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Worth a Look 11.13.14

Nov 13, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: I recently blogged through Richard Hays’ Moral Vision of the New Testament. Today, the book is only $2.99.

A leading expert in New Testament ethics discovers in the biblical witness a unified ethical vision — centered in the themes of community, cross and new creation — that has profound relevance in today-s world. Richard Hays shows how the New Testament provides moral guidance on the most troubling ethical issues of our time, including violence, divorce, homosexuality and abortion.

Brilliant satire from Andrew Wilson – The Case for Idolatry: Why Evangelical Christians Can Worship Idols

It has been such a blessing to discover that worshipping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I have finally summoned the courage to admit that I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe that idolatry and Christianity are compatible.

John Piper reviews Marilynne Robinson’s Lila:

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson writes fiction and non-fiction with complexity and narrative skill, because the thinkers who have moved her most deeply “did some justice to the complexity of things” and spoke of salvation as “a revolution of consciousness that opened on an overwhelming sense of the beautiful” — people like John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards. In other words, she’s complex, because reality is. And she pursues skilled craftsmanship, because reality is beautiful.

I always appreciate John Dyer’s thoughts on technology. Here’s a good article from him: Is the End of Mark Driscoll’s Church a Sign for Satellite Churches?

These examples show that some of our reflexive critiques may not be very strong, and that what actually happens at video churches can be counterintuitive.

Tim Chester – Over-Pastoring and Under-Pastoring:

There are two common dangers in pastoral ministry and Paul is alert to both of them. They are what we might call over-pastoring and under-pastoring.

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Mission in a Secular Age: A Conversation with James K. A. Smith

Nov 12, 2014 | Trevin Wax

9780802867612A book sure to make my list of “favorite reads” this year is Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age - a work of philosophy and history that opens a window on the meaning of secularity and its significance for how we live.

I don’t know how I would have had the stamina to persevere through Taylor’s volume if not for a companion book: How (Not) To Be Secular by James K. A. Smith. The companion volume does more than summarize Taylor’s work; Smith adds to it, dissents from it, and explores its relevance for the church today.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a number of reflection posts based on Taylor’s work:

Today, I’ve invited James K. A. Smith here to discuss his book, How (Not) To Be Secular, and the significance of Taylor’s A Secular Age for understanding our cultural moment and how the church can thrive in this environment. Smith is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College. I’ve interviewed him twice before, about his books Imagining the Kingdom and Desiring the Kingdom.

Trevin Wax: Something that might surprise readers who pick up a philosophical work like A Secular Age is the amount of space Taylor devotes to historical survey. You encourage readers to treat the book almost like a novel, or at the very least, a story to be absorbed. What is the significance of Taylor’s narrative method and how does it relate to his overall argument?

James K. A. Smith: Well, first, Taylor believes that if we are going to understand our present, we have to know how we got here. It’s kind of like when you’re courting a spouse: things are getting serious, and you notice some characteristics and traits that are quirky, or maybe even troubling. And then you meet their parents and you’re like, “Ooooooh, now I get it. I see where this is coming from.”

In a similar way, what you need is a kind of genealogy of late modern culture:

  • What’s our family tree look like, so to speak?
  • What were the twists and turns that got us to our “secular age?”
  • What shifts took place in the realm of ideas?
  • What changed at the level of communal practice, material life, and political organization?

If you think “everything changed” in the 1960’s, your purview is too shortsighted. We are the heirs of societal shifts that are 500 years old. It might look like you’re witnessing a revolution, but it turns out it’s been percolating for centuries.

Or think of it this way: we might be witnessing flash fires that catch us off guard, but Taylor wants to show us that the fire only flared up because there’s been a social and intellectual lava flow creeping across culture for centuries.

Second, Taylor is trying to give us a narrative because he appreciates that we are “storied” creatures. I don’t think he quite pulls this off, because he let the project grow to such a gargantuan, overwhelming length. But when you distill it down, as I try to do in How (Not) To Be Secular, you can see that Taylor is trying to tell a story because he believes that we really make sense of the world at an “imaginative” level.

So it’s not enough to convince people with an argument; you have to capture their imagination with a story.  (I think this is why Hal Bush has rightly read How (Not) To Be Secular alongside Imagining the Kingdom.)

Trevin Wax: Taylor describes the path from a pre-modern era where unbelief was almost unthinkable to the place we are today, a world that has been “disenchanted” and can now be reordered according to reason. Readers may be surprised to see Taylor attribute at least part of this shift to the religious Reform initiated by Protestants (also impacting Catholics) in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. What aspects of this development do you believe were positive? What aspects were negative?

