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 26 min ago

The One Habit We Want All Our Kids to Have

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 2:00am

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids has just been official released. Apart from Amazon, you can also buy it at Reformation Heritage Books or Westminster Books. Access sample pages here. It can be used with any version of the Bible. Here’s the introduction that explains a bit more of the thinking behind the book and it’s aim of getting our kids into the happy habit of daily Bible reading.

We were totally lost with no idea which way to turn. A few hours earlier forty of us boys and six adult leaders had set out to climb a mountain near our church’s summer camp.

We started out with great excitement as we looked forward to the challenges on the way to the summit: a mysterious forest, swampy fields, fast-flowing streams, sharp rocks, slippery paths, and steep climbs. But it would all be worth it for the view at the top.

But now we were wet, tired, hungry, cold, scared, and very, very lost.

LOST ON A MOUNTAIN

What went wrong?

Our leaders had forgotten to check the weather forecast, which would have warned them about the fog and rain that met us halfway up the mountain. They had also failed to provide us with maps, compasses, and whistles, in case we got separated from the main group.

And now, four of my friends and I were on the side of a cold and dangerous mountain, with no leader, no compass, no map, no food, no raincoats, and no idea where to go. We longed for someone to appear out of the mist to show us where to go next and lead us home. We’d long given up hope of reaching the summit. Obviously, I’m here to tell the tale, so I must have survived! If you hang around, I’ll tell you how.

LOST IN THE BIBLE?

Perhaps sometimes you feel lost and confused when reading the Bible. You start to read it as an excited explorer, looking forward to discovering amazing truths about God and the gospel. But after a few chapters you feel lost in a fog, not knowing where you are or where to go. You keep trying to push forward but you lack a leader, a map, and a compass. You wish someone would not only help you take the next step but also lead you to the summit so that you might see the Christian faith in a new and wonderful way.

That’s where this book, Exploring the Bible, comes to your rescue. It will act as your leader, map, and compass to the Bible. It won’t take you to every part of the Bible, but it will take you to the main peaks and give you an all-round view of its beautiful landscape. At times we’ll slow down and look at some parts more closely. Other times, we’ll speed up in order to get to the next major mountain peak in the Bible’s story. By the end of a year, you’ll have learned skills to help you explore the Bible on your own with safety and success.

EXPEDITION

We’ll go on one expedition a week. Unlike my disastrous camp, we’ll begin each expedition with a plan to map out the chapters of the Bible we’re about to explore.

PRAYER POINTS

We’ll then pray for God’s blessing on our travels and write down a couple of extra prayer points for the week. For example, we might pray for help with schoolwork. Or we could pray for our parents, our friends, our church, or for different nations and the missionaries that work there.

SNAPSHOT

I still have a couple of photos from my doomed climbing trip. Every time I look at us, soaked by the rain and surrounded by fog, the bad memories come flooding back.

But I want us to take snapshots of our expeditions that will bring back good memories. That’s why I’ve selected a memory verse from each week’s trip. Write it out from your Bible, and then try to memorize a bit of it each day so that you will build up a bank of wonderful memories from your travels.

DAILY LOG

The daily log has a title that sums up that day’s trip and a note of what verses to read. It has space to write out a verse or answer a question. That’s to help us keep thinking about what we have been reading and to remind us of what we have learned along the way.

EXPLORING WITH OTHERS

Sunday is rest-and-recharge day. Instead of continuing our march through the Bible, we’ll pause and think about what we’ve learned from the past week. We’ll look ahead to what God will show us later in the Bible. And we’ll think about how to live out the Christian life. This is where it’s good to involve Dad or Mom. Perhaps ask them to look at your daily log and chat with them about anything you found difficult.

They can also help you with the discussion questions, which are designed to connect our week’s reading with the rest of the Bible and with our lives.

Another fellow-explorer we can learn from is our pastor. He’s an experienced traveler in the Bible and can teach us how to explore it better. That’s why there’s space in the log for you to write down your pastor’s sermon text and his main sermon points, and what you will do in response to his message.

I’m looking forward to exploring the Bible with you and enjoying the beautiful views of God and of salvation that we will discover.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot to tell you how my friends and I were rescued. A strong wind blew away the fog so that we saw a road in a distant valley. When we got to the road, we flagged down a driver who then took us all the way back to our camp. I hope this book will blow away the fog from the Bible and lead you along a road that takes you all the way home to Jesus Christ.

Your Fellow Explorer,

David Murray

How to Shorten and Sharpen Your Sermons

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 1:30am

Ruthless and rigorous preparation will result in shorter and sharper sermons.

“Leave space and say less.” That’s the advice TED talks specialist Nicholas Negroponte gives to new TED speakers. It tracks with what President Woodrow Wilson said when he was asked how long it took him to prepare a speech:

“That depends on the length of the speech. If it is a 10-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”

That’s why, whenever you hear a sermon that goes on too long, the reason is not that the preacher prepared too much. It’s that he prepared too little. It takes much more time to prepare a 40-minute sermon than a 60-minute sermon.

I usually have to spend about 2-3 hours cutting material out of most of my sermons. It’s the most demanding and painful part of the preparation, yet it’s these extra few hours that make the difference between an average sermon and a good sermon.

TED speakers are allowed a maximum of 18 minutes. The organizers have found it’s “short enough to hold people’s attention, including on the Internet, and precise enough to be taken seriously. But it’s also long enough to say something that matters.”

Now, I’m not advocating for 18 minute sermons (most congregations have been trained well enough to listen for longer), but most preachers would benefit from being forced to preach an 18-minute sermon from time to time.

