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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.

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Satan’s lies about prayer

Sam Freney:

It’s a fair bet that most Christians would see prayer as a vital component of our relationship with God. We can bring our worries and troubles to our Father, we can ask for anything in Jesus’ name, we can be confident in our approach to God because of the blood of our saviour—these are all things we affirm and love.

This is good. Because each aspect of prayer to the Father is the gospel of grace in miniature. I have done nothing to earn the ear of the creator of the universe; quite the opposite, in fact. The relationship I now enjoy in prayer with my Lord is entirely his gracious gift.

So how is it that we can be so often and so easily deceived about and diverted from prayer? Well, for a start, we’re sinful creatures. And often lazy. Distractible. Not yet transformed into glory. Very often more interested in shiny things (or glowing screens) than the invisible, immortal God.

 One Reason People May Be Skipping Church

Trevin shares a brilliant and timely parable from Charles Spurgeon.

Jesus and non-violence

Daryl Charles and Timothy J. Demy:

Does Jesus’s teaching in the sermon on the Mount to “turn the other cheek” and not resist evil require pacifism on the part of Christians?

Since most religious pacifists ground their convictions in a purported nonviolent “love ethic” of Jesus that is understood to be the teaching of Matthew 5:38–42, it is imperative that the meaning of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount be assessed.

What Did Jesus Teach About Homosexuality?

Denny Burk:

Those who stage hermeneutical cage matches between Paul and Jesus are staging a contest that neither Jesus nor Paul would ever have tolerated. The approach tends to undermine the New Testament’s claim to be a normative basis for ethics by making the black letters subservient to the red letters.

How to run a theology pub

Darryl Dash:

For the past six years or so, I’ve convened a Theology Pub in Toronto. It all began with a post that expressed a desire to get together with others to eat and discuss theology. I hoped that this group would be open but orthodox, and that our discussions would drive us to mission.

Theology Pub is relatively easy. I don’t work at it a lot; I convene and organize it a little, and it just seems to happen. It’s also enjoyable. It combines two things I really love: theology and getting a network of people together who want to learn.

Links I like

Can We Trade Sexual Morality for Church Growth?

Russell Moore:

Sexual morality didn’t become difficult with the onset of the sexual revolution. It always has been. Walking away from our own lordship, or from the tyranny of our desires, has always been a narrow way. The rich young ruler wanted a religion that would promise him his best life now, extended out into eternity. But Jesus knew that such an existence isn’t life at all, just the zombie corpse of the way of the flesh. He came to give us something else, to join us to his own life.

Get The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts free

Reformation Trust’s free book of the month is The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts by Douglas Bond. Get it for free for the Kindle at Amazon, the ePub edition at Ligonier.org or for iBooks at iTunes.

Constitutional Wisdom and Common Sense on Ceremonial Prayer

Albert Mohler:

The Court’s ruling yesterday is important at every level — even as the controversy over the ruling is very illuminating. Some people argue that the problem is prayer in any form, and would simply prohibit public prayers at any governmental occasion. Others, like the women who brought this case against Greece, New York, would argue that prayers may be allowed, but only if they are sufficiently nonsectarian prayers offered to a generic deity. Others, including Justice Kennedy and a majority of the Court, argue that the nation has clearly allowed explicitly “sectarian” prayers to be offered at government occasions, and that the nation’s commitment to pluralism then depends on the invitation to pray being extended to all, regardless of creed.

How the Lego Movie should have ended

HT: Zach

Church Is For Messy People

Stephen Altrogge:

I distinctly remember one Sunday when a man said to me something like, “When I look around, I see all these people who have their lives together. Meanwhile, my life is a mess.” Church should be a place where messy people feel comfortable. When I say “messy people”, I don’t mean people who are willfully engaging in unrepentant sin. I mean people who are seeking to follow Jesus, but who often find themselves struggling, and falling, and failing. I’m talking about the weak, weary, and worn out.

10 Money Lessons To Teach Your Kids

David Murray summarizes ten lessons he’s learned from Dave Ramsey’s new book, Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money.

Get The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes for $5

Westminster Books has a killer sale on Zack Eswine’s new book, The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes. This week only, you can get this book for $5 per copy. Here’s the description:

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us that life under the sun does not play out according to neat and tidy rules. He asks us to see the world around us in all its messiness and explores what that messiness reveals about us, our world, and God. The Preacher is plainspoken, because people live in the midst of this mess and we have to talk about it. Zack Eswine gives us a meditation that engages people where they are and invites them to draw near to God who enters their world to redeem it and them.

