You and Me Forever

you-and-me-forever

If you’ve read more than one or two Christian marriage books, you may have noticed they tend to follow a pretty standard template. For a marriage to be successful, husbands and wives need to:

  • Understand how God has intended them to be (with some sort of discussion of Genesis 2);
  • Have frequent sex;
  • See how their relationship represents the gospel (as per Ephesians 5); and
  • Have frequent sex. Frequently.

And then Francis Chan went and wrote a marriage book. Or did he?

Chan and his wife, Lisa, give readers a decidedly different take, one suggests that as good as it is it try to make your marriage better, our main focus—whether in marriage or singleness—needs to be something bigger: God. This is the big idea behind You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. The Chans want readers to picture marriage as a vehicle for mission, an opportunity for Christians to carry out our mission to make disciples of all the nations.

Sounds pretty lofty, huh? So how’d they do?

Marriage problems are God problems

“As a pastor for over 20 years, I have come to the conclusion that most marriage problems are not really marriage problems. They are God problems,” Chan writes (20). “They can be traced back to one or both people having a poor relationship with God or a faulty understanding of Him.”

This, among all the many wonderfully helpful things you’ll read in this book, is probably the most important—and also the most contentious. While sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, certainly, many of us are too quick to call everything a cigar.

Or (to mix metaphors) we treat symptoms, but not illnesses. The problem with this is what happens when you leave an illness untreated? It only gets worse (and in some cases, eventually kills you).

So think about it in a marriage: if a husband is domineering, it’s because something is deeply dysfunctional in his relationship with God, if one exists at all. If a wife commits adultery because another man understands her and makes her feel special, it’s because something is deeply dysfunctional in her relationship with God, looking to other people for affirmation instead of the Lord.

The same can be said of virtually any problem we face. They all start with our relationship with God. And that’s what makes it so contentious. Chan’s tendency is to get to the heart of an issue right away, rather than easing his audience into that knowledge. And because of his, shall we say, abrupt style of springing such things upon us, it’s easy to be turned off. But the more you sit with what he says, the more you realize it’s true (most of the time, anyway).

Marriage is for mission

This theme continues throughout the book, as both Francis and Lisa continually remind readers that marriage is a tool for the spread of the gospel:

Beautiful people make beautiful marriages. Jesus is the most beautiful person to ever walk the earth. Your best shot at having a beautiful marriage is if both of you make it your goal to become like Jesus. (91)

Our mission does not call us to neglect our marriages. But a marriage cannot be healthy unless we are seeking His kingdom and righteousness first (Matt. 6:33). (97)

Whether as individuals or as couples, our mission is to make as many disciples as we can during our time on earth… We should be constantly asking ourselves the question: How can we free up more time and resources for making disciples? (98-99)

There is an urgency to the period of time in which we live—after Jesus’ resurrection and before His second coming. We have callings from God, and those callings are bigger than our marriages. Seeking His kingdom must be our first priority, and if we’re not careful, marriage can get in the way. (114)

This, again, is a necessary reorientation for many of us (even if there are some cautions I want to address). We should be examining our lives from the perspective of our clearly stated purpose: to make disciples. If we are in Christ, each and every one of us is called to this in some way, shape or form. There is no denying it.

And if we have children, mission starts at home. We want our kids to know the gospel, to see the beauty of Christ, to see Christianity as something more than just going to church for a couple hours on Sunday. We want them to see that it involves sacrifice, sometimes including sacrificing time with them for the sake of the gospel…

How much should mission disrupt marriage?

But we also want them to see something else: sometimes the sacrifice we make is saying “no” to a good opportunity in order to be with them. Chan writes:

I work a lot. And I definitely travel more than most. Hardly a week goes by where I’m not jumping on a plane, wishing I could just stay home with my family. Some would call this bad parenting. I would argue that. I don’t neglect my children by any stretch of the imagination, but there are many times when I know God has called me to serve Him in ways that disrupt the family routine. I genuinely believe that it’s good for my kids to observe this. (165)

I sympathize with this a great deal. There are times in our lives when our family routine is disrupted. Because of work commitments or speaking engagements, I’m away from home probably five to six weeks of the year. While that might seem light in comparison to the schedules of many authors, speakers and pastors, we take it very seriously. When I have the opportunity to speak somewhere, we consider not only the opportunity, but the cost for our kids who are all very young. And there have been many times when I’ve had to say no to really good opportunities because where I’m most needed is at home playing cars on the floor with Hudson.

(There was also the time I went to Nashville and back in 36 hours when Emily was days away from giving birth to the boy, but…)

The point here is simply this: sometimes where we will be most effective for the sake of the mission will be away from home. But this is not license to “take care of the ministry and let God take care of your family,” as so many of a previous generation advocated (with their lives if not their words). I fear for the one who neglects his family in the name of Christ, because I can’t see it going well for them. Instead, what we need to do is find the right balance (in as much as something as unbalanced as ministry is). While we might have good opportunities to be used effectively away, sometimes it’s still best to be right here.

