Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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How Writing on Transgenderism Changed Me

4 hours 1 min ago

Article by: Sam Allberry

I’m visiting a new city for the first time, and the day I arrived I spent the afternoon walking. A combination of jetlag and complete lack of familiarity with my surroundings meant I got lost. The direction I thought led to home didn’t, and I ended up comically far from where I intended to be.

It’s an experience many of us relate to as we find ourselves in increasingly unfamiliar cultural territory around issues of gender identity. It’s not easy knowing what to think as Christians, and when we search for understanding it can feel like we’ve only gone farther into confusion and perplexity.

After my hapless wanderings, my hosts provided me with a map. For Christians wanting to know how to navigate issues of transgenderism, help is at hand in Andrew Walker’s excellent new book, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (The Good Book Co.) I asked Walker, director of policy studies for the ERLC, about his experience writing on this issue.

What prompted you to write on the controversial subject of transgenderism?

Many reasons.

First, I’ve had a prolonged interest in the subject of Christian anthropology, a theological discipline that looks at the nature of man from the perspective of Scripture and Christian theology. I’m convinced that the greatest present challenge to Christianity in the West is the assault on the imago dei, the truth that all people are made in God’s image and granted human dignity, bodily purpose, and inviolable rights. We’re living at a time when the question “What is man?” is central to so much cultural conflict. Does man have a nature? What is man created for? Is our ultimate purpose the realization of our autonomy, or is flourishing achievable only by accepting limits on ourselves?

Second, there are virtually no Christian resources on the subject. Mark Yarhouse’s Understanding Gender Dysphoria is available, but it’s more academic and, more importantly, there are elements I find deeply problematic at the level of biblical interpretation and theological soundness. Since the transgender issue has gone from zero to 100 MPH in about 2.1 seconds, Christians have been caught flat-footed and need resources that balance accessibility with a pastoral and biblical analysis.

Third, it’s tempting to treat transgenderism as yet another culture war battle. To a certain extent that’s inevitable, but we shouldn’t first view the issue in that light. Like any “issue,” there are actual lives at stake—precious souls experiencing real gender identity conflicts who are being told that affirmation and acceptance is the only path toward fulfillment.

You’ve mentioned to me that you underwent a pretty profound spiritual experience when writing God and the Transgender Debate. What happened?

Something extremely personal happened as I wrote. My editor drew my attention to Matthew 12:20, where Jesus describes his ministry as one in which “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.”

I’ll confess that I somehow glossed over this passage growing up. In all of my education, I’d missed the metaphorical imagery happening in this passage, so I went to some commentaries and was blown away. Using the metaphor of a thin twig-like stick, Jesus is saying his Lordship won’t inflict further stress to the point of breaking people. In powerfully evocative and compassionate terms, Jesus describes his ministry to people who are hurt, dejected, and hopeless. 

The imagery is especially apt when you read about the emotional distress of gender dysphoria. Though it’s unpopular to say this in today’s atmosphere, gender dysphoria is a mental health issue. It’s a pathology to be relieved from, not celebrated. The rates of suicide, depression, and anxiety associated with this affliction are real. I think Jesus’s compassion and gentleness are especially needed when addressing a topic like this, because the testimonies of people who experience these conflicts demonstrate real distress.

This realization deeply affected how I saw this issue. In fact, it has radically affected my interactions and dealings with Christians and non-Christians alike. While I’m not afraid to share a strong opinion, if it can’t be mediated through a tone of compassion, mercy, and gentleness, it may not be an opinion worth sharing.

When you reflect on writing your book, what was the most surprising outcome?

Anyone who knows me knows I tend more toward polemics than compassion. Originally I set out to write a book that was far more “this is wrong, and here’s why.” I don’t shy away from reaching conclusions in the book and drawing lines I think need to be drawn, but after research and talks with my editor, the book came out far more pastoral in nature. In fact, when I read it in its entirety, I was actually amazed at how compassionate and gentle the tone was. If I’m honest, I didn’t set out with that in mind, but I’m so thankful the result upended my own intentions.

What’s one thing you’ve learned that’s helpful for thinking about the transgender issue in our culture?

I think people need to realize first that there’s an immense difference between experiencing bouts of gender dysphoria and wholly identifying as transgender. Not all individuals who experience gender dysphoria accept the label “transgender.” Why? Because transgender is an identity-politics label that’s supposed to define one’s entire personhood, a view I think is unmistakably at odds with biblical revelation. In fact, as I’ve written elsewhere, Christians should be extremely cautious in how they use the term “transgender.”

What are your hopes for this book?

Several. First, I hope Christians come away with a basic understanding of theological anthropology—that God created humanity in his image, male and female, and that male and female are made exclusively for one another.

Second, Christians are called to both conviction and compassion. As you once reminded me in personal conversation, Sam, grace and truth aren’t in tension when we look at Jesus. I hope this book models the unity Jesus Christ so lovingly and compassionately displays. I want Christians to see that the Christian story provides a framework for understanding this controversy in terms of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. In light of the gospel, there’s hope for those with gender dysphoria and those who identify as transgender.

Third, I hope this book starts conversations inside churches, and that churches get serious about being safe places for those with gender-identity conflicts to talk openly and seek help.

Fourth, I want the transgender community in America to know Christians aren’t their enemy, despite the stereotypes. We are called to neighbor love, and that can’t be be limited to people who agree with us. When transgender persons are bullied, mocked, ridiculed, or physically harmed, Christians must defend their humanity and inviolable dignity—even when we think they’re transgressing sacred boundaries that God wisely and beautifully imposed on humanity.

Sam Allberry is an editor for The Gospel Coalition, a global speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and a pastor based in Maidenhead, UK. He is the author of a number of books, including Is God Anti-Gay? (Good Book, 2013), James For You, and most recently Why Bother with Church. He is a founding editor of Living Out, a ministry for those struggling with same-sex attraction. You can follow Sam on Twitter.

Summer Vacation Is No Sabbath

4 hours 2 min ago

Article by: Kathryn Butler

At the low point, my husband crossed rapids to escape the clamor.

I stooped beside the kids to wrestle them apart as they bickered yet again over a rock dug from the muck. When I glanced up, he had left us. With his jaw set like stone, he navigated over slick rocks and swirling foam to reach the opposite bank. He perched on a moss-covered rock and stared down the stream. His eyes reflected thoughts as turbulent as the water.

Later, back at the cabin, when we had finally wrangled the kids into bed, I asked about that moment in the woods.

“Love, are you okay?”

He rubbed his forehead. His expression seemed forlorn, his eyes defeated.  

“I just really need a rest,” he said.   

When Vacation Isn’t Restful

Rest was precisely the reason we’d journeyed to the mountains. We hadn’t taken a vacation in three years, and when we put this trip on the calendar, its promise sustained us through the long winter months. During endless days stuffed with tight budgets, screaming kids, and disagreements with colleagues, we would cast each other knowing glances and dream of our cabin escape.

The getaway did proffer some magic. There was lightning flashing ghostly against the log walls, and thunder melding with the rumble of whitewater outside. There were oak and pine roots intertwining, reaching across the damp earth to knit a staircase for us through the misty wood. There were hot dogs and marshmallows roasted over a fire pit, and evenings of books, fleece, and bare toes as the kids piled into bed with us for stories.

Yet such moments struggled for air beneath the constant bickering of cranky kids and the deviations from meticulously crafted plans. It began with a late start, a speeding ticket, and a toddler screaming for two hours in the car. Then there were dirty diapers in the woods, a child stepping on a dead mole, and orange juice spilled over a hand-carved table.

Our need for rest is real and urgent. In our broken world, life drowns us in its depths.

There were children fighting over books and shrieking “Mine!” as they clutched pine cones to their chests, breaking them with the ferocity of their greed. As we paddled in a canoe alongside a mother duck and her brood, and set our eyes on mountains humped beneath a swath of mist, the steady mantra “Let’s go back; I don’t like this boat” fractured the tranquility. After four days, we staggered back home sleep-deprived, bedraggled, and more depleted than when we’d left.

Our fiasco mirrored scenes of a National Lampoon movie, where an overzealous Chevy Chase, in search of the perfect vacation, lures his family into one disaster after another. Such comedy derives from its universality. Who hasn’t yearned for a getaway only to stumble through a procession of disasters? Who hasn’t scripted moments of summer revelry, replete with barbecue sauce, watermelon, and sprinklers, only to have rain douse the charcoals?

Real Need for Rest

While such scenarios evoke disappointment (or laughter in the case of Chevy Chase), they also hint at a waywardness in our striving. Our need for rest is real and urgent. In our broken world, life drowns us in its depths. Beneath tides of grief, doubt, regret, sadness, fear, and even despair, we struggle, writhe for air, and ache for relief.

Our need for rest traces its origins to creation: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done” (Gen. 2:2). We need rest because we’re image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:27). So important was this rest to God’s perfect order that he charged Israel with strict observance of the Sabbath through the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:8–11; 31:16–18). 

Yet too often, we conflate rest and amusement. When the toils of the world bear down on us, we chase after shiny moments worthy of selfies and Facebook updates. We seek poolside cocktails, or traipses through photogenic landscapes, all in the hope that such things can heal the aching in our bones and the fractures in our hearts.

Restful Worship

That yearned-for vacations disappoint, and leave us still gasping, shouldn’t surprise us. Sabbath rest includes not only repose, but also worship (Lev. 23:1–3a). It requires not only resting from labor, but also reveling in God. The only psalm dedicated to the Sabbath exalts the Lord in praise: “You, O LORD, are on high forever” (Ps. 92:8). Psalm 92 concludes with an assurance of God’s character, a promise that remains steadfast through life’s trials: “The LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him” (Ps. 92:15).

Christ offers us a deep, penetrating rest that no sojourn to the mountains could ever approximate.

God has granted us popsicles, watermelon, and cabin getaways. Yet when we strive after these blessings without setting our minds and hearts on their Creator, we chase after wind (Eccl. 2:11). Rest derives not from a destination, but from a daily communion with the all-knowing and loving God, who offers us ultimate replenishment through his Son:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:28–29)

Through his sacrifice for us, Christ offers us a deep, penetrating rest that no sojourn to the mountains could ever approximate. As we strive and struggle through life, let us drink deeply of the living water he offers (John 4:13–14). Let his peace infuse our moments and sustain us through whatever travails seize us. When life is a deluge—and while we may dream of beaches and brooks—let us first yearn for him. May we turn to him in prayer, and from stream to ocean seek him and praise his name.

Kathryn Butler (MD, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons) is a trauma and critical care surgeon who recently left clinical practice to homeschool her children. She has written for Desiring God and Christianity Today, and her book on end-of-life care through a Christian lens is anticipated in 2019 (Crossway). She blogs at Oceans Rise.

Is the Label ‘Evangelical’ Worth Keeping?

4 hours 3 min ago

Article by: Kevin DeYoung, Russell Moore, Mika Edmondson

The term “evangelical” means different things to different people. In our day many people assume it describes a political identity rather than a theological one. So is the term “evangelical” worth keeping?

The key to answering the question depends not only on definition, but also context. In this new video, Kevin DeYoung, Russell Moore, and Mika Edmondson discuss.

Watch the eight-minute video above or listen to the podcast below.

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children.

Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a TGC Council member, and author of the book Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (B&H, 2015). He blogs at Moore to the Point, and you can follow him on Twitter.

Mika Edmondson is the pastor of New City Fellowship OPC, a church plant in Southeast Grand Rapids. He recently earned a PhD in systematic theology from Calvin Seminary, where he wrote a dissertation on Martin Luther King Jr.’s theology of suffering.

I Was a Pastor Hooked on Porn

4 hours 4 min ago

Article by: Garrett Kell

I was a pastor who loved God and my church, all while hiding my secret sin. I soon learned that God knows how to discipline the hypocrites he loves.

I became a Christian when I was 21 and a pastor when I was 25. At times I wonder if I should have become a pastor so quickly. Thankfully we serve a Father who’s never thwarted by our questionable choices.

The Town

At the end of a dusty highway two hours west of Dallas, Texas, you’ll find a small town I called home for seven years. The fields surrounding Graham are littered with oil pumps that keep the community’s economy alive. The townspeople are friendly, and visitors feel they’ve walked into the 1950s. It’s a place where doors are unlocked and pastors still get discounts for meals.

Graham didn’t lack churches; there were around 40 when I first arrived. This wasn’t the kind of ministry I envisioned for myself. I wanted a city with 10 million people with no churches and no knowledge of God. Instead I found myself in a town with 10,000 people, 40 churches, and most everyone said they knew God.

But it became evident I was supposed to be in Graham. 

The Church

Graham Bible Church was born in 2003 out of a prayer meeting. I was asked to preach by 13 new friends who wanted to see God change their tiny town. I loved that group with all my heart. The fondness of those early days still brings tears to my eyes.

