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October 20, 2014

Every pastor encounters people who have given up, or are tempted to give up, meeting together with God’s people. At any given time just about every church has some people who are in danger of drifting away, and no longer participating in the life of the church. To do so is to directly disobey Hebrews 10:24-25 which says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” This passage warns us not to neglect local church fellowship and participation, and also hints at the reasons we may do so.

Here are two reasons you may be tempted to neglect meeting together with God’s people.

You Forget What You Bring

Hebrews 10:25 warns Christians against leaving local church fellowship, and the verse immediately prior gives the reason. As Christians, we all equally bear the responsibility to stir up one another to love and good works. We are to provoke one another to act in love and we are to provoke one another to promote good works. And the simple fact is that we cannot do these things if we are not together.

In the background of the book of Hebrews is the New Testament teaching that we, as Christians, are like a body—Christ’s body. In Romans 12 Paul says, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” In some way God looks upon Christians just like we look upon the many parts of one body—many parts, but one person. In some way God looks upon the local church as many parts but one body. Paul explains the same theme in 1 Corinthians and in both of these passages he draws the same application—that just as each part of the body has an important function, each Christian has an important gift. Just as each part of the body makes the body function well and as a whole, each Christian’s gift is meant to make the church function well and as a whole. There are no superfluous body parts, and there are no superfluous Christians.

When you are tempted to disassociate from the local church, whether permanently or semi-permanently or even for a lazy Sunday where you just can’t be bothered, you have forgotten what you bring to the people of your church. You have neglected to understand or believe that you, yes you!, are a crucial part of the body of Christ. You have a gift to bring, and the church is only complete when you bring it and use it.

God has made you part of the body, and the body needs you to function well. When you neglect to meet with God’s people, you deny them the gifts he has given you—gifts that bring him glory when you use them for the good of others.

You Forget What You Need

If it is true that God has gifted you to be a part of the whole, there is an important implication: God has gifted them as well. You are incomplete without your church. God has not so gifted you of all people that you can thrive and grow without the gifts he has given to others. You are part of the body, but only a small and singular part of it. Unless you can imagine your thumb striking off on its own and building a life for itself, or unless you can imagine your appendix seceding from the body and thriving, you shouldn’t imagine yourself leaving local church fellowship.

In this way neglecting to meet with God’s people is a sign of overwhelming and outrageous pride. You have somehow determined either that the gifts God has given others are of no real consequence to you, or you have determined that you are so gifted that you can happily survive without. The reality, of course, is that God has made Christians to thrive and survive only in community. Lone Christians are dead Christians.

God has made you part of a body, and you need the rest of that body to function well. When you neglect to meet with God’s people, you deny yourself the gifts he has given them—gifts that bring him glory when they use them for your good.

In those times where it just seems to hard to be part of a local church, and in those times where neglecting the church seems so attractive, you are forgetting what you bring and what you need. Of course you’ve also neglected to consider how badly you need the preaching of God’s Word and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and the witnessing of baptisms and the other beautifully ordinary means of grace that God dispenses through his gathered church. But first you’ve forgotten that you are part of a body—a body you need, and a body that needs you.

October 20, 2014

It’s not hard to spot the theme for this week’s Kindle deals from Crossway: What Is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti Anyabwile ($0.99); Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever ($1.99); The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever ($1.99); Total Church by Tim Chester ($0.99); Church Elders by Jeramie Rinne ($0.99). Also consider Risky Gospel by Owen Strachan ($1.99); Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Zack Eswine ($1.99); Keep Your Greek by Constantine Campbell ($2.99).

Of Michael Landon and Brittany Maynard - Wesley Smith powerfully compares the deaths of Michael Landon and the forthcoming death of media darling Brittany Maynard.

The Wide Road to Divorce - This is a helpful article on divorce-proofing marriage.

Humans of the World - Here are some of the most striking photos from the world tour of the author of Humans of New York.

The Odd Music of Motherhood - I enjoyed this poetic celebration of the music of motherhood.

Adventures of a Church Introvert - I can identify with this one, though I’ve learned to embrace it.

In his presence is fullness of joy; in his absence is depth of misery. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

October 19, 2014

There is nothing easy about parenting, and nothing easy about the responsibility of training our children in obedience through discipline. Because discipline is unpopular and unpleasant, parents often find themselves looking for substitutes. In her book Parenting Against the Tide, Ann Benton lists five poor substitutes for disciplining our children—five poor substitutes that fail to address the heart.

Excuse Them

This is the voice of therapy culture. Sometimes we make excuses for our child’s misbehavior. We say, “he’s tired, she’s had a hard day, he’s disappointed, she’s traumatised, he’s got low self-esteem …” Now all of these things may be true. But that is not the point. The point is this: are we going to allow our children to take responsibility for their own behavior/misbehavior or not? Or is it always going to be the fault of someone else or of the circumstances? I am not saying we cannot be understanding or sympathetic. But if we are going to praise our children when they do well, surely it is logical to chastise them when they do badly. They make choices, which are moral choices, all day long. If we commend them for the good we cannot merely excuse them for the bad. That is very poor training because it teaches them to blame-shift.