A marriage book that’s not about marriage

You may have gotten to this point and thought, “Great, it sounds like Crazy Love: Marriage Edition.” As tempting as it might be to say, it’s not entirely true. Yes, it has all the emphases of “radical” Christianity that you see in Crazy LoveRadical and so many others. No, it’s not without it’s problems (personally, I do feel Chan’s explanation of disrupting the family routine could be better fleshed out). But in the end, You and Me Forever succeeds in giving us a different kind of marriage book—one that’s less about marriage and more about the gospel. And that, for me at least, is a welcome change of pace.


Title: You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity
Authors: Francis and Lisa Chan
Publisher: Claire Love Publishing (2014)

Buy it at: Amazon

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also $5 Friday at Ligonier, where you’ll find a ton of great resources for $5 each, including:

  • The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men by Richard Phillips (hardcover)
  • God’s Technology teaching series by David Murray (DVD)
  • Foundations of Grace by Steven Lawson (ePub)

Why repentance must be central to your ministry

Really good stuff from Platt and Chan.

15 Proverbs for social media users

Barnabas Piper:

Social media is a wonderful resource, an outlet for wit and wisdom… It is also where common sense and decency go to die. The same means that help me connect with new friends in South Africa and read real time updates of happenings in Ferguson, MO enable thoughtless people to spew hatred, lunacy, and general stupidity just as far just as fast.

How can we be sure we are using it in a wise and helpful way? Starting with some wisdom from God’s word is a good start, and no book has more practical wisdom than Proverbs. Here are 15 proverbs with direct application for how we should use social media.

Don’t Expect Unbelievers To Act Like Believers

Tim Challies reflects on an important point found in John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation.

What happened to the YRR in the SBC?

Tim Brister:

Fifteen years later, I think about where the young, restless, and Reformed have gone in the SBC. Are they sitting in the halls of academia, waiting to write the next book defending Calvinism? Perhaps. Are they trying to work their way up into denominational life to influence the SBC toward Calvinism? I seriously doubt it. For the men God brought into my life over a decade ago, here’s the breakdown of where they are now.

The true nature of elder authority in the church

Matt Perman:

So we need to understand what type of authority elders really have in the church, and what it truly means to not be domineering.

There are many sources we could go to to summarize the biblical view on this (which has always been the historic Protestant view). One of the best is John Stott, who covers this issue very well in a few simple but profound paragraphs from his book Christ in ConflictSo in this article, what I’m going to do is quote a few sentences from Stott, make some comments, quote the next few sentences from Stott, make some comments on those, and so forth. By the end we will have a clear outline of the real nature (and limitations) of the authority of elders in the church, to the end that we will know what the Scriptures mean when they say that elders are not to “domineer” over those they are leading.

C. S. Lewis on Why You Should Read Fiction: Get In and Get Out

Justin Taylor shares a great quote from Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few deals on titles by R.C. Sproul:

Also on sale:

5 good words of pastoral advice that stuck

Jared Wilson:

I took my first vocational ministry position the summer I graduated high school (1994), becoming the youth minister for Zion Chinese Baptist Church. (You read that right.) In the twenty years since, I’ve heard a lot of good words on ministry and ministry life, and while a lot has been good, a few choice bits of wisdom have stuck with me since I heard them and have proven truer and truer over the years. Here are just five.

Get 1-2 Peter in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub edition of 1-2 Peter, from the St. Andrew’s commentary series by R.C. Sproul, for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Loved by God teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson (ePub)
  • God in Our Midst by Daniel Hyde (hardcover)

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

Are Faith and Science Compatible?

Amy Julia Becker on her recent experience at a conference hosted by the Biologos Foundation:

At the conference, we didn’t talk much about human uniqueness, or the doctrine of the imago dei (image of God), as it turns out. We did hear some compelling presentations regarding evolution, the very very old age of the earth and the surrounding cosmos, and the puzzling (from a Scriptural perspective) scientific conclusion that we are descended from thousands of humans rather than a solitary Adam and Eve. (This final point does not preclude the possibility of an Adam and an Eve existing and being singled out by God for a purpose, but it does lead to lots of speculation without any conclusive proof.)

For me, the experience resulted not so much in affirming my views on science, but rather in reminding me of the ways in which, as the Psalmist writes, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1).

The Problem with Evangelistic Programs

Mack Stiles:

God can use programs. I know people who have come to faith at evangelistic events. For the record, I often promote and speak at evangelistic programs. But I don’t think programs are the most effective, or even the primary, way we should do evangelism.

Marry or Burn?

Hannah Anderson:

Since writing “Getting Married Is Not Enough to Fight Sexual Temptation,” I’ve realized that I made certain assumptions that I did not articulate well, assumptions that are essential to explaining why I both embrace Paul’s advice to marry to avoid sexual temptation as well as why I’m uncomfortable with evangelicals offering the very same advice. Truthfully, it has little to do with the timing of marriage so much as the presuppositions we have about marriage, singleness, and sexuality.

