Bell Creek Community Church

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

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David Murray blogs on ministry, leadership, preaching, counseling, technology, and theology.
Updated: 2 hours 50 min ago

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Thu, 04/19/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

A “Ten Commandments” Prayer
One for the closet.

Living the Christian Life with C. S. Lewis
Raving review of a new book.

Charles Spurgeon’s Call to Preach Christ in a Christly Manner
“As we share the gospel with friends and neighbors, Spurgeon reminds us that it is Christ—in all the multifaceted glories of his person and work—who must be the focal point of our message and the treasure we offer. And as we do that, we will properly adorn our message as we share Christ’s own zeal, Christ’s own courageous meekness and simplicity, and Christ’s own love for both God and neighbor.”

10 Things Teachers DID NOT Have to Deal With 10 Years Ago
“Something is wrong—very, very wrong. Teachers across the country at all grade levels, in all subjects, teaching a wide variety of student populations, can sense it. There is a pulse of dysfunction, a steady palpitation of doom that the path we are on is not properly oriented.”

Why you should Read the Westminster Confession of Faith
New online course. And you may also want to check out the regular podcast working it’s way through the Westminster Confession. The latest episode is on Christ’s Humiliation and Exaltation

PURITAN – All of Life to the Glory of God
New documentary/teaching film

Dear Church: Hear the Word of the Lord
Good word to the church about how to handle abuse.

Kindle Books

God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation by Starr Meade $2.99.

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More? Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior $0.99.

Beating the College Debt Trap: Getting a Degree Without Going Broke by Alex Chediak $1.99.

Technology and Our Relationship with God

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 2:00am

How do we thrive in Digital Babylon? That’s a question I’ve been asking for a long time and which I’ve begun to answer over a number of posts:

In that last post I proposed that the ultimate answer to digital technology is digital theology. I argued that:

If we want a deep, lasting, and spiritual solution, we need to learn and teach deep, lasting, and spiritual truths. Digital theology is the answer to digital technology; the oldest truths are the best rebuttal to the newest challenges. More Trinity is more effective than more technology.

However, we need more than more theology. We can have all the theology in the world without a relationship with God. The end is not deeper theology but a deeper relationship with God. The deeper and healthier our relationship with God, the more that satisfying friendship and communion will replace technology in our lives and also regulate it so that our use of it is more balanced and beneficial.

I’ve written elsewhere about 18 Obstacles to Personal Devotions in a Digital Age and also given 20 Tips for Personal Devotions in a Digital Age. But if you want just five tips that will give you the greatest return on investment it would be these:

1. Meet with God first and alone. Turn off your phone and avoid the computer before personal devotions. It’s absolutely vital that you meet with God before anyone else in the day. Keep your mind free of digital distractions.

2. Use a physical Bible. See Should I use a Phone for Personal Devotions for my argument against using digital devices for personal devotions. I would apply the same logic to using a paper Bible in Church too.

3. Use free moments to pray. Instead of reaching for your phone when at a traffic stop, in the bathroom, or in line, why not use these brief moments to pray.

4. Take a weekly digital Sabbath. Sunday is the ideal day to come apart from all the din and drama of the Internet and social media and set your mind and heart on things above. It will surprise you how little you miss, how little you are missed, and how much you will gain.

5. Memorize Scripture. Think how much Scripture you could memorize in a year if you even just halved the number of times you checked your email and social media.

Whatever ways help to deepen your relationship with God will also help to wean you off technology and help you use it in ways that glorify him.

Here’s a solemn message that gets to the heart of this.

Seven Marks of a Workaholic

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 2:00am

Workaholism is probably the most respectable sin in the Christian community, and maybe especially among pastors. In this Harvard Business Review podcast (and transcript) Nancy Rothbard, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, “draws a distinction between workaholism and working long hours. She explains the health consequences of being addicted to your work. She also gives practical advice for managing work addiction, whether it’s you who’s suffering, your direct report, boss, peer, or partner.”

Rothbard provides seven statements and says we should be worried if we often or always do at least four of them.

1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.

2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.

3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, and depression.

4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.

5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

6. You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.

7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

She makes a helpful distinction between working long hours and being a workaholic. Here’s how she puts it.

Bascially, long hours are 50 hours a week or more. So, there are some people who work a lot but they can turn off. They might even work once they get home, but if something is demanding their attention at home or if they, you know, need to go to the gym or they want to hang out with friends, they’re able to do that without ruminating on their work.

[Workaholism is more about] our attitude towards our work: how we think about our work, whether we dwell on it, whether we feel guilty when we’re not working. When you’re a workaholic, the work really looms large in your mind, and it can be really difficult to turn it off, even when you’re not actually working….There’s a strong correlation between working long hours and being a workaholic. So, I mean, you can be a workaholic without working long hours, but typically if you’re a workaholic, you are also working long hours.