Our music was usually brutal, but we sang with fervor, and I trust God was pleased. I was an inexperienced preacher, but I taught the Bible as clearly as I could. We laughed and cried together.

Immaturity led to foolish decisions in preaching and leadership, but God blessed us in spite of them. Our storefront gathering grew from 13 to a fire-code-violating 120 in about nine months. The growth was encouraging, but also disillusioning.

Things were going so well in those early years that I began to think God was willing to overlook the sin I was hiding.

The Sin Within

Though ministry was going “well,” it was not well with my soul. I was deeply discontent. My life wasn’t going according to my plans.

At the time I was long-distance-dating my college girlfriend. She wasn’t ready for marriage, and I was unwilling to let her go, even though deep down I knew God didn’t want me to marry her. Our six-year relationship was entangled with sin, which made dying seem easier than breaking up. We were engaged twice and got 50 days away from marriage before we finally ended things for good.

My unwillingness to fully surrender to God—along with my insecurity, discontentment, fear of man, and desire for a strong reputation—created an environment in my heart that allowed pornography to thrive. For my first three years of pastoral ministry, I secretly struggled with this sin.

I knew my sin grieved God, but my confessions were aimed more at hushing my guilt than getting the help I needed. Every two or three months I would indulge in a binge of pornography. This was followed by grief, private confessions of how much I hated sin and how much I loved Jesus, and personal resolutions to never do it again. I remember feeling like the Israelites on spin cycle in the book of Judges. Sin. Grief. Weeping. Peace. Over and over and over again.

During this time I shared vague confessions with an assortment of friends. I confessed I was “struggling with purity stuff” without being specific about how much or how often. Each time I confessed, I really thought this would be the last time and that I could get past this struggle on my own. Instead, the deception only grew darker. No one had a clear view of what was actually happening in my life.

Living a lie is tiresome.

What made matters more difficult was the abundance of fruit God was producing through me. Our church had several hundred people coming. Lives were being changed. So I assumed God was overlooking my sin. I assumed I was somehow exempt from the destruction so many others had known.

The Letter

Near the end of 2006, I began dating the woman who is now my wife. Carrie was aware of my past struggles with sexual sin and was encouraged by the progress I’d made. About the same time, a friend named Reid Monaghan and I started making plans to plant a church in New Jersey.

On the eve of flying to Jersey to film a promo video for the new church, I wrote “the letter.” I felt that if Reid and I were to work together, I needed to be honest about my past. So I composed an account detailing my sexual sins from the time I’d become a Christian up to that day.

That trip to Jersey began an intervention that I believe saved my soul, my marriage, and my ministry. Carrie and I met Reid at a coffee shop and through tears he said, “I love you, brother, but after reading your letter, I don’t feel like we can move forward as partners. And to be honest, I don’t think you should be a pastor right now.”

No one had ever gotten in my face like that—or at least I had never listened. Most people were willing to overlook my struggles because of my perceived giftedness or personality. But Reid didn’t care about any of that. He loved God, and he loved me.

Carrie and I returned home, met with a few trusted friends outside our church, and then set up a meeting with our elders. As I handed them a copy of the letter, I said, “My life and ministry are in your hands. Tell me what to do.”

The Anvil

An anvil is a hard surface on which an object is laid to be struck. 2007 was the anvil on which I was struck by God’s gracious hand. It was the most brutal year of my life, and I trust many of those elders’ lives as well. My sin put those brothers through great anguish. They were good men who loved Christ and only wanted to see him magnified in their town. But I thrust a mess into their hands that neither they nor I knew how to navigate.

Somehow, the content of the letter was passed on to another person in our church. That person shared with others, and, well, if you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know what happened next. Rumors spread quickly, with speculations about every kind of darkness imaginable.

The elders suggested we hold a meeting for me to publicly confess my sin. We didn’t have meaningful membership at the time, which left the meeting open to anyone who’d like to attend. As you can imagine, all sorts of people—some who had never even visited our church before—showed up.

Time moved slowly as I sat on stage that evening. My greatest fears were coming true, yet I was thankful for it. Living a lie is tiresome: the ever-present fear of someone finding my search history, the Devil blackmailing my heart with shameful reminders, and me pretending to be okay when I wasn’t.

For the next hour I chronicled my sin for everyone in attendance. Another elder facilitated questions. Some people wept. Some yelled. Some stared with eyes that pierced more deeply than a sword. Some hugged afterward. Some walked away and never spoke to me again.

The following day, the church received calls from people who couldn’t attend and asked if we could do it again. We did. Months of private meetings, interventions, counseling sessions, and tearful conversations followed. I often felt “done” with the process, but God assured me he would determine when we were done.

During those months my dog died, multiple elders resigned, and at least a dozen families left the church. On top of that, I had a near-fatal accident 50 days before my wedding. I was doing yard work when gasoline exploded, covering 12 percent of my body with severe second- and third-degree burns. While I was being prepped for a care flight, Carrie called the hospital to ask how I was. The person replied, “Yeah, he got burned real bad; he’ll be okay. God sure knows how to give us what we deserve, doesn’t he?”

Nothing was more painful than seeing my sinful choices shipwreck the faith of people I loved. My soul is still haunted by it.

Burns and barb-sharp words hurt, but nothing was more painful than seeing my sinful choices shipwreck the faith of people I loved. Many were able to forgive and move forward. But not all. Some felt unable to sit under the preached Word since they feared the preacher might be a fraud like me. I won’t share details of their struggles and straying here, but my soul is still haunted by the devastating way my sin affected so many.

The Light

There’s something freeing about the light, even if it makes you wince because you’ve been in the dark for so long. That year God reached into the darkness of my image-protecting hypocrisy, and pulled me into his liberating light. It was through this deliverance that I learned to trust him in ways that had only been theoretical before.

Coming into the light was scary. I handed over the reigns of control to God, and other people. For so long I tried to control my world by covering up my sin, but God summoned me to surrender. I could do nothing in those days but open my hands and allow him to work through imperfect people and an imperfect process, in his perfect way.

I became convinced God could be trusted with the consequences of my disobedience. I also learned he wasn’t just working on me in the process; my sin and confession became the conduit through which he worked in many other people. Their self-righteousness, unforgiveness, and unbelief were exposed as well. Swirling around so many of us were feelings of betrayal, shame, grief, confusion, anger, and fear. Yet in all the swirling, Jesus remained steady. He proved to be my Good Shepherd, and theirs.

A few months into the process, several beloved mentors encouraged me to leave and begin afresh elsewhere. But deep down, I knew that unless my church fired me, I should stay, no matter how awful the process. God convinced me through his Word that my sin had made this mess, and I needed to remain and endure its effects.

At one point, I remember lying face down on my bedroom carpet. I cried out, “I’ve confessed every sin I have ever committed, God. I don’t know what else to do!” He didn’t speak audibly to me, but I sensed him saying, “Now, I will begin to use you.” The Lord had crushed me because he loved me, and because he wasn’t finished with me yet.

The Restoration

After about a year, God closed that chapter of our church’s life. Behind us were lessons learned and more collateral damage than I can bear to consider at times. The next chapter brought a new day with a new atmosphere in our congregation.

Many began confessing their own hidden sins. Self-righteousness was expelled, and supernatural healing came for me and for the church family that remained. I stayed on as the pastor for another two years before God led me away from that flock.

I shudder to think what would have happened had God never exposed my sin and crushed me as he did. It was the worst and best year of my life. I would never want to go through it again, but I wouldn’t trade the nearness to God I gained from it for anything.

I shudder to think what would have happened had God never exposed my sin and crushed me as he did. It was the worst and best year of my life.

Here are five lessons I learned that can help others struggling with secret sin.

1. The pressures to pretend are real.

You don’t need to be a pastor to know the pull to pretend you have it all together. None of us likes to be exposed. Our shame always seeks asylum in the dark. Our first parents knew this when they scurried into the shadows of Eden (Gen. 3:8).

If you’re a pastor, remember that the pressure you feel to look capable and impeccable is not from the Father. It’s Satan who disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Don’t fall for his call to conceal who you really are.

2. Hypocrisy must die.

Following my confession, a dear friend delivered a pointed message. With a firm yet gentle tone he said, “Jesus was very patient with sexual sinners, but he was very hard on hypocrites. You can’t follow Jesus while pretending you don’t really need him.”

He was right. I preached sermons about needing Jesus, while only pretending to be living what I was preaching. If you don’t take off the mask of hypocrisy and breathe the air of honesty, your soul will shrivel. The deception grows darker. You will begin to believe you are safe in your sin. Jesus died for our hypocrisies and rose to empower us to put them away.

If you don’t take off the mask of hypocrisy and breathe the air of honesty, your soul will shrivel.

3. The time for honesty is now.

If you’re hiding sin, you can come up with reasonable-sounding excuses to wait until next time to be honest. Your flesh will freak out, reassuring you it will never happen again. Don’t fall for that trick. Today is the day to confess everything.

Jesus promised that everything done in the darkness will come into the light of God’s judgment (Luke 12:2). Yet there’s mercy for those who bring it into the light their own before that great day. If you have unconfessed sin, will you resolve to be honest about it with God and another close, trusted Christian friend? If not, why not? What hinders you from honoring God by doing this? Whatever reasons you come up with will reveal the idols you’re trying to draw life from instead of Jesus.

4. You can’t do this alone.

You need someone in your life who knows you—who really knows you. Not who generally understands how you struggle, but who has a pulse on the state of your affections and sin struggles today. We all need someone along with whom we’re constantly confessing and repenting and trusting in Jesus.

5. Jesus will never leave you.

No matter what honesty might cost you, Jesus will be with you (Matt. 28:20). He promises to never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5). He promises you are complete in him (Col. 2:10). He promises nothing will separate you from his love (Rom. 8:31–39). He promises to complete the good work he began in you (Phil. 1:6). He promises to walk with you through whatever dark days accompany your honesty (Ps. 23:4).

Jesus has been so kind to you, hasn’t he? Dear friend, his kindness is designed to lead you to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Today is the day to lay it all down. 

And churches who may be left in the wake of a fall, don’t despair. The Lord will care for you as you care for your pastor and for one another. Labor in prayer, seek wise counsel, and rely on Jesus, who remains the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).

Garrett Kell is married to Carrie, and together they have five children. He serves as pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter.

9 Things You Should Know About Solar Eclipses

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 3:42am

Article by: Joe Carter

Today (Monday, August 21, 2017), everyone in North America will be able to see—at least partially—the event being dubbed the “Great American Eclipse.” This is the first total eclipse viewable in the contiguous U.S. since 1979 (the next one won’t be until April 8, 2024).

Here are 9 things you should know about eclipses and their religious significance:

1. A solar eclipse is a celestial event in which the moon passes between the sun and Earth and blocks all or part of the sun. The effect can last up to about three hours, from beginning to end, though for this eclipse, the longest period when the moon completely blocks the sun from any given location along the path will be about two minutes and 40 seconds. (To see this eclipse for the maximum amount of time, you’ll need to be in a spot about six miles southeast of Carbondale, Illinois.)

2. The term eclipse is derived from the Latin eclipsis which itself is derived from Greek ekleipsis meaning “an abandonment,” literally “a failing, forsaking,” from ekleipein “to forsake a usual place, fail to appear, be eclipsed.” During a solar eclipse the sun isn’t actually “abandoning” or “forsaking” us; what causes the darkness is that we are in the shadow of the moon.

3. Contrary to a popular myth, the earth is not the only planet that has total solar eclipses. However, the earth is the only planet in our solar system from which such an event could be seen from a planet’s surface. Neither Mercury nor Venus has moons, so they have no eclipses at all. Mars has two moons but they are too small to block out the sun. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all have moons that are large enough but these planets are made of gas so you couldn’t stand on their surface to see the total eclipse. That leaves the Earth as the best planet in our solar system to see a total eclipse.

4. Many ancient cultures attributed solar eclipses to either the moon or the sun being eaten by animals or demons. In Chinese folklore an eclipse is caused by a black dog or dragon eating the sun, while in Vietnam a giant frog does the solar devouring. The Chocktaw tribe of North America attributed the phenomena to a black squirrel biting the sun, while Hindu mythology claims the sun is eaten by the demon Rahu. In almost every culture that holds this “sun-eating” belief, the solution is to make a loud noise—a method that has proven to be 100 percent effective in getting the sun to return.

5. In several religious cultures (including Christianity), an eclipse is related to an impending apocalypse—either literally or symbolically. In Norse mythology two giant wolfs, Skoll and Fenrir, chased the sun and moon and if they swallowed the celestial entities it would lead to Ragnorok (the apocalypse). In Mayan cultures, a solar eclipse that lasted more than a day was a sign of the end of the world, a time when the spirits of the dead will come to life and eat those on earth.