James K. A. Smith: We should emphasize that, in many ways, Taylor affirms this shift. By refusing a kind of two-tiered view of the Christian life, these late medieval Reform movements emphasized what he calls “the sanctification of ordinary life”: that those engaged in the nitty-gritty of domestic life—having families and raising children and making horseshoes and tilling the earth—live their lives just as much coram Deo (“before the face of God”) as those who renounced domestic, “earthly” life (monks, priests, nuns). There is no all-star team in the Christian life; we are all called to holiness and we can pursue holiness in any and all of our earthly vocations. In a sense, then, the Reformation recovered a more affirmative theology of creation, creaturehood, and so-called “earthly” work.

However, one of the other results of the Reformation was a kind of disenchantment of Christian worship, not so much in Luther and Calvin, or at least not to the extent that later Reformers like Zwingli or the Puritans. This disenchantment involved a rejection of sacramentality—the conviction that the Spirit meets us in matter, that material stuff is a channel of grace. As a result, Christianity becomes a kind of intellectualized set of ideas rather than a liturgical way of life.

Taylor calls this a process of excarnation, and in many ways I think it is a lamentable byproduct of the Reformation—and not one that necessarily has to follow from other convictions of the Reformers. Indeed, I would say some of us (like Todd Billings, John Witvliet, Hans Boersma, me, and others) are trying to recover a ”Reformed catholicity” that tries to undo this part of the story.

Trevin Wax: You agree with Taylor that many versions of Christian apologetics not only respond to the Deism or Humanism they confront, but also reflect some Deistic or Humanistic assumptions. Can you explain the critique here, and offer some apologetic methods you believe are more effective in our secular age?

James K. A. Smith: What I mean is that most forms of apologetics (what we often identify as “classical” apologetics) don’t realize the extent to which they have absorbed and assumed the epistemology of an immanent frame, or have accepted the modern expectation that we should be able to make sense of the whole in our ability to explain, for instance, the existence of evil in God’s good world (why should creatures expect to have the purview of the creator?). Too many Christians accept an ontology or metaphysics that is quite content with a disenchanted world—and then try to paradoxically argue for the existence of God from that standpoint. (Obviously I say more about this in the book.)

To put it another way: too often Christian apologists try to convince people’s intellects and fail to realize that many people don’t believe otherwise because of reasons or evidence but precisely because stories have captured their imaginations and they are living out an alternative narrative.

So, a more effective apologetic would not fight skirmishes on the level of the rationalistic debates but would target our “social imaginaries” (as Taylor calls them)—the submerged, tacit, inchoate ways that we imagine the world before we ever think about it. This is why Cardinal Ratzinger, just before he became pope, said that the church’s most effective witnesses were her saints and her art. Both speak to the imagination.

In a secular age, Josh McDowell and William Lane Craig are not really going to pierce the imaginaries in which many people are ensconced. We would do better to give friends a copy of Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic, or the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, or get them to watch the HBO documentary, God Is the Bigger Elvis.

Trevin Wax: Taylor writes about the “malaise of immanence” – feeling the “cross-pressures” of being pushed toward immanence and transcendence simultaneously in our pursuit of meaning and significance. What are some popular films or books that would help us better understand these cross-pressures?

James K. A. Smith: Ah, that’s an interesting question. Obviously I can only suggest some of my own favorites that will no doubt reflect some of my own preferences and tastes.

For my money, David Foster Wallace is a fascinating writer in this respect. Folks might start with his posthumous short story, “All That.” Christopher Beha’s novel, What Happened to Sophie Wilder, could almost be read as a companion volume to Taylor’s A Secular Age. The recently published Prayer Journal of Flannery O’Connor is also interesting in this respect—giving us a glimpse into the complex life of a believer struggling with doubt in modernity. The poetry of Franz Wright shows us someone working through these same sorts of cross-pressures. And despite the fact that hipsters love to hate on it, I actually think U2’s latest album, Songs of Innocence, inhabits exactly this space, pushed and pulled between immanence and transcendence (not surprising, given the echo of Blake).

Trevin Wax: Taylor describes our current age as one of “authenticity” or “expressive individualism.” How does the church speak compellingly in this kind of society (knowing we too are formed by individualistic assumptions) while also countering elements of this outlook that are not in line with Scripture?

