What Mr. Rogers Teaches Us About Reconciliation

It’s no surprise that when a Presbyterian minister wanted to heal the divide between blacks and whites, to show us how to serve each other, it looked very much like Jesus’ own servanthood. When Rogers asked Clemmons to become a police officer, he asked him to become the enemy in order to redeem the enemy—just as Jesus took on the form of his enemy to redeem us. And when Rogers shared his pool and wiped his friend’s feet with a towel, he was repenting through servanthood—the same servanthood that motivated Jesus to take up the towel the night before his death.

But both acts required humility. Both acts required relinquishing privilege—the privilege of anger on Clemmons’ part and the privilege of comfort on Rogers’ part. And through this humility, both men embody Christ: neither condescending to the other; both simply surrendering to the other. So that in the very same act, the humiliated are brought up and the proud are brought down.

In one brief scene on a children’s television show, we see this happen. We see two men humbling themselves. We see two men cleansing each other through acts of communion and identification. We see two men showing the world how reconciliation happens. And we hear Mr. Rogers say, in his own quiet voice, “Sometimes just a minute like this will really make a difference.”


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Who Is The Hero Of The Story?

The essential distinction between Christianity and all other religions—including secularism—can be boiled down to one question: Who is the hero of your story?

The human race was cursed when Adam and Eve decided to be the heroes in their own story. When they took God’s place in the Garden. All subsequent sins are variations on that theme: we are usurping God’s place.

But Scripture says that real fruit, the fruit that endures for eternity, is fruit that brings glory to the Father. It makes him the hero; God’s power shown through our weakness. And it’s always been that way.


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America’s Need For Biblical Literacy

While America’s evangelical Christians are rightly concerned about the secular worldview’s rejection of biblical Christianity, we ought to give some urgent attention to a problem much closer to home–biblical illiteracy in the church. This scandalous problem is our own, and it’s up to us to fix it.

Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates. How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it’s worse than most could imagine.

This really is our problem, and it is up to this generation of Christians to reverse course. Recovery starts at home. Parents are to be the first and most important educators of their own children, diligently teaching them the Word of God. [See Deuteronomy 6:4-9.] Parents cannot franchise their responsibility to the congregation, no matter how faithful and biblical it may be. God assigned parents this non-negotiable responsibility, and children must see their Christian parents as teachers and fellow students of God’s Word.


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What Happened To The Reliability Of The Bible?

The reliability of Scripture came under attack during and after the Enlightenment; especially (and oddly) by Christian leaders themselves.

To counter the attack on God’s Word, theologians and pastors for the last two hundred years have been arguing for the trustworthiness of the Bible. And that’s right. The Bible is trustworthy and that we should argue for its authority.

We read Scripture in order to personally meet Jesus. The Bible promises that in it we actually come to hear God. And that—how to hear God in Scripture—should be the focus of our teaching. We spend so much time arguing for Scripture that we we’ve forgotten to teach how to use it.


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Hey There, Judgy McJudgerpants!

There are two types of judging.

  1. Judging an individual’s heart-motives which is directly tied to condemning them.This is the kind of judging that Jesus, Paul, and James sharply denounce. It’s the judgment of the heart.
  2. The other type of judging is the act of evaluating the morality of an action or the rightness of a word, statement, or teaching. Not according to one’s own personal preferences, the dictates of their conscience, or the standards of their denomination, movement, or Christian tribe (e.g., Colossians 2:16; Romans 14), but according to the standards of Jesus Christ as spelled out in His Word.

So it’s right to evaluate the merits of an action based on what the New Testament clearly teaches. But it’s wrong to judge a person’s motives.


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The Hope And Joy of Redemption

When we suffer loss—anything from tarnished reputation, rejection, theft, and even death—we want to get back to what we had before. But the gospel promises more than a mere return to our previous state of affairs.  C. S. Lewis wrote,

For God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo. Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity.

It’s a spiritual principle that God uses our deepest pains to bring about our greatest joys. Restoration of status quo is child’s play; transformation of suffering into glory is the gospel.


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Be Delighted By God, Not Desperate For Him

Being desperate for God is what someone feels who doesn’t really know what God has done. They don’t really know who God is for them. They don’t get that they are no longer living in a visitational culture. They are a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

When you understand that you are a habitation of God, it changes your whole perspective on how you walk with God. You start actually seeking the Lord.

I am not remotely desperate for God. I’m too busy just being delighted in Him.


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You Won’t Hear God If You’re Full Of Yourself

Most of us unconsciously believe that God speaks only to those who are mature and pure. The trouble is, positive self-talk forms barriers to hearing God: he loves the broken-hearted.

The God of Scripture is attracted to the humble, and it is the humble he loves to raise up. That’s why Jesus invites the broken-hearted: “Come to me all who are weak and heavy-burdened.”

We can approach God full and walk away empty; or we approach him empty—no excuses and no self-esteem—and walk away full.


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The God Of The Bible Has A Name And We Should Use It

Did you know the Bible mentions the name of the God of Israel 6,828 times? (Yet, if you ask most people the name of God, they can’t tell you.  Many can name the gods of other countries, cultures and pagan religions, but not the name of the one and only true God – YHVH  (יהוה   in Hebrew).

Why is this?  Why isn’t His name spelled out in our Bibles?  And, what have we missed all these centuries by not using His actual name?

Imagine if every time you saw the word “LORD” (in all caps) it read Yehovah or Yahweh (as some pronounce it).  You’d be seeing and saying his name nearly 7,000 times as you read through the Bible.  This was the intent of the authors of the Bible, and, might I add, of Yehovah himself (“All scripture is inspired by Yehovah…” 2 Tim. 3:16).

Why does Yehovah want us using his name?  In searching the scriptures for references to using his name, I came to understand the many benefits of doing so.


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Spiritual Lessons From “The Walking Dead”

Recently, I finished every episode of The Walking Dead to date. Beyond the compelling characters, rich storylines, and incomparable acting, the parallels to the spiritual walk are impressive. The gruesome scenes, notwithstanding.

