When Christians say “I’m better than you”

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There are some things we can say about those who don’t believe in Jesus that are wholly true and appropriate. There are others, though, that are either just plain silly or impossibly evil. Recently, I found myself considering one of the latter, which goes something like this:

I cannot respect unbelievers—they reek to heaven! It is impossible for me to honor them in any way.

How would you respond to this (and be honest)? If you were teaching a Sunday School class or participating in a small group and someone said this, what would you do?

Most of us, I suspect, would like to say they would patiently ask, “Why not?” That they would investigate the statement and find out what’s behind it. Honestly, though, as much as I’d like to do that, I’d probably be more tempted to say words I’d need to repent of later. Why? Because this is one of the most ungodly things a Christian could say about an unbeliever—because it presumes that we are somehow better than unbelievers. 

And yet, this is not so. For we know that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, as Genesis 1 tells us. Though sin horribly mars it, though our relationship with God is severed and transformed from one of loving friendship to bitter enemies because of it, sin does not eradicate the image of God in us. Our morality, our capacity for love and goodness, our intelligence, our ability to comprehend spiritual realities (though terribly confused and misdirected)… these still exist and still testify of our being “like” God in some limited sense. And despite the strongest words possible being used to describe our sinful state and our rebellion against God, God has not reneged on the original “goodness” of humanity, at least in this sense. So we would be wise to remember that only a fool calls evil what God calls good. And what is saying something like this but foolishness?

But that’s not the only reason. This notion of being unable to respect unbelievers—of putting them solely in the category of sinners whose stench reaches the heavens and stokes the wrath of God—is a rejection of the grace of God in the gospel. Consider how Paul reminds the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 6:9-11:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul is very clear here: Sin is horribly offensive to God. It separates us. It prevents us from entering the kingdom. It damns us to hell. But Paul didn’t stop at writing about how swindlers won’t inherit the kingdom. He turned this judgment back around on his readers:

“And such were some of you.”

All these things that keep people out of the kingdom of God—they were those things! We were those things! We all know this is true, deep down inside. For we know that if anyone could really see into our hearts, they’d be terrified. Heck, if we actually seriously considered the stray thoughts and the darkness that lives inside of us, we’d probably be even more terrified. But Paul, even in rebuking the Corinthians (and us along with them), offers an encouragement.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (Emphasis mine)

So despite our unholiness; despite our sin and misdeeds; despite our constant rebellion… God in his mercy has washed us of these sins. He has rescued us though we were ungodly and deserving of death. The gospel was more than enough to rescue us from sin—should this not lead to great compassion for those who remain trapped in their sin?

When we say silly nonsense like we can’t respect unbelievers, we are forgetting (again), that we are no different. In fact, as Christians, we should always be developing a more mature understanding of God’s grace to us in the gospel. We see this in Paul’s writings as he progressively changes his definition of himself as he matures. He first goes from being the least of all the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15:9, to the least of all the saints in Ephesians 3:8, to finally the foremost of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15!

Notice that this isn’t an upward progression—he doesn’t gradually feel better about himself as time goes on. Instead, God’s grace is forcing him to recognize his sin in greater detail. And it does the same to us. The longer we are believers, the longer we are in relationship with Jesus, the more we see how far we fall short. The more we should recognize that we are totally unworthy of God’s love, and yet God has poured out his love on us so lavishly. 

How dare we, then, condemn those who we should be seeking to reach? When we think of unbelievers as being unworthy of respect, we only have one recourse: repent and believe the gospel. For just as they are, so too were we.


Photo credit: Skley via photopin cc

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Crossway’s put three excellent Easter-related titles on sale this week:

Also on sale:

Good news for Alzheimer’s patients

This research in Australia looks promising.

