Taking A Break To Recalibrate My Heart

We live at an amazing point in history. Technology has put a wealth of information at our finger tips and connected us in ways that were unimaginable a generation ago. This gift, however, is not without it’s liabilities. The constant onslaught of content consumed and produced can swallow you if you’re not careful. 

I’ve been feeling this lately and have decided to take an indefinite break, specifically from social media for three reasons… 

1. I spend too much time on it.

I find myself defaulting to time on Twitter and Facebook with almost every free moment. In addition, trying to create content to blog and tweet about has started consuming far more mindshare than I have the capacity to spare.

2. I struggle to focus. 

I’ve noticed that reading books has become more difficult lately. Consuming content in 140 characters has made it difficult for me to digest a higher quantity of substantive content. While Twitter, Facebook, and blogs contain content of value, it pales in comparison to the value present in the stack of books I have waiting to be read. 

3. I need to recalibrate my heart.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” The Holy Spirit has been gently and graciously convicting me of a failure to keep, guard and protect my heart as of late. I’ve been undisciplined in my own devotions and spent more time on sermon prep than I have on the stewardship of my own soul. 

I need a season of increased space as I recalibrate my heart. One of the ways I can create this space is taking an indefinite break from social media - no Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or blogging. It may be a couple of weeks, a couple of months… I’m not entirely certain. I know I need a break and that the Holy Spirit has been pressing me to make this decision for a while. 

I’m thankful for everyone who reads my blog and for all those who produce high quality content on social media. It’s a surprisingly difficult decision to unplug, which serves as further proof of my need to do so. I’d appreciate your prayers and look forward connecting again soon. 

The Drivers Destroying Church Planters

The battlefield of church planting is littered with burned out bodies. Long hours, immense stress, and constant pressure have caused more than one well-intentioned church planter to wave the white flag. 

Even if they don’t quit, church planters struggle to manage the war within. 

Church planting is difficult work. It takes an tremendous amount of spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational energy to build something from nothing. These first five years of getting Redemption up and off the ground have been some of the most personally taxing of my life. The difficultly is often a direct result of the spiritual war being waged, in which we stand on the front lines. 

Yet, much of the pain planters experience is self-inflicted and unnecessary. Church planting demands a unique wiring - you have to be one part called and one part crazy. I wish I could say that it was only the clear call of God that drove me and others like me, but I’d be lying. Often times there are drivers just below the surface impacting church planters. 

1. Ungodly Ambition

It’s not that church planters don’t want to make Jesus known, it’s just that we often want something more. I’ve been guilty of trying to build something that will validate my existence. The problem is, no matter how hard I work and how many barriers we blast through, I can still find it all horribly dissatisfying. There is no joy in pursuing the god of personal ambition. Church planting is and must remain about making Jesus known, for the glory of God alone. The moment it becomes about anything else is the moment my joy in God begins to melt away.

2. Unchecked Anxiety

Church planting is not for the faint of heart or the risk-averse. You start with no people, no money, and no guarantee of what the future will hold. This uncertainty most often births anxiety. The anxiety can produce an obsessive pace of work that pounds many planters into dust. We forget that God intends anxiety to push us to prayer. Instead of trusting Jesus to build His church through us, we foolishly fight to build His church by our own effort. 

3. Unhealthy Approval

Daddy-issues are a dime a dozen in church planting. If it’s not a daddy issue, it’s often a dysfunctional relationship with a pastor or authority figure from the past that puts a planter on a quest for approval. We end up striving for praise or a pat on the back from nearly everyone around us. Until we rest in the approval of our heavenly Father, poured out in the perfect and atoning work of Christ, we will run ourselves ragged for approval that will not come.   

If these motives go unchecked, it’s only a matter of time until the planter comes undone. The work is always difficult, but doing the work for the wrong reasons will destroy us. Allowing ambition, anxiety, and approval to drive our mission of disciple-making robs God of the glory He deserves and the joy He desires us to experience in Him. 

Church planter, the greatest discipline we must develop is not preaching, leadership, or counseling, but repentance. We plant churches to make Jesus known. We plant Jesus’ church and trust Him to do all we cannot. We plant from, never for, God’s approval. When we forget this and function for any other reason, we must repent and return to the true mission of making Jesus known. 

Plant Midwest Next Week

Next week I'm preaching at the Plant Midwest events in both Chicago and Detroit. Both events are FREE and I'll be teaching on the topic of the Gospel & Money. Here's a brief overview of my two sessions...

 

Plant Midwest Chicago

Date: Monday May 5th

Time: 10am-2pm

Location: Armitage Baptist Church

2351 North Kedzie Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60647

 

Plant Midwest Detroit

Date: Tuesday May 6th

Time: 9am-1pm

Location: Restore Church

2701 Joy Road, Detroit, MI 48206

 

Register now at plantmidwest.com.

3 People Every Pastor Needs

Pastoral ministry can be lonely work for a number of reasons. 

Some pastors don’t know how to have meaningful relationships. Others live under the crushing weight of a misplaced Messiah complex that keeps them from connecting with others. Often times church planters, or pastors in new churches are simply isolated and don’t truly know anyone.  