What follows are three critical lessons about the Christian life I observed while watching.

You don’t know what people are really like until you observe them under pressure. Only then do their true colors emerge. This sober fact is brought out powerfully in The Walking Dead.


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Conquering Co-Dependency & Consumerism In Church Culture

Those churches that sprang from American soil have avoided certain aspects of the feudal model, but unfortunately many have been co-opted by another system. Whereas Constantine poured the early Christian movement into the mold of Roman patronage, many American churches have been profoundly shaped by the mold of democratic capitalism. Ours is a free market system where “church shopping” makes complete sense to most people because the focus is on meeting the perceived needs of individuals. Over the past fifty years churches in America have continued this pattern by placing an ever-greater emphasis on attracting new members by providing staff-led programs tailored to the specific interests of various constituencies.

Apparently we need more than a better marketing plan or a new program to solve this crisis. What began as a dynamic grass-roots movement in Palestine that nearly conquered the Roman Empire gradually became a theology in Greece, an institution in Rome, a state church in Europe, and now a non-profit service provider in America. The question is: what will the next chapter of our story be?


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A Biblical Definition Of Success

Two great lies have been promoted in our culture during the past 20 years. They are told to children in school, students in college, and workers throughout the business world.

The first great lie is, “If you work hard enough, you can be anything you want to be.” It is often sold as the American Dream, expressed in sayings such as, “In America, anyone can grow up to be president.”

The second great lie is like the first one, yet it’s possibly even more damaging: “You can be the best in the world.”

These lies are accepted by many Christians as well as non-Christians. They catastrophically damage our view of work and vocation because they have distorted the biblical view of success. These two lies define success in 21st century Western culture. Success, defined as being the master of your own destiny, has become an idol.


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The Problem With Finding Identity In Anything Besides Christ

Our naming is an illusion. Or delusion. My old title beat me up; it whipped me with the scourge, “Used to be.” Everything we have will soon be a used-to-be. We need a name that will never let us down—which really means we need a different savior.

The Apostle Paul surely had the Jeremiah passage in mind when he offered a similarly odd plea: “God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

The impact of my life would be magnified beyond measure if my single boast in the world was: “I’ve got the applause of the only person whose opinion counts—though I don’t deserve it!”


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“Wait Till It’s Free” – A Free Documentary

Colin Gunn has recently released a documentary he created. The film examines the controversial topic of “free” health care. The documentary can be viewed for free (ironically) on the film’s website.

One of the most encouraging things about the film is its presentation of the sensible alternatives to health care that exist within the Christian community.


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What Happens When Christians Care About Creation

In the hyper-partisan world of American climate politics, these guys are a minority within a minority—evangelical environmentalists who are deeply conservative.

The shorthand for faith-based environmentalism is “creation care”—the notion that people have been entrusted by God to care for the Earth. But the common perception is that creation care was a concern of liberal congregations, ones far more concerned with social justice talk than fire and brimstone. Murdock and Johnson, however, are among a growing group of conservative Christians who draw bright moral lines, know their Bibles, and make connections between the environment and other social issues such as their opposition to abortion. Rather than joining the liberal ranks, they want to revive a heritage of belief they trace to the founders of the modern religious right.

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The Case For Christian Intolerance

We, as Christians, ought to be totally, completely intolerant of evil and blasphemy. We should neither respect it nor dismiss it as mere “entertainment.” When someone mocks our God, we ought to oppose them forcefully and relentlessly. Shouting it down might not always be the answer, but shouting is at least better than whispering or saying nothing.

There are too many “offended” whiners in our culture who get their feelings hurt over the smallest perceived slight, so I am not recommending mere offendedness at personal insults. Those we must endure and often ignore – a skill many of our nation’s college students need to learn. But Christians ought to be outraged, incensed, and infuriated by heinous attacks against God, faith, and virtue. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek when someone slaps us, but He makes no such recommendation when someone slaps God or His commandments.


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The Need For A Consistent Sexual Ethic

I have only two options to deal with the tension of asking someone feeling gay longings to do something as difficult as pursue celibacy:

1. Give him and everyone else a pass for cross-less Christianity, what Bonhoeffer called “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

2. Call everyone to bear the cross in the area of his or her sexuality.

I must force a clear choice. As Joshua told his fellow citizens: “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God” until you “destroy the idols among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Josh. 24:19,23). Here’s how our church is trying to do that, often with struggles and still with much to learn.


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What’s Wrong With “Relationship Vs. Religion”

Our Christian culture today is saturated with this idea, or at least with the quip, “relationship not religion.”

Unfortunately, the quip is wrong. In fact, it is so misleading it needs correction before we can start undoing much of the damage it has done. And boy has it done some damage. A large percentage of the failure of modern evangelicalism (and other parts of the church) can be blamed on the fallout of this mentality.

Here’s the bottom line, and then I’ll explain: “Religion vs. Relationship” is a false choice, and is always necessarily a false choice. By erecting this false dichotomy, people display that they understand neither what religion is nor what a relationship is. As a result, they denigrate both.


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Spreading The Gospel Amid A Refugee Crisis

In other words, the key question seems to be this: In light of terror attacks worldwide, is bringing 10,000 refugees from the Middle East really a safe decision?

While we shouldn’t downplay these concerns, I do wonder what would happen if Christians stood counter to American culture on this issue, by asking fundamentally different questions. What if, while America was asking questions about safety and risk management, Christians were asking, What is God doing? What if, through the senseless evil of civil war, God was bringing unreached people groups to our cities? What if, through great tragedy, God was bringing about the triumph of the gospel?


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Why We Want Religious Systems More Than The Gospel

It was easy to speak boldly that my ministry was all about faithfulness to God and His Word. But when humility gave birth to brutal honesty, I freely began to admit that there was undoubtedly this constant undercurrent of concern about my future. If someone else in leadership began to be at odds with me, it could go sour and I could end up looking for another church. If a long-standing and prominent congregant took issue with me, they had the power to influence others against me, and I could end up looking for another church.  At almost every point in pastoring, I constantly stood a chance of losing something.