6. Based on an interpretation of Genesis 1:14, Rabbinic Judaism considers celestial events to be signs from God: “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs…’” An eclipse (a luminary being stricken) is a prime example of such a sign. As the Talmud states:

When the luminaries are stricken, it is an ill omen for the world. To what can we compare this? To a king of flesh and blood who prepared a feast for his servants and set a lantern to illuminate the hall. But then he became angry with them and said to his servant: “Take the lantern from before them and seat them in darkness.”

Jewish scholars knew eclipses were predictable events, yet still considered them related to human actions. As Yehuda Shurpin explains, “An eclipse is not caused by sin. Rather, it is an indication of a trying time, a time when there is a natural predisposition for sin, and for strict judgment of that sin.”

7. Throughout history, Christians have claimed specific solar eclipses as prophetic signs (the latest eclipse is no exception). These claims are based on several verses in the Bible that are often associated with eclipses and divine judgment: Isaiah 13:10, Ezekiel 32:7, Joel 2:10, Joel 2:31, Joel 3:15, Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24, Revelation 6:12, and Revelation 8:12

8. Rather than a sign of impending doom, most Christians consider the religious significance of eclipses to be that they reveal the majesty of our Creator (Psalm 19:1). As astronomer Hugh Ross says, “I don’t think it’s an accident that God put us human beings here on Earth where we can actually see total solar eclipses. I think God wants us to make these discoveries. I would argue that God on purpose made the universe beautiful, and one of the beauties is a solar eclipse.”

9.  During an eclipse, looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse.  When the moon is completely obstructing the sun, the light emitted is only electromagnetic radiation. The only safe way to look directly at the partial eclipse is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” (compliant with the ISO 12312-2 safety standard) or handheld solar viewers. You can also look at it indirectly through a pinhole projector. If you want the safest viewing method, NASA will be live-streaming the eclipse from 11:45 to 4 pm EDT. 

Other posts in this series: Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease •  Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He serves as an elder at Grace Hill Church in Herndon, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter.

A Revolutionary Approach to Missions

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 1:02am

Article by: Elliot Clark

The whole “missions” world can seem exotic to the average layperson. Missionaries are celebrated as a rare and risk-taking breed. If someone in the church gets the missionary itch, we shuttle them off into a niche committee, further enhancing their mystique. As a result, few church members experience missions as central to the life of their church.

In his new book, Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global, Andy Johnson wants to normalize missions and missionaries. Missions, he contends, is the job of every local church. As an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and a trustee of a large missionary organization, he can see things from both perspectives. 

Simple Proposal

Johnson invites us to imagine a local church where missions is the concern of the entire congregation, not simply the work of a select few. It’s a core ministry, not merely a passing short-term project. Giving to missions isn’t random or tertiary, but a fundamental component of the church’s budget. Missionaries are supported by the congregation in the context of deep, long-lasting relationships.

To make this happen, Johnson proposes this simple yet revolutionary idea: an elder-led mission strategy.

Putting elders in charge will communicate the centrality of missions, he believes. Pastors are uniquely able to expose missions to the whole congregation, but there are many other tasks for elders to do. They should set budget priorities and guide the strategic focus for giving; they should identify, mentor, and vet prospective missionaries; and they should prioritize congregational prayer for missionaries and regularly visit and care for global partners.

Excellent Advice

Chapter 3 is the most useful section of the book, providing a biblical basis for scrupulous and generous giving to missionaries. This is a rarely discussed topic, and Johnson gives practical examples and tips for churches who want to support missionaries well. While it may not have been his intent, the chapter also defends more traditional missionary methods and is a healthy counterbalance to the growing trend of exclusively leveraging global business as mission.

The next chapter calls churches to emphasize depth over breadth in missionary partnerships. As someone who has been on the receiving end of both types, I can heartily endorse Johnson’s recommendations. But he also warns churches to avoid the opposite error of putting all our eggs in one basket. He urges prudence in efforts to reach the unreached—another trend in missions—recognizing the simultaneous need to ground, support, and train existing churches in so-called reached areas.

Johnson also addresses the ever-growing industry of short-term trips. Again, he brings seasoned and sound advice, advocating for trips focused on supporting missionaries and encouraging local believers. While his suggestions may offend some short-term missions advocates, he’s right. So much time and effort and resources are put into trips that are unhelpful and even damaging to the gospel.

Lastly, Johnson directs our attention to three growing areas of opportunity for the local church in missions. He shares ideas on ways to reach internationals at home, how to maximize business opportunities abroad, and the unique prospect for international churches in global cities—revealing opportunities and pitfalls for each scenario.

Missing Pieces

While this book is full of useful counsel, there are some missing pieces, especially about the local church’s role in missions.

First, outside of a small paragraph, there wasn’t much discussion of elders vetting mission agencies (85). If churches are to take ownership for whom they send overseas, they must identify dependable parachurch organizations.

Second, a significant issue for many missionaries is the question of authority. Are they accountable to their organization or to their sending church? What about a scenario where they become members of an existing indigenous church? These are complex issues for such a small book, but I think it would’ve been possible to address them more fully.

Third, for all my appreciation of his handling of missionary support, I would love to see a discussion of the biblical model of receiving support “along the way.” Johnson convincingly advocates for adequate support from 3 John and elsewhere, but the apostles often expected to receive support from those to whom they ministered, not simply from sending churches. This would obviously mean a wholesale change in the way we envision missionary support, but I believe it’s worthy of consideration.

Overall, this book is refreshingly simple, biblical, and wise. Though Johnson isn’t writing explicitly on current trends in missions, he helpfully navigates some modern-day issues. But this is ultimately a book to help churches become fully engaged in fulfilling the gospel mandate worldwide. May it succeed spectacularly. 

Andy Johnson. Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global. Wheaton: Crossway, 2017. 128 pp. $14.99.

Elliot Clark (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) lived in Central Asia for six years where he served as a cross-cultural church planter along with his wife and three children. He is currently working to train local church leaders overseas.

On My Shelf: Life and Books with Steve Timmis

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 1:01am

Article by: Ivan Mesa

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.

I asked Steve Timmis—CEO of Acts 29 and the author of many books, including I Wish Jesus Hadn’t Said That and Multiplying Churches: Exploring God’s Mission Strategy—about what’s on his nightstand, the biographies that have most influenced him, and more.

What​’s ​​​on your nightstand right now? Two books currently: The Whistler by John Grisham and Every Season Prayers by Scotty Smith.  What are your favorite fiction books? I fear this may be a tad clichéd, but it has to be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read The Hobbit as a child, but I was in my late teens before I moved onto the full set. I love the way Tolkien writes, with his vivid style and attention to detail. It’s totally captivating. I was reluctant to watch the films because I feared they would undermine how I imagined the characters and scenes from the books. In the end I enjoyed the films, but I’m relieved that my imagination has prevailed over Peter Jackson’s!   What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?

There are three.

  1. Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography by Iain Murray is a riveting read and deeply moving. My affections for Christ were stirred. It also directly impacted my prayer life. Allow me a short quote: “Prayer was not a compartment of his daily routine . . . he sought to make his study itself a sanctuary, and whether wrestling with Scripture, preparing sermons or writing in his notebooks, he worked as a worshipper. Thought, prayer and writing were all woven together.” I’m utterly persuaded that my sermon preparation is devotional, first and foremost; it must be as I take the Word to heart.    
  2. Martyn Lloyd Jones: The First Forty Years 1899–1939 by Iain Murray impacted me far beyond gaining insight into the details of someone’s life. My own discipleship was shaped by it, particularly the focus Murray gives to the Doctor’s time in Sandfields and the fruit of his ministry there.  
  3. Blood and Fire: William and Catherine Booth and Their Salvation Army by Roy Hattersley, who was a Labour MP and served as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party from 1983–1992. As far as I know, he isn’t a Christian, but he writes with real insight, empathy, and respect. He brings out the radical passion of the Booths and their desire to see the marginalized and forgotten won for Christ. Deeply convicting.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelf? 

This is a difficult question to answer. Might people be surprised to find The Openness of God by Clark Pinnock and others? As a self-identified “happy Calvinist,” it’s hardly a book I read for edification. But there’s a problem if someone only owns books he agrees with. Maybe it’s Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives by Alan Bullock? Or Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner?

I think the most surprising thing might be how few books I have, given how long I’ve been in ministry. But I recently culled thousands of books. I was unlikely to read them, so I went for a minimalist and functional library. I’d recommend it. It’s also a great act of wealth redistribution!       

What​’s the last great book you read?

Temptation and Sin by John Owen. Immense! I last read it in 1985, so it might be a surprise choice. However, like awesome, great is an adjective which resists flippant usage.

What​’s one book you’d encourage every church leader to read and why? Martyrs Mirror by Thieleman J. van Braght is a book of stories about persecution and suffering for Christ. These men and women are true heroes of the faith and gave everything for their Savior. Humbling and sobering. It helps keep my life and ministry in perspective. So much talk about church planting tells a story of hardship. I’m a church planter, and I know it isn’t easy. But compared to what brothers and sisters have endured in the past, and continue to endure in the present, I have nothing to complain about.    

What are you learning about life and following Jesus? I don’t think Westerners cope very well with the notion of God’s inscrutability—not of his character, but of his ways. I often say that I don’t know why God does what he does in the way he does it, but I do know he’s good. The older I get, the more I see the need to find satisfaction in Christ and to hold on by tenacious faith to the certainty of all that is ours in him. But the troubles of this life often distract and absorb us, and we lose confidence and hope. Job 14:1 says, “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.” Our present life isn’t all there is, so we need to believe in the promises of God in Christ concerning the coming of the new creation.

Also in the On My Shelf series: David Mathis • Michael Lindsay • Nathan Finn • Jennifer Marshall • Todd Billings • Greg Thornbury • Greg Forster • Jen Pollock Michel • Sam Storms • Barton Swaim • John Stonestreet • George Marsden • Andrew Wilson • Sally Lloyd-Jones • Darryl Williamson • D. A. Horton • Carl Ellis • Owen Strachan • Thomas Kidd • David Murray • Jarvis Williams • Gracy Olmstead • Matthew Hall • Drew Dyck • Louis Markos • Ray Ortlund • Brett McCracken • Mez McConnell • Erik Raymond • Sandra McCracken • Tim Challies • Sammy Rhodes • Karen Ellis • Alastair Roberts • Scott Sauls • Karen Swallow Prior • Jackie Hill Perry • Bruce Ashford • Jonathan Leeman • Megan Hill • Marvin Olasky • David Wells • John Frame • Rod Dreher • James K. A. Smith • Randy Alcorn • Tom Schreiner • Trillia Newbell • Jen Wilkin • Joe Carter • Timothy George • Tim Keller • Bryan Chapell • Lauren Chandler • Mike Cosper • Russell Moore • Jared Wilson • Kathy Keller • J. D. Greear • Kevin DeYoung • Kathleen Nielson • Thabiti Anyabwile • Elyse Fitzpatrick • Collin Hansen • Fred Sanders • Rosaria Butterfield • Nancy Guthrie • Matt Chandler

Browse dozens of book recommendations from The Gospel Coalition’s leaders and sign up your church at Hubworthy.

Ivan Mesa is an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.

Singleness Is Not Punishment for Imperfection

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 1:00am

Article by: Jasmine Holmes

She sat across from her counselor, sweaty hands clutching her seat, pulse racing, eyes trained on the ticking clock. As she recounted various events in her life—moments of spiritual darkness, emotional abuse, and crippling self-doubt—her counselor nodded, listening to words she’d never been brave enough to speak out loud.

She was broken. Though it took her many years to admit her brokenness to herself (let alone another human being), she felt a wave of relief as so many things began to click into place. No wonder she’d struggled to bond with others her entire life. How could she learn to become one with another person when she didn’t even fully understand herself?

If she’s married, this revelation can be a crucial step on the road to healing, growth, and understanding.

If she’s single, however, she can think she’s discovered the thing that made her unlovable all this time.

False Hope and Hopeful Falsehoods

I’ve been the married version of that woman. I’ve had many revelations of my brokenness, and I’ve reveled in the aha! moments that follow. Then I’ve groaned at the countless ways I’ve hurt my husband. 

I’ve also been the single version, connecting revelations of brokenness to my unmarried state, anxious to use my new knowledge to fix my singleness (because some treated singleness like it was a problem to be fixed). When I was single, I saw my weakness as the barbed-wire fence erected between me and marital bliss. “Just do a little tweaking here, and you’ll be good to go!”

Somehow we’ve imbibed the message that broken people don’t get married. This notion attaches a greater burden to the struggles of unmarried women than it does to their married counterparts. In this economy, our sanctification becomes a weapon aimed at the moving target of finding a husband. 

