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When Tolerance Turns to Coerced Celebration

Jennifer A. Marshall:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last night vetoed what should have been a straightforward religious freedom bill. Minor clarifications to existing law got lost in an avalanche of gross mischaracterization as national pundits predicted the bill would usher in a “homosexual Jim Crow” regime with rampant denial of services by business owners to gays and lesbians.

The development is a stunning sign of increasing intolerance of basic protections for religious liberty. Actually, the Arizona bill would have given legal recourse to religious entities that decline to participate in celebrating same-sex relationships.

Book deals for busy people

Over at Westminster Books, they’re offering great deals on two new books on work and the Christian life when you buy five or more copies of each:

And still on sale over at Amazon are the following books from Crossway:

Reading Reimagined

This is fascinating.

Amputation is Not An Option

Kim Shay:

For a while, we floundered. With three small children, it was easy to find excuses not to go. It was hard to find a church where we felt it was safe. Considering how easily the pastor had kept his charismatic tendencies quiet, only revealing them slowly, we were gun shy. Once you start getting out of the habit, it becomes easier and easier to stay home. That was a very spiritually dry time for me. Even when we settled down in a church and attended fairly often, my heart wasn’t in it. We went mostly for the kids. When you have small children and start skipping church regularly, it sends a message.

Get The Consequences of Ideas in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get The Consequences of Ideas teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio & video download) for $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Feed My Sheep by various authors (hardcover)
  • Blood Work by Anthony Carter (ePub + MOBI)
  • Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt (hardcover)

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

What Would Jesus Bake?

Kevin DeYoung:

As Christians continue to debate to what extent they can be involved with gay weddings, advocates for participation as no-big-deal have been hurrying to the Gospels to look for a Jesus who is pretty chill with most things. It’s certainly great to go the Gospels. Can’t go wrong there. Just as long as we don’t ignore his denunciations of porneia (Mark 7:21), and as long as we don’t make Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John our canon within the Canon. For Jesus himself predicted that the Holy Spirit would come and unpack all the truth about the Father and the Son (John 16:12-15). The revelation of the Son of God was not limited to the incarnation, but included the pouring out of the Spirit of Jesus and the subsequent testimony written down by the Messiah’s Spirit-inspired followers.

 

Links I like (weekend edition)

links i like

Pastor, Stop Lying

Ronnie Martin:

My heart had become full. Of criticism. To my shame, it was criticism of a fellow pastor. He was a friend, a godly man who loved his family, preached the gospel, prayed regularly, never gossiped, and always believed the best about people. But I began to struggle with something about him. It wasn’t some secret sin. It wasn’t a double life. It was nothing “scandalous” at all, really.

It was that he lied.

Take Me to Church

Aimee Byrd:

“Take Me to Church” points to something that draws us all: the self-destructive worship of a person. We like the idea that we are the authority of what is good and loving. And so we use words like love and unity, and we decide what that means.

But in God’s Word, we have Jesus praying for the unity of all believers.  In his prayer for his disciples, Jesus says, “Sanctify them by your truth, your word is truth.” This is a very theological prayer. We see that God’s people are set apart by his Word. While we easily talk about our unity in Christ, love for him and for one another, it is more difficult for the church to be theologians of the cross that he carried. Love can’t be separated from truth, and God’s people are set apart by that truth.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to the giant list shared on Tuesday, here are a few new and recent Kindle deals:

Crossway’s Christian Guides to the Classics series by Leland Ryken is on sale for $2.99-$3.99:

Unbroken

There’s a new movie coming out based on Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, the story of rabble rouser turned Olympian turned WWII prisoner of war, Louie Zamperini. Here’s the trailer:

It’ll be interesting to see what the filmmakers do with Zamperini’s conversion to Christ (an integral part of the book).

Coconut Cream Pie & Unity in Diversity

Andrew Hall:

Too often, the church hammers away at unity, but often at the expense of diversity, forgetting the essential nature of love.  The one God is united in essence and purpose, yet diverse as the triune God in complementary roles and responsibilities, connected in love.  We are one with Christ, seated with him in the heavenlies, and yet distinct from Christ, who loved us and gave himself up for us.  All believers comprise the one universal church, and yet each church is distinct in her make-up, uniquely bringing the gospel to bear on the life of her community.

