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.
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Four Steps to Good Habits (and breaking bad ones)

Fri, 01/04/2019 - 2:00am

Find it hard to start good habits? Find it even harder to stop bad habits? Yeh, me too. So we just need to try harder don’t we? But what does that actually mean? What do we actually do? What steps should we take?

The core of James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, is a four-step analysis of how habits are formed (and broken). It’s an extremely important cycle to understand not only for our own sanctification, but also if we are involved in counseling people away from bad habits and towards good habits.

Step 1: Cue. The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. It is a bit of information that predicts a reward and therefore leads to a craving. (47-8)

Step 2: Craving. Without some level of motivation or desire—without craving a change—we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers. (48)

Step 3: Response. This is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior. 48-9

Step 4: Reward. Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy our craving and (2) they teach us…which actions are worth remembering in the future. Hence a habit is created.

 In summary, the cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. Together, these four steps form a neurological feedback loop—cue, craving, response, reward; cue, craving, response, reward—that ultimately allows you to create automatic habits. (50-51)

Having analyzed the four steps of habit creation, Clear then suggests four laws of habit creation and four laws for breaking bad habits.

How to create a good habit

  • The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
  • The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
  • The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
  • The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.

So, if you want to start a good habit at the beginning of 2019 ask yourself: How can I make it obvious? How can I make it attractive? How can I make it easy? How can I make it satisfying? (54). Ask the same questions if you are counseling someone towards better habits with food, money, technology, etc.

How to Break a Bad Habit

  • Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible.
  • Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive.
  • Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult.
  • Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying. (54)

As above with good habits, ask yourself regarding bad habits: How can I make it invisible? How can I make it unattractive? How can I make it difficult? and How can I make it unsatisfying?

Anyone with a sound biblical worldview can find many ways to “Christianize” each of these steps and can find many biblical and spiritual resources to enhance each step of good habit formation and to effectively break bad habits. Christians should therefore be far better at breaking bad habits and starting good ones than non-Christians.

Too often, we simply tell ourselves or others, “Just try harder.” But neither we nor they know where to start or what to do. What Clear does is identify the specific areas in which to focus our attention and therefore the specific questions to ask and the specific work required. In the following chapters, each of these steps is examined in more detail. We’ll follow Clear’s structure in further blog posts, suggesting ways that Christians can learn from him and improve upon him.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

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Fri, 01/04/2019 - 1:00am

What the ‘Quarter-Life Crisis’ Says About Young Adults in Your Church
“The networking website LinkedIn found that 75 percent of 25- to 33-year-olds report having a quarter-life crisis. I’m one of them.”

Still Saints
Great to see Desiring God tackling this weighty subject, and none better to do so than the wisest and most compassionate counselor I’ve ever met, Dr. Eric Johnson.

“About one in ten people suffers from a personality disorder, a deeply ingrained, long-standing dysfunction that forms part of the structure of someone’s personality. Although people with personality disorders often struggle to find long-term healing, the gospel of Jesus Christ, communicated by skilled counselors and patient friends, provides unique therapeutic resources that can, over time, bind up the most broken personalities.”

How Total Depravity Changed My Life
“Only through total depravity do the beauties of unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints come into their full glory. Only through understanding how indebted we are in Adam do we ever even begin to perceive how deeply loved we are in Christ.”

Caring for a Friend with a History of Promiscuity and/or Abortion
Brad Hambrick tackles the question: “What does the process of redemption and restoration look like for a person scarred by a past that includes multiple sex partners and abortions?”

Diverse Theologians to Read in 2019
Thabiti provides “a short list of theologians and leaders from differing ethnic backgrounds for those who may be interested to diversify their reading lists.”

10 Exciting Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology in 2018
“This past year brought numerous discoveries that supported biblical accounts and provided context for other scriptural knowledge. Here are 10 of the top discoveries from 2018.”

Prison Was My First Pulpit……
This is quite the story. “Linda Barkman was incarcerated after the man she lived with murdered her toddler. But she turned hardship into ministry.”

How protected is your teen from finding pornography online?
“Take this quiz to see how protected your teen is. While not every question may provide an answer that fits you exactly, choose the one closest to your reality.  ”

Why Pray for the Media?
“Why pray for the media? The answer is simple. Because God answers prayers offered up for the media. Consider that in 2018 two of the heralded heroes of Sports Illustrated, Time, ESPN and other major media outlets were Rachael Denhollander and Tyler Trent. Both are Christians who have suffered immensely, and have persevered and/or continue to persevere. In various ways, they were heard in 2018 and still are being heard because of their faith.”

Kindle Books

31 Days toward Trusting God  by Jerry Bridges $2.99.

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne $0.79.

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared C. Wilson $0.79.

