The most important word in your vocabulary (but hardest to say)

no

One of the things I learned very early on as a believer is that people expect you to say “yes” to things. A lot of things.

Possibly all the things.

And the more you say yes, the more they expect you to keep it up. Now, I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with this—I was, after all, the lord mayor of the friend zone in high school (let the overlooked brothers understand). But there’s a different kind of pressure to say yes to things at church:

  • To say yes to taking an extra Sunday in children’s ministry
  • To say yes to joining the set up team
  • To say yes to joining the local missions team
  • To say yes to filling in on the greeting team (and never leaving)

Am I the only one who has been there?

The thing about saying yes to good things is we actually want to. We want to say yes to doing more to help people know Jesus. We want to do more to serve in our churches and show our love for our fellow believers. If we love our jobs, we want to do more there because we enjoy it.

But then the turn happens, and those things we loved so much… well, we maybe start to hate them, at least a little. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten quite to that stage, though I do know there have been times when I’ve been more resentful than I needed to be. And what helped me was being reminded of a little word—one I forget all too frequently—that might well be one of the most important in my vocabulary:

No.

I’ve had to learn and relearn this lesson: sometimes I have to say no to things. I have to do it at work in order to actually get the work I need to do accomplished. I need to do it at home with my outside work (let me tell you, it’s a bad idea to be doing a ton of freelance while writing a documentary and also doing sermon prep and maintaining a regular blogging schedule). I need to do it sometimes even with church (though that’s pretty rare). I’ve had to do it when I’m asked to preach during a particularly difficult season (like when I was trying to write a term paper).

And I’ll probably have to do it again.

So why is it I hate saying no so much? Because I, like so many others, tend to value myself by what I do—both in quantity and quality. I want to do an ever increasing number of things at an ever increasing level of ability. But that’s just not possible. So I’ve had to learn to say no.

Or rather, I’m trying to learn it. Again.

The thing I need to remember is that ultimately, my value isn’t determined by the amount of stuff I do, the blog posts I write, the number of sandwiches I make, or any of that. It’s determined by God, and more specifically, who he has declared me to be in Christ. If I am redeemed, renewed, forgiven, restored, and adopted as his son, what more do I really need? Is burning the midnight oil  all the time really going to make me more redeemed-ed or be adopted harder?

So here’s a little exercise for all of my fellow overachievers reading this: Write a post-it note, record a voice memo, send a recurring reminder to yourself… whatever you have to do, do something to remind yourself that the most important word you can say, sometimes, is no.

 

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

How the Gospel Creates Ethics

Owen Strachan:

You love the gospel. Great! But a question beckons, one that must be answered: what, exactly, does the gospel now do in your life?

The message of Christ crucified for us is no minimalistic phenomenon. You cannot box it up. You cannot rein it in. If you believe it, it will conquer and consume you. Plant it in fertile soil, and you will reap a harvest of spiritual transformation and ethical conviction. You are saved for intimate fellowship with Christ; you are saved to boldly—publicly—testify to his glory.

But how does this work? How can ordinary Christians be public witnesses for Jesus?

I want to offer an answer by tracing how one Christian leader, a born-again ex-con named Chuck Colson, arrived at his own response to this vexing question.

4 Things It’s Okay to Say When You’re Hurt

Paul Maxwell:

Reconciliation is difficult because people dole out advice like lollipops at the bank—our pride is on the line, our safety is on the line. It’s also difficult because the gospel which teaches us we’re forgiven and reconciled to God sometimes feels empowering, and at other times like a looming and difficult example. But it’s important to remember as you reconcile, that while the gospel does empower you to perform some amazing relational feats, you are not God. These are all very human things to say—not sinful; just finite.

No Platform High Enough

Tim Challies:

When it is platform you crave, when it is the size or the popularity of your following that you use as the measure of your success, you will inevitably and eventually find that there is no platform high enough. No success will ever perfectly fulfill your ambitions.

A Right to Privacy Requires a Right to Life

Aaron Earls:

This begs the question, how does this “tissue” have a right to privacy, but not a right to life? Wouldn’t a right to privacy require a right to life?

If you consider life in the womb to be merely expendable tissue, what does it matter if someone shows it? Is your privacy violated if someone took a photograph of your blood in a vial (or “pie plate” as in the video)?

