Monthly Archives: July 2011

Your Wife, Your Bride

Jon Acuff writes at Stuff Christians Like on peculiar evangelical jargon:

It weirds me out a little when a guy refers to his wife as his “bride.”

Unless it’s your wedding day, telling me, “I need to go see my bride,” sounds a little strange to me. If it’s your big day and you’re about to go down the aisle, bride it up. Say bride all day long like it was your J.O.B. Go bride wild. I’ll even get in on the action and say things like, “Your bride looks beautiful today.” Or “It’s going to be amazing for you to see your bride walk down the aisle!” I’m 100% down for calling your wife “bride” on the day you get married.

The day after your wedding? I’m not so sure.

Jon then lists 3 reasons why it’s weird.

Let’s keep in mind that Jon is largely a satirist, is poking fun at this evangelical cliche, and that above all that he is only stating this as his opinion, not saying that it’s wrong to call your wife your bride.

But this perspective has gained some traction in other corners recently, and it’s starting to sound as if the point is that it makes no sense to call a non-newlywed wife a “bride.” But it actually makes good gospel sense to call a non-newlywed wife a bride.

For one thing, the church is called the Bride of Christ, and we’ve been established for at least 2,000 years (though foreknown before time began). But there is also …

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Planting vs. Replanting in New England

New England is now the least-churched, least-reached area of the United States, making it America’s most needy mission field. Yet missional church planters are not flocking here. There are likely some good reasons for that.

And I am loathe to ascribe it to lack of interest, necessarily, because every week I receive emails from men who feel called to minister in New England. Most of these do not believe they are called or gifted to plant churches. (I sympathize, because I am neither called nor gifted to be a church planter either.) So they ask about existing churches needing pastors. Are there churches here in need of pastors?

Yes. There are many dying or dwindling churches, and some just plateaued congregations dawdling around, that are in desperate need of gospel-centered shepherding. My church, for instance, has commissioned 4 of our men to provide pulpit supply for a growing number of churches in our area who are without a preacher. One of our guys was recently asked by two churches in the same town to be their regular preacher each week. And whenever I bring up the need for church planting in New England, I will hear from a few cautioning corners that the “real” need in New England is for pastors to take over existing churches.


First of all, this is not an either/or situation. As in all areas of mission, we need the restoration/reinvigoration of existing communities of faith and we need fresh plantings of new communities of faith.

Secondly, …

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Holy vs. Holier Than Thou

Somebody asked a good question of me this weekend: “How do we become holy without becoming ‘holier than thou’?”

The answer is simple: By actually becoming holy, not just thinking we are.

Holiness and holier-than-thou-ness aren’t parallel phenomena. They run on different tracks. If someone is growing in arrogance, pride, and self-righteousness, by definition they are not growing in holiness.

The problem arises in equating holiness with religious behavior. Holy people do obey God, of course. But the character of holiness, in which the Spirit does his progressive sanctifying work in our hearts (and therefore in our thoughts, speech, and actions), produces qualities of humility, gentleness, kindness, and self-control. Any arrogant fool can abstain from certain sins or give to charity and what-not. The Pharisees certainly did that, and all our legalistic contemporaries do too. But that is not real holiness. That is moralistic separatism or some such thing.

Therefore, it is impossible to become both holy and holier-than-thou. To grow in one, is to atrophy in the other.

But I am grateful that while I still struggle with a variety of sins, most especially the root sin of pride, I have God’s promise that he will complete the work he began in me, and that Jesus is both the author and the perfecter of my faith.

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That Irritating Feeling, That Twinge? That’s the Scandal of the Cross

The horrid beast who murdered upwards of 100 in Norway last week deserves the full measure of justice executed upon him, and worse. He deserves the wrath of God. And if he goes to his grave as he is, he will experience the eternal conscious torment of hell.

But if he repents and believes in Christ . . .

That little “twinge” we feel at the very idea is our brushing up against the scandal of the cross.

David Berkowitz — most (in)famously known as the “Son of Sam” — was a serial killer who terrorized New York City from 1976 to 1977. In 1987 he made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. “Of course he did,” we say. “They all do.” But his commitment to the faith has lasted, and his repentance has been visible and consistent, evidenced continually in his request not to be paroled in order to own the consequences of his sins and to not cause any distress to the families of his victims, and in his advocacy for victims’ rights groups, arguing that killers should not profit from writing or memorabilia related to their crimes. (Proceeds from Berkowitz’s own book go to a victims’ rights group, not to himself.)

