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September 22, 2014

It’s is God’s grace to you if your church is messy. I heard those words come out of my mouth yesterday as I was guest-preaching at a church close to home. I said them, and I believe them. At least, I believe them most of the time.

I love my church. I love the people I gather with week-by-week. They are fun and safe and easy to be with. But who said church should be safe and easy?

Yesterday, when I was at that church, I preached on the parable of The Lost Sheep, which is actually a parable about a kind and loving shepherd (see Luke 15). Like so many of Jesus’ parables, this one was told in the presence of two groups of people—people who were convinced of their own badness and people who were convinced of their own goodness. And in this case Jesus was speaking primarily to those good and religious people.

The parable is simple: A sheep has wandered off and the shepherd will not rest until he has found it and restored it to himself. And I thought about that sheep, wandering lost and alone in the wilderness, and that shepherd who went looking for it. There are so many different ways that shepherd could have reacted when he finally found it.

  • He finds his sheep and rebukes it: “You stupid, ignorant sheep. How dare you wander off from me?” No. He doesn’t rebuke it.
  • He finds his sheep and punishes it: “You dumb, disobedient sheep. I’ll teach you to wander off!” No, he doesn’t punish it.
  • He finds his sheep and is disgusted by it: “You are filthy and smelly! What on earth did you get into? You go clean yourself up right now and I’ll come back later.” No, he doesn’t make it clean itself up.
  • He finds his sheep and sells it: “I can’t have a sheep like you polluting my flock. Do you know how you made me look in front of everyone else?” No, he doesn’t get rid of it.

The text says, “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” When that shepherd finds his sheep, he cares for it. He hoists that big, heavy, dirty sheep onto his shoulders and carries it home, rejoicing all the way. He carries it home and calls his friends and throws a party to celebrate.

The point of the parable is that God loves to save the lost. He loves to save sinners. He doesn’t save those who are righteous and whose lives are all put together, he saves those who are just plain bad.

If God is in the business of saving sinners, we need to expect that church will be full of sinners—those who are still wandering and those who have only just been found. If our churches reflect God’s heart for the lost, they will be full of people with problems, full of people showing the consequences of a lifetime of wandering. And this means that church may not be a safe and easy place. It may not be a place full of people who have it all together. It may be messy. It should be messy. Thank God if it is messy.

September 22, 2014

Here are a few Kindle deals to start the week: Warfare Witness by Stanley Gale ($3.99); The Pilgrim’s Progress (slightly modernized) ($1.99); the three volumes of Bryan Litfin’s Chiveis Trilogy are marked at $1.99 each: The Sword, The Gift, The KingdomIt’s All In How You Tell It by Haddon & Torrey Robinson ($2.99). New from GLH Publishing is All Loves Excelling by John Bunyan ($0.99). (If you’re in the market for a Kindle device, the certified refurbished 7” Kindle HDX is $50 off today.)

Are You Leeching the Local Church? - “I continue to grow in my love for the local church. One of the ways God has grown my love for the church is by teaching me that worship is more than showing up.”

Wise Decisions about Psychotropic Medications - Here are 6 steps to making wise decisions about psychtropic medications.

Using “Brokenness” Biblically - We often hear Christians today talking about “brokenness.” But what’s the correct way to use the word?

Debunking Conspiracies - “Explore the truth behind the iconic Buzz Aldrin moon landing photo. See how modern graphics innovations can shed new light on a 35-year-old conspiracy theory.”

Undercover at Oprah’s Tour - Paula Hendricks went undercover at Oprah’s tour and shares a few reflections.

Drinking From a Fire Hose - Clint Archer has a good article on why we [hopefully] hear so many sermons and so much teaching in our churches today.

Common people respect more a preacher’s life than his learning. —Richard Bernard

Bernard

September 21, 2014

I have found myself intrigued by a new book by Chris Bruno and Matt Dirks titled Churches Partnering Together. I guess the title says it all—it is about developing bonds between churches so different congregations, and their leaders, can be on mission together. In one chapter the authors discuss the inevitability of confrontation and I appreciate their counsel on positive confrontation. They begin with Galatians 6:1-2: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And then they provide seven conditions for confrontation which apply not only to conflicts between church leaders, but between all Christians:

