Posts by Jed Brown

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The Power of Gentleness

Martin Luther: "Before God be glad at all times, but before men be lenient." Jonathan Edwards once said that the fruit of the Spirit grows from within us like the branches of a tree - in a balanced fashion, left and right. We don't just grow love - the Spirit grows love AND, at the same time, say, faithfulness. God is interested in all that He Himself is, not just the fru...

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Reflecting on Grace

My wife reminded me that it was about this time nine years ago that we first landed on Utah soil. The women-folk took Annie up to Silver Lake (which, according to Lucy, is not really silver), and I interviewed with the search team. Since those first interactions, I've learned a lot. But perhaps the most important lesson God has taught me simply reaffirms what I already kne...

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Why We Do Groups

This Sunday is the first of three consecutive Gospel Community Sunday's, where we invite you to join a Community and a Discipleship Group. Here are some details: We want everyone to be involved in both a Community Group and a Discipleship Group. Community Groups are larger, geographically-based groups where we commit to: #1 CONNECT: We connect with other people, across ...

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Be Ready

The landscape of evangelism, it seems, changes by the month. As the culture lurches ever further from a Judeo-Christian worldview, our ability to communicate the concepts of the gospel becomes harder, because our hearers have jettisoned the Bible's framework of thought. Thus we sense the need to lay more and more groundwork before "giving the message". We want to establis...

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The News and the Imperishability of God

Recently, web-browsing Christians have been fed a diet of bad news about famous pastors. Just search for "James MacDonald" or "Joshua Harris", and you'll get a taste. My purpose here is not to adjudicate in ignorance and from afar on those particular cases, but to work through a few important truths that Christians must hold to, in the face of such news: God is imperishab...

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Lessons from the Xi’an Stela

In the 1600's AD, Roman Catholic missionaries forged their way to China, seeking to reach this massive "unreached" people with the gospel. To their great surprise, they learned that they were about 700-800 years late. The Xi'an Stela (a stela is a stone monument, often with an inscription), erected in 781 AD, records the positive reception of the gospel by the Chinese empe...

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The Complexity of Dependence on Threats

Two moments in my past week speak to one important issue. The first was a conversation over the Bible with our intern Josh Hix. He simply read a famous passage in context, and as he read, a new, path-cutting connection was made for me. The second happened at Home Depot⁠1. I was on the verge of giving up and paying for an expensive sprinkler repair, when another custom...

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Sweet Dissolution

The sign of an old book that's great is that we forget how old it is as we read it. I've experienced that repeatedly as I've finally read Augustine's "Confessions"⁠1, written around 1600 years ago. One such section comes in Book 3, chapter 16, as Augustine processes through his own past, youthful rebellion. His thoughts still apply today, because he so closely tracks wit...

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Led by a King, Living Like Kings

In the past few weeks we've heard from the pulpit the characteristics and roles of leaders in the church (1 Tim. 3:1-7; 5:17-25). These ancient words map back on to yet still-more ancient words. For instance, Deuteronomy 17:14-20. When Israel anoints a king, he needs to do one thing negatively (put in three parts), and one thing positively. The negative: he is to keep him...

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Privileging the Living

The disease of our age: to think that we are morally superior to every other generation that's ever lived. "I would never have allowed _________ if I had lived then." To paraphrase Chesterton, we are open-minded to everything and everyone except those who happen to be dead. But is there anything in our culture, or worse yet, among Christians, that we might be ashamed to ow...

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Our New Redemption Group

Beginning in June, we will be providing a "Redemption Group". I want to share more of what this is all about. It is not a Community Group, and not a Discipleship Group. But as you will see, it feeds into both. It is not group therapy; we are not licensed for that in Utah. It is not, per se, group counseling. So what is it? It is a small group where participants tell thei...

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Our Response to the Culture Wars

A statistic, and an observation. First, the statistic. Most Christians, in 2060, will live in a) United States, and b) Africa.⁠1 If it proves to be true, the reality in Corinth in the first century will exist across the globe: "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you...

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e·thos: the characteristic spirit of a community.

In our church, we employ two different types of groups. One of them is likely meeting in your area on Sunday: Community Groups. These groups are meant to possess the ethos of a "love feast". It's the same ethos that everyone wants in a family: to be welcomed, to be known, to be safe, to be connected, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. On Sunday, that "bigger t...

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Easter and Oktoberfest

What shall we do with Easter, after Easter is over? To ask such a question is a good sign; it means Easter had its intended effect on us. But the question remains. There are many threats to "keeping Easter". But one of the most dangerous, and the most pernicious, because it is so subtle, is the threat of "trends". Fads are different. For pastors to have or have not facial...

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The Scandalous Invitation

(See Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus never saw him coming. Literally - the "wee little man" was probably kept from seeing Jesus deliberately by the crowds, out of spite, and hatred. Zacchaeus was the boss of tax collectors - a legalized pimp of professional extortioners, all with authority from Rome to fleece their own people in order to return taxes due to Caesar. Zacchaeus was...

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Why Kids in Church

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. Psalm 119:18 The thorniest issues, once sorted out, always reveal profitable truths. One such issue is whether to include younger children in corporate worship. Several competing interests and questions intersect here: the desire for parents and those nearby the kids to listen to a sermon uninterrupted; ...

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BOOT CAMP

BC Pc

Guys, in our next Boot Camp, we will explore the first side of the marriage covenant - to "cleave". This is for ALL men, regardless of whether you are married, or even desire marriage, or how long you've been married. This is because when we talk about marriage, we're also talking about how ALL men should relate to THE Bride, the church. So we invite all guys, to enjoy goo...