Pastors preach the importance of community, but often fail to participate in it. The reality is, every pastor, just like ever other person, needs the right people in their life, in order to pursue health and endure for the long haul. While every pastor would benefit from a deep well of diverse relationships, here are three I believe to be critical… 

1. A Friend

A friend is an equal - no performance, no pretense - just someone you can be yourself with. A friend knows your flaws and has seen you fail. A friend is someone you can be vulnerable with and won’t flinch from calling you on the carpet when your sin needs confronting. A friend stands by your side even when it’s messy. On the most difficult days, there is no substitute for a faithful friend.  

2. A Pastor

Even pastors need a pastor. You need someone who can shepherd your heart, provide you with counsel, comfort, encourage, and challenge you. Pastors need a pastor who will speak God’s Word to them and pray for them. People call their pastor when the wheels fall off their lives and the pastor needs a pastor he can call as well. It can be difficult to find, but we must be determined to do so.

3. A Cheerleader

Pastoral ministry is often discouraging. Criticism can be frequent, and the obviously fruitful days can seem few and far between. A cheerleader isn’t there to coach you, criticize you, or kick you in the teethe. A cheerleader is on your team, in your corner, and fully behind you. You need this person! A cheerleader sees their primary role as providing a steady stream of encouragement. 

Do you have the relationships you need to go the distance, pastor? Maybe it’s time to get intentional about this. You can’t do it alone. Find a friend, pursue a pastor, and pray for a cheerleader to encourage you in season and out. Pastoral ministry is a team sport, so how’s your team looking?

 

What relationships have been most significant to your ministry? Leave a comment here...

Made for God

BIG IDEA | True life is only found in Christ.

To listen to the full sermon audio, click here

Though we all come from different walks of life and represent diversity in almost every area, there is at least one thing we all share: Every human being has a an innate desire to experience true life.  

We long for enlightenment, we desperately seek significance. Some even go to extreme lengths, leaving everything in their search for meaning, and their stories resonate with us. 

The paths we choose to pursue true life include such things as love, success, and money. Yet despite our best efforts, we continue to come to the end of these paths that hold out the promise of life and are left wanting. We all know people who have wonderful friends and families, who have experienced incredible success, and have amassed great wealth and an array of possessions, but are still miserable.

The truth is, this yearning for meaning (and dissatisfaction with less) is normal. We were made to experience more from life than we are currently experiencing. The Bible paints a clear picture of a different path; a path that leads to extraordinary satisfaction.

In John 10:7-11, we find Jesus in the midst of one of His many conflicts with the religious elite of His day. Leaders whom God intended to be guides to His people had become stumbling blocks. They had been telling people lies that were robbing them of the true life God had made them for and Jesus was calling them out on it. Jesus contrasted Himself, His mission, and His ministry with theirs. They were “thieves” whose goal was to “steal and kill and destroy” while His stated purpose was: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Here are three important observations about Jesus’ claim:

1. Jesus came to earth.

Christianity is the only faith that claims God Himself, as the man Jesus Christ, took on flesh and stepped into human history to save His people. Instead of demanding that we clean ourselves up and then come to God, as every other religion requires, Jesus came to pursue people who would never have pursued Him. He didn’t wait for us to come to Him; He came to us. 

2. Jesus came on purpose and with a purpose. 

Jesus’ coming wasn’t incidental, it was deliberate. It wasn’t accidental, it was intentional. And it wasn't a mistake but a specific purpose and mission that drove His decision to come to earth: We are what drove His decision.

3. Jesus came to bring abundant life.

Jesus came to enable the very thing we all spend so much energy pursuing: not just life, but abundant life, filled with joy, peace, love, purpose, forgiveness, and more. Every aspect of an abundant life is the amazing, life-changing, God-intended byproduct of relationship with Jesus. He is not merely a means to this end; He is both the means AND the end.

There is one path that leads to this abundant life and that is faith in Jesus. True life is only found in Him. 

 

(Adapted by Diane Rivers from the sermon entitled, "Made for God.")

6 Ways To Refill Your Tank After Easter (Or Any Other Big Day)

Another Easter has come and gone. If you work in ministry like I do, then you’re likely still feeling the effects of last weekend. At Redemption, we invested 120 hours of prayer, sent out 600 hand-written invites, held a church-wide prayer meeting, shot daily video devotionals, remembered Good Friday and celebrated Easter Sunday with record attendance. 

As a result, I’m tired, our staff is tired, and our teams are tired. Our hearts are full, but our tanks are empty. 

You may not be in ministry full time, but we all have certain days or seasons in which we have to invest far more energy than normal. Maybe you’re planning a wedding, a party, a graduation, or other event. There is often an immense letdown after whatever it is that you’ve invested so much in. 

How we steward these seasons is critical. If you ignore the fatigue, try to push through, or run on fumes, you will do great damage to your body, mind, emotions and soul. You have to replenish. Here are six ways to refill your tank after Easter (or any other big day)… 

1. Get quality sleep.

Some days what you need most is a good nap. Turn off the TV, close your computer, shut down the part of your mind that’s fixated on what could have gone better. Quality sleep is one of the most significant ways to replenish your tank after days of high output. 

2. Allow God’s Word to renew your mind.

I’m prone to discouragement after big days like Easter. My thinking is typically negative and I have to fight the propensity to allow what I feel to dictate what's real. These are the times it’s most critical to allow God’s Word to renew my mind (Romans 12:2). I need His perfect thoughts to be the filter through which I change my imperfect ones. 