  1. It should be done between “brothers.” This sets the tone for the conversation. You’re family, which implies that you have an unbreakable bond with each other. No matter what happens in the conversation, your commitment to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ will remain.
  2. The other person must be “caught in transgression.” The sin must be clear and present, not just assumed and implied. This is particularly true when confronting someone’s underlying motivations, which are extremely hard to discern.
  3. It should be done by “spiritual” people. This means you need to be operating in the Spirit’s power, not out of anger and frustration.
  4. The goal should be to “restore” the other person to a healthy relationship with God and to restore unity to the partnership. If your primary goal is to get the other person to stop aggravating you or to get him to conform to your personal preferences, you’re not ready to do this. Go back to condition 2.
  5. It should be done in a “spirit of gentleness.” A harsh rebuke almost never brings someone closer to Jesus. It only erects walls between his people.
  6. You must “keep watch on yourself” during the whole process. When the other person reacts defensively and questions your judgment, morality, and right to question him (as he might), you’ll be tempted to respond in pride and arrogance. You’ll want to start using all the ammunition you’ve been storing up in your mind over the years, reminding the other person about all the ways he’s offended you, failed you, and disappointed you. Did you notice all those “you’s”? They have nothing to do with restoring the other person, and therefore no place in your conversation.
  7. Be ready to “bear one another’s burdens” over the long haul. The process of restoration probably won’t happen overnight. Offer your ongoing love, support, and gentle accountability to your partner. Help him take concrete steps to overcome the sin through God’s Spirit-empowered grace, which is the “law of Christ.”

They close the section with this: “The further you get into kingdom partnership, the harder it will be to avoid differences and even conflict. But if, by the Spirit, you come out on the other side with your partnership intact, then you will probably start seeing God work in ways that you never thought possible. Remember the need and opportunity that brought you together, and work hard to see the gospel advance because of your shared commitment to the mission God called you to pursue.”

September 20, 2014

Amazon’s Big Deal is back, which means there are lots of Kindle deals across all categories. The only really intriguing deal I see for a Christian book is Pleasing God by R.C. Sproul ($0.99). You can check the list for others.

Thanks to Zondervan and Jonathan Dodson for sponsoring the blog this week. Check out Jonathan’s new book The Unbelievable Gospel.

Kevin DeYoung has a list of things Jesus Didn’t Say.

Halee Gray Scott is concerned when Christians slam one another in the Spirit.

Eric McKiddie comments on The Blessings and Curses of Being an Introverted Pastor. “The stakes are high when it comes to being an introverted pastor because our job is people. The very nature of our role requires us to engage with our congregation relationally, but the nature of our personality inclines us toward alone time.”

Here’s one explanation as to why President Obama said ISIL is not Islamic. I guess it makes sense when presented like this.

The Minecraft Parent looks at the phenomenon that is Minecraft.

Some folk, if they knew themselves better, would not brag as loudly as they now do. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon

September 19, 2014

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by CBD Reformed. As they always do, they are offering some great prizes. There will be 5 winners this week, and each of the winners will receive the following 3 books:

  • Building for God’s Glory: Haggai & Zechariah Simply Explained by Michael Bentley (Retail price $15.99). “Times were tough for the first recipients of the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. They needed to be encouraged to resume the work of reconstructing the temple - to awake from their lethargy and to be enthusiastic for a life lived in obedience to God. The people were still very materialistic in their outlook. Their zeal was for ritual rather than reliance on the Lord. Their concern was for respectability in religious observance rather than an acknowledgement of their sin and a desire to please God in all their thoughts and actions. Michael Bentley has written a worthy commentary in giving a straightforward explanation of these two prophecies and applying their message practically to the needs of the church today.”
  • KellerThe Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller (Retail Price $16.00). “How could a loving God send people to hell? Why does he allow suffering? Can one religion be ‘right’ and the others ‘wrong’? Responding to the questions of open skeptics and ardent believers, Keller draws from literature, philosophy, reason, and real-life conversations to explain how faith in a Christian God is a soundly rational belief. 336 pages, softcover from Dutton.”
  • I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler & Frank Turek (Retail Price $18.99). “Norman Geisler and Frank Turek show, first of all, that truth is absolute, exclusive, and knowable. From there, they proceed to demonstrate that the cardinal Christian doctrines are true beyond reasonable doubt, all convincing for you as a Christians to believe, but requiring a leap of negative ‘faith’ if an atheist is to disbelieve them.”

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.