The truth is that if there were a sanctification evaluation before we were allowed to sign our marriage license, many of us would have failed it.

Damage Control 

We might be tempted to blame spiritual, emotional, or physical damage for the singleness of those around us. But it’s impossible to live in this fallen world without incurring some baggage. 

First of all, we are born in sin (Ps. 51:5). We can thank our father, Adam, for the inheritance of brokenness (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22). We all sin (Rom. 3:23), but the good news is that Christ’s atoning sacrifice saves us from the eternal consequence of our sin (Eph. 2:8–10). We’re being transformed to be more like him, day by day (Rom. 12:1–2), but we won’t be perfected in his likeness until glory (1 Pet. 1:4–5).

God’s plans for us don’t always include the things we want, no matter how holy we become.

Our all-deserving Savior saved undeserving sinners. Because of Jesus, we can both assess sin’s damage and access healing in him. Yet this healing doesn’t guarantee other benefits, like a husband or wealth. God’s plans for us don’t always include the things we want, no matter how holy we become.

Only Sinners Say ‘I Do’

The notion that marriage only comes to flawless women is a recipe for disaster. It encourages us to hide our scars and swallow back the darkness. The number one thing I wish I would’ve known as a single person is that I didn’t have to have it all together. I was a broken sinner in need of a Savior, and there was no reason to hide it.

The number one thing I wish I would’ve known as a single person is that I didn’t have to have it all together.

This truth didn’t make me a horrible marriage prospect; it just made me human. Embracing my brokenness early on would have made the first year of marriage a lot less jarring for my (insanely patient) husband and my (insanely perfectionist) self.

Marriage shouldn’t be the carrot we dangle in front of ourselves as we strive for holiness. The fact is, if God waited until we were perfect to bless us with spouses, the only wedding any of us would attend would be the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6–9). So here is my challenge: grow. Single or married, drowning in prospects or thirsting on an island. Because whether God is using singleness or a mate to sanctify you, we’re all on the same journey. Tearing down the superficial walls between the married and unmarried will give us many more allies in the fight to become more like Christ.

Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at Jasmine L. Holmes

Jasmine Holmes is a wife, mom, and speaker. She and her husband, Phillip, have a son, and they are members of Redeemer Church in Jackson, Mississippi. Learn more at jasminelholmes.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

A Caixa De Ferramentas Do Pregador: 8 Lições De Calvino Sobre a Pregação

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 2:15pm

Article by: Ray Van Neste

Nota dos editores: “A Caixa de Ferramentas do Pregador” é uma nova série mensal que procura responder a questões relacionadas com a pregação. Se você tem uma pergunta relacionada à pregação ou algum assunto que você gostaria que respondêssemos, envie um e-mail para ask@thegospelcoalition.org. Recentemente, lançamos um projeto de pregação expositiva, para o qual os pastores do Conselho TGC irão preparar recursos educacionais gratuitos sobre pregação expositiva, tanto em vídeo quanto impressos, em seis idiomas estratégicos. Estamos em oração, buscando levantar 150 mil dólares para financiar o projeto. Para doar, clique aqui e escolha “Pregação Expositiva” [Expository Preaching] na lista designada.

Anteriormente: 

Como Preparo Meu Coração para Pregar? (Kent Hughes) O Que Devo Pregar da Próxima Vez? (Julius Kim) Como Lidar Com o Funeral de um Incrédulo? (Phil Newton) Como Pregar Sermões Expositivos do Livro de Provérbios? (Dan Doriani) Devo Aprender Hebraico e Grego ou Ter Software Bíblico É Suficiente? (Kevin McFadden) Quāo Longos Devem Ser Meus Sermões? (Hershael York) O Que Dizer no Funeral de um Desconhecido? (Phil Newton) Quanto Tempo Devo Levar para Preparar um Sermão? (Dave Harvey)  

A Reforma Protestante avançou em grande parte pelo trabalho de pregação, e elevou a pregaçāo a um lugar de renovada proeminência no culto público. João Calvino, conhecido hoje principalmente como um teólogo sistemático, é um poderoso exemplo da pregação reformada.

Ele foi fundamentalmente um pregador do evangelho, pregando mais de 4 mil sermões em Genebra, havendo grande demanda por seus sermões impressos. Apesar de terem sido amplamente ignorados nos últimos dois séculos, os sermões de Calvino o revelam como o pastor que realmente era. Como T. H. L. Parker escreveu: “O centro de seu trabalho pastoral, em torno do qual tudo o mais girava, era a pregação do evangelho”.

Passei os últimos dois anos lendo os sermões de Calvino sobre 1 Timóteo, decifrando a tradução do inglês de 1579, e atualizando a linguagem para tornar esses poderosos sermões mais acessíveis aos leitores de hoje. Estes são ricos exemplos para a pregação atual, à medida que revelam um pastor animado, com profundo interesse pessoal por seu povo, uma paixão pela fidelidade deles, um anseio pela adesão de toda a comunidade à Palavra de Deus, e um zelo por levar o evangelho às nações.

Aqui estão oito lições que extraí das pregação de Calvino em 1 Timóteo:

1. Mantenha o foco nas próprias Escrituras.

Sabe-se o que um pregador realmente pensa sobre a Bíblia pela forma que prega. Necessita procurar por inspiração e poder em algum outro lugar, ou prega as próprias Escrituras? Calvino era consumido pela Palavra de Deus.

A Bíblia guiava o conteúdo e o planejamento de seus sermões. Isto foi ilustrado dramaticamente por ocasião de seu retorno a Genebra, depois de um exílio de três anos, quando começou sua série de sermões precisamente do ponto em que havia parado.

2. Nem todo sermão vai decolar.

Em alguns dias, Calvino era melhor do que em outros. Isso deve ser encorajador para nós, pregadores comuns. Até os grandes têm dias ruins. É por isso que devemos sempre nos fiar na Palavra de Deus, e não em nossa própria capacidade.

Se nossa esperança estiver em nossa própria capacidade, então nossos sermões não conterão qualquer esperança. Mas se nos certificarmos de sempre afirmar o que diz o texto, então mesmo quando estivermos chochos, a Palavra poderá manifestar seu poder.

3. A maioria das pregações é feita em meio a dificuldades.

Tendemos a pensar que se tudo estivesse mais tranquilo, poderíamos pregar melhor. Se os diáconos cooperassem, se não tivessemos problemas no berçário, se não houvesse desafios com nossa própria família, então poderíamos nos preparar melhor e pregar melhor. Temos de trabalhar em meio aos desafios do dia a dia, e assim o fizeram os grandes pregadores ao longo da história.

Durante a época em que Calvino pregou sobre 1 Timóteo, suas cartas revelam que inimigos conspiravam contra ele, e que ele esperava ser banido a qualquer momento. Às vezes, ele simplesmente se confortava com o fato de que poderia morrer em breve! Ele teve de interromper a série, para representar a Genebra na negociação de tratados diplomáticos. Aqueles sermões não foram escritos por um pastor com tempo livre, mas por um que lutava para manter seu ministério, em face à resistência organizada e a pesadas demandas de trabalho. Enquanto ele buscava o bem-estar e a maturidade de seu povo, era incompreendido e atacado por lobos. Isto lembra seu cotidiano?

4. Pregadores devem ser ousados e humildes ao mesmo tempo.

Muitas vezes as pessoas confundem a coragem com a arrogância. O arrogante crê que é apenas corajoso; os humildes, com medo de serem arrogantes, acabam tímidos. A ousadia está enraizada na grande confiança em Deus. A arrogância surge da grande confiança em si mesmo.

Calvino é um modelo útil aqui. Ele repreende o pecado e fala com plena confiança sobre o que seu povo deveria fazer e o que não deveria fazer. Ao mesmo tempo, ele deixa claro de que luta contra o pecado. Ele é honesto quanto a sua própria fragilidade, mas no entanto proclama o que dizem as Escrituras com total confiança.

5. Pregadores devem ansiar pela salvação de almas.

As pessoas frequentemente acreditam nesta caricatura de Calvino; de que a predestinação minava sua preocupação com o evangelismo. Há muito na vida de Calvino que refuta esta noção, e estes sermões contêm provas da melhor qualidade. Suas orações finais incluem, muitas vezes, petições para que pessoas de longe e de perto chegassem à fé. Ele regularmente convida as pessoas a crer, e ele expõe a necessidade de compartilhar o evangelho com outros. Muitas vezes ele exorta o povo a trabalhar e interceder pela conversão de seus vizinhos, bem como para que o evangelho se espalhasse aos confins da terra.

Calvino repreende fortemente aqueles que não têm o cuidado de “trazer os seus vizinhos para o caminho da salvação”, dizendo que estas pessoas “não fazem conta da honra de Deus”, e que são “frias” e “negligentes” se não intercederem fervorosamente por aqueles que “estão, hoje, no caminho de morte e da condenação” (sermão 14). Ele argumenta que devemos “trabalhar em prol da salvação de todo o mundo, e nos darmos a este trabalho dia e noite” (sermão 11). Ele diz aos pregadores para “seguirem em frente, e chamarem para Deus tantos quantos conseguirem” (sermão 36).

6. Pregadores devem ser pacientes.

Em seus sermões, vemos o anseio de Calvino tanto pelo bem de seu povo quanto pela glória de Cristo. Vemos também sua frustração com a velocidade de mudança glacial e a apatia desenfreada entre aqueles em Genebra. Tendemos a pensar que os gigantes do passado só conheceram o sucesso. Calvino lamentava a indiferença da maioria e invocou condenaçāo sobre eles. O reformador apoiava sua esperança na futura revelação de Jesus Cristo em toda a sua glória.

Seu sermão sobre 1 Timóteo 5.23-25 ​​é especialmente útil para pastores excessivamente zelosos, ansiosos pela pureza imediata em suas igrejas. Calvino disse que devemos buscar a pureza, mas também perceber que Deus não expõe as coisas de uma vez só. Deus tem seu próprio tempo no processo. Pregadores de hoje em dia podem se identificar com estes desafios e encontrar encorajamento, bem como um exemplo de perseverança. Deus está fazendo mais do que se pode notar.

7. A pregação deve abordar a vida cotidiana, incluindo o casamento, a família e a educação de filhos.

De acordo com uma dos principais ênfases da Reforma, Calvino afirmava o valor e a nobreza da vida cotidiana. Em particular, ele defendeu a alta vocação da maternidade, bem como a importância do casamento, da criação de filhos e da vida familiar (sermão 41).

Ele disse até mesmo que os trabalhos da vida familiar não devem ser negligenciados por causa da oração (sermão 38).

8. A verdadeira pregação bíblica requer aplicação penetrante.

Calvino não se contentou em simplesmente palestrar sobre ideias abstratas. Ele era sincero e agudo em suas aplicações, desafiando, agitando e confortando seu rebanho, ao abordar aspectos cotidianos da vida cristã.

O sermão 50 (sobre 1 Timóteo 6.12-14), por exemplo, incentiva a perseverança, demonstrando como o evangelho nos ajuda a persistir. Calvino salienta a necessidade de esforço humano, e reconhece que este esforço está enraizado na graça. Este sermão é teologicamente rico e pastoralmente útil, à medida que Calvino explica como a beleza das promessas do evangelho nos impulsiona. Isto pode ser um bálsamo para pastores desanimados, e um desafio à fidelidade e à santidade para todos os cristãos.

Descobri que estes sermões são profundamente enriquecedores e instrutivos para minha própria pregação. Como Parker se referiu a eles: “Este tipo de pregação, à medida que era seguido e aplicado estritamente ao povo, foi o ponto central explosivo do trabalho da igreja em Genebra”. Que os nossos púlpitos tenham tal efeito poderoso hoje.

Nota do editor: Venha celebrar o 500º aniversário da Reforma conosco em nossa Conferência Nacional de 2017, de 3 a 5 de abril, em Indianápolis. O tema é “Nenhum Outro Evangelho:A Reforma aos 500 anos e Além”. As vagas estão se esgotando rapidamente, então cadastre-se agora. 

Traduzido por Daila Fanny

Ray Van Neste é professor associado de estudos bíblicos e diretor da R. C. Ryan Centro de Estudos Bíblicos, na Universidade Union.

A Caixa De Ferramentas Do Pregador: 8 Lições De Calvino Sobre a Pregação

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 2:15pm

Article by: Ray Van Neste

Nota dos editores: “A Caixa de Ferramentas do Pregador” é uma nova série mensal que procura responder a questões relacionadas com a pregação. Se você tem uma pergunta relacionada à pregação ou algum assunto que você gostaria que respondêssemos, envie um e-mail para ask@thegospelcoalition.org. Recentemente, lançamos um projeto de pregação expositiva, para o qual os pastores do Conselho TGC irão preparar recursos educacionais gratuitos sobre pregação expositiva, tanto em vídeo quanto impressos, em seis idiomas estratégicos. Estamos em oração, buscando levantar 150 mil dólares para financiar o projeto. Para doar, clique aqui e escolha “Pregação Expositiva” [Expository Preaching] na lista designada.