All Christians should be above reproach, but elders must be

old-church

Being above reproach means that an elder is to be the kind of man whom no one suspects of wrongdoing and immorality. people would be shocked to hear this kind of man charged with such acts. Being above reproach does not mean that he maintains sinless perfection. It means that his demeanor and behavior over time have garnered respect and admiration from others. He lives a life worthy of the calling of God (Eph. 4:1; 5:1–2; Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10–12).

It’s critically important for an elder to be above reproach for at least two reasons. First, everyone will assume at least two things once he is made an elder: that he is an example to all the sheep in all areas of life (1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:1–3); and that he will receive the benefit of the doubt against uncorroborated allegations of wrongdoing (1 Tim. 5:19). Few things are worse for a church than having a man who lacks good character be able to set a bad example while also being shielded by the generosity of judgment that comes with the office.

Second, it’s critically important because an elder must be held in high esteem for his character, not for his wealth, popularity, or other worldly things. We may be tempted to grant the eldership to men on the grounds that they have made it in the business world, have a long family history with the church, or are popular and well regarded. But the apostle is not interested in any of these things. He’s interesed in a dignity of character commensurate with the office. If a man is popular in the worldly sense but is not above reproach, he will likely lead out of his popularity instead of character. He may fear man more than God (a big temptation for this office), or attempt to run the church like his business, or assume certain “rights” because of his standing in the community. And all these will cripple an eldership for a time.

All Christians should be above reproach, but Christian elders must be.

Thabiti Anyabwile, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, 57-58

Links I like

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We Become How We Worship

David Murray:

Much worship today aims primarily at stimulating and exciting our physical senses. If we can provide a colorful spectacle for the eyes, spectacular musical sounds for the ears, a pounding beat to impact the body and get the adrenaline running, then the emotions are stirred, and there’s a sense of elation and excitement. But if we become how we worship, such sensual, emotion-driven, thrill-seeking worship will produce sensual, feeling-focused, thrill-seeking Christians.

It’s Time to Interrupt Someone

Josh Blount:

Eventually I came to agree that interrupting conversations is poor manners. But what about a different kind of interruption: interrupting lives? Have you ever thought about how many times God does just that? Consider Paul’s life. Paul, at the time Saul, was perfectly happy with his zealous persecution of the church – and then God interrupted him on a dusty Palestinian road, turned his life upside down, saved him, and gave him a completely new mission in life. The gospels tell the same story about the disciples. Here you have a bunch of fishermen in the midst of their daily routine, and suddenly a man shows up, interrupts the monotony of the mundane, and calls them to leave everything and follow him – and nothing was ever the same. The woman at the well, Lydia on a Philippian river bank, a Roman jailer and his household, even the thief on the cross – all people interrupted by the God who saves.

What’s Your Learning Style?

Aimee Byrd:

Todd wrote a great piece challenging Donald Miller’s recent post, excusing why he doesn’t go to church. It just so happens that science wouldn’t agree with Miller’s argument either.

In his post, Miller bluntly expresses, “So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon,” claiming, “I’ve studied psychology and education reform long enough to know a traditional lecture isn’t for everybody.” And then Miller educates us, “Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I’m a kinesthetic learner.”

Does it? Not according to Popular Science.

Donald Miller and the Myth of Isolated Worship

Derek Rishmawy:

So, Donald Miller wrote an article about why he doesn’t go to church much. You can read it here. I was surprised by how much I didn’t agree with it, given the way his earlier works blessed me when I was in college (especially some of the moving things he has written about needing community).

In essence, for this article Miller took some of the worst cliches and cultural trends of American life that contribute to our consumeristic view of church and handily bundled them all together in one article. I guess he’s performed us a service, though, because they’re kind of all there, ready to be dissected in one sitting.

Four Things a Pastor Should Consider Before Engaging in Social Media

Trevin Wax:

Some pastors may hear my encouragement to engage in social media and then jump in without much thought. Don’t. Better to have no social media presence than to be sloppy in your handling of this tool of communication.

Social media takes time and attention. Be strategic. Don’t take it lightly.

Links I like

Homeschooler theologian?

Kim Shay:

When the rest of the public school children went back after Christmas holidays, ours stayed home. It was a decision we’d been planning. They were, at the time in 5th grade, 2nd grade, and kindergarten. Eventually, they all graduated from public high school to ease the process of matriculation into university.