Reminiscing about this brought me to an important reality followed by an important question. The reality is this: people crave religious systems. The question is obvious: why?

Fear drives this inward compulsion to conform. You are afraid of not belonging any longer. So you behave the way you need to in order to stay with the group. When this translates into churchianity, you come to believe that staying with your local church is tantamount to staying with God. And to not conform to the church is to be marginalized or expelled by both church and God. 


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Job: A Book With No Easy Answers

The book of Job raises many important questions about the role of suffering in God’s world. Why do people suffer? How can we suffer well? Is God just? This video gives a concise explanation of how the book of Job raises such questions and what answers it gives.

It’s hard to say which Bible Project video is the best, but this certainly has to be a top contender.


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Star Wars Reveals Our Culture’s Hunger For Redemption

We inherit much of our identities from our fathers. This is both a blessing and a curse. Coming to grips with his father’s fallen humanity, while still retaining an independent sense of dignity, ambition, and integrity, is one of the great rites of passages in a young man’s life. That is perhaps how God visits “the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:7).

Luke’s tragedy resonates because, at some level, it is ours. In our most honest moments, when the burden of sin presses down on us, we recognize that we, in our very nature and from the moment of our generation, are something awful.

The Bible’s story leads to repentance and faith in the atoning Christ and his substitutionary sacrifice. Luke and Vader’s story, as it continues in Return of the Jedi, diverges from the Greek and Biblical archetypes, mirroring neither exactly, but combining the two in evocative ways. Luke becomes a sort of messiah-savior by fulfilling his Jedi training, converting Vader and defeating the Emperor. Vader dies the martyr’s redemptive death in his final sacrifice. The original Star Wars saga, like Dante’s, is, in the end, a story of light. But before searching for light, one must meditate on the darkness, which is what Empire Strikes Back does so well. The genius of Empire is to take an ancient Greek tragedy with a dose of Biblical truth, dress it up in science-fiction garb, and sell it as a blockbuster. Few have done better.


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Oppose Gambling For The Right Reasons

Conservative Christians can’t talk about gambling, if we don’t see the bigger picture.

We must understand that gambling is an issue of economic justice. We can’t really address the gambling issue if we ignore the larger issue of poverty. Evangelicals who don’t care (as does Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles) about the poor can’t speak adequately to the gambling issues. By this I don’t simply mean caring about individual poor people but about the way social and political and corporate structures contribute to the misery of the impoverished (James 5:1-6). We will never get to the nub of the gambling issue if we don’t get at a larger vision of poverty and the limits of commercial power.

Too many of our “opponents” see us as morally-prissy Victorians who don’t want people doing “naughty” things in our presence. Let’s demolish that pretense, by being the gritty colony of the kingdom that sees the economically downtrodden among us as, when in Christ, “heirs of the kingdom” (Jas. 2:5). And let’s hold out a vision, for all of us, of an inheritance that comes not through predation, and not through luck, but through sonship, through grace.


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Lessons In Parenting From The Selfie Stick

Some people refer to them as “Selfie-Sticks”, I think of them as “Narcissistic Sticks”. Do we really live in a society where we’ve sold hundreds of thousands of metal sticks so people can take a picture of themselves? It probably sounds like a trivial matter but I believe there is a deeper issue going on in the hearts of people, and it’s one we need to help walk our kids through.

I want my kids to grow up with a healthy knowledge of who they are in Christ, what God thinks of them and what I think of them. I don’t want them to be full of pride and full of themselves but I also don’t want them growing up with low self-esteem or even self-loathing, as if they don’t matter and aren’t valuable.

There are a few ways I can think of to combat both the one extreme of pride and the other extreme of lack of confidence in themselves…


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The Parenting Parable

I regret weighing my son’s worth via a meritocratic scale. I do regret the parenting style I’ve employed—not because I’m too strict or not strict enough (depending on whom you ask) or because sometimes we eat McNuggets for dinner. I regret it because I have put my son at the center of my family’s orbit when he should be alongside us instead. In doing so, I have designated my identity and worth as strictly what I’ve achieved as a parent; I have made it nearly impossible to extend grace to a child who throws fits and says bad words—to see him as existentially valuable.

I want to be the best mother I can be, but perhaps the most efficient way to go about this is to remove my child from the center of my universe. Perhaps then I will allow myself to be a holistic human being; and perhaps then I can grant my son that same freedom.


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Inspiring Youth Toward Maturity In Christ

Youth live in transition between childhood and adulthood, so youth ministry always has the potential to pull them in either direction. Too often, it tugs toward childishness. We offer really sophisticated day care. We compete with entertainers. But the Christian life doesn’t tend toward prolonged naiveté; it leads to maturity. Any ministry, including youth ministry, should pull toward adulthood, where meaning and romance and grief and deep communion with Christ are found. Whenever we have the chance, we should call youth forward into Christian adulthood.

For Paul, steadiness of mind is a primary mark of Christian maturity. Childish Christians are “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes,” while mature Christians have attained to “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:13-14, ESV). Mature Christians are steady in mind through Christ, and childish Christians are unsteady.


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How America Ruined The Gospel

There is a common belief among Americans that following Jesus will help you get what you want in life. In this story, the “good news” is good because it brings individual satisfaction and pleasure. The good news of the biblical Gospel is that people can be reconciled to God. That may or may not have anything to do with your material prosperity or comfort. (more…)

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How Consumer Church Wears Everyone Out

I wonder if the American church is setting itself up for failure? If church structure— which is geared toward meeting every need, developing everyone spiritually and organizing all inward and outward ministry — results in a 90 percent failure rate, perhaps we should reevaluate.

