In The Room Ep.9: JR Vassar

This week I’m in the room with JR Vassar. He’s the lead pastor of Church at the Cross in Grapevine, TX. He’s also the founding pastor of Apostles Church in NYC. He’s written a convicting new book called, “Glory Hunger: God, the Gospel, and our quest for something more."

In our conversation we discuss how to transition between ministries well, the narcism that pervades social media, and how to satisfy the glory hunger we all have.

Follow JR on Twitter.

Order his book “Glory Hunger” on Amazon.

If these conversations have been a blessing to you, would mind helping me spread the word? I’ve learned so much and I want to get this great content to as many people possible. Here are two ways you can help:

1) Share In The Room with friends and followers on social media.

2)Subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. 

I’d be honored if you helped me spread the word. Thanks for listening!


In The Room Ep.8: Alec Rowlands

This week I’m in the room with Alec Rowlands. He’s the senior pastor of Westgate Chapel in Edmonds, WA and the author of a great new book called The Presence: Experiencing More of God. 

In our conversation we discuss the defining marks of revival throughout church history, some things that keep us from experiencing God’s manifest presence and how to maintain balance in our theological convictions.

Follow Pastor Alec on Twitter 

Order his new book, “The Presence” 

If these conversations have been a blessing to you, would mind helping me spread the word? I’ve learned so much and I want to get this great content to as many people possible. Here are two ways you can help:

1) Share In The Room with friends and followers on social media.

2)Subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. 

I’d be honored if you helped me spread the word. Thanks for listening!


My Saturday Nightmare

I have a recurring nightmare on Saturday nights. 

It involves me stepping up to the pulpit, looking down at my notes and having NOTHING prepared. As every eye looks on, I start to mumble and make up a sermon out of thin air. I’d love to report that the dream ends with me preaching an earth-rattling, hell-shattering sermon resulting in revival, but more often than not I wake up just before falling off the stage I never should have set foot on.  

Thankfully this dream has never been a reality, but it does remind me that I need to know a few things  prior to preaching. And if you’re a preacher, so do you.

1. Know Your Text

I don’t just mean have one picked out. Holy cow, I hope we at very least have that. I mean we need to know the text the way a chef knows food, or a nerd knows comics - we need to know EVERYTHING we can. We need to know our text inside and out. 

Write it out, jot down your observations, study it in multiple translations, understand the original languages, and read a couple of good commentaries. Our creativity, charisma, and carefully crafted sentences are pathetic substitutes for truly preaching the very Word of God. 

Prior to preaching make sure you know your text.

2. Know Yourself

No two preachers are exactly the same. Are there any two people more different than Tim Keller and Steven Furtick? Keller’s all turtle necks and Tolkien, Furtick is fohawks and v-necks. Keller was a professor, Furtick fronted a punk band. Completely. Different. People. 

Few things are more frightening than listening to a preacher try to be someone they’re not. Like David in Saul’s armor, it’s awkward, uncomfortable and incongruent with who God’s made them to be. 

God gave you the personality He gave you and intends that you preach from it, so make sure you know yourself.

3. Know Your Audience

I just finished preaching a retreat for 6th-12th graders. It had been a long time since I’d preached to anyone other than adults and let’s just say my “re-entry” was rocky. Five minutes in, I felt like I’d never preached before. I was sweaty, self-conscious, and couldn’t wait for it to be over. I didn’t know my audience.   

WHAT we preach does not change based on the audience, but HOW we preach should. Children, students, and adults all demand different strategies. What works in an urban area, may crash and burn in a rural community. 

The more we know our audience, the more we know how to apply God’s Word skillfully. 

You may still have the Saturday nightmare like I do, but if you know your text, yourself, and your audience, the nightmare won’t be a reality. 

In The Room Ep 7: How To Live Life Intentionally feat. Carlos Whittaker

On this episode, I’m talking with Carlos Whittaker. He’s a worship leader, recording artist, speaker, author and social media machine. In our conversation we discuss his new book Moment Maker, consider how to bring more intentionality to our lives and ministries, and talk a bit about how to use social media without losing our souls. 