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"I'll pray for you."

"OK, wow, I'll pray for you." Fewer words are more powerful, and are spoken more often so tritely. "I'll pray for you." What do we mean by "for"? I'll pray FOR you? Our default is to think that praying FOR another means praying ALONGSIDE them - essentially repeating what the other person has asked for, longing for, etc. This is not wrong, in and of itself. But the most po...

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Work + Faith Forum Seminar Recap

Today the Work + Faith Forum hosted its first Seminar, to dig deeper into some of the bigger issues of work: We find ourselves compelled towards work, because of the "deep character" of the world, because of how it's been made. We feel within ourselves that work is good. And we see it - it's the means by which we are provided what we need and desire. From our work, we pur...

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Productivity Primer

Productivity is one of those subjects that we are very interested in, but we are not sure that the Bible has much to say about it. So we turn to secular sources for insight. But I would argue the Bible says the most profound truths about true productivity. I list here four: We are freed for productivity by the gospel producing in us humble love. Biblical humility is self-...

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The Role of Cutting Off the Hand

Last week in this space I referred you to Jon Bloom's article, "Cut Off Your Hand". I invite you to read it, if you haven't. Then I have some further comments here: In the context of Matthew 18, it's clear that a) sin is really, really serious, because b) God is really, really worth not missing out on, due to sin. Heaven is at stake, yes, and that's important because heav...

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Unholy Busy

All Christians get "unsettled" from the gospel sometimes. We "unsettle" ourselves from finding our identity, our "OK-ness" in the always-coming grace of God to us in Christ, and shift that faith onto other things. It's not good, but it happens. While we can't see this shift happening, it's useful for us to think about the outward evidences of the shift, in order to take co...

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What To Expect When Suffering

2 Cor. 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Suffering is suffering, in part, because it is unexpected. We are never completely read f...

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A Key to Productivity

Sometimes the Bible intersects two issues which at first glance have nothing to do with each other. But as we continue to contemplate the Word, we find the reason why we are surprised at the intersection has more to do with us than the Word God is wiser than us. One such intersection occurs in Matthew 24. The chapter contains Jesus' most extensive teaching about what we ...

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Catechizing into the Kingdom?

Galatians 1:11-12 11For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Let's all agree that parenting is hard. My father once had an old, heavy, early-70's era car with bad shocks. On rural, crowned Illinois r...

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Pondering Ezra's Mass Divorce

Sometimes in this space, in the coming year, I will reflect on a passage from M'Cheyne's Bible Reading plan. Today includes Ezra 10. It's worth reflecting on the goodness of what is recorded here. The people of God, right after their return from exile - which was itself God's discipline for disregarding His law - disregard His law, and marry women from foreign nations. Ez...

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Six Rules for Bible Reading in 2019

Six rules for Bible reading, in 2018: 1. Don't make it a rule. The hinge upon which our lives turn is not whether we have satisfied rituals that please God. Jesus himself became THE ritualistic sacrifice, that satisfied God, in our place. The measure of our Christianity is not whether we've done sufficient devotions, but whether we believe that God is there, and that He i...

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The New Year and the Proverbs 31 Woman

The voices speaking to women today are endless. This is the time of year when many of these voices "come calling", and their demands transmogrify within us into new New Year's habits and goals (we no longer call them "resolutions", but the behavior is there all the same). The Christian form of this is to look at the Proverbs 31 woman, and be found wanting. Who can keep up ...

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What's Expected of You?

What is expected of each of us in this church, when we are outside of Sunday worship? Let's work our way out from the center: We are to glorify God. We do this best, as others have said, as we enjoy Him. In enjoying Him we have all the inner power we need to make much of Him. We find this joy in the gospel. Thus one of our first responsibilities is to pursue our own joy, ...

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Toxic Masculinity

I'm told the Oxford Dictionary named "toxic" its "word of the year". For good reason - it describes well our political discourse, our relationships, Utah's air this time of year . . . but especially men. We've heard so many stories where men have misused others, especially women - where "toxic masculinity" is an understandable description. Therefore I would like to speak ...

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You, God's Mask

No matter what work you have been called to today, Martin Luther has a word for you: "God could easily give you grain and fruit without your plowing and planting. But He does not want to do so. . . . What else is all our work to Godwhether in the fields, in the garden, in the city, in the house, in war, or in governmentbut just such a child's performance, by which He want...

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Kids in Church: Thoughts for the Team

In our church we want to make space for children to be in church with their parents, almost regardless of age. The purpose is not to fawn over children, or to make our worship kid-centric instead of God-centered. It is instead to raise up young adults who are authentic worshipers of God. Reflecting on this endeavor, and without repeating what was shared in last week's semi...

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How Firm a Foundation

Our modern, technological age speeds us up. In many respects, this is good: we get more good things done in less time. But one downfall is that we forget ourselves, and we forget God. In this sense, it's true: speed kills. Actually, that's not quite right. To quote an old comedian, it's not the speed that kills you - it's the sudden stop. We don't realize how fast we're g...

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Post-Election Reflection

We have just spent the last few months or days sorting through claims and counterclaims, of the worth of this or that candidate or referendum. We're tried to be wise and discerning, to make the right voting decisions for our country. It would seem then that we can rest, but today the real important work begins for us, as Christians. The last chapter of Hosea points the way...