According to Chris Anderson (author of  TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking) some TED speakers make the mistake of just speaking twice as fast, as they try to cram a 40-minute speech into 18 minutes. The result is usually a dry, conceptual, and superficial speech that falls flat. As Anderson puts it:

Overstuffed equals underexplained. To say something interesting you have to take the time to do at least two things: (1) Show why it matters . .  . what’s the question you’re trying to answer, the problem you’re trying to solve, the experience you’re trying to share? (2) Flesh out each point you make with real examples, stories, facts.

But this all takes time, which means the only option is to slash the number of topics covered to a single connected thread — your throughline. The result is “you cover less, but the impact will actually be significantly greater.”

Anderson tells the story of one of the most popular TED speakers, Brené Brown, who also struggled to meet TED’s tight time demands. She recommends this simple formula:

“Plan your talk. Then cut it by half. Once you’ve grieved the loss of half of your talk, cut it another 50 percent. It’s seductive to think about how much you can fit into 18 minutes. The better question for me is, ‘What can you unpack in a meaningful way in 18 minutes?’”

I’ve often dreamed of a “TED talks for preachers,” where we would be forced to “leave space and say less.” The long-term effect would not be more 18-minute sermons, but more 40-minute sermons that feel like 18 minutes rather than 80.

Ruthless and rigorous preparation will result in shorter and sharper sermons.

Check out

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 1:00am
Blogs

What Is The Pastor To Be?
I think this is a parody:

After hundreds of fruitless years, a model minister has finally been found to suit everyone. It is completely guaranteed that he will please any church…”

An Open Letter to the Weary Pastor
Now back to reality:

In his wisdom and providence, God often calls his best servants to trust him by working without the immediate reassurance that comes when we see spiritual fruit. God will use your labors, perhaps not in your timing and perhaps not in the ways you had envisioned. But you can be sure that nothing done in the service of Christ is ever a waste of time.

6 Truths about Parenting Tweens in the Digital Age
By the author of  Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital WorldI’ll be speaking at First Presbyterian, South Carolina, on this topic in a couple of weeks. More details here.

Matt Walsh: I’m not ‘forcing my morality on you’ — you’re forcing your immorality on me
I’m not a big Matt Wash fan but he hits the target with this one — with minimal collateral damage.

How to Be Teachable According to the Proverbs of the Bible
“If you’re wondering how to grow in teachability, perhaps there’s no better place to turn than the Bible’s wisdom book.”

Jesus Is the Multiplier
This is an excellent chapel address on the feeding of the 5000. His points are: (1) Start where you are, (2) Use what you have, (3) Do what you can, (4) Trust Jesus as the multiplier. Young people everywhere would benefit from this passionate and practical message.

Kindle Books

Fool’s Gold?: Discerning Truth in an Age of Error by John MacArthur $2.99.

The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation $1.99.

Christian Leadership Essentials: A Handbook for Managing Christian Organizations by David Dockery $2.99.

7 Things the Bible Teaches about your Body

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 7:52am

The church has often emphasized the soul to the exclusion of, or the minimizing of, the body. As a result, neglecting the body is sometimes seen as a virtue or a mark of super-spirituality. One pastor explained his struggle with this to me:

Somewhere along the way I equated recreation with worldliness. If it wasn’t directly advancing the Kingdom I didn’t need to be doing it. I secretly thought that God would look down and see that I was taking ministry so seriously that he would bless me. But I wasn’t living like a human being. I didn’t realize how much I needed these things. I needed to experience beauty and creativity. I needed to enjoy God’s gifts without guilt. It was a matter of survival.

He’s right. And such errors can be defeated only with truth, with the Bible’s theology of the body. Yes, the Bible does have a theology of the body, much of it is contained in 1 Corinthians 6:9-20. Read the rest of this post here where I explore the Paul’s teaching in this passage:

1. Your body is damaged by sin (vv. 9-11).

2. Your body is saved by God (v. 11).

3. Your body remains vulnerable (v. 12).

4. Your body is for the Lord (vv. 13-14).

5. Your body is a member of Christ (vv. 15-17).

6. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (vv. 18-19).

7. Your body was bought with a price (v. 20).

Check out

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 7:48am
Blogs

How to Be Teachable According to the Proverbs of the Bible
“If you’re wondering how to grow in teachability, perhaps there’s no better place to turn than the Bible’s wisdom book.”

How Hugh Hefner Hijacked Men’s Brains
The key paragraph:

The unfortunate reality is that when he acts out (often by masturbating), this leads to hormonal and neurological consequences, which are designed to bind him to the object he is focusing on,” Struthers wrote. “In God’s plan, this would be his wife, but for many men it is an image on a screen. Pornography thus enslaves the viewer to an image, hijacking the biological response intended to bond a man to his wife and therefore inevitably loosening that bond.

5 Common Mistakes When Helping Wives of Porn Addicts
Picking up after Hefner:

I have heard stories of the amazing support and care that sexually betrayed women have received in churches around the world. However, sadly more common are the horror stories–the stories of an already traumatized wife suffering a secondary trauma due to poor advice and invalidation, experienced at the hands of (mostly) well-meaning yet misinformed ministry teams and church leaders.

Do You Wish You Could Read Faster?
David Mathis wants to start a slow-reading revolution.

10 Things You Should Know about Dementia
So glad to see this subject getting more attention these days.

12 Reasons to Have Monthly Lunch with a Senior Adult…or a Bunch of Them
What a great idea:

If you’re a church leader, you need to spend intentional time with a senior adult – or with a lot of them. Even a monthly lunch and conversation will pay dividends in your ministry. Here’s why you need to prioritize this time.]

Is Your 50-50 Relationship Ruining Your Marriage?
Time to duck:

Researchers Karen Kramer and Sunjin Pak at the University of Illinois examined data on nearly 1,500 men and 1,800 women between the ages of 52 and 60 and found that the more women’s paychecks increased, the more women reported symptoms of depression. But the opposite effect was found in men: their psychological well-being was highest when they were the primary wage-earners. “The results supported the overarching hypothesis: well-being was lower for mothers and fathers who violated gendered expectations about the division of paid labor, and higher for parents who conformed to these expectations,” said Kramer.

Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving
“Resilient Ministry is a summary and analysis of American pastors’ reflections considering long-term fruitful ministry and the effects of stress. It considers an extensive array of subjects to include spiritual formation, burn out, strategies to improve longevity, emotional intelligence, marriage and family etc. It reaches a number of conclusions that are presented in a clear and helpful way. It is sprinkled with pithy and often wise observations that should benefit pastors living with the burden of their calling.”

New issue is here: The Reformation of the Family
The latest issue of Credo magazine is out and it focuses on how the Reformation impacted the family.

Kindle Books

From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research by Michael Kibbe $2.99. Every single seminary student needs to buy and read this. It will save you so much time and your teachers so much grief.

God and Government Kindle Edition by Charles Colson $3.99.

So Pastor, What’s Your Point?

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 8:00am

Just because a sermon has points, doesn’t mean it’s got a point.

One of the best preaching books I’ve read in the last decade is Denis Prutow’s So Pastor, What’s Your Point? If someone like Tim Keller or Don Carson had written it, it would be a bestseller. Prutow’s basic point is that most sermons don’t have a point. They may have points, but they don’t have a point. They have hundreds of sentences, but they can’t be summed up in one sentence.

The world of drama and storytelling calls this a “throughline,” the connecting theme that ties together each part of a narrative or speech. TED Head Chris Anderson says “Every talk should have one.” In TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, he says:

Since your goal is to construct something wondrous inside your listeners’ minds, you can think of the throughline as a strong cord or rope, onto which you will attach all the elements that are part of the idea you’re building.

A talk can cover more than one topic and have more than one point, but all the topics and all the points must connect. If you think of your talk as a journey, the throughline is what connects all the major stopping points. Here’s how Anderson puts it:

A good exercise is to try to encapsulate your throughline in no more than fifteen words. And those fifteen words need to provide robust content. It’s not enough to think of your goal as, “I want to inspire the audience” or “I want to win support for my work.” It has to be more focused than that. What is the precise idea you want to build inside your listeners? What is their takeaway?

Most preachers (and I include myself in his) hate being asked for a throughline (or “sermon proposition”). That’s partly because it’s hard work to produce one. But it’s mainly because it usually exposes the lack of one, forcing more work on the sermon in order to create a credible and compelling throughline. But it always results in a better sermon.

A “throughline” should be as comprehensive as possible (incorporating each point of the sermon), as clear as possible (a simple rather than a complex sentence), as brief as possible (max of 15 words is about right), as memorable as possible (so that someone can take it away with them), as interesting as possible (intriguing rather than boring), and as unique as possible (so that it could only fit that text and no other).

If you can’t produce a throughline for your sermon. You don’t have a sermon.

Just because a sermon has points, doesn’t mean it’s got a point.

Check out

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 7:24am
Blog

Free Study Guide for 12 Ways
Here’s a free study guide for 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. Great resource for youth (and not-so-youth) groups.

Top Reasons Why a Long Commute May Be Worth It
Three reasons to look forward to work even when you have a grueling commute.

A New Kind of Youth Ministry (to save the local church)
Not sure where this series is going but this initial article on he historical background to youth ministry is fascinating.

The Most Important Ingredient for Rebuke
“Be ready to say the hard thing, Timothy, and then do the harder thing and practice complete patience with fellow sinners.”

6 Surprises Every Premarital Counselor Should Cover
“Many young couples head into marriage with blinders—believing their marriage will be the fairy tale they dreamed of as they planned a Pinterest ceremony and momentous honeymoon. But the truth is marriage reveals our sin, exposes our desires, challenges our relational network, and requires us to regularly practice costly forgiveness. Engaged folk need to know that marriage is a call to ministry where two sinners learn—till death parts them—how to apply the gospel of grace.”

Leaders and Loneliness
I agree with this assessment. I’d only add that in the falls I’ve witnessed, the pastors and leaders chose isolation, resisting fellowship and accountability. It wasn’t people who pulled away from them; they pushed people away.

“In the past two years, five of my friends who are pastors lost their ministries because of moral failure. Five. Most of these pastors were also well known and celebrated beyond their local contexts. From the outside, it seemed they were at their peak pastorally and relationally. How could it be otherwise? Their books sold like hotcakes, they had speaking engagements galore, and their adoring congregations devoured their words like honey. Surrounded by such acclaim, the one thing they couldn’t possibly be… …is lonely. “

Mexico City Burnout
If American pastors think they’ve got it bad….

5 Tough Lessons from the Death of Nabeel
Why would God take away such a beloved and useful servant of Christ?

6 Actions to Take when Grieving the Death of a Loved One
Six things that, if done in faith, can be the way to resurrection.

Kindle Books

10 Things Every Minister’s Wife Needs To Know by Jeana Floyd $2.99.

Wait and See: Finding Peace in God’s Pauses and Plans by Wendy Pope $2.99.

The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose by Lisa Anderson $1.59.

6 Tips for Reading the Bible with Your Kids

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 2:00am

When we look back on our childhoods, among many other happy memories, we may recall our parents reading with us. “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Three Little Pigs,” and multiple other children’s classics cast a warm hue upon our earliest recollections.

So why don’t we do the same with the Bible? Why don’t we read the Bible one-on-one with our children? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to give our children that best of memories? If you haven’t started such a practice, let me give you some guidance to start the ball rolling.

You can read the rest of this article at Crossway’s blog where I expand upon the following points

1. Give them a good reason to read the Bible.

2. Establish a routine.

3. Be realistic.

4. Be systematic

5. Ask good questions.

6. Ask God for help.

Four Preaching and Writing Styles to Avoid

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 1:30am

Speakers (and preachers) succeed if they are givers not takers, rapiers not ramblers, interesting not boring, and leave he inspiring to God.

