On Leaving Church
“Oh for radically Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting, self-sacrificing, mission-mobilizing, soul-saving, culture-confronting pastors!” John Piper
“When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
More Than Sovereign
Is God good? As I reflected upon this question, I had a decision to make. If the answer was “yes,” then that answer had to hold even if God allowed my child to die. My circumstances could not determine the extent of his goodness since goodness is part of the very nature of who he is.
Sabbath: The First Day of the Week
Sometimes we may doubt the “first day sabbath” principle because there isn’t one or two clear texts that teach it. However, when considering the Bible’s bigger picture and the flow of redemptive history centered around Christ, it does make biblical sense to call the first day of the week the Lord’s Day, the day of rest and worship. After all, the people of God received a new calendar after God rescued them from Egypt (Ex. 12), so it surely makes sense that his people would get a new calendar after the New Exodus: rescue from sin and hell!
Teaching Children God’s Word
Apply Scripture to all of life: Apply God’s word to all of life, discussing it with your child all throughout the day. When you gaze at the stars in the sky together, teach them Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” When your child is teased by a friend, read them the story of Peter and Jesus and talk about how Jesus was rejected for our sakes. The opportunities to talk about God’s word are endless.
5 Facts About Islamic State’s Theology of Rape
Acquisition of sex slaves is used as a recruiting tool — As the New York Times article notes, the practice of slavery has become an established recruiting tool to lure men from deeply conservative Muslim societies, where casual sex is taboo and dating is forbidden. Capturing sex slaves has become nearly as important for IS’s objectives as capturing territory.
The Biggest Story
A number of years ago I did something different for my evening sermon. It was the week before Christmas and instead of preaching through the next verses of whatever book I was in, I wrote a story. I read the sermon that Sunday night like I was reading to my kids. I told them to imagine it was Christmas Eve and they were nestled in front of the fireplace listening to the good news about the baby Jesus. I did my best to make that sermon a beautiful story about the Greatest Story ever told.
Federal Officials Warn States Not to Defund Planned Parenthood
Officials in New Hampshire, Alabama, and Louisiana have announced plans to defund Planned Parenthood in the wake of a series of undercover videos from a pro-life group. But cutting that funding may violate federal law, reports The Wall Street Journal, since Medicaid beneficiaries can received services from “any qualified provider.” That includes Planned Parenthood, according to federal officials, who have warned states against cutting funds to the billion-dollar nonprofit.
We’re All Sadists Now
Yet there is another force at play today which seems to be in conflict with the above: The belief that our sexual desires determine who we are at the deepest level. This is somewhat ironic: The age which denies any real significance to sex also wants to argue that sexual desires are of paramount importance to personal identity and fulfillment. Squaring that particular circle will no doubt generate a whole textbook full of neuroses in the coming years.
The Efficacy of Prayer
Not only do we see the prayers of Jesus effecting change in this world, we also see the prayers of the saints working. In the early days of the church, Peter was thrown into prison, but the believers gathered for a season of intense prayer on his behalf. They poured out their hearts before God, begging God to somehow overcome the adversity of the situation and secure the release of Peter.
The Inevitable Progress of Progressivism
One of the lessons for the denomination to which I belong is that progressivism is by very nature always pushing. One might say that progressivism tends to keep progressing. Progressives rarely say, “this far and no farther.” What begins as merely gentle trimming to the doctrine of Scripture continues on to the inevitable swamp of heterodoxy.
Taking Your Dating Cues from Hollywood
I’m not intending to bash movies altogether. Some, including some romances and romantic comedies, are quite charming and innocuous. But it’s time we stop taking our dating cues from Hollywood. It’s time to instead get a biblical view of dating, relationships and marriage. How do we do this? For starters, we read the Bible and see how God created relationships to function. We look at Jesus as an example. We pray for discernment. We practice humility, compassion and love in all of our relationships, including those with our family, friends and coworkers.
Bishop Jakes, Could You Clarify Your Stance on Homosexuality?
I agree with you that all of us need room to grow in our faith and understanding, but are there no hills to die on, no absolute certainties of the faith, no moral boundaries that cannot be crossed? You characterized your position on homosexuality as “Evolved and evolving,” adding, “I think that where I am is to better understand we, the church, bought into the myth that this is a Christian nation.” Bishop Jakes, what has your position evolved from and what is it evolving to? What did you previously believe and what do you currently believe?
A Statement on Marriage From Oceanside United Reformed Church to the U.S. Government
Therefore, we deny and protest that human beings, whether individuals, entire populations, or civil magistrates, have the ability or the authorization to re-define marriage in any way at odds with the revealed will of God. Marriage is pre-political. Marriage is not a social construct. Marriage is a creation ordinance—it is a part of the fabric of the world God has made, and because of this, it is part of that natural law on the heart of all humanity that evidences itself in the overwhelming transcultural consensus on the nature of marriage throughout human history.
Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Loses Union University
Union, founded in 1823 and located in Jackson, Tenn., is the oldest Southern Baptist–affiliated university in the country and could serve as a bellwether for other schools. The university will now look to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the Family Research Council to provide its representation in Washington, D.C.
Read more on this topic: More Schools Poised To Leave CCCU
The Danger Of Children’s Bible Story Books Toning Down The Bible
Of course, every child is different. There’s no one right way to communicate the gospel to children. Every parent has to decide for himself or herself. The point, though, is to be careful about “softening” some of the more gruesome elements in Scripture. We don’t want to misrepresent Scripture, and we certainly don’t want to fail to take advantage of opportunities to point out where Jesus is foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
Throughout the Bible, we see true prophets speaking for God, because God told them what to say and to whom. But the Bible also shows us many false prophets. We see these same false prophets in the world today, using Him to claim He points the world to them and their blogs, websites, or […]
There has been an interesting – and concerning – development these past few months about the wildly popular Jesus Calling book by Sarah Young: The new 10th Anniversary Edition just published has been stripped and edited to remove or alter those pesky New Age elements, the alarming statements made by the author’s “Jesus.” and the […]
When one of Hillsong New York City’s worship leaders announced he is a practicing, unrepentant homosexual, and that he is marrying his fellow church singer and boyfriend, Hillsong leadership says nothing. (UPDATE: The couple’s announcement came in January, eight months ago. Today, less than 24 hours after this story published, finally, Hillsong issues a press […]
When Skepchick Rebecca Watson wrote her viral post on the Planned Parenthood scandal (“Planned Parenthood is Not Selling Baby Parts, you F*** Idiots”), no one had to guess which side she was defending or what she thought of the pro-life crowd. The article is worth considering – not because she’s right, but because she is frustratingly wrong […]
Anti-Gay Conversion Therapy Laws Assure Ridiculously Uninformed Medical Decision-Making & Infringe Parental Rights
(CNSNews) Three months ago, in May 2015, the Oregon legislature enacted new legislation banning sexual orientation change therapy (SOCE). The Governor, herself reportedly bi-sexual, signed the bill into law on May 18. Oregon thus joined California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia in outlawing professional SOCE therapy. Critics objected to the new law’s interference […]
When I saw some recent headlines over at Charisma News like, Keeping the Shemitah Produces Supernatural Results, and, Why Jonathan Cahn’s Prophetic ‘Mystery of Shemitah’ Is Flying off the Shelves, I thought, “what is Shemitah, and why is Jonathan Cahn writing a new book about it?” It wasn’t until this morning that I saw a […]
82 Percent of Americans Agree: Photographers Have Right to Say No to Gay Weddings
According to CNSNews:
A recently released poll shows significant public support for the protection of religious liberty—especially when special rights based on sexual orientation are being advanced at its expense.
The results reveal hope for the classical liberal vision of America: they indicate that most Americans still appear to want maximum freedom and individual rights protection.
According to Caddell Associates, which conducted the poll, “[t]here is an overwhelming sense on the part of American voters that they want to find common ground in order to protect both the expression of religious freedom and the rights of gays and lesbians.”
Could this be the month when the UN Security Council resolution establishing a Palestinian state is actually adopted?
“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” Isaiah 21:6 (KJV)
Despite all the hoopla surrounding the month of September regarding Bible prophecy, we here at NTEB do not see it as particularly important. However, jammed into the space of roughly 15 days, there is a ton of stuff going on that we would like to bring to your attention. What it ultimately will turn out to be remains to be seen, but in our job as a watchman on the wall, we are blowing the shofar and giving you the heads-up.
The events for the month of September are as follows:
September 14th – Rosh Hashanah
September 15th – The Jade Helm military exercises are scheduled to end.
