Him to provide resources beyond ourselves!

More humble theologians, please!

Aaron Earls:

Why is it that despite the horrible record of “conventional wisdom” we continue to rely on it and trust it?

While this problem is widespread in culture, it particularly impacts the church. Once something becomes adopted by the majority of Christians, even if it is not biblical, it is almost impossible to change their minds.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to get Preparing Your Teens for College by Alex Chediak for $2.99. Also on sale:

7 things guys need to know about suits

4 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Church

Brian Croft:

I’ve been asked this question many times not just through my Practical Shepherding website, but even more recently in my own church by visitors. It is a common scenario. You move to a new area. You get find your new residence and job. You get the kids enrolled in school. Where you settle in a local church often becomes a longer, more drawn-out task.

After checking out all the churches you desire to visit, here are four questions to ask yourself as you narrow the search to make a decision.