I wonder if a “Come to us and we will do it all, lead it all, organize it all, calendar it all, execute it all, innovate it all, care for it all and fund it all” framework is even biblical? It sets leaders and followers up for failure, creating a church-centric paradigm in which discipleship is staff-led and program-driven.

This slowly builds a consumer culture wherein spiritual responsibility is transferred from Christians to the pastors, a recipe for disaster.

Evaluate your church culture and decide if you are making disciples or consumers.



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Why Parenting For Legalism Will Fail

The answer to misbehavior and sin is not to hover over our little ones, nervously trying to either catch them in sin or find them acting, for once, in good ways so that we can reinforce every positive or negative action, but instead to simply trust God to soften their hearts, and to clean the insides of those little cups, so that then the outsides will be clean also. Whether He does this before they turn all your hairs gray is–I’m sorry to break this to you, my friends–not within your control.

But don’t worry. Instead, believe.

Despite all of our worry, the Gospel is sufficient to replace the dead letter of the Law that we had been teaching, and that many of us had been raised on ourselves. The hearing of the Word is sufficient to raise our children’s souls from the dead, just as it has done for all of the other saints. Your daily attention to the truth is sufficient. Don’t let the simplicity of the Truth trip you up. Pharisees are the ones who like to complicate things, and I think we all have a little bit of that inability to believe that it could possibly be that simple. You don’t need to add anything to the Word–no charts, stickers, badges, records, journals, rewards, or any other kind of proof that the Holy Spirit is working. He just IS. Believe this, and have peace.


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Prayer Meetings Are The Heartbeat Of The Church

The condition of a church can be accurately determined by its prayer meetings. Vance Havner said that “the thermometer of a church is its prayer meeting.”

A.T. Pierson said: “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.” It’s well documented that all true revivals in history began in the prayer meeting. Based on the teaching of Scripture, the example of the early church, and church history, it seems to me that the need of the hour is to worry less about doing whatever it takes to draw a crowd and to give greater attention to collectively seeking God in prayer.

Spurgeon said: “We shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.” He also said: “If we would have Him, we must meet in greater numbers; we must pray with greater fervency, we must watch with greater earnestness, and believe with firmer steadfastness. The prayer meeting … is the appointed place for the reception of power.”


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What The Imago Dei Looks Like In Police Work

A teddy bear probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of police gear. But for Officer Tommy Norman of the North Little Rock Police Department, teddy bears are essential equipment. You can find them in the trunk of his squad car, nestled right next to a cooler full of cold drinks and packages of chips.

This almost idyllic picture of an Arkansas community is due in large part to Norman’s ability to treat everyone he encounters as if he or she was truly valuable. Part of what attracts us to his Instagram account is that the Imago Dei in each individual — be they child, homeless person, elderly neighbor, or fellow police officer — is highlighted. These encounters are glorious because human beings are glorious; Tommy Norman truly “gets” this, and he treats them accordingly. As one Imgur commenter said, “Officer Norman is teaching us how to be human.”

This moving story highlights some of the often unseen aspects of police work and  reminds us that Norman’s bond with members of his community, especially the children, can be truly life-altering. Norman explains that “the stats that matter are the hearts that you are mending, the trust and the love that’s instilled in the hearts of people that see that.” When they lay their heads down at night and go to sleep, are they at peace knowing that the police officers of their community care about them? In Officer Tommy Norman’s patrol area of North Little Rock, Arkansas, the answer is “Yes.”


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The Evil Inside

The problem for Christian parents isn’t in the desire to shelter children; it’s in the warped perspective that such sheltering can foster.

We begin to believe that sin and rebellion is a problem outside of our home, not inside. We start thinking our kids are basically good and in need of moral direction, rather than recognizing that our kids are basically bad and in need of heart transformation.

We communicate to our kids that it’s ”us” (good) versus “them” (bad) rather than helping them see our family’s role as one of service (“us” for “them”). Then, when evil shows up on the inside of our home, we diminish its significance or hide it rather than bring it out in the open.


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Atonement Explained

Another great video from The Bible Project explains the concept of “atonement.” Find out how the animal sacrifices described in the Torah point to the ultimate atoning sacrifice of the Messiah himself. This is a core piece of Christian theology which must be understood. This video is a great tool for understanding it.

Note: It’s good to consider atonement alongside the concept of holiness and the beginning of the biblical story with heaven & earth. All these ideas are interrelated.


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When A Culture Of Death Gives Way To Life In Christ

We in the pro-life movement have no enemies to destroy. Our weapons are chaste weapons of the spirit: truth and love. Our task is less to defeat our opponents than to win them to the cause of life. To be sure, we must oppose the culture and politics of death resolutely and with a determination to win. But there is no one—no one—whose heart is so hard that he or she cannot be won over. Let us not lose faith in the power of our weapons to transform even the most resolute abortion advocates.

Wielding truth and love won’t win over everyone to the cause of life, but it will change those with eyes to see and ears to hear. As truth beckons, “Come and witness the culture of death that undergirds abortion,” minds will be persuaded. As love invites, “Taste and see the culture of life that is Christ crucified for you,” hearts will be softened.

For abortion says, “Your life for mine,” but Jesus says, “My life for yours—even if you’ve killed your own child.”


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This Woman Had An Abortion And That’s Why She’s Against Abortion

I’ve had an abortion. Let’s just clear the air here before we move forward. Yes – this is a Christian site and I am publicly admitting that I had an abortion.

I don’t think women should have abortions. You may be thinking “Jessi, that’s really hypocritical because you did!” However, in all the chaos of womens rights and being in my early twenties – no one warned me of the deep shame and pain that would fill my heart. The whole abortion process was traumatic and lonely. Months later I attempted to commit suicide because of the pain and rejection that consumed me. It was that week that I had an encounter with Jesus and my life turned around.

I think many Christians are wanting the government to not act like the world. They want politicians to give them a solution that the church was always meant to provide.