3. Unplug from social media.

Just turn it off. Ignore Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…whatever you turn to like an addict looking for a fix. Social media is not always bad, but it isn’t always helpful. Don’t invest time mindlessly scrolling through timelines. Just turn it off.

4. Pursue what inspires you.

When my tank gets low, I typically want to quit. I can’t imagine having to create or produce anything new again. But it passes. I’m just worn out and need to refill my tank. Maybe you need to watch a good movie, listen to music, go for a walk, read a book, or visit an art gallery - know yourself and be intentional about consuming inspiration. 

5. Surround yourself with the right people.

You need to be around people that fill, rather than drain your tank. Spend time with your spouse and kids. Have dinner with good friends. Hang with people who make you laugh. Make space for people who have a track record of encouraging, rather than discouraging you. 

6. Eat well and exercise hard. 

All I want to do when I’m worn out is eat like a whale and sit on the couch. These are counterproductive choices. Instead, you should eat healthy meals and get in a few good workouts. Go for a run, take a hike, pop in an Insanity disc and do interval training until you want to kill Shaun T. It will be difficult to get going but worth it when it’s over. 

Many good pastors fall victim to the enemy’s ploys when their tanks are low. Don’t do it! Be prepared, press into God, and pursue the good means He has given you to replenish what your service has diminished. Sunday’s coming - let’s get our tanks refilled, our minds refocused, and energy restored.  

Truths for a Monday

THIS IS A GUEST POST BY JILL POPP. READ HER BLOG AND FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER

At least one day a week, I’m fighting back tears. Usually it’s Monday.

Caffeine, for the moment, takes the edge off of the exhaustion. I’m behind on laundry, and life in general. The kids’ schedules don’t mesh. I’m trying to make lunch and referee fights and keep the baby from eating the debris left in the wake of my two-year-old. I’m feeling really overwhelmed.

I send my husband a flurry of text messages, requesting prayer and reassurance. I’m struggling today. Is it ok that life is a mess right now? Am I doing enough? Will we get through?

I feel weak and inadequate, and I’m tempted to despair.

At the root of this desperation lies a failure to believe who God says he is and what he says he's doing in me. Because even though I know what Scripture says is true, sometimes it doesn't feel true.

Though he says “I will never leave you or forsake you”, I feel alone. 

Though he says “He restores my soul”, I am weary.

Though he says “My power is made perfect in weakness”, I am barely standing. 

Though he says he is working all things together for my good, I don't see his purpose in this difficulty. 

Pastor Joe Thorn has said that doubt begins when our circumstances don’t seem to line up with our theology. Thankfully, though, God’s word doesn’t shift with our emotions. Instead, it anchors us when our faith is buffeted by seasons of discouragement, exhaustion, trial, and sorrow. We have only to take hold of it.

It’s hard to do.

To believe what God’s word proclaims, we have to fight. We meditate. We pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” We learn to abide.

The Psalms provide many examples of God's children doing just this: reminding themselves repeatedly who He is and what He’s like. Calling out to Him. Even in struggle and suffering, the Psalmists proclaim that He’s with us, that He cares for us and restores us when we’re weary, that His love for us is as high as the heavens are above the earth

And as we struggle to see, as God’s word ministers to us, as we find our faith returning, we find joy.

The Resurrection Changes Everything

This is a guest post by Andrew Brantley. Andrew is a member of Redemption and a seminary student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is also one of the tallest people I know.

Easter is a weird holiday. Think about it, once a year we celebrate Jesus coming back from the dead by unleashing children to hunt for chocolate-filled eggs delivered by a bunny. That’s strange, and I’m not really sure what the strangest part of it is. Is it the bunny with the eggs, or the man coming back to life?

The first Easter must have been so strange for the disciples. When Jesus died, their hope died with Him. Not a single one of them expected Jesus to walk out of the tomb after it was sealed. (And lest we be quick to blame the disciples for their lack of faith, we would likely have felt the same way.) But He did walk out of the tomb and that changed everything.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!” (Luke 24:5) 

In fact, if Jesus were still dead we should despair. The cross means absolutely nothing without the resurrection.

The Apostle Paul put it like this: “If Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17)

Death and suffering were clear realities for Christ’s followers the day after the cross, just as death, sin, and futility continue to dominate the world today. (If you don’t believe that, watch five minutes of the news tonight.) But through Jesus’ resurrection, God defeated the power of sin and reversed the curse of death that fell upon all of us when Adam rebelled against God in the garden. 

Those of us who are in Christ Jesus can have a firm confidence that since Jesus was raised from the dead we, too, will be raised. And if we really, really believe that, it changes everything about the way we live in the present. 

Paul encouraged the Corinthians with the incredible, life-giving news that flows from the resurrection, then concluded the chapter by saying, “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58). He didn't say, “One day we’ll all get out of here and go to heaven, so what you do now doesn’t really matter.” Not at all! The resurrection means that what we do today impacts eternity. 

So what is the work of the Lord? Remember that this letter was written to a group of ordinary Christians who had careers and families. The work of the Lord wasn’t (and isn’t) something reserved just for pastors; it’s for all of us. What does the work of the Lord look like?