James K. A. Smith: Well, for the most part, I don’t think the church has been at all compelling in this respect, to be honest. The church largely reflects rather than deflects this expressivist tendency. When I look at the sorts of writers who become bestsellers in evangelicalism, my heart sinks. Expressivism sells, and perhaps nowhere more than among those who are “spiritual.”

That said, this is the water we’re swimming in, and it won’t do just to denounce it or rail against it. We need to meet people where they are. That might involve looking at how a biblical worldview uniquely values the individual: we are called into a relationship with the God who knows the very number of hairs on our head. In fact, Taylor would say that this biblical emphasis on Christ’s redemption of individuals is partly what got us to today, though obviously this biblical emphasis on individual dignity becomes something else when it morphs into individualism.

Perhaps starting from there, we can also help folks to name and identify just how and why an individualistic, expressivist orientation to the world is so exhausting and starts having diminishing returns. Do-it-yourself spirituality is actually a lot of work, and can be incredibly isolating. If we can meet people where they are, and perhaps give them space and freedom and permission to be honest about how this “isn’t working,” we can invite them to see why finding oneself in relation to something bigger than the individual can be experienced as a liberation from self-enslavement.

I think this is one of the reasons why I believe Augustine is actually such a contemporary resource for us. Indeed, I think he’s the patron saint of postmoderns. But that’s my next book.

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Worth a Look 11.12.14

Nov 12, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry by Jared Wilson. $0.99.

Full of real-world examples from the author’s own life and ministry, this book reminds all pastors that their justification is not found in ministry success or audience approval, but rather in the finished work of Christ.

Ryan Kelly & Kevin DeYoung – Extra-Ecclesial Gospel Partnerships: A Mess Worth Making

Should Christians who share many of the most important theological commitments partner across denominational lines for mutual support and collaborative ministry? Are there historical precedents for the kind of gospel networks we see flourishing in evangelicalism today? How do popular extra-ecclesial gospel partnerships work (or not work) in the current U.S. church scene?

Strength to Lead Grows Through Resistance:

Since resistance is inevitable, you might as well embrace it. You can become a better leader if you use instances of resistance like a bodybuilder, who lifts heavier and heavier weights to get stronger and bigger. See them as opportunities to grow your strength as a leader, not an excuse to give up.

Where will you brush up against resistance? And how can you use it to grow stronger as a leader?

 Where are All the Good Stories about Marriage?

It is my contention that, while movies and television cannot be blamed exclusively for our society’s rejection of theologically conservative ideas about marriage, they have certainly made it easier for our neighbors to imagine that such a marriage, especially its exclusive status, is impossible or undesirable. I also contend that we have not fully reckoned with the power of the artistic imagination.

And therein lies a task for us.

Hamburger Chain Locations Across the U.S.:

McDonald’s is everywhere. Burger King and Wendy’s are most places. But if you need to know how far you are from the nearest Five Guys or Sonic, look to Nathan Yau’s Burger Geography project. He charted the distribution of hamburger-centric restaurants over on FlowingData.

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Book Notes: Jesus Continued / Nothing to Be Frightened Of / The Giver

Nov 11, 2014 | Trevin Wax

jesus-continued-cover-largeJESUS CONTINUED:
Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You
by J. D. Greear

Take a moment to savor the subtitle of J. D. Greear’s book, noted above. It’s a paraphrase of Jesus’ own words in John 16:7. It is to our advantage that Jesus go away and send the Spirit.

If the subtitle catches your attention, the rest of this book will deepen your love for the Spirit and dependence upon His power. J. D. wants us to want the Spirit – to be filled with His presence and power as we proclaim the glory of the crucified and risen King Jesus.

This is a book that challenged and convicted me – and ultimately led me to repentance for the many times I have overestimated my own ability and vision and underestimated the magnitude of what God can do through us when we yield to the Spirit.

Read this and be refreshed.

41rjDZUJFjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF
by Julian Barnes

“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” With that line, Julian Barnes launches a book of reflections on life, religion, and morality as the shadow of death slowly closes in.

Barnes’ book perfectly captures the “cross-pressure” (in Charles Taylor’s words) of being an unbeliever in a secular age. Barnes is haunted by the transcendence he has dismissed, nostalgic for the God he does not believe exists.

The title sums up the heart of the work. In one sense, the atheist has nothing to be frightened of, since death is merely the ceasing of existence. But in another sense, the atheist has nothing to be frightened of. The extinguishing of life forever and joining eternal nothingness is a somewhat frightening prospect, although not enough to scare Barnes into religious fairytales.