Faith Hacking
September 19, 2014

PrayerMateI say it without hyperbole: PrayerMate revitalized my prayer life. It has been at least a couple of years since I made the move from organizing my prayers in a book to organizing my prayers in an app, and, at least for now, I don’t ever see myself going back. I know that praying from an app is not for everyone, but for me it has made all the difference. Let me tell you how I use it.

PrayerMate borrows from the physical world and mimics an organized collection of index cards. Imagine a card file: Each of the dividers marks a new category, each of the categories contains several cards, and each card contains a prayer. Now just take that paradigm and translate it to an app. You create your categories and cards, and each day the app presents you with a collection of items to pray for. It’s that simple!

Card FileI created categories to match the way I pray: Praying in concentric circles. I have included a list of my categories below. Beside each you will see numbers in brackets, like this: (5, 1). The first number tells how many items (prayers) I have in that category and the second is how many of those items I pray for each day:

  • Gospel (5, 1). These are Scripture passages that speak of the gospel (Isaiah 43:25, Romans 8:1, etc). I begin prayer by reflecting on the gospel, and this shapes my prayer by reminding me of who I am, who God is, and what he has done for me. (Again, the brackets indicate that I have 5 items in this category, and I see one of them each time I pray.)
  • Confession (5, 1). These are Scripture passages that help me confess my sin. I pray the passage, then confess my sin and receive God’s forgiveness for it.
  • Personal Godliness (9, 1). Here I have a selection of items I pray for myself. These reflect my roles (father, husband, pastor) or areas of Christian character where I wish to see growth (humility, godliness, evangelistic boldness). I change them regularly.
  • Aileen (7, 1). These are things I pray on Aileen’s behalf. I pray for her various roles and for her growth in character.
  • Son (5, 1). I pray every day for my son and pray through a number of items that reflect his roles and character.
  • Daughter (5, 1). I pray every day for my older daughter and pray through items that reflect her roles and character.
  • Daughter (5, 1). I pray every day for my younger daughter and pray through items that reflect her roles and character.
  • Family (7, 1). Here I have one card for each member of my extended family—parents, siblings, and so on. I pray for one of them each day.
  • Elders (9, 1). There are currently 9 things I pray on behalf of my co-elders at Grace Fellowship Church; I pray for one of those things for them each day.
  • My Church (112, 7). This is a list of all the people or families who consider Grace Fellowship Church their home church. I currently pray for 7 each day. Each card contains the name of an individual (for singles) or a family (for couples and families). For each person or family I have certain items I am praying on their behalf. I may ask people how I can pray for them, I may hear them make a request at our prayer meeting, or I may simply know how I ought to pray. I coordinated this list with my Address Book which then inserts a picture of each person on their card.
  • Unbelievers (10, 1). There are certain unbelievers I am burdened for, and I pray for them here. These may be people in our family, neighborhood, or church.
  • Special (7, 1). These are other people I wish to pray for—friends from outside our church, church planters, and so on.
  • Ministry & Mission (6, 1). These are missionaries and ministries I pray for.

Of course there is so much more I could pray for. I could pray for the nations, though I do that week-by-week at our church’s prayer meetings; I could pray for rulers and politicians but, again, I do that at our prayer meetings. For now these are my categories. Each day I grab my phone, open up PrayerMate, and do business with the Lord. It is often the best part of my day.

Let me share one tip: Maintain your prayer list. Block off a bit of time every week or two to keep it updated. My joy and confidence in prayer are directly related to the freshness and relevance of the things I pray. The more I maintain and update my prayer list, the more I love my times in prayer.

PrayerMate is available for Apple and Android devices. You can get more details right here or watch this brief, introductory video.

September 19, 2014

I tracked down just a couple of new Kindle deals today, but they’re both good ones: The Most Misused Verses in the Bible by Eric Bargerhuff ($1.99) and From the Resurrection to His Return by D.A. Carson ($3.49).

The Church Needs Men and Women To Be Friends - Just because there are horror stories, it doesn’t mean we can’t have successful and meaningful friendships between men and women.

Mentoring - There are lots of good takeaways in this article on mentoring.

How ISIS Works - Here’s an overview of ISIS.

6 Reasons Women Should Study Theology - Jen Thorn has a list.

More Evidence that Scripture is of Divine Origin - Ed Welch: “I am always eager to find Scripture that encourages my confidence in its divine authorship. Every once in a while, I feel like I need to be wowed.”

Books Still Matter - Even ask Lecrae… (This new, free, biographical song of his is quite good.)

I have often repented of speech but hardly ever of silence. —C.S. Lewis

Lewis