Not all TED talks go viral. Some fall flat and into oblivion. In TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public SpeakingChris Anderson highlights four speaking styles that are guaranteed fails. Same warnings apply to preaching, writing, and blogging.

The Sales Pitch: There’s a big difference between sharing an idea and pitching a sale. The key principle is to remember that the speaker’s job is to give to the audience, not take from them.

The Ramble: If people have given up some of their precious time and attention to listen to you, you’d better use that time and attention as well as possible.

The Org Bore: An organization is fascinating to those who work for it— and deeply boring to almost everyone else.

The Inspiration Performance: Inspiration is like love. You don’t get it by pursuing it directly through using every trick in the book of intellectual and emotional manipulation. “Inspiration is an audience response to authenticity, courage, selfless work, and genuine wisdom.”

Speakers (and preachers) succeed if they are givers not takers, rapiers not ramblers, interesting not boring, and leave the inspiring to God.

Check out

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 1:00am
Check out

Dying Well
This is really what it’s all about, getting ready to die.

Pastors are called to equip the saints to walk in those good works that God has prepared beforehand for them to walk in. Every saint (except those alive when Jesus returns) will have to walk through the good work of dying well. May the Lord enable us to prepare Jesus’ sheep to live by faith and to die by faith.

A Letter to My Former Pastor, on the Occasion of His Retirement
Beautiful.

Bro. Ken, When I opened the email that said you planned to step down as senior pastor this year, I cried. The tears flowed both from sadness at the passing of time and from gratitude for you and your ministry. For more than a decade of my life, you were the primary chef who served up and seasoned the meat of God’s Word for my spiritual sustenance. During my most formative years, you nourished me through your preaching more than one thousand times.

The Real Story of Christianity and Abortion
Never give up. Never give in.

To the utter consternation of the abortion rights movement, the issue of abortion simply will not go away. Decades after abortion rights activists thought they had put the matter to rest with the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, America’s conscience is more troubled than ever, and near-panic appears to break out regularly among abortion activists. Such a panic is now under way, and the defenders of abortion are trotting out some of their most dishonest arguments. One of the worst is the claim that Christians have only recently become concerned about the sanctity of human life and the evil of abortion.

Seven Characteristics of Liberal Theology
Watch for even the smallest beginnings of these.

Setting the Tone in Your Home
Dadas too.

Mamas, you have been granted a special gift in the life of your family: you are the tone setter. It doesn’t matter if you have fancy decor or an immaculately clean house. It doesn’t matter if you work long hours or stay home all day long. When you are with your family, you guide the atmosphere.”

Parenting and Emotional Intelligence
“As you look back on your childhood, how did your family of origin approach feelings? How has that shaped you and the way you interact with others? If you are a parent, how does that play itself out in the way you interact with your children?”

Kindle Books

“Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel by Wayne Grudem $3.99. This is an important book on a vital subject.

Ready for Reformation? by Tom Nettles $0.99. If you’re not already over-Reformationed.

How to Be a Christian in a Brave New World by Joni Eareckson Tada $1.99.

How to Help Your Kids Get Excited about Reading the Bible

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 2:00am

Parents face huge obstacles in trying to get their kids excited about reading the Bible. For starters, very few kids are reading anything at all. There are so many distracting (and seemingly more exciting) alternatives to sitting quietly with a book. The pressure of school activities, sports, and the social whirl are not conducive to finding a quiet time to read.

On top of that, the Bible is not an easy read. Sure, there are some well-known sections that many kids are familiar with through Sunday school and VBS, but the vast majority of it is unchartered territory. It’s not a multimedia fest; it’s black words on white pages. It’s not a world that most kids are familiar with; the culture, history, and geography of the Bible seem a million miles and years away from modern children.

Two Enemies

And worst of all, we have two enemies fighting with all their might against children reading the Bible. There’s the devil, who opens the gates of hell whenever a child opens a Bible. And there are our children’s hearts, which are turned away from the truth from birth (Psalm 51:5; 58:3). No one naturally and normally delights in the Word of God without being given a new heart by regeneration.

Despite these discouraging impediments, I still believe we should and can encourage our children to see Bible reading as a delight rather than a drudge. And the most powerful way of doing that is by conveying our own delight in God’s Word. We have to demonstrate that the Bible lights up our life. If we’re not excited about this book, we can’t expect our children to be.

Read the rest of this article at Crossway’s blog.

The biggest difference between good speakers and great speakers

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 1:30am

Good speakers are focused on their speaking. Great speakers are focused on their audience’s hearing.

What makes the difference between a good speech and a great speech? They share many common qualities: important subject, accurate research, clear writing, organized material, relevant illustrations, passionate communication, and so on.

But they differ in one important area.

Good speakers are focused on their speaking. Great speakers are focused on their audience’s hearing.

If you were able to measure where a speaker’s primary concern lay, good speakers would have a big arrow pointing to their mouth. Great speakers would have a big arrow pointing at their hearers’ ears.

The good speaker’s primary question is “How can I get this out?” The great speaker’s main question is “How do I get this in?”

The good speaker is concerned with “How can I teach this?” The great speaker gravitates towards, “How can they learn this?”

The good speaker asks, “Is this the best structure and outline to help me deliver this message?” The great speaker asks, “Is this the best structure and outline to help my hearers embrace this message?”

The good speaker concentrates on delivering his manuscript. The great speaker concentrates on his hearers receiving his words

The difference is sometimes subtle and difficult to detect in the moment of speaking, but always vast in the long-term impact of the words.

In TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public SpeakingChris Anderson explains that the most successful TED talks not only have a compelling idea at their core, but the speakers have spent time thinking about the best way to get that idea out of their head and into the heads of others.