Honest about his wrestlings, committed to his naturalism, yet envious of the hope he sees in his believing friends, Barnes reflects on death in a way that is most compelling.

The_Giver_CoverTHE GIVER
Lois Lowry

A friend recommended I read The Giver, now that its influence is likely to increase due to the movie version which recently landed in theaters.

I like dystopian literature. The Giver reminds me of Brave New World with its focus on drugs as a means of control. It reminds me of 1984 with its focus on control and the paranoia of stepping out of line. It reminds me of Divergent with its focus on forced and artificial roles and categories, which give way to a dark underside beneath a peaceful society.

But what stands out the most from The Giver is the profoundly pro-life sentiment that sweeps through the narrative, especially when the author and moviemaker probably didn’t intend to make a political statement!

The idea of human life being disposable at beginning and end of life is the central point of horror for the dystopian world Lowry has created. And even scarier for the reader is how well-meaning and “good” the killers are. The reality of death dawns on the protagonist and the reader simultaneously, with eyes opening to the human sacrifices offered to maintain societal stability.

I’m often disappointed at many of the older children’s books that receive awards. Not this time.

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Worth a Look 11.11.14

Nov 11, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: The Expulsive Power of a New Affection by Thomas Chalmers. $0.99.

This short work from Thomas Chalmers shows what is necessary to move one from a life of enmity towards God to one as a child of God. It is knowing, seeing, and tasting God as infinitely valuable.

Aaron Earls – Parenting with Sanctification, Not Reputation, in Mind:

The move can be subtle, but unspeakably dangerous. Without realizing it you can drift from sanctification parenting to reputation parenting. While they may appear similar on the surface, a life of the latter will have grave consequences in your heart and the hearts of your children.

The Persistence Defiance of Dietrich von Hildebrand:

If Bonhoeffer enjoys continuing status as the Protestant opponent of Hitler, then the claimant to the Catholic equivalent is surely Dietrich von Hildebrand. Von Hildebrand may not have been martyred but he saw the danger of Hitler well before the N.S.D.A.P. was a serious electoral force. He also identified the centrality of the “Jewish question” much earlier than many other opponents of Nazism did—after all, on the matter of Nazism and Jews, the Barmen Declaration was silent. Further, via his journalism and speaking, von Hildebrand offered ongoing and substantial critique of Nazism as a political, cultural, and social phenomenon from the early 1920s.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s 10 Tips for Writers:

An infographic featuring several quotes from Tolkien on writing.

Repentance Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow:

The way into the kingdom life is the same way out of worldly life — death. As baptism illustrates, the way into the kingdom is the way of death, burial, and resurrection. Go to a new place, this action commands us. Leave the old one. Abandon it and its ways, its self-idolatry in the guise of spirituality.

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Discipleship in the “Age of Authenticity”

Nov 10, 2014 | Trevin Wax

authenticityCharles Taylor describes our secular age as “the age of authenticity,” a description that could easily fit the dominant narrative of most Disney films. Watch how he defines the phrase:

I mean the understanding of life which emerges with the Romantic expressivism of the late-eighteenth century, that each one of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one’s own, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religious or political authority (475).

Another good word for “authenticity” is non-conformity. The point of non-conformity is being true to yourself as opposed to whatever self others may want you to be true to. That’s why much of the drama in our culture of authenticity comes from the casting off of societal constraints. Note the four areas Taylor mentioned in his definition:

1. Imposition from Outside

No one can tell you what you should make of your life! Any identity that comes from outside you squelches your originality and authenticity. You can’t “find yourself,” “realize your potential,” “release your true self” and so on, unless you reject every model of life that doesn’t come from within. Furthermore, it is a betrayal of your identity to allow anyone or anything to shape you into something you are not. The most extreme version of this perspective is found in Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, an unabashed paean of praise to the unfettered ego, heralded by Oprah Winfrey as one of last decade’s greatest books.

2. Imposition from Society

Conformity to societal expectations must be resisted! What society thinks today may change, after all, but you as a person are unchangeable and must be allowed to express yourself in order for society to benefit from your unique essence. You are not what you are biologically, socially, morally, or culturally; you are what you want to be. You are whatever you want to express.