The Freedom of Daily Devotions

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 2:00am

I’ve heard it argued that daily devotions are a bondage, that daily Bible reading and prayer is a legalistic imposition that restricts a Christian’s freedom. Though not a Christian book, James Clear’s Atomic Habits demonstrates why the opposite should be the case.

He turns to neuroscience to explain that as habits are created, the level of activity in the brain decreases. Habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity, so we can allocate our attention to other tasks (46).

For example, how much brain activity is involved in turning the ignition key, putting the car into reverse, and easing out of the garage? Very little, if you’ve been doing that for many weeks, months, or years. But this frees the brain to concentrate entirely on looking for pedestrians and other cars.

“Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it. In fact, the people who don’t have their habits handled are often the ones with the least amount of freedom. Without good financial habits, you will always be struggling for the next dollar. Without good health habits, you will always seem to be short on energy. Without good learning habits, you will always feel like you’re behind the curve. If you’re always being forced to make decisions about simple tasks—when should I work out, where do I go to write, when do I pay the bills—then you have less time for freedom. It’s only by making the fundamentals of life easier that you can create the mental space needed for free thinking and creativity.” (46-7)

“Conversely, when you have your habits dialed in and the basics of life are handled and done, your mind is free to focus on new challenges and master the next set of problems. Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future.” (46-7).

Now apply that to daily devotions. If we have a good regular routine in the morning, we are engaging in numerous habits without even thinking about it.

Alarm goes off > get up > brush teeth > shave > shower > dress > coffee > breakfast > devotions.

The same routine, the same habits, each and every day. There’s no internal debate over each step, there’s no cognitive fuel used up in the process. There’s no “should I/shouldn’t I” argument. This frees the mind to focus on listening to God in his Word and speaking to God in prayer. Far from a bondage, this is freedom. The bondage is the daily debate, the daily guilt-trip when devotions are forgotten because not scheduled, and the daily battle to find a few minutes wherever whenever.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

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Thu, 01/03/2019 - 1:00am

The Rhythms of Grace
“As you look back over the past year and find yourself puzzling over why God did what He did, turn from what happened to the Who behind all that happened. This will strengthen you as you press into the new year before you. And when you hit confusing trials in the year ahead, and begin to doubt the goodness of God, pause and remember all you know about Him, for He is infinitely worthy of your trust.”

A Holiday Miracle
If you care for someone with mental illness, you want to read this deeply moving article.

A Simple 3-Step Bible Reading Plan for Children
“To develop a biblical worldview, we need to saturate our minds in Scripture. This requires repeatedly reading and engaging with the Bible throughout our lifetime. The earlier we begin reading the Bible the more time we have for God’s Word to seep into the marrow of our souls. That’s why helping a child to develop the habit of Bible reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.”

Is Saving the Earth More Important than Saving Souls? (The Ten Commandments of Progressive Christianity #10). – Canon Fodder
“We finally come to the tenth and last “commandment” of progressive Christianity and this one is a classic: “Life in This World is More Important than the Afterlife.”"

The Internet’s Gifts in 2018
“While probably idiosyncratic and not very comprehensive, this seemed like a good day to reflect on some of the blessings God’s brought my way through the internet. Though I love a good internet-bashing session, it remains an incredible tool by which a discerning Christian can gain many good things. In no certain order, here are things the internet gave in 2018 for which I remain grateful.” And if you need more help, here’s a list of the Top 100 Technologies. Not saying they are all good, but they are certainly influential.

The Tech-wise family: A conversation about parenting and family
And if you want help with managing that technology, Russell Moore interviews Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place which is on sale today for only $2.99 (Kindle version).

The Bible as an app: One man’s quest to have everyone engaging with Scripture
Another good-news tech story

“As of the day of our interview, 315 million unique devices had installed The Bible App. “And it is growing by about four million new devices every month.” Even more amazing is that most of the app’s growth is outside of North America. “We have a lot of growth happening—I mean triple-digit growth happening—in many, many regions of the world [like] India, Russia, Syria, Central Africa, Brazil,” Gruenewald pointed out. In fact, “it has been used in every single country and territory on earth.”"

And then there’s the bad and the ugly What Facebook Knows about You. You probably don’t want to know, but you should.

New Book

2 Samuel (Reformed Expository Commentary) by Richard D Phillips. One of my favorite series of commentaries and one of my favorite commentators.

Kindle Books

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place $2.99.

Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer: In Our Homes, Communities, and Churches $2.99.

Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken $2.99.

Where does our identity come from?

Wed, 01/02/2019 - 2:00am

Yesterday’s post highlighted James Clear’s insight that the key to permanent behavior change is changing our identity:

“True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity…Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are” (34).