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This comes from the Lord

Ray Ortlund:

Connecting “this comes from the Lord” with “having this ministry” forces a disturbing question.  How many of our churches today can say, “Our ministry comes from the Lord.  Our life-giving impact is of him.  What we are experiencing is coming down from above”?  How many of our churches have a clear awareness that what’s happening in their midst is not due to their cleverness or relevance or traditions or anything of Self?  How many of us can honestly say, “What’s happening among us here is from the Lord.  There is no other way to account for it.  We’re not that smart, not that attractive, not even that virtuous.  We want to do our best for him, of course.  But our church is under the touch of God.  Our ministry is by his mercy”?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The World’s Best Grandfather

Christopher Catherwood:

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, commonly referred to as the “Doctor,” was the prince of preachers of the twentieth century—perhaps the greatest since Spurgeon in the 19th century and Whitefield and Edwards in the 18th.

He was also the world’s best grandfather!

He died on my 26th birthday, March 1st, 1981, and he and I had a close grandfather/grandson relationship. I took very much after his side of the family, with a personality and intellectual interests very similar to his father, my great-grandfather, Henry Lloyd-Jones.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Finally, while it may not seem like a deal, you should really pick up omnibus edition of C.S. Lewis’ The Space Trilogy for $19.99.

On Church Membership and Theological Disagreement

Jake Meador:

“Port William repaid watching. I was always on the lookout for what would be revealed. Sometimes nothing would be, but sometimes I beheld astonishing sights.”

The lesson from that quote (from Wendell Berry) is that fidelity to a place, a people, or a tradition is often its own reward. This is because learning to actually see something takes a great deal of time. It is only through the virtues of patience and affection that we can come to truly know a place and find our home in it. Seeing these things properly is something that takes a great deal of time to do, and the longer you take at it the more apt you are to realize how much more there is to see. This was the thought I continued to have as I watched the Future of Protestantism event earlier this week.

Checking the Pulse of Spiritual Sibling Rivalry

Joey Cochran:

If we’re honest, there are times where we meet a brother or sister in Christ and don’t feel like being a brother or sister in Christ to them. Sometimes the feeling is subtle and subversive–so subtle that we almost deny the feeling; yet we’ve allowed ourselves to be rubbed the wrong way by that person. It might be that they are more successful, attractive, intelligent, or just flat out better than you at everything they do. It could be that they accomplished all of this while displaying sinful characteristics in the process. We see sin in them more than we see the same in our self (Matthew 7:3) . Maybe they took something that we believed should’ve been ours. Perhaps it was a promotion or award at work. You know that they follow Christ, but boy, you wish they didn’t so that you wouldn’t feel so bad about giving them an earful.

All who believe are family

Jesus-Reaching-Out

photo: iStock

If we are the children of God, if we are the heirs of God, and joint-heirs with the Lord Jesus Christ, then all who believe in the Lord Jesus constitute one family. They may be scattered all over the world, may in ten thousand things differ as to the present life, and in ten thousand things have differed as to their manner of life before they were brought to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus,—may differ after their conversion as to their position in life, and in numberless ways also as to attainments in knowledge and grace; but nevertheless, as assuredly as they believe in the Lord Jesus for the salvation of their souls do they constitute one heavenly family—they are brethren. We glorify God by living as such here. In heaven we shall be together. Throughout eternity we shall be unspeakably happy, and love one another perfectly and habitually. But we are to glorify God by manifesting this love now, while on the earth, while in weakness and exposed to conflict, while the struggle is going on; now we are to be united together, and to manifest that we are one family, the heavenly family. This is the way to bring glory to God.

George Müller, Jehovah Magnified

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Introducing Citizen’s Press

Yesterday, Alyssa Poblete (wife of my friend and fellow Cruciform Press author Chris Poblete) announced the launch of a new theology blog for women, Citizen’s Press. Here’s the low-down:

Citizen’s Press is an online magazine for Christian women. We believe that theology is important—both practical and essential for all of life. As such, it is our desire to encourage women to love the study of God’s Word and to connect them to resources and articles that help women apply good theology to everyday life.

This would be a great blog to add to your feed reader.