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Always Reforming: Divorce and Halloween

Two events in the life of our church passed by this week, that are deeply connected, though not at all on the surface: the introduction of a "white paper" by our elders, on our changed understanding of the Bible's teaching on divorce and remarriage, and Halloween. Divorce and Halloween? Yes, when we consider what Christians were experiencing on October 31st, 500 years ago...

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Schaeffer on the Spirit

Francis Schaefer on Life in the Spirit: "Teaching about the Holy Spirit and His indwelling must never be solely a theological concept. Having the proper conceptthat we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit when we are savedwe must press on, so that the Spirit's indwelling can bring forth results in our lives. If we want tongues of fire, our first step is not only to stand by, co...

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Humbled for Good

King Nebuchadnezzar - a fascinating figure in Scripture. Conqueror of the Jews, God utilizes him unwittingly as their caretaker. Perhaps for this reason, God takes a special interest in him. This is no more vivid than in Daniel 4. Others have made hay of Nebuchadnezzar's psyche: he is what we would call today a narcissist. Absorbed with himself, this self-consumption only...

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Ambitious Rest

Someone in our church recently said she observered an increased attention paid at EVFree to outreach. This concerned her; she felt that behind this increased attention is a pressure to grow in numbers. Fair enough - that tendency and temptation is always there in churches: to want to grow, either in response to other churches' growth (bad), or for our joy in the glory of G...

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Gospel Community

This month we will be emphasizing our "gospel community" and encouraging you to get connected. We began this concept of "gospel community" by launching "Community Groups" over a decade ago. Community Groups are geographically-based: you already "belong" to one, based on where you live. Community Groups include everyone in that area. The goal is three C's: to connect to ot...

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The Center of Change

Personal change is hard. Yet by the Spirit, change is possible, for a Christian. But so often we Christians find change elusive, and the solutions offered by others to be unsatisfying. This is a frustrating, depressing place to be - to hear of "joy inexpressible" (1 Peter 1:8), to hear of others' victories, and find oneself wanting. Part of the problem is our complexity. ...

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Attention!

Alan Jacobs' famous essay "Attending to Technology" begins with this simple point: "Everything begins with attention." A breathtakingly broad and absolute claim, and more true than Jacobs lets on. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 3:18, ". . . beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." Beholding is seeing with ...

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The Contemplative vs. the Concrete

The pursuit of holiness is tricky. We don't help ourselves when we pit truths against each another that were meant to complement each other. When we isolate one truth, separating it from another, complementary truth, the power of the Word is weakened. Two apparent "poles" that we can separate and pit against each other: contemplating God and "seeing" Him, versus laboring...

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Hospitality, Friendship and God

There has been a groundswell of interest in our church lately for connecting with one's neighbors in an authentic, useful way. This groundswell wraps three cords into one rope: the desire to live "outwardly" (you can find our "Outwards Living Plan" here); the desire to talk about God and his gospel in ways that are intelligent to the culture but do not dilute the truth; an...

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A Sandwich for Fear

Every writer in the Bible is Spirit-inspired yet still has a characteristic style. Here is one example of how grasping a writer's style can point you to his intended, rich meaning. Mark characteristically writes in "sandwiches" - two slices of bread, with the meat in the middle. The first "bread" sets up a problem; the "meat" often puts forth some kind of example that pre...

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Sports and Hikes on the Sabbath

Thinking about this past Sunday's sermon, and questions and comments that either I did not anticipate or left on the cutting room floor, about the Sabbath: 1. My kids [play a sport, do this activity, etc.] on Sunday's. I can't change the schedule. What do I do about that? First things first: the important thing is to carve out time with God, to encounter Him, in unhurried...

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Bettering the Netflix Solution

The CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, told the Wall Street Journal in 2016, "Fundamentally, we're about eliminating loneliness and boredom."⁠1 What is lost, when the "solution" to loneliness and boredom is entrusted to entertainment? Reed Hastings is right: solitary confinement, for us humans, is torture, because we are more than rational beings: below our reflective, rati...

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Kennedy and the Kingdom

The news that the President will add another Justice to the Supreme Court shocked everyone. Many on the conservative side cheer, hoping that this might bring new advances for the kingdom in our nation. On the one hand, we should rejoice and thank God when it seems He is rolling back injustice, through the means of human leaders. On the other hand, our perpetual temptation...

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Bleak Kids

With the end of the school year and summer, it seems good to reflect on the state of kids, and our kids. Recently a CDC report labeled teenagers' inner lives in America as "bleak"⁠1 - beyond the normal ups and downs of adolescence. Experts point to a handful of culprits: perfectionism - that life is not worth living if perfection cannot be achieved; performancism - that...

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A Big Deal

Sometimes our care for each other sucks. (There, you made me use that word that Momma told me never to use. But it's true. Sometimes we suck.) We don't mean to suck. But therein lies a big part of the problem: we don't know what lands on each other like an anvil, for two major reasons: those afflicted don't say so, and the afflictors assume that their words are at worst ne...

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Failure to Flourishing

The measure of our faith shows itself as much in the aftermath of failure as in the glow of attainment. Post-failure, Satan weaves his "best" lies. In these times the boots of faith must gain gritty traction, and hold. How? I offer a few thoughts from 1 Corinthians 1: Look to Jesus to regain hope. In 1 Cor. 1:4-9, Paul confidently states, about the seriously-messed-up-sin...

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When Serpents Bite Your Granny

Sometimes a post on some blog sticks with you, for your own good and the repeated good of others. I share one with you this week, from Mike Leake, written in 2012: "Perhaps the most offensive claim of the gospel is that a hate-filled cannibalistic child molester finds the same redemption and has an equal status in the eyes of God as your dear old church lovin', bake-sale ...