September 15th – The 70th session of the UN General Assembly begins on this date. It has been widely reported that France plans to introduce a resolution which will give formal UN Security Council recognition to a Palestinian state shortly after the new session begins. Up until now, the U.S. has always been the one blocking such a resolution, but Barack Obama has already indicated that things may be different this time around. If alarm bells are going off in your head as you read this, then you probably already understand how significant this event could potentially be.
September 17th – Congress has until this date to vote for or against adopting Obama’s Nuclear Treaty with Iran. The September vote on the Iran nuclear deal is billed as a titanic standoff between President Barack Obama and Congress. Yet even if lawmakers reject the agreement, it’s not game-over for the White House.
September 20th to September 26th – The “World Week For Peace in Palestine Israel” sponsored by the World Council of Churches.
September 21st – The UN International Day Of Peace. Could this be the day when the UN Security Council resolution establishing a Palestinian state is actually adopted?
September 23rd – Yom Kippur
September 23rd – Pope Francis arrives at the White House to meet with Barack Obama. Some have suggested that the timing of this event is highly unusual. Francis is the 266th pope, who will be meeting with President Obama on the 266th day of the year, leading one Internet preacher to wonder if “something is being birthed” on that day, since 266 days is the typical human gestation period from conception to birth.
Rabbi Jonathan Cahn has long held that September 2015 will be a month to fulfill bible prophecy:
Many end times people, like Jonathan Cahn, see September 2015 as a huge time for fulfilling bible prophecy. It will be interesting to see how it actually turns out.
September 24th – The Pope addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Given the Pope’s new venture as a politician selling climate change, this will be very important to watch.
September 25th to September 27th – The United Nations is going to launch a brand new sustainable development agenda called “The 2030 Agenda“. The following is an excerpt from an article that I just wrote about this insidious new plan.
If you didn’t like “Agenda 21″, then you really are not going to like “The 2030 Agenda”. Next month, the United Nations is going to launch “The 2030 Agenda” at a major conference that will be held from September 25th to September 27th in New York City. The Pope is actually traveling to New York to deliver an address which will kick off this conference. Unlike Agenda 21, which primarily focused on the environment, the 2030 Agenda is truly a template for governing the entire planet. In addition to addressing climate change, it also sets ambitious goals for areas such as economics, health, energy, education, agriculture, gender equality and a whole host of other issues. As you will see below, this global initiative is being billed as a “new universal Agenda” for humanity. If you are anything like me, alarm bells are going off in your head right about now.
September 28th – This is the date when the Feast of Tabernacles begins. It is also the date for the last of the four blood moons that fall on Biblical festival dates during 2014 and 2015. This blood moon falls on the very first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, it will be a “supermoon”, and it will be clearly visible from the city of Jerusalem.
“While Pastor Tullian Tchividjian was deposed of his pastoral credentials, the South Florida Presbytery is committed to continuing to offer him pastoral care. Our goal in doing this is to both protect the integrity of the Church from which his credentials were given while, at the same time, wrapping Tullian in the grace offered by Jesus Christ to all those who confess sin, pursue repentance and desire restoration.”
True prophets of God are always very lonely and melancholic people. They deliver a word from the Lord, knowing it will mostly be rejected. Their hearts break as they carry the burden of the Lord, and realise that their words will be rejected and scorned by the very ones who most need them.
I am reading the prophets again, being back in Jeremiah at the moment. What an incredible book. Every chapter is absolutely filled with spiritual riches which are fully appropriate to where we are at today. And of course there is plenty of divine judgment spoken of in this book.
While there is judgment pronounced upon pagan nations, most of it is directed to sinful and hard-hearted Israel. Just today I read about why this judgment must come. As we find in Jeremiah 23:8-11:
My heart is broken within me;
all my bones tremble.
I am like a drunken man,
like a strong man overcome by wine,
because of the Lord
and his holy words.
The land is full of adulterers;
because of the curse the land lies parched
and the pastures in the wilderness are withered.
The prophets follow an evil course
and use their power unjustly.
“Both prophet and priest are godless;
even in my temple I find their wickedness,”
declares the Lord.
False prophets offering words of peace, comfort and ease are a big part of the problem. They are telling the people lies, and they love it so. As we read in 5:31: “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?”
Jeremiah clearly warns about why all this disaster is happening. Yahweh’s covenant people have become faithless, idolatrous and rebellious, so they are paying the price. As we read in these two passages:
-“When you tell these people all this and they ask you, ‘Why has the Lord decreed such a great disaster against us? What wrong have we done? What sin have we committed against the Lord our God?’ then say to them, ‘It is because your fathers forsook me,’ declares the LORD, ‘and followed other gods and served and worshiped them. They forsook me and did not keep my law.” (Jeremiah 16:10-11)
-“All this happened because you people sinned against the LORD and did not obey him.” (Jeremiah 40:3)
Modern day prophets have said exactly the same thing, and they too have been rejected and despised. The Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who spent over a decade in the Soviet Gulag, was one such prophetic voice who was rejected by the West.
Consider his speech, “Godlessness: the First Step to the Gulag”. It was his Templeton Prize Lecture, delivered in London on May 10, 1983. It opens this way:
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
That last line comes straight out of Jeremiah of course. He concludes his important address as follows:
To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries, which have reduced us to insignificance and brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened to the errors of this unfortunate twentieth century and our bands be directed to setting them right. There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide: the combined vision of all the thinkers of the Enlightenment amounts to nothing.
Our five continents are caught in a whirlwind. But it is during trials such as these that the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish and lose this world, the fault will be ours alone.
See his full address here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/47643.htm
This was not the first time he denounced the godless West and warned them that their fate would be the same as Russia’s. He had been giving such prophetic words for years already. One of the most significant of these prophetic talks was the commencement address he gave at Harvard University on June 8, 1978.
Some 20,000 people heard him deliver this speech in Russian, with English translation, on the occasion of the 327th commencement at Harvard. Hopes were high when he began, but the audience soon turned on the speaker. The prophet gave a word they did not want to hear.
He told them their secularism and hedonism would destroy America and the West just as godless communism had destroyed Russia. He warned in the strongest of words that they could avoid this fate only if God was brought back into the picture. For this he was roundly booed by the Harvard intelligentsia.
The speech was printed as A World Split Apart (Harper & Row, 1978). It is a slim paperback of 60 pages (half in Russian and half in English). I pulled this off my shelves today and here offer a few select quotes. He spoke, for example, about the difference between “freedom for good” and “freedom for evil”:
Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society has turned out to have scarce defense against the abyss of human decadence, for example against the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. This is all considered to be part of freedom.
He also spoke of the loss of will in the West:
No weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time and betrayal.
He tells us how and why the West has declined so rapidly and so profoundly:
In early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the Twentieth century’s moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the Nineteenth Century.
As mentioned, the elites at Harvard were not interested in such talk. His speech caused a huge controversy, and it became clear that this was another prophet being rejected by the people. But of course he has been found to be proven right.
The West is on its last legs, and this is because we have vainly thought we could progress, be free, and be strong, while telling God to get lost. That cannot work. Now we are paying the price big time. As Jeremiah and Solzhenitsyn both said:
Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
12 Keys to a More Powerful Prayer Life
These principles will help you grow mighty in prayer.
Skyping with spirit: Chaplains use computers to support the seriously ill
Chaplains of diverse affiliations across the country respond to requests for support within 24 hours. &We face our own frailty, and people want an answer and to be able to talk it out,& said one chaplaincy service executive.
International (MNN) — Open Doors USA calls for Obama to promote religious freed…
Open Doors USA calls for President Obama to appoint a Special Envoy to promote religious freedom in the Near East and South Central Asia.
The Ugly Truth about Pornography
We need to begin to understand the way that porn affects all of us beneath the surface if we want to truly treat the trauma left in its wake.
9 Ways to Choose Contentment
Why am I not content? We blame media, commercialism, and consumerism, but there is a deeper problem. Sin.
180-Year-Old Baptist Church to Perform Same-Sex ‘Weddings,’ Ordain Homosexuals
GREENVILLE, S.C. – A historic Baptist church in South Carolina that gave rise to the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention has adopted a new non-discrimination policy that will allow its leadership to perform same-sex “marriage” ceremonies and also ordain open homosexuals. First Baptist Church of Greenville, South Carolina, was founded in 1831. Though…
10 ways the Church needs to rethink its social media usage
While critics of social media see unashamed exhibitionism or a nascent loneliness, Krish Kandiah sees an opportunity to increase our engagement with culture.
Another Extreme Winter on the Horizon?
Americans across the country should brace for another extremely cold and snowy winter.