Here are a few ways you can connect with Carlos:

If these conversations have been a blessing to you, would mind helping me spread the word? I’ve learned so much and I want to get this great content to as many people possible. Here are two ways you can help: 1) Share In The Room with friends and followers on social media 2)Subsribe and leave a review on iTunes. I’d be honored if you helped me spread the word. Thanks for listening!

In The Room Episode 6: Jared Wilson

On this episode, I’m talking with Jared Wilson. He’s the author of books like Gospel Wakefulness, The Wonder-Working God and The Pastor’s Justification. 

In our conversation we discuss the importance of pastoral presence when people are suffering, some of the most common problems pastors face, and whether, or not it’s necessary to correct other pastors publicly via social media. 

You can follow Jared on Twitter and pick up one of his great books now

I’d love to hear the one thing that sticks with you from this week's episode. Join the conversation online using the hashtag #InTheRoom, or leave me a comment here on the blog. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to In The Room on iTunes and have it downloaded directly to your device as soon as it’s available. Thanks so much for listening!


7 Themes We Need To Hear Hundreds Of Times

As a parent of three young kids I’m amazed how frequently I have to tell them the same things over and over. I mean honestly, should I really have to tell my four year old son more than once that he can’t push his two-year-old brother off the couch? I even find myself saying, “Guys, I’ve told you this a hundred times.” Maybe a slight overstatement, but they do need to hear the same messages over and over (and over and over and over…) 

In truth, you and I are no different. Over these past five years I find myself and my church in need of hearing these seven themes over and over again. 

1. God's grace is greater than our sin.

I heard a great story of Martin Luther being approached by a member of his church who asked when he would preach something OTHER than the gospel to them. Luther responded, “When you show up looking like a people who believe the gospel, I’ll preach something else to you.” We’re all prone to believe we can out-sin God’s grace. That means the message that must saturate every sermon is the one true gospel of Jesus’ perfect life, substitutionary death and victorious resurrection. 

2. What we feel doesn't dictate what's real.

Emotions have a way of determining our perceived reality. If I FEEL God has allowed something unjust, God is unjust. If I FEEL God has abandoned me, God must have abandoned me. If I FEEL God is not in control, I must be on my own. The problem is, our emotions frequently conflict with God’s Word. Each time this happens, we have a choice to make: Will Scripture, or my subjective feelings, determine what’s true? I have a friend who says, “Emotions make a great caboose, but a lousy engine.” Each day we have to let the Bible beat our feelings into submission. 

3. If it's in the text we have to do something with it.

We tend to treat the Bible like a buffet - we pick what we like and skip what we don’t. Pastors are guilty of this, too. We all have parts of Scripture we’re comfortable preaching and parts we’re not. The task in front of every Bible preacher is preaching the full counsel of God’s Word, regardless of our comfort with what it says. No skipping, no ignoring, no passing over. If God says it, we have to face it. 

4. God's always working for our good and His glory.

If you follow Christ for more than a few seconds, something will happen that will make you wonder what God is doing. It may be a trial you face, a loved one who dies, or a situation you never expected. As a result, the most common questions we ask are, “Where is God and what is He doing?” The answer: He is with you and He is working. God is always accomplishing His objective: His glory and your good in all things. 

5. Jesus is coming!

Even a cognitive trust that God is pushing His plan forward doesn’t diminish the temporary suffering we all experience. Suffering has a way of obscuring our ability to see God’s hand in our hurts. That means we need our hearts constantly recalibrated to the reality of Christ’s return. Things won’t always be the way they are. Suffering will cease. Pain will pass. Death will disappear. Even the most difficult day will be eclipsed against the backdrop of eternity with Jesus. 