Islam and Christianity are not comparable

Larry Taunton:

At this moment I am in the small, quiet French town of Labastide-Rouairoux. Recently, the tranquility of this village was disturbed by the discovery that one of its sons, Quentin Le Brun, had joined ISIL. No less than 3,000 other Europeans have done likewise. “Jihadi John,” who was raised in London, is the most notorious of these. Now what, exactly, is the modern Christian equivalent of this phenomenon? The forty-something members of the Westboro “Baptist” Church?

Thank God for William Tyndale

Love this.

Homecoming

Kara Tippetts finished her race yesterday (March 22, March 22, 2015), after a long battle with breast cancer. She is known to many for her open letter to Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old who decided to end her life via doctor-assisted suicide in November.

A Good Mentor Slows You Down

Mike Leake:

There is a way to move towards truth and to love your church at the same time. And this way is a road that is bumpy, less-travelled, winding, and takes much more time. Yet, I am convinced it is the way of the Master.

So what slowed me down?

Mentors. Seasoned pastors. Dead theologians, like John Newton. They opened my eyes and threw anchors in my shorts to slow me down a bit.

Keep a close watch on your life and illustrations

Jared C. Wilson:

We all know a good illustration when we hear one in a sermon. But I for one think sermon illustrations are way overrated. Yep, I said it. I think too much emphasis is put on illustrations in how we train preachers and in too many actual sermons. You shouldn’t trust your illustration to do what only God’s word can. And that’s where many of us often go wrong with illustrations. Here is more on that though, and some other wrong ways preachers often use illustrations in their sermons.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Amazon’s Big Deal sale is now on, with tons of great eBooks on sale. Here are a few standouts:

Several volumes of the Holman Commentary series are also on sale for $1.99 each:

Today is also the last day to take advantage of this week’s eBook deals from Crossway:

 The Nine Types Of Christians You Meet On Facebook

Yep.

Cage-Stage Calvinism

R.C. Sproul:

Cage-stage Calvinists are identifiable by their insistence on turning every discussion into an argument for limited atonement or for making it their personal mission to ensure everyone they know hears—often quite loudly—the truths of divine election. Now, having a zeal for the truth is always commendable. But a zeal for the truth that manifests itself in obnoxiousness won’t convince anyone of the biblical truth of Reformed theology. As many of us can attest from personal experience, it will actually push them away.

A Good Mentor Points Out the Cliffs

Mike Leake:

This is why we need mentors. We need people who have felt the pull of the plummet. We need those who have tasted the lustrous fruit and found it empty—men and women who know where the edge of the cliff is to be found.

Why Can’t the Church Just Agree to Disagree on Homosexuality?

Kevin DeYoung:

All of these third ways regarding homosexuality end up the same way: a behavior the Bible does not accept is treated as acceptable. “Agree to disagree” sounds like a humble “meet you in the middle” com­promise, but it is a subtle way of telling conservative Christians that homosexuality is not a make-or-break issue and we are wrong to make it so. No one would think of proposing a third way if the sin were racism or human trafficking. To countenance such a move would be a sign of moral bankruptcy. Faithfulness to the Word of God compels us to view sexual immorality with the same seriousness. Living an ungodly life is contrary to the sound teaching that defines the Christian (1 Tim. 1:8-11; Titus 1:16). Darkness must not be confused with light. Grace must not be confused with license. Unchecked sin must not be con­fused with the good news of justification apart from works of the law. Far from treating sexual deviance as a lesser ethical issue, the New Testament sees it as a matter for excommuni­cation (1 Corinthians 5), separation (2 Cor. 6:12-20), and a temptation for perverse compromise (Jude 3-16).

When a group member may not actually be a Christian…

Unbelievers-small group

You’re sitting in your living room after small group, reflecting on the conversation of the evening. While you’re reviewing the night, you remember something a group member said, and it catches you off guard:

“I don’t know why we put so much emphasis on the Bible…it’s just a book.”

As you pray over this, you recall other similar comments—That’s just Paul’s opinion, God and I have an understanding, and so on—and become increasingly concerned that this person may not actually be a Christian.