But this raises the huge question of where does our sense of identity come from? How do we, in Clear’s words, “upgrade and expand our identity”?

Clear’s answer is that it emerges out of our habits. “Your habits are how you embody your identity” (36). Your identity is your repeated actions.

How unsatisfyingly circular! We change our habits by changing our identity….which we change by changing our habits!

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity” (38).

“Habits are the path to changing your identity. The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do” (38).

It’s not a one-off action but a repeated action that changes our identity, Clear explains. We change who we are by changing what we do. And as these habits mount up, the evidence mounts up, and our story that we tell ourselves begins to change too. We become our habits

Clear admits that it’s a reinforcing feedback loop as identity influences habits and vice versa. Later, he reduces it to a simple two-step process:

  • Decide the type of person you want to be.
  • Prove it to yourself with small wins. (39)

Identity is therefore derived from our decisions and our deeds. We become our habits. We define ourselves.

How different to the Christian approach to identity which rests on a divine definition; not on what we decide or do, but on what God decides and what God does. The Christian’s identity is based upon God’s decision and God’s deeds. He elects his people in Christ, redeems them in Christ, saves them in Christ, adopts them in Christ, sanctifies them in Christ, and glorifies then in Christ. That’s why Paul can’t stop describing Christians as “in Christ” (see Ephesians 1).

With such an incredible identity, how much more powerful should be the motivation to change our behavior. What a foundation to build upon. Not the shaky creaky foundation of our own decisions and deeds, but God’s acceptance and action.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Beating Bad Habits with a New Identity

Tue, 01/01/2019 - 2:00am

One of the most “Christian” sections in James Clear’s Atomic Habits is his teaching on the importance of changing our identity if we are to change our habits. When I say “Christian,” I’m not saying that Clear is coming at this from a Christian perspective. What I am saying is that the most recent scientific research into habits confirms what the Bible has taught for millennia.

For example, the Apostle Paul said:

“Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (Rom. 6:11-12).

Paul is urging Christians to change their sense of identity, to establish new thoughts about who they are, to view themselves as dead to sin and alive to Christ. And the more they do so, the more they will dethrone sin and weaken its power.

2000 years later, James Clear depicts the three levels at which change can occur as layers of an onion:

  • Layer 1. Identity: This is the centre of the onion and involves changing our beliefs, our worldview, our self-image, our judgments.
  • Layer 2. Processes: The next layer is changing your habits and systems. This is the habits layer.
  • Layer 3. Outcomes: The outside layer is changing your results. This is the goals layer.

He explains, “Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe” (30-31).

Clear says that each of these levels are involved in change but most people start with goals (what they want to achieve/what they want to do) rather than identity (what they believe/who they are). But, Clear argues, the more we start with identity, who we want to become, the more change we will see.

“It’s hard to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behavior. You have a new goal and a new plan, but you haven’t changed who you are” (31).

The key to change, then, is identity change. For example, instead of saying, “I’m trying to stop smoking,” say, “I’m not a smoker.”

“True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity…Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are” (34).

The goal is not to stop or start something, it’s to become someone. Behaviors are a reflection of our identity. “Research has shown that once a person believes in a particular aspect of their identity, they are more likely to act in alignment with that belief” (34).

Do you see how “Pauline” this teaching is? It’s just a pity that it took a couple of thousand years to catch up! That’s not to say, we can’t learn from what Clear teaches. Not at all. Clear is simply finding and describing truth that God has put into the world and human nature and is describing it in ways that can help us fill out the details of Paul’s teaching in Romans 6.

If somebody comes to us and asks, “How do I implement Romans 6:11-12?” while our theological explanation of Christian identity will come from the Bible, some of the guidance for practical application could easily come from Clear’s book. It certainly helped me to understand the effective outworking of these verses a lot more than most commentaries have.

This connection between identity and habit also raises serious questions about Christians identifying as “gay Christians” or saying, “I’m an alcoholic.” Making even sinful temptation a core part of our identity can only make it far more likely that we will end up in sinful practice. As Clear says:

“Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity” (36).

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

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Tue, 01/01/2019 - 1:00am

Skip Resolutions in 2019—Make a Rule of Life
Excellent article with which to begin the new year.

“A Rule of Life contains spiritual, relational, and vocational rhythms needed to sustain the life in Christ we’ve been called to, and it doesn’t change much year in and year out. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the Rule or hasn’t created one, January 1 provides the perfect time to establish your own Rule of Life.”

How I Write Sermons
I never recommend copying someone else’s sermon preparation process but there’s always something to learn. Here Russell Moore explains how he prepares sermons.

Join Analog Social Media
“In the spirit of the New Year, that I suggest you make a simple resolution: join analog social media. As I’ve discussed before, analog social media describes organizations, activities and traditions that require you to interact with interesting people and encounter interesting things in the real world.”