  • It looks like loving, leading, and listening to a difficult child. 
  • It looks like praying for and loving that friend or family member who wants nothing to do with Jesus. 
  • It looks like serving our brothers and sisters in the church with great love and patience.
  • It looks like being generous with our money by giving to the church and those in need. 

We believe in a God who brings life out of death, a God who makes sure suffering and death do not have the final word. Jesus has the final word, and He says that because of the resurrection what we do today is full of eternal significance.  

Reassurance in Our Fight for the Faith

BIG IDEA | God is the sustaining factor in our fight for the faith.

To listen to the full sermon audio, click here. 

The book of Jude ends with an explosive expression of praise, a doxology unlike any other in the New Testament. 

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

After his sober warnings about the dangers of false teachers in their midst and the certainty of God’s coming judgment, Jude is concerned his readers will be spiritually shaken and discouraged. To secure their confidence in Christ, he gives them three reassuring reminders in their fight for the faith:

1. God is ABLE - I can trust him.

It’s WHO God is that makes WHAT He’s promised such good news. Without the power to deliver, a promise made is pointless. But God is able. There is no sin He can’t overcome, no suffering He can’t sustain us through, no strength He can’t supply, no situation so uncertain He can’t grant wisdom for. 

2. God will KEEP ME - I can press on.

Our sin can’t spoil what Jesus’ sacrifice has accomplished. Though our fight against sin is difficult, God will not let it defeat us. He actively preserves His people from the final judgment and will not give us over to sin. Though we falter, fall, and fail, God picks us back up, hems us in, and holds us until His coming.

3. God will VINDICATE ME - I can rest assured.

We will all bow before Jesus and be judged. That judgment has an eternal verdict that results in our either spending eternity with Jesus in Heaven or separated from Him in Hell. Apart from grace, this would be horrifying news, but what makes this good news for us as Christians is we are presented blameless before God. We are reborn and vindicated because Christ shed His blood and sacrificed His life to cover every sin we have committed.

Jude was so moved by the reality of Christ’s redeeming work and sustaining power that he exploded in praise to conclude his letter. He provided a helpful description of true worship, as he ascribed worth to God through His four unique attributes: 

  • Glory - the honor due to Him, commanding the respect, esteem, admiration, and adoration He deserves.
  • Majesty - God’s kingly status as the greatest, most powerful, significant and worthy of all.
  • Dominion - God’s omnipotence, sovereignty, and control of all things.
  • Authority - God’s right to exercise His dominion and power.

Jude reminds us that God is the sustaining factor in our fight for the faith. He reassures us of God’s ability to keep us and vindicate us and is moved to the appropriate response of worship. 

(Adapted by Diane Rivers from the sermon, "Reassurance in Our Fight for the Faith".)

What Changes When You Hope in a Sure Thing

THIS IS A GUEST POST BY DIANE RIVERS. READ HER BLOG WEEKLY AT DIANERIVERS.ME AND  FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER.

If you’re not a college basketball fan, “March Madness” may have seemed straight up nuts to you. And you know what? Maybe it was. I’ll admit I was one of those crazy fans hoping against hope that my team would win the tournament.  It didn’t turn out that way, but it was fun to follow the games and root for my alma mater.

But let’s be honest: my “hope” was little more than a kind of wishful thinking. I had absolutely no control over the outcome, no matter how much I wanted to see my team prevail. I could hope for it all day long but that had no impact on how things ended up.

Basketball is one thing, but many of us approach life that way. We adopt a fingers-crossed kind of optimism and we call that hope. We want what we want and when it doesn’t happen, we’re disappointed but not really surprised. We were just hoping.

That may be a tolerable definition of what it means to hope when all that hangs in the balance is the final score of a sporting event. For that matter, it’s surely okay to hope it stops raining before the picnic or hope the traffic clears up so I won’t be late for work. But in the deep weeds of life we need to do better than that. 

When reality slams us to the mat, positive thinking doesn’t cut it. If we’re facing job loss, relational breakdown, devastating illness, or any of a litany of other crises, we’re going to need a better strategy, a sure thing we can hope in.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) So there it is: trouble is a given in this life. We suspected as much. But the sure thing we need to hold on to and put our hope in is this: Jesus has already overcome it. 

If our hope is rooted in nothing more than a deep desire that things will go favorably, a longing within ourselves, we may as well “wish upon a star” for all the good that does. But as Christians, we don’t have to settle for that kind of hope. We have so much more.

  • We can place our hope in God’s Word and the truth of His promises there.
  • We can trust Him when He says He will work all things together for the good for those who love Him. (Romans 8:28) 
  • We can count on Him being right beside us in those deep weeds; nothing takes Him by surprise. 
  • We can be sure He is always forming us in His likeness and will redeem every situation for His glory.

We don’t have to bite our nails and wonder how things will turn out. Ours can be the settled confidence of a faith rooted in certainty. That’s the kind of true hope that changes everything.

 

No More SADSACK Christianity

Hey Christian, are you happy? 

Not sure? Happy people are content, satisfied and marked by joy. So, I wonder if you’re happy?

I know life can be difficult. I know this fallen world is a heavy place to live. I know we all experience trouble, trial, and tragedy. But, despite these realities, are you happy? Christians should be the happiest people on on the planet, even when, especially when, life is hard. 

Sadly, the Church is filled with too many sadsack Christians. Many of us are walking around as if our God is still dead. Too often we project that God is not good, that He is not satisfying, that He is not in control of everything that takes place in this world.