The Future of Protestantism

Tune into the livestream of The Future of Protestantism, a discussion with Peter Leithart, Fred Sanders and Carl Trueman tonight at 7 pm PDT. Should be very interesting.

Destroy a Church in 4 Simple Steps

Tim Challies:

A short time ago I learned of a church building in our neighborhood that was for sale. For years now Grace Fellowship Church has been looking for a building of our own, so we thought we should go and give it a look. This had once been a thriving congregation. Faithful Christians had given sacrificially to construct that building. They had consecrated it to the Lord and had worshipped there for many years. Yet now that building was deserted, decaying, and up for sale.

What happened? How did that church go from thriving to dying? How did it slide from healthy to sick to dead? I think I know. I think Paul tells us in his second letter to Timothy, the letter he wrote just days or weeks before his death. There, in chapter 4, he looks into the future, he sees a church being destroyed, and he warns us how it happens. It’s as straightforward as four simple steps.…Here are those four simple steps that lead to a church’s self-destruction.

Ian and Larissa: 2014 update

Three years ago we were introduced to Ian and Larissa Murray, a couple dealing with traumatic brain injury and how they processed that injury through their faith. Check out this update and news about their new book, Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up:

The Power Of Godly Example

Mark Altrogge:

Hypocrisy disillusions those who have listened to us and trusted us. Hypocrisy renders our words useless and empty. It makes our children cynical and undermines all we try to teach them. There’s nothing more empty than “Do what I say, not what I do.”

On the other hand, words backed by actions are powerful. Our actions can prove we really believe what we say and that others can believe us too. When we can say, “Do what I say AND what I do,” our words will have power and influence.

The Legacy I Want to Leave

John Piper:

This fall we plan to launch Look at the Book, a new online method of teaching the Bible. Look at the Book is an ongoing series of 5–8 minute video interactions with the Bible in which the camera is on the text, not the teacher. You will hear my voice and watch my pen work its way into the meaning of the text. I’ll point and circle and underline in the passage, all the while talking through how I’m seeing what I’m seeing.

Our main aim will be to create habits of mind and ways of seeing the Bible that help you find the riches of Scripture for yourselves. We really believe that serious Christians can see more wonders in God’s word than they ever thought they could. Look at the Book is our effort to bring that belief to life for you.

With this new dream — this invitation to come with me into the kitchen — we are transitioning our Desiring God National Conference into an ongoing series of regional, church-based Look at the Book events.

Should We Speak of Gay Christians?

Owen Strachan:

We must not make the common mistake, in addition, of thinking that Christians who experience some level of same-sex attraction are somehow consumed by their sexual desires. They must fight sin of many other kinds: pride, laziness, foolishness, anger, and so on, just as every follower of Christ must. Not every person with SSA is on the brink of a Sodom-like situation. Sometimes we’re heard in those tones, and that’s not helpful.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Lots of new deals at Amazon:

If the apostle Paul was a blogger…

Derek Rishmawy gives us a look at Romans 8 written in the style of a modern blogger.

Are We Expecting Too much or Too Little From the Church?

Erik Raymond:

Many people think of friendships as those relationships where we have a lot in common with the other person. This is true, but what is the basis for this commonality? Some people will leave a church saying, “I can’t find people that I have a lot in common with.” This is a staggering and revealing statement. It could mean, “There are no Christians here.” It could also mean, “I am not a Christian.” And it could mean, “I don’t chiefly value my identity as a Christian as the basis for relationships.”

Behold: the two absolutely worst arguments against homeschooling

Matt Walsh:

Why do I even need to debunk the socialization claim? You’ve seen our society, haven’t you? You’ve interacted with people, right? Homeschooling might be increasingly popular, but the vast majority of the people you meet have been public schooled. And you’re telling me that the vast majority of the people you meet are ‘socially well adjusted’?

Really?

Was the Ascension Bad Evangelism Strategy?

Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow:

The ascension seems like bad evangelism strategy. It removes the key piece of evidence that substantiates the claims of Christianity. It’s like our best player got subbed out as the game was just beginning.

But in Scripture and for the Christian, the ascension is startlingly good news. In fact, there could be no salvation or mission without the ascension.

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Holy Relics: The Church Pew

Martyn Wendell Jones:

Unlike the Lord, they are hard and unforgiving. Wherever two or three hundred are gathered, there they will be also. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, but his followers will have somewhere to rest their behinds, even unto the end of the age.