See also Rothbard’s article  “How Being a Workaholic Differs from Working Long Hours — and Why That Matters for Your Health.” It has a fascinating section on the how the chronic stress levels associated with workaholism create a whole lot of  health dangers.

Here’s a quick explanation of why: To cope with stress, the body activates several systems (e.g., cardiovascular, neuroendocrine). So say you’re facing an important deadline. As you approach it, your stress hormones (e.g., cortisol), pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines (e.g., interleukin-6), and blood pressure would likely go up. But after the deadline, these would return to their original levels, known as the “set points.” When you’re working an excessive workload and continually pushing your system beyond its range, you may re-set your set points. Elevated blood pressure may become chronic, and cortisol levels stay elevated. When your biological systems keep working around elevated set points, you have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and even death.

In short, the body gets stuck in “fight-or-flight” mode which is ultimately exhausting and unsustainable and often leads to depression.

“But I love my job!”

Well, the researchers found that while loving your job does protect from some of the health risks, you are still at significantly increased risk of ill-health:

We wanted to see if enjoying the work mitigates the negative health effects of workaholism. Looking at the data from our study, we differentiated between workaholics who reported being highly engaged with their work — meaning they enjoyed their work, felt vigorous at work, and got easily absorbed in their work — and workaholics who reported low work engagement. We found that both types of workaholics reported more psychosomatic health complaints (e.g., headache, stomach problems) and mental health complaints (e.g., sleep problems, depressive feelings) than non-workaholics. However, non-engaged workaholics had higher RMS [Risk for Metabolic syndrome] — a 4.2% higher risk — than engaged workaholics.

Rothbard’s solutions?

1. Acknowledge when a relationship to work is unhealthy — when it feels out of control and is undermining outside relationships.

2. Regain control over your work behavior by setting clear rules for how many hours you will work each day.

3. Stop working two or three hours before bed.

4. Take up enjoyable non-work activities, such as seeing friends, watching a movie, reading a book, or learning a new skill, can also help you psychologically detach from work.

5. Reflect on the reasons why you work excessively and compulsively.

On this last point, the two most common reasons I’ve come across (also in my own heart), are idolatry and identity. By identity, I mean finding one’s significance in one’s work rather than in one’s spiritual status as justified and adopted by God through Christ.

To test yourself on this, what’s the first answer that comes to mind when you ask yourself “Who am I?” If your first and loudest answer is anything other than “I am a Christian” then someone has stolen your true identity and substituted a false one.

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Mon, 04/16/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

This Week, Speak the Name of Andrew Brunson, A Persecuted Brother in Turkey
The most important post of the week. “Please join us in standing with Brunson’s family and home church in lifting the name of Andrew Brunson to the God he serves.”

Social Media and Sin
“Theology recognizes that human hearts are curved inward, inclined to boast, and always looking for opportunities to prove their own self-righteousness. Human-computer interaction, UX, and user-centered design recognize that social media platforms should be designed to meet the wants and needs of real human users. Putting these two concepts in conversation with one another reveals why Facebook can be so dangerous. Facebook’s technology is designed to accommodate, encourage, and exploit human depravity. The “Like” button on Facebook is not there by chance; the “Like” button was created to satisfy our deep longing to be liked by others, lauded for our accomplishments, and acknowledged for our righteousness.”

I Used This Simple Chart To Prioritize My Crazy Busy Work Life
“This former media executive hated saying “no,” so she created a system that forced her to set boundaries.”

What Happens to Your Body on No Sleep
“In short, nothing good—and just one bad night can trigger a cascade of scary side effects.”

Mariah Carey Beat Stigma. You Can Too
Not recommending Mariah Carey as a model in anything other than her openness about mental illness.

“This week, singing star Mariah Carey made an announcement that was a long time in the making: back in 2001, she was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. She has recently made the decision to treat it and to share her story. Carey is not the first celebrity to acknowledge a struggle with mental illness, but she is one of the most high-profile people to do so. And she has struck a major blow in the fight against the crippling stigma that keeps so many people trapped behind fences of shame, fear, and isolating silence.”

Starting from zero
“Iraq’s Nineveh churches are retaking their towns from years of ISIS control, without guarantees of money, safety, or a future.

Steve Lawson on Preaching Without Notes

Kindle Books

Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies $2.99.

Exploring Grace Together: 40 Devotionals for the Family by Jessica Thompson $2.99.

Expedition 15: A Rebuilt Nation

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 7:26am

Here’s the video to show your kids at the end of Expedition 15 of Exploring the BibleIf you want to bookmark a page where all the videos will eventually appear, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

Check out

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 1:00am

Just a few articles, a number of books, and one conference.

Blogs

Yes, You Can Say ‘No’ in Ministry
“I found I’d been treating every need I encountered as an assignment from God. I never paused, questioned, or prayed about any of it; I just did and did and did some more. I felt broken and crushed by the weight of all the needs around me, and I often served out of compulsion, bitterness, or my own waning strength, never believing I could say ”no” in ministry and trust God as provider.”

