This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Few Churched Teens are Devout as Young Adults: Aaron Earls has been unfolding this important LifeWay Research study recently. He shares, " Those who stopped attending church for at least a year are more likely to say they believe in God, but are uncertain about Christianity (17 to 8 percent); say they consider themselves spiritual, but not religious (13 to 5 percent); say they’re uncertain about their belief in God (7 to 3 percent); and say they don’t believe in God (6 to 1 percent)."

2.      4 Ways to Avoid the Church Dropout Danger Zone: Aaron Earls responds to the findings about young adults dropping out of church with some helpful advice: "Most parents don’t realize the impact their words and actions have on their teenagers. They wrongly assume their children aren’t listening and wouldn’t care. If parents make church a priority for the family, students will pick up on that. If parents treat church as if it is simply another activity to take or leave, students will pick up on that as well."

3.      Faithful with a Few: Jen Oshman with an important question for each of us, "How will you respond to the few? Every Christian must confront these questions because every Christian has a ministry, from the senior pastor to the children’s minister to the lay mentor who disciples young adults over coffee."

4.      The Importance of the Bible's Best Description of Salvation: Julie Canlis shares, " Paul says something far more often: He uses the phrase “in Christ” 165 timesThe Bible’s favorite way of describing our salvation is one we rarely use. For Paul, salvation was simple: It was being joined to Jesus Christ."

5.      5 Lessons Jordan Peterson Has Taught the Church: Esther O'Reilly has read Peterson deeply and has great insights on what the polarizing sociologist can teach us: "1. The Church must authentically meet men’s emotional needs… Peterson speaks with a voice that is at once authoritative and encouraging to men. He offers tough love that tells men they aren’t living up to their potential, without swinging to the other extreme and shaming them for it. He praises and exemplifies distinctively masculine virtues. And crucially, these virtues do not exclude emotion."

6. How PreachersNSneakers Exposes All Christians: Brady Shearer takes a look into the popular Instagram account that calls megachurch pastors out on their expensive shoe tastes. 

The Discipline of Today

The Discipline of Today

I love dreaming about and planning for tomorrow. Want to draw up a strategic plan? Count me in. Want to talk about which young NBA star will have the best career? Let’s go. Do you have predictions about the 2020 presidential election? Pull up a chair. Want to prognosticate about what the church is going to look like in 20 years? Sounds like a blast.

I’m wired for planning. Thoughtful forecasting can be powerful to the person who is willing to expend the energy preparing for their future. In fact, I wrote a series of blogs on how important it is to have a strategic plan for your spiritual life. But while planning has its place in the Christian life, it can also serve as a distraction or even fuel for sin.

The focus on tomorrow can feed discontentment, ingratitude, and laziness. If you’re like me, there is a danger that we can poorly steward the relationships and meetings that God has for us today if our eyes are too focused on the horizon. None of us like meeting with someone whose focus isn’t on us but past us: they tap their foot, look at the clock, and follow other (apparently more interesting people) with their eyes.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Sunday Regulars are Happier and Healthier: Kate Shellnut shares the findings of a recent Pew Research Center report, " Whatever the explanation may be, more than one-third describe themselves as very happy, compared with just a quarter of both inactive and unaffiliated Americans."

2.      Move Over Sex and Drugs, Ease is the New Vice: Jen Pollock Michel with a sharp insight, "The decline in sexual activity and cereal sales hardly seem correlated, but both seem to point to one of the most seductive promises of a technological age: that ours should be an unbothered life. As our lives (at least in the developed world) get easier, we are increasingly formed by the desire for ease."

3.      Why Are you Hiding? This is written specifically for pastors, but it applies to many of us. Chuck DeGroat asks us why we keep our real selves hidden and why that might be our destruction: "The 17th-century Presbyterian clergyman John Flavel wrote in Keeping the Heart, 'There are some men and women who have lived forty or fifty years in the world and have had scarcely one hour’s discourse with their hearts all the while.' I’ve found this to be true of many people in ministry... They’re lost pastors, lonely and busy and empty and radically disconnected from any kind of inner conversation with their hearts and with the God who is more near to them than their very breath."

4.      They Really Did Come From Nothing: Lucia Tai, the daughter of immigrants reports on her journey back to her parents' birth home in Vietnam and how that reshaped her perception of them and undermined her ingratitude. She says, " I’ve come to see that my parents have spent the majority of their lives trying to assimilate into a new culture and to fit a mould that they were not born into...The experience also helped me to further reject internalised racism and to appreciate my heritage more. After experiencing my family’s truth, all the values that had been drilled into me from young started to make sense: the undying work ethic, the need to save every penny, the call to be grateful and to make sacrifices for the family."

5.      4 Traits of a Good Small Group Question: Lynn Pryor with great advice for leading any discussion group. Her four traits of a good question are:"1. They don’t call for a single right answer; 2. They don’t have an obvious answer; 3. They don’t call for a short answer; 4. They call for a personal response or answer."

The Light and You

The Light and You

I was born in Fairbanks, Alaska. During the dead of winter, there are several weeks where the sun skims the horizon for a mere four hours a day.[i] If you move north to the Arctic Circle, there are days with no sunlight at all.

Can you imagine a world without light? A world where you can’t see your hand in front of your face?

A world without light is a world of terror and fear. It is a world where nothing is revealed and everything is hidden.

Jesus tells us that the world was dark before he came into it. In John 8:12 he tells us that he is the light of the world. Without Jesus the world is utter blackness.

And we are made to be the light. But before we can become the light, we need to have the light illuminate any darkness in us.

In Luke 8, Jesus talks about the lamp that comes into our lives: “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”[ii] 

This passage is usually misunderstood.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      What A Ten Year Study on Self-Centeredness Revealed: John Cacioppo concluded, "that focusing on yourself causes you to feel more isolated which causes you to focus even more on yourself. A vicious cycle of self-centeredness and loneliness ensues. To put it plainly — a focus on ourselves grows when we are continually by ourselves." 

2.      Half of Millennial Christians Say It's Wrong to Evangelize: Kate Shellnutt reports on new research from Barna, "Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, “if we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character,” she said. “This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix.”

3.      What God Does for Us in Suffering: Randy Alcorn offers important wisdom, " There’s no nearness to God without dependence on God. And nothing makes us more dependent on Him than when the bottom drops out."

4.      How to Read the Book of Revelation Well: Great advice by Ian Paul. Every point packs a great punch and is well worth the read. He shares, " This is not an exercise in being ‘academic’ in our reading. It is just the normal discipline of recognising that the Bible was speaking in the language of its context and culture, and this decisively shapes its meaning."

5.      Confronting Defensive People: Jim Van Yperen with seven pieces of advice that we can all use, "A simple rule is this: never confront power with power, confront power with loving truth."

6. Making Faith Your Own or Making Up Your Own Faith? Benjamin Vrbicek reflects on stunning statements from a seminary President.

How the Church Can Stop Eating Its Own Tail

How the Church Can Stop Eating Its Own Tail

It was our youth pastor, Dustin Tramel, who first made the pitch to me. I had just recently come on staff at New Life and he encouraged me to consider attending the Tucson Pastors’ Prayer Summit. He guaranteed it would be one of the most important things I did. He was right.

A couple of weeks ago I attended my fourth Pastors’ Prayer Summit on Mount Lemmon alongside Pastor Greg and Ryan Paonessa. It’s a three-day event that gathers forty pastors from around Tucson to pray for the city and one another.

In many eras of the church our theological disagreements have divided us. Those disagreements still persist, but I believe stronger even than those theological disagreements are our own competitive impulses. More than ever it is the fine and elusive line between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of [insert your church’s name here] that has created division in the church. It’s impossible to build unity in the Kingdom of God when we subconsciously believe our local church is the Kingdom of God.

This, of course, is a monster that is almost impossible to stop feeding. Christians float in our doors from other churches, wooed by our children’s program or music, and then float out to another church, wooed by its student ministry or preaching. We are the Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail, pastors and parishioners swapping out positions as mouth and tail. We consume one another with an insatiable appetite.

And this is why I need the Prayer Summit.

Holy Week Recommendations

Holy Week Recommendations

A blessed Maundy Thursday to you, friends. I have three Passion Week videos for you this week. May this Holy Week be a powerful re-centering week of reflection for you as you consider Christ’s atoning death for you.

1.      Sacrifice and Atonement: The Bible Project explains the reason why God has people

2.      The Last Week of Jesus’ Life: The Bible Project walks through the final week of Jesus’ life.

3.      All Hail King Jesus: Jeremy Riddle: “There on a cross they made for sinners; For every curse; His blood atoned One final breath and it was finished; But not the end we could have known.”

8 Ways Holy Week Shapes Our Lives

8 Ways Holy Week Shapes Our Lives

How is your life shaped by Easter week? I mean other than the obligatory 3 pounds that is about to be added to your waistline courtesy of honey baked ham, deviled eggs, and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups (if you’re going to put on the weight, it might as well be good… not Peeps or generic jelly beans!)?

It has often been noted that the final week of Jesus’ life takes up a disproportionate amount of the gospel narratives. Approximately a third of the gospel accounts are devoted to the final week of Jesus’ life:

·        8 of 28 chapters in Matthew

·        6 of 16 chapters in Mark

·        5 of 24 chapters in Luke

·        9 of 21 chapters in John

Of the 52 weeks of our year, Holy Week is highlighted and underlined. On this week the other 51 weeks of our year hang, on this week, the other 51 are shaped.

How does the Holy Week shape our lives?

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by DA Carson

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by DA Carson

DA Carson is one of the clearest and deepest thinkers in the Reformed evangelical world. In The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God Carson tackles what is perhaps the most difficult issue for Reformed thinkers to grapple with: if the God of the Bible is sovereign, can he really be loving?

Before making his case for what the love of God looks like, Carson grapples with the distortion of the love of God. In Carson’s words, “The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized.”

Carson spends the first two chapters parceling out the love of God. First, Carson lays out what is his most significant contribution in the book: a layered understanding of the love of God. In doing so, Carson comes to grips with the multitude of ways God is talked about scripturally. For instance, how does one reconcile God’s love of the world with his love of the elect? It is a surprisingly difficult task that Carson has an elegant solution for.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      8 Reasons Young Adults Leave Your Church (And 8 Reasons They Stay): Ben Trueblood reflects, "There simply isn’t an understanding of what the church is, how it functions in their life, and how they are meant to be function as part of it.”

2.      May She Be My Delight: Greg Morse reflects on Christ's love for the church and our call to love our wives with that same delight, "God does not tolerate his church. He does not ignore her. He does not wake up in the morning thinking he married the wrong girl. Familiarity does not dampen his passion."

3.      Behind Every Good Woman Stands a Good Man: Courtney Reissig concludes, " Our gifts both in the marketplace and in the church are not for ourselves, but for others. So when I free him to work and serve, I’m part of that work, too. And vice versa. Behind every good man, stands a good woman. And behind every good woman, a good man stands, too."

4.      Secularism is Boring: Nicholas T McDonald's long and dense post is well worth the read. He dissects the layers of problems of our secularist world, "'Irony tyrannizes us.'...Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: ‘How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean.’”...Because we are a plotless people. We’re banging our heads on the nothing wall." 

5.      Belief in Hell and Psychological Health: David Briggs Arda compiles some interesting studies on belief in hell. He shares,"The findings, some of which even surprised research team members, included: The more religious an individual was, the less likely they were to display hell anxiety. Unhealthy fears were not related to dogmatism or religious fundamentalism."