Evangelical church pews are a sign of our identification with the Christian Church universal because they are not unique to our houses of worship. Austere, they stand in sanctuaries all over the world, colors changing with those of the available materials for building them in different countries and climates. I’ve seen them bolted to stone floors, hardwood floors, and floors covered in carpet to mask the material underneath; I’ve dozed on them in balmy Mediterranean weather and shivered on them through a bitter midwestern winter’s worth of Sundays, helplessly caught in the draft of God’s house and praying for the Lord to seal the door, as he sometimes does.

Tribes and the lost art of discernment

Yancey Arrington:

Unfortunately for some, looking to leaders who don’t share your theological distinctives or church philosophy is anathema. I’ve been places where if you quote [a non-tribe leader’s name] or say you like [said leader’s] approach to dealing with a specific issue you run the risk of being regarded as some kind of sellout, pragmatist who’s a heartbeat away from purchasing a laser light show and circus clowns for your Sunday morning “event.” You definitely are in need of a strong rebuke…or better yet, a gossip session: “Did you hear who [leader in your tribe] has been influenced by? What’s he thinking? We started our tribe because we don’t want to be like those guys!” The sad result is that isolationism and insularity become shibboleths for who the real faithful are. Do they quote our guys, go to our conferences, read our books? Another unfortunate product is the fostering of an either/ormentality which tragically pits good things against each other, forcing a tribe’s faithful to embrace one at the loss of the other. For example, one person’s tribe is either into theology or leadership but it can’t be into both. Embrace theology and you’re regarded as too doctrinaire for your own good. Embrace leadership and risk being branded as guy who puts ends over means. It’s crazy, pick any tribe and often you’ll get subjected to all kinds of false dichotomies (attractional church vs. incarnational church, Sunday school vs. missional communities, etc.) forcing you to pick the “right” side.

Whenever I see this either/or mentality I want to scream, “Whatever happened to discernment?”

Youth-Driven Culture

Stephen Nichols:

The subtle and not-so-subtle pulls of the idolization of youth manifest themselves in three areas. The first is an elevation of youth over the aged. This reverses the biblical paradigm. The second is a view of being human that values prettiness (not to be confused with beauty and aesthetics), strength, and human achievement. Think of the captain of the cheerleading squad and the star quarterback. The third is the dominance of the market by the youth demographic. That is to say, in order to be relevant and successful, one must appeal to the youth or to youthful tastes. These manifestations of our youth-driven culture deserve a closer look.

How I Almost Became a False Teacher

John Knight:

[Disability] touched every area of my life, including my understanding of who God is. I looked for this issue in the Bible and thought hard about it. But I didn’t just read the Bible, I scoured memoirs, scholarly journals, testimonials, history, academic textbooks.

I responded to the strong temptation to look for somebody else — somebody with experience with disability — to provide the theological answers to the questions I had about the Bible and disability. Some of those voices made sense to me.

One such voice was a well-known blind theologian dealing directly at some of the hardest passages in the New Testament. His writing was clear and organized. He was seriously engaging the Bible. He knew and understood the history of the church on this topic. His argumentation was tight, and his experience with the subject was relevant. His emotional appeals gelled with his rationale. He was no prosperity charlatan trying to get rich off his followers. It was a serious look at God’s word and its impact on his life as a man living with blindness.

And he was wrong

The real problem with female masturbation

Jordan Monge:

When men talk about masturbation (or at least what I have heard and read), everyone pretty much settles on the basics: It’s hard to practice self-control. It’s hard to resist indulging in lust. Really hard. Few men try to psychoanalyze the process, explaining masturbation away by realizing that they secretly have underlying issues relating to real women. (Though, it’s true that many men do struggle to relate to real women in the flesh, if the movie Her is any indication.) Men realize that even if they do resolve those relational issues with women or somehow meet their “unmet needs,” that won’t solve their real problem. Their real problem is lust.

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China on Course to Become ‘World’s Most Christian Nation’

Joe Carter:

Christians in America often find reasons to be pessimistic about our religion’s waning influence on our country. But we should remember that our land is not the last bastion of hope for the faith. The remarkable growth in global Christianity — particularly in Asia and Africa — should give us reason to be optimistic. The Holy Spirit is changing hearts and minds around the globe in a way that has not been seen since the first century after Christ’s Ascension. For this we should be eternally grateful.

