Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

Building a Church Planting Culture in Your Church

When a culture of planting emerges, your biggest challenge will become where to plant next.

8 Lies Christians Believe about Success

At some point in my life, Christianity had become a magic wand instead of a humble posture.

What Do We Do When Everything We’ve Worked For Seems To Fail?

How would he cope when the romantic ideal he had pictured in his brain did not match the heartbreaking, daily reality of life on the ground?

4 Things I Learned at Dinner with Church Leaders from Denmark

I was anxious to learn about how evangelicals are witnessing to the gospel in a country that is much further down the road of secularization than the United States.

Don’t be a Commentary Junkie

While they can be terrific as a reference, commentaries are a poor substitute for studying the Bible yourself.

Do Your Sermon Illustrations Help or Hurt? Five Major Pitfalls to Avoid

Sometimes illustrations can do more harm than good. Here are some of the major illustration pitfalls to avoid...

Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

what do I do with all the apparent contradictions in the Bible? Certainly there seems to be contradictions.

Will We See God?

We risk minimizing our need for Jesus if we believe that one day we will be glorified sufficiently to look at God without his mediation.

Sin in the Present Tense

When we talk about God’s grace, we often talk about grace for past sin. But what about sin in the present tense? Is there grace for that as well?

It’s an important question, because we need grace for present sin. “There do not seem to be any convincing verses in Scripture that teach that it is possible for anyone to be completely free of sin in this life,” writes Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology. We need present grace for present sin, or else we’re in trouble.

However, we're often unprepared for how to deal with present-tense sin. We hide in shame and try to self-atone by feeling bad and beating ourselves up, rather than trusting in the finished work of Christ.

How do we deal with present-tense sin? Seven ideas:

One: We shouldn’t be surprised by present sin. As James notes, “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). John writes that nobody should claim to be sinless (1 John 1:8-10). Sin will be part of our ongoing reality until our glorification.

Two: We shouldn’t accept present sin. Countless Scriptures tell us to strive for holiness and avoid evil (e.g. 2 Corinthians 7:1, Colossians 3:5). We can never make a truce with sin, despite the first point.

Three: We shouldn't get overly discouraged when we sin. While we shouldn't accept sin, neither should we wallow in guilt and shame. Instead, we should run to God's grace. Millard Erickson captures this well:

On the one hand…there need not be great feelings of discouragement, defeat, even despair and guilt, when we do sin. But on the other hand, it also means that we will not be overly pleased with ourselves nor indifferent to the presence of sin. (Christian Theology)

Four: We can be open about our sins and struggles with God. This is hard, because we're usually ashamed. I love what Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel write in Beloved Dust:

Everything that comes out of our hearts in the presence of the Lord is an invitation to be known by him. Whether it is fear, shame, pride, anxiety, or even lust, our call is to open those things before him and receive redemption as those who desperately need it.

Five: Confess sins (appropriately) in community. As Kent Hughes points out in his commentary on James 5:16, sin brings isolation. Confession destroys this autonomy, promotes humility, allows the free flow of grace in community, and allows us to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:1).

Six: Confess sins corporately. As William Dyrness says, this is just confessing reality. It's why I love including corporate confession in our public worship. This can be one of the most beautiful parts of the service. Mike Cosper writes, “As Christians acknowledge their failures together, they testify to the world that the plausibility of the gospel is rooted not in their performance, but in the faithful mercy of God.”

Seven: Pray for daily forgiveness. It’s interesting that Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread" and then "forgive us our debts…” (Matthew 6:11-12). Just as we need to pray for daily bread, we also need to pray for daily forgiveness. It's our daily prayer this side of the fullness of the Kingdom.

We sin in the present tense. We need God’s grace in the present tense. Believing the gospel means that we are free to acknowledge this reality, free to run to grace, and free to be real rather than posing and pretending.

The Three Questions Behind the Question

Take almost any controversial issue these days, and there are three levels of questions being asked.

Question One: Does the Bible Trump My Opinions? The Authority Question

The first question is whether Scripture is authoritative or not. Will we allow Scripture to contradict us? This is the Stepford Wives test, as Tim Keller puts it:

Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won’t! You’ll have a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction.

Until we settle this question, it’s no use moving on to the second question. Once we agree on the Bible’s authority, though, we’re ready for question two.

Question Two: What Does the Bible Teach? The Interpretation Question

Once we’ve established that Scripture has authority, we still have to determine what Scripture says. While our interpretations are fallible, it’s still important to interpret Scripture as skillfully as we know how, and to allow Scripture to continually refine and shape our convictions.

Question Three: How Do We Apply the Bible’s Teachings? The Application Question

Applying the truth of Scripture also takes wisdom. It’s not enough to know what Scripture teaches; we also need to know how to apply the truth of Scripture in the context of messy lives and messy churches.

One issue; three questions. I’ve found this really helpful when thinking about addressing difficult topics with others. It’s important to know which of these questions people are really asking.

Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

Are You Weak Enough for God to Use You?

God is so single-minded in his preference for weakness, that when he wants to use us, he often begins by weakening us.

Steward the Gifts God Has Assigned to You

So live your assignment. Steward your gifts to the utmost for the sake of others. Aspire to be the very best and most fruitful you that you can be for God’s glory.

Being an Iceberg Pastor

Whatever public ministry a pastor engages in (that bit above the surface) needs to be built upon a lifetime of preparation, growth, character, learning, and reliance on God (the mass under the surface).

Are You a Rebellious or Submissive Leader?

Submission is not a word you usually connect to leadership but it may be one of the most powerful attributes for a leader to succeed in going the distance and successfully passing that baton of leadership to his/her successor.

7 Ways to Create Time to Think

I recently shared with some of my team seven ways that I am trying to implement more brain time into my life. Here they are...

5 Freakish Things a Church Must Do

Your church should be seen as a bit odd, freakish, and otherworldly. Here are five peculiar things a church must do...

7 Questions Every Church Needs to Answer

Seriously. Take a day, sit down, and work through these questions.

No Coasting

I’m now officially old enough to coast. I have been for a while. According to Crest Leadership, most leaders start well. Around the age of 40, most start to plateau and either end up maintaining or declining. Only a minority continue to grow, which is a shame. “The second half of life has the most potential,” they write.

I’ve done my share of coasting. I’m happy to be in a position now in which coasting is just not a possibility. It’s hard to coast and plant a church at the same time.

I spoke this week on Paul’s command to Timothy: “Fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). This means to accomplish something thoroughly and completely. Leave nothing on the table. Give it everything you’ve got. Bring it to completion holding back nothing. Stay at it until the task is completed. That’s how I want to spend the next decades of my life. It’s much better than coasting.

Charles Simeon was the pastor of Trinity Church, Cambridge, England for 49 years. When Simeon was approaching 60, he decided to retire. He went to what he thought was his last visit to Scotland. His voice had been bad; he had been through the wringer. But while there, he had an encounter with God. He felt that God actually said to him:

I laid you aside, because you entertained with satisfaction the thought of resting from your labour; but that now you have arrived at the very period when you had promised yourself that satisfaction, and have determined instead to spend your strength for me to the latest hour of your life, I have doubled, trebled, quadrupled your strength, that you may execute your desire on a more extended plan.

At sixty years of age, Simeon renewed his commitment to his pulpit and the mission of the church and preached vigorously for 17 more years, until two months before his death. He gave himself with all his might to the work till he died.

It’s a good example: spending our strength for God to the latest hour of our lives, choosing not to coast but to fulfill our ministries to the end. I pray that God doubles, triples, or quadruples the strength of those who keep at it till the end.