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Listen . . .

It has been said that when we encounter non-Christians, we speak and give answers. But when Jesus encountered non-Christians, he listened, and told stories. I think that's about right. While Jesus is the Son of God, completely full of the Spirit, much of His wisdom came not from taking advantage of His supernatural power, but from perfectly doing the human skill of listeni...

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Overcoming a Powerful Blockade to Prayer

Psalm 1311O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;my eyes are not raised too high;I do not occupy myself with thingstoo great and too marvelous for me.2But I have calmed and quieted my soul,like a weaned child with its mother;like a weaned child is my soul within me.3O Israel, hope in the Lordfrom this time forth and forevermore. One of the most powerful blockades to prayer is ...

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Any Well-Trained Monkey . . .

"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment . . ." Philippians 1:9 I have not forgotten, and have sometimes forgotten, what Mr. Ikard whisped in my ear. I was a new bank management trainee , sitting in "Charge-Off Committee" - an "intimate" gathering of the bank's executive management and about 60 of my peers, where ban...

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Rough Edges

On two prior occasions I've written about the importance and power of our "little" interactions with each other, especially between "insiders" and "outsiders", or "long-timers" and "newcomers". It's easy to forget what it was like to be an outsider, and to make it harder for newcomers to focus on the beauty of God, what for the social awkwardness we foist on each other. To...

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Unconscious, Insidious Worship

[An excerpt from Damien Jourdan's talk this past Friday at the Work + Faith Forum:] . . . Work can take on a double meaning, a double purpose. On one level it is absolutely a good thing. The Bible for example describes how God created human beings to work in Paradise, to bring out the untapped potential hidden in the universe. In this sense work is as much a human need as...

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Remembering What It Was Like

Imagine you were raised in another religion (if you even need to). It's all you've ever known; the only God you've ever known; the only way of worshiping you've ever known. Your family and friendships and business are all woven into the latticework of this religion. But then you begin to have questions. You doubt. You look around. And then, after months, you finally do it...

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Leaving Our Heritage

D.A. Carson, at a conference in 2015: ". . . there is so much in this society that feelswith a certain amount of justificationthat all those nasties on the Left are taking away our heritage! They're perverting our schools! They're overthrowing principles of jurisprudence! They're making the city unsafe! And so there's angerthere's anger seething through the whole land. "...

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The Great Power in Hallway Conversations

Sometimes (often - always) God works despite our best efforts. I can remember vividly my conversation with Tom, around 20 years ago. I was not long out of a Christian college, and I had left that college more confused than clear about God. And now, in Tom's living room, I asked him about some questions I had about how to interpret the book of Genesis. His essential answer:...

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What to Do?

What is the purpose of church membership? Charles Spurgeon: "What odd notions people have of joining the church. Many a young man joins a rifle corps. There he is! When he joins the church, where is he? We have the distinguished honor of having the names of many young gentlemen on our books. But where are they? What are they doing? They think it enough that they have join...

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Sharing Christ, Despite the Pain

Church, Easter is coming! April 1st . . . April Fools' Day. Inviting anyone to Good Friday and Easter Sunday? Inviting anyone to a gathering of people who will worship a man they cannot see, because they believe He was raised from the dead? Paul was an April Fool to the Athenians for believing such a thing (Acts 17:32), and increasingly so are we to our society. Increasing...

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Why Don't We Pray?

She was grieving, and telling me what she so desperately wanted in her marriage. "Have you prayed for that?" I asked. You know the answer: no. But not just "No", but "no" accompanied with a look of puzzlement - "Why have I not asked for this? Huh . . ." I can relate to the feeling. Why don't we pray? When God is so near, and so powerful. When God is so full of love towa...

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Why Church Membership?

Why church membership? Those words are in no verse of the Bible. So why do we practice it at EFree? Because it's biblical. No, it's not in any verse, not those words, but the practice is implied in the early church. In Acts 6:3, the elders tell the congregation to choose from among themselves seven men to be the first deacons. Implied there is that there must have been so...

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Mindfulness

"Mindfulness" is the self-help of our day, and for good reason: we are bombarded by messaging from all kinds of sources. We can barely hear ourselves think. And much of world is dehumanizing: take the statistical analysis one can do on anything now with your phone, or take a trip on an airplane - dehumanizing. We have to stop and put down our screens and force ourselves to...

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Changing My Floozy Heart

Want to grow, and change? Me too. But I frequently have trouble identifying what exactly it is that I'm trying to change. Like a black hole, I know something's there - I feel its gravitational pull, but I don't have light to see it. My heart does worship the way a black hole does gravitation: it is automatic - and profligate. It can't not worship, and it pulls anything int...

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The One Thing: Intolerable Prayer

In the coming year, I believe there is one thing that, in all our doings, we should do. Beneath this is the assumption that the gospel is working, from the pulpit, in our groups, and in our conversations. While we can always grow, we are on a good trajectory here. I also assume that our community is on a good trajectory. Again, while we have room to grow, we are on a good ...

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"I'll pray for you."

"How can I pray for you?" This is perhaps THE most important question we can be asking ourselves, as we live our life together. Even if we don't overtly ask the question, if this question is guiding our thoughts, concerns and other questions to each other, we will inevitably be steered by the Spirit to the most important priorities in life. IF, that is, we rightly define ...

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The Blameless Heart

In Christ, the deepest problems have the simplest solutions. Two Sundays ago, we saw that King Asa did not finish well; his prosperity shielded from himself and others the bent of his heart, away from God. God responded by calling him to faith: "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless towa...