Homosexuality Isn’t Like Other Sins

Jonathan Parnell:

Adultery is still frowned upon by many. Accusations of greed will still smear a candidate’s political campaign. Thievery is still not openly embraced, and there are no official initiatives saying it’s okay to go steal things that don’t belong to you. There’s no such thing as a drunk agenda yet. Most aren’t proud to choose a beverage over stability, and there aren’t any petitions that the government should abolish the driving restrictions of inebriated individuals. Reviling others still isn’t seen as the best way to win friends and influence people. Swindling, especially on a corporate level, usually gets someone thrown into jail. In fact, the infrastructure of the American economy depends upon, in some measure, our shared disdain for conniving scammers.

Perhaps excepting fornication, these sins are still seen in a pretty negative light. But not homosexual practice, not by those who are now speaking loudest and holding positions of prominence. According to the emerging consensus, homosexuality is different.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a few new and still running Kindle deals

How Sinful Is Man?

R.C. Sproul:

Imagine a circle that represents the character of mankind. Now imagine that if someone sins, a spot—a moral blemish of sorts—appears in the circle, marring the character of man. If other sins occur, more blemishes appear in the circle. Well, if sins continue to multiply, eventually the entire circle will be filled with spots and blemishes. But have things reached that point? Human character is clearly tainted by sin, but the debate is about the extent of that taint. The Roman Catholic Church holds the position that man’s character is not completely tainted, but that he retains a little island of righteousness. However, the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century affirmed that the sinful pollution and corruption of fallen man is complete, rendering us totally corrupt.

To Retweet or not to Retweet

Nathan Bingham and Matthew Sims offer some great insights into the topic that generated the most discussion at Band of Bloggers this year.

Every Christian’s Second Most Important Book

Garrett Kell:

For Christians, the Bible is the most precious and important book we possess. In its pages are the divinely inspired words that guide us to know and love our God.

After the Bible there are a few books that every believer should probably read, reread, and apply. On this short list would be works likeFoxe’s Book of MartyrsPilgrim’s Progress,Augustine’s ConfessionsMere ChristianityKnowing God, and Operation World. But even these great works fall behind what I consider the second most important book for every Christian.

What book is that? Your local church’s membership directory.

What will they hear next weekend?

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Easter always has a lot of buzz around it, both from Christian and non-Christian sources. News outlets are always looking for a big, salacious Jesus-related story to plaster across magazine covers, newspapers and websites. Over the last few years we’ve seen big “exposés” on the gospel of Jesus’ wife, the Jesus family tomb, and the gospel of Judas, all of which have gotten some people talking about Jesus… but pretty quickly fizzled out of everyday conversation.

Christians, likewise, make a big deal out of Easter. This is one of the big times of year for programmatic evangelism in a lot of churches—encouraging every regular attendee to invite a non-Christian friend of family member being the most common. (There’s also the spectacle silliness some churches engage in, but let’s not talk about that right now, mmmkay?) And it’s a big deal. I mean, tons of people—whether nominal believers, adherents of other religions, agnostics, and even some atheists—show up every Easter.

Looking around the auditorium at the high school where our church meets during first service, I couldn’t see a single open seat (and second service was undoubtedly even more packed). The children’s ministry was filled to bursting… And most importantly, the gospel was preached, with clarity and conviction.

I’m guessing the Easter Sunday experience was similar for many of you, too.

It’s a safe bet most visitors to a church in North America heard the gospel this weekend (again, except for in those ones that engage in a lot of silliness…). This is something we should thank God for, to be sure. The resurrection of Jesus holds the promise of the gospel—that Jesus’ death on the cross actually did satisfy the wrath of God, that our sins are paid for, and that all who trust in Jesus will be forgiven and given new life.

But, here’s a question that’s on my mind:

What will next weekend’s visitors hear?

I’m thankful there are many churches, including my own, for which Easter Sunday is more-or-less the same as every other Sunday. The gospel is front-and-center every weekend. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the thing we celebrate together each week without fail. So, you know what visitors to churches like those will hear?

The gospel.

But for far too many churches—churches filled with really great people—yesterday’s message was kind of an anomaly. Next weekend will begin a new sermon series offering steps to handle finances, raise obedient children, or have a better marriage… and the gospel, while not denied, won’t be quite so front-and-center. They won’t hear about the only hope they have (and may not realize they need).