Christians not Welcome

Brian Hutchinson offers a look at what is likely to be an all-too-common occurrence in the near future in Canada.

Links I like

Gay marriage and racial segregation

Adam Ford hits the nail on the head.

A Christian Film that Looks Inward

Wade Bearden:

As a whole, Believe Me is a combination of both satire and drama with a hint of Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like thrown in for good measure. To strip it down, the story is less a strict documentary of the Church than a satirical caricature of individuals you’ve probably met in Sunday school or at youth camp. If you’ve ever questioned the forces behind the machine of Christian culture, you’ll likely find Believe Me deftly funny. I caught a screening with a group of pastors and had trouble counting how many times I heard “That’s so true” coming from the seats.

Tear away the mask

Jen Thorn:

There is a lot of talk about transparency these days. The need to “be real” and “do life together.” So we sit around and share about how we don’t clean our house the way we should, and are always behind on the laundry. We get coffee and chat about how we have been unkind with our kids and impatient with our spouse, or dissatisfied with our jobs. Maybe we share that we spend too much money or fail at reading our Bibles on a regular basis. We laugh and hug and say it’s ok. We may share a few Bible verses and some helpful practical tips, but this is not real transparency. It’s a spiritual opaqueness that lets only a little light through. This is superficial at best and deceptive at worst. It can be deceptive because we are pretending to be open and honest when really we are sharing what is easy while leaving out the very things we are suppose to lay before each other.

Sharing the Gospel is Inconvenient

Leon Brown:

As I was walking from the restaurant to my car, I had one gospel tract in my pocket. I had purposed to give it to someone in route to my vehicle. Literally, that was my plan. I wanted to place the tract in someone’s hand, continue walking, get in my truck, and leave. That did not happen. When I gave the tract to a man standing in my path, he asked, “What’s this?”

The Importance of Being a Pastor/Theologian

Nick Batzig:

I have a theory about why God seems to use pastor/theologians in the ways in which He does in the world. I have come to believe that God blesses the labors of pastor/theologians who give themselves to him and the work of the church in a way that He often does not do so with other believers actively engaged in helpful para-church ministries.

The Gospel Isn’t Meant To Be Strawberry Pie

Mike Leake:

Strawberry pie is the perfect cap to an awesome meal. It’s sugary sweet goodness on top of graham cracker crust never fails to make me smile. I’m always hungry for strawberry pie.

Gospel hunger isn’t strawberry pie hunger, though.

Links I like

eBook deals for Christian readers

Until October 12, Crossway is giving away a digital edition of Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson. To get it, all you’ve got to do is fill out a quick survey. Charis by Preston Sprinkle is free until the end of the day today from all the major resellers. Here’s where to find it on Amazon and iTunes. Also on sale:

And in case you missed these yesterday:

Same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court: what now for the Church?

Russell Moore:

The Supreme Court has declined to take up appeals from states in which the courts have found same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. This paves the way for same-sex marriage in many, perhaps most, places in the United States. Many Christians may be unaware of how momentous this is, since the denial of cases doesn’t come with quite the shock and awe of a ruling handed down. The effect though is wide-ranging. So what should our response be as the church of Jesus Christ?

I love the church and that’s why I resigned

Big news from Jared Wilson:

I am not one to run. Especially since things have been going so well on the growth front. We have more than tripled in attendance the last five years, but even more importantly, we have seen an increase in souls saved by Christ and baptized, in young families and mature leaders moving to our area to join us on mission, and in forward-thinking vision, culminating largely in our efforts toplant a church in downtown Rutland, Vermont. So there’s nothing to run from, really. Nobody’s mad at me. There’s no conflict pushing me out or great sin disqualifying me. There’s just me. There’s just me realizing, “I don’t think I’m the right guy for what comes next.” It’s as if God has led me to the brink of the promised land and said, “You can’t go in.”

The Lost Virtue of Modesty

Kevin DeYoung:

It is one of the marks of the confusion of our age that so many teenagers and young adults are more ashamed to dress with modest reserve than to very nearly undress entirely. Even after we give full throat to the necessary caveats–being pretty (or handsome) is not a sin, working to improve your appearance does not have to be vanity, the line between modest and immodest is not always black and white–we are still left with the undeniable biblical fact that God considers modesty a virtue and its opposite a vice.

Here are five biblical reasons Christians should embrace modesty as a God-designed, God-desired good thing.

Husbands, Hold Your Wife’s Hand

R.C. Sproul Jr:

That is likely my deepest regret, that I did not hold her hand more.