And, guess what? They may not be.

The grim picture presented by statistics

According to numerous studies in both the United States and Canada, we’ve got good reasons to be concerned. For example, in a recent study commissioned by Ligonier Ministries, 41 percent of Americans somewhat or strongly agree with that the Bible is not literally true, and 46 percent do not believe it is entirely accurate in all it teaches. 71 percent believe they must contribute personal effort to their own salvation, and 44 percent believe there are many paths to heaven. Likewise, only 18 percent of Canadians believe the Bible is the Word of God, and the majority of Canadians (69 percent) and half of Christians believe it contains irreconcilable contradictions.

Clearly, we have some issues here. Given this information, it’s only logical to assume (though cautiously) that there are many men and women within our churches—and even some in our small groups—who believe they are Christians, but aren’t.

I realize this is highly contentious—perhaps bordering on arrogant—statement to make, so it’s important to clarify: In saying this, and in citing statistics like these, I’m not suggesting we have license to self-righteously determine who is and is not a Christian. Only the Lord ultimately knows if someone’s profession of faith is genuine. Similarly, we must also be careful not to confuse someone who is immature in his or her faith with someone who is actually unregenerate.

So how do you know the difference? Here are a few indicators.

The marks of an immature believer

An immature believer is one who is simply confused about what the Bible teaches and what it says. He may be a brand-new Christian in need of guidance or a long-time Christian who simply has not sat under authoritative biblical teaching. He may even be one of those people who constantly fights over secondary issues.

While an immature believer may not understand Scripture well or may have some serious errors in his understanding of God, he is ultimately marked by a teachable spirit. He is open to correction from people who love him. He takes heed to godly counsel. He has a desire to learn and grow into the likeness of Christ.

The Corinthian church is a perfect example of immature believers. They lacked discernment concerning doctrinal issues. They excused gross unrepentant sin. They abused spiritual gifts in worship. Despite all this, they received correction from Paul. Ultimately, they were teachable.

The signs of an unregenerate churchgoer

Here’s where things get complicated. The unregenerate churchgoer is very good at hiding in a crowd. Many of these churchgoers have been going to church for a long time; many more serve in the church as greeters, in children’s ministry, or even leading a small group (I’ve even heard stories of pastors discovering their fellow elders aren’t actually believers).

Like an immature believer, these churchgoers are marked by a lack of biblical knowledge or an errant understanding of God. Others are characterized by a dogmatic legalism that elevates morality to the highest form of authority. Some believe that grace frees us to sin unashamedly (Romans 6:15). Some believe that all things are lawful, despite not being beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12-13). All will turn away from sound doctrine and find teachers who will tell them what they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

They do not heed godly counsel. They do not submit to authority. They don’t have a desire to grow into the likeness of Christ (even if they say otherwise). They are not teachable. These are the clear marks of an unregenerate churchgoer.

What do I do if I think someone in my small group isn’t saved?

You might be thinking, “Does it even matter if I think someone’s a Christian or not? What do I do with the person who is already in my group?” The answer, again, is both simple and complicated.

Does it matter if we think someone may or may not be a Christian and how do we respond? Yes! Our friends’ salvation and ongoing relationship with Jesus should be of great concern to us. If we love our friends, we need to do what we can to assist them, whether they are mature believers, immature, or secretly unregenerate. Here are a few things you can do that may be helpful:

  1. Pray a lot. Only God can change the heart, and if you suspect someone in your group may not actually be a believer, then you need to be praying for him to draw this person to himself.
  2. Keep Christ the focus of our studies. Our studies must always be pointing to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Teach the gospel when it’s popular and when it’s not (which is all the time). Only the gospel has the power to transform the hearts of the mature, immature, and unregenerate alike.
  3. Be patient. Paul exhorted Timothy to teach with complete patience. Not everyone learns at the same rate. Everyone stumbles; everyone gives in to temptation and should be treated with gentleness.
  4. Exhort privately. If there’s a person in your group whom you’re concerned may not actually be a believer but thinks he or she is, talk to them privately about some of your concerns. Don’t point fingers or declare them to be non-Christians (since, again, none of us know for certain), but do challenge.
  5. Pursue accountability. We must cultivate an atmosphere where it’s safe to confess our sins, to be open about our struggles, and give and receive appropriate correction. It’s harder to hide when your culture encourages openness.
  6. Humbly hold your ground. Not everyone will endure sound teaching, but hold fast to it, especially when it’s hard. But the key here is to do it humbly, remembering that we all have blind spots in our theology (after all, if perfect theology were the benchmark for salvation, then we’d all be doomed).
  7. Be willing to say goodbye. Sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is to ask someone to leave your group if they are disruptive, unrepentant and unteachable.

Are there unregenerate sheep in the fold? Probably. However, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. So what do we do? We pray, we keep Christ the focus of all our studies, we show patience and mercy, we pursue accountability and confront sin in love, we hold our ground on key doctrinal issues while also admitting that we have blind spots, and we must be willing to say goodbye to those who will not do the same. Is it easy? Nope. Is it the right thing? Yep. Will it make a difference? Only time will tell.


An earlier edition of this article first appeared at Right Now Media and was republished at ChurchLeaders.com. This edition has been modified from these earlier versions.

 

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The sun: five years in three minutes

This is amazing:

Does Islam Inevitably Lead to Violence?

Caleb Greggsen:

The question at hand presupposes the possibility of determining the true Muslim faith, which is something not even settled within Islam itself. In fact, the recent upsurge in violence perpetrated by Muslim groups is related to the fact that multiple groups are contending for the undisputed title of the “true successors.” Much as Protestants and Catholics argue over the true successors of the apostles, Islam faces the question as to the identity of the true successors to Mohammed. But unlike the Bible, the Qur’an does not really provide enough footing on its own to resolve the question.

How should we think about the book of Enoch being quoted in Jude?

One of the podcasts I love is Albert Mohler’s The Briefing, and his Ask Anything weekend editions are always a favorite. This edition is well worth checking out, particularly for the answer to this question.

How Can Local Churches Help Disciple Women?

Lore Ferguson is interviewed about this topic at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

To Shill a Mockingbird

This is a good piece over at the Washington Post looking at the background behind the upcoming Harper Lee novel.

Facebook, Moms, and the Last Day

Nikki Daniel:

I admit it. Facebook is often my lifeline to the outside world. I am a homemaker with three small children, including a nursing baby. I spend most of my time within the four walls of my home raising my children, keeping the house in order, and making sure everyone is fed and healthy. It’s a dream job in many ways, but it also requires daily dying to self. Homemakers don’t get to eat when or what they want, shower when they want, or get a moment of silence when they want it. Relationships with other women are a challenge due to nursing schedules and regular demands. Therefore, many women turn to social media as a means to preserve friendships and stay connected.

Links I like (weekend edition)

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also the last day to take advantage of Crossway’s weekly deals:

Google’s Denominational Stereotypes

This is interesting.

Don’t Let Spontaneity Kill Your Creativity

Chris Vacher:

We have a brain that God has wired to be creative. We have a God who is the Creator. We have his spirit living inside of us and we have the invitation to be creative in the way that He also is creative. We have all the time that we need to do the work God has called us to do. We have every resource available to us to lead people in worship the way God has invited us.

So how has the power of spontaneity been allowed to have its way among so many churches, pushing away the strength of planning, critique and editing?

The Gospel in the Dominican Republic

Ivan Mesa interviews Miguel Núñez, senior pastor of the International Baptist Church in Santo Domingo and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition, about what God is doing in the Dominican Republic.

A briefer history of time

HT: Tim

A Crash Course on Influencers of Unbelief

Justin Taylor is starting a new (occasional) series on influencers who’ve shaped the thinking of our culture. First up is Sigmund Freud.