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Your Place in the Sunday "Dinner Party"

In the evangelical world, churches grow through "assimilation" - a process from the world of marketing that "converts" guests into "customers". I sneeze at that. Nevertheless, when we peel away the inedible husk of that buzzword, there is still something useful underneath. Much of what is labeled "effective assimilation" is simply gracious hosting. For instance: Invite: ...

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Bible Reading - Part 3

I have written recentlyabout Bible reading plans (here and here). A few more thoughts: The first is from Robert Murray M'Cheyne, to a friend: "You read your Bible regularly, of course; but do try and understand it, and still more to feel it. Read more parts than one at a time. For example, if you are reading Genesis, read a Psalm also; or if you are reading Matthew, read ...

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The Post-Christmas Doldrums

Why the post-Christmas doldrums? What to do about it? 1. Realize that it may be partly a physical problem. We are embodied souls. After eating our way through the holidays, and sleeping differently, and catching germs on a plane or from your niece, you may simply be tired. Getting back into a more healthy rhythm may help. 2. Understand, however, that you may have spent t...

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On Bible Reading, and Conversation in Our Homes

Does your Bible reading result in spiritual conversations in your home? By "spiritual conversations", I mean conversations between spouses or friends, and what we call "family devotions" - deliberate, structured times of teaching in the home about God and the gospel. I would like to offer two simple suggestions for freeing you and simplifying this act of spiritual conversa...

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About Bible Reading Plans

Between Christmas and New Year, many of us will begin thinking about a Bible reading plan for the new year. I want to offer some thoughts that have been helpful to me over the years, as I have wrestled with and failed over Bible reading plans as much as I have succeeded: The goal of Bible reading can be put in many ways from Scripture, but nowhere do I read, "To be more...

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When You Can't See God

What do you do when you can't see God, when He seems distant, behind a constant swirl of clouds? I want to share a few thoughts that have been helpful for me: Be open to some unseen need for repentance. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Matt. 5:8) This is not always the cause, but we are all sinners - we're really good at sin - automatic, sometim...

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Get Yourself Connected

Not feeling connected here at EFree? I want to offer you a reason that might surprise you. But first, let me review how we shape our church life: First, the Sunday Worship Celebration. I will assume that you come at least twice a month, and that this is not a problem for you. But we also consider the 9 am Life Training Classes a part of Sunday, and an important part - the...

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Thinking About Self-Control

Thanksgiving is powerful - the act, that is, that the holiday emphasizes. Ironically, in America, the holiday, however, has become more about the very thing thanksgiving is meant to penetrate and kill - self-centered indulgence. I don't mean don't enjoy the pumpkin pie - I myself like a little pumpkin pie with my Cool Whip. But ironically, it is only through the act of tha...

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The Painful Nothing

One of life's deepest pains is a lack of connection to others. When you know someone with clinical depression, assume first that it hurts. Depression often feels like disconnection from everything - others, oneself, even God. It hurts, because previously there was a connection, and now it's mysteriously missing - the odd pain of a vacuum, the pain of nothing, where there s...

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Do the Next Thing

Recently I came across this poem on The Gospel Coalition website; I had not heard of it before. It was well-timed grace "low inspiration", customized by God for a low moment: "From an old English parsonage down by the sea There came in the twilight a message to me; Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven, Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven. And on through the do...

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Truly Christian Help

You are in your discipleship group, and someone reveals their recent, painful loss. You respond by expressing empathy and grief. But then what? Buddhists and atheists and Communists express empathy and grief. What next, that would be "Christian"? Read Titus 1:1-2, and insert "Paul", with your name, and "an apostle of Jesus Christ" with the less technical - but still appli...

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Reflecting on Life with Lucy

It's hard to believe that it's been three years since God brought Lucy into our life. Three years of joy and exhaustion and recalibrated plans about life. As I reflect on those three "features" of life with Lucy, here are some lessons I'm learning, in no particular order: Sometimes often a mom won't get a Sabbath rest, and rejuvenating time with God, unless dad makes ...

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The Reformation in a Verse

This Halloween is the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, when Martin Luther revealed his 95 Theses, setting off a firestorm of debate, controversy, change, and blessed freedom. Many passages of Scripture could claim to be the heart of the Reformation; Colossians 2:23 is one of them. If you want to understand the Reformation, seek to understand Colossian...

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Addicted to Righteousness

An old Reformer once said, of the Christian's life, that "unless we are addicted to righteousness", "we will faithlessly abandon our Creator". That phrase - "addicted to righteousness" - is striking. Certainly the language of addiction applies to our present day, even in our entertainment practices - we don't just "watch TV"; we "binge watch" shows. And there is the myriad...

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Hugh and Jake

Sometimes God gives compare and contrast moments that are inescapable. This morning I saw in the New York Times that Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy, had died. Thinking biblically: ". . . you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God . . . because of t...

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Grace for Gracie

Many of you have asked about my family member Gracie, who was shot by a fellow student in her school a couple weeks ago. She is recovering well. Though the bullet literally bounced off her spine (and missed her aorta by a hair), doctors expect a full recovery (though she is not yet walking again). As you read this, please pray for her. As I understand it, she was shot and...

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Earthy Means to Flourishing Community

"Community" is simply being with other people. A flourishing community is one where there is mutual, multiplying joy among the members, as a product of being with each other. This is because we humans are hard-wired for joy. We're created with this innate desire. The only way that any human experiences satisfying joy is in God. Therefore the only truly flourishing communit...