This bothers a great many of us. We don’t care how repentant he looks; we reckon his crimes too heinous to forgive.

If this vicious murderer in Norway repents of his sins and trusts in Jesus’ saving work on his behalf, when he goes to his grave he will be …

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The Worship Gathering is for Beholding

The gospel must be central because nothing else even comes close to filling the eternal gap.We all agree that fallen man has a “God-shaped hole,” but then we go on to suggest all kinds of fillers that are not God — financial success, good sex, promotions at work, healthy relationships, happy spouses and children, community service, outlets for our creativity, etc. All good things but all things you can have and do and still be eternally bankrupt.

Our scale is far too small. The Bible speaks to all manner of good things useful to all men, but the Church is starving (starving!) for the glory of God. We too easily forget that the gospel covers the scale of eternity, that it is the division between real life and death, that God is infinite and our sin is a condemnation-worthy offense against an eternally holy God. We preach and we settle for much less than, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!”

Every week people file into our church services aching for eternity; in our zeal to provide something they may find comfortable and useful and inoffensive, are we offending the God who wishes to offend us in awe of his glory? Are we dismissing our brother Jesus whose formula for victory includes crucifixion?

The scale is enormous, the stakes are high. Instead of spiritually dressing up the idols we know people want, let’s give them what they need — God all in all, the filling of the …

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Growing Churches is Not the Goal

The deceptively simple task of disciple-making is made demanding, frustrating and difficult in our world, not because it is so hard to grasp but because it is so hard to persevere in.

This is why we are such suckers for the latest ministry expert, who has always grown a church of at least 5000 from scratch, and who has a guaranteed method for growing your church to be like his. Every five or ten years, a new wave comes through. It might be the seeker-service model, or the purpose-driven model, or the missional-cultural-engagement model, or whatever the next thing will be. All of these methodologies have good things going for them, but all of them are equally beside the point — because our goal is not to grow churches, but to make disciples.

– Collin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine (Matthias Media: 2009), p.151.

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Strange Allowance, Greater Glory

Unless we fudge on the traditional view of God’s omniscience, the only thesis that makes the most biblical sense of why God would allow man the ability to disobey is that it gives himself greater glory to save a fallen man than to never have let man fall at all.

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Lay the Gospel to Heart

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you . . .– 1 Corinthians 15:1

As a pastor committed to gospel-centrality, it can be frustrating and distressing to re-learn every day how difficult it is for people to “get it.” Every day in gospel-centered ministry is a new lesson in “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive” (Is. 6:9).

This is not a deficiency of pulpit preaching, because a) people seem very good at remembering the parts they want to remember, and b) the gospel is the primary message of everything else I/we do, from counseling to children’s talks to friendly chit-chat to Facebook page status updates and the like.

Still, many seem pathologically devoted to anything warm and fuzzy that is not the gospel. “If I just stay positive, things will be okay.” Well, no, they won’t. And I’ve told you that a billion times. “If I just pray more, my life wouldn’t be so difficult.” Are we reading the same Bible? “Just keep hoping; that’s all we’ve got.” That doesn’t even make sense.

My least favorite times are when those who hear the gospel clearly articulated on a regular basis couldn’t tell you in their own words what the gospel is.

In the Scriptures we find this phrase “lay it to heart” or “take it to heart.” We find that there are many who hear the words of God, but they never lay them to heart. We’re still failing to do that, …

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Called into the All-Surpassing Awesomeness of Jesus

John 1:35-51:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good …

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The Milder the Label, the Deadlier the Poison

After a minister had spoken strongly against sin one morning, one of his members said, “We don’t want you to talk so plainly about sin because if our boys and girls hear you mention it, they will more easily become sinners. Call it a mistake if you will, but do not speak so bluntly about sin.”

The minister went to the medicine shelf and brought back a bottle of strychnine marked POISON. He said, “I see what you want me to do. You want me to change the label. Suppose I take off this ‘poison’ label and put on some mild label such as ‘peppermint candy.’ Can’t you see the danger? The milder you make the label, the more deadly the poison.”

During the last few years we have been putting a mild label on sin. We’ve called it “error,” “negative action,” and “inherent fault.” But it is high time that we put a POISON label back on the poison bottle and not be afraid to be as plain as the Bible is about the tragic consequences of sin.

– Billy Graham, Introduction to Freedom From the Seven Deadly Sins (Zondervan, 1966).

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