College students need apologetics in face-off against atheist professors
Dad, I don’t believe in God anymore. An apologetics training in response to an increasing number of grieving parents who have heard these words from their college students looks at ways students can speak respectfully, but firmly to their professors, many of whom are atheists.
7 questions to ask before you post on social media
There is no doubt about the impact of social media on our society. It’s huge. It seemed strange the first time I heard a news story refer to a Twitter feed as a…
T.D. Jakes leaves blacks, ‘gays’ groping in the dark
“[W]e, the church, bought into the myth that this is a Christian nation.” – Bishop T.D. Jakes in interview on HuffPost Live on Aug. 3, 2015
Bishop T.D. Jakes is chief pastor and founder of megachurch The Potter’s House, in Dallas, Texas. He is a blind, cowardly man misleading many thousands of lost people.
Trump’s Tower of Babel: A President for the Selfie Age?
Donald Trump might be the apt president for the selfie age. This is not a good thing.
In this series we have been asking: To whom shall we liken Trump? The primary character is Nimrod, revealed in the Bible as the founder of Babylon, and the father of tower-building. We have explored comparisons of Trump with presidents embracing populist-progressivism and judgment-impairing presumptuousness.
BILLY GRAHAM: What Does God Have in Store for the Grand Finale?
Will man exterminate himself? He almost will, as Jesus stated. But just before man does so, Christ will come back! The demonized leaders “of the whole world” will have mobilized both as antagonists and protagonists of that coming world anti-God system—probably headed by the Antichrist. They’ll be “gathered,” we’re told, “together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Revelation 16:16).
Christians: We’re Losing Our Religion
Slowly but surely, America is turning against (not just away from) the same God it relied on to establish the freest, most prosperous nation in history.
Nineteenth-Century American religion was wild and wooly. It began with an outbreak of Pentecostalism and concluded with the death of Dwight L. Moody and the beginning of the end of Old Princeton. In between saw the rise of Mormonism, the Second Great Awakening, the Millerite Movement, and Seventh-Day Adventism. Dr Marcus McArthur is a graduate […]
Pamela Couvrette of Guarding the Deposit lays out the marks of a cult from a theological standpoint. She even “names names” (gasp!) of several celebrity wolves and wolverines. Pam has provided videos so that we can watch them spew egregious heresy. You won’t want to miss Steven Furtick performing “Hey Haters.” I sell the things you need […]
This subject is even more pertinent today than it was 4 years ago when Marsha West addressed it.
A few years ago “the world’s most famous Christian blogger,” Tim Challies, took Christian “watchbloggers” to task in his piece Evil as Entertainment. Thereafter, says Tim, “Much discussion, much gratitude, much criticism ensued.” Boy I’ll say!
Tim views Christian watchbloggers (CWs) thusly:
Day after day they offer examples of all that is wrong in the church. They may vary what they offer a little bit, but what is true of them is that they offer a steady diet of negative content related to the church in general or perhaps related to just one person or one ministry. You know of some of these sites, I am sure.
Oh yes, I know of many of these sites. And I thank God for them.
What I found disappointing in Challies’ blogpost was that he painted CWs with such a broad brush. He complained that some of them offer negative content related to the church or one person or one ministry while others are:
really just a spiritualized form of YouTube or any other site that entertains by sharing what is gross and base and negative and that does so for the sake of entertainment. There is really no value in watching boys do stupid things on skateboards and laughing when they crack their ankle bones in half; there is really no value in watching the worst pastors in America preach to the worst churches in America. Such sites offer evil as entertainment.
Tim may have a point but it would have been helpful if he had honed in on what a trustworthy CW looks like. What do I look for? Firstly, must hold to all the essentials of the Christian faith; secondly, must fall within the pale of orthodoxy; thirdly, must teach sound doctrine; fourthly, must confront false teaching head on.
According to International Business Times:
Only 28% of heterosexuals believe that “there is no middle ground – you are either heterosexual or you are not”.
Kinsey estimated that around 10% of the population was gay, although this percentage was criticised by the American Statistical Association. However, a 2011 Gallup poll asked over 1,000 people in the US “what percentage of Americans today would you say are gay or lesbian?” On average, respondents guessed that 1-in-4 Americans were.
The If nothing else, it’s comforting to know that Colorado can force an orthodox Islamic butcher to make sausages for a polyamorous bisexual bachelor/bachelorette party, so long as no one asks the butcher to outwardly promote swine and free love. Not only does the court now apparently hold the power to bore into the souls […]
Of the many questions that people perennially ask pastors, some of the most uncomfortable ones are about financial giving. Most of the questions I get about money go back to the idea of the tithe, the Old Testament principle of giving the first 10% of our income back to God. (For those who are curious, you can read my thoughts on tithing here.) But another huge question I get is about the destination of our giving. In other words, should I be giving to my local church, or is it okay to redirect my “tithe” to other ministries?
To cut to the punchline, I don’t believe Christians should give only to the local church, but I do believe that Christians should give first to their local church. In the Old Testament system, the tithe went to the work of God’s institution, the temple. Other important things, like funding itinerant rabbis, or providing for the poor, came from giving beyond the tithe. The principle there, I think, is that the firstfruits of our giving should go to God’s new institution, the church.
But maybe, you say, the Old Testament is not supposed to set the pattern for our giving. In the New Testament, however, we see the believers (in Acts 2 and Acts 4) giving their money, not to specific projects they were passionate about, but at the feet of the officers they had appointed in the church. And it was through the local church that the believers accomplished everything God had called them to.
As we say around here, the local church is God’s “Plan A.” It’s the vehicle through which we care for the poor, feed the hungry, equip people to minister in the community, and send people out to the nations. When we give to the local church, we give to the central institution for the mission of God.
The crying woke me up again.
With that classic newborn sound, working itself into a cadence, my son’s callow voice finally punched through my snoring to tell me he wants breakfast. I reached over for my phone to check the time — oh, a news update — a bomb in Baghdad has just killed dozens.
I wiped the sleep from my eyes. Time to enter back into the nightmare.
But it’s not the nightmare of violence in the Middle East, or the generic nightmare of life in a fallen world. I’m talking specifically about the American Nightmare — the one where millions of us are murdered, and their body parts are sold for profit, all by an organization our government keeps saying we should appreciate.
We know ISIS is sadistic, but at least it’s “over there” — we embarrassingly assure ourselves. Nightmares, on the other hand, have proximity. Nightmares are horrors brought home, in our heads, at our doors, standing by our kitchen sinks.
It’s possible, I suppose, that I could doze off and have a bad dream of a middle-aged abortionist, as wide-eyed as Cruella de Vil, driving a yellow Lamborghini packed tight with the severed limbs and organs of aborted babies. I suppose I could imagine her speeding recklessly through my hometown, weaving down a well-worn road I never knew existed, her hands stained with blood as she grips the steering wheel and laughs at how stupid the rest of us are.
I suppose I could fall into a terror like that in my sleep, but I haven’t, and I don’t have to.
We can find enough horror like that when we’re awake, here in the American Nightmare.
What Was That?
Humanity has long seen depravity, but we’ve not all seen nightmares like this — the Millennial generation hasn’t anyway. Worldwide atrocities abound, but none are this appalling and socially defended. None are this close; none this loud. It’s the difference between watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, and then suddenly hearing an explosion in our backyards. One is to be expected, if we’re paying attention, but the other makes us all jump and ask in a panic, “What in the world was that?”
So we tiptoe around for a bit, and then carefully crack the blinds to see who’s there. But that’s when we see an image of ourselves standing in our backyards, loving what we love, doing what we do, or not loving and doing what we don’t love and do. That’s when we figure out we’re actually living in this nightmare, which is partly what makes it a nightmare, and partly what confuses us about what to do next.
We may share a few articles on Facebook. We may drop a few outrage tweets, sign a couple petitions, perhaps even email a government official. We get angry, scratch our heads, and then, well, just do those same things all over again. Meanwhile, blood is still spilt and an intact liver just went for $75.
Our Own Gods
Now we have six videos, and in case you haven’t figured it out, most people don’t seem to care.
We still want them to care, and we still take immediate action. Keep reading, sharing, tweeting, and emailing. Keep calling this what it is. And get ready for the long-haul, because nightmares like this don’t change overnight.
Beyond our immediate actions, which are necessary, there is the upstream warfare for the human soul, which is also necessary. In fact, it’s our abdication — or past incompetence — in that part of the river which has led to this trickling down of sewage, recognized in part as our general ambivalence toward butchered babies. Something else, at some other point, has captured the American soul, and therefore, something else has formed our imaginations.