25 Non-Christian Press Books from 2018 that Christians Should Read
A list of 25 books published in 2018 that are not “Christian books” and yet in various ways Christian leaders would benefit from reading.

Martin Luther’s Personal Letter to a Close Friend Struggling with Spiritual Despair
“The following is from a letter written in July 1530 to Jerome Weller, a 31-year-old friend who had previously lived in the Luther home, tutored his children, and was now struggling with spiritual despair:”

Lessons from a failed business and trying in the New Year
Brave article from Trillia Newbell:

“It’s the end of the year and I imagine some of you entering in with a bit of fear. You have ideas, goals, and plans but you are afraid to try. I get it. In the past I have been hesitant to set goals or resolutions because of the fear of failure. Why bother? you tell yourself, I’m not going to complete my goals or keep my resolutions anyway. And perhaps that’s true. But I’d like to also encourage you that trying isn’t failing and that failing doesn’t mean trying isn’t worthwhile.”


Here’s a good book to start 2019.

The Money Challenge by Art Rainer $2.99.

Exalting Jesus in Isaiah $2.99.

Forget Life Goals?

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 2:00am

Remember that list of new resolutions you wrote up a year ago? Did you achieve them?

If you focused only on goals, you probably failed. If you focused on systems and processes you probably succeeded. That’s the argument that habit-expert James Clear makes in Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.

He insists that setting specific actionable goals is not the key to success. Rather, it is to develop systems.

“Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results” (23).

He points to the fact that winners and losers have the same goals. The difference between them is the system or process they are using to achieve that goal. “Goals,” explains Clear, “are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress” (24).

The classic example is dieting. If the goal is If the aim is to lose ten pounds then happiness is restricted to the moment of attaining that, it is a momentary change, and it’s likely to lead to the “yo-yo effect.”

However, if the focus is more on the process of healthy eating, then happiness can be found in every step and day of the process, the change is more likely to be achieved, and the change is more likely to be permanent.

I think Clear overstates his case here. Goals are still useful. However, he’s right that without a plan for getting there, goals are unlikely to be achieved. He’s right that there needs to be a much greater focus on process.

For example, if we simply set a goal of having a happier marriage in 2019, without any plan, without any thought for the process needed to achieve that, it’s not going to happen. But if that’s broken down into simple, small, daily steps, each day of following the steps will not only give us a motivational boost, but we will be much more likely to achieve the goal and maintain it.

Perhaps you want to preach better sermons in 2019. Very good. How are you going to get there? What process will you use? What books are you going to read? What preachers are you going to listen to? What courses are you going to take? What critique are you going to invite? Who will you ask for feedback? What criteria will you give them?

Clear’s book is called Atomic Habits, not only because of its advocacy for multiple small changes, but because the accumulation of these multiple small changes can eventually explode into a radical new world.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

An Open Letter to the Depressed Christian at Christmas

Wed, 12/19/2018 - 2:00am

Dear Friend,

Depression is tough at the best of times. Perhaps it’s the best of times, such as holiday times, when it’s especially tough. The thought of mixing with happy people fills you with dread. The thought of remembering lost loved ones fills you with gloom. How can people be so happy when you are so sad? How can people celebrate when you are in mourning? It jars your soul and scrapes your tender wounds, doesn’t it?

You may want to run away and hide from the noisy busyness and the social obligations. Or you may want to lash out at the insensitive and uncaring people who exhort you to “Cheer up!” Or maybe you just want to drown your sorrows with binge drinking, binge eating, or binge TV-watching. But none of these options—running out, lashing out, or pigging out—will improve your depression. Indeed, they will only make it worse.

Let me propose a better way that will enable you to carefully navigate this holiday season while also contributing to your long-term healing.


I know prayer is perhaps too obvious, but sometimes we miss the obvious. Bring your burden to the Lord, tell him your fears and dreads, and seek his help to push through these daunting days. Lament by saying “Lord, I don’t want to give thanks, I don’t want to celebrate Christmas, and I don’t want to live through another year.” Admit, saying: “God, I can’t stand happiness right now and I can’t abide people.” Confess: “This is wrong and sinful, but I can’t seem to change.” Plead: “Lord, I am weak, I need your power, I need your patience, I need your joy.” Promise: “I will rely on you alone to carry me and even use this time for my help and healing.”


Not everyone among your family and friends understands depression; but some do, as you know. Give them a call, or, better, meet with them, and talk to them about what you dread during this season. Ask them to pray for you and to support you in the coming days. Ask them to stay by your side in social settings, to protect you from those who don’t understand, to accept your silences, and to help you withdraw quietly when you have reached your limits of socializing.