I think we need to start talking about abortion. Not in the sense of bashing people that have had them, but offering them love and Grace and show them their identity in Jesus. I think we need to show extreme love and Christian women that had abortions near to share their stories of redemption! I wish in my early twenties someone just told me “Jessi, if you make this decision it’s going to really hurt your heart. Jesus loves you so much. If you have this baby – I will help you find it a home. You will not be rejected but you are surrounded by love.” However – all I heard from my boyfriend is “I will leave you and you will ruin your entire life if you have this baby.” All I heard from the global church was “We will reject you.”


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Martin Luther Said Some Crazy Things

For many Christians, Martin Luther is a household name. He was a monumental reformer–the father of the Protestant Reformation. Sadly, however, Luther often clashed with his fellow Protestant reformers. The bad blood between Luther and the other reformers set an example of uncivil dialogue and noncooperation between Protestant leaders that continues until this day.

If you ever got on Luther’s bad side, you’d be wise to run for cover. He wrote, “Anger refreshes all my blood, sharpens my mind, and drives away temptations . . . I was born to war with fanatics and devils. Thus my books are very stormy and bellicose.”

Luther scholars are well aware of Luther’s unkind and course tone as well as his penchant to be angry and bull-headed. In addition, name-calling wasn’t beneath him.


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How Hollywood Teaches Us About Heaven

Year after year, Hollywood churns a host of sequels, reboots, and remakes on a quest to find Eden, because embedded deep within our souls is a nostalgic quest for a lost paradise—and film is often where it leads us.

The reason sequels, reboots, and remakes become mixed up in this desire is because our broken world is deficient to satisfy our hunger. Instead, we attach the desire to something more tangible, but still vague enough to provide an ineffable hope, like memories of feelings we have had in certain times in our past, when things seemed just right. We can expect evidence of this reality when we go to the movies. We are drawn to sequels and prequels because they promise to take us back to a place we remember enjoying. We are drawn to reboots and remakes because they promise to recreate encounters with characters and stories that once gave us comfort. We love these films because they promise to give us something we remember being perfect.

As C.S. Lewis says: “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.


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Sunday Sermon: Unstoppable Joy | Rob Rienow

Dr. Rob Rienow examines some of the promises of God and how they should produce an unstoppable joy in the life of believers. This stems from some of Paul’s comments in Philippians.

Before examining the biblical text of the sermon, he takes a few minutes at the start to comment on recent events in our country and how they boil down to an attack on God and his Word. (more…)

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The Irrelevance Of Relevant Christianity

Do people want Christianity to be cool? What happens when churches become too driven by the desire to be trend-savvy and culturally relevant? Can a church balance hipster credibility within an orthodox tradition?

Further time will tell whether the legacy of the “hipster Christianity” phenomenon will be one of decline or revival for churches. It could be that in certain parts of the world, and particularly in cities, cool churches are exactly what is needed to inject life into stagnant tradition.

But my guess is that sooner rather than later it will become clear that what people want from church is something different than what is offered on the pages of Vogue or the streets of Brooklyn.

Christianity’s true relevance lies not in the gospel’s comfortable trendiness but in its uncomfortable transcendence, as a truth with the power to rebuff, renew and restore wayward humanity as every epoch in history.


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The 10 Commandments Of Parenting

Parenting is one of the greatest joys and responsibilities in this life. Few things produce greater humility or furnish greater rewards. Though I feel inadequate for the task, I love being a Daddy! I continue to receive “on the job training,” but here are a few commandments I long to live by as I continue to labor in this wonderful vineyard called Christian parenting.

1. Thou shall not worship thy children or their future.


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Hey Christian, You’re Not As Likely To Divorce As You Thought You Were

This is a game-changer. Talk about “an old wives’ tale.” You’ve heard it said that 1) 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce; 2) most marriages that do happen to make it are, nonetheless, unhappy, and 3) Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-believers.

Shaunti Feldhahn is a Harvard-trained researcher and author. In her recently released book, “The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce,” Feldhahn details groundbreaking findings from an extensive eight-year study on marriage and divorce. Among other things, her research found:

  • The actual divorce rate has never gotten close to 50 percent.
  • Those who attend church regularly have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who don’t.
  • Most marriages are happy.
  • Simple changes make a big difference in most marriage problems.
  • Most remarriages succeed.

“The 50 percent figure came from projections of what researchers thought the divorce rate would become as they watched the divorce numbers rising in the 1970s and early 1980s when states around the nation were passing no-fault divorce laws.”


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The Church Got Lost In Translation

In 1525, one of the first people to translate the Bible into English, William Tyndale, translated the word ekklesia as congregation. However, in 1611 the translators of the King James Version of the Bible chose to completely drop the Greek meaning of ekklesia and to replace it with the English word church which has a different meaning.  Since then, most English translations have followed the King James example and used church to replace the meaning of the word ekklesia.

However, the Greek word ekklesia, now lost to most English Bibles, has a completely different meaning than the word church. Ekklesia literally means “the called out ones.” It also was the proper name of the governing bodies of independent Greek city-states. These bodies (Ekklesias) were open, participatory, interactive assemblies that gathered to conduct city business.


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Sabbath Is For Freedom

Leadership is stewardship—the cultivation of the resources God has entrusted to us for his glory. The Sabbath gives us both theological and practical help in managing one of our primary resources —our time.

One of the fundamental principles of the Bible when it comes to time management is the Sabbath. If we are to be an “alternate city” (Matthew 5:14–16), we have to be different from our neighbors in how we spend our time outside of work; that is, how we rest. So what is the Sabbath about?

God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is really a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave—to a need for success, to a materialistic culture, to exploitative employers, to parental expectations, or to all of the above. These slave masters will abuse you if you are not disciplined in the practice of Sabbath rest. Sabbath is a declaration of freedom.


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What Frankenstein Teaches About Abortion

We were practical, hard-working Italians, and nothing was going to hinder us from achieving the American Dream for each and every family member.