Secularism is the all-caps title for what that something is. It means life reconstructed with the contrived absence of God. More specifically, it’s what Charles Taylor calls “expressive individualism,” and most of us have bought in, to some degree. It’s that way of seeing the world which believes, as Taylor writes,
each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from the outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religious or political authority. (A Secular Age, 475)
In other words, we are our own gods, and we want everyone to know it. Whether it means our sexuality, or our sense of fashion, or the stickers we put on the back of our cars, we get to define who we are. Everyone is screaming at everyone else to take notice at how different they are from the others screaming. That’s the Kool-aid we’ve been served, and everybody’s been drinking.
If We’re Awake
We have mistaken this kind of individualism — or underdetermined personhood, you might call it — as freedom. No restrictions. Optional responsibility. Endless choices. I do what I want to do — which includes, of course, the right for a woman to execute another human being growing inside her. We are our own gods, remember, and that means we decide the kind of selves we want to be, which sometimes requires a little murder here or a little murder there.
Saddest of all is that, as a society, we thought this was the ticket to happiness. We thought this kind of autonomy meant living the good life. But it’s not, and eventually everyone will know it’s not.
And that’s what we must keep saying.
We must keep pointing out the absurdity of it all, and we must expose this empty promise of pleasure for the sham that it is. Trying to be our own gods is pandemonium, literally, and killing our children won’t bring the happiness we crave, no matter what Molech says.
We must speak the light of truth into the darkness, and then hold up a better way. We must return upstream and fight again for the soul. This is a hedonistic war, after all, and there is a happiness deeper than what we can manufacture for ourselves, a happiness of which far too many have yet to hear.
So we have work to do in this American Nightmare, and if we’re awake, the crying won’t let us sleep for long.
The supernatural monster who orchestrates the kidnapping, enslaving and thousand-fold drugging, selling, raping and killing of girls around the globe is the same one who has masterminded the murderous cultural delusion—from the highest court to the lowest porn-flick—that the practice of sodomy is delightful, not deadly.
Among the several, carefully chosen, understated, inflammatory words in that sentence, let’s start with “monster.” I’m talking about Satan. We do not feel what we ought to about this fiend. In Revelation 12:9 he is called “the great dragon that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”
The scope and horror of this being is hinted at with images. He is not a mere garden snake. His tail sweeps down a third of the stars. He crouches at Bethlehem to devour the newborn Son of God (Revelation 12:4). Failing at that, “the dragon became furious … and went off to make war … on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:17).
Which brings us to another inflammatory phrase, “murderous delusion.” Those two words capture the essence of Satan. He is a liar and a murderer. He deludes and, by deluding, he kills. Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Hence, he is a murderer and a liar. His aim is to kill people—forever. He is a lion who devours (1 Peter 5:8). Partly by pain, partly by pleasure. But always by deception—just as with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.
A third extreme phrase in that first sentence is “around the globe.” Satan is not a tribal god. His global reach and pervasiveness is stunning. “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Satan was not bluffing when he said to Jesus, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me” (Luke 4:6). This is why Jesus calls him the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31), and Paul calls him “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and this age is called “the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) and “the domain of darkness” (Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 6:12).
Then there is the inflammatory statement that one of Satan’s “murderous cultural delusions” is the lie that “the practice of sodomy is delightful, not deadly.” If someone should wonder why I would use language like that in the present cultural milieu, the answer is that I think it is an abdication of truth and love to participate in the destigmatization of a practice that is more lethal than death.
TEXTS AND APPLICATION: I write this devotion today as one who preaches the Word of God almost every week. I love this task — but I have been challenged in the book of Jeremiah to make sure I’m always preaching nothing but the Word of God. What I am struck by is the vast number of times this book records sayings like, “the word that came from the Lord” and “this is the Lord’s declaration.”
In only these three chapters are these recurrences:
Jer. 35:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord.
Jer. 35:12-13 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says . . . this is the Lord’s declaration.”
Jer. 35:17 This is what the Lord, the God of Hosts, the God of Israel, says.
Jer. 35:18-19 “This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says . . . this is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says . . .”
Jer. 36:1 This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord:
Jer. 36:4 Baruch wrote on a scroll all the words the Lord had spoken to Jeremiah.
Jer. 36:27 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah:
Jer. 36:29-30 This is what the Lord says: . . . Therefore, this is what the Lord says concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah . . .
Jer. 37:2 He [Zedekiah] and his officers and the people of the land did not obey the words of the Lord that He spoke through Jeremiah the prophet.
Jer. 37:6-9 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says . . . This is what the Lord says . . .”
When Zedekiah later summoned Jeremiah from prison to ask if there was a word from the Lord, the prophet could respond with certainty, “There is” (Jer. 37:17). As a preacher, that’s the kind of confidence I want. I want to make sure I speak only the Word of the Lord. It’s so easy to divert from that commitment, though, and unintentionally tell more about me and my ideas than God’s. I want to be ever aware of that dangerous tendency.
If you are a preacher, I trust you share that same commitment. If you are not a preacher, would you take time now to pray that commitment for those who preach the Word in your church? Anything less than the Word produces no lasting results.
PRAYER: “Lord, don’t let me ever speak a Word other than what You want me to speak. I pray that pastors all over the world will know the power of the Word.”
TOMORROW’S READING: Jeremiah 38-40; Psalm 74, 79
The conversation was both predictable and profound. It was predictable because I have been asked a similar question many times. It was profound because it represents the very nature of the challenges our congregations face today. “Thom,” he began. “I have been serving as pastor of my church for over 20 years. I have never had more difficulty leading growth in a church. What is going on?”
My pastor friend emphasized two points clearly. First, he was not looking for an excuse for the lack of growth. Second, he wanted information so he could address the issue.
The pastor was right. Growth is indeed more difficult today in American congregations. And there are some clear reasons why this reality is true.
- Cultural Christians are much less likely to attend. “Cultural Christianity” is really an oxymoron. I am referring to those people who once attended church because they saw it as culturally, politically and economically beneficial. That reality no longer exists for the most part. Congregations could be losing anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent of their attendance with this change.
- More committed Christians are attending less frequently. When the most committed believers in a church decrease their attendance patterns by 25 percent (they go from attending four Sundays a month to three), you can expect a precipitous decline in attendance. And the greater majority of congregations are indeed experiencing this unfortunate phenomenon.
- An overcorrection to practical ministry. Many church leaders rightly became disturbed and frustrated by the fierce pragmatism prevalent in many churches. But, to use an overused phrase, many threw the baby out with the bathwater. It’s hard to reach people in the community if the church does not have practical ways to do so.
- Activities replacing ministry. Many churches have their members so busy they don’t have time to develop relationships with unchurched people and non-Christians. Meetings and activities have become substitutes for real ministry.
- Growing conflict and disunity in congregations. I have addressed this issue in a number of blogposts. When we are divided and at odds with fellow believers in the church, we are distracted from focusing on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
- Entitlement mentality among some church members. This issue was the thesis of my book I Am a Church Member. When church members see the church as a place to meet the needs and preferences of “me, myself and I,” you have a congregation who is inwardly focused.
Any one of these six issues will hinder the Great Commission outreach of a church and, thus, frustrate attempts to lead a church to growth. But many congregations have more than one of these factors present. That reality really presents challenges.
Where is your church with these six factors? What would you add? I would love to hear your perspective.
The post 6 Reasons It Is More Difficult to Grow a Church Today appeared first on ChurchLeaders.com.
Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be, by Marshall Goldsmith, is a secular book about the environmental and psychological triggers that can derail us at work and in life.
While Goldsmith’s prescription is totally gospel-less, his diagnosis of the inner beliefs that trigger failure are full of truth. Not surprising really when you consider that while he’s helped thousands of people to change their behavior, he’s also had hundreds of failures along the way. In Chapter 2, he lists the most common inner beliefs that stop behavioral change in its tracks. See if you recognize any of them in this summary:
1. If I understand, I will do. Just because people understand what to do doesn’t ensure that they will actually do it.
2. I have willpower and won’t give in to temptations. Overconfidence means we don’t use available helps and supports to change.
3. Today is a special day. When we want to make an excuse for errant behavior, any day can be designated as a “special day” in which we indulge ourselves before we return to self-discipline tomorrow. Always tomorrow.
4. At least I’m better than… We award ourselves a free pass because we’re not the worst in the world.
5. I shouldn’t need help and structure. We believe that we are above needing structure to help us on seemingly simple tasks.
6. I won’t get tired and my enthusiasm will not fade. When we plan to achieve our goals, we believe that our energy will not flag and that we will never lose our enthusiasm for the process of change.