Read the rest of this open letter at the Crossway Website.

Check out

Wed, 12/19/2018 - 1:00am

What Companies Can Do to Help Employees Address Mental Health Issues
“Most employees we surveyed already actively manage their mental health and consider it at least as important as their physical health. Such a positive attitude toward managing mental health suggests that employees, and in particular millennials, are likely to welcome and embrace training and initiatives at work that help them thrive and recognize when they need help. Much remains to be done. As Prince Williams says: “There’s still a stigma about mental health. We are chipping away at it, but that wall needs to be smashed down.”

When Christ Is the Cornerstone of Your Medical Practice
“To be a patient at Cornerstone is to encounter a distinctly different kind of doctor and practice. From the front desk staff all the way to the doctors’ offices, the mission of Cornerstone is to treat people the way Jesus would.”

How to Listen Like a Counselor
We can all learn how to listen better.

Beware Emotional Affairs
“Here are some questions to help discern if your relationship has morphed into an emotional affair:”

Some Kids Barely Survive Christmas: Celebrating the Son with Special Needs
“For children with special needs, the holidays often herald more distress than delight. Kids struggling with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental conditions rely upon predictability to feel safe. Any deviation from the routine, no matter how exhilarating, pitches these children into a whirlwind of anxiety.”

Kindle Books

Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations $1.99.

How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets $2.99.

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die $1.99.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity $3.99.

Breakthrough Moments in the Christian Life

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 2:00am

Have you ever been frustrated at the slow rate of growth in your Christian life? Have you ever complained at how all your efforts to break with sin never seem to pay off? Have you ever been depressed at how, despite all the hours and energy you put into your work, you just don’t see your work improving?

Of course you have. We all have. But the result of no results is not only discouragement; it also depresses our continued effort towards growing in grace and mortifying sin.

Well, let some examples in James Clear’s best-selling book, Atomic Habits, encourage you.

  • An ice cube in a room at 25 degrees does not melt. If we turn up the heat one degree at a time, nothing happens at 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31 degrees. But at 32 the ice begins to melt. Just one more degree and a huge transformation occurs.
  • Bamboo spends five years underground and then explodes 95 feet into the air in six weeks.
  • Cancer spends 80% of its life undetectable and then takes over the body in months.
  • Tectonic plates can grind against one another for hundreds of years with no visible results, until one day an earthquake erupts as the plates rupture the earth.

Similarly, says Clear, habits seem to make no difference for ages until a critical threshold is crossed and a new level of performance is achieved:

“Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change” (20).

At times all our work seems wasted because we make no breakthrough. But it’s not wasted. It’s just being stored for release at the moment of breakthrough.

Moreover, the Christian has even more incentive than behavioral science to persevere in our pursuit of growth, holiness, and talent multiplication. We have the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, we have hope in God to encourage us, and we have the almighty sovereignty of God that can effect breakthrough moments far sooner than anyone might expect or predict

So, keep persevering Christian. You may be just one degree away from a life-changing breakthrough in growth, in sanctification, and in usefulness.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

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Tue, 12/18/2018 - 1:00am

Suicides have spiked so much that Ron Wyden wants a 3-digit hotline
“In 2016, almost 45,000 suicides took place in the United States, up from about 30,000 in 1999, according to CDC data. Rates rose by more than 30% in half of all U.S. states since then, according to the CDC. Having a single, easy-to-remember phone number for mental health issues could make it easier to remember in a crisis, similar to how people know to call 911 in an emergency”

Christian, you are not the center of the universe
“Next time you feel anxious after watching a cable news broadcast or reading a tweet, remember we worship the same God Daniel did.”

SELF-Control as a Fruit of the SPIRIT and Implications
“I was recently struck by the tension represented in the reality that self-control was a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Something we can only do by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is attributed to the self as its means of expression. The Bible gives us a positively-connoted, Spirit-empowered, self-hyphenated word. How does this work? ”

The Number 1 Reason for the Decline in Church Attendance
“The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago.”

Why Your Online “Church” Isn’t Enough
“We don’t see things correctly. The idle often think their weak. The faint-hearted rebuke themselves for idleness. We need another set of loving eyes to come alongside us and properly apply the gospel. And for that you need a local church. And for that to actually “work” and matter and do what it’s supposed to do—you need to pursue being known and to know others.”

The Mentally Afflicted Christian
“If as Christians we are primarily concerned with correcting the woes of others, while conveniently avoiding helping the suffering sinner or giving a reason for hope, who will show this person the love of Christ, if not the Christian?”

New Book

Hitting the Marks: Restoring the Essential Identity of the Church by Barry J. York.

Kindle Books

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper $1.99.

The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between by Gregory Koukl $3.99.