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From Awesomeness to Flourishing

We are a polar people. On the one pole, we love to be exceptional, to be special. You see this sweet narcissism on social media; we post our best and brightest moments, but often the purpose is to demonstrate the singularity of ourselves. But a funny thing happens on the road to awesomeness: we find that being awesome doesn't result in being loved. Therefore, on the other...

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Notetaking During the Sermon

As you settle back into a routine from the summer, it might be a good time to consider how you take notes during the sermon. We like notetaking, and our style of preaching invites it (thinking here about the main points, which often require more than one pass to digest). But notetaking has its pitfalls: - While recording some information that is intriguing, one can easily...

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Prayer Triads

Our aim is to be a joy-filled community, that treasures God in Christ supremely, obeys the Bible completely, loves one another selflessly, and spreads the gospel intentionally. To that end, we structure our church life around three different spheres: the Sunday Worship Celebration, Community Groups, and Discipleship Groups. I want to focus in here on Discipleship Groups, a...

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The Power to Change

1 Corinthians 5 is a hard chapter; Paul is abrading the Corinthian church for allowing a man to hang around who took his father's wife. Paul's larger point is clear - don't tolerate what even non-Christians don't tolerate (v. 1). But in verses 6-8 Paul pictures crucial truths for us, for growth, change and sanity: First, that grave danger underlies all boasting. Verse 6 -...

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Endurance by Shared Suffering

There are twin ditches in preaching: saying everything, and saying not enough. As I reflected on the sermon last week, I think I would have included this, or said it in a following sermon: our sufferings are meant to be shared, that we would endure them in hope. Gloryifying God in this fallen world, in a life stained everywhere by sin, involves much suffering - Paul says ...

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Please Consider "Listening" to This Sermon

On behalf of the elders, I would like to invite you to consider volunteering to serve in children's ministry this fall, particularly for Children's Church - the time when kids up to third grade step out for separate instruction during the sermon. "What? And miss the sermon?! I'm not a 'kid person'. I've been there and done that, when I had kids." I've heard these and oth...

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God's Sovereign Use of Sin for Holiness

We do not grow in certain sins because we pursue change with a "corrupt principle", said John Owen - that being self-love, not love of God: "It is evident that you contend against sin merely because of your own trouble by it. Would your conscience be quiet under it, you would let it alone. Did it not disquiet you, it should not be disquieted by you. Now, can you think tha...

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Be Killing Sin, or It Will Be Killing You

The only time the word "mortified" comes up in common language today is in this context: "What he did was so embarrassing; I was just mortified" - as in, I was so embarrassed, I felt like dying, or like I was dying. But the word literally means to bring about mortality - to be killing. No one was actually strangling this imaginary person; the word has become only a euphemi...

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How the Spirit Produces Fruit

To understand growth in Jesus-likeness, look to your garden. Growth results in fruit, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24). "of the Spirit." This little phrase first means that it is NOT the fruit of our hard work, or discipline, or our increasing spirituality or contrition. The Spirit produces fruit in us, not us. Therefore growth, sanctification, is first a work of fai...

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Abortion and Grace

How can God justly forgive you? The theological answer: it’s not the relative badness of one’s sins that matters, but the worth of the sacrifice given by God, for the forgiveness of sins. Leave in place the badness of what Bundy, Duch and you have done. Do not minimize it for a moment. But Jesus, the perfect Son of God, God in flesh, was an even greater, infinitely mor...

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Glory Around a Table

Where is God glorified most in the life of our church? I would argue that he is often most glorified in Community Groups. To explain, I quote John Piper, on the "diverse excellencies" of Jesus: "we admire him for his glory, but even more because his glory is mingled with humility; we admire him for his transcendence, but even more because his transcendence is accompanie...

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Characteristics of Faithful, Useful Groups, Over the Long-Term

There are three common characteristics of Community or Discipleship Groups or friendships that are faithful and useful and healthy over the long-term: • Deliberately Gospeled • Attentive Friendship • Consistently Missional:...

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Needing a Bigger Discomfort

I am uncomfortable, at times, with living in contrast to the world. There exists in me a residual desire - shrinking but still there - to be friends with the world. I'm much more comfortable standing in contrast to this or that denomination than against the philosophies of this world. I need to grow in tolerating the discomfort of being increasingly different from this wor...

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Stress, Revealer of Idols

The term "idolatry" is big and bad. It probably conjures pictures of bad Israelites and really bad Babylonians doing bad sacrificial, religious acts, in defiance of the one true God. That's all true. But in the whole of the Bible, the term idolatry came to mean a constellation of faith, deeds, beliefs, affections, and even resting, in antipathy to the one, true God. Whatev...

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The Shack and The Benedict Option

I have often been asked about The Shack, the book and movie that portray God in fascinating but unbiblical ways. Another book, The Benedict Option, has resonated with many lately. Its author commends seceding from the culture, like Benedectine monks of the sixth century. Where the two books intersect reveals an inflection point for us. The Shack portrays a god that's diff...

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Your Ministry

What does "ministry" look like? "You're asking me, pastor?!" Yes, you, because Scripture plainly places ministry at the feet of Joe and Joan Pewsitter: "And he gave apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints [Joe and Joan Pewsitter] for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-12). An example:...

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Keep Yourselves in His Love

The most repeated phrase in Scripture is "the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever". It's no coincidence that Paul ends his great gospel "song" of Romans 1-8 by singing of God's love: "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be abl...