7. I have all the time in the world. We chronically underestimate the time it takes to get anything done AND we believe that time is open-ended and sufficiently spacious for us to get to all our self-improvement goals eventually.
8. I won’t get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur. We get down to work without accommodating the fact that life always intrudes to alter our priorities and test our focus.
9. An epiphany will suddenly change my life. Implies that change can arise out of a sudden burst of insight and willpower.
10. My change will be permanent and I will never have to worry again. If we don’t follow up, our positive change doesn’t last. Even when we get there, we cannot stay there without commitment and discipline.
11. My elimination of old problems will not bring on new problems. We forget that as we usher an old problem out the door a new problem usually enters.
12. No one is paying attention to me. We believe that we can occasionally lapse back into bad behavior because people aren’t paying close attention.
It’s almost biblical in its penetrating exposure of our deceitful human hearts isn’t it?
As Christians, we are obviously interested not just in behavior-change but in heart-change. However, that too begins by recognizing the slippery excuses we use to deny our need of change, to hide our unwillingness to change, and to cover up our inability to change.
In 1991, Gatorade ran its first “Be Like Mike” commercial. At that time, Michael Jordan was the most recognizable athlete in the world. Sports announcers could not say enough about the magic he created on the basketball court. And kids worldwide dreamed of becoming the next Michael Jordan.
The commercial promoted the idea that if you drank Gatorade as Michael Jordan did, you would somehow gain the ability to “be like Mike.” Gatorade sales sky-rocketed, especially bottles of the flavor Jordan favored: lemon-lime.
My son was one of the many kids who started guzzling Gatorade whenever possible. But he learned soon enough that being “like Mike” required a lot more than consuming Jordan’s preferred beverage. It required physical attributes and mental discipline that my son didn’t possess. So eventually he discarded the “Be Like Mike” dream, along with his Space Jam video.
Be Like Jesus, through Jesus
Twenty-four-year old Englishman James Rowe had a different dream when he emigrated to America in 1890. For 10 years, he worked for the railroad companies; later he worked for music publishers. He even wrote verses for greeting cards for a while. But he is probably best known for the hymns he composed, including “Love Lifted Me” and “I Would Be Like Jesus.”
Meditate for a few moments on his heartfelt lyrics:
Earthly pleasures vainly call me;
I would be like Jesus;
Nothing worldly shall enthrall me;
I would be like Jesus.
Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.
Is your heart stirred, as mine is, by that noble desire? Be like Jesus. Quite frankly, I have as little hope of realizing that dream as my son had of becoming like Michael Jordan. I don’t have the physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual attributes to attain that status. Not on my own.
But the Bible tells us how that dream becomes a reality — we become like Jesus through Jesus. At least forty verses in the New Testament tell us what is possible through Christ.
First, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1, emphasis mine). We are no longer God’s enemies because we have been “saved from God’s wrath through [Jesus]” (Romans 5:9). Through the obedience of Jesus — his willingness to die for us — we have been made righteous (Romans 5:17-19). Through Jesus alone, we stand fully pardoned before God the Father and fully reconciled to him.
Second, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set [us] free from the law of sin and death” so it is possible for us to “not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:2, 4). Through Jesus alone, we can have victory over our sinful natures. We can choose forgiveness instead of bitterness, mercy instead of revenge, love instead of resentment, and service instead of selfishness.
Third, through Jesus our daily lives can be different. Do we have trouble with employers and conflict with family members? Are we confronted with the hardship of a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a job? Do friends and neighbors smirk when we invite them to church or tell them we are praying for them? Do we live in neighborhoods or work in environments that are dangerous? Romans 8:37 declares that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
You may be able to quote Philippians 4:13 as readily as I can quote it: “I can do everything through him who strengthens me.” But too often we are misled by the word order in that verse. It begins with “I can” and so we conclude that being like Jesus is all about what “I can do.” Perhaps our English translations should rearrange the word order of that verse: “Through him who strengthens me, I can do all things.” For it is only through Christ that we can accomplish anything that has eternal value.
It is only through Christ that we can accomplish anything that has eternal value.
Hebrews 13:21 sums up what God is able to do in us through Christ—“equip you with everything good for doing his will…and work in us what is pleasing to him.” Think about that for a minute. Through Christ — through his life that now abides in us — we are empowered and equipped to accomplish all that God wants us to do on any given day and in any circumstance:
- We can be kind to difficult customers.
- We can be patient with self-willed toddlers.
- We can continue to love and serve unappreciative family members.
- We can maintain joy in illness, financial setbacks, and relationship break-ups.
All is possible through Jesus Christ – even the inestimable privilege of being like him.
No Greater Joy
Do you, like James Rowe, long to “be like Jesus”? It will take much more than the consumption of some kind of spiritual Gatorade. It requires a total emptying of self, so that Christ can fill us with himself. It’s a hands-off process rather than a hands-on project. And that’s bound to be challenging, especially since most of us tend to be do-it-yourself-ers.
But God has guaranteed our success. 1 John 3:1-2 promises that “when [Jesus] appears, we shall be like him.” I honestly don’t know all that God will have to do to effect that transformation in me. And I’m glad I don’t know because I don’t think I could handle that knowledge. But I’m grateful that God is not going to give up on me until I am “like Jesus.” He’s not going to give up on any of us. And someday, when we stand before his throne and he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” we’ll know that there is no greater joy on earth or in heaven than to “be like Jesus.”
 Source for biography and lyrics: http://cyberhymnal.org/bio/r/o/w/rowe_j.htm
This year I turned 35.
When I was a teenager, thirty seemed ancient. But as I crest the hill of my mid-thirties, I can assure you I won’t be picking out a retirement home any time soon. I’m just getting warmed up. In fact, my thirties have been some of the best, most fruitful, most fun years of my life. I don’t have life all figured out, but God has taught me some valuable lessons since high school graduation.
Whether you are heading back to school in a few weeks or you turned your tassel long ago, I think you’ll find that these are truths you can take to the bank because they are deeply rooted in the timeless Word of God (the ultimate school for knowledge and wisdom!).
- God’s promises are true.
- He really does have a hope and a future for me (Jer. 29:11).
- The college, major, and career I pick don’t define me. I am not my work. I am a child of God.
- Marrying a guy who loves Jesus really, really matters.
- Parents are pretty cool. Their rules are for my good.
- Being the prettiest or most popular girl in school matters for about half a second after graduation. In contrast, being the kindest girl in school gets remembered well past your ten-year reunion.
- You will look back at pictures of you and think you were stunning. Trust me.
- Insecurity is a massive waste of time and energy. Be confident in God’s love.
- “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9). It’s okay to have a ten-year plan, but there’s a 100% chance God will interrupt it. That’s a good thing.
- The bands you listen to in high school will be your very favorite bands forever. Keep the t-shirts. They will be “vintage” and awesome when you’re thirty.
- You truly do reap what you sow. I love how Nancy Leigh DeMoss says it, “You are what you’re becoming.” Do you want to know your Bible frontwards and backwards later? Study it like crazy now. Do you want to be more like Christ someday? Be more like Him today.
- Broken hearts heal. Mine got broken often in high school. All these years later I’ve still never felt a pain like it. But those deep chasms are now all healed up. If your heart is broken, I promise it will heal and someone else will capture it someday.
- Start saving money now. I know that top at Anthropologie is super cute, but it’s also crazy overpriced. Imagine dropping that $75 in a savings account and using it for something lasting like a car, an education, or a child sponsorship. Most people think they will start saving “someday.” I wish I had developed the discipline of saving money as a high school student. While we are on the subject of money . . .
- Start tithing. The Bible calls all believers to tithe regardless of income. So, if you have an allowance, a part-time job or babysitting money, you have an income. Everything you make belongs to God, but there are tremendous blessings to be found in giving a portion of it back to Him. Don’t wait until you’re rolling in the dough to start tithing.
- The world doesn’t revolve around me. That’s a good thing.
- Champion others as often as possible. Instead of wanting everyone to cheer you on, figure out ways to cheer them on.
- Normal is a mirage. Embrace your weirdness.
- I know that boy gives you butterflies, but that won’t carry you through the ups and downs of life. Find someone who loves Jesus (remember point #4), but also someone who is fun to talk to and knows how to cope when the going gets tough. Then, when you least expect it, the butterflies will start to flutter in your tummy once again. Fourteen years after I married my high school sweetheart, I still get butterflies.
- I’ve never met someone my age who is glad she partied in high school. Ever. I’ve met lots and lots of them who regretted it. There is no long-term benefit from that scene.
- You don’t need a bunch of friends. You need one or two who’ve really got your back.
- Worry less about having the right friends and worry more about being the right friend.