Clear Winter Nights: A Journey into Truth, Doubt, and What Comes After by Trevin Wax $1.99.

The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story by D. A. Carson $1.59.

The Big Power of Multiple Littles

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 2:00am

James Clear, a promising High School baseball player, suffered a fractured skull and brain damage in a baseball bat accident while at High School. In his bestselling book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, he explains how he reconstructed his life while at college through building good habits in every area of his life. This started in small ways by tidying his room, but eventually spread into his studies, resulting in straight A’s in his first year.

He eventually achieved remarkable sporting and academic honors in his final year. Although he never fulfilled his dream of playing professional baseball, he says that in these college years, “I accomplished something just as rare: I fulfilled my potential” (6). His book is based on the belief that good habits can help us fulfill our potential as well.

Clear defines a habit as “a routine or behavior that is performed regularly—and, in many cases, automatically” (6). These changes, he says, “that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years” (7). His basic thesis is, start small, make small steps of progress, and big challenges can be met and big obstacles overcome.

This might seem like a really obvious point, but in a day when so many are trying to achieve overnight success, or take shortcuts to achievement, it’s a healthy dose of realism. It’s also encouraging to those of us who are plodders, because it says, “Take multiple small steps, and over time you will eventually cover big distances.”

I was enticed into reading the book by a seminary student who told me how much the book had changed his life. I ordered it with a view to reading it through a biblical lens. My primary interest, of course, was not so much about how to be successful but how to be sanctified. And, as sanctification is so much concerned with changing habits (as well as hearts), I wondered if this book might help advance personal sanctification?

Now that I’m well into the book, I’ve identified a number of ways in which this book can help us live the Christian life better. For example, there’s the basic point about aiming for steady progress over time through small steps rather than overnight success by a great leap into holiness. In my early Christian life, I remember going on a solo camping trip in the middle of Hungary with the plan to read the whole Bible in five days. I think I gave up after one hour. I was deeply disappointed for a time. But then I read a quote (can’t remember now who said it): “The way to increase in holiness is to slowly increase your ordinary daily devotions rather than to attempt one-off extraordinary devotions.” I’ve found this to be 100% true.

Clear also challenges his readers to break down everything they do into small components and then improve each part by 1%. The end result when all the 1%’s are added up is a significant increase. We can apply this to many areas of Christian service, such as preaching a sermon or even writing a blog post. Clear’s case is that instead of massive success requiring massive action, we should see the importance of making small improvements on a daily basis. Although improving by 1% is not especially noticeable, if continued over the long run, the end result will be a massive difference: “If you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done” he asserts (15).

Can this not be applied to sanctification? Think of 1% improvements in specific graces such as trust, kindness, patience, love, etc., which is especially possible when the Christian depends on the Holy Spirit for this. Habits, says Clear, “are the compound interest of self-improvement” (substitute “spiritual progress” or “growth in grace” for “self-improvement”). There seems to be little difference on any given day, but these small changes deliver huge impact over the long run.

And remember, this also works in the opposite direction!

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

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Mon, 12/17/2018 - 1:00am

God Used R.C. Sproul and Continues to Do so Today
As a celebration of R.C.’s life and ministry, Ligonier have compiled six brief videos for you to watch.

The 7 Most Significant Religious Freedom Victories of 2018
This is an encouraging report after years of discouragement on this front:

“We are fortunate to have groups like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith, working to protect our liberties. In 2018 ADF was at the forefront of a number of important legal cases. Here are their most significant victories for religious freedom for the year:”

3GT Episode 111: The Darkest Night of the Soul (Suicide)
Podcast on one of the most difficult subjects in pastoral ministry.

The Case for the 6-Hour Workday
One to give to your boss: Good luck!

“I conducted a two-week, six-hour workday experiment with my team at Collective Campus, an innovation accelerator based in Melbourne, Australia. The shorter workday forced the team to prioritize effectively, limit interruptions, and operate at a much more deliberate level for the first few hours of the day. The team maintained, and in some cases increased, its quantity and quality of work, with people reporting an improved mental state, and that they had more time for rest, family, friends, and other endeavors.”

Flourish in How God Has (and Has Not) Gifted You
“I work in missions and global theological education. One of the hardest conversations we conduct is with men who have been in ministry 20 or 30 years and want to teach with us, but don’t demonstrate the gift of teaching. We often affirm them in other ways, but for whatever reason, no one in the church has ever addressed this lack.”

Worry over kids’ excessive smartphone use is more justified than ever before
When Jean Twenge speaks on issues like this, I listen:

“New research funded by the National Institutes of Health found brain changes among kids using screens more than seven hours a day and lower cognitive skills among those using screens more than two hours a day.”

