Saturday Links

Links for your weekend reading:

The Gospel Coalition Ontario Conference

Registration is now open.

3 Ways Leaders Can Maintain an Exercise Routine (and Why They Should)

Here are three ways to embed exercise into your life.

The Most Ignored Commandment

Once a week, God walks out on the Sabbath bridge to meet us. But most of us are no-shows; we unapologetically stand up the Creator of the universe, week after week.

How Successful People Work Less—and Get More Done

Successful people know the importance of shifting gears on the weekend to relaxing and rejuvenating activities.

Gospel Irony: When the Gospel Prevails in Unlikely Places

We take courage in this: the gospel prevails in unlikely places.

God Owes Me Nothing

Here’s what I often forget: God owes me nothing. I could be the best disciple or pastor, and God still owes me nothing. In fact, the opposite is true: I owe God everything. It’s a privilege just to serve him.

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Why do I live like God owes me something? Could it be that I’m really serving myself when I think I’m serving God?

In Luke 17, Jesus tells a story about servants who work hard but receive no thanks. Jesus concludes his story by giving us an important lesson: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:9-10).

If we’re not careful, we will think that God is stingy and ungrateful. That’s not true at all. God is anything but stingy, and he repeatedly promises rewards for those who serve him.

Instead, Jesus is setting us free from thinking that we earn through our service. The moment that pride enters our service to God, we begin to serve ourselves rather than him. God isn’t stingy; God is good in preventing us from ruining our ministries with a sense of entitlement. He’s injecting grace into our service and knocking us off the earning treadmill.

“Though we have no claim upon him for a reward,” wrote Charles Simeon, “he will requite our services; nor shall the smallest attempt to honor him be overlooked.”

I owe him everything; he owes me nothing. My service is never about earning, and God desires to protect me from myself even in how I serve him.

I wonder how this would change my life if I really understood it.

Christianity in Canada

If you want a picture of the state of Christianity in Canada, consider the following:

  • Weekly religious service attendance in Canada is in a free fall from 67% in 1946 to 11% in 2013.*
  • The categories “never attend a religious service” or “have no religion” are the fastest growing categories between 1996 and 2013. In fact, they are the only categories that are growing.
  • 24% in Canada claim no religion, compared to 10% who identify as evangelical — the latter number being one that would be unimaginably high in my community.
  • 3% read the Bible daily. An additional 5% read the Bible once a week or more.
  • 66% generally support the legalization of euthanasia.
  • According to sociologist Reginald Bibby, immigration accounts for most of the growth in our churches.
  • You’re more likely to meet a Buddhist than a Baptist in Toronto.

Toronto used to be called Toronto the good, the city of churches. Now many of those churches are being converted into condos and lofts. Nobody would say that the church is much of an influence on society anymore.

But that’s not the whole picture.

I’ve never met so many church planters in Canada before. I’ve never seen so many denominations working together to advance the gospel. I’ve never seen networks like C2C start with a burden for revival, and a lack of concern for who gets the credit. Then there are the pastors who are doing the hard work of revitalizing churches that were started in a very different context.

I attended a small meeting yesterday at Exponential, an annual church planting conference in Florida. The meeting was organized by Church Planting Canada. Exponential usually has a very American flavor to it — not a bad thing, but very different from Canada. But yesterday it took on a Canadian feel as church planters and network leaders met to talk about what God is doing in Canada. Though the spiritual climate is challenging, and our numbers are small, I sensed optimism in the room, and a hunger for God to do something new.

Canadian Church Planters bonus session at Exponential

Canadian Church Planters bonus session at Exponential

Pray for Canada. God is doing something. Someone yesterday compared it to the small raincloud that Elijah saw when he prayed for rain (1 Kings 18:44). It’s small, but maybe there’s more coming.

I hope to see it in my lifetime.


*The stat about 1946 church attendance came from George Gallup, as reported by Reginald Bibby in this article (PDF). However, it seems unbelievably high.

 

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.