The Time I Said I Don’t Always Like Women’s Ministry Events

Christine Hoover:

She says no. She says it with absolute, total conviction, a “no” that feels like it’s answering all future invitations, a “no” that indicates it’s not busyness keeping her away, a “no” begging for explanation. So I gently probe. She describes past experiences of women’s events characterized by shallow conversation, girly crafts, and topics never veering far from marriage and motherhood. I tell her what we’re studying (not marriage or motherhood) and guarantee there will be no girly crafts and lots of opportunities to make connections with other women. She thanks me for the invitation, reaffirms her “no”, and moves off into the crowd.

As she goes, I am sad, not for me, but for her and for the “us” that is our church’s women, because we’re not going to know her until she lets us know her, and we’re probably missing something wonderful.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Crossway’s got a few books on marriage on sale this week:

Does the Bible say anything about sleep habits?

David Roach:

Americans aren’t getting enough shut-eye. That’s the conclusion of a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that nearly nine million Americans take prescription sleeping pills and such prescriptions have tripled for people between 18 and 24. Of course, occasional sleepless nights are normal for nearly everyone and sometimes insomnia is caused by uncontrollable factors like physical pain or nightmares. But can a lack of sleep indicate a spiritual problem? Does the Bible say anything to guide us in our sleep patterns? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is yes to both questions.

How Do You Define Joy?

John Piper starts a new six-part study series on Philippians:

3 Ways to Grow in Faith

Mike Leake:

Just as in any relationship our communion is often in direct proportion to our faith and love. If I sin against you our relationship is going to be harmed. Likewise, if I feel slighted by you then it will impact the way we relate to one another. How much worse does a human relationship get if one person loses trust in the other one? In the same way—our lively experience of the Lord is often in proportion to our faith.

So how do we grow in our faith?

Creating a New Wrong Way when the Right Way seems to be a Wrong Way

JD Payne offers an interesting perspective on Mark 1:44-45.

How We Became Too Busy For Friends

Pam Lau:

Too many of today’s friendships—both inside and outside of the church—suffer from fragmentation and superficiality. That is, we are too scattered to commit knowing and caring for a person deeply. Instead, we settle for friends who are merely familiar faces for extended small talk. Perhaps it’s because we are afraid of the intimacy or have been burned by bad relationships in the past. Or perhaps it’s because this is the kind of relationship we see modeled and expected in our neighborhoods, schools, and small groups. Dr. Daniel J Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist, advises that little bit of empathy goes a long way. He believes in what he calls mindsight—a new approach to relationships that teaches the skills of reflection, relationships, and resilience.

The only truly good sermon you will ever hear

good-sermon

“Did he tell us where we can see Jesus in the text?”

It’s a question I’ve asked on more than one occasion after hearing a message. It’s hard to hear someone speak—even when they explain the text more or less correctly—and wonder, “Did he say anything about Jesus here?” It’s common to wonder this if you’re used to messages that involve five points beginning with the letter “p,” but I’d argue that a commitment to preaching verse by verse does not guarantee we’ll keep Jesus front and center. In fact, I sometimes think it’s easier for us to lose sight of Jesus as we examine the veins on the leaves of a particular tree in one section of the forest.

Truly, there is no worse sermon than one that misses Jesus. By that, I don’t mean ham-fisted attempts to force him into the message, or a tacked-on memorized gospel presentation at the end of the message. What I mean is to always show the connection to Christ. Charles Spurgeon reminds us of this in the following story, previously told by a Welsh minister:

A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?”

“A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.

“A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.”

“Ay, no doubt of it.”

“Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?”

“Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.”

“Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?”

“Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.”

“Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?”

“Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.”

“Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”

So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”

“Yes,” said the young man.

“Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, is to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”1

There is no worse sermon than one where you cannot find Christ in it, no matter how good the explanation of the details of the text. There is no worse devotional thought than one devoid of the presence of our Lord and Savior, no matter how encouraging or motivational it may be. The only truly good message is one where we’ve shown Christ in the text. Every text, every road, as the old divine said, leads to him. Whether we go over hedge and ditch, it is worth it, for good of all who hear—and ourselves—to point the way.

Links I like

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Logic On Fire

Logic On Fire, the new documentary on the life and ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, premiered in April at TGC 2015. Westminster Bookstore’s offering the film for $31 until July 30, and free USPS shipping when you purchase two or more.