It’s not, of course, that I never held her hand. It is likely, however, that I didn’t as often as she would have liked. Holding her hand communicates to her in a simple yet profound way that we are connected. Taking her hand tells her, “I am grateful that we are one flesh.” Taking her hand tells me, “This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” It is a liturgy, an ordinary habit of remembrance to see more clearly the extraordinary reality of two being made one. It would have, even in the midst of a disagreement, or moments of struggle, communicated, “We’re going to go through this together. I will not let go.”

Is your church worship more pagan than Christian?

Todd Pruitt:

There is a great misunderstanding in churches of the purpose of music in Christian worship. Churches routinely advertise their “life-changing” or “dynamic” worship that will “bring you closer to God” or “change your life.” Certain worship CD’s promise that the music will “enable you to enter the presence of God.” Even a flyer for a recent conference for worship leaders boasted:

“Join us for dynamic teaching to set you on the right path, and inspiring worship where you can meet God and receive the energy and love you need to be a mover and shaker in today’s world…Alongside our teaching program are worship events which put you in touch with the power and love of God.”

The problem with the flyer and with many church ads is that these kinds of promises reveal a significant theological error. Music is viewed as a means to facilitate an encounter with God; it will move us closer to God. In this schema, music becomes a means of mediation between God and man. But this idea is closer to ecstatic pagan practices than to Christian worship.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new deals for you:

What not to get your pastor for pastor’s appreciation month

Eric Geiger:

…I am grateful for the few folks in every church who remember Pastor Appreciation Month, likely because the Christian radio station they listen to reminds them. Because I am no longer a “pastor” as my full-time job, I feel some freedom to speak a bit bluntly about some of the gifts our pastors, your pastors, may be in jeopardy of receiving this year. If you have given your pastor some of these gifts before, don’t feel bad. There is no condemnation here. Only grace. And your pastor really did know you cared, was honored you remembered him, and likely thought, “It is the thought that counts.” But I want to be helpful and encourage you NOT to get your pastor the following this year.

The Hound of Heaven (trailer)

This short film written and directed by N.D. Wilson looks fantastic:

How the News Makes Us Dumb

Kevin DeYoung:

Of course, not all news is pointless. There are long form essays, insightful commentaries, skilled journalistic exposes, striking documentaries–all of these can come under the category of “news” and all of them, when done excellently, can point people to the true, the good, and the beautiful. Sommerville’s not even against the here-today-gone-tomorrow bits of news. Neither am I. The Lord knows–and so does the internet–that I’ve written blog posts on current events before, and every Monday I post two or three minutes of silliness, for no reason except to laugh a little. The news doesn’t have to make us dumb, but if we don’t take the necessary mental and habitual precautions it almost certainly will.

Repenting of Our Lack of Sleep

Scott Slayton:

We often fail to think about what our daily habits say about our view of ourselves and our view of God. When we push ourselves morning to night seven days a week for days on end we demonstrate that we have a Messiah complex. We think the world will fall apart if we are not constantly doing something. We face a major dilemma though. We cannot keep going day in and day out without feeling terrible and lashing out at the people around us. We were not made to function on a lack of sleep. The Psalmist says in 121:4, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Only God does not need sleep. He is the one who made the world and who sustains the world. The world would fall apart if he took only a moment off, but we are not him.  Much to our chagrin, we find that the world continues to function quite well while we sleep. Sleep reminds us that God is God and we are not. John Piper said this as only he can, “Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day.”

Does Apologetics Convert People?

Clint Roberts:

If we ask the question, “How many people became Christians because they heard a good defense of something like the existence of God, the historicity of the Gospels, or the archeological verifications of biblical narratives?” the answer is probably “very few”.

But the question, “Does apologetics convert anyone?” is a poor question to begin with.

Social Media and the Sensation of Missing Out

Joey Cochran:

Social media is both a blessing and curse as we all know and have experienced. One curse is that it facilitates the sensation of missing out.

For example, have you ever gotten onto Instagram to see pictures from all your friends who are at the same event together? But you didn’t go. Your immediate response of dismay, envy, and justification for why you didn’t go or why you weren’t invited is how you manage that sensation of missing out. Or have you ever gotten on Twitter and discovered an unreal conversation that went on for swipe after swipe of your forefinger? Did you not feel those twinges of dismay and envy again? Did you feel a tractor-force beam pull to exhaust fifteen to thirty catching up on the conversation and then add a triumphal tweet of your own? This sensation of missing out is a beast to tame. It will own you until you own it. Here’s two things to remember about your sensation of missing out.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Lots of new ones from B&H today. Here are a few of the highlights:

The 3 Things I Miss Most About Pastoral Ministry

Trevin Wax:

A pastor recently contacted me. He is considering a leadership position in a Christian organization, and he’d read something I wrote six months after starting at LifeWay, a post in which I offered some reflections on stepping out of pastoral ministry. In seeking to discern God’s will for his next phase of ministry, he wanted to know if my feelings had changed since then.