6. Christians don't coddle sin, they kill it.

In Romans 8:13, Paul tells us to put to death the deeds of the body. We’re not called to manage sin or minimize it. We’re called to kill it. Over and over we needed to be reminded that sin is not a game. You may not see the immediate consequences of it, but make no mistake, if you’re not killing your sin, it is in fact killing you. The death may be slow, but in the end, death is still definitive. 

7. Faith isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice.

As a pastor, I hear people say, “I want to have faith and trust God, but I just don’t FEEL it.” We have to get rid of the notion that faith is a feeling. It’s not. Faith is a decision to believe that God is who He says He is and capable of all He says He is capable of. When we choose faith, our feelings will follow. 

So if you’re a preacher, don’t tire of telling people the same things over and over. They need it and so do you. If you’re not a preacher, never tire of returning to God’s Word over and over again for the daily bread that the truth of His Word is for your soul. 

Which of these themes do you need to be reminded of today? 

In The Room Episode 5: Pastor Mark Jobe

On this episode, I’m talking with Pastor Mark Jobe. He’s the lead pastor of New Life Community Church - a multi-congregational and multi-ethnic church in urban Chicago. He’s also the author of “Unstuck: Out of Your Cave, Into Your Call.”

In our conversation we discuss the difficulties of urban ministry, some of New Life's mistakes as pioneers in the multi-site strategy of church planting, and Pastor Mark's new book, “Unstuck.”

You can follow Mark on Twitter and buy his new book on Amazon now.

I’d love to hear the one thing that sticks with you from this week's episode. Join the conversation online using the hashtag #InTheRoom, or leave me a comment here on the blog. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to In The Room on iTunes and have it downloaded directly to your device as soon as it’s available. Thanks so much for listening!

In The Room Episode 4: Dr. Gregg R. Allison

On this episode, I’m talking with Dr. Gregg Allison. He’s the Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. We’re discussing his new book “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice.” Most of you who listen to the podcast are Protestant, but with over 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, this is a topic we need to think clearly about. 

In our conversation we cover a brief history of the Catholic church, how the Catholic Church differs from the Protestant Evangelical Church and how we can best love and minister to those who are Catholic. 

I’d love to hear the one thing that sticks with you from this week's episode. Join the conversation online using the hashtag #InTheRoom, or leave me a comment here on the blog. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to In The Room on iTunes and have it downloaded directly to your device as soon as it’s available. Thanks so much for listening!

In The Room Episode 3: Justin Taylor

On this episode of In The Room I'm talking with Justin Taylor. He's the author of multiple books, a trusted blogger and the Senior Vice President of Crossway Books. In our conversation we discuss the benefits and liabilities of social media, mistakes that Justin has made as a blogger, and whether, or not we really need "watch blogs." You can find Justin's blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

I’d love to hear the one thing that sticks with you from this week's episode. Join the conversation online using the hashtag #InTheRoom, or leave me a comment here on the blog. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to In The Room on iTunes and have it downloaded directly to your device as soon as it’s available. Thanks so much for listening!


Crafting Sermons That Cut Through The Noise

I think we can agree that in our current culture, you and I are inundated with information. Communication is constant, cluttered, and consuming. This poses a significant challenge for those of us who preach. How do we craft sermons in such a way that they cut through the noise?

Here are five suggestions:

1. Proclaim the authority of God’s Word and nothing else.

In Isaiah 55:10-11, God Himself promises us that His Word never returns void. Think about that! If you’ve preached God’s Word faithfully, you can rest knowing it has accomplished exactly what God wants. That promise doesn’t extend to our creativity, clever thoughts, or compelling illustrations. I’m NOT saying don’t incorporate those things into your sermon. I AM saying far too much of what we call “preaching” is light on the one thing we know contains power: the Word of God. 

2.  Prepare your guts out and don’t wing it.

The fact that God’s Word won’t return void shouldn’t make us prepare less, but more. We need to be sure we get it right. We need to explain, illustrate, and apply God’s Word with surgical precision. Our culture kills itself to prepare its sermons; should we prepare any less? We have the truth. We labor for eternity. The One we preach is worthy of our best. So, no winging it. Pray yourself hot, press deep into the text, and prepare the best sermon you can every time you’re blessed to preach.