What to Do With ‘Some People Are Saying…’

Jared Wilson:

A pastor will sometimes find himself the recipient of hearsay. What I mean is, he will occasionally receive reports of concerns about his character from anonymous parties delivered by parties willing to deliver them. There are few circumstances in which this might be acceptable. But in general, a pastor facing anonymous criticism will be asked to answer to ghosts. Very few things discourage a pastor more than anonymous criticism. More often than not, a wise pastor will need to say, “If someone is concerned about that, they need to bring it to me personally. As it is, I won’t entertain it.” The wise pastor will then personally consider whether the concerns are valid, anonymously generated or not, and “cling to what is good.” But he is under no obligation to entertain the charges of nobody in particular.

What does it mean to have a New York Times Bestseller?

This was actually quite interesting.

Why Bloggers Are Calling It Quits

Tim Challies:

I predict that the blogosphere will continue to grow and thrive. At least, the idea of the blogosphere will grow and thrive. The idea that gave rise to the blogosphere is that it offered people with ideas a voice that circumvented the traditional gatekeepers. Newspaper editors no longer stood between opinions and audiences. Book publishers could no longer determine the authors who would introduce and evaluate the big ideas. Magazines and news shows were no longer the only curators of interesting news and information. That anyone today can have a voice seems normal in 2015, but we forget that fifteen years ago it was a novel idea.

5 Reasons to Keep the Kids In

Nick Batzig:

Being with the congregation in the worship service from childhood is one of the greatest privileges that God has given to children growing up in a Christian home. That begs the question, however, “If our young children can’t understand what is being said from the pulpit, why would we keep them in?” Here are five reasons–with a few caveats–about why you should consider keeping your children in the service:

Challenging the Culture of Quarrelsome ‘Discernment’ Blogging

E. Stephen Burnett:

As a Christian I want to practice biblical discernment, privately and publicly. (I even ran my own discernment-style blog for a while.) Few days pass that I’m not writing a challenge to some recent evangelical irritant, right up to and including this very article. However, I want to do so in a way that shows love for people and points above all to Jesus and the gospel.

That’s why I put “discernment” in quotes. I do not challenge biblical discernment. But I do want to challenge quarrelsome discernment: a counterfeit “discernment” that revels in the fight, refuses to listen to others, is careless with the truth, and twists one biblical instruction — to rebuke false teaching — into a chief end of a Christian’s ministry.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H has a pile of books related to homeschooling on sale:

Also on sale:

9Marks sale at WTSBooks

Westminster Bookstore’s got a terrific sale on the entire 9Marks collection of books. You can get the complete 17 volume set for $125, or individual titles for 40 percent off their regular price. Go check it out!

What is Supernatural is Not Necessarily Mystical

Michael Kelley:

Christians deal in the realm of the supernatural all the time, even if we don’t recognize it. We believe the natural, the default, posture of the human heart is sinful. When we commit acts of sin, it’s a very natural thing for us to do because that’s our bent. It’s an expression of who we are. But when we believe the gospel, something supernatural happens. Our default changes. We begin to act in accordance with our new nature. We do things and think things and believe things and say things that are out of place in the natural order of the world.

I Thought Planned Parenthood Protected Family Values

Rosaria Butterfield:

And today, as I reflect on the outrage of Planned Parenthood, I think of my life.

I could have been Dr. Deborah Nucatola. I was groomed to be her. I could have been videotaped pausing between bites of arugula salad and salmon to pontificate on the price of a dead baby’s intact heart and lungs.

The Book of Numbers

This is cool:

The Distortions of Progressive Christians: How Religious Liberty is in Danger

Matthew Lee Anderson:

Many conservative Christians have taken to describing the current environment as one in which they are being persecuted for their faith. Some Progressive Christians, like Rachel Held Evans, have argued strenuously against such claims, pointing out that conservative evangelicals still wield an enormous amount of influence. Donald Miller said something similar last year, albeit in a much more slapdash way. And while I think Miller and Evans distort our current moment in serious ways, they have a point that conservative Christians need to hear.

Top 10 Résumé Mistakes from My Recent Children’s Minister Search

Eric McKiddie:

When I was serving for a premier catering company in Chicago during my undergrad days, there was a phrase we used to throw around regarding the presentation of the plate: they take the first bite with their eyes. I’ve found this axiom to be true in so many contexts of life, not least of which the résumé.