Most good speakers think it’s enough to have a good idea and to express it clearly. The best speakers go the extra mile; they put in the extra time and tears to figure out the best way to transfer the idea from their mind into others’ minds.  As Anderson puts it:

Language works its magic only to the extent that it is shared by speaker and listener. And there’s the key clue to how to achieve the miracle of re-creating your idea in someone else’s brain. You can only use the tools that your audience has access to. If you start only with your language, your concepts, your assumptions, your values, you will fail. So instead, start with theirs. It’s only from that common ground that they can begin to build your idea inside their minds.

I love that metaphor of re-creating our idea in our listeners’ minds. The good speaker uses the materials of his own mind to do this. The great speaker reaches into the minds of his hearers and uses the materials he finds there. Without this, idea-transference will never happen. With it, the possibilities are endless.

Is God not the best example of this? He didn’t communicate with his own concepts and words. That would have not only baffled our minds but exploded them. Instead he used the concepts and materials he found in our own minds. Indeed, in his ultimate communication, he used the materials of our own human flesh, our own human souls, and our own human minds. “The Word became flesh.” And all because he was focused on our hearing not his speaking.

Good speakers are focused on their speaking. Great speakers are focused on their audience’s hearing.

Burnout Begins with Bad Theology

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 2:00am

Innumerable books and articles have been published over the last several years on the subject of burnout. But for all the millions of words that have been spent, the statistics continue to rise at an alarming pace. And behind the cold statistics is a conflagration of relationships, families, careers, lives, and souls.

The reason the vast majority of cures and solutions for burnout don’t work is that they merely focus on various techniques to manage stress or reduce anxiety. Some of these practical remedies can be helpful, but they don’t address the heart of the issue. They may put out the fire around the edges, but, because they don’t extinguish the central blaze, the fire within keeps erupting and charred remains keep piling up.

So, what leads us to burnout? Ultimately, it’s false theology. Behind every exhausted person are bogus beliefs that must be identified and doused by replacing them with true theology. Let’s start by pointing our fire extinguisher at our (false) theology of sleep.

Read the rest of his article at desiringGod.

Check out

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 1:00am
Blogs

Why Gospel Diversity Means More—Though Not Less!—Than Ethnic Diversity
“They go on to define “diversity” as “any multiplicity of backgrounds where unity is possible only through the gospel.” I found their reminders helpful—not as a way of downplaying or distracting from an emphasis on ethnic diversity, but as a way to build upon it. In other words, we should pray for more diversity, not less.”

Shatter Your Kid-Centered Kingdom
“When we forego what our culture deems best and instead chase God’s best, it is in fact our kids’ best. When we serve God and not our children, our children actually benefit.”

“Should I Force My Teen to Go to Church?”
R C Sproul answers: “I would encourage you to make it a special point of concern to do everything in your power to get your kids to church and to make it an attractive time for them rather than a bad experience.”

5 Pastoral Emergencies That Aren’t Emergencies
What’s a pastor to do with the seemingly endless emergencies? “One step you can take is to decide whether something is actually an emergency. Just because it’s an emergency to them doesn’t mean it has to be an emergency for you.”

10 Indicators You’ve Stopped Growing as a Leader
“Leaders who stop growing lose their edge as a leader. They become stale, even if others may not readily recognize it. See if your life reflects any of these indications that you’ve stopped growing as a leader:”

The End of the World As We Know It: An Infographic – Tim Challies
Clear and simple presentation of the main millennial views.

The Cheap Way to Bless Your Pastor | TGC
“So as budget time rolls around, consider the cheapest way to bless your pastor and your congregation: make sure the minister has enough time to rest, read, and recharge.”

Remembering the Attributes of God in Counseling
“How do the attributes of God shape your counseling? Are there certain attributes that have been particularly helpful? How can we show our counselees more of the character of God as we meet together? How can spending time meditating on the attributes of God benefit our own souls as we seek to care for others?”

Why You Get Distracted at Work
“There are things we can do to buck the trend. We can put our phones away, use apps to shut off social media during work hours, and turn our phones off at dinner time. But a mechanical fix is just a Band-Aid. Most of us have a real problem with concentration. Until we are willing to take a hard look at how and why we are driving ourselves to distraction, it’s going to be hard to find the focus that we so badly need.”

Six Benefits of Ordinary Daily Devotions | Desiring God
“Your devotions may have seemed ordinary today, but God is making something extraordinary through it. Press on. Don’t short-change the process.

Kindle Books

Too Good to Be True by Michael Horton $3.99.

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae $3.99.

Running on Empty: The Gospel for Women in Ministry by Barbara Bancroft $1.59.

The New Superpower of Presentation Literacy

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 2:00am

Presentation literacy is a superpower and can be learned.

One of the most inspiring sections in TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speakingis where Chris Anderson expands upon the power of the spoken word over the written word:

Done right, a talk can electrify a room and transform an audience’s worldview. Done right, a talk is more powerful than anything in written form. Writing gives us the words. Speaking brings with it a whole new toolbox. When we peer into a speaker’s eyes; listen to the tone of her voice; sense her vulnerability, her intelligence, her passion, we are tapping into unconscious skills that have been fine-tuned over hundreds of thousands of years. Skills that can galvanize, empower, inspire.

Like me, you’re probably saying, “Yes, that’s true for a few speakers who have exceptional gifts, but that will never be me.” But Chris Anderson insists that public speaking skills are teachable, “that there’s a new superpower that anyone, young or old, can benefit from. It’s called presentation literacy.”