In short, I affirm everything in the original post, including my comments on vocational calling being expressed through various avenues and ministry tasks. But even though I am thrilled to be doing the work God has called me to during this season, I still miss local church ministry. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Jimmy Draper used to tell people who work at LifeWay, “The day you don’t miss local church ministry is the day you should probably resign.” What he meant was this: you’re better at serving churches when your heart beats for Christ’s Bride.

So, in response to the pastor who asked, here are three aspects of pastoral ministry I miss.

3 Types of Hypocrites

Mike Leake:

All of humanity, this side of full redemption, play the role of a hypocrite. We often hear the charge leveled against the church that we are filled with a bunch of hypocrites. This charge is true—at least in part. For the most part when someone says that to me I simply agree and tell such a person that we’ve always got room for one more.

While it is true that we are all hypocrites, there is another sense in which we are of a different stripe of hypocrisy. The Puritans saw three sorts of hypocrisy.

Google Hangout with Peter Jones

Today’s the day for Ligonier’s Google Hangout with Peter Jones. Be sure to join in at 4 pm to discuss his new curriculum, Only Two Religions.

Pastors Shouldn’t Have Trade Secrets

Erik Raymond:

I remain firmly convinced, based upon Scripture and my experience, that pastors should not be in competition with one another. They should support, root for, rejoice in, and serve to ensure the other’s growth. One major implication of being gospel-centered is that we actually want to see the gospel advance. In order to do this we have to be willing to put the good news about Jesus and his kingdom ahead of our own little, imaginary, personal kingdom.

The Dignity of Our Deterioration

John Piper:

…when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, God established a connection between moral depravity and physical deterioration. He intended to make clear that, even if we ignore the dreadfulness of a sinful heart, we will not be able to ignore its witness in the debility of the body.

This is a hard pill for beautiful and robust boomers to swallow. We have been strong. We have been pretty. Even sexy. And now we realize: We will never have it back. It is over. For good. Until death stops the process we will only get weaker, more wrinkled, more mottled.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A couple of deals to start your day:

Look for this week’s eBook deals from Crossway shortly.

Three Things to Remember When You Read the Bible

Jonathan Parnell:

You can never just read the Bible.

There is something deep happening. It’s something more glorious than the universe. Whether you open these pages before dawn, over midmorning coffee, or at the dinner table with family, whenever you read the Biblesomething miraculous is happening. After all, you are not just any ordinary person, and the Bible isn’t just any old book.

How Captain America should have ended

Ten characteristics of an aspiring pastor

Brian Croft:

Scripture must first be our guide when evaluating a young man’s desire for pastoral ministry (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).  This blueprint needs to then be evaluated by the young man’s desire for the work (internal calling), and then by the pastors and congregation of his local church (external calling). Although those Scripture qualities are helpful, they are not exhaustive.

So, here are 10 other characteristics I look for that I feel are not necessarily deal breakers, but nonetheless very important for pastoral ministry and fall within the frame work of the fruit of the spirit in a Christian’s life.

The 6 Ingredients of Jesus’ Bitter Cup

Nick Batzig:

When we think of the cup that was placed before Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, we tend to think of it merely in terms of the wrath of God–since that is what the cup most clearly symbolizes in the writings of the OT prophets. While we would never dare reduce it to something less than this, there is certainly more intended by the sight of the cross. When Jesus looked into the cup He saw–from every dimension of His sufferings–all that He would suffer, both at the hands of men, Satan and God Himself. Isaac Ambrose captured so well the meaning of the cup when he set out what he believed to be the 6 ingredients that made it so burdensome a sight to the soul of the sinless Son of God.

A Coming Familypocalypse

Joey Cochran:

My family is important to me; I love my wife and three children dearly. I believe we are better together than apart. This should be the attitude of every father, right? Absolutely! Dads should cherish and enjoy their families. They should long to be with them and feel pain when apart. They also should fight to keep families together through thick and thin.

This conviction should be a shared conviction with all humanity. As humans, we should cherish the idea of family. Otherwise, how would we perpetuate and propagate our race?

Yet, occasionally, I get this unsettled feeling in my soul, as I observe the culture around me, that these are not shared feelings.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Are You Over Yourself Yet?

Jeff Medders:

Because Christ is our shepherd, we will not be lacking. If fact, he’s already given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He’s already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). And we are “fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Jupiter belongs to Christ. All things were made by him and for him—and now, they are yours too. Jesus shares them with his family.

Public Sees Religion’s Influence Waning

Interesting stuff from Pew Research:

Perhaps as a consequence, a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics. The share of Americans who say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues is up 6 points since the 2010 midterm elections (from 43% to 49%). The share who say there has been “too little” expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders is up modestly over the same period (from 37% to 41%). And a growing minority of Americans (32%) think churches should endorse candidates for political office, though most continue to oppose such direct involvement by churches in electoral politics.

Mourning Without Words

Trillia Newbell:

It was unexpected, swift, and yet seemed like an eternity. The phone rang. Sis is in the hospital. I wasn’t too concerned. I told my husband it sounded serious but felt sure she would be released. Moments later: It doesn’t look good. A few hours later: She’s gone.