For most of my childhood and early adulthood, the name “Planned Parenthood” conjured feelings of safety and security. The institution represented for me and my family of origin a bedrock of civilization: a woman’s right to liberation from the oppression of bearing a child. Long before I became a self-conscious feminist supporting the worldview of Planned Parenthood, I believed abortion was more than just some “necessary evil.” I believed abortion was a compelling good.

As I pause today to reflect on the outrage of Planned Parenthood, I think of Frankenstein’s monster. And the monster that I am. And for the life of me, I don’t understand how people like my beloved relative and her unborn child could have been helped apart from God’s people taking her and her kids into their home for long-term, real-life care. She needed more than a word in season. She needed the hands of God.


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The Double Standard Of A Culture That Mocks Modesty

I’ve been thinking about the “double standards” of modesty supposedly held by men. I’m sure many of us remember quite a tempest in the internet teapot about yoga pants not too long ago. A number of women, bloggers and commenters alike, came down on the “well, just don’t look!” side of things.

What I didn’t see was a lot of concern on the part of women for their own souls. So busy are they, worrying about whether the rest of us ought to police our own eyes that they ignore the fact that the way a person dresses both affects and reflects her own thoughts.

If your heart is tender, admitting and avoiding your own sinful nature, you will avert your eyes. Then, in the world’s view, you are the wrong-doer. They (men and women, don’t forget) want to be sexy everywhere, all the time, and they demand that we not be embarrassed. It’s a pretty glaring double standard, isn’t it, that women think they should be able to call attention to whatever body parts they like, and the rest of us, men and women alike, have to pretend not to see it?


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Where Augustine Gets Weird

There is no question that evangelical Christianity owes an enormous debt to Augustine. In fact, there’s wide consensus among historians that next to Jesus and Paul, Augustine is the most influential figure in the history of Christianity.

Famed historian Will Durant said of Augustine, “he is the most authentic, eloquent, and powerful voice of the Age of Faith in Christendom.”

Augustine advocated the use of force against the Donatists, asking “Why . . . should not the church use force in compelling her lost sons to return, if the lost sons compelled others to their destruction?”


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The Crazy Beliefs Of Crazy Moody

He was famously nicknamed “Crazy Moody,” and it’s reported that he reached 100 million people with the gospel, in a day when televangelists, radio preachers, and Al Gore (the Internet, ahem) didn’t exist.

In Moody’s case, he was poorly educated across the board. Yet the hand of God was undeniably upon him.

Interestingly, the first time Moody applied to be a member of a local church, he was denied because he failed an oral exam on Christian doctrine!


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Jim Gaffigan’s Intersection Of Faith & Media

Gaffigan seems to realize that he does have a voice in the realm of religious conversation—as evidenced from the The Jim Gaffigan Show—but his more organic approach to the intersection between his personal life and comedy creates a natural, rather than explicit, response to religious conversation and the culture wars. He’s a comedian who’s also a Christian, rather than a Christian who happens to be a comedian.


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The Only Decision That Matters

People are no more lost now than they have ever been, and Jesus is no less Lord now than He will ever be. We dare not cower in our churches as though God has lost anything. The only decision handed down that matters is that the gates of hell cannot prevail against His church!

The first marriage was between a perfect man and a perfect woman. The last marriage will be between a glorified man, the Lord Jesus, and his sanctified bride, the church. Between those two weddings, humanity has marred and defaced the institution of marriage in many ways, including this new way. But the Lord Jesus will have the last say. Until then, I am doing all I can to make my marriage reflect the love of Christ for his church and to share the gospel of grace with everyone. No handwringing, no fear, no hatred, no bitterness. Just love of the Lord Jesus, of the truth, of my wife, of the Lord’s church, and of my neighbor–ALL of my neighbors. Though something in our culture has definitely changed, everything in the Word of God remained the same. I rest in that.


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When “The Only Way” is the Wrong Play

Do you remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?

I wonder if there is an ideological equivalence to Maslow’s theory. I wonder if there is a hierarchy of beliefs?

“Jesus is the only way” is a belief that often requires a long list of presuppositions. Each presupposition may be a unique epiphany, one important step toward Jesus. For instance…


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Why New Testament Believers Didn’t Have Worship Leaders

You’ll see Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Evangelists, and Pastors but you won’t find hide nor hair of a worship leader. Being a full time worship leader I had a bit of an identity crises when I flipped through the pages of New Testament scripture unable to find my job description. Then I realized something: Being a worship leader was something every Christian was called to.


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Churchianity And The Dones

Churchianity:  a mirage (of the kingdom of God taught and exemplified by Jesus as unfolded in the New Testament) that is always forming both near and around the new covenant community of Jesus by perpetual, generational layers of religious traditions created by well-meaning but largely grace-ignorant Christians, in order to supposedly help themselves and others honor God and follow Jesus better.

Dones:  people who have given up on the traditional church format.

Below is a list of resources to help understand why so many people are “done” with “churchianity”…


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1 Corinthians At A Glance

This video from our friends at The Bible Project explains the entire book of 1Corinthians in less than 8 minutes. See the structure and themes of the book in beautiful vivid imagery.

Paul’s letters can sometimes seem complicated and difficult to understand. But a video like this helpfully summarizes the main ideas of the book and simplifies the complex arguments into points that are easy to understand. Share this far and wide. (more…)

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Discipleship Requires Transformation And Patience

The best way to make disciples is with patience. It’s also the only way to make a community, multiply a community, and plant new communities in a healthy way. But it’s also not the American way, nor the American church way. We want to treat discipleship like it functions on a factory assembly line, having people line up at the front, add specific theology, life, and behavior along the way and come out the other end as a perfectly equipped disciple. That’s a program for education and not a process of discipleship.

Discipleship is a process of becoming like Jesus Christ in our affections, our thoughts, and our behavior. If we begin to see discipleship as a process with many iterations, we would find more peace, joy, and hope in the struggle of everyday life. Each day then allows us to experience more of God, realize more of our need to be conformed and trust that God’s word is true and that He will conform us to Jesus.