Novel name, but not a novel idea, as the teaching of rhetoric was one of the basics of first century education, leading Anderson to advocate for a “Fourth R” to supplement reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic in our schools. And the curriculum would be this book’s analysis of thousands of TED talks that have succeeded in achieving 1.5 billion annual views. Anderson argues:

Presentation literacy isn’t an optional extra for the few. It’s a core skill for the twenty-first century. It’s the most impactful way to share who you are and what you care about. If you can learn to do it, your self-confidence will flourish, and you may be amazed at the beneficial impact it can have on your success in life, however you might choose to define that.

Anderson tells his own story of how he went from being a terrified geeky bag of nerves about public speaking to getting a standing ovation from Jeff Bezos and other dignitaries. He encourages us:

No matter how little confidence you might have today in your ability to speak in public, there are things you can do to turn that around. Facility with public speaking is not a gift granted at birth to a lucky few. It’s a broad-ranging set of skills. There are hundreds of ways to give a talk, and everyone can find an approach that’s right for them and learn the skills necessary to do it well.

Presentation literacy is a superpower and can be learned.

Can TED talks teach us how to preach?

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 2:00am

Have something valuable to say, and say it authentically in your own way.

Having started listening to the audiobook of TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public SpeakingI not only answer “Yes, we can,” to that question, but “Yes, we must.”

I’ve only listened to the first two hours of the seven-hour book, but I’ve already learned some valuable lessons that I hope to incorporate into future sermons, lectures, and addresses.

Given the unparalleled success of this format for the verbal communication of ideas, it’s not surprising that there’s much to profit from for anyone whose calling is focused on the spoken word.

On every page, Chris Anderson, the author and founder of the modern-day TED Talks, shares what he has learned from watching many epic TED talks; and also some epic fails.

One of the main points he makes in his introduction is: “There is no one way to give a great talk.” That’s so encouraging for preachers and teachers everywhere. Sometimes we think we have to copy a certain successful speaker, or preaching style, but, as Anderson warns, “Any attempt to apply a single set formula is likely to backfire. Audiences see through it in an instant and feel manipulated.” Yep, been there.

As the key part of any great talk is freshness, Anderson encourages readers to see the book as offering a set of tools designed to encourage variety. “Your only real job in giving a talk,” he says, “is to have something valuable to say, and to say it authentically in your own unique way.

As Christian preachers and teachers, we certainly have the former. But, in the Reformed world, we often lack the latter. There’s almost a fear of being oneself, of being authentic, of letting one’s character or personality shine through or shape the message in any way. Such Reformed Robots rust out pretty quickly for the hearers.

I’ve seen men full of lively and lovely personality become bore of the year in the pulpit. A lot of that is fear of man and the desire to conform to a certain “type” or “image” of what a preacher should be. But it’s deadly to effective communication of our message.

I was talking to a student about this recently and he shared that what had helped him in this area was Tim Keller’s little book The Freedom of Self ForgetfulnessThat’s the key to this. It’s not about acting; it’s the very opposite. It’s about stopping acting. It’s about closing the Reformed clone factory. It’s about being yourself, your unique self, which only happens when you forget yourself.

Have something valuable to say, and say it authentically in your own unique way.

Check out

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 1:00am
Blogs

Have we Christians made Marriage too Complicated?
Here’s a thought-provoking post.  It jives with much of my own experience.

Can Leadership Be Learned?
Ed Stetzer says yes.

“There is an old phrase, “Leaders are learners.” I think that is true, but would add you can learn your way into leadership. Most pastors I know have had the same experience over and over. They’ve not learning, but just repeating the experience of the last year or years. So, get some books. Do some reading. Get a mentor. Leadership can be learned if we will be learners.”

Descriptions and Prescriptions
An interview with Mike Emlet about his landmark new book.

When it comes to issues of psychiatric diagnoses and medications it is too easy for Christians to go to one extreme or the other. That is, to either grant too much authority to psychiatric classifications and solutions for people’s problems as though Scripture is irrelevant for issues of mental distress. Or to dismiss them altogether as though medical science is irrelevant for issues of mental suffering in Christians. I wrote this book to present a nuanced “third way” between those two extremes that is grounded in Scripture, does justice to human beings as embodied souls, respects the role of scientific inquiry, and suggests compassionate and wise ways to minister to those who are struggling with mental illness in our churches.

Bigger Thoughts
Jared challenges us to expand our thoughts and words.

“The challenge is clear: to train our minds and hearts to think bigger and better thoughts about God. To read authors who take us to new heights of theological devotion. To be around Christians who are smarter and wiser than we are. To preach sermons that strive for both simplicity and profundity. To be churches where young Christians are comfortable but mature Christians frequently challenged as well. Which is all to say that we need to be people of the Word of God because only the Bible manages such a feat.”

Truth I’m Trying to Hold Onto
Mike’s list of therapeutic truths would be good for everyone to print out and keep in front of them.

“I’m going through a rather dark season of the soul. At times it’s just my depression talking and kind words are being filtered through a wickedly unhelpful lens. And at times it’s just that I’m enduring criticism on a daily basis for something or another. And I’m usually right there in the crowd yelling, “crucify him”. And so when my feelings are all jacked up I try my best to meditate upon things that I know to be true. “

Hell Is Not Separation From God
Contrary to what you may have heard, and even said:

“Whatever the exact nature of this everlasting judgment, it is horrible ultimately for one reason only: God is present.”

Kindle Books

Running on Empty: The Gospel for Women in Ministry by Barbara Bancroft $1.99.

Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer by Joel Beeke and Brian Najapfour $2.99.

Developing A Healthy Prayer Life by James Beeke $2.99.

Video

What is depression?
Here’s a TedEd video with some good background info on depression. Most staggering fact: “According to the National Institute for Mental Health, it takes the average person suffering with a mental illness over ten years to ask for help.”

New Books in the PRTS Library

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 2:00am

One of the privileges of working at PRTS is the weekly arrival of new books to supplement our library of 70,000+ books. Here are some of the new selections this week.