This is a problem.

It’s a problem for the Christian and it’s a problem for the mission of Jesus we’re called to. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,

“So often we give the impression that we are dejected and depressed; indeed, some would almost give the impression that to become a Christian means that you face many problems that never worried you before. So, looking at things superficially, the man of the world comes to the conclusion that you find happier people outside the Church than inside the Church. He is quite wrong, of course, but we must recognize that some of us at any rate have to plead guilty to the charge, that far too often because we suffer from spiritual depression, and are more or less miserable Christians, we grossly and grievously misrepresent the gospel of Redeeming Grace.”  - from “Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure

None of this is meant to downplay the reality and severity of clinical depression in our culture. It is not meant to diminish how legitimately painful much of what we experience is. It is meant to emphasize the practical implications of the message our attitude, outlook, and actions communicate to the world around us. Jesus died for your sin and rose again, so that through faith in Him you could be reconciled to God!!! 

Christian, no matter how hard your life may be, you have great reason for humble happiness. Things won’t always be the way they are. The pain you feel, the fire you face, the tears you shed will all be consumed by Christ (Rev. 21:1-4). 

It’s going to be ok and we should live in light of that truth. No more sadsack Christianity.  Let’s pursue happy lives content in Christ and satisfied in the Savior we claim. 

3 Factors In Our Fight For The Faith

BIG IDEA: To fight for the faith, we follow God's instruction.

To listen to the full sermon audio, click here

Division and discord had been sown in the first-century church when its members received the letter we know as the New Testament book of Jude. False teachers had defied God’s authority as conveyed through His Word and were putting tremendous pressure on the Christians in that congregation to compromise their faith.

In one short but theologically dense chapter, Jude, a concerned pastor, clearly identifies the problem and presents the solution: Christians must contend for the faith through fervent obedience. 

Thankfully, Jude’s inspired letter didn’t stop with telling the Christians of his day (and ours) WHAT to do, he detailed HOW to do it. This is good news because clarity of what to do, when combined with confusion surrounding how, is a formula for failure.

There is no question, if we’re to have any hope of accomplishing God’s will, we have to do it God’s way. 

In verses 17-23, Jude presented clear instructions for HOW Christians are to fight for the faith:

1. Remember that God is in control. (v 17-19)

What the Christians in Jude’s church were experiencing had already been predicted by God through the apostles in multiple places in the New Testament. Now it was happening in real time. The good news was (and is): God’s past prediction points to His power over the present. For us, too, this means that every unexpected circumstance we experience was already in the mind of God before He created us. He knows and is in control. 

2. Resolve to keep yourself in God’s love. (v. 20-21)

While it is true that God has Himself promised to keep us in His love, we are also responsible for doing our part, by 

- pursuing spiritual growth (understanding the importance of God’s Word, prayer, reflection, and commitment to a local church); 

- praying the Spirit’s agenda (aligning our hearts with God’s plan to form in us the attitude, heart and life He desires);

- patiently waiting for Christ (trusting the certainty that Jesus IS coming and will bring redemption, healing, freedom, and victory).

3. Reach out to others with God’s mercy (v. 22-23)

As disciples of Jesus, it’s not enough to be merciful people. We must also labor in evangelism, actively proclaiming God’s mercy to those who are struggling with doubt, who have walked away, or who have no relationship with Him. Jude warned of the importance of doing this with humble fear, knowing that one bad decision could cause us to fall victim TO the very sin we’re sent to save others FROM. 

Contending for the faith means we must remain steadfast when it ceases to be comfortable and we are under pressure to compromise. We must commit to following God’s instructions to faithfully pursue fervent obedience.

(Adapted by Diane Rivers from the sermon entitled, “Three Factors in Our Fight for the Faith”.)


 

Seize The Chance To Say Something

This is a guest post by Pastor Scott Holthaus. Pastor Scott serves as the Associate Pastor of Worship at Redemption Bible Church and at one time entertained the idea of becoming a magician. 

I was amazed to learn recently that Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address was only three minutes long. The President was given just a few moments to speak following clergyman Edward Everett's two-hour, 13,607-word snoozer and in the time it takes me to pack my gym bag, President Lincoln delivered a lasting and impactful speech.

The fact that President Lincoln used just 272 words proves you don’t have to say a lot to make an impact. Whether you’ve been given 30 minutes for a sermon or three minutes for a quick presentation, here are three steps to seize the chance to say something. 

1. Think

In order to speak clearly and fit a lot of meaning into a small amount of time, you have to think hard about what you want to say. This process can sometimes be painstaking and frustrating, but effective communication requires extensive consideration. Take the time and invest the energy to think hard about what exactly you are trying to say.

2. Edit

I’ve heard people much smarter than I say that the best song writers are usually the most ferocious editors. They spend an ample amount of time combing over what’s been written to see what needs to be changed. This is a necessary process if you hope to make an impact with what you are communicating. You have to choose your words wisely and editing helps you choose well.

3. Confer

There's tremendous value in asking the right person, "What do you think of this?". I've had the most success in communication (no matter the length or the form) when I've allowed other people to speak into it. This process can be humbling and stretching, but it yields the best end result.