They might hear a call to moral living, but they may not hear a call to bow before Jesus.

And if they’re not hearing that, what are they really hearing?

While I don’t believe we should be gearing our worship gatherings toward the needs of unbelievers, we should never forget that they are always present. Visitors will be in the room. People who don’t know Jesus will be there. What will they hear next weekend?


photo credit: ACOUSTIC DIMENSIONS via photopin cc

Would Paul have used video? Here’s a better question…

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If Paul were ministering today, would he use video?

This is an important question, and it’s not one that is as clear cut as you might think. Many who have embraced video venue gatherings point to Paul as their example. Because he was all about becoming all things to all people in the hopes of winning some to the gospel, he would surely use any (non-sinful) means at his disposal to extend the reach of the gospel.

That’s generally how I’ve seen the argument go, anyway. (I realize I’m probably oversimplifying a bit.)

The question of whether or not Paul would use video is an important one, but I wonder if it might also be the wrong one.

Would Paul use video to share the gospel? Probably, sure. But, more importantly, what would he use it for?

See, here’s the thing with Paul—he was, by and large, an itinerant minister. With the exception of his time in Ephesus, he never seemed to stay in one place all that long. His ambition was “to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest [he] build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20). This wasn’t a vanity thing for him—he simply wanted as many people as possible to hear the good news about Jesus.

He was all about fulfilling the great commission.

But he would frequently communicate with other churches. Some, like the churches in Galatia, Ephesus and Thessalonica, were ones he played an integral role in starting. Others, like the church in Colossae and (likely) Rome, were established by others. But regardless of his connection, Paul wrote to teach, correct, encourage, and strengthen them in the gospel.

But he also wasn’t their pastor. Even in the churches he had helped start, he had commanded that elders be established to equip “the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). These elders were the ones charged with “keeping watch over [their] souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). These were the ones who would regularly proclaim God’s Word and teach the believers.

So what was Paul? Paul was not serving as the primary teaching pastor of any of these churches. He didn’t need to. These churches had faithful men like Titus, Timothy, and so many others. In his letters, he might be better viewed as the guest preacher.

And when you look at Paul’s letters more closely, there’s another interesting thing: this expectation that those letters will be shared with other churches. In Colossians 4:16, for example, he explicitly told them, “when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.” Similarly in 1 Thessalonians 5:27, he made them swear they would “have this letter read to all the brothers.”

So even letters meant for specific churches weren’t meant for them exclusively.

So that takes us back to the real question:

If Paul had access to the technology in his time, what would he have used video for?

Here’s my hunch, with all the necessary caveats in place: I suspect Paul’s use of video might look similar to an event like Secret Church.

If you don’t know the concept, Secret Church is an intensive six-plus hour Bible study modelled after the meetings of the underground church in countries where religious freedom is either extremely restricted or entirely nonexistent. The idea is to “take what we’ve learned and pass it along to others … to use what we’ve learned during this gathering to make disciples of Christ—both locally and globally.”

They host a live event and simulcast it to host churches and homes around the world. This isn’t making TV screens serve as pastors, or extending the brand of a single man. The goal is to teach, correct, encourage, and strengthen believers in the gospel, while also encouraging the spread of the gospel.

I might be crazy, but that certainly sounds an awful like Paul’s model, doesn’t it?


photo credit: ACOUSTIC DIMENSIONS via photopin cc

The Social Church by Justin Wise

The Social Church by Justin Wise

The first time I heard Justin Wise speak on social media I was impressed.

It was the first session—actually the pre-conference workshop—at a conference for Christian creatives in Canada. Wise was speaking on how churches need to embrace their websites as their new front-door. And as he laid everything out, with tons of practical examples, I had two reactions:

  1. People really need to listen to this guy
  2. This is going to be really hard for some folks to swallow

Many of the people occupying the leadership roles in churches, non-profits, and for-profit entities are digital immigrants. They remember a time without Wi-Fi, Netflix, and Facebook. Many of them use social media, but struggle to understand how to do it. Others don’t bother with it at all, seeing it as a distraction, a fad, or a time-suck that gets in the way of getting real work/ministry done.

But, Wise argues, digital communication is not a good thing for a church to engage in—it’s necessary if they’re actually serious about reaching people with the gospel. And that’s really the heart behind his book, The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication, where Wise unpacks the “why” of social media, with a bit of how sprinkled in along the way.