The following ten mistakes were on résumés actually submitted, oftentimes on more than one. I’m sure no one who reads this blog would commit a faux pas such as is listed below when applying for a church position, so I post these for entertainment purposes only.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Jesus in the Present Tense: The I AM Statements of Christ by Warren W. Wiersbe is free through the end of the day (I reviewed this one a few years back here). Also on sale:

Six Questions on Men and Women Serving Together

Eric Geiger:

I gather on a monthly basis with all the managers in the division that I lead for a time of training. A few months ago I asked Faith Whatley, our director of adult ministry, to train and offer insights on men and women serving alongside one another. Faith has been serving at LifeWay for 20+ years and is well respected as a godly woman and an extremely effective leader.

 

Police or Pastor?

Justin Holcomb:

Following an act of violent abuse, a Christian wife should first turn to the police. We definitely support calling her pastor, too, but only after calling the police.

Dear Franklin: It is not a good idea

I don’t normally like open letters (even when I occasionally write them), but this one by Marty Duren’s well worth your time.

Hair Gel, Burgers, and Smartphone Depression

David Murray:

The global hair care market is estimated to be worth $81 billion dollars in 2015, with a large part of that being spent on various gels that shape and control the hair. All that money to beautify ourselves and make us more attractive to others!

But there’s a free “hair gel” that can make us more attractive and beautiful, not just to others but to God.

Have We Made Too Much of Grace?

Joey Cochran:

My concern is that some in their thirst and need for grace fashion an idol out of grace. Though we should make much of grace, we should not make too much of grace. Fundamentally, as Watson says above, grace makes a poor Christ. It is no Christ at all. Grace is an instrument of God. It is an abstract idea that describes a relationship. It is an attribute of God, so a facet of him for sure. But you cannot worship the part in substitute for the whole. Then you make less of who God is. Grace, I would say, is more than a thing but certainly less than a person, and it’s only a person that saves, the person, Christ (1 Th. 5:9). I am fascinated by how Watson refers to grace as a creature.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Just a few new deals to share today:

The End of Sexual Ethics: Love and the Limits of Reason

This is a really good piece by Matt Anderson.

Is Your Joy Real or an Imposter?

Sam Storms:

Do you believe that “real enjoyment is essential to real godliness,” or does that sound more like a tagline for the power of positive thinking? Or maybe a self-serving cliché on the lips of some popular prosperity preacher of our day? I was caught a bit off-guard myself when I discovered that the author of that statement is none other than J. I. Packer.

The more I delved into the mind and ministry of J. I. Packer, the more relieved I was to discover that his “enjoyment” has nothing to do with what he calls “hot tub religion,” and everything to do with a robust delight in God in the midst of the most severe and troubling trials.

What Readers and Writers Owe Each Other

Barnabas Piper:

As readers, we often act as if we are owed something by a writer: an agreeable view point, a certain quality, thoughts on a specific subject. Read the comments on enough web articles or blogs and you’ll quickly realize the entitlement we have as readers. When our favorite sports columnist writes about movies we are peeved that he wasted OUR precious time with such drivel. When a preferred theologian gives thoughts on sports we respond with a “stick to theology, that’s why we’re here.”

As readers, do we have a right to act as if a writer owes us something? I think we do, but not in the way that we most often make the claim. As readers we are owed something we like or with which we agree. But writers do owe us something, a whole combination of somethings, in fact.

Four Simple Ways Pastors Can Create Margin in Their Lives

Mark Dance:

A Pennsylvania woman rushing to catch her flight ignored a flat tire and ultimately crashed her car near a moving-walkway that leads people into the Pittsburgh International Airport. The woman apparently was so determined to catch her flight that she continued driving toward the airport even after her car got a flat tire on Interstate 376. That is a bad day!

What does your day usually look like? Sane? Sensible? Sustainable? A Sabbath life is countercultural and counterintuitive to American culture.

Joyful Exiles

Scott Redd:

I wrote last fall about the idea of the American church entering into a time of cultural exile. Since that time the issue has been revisited by several public voices (and here and here), and debate has arisen over or exactly what sort of exile this current situation would entail. I do not think that there is a typological distinction to be made between the Babylonian exile of the Old Testament and the exile to which the Apostle Peter speaks in 1 Pet 1:1-2, though some have made that distinction.

Pro-Life Activists Doing the Media’s Job For Them

Aaron Earls:

As news organization after news organization, journalist after journalist (with a few notable exceptions) frame this story using the spin provided for them by Planned Parenthood, the question that continues to spring to my mind is, “Why is it that Center for Medical Progress and other pro-life groups are the only ones who investigate the abortion industry?”