In the last two decades, casting off societal restraints has been evident most clearly in gender roles and identity. (The genderless experiment of Sweden is perhaps the most extreme form I have come across.) In this case, freedom is not in accepting “binary definitions” of male and female but in expanding the number of options for someone to “find” and “express” themselves.

3. Imposition from the Previous Generation

In some cultures, continuity with the past is a sign of wisdom, the ability to draw from the reserves of history in order to make wise choices today. Institutions and the expectations that grow around them are cherished, sometimes to a fault, but they are seen as valuable nonetheless.

The Age of Authenticity, however, finds much of its dramatic flair in innovation and experimentation, breaking free from “the way we’ve always done it” in favor of building a new world that maximizes individual flourishing of expression. We’ve come to the point we expect young people to go through a season of rebellion against “the way their parents are,” and in some circles, we equate maturity with the willingness to question and cast aspersion on whatever has come before. You express yourself by venturing out on your own, by blazing your own path, and by deriding the past generation’s expression.

4. Imposition from Religion and Politics

The church and state are common foes in the battle to express oneself at all costs. Religion imposes order by appealing to divine authority. Christianity goes so far as to call for self-mortification, the dying to oneself and living to God that demands the putting of others first, over one’s own desires. Political authority can also limit the freedom of self-expression, which is one reason why younger generations tend to be libertarian when it comes to governmental regulation and simultaneously advocates of big government in areas where self-expression may be at risk.

How the Age of Authenticity Alters Our Vision

What is most intriguing about the Age of Authenticity’s resistance to these four spheres of outside influence is how it impacts our view of these spheres, even subconsciously.

For example, many who see self-expression as fundamentally important to humanity are unlikely to reject religious or spiritual authority outright. They are more likely to recast religion in terms of enabling the kind of authentic self-expression they believe to be most valuable.

In other words, the Age of Authenticity isn’t likely to empty churches; it’s likely instead to fill them with people who believe the primary purpose of religious observance is to facilitate “finding yourself” and “chasing your dreams.” It’s no wonder that the prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen and others finds such a large audience in this environment.

Within this frame of mind, sinfulness is no longer falling short of the glory of God, but the falling short of your own potential. Sin is failing to be true to yourself. You choose a church based on how it will help you discover and be true to yourself. The smorgasbord of spirituality is there for the taking.

Or consider how we might recast political authority. The Age of Authenticity doesn’t lead to anarchists who want to bring down the government. It leads instead to a generation of people who rely on the government to ensure their “rights,” their “freedom” to protect from “non-discrimination” and foster “respect” – all terms which are good and helpful but which, in Taylor’s estimation, get deployed as “argument-stopping universals, without any consideration of the where and how of their application to the case at hand” (479). “Freedom of choice” becomes absolute, as if every option must be inherently equal and beneficial, and we are left without any real discussion of what the choices entail or what their consequences may be.

What about the Church?

Where does this leave the church? Progressive churches are more likely to celebrate the Age of Authenticity as progress. Conservative churches are more likely to chalk up the changes to selfishness.

But the Age of Authenticity is in the water, so to speak. It’s the air we breathe. That’s why, ironically, both progressive and conservative churches cast themselves as reinforcers of the “choice” their members have made in adopting their religious vision of the world. Whether you choose a conservative or liberal church, you are still choosing, which is one of the primary ways in which the Age of Authenticity manifests itself.

When I consider this cultural environment, I wonder if, perhaps, we have a unique opportunity to do something different. Here are two ways the church can make a difference.

Picking Up the Pieces

On the one hand, when the Age of Authenticity raises the stakes this high, it makes one’s individuality the most important aspect of life. It creates a sense of angst, an underlying fear that leads to terrible decisions. How many middle-aged couples live on Facebook, watching their friends lead (supposedly) terrific and exciting lives and then decide they are missing out, that their marital vows are too constraining and must be cast aside for personal fulfillment?

Case in point. A recent story online featured a woman who mourned her husband’s adultery and what it cost her and her children. The response was vicious. The woman who shared her story (not the man) was the one vilified online. Why? Because her husband had left her for another man. In defending the husband, the online commenters were lifting up the Age of Authenticity and self-expression as the ultimate good before all else must bow. It is the good for which everything, including wife and children and happiness, must be sacrificed. It seemed incomprehensible that a family’s stability should come before sexual fulfillment.

These stories are not uncommon. The church’s response must be to pick up the pieces left in the wake of Authenticity’s tidal wave of sadness. When “being true to yourself” tramples everything else, broken hearts litter the path. The church must present a gospel for the broken and disillusioned.