3. Present the problem and preach the solution.

Every sermon should be the solution to a specific problem. I’ll give you a hint: the problem is always some manifestation of sin. It may be an issue of disbelief, an ungodly attitude, or a behavior that is contrary to God’s revealed will. Regardless, we focus the truth we proclaim when we identify the problem we’re addressing. Ears perk up when people realize God’s Word holds out hope for something that is causing them pain. 

4. Push on real issues and don’t stick to what’s safe.

The message of the Bible is beautiful, but it’s not pretty. One of the great things about God’s Word is the authentic way in which it speaks about life. It confronts our sin and calls us to repent. Sexuality, relationships, speech, money, politics…there is no subject God is afraid to force us to face. If we’re going to be faithful to the text, we have to say what it says. We can’t pull any punch or ignore any issue. If God has something to say about it, so must we. 

5. Preach to your actual audience and use their language.

Too much preaching is done in language that is either over the heads or beneath the intelligence of its listeners. Some sermons have so many Greek words or Christian cliches, the message is lost on the average listener. Other times we preach like our congregations are stupid and can’t handle the full weight of what the text says. No preacher would step into another country and ignore the language of that country. You’d either learn it or have it interpreted so the audience can understand. But are we doing this work in the context God has placed us in? Know the audience and talk to them.

Our message is too important for it to get lost in the noise. Let’s give our all to insure we’re preaching the right thing the right way. 

The Story Behind The Songs We Sing

One of the first things we think of when we think of Christmas is music. Love it or hate it, we all associate music with Christmas. Think about it, Christmas is the only season that has its own soundtrack.

Christmas-Carols-HD-Starting.jpg

Entire radio stations spring up each year devoted exclusively to running Christmas music into the ground. Four of the top 10 selling albums on iTunes this week were Christmas albums. Some people are so crazy for Christmas music they go caroling! What?! What other time of year is it socially acceptable to stand on someone's doorstep and sing to them?

There's just something about Christmas and music.

If we're honest, however, there's a bunch of songs we sing and don't really understand many of the words we're singing. When was the last time you used words like hark, gloria, or noel in a sentence? Um, the answer is NEVER. 

In fact, I gathered a highly qualified focus group recently to discuss our confusion with so many of the details of the Christmas story. Watch:

It's one thing that we don't know what a few words mean in a song; it's something altogether different when we forget the story these songs tell. 

To remedy this, I'm currently teaching a series called "Christmas Carols" at Redemption. It's all about the Story behind the songs we sing. My first sermon was from Luke 1:1-25, entitled "Trusting God's Promise." I focused on the examples of Zechariah and Elizabeth and how they teach us that our limitations, fears, and doubts can't hinder God's plan. 

I'd be honored if you'd listen.

In The Room Episode #2: Luke MacDonald & Andi Rozier of Vertical Church Band

For this episode of In The Room, I stopped by Harvest Bible Chapel to talk with Luke MacDonald and Andi Rozier, of Vertical Church Band. In our conversation we discussed the evolution of Vertical Church Music, what they’re encouraged and concerned about in the modern worship movement, and the upcoming release of their 3rd album “Church Songs” (Available 1.20.15).

I’d love to hear the one thing that sticks with you from this week's episode. Join the conversation online using the hashtag #InTheRoom, or leave me a comment here on the blog. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to In The Room on iTunes and have it downloaded directly to your device as soon as it’s available. Thanks so much for listening!

3 Ways You Can Help With #InTheRoom

It's been an amazing first few days for my new podcast In The Room! As I'm writing this, it's the #12 podcast in the Religion & Spirituality section, which almost makes my brain explode.

Thank you to everyone who has listened, provided feedback and helped me spread the word. I just wanted to let you know how it's doing and tell you about three ways you can help me with the podcast: 

1. Listen to episode #1 with Matt Chandler.

The most consistent piece of feedback I continue to hear this week surrounds how much wisdom Pastor Matt shares on the podcast. What he shares is so helpful for all Christians - not just other pastors.