Mission and ministry in social media

If you could boil the why down to one thing, it’s really this: Churches need to be engaging social media—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, whatever the next thing is that’s going to take the world by storm—not because it’s hip and trendy, but because it’s about mission and ministry. Where people are, Christians must be as well. But the difference, and maybe the most challenging aspect of it, is that mission and ministry in social media requires two-way communication.

“For many, many years, churches communicated in the same fashion you and I drive down a one-way street: traffic only moved one way,” Wise explains. “Churches broadcasted a message and never anticipated a moment where the congregation would start speaking back.”

But social media has changed this dynamic.…For the church, and virtually every other sector of society, the shift to social permanently turned the tables in the public’s favor. Social media gave people a voice, and they’re not going to give it up easily. (30)

This is the challenge many of us have when engaging social media. Because the expectation is two-way communication, you actually have to engage people. You have to talk to them when they talk back and share content that’s not all about you. And this is also where so many organizations—including some of the world’s biggest brands—fall on their faces. So if you’ve just realized that you’re doing the digital equivalent of shouting into an empty room, take heart: you’re not alone and you can change this.

But in order to do it, you have to know the values of a social media culture, what it likes and dislikes. What it thinks, how it feels… This is, essentially, the “nasty” business of contextualization, becoming all things to all people so that some might be saved. And even as we seek to understand—or humbly admit we can’t make the leap ourselves and bring in people to help us—we find more opportunities to push back.

Challenging a mediated world

Even as “online” and “offline” become increasingly blurred, we’re going to find ourselves having to confront the tendency to hide in the digital realm with more force. Humans were not meant to hide behind screens and smartphones (and yes, I understand the irony of me even saying this in a digital medium). Real relationships can form and be nurtured online, but the best kinds of relationships form in the real life.

I suppose the inherent danger of online communities is when there is a mistaken belief they can serve as a one-for-one replacement for in-person communities. They can’t (and shouldn’t). Offline trumps online.

Having said that, online community is definitely preferable to no community whatsoever. Lives have been changed, saved, and redeemed all because gospel-centered online communities exist. (155)

You can see the tension here, can’t you? I think Wise is certainly correct that “digital community is better than no community” to some degree, but the fact that this also points us to a legitimate issue in our context: that even as we develop a sound theology of digital communication, we must develop a robust eccesiology to compliment it. This is the difficulty many of us have with idea of online services—while streaming the service can certainly beneficial, how do we challenge people to engage in reality?

Years ago, I was part of an active hobby-focused online community. People would talk about the primary subject (comics), but would also delve into all kinds of other topics, including sharing deeply personal details about their lives (not in a TMI kind of way. Usually). Folks would meet at conventions for drinks. Users who lived in the same cities would get together every once in a while for a meal if the suggestion was tabled… But in the end, when someone stopped visiting the site, it was like they never existed. In an instant, those relationships were severed. The connections weren’t really all that deep.

This is the challenge we face when we deal with the implications of online ministry. How do we build real connections that aren’t easy to sever? This is something Wise doesn’t thoroughly address in the book because, honestly, I don’t know if he or anyone else is equipped to put forward an answer. But make no mistake: if we’re serious about being gospel-minded, gospel-centered people who want to engage the digital realm for mission and ministry, this elephant in the room must be named and addressed.

The beginning of a much deeper conversation

The Social Church is not the last word on social media and the church, nor should it be. Instead, it’s best to see this book as the continuation (or possibly the beginning) of of a conversation we’re not quite ready for: a much deeper discussion on how to do ministry in a simultaneously bigger and smaller world. But whether or not we’re truly ready, it’s a conversation we need to have.


Title: The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication
Author: Justin Wise
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Links I like

Is Church Membership Really Required?

Ricky Jones:

Leaving the church is not simply leaving a club. When you walk away, you dismember yourself from the body. Jesus and the rest of the body sorely miss you, and bleed after your departure. You cut yourself off from your only source of life and nourishment. Like an amputated hand, you will slowly bleed out, wither, and die.

The Keeper of the Peace

Lore Ferguson:

There are all sorts of opportunities to doubt God’s faithfulness and His sustaining goodness to us. Financial difficulties, marriage or roommate difficulties, church difficulties—everywhere we look in life we can see reasons the world would give us for not trusting God in the midst of difficult circumstances or fearful endeavors.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Preachers

Thom Rainer:

I sometimes listen to preachers with amazement, if not awe. So many of them are incredibly effective in communicating God’s Word, so much more effective than I ever was or will be. I certainly understand that assessing effectiveness is a very subjective assignment. But, simply put, a number of preachers I have observed are incredible in explaining and applying the Word. As a consequence, God changes lives and saves people.