Why Email Is So Stressful, Even Though It’s Not Actually That Time-Consuming
Three important practical lessons from a two week email audit.

How the church can make mental illness a topic of conversation
“LifeWay Research’s “Study of Acute Mental Illness and Christian Faith” observed that when family members were asked what local churches should do to assist them in supporting loved ones with mental illness, their number one response was, “Talk about it openly so that the topic is not so taboo.”"

Kindle Books

The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept by Mark Dever $4.99.

Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World by John Macarthur $4.99.

A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by John Piper $4.99.

When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy by John Piper $2.99.

Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ by J. Todd Billings $1.99.

Conference

If you’re in the Grand Rapids area and looking for something to do in what looks like a miserable weekend of weather, why not check out the PCRT Conference on the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of the Age. More details here. You can walk in and register.

The One Boast that God Approves Of

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 2:00am

I recently posted a tongue-in-cheek article about how to boast more effectively. It’s purpose was really to highlight how subtle, deceitful, and varied our boasting can be. But it was also to contrast with the Apostle Paul’s determination.

God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14).

Paul saw all the boasting that was going on in the world, especially in the religious world, and exclaimed “God forbid that I should ever boast. God prevent it, stop it, end it. May it never be.

But then there’s one exception. He introduces the only boast that God approves of: the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His exclamation and exception are linked. He knows that boasting obscures the cross of Christ and the Christ of the cross. But he also knows that boasting in the cross is the best safeguard against every other kind of boasting. If we’re boasting in the cross, we cannot boast about ourselves. If we’re boasting about ourselves, we’re not really boasting in the cross.

What is it to boast in the cross and why does Paul commend it. He commends boasting in the cross not only because it shrinks his ego, but because it magnifies God in all his glorious attributes.

It magnifies God’s truthfulness. Think of the multiple Old Testament promises that were fulfilled at the cross. Somebody counted between 50-60 in one day. The cross says, “God keeps his promises.”

It magnifies God’s patience. When we see how God punishes sin at the cross, we marvel at his long-suffering with the world up until that point and the world since that point.

It magnifies God’s generosity. In giving his Son he gave us himself.

It magnifies God’s wisdom in that God found a way to remain just yet justify the ungodly.

It magnifies God’s holiness by demonstrating that he will not close his eyes to sin, no matter where he sees it.

It magnifies God’s justice as he punishes Christ without mercy – exactly and perfectly and satisfyingly.

It magnifies God’s anger. There we see God’s terrifying anger as we see it in no other place.

It magnifies God’s power. We see it in the earthquake, the eclipse, and the resurrections of the saints. But we see it most of all in  his conquering of sin, death, and the devil, and in his delivery of sinners from his judgment.

It magnifies God’s love and grace. As Moses said, God loved us because he loved us (Deut. 7:7-8). That is all.

No wonder, Paul says, God forbid that I should boast in anything else other than the cross of Christ. Let it never, ever be!

Check out

Wed, 04/11/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

“The Pleasure of Boredom”
“Boredom has been described as one of the major spiritual problems of our time.  The hyper-stimulation that comes from our technology and our constant-entertainment mentality actually makes us more bored, since we become jaded and weary of it all, as stimulation eventually fails to stimulate.  But there is another sense in which a carefully-cultivated boredom can be an antidote to our harried minds.”

40 Questions to Help Discern Factors Contributing to Depression
A list of questions which might be helpful to ask the person who is struggling with depression. “As you will quickly realize, the questions are applicable to a multitude of struggles beyond depression.”

Five Lessons Learned from Counseling those with Anxiety
“Fear…Anxiety…Worry.  In the cursed world in which we live as fallen image bearers, this pattern can often be a part of the human experience.  Many times, it is caused by sinful unbelief or idolatry.  At other times, it is a physiological response and at other times, it’s a mixture of both.  Having spent years walking alongside many for whom anxiety is a reality, there are many lessons I have begun to glean.  Here are five of those lessons learned from counseling those with anxiety.”

What Made Paul Washer’s “Shocking Message” So Very Shocking?
Here’s an insightful analysis of a memorable sermon.

7 Reasons You Should Speak Without Using Notes
This is a bit overstated, and might discourage some men who just can’t preach without notes, no matter how much they want to. But hopefully it will at least encourage you to try to become less dependent on notes that you do use.

New Books

15 Things Seminary Couldn’t Teach Me by 15 ex-Seminarians. My commendation:

“I’ve come to realize that no matter how much seminary teaches us, there remain some massive lessons that no number of degrees can impart. Since the first step to learning is finding out what we do not know, open this book and begin a ministry-long educational journey in fifteen of the most important subjects of your life.”