Those were good years. They learned a lot, and I introduced them to things they would never have been given in public school. Most adults aren’t taught Church History; my kids were. It was good for me, too. In a post at Out of the Ordinary, I shared about how books were my tutors as I went through a time of examining what I believed and why. Homeschooling helped in two ways.

Why I Love an Evening Service

Tim Challies:

Of all the casualties the church has suffered in recent decades, I wonder if many will have longer-lasting consequences than the loss of the evening service. There was a time, not so long ago, when many or even most churches gathered in the morning and the evening. But today the evening service is increasingly relegated to the past.

At Grace Fellowship Church we hold on to the evening service and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is a commitment, to be sure—a commitment for the pastors to plan a second service and to prepare a second sermon, and a commitment for the members to give the church not only the morning but also the evening. But these are small costs compared to the great benefits. Here are a few things I love about an evening service.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

In addition to the list from the other day, here are a few new Kindle deals:

Christians and Movies: Are We Contextualizing or Compromising?

Trevin Wax:

At this point, I feel like we are heading down a rocky terrain without any brake system working on our vehicle. Without any brake system in place, there is, in principle, no film we could not or would not see.

I’ve seen Hollywood elitists raving about the lesbian love story, Blue is the Warmest Color, which contains lengthy, explicit sex scenes with graphic nudity. Should we watch this film in order to speak knowledgeably about it if it comes up in a discussion with our neighbor?

When Divorce Is Good and Holy… Christians Are Confused

Julian Freeman:

Someone recently forwarded me an article called ‘When Divorce is Good and Holy‘ and asked for my thoughts. I don’t typically respond to other people’s posts publicly but when I read this one, I felt a strong sense of urgency within my own heart to reply.… The premise of the article is simple: If Jesus upholds divorce as a legitimate option then we ought to view it as good and holy, when carried out according to his teaching. Therefore, we ought to stop criticizing those who want a divorce (for legitimate reasons like pornography use, etc.), and we must stop compelling them to stay in the marriage as if it is the only thing that would please God. In fact, the author goes one step further: He even asserts that when divorce is upheld as the good and holy option that it is, divorce rates and pornography use will decline.

I take several issues with that line of thinking. A few of them are outlined below.

Six Steps to Better Thoughts, Feelings, And Actions

David Murray:

What we think has a huge impact on what we feel and what we do.

For example, if I think about all the things I failed to do today, I will get discouraged and possibly even angry. I will then drive home in a bad mood, and those thoughts and feelings will have a knock-on effect on how I interact with my wife and children.

If, on the other hand, I focus on what I actually managed to accomplish, if I look at the boxes I ticked today, and fade out everything else, then I go home cheerful, energized, and ready to play with my kids and chat to my wife.

New review of Contend

This is a very kind review of Contend by Nate Claiborne (who I’m really looking forward to hanging out with again someday):

All that to say, I would commend you Aaron’s work here. It is a thoroughly researched, easy to read, motivational exposition of Jude’s appeal for our modern context. He focuses on the basic, foundations of our faith that need to be defended and then gives sage advice on how to do so. The book strikes a fine balance between doctrinal exposition and practical application, making it very epistolatory. Yes, I just said epistolatory.

15 signs your church is growing in the right way

old-church

Yesterday I commented on one of the big problems we have in church ministry—that we think growing numerically is entirely dependent upon the pastor’s preaching ability. But the problem, as I mentioned yesterday, is you can’t tell if a church is healthy simply by checking the attendance.

Instead, one of the surest signs of the health of a church is to look at the growth of its people. In his book, What Is a Healthy Church?, Mark Dever writes, “When you peer into the life of a church, the growth of its members can show up in all sorts of ways.” Here are fifteen examples Dever offers to show what “growth” means:1