That was two years ago. It was her birthday, she was 40, and she had passed on to eternity. It was a sad night, and the weeks ahead were difficult. I was tasked with taking care of things that must be done when a loved one passes—things I never thought I’d need to do so soon. My older sis had a heart that broke and failed, and we were all left with broken hearts.

The Sanctifying Spirit

Kevin DeYoung:

Though we must make effort in our growth in godliness (2 Peter 1:5), the Spirit empowers through and through. The Bible is not a cheap infomercial telling us to change and then assuring our little ponytail hearts, “You can do it!” We have already been changed. We are already new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and have a new strength at work in our inner being (Eph. 3:16), producing gospel fruit in us by the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). The Bible expects that because God dwells in us by the Spirit, we can, by that same Spirit, begin to share in the qualities that are characteristic of God himself (2 Peter 1:4). Of course there is still a fight within us. But with the Spirit there can be genuine progress and victory. The New Testament simply asks us to be who we are.

Giving Singles Land to Till

Lore Ferguson:

Bloomberg highlighted a study recently, citing that “single Americans (16+) make up more than half of the adult population for the first time since the government began compiling such statistics in 1976.” The Church cannot afford to ignore—or bypass—this demographic in their current narrative. It’s not a mark of deficiency or a blemish to be single, but it can feel like it in the somewhat glaring omissions. Paul said singleness was good. I think singleness is good. Many singles love their singleness. We should be encouraging godly marriages, yes, but we should also be giving singles land to till.

What we get wrong about church discipline

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Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of stories come to light about evangelical churches practicing “shunning” as part of church discipline. This typically happens as part of the final stage of church discipline, when a congregation member persists in unrepentant sin is excommunicated—and then cut off socially, with friends (and sometimes family!) actively distancing themselves socially.

And herein lies the problem.

The key passages on church discipline

There are a few key passages of the New Testament that describe church discipline, the most famous being Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

The first deals with personal sin in general, while the second deals explicitly with sexual immorality (specifically, a church member who was having [a possibly incestuous, but regardless incredibly icky] adultery with his father’s wife).

There is a simple point here: habitual, unrepentant sin in all its forms should not associated with the people of God. Whether someone is a perpetual gossip, slanderer, malcontent, fornicator or adulterer, these things should not be known of among us, at least, not if we are to be people who are above reproach.

About the gentile and the tax collector…

But notice, something else, something very important that we see in Matthew 18:17: “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

What Jesus says here is what is so often missed in our approach to church discipline (or more correctly, in the approaches of certain mega-churches): we forget that we have an active role to play in the offender’s restoration. We are called to pursue them with the gospel.

Before going further, I want to be 100 per cent clear: I am absolutely for church discipline, provided the way we handle it is biblical.

So consider Jesus for a moment. During His earthly ministry, we find numerous occasions where Jesus commends the Gentile’s faith, rather than the Israelite’s. Among them, the Syrophonecian woman (Mark 7:24-30), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-45), and the official at Capernum (John 4:46-54). And among the tax collectors, we see no less than two breathtaking examples of repentance, including the apostle Matthew (9:9-13), and Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10). In both instances, Jesus makes it very clear: His mission is to seek and save the lost. He does not pursue the righteous but sinners to repentance.

In other words, in church discipline we are to treat unrepentant offenders as though they are not believers. Which necessarily means we are called to share the gospel with them. 

Restorative and evangelistic1

And yet, it seems we’ve forgotten this. Instead of pursuing those who have been “handed over to Satan” with the gospel, we entirely ostracize them. We are right to not permit them to serve in the church, to bar them from taking communion and no longer recognize their profession of faith as genuine until proven otherwise. But, we may go further in our application of this than Scripture does in the way many churches cut off contact.

Again, to be clear: we must be absolutely committed to the purity of the Church. All who continually besmirch the name of Christ through their ongoing, unrepentant sin should be dealt with appropriately. But we still face a tension: without compromising the purity of the body, we need to consider how we pursue these people evangelistically.

Yes, they are to be cut off from fellowship, as Paul says—but we also need to show fearful mercy to someone continues in sin, even as we carefully protect the purity of the Church—we are called to both reprove and exhort. We tear down pride with the Word and build up in humility. This is what Jude stresses in the final verses of his epistle when he writes, “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23).

Thwarting the schemes of the devil

We are not alone in our goofing on this. It seems the Corinthians fell into the same trap. Prior to writing 2 Corinthians, word came to Paul that while the church had, largely, repented of their rebellion against Paul and apostolic teaching, they had not reconciled with the one who was responsible for the rebellion. And so, Paul encouraged them to forgive and be reconciled.

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

“Reaffirm your love for him,” he wrote, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan.” There is nothing the devil loves more than to mar the name of the church. And when we handle discipline wrongly—when we fail to pursue those who persist in unrepentant sin with the gospel and welcome those who have turned away from their sin back—we are undone. The devil “wins”.