2. Leave a review for me.

Reviews are one of the main components that iTunes uses to determine which podcasts receive increased visibility. They also help people determine if they will sacrifice their time and give a podcast a shot. So if you have a second, would you mind clicking over and leaving a review?

3. Let somebody else know about the podcast.

The BIGGEST way you can help is simply spreading the word. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Email, just telling people - it all helps. So, if you've enjoyed it and have a way to let someone else know about it, I'd appreciate really it. 

Thanks so much for all your help this week. We're in this together and I hope you'll find In The Room helpful. I love you and thanks again for your help!

5 Questions For Planning A Preaching Calendar

The Bible is surprisingly silent regarding many of the specifics surrounding pastoral ministry. Though it’s clear regarding WHAT we’re to do, the Bible is often quiet about HOW. How we carry out our preaching ministries is a great example of this.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how many weeks out of the year we should preach, how long our sermons should be, nor what specific form our sermons should take (i.e. expositional, topical, etc.).

The Bible also doesn’t tell us how to plan a preaching calendar. A Facebook friend reached out to me recently asking how I plan my preaching calendar. To be honest, I’ve never thought about my process. Since this is another area about which the Bible is quiet, there is room for many different approaches. What I realized in thinking through my process is that my preaching calendar is the result of answering five questions:

1. What type of preacher am I?

Some pastors preach 52 weeks out of the year, others are a part of a teaching team and don’t even preach half that many. Some preachers prefer long series through entire books, while others are more suited to shorter textual, or topical preaching.  

On average I preach between 40 and 45 times a year. I do better with shorter series through chunks of a book rather than long series through entire books. I find topical preaching terribly difficult and do best with one primary text. You have to know these things about yourself before you can plot a productive preaching calendar.

2. What are the special days?

There are holidays and strategic Sundays you may want to take advantage of. Christmas and Easter are obvious, but Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and others present us with unique opportunities to shepherd in focused areas. 

My first step in planning the preaching calendar is typically to identify where the days land and what, if any influence they will have on what I preach those weekends. 

3. What is gripping my heart?

God is always doing something in you and me. As Christians, we must be mindful of this so we can work in conjunction with God’s Spirit in our own sanctification. If you’re a preacher, God may mean at least some of what He’s doing in you to benefit your church as well. 

Many of the series I teach are the result of a text that haunts me, sometimes for weeks on end. Other times, I read a book on a particular topic that is especially formative and know that it’s something that would be helpful for Redemption as well. Consider what God is currently doing in you, as He may want to do the same thing in His people through your preaching.

4. What do our people need?

Every church is different. The spiritual maturity of your church may be different from the spiritual maturity of mine. There may be theological issues people need clarification on. Maybe there is a particular area of Christian practice where people need instruction. The epistles are great examples to us of good pastors having a pulse on what God’s people needed to hear.

Two ways I gauge this are questions and prayer requests. I pay attention to the questions I’m asked after services and in counseling. Similarly, I read through all our prayer requests that come in on Sundays and look for areas of doubt, discouragement, or disappointment that seem to be common. If themes appear, I preach into them. Regardless of our means, we all need to have some pulse on these issues. 

5. What haven’t I preached? 

In Acts 20:27, Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” It’s bad form and pastoral negligence when preachers only preach to their pet issues. God’s Book is big and has lots to say. That means that our preaching should be diverse and cover a wide range of topics. 

As much as possible, I try not to preach the same text over and over. If I’m preaching on generosity and have already preached from 2 Corinthians 8 on the topic, I will choose another text to preach from. I know this will get harder the longer I preach, but I want to teach as much of God’s Word as possible so that I, too, am benefitting from the full counsel of God.

There are no set rules for how far out you should plan. I used to do 12 months but found that to be too much. By the time I was six months into the calendar, I was changing stuff. This is how I learned that being about six months out is best for me personally. 