Whether you’ve been given the keynote address at a conference or a minute or two in a meeting, make sure you think, edit, and confer to seize the chance to say something.

One Quick Way To Become A Heretic

One of my favorite characteristics of the Bible is that it contains tension. 

Tension tends to make us uncomfortable, but it’s not always bad. For instance, tension is what draws sound from stringed instruments. It is the proper tension on the strings that makes a guitar produce sound. If you release the tension, you relinquish the sound. 

The same thing is true of the Bible. At times the Bible seems to assert two contradictory or competing truths. A large sum of the false teaching in the Church is the byproduct of declaring one part of God’s Word and downplaying another. Most heretics herald just enough truth to be harmful. We want to be able to comfortably conceive of everything God has constructed. But, the reality is, there’s tension. If we release the tension, we reject its message.

I preached an example of this on Sunday at Redemption from the letter of Jude. In verse 21, Jude calls Christians to keep themselves in the love of God and then in verse 24 he says that it is God who keeps us from stumbling. Now, a careful reader may be prompted to think, “Well, which one is it? Do I keep myself in God’s love, or does God keep me from stumbling?” The answer is - BOTH!

We love either/or answers, but more often than not, the Bible is filled with both/and. The Bible isn’t a "choose your own adventure" story. We don’t have the freedom to pick the themes and truths we’re most comfortable with and simply disregard, diminish, or downplay the others. If the Bible asserts two things as true - even if we struggle to reconcile how it can be - we must balance the tension between both or risk becoming a heretic.

We need to repent of our pride, labor to understand, and humble ourselves under the infinitely wise mind of our God. Lean into the tension. Learn to love the tension. Let God shape you in and through the tension present in His Word.

Preparing for Christ's Coming

Big Idea | Christ is coming to condemn the ungodly.

To listen to the full sermon audio, click here.

The certainty that Christ will return to condemn the ungodly is a Biblical reality that has fallen out of favor in our culture. Many have taken an incorrect and dangerous posture toward this idea.

Some are simply ignorant that judgment is an eventuality; others have chosen to disregard it and pretend it isn’t true. Sadly, many (including Christians) are apathetic or have adopted a watered-down revision of what the scriptures say. Some simply deny this truth, refusing to believe that God will punish sin. 

We may imagine or pretend that it will be otherwise; we may even reject the possibility outright, but regardless of whether or not we face it, reality will run us over. Our God will deal justly with sin. 

In the New Testament, Jude writes with urgency to a church that is in danger of falling victim to false teachers. He is concerned they will discount God’s coming judgment, to their eternal detriment. In verses 14-16, he describes characteristics of these false teachers that remain relevant today: They grumbled about their fate and were ungrateful for where God had placed them; they allowed unbridled desires to result in ungodly deeds; and they manipulated others to get what they wanted. In short, they were guilty of ungodliness in both behavior and speech.

In his message, Jude highlights a sobering reality: Christ is coming with an army of angels to judge, convict, and condemn the ungodly, those who arrogantly refuse to receive the redeeming grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. 

From the truths pointed out in this text, here are three priorities we should pursue in our own lives in preparation for Christ’s coming:

1. Look at your life

Where are you guilty of ungodliness? As we engage in Spirit-led self-reflection, we allow God’s Word to communicate His will, convict us of sin, and convey our need for a Savior. 

2.   Labor in evangelism

Are you helping people meet Jesus? If we’re not playing some role in helping people come to faith, we’re hindering the spread of the gospel and hiding from our responsibility as disciples of Christ. 

3. Live with anticipation

Do you truly believe Jesus is coming? If we truly believe Christ will return, we will live with abiding hope that He will make all things new; we will live with peace knowing that He will bring justice to all injustice; and we will live with a tangible awareness that our obedience matters. 

We all have areas of ungodliness in our lives; the question is, will we repent and allow God’s Spirit to empower our obedience and prepare us for His return? Behavior is the best indicator of belief.

(Adapted by Diane Rivers from sermon entitled "Preparing for Christ's Coming".)

When We're Not Ready

THIS IS A GUEST POST BY JILL POPP. READ HER BLOG AND FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER

From the moment the plus sign appears on that little stick, you know you'll be forever changed. For nine months, you busy about, trying to be ready. You assemble a registry and a crib, wash tiny outfits with tiny socks, stack little diapers in pretty little bins. 

You won't be ready. Not for this. 

You can't know how deeply you will love this sweet little soul. Neither can you anticipate how that baby will push you past the limits of what you thought you could handle.

You adore every inch of your little bundle, and still, it's a difficult adjustment. As babies, the demands are almost constant. You lose freedom and sleep. And then they get older and you get to know them and it's amazing. But they call your name five hundred times a day and ask thousands of questions and leave their Legos where you will step on them.

Then the selfishness creeps up inside of you, and it's ugly. When it spills out - maybe you become depressed, withdrawn, angry, or even bitter - you think, "What happened to me?"

What happened is you weren't used to putting someone else's needs before your own all the time. You got used to eating meals when they were hot or sleeping at night or having a clean house, and this little one, unaware that you had your kingdom just so, barged in and rearranged it. 

And when the sin you didn't know was there surfaces, you begin to wonder why in the world God gave you children while you were still so degenerate. 