So yes, let’s practice church discipline, biblically. Let’s also make sure our practice includes the earnest pursuit of those in sin with the gospel, so that they might come to repentance and fellowship can be restored.

 

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Silver bullet ministry

Craig Schafer:

By all accounts I am a stereotypical, standard, plain vanilla, suburban church pastor. And that’s pretty much what the ministry is like at our church: there is absolutely nothing hip or cutting-edge about us. We’re not a funky inner-city church plant. We don’t meet in a disused theatre.

We’re not close to any major tourist attraction. We haven’t started several networked extension services. We’re just a normal, suburban church. It is true that people say two of our pastors look like movie stars—but they mean Ben Stiller and Jack Black, so I’m not sure that really helps us in the attractional ministry stakes. (Having said that, they’re both better pastors than I am, so it is very handy to have them around.)

All the same, I think it’s instructive to reflect on how gospel-centred DNA drives the ministry practice in stereotypical vanilla suburban churches like mine—and quite possibly like yours.

Listening When You Shouldn’t

Leon Brown:

If you notice someone is hurting, and that person begins to share the details of the situation, you may want to consider asking that individual to refrain from sharing specifics of the circumstances, which may include names, dates, location, etc. I know it may be difficult, but many times we have no business knowing all of the details. Do not let curiosity lead you down the wrong path. Do not let your desires to be sympathetic cause you to hear details you should not. You may end up getting involved in gossip, hearing false details, and making wrong conclusions. We need to be there for each during difficulties, but even then we must be cautious.

Jesus-Juking for the Gospel

Derek Rishmawy:

Still, I wonder about the modern-day “Christ” party among us. It’s pretty easy to spot that sort of thing on the progressive wing of things: people who boast about being anti-power, anti-empire, anti-celebrity, anti-Evangelical-entertainment-industrial complex, all the while getting “I am of Boyd” and “I am of Hauerwas” tattooed on their firstborns. (You Anabaptists know I still love you, right? Well, some of you at least.) Deeper still, though, are the theological approaches that tend to relativize formal teaching structures in the name of the some vague, ‘way of Jesus’–modern-day heirs of those that Luther and Calvin deemed the “enthusiasts” during the Reformation.

The Death of Adulthood

Matthew Lee Anderson:

We’ve reached the end of adulthood in America according to AO Scott. Or at least of the patriarchal version of it, anyway, which Scott sees in three paradigmatic dramas of our era—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Sopranos, whose protagonists and their downfalls allow us to “marvel at the mask of masculine incompetence even as we watched it slip or turn ugly.”  On Scott’s reading, “in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grownups.”  It’s a provocative, sweeping hypothesis of the sort that are useful for engendering conversations, even if it doesn’t stand up under analysis.

And it may not.

Are You Leeching the Local Church?

Ryan Shelton:

When I was a teen, I bought into the very fashionable assumption that the local church would only cramp my style and put a barrier to “authentic spirituality.” I stopped attending for a while until I got wind of a hip, cool church across town that was full of attractive, young, relevant people. The music was great, the preaching was edgy, and the atmosphere was exciting.

For months, I drove all the way across town, nearly an hour each way, to attend services at the church that “got it.” It was a booming place, with six fully packed services each weekend. And if I arrived late, I was turned away because the fire department was keeping a close eye on the safety capacity.

It all ended for me one week, when the pastor said something that disturbed me.

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

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

Also on sale at Westminster:

The real significance of the “eighth day”

Nick Batzig:

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

Gospel Affection

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

Moral Ambiguity in a Selfish Culture.

Erik Raymond:

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

This is moral ambiguity.

Burial vs cremation

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

When Your Church Is Not Revitalizing

Scott Slayton:

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

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Lots of Kindle deals for you today:

Three books on leadership from Crossway:

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Finally, four books by Hank Hanegraaff:

A Failure of Worship

Tim Challies:

I find addiction, and the bondage of addiction, to be very difficult to understand. It seems like overcoming addiction should be so simple, and especially for the Christian: Instead of doing that thing, how about next time you just don’t do that thing? Instead of opening that bottle, keep it closed. Instead of buying those pills, buy some groceries. Instead of typing in that web site, type in a different web site. Instead of walking through the doors of the casino, choose not to even go near the casino. If only it was so simple.

A Little Greek Can Be a Big Distraction

Peter Krol:

You don’t have to reference Greek or Hebrew to study the Bible. You can observe, interpret, and apply using a decent English translation (such as the ESV or NET). In fact, knowing a bit of Greek can actually distract you from careful study of a passage.

The Blessings and Curses of Being an Introverted Pastor

Eric McKiddie:

The stakes are high when it comes to being an introverted pastor because our job ispeople. The very nature of our role requires us to engage with our congregation relationally, but the nature of our personality inclines us toward alone time. To the extent that we avoid people, or outsource shepherding to staff pastors or interns, we short-circuit our leadership potential.