Your process will be determined by what works for you. Preach Christ from God’s Word week in and week out and everything will work out:-) I hope these questions are helpful and aid you in your pursuit of teaching the full counsel of God.

In The Room Episode 1: Matt Chandler

Matt Chandler is the Lead Pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, TX and President of the Acts 29 Network. Matt is one of the most downloaded preachers on iTunes and one of those rare leaders with increasing influence across multiple tribes. In our conversation, Matt discusses why he believes he’s able to speak to audiences so directly and still be so loved. We talk about what aspect of his preaching young preachers should NOT replicate, as well as the difficulty of discussing sexuality as a Christian in culture. I'd love to hear your feedback, so join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #InTheRoom, or leave me a comment. If you'd like #InTheRoom downloaded directly to your device when new episodes release, you can subscribe here...

 

7 Things I'm Thankful For Today

"Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him...abounding in thanksgiving." 

Colossians 2:6-7

1. A God who faithful even when I'm not.

2. A wife to love, laugh and live life with.

3. A quiver of healthy and hilarious kids.

4. A pulpit from which to preach God's Word.

5. A church filled with people who call me "pastor."

6. A mission to give my life to. 

7. A wealth of loyal, loving friends who stretch me. 

What are some things you're thankful for today?

#InTheRoom Podcast

I have a new project I’m SO excited about and want to invite you in to! Beginning Monday, December 1, I’m hosting a bi-monthly (which I think means twice a month??) podcast called #InTheRoom

 

The concept is simple: I want to bring you into the room with pastors, authors and artists for conversations about the craft of ministry. This is a project I’ve thought a lot about. While there is much I’m still trying to figure out, here are three values you can count on from #InTheRoom

1. Authenticity

These are real conversations with real leaders about real issues. I’m not after canned principles that sound great on paper, but fall sadly short in practice. It won’t be scripted and the only thing I’ll ever edit may be my stuttering attempt at asking a coherent question:-).

2. Diversity

I have a deep conviction that I have something to learn from everyone. Regardless of tribe, philosophy, or strategy - if you’re making disciples of Jesus, I want hear about how you’re doing it. I want to talk with people I may not agree with on every issue (let’s be honest - do any of us agree with anyone on every issue?) because I want to be challenged, stretched, and grown.

3. Vulnerability

I don’t just want answers to the same five questions every leader gets asked on every conference panel. I’m striving for a look behind the curtain of each guest's heart, mind, and ministry. I’m not interested in just stories of success. I want to hear about fear, failure, and the grace of God that is sufficient for all.

So here’s my big ask: Will you listen to the first episode and help me spread the word? 

My first guest is Pastor Matt Chandler and it’s packed full of awesome. I promise you’ll be blessed by so much of what Matt has to share. 

Email, tweet, Facebook, Instagram, homing pigeon…use whatever means you want, but help me get the word out. To join the conversation online, just use the hashtag #InTheRoom. I’m excited about how God’s going to use this podcast in my life and yours. So make a note - Monday December 1. I’m looking forward to having you #InTheRoom!

3 Healing Reminders When the Holidays Are Hard

The holidays are hard.

Finances are stretched, relationships are strained, and emotions are often sensitive. As a result, the holidays are frequently a difficult season, rather than the joyful one we’re pressured to project. 

Maybe you have no idea how you’re going to afford Thanksgiving dinner, or Christmas gifts this year. Maybe you’re dreading the inevitable conflict with a contentious family member. Maybe you’re increasingly aware of the residual pain of a loved one lost. 

If the holidays are hard for you, I want to give you three healing reminders…

1. Jesus is with you.

This can be a lonely time of year for many. It seems all you see are happy couples, happy families, happy friends celebrating together. The holidays also increase our awareness of how much we miss loved ones who have passed away. If you’re feeling lonely this year, listen to the words of Hebrews 13:5:

“I will never leave you; never will I forsake you.”  

What you feel doesn’t dictate what’s real. You are NOT alone. Jesus is with you. 