News outlets seem so distraught this story was brought to national attention by such a group and such an individual, why aren’t they doing this type of investigative journalism on organizations like Planned Parenthood?

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

7 Areas of Unbiblical Conscience Binding

Nick Batzig:

Many times such unbiblical conscience binding occurs in less than explicit ways. The personal applications are subtly presented as the principle. Sometimes they come in the form of an individual setting himself or herself up as the example of piety in application specific ways. You’ve witnessed this sort of thing. One believer tells another believer how often he or she prays every day, or how long he or she spends in the Scriptures each morning. Then, the conversation slides into exhortation without differentiation: “I’ll be glad to hold you accountable to doing this too,” or “I don’t know why more people don’t spend as much time praying…” Such attempts at unbiblical conscience binding occur in every sphere of life and ministry–often resulting in creating undue guilt in the minds and hearts of God’s people. Consider the 7 following areas in which you have most likely witnessed such unbiblical conscience binding.

By This They Will Know

Craig Thompson:

As pastors, we are in the business of preaching. Preaching is necessarily imperative. A sermon without an imperative application is incomplete. Our sermons are often filled with commands to share the good news, to turn from sin, to love our neighbor.

In the politically charged atmosphere of the past few months, I’m certain that many sermons have discussed the necessity of believers to be holy and different from the world. But, Jesus did not say that the world would know his disciples by their evangelistic zeal, their cultural engagement, or even their care for the poor. All of these things are important, but according to Jesus, it was their love for each other that would set the disciples apart before the world.

Why an Eternal Perspective Changes Everything

Randy Alcorn:

Having an eternal perspective is in many ways the key to living a true Christ-following life. Scripture says in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (NIV). If we let this reality sink in, it will forever change the way we think and live.

Made to share

This year is the 50th anniversary of the NIV translation of the Bible, one of the most widely used English translations of the modern era. Here’s a really nice video on the spread of the translation:

We Don’t Know How to Blush

Erik Raymond:

If there is one thing we can be certain of when we read the news today it is that we should not be surprised. The staggering rate of the moral revolution has conditioned us this way. Each day’s headlines bring with it a sense of moral ascent (or descent, depending upon your perspective). And here I am not simply talking about so-called same-sex marriage and the erosion of religious liberty. Like dropping a line in the water, you often catch more than just a fish. We are pulling a lot into the boat that shapes our experience.

If one were inclined to be objective they might open their eyes and ears and try to pinpoint a root. Walk through the malls, the public square, flip through the TV, read the paper, listen to the chatter, and talk to strangers.

20 of my favorite quotes from The Prodigal Church

Recently I’ve shared a couple reflections on, as well as a review of, Jared Wilson’s new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo. This was a book that I underlined quite heavily—probably more than I’ve done on any since Keller’s book on prayer. There’s a ton of wisdom found within its pages. So today, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites (some of which have been made into nifty shareable graphics):

“‘Healthy things grow’ sounds right. But cancer grows too.” (40)

“I want to suggest that it’s possible to get big, exciting, and successful while actually failing substantially at what God would have us do with his church. It’s possible to mistake the appearance of success for faithfulness and fruitfulness.” (46)

“Pragmatism is anti-gospel because it treats evangelism as a kind of pyramid scheme aimed at people who have it all together, not discerning that, in the Gospels, those most ripe for the gospel were those at the bottom of the social caste system, the undesirable, the non-influential.” (53)

“Pragmatism is legalistic, because it supposes that evangelism can be turned into a formula for ready results.… The pragmatist has forgotten that Christianity is supernatural, that it is capital-S Spiritual.” (53)
2

“When you try to help the Holy Spirit, you quench him.” (54)

“It is not in the best interest of the very unbelievers we’re trying to reach to appeal to consumerist tastes in the interest of offering them the living water of Christ.” (67-68)

“When we stage a worship experience that hypes up experience, feelings, or achieving certain states of success or victory, we miss the very point of worship itself: God.” (68)

3

“Neither the Spirit nor the gospel needs help from our production values.” (70)

“We have not prospered theologically or spiritually when we emphasize the professionalization of the pastorate.” (75)

“Fortune-cookie preaching will make brittle, hollow, syrupy Christians.” (77)

“We must have a stronger faith to trust that a sermon mainly about Jesus will ‘help people grow’ more than our set of tips will.” (80)

1

“I will go so far as to suggest to you, actually, that not to preach Christ is not to preach a Christian sermon. If you preach from the Bible, but do not proclaim the finished work of Christ, you may as well be preaching in a Jewish synagogue or a Mormon temple.” (80)