- Be picky about your friends. The Bible says it this way, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20). Pick wise friends. Since Proverbs 9:10 tells us that the fear of the Lord is where wisdom begins, wise friends need to be Jesus-loving friends.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Stand up in front of the class and give that speech. Try out for the lead role in the play. Start a club. You may fall on your face. You may not. But at least you went for it.
- You can do big things for the kingdom now. Don’t wait to get involved in ministry.
- Your parents don’t need to be your friends right now. They need to be your parents, and that means they make and enforce the rules. The good news is, they will likely be your friends someday. Right now God has given them the job of being in charge. Do everything you can to make that job easier.
- Find something you are good at and enjoy it, but don’t make it your whole life. Soccer is supposed to be fun, not stressful. So is singing, sculpting, and playing the saxophone.
- It’s okay to miss practice for church. In fact, church trumps activities every single time.
- Sometimes it’s cool to love Jesus and not the Church, but Jesus loves the Church. If there is something that could be better at your church, then get involved and make it better instead of complaining or checking out. The Church is the Bride of Christ.
- Your youth pastor is not your connection to God.
- “The things of earth will come to pass, only what’s done for Christ will last.” That’ll preach.
- When you get your license, it’s a license to drive, not a license to do stupid things. I know because within a few weeks of getting my license, I got caught racing on the highway and wrapped my car around a telephone pole. I drove dumb so you don’t have to.
- When you do something stupid to impress someone, it’s still doing something stupid, and it likely won’t impress them as much as if you did something smart. Do the smart thing instead.
- Your siblings are cooler than you think. When you’re thirty-five, they’ll be the people you want to grab coffee with.
- Nothing good happens after curfew. Go home.
- “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting” (Prov. 31:30). Since outward beauty cannot last, spend your time growing a beautiful heart.
Visit ReviveOurHearts.com/35lessons for a special locker art graphic of “35 Things I Wish I’d Known in High School,” and give it to a student who’s heading back to school.
The God Who Works in History
The New Testament clearly teaches the importance of pastors and deacons as leaders of the church (1 Tim. 3). At the same time, though, there would be no need for leaders were it not for the laypersons God gives us to lead. Recognizing that my conclusions are anecdotal, here are some things I’ve learned about laypeople in 34+ years of ministry.
- Some are not believers. I start here because this insight may be the most important one, and we need to be honest from the beginning. Jesus had 12 apostles, and one of those was a fake from the beginning. We’re not likely to do better than Jesus did.
- Most love the Lord. Despite finding #1 above, I’ve met thousands of laypeople through the years who love God. They may struggle in following Him (see the next point), but it’s not because they don’t love Him.
- Most have not been discipled well. Many have been members of churches with a weak or non-existent discipleship strategy. Consequently, many members live in defeat, and others are in leadership positions for which they have not been spiritually prepared. Frankly, I fit that category myself for too many years.
- Many are still young in their faith. Believers who have never been intentionally and strategically discipled will have been stunted in their spiritual growth – and the fault is as much the church’s as it is the believers’. Problems then develop when we get frustrated because we expect “young” believers to act like mature ones.
- Almost all are more gifted than I am in some area. That’s God’s intent, actually. The beauty of a 1 Corinthians 12 church is most evident when each member serves where he/she is created to serve. When I choose to do everything myself, I’m guilty of idolatry.
- Most want to serve the Lord through the church. That desire doesn’t mean they do, however. Many members want to serve, but they don’t know how to get started. Some have been hurt and are afraid to serve, though their heart longs to be faithful.
- Most love their pastor. In fact, I cannot think of any members who did not love me during the 14 years I served as pastor and the many months I’ve served as interim pastor since then. Some disagreed with me – even got angry enough with me to leave the church – but I still don’t doubt their love.
- Many are dealing with hidden sin. In many cases, they sense no “safe” place to talk about their sin. Some have no friendships deep enough to tackle these issues. Sunday after Sunday, they battle with conviction internally while not fully understanding how to overcome their sin.
- They’re no messier than some of the New Testament church members. Read the book of 1 Corinthians, and you’ll find that even early church leaders dealt with problematic people. The good news is that we still serve the God of the New Testament – the One who loves His church despite how messy it is.
What other insights have you discovered about laypersons? Do you agree or disagree with my findings?
At some point in my ministry, I became allergic to committee meetings. I realized I was spending a lot of time in those meetings that could be used for productive ministry.
To be sure, not all committees are bad, and not all committee meetings are unnecessary. Unfortunately, I have seen too many committees become the “tail wagging the dog” in churches. Here are five of the most prominent problems:
- The committee has forgotten its purpose. I served as a pastor in a church where the church council monthly meeting was interminably long. I would discover that the stated and founding purpose of this group was to coordinate strategically the ministries of the church. Over time, it became nothing more than a calendar committee with people fighting for time and rooms.
- Some committees meet even if they don’t have a reason to meet. As a consultant in a church, I was asked to meet with different committees. I met with one committee where I learned they had seven consecutive months of meetings without an agenda and with nothing accomplished. I asked the chairman why they had the meetings. His response? “Because the meeting was on the church calendar.”
- Some committees attract control freaks. These control freaks tend to gravitate toward committees that deal with either money or personnel or both. And if the wrong people control the funds and personnel matters, problems can multiply.
- It’s hard to kill a committee. Committees can live beyond their usefulness and intended purpose. Often times, it’s easier to kill an elephant with a BB gun than to kill a committee. There can be emotional attachment to it. There can be the pervasive sentiment of: “We’ve always done it that way.” I recently was in a church that had 17 committees. Only three of them were really necessary.
- Unnecessary committees and committee meetings replace ministry. Every minute spent in a committee meeting is a minute that could be spent doing ministry. Our churches have become notorious for keeping our members too busy to do ministry.
Church leaders should evaluate ruthlessly all of their committees and ask several questions. Is this committee necessary? Would this committee serve better as a temporary task force? Are all the committee meetings necessary? What would we do about our committees if we started with a blank slate?
I know many of you have some great perspectives on committees and their usefulness. Let me hear from you.
Jesus got angry without sinning. Is it possible for us to get angry and remain righteous?
Kindle deals for Christian readers
Crossway’s put a number of books focused on literature on sale this week:
- Lit! by Tony Reinke—$4.99 (which I reviewed a few years ago and highly recommend)
- A Christian Guide to the Classics by Leland Ryken—$4.99 (which just arrived at the house)
- Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully by John Piper—$4.99
Also on sale:
- Faces in the Crowd: Reaching Your International Neighbor for Christ by Donna S. Thomas—$3.04
- C. S. Lewis Remembered by Harry Lee Poe & Rebecca Whitten Poe—$3.99
- The Cradle, the Cross and the Crown by Andreas Köstenberger—$2.99
- The Love of Wisdom by James Spiegel and Steven Cowan—$3.99
- Word Pictures in the New Testament by A.T. Robertson—$2.99
- Isaiah 40-66 (New American Commentary) by Gary V. Smith—$2.99
- The Formation of Christian Doctrine by Malcolm B. Yarnell III—$2.99
- Doctrine That Dances by Robert Smith—$2.99
- Text-Driven Preaching by David Allen—$2.99
- Shaping a Christian Worldview by David S. Dockery—$2.99
- Introducing the New Testament by Joe Blair—99¢
- In Defense of the Bible edited by Terry L. Wilder and Steven B. Cowan—$2.99
- Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention by Daniel Block—$2.99
- A Life Well Lived by Tommy Nelson—$2.99
- The Testing of God’s Sons by Gregory Smith—99¢
- Interpreting Gospel Narratives by Timothy Wiarda—$2.99
- Reasons for Our Hope by H. Wayne House & Dennis W. Jowers—$4.99
- Old Testament Survey by Paul R. House & Eric Mitchell—$2.99
R.C. Sproul Jr:
Too often we seek out spiritual highs with all the fervor of an addict. We seek out those mountaintop experiences, often times priming the pump with a special book, going to a favorite conference, playing over and over a peculiarly moving bit of music. I’m not in the least opposed to spiritual heights, books, conferences or music. Resting in His grace, rejoicing in His favor, drawing near to His presence are precious gifts, and sometimes, valuable memories.
Thomas S. Kidd:
In 1774, James Madison wrote to a friend in Pennsylvania about troubling developments in Virginia. There were reasons to worry about oppressive British taxes, of course, but that was not Madison’s primary concern in this letter. The “worst” news he had to deliver was that the “diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution” was raging in the colony. “There are at this [time] . . . not less than 5 or 6 well meaning men in [jail] for publishing their religious sentiments. . . . Pray for liberty of conscience to revive among us.” While today we tend to think of early America as a bastion of religious liberty, many in the colonial era lamented its absence.