The best I can do is to be a student of these preachers, and to share with you seven key habits I have observed in most of them. I regularly ask these preachers about the way they go about preparing, preaching, and evaluating their messages. My list is fallible, but I do hope it’s helpful.

How Well Should Pastors Be Paid?

R.C. Sproul Jr:

Before we can answer how well pastors should be paid we first have to establish that they should be paid. The Bible is clear enough on this—see I Timothy 5:17-18 and I Corinthians 9:9-14. Having established that they ought to be paid we have already moved away from the pseudo-gnostic notion that there is something inherently sketchy about it. That is, if we are inclined to think they ought to be paid nothing, we will likely find any payment gross and obscene. Such is envy badly disguised as piety.

God Is “I Am.” You Are Not.

Barnabas Piper:

“That’s just who I am.” We’ve all heard people say it and very likely said it ourselves. It’s that ubiquitous explanation (read: excuse) for an action or attitude that strikes someone else oddly or even offends them. Sometimes it’s innocent, like when we’re explaining our accent, clothing choices, or cultural peculiarities (hugging, being loud, talking fast, hurrying, running late, etc.). More often, though, we say it to justify ourselves when we are offensive or hurtful. We brush away our missteps by blaming them on our own identity. “I can’t help it if you’re hurt by that; it’s just the way I am.”

“That’s just the way I am.” “That’s not me.” Well, that’s just arrogant.

Links I like

Real forgiveness

Ray Ortlund:

“And if he repents, forgive him.” I wish we were all so tender before the Lord that obvious sin, lovingly rebuked, always evoked repentance. Sadly, that is not so. Hence, the word “if,” rather than “when,” in this verse. But if the relationship is to be restored, the offender must confess his sin as sin and repent of it. How can a sin be forgiven, if it’s never been confessed as sin? So hopefully the offending brother will say, after carefully considering your rebuke, “You’re right. I didn’t see it that way at the moment. I was too riled up. But now I see what I did, and I see what the Bible says about it, and I am making no excuses. I was wrong. I’m sorry. And, God helping me, it won’t happen again. Is there anything I can do that might make a positive difference?”

Why I Don’t Typically Pray For “A Hedge of Protection”

Mike Leake:

I’ve had something similar prayed over me before. And I really appreciate it. But I have a confession to make. The phrase “hedge of protection” makes me laugh. You see, I’m a child of the 80’s and 90’s. When I hear the word hedge I don’t think of a row of thorn bushes–I think of Sonic the Hedgehog. So what I hear when someone prays for a hedge of protection is a group of angry hedgehogs watching out for me like my own personal line of attack dogs.

That is one reason, to my knowledge, I’ve never once prayed a hedge of protection around someone. There is another reason.

Where does this hedge come from?

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A couple of new Kindle deals:

New deals from Westminster Books

Westminster Books are highlighting a number of books geared to women with some fantastic specials. Here are a few of the titles:

Being a Missions-Centered Local Church

Perhaps the most missions-centered local church I’ve ever visited is Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. Pastor Bryant Wright, the elders and staff at Johnson Ferry have by God’s grace led the church to an inspiring level of mission activity. They have adopted ten unreached and unengaged people groups. Last year nearly 50 percent of their active membership took part in short-term mission trips (just under 2,000 people). This year, Lord willing, they plan to take over 80 short-term trips and support over 90 full-time missionaries on the field.

I had the honor of joining Bryant and the saints at Johnson Ferry for their missions conference called Move (audio here). That’s just what they’re doing–moving! I learned a great deal during my time there and thought I would summarize five things in this short post.

Announcing Stephen Nichols as RBC President and Chief Academic Officer for Ligonier

This is great news for Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Bible College:

God has shown Himself gracious to Reformation Bible College in providing rapid growth to the young institution and in confirming ongoing plans to have the right people in place at every stage of the college’s expansion. As such, Dr. R.C. Sproul and the Board of Directors of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies are pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Stephen J. Nichols as the second president of Reformation Bible College. This appointment is concurrent with Dr. Nichols accepting the position of chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries.