Christian Living

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.

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.

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?

For My Kids on the Occasion of My 40th Birthday

For My Kids on the Occasion of My 40th Birthday

Tomorrow I turn 40. Lord willing, I’m about halfway done with this marathon we call life.

God has been so gracious to me. I have a godly wife who makes me laugh every day and two teenage children who grow daily in faith and wisdom. 25 and 27 years from now Camille and Soren will celebrate their 40th birthdays. This post is for them: it’s the hard-earned wisdom that I’ve accumulated over my years that I hope they can learn from. I hope it blesses you as well.

Here are the top ten truths I’ve learned in my 40 years:

1)     Seek wisdom

There is no end to foolishness in this world. Wisdom is a rare commodity. Run hard after it. Look to those whose character you admire. Listen to what they say and read what they write. When I was a kid, I was a sponge for sports trivia. I got a jolt in being able to know something someone else didn’t. In college I caught the bug for philosophical and theological knowledge. It took me until my later twenties and thirties to develop a stronger thirst for wisdom than knowledge. Accumulated wisdom is like the water of a river, it will smooth and shape the stones in its bed over time.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Most Teens Drop Out of Church When They Become Young Adults: There is a lot of important stuff in this recent study by Lifeway. Among the information uncovered is that, " Two-thirds (66 percent) of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22." "The five most frequently chosen specific reasons for dropping out were: moving to college and no longer attending (34 percent); church members seeming judgmental or hypocritical (32 percent); no longer feeling connected to people in their church (29 percent); disagreeing with the church’s stance on political or social issues (25 percent); and work responsibilities (24 percent)."

2.      When Money Gets Between Family Members: This is perhaps one of the most pastoral responses I've ever read, and it's not only not written by a pastor, it's written in a secular forum. What an incredible model of speaking the truth in love.

3.      I Grew Up Hearing My Grandfather was a War Hero. Army Records Say Otherwise. Dan Chrisinger tells about his search to understand his cantankerous grandfather that ends with surprising insight: " The only truth I can feel certain of now is that Hod had once been a young man who went to war, and that he died an old man who never found a way to make peace with what he had experienced... he remained trapped alone in his cover story. In discovering this about my grandfather, I encountered the man on a more human level: a man who was damaged and hurting — and ultimately, I now feel more closeness and connection with that man than I could possibly have felt for an untarnished hero of the battle for Kakazu Ridge."

4.      Awe in the Ordinary: I love this invitation from Cassie Watson, "Over my holiday, I wanted the feeling of wonder to keep going on and on. The good news is that it can—and I don’t have to wait until my next holiday to experience it. The true object of my awe is with me all the time. I don’t need to recreate the circumstances of that sunset, but instead run back up those beams to the one who is truly worthy of adoration."

5.      Higher/Wiser: I like this song both musically and lyrically that is from a band that is new to me, The Silver Pages.

The Power of Encouragement

The Power of Encouragement

She started her statement casually, “I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times before, but…” and then it came, one of the most encouraging things I had heard in weeks. She shared a thoughtful praise about how our Senior Pastor Greg and I complement each other as preachers. And no, I had never heard the encouragement quite that way before!

If I ask you to think of the most encouraging thing that was shared with you in your high school years you can probably think of that encouragement pretty quickly. Think about the impact that encouragement had on you. Think about how it shaped your life path. Pretty remarkable, right?

For me the encouragement that stands out to me was given to me as an eighteen year old by my Senior Pastor, Roger Barrier. He invited me to dinner and as we scooped spicy Albondigas into our mouths and chomped on Carne Asada burritos he shared that he believed that God would call me to be a senior pastor one day.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Poll Shows that Americans Like the Idea of the Bible, but Don't Actually Read it: Lifeway reports, " About half of Americans (53 percent) have read relatively little of the Bible. One in 10 has read none of it, while 13 percent have read a few sentences. Thirty percent say they have read several passages or stories."

2.      More Than a Quarter of the Deaths in Holland are Induced: This sobering report by John Burger finds that, "Fifteen years after the Netherlands decriminalized euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, more than 25 percent of all deaths in the nation are induced, rather than by illness or other natural causes."

3.      My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience: Dr. Wang Yi, Chinese pastor who was imprisoned in December, wrote this manifesto. Please read it. Among the many jewels in the letter, Yi writes, " As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission. Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world."

4.      The Importance of Clarity in Leadership: My friend and pastor Glen Elliott with a great post: " There’s too much noise and too many distractions in our world and anything short of being crystal clear won’t be heard. More than ever, folks want and need the clarity of a compelling vision, mission and purpose. And great leaders provide that."

5.      Hearing His Voice: Please watch this marvelous story of an unreached people group who are introduced to the Word of God. It's 25 minutes of encouragement.