Stunning Letter From Detained Chinese Pastor Wang Yi, Anticipating His Arrest
We should keep this stunning letter in front of us to remind us to pray and to challenge our own faith.

New Book

Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter J. Williams.

Kindle Books

Anchored in Grace: Fixed Points for Humble Faith by Jeremy Walker $2.99.

Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community by David Powlison $0.79.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller $2.99.


David Powlison talks to Ed Welch about how he’s dealing with the news that he’s got Stage 4 cancer.

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Thu, 12/06/2018 - 1:00am

7 Steps for Enduring a Lifetime of Ministry
“In ministry we’re often at head of the line for suffering and joy, as we share in the ups and downs of our congregation. We must be especially prepared, then, to suffer well, so that we might run the race marked out for us in joy (Heb. 12:1). Toward that end, here are seven steps to endure for a lifetime in ministry, finding inspiration in Scripture and in examples from church history featured in the new book 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry.”

Making Space for Rest: A Q&A with Jeff Vanderstelt
This looks like a worthwhile Bible Study for stressed and burned out Christians who want to live more Christ-like lives.

“Pastor and author Jeff Vanderstelt cares about Sabbath rest. As the pastor of a church, the executive director and founder of Saturate, and an author, he’s certainly busy, but he’s also learned to make space for what matters most. That’s the crux of his latest Bible study, released earlier this year. Called Making Space, this study delves into the book of Proverbs and the life of Jesus to help Christians center their lives on God’s priorities. Among these priorities is the principle of rest.”

The 50% Lie | The Cripplegate
Ever heard that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Here’s a blog that debunks that lie:

“Researchers have shown that a mindset of futility toward marriage has an adverse effect on persevering in marriage or desiring to marry. The 50% lie has done more damage than we might suspect, but it can only be remedied with the truth.”

5 Ways to Misuse a Commentary
A list of the top five ways to misuse a commentary (and suggestions for how to use them better).

Gender Dysphoria and the Gospel
ere’s a resource that may help Christians understand and minister to people with gender dysphoria.

“If you are interacting with someone who is experiencing the distress of not feeling “at home” with their biological gender or if you have that experience yourself, it can be a very confusing and frightening time. An acquaintance of mine recently let me know about his struggles with transgenderism and the ways that Jesus has met and delivered him. He has done the great service of recording many of his own struggles and lessons at Jesus and the Transgender. The blog isn’t intended to be a full-scale training resource but genuine encouragement from someone who loves Jesus and those suffering from gender dysphoria as well. It includes frank but appropriate discussion of his own past, as well as the ongoing struggles Jesus is helping him meet. You can read about the mission of the blog, as well as the wise limitations the author uses, here. I commend the resource to you. We as a church need to learn how to love and care for those wading through this struggle. We need to become places where hope and healing can happen in the context of gospel friendships”


Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story. This book is strongly recommended by Rosaria Butterfield. The negative reviews are the result of a concerted campaign by those opposed to its biblical message.

What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?: Answers to the Big Questions of Life $0.99.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself $1.59.

Lifting up Our Hearts: 150 Selected Prayers from John Calvin $4.99.

Complete in Him: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Gospel $2.99.

The Number One Spiritual Issue in the World is….

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 2:00am

…..FEAR! Or, more specifically, anxiety.

According to the YouVersion Bible App the most shared, bookmarked, and highlighted verse of 2018 was Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

There were a few national variations. For example, the most popular verse in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Germany, and Mexico was Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage;  do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

In Egypt, India, and Iraq the most popular verse was 1 Peter 5:7: “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

Do you see the common thread? Fear, anxiety, worry.

This confirms all the stats I’ve been reading and stories I’ve been hearing over the past year. Anxiety is soaring to epidemic rates, especially among teens. It’s the number one issue that middle and high school teachers raise with me when I talk with them. What a need and what an opportunity for the Gospel of Peace!

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Wed, 12/05/2018 - 1:00am

Books of the Year 2018
Tony Reinke’s list. And here is Russell Moore’s.

Zealous Preaching
“In the Westminster Larger Catechism, six qualities are given in answer to Question 159, “How is the Word of God to be preached by those that are called thereunto?” One of the qualities stated is that preaching is to be done “zealously.” What is zealous preaching and how can it be cultivated? Here are five encouragements.”

Themelios 43.3
The new December 2018 issue of Themelios has 203 pages of editorials, articles, and book reviews. It is freely available in three formats: (1) PDF, (2) web version, and (3) Logos Bible Software.

Columns from Tabletalk Magazine, December 2018
The December issue of Tabletalk covers several of the most important Old Testament texts concerning the promised Messiah and covers several key messianic prophecies and explain how they point to Christ. Free to read.