“The self-professed ‘culturally relevant’ churches are the chief proponents of legalism in Christianity today.” (84)

“The ‘dos’ can never be detached from the ‘done’ of the finished work of Christ in the gospel, or else we run the risk of preaching the law.” (85)

“When we preach ‘how to’ law sermons instead of the gospel, we may end up with a bunch of well-behaved spiritual corpses.” (89)

“The reality is, worship does not begin with the worshipper. It begins with God. It is a response to God’s calling upon us.” (97)

4“We do not worship the Father, the Son, and The Holy Ingenuity.” (167)

“If you worship God in a less-than-clear or in a doctrine-less sense, you end up worshiping another god. You worship the god made in your image. When we divorce theology from worship, when we fail to cultivate a theology of worship, we compromise our worship. It may look great, but it is hollow and shallow.” (99)

“Part of moving forward and away from the functional ideologies of the attractional church is also abandoning ourselves to the sovereign mercy of the Spirit, who cannot be measured or leveraged or synergized or whatever.” (162)

“The Spirit doesn’t wear the church’s wristwatch. You cannot control him.” (166)

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Over at Ligonier, they are giving away two eBooks about John Calvin for the next 24 hours:

Finally, Crossway is giving away Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God At His Word in exchange for answering a couple questions.

The Incredible Future of the Medium-to-Small-Sized Church

Bob Roberts:

The reality that we have over 400,000 churches in the U.S. and just over 1,600 megachurches (churches of 2,000 or more) means that 398,400 of us are never going to be that! But don’t be discouraged. You can still change your city and the world (and you may actually be better at changing it than a huge church).

8 Signs You Are a Discipleship Bully

Derek Brown:

This kind of bullying, however, does not need to express itself in verbal or physical abuse. It can manifest itself in a subtle form of spiritual tyranny where the teacher, by virtue of his position and self-perceived knowledge, tends to overwhelm and micro-manage his disciple. Sadly, when these kinds of discipleship scenarios progress unchecked, both parties—the discipler and the one being discipled—will find their spiritual life stunted and their relationship with one another in serious jeopardy.

When to Cover, When to Confront

Ray Ortlund:

When should we cover another Christian, and when should we confront another Christian?  The categories that guide me are 1 Peter 4:8 and Titus 1:9.

What Happened to the Emerging Church?

C. Michael Patton offers an answer. A shorter one suggested by my fellow Canadian Joe Boot at TruthXchange in Feburary: It didn’t die, it went mainstream.

Don’t Put God in a Box

Erik Raymond:

As a pastor I have been asked this question more times than I can count, particularly by people who are visiting and considering joining the church. My answer in short is “no”. I do not believe that the gifts of tongues and healing are present today as we saw in the early church. Much of what today gets passed off as tongues and healing are not what the Bible shows, namely known languages spoken and understood; and people being instantaneously (and fully) healed with a word or a touch. I tell them that my position (cessationist) is based upon observation: I see a tapering off of the miraculous gifts (tongues and healing) in the NT with the close of the Apostolic era and I do not see them consistently displayed in church history. Therefore, I don’t believe they are normative in the life of the church today. (note: prophecy is defined in different ways, but I would say that God is not giving new revelation today either. If you want to take prophecy as preaching, admonishing or exhorting-that’s fine.)

What is the response to this? “Don’t put God in a box.”

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

How the Gospel ended My Same Sex Relationship

This was terrific:

I am a Christian, one who believes that what the Bible says about sexuality is of great importance. I’m also someone who was in a same-sex relationship for many years, even as I claimed Christ. For a long time these were the two things that defined me.

The Image of God In A Gender Neutral World

Stephen Altrogge:

Kathy Witterick and David Stocker have decided to raise their child, named “Storm”, in a gender free environment. In other words, they don’t want Storm to be influenced by cultural stereotypes of what it means to be a boy or a girl. They want Storm to have the freedom to create his/her own gender identity apart from all the cultural ideas of what gender really means. They are taking a bold stand for freedom in an age of gender restriction.

Is this a problem, and if so, why? After all, even most Christians would agree that our culture has unbiblical standards of what it means to be a man or a woman. I don’t want our culture instructing my daughters on the meaning of femininity. So is it really such a bad idea to raise a child in a gender free environment?

20 things you should never say to a graphic designer (but probably do)

I’ve heard all of these, and sadly said a few, too.