Anteriormente: 

Como Preparo Meu Coração para Pregar? (Kent Hughes) O Que Devo Pregar da Próxima Vez? (Julius Kim) Como Lidar Com o Funeral de um Incrédulo? (Phil Newton) Como Pregar Sermões Expositivos do Livro de Provérbios? (Dan Doriani) Devo Aprender Hebraico e Grego ou Ter Software Bíblico É Suficiente? (Kevin McFadden) Quāo Longos Devem Ser Meus Sermões? (Hershael York) O Que Dizer no Funeral de um Desconhecido? (Phil Newton) Quanto Tempo Devo Levar para Preparar um Sermão? (Dave Harvey)  

A Reforma Protestante avançou em grande parte pelo trabalho de pregação, e elevou a pregaçāo a um lugar de renovada proeminência no culto público. João Calvino, conhecido hoje principalmente como um teólogo sistemático, é um poderoso exemplo da pregação reformada.

Ele foi fundamentalmente um pregador do evangelho, pregando mais de 4 mil sermões em Genebra, havendo grande demanda por seus sermões impressos. Apesar de terem sido amplamente ignorados nos últimos dois séculos, os sermões de Calvino o revelam como o pastor que realmente era. Como T. H. L. Parker escreveu: “O centro de seu trabalho pastoral, em torno do qual tudo o mais girava, era a pregação do evangelho”.

Passei os últimos dois anos lendo os sermões de Calvino sobre 1 Timóteo, decifrando a tradução do inglês de 1579, e atualizando a linguagem para tornar esses poderosos sermões mais acessíveis aos leitores de hoje. Estes são ricos exemplos para a pregação atual, à medida que revelam um pastor animado, com profundo interesse pessoal por seu povo, uma paixão pela fidelidade deles, um anseio pela adesão de toda a comunidade à Palavra de Deus, e um zelo por levar o evangelho às nações.

Aqui estão oito lições que extraí das pregação de Calvino em 1 Timóteo:

1. Mantenha o foco nas próprias Escrituras.

Sabe-se o que um pregador realmente pensa sobre a Bíblia pela forma que prega. Necessita procurar por inspiração e poder em algum outro lugar, ou prega as próprias Escrituras? Calvino era consumido pela Palavra de Deus.

A Bíblia guiava o conteúdo e o planejamento de seus sermões. Isto foi ilustrado dramaticamente por ocasião de seu retorno a Genebra, depois de um exílio de três anos, quando começou sua série de sermões precisamente do ponto em que havia parado.

2. Nem todo sermão vai decolar.

Em alguns dias, Calvino era melhor do que em outros. Isso deve ser encorajador para nós, pregadores comuns. Até os grandes têm dias ruins. É por isso que devemos sempre nos fiar na Palavra de Deus, e não em nossa própria capacidade.

Se nossa esperança estiver em nossa própria capacidade, então nossos sermões não conterão qualquer esperança. Mas se nos certificarmos de sempre afirmar o que diz o texto, então mesmo quando estivermos chochos, a Palavra poderá manifestar seu poder.

3. A maioria das pregações é feita em meio a dificuldades.

Tendemos a pensar que se tudo estivesse mais tranquilo, poderíamos pregar melhor. Se os diáconos cooperassem, se não tivessemos problemas no berçário, se não houvesse desafios com nossa própria família, então poderíamos nos preparar melhor e pregar melhor. Temos de trabalhar em meio aos desafios do dia a dia, e assim o fizeram os grandes pregadores ao longo da história.

Durante a época em que Calvino pregou sobre 1 Timóteo, suas cartas revelam que inimigos conspiravam contra ele, e que ele esperava ser banido a qualquer momento. Às vezes, ele simplesmente se confortava com o fato de que poderia morrer em breve! Ele teve de interromper a série, para representar a Genebra na negociação de tratados diplomáticos. Aqueles sermões não foram escritos por um pastor com tempo livre, mas por um que lutava para manter seu ministério, em face à resistência organizada e a pesadas demandas de trabalho. Enquanto ele buscava o bem-estar e a maturidade de seu povo, era incompreendido e atacado por lobos. Isto lembra seu cotidiano?

4. Pregadores devem ser ousados e humildes ao mesmo tempo.

Muitas vezes as pessoas confundem a coragem com a arrogância. O arrogante crê que é apenas corajoso; os humildes, com medo de serem arrogantes, acabam tímidos. A ousadia está enraizada na grande confiança em Deus. A arrogância surge da grande confiança em si mesmo.

Calvino é um modelo útil aqui. Ele repreende o pecado e fala com plena confiança sobre o que seu povo deveria fazer e o que não deveria fazer. Ao mesmo tempo, ele deixa claro de que luta contra o pecado. Ele é honesto quanto a sua própria fragilidade, mas no entanto proclama o que dizem as Escrituras com total confiança.

5. Pregadores devem ansiar pela salvação de almas.

As pessoas frequentemente acreditam nesta caricatura de Calvino; de que a predestinação minava sua preocupação com o evangelismo. Há muito na vida de Calvino que refuta esta noção, e estes sermões contêm provas da melhor qualidade. Suas orações finais incluem, muitas vezes, petições para que pessoas de longe e de perto chegassem à fé. Ele regularmente convida as pessoas a crer, e ele expõe a necessidade de compartilhar o evangelho com outros. Muitas vezes ele exorta o povo a trabalhar e interceder pela conversão de seus vizinhos, bem como para que o evangelho se espalhasse aos confins da terra.

Calvino repreende fortemente aqueles que não têm o cuidado de “trazer os seus vizinhos para o caminho da salvação”, dizendo que estas pessoas “não fazem conta da honra de Deus”, e que são “frias” e “negligentes” se não intercederem fervorosamente por aqueles que “estão, hoje, no caminho de morte e da condenação” (sermão 14). Ele argumenta que devemos “trabalhar em prol da salvação de todo o mundo, e nos darmos a este trabalho dia e noite” (sermão 11). Ele diz aos pregadores para “seguirem em frente, e chamarem para Deus tantos quantos conseguirem” (sermão 36).

6. Pregadores devem ser pacientes.

Em seus sermões, vemos o anseio de Calvino tanto pelo bem de seu povo quanto pela glória de Cristo. Vemos também sua frustração com a velocidade de mudança glacial e a apatia desenfreada entre aqueles em Genebra. Tendemos a pensar que os gigantes do passado só conheceram o sucesso. Calvino lamentava a indiferença da maioria e invocou condenaçāo sobre eles. O reformador apoiava sua esperança na futura revelação de Jesus Cristo em toda a sua glória.

Seu sermão sobre 1 Timóteo 5.23-25 ​​é especialmente útil para pastores excessivamente zelosos, ansiosos pela pureza imediata em suas igrejas. Calvino disse que devemos buscar a pureza, mas também perceber que Deus não expõe as coisas de uma vez só. Deus tem seu próprio tempo no processo. Pregadores de hoje em dia podem se identificar com estes desafios e encontrar encorajamento, bem como um exemplo de perseverança. Deus está fazendo mais do que se pode notar.

7. A pregação deve abordar a vida cotidiana, incluindo o casamento, a família e a educação de filhos.

De acordo com uma dos principais ênfases da Reforma, Calvino afirmava o valor e a nobreza da vida cotidiana. Em particular, ele defendeu a alta vocação da maternidade, bem como a importância do casamento, da criação de filhos e da vida familiar (sermão 41).

Ele disse até mesmo que os trabalhos da vida familiar não devem ser negligenciados por causa da oração (sermão 38).

8. A verdadeira pregação bíblica requer aplicação penetrante.

Calvino não se contentou em simplesmente palestrar sobre ideias abstratas. Ele era sincero e agudo em suas aplicações, desafiando, agitando e confortando seu rebanho, ao abordar aspectos cotidianos da vida cristã.

O sermão 50 (sobre 1 Timóteo 6.12-14), por exemplo, incentiva a perseverança, demonstrando como o evangelho nos ajuda a persistir. Calvino salienta a necessidade de esforço humano, e reconhece que este esforço está enraizado na graça. Este sermão é teologicamente rico e pastoralmente útil, à medida que Calvino explica como a beleza das promessas do evangelho nos impulsiona. Isto pode ser um bálsamo para pastores desanimados, e um desafio à fidelidade e à santidade para todos os cristãos.

Descobri que estes sermões são profundamente enriquecedores e instrutivos para minha própria pregação. Como Parker se referiu a eles: “Este tipo de pregação, à medida que era seguido e aplicado estritamente ao povo, foi o ponto central explosivo do trabalho da igreja em Genebra”. Que os nossos púlpitos tenham tal efeito poderoso hoje.

Nota do editor: Venha celebrar o 500º aniversário da Reforma conosco em nossa Conferência Nacional de 2017, de 3 a 5 de abril, em Indianápolis. O tema é “Nenhum Outro Evangelho:A Reforma aos 500 anos e Além”. As vagas estão se esgotando rapidamente, então cadastre-se agora. 

Traduzido por Daila Fanny

Ray Van Neste é professor associado de estudos bíblicos e diretor da R. C. Ryan Centro de Estudos Bíblicos, na Universidade Union.

Seminary Is Not an Oasis

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 1:02am

Article by: Cody Barnhart

My friends who graduated from seminary told me it would be a place like nowhere else. I would develop lifelong friendships. Healthy churches near campus would abound. They lamented Greek’s third declension and hated some of their assigned readings, but they viewed the labor as worthy since it equipped them to understand the Bible.

I arrived believing seminary was an undivided kingdom of wisdom.

No one could’ve known what was going on in my heart. I went to each campus event and spent free time working on the research project of a lifetime. I was privileged to learn from some of my favorite writers and scholars—they even knew my name. I went to the church many of the other “involved” students attended.

But deep down, I was a mess. While my mind was exploring the Kingdom of Wisdom, my heart was stuck in the Doldrums. Don’t fool yourself like I did. Rhyme and reason can go missing, even at seminary—and if that happens, forget about Reality. It’s invisible by now, haunted by the Terrible Trivium.

Sin Doesn’t Stop

In the early days, I often caught myself thinking, Shouldn’t a seminary student know better? When I was on the receiving end of sin, my tone was even harsher, and more self-righteous: Wow, it’s really easy to learn the Bible but not apply it, huh? Seminarians are all the same, aren’t they?

These sentiments are clichés for a reason. Far too many people start seminary thinking that theological education is designed for those who “get it,” but in the end “getting it” is reduced to puffing up with knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1).

Though others’ pride hurt in many ways, it wasn’t their sin that hurt most—it was my own. Preparing for seminary, I told myself I would stop being so afraid of man’s opinion once I got to campus. Surely if I did something in the name of Christ, it probably arose from right motives. I assumed killing sin would be easier around people who were good at showing grace. Tragically, I believed my sin would pretty much stop in seminary.

I assumed killing sin would be easier around people who were good at showing grace. Tragically, I believed my sin would pretty much stop in seminary.

That assumption nearly wrecked my soul.

Prolonging repentance made me quick to drag others before a jury for the smallest sins, and even quicker to drop all charges against myself. I became woeful at showing grace because I perpetually felt the need to defend myself. Defensiveness stems from insecurity, and it wasn’t until I got to seminary that I learned just how insecure I felt in Christ.

Three Lessons

Jeremiah 17:9, which says the heart is deceitful, is in your Bible for a reason. Your heart’s instinct to hunt or be hunted will lead you astray in seminary. You must stop trusting yourself.

Your primary goal at seminary is not career advancement, opportunity, or straight A’s. Your goal is to know God and his Word more intimately—and though the two aren’t always at odds, I’m afraid more of us need to heed Jesus’s warning concerning those who knew much about him but never knew him (Matt. 7:22). There may be some who say, “Lord, Lord, did we not graduate from seminary in your name?”

Speaking from experience, here are three lessons I commend to students as they head to campus this fall.

1. Know what you’re getting into.

Seminary is often romanticized. It’s actually more difficult than I could’ve imagined—and I’m not talking about Greek morphology. The seminary environment made me feel like a big deal, and the bigger our self-idolatry gets, the harder it falls. The allure of arrogance lurks around every corner. Prepare yourself for the power struggle. My faith in God was tested more during the year I was on campus than ever before. Don’t think of seminary as an oasis; it is a battleground against the principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12).