  1. Growing numbers being called to missions—“I’ve enjoyed sharing the gospel with my neighbors from South America. I wonder if God is calling me to …”
  2. Older members getting a fresh sense of their responsibility in evangelism and in discipling younger members—“Why don’t you come over for dinner?”
  3. Younger members attending the funerals of older members out of love—“As a single man in my twenties, it was so good to be taken in by Mr. and Mrs.…”
  4. Increased praying in the church and more prayers centered on evangelism and ministry opportunities—“I’m starting an evangelistic Bible study at work and I’m a little nervous. Would the church pray that …”
  5. More members sharing the gospel with outsiders.
  6. Less reliance among members on the church’s programs and more spontaneous ministry activities arising from members—“Pastor, what would you think if Sally and I organized a Christmas tea for the ladies in the church as an evangelistic opportunity?”
  7. Informal gatherings among church members characterized by spiritual conversation, including an apparent willingness to confess sin while simultaneously pointing to the cross—“Hey brother, I’m really struggling with …”
  8. Increased and sacrificial giving—“Honey, how can we cut fifty dollars from our monthly budget in order to support…”
  9. Increased fruits of the Spirit.
  10. Members making career sacrifices so that they can serve the church—“Did you hear that Chris turned down a promotion three times so that he could continue devoting himself to being an elder?”
  11. Husbands leading their wives sacrificially—“Honey, what are several things I can do to make you feel more loved and understood?”
  12. Wives submitting to their husbands—“Sweetheart, what are some things I can do today that will make your life easier?”
  13. Parents discipling their children in the faith—“Tonight let’s pray for Christian workers in the country of …”
  14. A corporate willingness to discipline unrepentant and public sin.
  15. A corporate love for an unrepentant sinner shown in the pursuit of him or her before discipline is enacted—“Please! If you get this message, I would love to hear from you.”

These are only a few examples, obviously, and shouldn’t be seen as an exhaustive list. But do you get the picture? A church like this may well grow numerically—their witness to the gospel will be attractive—but that doesn’t necessarily mean it must.

Look again at the examples Dever provides. Notice these measures—all derived from Scripture—have a critical factor in common: they are qualitative, rather than quantitative.

I can make a nice graph showing attendance growth year over year, but I can’t do that for growth in godliness. It just doesn’t work that way. And honestly, I don’t think God would have it any other way.

Is church growth all about the pastor?

church-seating

Yesterday, I read a provocative article on this subject by David Murrow. He writes:

Can I be brutally honest? When it comes to church attendance, nothing matters as much as the ability of the pastor to deliver good sermons. If a pastor is good at his job, the church grows. If he’s bad at his job, the church shrinks. Sounds unspiritual—but it’s true. It shouldn’t be this way—but it is. Each week is a referendum on the pastor’s ability to deliver an inspiring sermon.

Murrow goes on to say that, although it pains him to say it—he wishes that it were things like the community’s love for one another that kept people coming—”when it comes to putting men in pews, nothing matters more than pastoral quality. Every other consideration pales in comparison.”

I appreciate Murrow’s stance, his taking the “tragic reality” approach to addressing an ugly question. Pastors should be greatly concerned with the quality of the sermons they preach, and poor preaching is always detrimental to the health of the church.

But how do you define “good” and “bad” preaching? 

Based on the article, it seems that good preaching is entertaining preaching, and bad is boring. In other words, the more entertaining or inspiring (however you want to define that) your preaching is, more people will come and they’re more likely to stay.

But if your sermons are dull or don’t captivate me in the way I hope they will, then watch out. Attendance will drop and your job’s on the line.

You can see the problem with this coming a mile away, can’t you?

When our ideas about preaching are defined by the oratory skill of the one delivering the message, and not the content itself, compromise quickly follows. Some compromise by sanding down the rough edges of Scripture, as the seeker movement has often been accused of, giving people inspiring or uplifting talks that resemble the dreck spoon fed to viewers of daytime television. But others compromise by going in the opposite direction, thinking if they can just be wild and offensive enough, people will come just to see what they’re going to say next.

And, of course, it works. Sort of.

There are massive churches in America built on both of these ideals, and thousands of preachers look to their leaders to see what they “should” be doing differently. But if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to say many—perhaps even most—of those churches aren’t all that healthy. Why? Because they’ve embraced the truth as Murrow sees it and made the preacher the main attraction.

And you know something? Pastoral quality does matter. It matters a lot. But if we’re measuring on sermons, we’re completely missing the mark. You know why?

Because even a blasphemer who’s a good public speaker can deliver an inspiring message.

He can grow a church into the thousands, even tens of thousands. But what he has in oratory gifting, he falls short of in the only pastoral quality that really does matter, biblically: character.