But there are strengths to being an introverted pastor, too. It seems to me that people think there are only curses to being an introverted pastor. Maybe it’s just me being a sensitive introvert, but I’ve never heard someone being referred to as an introvert as a compliment, nor have I heard someone identified as an extrovert negatively. The word extrovert, it seems, is synonymous with entrepreneurial, charismatic, and being a people person. Even the negative sides of being an extrovert are given a positive spin, like the gift of gab.

 The Books Boomers Will Never Read

John Piper:

Not all boomers are readers. They will feel their losses coming at their dented, shaky, leaky space ship in different ways. But millions are.

We love to read. We wish we could read so much more. I had lunch recently with a 93-year old man, full of alertness and mental energy. He told me that in his wife’s last years he read 22 novels out loud to her.

For the boomers who read, the thought of so many books never being read brings a sense of great loss. The loss is felt in proportion to our love of reading.

Why do we love to read?

The Problem with Others

Chad Thornhill:

If we require the other to be like us before we open our arms to them, we undercut the entire thrust of the Gospel, which is that God loved humanity in its complete and utter otherness from him, and yet embraced them through his son anyway. We are called to offer the same response to both outsiders (those outside of the faith) and others (those who are different from us). That is the call with which those who claim the name of Christ have been entrusted. Yes, governments exist to enforce laws and prosecute criminals. But the Church does not. This does not mean the Church should withdraw from public engagement. But our engagement must be driven by biblical and theological convictions and attitudes, and not political ideologies and legal inquiries.

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The Barney-Stinsonization of America

Chris Martin:

Sleeping with countless women with no strings attached seems like paradise to countless young men, but throughout the show, in between his seductive tricks and sexual triumphs, one reality remains:

Barney is enslaved by his sexual freedom.

And there’s reason to believe he isn’t the only one.

We are in the midst of the Barney-Stinsonization of America, and the most popular song in the country is proof of that.

He must increase, our churches must decrease

Jared Wilson nails it, as per usual:

See, nobody ever said, “We changed our music style and revival broke out.”
Nobody ever said, “We moved from Sunday School classes to small groups and the glory of God came down.”
Nobody ever said, “You would not believe the repenting unto holiness that happened when our pastor started preaching shorter sermons.”
(I’m just sayin’.)

No, all those things and more can be good things. Done for the right reasons, those can be very good moves to make, but the glory of God is best heard in the proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s where the glory-aimed church is going to camp out.

We all talk a big game about the glory of God, but it is a rare church that takes God’s glory seriously as the purpose of everything.

Having Boldness to Enter the Holiest

L. Michael Morales:

The Book of Leviticus is the heart and center of the Pentateuch. The theological heart of Leviticus—and, therefore, also of the Five Books of Moses—is the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). On this most sacred day, the high priest of Israel would bring the blood of sacrifice into the holy of holies to cleanse both the tabernacle dwelling of God and the camp of Israel. Ultimately, every other sacrifice and ritual in Israel’s cult derived its meaning and significance from this annual entrance into the earthly throne room of God. Worship in ancient Israel was through the chosen and anointed mediator, the high priest. Significantly, then, in the Pentateuch “messiah” refers exclusively to Aaron the high priest—he is the one anointed with oil, whose mediation allows God’s people to draw near in worship.

Why Twitter is a bad place to do theology

Mark Jones on the problems with trying to do theology well in 140 characters or less.

“I Have Another One…”

Tullian Tchividjian:

Sam confesses an infidelity to Sheila, and she forgives him. Sheila confesses an infidelity to Sam, and he forgives her. Everything seems to be back on track until Sheila says, “I have another one.” Sam says, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it. This is what it’s all about…honesty and forgiveness.” But then she says that it’s Cliff, from Cheers (the frumpy mailman played by John Ratzenberger). “Cliff?!?!?!” Sam explodes. This is over the line for him. He can’t take it and storms out of the room, calling off the marriage.

All too often, this is how we think of God’s forgiveness, and why assurance eludes us.

Evangelicalism’s Poor Form

Alastair Roberts:

Whether designed to clarify evangelicalism as an object of study or analysis, or to police its supposed boundaries, definitions of evangelicalism have generally tended to occlude the cultural, institutional, and sociological dimensions of the movement. This is unfortunate, as it is precisely these elements that are most salient in the experience of many within it. Evangelicalism is not There is a sort of evangelical folk religion, most of which is largely unauthorized by pastors or elders.typically experienced as a set of abstract and explicit doctrines or beliefs held by individuals, but more as a distinctive cultural environment within which such beliefs are inconsistently and idiosyncratically maintained. The official beliefs of evangelicalism exist alongside a host of other miscellaneous elements and the cross-pollination from the surrounding society, all sustained within local churches and a shifting constellation of denominations, movements, ministries, groups, and agencies.