2. Be vulnerable enough to be insufficient.

You can’t “do” seminary well without being terrifyingly known by others, which means you can’t “do” seminary well without being terrifyingly vulnerable. Had I been more vulnerable, it would have saved me a lot of hurt. Vulnerability is antithetical to pride. It helps reveal sin and cultivates humility. Had I been more transparent with fellow church members about my own heart, perhaps I would’ve had opportunity for repentance without total implosion.

3. Hunt sin or be hunted by it.

Refuse to veil your confession of sin. Position, status, or opportunity will never repay the wages of holiness—and holiness might cost you one or even all of those things. Don’t try to prove you have your act together—you don’t, and you never will so long as you live in a sin-wracked body and world. The only person demanding an account of your righteousness is the One who came to call sinners—not the righteous—to repentance (Mark 2:17). You don’t stop sinning at seminary. And if you don’t hunt sin, it will hunt you.

High Stakes

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required,” Jesus warned, “and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected” (Luke 12:48).

The stakes of seminary are high, and the succulence of sin is tantalizing. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can wage war against your unholy self. Then you will find seminary a far more formative experience than you could’ve ever imagined.

Cody Barnhart lives in Maryville, Tennessee, and is an MDiv student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He attends Pleasant Grove at College Street, where he is a church-planting intern. You may follow him on Twitter

Satan Has a Forked Tongue

Sat, 08/19/2017 - 1:00am

Article by: Emma Scrivener

Satan whispers, “Don’t worry about that sin, that pattern, that temptation. It’s no big deal.” 

Then when you fall for it, he shouts, “You’ve blown it! What a wretch you are! God won’t want to hear from you now, not for a couple of weeks at least. Not till you’ve made it better.”

But you can’t make it better. And the whispers start again: “Stuck, eh? Well, what do you expect? Sin is in your genes—unavoidable, no matter how you try. God’s setting you up to fail! Just a load of rules you can’t ever keep.”

You plug your ears and try to keep going. But there’s that voice, louder than before: “Struggling again? And you call yourself a Christian? What a joke. Real Christians don’t have these problems. They just ramp up their faith, repent, and move forward.”

He’s right, you think. Back to despair and the darkness.

More Lies

He starts again. “Look out for yourself; no one else will. Live for now, live for you—nothing else matters.” But when you put yourself first and it still doesn’t satisfy, his whispers become roars: “You really are on your own now. Selfish to the core. And still miserable.”

You cast around for help, and he hisses, “You’re not built for church; you’re too weird. Best not to even try; you won’t fit in.” During the service or the small group, he tries to drown out the rest: “They don’t get you. They’re not like you! Church isn’t for you.”

So you back off and turn inward. Back to his lies. 

“Real Christians have amazing quiet times—hours spent in the Scriptures and on their knees before God. You can’t remember the last time you prayed in complete sentences.” Then you open your Bible and he mocks, “Look at all these rules. You’re not strong enough to carry these burdens. You’re pathetic.”

And on he goes.

Two Voices

Satan has a forked tongue. He speaks with two voices, not one. He’s the tempter and the accuser. He’s licentious and legalistic. He provokes us to shame and to pride. And just when you think you’ve resisted one, the other grabs you from behind.

But whatever the lie, Satan’s strategy is the same: to pull our focus away from Jesus. In temptation he’ll distract us from Christ’s beauty. When we sin, he’ll distract us from Christ’s mercy. His one goal is always to lead us away from Jesus.

In temptation and in guilt, in shame and in pride, in self-pity and in self-confidence, let’s not look to ourselves—our badness or our goodness. Here’s Martin Luther’s advice:

When the Devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and where he is there I shall be also!”

When you’re tempted to listen to Satan’s whispers and shouts, don’t panic. The one sure-fire way to “resist the Devil” is simply this: look to Jesus.

Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at A New Name

Emma Scrivener was born in Belfast. She now lives in Eastbourne with her husband, Glen, and their daughter. Emma blogs about identity, faith, and mental health at emmascrivener.net. She’s the author of several books, including A New Name and A New Day

Real Conversations on Race

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 1:03am

Article by: Jason Cook

Malik paused. “Did it ever occur to you that people from my neighborhood are scared about rollin’ up on your neighborhood?”

“Whatever,” Jim replied. “When’s the last time someone has had their head bashed in by some thugs in Stone Brook? When’s the last time someone had their car stolen at gunpoint when they were filling up their tank?”

“Robbery and thugs ain’t the only things to fear. There are other things people like me gotta worry about. Stuff you wouldn’t understand.”

Most people enter discussions of racial injustice like they’re entering a gun fight: heavily armed. Their weapons are statistics, experience, and a bevy of opinions and solutions. A new novel titled Meals from Mars: A Parable of Prejudice and Providence helps to de-escalate the conflict. Written by educator Ben Sciacca, this book will benefit not only his high school students in Fairfield, Alabama, but also suburbanites and those in between.

Meals from Mars opens with guns drawn on the two protagonists, Jim and Malik. We see blood, police lights, and a young black man shot by police. This is an unfortunately familiar narrative today, but Sciacca gives us the story behind the headlines—the story about the incredibly complex lives involved in this scene: Jim, Malik, and the law enforcement officers sworn to protect and serve. 

Usual Suspects

Jim, an affluent, churchgoing white man from the “right” side of the tracks, is a Good Samaritan. He delivers food to a poor family on the “wrong” side of the tracks. Malik is an 18-year-old black man who lives with his grandmother in her apartment. She sends him out to buy ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner. Trouble quickly ensues. The lead on the case, MarQuan Cole, is a neighborhood kid turned professional detective. He finds himself at the intersection of violence perpetrated by blacks and the disrespectful white world he’s obliged to protect and serve.

These men’s worlds are on a collision course that ends with a young black man shot, a suburban white man forever changed, and a black cop in conflict. 

Nuanced Approach

For Sciacca, Meals from Mars is more than a story; it’s his life. He serves as executive director of Restoration Academy, a Christ-centered private school in one of Birmingham’s poorest neighborhoods. Each day Sciacca teaches and mentors young black men, empathizing with their experiences, feeling their pain, and refusing to give simple answers to complex problems.

Sciacca knows that when churches engage in ministry to poor youth in predominately minority neighborhoods, they assume the poor youth are the only at-risk group involved. In fact, two groups are at-risk: those ministered to and the ministers themselves. For poor youth, risks include lack of education, cyclical poverty, and basic needs going unmet. For those ministering to the poor, the risk is believing that affluence or social standing grants them a heroic position. They’re at risk of self-righteousness, false holiness, and a paternalistic mindset.

Sciacca labors to protect both groups from these risks at his school. Urban students are greatly helped by community churches, and affluent volunteers are rescued from the sin of self-righteousness. The result? A collective flourishing of both urban and suburban individuals that brings glory to God.

Urban ministry, in part, requires the resources, networks, and talents of the affluent alongside the creativity, ingenuity, and brilliance of poor communities. Meals from Mars doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all answer to racial strife and injustice in our country. It does, however, humanize both those in the prison of poverty and also those in the prison of paternalism. 

Effective urban ministry can’t be done by “Turkey Men”—those who deliver a turkey at Thanksgiving and that’s it. Effective ministry requires intentionality—the same intentionality exhibited by God at creation and Christ in his incarnation, the intentionality that gets our hands dirty by bringing holistic remedies to struggling communities through being a part of them. 

Real Conversations

A major strength of Meals from Mars is the running dialogue between Malik and Jim. Through several chapters they discuss socioeconomic inequality, educational inequality, joblessness, police brutality, incarceration, and the Confederate flag, among other things. Their limited experience of each others’ worlds often leads to communication breakdown and rudeness. But even though both come to the table eager to air their own views, they leave learning more than they imagined. The most surprising revelation might be that while they come from different sides of the tracks, they are quite similar. 

Sciacca’s characters discuss many complex racial issues, but Sciacca offers no solutions. He does, however, create an environment for the reader to feel. Perhaps this is the book’s greatest strength—the empathy it encourages us to recover. You won’t find simple answers to racism in this novel. You will, however, be confronted with the difficulties and nuances of social dynamics.

Should you pick up this book, be warned that you may walk away slower to speak, slower to anger, and quicker to listen. 

Ben Sciacca. Meals from Mars: A Parable of Prejudice and Providence. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2017. 224 pp. $14.99.

Jason Cook is an editor for The Gospel Coalition, focusing on pastoral ministry and integrating faith and work. He is associate pastor of preaching at Fellowship Memphis. He earned his MDiv from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, where he helped to build Iron City Church, a multi-ethnic ministry in one of America's most segregated cities. He earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi on a football scholarship. He is married to Courtney, and they have two children, Charlie and Cager. You can follow him on Twitter.

The North Star for a Weary Heart

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 1:02am

Article by: Jen Oshman

Many days I wake up and my first conscious thought is, It wasn’t supposed to be this way. My grief punches me in the gut and gnaws at me throughout the day.

I know I’m not alone in this. How many friends do I have who are grieving? One whose husband just departed too early to heaven, several whose marriages are an unhappy toil, some whose babies slipped away well before their time, many who are weathering storms of lost jobs, unexpected moves, disintegrated friendships, or debilitating illness. Life is hard.

Sometimes grief is public and everyone knows our struggle. Other times (as in our case) grief is private because of those involved. As I’ve shared our loss with a few close friends, I’ve had to choose my words carefully. What should I say about my grief and disappointment? What’s true? Where will my heart rest in the weariness? 

For the last several days, Romans 12:12 has been my north star. In the preceding verses, Paul reminds us that we’re living sacrifices and that life is difficult. In the midst of all that’s hard, he says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” 

Joyful in Hope

God isn’t through with our stories of grief. He’s doing thousands of things we can’t even imagine, because his thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isa. 55:8–9). We can’t follow his wisdom and knowledge and path (Rom. 11:33), but we can know they’re for our good (Rom. 8:28). We know his character—trustworthy and true. 

We rejoice in the reality of the resurrection, the hope of heaven, and the ultimate victory we have in Christ. He has disarmed the powers and authorities of the world and, through his cross, we triumph over them (Col. 2:15). We can be joyful in hope because, just as the Father didn’t end the story with his Son in the grave, so our stories don’t end with the loss we currently feel.  

Patient in Affliction 

Nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38). We can be patient in our suffering, knowing we won’t be torn from God’s hands. Our afflictions are, in reality, light and momentary and are “achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). 

This isn’t a time for comparing our loss to another’s. We are each the Lord’s workmanship (Eph. 2:10), called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:1–2). We can be patient in affliction because God “is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). 

Faithful in Prayer

Perhaps our primary role in navigating grief is to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). The Lord himself says we may come to him with confidence (Heb. 4:16). Jesus told his disciples they “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Being faithful in prayer means giving ourselves over to it daily, routinely. 

When we pray, we remember God is God and we are not. We recall his power, his resurrection, his ability to do more than we could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20–21). In prayer we’re reminded of his goodness and his promises to never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). We can be faithful in prayer because we know God is for us—and if he gave us his own Son, we can trust him to work in our current trials too (Rom. 8:31–32).  

These verses give welcome counsel when I don’t know what to do with my grief. They orient my mind and remind my heart of what is true. Because of Jesus—because of the gospel of grace—I can be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. 

Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at jenoshman.com

Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters and has served as a missionary for 17 years on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado where she and her husband serve with Pioneers International, and she encourages her church-planting husband at Redemption Parker. Her passion is leading women into a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. She writes about that at www.jenoshman.com.  

Preparing to Rebuild the World’s Youngest—and Deadliest—Country

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 1:00am

Article by: Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra

It was probably because David Fugoyo finished at the top of his class.

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So it wasn’t hard to see his potential—a bright, studious kid from the wrong side of Sudan who had scrambled his way up through private high school and was making his way through Bible college in Khartoum.

“When we were getting to our last semester, there was a couple who came from California to teach,” he said. “I already had in my heart I really wanted to study to do a masters, because I wanted more knowledge so I could be in a better position to teach in a church one day.”

Dennis and Trevecca Okholm were teaching at Nile Theological College (NTC) short-term; both were employed at a PC(USA) church in California.

One day, after dismissing the students for a short break, Trevecca called Fugoyo back. “She said, ‘My husband and I were discussing you last evening. We have seen in you the ability [to get a graduate degree]. We want you to apply to Wheaton College in Illinois.’” (Both Dennis and Trevecca have degrees from Wheaton, and Dennis taught theology there for 14 years.)

Immediately, Fugoyo said no.

“I want to go to Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST), because the masters classes there are taught from an African perspective, and I know I’m going to work among Africans,” he told her. “I need something really relevant to Africa.”

“She looked in my eyes and said, ‘David, now I understand God is calling you, because so many people want to go to the United States for any reason. But you said no, so it must be God.’”