I’ve written on this in the past, but it bears repeating: the only thing the Bible consistently holds up as the measuring rod for pastors is not their skill in preaching, though they must be able to teach. It is their character.

Who they are matters far more than what they can do. 

But we don’t like this, so we try to give measurements Scripture doesn’t for how to evaluate church growth. And it always comes back to numbers.

But we don’t have to choose that. And make no mistake, it’s we who are imposing that measure, not the Lord.

Instead, we see that the Lord shames the strong by choosing the weak things of this world. We see him bless the humble, and oppose the proud. When he speaks to the seven churches in Revelation, he rebukes all but one, the smallest and most seemingly insignificant one at that.

So, is church growth all about the pastor? Honestly, who cares? Be more concerned about the character of the man who is leading, rather than how many seats are filled. Because, really, the only one holding you to a number is you.

Links I like

A Report Card For Humanity

David Murray:

Is the world getting better or worse? Is the human race getting better or worse?

Your answer probably depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, but 21 of the world’s top economists have tried to provide an objective answer by measuring and forecasting 10 areas (e.g. health, education, air pollution, etc.) over a 150 year period (1900-2050). Their conclusion?

Neither the pessimists nor the optimists are entirely right. But the optimists definitely win on points—most indicators are going in the right direction…That’s not to underplay the serious issues still confronting much of the world, especially in developing nations. But overall, we can stop panicking. Things are generally getting better.

Crossway Kindle deals

Also on sale, although not all are from Crossway:

All The Dying Megachurches

Matt Svoboda:

“Are there not megachurches full of church members whose personal preferences are greater than their passion for the gospel?” Of course there are, they just prefer loud, dynamic music accompanied by smoke and a laser show. Thom Rainer is absolutely correct, when that happens a churches spiritual vitality and vibrancy begins to die. This is happening all over in America, in churches numerically small and large that vary in all different types of worship, styles, and philosophies.

There Will Be No Sea in the New Heaven and New Earth

R.C. Sproul:

Scripture often speaks of the entire creation awaiting the final act of redemption. To destroy something completely and to replace it with something utterly new is not an act of redemption. To redeem something is to save that which is in imminent danger of being lost. The renovation may be radical. It may involve a violent conflagration of purging, but the purifying act ultimately redeems rather than annihilates. The new heaven and the new earth will be purified. There will be no room for evil in the new order.

Print is not dead

book-not-dead-560x2313

HT: Justin Taylor

Church, celebrity and our last idol

microphone

“My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to part with,” said Cotton Mather. As true as this was in Mather’s day—who lived over 300 years ago—how much more is it in our own?

On writing on how the gospel should change the church’s celebrity culture, Matthew Sims writes that although there’s always been a culture of celebrity within the church (think the brother who is famous “for his preaching of the gospel” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:18), “We’ve flipped it.”

Oftentimes the controversies rise up because it seems many well known Christians are more concerned with their position, power, and authority and less concerned about the integrity of the gospel.

Matthew’s hit the nail on the head on the issue. The other week, I was reading a book that described how, as part of a particular church’s mission, they were attempting to strategically raise the profile of its lead pastor. In other words, to make him a celebrity.

Reading this, honestly, left me feeling a bit like I needed to take a shower. It just felt wrong, in the same way that laughing at Everybody Loves Raymond seems wrong. Not because expanding the reach of the gospel is a bad thing—far from it!—but because the way this ideal was communicated made it seem to be all about the man, not about the Lord.

The reason this rubbed me wrong, I believe, is because it’s contrary to the counterintuitive nature of the gospel. Take, for example, John the Baptist’s view of his own ministry. When John came on the scene as the last of the Old Covenant prophets, he understandably caused a scene. He was telling everyone to repent for the Lord was on his way.

Then Jesus came. And before too long, John’s ministry started to get smaller. And smaller. And smaller still.

People began to ask John, “Aren’t you bothered by this?”

And all he said was:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Let that sink in.

John could have pursued celebrity, but instead he embraced obscurity. Not that this would have been easy, mind you. After all, it feels really good when people are paying attention to you. When people are waiting to hear what you’re going to say next. But the Lord’s glory was more important to John than his own.

John was useful—he prepared the way of the Lord (Matt 3:3). He was effective. But in the end, his most important accomplishment was to “decrease” when the preparation was done.