Help for the New Pastor: Practical Advice for Your First Year of Ministry by Charles Malcolm Wingard. My commendation:

“This book will prove uniquely useful to new pastors. It cuts through the fog and confusion of the early days in a new church and lasers in on what simply must be done and how to do it well.”

Kindle Books

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung $2.99.

The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes  by Mark Dever $2.99.

The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness by Kevin DeYoung $2.99.

Learning Evangelism from Jesus by Jerram Barrs $3.99.

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung $2.99.

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs by J. I. Packer $3.99.

How to be a Better Boaster

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 2:00am

Have you ever tried boasting? It’s so deeply satisfying. Basically you spend your time showing how you are bigger, better, stronger, faster, wiser, and more wonderful than everyone else.

You can do it anywhere. You can boast at home, at school, at work, with friends, on the sports field, in the coffee shop, and on and on and on. It’s really limitless. Boasting has no boundaries or borders. You can even do it in church (I’ll give you some bonus tips on that below). One of the best places is social media; it’s been tailor made for boasters. And if you’re a bit shy, you can still boast in your own heart without anyone else knowing about it. That gives you such an amazing sense of smug self-satisfaction

Subjects? Take your pick; it’s endless. You can boast about your marriage, your children, your work ethic, your health, your brains, your degrees, your friends, your looks, your fashion sense, your income, your investments, your car, your house, your career, and you can even turn sufferings into a boast. As for tips for boasting in church, try letting everyone know how much money you give, how loving you are to the poor, how much you pray and read your Bible, how many charities you support, how spiritual you are, even how humble you are.

You want some examples? OK, here are some concrete ideas for your next steps:

Tell the same story again and again. “Did I ever tell you about when I won the ….(e.g. top student award)?” You can fill in the gap with anything, but just be sure to keep saying this again and again. It doesn’t matter if people have heard it before, because people often forget how brilliant we are.

You can also take a success and exaggerate for greater impact. Don’t just say, “I caught a fish.” Say, “I caught a huge fish and it took me all my strength and skill to get it in.”

And why not tell things publicly which many people think should be kept private. Here’s an example: “I evangelized ten people this week.” There’s some Bible verse about not doing our religious deeds before others, but obviously that doesn’t apply to evangelism. It will encourage others of course, to hear how good you are at this.

An old favorite is just to talk and talk about yourself and never ask questions of other people. Your life is far more interesting after all, and it would really be just a waste of time to hear what other people are doing. If they start talking, pretend to listen while you think up a way of breaking into the conversation and getting the spotlight back on yourself.

Then there’s one-upping and one-downing. They often go well together. One-upping is when you hear someone’s story and you better it. An example would be, “Oh you work fifty hours a week? I usually work seventy.” A favorite one-downer is something like, “They’re really not very good parents.” That has the benefit of not only putting other people down but also implying that you’re quite the expert on the topic. That’s quite subtle and not easy for boasters to pull-off, but with practice it can become really effective.

Try some story-topping as well. “You saved a hundred dollars at the sales? Great! That’s amazing! Believe it or not, I managed to save two hundred dollars, and really without trying.”

Numbers are key to boasting. You’ve got to get adept at counting people, dollars, degrees, clients, employees, years of service, and so on. This has become quite acceptable in church circles now, so don’t be shy. Numbers of baptisms, members, staff; size of budget, size of church building; how many missionaries sent, how many churches planted; how many books you’ve read, or written. Really, anything that makes you look better than other Christians or pastors. I heard someone the other day tell their pastor that they’d just managed to read their first volume of John Owen. I was really impressed with the pastor’s reply: “O, I finished all his works by age 13.” Perfect!

Drop some names here and there as well. “When I was at lunch with Donald the other day,” or “When I was counseling Oprah the other day.” Let them ask, “Donald who?” or “Not Oprah Winfrey?” and then you can kind of combine humility with your bragging.

Which brings me to the best boast of all – the humblebrag. Great name, eh? And great technique. Here’s how. “I’m so humbled that God gave me such an amazing talent.” Or “I can’t believe I get to preach to two thousand people every Sunday.” See how you can use humility to boast? It’s incredible isn’t it.

Virtue-signaling is a recent innovation, and we’re still refining it, but it’s a way of show-casing your own virtue to gain you higher standing in a social group. Some good ones I’ve seen on social media are: “Saying prayers for the poor in Africa,” or, “Grieving over global warming.”

Social media has also made it possible to boast without saying anything. Post pictures of top class restaurants, white sandy beaches, new cars, etc. Or post photos with people that will reflect well on you and make people think well of you.

Lastly, the old faithful, and the ultimate fall-back if all else fails, the Pharisee boast. “Lord I thank you that I’m not like other people….” You know how to finish it. What I like about this one is how easy it is to disguise thankfulness to self with thankfulness to God.

As you can see there’s no shortage of ways to boast. It’s pretty addictive actually. Just keep the ultimate aim in mind which is praise, respect, attention, promotion, recognition, and popularity. In fact, at heart, it’s really all about worship, self-worship and getting others to worship you. Try some of these ways I’ve suggested and you shall be as god.