But, as Carolyn Mahaney observes, God "doesn’t give us children when we are old and wise and mature, but when we are young and ignorant and need to grow. In other words, he gives us children in the middle of the sanctification process; and our children, in turn, become a significant means of producing growth in our lives."  

God gives us kids when we aren't ready for them. I think He knows we will never be selfless enough to be parents, so He uses parenthood to make us selfless.

Unfortunately, this process can be painful for both parent and child. Sometimes we hurt our sweet ones, and almost every day we sin against them. It wouldn't be this way in a perfect world. But this isn't a perfect world. It's a broken, fallen one. 

How then do we parent in our sinfulness? How do we train our children in godliness when we are so far off from it ourselves? 

The truth is, our children need to be told about the gospel, but they also need to see its beauty displayed in us. What better way for our children to see the glory of God's grace than to see us needing it, being changed by it, and pouring it out on them? 

Our children don't need perfect parents. They need parents willing to repent, that will call them to repentance. They need to see grace at work in us. They need someone to pray that it will work in them. 

The good news is that even when we aren't ready for parenthood, God is always ready redeem our meager efforts and failures for his glory. Thanks be to God.

The Missing Mark Of Leadership

Leadership resources are legion in our culture, and for good reason - leadership is vital. We all need to be led and we all lead. Books, blogs, conferences, and podcasts are filled with practical instruction on the defining marks of effective leadership. Things like courage, competency, care, communication, and creativity are all essential to leadership. 

Sadly, I rarely read, or hear anything about what I would argue, is the most important and attractive mark of effective leadership:

Humility. 

The best leaders are humble leaders. Humble leadership is distinct in at least three ways…

1. Humble leaders learn from others.

Humble leaders don’t assume that they’re the smartest people in the room. We all have something to learn from everyone. Humble leaders listen and look for insight from those around them. Humble leaders are readers. Humble leaders are curious and ask questions. If you’re the type of leader who never has ears to hear from anyone, you’re missing the most important mark of leadership: Humility.

2. Humble leaders admit when they’re wrong.

Leaders make mistakes. The difference between a proud leader and a humble leader isn’t the frequency of mistakes, but the faithfulness to repent and take responsibility. If you’re the type of leader who's quick with excuses, but slow to take responsibility, you’re missing the most important mark of leadership: Humility.

3. Humble leaders let other people play.

Proud leaders squeeze others out of the picture because they are insecure and controlling. Proud leaders do everything themselves and never let anyone else help. Humble leaders delegate, share responsibility, and develop others to perform at the highest capacity possible. So, if your to-do list is a mile long, and your back is bent from the weight of responsibility you refuse to share, you’re missing the most important mark of leadership: Humility

We don’t need anymore proud leaders - the world is filled with them. What we need most are humble leaders, following the leadership of Jesus who humbled himself to the point of death for those he led (Phil. 2:9). Imagine what Jesus would do with an army of hard working, humble leaders. Your family, neighborhood, workplace, school, and church would never be same. 

Humility is the true heart of leadership.

Anchoring Your Life to God's Word

Big Idea | If you're not anchored to God's WORD, you will drift from His WILL.

To listen to the full sermon audio, click here.

Life has a way of carrying us places we never planned. If we want to remain attached to what we should be and not drift into what we shouldn’t, we’re going to need an anchor.

As Christians, our anchor should be God’s Word. Without it, we’re in danger of drifting away from God’s will for our lives and into doubt, discouragement, and disobedience. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

Jude addressed this concern in his letter to first-century Christians. In verses 8-13 of his short New Testament book, he described the sin of false teachers of that day, sin that caused them to drift into waters that threatened eternal suffering. Jude wanted to warn the church about them, so they wouldn’t become like them. 

From Jude’s description, we can see five reasons it’s dangerous to drift from God’s Word:

1. We might shipwreck our faith.

It only takes a single lie perceived to be true to sink one’s faith. If we aren’t holding to the anchor of God’s Word to inform our worldview, our understanding of God, our interpretation of our circumstances, and our perception of humanity, we are vulnerable to false teaching and invite potentially devastating damage.

2. We might fall for false promises.

One of the most common marks of false teaching is a promise in the mouth of God that He never made. Apart from an understanding of and familiarity with God’s Word, we may hear such a promise, believe it to have come from God, then reject Him when He fails to deliver on a promise He never made.

3. We might follow ungodly leadership.

Just because a person is kind, charismatic, or compelling doesn’t mean they’re a biblically qualified leader. A spiritual leader’s life should produce a particular type of spiritual fruit. If we’re not anchored to God’s Word we have no bar by which to determine a person’s qualification for spiritual leadership. We can be led astray and deeply hurt.

4. We might be swept away into ungodliness.

When we follow the ungodly, it’s only a matter of time before we forsake godliness ourselves. We are to have loving, meaningful, engaging relationships with people who don’t know Jesus, but we must anchor our hearts in God’s Word to protect us from falling into ungodly ways.

5. We might make misdirected decisions.

Our lives are filled with an endless number of decisions daily. If we’re not seeking guidance for our decisions in God’s Word, we will inevitably make a decision that deviates from God’s will, dishonoring Him and wreaking destruction in our lives. Listening to an unreliable source leads to misdirection. 

One of the most dangerous things we can do is to look at other people’s sin and think, “That could NEVER happen to me.” Like the false teachers described in Jude, when we wander away from God, we are always only two bad decisions away from the worst sin imaginable. 