Note: Inclusion in the library does not necessarily mean endorsement of contents. We often have to buy books to help students with specialist theses and also to train students to think critically. Also, a book new to the library does not necessarily mean a new book on the market.

For your non-Kindle book buying needs please consider using Reformation Heritage Books in the USA and Reformed Book Services in Canada. Good value prices and shipping.


Religion in Enlightenment England: An Anthology of Primary Sources by Jayne Elizabeth Lewis

Religion in Enlightenment England introduces its readers to a rich array of British Christian texts published between 1660 and 1750. The anthology documents the arc of Christian writings from the reestablishment of the Church of England to the rise of the Methodist movement in the middle of the eighteenth century. The Enlightenment era witnessed the explosion of mass print culture and the unprecedented expansion of literacy across society. These changes transformed many inherited Christian genres―such as the sermon and the devotional manual―while also generating new ones, from the modern church hymn to spiritual autobiography.”


Evangelical Free Will: Phillipp Melanchthon’s Doctrinal Journey on the Origins of Faith by Gregory Graybill

“The debate over the relation between election and free will has a central place in the study of Reformation theology. Phillipp Melanchthon’s reputation as the intellectual founder of Lutheranism has tended to obscure the differences between the mature doctrinal positions of Melanchthon and Martin Luther on this key issue. Gregory Graybill charts the progression of Melanchthon’s position on free will and divine predestination as he shifts from agreement to an important innovation upon Luther’s thought.”


Encountering the History of Missions: From the Early Church to Today by Robert L. Gallagher and John Mark Terry

“Two leading missionary scholars and experienced professors help readers understand how missions began, how missions developed, and where missions is going. The authors cover all of missions history and provide practical application of history’s lessons.”


Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua W. Jipp

“Too few Christians today, says Joshua Jipp, understand hospitality to strangers and the marginalized as an essential part of the church’s identity. In this book Jipp argues that God’s relationship to his people is fundamentally an act of hospitality to strangers, and that divine and human hospitality together are thus at the very heart of Christian faith.”


Wrestling with Isaiah: The Exegetical Methodology of Campegius Vitringa by Charles Telfer

“Campegius Vitringa (1659-1722) of Franeker University was a biblical scholar of considerable influence for the first half of the 18th century. Similar to that of Calvin, his exegetical methodology attempts to walk a via media between the historicism of Grotius (1583-1645) and the Christocentrism of Cocceius (1603-1669). His magnum opus was a widely-acclaimed commentary on Isaiah (1720). Vitringa scholars have charted his influence along a historical-critical trajectory (including Schultens, Venema, Alberti, Manger, Delitzsch, and Gesenius) and along a Pietistic trajectory (including Franke, Lange, and Bengel, leading toward Lessing, Herder and German Idealism). The book includes the first biography in English and compares his hermeneneutical theoria with his praxis. It analyzes Vitringa’s exegetical presuppositions, his remarkably high view of the Bible, and his canones hermeneuticos (highly valued by J.J. Rambach [1693-1735]). It shows Vitringa’s contextual sensitivity at every level of exegesis, commitment to New Testament normativity in the reading of Isaiah (in which redemptive history is the ultimate hermeneutical horizon), nuanced views on the historical fulfillment of prophecy, and concern for pastoral application.”


Credo: Historical and Theological Guide to Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition by Jaroslav Pelikan

“Jaroslav Pelikan has been translating, editing and studying the Christian creeds and confessions of faith for 60 years. This book is the historical and theological distillation of that work. In “Credo”, Pelikan addresses essential questions about the Christian tradition: the origins of creeds; their function; their political role; how they relate to Christian institutions, worship and service; and how they help to explain the major divisions of the Christian church and of Christian history.”


T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology by David M. Whitford

“This volume introduces the main theological topics of Reformation theology in a language that is clear and concise. Theology in the Reformation era can be complicated and contentious. This volume aims to cut through the theological jargon and explain what people believed and why.”


Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought by Joshua A. Berman

“In Created Equal, Joshua Berman engages the text of the Hebrew Bible from a novel perspective, considering it as a document of social and political thought. He proposes that the Pentateuch can be read as the earliest prescription on record for the establishment of an egalitarian polity. What emerges is the blueprint for a society that would stand in stark contrast to the surrounding cultures of the ancient Near East — Egypt, Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and the Hittite Empire – in which the hierarchical structure of the polity was centered on the figure of the king and his retinue. Berman shows that an egalitarian ideal is articulated in comprehensive fashion in the Pentateuch and is expressed in its theology, politics, economics, use of technologies of communication, and in its narrative literature.”


John Calvin And the Grounding of Interpretation: Calvin’s First Commentaries by R. Ward Holder

“This book considers John Calvin’s interpretation of the Pauline epistles, discussing his interpretive method and the link between biblical interpretation and correct doctrine. It introduces a division between doctrinal hermeneutics and textual exegetical rules clarifying Calvin’s relationship to the antecedent and subsequent traditions. The book portrays Calvin as a theologian for whom the doctrinal and exegetical tasks cohered, especially in the context of the Church in the Reformations.”


Trinity and Organism: Towards a New Reading of Herman Bavinck’s Organic Motif by James Eglinton

This book explores the organic motif found throughout the writings of the Dutch Calvinist theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). Noting that Bavinck uses this motif at key points in the most important loci of theology; Christology, general and special revelation, ecclesiology and so forth; it seems that one cannot read him carefully without particular attention to his motif of choice: the organic. By examining the sense in which Bavinck views all of reality as a beautiful balance of unity-in-diversity, James Eglinton draws the reader to Bavinck’s constant concern for the doctrine of God as Trinity. If God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Bavinck argues, the creation must be more akin to an organism than a machine. Trinity and organism are thus closely linked concepts.