“I think so,” he told her.

Today, Fugoyo leads a growing Ugandan university focused on educating Christian leaders in sub-Saharan Africa. But his ambition is even bigger: to bring Christian higher education to South Sudan, site of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Growing Up

Fugoyo was born in what is now South Sudan, growing up in Yambio, a town a little more than 20 miles from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the 1980s, the area was undeveloped—there were no good roads or electricity, and Fugoyo and his four siblings had to haul water from a nearby stream.

The lack of development wasn’t an accident. Before 2011, the southern third of Sudan was inhabited mostly by poor Christians of African ancestry, ignored or harshly treated by the government concentrated in the top of the country, which was wealthier, Arab, and Muslim.

The two sides of the country had been fighting almost constantly ever since it gained independence from British-Egyptian rule in 1956. Two civil wars—one more than three decades long—drained resources and killed thousands, leaving the south in even worse shape.

But Fugoyo’s father was hard-working and ambitious. He knew what the future would hold for his five children if they didn’t get out of the war zone and into school. So in 1988, he took his family to Khartoum.

At least, that’s what he tried to do.

Left Behind

After working for several years to prepare a place, Fugoyo’s father returned to southern Sudan to pack up his family. The roads were dangerous with both rebels and the government militia, which stole, raped, and killed their way across southern Sudan from 1983 to 2005.

To escape, the Fugoyo family would take a military caravan to Juba, then a cargo plane to Khartoum.

But Fugoyo’s mother, Margaret, wasn’t quite ready. She worked in a local hospital, training nurses and midwives, and had a few more things to take care of. She told his father to take the kids and go ahead; she’d be along in a few days.

But a few days passed and she didn’t come. And then a few more. And then the news came over the radio—rebels had taken Yambio.

With the roads closed, there was no way for the family to return for Margaret. It would be months before they’d hear through the Red Cross that she had fled to a refugee camp in Central African Republic (CAR). Two years later, in an auto accident, she would die there.

Khartoum

“Only God, who is able to heal, helped us through,” Fugoyo said of his mother’s death. “Nothing else.”

The family settled into the capital city, which felt like a foreign land.

“Everything was in Arabic,” said Fugoyo, who didn’t yet even know the Arabic alphabet. “In southern Sudan, almost everyone was a Christian, but in northern Sudan, everyone I knew was a Muslim. There were mosques everywhere. It felt like a different country.”

But slowly, he adjusted. He figured out how to work the faucet, and how to plug things in. He learned how to cross the street without being run over, and joined a youth group at a church.

Originally, Fugoyo wanted to get into medicine, but gradually theology turned his head. “I really wanted to serve God,” he said. “I wanted to understand God’s Word so I could teach others.”

Instead of enrolling at Wheaton, Fugoyo signed up for classes at NEGST (now Africa International University) in Nairobi, Kenya. He earned a masters and a doctorate there, paid for by a combination of the Okholms’ church, scholarships, and John Stott’s Langham Scholars.

“I am not studying for the sake of studying,” Fugoyo told Langham in his request for funding. “I am here in Uganda for a few years, but I have a vision of opening a Christian college in South Sudan to train church leaders.”

South Sudan

While Fugoyo was away at graduate school, his country was born.

In 2011, the South Sudanese—with assistance from the United Nations—cut themselves loose from Sudan. On their independence day—July 9—the celebrations started at midnight, with dancing and crying and screams of joy. After decades of fighting and negotiating, they were free. The primarily Christian nation was starting a new life, finally safe from the persecution and neglect of the majority-Muslim Sudan.

But just five weeks after Independence Day, the peace began to unravel. Ethnic fighting destroyed seven villages and killed 600 people. Five months later, 100,000 fled, escaping still more warring clans. The decades of war with Sudan had left the brand-new country overrun with weapons and men returning from battle, looking for the means to survive and start a family. Setting up a new government put power up for grab. Conflict was inevitable.

Without a common culture or a vision beyond opposition to Sudan, the country had no identity or purpose to unite it.

Over the past three and a half years, warring parties have raped and killed tens of thousands. More than 3 million—nearly 70 percent of them children—have fled their homes, making South Sudan the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, according to UNICEF. Oil production has dropped off steeply, and farming has been disrupted. Famine has already been declared in two of South Sudan’s northern counties.

“Left to its present trajectory of displacement and famine,” Payton Knopf, former coordinator of the UN Panel of Experts on South Sudan, wrote in May, “roughly half of South Sudan’s population will have died of starvation or fled the country by the war’s fourth anniversary in December—an occurrence nearly unprecedented in modern history.”

Africa Renewal University

With the new country in turmoil, Fugoyo delayed his plans to return. But he did move closer.

While Fugoyo was earning his doctorate, one of his friends asked him to teach a short summer course at the Gaba Bible Institute—then Africa Renewal Christian College (ARCC)—in Kampala, Uganda.

Only three years old, ARCC was led by American Jeff Atherstone. A missionary from Francis Chan’s Cornerstone Community Church, Atherstone came to Uganda to train pastors, and began by moving from village to village all week long, teaching the same lesson to different groups.

“It was a lot of time traveling and not a lot of time establishing relationships or discipling—just teaching, teaching, teaching,” Atherstone said. So when the brand-new Gaba Bible Institute asked him to be their academic dean, he jumped on board. Two years later, he became the president—or, in local parlance, “vice chancellor.”

The school began to grow, and in 2010 it connected with John Piper’s Desiring God ministry and The Gospel Coalition. (In the past five years, it has partnered with TGC to distribute around 8,000 books to Ugandan church leaders through the Theological Famine Relief effort.) Eventually, the university adopted TGC’s confessional statement as its own.

Atherstone took the school to full accreditation, adding bachelors degrees—in areas such as child development, community health, business administration—and renaming the whole thing Africa Renewal University (ARU). The number of students soared from 35 in 2007 to about 70 in 2010 to close to 550 today. This summer, the school graduated its first class to earn bachelors degrees.

The curriculum for every class—from business to disabilities studies to social work—was written from a Christian perspective. Atherstone was also hiring up all the Christian PhDs he could find, which, in Uganda, wasn’t many.

So he was thrilled when Fugoyo accepted a position leading the theology department at ARU. The next year, Fugoyo was promoted to deputy vice chancellor. And in 2015, when Atherstone had to return to the United States for his wife’s health, Fugoyo took over as vice chancellor.

“There are so many challenges, with staffing and finances and construction,” he said. “It’s a struggle, but I am loving it because I am learning a lot.”

Looking Toward Home

Fugoyo still has his eye on South Sudan, where his siblings live, and where his father is a senior government official for Yambio county. After his five-year contract at ARU runs out, he would love to finally start his school there.

Atherstone is looking that way, too.

“After a civil war, after a disaster, how does a country rebuild?” he said. “Christians should be the first ones in.”

If South Sudan can stabilize the violence, then its openness to Christianity and its geography—as part of the “tension belt” between the primarily Christian sub-Saharan and the majority-Muslim north—make it strategic for gospel work, Atherstone said.

Until then, Fugoyo and ARU are educating any South Sudanese students who can afford to come. And despite the atrocities that aren’t slowing down in his home country, he has hope.

“Every day, I tell myself, God is in all this,” he said. “It is him who designed it.”

Editors’ note: TGC International Outreach is working to provide 100,000 free gospel-centered resources for English-speaking African church leaders through its Theological Famine Relief initiative. Learn more and consider making a donation to this important project. The first $25,000 will be matched dollar for dollar.

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra is senior writer for The Gospel Coalition and contributing editor at Christianity Today. She earned her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

The Secret to Finding Contentment

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 12:59am

Article by: Erik Raymond

Date: April 4, 2017

Event: The Gospel Coalition 2017 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

We don’t often hear people talking about being content today. When we do, it’s often in terms of what would be ideal rather than characteristic of our lives. Yet when we read the New Testament and even some writers throughout church history, we see contentment was a jewel to be prized and pursued. Learn more in the new book Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age.

You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here. Other workshops from the TGC 2017 National Conference are available on the conference media page.

Erik Raymond is the senior pastor at Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska. He and his wife Christie have six children. He blogs at Ordinary Pastor. You can follow him on Twitter.

Seeing Ourselves in ‘The End of the Affair’

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 1:03am

Article by: Samuel James

When Solomon wanted to warn his sons against adultery, he told a story:

For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice. . . . I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense.

Thus the Teacher recounts a tale of a simpleminded man and an enticing accomplice, who “drink their fill of love” while hidden from their covenant partners. It seems like all is wine and roses, until the narrative fades: “All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to slaughter. . . . He does not know that it will cost him his life.”

We aren’t allowed to see the end of the tale, the ultimate fate of the lovers. This uncertainty could be intentional on Solomon’s part; temptation, after all, makes the future difficult to see.

Hate More Than Love

Though the British novelist Graham Greene didn’t write his 1951 novel The End of the Affair with the same didactic purpose as King Solomon, his story equally illustrates the turbulent aftermath of sexual immorality. Set in the middle of World War II, the story is told via the first-person narration of journalist Maurice Bendrix.

In the opening lines, Bendrix warns the reader, “This is a record of hate far more than love.” Through his memories, we learn of his adulterous relationship with Sarah Miles, the wife of his friend Henry. Their liaisons went unabated and undetected, until the day Sarah suddenly stopped. The novel opens some time after the end of their affair, and during a chance meeting Henry confides in Maurice that he is worried about Sarah. In a moment of literary irony, Henry asks Maurice to investigate to ensure Sarah isn’t being unfaithful. Confused and bitter over Sarah ending their relationship, Maurice agrees, selfishly hoping to discover whatever, or whomever, had come between him and Sarah.

Two enigmas drive the novel. Why did Sarah stop the affair, and what is she doing now, years after breaking off her relationship with Bendrix? The pursuit of answers, and the moral consequences those answers bring, gives us a narrative that ends not with lust or betrayal, but with God and grace.

Demands of Lust

The End of the Affair was allegedly written out of Greene’s own experience. This is easy to believe, since the novel consistently offers profound commentary on adultery and its personal effects. One of the most striking illustrations is Bendrix’s inability to separate in his mind the difference between lust and hate. His passion for Sarah has the physical appearance of love, but his real desire is to “posses” her in a fundamentally self-oriented way.

He’s an insecure, paranoid, and jealous lover: “She was as loyal to her lovers as she was to Henry,” Maurice says, “but what should have provided me with some comfort (for undoubtedly she would be loyal to me too) angered me. . . . I refused to believe that love could take any other form but mine: I measured love by the extent of my jealousy.”

No amount of sexual satisfaction can offer him enough reassurance that Sarah is devoted to him, because Sarah the subject has been gradually replaced by Sarah the object. Love that seeks to crucify itself for the sake of the beloved has given way to lust, which consumes and then demands.

It’s impossible not to hear the voice of King David’s son Amnon, whose lust for Tamar presented itself as love—at least until Amnon’s craving had been met: “Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (2 Sam. 13:15). Did Amnon, or Maurice, fall out of love? No, they simply possessed and consumed. Both men got what they wanted. But almost immediately, the satisfaction turned to rot in their souls.

Love vs. Lust

Love and lust are always antithetical. Just as greater intimacy is the natural consequence of covenant lovemaking, so greater alienation and animosity are the natural consequences of sexual immorality. Love gives, but lust only takes.

Lust blinds Maurice to Sarah’s wounded searching. Her numerous past infidelities bespeak a restless heart, one looking for a love that always seems one step ahead of her. Her secret, why she ended the affair, becomes a cross for her to bear. In the fullness of the story, the contrast between Sarah and Maurice becomes clear, and it’s a contrast of irony. Sarah, the one who broke it off, is actually the one who really loves.

But Greene’s novel isn’t just about the nature of love and lust. Love is indeed the ultimate subject of the book, but through Sarah, Greene reminds us that the love from which all others emanate is the love of God. Bendrix’s clutching investigation of Sarah leads him in the end to Sarah’s pursuit of God. Though I won’t spoil key moments of the story, Bendrix discovers that it was not really Sarah who ended the affair, but God. While this leads Sarah toward something like a spiritual awakening, it leads Bendrix, a proclaimed atheist, into bitterness.

But this bitterness takes him toward the “hound of heaven.” The novel’s ending doesn’t explicitly lay out the fate of Bendrix’s atheism, but its concluding paragraph reminds us of what C. S. Lewis warned young atheists concerning God’s “unscrupulousness.” In the end, not even sin is enough to keep the Father locked out.

Subdued by a Greater Love

The End of the Affair is an essential English novel, among the most profoundly spiritual works of the 20th century. As we’re drawn into a vivid parable of sin, brokenness, and redemption, we ought to be reminded that the imagination is often the most moral faculty we posses.