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The Sin Fighter

Last week's sermon said that Christians actively "fight sin in one another, and forgive constantly". There is perhaps no better time than Good Friday to revisit what this means. It does not mean constantly criticizing one another; gossiping about one another; "right-sizing" one another; or judging one another by one moment, instead of the direction of their trajectory of ...

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The Importance of Lament

"What then shall we say to these things?", to suffering and the gospel? Paul gives three answers in Romans 8. The first two answers are obvious: he gives proof that God loves us (31b-35), and then the future-facing promise of that proven love, that it will never fail (37-39). But in between, in verse 36, Paul quotes Psalm 44:22, which is a complaint to God, that the people...

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Community Distinctives

The fact of community, and the mode of community, are two different things in the church. This is different from the world, where we pursue a mode of community - could be Boy Scouts, Rotary, or just being neighborly - because we think that will create community. But God reverses that order in the church. We are already a community, created by Him, by uniting us by faith to...

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Real Life Turning on Hope

All of life turns on what we think of God, in fleeting moments. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our actions start with a subtle two-step of trust and hope. A common example: A husband (OK, you got me - me) is feeling mildly resentful about something his wife said or did (which for the life of me I cannot remember now exactly what it was). Their normal practice is t...

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Changing Abortion: Outside the Clinic, or In the Coffeeshop?

Recently a conversation turned to the subject of abortion, and the question was asked, what did I think about going to a clinic, and talking to women as they walked in? Without giving specific guidance, some questions come to mind that I hope give you clarity about how you might engage in a particular issue like abortion: First, we should think about problems both systemi...

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Free Indeed, to Spread the Gospel

". . . We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded [their] eyes . . ." (Paul, 2 Cor. 4:2b-3) I want you to see from these verses...

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Contagious Impurity

"How can I be faithful in this season of life?" I suppose we ask it in every season of life; my wife and I ask it now. Volleyball . . . homework . . . potty training . . . playing catch . . . reading a book . . . running . . . so much to do. Yes - if the Lord gives years, I know I will wish for these times again. Even still - how to be faithful? How to be faithful, in mov...

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Discipleship at EFree

A word or two about Discipleship Groups. Their purpose is to "attend to one another's souls". We are essentially asking "How goes it with you with Jesus?" Then we help each other apply the Bible to life. For instance, you mention that you have a big meeting coming up this week at work. You want to trust God in that. That's your answer to "how it goes with you . . . with t...

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Simple Church

Our church, described in a nutshell, from the top down: we aspire to really be about God and his gospel, in everything we do. We grow into Jesus, through his gospel, by means of community. Therefore we pursue simple church, not in service of simplicity, but in the service of keeping God and his gospel at the center. Our simple church has three parts: Sunday Worship Celebr...

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"This I Know"

Our little Lucy requests that I sing "This I Know" to her at bedtime. She means the song "Jesus Loves Me", but the line "This I Know" stands out to her. She knows more than she realizes; we preach the gospel to ourselves that we would know what we know; that His voice of love would quiet us, encourage and give us rest - "He gives to his beloved sleep" (Psalm 127:2). The ba...

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His Sovereignty - Our Thankful Dependence

Sometimes the topic of the sovereignty of God can trip people up. Sometimes we take offense at the notion that God is sovereign over everything, even my free choices. So I'm a robot? one might ask. Offense or confusion can easily lead to arguments and division. It ought not be; we preach the sovereignty of God to Christians for encouragement that goes to the very base of ...

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Out of the Slavery of Productivity

These days you may be beginning a Bible reading plan, praying more, eating better, organizing your stuff better, etc. There's something about the turn of the calendar that hastens an impulse within us, to depart from ourselves and be a better self. For me, it's in January that iPhone apps for productivity suddenly become attractive. One is called "Nirvana" - presumably th...

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Finding Your Version of the Mission

Where do we find our mission? Our goal is to find one that is for the sake of others, "so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God" (2 Cor. 4:16). Paul had his version of this mission; how do we discover ours? Ezra points the way: "For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia [on a risky tri...

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How God Celebrated the First Christmas

Christmas, if anything else, is about the giving of gifts to our loved ones. We criticize ourselves for our Americanized commercializing of Christmas (and we should). But we are only reenacting our Father's giving in love. What we enact around the tree is little and miniscule, compared to how God "celebrated" the first Christmas. I'll let Paul put it in his words, 1 Tim. 1...

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Seeing His Glory, Finding Life

[Often I use this space to reflect on some portion of daily Bible reading from the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan. Personally, I try to follow half the plan, reading two chapters a day, or the whole Bible in two years. This gives me more space for personal reflection on what I'm reading, leaving less pressure to keep up with the plan. If you would like to join me, and use the...

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What's the Point?

The world asks of the church, "What's the point?!" So do people inside the church. What's the point? If the point is to make you a better person, there are plenty of books and speakers who can tell you how to get your best life now, better than us. If it's to build a better society, there's the Rotary Club, or the Red Cross, or any number of organizations. They do that be...

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Thankfulness After Thanksgiving

Thankfulness is a key indicator of true, eternal usefulness. But the Bible never tells us anywhere to contrive thankfulness, as if thankfulness itself is power and a sign of nobility. Many scientific studies have found therapeutic benefits to thankfulness, but God wants more for us than just a noble character and a healthy body. To be noble and healthy are good goals, but ...

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Content with Small for the Sake of the Great

Small steps of faith are the long pry bar that moves mountains of change....

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What Now?