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History Can Save Us From Apostacy

More often than not, when I talk to twentysomethings who are seriously contemplating walking away from their faith, the main stumbling block is an intellectual one. My faith didn’t have the deep intellectual roots necessary to flourish outside of a youth group setting. For many twentysomethings, the moment the intellectual credibility of faith is challenged and there’s no immediately satisfying answer, they’re out. This is where a robust understanding and deep study of Church history became my lifeboat.

The faith of my youth had mainly been informed by emotional altar calls and evangelical clichés; neither of these components are inherently wrong, but this culture alone wasn’t enough for me to face an increasingly secular world. Through their writings, ancient Church fathers became like mentors who helped me see that the doubts we wrestle with today are the same questions those who came before us struggled with too. Studying Church history  can help us develop a strong sense of what Dr. Duke calls our “intergenerational self.” Or, as Feiler puts it, we begin to understand that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves.


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Maybe Christianity Is Loosing Traction Because It’s Boring

And this is the problem with Christianity in this country. Not just inside our church buildings, but everywhere. It often has no edge, no depth. No sense of its own ancient and epic history. There is no sacredness to it. No pain. No beauty. No reverence. Or I should say Christianity has all of those things, fundamentally and totally, but many modern Christians in every denomination have spent many years trying to blunt them or bury them under a thousand layers of icing and whipped cream and apathy.

That’s been the strategy of the American church for decades: just try not to scare people. They put on this milquetoast, tedious, effeminate charade, feigning hipness and relevance, aping secular culture, and then furrow their brows and shake their heads in bewilderment when everyone gets bored and walks away.

There are still plenty of Christians who desire the true faith, but they are mostly ignored or scolded by the very people who should be leading them. And the Convenientists, of course, find no happiness in their secular Christianity, nor do they find it in secular secularism. Even if they don’t know it, they yearn in the pit of their souls for the true message of Christ, but they rarely hear it. And when they do hear it, there are a million competing voices, many from inside the church, warning them that if they go down this road it might involve changing their behavior and their lifestyle, which is a total hassle, man.


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‘The Nones’ Are The New Religious Elite

Christianity still dominates American religious identity (70%), but the survey shows dramatic shifts as more people move out the doors of denominations, shedding spiritual connections along the way.

Atheists and agnostics have nearly doubled their share of the religious marketplace, and overall indifference to religion of any sort is rising as well.

The “nones” — Americans who are unaffiliated with brand-name religion — are the new major force in American faith. And they are more secular in outlook — and “more comfortable admitting it” than ever before, said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.


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Maintain Unity And The Bond Of Peace

“I have never yet known the Spirit of God to work where the Lord’s people were divided.” Like D.L. Moody, neither have I. Instead, most of us probably have seen too often how disunity hinders the Spirit’s work in the church and damages the church’s witness to the world.

Unity in the body of Christ can’t be taken for granted or taken lightly. Unity is a gift from God made possible by the cross of Jesus and made effective by the working of the Holy Spirit. It’s not something we can create, but unity is our responsibility to guard. The greatest threats to church unity come not from outside the church, but from within. So we need to be on guard against attitudes and actions that destroy unity, like these…


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No One Really Cares About The Palestinian Genocide

Here is what is amazing! Palestinians are experiencing a real genocide and no one cares. Have you even heard one peep from Hollywood or MSNBC about Yarmouk?

Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee camp is under siege by Assad and under attack by ISIS. It has shrunk from 160,000 Palestinians to 18,000 in three years.

Israel tries to stop Hamas from sending rockets against her, and the world is livid. Arabs kill Palestinians in cold blood and hardly a peep. The silence is deafening!


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Jonathan Edwards The Shocking Rock Star

Although the Yale educated, Calvinist theologian/philosopher lived in the mid-1700s, countless Reformed youth today regard him as a rock star.

He was bitterly critical when New Englanders stole land from Native Americans, commanding them to pay for the land they took. So he — the logical Reformed personality — was a “social activist” engaged in “social justice.”

This is interesting since many contemporary Edwards followers eschew anything having to do with social activism or social justice today.

Even so, some American Christians venerate Edwards with almost cult-like regard. Thus any critique of his views is regarded by some to be on a par with blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

The following views held by Edwards will be met with shock or surprise by some Christians today…


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Seeing Yourself In The Parable Of The Two Sons

Religion is an invisible prison. It makes us think we are okay with God, when we may actually be further from Him than the greatest of sinners. Sinners typically know they are sinning. Religious people never do.

And that’s the deal with the older son. He thinks he is better than his brother because he stuck around with dad. But he’s not better necessarily, for he is judging and condemning his brother, whom the father has accepted and forgiven! The older son is a lost son as well, and he too has turned away from his father.

Both the older son and the younger son need to see how God has graciously forgiven and accepted each of them, one for his many sins and the other for his religious hypocrisy, and both can thank the father for His love, and then show each other the same love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness in return.


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Apologize Your Way To Christlikeness

Apologies demonstrate that someone is truly living by Christ’s life, for it takes uncommon insight for a person to recognize when they’ve mistreated another human being (which is usually rationalized in their minds) and deep humility to let them know that you’re sorry for what you’ve done.

An apology provides fertile ground to renew our relationship, which has been lost.

Here are 3 reasons why disciples of Jesus should apologize to others whenever we treat them in a way we wouldn’t want others to treat us. (There are others, but these three stand out in my mind right now)…


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Welcoming Makes Well

“Whoever welcomes this little child in My name welcomes Me” (Luke 9:48).

“Welcome” is a biblical word rich with a rich meaning. It is more than a smile and a handshake. It is more than what happens during the “welcome and announcements.” If we reduce a welcome to a greeting, we clearly have misunderstood the meaning of welcome.

When Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes this little child,” He didn’t mean “whoever greets … whoever shakes his hand … whoever puts on a friendly face ….”