Check out

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

You may be wondering why you’re not seeing so many Christian bogs in your Facebook feed. Tim Challies and Mike Leake’s articles below will help you understand what Facebook is doing and how you can beat it using Feedly.com.

Beating Facebook’s Algorithm and Being Your Own Curator

How Facebook Is Taking Away Your Freedom of Access

Can We Reconcile Justice and Forgiveness?
Rachael Den Hollander’s outstanding address at the Veritas Foundation at Harvard.

An Open Letter to the Hesitant Host
“Over the years, we have come to learn this. What stops us from practicing hospitality is our plenty, not our lack. We have too much, and we love too much what we have. Statistics have borne out this truth: meager homes and poor churches give and gather more; wealthy homes and upscale churches horde and micromanage more.”

Chris Moles Podcast on Domestic Violence
“Domestic violence is an extremely challenging issue to address. This week’s guest, Chris Moles, has over 17 years of experience dealing with this difficult topic. Chris has worked with the state and through the church to help both the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. He and Curtis discuss some of the issues related to this challenging topic and offer resources for further education.”

Google Spent years studying effective teams- this is what they found
“So what was the most important factor contributing to a team’s effectiveness? It was psychological safety. Simply put, psychological safety refers to an individual’s perception of taking a risk, and the response his or her teammates will have to taking that risk.”

Kindle Books

A number of volumes in Geerhardus Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics are on offer at $5.99.

Praying Backwards: Transform Your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus’ Name by Bryan Chapell $1.99.

Understanding the Bible by Dr. John R.W. Stott $2.99.

Expedition 14: A Captive Nation

Sat, 04/07/2018 - 7:01pm

Here’s the video to show your kids at the end of Expedition 14 of Exploring the BibleIf you want to bookmark a page where all the videos will eventually appear, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

Check out

Fri, 04/06/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

If They Fell, So Can You: How Sin Seduced the Strongest, Wisest, and Godliest
“We are tempted to think that the more powerful we become, the better we will battle sin. But the exact opposite is true. The more power, influence, or prestige we possess, the more temptable we are. The strength of sin feeds on our sense of strength.”

On Pastoral Failings and the Fallout“Let’s not waste these painful moments of sin and sorrow. Let’s not presume that we are above a fall. Instead, let’s persevere with a holy stamina in life and doctrine, so that Jesus is exalted and His people are edified.”

4 Lessons I Learned from My Dad, a Faithful Pastor for 37 Years
And in contrast to the first two articles: “A 37-year ministry in a single, small church is not splashy. But thanks to the long obedience of one ordinary man, I came to know and love Christ the Savior of sinners, to cherish Christ as he is revealed in his Word, to love the church for which Christ died, and to desire to serve Christ in all the circumstances of my life.”

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
“While many Christians are rightly concerned about the growth of religions such as Islam, the greatest threat to orthodox Christianity is not other religions but false teachers who creep into the church unnoticed.”

How To Control Your Calendar
“We should be reluctant to blame God, however, for our clogged calendars when they are often caused by our own procrastination or poor planning. In my last LifeWay Pastors post I listed, “take control of your calendars” as one of the ways I keep from getting overwhelmed. Today I want to share how I try to control my calendar throughout the year.”

How to Avoid Living a Fragmented Life
“We are truly whole, individually and corporately, in Christ already. His wholeness has been declared true for us as persons and as a people. So how should we then live? We lay hold of those promises in Christ, and we repent toward the wholeness that we have in Him. We confidently pursue the wholeness to which we have been saved.”

Where Did the Pope Come From?
“The world, both religious and secular, seems to yearn for a global figure that no political institution and no international organization can provide at the moment. Therefore, Protestants are pressed with the question, Does the world need a leader in order to live in peace? It’s a question that continues to be posed to Bible-believing Christians, especially in times when the pope attracts much attention and is looked at as being one of the few, if not the only one, who can speak on behalf of all. The troublesome reality, however, is that the pope continues to claim religious and political roles that are biblically unwarranted. As the church does not need a mere human pope to be united, so the world does not need a global religious leader, other than Christ himself, to live in peace. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). The church and the world need Jesus Christ, and him alone.”

In My Place Condemned He Stood
Excellent article from Kevin DeYoung on penal substitution.

One Pastor’s Sermon Preparation Process
“Preparing a sermon week after week is a lot of work. Preaching a sermon week after week is also a pure joy. This past week I posted pictures of my sermon preparation process on Twitter, and several pastors and church leaders commented that it was helpful for them. I figured I would publish this blog post with a little explanation for each step.”

Kindle Books

The Cross and Christian Ministry: An Exposition of Passages from 1 Corinthians by D. A. Carson $1.99.

Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together by R. C. Sproul $1.99.

Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World by David F. Wells

What’s Baptism All About?

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 1:00am

Here’s another video from my recent trip to Israel.

Untitled

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

10 Most Significant Discoveries in the Field of Biblical Archaeology
“Biblical archaeology is a wide field offering modern readers fascinating insights into the everyday lives of people mentioned in the Bible. While archaeological findings don’t prove the truth of Scripture, they do have the potential to enrich our understanding and draw us into the world of the biblical writers—giving us a glimpse of the ancient world behind the living Word. Here are the ten most significant discoveries in the field of biblical archaeology:”

Special Needs Kids Don’t Need Special Parents
“The God of Moses calls us to the “impossible” task of special needs parenting so that we may demonstrate his greater power that is at work within us. In spite of our glaring inadequacy and lack, God will do what only a supernatural God can do. He is God. We are not. It is his responsibility to assign, transform, provide, and deliver.”

Signs of over-hyped psychotherapy treatment? | Musings of a Christian Psychologist
“Donald Meichenbaum and Scott Lilienfeld have recently published a short essay entitled: How to spot hype in the field of psychotherapy: A 19-item checklist. This can be helpful for both counselors and future clients who are both hungry for finding “what works.”"

Why I Almost Didn’t Write the Book AND Why I Have Already Struggled to Promote It
“In the last several weeks, multiple leaders I love and respect have been in the public spotlight for moral failure or accusations of moral failure. I did not want to tweet promotions for the book in the midst of articles being posted online, partly because I don’t want to be perceived as opportunistic, but even more so (I believe this is my motivation) because I don’t want to add to their hurt. They know they have fallen. They are in the middle of the fallout from their implosion and I don’t want to add to their pain. I also don’t want to help foster our obsession with watching leaders fall.”

Let’s Rethink Our Language of ‘Calling’
“Here are four ways to think about calling that can help us pave a more helpful way forward.”

The Spirit’s Role: The Life of Jesus
“Most of the time when we think of the earthly life of Jesus, we think of how he demonstrated his power and manifest that he was the Son of God. On occasion, we think about how he demonstrated his humility in the weakness of his incarnation particularly at Gethsemane and Golgotha. One area we often overlook is the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ.”

Watchfulness: Recovering a Lost Spiritual Discipline
“Watchfulness consists of four essential ingredients: wakefulness, attentiveness, vigilance, and expectancy. Watching involves staying awake both morally and spiritually; paying attention to God’s word, to our own souls, and especially to Christ Himself; maintaining vigilance against our mortal enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil; and hoping in the Lord—in His promises and His return.”

Does the Old Testament Teach Resurrection Hope?
“We need to read the Bible like Jesus did. He looked into the pages of the Old Testament and saw a God of life, whose power prevails over the grave.”

Kindle Books

Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1–8 by John Fesko $2.99.

How We Got the Bible by Neil R. Lightfoot $2.39.

Free Audiobook of Reset: Grace-Paced Living in a Burnout Culture

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 2:00am

Christian Audio have chosen Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture their free audiobook for April. Get it here.

Huge Study says “Anti-Depressants Work”

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 2:00am

The biggest ever study of anti-depressants has found that they reduce symptoms of depression and are more effective than placebos. The findings also included the first ever league tables comparing different antidepressants, confirming that they all work, but some less well-known drugs work better than well-known ones like Prozac.

Here’s how the BBC reported it:

Scientists say they have settled one of medicine’s biggest debates after a huge study found that anti-depressants work.

The study, which analysed data from 522 trials involving 116,477 people, found 21 common anti-depressants were all more effective at reducing symptoms of acute depression than dummy pills.

You can read reports on the research here and here and you can access the original paper here.

The research, led by Oxford University, and published in The Lancet, the most prestigious British medical journal, examined 522 trials involving 21 types of anti-depressant medication and 115,000 patients over almost four decades, most of whom had moderate to severe depression.

Importantly, the paper analysed unpublished data held by pharmaceutical companies, and showed that the funding of studies by these companies does not influence the result, thus confirming that the clinical usefulness of these drugs is not affected by pharma-sponsored spin.

The researchers suggest much of the opposition to prescribing of such medications came from an “ideological” standpoint rather than an assessment of the evidence.

Expert Reaction

You can read some of the expert reaction to the research here. Some extracts below:

Lead author Dr Andrea Cipriani said he was “very excited” about the findings, which he said provided a “final answer” to controversy over the effectiveness of the drugs.

Prof Carmine Pariante, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience and spokesperson for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “This meta-analysis finally puts to bed the controversy on antidepressants, clearly showing that these drugs do work in lifting mood and helping most people with depression…For the millions of individuals with depression who are taking antidepressants at present, or will need to take antidepressants in the future, it confirms that these drugs are safe and effective.”

Prof Anthony Cleare, Professor of Psychopharmacology and  Affective Disorders, King’s College London, said  the study “puts to bed the idea that antidepressants don’t work – all 21 antidepressants were more effective than placebo at treating depression.”