Donald Trump may have views that look nothing like the conservatism of Buckley, Kirk or Reagan, but that doesn’t matter. To Trump supporters, he’s wearing the team jersey. He is their guy. His craziness, his intemperate statements, his past history of not championing anything remotely like conservatism–this is irrelevant. For some who are angry at Democrats and even angrier at establishment Republicans, Trump sounds like he’s on their team. Even if he really isn’t.
Forgiveness doesn’t come cheaply or easily. It always comes at great expense to the one wronged. In some cases, it comes with permanent cost. The wronged parties must “take it on the chin,” allowing themselves to be physically, emotionally, or spiritually wounded by the offending party instead of seeking an equal measure of revenge. Christians do this in imitation of Jesus, who faced sinful rebels and yet still suffered and died so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God.
Heaven is so heavenly that it’s often hard for earthly creatures to understand what it will really be like. That’s why the Bible often describes heaven in terms of what will not be there. For example, the last two chapters of the Bible tell us eight things that will not be there.
Hey Christians, Say Goodbye to Religious Freedom | The Federalist: David Harsanyi
“The position of these businesspeople, unlike Southern racists decades ago, in no way undermines the newfound right of gay Americans to marry, nor does it inhibit them from enjoying freedom or finding happiness. In this case, only one side is attempting to legislate morality.”
Why Gay Marriage Proponents Can’t Appeal to the Abolitionist Movement | TGC: Ben Reaoch
Useful historical research here for when the Christian view on gay marriage is compared to “the Christian view of slavery.”
Why Gay Marriage Can’t Be Christian Marriage | Patheos: Ben Witherington
Seven brief and persuasive “talking points.” See also Gay Teens Have Higher Rates of Pregnancy than Straight Teens.
Lead Well, At Home | Ed Stetzer
“I don’t simply want my children to survive my ministry life. I want them to thrive in the calling God has placed on our lives. I am passionate about this and have made three personal commitments.”
Want Sustained Happiness? Get religion, study says
Washington Post: “A new study suggests that joining a religious group could do more for someone’s sustained happiness than other forms of social participation, such as volunteering, playing sports or taking a class.”
Living in our Stories | R C Sproul Jr.
Touching and beautiful from R C Jr.: “My parents are wonderful parents. They took me to Disney World when I was a kid; they took me to Sea World when I was a kid. We went to the beach and we went to Washington D.C. and I have all sorts of these kinds of great memories, but do you know what I remember about my childhood? I remember those very ordinary afternoons when my friend Randy, from up on the hill, would come down to my house and we would get out the football and my dad would come out into the yard with us and he would be the quarterback and one of us would be the defensive back and one of us would be the wide receiver and we would run our pass patterns and he would throw the football to us. It might have been 20 minutes or it might have been two hours, but those are the things that I treasure from my childhood. Not the unusual spectacular events, but those ordinary things.”
Text-Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon Edited by David Allen $2.99.
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp $4.99.
Recommended New Book
The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung.
I have some Kindle deals for you but first, if you’re after a Kindle device, the Kindle Fire HD 6 is on sale today at just $69. And now here are some book deals: Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully by John Piper ($3.99); A Christian Guide to the Classics by Leland Ryken ($4.99); Lit! by Tony Reinke ($4.99); Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch ($0.99); God With Us by Glenn Kreider ($5.88);
Ben Witherington shows from the Bible why gay marriage can never be Christian marriage. “At the end of the day either we realize that gender matters, and gender difference is essential to a real Christian marriage, or we totally change the definition of what counts as marriage, what counts as husband and wife, what counts as mother and father Biblically speaking.”
Tim Chester provides some helpful guidance for battling that sin you’re struggling with.
One of the great things about the Sunday gathering, is that people of ALL sorts gather together to sing to the Lord.
Here are the SEVEN types of people you find in worship.
Heart Of Worship Harry – Harry is always trying to get back to the “heart” of worship. Don’t try to slip anything flashy past Harry. Lights? Uhh, no. Smoke? You’ve got to be kidding. A heavy dose of electric guitar? No thanks. Those are all distractions.
Harry was content with worship ONCE. When he was by himself in the woods.
Tambourine Tom – When Tom was in college, he wanted to be in a band. There was just one problem: he sucked at music. Unfortunately, Tom’s friends didn’t have the heart to tell him just how bad he was. They didn’t want to hurt his feelings or put a damper on his glam-rock dreams.
So they gave him a tambourine.
Tom has been bringing his tambourine to church ever since.
The worship leader loves Tom.
Clappy Claire – Claire has passion. She’s overflowing with joy. She’s excited to sing and clap. Claire only lacks one thing:
Instead of clapping with the music, Claire claps with the lyrics. The phrase, “Lift up your voice and sing,” contains exactly SIX claps.
Claire has a bit of trouble on the song “A Mighty Fortress” (2,392 claps).
Harmony Henry – Henry was in choir all through high school and college. He is physically incapable of singing the melody of any worship song.
Too Loud Terry – If there’s one thing Terry can’t stand, it’s worship music that is too LOUD! It’s so loud she can’t hear herself sing. There is NO way that God is pleased with such a racket.
Worship needs to be softer. Always. Softer. No, that’s too loud. Softer still.
There was ONE time when worship was the right volume. That was when the entire band got food poisoning and the church had to do an accapella Sunday.
Every Sunday afternoon, Terry emails the worship leader to let him know that the worship was too loud.
Off-Key Oscar – Oscar loves to sing, and he sings louder than anyone.
Unfortunately, Oscar sings like a dying ringwraith.
Thankfully, God loves a joyful “noise”.
Personal Space Paul – For Paul, worship is a FULL body experience. He lifts his hands, claps with serious passion, and generally gets his worship groove on.
Just be careful not to stand too close to Paul. There’s a good chance you’ll get a shot to the jaw.
Todd Wagner is the pastor of Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas. He was my pastor for several years when I was a student in seminary, and I am very grateful for his ministry. In the video above, he gives a quick answer to the question, “What is the role of women in ministry?” It is a concise, eight-minute summary of biblical manhood and womanhood, and I commend it to you.
Can you imagine your life without worship? Can you imagine your life without regularly gathering with God’s people to worship him together? Corporate worship is one of the great privileges of the Christian life. And perhaps it is one of those privileges that over time we can take for granted. When I pause to think about it, I can’t imagine my life without it. I don’t even want to. But I guess it is worth considering: What would I lose if I lost worship?
We live in a consumeristic culture where we tend to evaluate life in very selfish ways. We do this even with worship. “The sermon really didn’t speak to me today. I just couldn’t get into the songs we sang this morning. That Scripture reading was a little bit too long in my books.” When we speak this way we may be proving that we are coming to church as consumers, people who want to be served rather than to serve.
Yet the primary point and purpose of worshipping God is his glory, not the meeting of our felt needs. We worship God in order to glorify God. God is glorified in our worship. We is honored. He is magnified in the sight of those who join with us.
In this way worship cuts completely against the grain of consumerism and demands that I worship for his sake and for his glory. I have heard it said that “Worship is the art of losing self in the adoration of another.” And that is exactly the case. I forget all about me and give all honor and glory to him.
What would I lose without worship? I would lose the opportunity to grow through hearing a sermon and to experience joy through singing great hymns. I would lose the opportunity to join with other Christians in prayer and to recite great creeds with them. But more than anything else, I would lose an opportunity to bring glory to God. If I stopped worshipping, I would neglect a means through which I can bring glory to him.
Do you see it? Worship is not about you or me. Worship is about God. And really, this changes everything.
When I view worship as something that ultimately exists for my good and my satisfaction, it is easy to take a day off, to think that my presence makes no difference. But when I come to bring glory to God, I understand that no one else can take my place. God means for me to lift my hands, to lift my heart, to lift my voice to him.
When I view worship as something that is really all about me, it is easy to jump from church to church, to always be looking for a better fit for me. But when I view church as something that is really all about God, I find myself looking for the church that is the purest and best at worshipping in exactly the ways the Bible demands—I look for the church through which I can bring him the most glory.
Worship is a privilege, to be sure. But it is also a requirement, a responsibility. And the greatest responsibility and the greatest privilege in worship is to bring glory to God.
“If you were really that intent on Biblical literalism, you’d also stone your unruly children and refrain from eating pork and shellfish.” Grant Carpenter
Skeptics are forever confused about Hebrew civil and dietary Law. We don’t follow these laws because they weren’t given to us. They were given to another nation, 3,000 years ago. Most of us live in the U.S. where we have our own civil laws.