Dismantling the Façade of “Authentic Vulnerability”

Chris Martin:

I went to a small Christian liberal arts school, so in the dorms or in school-established small groups, it seemed spiritually cool if you talked about “authenticity,” “vulnerability,” and a host of other such “-ity” words. Maybe you experienced something like this in college—you definitely did if you attended a Christian one.

At my school, “intentional community” was as important as academics, so naturally, there was plenty of talk like this.

The problem was, nobody really meant it.

5 lies preachers believe about preaching

Mary Duren:

Pastors suffer from an abundance of unsolicited advice about their preaching. Many not called to preach think themselves the most gifted to critique. Despite this there are few church members more critical of the preaching than the one who delivers the sermon.

After I have preached my wife usually asks, “How do you think it went?” Most of my responses are in the “I guess it went alright” vein followed by, “How did you think it went?” Assurances of “it was great” or “that was one of the best sermons you’ve ever preached” are mostly doubted. I know the times I’ve lost my place in the notes, become mentally distracted, and realized the second point had too much or too little content. My train of thought has refused to leave the station, or derailed once it did.

A pastor’s normal excessive scrutiny about his preaching is bad enough, but it is made worse when these five lies are believed.

The Prodigal Church

 

prodigal-church

Years ago I went to a church conference focused on bringing up the level of creativity and the production values of the Sunday morning worship gathering (or experience, as they preferred to call it). As the band turned their amps up to loud enough to make my ears bleed, and lead the group through 13 or 14 rounds of “whoa-oh-oh-oh, whoa-oh-oh-oh-ohs”, I decided it’d be a good time to hang out outside. Not too long after, I was joined by another attendee. We chatted for a while about what we’d been learning at the conference, and this person lamented, “It just seems like a show, not worship.” I agreed. This person was right: it was a show.

And I suspect that’s what’s going on far too often in churches all over North America.

People who know me well (and, let’s be honest, people who don’t know me all that well at all) know I’m not a fan of what’s called the “attractional” approach to church—the big show, felt-needs oriented style of church popularized in the 80s and 90s by the likes of Bill Hybels and Rick Warren. Why am I not a fan? It’s not because I’m grumpy and/or only like hymns. Though the aims of its practitioners are noble, this approach encourages people to act like consumers rather than grow as disciples. And that’s totally antithetical to everything the worship gathering is supposed to be about.

Jared Wilson gets this. He’s served in attractional churches, and seen the fruit of the model. Or, rather, the lack thereof. But rather than spend an entire book railing against everything that’s wrong with attractional churches (because, hey, who doesn’t like hearing how they’re doing everything wrong?), Wilson simply asks, are you sure about that? Are you sure the smoke machines, lasers, sermons on being a better whatchamacallit and skinny jeans are what the world needs? Maybe what we need to do is go back to the Bible, not to do away with innovation, but to recover a sense of wonder and awe at the glory of God—and build our lives and worship around that! That, in a nutshell, is The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo.

And it’s quite spectacular.

The practice of preaching and the priority of people

What will surprise most readers of The Prodigal Church is its tone. Wilson strikes a delicate balance, simultaneously calling us out for acting like pragmatic knuckleheads while making us feel really good about it. There’s no sense of animosity toward practitioners, but great—and I believe warranted—hostility toward the practices themselves.

Take topical preaching, for example. While it isn’t wrong per se, what is questionable is the practice of putting together messages based around ideas I as a preacher might have (with biblical support), rather than preaching the text itself. And to preach in an expository fashion—that is through an entire book, verse by verse or passage by passage—is considered lazy or cheating by some, such as Andy Stanley. Wilson has some harsh words for this criticism, notably asking, what’s the fruit of the topical/applicational focus?

“What is the fruit of having treated the Bible like an instruction manual?” he asks.

[W]hen the church is run as a provider of spiritual goods and services, and slowly stops asking, first, “What glorifies God?” and begins asking more and more, “What do our customers want?” what the customer wants becomes more central to the life of the church. The functional ideologies of pragmatism and consumerism erode our theology, which becomes more flexible and less faithful. (73)

Or, more succinctly, “To teach and preach in this way is implicitly to say that the Bible can’t be trusted to set the agenda, and that my ideas are better than the Bible at driving change in my audience” (72).

This is what we need to understand: Pragmatism puts humans at the forefront, rather than God. They, functionally, become our gods. So you need to resort to more pomp and circumstance to keep them coming back. More programs, flashier gimmicks, bigger, better… whatever.