Prof David Taylor, Professor of Psychopharmacology, King’s College London, said: “This analysis of a huge number of studies of antidepressants confirms that they are much more effective than placebo – itself a powerful treatment in depression. Differences between antidepressants are smaller, although newer drugs tend to be better tolerated.

Dr James Warner, Reader in Psychiatry, Imperial College London, said: “This rigorous study confirms that antidepressants have an important place in the treatment of depression.

Some Caveats

Some of the cautions in relation to the report included the following:

  • Researchers added that most of the data in the meta-analysis covered eight weeks of treatment, so the findings might not apply to longer-term use.
  • They said it did not mean that anti-depressants should always be the first form of treatment.
  • Medication should always be considered alongside other options, such as psychological therapies, where these are available.

The Role of Meds

I state my own view on the role of medication in the treatment of depression in Chapter eight of Refresh: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. The main points are:

  • Don’t rush to meds
  • Don’t rule it out
  • Don’t wait too long to consider it
  • Don’t expect rapid results
  • Don’t rely on meds alone (the most important point of all)
  • Don’t dwell on side-effects
  • Don’t obsess about getting off them
  • Don’t come off them too quickly
  • Don’t be ashamed of them

I’ve summarized and simplified some of the most recent ground-breaking research into depression herehere, and here.

For a simple accessible Christian guide to medications, see Dr. Mike Emblett’s excellent book, Descriptions and Prescriptions.

Postscript

Some of the alarming mental health stats I picked up in my reading about this report include:

  • Although 1 in 5 people will suffer a mental health problem this year only one in six patients suffering from depression receive treatment.
  • The average age of onset for depression is 14, as diagnosed now, compared to 45 in the 1960s
  • The number of young people who talked about suicide during Childline (UK) counselling sessions in 2013/14 rose 116% compared to 2010/11
  • “Eighty per cent of people stop anti-depressants within a month,” he said, when effects normally took at least two months, he said.
  • Because of inadequate resources, antidepressants are used more frequently than psychological interventions.

Expedition 13: Songs in the Midst of Sadness

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 2:00am

Here’s the video to show your kids at the end of Expedition 13 of Exploring the BibleIf you want to bookmark a page where all the videos will eventually appear, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible. Thanks to Darryl Bradford, Video Producer/Editor at PRTS for all his work on these videos.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 2:00am

I was talking with a military leader recently about the growing number of devastating moral failures among prominent Christian leaders. He mentioned to me a training seminar he attended on “The Bathsheba Syndrome” and its application in the military context. I asked him to send me further info and he emailed me the article (online version here) co-authored by Dean Ludwig, Assistant Professor of Management and Director of the Center for Family Business at the University of Toledo, and one of his colleagues, Clinton Longenecker.

The article is not written from a Christian perspective but uses the biblical narrative to describe this syndrome because of people’s familiarity with the story. The main points of the research are:

  • Reports of ethical violations by upper level managers continue to multiply despite increasing attention being given to ethics by firms and business schools.
  • There are many examples of good, respected, successful leaders, men and women of intelligence, talent, and vision who suddenly self-destruct as they reach the apex of their careers.
  • Most cases are usually gross violations, which the leaders know are wrong while in the act of perpetration, but they mistakenly believe they have the power to conceal.
  • Most of these leaders are men and women of generally strong principle who have built careers based more on service than self-gratification.
  • The most common cause is not lack of operational principles or the willingness to abandon principles in the face of competitive pressure.
  • Rather, ethical violations by upper managers are the by-product of success. 
  • Power dements even more than it corrupts, lowering the guard of foresight and raising the haste of action.
  • Research suggests that many managers are poorly prepared to deal with success.

Why is this? The paper offers four explanations based upon the David and Bathsheba narrative.

1. Success often allows managers to become complacent and to lose focus, diverting attention to things other than the management of their organization.

2. Success, whether personal or organizational, often leads to privileged access to information, people or objects.

3. With success usually comes increasingly unrestrained control of organizational resources.

4. Success can inflate a manager’s belief in his or her personal ability to manipulate outcomes.

David’s inflated self-confident belief in his own personal ability to manipulate the outcome of this story is probably representative of the attitude of many of today’s professionally trained managers of business. Trained in attitude and technique to “get things done” and “make things happen,” todays’ business school graduates often possess a dangerously inflated self-confidence.

Even individuals with a highly developed moral sense can be challenged (tempted?) by the “opportunities” resulting from the convergence of these four dynamics.

The authors draw seven lessons from David’s sad experience. The most important are:

1. Leaders are in their positions to focus on doing what is right for their organization’s short-term and long-term success. This can’t happen if they aren’t where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing.

2. Attempts to cover-up unethical practices can have dire organizational consequences including innocent people getting hurt, power being abused, trust being violated, other individuals being corrupted, and the diversion of needed resources.