2018 Christmas Gift Guide
Crossway’s gift guide for Moms, Dads, Kids, and many other categories.

Fight the New Drug
After a University paid a porn performer to speak to students, these twins sparked conversations on campus about porn’s harms.


The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them by Kevin DeYoung.

The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life $2.99.

The Joy of Fearing God $1.99

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together $2.39.

A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada $3.99.


Since the Bible is sufficient for all of life, should we rule out psychology in counseling? Michael Horton answers:

“Why I Left the Catholic Church”

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 3:00am

Damon Linker has a deeply moving piece at The Week on Why I Left the Catholic Church. His reason?

“My reason was that the latest revelations in the church’s interminable sex abuse scandal had revealed ‘a repulsive institution — or at least one permeated by repulsive human beings who reward one another for repulsive acts, all the while deigning to lecture the world about its sin.’”

He predicts that many will make the same move in the coming months and years.

It appears to be the church’s ecclesiology which Linker takes most issue with. As he puts it:

“The Catholic Church does make extraordinarily high claims for itself — not that its priests and bishops and cardinals and popes are angels but that the church as an institution is, of all the churches that follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one most fully and rightly ordered through time.”

This, he says, is patently an absurd claim in the light of both ancient history and recent events.

“If you believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected, that he is the Son of God and the second person of the trinitarian Godhead, that his teaching tells us how the creator of the universe wants us to live, then by all means be a Christian. But to believe that this particular church, of all the Christian churches in the world, is the one most fully and rightly ordered through time, over and above all of the others? You can’t possibly be serious.

To react with anger and incredulity to this suggestion isn’t to display unrealistically high hopes or expectations about the church. It’s to respond reasonably to a claim that the church makes about itself — a claim that is flatly implausible on its face.

And that, my former fellow Catholic communicants, is why I have left the church — and why I fully expect quite a lot of the rest of you to be joining me in my unregretted exodus very soon.”

His problem is not primarily the priests’ crimes of child abuse but the church’s response of covering it up and even promoting those who did the abusing and covering up. He highlights the bafflement of Catholics everywhere as to how and why church leaders could have done this, but explains it in the money quote of the piece:

“The behavior is only mysterious if you assume that anyone in their place would respond the way you and I would: with revulsion. But it isn’t mysterious at all if you assume what should be obvious by now to everyone: They just didn’t think it was such a big deal.

That’s the big deal in this article. That’s the crux of the matter. They just didn’t think it was such a big deal. That’s where the Protestant church must stand out as different. Otherwise, Protestants will start leaving their churches in droves too.

Can We Stop Suicides?

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 2:00am

That’s the question a New York Times opinion piece asked last week.

  • The suicide rate has been rising in the United States since the beginning of the century, and is now the 10th leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • The trend most likely has social causes — lack of access to mental health care, economic stress, loneliness and despair, the opioid epidemic, and the unique difficulties facing small-town America.
  • While long-term solutions are needed to address these serious problems, the field of psychiatry desperately needs new treatment options for patients.
  • And yet no new classes of drugs have been developed to treat depression (and by extension suicidality) in about 30 years, since the advent of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac.
  • These can often take weeks to work, as does talking therapy.

The good news is that scientists think that they may have found one — an old anesthetic called ketamine that, at low doses, can halt suicidal thoughts within hours (see my recent article about Dr Carlos Zarate who is pioneering Ketamine research). It works on a different bodily system to the usual SSRI’s.

The article goes on to highlight some ketamine success stories and clinical opportunities as well as some of the problematic side-effects. However, it seems to have some unique ability to reverse acute suicidal ideation and may therefore be used to save lives in these critical hours and minutes, which is cause for much thanksgiving to God. With the Lord’s blessing, perhaps this might be an opening to far more effective anti-depressants. Let’s keep praying for the Lord’s blessing and guidance on Dr Zarate and other medical researchers laboring away for the good of suffering humanity

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Tue, 12/04/2018 - 1:00am

Rethinking the Rat Race
Five reasons you may be overworking.

Overcoming Depression-Anxiety
A series of nine videos from Brad Hambrick.

Friends are for the Darkness
Stephen Altrogge: “If there were a definitive “cure” for clinical depression, I would plunder my bank account to get my hands on it. But after more than twenty years of personally wrestling with the demonic duo of depression and anxiety, I know that no such cure exists.”

Third Millennium Ministries: Seminary Outside the Box
“This summer, Third Mill finished creating enough courses that a pastor anywhere in the world could earn a master’s degree in Bible and theology. From a solid Reformed perspective. For free.”

When we Have to Parent our Parents
Hope and help for caregivers.


Jesus on Every Page $3.49.

The First Days of Jesus $3.99.

Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon $1.99.


Is the Old Testament Still Relevant for Christians?