Which brings us back to Cotton Mather and Christian celebrities. “My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to part with.” Our usefulness is a good thing, to be sure. But if can be a dangerous thing, too. Whether it’s having a New York Times bestseller, having a big church, or even just a widely-read blog—how would you feel if the Lord wanted you to give those things up?

To not preface the next book with “bestselling author” or maybe never write another one again?

To stop having TV screens serve as pastors, and plant autonomous churches instead?

To pull the plug on your social media and only interact with people in your local community?

If that’s what decreasing would require so the Lord’s glory might increase, would you do it? If the integrity of the gospel was at stake, would you set aside your own “usefulness”?

This, again, is why I’ve suggested a key way to fix the problem of celebrity-ism is through community. People who know us help us see our idols for what they are. People who care for us let us know when our usefulness is getting in the way. People who love us remind us that we must decrease so that Jesus might increase.

Links I like

Create a Disciple-Making Plan for 2014

Tim Brister:

…I believe you and I need to have a disciple-making plan for our lives. Yes we need to pray. Yes we need to study and learn. But we also need a personal plan and process that we embrace in order to orient our lives around making, maturing, mobilizing, and multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ. It simply cannot be tangential or accidental or on the periphery of your life. It cannot be relegated to a small compartment of your life or canned program. To make disciples, you need to be “all in.”

I Want to Turn Your Dreams Back On

Check out John Piper’s plenary session at Cross:

The transcript is also available at the link if you don’t feel like watching the entire hour.

Reject the Entre-Pastor

Jeff Medders:

I don’t know how much longer I can stomach the fake church.… The “church” that looks more like a cheap Vegas act than a gathering of sinners drinking from the fountain of grace that flows from Emmanuel’s veins. There is a style of Churchianty that is all about the tinsel and lights, it’s not about Him. A Church-centered Church is no biblical church. The Church doesn’t exist for herself, no more than a Bride exists to be a Bride for the sake of being a Bride. The Church is a Bride for the Groom—for Christ. Remember the movies where a woman tries on a wedding dress and does it for her own enjoyment? That’s exactly how many churches operate. They put on their shows, their decanted ghost-written sermons, and gawk at themselves in the reflections of their satellite campus cameras. “Lights, camera, actions…oh yeah, and Jesus too”. There will be a big judgment for these men. Jesus will handle these charlatans at the Eschaton.

But this should give us an awkward pause of reflection.

Pray For Your Daughter

Mike Leake is getting ready to launch a new 31-day prayer challenge on January 1—this time for our daughters. As a father of two little girls, I’m really looking forward to taking part in this one.

Which Christians actually evangelize?

Kate Tracy:

Despite worries that millennials have given up on Christianity, or that they’re too focused on social justice campaigns, young adults are sharing their faith the most frequently. By contrast, evangelism is fading fastest among the middle class.

Links I like

Why is Church Exhausting When Grace is Exhilarating?

Mike Leake:

While I believe doing life together isn’t a thornless rose, I also believe that it ought to be life-giving rather than draining. When church is cancelled we shouldn’t celebrate because our stupidly busy schedules are now a little more relaxed. We should be saddened because we now have to do without a life-giving resource until we meet together again.

So why is it that we view church as fatiguing when it out to be energizing?I’ll try to answer this from the pew and from the pulpit.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Errors of the Prosperity Gospel

David W. Jones:

No matter what name is used, the essence of this new gospel is the same. Simply put, this egocentric “prosperity gospel” teaches that God wants believers to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and personally happy. Listen to the words of Robert Tilton, one of the prosperity gospel’s best-known spokesmen: “I believe that it is the will of God for all to prosper because I see it in the Word, not because it has worked mightily for someone else. I do not put my eyes on men, but on God who gives me the power to get wealth.”[2]  Teachers of the prosperity gospel encourage their followers to pray for and even demand material flourishing from God.

Why Switchfoot won’t sing “Christian” songs

The view that a pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed. These different callings and purposes further demonstrate God’s sovereignty.

Solve your retention problem with contextual reading

Jacob Abshire:

Our environment triggers thoughts and emotions. These put our mind in certain contexts we can easily enter and exit at times. Take advantage of this. Designate contexts for book reading.