Adultery is alluring not because it makes good logical sense, but because we see in our imagination its offer of happiness, secrecy, thrill, and fulfillment.

It’s one thing to know propositionally that adultery is sin and lust wrecks lives. Virtually no Christian who makes shipwreck of their family or ministry simply forgets this information. Instead, the downward spiral is preceded by a failure to imagine rightly the end of sin. In Maurice’s cruel possessiveness and moral disillusionment we see both ourselves and an imaginative reminder of fallen man’s tendency to, as Jonathan Edwards said, “collapse back on itself.” Adultery is alluring not because it makes good logical sense, but because we see in our imagination its offer of happiness, secrecy, thrill, and fulfillment. The heart is where temptation lives, and it’s in the heart that it must be subdued by a greater love. 

Christians sometimes dismiss fiction as a distraction. Why read a fairy tale when there are other helpful books about how to live the Christian life, or how to read Scripture? But such an attitude not only misunderstands human nature, it misunderstands Scripture. Solomon—not to mention Jesus himself—understood the power of a story to captivate and impress in our consciences a wakefulness that propositional arguments cannot always reach.

The broken souls who inhabit The End of the Affair have lessons for us, and they are lessons worth re-learning—lest we, like the fool Solomon watched, take dark paths by the twilight, and lose our very lives. 

Samuel James works in the Office of the President at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. You can read more of his writing on his blog and follow him on Twitter.

4 Money Principles for Millennials

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 1:02am

Article by: Ron Blue, Michael Blue

Millennials want to change the world. They’re passionate about living lives of purpose and meaning. Unfortunately, they’re often prevented from pursuing their passions because of vast loads of financial debt.

According to Business Insider, millennials hold $1.1 trillion of consumer debt—nearly a third of all consumer debt in the U.S. even though they make up only a quarter of the population. Millennials also account for more than half of people who say they’re worried about defaulting on their loans.

How did millennials get into so much financial trouble? They’ve received little financial training, college tuition has skyrocketed during their lifetimes, and student loans have become as easy to get as candy canes on Christmas. This combination of factors has landed many millennials in debt, unable to achieve their goals. With all this debt, it’s harder to buy a home, own a car, save for retirement, and start a family. Many millennials are asking how they can make a difference in the world when they can barely make their debt payments.

We’ve been there, too. No two situations are ever the same—and we don’t want to be overly prescriptive where this becomes gospel truth—but we do believe God has provided his people with principles to help manage money. 

Here are four common attitudes about money God wants to change in the lives of his followers.

1. Replace “It’s mine” with “It’s God’s.”

Many of us look at our money, possessions, and talents as our own to do with as we please. We can have an attitude of ownership and pride. Deuteronomy 8:17–18 warns us against this attitude and reminds us God gives the power to obtain wealth. Psalm 24:1 tells us the earth and everything in it belongs to God. Acknowledging these truths leads us to view ourselves as stewards instead of owners.

A steward asks, “God, what would you have me do with these gifts you’ve given me?” For many, this shift in mindset revolutionizes every financial decision.

2. Replace “You only live once!” with “You live better with wisdom.”

YOLO. Who hasn’t blamed an impulsive act on this catchphrase? But too often “YOLO” is the attitude behind foolish financial behavior, an excuse to overspend now and deal with the consequences later. While it feels good in the moment, overspending sentences us to less freedom in the future.

The antidote to YOLO is the wisdom from God’s Word. Scripture teaches five basic money management principles that, if followed, keep us financially secure and feeling good for longer than a moment:

(1) Spend less than you earn. (2) Minimize the use of debt (and follow biblical principles when taking on debt). (3) Give generously. (4) Maintain an emergency fund. (5) Set long-term goals.

Walking in wisdom flings open the door to financial freedom in this life.

3. Replace “Don’t tell me what to do!” with “I trust your plan for me.”

Materialism and debt are rooted in an insatiable desire for control. They say, “I can get what I want when I want it.” When we cling tightly to money and things, we refuse to trust God is in control. Walking in faith before him causes us to relinquish our need to control and frees us to trust him as the one who meets our needs.

4. Replace “A little more money will solve my problems” with “I’m grateful for what I have right now.”

The most basic principle in managing money is to spend less than we make. Most of us focus on making more instead of spending less. The problem is that if you can’t spend less than you’re making today, then you’ll still struggle to do it when you’re making more.

The problem isn’t with the amount of money we make, but with our hearts.

The problem isn’t with the amount of money we make, but with our hearts. Most of us haven’t learned to be content with the lifestyle God has given us right now. We must learn to live within today’s income by being grateful for what we have. By cultivating contentment, we’ll free our hearts from the dangerous allure of using debt to fund our lifestyle.

Practical Tips to Try Today

When you change these attitudes, you move from feeling burdened by debt to experiencing contentment and freedom. You’ll be poised to take initiative to tackle debt, overspending, and other difficult financial realities from a place of confidence.

To reset your beliefs about money, commit to believing that all your money belongs to God, that he has a plan for you, and that what you have today is exactly the right amount. Then, scan through the following practical financial tips and choose one or two you can start to implement this week:

  1. Set a budget, review it weekly, and find a friend to ask you every week if you’re sticking to it.
  2. Start giving regularly to your church. Honoring God with your income is a way to acknowledge God’s ownership and your dependence.
  3. Set aside $1,000 in an emergency fund and make a list ahead of time of what would define an “emergency” for you.
  4. Pay off debt with the debt snowball. If you have high-interest credit cards, car loans, or other consumer debt, start tackling those first.
  5. Set aside three to six months of living expenses in a separate bank account.
  6. Set one-year, five-year, and 15-year financial goals. Ask God to show you what goals he has for you.
  7. Start saving toward your goals and retirement. Consider setting aside 10 percent of your income into retirement savings.
  8. Gain a deeper understanding of what the Bible says about money. Read Never Enough? or work through the God Owns It All Bible study.

Ron Blue is a successful entrepreneur in the financial services industry with more than 50 years experience, during which time he helped found Ronald Blue & Co., the National Christian Foundation, and Kingdom Advisors. Ron is the author of more than 20 books on biblical financial planning, including the national best-seller Master Your Money

Michael Blue is the executive director and general counsel of the Ron Blue Institute. He recently updated Ron Blue’s Master Your Money to celebrate its 30th anniversary and wrote the workbook for the new God Owns It All small group curriculum. 

A New Set of Priorities for Our Kids

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 1:02am

Article by: Dawn Poulterer

I’ve worked as a counselor with high school seniors most of my adult life, and every year I watch them advance to college. Some students are well prepared for the challenges of college. They know what their passions are and they’re committed to serving others. 

Others flounder in college in various ways. They end up hijacked by stress, escaping through video games or worse. Desperate for approval, they settle for shallow friendships. They are riddled by perfectionism and anxiety as they push harder and harder to make the grades that define their self-worth.

Why do some students soar while others get stuck? 

We must intentionally teach our children the skills and character traits they’ll need to thrive in college and beyond. We must teach them about their need for three things in particular: passion, humility, and trust in a sovereign God.

1. Passion

Many students are grade-obsessed, hoping to secure a glowing future. Those who launch well, however, are motivated by zeal. Their goals aren’t their parents’ dreams, nor the result of societal trends. God crafts each person in unique ways with particular qualities. Our hope is to help adolescents uncover their God-given passions and use them in ways that bless others and advance the kingdom.

Sadly, some students don’t see this type of passion modeled by the adults in their lives, and their dreams are lost on lesser pursuits. They’re driven by a desire for good grades, and that desire is later replaced by the goal of a larger paycheck or a nicer home. These things won’t ultimately satisfy because we’re meant for something more: the invigoration of working out of our God-given passions with an eye to eternal consequences. 

As educators, parents, and mentors we must ask questions and provide opportunities for kids to develop their interests. Creativity and service are gateways to discovering passion. For those exiting high school, an intentional gap year or internship might be a better initial path than college. A directed passion provides confidence, motivation, and a healthy sense of accomplishment. 

2. Humility

I tell my students, “Humility is the essential quality of a thriving human.” The world tells students, “You’re special. You can be the greatest.” This message is supposed to boost their self-esteem, but it often gets warped into a challege to prove their worth. To truly be special, they need to be the best player on the best team, get the best grades to get into the best university, and be the most popular with the most friends.  

Jesus spoke a counter-message. According to him, the one who serves is the greatest. Our children will have profound weaknesses, failures, and limitations. But while those limitations might prevent them from getting into Harvard or competing in the Olympics, they can still serve others. Teaching our children humility helps them value their ability to serve more than their ability to get into the limelight. That way, whether they wind up in the limelight or out of it, they’ll be centered on their value in Christ alone. 

3. Trust

Theology matters. It’s imperative in our homes to live out the fundamental belief that God is in control, especially because adolescents are paralyzed by fear of the future. Believe it or not, when I ask my 10th grade students, “Raise your hand if you think your entire future depends on your grades,” the majority of hands shoot up.

Parents believe this lie, too. We look to class loads, SAT scores, and report cards for our security, rather than trusting God’s plan for our kids. We’ve confused our role with God’s role; he determines our children’s course.

Parents, let’s examine the pressure we project. When teens see us panicking over their shortcomings, lack of organization, or weakness in a subject as if their entire future is at risk, our stress becomes their stress. But when we trust God with their future, there’s a good chance they will too.

Dawn Poulterer (MA Christian Counseling, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary) has been teaching and counseling for the last 20 years. She is presently living outside of Philadelphia working on a book, speaking engagements, and painting. You can find out more about her and at her blog or follow her on Instagram.

Fellow College Students, Please Join a Local Church

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 1:00am

Article by: Caroline Lee

What would you do if you saw a nose strutting down the street? You’d cry out, “Why are you not joined to a body?”

We should have the same reaction to Christian college students who are not joined to a local church.

In my early years of college, I lived like a detached nose. But when I learned the importance of church membership and joined a local congregation, I finally found where I belonged. I tasted the security of having pastors shepherd me and feed me God’s Word. I gained wisdom as older, faithful women discipled me. I felt the pleasure of serving others with my gifts and resources. Most of all, I was humbled by the truth that the church is the bride for whom Christ shed his blood.

How could I claim to love Christ while neglecting his treasured bride?

To my fellow college students, here are four biblical reasons you should join a local church where you’re currently living.

1. ​To be watched over by church leaders.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17).

College is a prime time to mature spiritually, but we cannot properly grow if we do not submit to church leaders who feed, shepherd, and protect us.

Many college students excuse themselves from church membership, believing the local church can be replaced by a parachurch ministry. However, a campus ministry (or a Christian university, for that matter) is not equivalent to the local church because God has not given it the same authority. Church leaders possess a special authority that involves guarding, guiding, and giving an account for souls. By not joining a church, we disregard God’s wise plan for us.

2. To be discipled by older church members.

“Older women likewise are . . . to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3–5).

My favorite memories of college life so far include sipping boba tea and chatting with older church members about marriage and family. There are very few contexts for students to develop relationships with people in a different life stage. College is a formative and transitionary season where we learn how to be adults. Trying to figure out adult life by only talking to other 20-year-olds will leave us unprepared for life and ministry. We need the advice and wisdom of older church members to help us learn and grow as we walk down paths they’ve already traveled.

Trying to figure out adult life by only talking to other 20-year-olds will leave us unprepared for life and ministry.

3. To build up the church.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–13).

College students have gifts and abilities that are uniquely suited to serve a local church. As the younger members of a congregation, we are energetic and innovative. We have artistic, athletic, and musical talents. We make good Ramen! We have a unique platform for evangelism, since we interact regularly with non-Christian students. We can find countless ways to contribute to the life of the church and build up the body of Christ.

4. To learn to love those Jesus loved.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25).

Some students shy away from pursuing church membership because they can’t find a church that meets their needs and wants. This consumer mindset is foreign to the Bible. Scripture teaches that the church is a group of people we prioritize and commit to. Instead of only looking for a church that meets our needs, we ought to look for a group of people we envision giving our lives for, just as Christ gave his life for the church.

God is glorified when the power of the gospel unites people who have little in common.

Part of this commitment involves giving ourselves to people we aren’t naturally inclined to. It’s a beautiful glimpse of heaven when an 80-year-old Costa Rican grandmother and a 23-year-old Chinese-American student sit in the same pew, sing the same songs, pray for one another, and eat around the same table. God is glorified when the power of the gospel unites people who have little in common.

These are just four of many reasons to join a local church in college. May the Lord grant you a fresh love for his bride—both for your good and for his glory.

What a profound kingdom impact there would be if more college students were committed to serving, loving, and treasuring the bride of Christ. 

Related:

Caroline Lee is a member of First Baptist Church of Hacienda Heights in Southern California. She is from South Korea and is currently a graduate student attending Biola University. 

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