The only problem is it doesn’t work.

But faithful preaching does. The kind that puts the Bible at the forefront, puts Jesus in the place of greatest prominence, does this. And it isn’t cheating:

It is in fact hard work, at least spiritually, because it always necessitates dying to ourselves. The sermon prep may not take as long—thank God!—but the impulse to go first to Christ can be more difficult, and counterintuitive. We must have a stronger faith, to trust that a sermon mainly about Jesus will “help people grow” more than our set of tips will. (80)

Inviting prodigals home

In every chapter, readers will see Wilson avoiding cheap victories. He doesn’t go for the easy joke (usually). He doesn’t resort to nasty ad hominems, which are the weapon of choice of people with a weak argument. Instead he points out the issues with a deficient view of worship, a weakened approach to preaching, and offering programs as a substitute for shepherding congregations, and says, it doesn’t have to be this way. Things can be different, but it means giving up control:

Part of moving forward and away from the functional ideologies of the attractional church is also abandoning ourselves to the sovereign mercy of the Spirit, who cannot be measured or leveraged or synergized or whatever. (162)

And this is what we all hate, isn’t it? We like to think of ourselves as the masters of our own destiny. That when we hear “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves,” it might actually be true. And this is where we need the gospel—not simply as an add on at the end of our message, but as part of what we live and breathe as Christians. We need to recognize that we don’t need to make our own fate, God’s got that handled very well, thank you very much. We don’t need to put on a big show to draw people in, Jesus has it covered.

The gospel is not made more powerful by a dynamic preacher or a rockin’ band: those things might adorn the gospel in an excellent way, but the gospel cannot be improved. The message of Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection is capital-S Spiritual power all unto itself. (163)

The best way to get it into the hands of others

Since I finished reading The Prodigal Church, I’ve been thinking about how to get it into the hands of those who really need it. And the truth is, we all probably need it, to greater or lesser degrees. Many of us attend churches that have embraced the attractional ethic, if only in part. It’s definitely true of  my own church and the network we’re affiliated with since most of them have embraced the principles of corporate worship espoused in a not very good book. But how helpful would it be for me to hand it to my pastors and say, “Here you go, read this?”

Probably not very. Instead, here’s what I’d recommend: read it for yourself and see what God brings to mind about your own life and attitude. How do you express your worship privately? What does reading the Bible look like for you? How are you seeking to love and serve those around you, beginning with those in your local church? Don’t simply read it to try to determine everything that’s wrong in your church (or the one down the road). Let what you learn change you first. Then you’ll be in a better position to pass it along to others—and they may be more inclined to give its message serious consideration.


Title: The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo 
Author: Jared C. Wilson
Publisher: Crossway (2015)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

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That “Billy Graham” Rule

Appreciated this piece from Sharon Hodde Miller:

What I struggle with is how these rules can make certain people feel–especially single women, who are already a more vulnerable population in our churches. When applied too bluntly, the rules make single women feel like temptations or seductresses, rather than dignified sisters in Christ.

Will the multisite movement grow-up?

As someone with very serious concerns about the multisite approach—particularly in the mode of having a TV screen for your pastor—I am very glad to have read this:

When the multisite model (defined as one church in two or more locations) works, once-empty pews are filled with worshipers and an older church’s legacy lives on while a larger church expands its outreach. But when things go poorly, multisite churches can become another struggling American franchise, precariously built on the brand of a celebrity pastor—and one step away from collapsing like a house of cards.

Posture in Post-Christendom

Tim Brister:

Christendom is dead. For some, this is a time of lament. For others, it is a time of renewal and revival. I want to offer my reflections on the three different phases of Christianity and culture and the corresponding posture for Christian cultural engagement.

Pastors Who Don’t Delegate

Thom Rainer:

Failure to delegate will always limit a pastor. He will not be able to expand the ministry of the church because that ministry is limited to one person.

Often the pastor who does not delegate gets overwhelmed and essentially stops functioning. At other times, he may move toward workaholism until the inevitable burnout takes place.

Controversy or Complacency

Tim Challies:

But as I read 1 Timothy and hear Paul warn about these controversialists, I hear him sound a second warning as well. This is a warning about a second kind of person who sins very differently but no less seriously. If we have controversy on the one side of the equation, we have complacency on the other. This, too, is a sin and it, too, is very dangerous.