The only Law that is binding on all of humanity is the moral Law (the Ten Commandments). The moral Law is the standard by which God will judge the world on Judgment Day (see Romans 2:12 and James 2:12). Those who trust in Jesus are free from the wrath of the moral Law because Jesus satisfied its demands when He suffered and died on the cross. Repent and trust alone in Him and God will dismiss your case also. See http://www.needGod.com for details.
Fall is Coming—Is Your Child Going to Christian College? Nine Things You Can Do to Help Your Student Be Aware of Contemplative/Emerging Deception
“The way is hard,” Jesus said (Matthew 7:14).
In our early days we thought we knew what “hard” meant. Hard would be rigorous, demanding, exhausting. Jesus said the way would be hard and with James and John we replied (if not in words, then in unspoken presumption), “We are able” (Matthew 20:22).
But like James and John, we didn’t really understand what we were getting into. Like green recruits we thought we understood what war was like. War is hard. War is hell. Especially when you war with hell.
But we didn’t really understand hell’s warfare until we really began to engage it. Then hell began to break loose and we discovered that the chaos of war is far different experienced than studied.
Devils know no chivalry. They are cruel, and conceal their cruelty in the Trojan horses of pleasure and comfort, “wisdom” and “security,” flattery and shame. Theirs is guerilla warfare and espionage. Theirs is psychological warfare and seduction. Theirs is biological warfare and blackmail.
Hell’s Primary Objective
Hell’s one primary objective is to destroy faith in God. All of its elaborate strategies and all of its diabolical energies are focused on one thing: breaking the power of the word of the Lord by undermining our trust in it. The universe was created and is upheld by the Word of God (John 1:3, Hebrews 1:3), so hell must break the power of the Word of the God, if it wants to win.
Therefore, we find ourselves fighting an enemy that constantly seeks to alter our perception of reality. This is why this fight is such a surreal and sometimes horrific experience.
Hell wages a war of distortion. It seeks to make the most destructive things look tantalizingly desirable. It seeks to make the most wonderful things look unbearably boring. It seeks to make the most trustworthy things look unreliable. It seeks to make the one, true fountain of joy look like a dry well, and a broken cistern look like a spring of refreshment. Hell makes even hell look entertaining.
Hell wages a war of disorientation. Through temptation, condemnation, intimidation discouragement, disappointment, doubt, illness, weakness, weariness, and appeals to our pride and shame, the spiritual powers of evil seek to keep us off-balance, confused, and turned around. For if we lose our focus on the truth we lose our confidence and may lose our faith.
Hell wages a war of suspicion. One of the most painful things in this spiritual war is hell’s infiltration into our relationships. It seeks to corrupt the currency of trust in which they trade. Marriages break, families fracture, friendships rupture, churches split, movements derail as sin infects and seeds of suspicion are sowed and fertilized. And in the fray we easily lose track of who the enemy is and end up fighting against flesh and blood.
That Word Above All Earthly Powers
Jesus was right: the way is hard — far harder than we expected.
But Jesus was right about something else: “the gates of hell will not prevail” (Matthew 16:18). The way is hard, but the way is sure. For the Way (John 14:6) is the Word (John 1:1).
And the Word is impenetrably strong.
All the brutal forces of hell, with all the distortion it can conjure, disorientation it can cause, and suspicion it can sow, simply cannot break the Word of God. Martin Luther was right about the devil: “one little word shall fell him.” Oh, but that Word turns out not to be so little. For that Word is God himself (John 1:1).
And the Word came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
Oh, the paradox! The Word of God destroyed the works of the devil by being broken. Yes, all hell broke loose upon the Word of God from Gethsemane to Calvary and the Word was broken. But it was not broken in the way that hell tried to break it. Hell tried to compromise the Word, but the Word held fast by being broken. For in being broken, the Word of God kept unbroken the word of God, the great covenant, and cosmic justice was upheld as Christ became both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
That Word stands above all earthly powers and smashes against the gates of hell.
The way may be hard for us. But the Way will be hell for hell.
The key to our clarity in the face of hell’s distortion, focus in the face of hell’s disorientation, and our persevering, longsuffering love in the face of hell’s suspicion is to listen to the Word of God by soaking in the words of God in the Bible. The Word is our refuge (Psalm 18:30), the Word is our peace (Acts 10:36, Philippians 4:7), and the Word is our weapon (Ephesians 6:17).
We must remember that hell is after one thing: our faith. And we must remember that we will overcome hell by one thing: our faith (1 John 5:4). Jesus summarized our one and supreme defense against hell is this statement: “believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:8-10)
Only Two Religions!
I don’t know if you know this but there are only two religions in the entire world.
You might say I’m nuts. There are hundreds if not thousands!
But there is one religion that likes to put on hundreds if not thousands of different masks on, and so ultimately there are only two: the religion of Human Achievement and the religion of Divine Accomplishment.
You see Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Judaism and every single religion that you have ever heard of, ultimately teaches some form of a works-based salvation. They say that you have to be a little more good than bad in order to make it to heaven. These religions encourage you to hand God a resume when you face Him one day. The resume will be filled with all your accomplishments. It will list everything you’ve done for other people, every penny you’ve given to charity and every good deed you’ve done. God will look over this resume and say, “Good job! You’ve made it into heaven”.
The problem is that if you were to enter into heaven because of a resume based on your accomplishments God would get no glory; you would be the one who gets all the praise. In fact, Ephesians 2:9 would say that salvation is not of works lest you should boast! Genesis chapter one shows us that God created the entire universe including you. Everything He created is designed to bring Him glory. The problem is that sin has entered the world, and from birth we all have replaced exalting God with exalting ourselves. Everything we do from birth is geared towards bringing us glory and bringing praise to ourselves. We all have a throne in our hearts that God should be sitting and reigning on, but instead we are born with ourselves sitting on it. We are so used to it we don’t even notice it to the point where we all think that our resumes are good enough to get us into heaven.
Of course we are going to think that we are good people! Of course my mom is going to tell me I’m a good person! But what does your Creator think? He says in Romans 3:23 that we all have sinned and fall short of His glory. He also says in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death. So if we stand before God and start listing accomplishments or hand Him a resume we might as well slap Jesus in the face because God is going to look at the resume and say, “I killed my only Son because you were not good enough to get to me!”
And that’s where the only other religion comes in.
The religion of Divine Accomplishment. God saw your situation, and decided that since man was so sinful and could not save himself, that He would come Himself and take the form of a man. He humbled himself, spent nine months in a womb he created, grew up with every temptation you and I face every day, but without sinning. He then died on the cross for our sins, and then rose from the dead and defeated death. He made it possible for human beings to stand before God one day and not hand Him a resume and condemn themselves further, but rather, tell God that they deserve His wrath but have placed their faith and trust in the work that Jesus did on their behalf on the cross and through His resurrection.
You see we need someone to be a substitute for us because no matter how hard we try, we can never bridge the gap between God and us. And the substitute can’t be merely a human. It must be God Himself.
Do you see the difference between Christianity and every other religion?
The Greatest Story Ever Told
What is The Gospel?
CanIKnowGod.com is a website inspired by LifesGreatestQuestion.com, with new content, images, audio and video that will help you understand more about who God is and how to know Him. The site is mobile responsive and has an infinite scroll which makes for a very user-friendly experience. After you indicate a decision on CanIKnowGod.com, you are directed to a page that details what it means to have a new and transformed life through Jesus Christ. There’s even a Facebook page for daily updates, encouragement and scripture sharing.
“My Last Day” — the Jesus Anime
9 powerful minutes of animation that begins with a thief behind bars watching the scourging of Jesus, and it ends with the thief dying next to Jesus, and waking to see Him in a beautiful place.
The dying thief: What was so great about his faith?
Our Time is Short
Ready to start your new life with God?
Who do you think that I am?
With that brief question Jesus Christ confronted His followers with the most important issue they would ever face. He had spent much time with them and made some bold claims about His identity and authority. Now the time had come for them either to believe or deny His teachings.
Who do you say Jesus is? Your response to Him will determine not only your values and lifestyle, but your eternal destiny as well.
Consider what the Bible says about Him: Read more
Look to Jesus
Have you ever felt a little lost and wished there was a quick-start guide to your relationship with God? This is it!
30 Day Next Steps
John Beckett, a leading Christian businessman, has written a series to read over 30 days for new believers.
New Believers Guide
The New Believer’s Guide is a series of articles designed to show you how to walk in the new life Christ has given you— a life of faith and freedom.
Jesus is the Savior of the world. Discover who Jesus is today in this series.
Know Jesus Christ and your life will be transformed
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