7 Helps for When One You’ve Been Discipling Turns Away

Mike Leake:

The Lord spoke of those who would fall on bad soil. When you experience that first hand it is painful. It’s painful to see the one who shoots up quickly, giving hope to many people, and then just as quickly drifts away. When you’ve baptized this person, started discipling them, and even started dreaming about how the Lord might use them—it is such a blow when they drift away from Christ and the gospel.

The one really good reason I serve in children’s ministry

childrens ministry

Let me tell you about why I serve in children’s ministry.

Correction: let me tell you about the one really good reason I serve in children’s ministry.

I’ve written on children’s ministry in the past, but I don’t recall if I’ve ever shared my feelings on this point:1

  • I don’t serve in children’s ministry because it’s a stepping stone to something else, because it’s not really.
  • I don’t serve there because it’s a ministry that constantly bleeds volunteers, though it does.
  • I don’t serve there because it’s one that lacks a positive male influence, though it is.

I serve in children’s ministry because I get to teach kids the Bible and be a part of making disciples. Children’s ministry is not (or shouldn’t be) the church’s babysitting ministry. It’s not telling nice stories where you’re a David or a Daniel. It is intentional evangelism and discipleship. And it is a slow (with a capital S-L-O-W) burn.

Let’s face it: if you’re looking for immediate results, or Charles Finney is your homeboy, you’re probably in the wrong place. You’re likely not going to have a bunch of kids put their faith in Jesus at the end of the lesson every week. And I know, because almost every time I teach, I’m stuck blessed with texts related to judgment and/or evangelism. Thus, my main application points are usually, “You need to believe in Jesus,” or “You need to tell others about Jesus.”

Nevertheless, when I teach, my goal is to teach clearly and faithfully. I don’t sugarcoat or pretty up anything the Bible says, but I do my best to make it understandable to them. I even have a few kids (like my pal Gabe) who provide feedback on whether or not I hit the “understandable” benchmark.2

I don’t often get a sense of what God is doing in their hearts and minds, because I’m not entirely sure that’s what my role is in what God’s doing. But I do know God’s doing something. Why? Because it’s what he’s promised to do in the Scriptures. Wherever his word goes forward, it will accomplish its purpose. When Jesus tells the parable of the sower, he doesn’t tell us to scatter, but doesn’t promise that we’ll be the ones to reap the harvest.

But sometimes he gives you a glimpse. Not too long ago, one of the girls I teach stopped me in the hall. She handed me a little card she had made. Inside it simply said, “Thank you for teaching God’s Word to us.”

That, friends, is why I serve in children’s ministry.


Photo credit: VBS 2014 via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

How do we stand firm?

21

What do you say about something like this—how do you begin to process the fact that ISIS has claimed to kill 21 Coptic Christians and released a video to prove it?

It’s really tempting to rebuke ourselves, isn’t it? I mean, when we see the reality Christians face in the Middle East, it makes much of our issues seem petty. Our frustrations about the sort of books being bought and sold. Our issues with celebrity pastors. Our ongoing debates over religious liberty and same-sex marriage. Our incredulity at the notion that we should give or serve in our churches and communities…

They all seem so insignificant in comparison, don’t they?

The natural reaction is to tell the Church to wake up—to make disciples who are truly willing to submit themselves to dishonor and even death for their faith.

But… It’s one thing to say that. It’s another thing to live it. And that starts with small steps. Remember, these men were likely not some sort of super-Christians. It is doubtful they were completely fearless in the face of death. They were probably normal men who read their Bibles and prayed to their Lord, just like any of us.

The difference is, they were put in a situation that tested their resolve. And their resolve, it seems, held to the end.

And this is good news, not the least for us. They held fast to the truth, and thus, we will get to meet these fallen brothers in the new creation, those whom John already saw in his vision of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 20:4). They are those of whom it can be said the world is not worthy. And so, when the day comes, we will be able to rejoice before the throne of Christ with them.