Proclaiming the Gospel from Outside

On the other hand, we should be the kind of people who have good news to offer in an age where “gospel” is “self-actualization.” The whole idea of discovering and being true to yourself can be rather exhausting. The narrative paints a picture of exhilaration in casting off society’s restraints and doing whatever it takes to be true to yourself.

But what if the self you are true to is one that no one else wants to be with? What if the self you become is dastardly in its final form, not beautiful and attractive? What if, like Elsa in Frozen, you “let it go,” “turn away and slam the door,” only to find yourself in a lonely ice palace of your own making, a palace that is also a prison?

The church’s response must be to proclaim a gospel that comes from outside ourselves – no matter how countercultural this may seem. When people in our culture discover how exhausting it is to try to be “true to themselves,” when looking further and further inward eventually shows them they haven’t the resources to transform their own lives, the church must be ready to break in with good news that life change isn’t mustered up from within but granted through grace from without.

We are to challenge the narrative that happiness is found solely in self-expression. The biblical view of the self is that we are broken, twisted, and sinful. The self is something that needs redemption, not expression. And this redemption takes place within a redeemed community, not as spiritual individuals piecing together our own strategy for personal spirituality and fulfillment, but walking together with people who shape and form us into the image of Christ.

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Worth a Look 11.10.14

Nov 10, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo. $2.99.

In 1969, her father, Robert Nichols, moved to Sellerstown, North Carolina, to serve as a pastor. There he found a small community eager to welcome him—with one exception. Glaring at him from pew number seven was a man obsessed with controlling the church. Determined to get rid of anyone who stood in his way, he unleashed a plan of terror that was more devastating and violent than the Nichols family could have ever imagined.

Anthony Esolen – Who Will Rescue the Lost Sheep of the Lonely Revolution?

It will be said that the one—the unrepentant or semi-repentant sinner, the one who wants to have the faith on his own terms—is “marginalized,” a word I detest, but which may serve my purposes this once. If adults in immoral sexual relationships are “marginalized,” Lord, let me speak up now for people who do not even make it to the margins, for the poorest of the poor, for people who have no advocate at all.

Steven Lee – 5 Common Small Group Myths (and the Truth to Help Transform Your Group):

Whether your small groups are mainly to help believers grow or mainly missional, here are five small group myths that I’ve encountered over the years that need correcting.

Derwin Gray – Stuff First-Century Christians Fought About:

The first major church dispute actually was over how fast multiethnic churches were growing outside of Jerusalem. These ethnically diverse congregations were blowing up the mental and cultural circuits of the Jewish believers in the holy city.

Matt Capps on The Long Awaited King:

While the human experience leaves us longing for the perfect rule of a perfect king, the Bible provides us with a more meaningful, hope-filled understanding of true kingdom reign. In the Bible, kings are to reign over every domain of life in their land; they are to have real authority to be used for the good of the people. And while God rules sovereignly over the universe, in the Bible, kings are called to mediate God’s justice to the people. In other words, the kings of earth are to rule as God’s vice-regents, His under-kings. Nevertheless, even the promising kings of the Old Testament left the people longing for a greater king.

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Jesus Christ, The Sinner’s Friend

Nov 09, 2014 | Trevin Wax

carav10Jesus Christ, the sinner’s Friend,
Loves His people to the end;
And that they may safe abide,
He’s the Rock in which they hide.

As a rock, He guards them well
From the rage of sin and hell.
Such a rock is Christ to me,
I am safe, though thousands flee!

Sheltered in His wounded side,
Now no ill can me betide;
From the tempest covered o’er;
One with Him for evermore.

- William Gadsby

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The Holy Spirit in Your Marriage

Nov 08, 2014 | Trevin Wax

meaning-of-marriage1Tim & Kathy Keller:

Without the help of the Spirit, without a continual refilling of your soul’s tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful. I call this “love economics.” You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm.

If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love “in the bank” to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.

To have a marriage that sings requires a Spirit-created ability to serve, to take yourself out of the center, to put the needs of others ahead of your own. The Spirit’s work of making the gospel real to the heart weakens the self-centeredness in the soul. It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centeredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.

The deep happiness that marriage can bring, then, lies on the far side of sacrificial service in the power of the Spirit. That is, you only discover your own happiness after each of you has put the happiness of your spouse ahead of your own, in a sustained way, in response to what Jesus has done for you.

– from The Meaning of Marriage

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