How do we respond to the recent election cycle? What actions would make our response wise and profitable? I suggest thinking about two crucial issues: culture, and distraction. The collective mind (culture) of our country shifted swiftly in recent years, and the Supreme Court ratified the culture change. As Chief Justice Roberts said at the time of the "gay marriage" ruli...

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Sigmund Freud's Dream, Our Reality to Enjoy

It used to be that four tenets ruled most Christians' church life: 1. Act like you've got it together. 2. Isolate yourself. 3. Ministry is programs. 4. Bible reading is for me alone. This kind of church approach resulted in the entrance of many programs - a weekly newsletter chocked full of calendar events. But a plethora of programs pushed out the work of one-to-one,...

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Love In, and After, the Voting Booth

I was asked last night, "Who are you voting for?" Good question. Here are some other questions I'm asking myself, and for you to consider, as Election Day nears: First, if everyone's vote was made public, how would that change our fellowship within our church? Evangelicals are divided on Hillary and Donald. Would our lack of agreement impede our love of one another, becau...

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Getting Happy

We want happiness; we are ever in search of it; a current book written by a Briton describes how we Americans can't find it. Perhaps we are more prone to search harder for happiness; its pursuit is built-in to our founding document and character. Or turn on PBS and you'll hear about "mindful awareness", an eastern practice that's the en vogue way to happiness. Even the mun...

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William Cowper: Life Lessons

William Cowper's (pronounced "Cooper") life rings with lessons for us, about depression, and about moving towards others in love, even when we know not what we should say or do. Cowper lived in the 1700's, was a friend of John Newton (Newton was his pastor for a time), and wrote poems and hymns that are still valued today. Martin Luther King often quoted Cowper's abolition...

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Idols and Times of Refreshing

When we listen to a sermon, the stakes are high - Jesus said in the parable of the soils that covetousness is always ready, looking to snatch the Word from us and make us unfruitful, or from becoming Christians (Matt. 13:22). The moment of the sermon is a battle. The battlefield is our hearts, because the location of the "root" of faith (13:21), and the location of covetou...

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Humble Ambition for Glory

We Americans have had a twisting relationship with ambition. Alexis de Tocqueville observed about us: "There are no Americans who do not show that they are devoured by the desire to rise, but one sees almost none of them who appear to nourish vast hopes or to aim very high. All want constantly to acquire goods, reputation, power; few envision all these things on a grand s...

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Live, Give, Representative

At any given moment, you are to be about . . . what? All the time, you and I are to live, give or serve as a representative. Live, give, representative. Live: Much of life is just, well, living. In order to feed one's family, one either needs to work, or go to the grocery store or garden. The car ride or working or shopping or picking is just life. But I am to live that l...

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The Purifying Power of Thankfulness

In all the Psalms Jesus meets with us, identifying with our weaknesses, having compassion on us, and graciously meeting us with help in our time of need. But he does not always help us on our terms, the way we would devise. Sometimes we call out for him for grace and mercy, but he meets us first with more wounds, more hurt. Psalm 50 pictures such a time. We must keep humbl...

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Malaise and Purpose in Community Groups

Recently I heard someone say that their Community Group lacked purpose. I was disappointed to hear that, but I think I understand the malaise. I want to make three comments to clarify and perhaps inspire us in the purpose of Community Groups.First, remember that God has sovereignly, deliberately placed us in geographic proximity to other real people. Therefore, one of your...

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The Step of Change We Skip

In the process of change, we often miss a vital step. If you miss this step, you miss something vital for going to where you want to go. You want life, real life. And your/my next step for finding life is often one of two things: “Stop doing that,” or “Just believe.” Both are good ...

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Meals Have Meaning

Meals have meaning. When you welcome someone to your dinner table, you act in a rich ritual, one “thick” with meaning. This meaning is heightened and made more clear in Christ....

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Growth and Christian Friendship

We need Christian friends for fruitful endurance. Some grace only comes to us by means of Christian friends. Our friends affect us, shape us, help us ...

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Missions and Churches

Thanks for praying for my trip to Ukraine (and please continue praying for our sisters who are currently ministering in a restricted country). Before the trip I wrote here about Matthew 9:38 - that we would pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. This command was reinforced for me in Ukraine, in this way: the local church sends out ...

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The Roadblock to Times of Refreshing

What would you say is the first way to apply the gospel? We've heard in Philippians that we should only let our manner of life be worthy of the gospel. But then, practically, what does this mean? Keep listening to the rest of the Philippians sermons, but I am struck by how Paul answers this question in Ephesians. Under his umbrella command, "walk in a manner worthy of the ...

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Sympathy vs. Compassion in Truth-Filled Love

True compassion does require empathy, but a form of empathy that utilizes more of our thinking abilities and less emotional sympathy. This kind of empathy actually requires deeper listening, to understand what's really true about the other person. This positions us to then speak truth about Christ that more closely corresponds to what's really going on....

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Our Means for Beholding Christ

God uses means for us to "behold" Christ: the Word, prayer, and fellowship. We behold Christ in the Word, in prayer for God to cause us to see Christ in the Word. But this is meant, like a body, to happen in relationship to each other....

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Attending to One Another's Souls

Last week I mentioned the purpose of discipleship groups: to attend to one another's souls. How do we do this? In short, it is Christian friendship. A friend is one who cares for you enough to help you get what you need most, even when it's not easy or pleasant. What do we need most? Think about that for a moment. What we think we need most is the need we project on others...

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Live Streaming of Sunday Service

To watch our Sunday service live, click on "Watch Service Live" at the bottom of this page, or click on "Resources" above, then "Sermons". Then click on the link at the top of the page....

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