But it also means that, if they were ordinary Christians like us, if we were to face the same circumstances, we may well hold fast to our testimony, too.

Why? Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. And it starts with prayer. We pray for our brothers and sisters in the midst of persecution. We pray that the Lord will strengthen them to hold firm to the end. We pray they will not lose hope, for the Lord is in their midst.

But we also must pray for ourselves, too. That we will start to take the small steps necessary for us to stand as well. That we will be willing to speak out against our culture of death, and hold to our convictions on marriage. To oppose teaching that is contrary to sound doctrine. To—gasp!—think more highly of others and do something crazy like serve in the children’s ministry at our local church.

These are the building blocks of discipleship. And it starts with prayer.

To be clear: I am not equating western problems with those in the Middle East. However, if we want to be and make disciples who will hold fast till the end, even in the face of persecution and death, this is where we must start. So will we?

What our bestsellers say about our discipleship

What our bestsellers say about our discipleship

Seriously folks, we’ve got to do better than this.

By now, you’ve almost certainly seen the list of the top 25 bestselling Christian titles of 2014. But, of course, there’s one slight problem… Virtually none of these titles are identifiably Christian.

This should greatly concern us, and I truly do mean greatly.

On this list, we have:

  • Multiple editions of a devotional book wherein the highly mystically-influenced author writes as Jesus in the first-person, listening to what he says and writing it down for the rest of us to read. Its sequel is on the list, too;
  • Two editions of a book that flat-out contradicts the Bible’s description of heaven (and whether or not we are to even speak of such things);
  • Two books on personal finance;
  • One book endorsing borderline pagan forms of prayer;
  • Four books from a reality-TV famous family;
  • Two books by prosperity preachers, and therefore not Christians at all;
  • One end-times obsessed bit of crazy, with two more prophecy-focused titles alongside it;
  • Two self-help books and a diet book;
  • One memoir-ish book by a man compelled by love to do unpredictable things;
  • One book on women’s issues; and
  • One book on the importance of being a church member.

So, by my count, at best we’ve got two Christian bestsellers that are actually Christian. A few are written by Christians and published by Christian publishers, but offer little to nothing of substance in terms of interaction with Scripture, and little to no gospel. And then there’s the bigger problem: the ones that should raise major red flags for any editorial team looking at the material biblically.

Now I get that publishing is a business, and editorial teams have to look at what will realistically sell in the market. But my concerns are two-fold:

1. That publishers that should know better than to produce silly nonsense, do anyway. Again, I get that publishers have to make money in order to keep the lights on. I also get that not every publisher will (or should) publish books that only a particular segment of Christians would agree with. But to publish material that, in some cases, flatly contradicts Scripture (and in some cases, stand behind those books even in the face of overwhelming criticism), defies reason. Seriously guys, can we do better here?

2. That we, the consumers, actually buy this garbage. The only reason publishers bring books like this to the market is because we—the consumers—shell out cash to buy this crap. When we look at a list like this, we are right to be concerned, but our criticisms should not primarily be levelled at publishers: we need to look at ourselves.

What is it about these books that appeals to us? How have we let ourselves go so far astray from the true and sure word of God that books by guys who want you to accumulate stuff in this life sell hundreds of thousands of copies? When books that purport to speak for Jesus read more frequently than the book through which we come to know him at all?

In the end, our bestsellers say more about the state of our discipleship than anything else. We read junk because we don’t see how much better God is. We read fluff because it’s easier than being challenged to conform to the image of Christ. We read nonsense because we don’t really believe that what God has for us is better than the temporary pleasures of this life.

And it’s got to stop. We can do better than this. We must do better than this.

Three tools to help you memorize Scripture

Pen, Diary and Glasses

Something all Christians should make their aim is memorizing Scripture. Whether it’s important verses, extended passages, or even entire books, there is something powerful about being able to recall glorious truths from God’s Word and preach them to yourself, and share them with others.