God and Soul Care: The Therapeutic Resources of the Christian Faith by Eric L. Johnson

“In God and Soul Care―a companion to Foundations for Soul Care―Eric L. Johnson explores the riches of Christian theology, from the heights of the Trinity to the mysteries of eschatology. Each chapter not only serves as an overview of a key doctrine, but also highlights the therapeutic implications of this doctrine for Christian counseling and psychology. A groundbreaking achievement in the synthesis of theology and psychology, God and Soul Care is an indispensable resource for students, scholars, pastors, and clinicians.”


Undomesticated Dissent: Democracy and the Public Virtue of Religious Nonconformity by Curtis W. Freeman

Undomesticated Dissent provides a sweeping intellectual history of the public virtue of religiously motivated dissent from the seventeenth century to the present, by carefully comparing, contrasting, and then weighing the various types of dissent―evangelical and spiritual dissent (Bunyan), economic and social dissent (Defoe), radical and apocalyptic dissent (Blake).”


Trinitarian Theology beyond Participation: Augustine’s De Trinitate and Contemporary Theolog by Maarten Wisse

“Maarten Wisse develops a critique of dominant trends in contemporary theology through a re-reading of Augustine’s De Trinitate. Theological topics covered include the thinking about the relationship of between God and World as participation of the finite in the infinite, Christology as a manifestation of this ontology of participation, Trinity as a model for our relational mode of being and deification (theosis) as the purpose of salvation.”


Martin Luther’s Theology of Beauty: A Reappraisal by Mark C. Mattes

“Many contemporary theologians seek to retrieve the concept of beauty as a way for people to encounter God. This groundbreaking book argues that while Martin Luther’s view of beauty has often been ignored or underappreciated, it has much to contribute to that quest. Mark Mattes, one of today’s leading Lutheran theologians, analyzes Luther’s theological aesthetics and discusses its implications for music, art, and the contemplative life. Mattes shows that for Luther, the cross is the lens through which the beauty of God is refracted into the world.”


Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken by David Powlison

“This book offers hope for both the sexually immoral and the sexually victimized, pointing us all to the grace of Jesus Christ, who mercifully intervenes each moment in our lifelong journey toward renewal. Author David Powlison casts a vision for the key to deep transformation, better than anything the world has to offer—not just fresh resolve, not just flimsy forgiveness, not just simple formulas, but true, lasting mercy from God, who is making all things new.”

Check out

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 1:00am
Blogs

When the job you love hurts you: exploring burnout in the workplace
“According to Merv Gilbert, an adjunct professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University, workplace burnout has three components. “You’re just wiped out. You don’t have any energy. The second thing is de-personalization or detachment. You just feel disconnected from what you’re doing. “The third thing is a sense of failure. You’re really not getting a sense of achievement or accomplishment from what you’re doing anymore,” he said. While Gilbert said it’s unclear whether burnout is becoming more prevalent, people are beginning to open up about their experiences. ”

Life Is Short
“Numbering our days is not an excuse for irresponsibility. It’s an invitation to think more seriously about eternity. It’s a call to work for the things that will keep working when we can’t.”

Dear Extended Families of Expats
Yesterday we said goodbye to my 79-year-old father and my 75-year-old mother who were visiting us from Scotland, probably for the last time.

“If you’re a close friend or family of someone who has moved far away to serve the Lord, you may feel saddened by their absence, or even abandoned. I want to tell you, on behalf of all of us expatriates (“expats”), that we love you. We really do. Whether we’ve moved away to serve as occupational missionaries or follow God’s leading to start a business, work in education, or study at a school, we miss you. Hopefully this letter will explain our situation and encourage you. ”

Introducing ‘Exploring the Bible’
“Reading the Bible is like taking a trip through God’s story, setting out to explore and experience the beautiful views found within. But without a map, it’s easy to get lost. Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids leads children ages 6–12 through the Bible one day at a time over the course of a year. Designed for use alongside any Bible, this workbook will help kids see the overarching story of Scripture and lay the foundation for a lifetime of discovering truths about God, humanity, and the gospel.”

Six Ways to Inspire Confident, Contagious Faith in Your Kids
“How do we help children and teens contend with the big questions? An apologist offers her take.”

Only Love Prevents Adultery
“Dear Friend, Although we haven’t met, I know at least one thing about you. I know you didn’t enter your marriage thinking, “How can I ruin this? How can I bring pain to this man, and our families, and our friends?” You began your marriage hoping it would become a life-long love story, filled with deep joy and satisfaction. And yet here you are today, thinking about things you never thought possible.”

The Half-Way Covenant & Whole-Hearted Youth Ministry
“Baptists and Presbyterians can agree regarding one application of child baptism in church history. What was known as the Half-way Covenant was a bad idea. Yet from it we can gain a valuable lesson regarding the church’s gospel duty to young people.” 

Godliness is not your Personality

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 3:00am

Why do we take our individual, personality, character, gifts, or calling and make that the sum total of godliness for everyone else?

The introvert equates godliness with quietness.

The extrovert equates godliness with activity.

The generous person equates godliness with giving.

The social person equates godliness with hospitality.

The workaholic equates godliness with hard-work.

The pastor equates godliness with preaching gifts.

The counselor equates godliness with discipling gifts.

The home-educator equates godliness with home-schooling.

The missionary equates godliness with mission support.

The evangelist equates godliness with outreach.

The reader equates godliness with a large library.

The happy person equates godliness with cheerfulness.

The melancholy person equates godliness with guilt.

The courageous person equates godliness with public witness.

The political person equates godliness with social action.

The practical person equates godliness with doing.

The intellectual person equates godliness with thinking.

The emotional person equates godliness with feelings.

The friendly person equates godliness with having lots of friends.

The artsy person equated godliness with “cultural engagement.”

Godliness should be measured not so much by what comes easiest to us but by the progress we’re making in areas we’re weakest in.

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