2. Jesus gets it.


Jesus knows what it is to have conflict with family. Jesus knows the pain of loved ones lost. Jesus knows what it is to be stretched thin, even overwhelmed. Hebrews 4:15 says,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 

Because Jesus has experienced what we have, He can empathize with us as well. There is no pain that Jesus is not intimately familiar with. You may feel misunderstood by everyone, but if anyone gets you, it’s Jesus. He understands how you feel, so draw near to Him. 

3. Jesus is sufficient. 

It’s great that Jesus is with you, even better that He understands, but the real question is, “Can Jesus do anything about it?” My opinion on that doesn’t matter. Listen to what Jesus Himself says:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor.12:9) 

Regardless of where you are, what you’re going through, or how you’re feeling, Jesus is sufficient for you - He’s enough! He can comfort, heal, sustain, forgive, and set you free. 

Jesus’ power is not in question.

Jesus is with you.

Jesus gets it.

Jesus is sufficient.

The question is, will you draw near to His throne to receive the grace you need to endure, maybe even enjoy this holiday season?  

Captains Of A Sinking Ship

There has been an unfortunate trend within Christianity these past couple of decades. An increasing number of us have a deep desire to assimilate into culture rather than stand as a refuge of hope outside of it. 

Understand, I’m not saying we should all move into the woods, burn our secular music (anyone else do that when they were young?), or stop watching movies. I am saying that we need to get honest about the desires of our hearts. 

Many of us want to live like, look like, and sound just like our culture SO THAT we will be respected and accepted by it. That’s like wanting to be captains of a sinking ship.

When the Titanic struck an iceberg and began to sink, people were scrambling around doing lots of things, but there was one thing nobody was doing: posturing to be captain of the ship. Their only concern was getting off the ship and for some, to help as many others as possible do the same. 

In the same way, our concern shouldn’t be ego-boosting influence within the culture. Our culture is in opposition to God and will thus sink just like the Titanic. Our concern should be having and helping others experience peace with God and that’s impossible to do AND be universally accepted by a culture in opposition to God. 

In Luke 6:26 Jesus said, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to false prophets.” Here’s an important point:

If no one speaks well of you, you may be a jerk. If everyone speaks well of you, you’re not living like Jesus. 

So whose pleasure and approval will you live for today? Will you seek the approval of the sinking ship of our culture or the approval of our sovereign God? Culture will sink, God will not. Let’s be sure we’re seeking the right approval. 

How True Change Happens

In our house, it's my job to take the garbage to the curb on Monday mornings. On more than one occasion in the summer months, I’ve walked outside to find both the inside and the outside of my garbage can covered in…

Wait for it…

MAGGOTS. 

If you’ve never experienced this, I don’t even have the words to describe just how disgusting it truly is. It smells horrible, looks horrible and believe it or, not, sounds horrible as you can hear them sliming all over one another. (Still reading? I know it’s gross, but I have a point…)

Let’s say I grab my hose and spray off the outside of the can and don’t do anything about what has caused the real problem on the inside. What’s going to happen? Within moments the can will be covered again because what’s on the outside came from the inside. Sin is the same way. 

In Matthew 23:25-28 Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for projecting pure lives apart from pursuing pure hearts. We do the same thing. We go to painful lengths in order to project that we are righteous people. We go to church, tweet a verse from our quiet time, give generously, serve sacrificially and live in community with other believers. Understand, those are all good things, but Jesus said we can succeed in all those things and still miss what matters most - our hearts. 

Sin is a problem of the heart (Matthew 15:18-19). The reason you and I do what we do - the reason we struggle with pride, deceit, anger, lust, gluttony, and laziness - is because our hearts are poisoned by sin. This is why any solution to sin and its fruits that does not address the heart is entirely unhelpful. We’re not sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re sinners (Ephesians 2:3). 

So, how do we move from external obedience to internal transformation? Simple: Only the perfect blood of Christ purifies our hearts. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The more we press into the purifying work of Christ, the more we change - from the inside out.