So… how do you get started? Here are a few tools I’d recommend:

1. Scripture Typer. This is a great way to ease yourself into memorizing Scripture. The idea behind it is that it uses visual and kinesthetic memory to help you memorize verses. So, you type out a verse as it appears, then you can work on memorizing it by filling in the blanks as you type, and progressively work toward being able to type the verse in its entirety.

For example, one I tried out recently was John 3:16 (HCSB): “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

I typed this out in total, with it present on the screen. Then tried it again with every other word missing. Then did it again with the opposite words missing. Then tried it from memory (which is what the above was typed from).

Neat, huh?

This is a free tool online and is also available as an iOS app. A similar tool is Memverse.

2. Fighter Verses. Fighter Verses is a five-year memorization plan, focusing on “the character and worth of our great God, battling against our fleshly desires, and the hope of the Gospel.” It features a number of different sets that can be used free online, or with the iOS and Android devices (which cost $3 a piece).

3. The memory moleskine. This is the most advanced option, but it’s a terrific for memorizing an entire book of the Bible, something I attempted back in 2011 with Philippians. And best of all, I actually did it. The problem, of course, is that I didn’t keep up on my practice, so I lost about 90 percent of it. However, if you can commit to “tending the garden,” these little notebooks and the process of reading, speaking, writing, and repeating, are amazing. Want to give it a shot? Try Colossians.

Happy memorizing!


Photo credit: Generationbass.com via photopin cc

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Is it Okay for Me to Church Hop?

Tom Fuerst:

But at the heart of all this, I have the firm theological belief that there is no such thing as a lone Christian. Rather, Christians only exist in families (not all families are biological). And, to turn a cliché, it really does take a village to raise a Christian. Church hopping is like family hopping. It’s just a stupid idea.

The Disciple’s Napkin

Tim Brister:

Over the past couple months, I sought to evaluate disciple-making in my own life and church community. In particular, I wanted to focus on the biblically prescribed means of grace as the foundational disciplines for laying a framework of discipleship that cuts across every sphere of our lives. I don’t want it to be said by anyone, “I cannot make disciples because it is too complicated, too difficult, too demanding, etc.” No matter where you are in the journey as a follower of Jesus, I want it to be said by anyone, “I can do that. I can be a disciple who makes disciples of Jesus.”

An open letter to a porn-using dad

If I could tell you one thing, it would be this: Porn didn’t just affect your life; it affected everyone around you in ways I don’t think you can ever realize. It still affects me to this day as I realize the hold that it has on our society. I dread the day when I have to talk with my sweet little boy about pornography and its far-reaching greedy hands. When I tell him about how pornography, like most sins, affects far more than just us.

Is it ridiculous to believe in a literal Adam and Eve?

This is really good.

10 Marks Of True Conversion

David Murray:

Shona and I have tried various strategies over the years to make sure that we are regularly discussing the Bible together, fellowshipping in the living Word. One thing we hadn’t tried, until recently, was for both of us to be reading the same book in our private devotional reading so that we can discuss the same passage when we get together. It also keeps us accountable knowing that she is going to be asking me what I thought about such and such a verse, and vice versa.

“I am profoundly grateful to God that He

“I am profoundly grateful to God that He did not grant me certain things for which I asked, and that He shut certain doors in my face.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount


Photo credit: gothick_matt via photopin cc. Designed with Canva.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Discipleship in the “Age of Authenticity”

Trevin Wax:

Another good word for “authenticity” is non-conformity. The point of non-conformity is being true to yourself as opposed to whatever self others may want you to be true to. That’s why much of the drama in our culture of authenticity comes from the casting off of societal constraints. Note the four areas Taylor mentioned in his definition.

31 movies with one letter dropped from the title

This is awesome.

New Advent resource: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy

Desiring God has released a brand-new Advent devotional from John Piper. Get yours free at DesiringGod.org.