If we don’t anchor our lives to God’s Word we, too, will drift from His will.

(Adapted by Diane Rivers from sermon entitled, "Anchoring Your Life to God's Word".)

Combatting Your Enemy

Guest post by Kara Hillinger

Whenever most people use the word “attacked”, the adjective before it is usually “verbally”, “emotionally”, or “physically”, but hardly ever “spiritually”. Yet if we believe that evil exists in our created world and that it seeks to corrupt, attack and demolish, we believe in a spiritual enemy, and therefore, spiritual attack should be part of our daily vocabulary and awareness.

But what does it mean to be spiritually attacked?  

Last month in my small group we briefly touched on this subject and how as Christians, we forget daily that the devil, who has schemed since the world began, is trying his hardest to snare us with his traps. Although we've embraced the amazing gift of God’s grace through His Son Jesus Christ and have been set free from our sin (Galatians 2:20), the war of the spirit and flesh rages on (Galatians 5:17). That means we are prone to attack from the enemy.  And he wants us to fail in our faith.

How can you recognize if you are being spiritually attacked and how can you combat it? Here are four strategies:

1) Know your weaknesses and where you struggle spiritually. For example, I struggle at times with God’s perfect grace; I revert to attempting to earn my salvation by my own works (and I fail every time). When God convicts me of this, I must repent and remember the gospel (Ephesians 2:8).

2) Examine yourself and see whether or not there are spiritual disciplines that have faltered. When my reading of God’s word decreases, I can see a drastic change in the way I perceive truth, and I start to believe the thoughts/lies that Satan throws at me: That I’m not good enough or that I will fail at anything I try to achieve. When I recognize this, I read/memorize scripture that trumps the lies I’ve started to believe in my head. A great passage to memorize is Ephesians 6:10-20, which tells us to put on the spiritual armor of God so we can stand against our enemy.

3) Entrust others with your heart. Share your struggles with someone you trust who will get on their knees for you and fight the battle with you; encouraging you and lifting you up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  

4) Pray. I cannot be reminded enough how powerful and vital prayer is to our spiritual bodies. American author E.M. Bounds said this about prayer, “God shapes the world by prayer. The more prayer there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.” Life is busy and I’m quite certain it will only get busier, but prayer must be a priority if I want to combat the enemy.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

 

Sweat Your Sermon Intro

The first pastor who really taught me about preaching once told me, “If you open strong, close strong, and hit your transitions, your sermon will take care of itself.” While it’s a bit more complicated than that, he was largely correct. Many sermons fall apart before they even start, crash and burn because of an inability to “land the plane”, or lack clarity due to confusion in transition.

While I hope to write on each of these sermon elements, I want to start with the importance of a strong sermon introduction. So what makes for an effective sermon illustration? In a sentence:

Good intros grab attention.

People come into our worship services each week having already been inundated with information. They come into church weighed down by the stress of their own lives. They may be distracted by something they heard on the news. They have most likely already been listening to music, checking Twitter, Facebook, posting to Instagram…it’s endless! 

The goal of the introduction is to grab listeners by the face (figuratively I hope) and tell them why they should listen to what you have to say - and I would argue that if you don’t accomplish this in the first five minutes, you’ve largely lost the battle already. 

It’s not easy and requires thoughtful and prayerful intentionality. The good news is, there are proven tools for productive intros at our disposal. I keep my list to five…

1. Tension

One thing I try to make clear in every introduction is the particular problem this sermon is the solution to. Help people see a specific pain point they may not even be aware of and then lean into the reality of the tension it causes. Tension is, by definition, uncomfortable but people pay attention to what makes them uncomfortable. 

2. Humor

Few things are more disarming then humor. Everyone loves to laugh. Sadly, many approach preaching as though laughter were at odds with the serious nature of the subject matter we preach. Humor is not always appropriate, but it's not always inappropriate either. One word of caution: the ability to wield humor as a tool is not a skill every preacher possesses and thus should not be used by everyone. Know yourself and play to your strengths.  

3. Controversy

I’m not talking about being a “shock jock.” I’m not talking about controversy for the sake of controversy. The Bible is increasingly controversial in our culture. The exclusivity of Christ, marriage between a man and woman, sex reserved for marriage, loving your enemies, gender roles…the Bible is filled with content that runs contrary to the opinions of our culture. Controversy is engaging. What better way to grab people’s attention than to lean into the controversy in the text?

4. Story

Everyone enjoys a good story. Stories draw us in. People will often remember the good stories we tell more than the carefully crafted sentences we write. This means we should grow in our understanding of how to tell stories well. We should be collectors of quality stories to be used for the purpose of engagement down the road. 

5. Confrontation

People tend to pay attention when confronted, agreed? I’m not arguing for yelling, bullying, or the use of harsh language. What I am arguing for is to love God’s people enough to say hard things to them. Love that remains silent on issues that may cause listeners pain if unaddressed is no love at all. True love tells the truth - even when it’s confrontational. 

Pastor, sweat your intro this Sunday! It really matters. Your intro gets everyone on the bus and in the right seat for the journey God’s called you to take them on. Write something that will grab people’s attention and then labor to hold onto it for the remainder of the sermon. 

 

What tools have you found helpful for grabbing attention in your intro? Leave a comment here…