3. Not getting caught initially can produce self-delusion and increase the likelihood of future unethical behavior.

4. Getting caught can destroy the leader, the organization, innocent people, and everything the leader has spent his/her life working for.

The authors conclude that organizations must re-evaluate and change structures, procedures, and practices which enhance the likelihood of managers falling victim to the Bathsheba Syndrome.

Some of the advice includes:

1. Realize that living a balanced life reduces the likelihood of the negatives of success causing you to lose touch with reality. Family, relationships, and interests other than work must all be cultivated for long-term success to be meaningful.

2. Build an ethical team of managers around you who will inspire you to lead by example and who will challenge or confront you when you need either.

3. At the board level, directors should have a concern for the leader’s personal/psychological balance. This can include forced vacations, outside activities, and periodic visits to counselors to help the leader keep both feet planted on the ground.

Needless to say, the lessons for CEO’s, boards, and businesses can easily be transferred to pastors, elders, and churches.

May God keep us!

Check out

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 1:00am
Blogs

Depression Increases Risk of Common Arrhythmia
Depression affects an estimated 16 million Americans, and the mental health issue has been linked to an increasing number of physical ailments in recent years. The new study, conducted by the American Heart Association, revealed that those who were on antidepressants or scored in the highest category for depression symptoms were 30 percent more at risk for atrial fibrillation. Exactly how depression affects heart health remains unclear, researchers said, but several possibilities have been suggested.

“Depression can induce a variety of changes in the body [by] increasing the levels of inflammation in the body, activating the autonomic nervous system which increases the catecholamine levels in our body, activating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which increases the cortisol levels in our body, and activating the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system,” Garg told MD Magazine.

See also How Does Depression Affect the Heart.

9 Bible Verses for Depression to Shine Light into Darkness
It’s not the only answer, but it’s usually part of it.

Food to feed your MIND: 7 diet tweaks that help fight depression and anxiety
“According to the Mental Health Foundation, those who reported a mental health problem of any degree also reported a less healthy diet, in terms of fresh fruit and vegetables and cooking from scratch but included more unhealthy foods such as crisps, chocolate, ready meals and takeaways.

A systematic review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that high intakes of fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains are associated with a reduced risk of depression.

It’s no coincidence that the rise in mental health problems in the last 50 years also accompanies a rise in the consumption of processed foods and less fresh fruits and vegetables.”

James Packer: Resignation puts focus on ‘high-flier’ mental health
Australian billionaire James Packer has received much public praise since quitting his gaming empire due to mental health reasons. His resignation has also prompted discussion about mental health at the top of business. In connection with that, here’s lots of good advice from the Harvard Business Review on When You Need to Take Time off Work for Mental Health Reasons

Just because you don’t know of anyone else at your company who has taken time off for mental health reasons doesn’t mean there isn’t precedent. Diagnosable mental health conditions impact one in five Americans in any given yearTreatment for the most common conditions (namely depression) is effective 80% of the time, but fewer than half of the people who need help get it, often because of social stigma, the fear of repercussions at work, or lack of access to quality, affordable care.

New Book

How to Break up with Your Phone by Catherine Price. The first half of the book delves into how phones and apps are designed to be addictive and the research regarding how the time we spend on them damages our abilities to focus, think deeply, and form new memories. The second half of the book then follows with the antidote – a 30-day guide to making customized changes to your settings, apps, environment, and mindset that will enable you to take back control of your life.

Kindle Books

Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Foreword by John Piper): Three Classic Works by John Owen $2.99.

The Mark of the Christian (IVP Classics) by Francis A. Schaeffer $2.99.

A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering by Michael Horton $2.99.

Quote of the Day

I admire Jordan Peterson’s courage, I’m grateful for his stand against political correctness, and I’m deeply moved by his genuine and practical compassion for young men. But, in my humble opinion, his best-selling book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is largely gobbledegook. I’ve rarely seen so many words, and so much complexity, used to communicate such simple common sense ideas. There are gems here and there, but you have to dig long and hard to get to them underneath the amalgam of weird Scripture interpretation, evolutionary science, and psychological mumbo-jumbo. For example, one early paragraph on sleep resonated with my own experience of counseling people with depression:

I always ask my clinical clients first about sleep. Do they wake up in the morning at approximately the time the typical person wakes up, and at the same time every day? If the answer is no, fixing that is the first thing I recommend. It doesn’t matter so much if they go to bed at the same time each evening [I disagree with that. DPM], but waking up at a consistent hour is a necessity. Anxiety and depression cannot be easily treated if the sufferer had unpredictable daily routines. The systems that mediate negative emotions are tightly tied to the properly cyclical circadian rhythms.

I couldn’t agree more. Sleep is about the first area I ask about (it’s usually a mess), and fixing that and establishing a regular daily rhythm can pay quick and big dividends.

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