Being a Non-Conventional Intern

Joey Cochran:

Not for me. I’m a non-conventional intern. I graduated with my Th.M. from Dallas Seminary in 2009, then entered my first pastorate in Tulsa as a High School Pastor. After four years, I departed as an associate pastor and have been a church planting intern with Joe Thorn at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois for the past year.

I remember one of the first times I shared this story with another pastor. They asked: “Aren’t you taking a step back?” Well, yes, and at the same time, no.

The Missing Ingredient in Many Sermons

Erik Raymond:

Like cooking, preaching can become bland. It can fail to have that freshness worthy of the gospel table. There are many reasons why. One could identify a lack of preparation, lack of understanding, poor delivery, and shallowness. We would not disagree that under-cooking the homiletical meal is a problem. But there is something else that can make preaching bland: the deadly reality of not being personally wowed by the subject.

One more reason why Sunday evening services are disappearing

Winter-Church

Recently, Thom Rainer shared a few reasons for the possible demise of the Sunday evening service. Yesterday, Tim Challies chimed in from his perspective, suggesting that it could be linked to a diminished view of preaching, our amusement culture and the growth of amateur and professional sports, among others. But there’s one other reason I’d like to suggest:

A diminished view of discipleship and leadership development.

This has been a growing problem not only in the church but in the culture at large, despite it being one of the most oft-cited practices of good leaders (and all who’ve read a book on leadership said, “Amen”). Younger potential leaders need guidance from seasoned leaders—to learn from their experience (both positive and negative). And seasoned leaders do their most important work when they’re investing in those coming up behind them and ensuring that there are strong leaders to take the reins after they’ve retired or moved on to another opportunity.

Yet, despite the common knowledge that developing leaders is a good thing, this is missing in the cultures of many organizations—including churches.

This should never be. After all, we see a pretty strong emphasis on this kind of development in the New Testament. Although, you’re not going to find a verse saying, “older leaders, thou shalt raise up younger ones,” what you will find is Paul exhorting older men and women to invest in younger ones (Titus 2:1-6), Paul shepherding younger men like Timothy, whom he calls his “true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2), appointing elders (Acts 14:23) and tasking his protégés to do likewise (Titus 1:5).

Going a little more broadly, this kind of investing in others is part and parcel with the great commission itself—we are to go and make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded. This necessarily requires the older (or more mature) to train and teach the younger.

Factoring all that in, rather than think of it as leadership development, maybe it’s more helpful to see it as discipleship.

Back to Sunday evening services for a moment: what both Rainer and Challies mentioned is that many pastors simply don’t have time to prepare two different sermons for each Sunday. This is very true. The responsibilities pastors carry are great, and one of the most important is their proclaiming and teaching of the Bible. But no one says senior pastors have to be the ones preaching on Sunday evening.

Sunday night services are a prime opportunity for the training of younger preachers—men who have shown some aptitude, but need experience to both identify their strengths and confirm whether or not a calling to pastoral ministry exists. It’s also a positive way to disciple the congregation as a whole. By having someone else preach, even someone who isn’t super-experienced (and may preach a lemon or ten), the congregation is protected from developing a cult of personality (you don’t need to have a big church for this to happen). They’re learning to be discerning, as well as being reminded that they’re trust is to be in the Word, not in the words of a messenger.

These are just some of the practical values a Sunday evening service brings. While I don’t attend a church that has one (we meet in a public high school and it’s not included in our lease agreement), I have been invited to preach at other churches for their evening services. And every time, it’s been a really positive learning experience and (thankfully) the congregation leaves encouraged. The more I do it, the more I am grateful for the churches that continue to hold these services.

Now, obviously, the solution to the leadership development and discipleship issue isn’t just “bring back Sunday night services;” that would be far too simplistic a thing to suggest. But what it should make all of us consider is how are we intentionally investing in and discipling younger potential leaders—and, honestly, whether or not we’re doing it at all.

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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.