Ignore Them

This is the voice of liberalism, which would be inclined to allow the children as far as possible to do as they like. When called upon to intervene, liberalism refuses to recognise an absolute moral worldview, whereby some things are definitely wrong and some things are definitely right. This is a failure in discipline because we need to instruct our children’s sense of right and wrong and that this is quite outside of how they fell about it. It might feel great to pull someone’s hair but it is wrong. Children have a moral sense, they have a conscience and this conscience is your friend when you discipline. Bring in right and wrong as absolutes. And be clear that the fundamental right course of action for a child is obedience to you.

Organise Them

[This is] the voice of strategic management. Some parents work really hard to avoid the occasion for misbehavior by organizing their children’s life and surroundings. You tie up the cupboards; you take the plug off the computer; you run a tight schedule. You make prevention of confrontation your responsibility. If your child misbehaves it is your fault for not organizing the circumstances so that it was impossible for them to misbehave. By taking this approach you are denying your child the freedom to fail. But you are forgetting that in general in this life we learn more by getting things wrong than by getting things right. It is one of the great routes to wisdom: learn by your mistakes. A child has to have some independence in order to learn to take responsibility. They need to be let off the leash so that they will understand the need for self-discipline. Otherwise you are deceiving yourself. So back off occasionally and see what he/she does.

Consult Them

This is where you always ask the child what he or she would like. There is a place for that of course, say, in a restaurant. But in many parents’ vocabularies, the language of choice has replaced the language of command. They say, “Would you like to wash your hands and come to the table?” Do they really mean that doing those things is optional and that the child can legitimately say “no?” It is an habitual turn of phrase but it also carries a message. And it can turn into parental wheedling and coaxing a child when in fact perhaps she could have just kindly but firmly instructed. It sometimes seems that parents are afraid to tell their children what to do. I want to suggest that it is fine to just say what you want to happen and insist that it does. Parenting is not a consultation exercise. You are the adult and you are there to take the long view and decide what is best. You don’t have to shout and rant, you can just say, “This is what is happening now.” Be in charge.

Bribe Them

It seems such a great idea and in the short-term can be extremely effective. And I am well aware that it is highly recommended in some circles. But it is a poor choice. Firstly because it does not change anything inside — being extrinsic, it only changes outward behavior and that only just enough to hit off the reward. After that, normal misbehavior can be and often is resumed. But worse than that, bribery takes behavior out of the moral framework and makes obedience to you optional. Can that be right? What if the child turns down your proffered sweets or sticker and decides being disobedient is more fun? Do you enter into negotiations and up the ante? You are teaching the children that the only reason to comply is if there is something (material) in it for him. But remember what the Bible says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Certainly the next verse talks about the promise attached to a long life in the land. But that is only saying what I often told my children: “Good boys are happy boys; good girls are happy girls.” As a Christian parent you will want your children ultimately to choose good behavior for its own sake. If you habitually bribe them you are effectively denying the child the opportunity for finding out that good behavior is its own reward.

October 18, 2014

It has been a good week for the Kindle bargain hunters, but I’ve got just two new ones to close out the week: The Dangers of a Shallow Faith by A.W. Tozer is $1.99 while John Stott’s Issues Facing Christians Today is $2.99. You can go back through this week’s A La Carte archives to find a lot more.

Be sure to read this fantastic review of The Bible Tells Me So, a new and troubling book to Peter Enns. It seems that he is attempting to do for the Bible what Rob Bell did for hell.

I am thankful to Truth Remains for sponsoring the blog this week; you can watch a free documentary about the English Bible at the link.

Ed Welch has an article about The Hopeless Marriage. “I hate that hopelessness. The choices are to persist in the relationship and see who dies first or to craft an independent life and try to pretend you don’t care. Either way, your soul withers. It is hard to have a vibrant life with God when your primary relationship is in the dumper.”

This video shows how to draw a perfect circle freehand. Scoff all you want, but someday you’ll actually be glad to have watched it.

Al Mohler writes about the ugly situation in Houston . “Here was a legal demand, sent to Christian pastors in the name of one of America’s largest cities, to surrender…” sermons related to homosexuality.

Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness. —Martin Luther

Luther

October 17, 2014

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by our friends at Crossway. They have packaged up a couple of resources that I think you are going to like. There will be 5 winners this week, and each of them will be receiving a copy of the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible and a copy of Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word.

ESV Womens DevotionalESV Women’s Devotional Bible. This is a new edition of the ESV with short devotionals and reflections for women. “The ESV Women’s Devotional Bible is a valuable resource for strengthening women in their walk with God. Applicable for women in any stage of life, the Women’s Devotional Bible is theologically rich in content while remaining accessible and practical. Readers will be encouraged in daily, prayerful Bible study, and equipped to understand and apply the Bible to every aspect of life. The Women’s Devotional Bible features materials designed especially for women. The book introductions, character sketches of key figures, all-new daily devotionals, and all-new articles have been written by both women and men contributors. These contributors include professors, musicians, authors, counselors, homemakers, and conference speakers.”