A welcoming church is the fertile soil in which all people can experience change and growth through the power of gospel of grace.


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Calvinists Would Be Shocked By John Calvin’s Beliefs

Whether you agree with Calvin’s theological system or not, there’s no question that John Calvin has made an indelible mark on today’s Christianity, especially American evangelicalism.

And like all highly influential Christians, Calvin has been hailed and hammered, loved and loathed, adored and abhorred.

Even the most influential Christians who have changed the lives of countless people for good — Calvin being one of them — believed things that were surprising, shocking, and even outrageous.

So tread carefully the next time you come across another follower Jesus who doesn’t believe just like you do on every doctrinal point.


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The Trap Of Loving Yourself Too Much

Too many Christian teachers today have adopted that secular counselor’s message of heightened self-love. They see the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and claim that it contains the hidden commandment: “Love yourselves more.”

I understand why the world cheers on greater self-love (what other option do they have?); but I can’t understand why Christians, like lemmings, leap into this trap as well.

Thomas A Kempis wrote, “Self-love is more harmful to you than anything else in the world. The proportion you give love to a thing is the proportion that thing will rule you. If your love is pure, simple, and well ordered, you will be a slave to nothing.”


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Avoid The Trap Of Success By Focusing On Fruit

It feels that at some point, we might have lost our way. Perhaps we became more concerned with success than fruitfulness. Jesus says we evaluate things in the Kingdom on their fruitfulness…but somewhere along the way it became about the size of your tree. Now having a big tree is a fine thing. Just know you’re only successful in evaluating yourself against the size of other trees, and God has never been terribly concerned about tree size. Just fruitfulness. That’s it. The point of a tree isn’t how big your tree is but how much fruit you have. It’s about fruit! And in the Kingdom, fruitfulness is always about reproduction. (Specifically, reproducing disciples…multiplying Jesus’ life into the life of others who can then go and do the same.) 


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The Resurrection Challenges All Other Claims

See how David Platt explains the central significance of the resurrection not only for Christianity but all other competing claims as well. The Bible itself says that Christians are to be pitied above all people if Jesus did not rise from the dead. Whether he did or did not rise from the dead is not a matter of opinion or preference. What we conclude about this matter determines everything else we believe. (more…)

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God Doesn’t Want Blood, He Wants Life

Hebrews 9:22 provides the main reason Christians believe that if Jesus had not shed His blood for us, we could never have been forgiven for our sins.

I forgive people all the time without requiring that they shed blood for me. And I’m really glad that people forgive me all the time without asking that I open a vein or kill my cat for them.

God doesn’t want blood. God wants life! It is WE who think that God wants blood (when He doesn’t). The idea of God demanding blood is borrowed from pagan religions. Jesus went to the cross, not to reinforce and support this idea, but to expose and redeem it. That’s a huge idea which would take us down a whole new rabbit trail.


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Making A Movie About Saving Babies Saved A Man

“For me, Christians, at the time—well, evangelical Christians—were crazy people, hypocrites, haters, whatever you want to call them,” Brian Ivie told World Magazine. “But I was experiencing something really authentic. I broke down. I started crying. All I could say was: ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” he recalled.

Now, in addition to helping tell the story of Jong-rak and in encouraging others to help save abandoned children around the world, Ivie hopes that “The Dropbox” will draw men to Christ just like it did for himself.


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Dignity Begets Modesty

When God dresses you he dresses you better than you could ever imagine to dress yourself. The reason very simply is that we always tend to apply less dignity and value to ourselves than God does, at least in the ways that matter the most.

One trend that you’ll find in the scriptures is that where it is not cool to be wearing fancy clothes for the purpose of showing yourself off, but there are numerous times where it was very cool to be wearing fancy clothes when someone else was showing you off. Same value but in one case you are valuing yourself and in another case someone else is doing the valuing. It seems like it takes an outside force to re-write the stories we live.


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The Harvest Is Plentiful, But We’re Asleep

There’s a sense of urgency tied up in the word, “harvest.” Harvest also connotes hard work. Picking produce, reaping crops, and all its associated tasks are not for the faint of heart. There will be sweat.

When you combine these two elements the result is anything but comfort. Reaping is stressful, laborious, painstaking, but despite all this the harvest is intrinsically good. It represents months of hard work and the promise of surviving the frost until everything begins growing again in the spring. As such there is nothing to be done in the days of summer and autumn but to work the fields. And yet some have other ideas:

… he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame. (Prov. 10:5b, ESV)

What if you consider this verse in the context of Jesus’ reference to the harvest?

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few… (Matt. 9:37b, ESV)

Why are they so few? Perhaps they’re sleeping.


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Stop Falling In Love With Jesus

Many pastors and teachers are doubling-down on the relational language – encouraging their flocks to “fall in love with Jesus” or “have a love affair with Jesus.”

Here are three more reasons to avoid romantic imagery: It’s unbiblical, it’s unhelpful and it’s uncomfortable.

When I think of my faith, I do not imagine it as a love affair. I don’t envision myself sitting across a table in a candlelit restaurant, staring into Jesus’ eyes, casually flirting with him. I don’t picture myself walking hand-in-hand on a beach, opening a love note from Jesus, or climbing into bed next to him. My “relationship” with Jesus takes place on the battlefield – not in the bedroom.


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Battling Depression When His Grace Doesn’t Feel Sufficient

Numb and unfeeling, in a pit of darkness and despair…I could not understand why I felt that way. The darkness overwhelmed me, but there was no substance to it, no object, no reason…and I began to think that maybe I was a little bit crazy.

It made no sense.

I mean really, let’s be honest. I was living the “American dream.”  I have a great life by most standards. How could I possibly be suffering depression?

Some say they are stronger for going through depression and coming out the other side. Not me. Each time I go through it, I realize just how weak I really am. I need him more and more. It is always Him. It is all about Him.  Perhaps he permitted me to experience depression to keep me in line.


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