The Pastor’s Justification by Jared C. Wilson

pastors-justification-wilson

Pastoral ministry is a strange animal. For many pastors, it’s good work—important work—but it’s easy to become discouraged. The burden seems too great and they’re ready to throw in the towel. Then there are pastors who seem to have it all together. They might’ve published a book or two that have gotten some attention, have a generous salary, research assistants, support staff and/or conference speaking gigs… and yet on the inside, they’re being crushed by the weight of their responsibilities and (real or perceived) fame.

Interestingly, whether they’re on one extreme or the other, many pastors share the same problem: they may be seeking their justification in something other the work of Christ.

“The pastoral fraternity is an interesting one,” writes Jared C. Wilson in The Pastor’s Justification. “We’re a motley bunch of fools. Different personalities and tribes, different methodologies and styles…denominations and traditions and, of course, theologies. But there is something [all] have in common … a profound sense of insecurity for which the only antidote is the gospel” (17).

It’s this “antidote” that The Pastor’s Justification is really all about, covered in two parts: “The Pastor’s Heart,” an exposition of 1 Peter 5:1-11, and “The Pastor’s Glory,” an examination of the five solas of the Reformation.

Solving pastoral problems starts with the pastor’s character

One thing should be abundantly clear reading this book: this isn’t another “how to be a better pastor” book. Wilson is far less concerned about techniques and best practices than he is about the heart of the pastor. And he wants pastors to recognize something critical they may too often forget and something rarely talked about in leadership conferences:

“The primary problem in pastoral ministry, brother pastor, is not them. It’s you. You are your biggest problem” (29). When a pastor sees people as problems to be solved, or the congregation he’s leading as being less appealing than the one he imagines leading in his daydreams, or he’s slipped away from shepherding to domineering… the problem lies with the pastor’s heart, not with the people. Which is really just another way of saying it’s all about the pastor’s character.

This is the reason Wilson spends so much time on the pastor’s heart. If he just said, “Here’s how you deal with situation ABC,” it wouldn’t be even remotely helpful if the pastor’s a train wreck. [Read more...]

The terrifying sound of silence

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

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

The “spirit chords” are at work.

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

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

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

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

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

Silence is terrifying to us.

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

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

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

Is it any wonder silence is terrifying to us?

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

So what can we do?

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

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

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

What’s your small group story?

breed

Today’s post is by Ben Reed. Ben is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN area. In addition to pastoring, preaching, and writing, Ben has a great passion for coffee. Good coffee, that is. And CrossFit. But not at the same time. You can journey along with Ben at BenReed.net and learn more about his new book, Starting Small, at smallgroupblueprint.com.


Nobody ever stated it outright, but the way our local church was structured growing up made me feel like the Sunday morning experience was the most important aspect of my walk with Jesus. Maybe it was self-imposed, but I felt like if I missed a Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon, Tuesday evening, Wednesday evening, or the random youth trip, I’d be smote. Or smoten? Or smitten? No… that’s something else entirely.

It’s easy for churches to slide into this mindset, because whether you like it or not, Sunday morning is coming. It doesn’t matter what kind of dreaming, strategic planning, or structural work you do throughout the week. If you don’t prepare for Sunday you’ll fall flat on your face.

So you dump more time. More resources. More energy. More staff. More planning. Into ensuring Sunday morning is air-tight.

StartingSmall_Cover_LR

Don’t get me wrong, corporate worship is vital to our faith. It’s an environment that corrects, teaches, energizes, and worships Jesus.

But without relational connection, The Church isn’t the Church. At best, it’s a show. At worst, it’s a complete waste of our time, energy, and resources.

You and I are the Church. Not the buildings we build. Not the walls we construct. Not the pews we sit in.

The Church exists outside the four walls of our church buildings. You know that, right?

That’s why I wrote Starting Small. To promote small group health. To lay out a strategy for starting small groups, no matter the size of your church. No matter the location. No matter the demographics.

And to help small groups become more effective disciple-makers.

I’ve told my story through group life, failures and all, to help build healthy, authentic, biblical, God-honoring small groups around the world.

What’s your small group story?


Ben has kindly offered two copies of his new book, Starting Small, to give away to readers here. How do you win? Simple: share your small group story—what have you loved; what’s been most challenging? Ben will pick his two favorite answers at the end of the day Wednesday. Winners will be notified by email.