Women of the WordWomen of the Word. “We all know it’s important to study God’s Word. But sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. What’s more, a lack of time, emotionally driven approaches, and past frustrations can erode our resolve to keep growing in our knowledge of Scripture. How can we, as Christian women, keep our focus and sustain our passion when reading the Bible? Offering a clear and concise plan to help women go deeper in their study of Scripture, this book will equip you to engage God’s Word in a way that trains your mind and transforms your heart.”

Enter to Win

Again, there are 5 prize packages to win. And all you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.)

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

October 17, 2014

I am now deep into this series on getting things done, but before I go any farther, I would like to pause for a quick review. I began this series by explaining what productivity is and why it matters [Part 1]. Then I had you look at your life from a high-level perspective so you could divide it into areas of responsibility [Part 2]. Once you defined those areas of responsibility, you listed specific roles and projects within each of them, and then you worked on some brief mission statements that define what you mean to accomplish in each of them [Part 3]. In the most recent article I explained the four categories of tools required for top productivity, and told you the ones I use [Part 4].

Today I want to explain and demonstrate what your areas of responsibility have to do with your tools (and why you will be missing out if you skip the hard work of defining those areas). As it happens, they have everything to do with one another. Your tools will only be as helpful as your understanding of your areas of responsibility and the duties and roles that fall within each of them. In other words, your tools function best when you combine them with a thorough understanding of your responsibilities.

Over this article and the ones that follow, I will help you use your tools to develop a system that will help ensure you give appropriate attention to each of your areas of responsibility. That word system may sound intimidating, so let me begin by distilling that fear factor.

Living in Systems

What is a system? I know it is considered bad form to quote a dictionary, but in this case the dictionary definition is very helpful. A system is “a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole.” A system has multiple parts that work together toward a common goal.

Imagine that you were tasked with building a railroad to transport goods from your town to one twenty miles away. You would need to construct a system, and the system would need to involve all kinds of components: tracks, switches, locomotives, boxcars, mechanisms to load the trains, signals to control traffic flow, and on and on. This system would be comprised of a complex collection of parts, but once it was constructed, it would work and function as a whole. If it was constructed well, it would function smoothly and efficiently.

But you don’t need to build a railroad, you need to build a system that will allow you to be productive. A productivity system is a set of methods, procedures and routines that allow you to be most effective in knowing what to do and in actually doing it. An effective system involves identifying, deploying and relying on appropriate tools. When functioning together, these tools allow you to function smoothly and efficiently, dedicating appropriate time and attention to the most important tasks.

The fact is, to be productive, you need a system. You need to build it, use it, perfect it, and rely on it. Your system needs to gain your confidence so you can trust it to remember what needs to be remembered, to alert you to what is urgent, to direct you to what is important, and to direct you away from what is distracting.

An Organizing Principle

Our system will require tools, and in a moment we will begin setting up those tools.

First, though, I want to talk about an important organizing principle that will serve us on various levels. This principle extends to any area of life: A home for everything, and like goes with like. If you applied this all over your life (your home, your office, your computer) you’d never again find yourself scrambling to find your wallet, your keys, your passwords, or anything else.

When it comes to our productivity tools, we want to apply the very same principle: A home for everything, and like goes with like. This means that appointments need to go where appointments go, information needs to go where information goes, communications needs to go where communications go, and tasks need to go where tasks go. It means that communication and tasks should not be in the same place, and appointments and information should not be in the same place.

We can also get more specific with the principle. Information that is alike should be kept in the same place. Communications that are alike should be kept in the same place. This means that all of your information about one area of responsibility should be kept with the other information about that area of responsibility. All of your tasks related to one project should be kept with the other tasks related to that project.

Preparing the Tools

Last time we identified four different types of tool: Information tools, scheduling tools, communication tools, and task management tools. Now I want you to prepare those tools in light of your areas of responsibility. You will prepare them according to the same principle: A home for everything and like goes with like. We will focus particular attention on our information tool and task management tool.

October 17, 2014

Here are a few new Kindle deals: Forever by Paul Tripp ($2.99); Showing the Spirit by D.A. Carson ($3.99); God and the Gay Christian edited by Al Mohler ($0.99); Who Made God? by Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler ($3.99); Moments with You by Dennis & Barbara Rainey ($2.99).

Mandating Bible Reading For Your Kids - “Every Christian parent deals with this at some point. They struggle with what they should mandate vs just encourage their kids to do. And with this, how much? At what point will we defeat our purpose and discourage them?”

How To Die Beautifully - This is some good writing.

Mourning the Missing - Here is a touching photo gallery of people mourning loved ones who disappeared on flight MH370.

The Epidemic of Male Body Hatred - There is lots of wisdom and insight in this article.

3 Principles for Asking Forgiveness - It’s a skill we all need to grow in.

The Best Theological Label - Randy Alcorn tells us the best theological label.

We fear men so much, because we fear God so little. —William Gurnall

Gurnall