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We Can’t Have It All Now – Avoiding Functional Prosperity Theology (via Daniel Darling)

Januarys being what they are pastors can find themselves looking at ourselves and others wondering if disciples of Jesus have made any progress during the previous twelve months.
That can be a very, very depressing activity if we don’t hold on to the fact that, unlike justification, that sanctification is a progressive work that is never complete in this life.
The notion (expectation) that while we don’t expect the people to whom we minister to be perfect, we’d just like them to be significantly problem free or significantly less problematic than last year (i.e. perfect, or becoming perfect) through our ministry is really a form of prosperity gospel.
Progress is progress. It may not even be measurable in a year.

Daniel Darling writes:

If you were to ask most Christians, you’d find many consider the prosperity gospel to be an unbiblical teaching offered by religious hucksters. But there’s a subtle way in which a similar message creeps into our theologically sound churches—a back-door heresy perhaps more damaging than the promise of a bigger house or fatter bank account.
It is the prosperity gospel of instant life change. I often heard a version of this during testimony time in the otherwise fundamentalist church where I grew up. Some former alcoholic would stand up and say something like, “I was hungover on Saturday, and by Monday I had taken my last drink.”
I have to admit testimonies like this still move me emotionally. I’m stirred because I really do believe in the power of the gospel to regenerate a person’s life. Christ is in the business of changing us, but we too often communicate a message that sanctification happens instantaneously for everyone who truly believes.
The problem is, this is not only untrue for most of the people in our churches, but it’s also not a promise Jesus made. Instead, Jesus said we’d have to take up our cross of suffering and yield to the Spirit’s work of sanctification on a daily basis. Paul, who was certainly no hedonist, admitted his own death struggle with sin (Rom. 7:7-25). And what about the writer of Hebrews, who compares the Christian life to a marathon, a daily putting off of the “sin which so easily entangles us” ( 12:1)?
The gospel is the power to radically alter lives. Some of this change may be apparent immediately after conversion. But more often, it occurs over time. The greatest life change is the result of a hard, slow slog of sanctification—the work of the Spirit through the Word and other means of grace, such as the church, sacraments, and prayer. We should celebrate change, but we should also prepare ourselves—and those we disciple—for a lifetime of struggle against sin. What’s more, we must embed in hearts the theology of an already-but-not-yet eschatological view. What this means is, even as we experience Christ’s renewing and sanctifying power in the present, we understand that most things won’t be made new until He returns to consummate His kingdom. John expressed the idea this way: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be . . . when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). Even our “best life now” as a Christian in a fallen world is light-years away from the perfected self we’ll see in glory.
At first glance, this seems hopeless because, in this life, we’ll never fully experience the change we want to see. And yet this expectation of future glory is powerfully hopeful because it releases us from an impossible standard and keeps us from offering the false promise of a flawless life. Instead, we can fix our gaze on Jesus, who is working to craft us into the people we will eventually be by His grace.
Imagine how this perspective might revolutionize discipleship. No longer would people be “projects” for us to reshape if only they’d follow our Bible-based growth plan. Instead, we’d see people as they are—entangled in the knotty effects of the fall, even as they cooperate with the Holy Spirit to grow into Christ’s likeness. Knowing that in due time this all will be reversed, we’d have greater patience for the process. We might encourage one another with this hope: Christ is renewing us daily, and a time is coming when the process will be complete. That is our ultimate deliverance.
So, for instance, the alcoholic won’t be offered a temptation-free life but, rather, a “way of escape” each day from the sin that so easily besets. The pornography-addicted teen won’t be told just to “get saved and your troubles will go away,” but will instead hear it’s possible to “repent and rest on Jesus, and you’ll find in Him the strength to fight for sanctification.” And rather than trying to have a new kid by Friday, parents will begin praying regularly for the Spirit to renew and regenerate their child.
We must reject the quick-fix gospel that makes promises in our fallen world which are possible only in a perfected one. What the Bible offers is not a five-step method or a plan for life change, but the good news of God’s salvation. For that reason, we can live in the present, trusting that God is forming us—slowly, methodically, permanently—into His new kingdom people.

source.


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Practical Ways To Nurture Mental Health (via Amy Simpson)

Significant changes to eating (drinking), sleeping, and physical activity over the last eight or so months have had some noticeable effects on physical appearance, but they’ve also produced a more stable emotional and psychological state.
The black dog still comes sniffing, but I feel in a stronger place to deal with it.

This post by Amy Simpson provides a number of life-style changes that, while not being a cure-all for existing conditions or a replacement for other treatments, go some way towards building resilience that counter bouts of mental health problems

From her post:
…some of the things that can go wrong with our brains are outside our control—we can’t always do anything to prevent genetically inherited conditions, the consequences of trauma, or other forms of injury and disease.
At the same time, our mental health is not entirely outside our control. In fact, even when a genetic predisposition is present, or our circumstances are harmful, our lifestyle choices can prevent a disorder from developing, lessen its severity, or help us achieve better recovery. Regardless of our predispositions, experiences, or sense of health, it really doesn’t make sense for anyone to neglect the opportunity to protect and strengthen our mental health.
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Making choices like these won’t guarantee you never experience a mental disorder or emotional struggle. And they probably won’t be enough to “cure” a challenge you’re already living with. But in either case, they will help. So as you’re thinking about your health, give some thought to that powerful organ that sits above your shoulders. Consider the all-important function of your mind. And do something good for yourself.

Go here to see her list of practical suggestions.


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Barriers To Becoming A Simple Church (via Thom Rainer)

Through the beginning of the year Thom Rainer has been posting about churches becoming simple or zero sum.
In practice this involves concluding groups and activities that no longer have a vital purpose.
Put another way: if the church was starting fresh which groups activities would they actually start because they’re needed or serve a purpose?
It is meant to differentiate from effort invested in mission purpose and effort invested in that which exists only to be maintained.
Here he lists five reasons why this process of evaluation doesn’t take place.

  1. Traditionalism. We do the same things we’ve always done because we’ve always done them that way before. If that sounds redundant, it is. We just can’t get out of our boxes of comfort and false security.
  2. Lack of clear vision. We pile on program after program and meeting after meeting because we have no clear plan or vision. A good vision will lead the church to say “yes” or “no” in a healthy fashion.
  3. Fear. Many leaders fear the consequences of even suggesting the elimination of some programs, ministries, or activities. I know of no simple church without courageous leaders.
  4. Coasting. This barrier is similar to fear. Some leaders don’t want to rock the boat. They just want to hang on to their jobs or their peaceful existence. But the courageous leader is never a coasting leader.
  5. Failure to evaluate. I have encouraged churches to consider a zero-based ministry every year. Ask the question: What ministries, programs, and meetings would we have if we had a clean slate? How would it look differently than our current schedule? Too many churches are eager to add but fearful to subtract.

Read the whole post at Rainer’s site, and then look for related posts on the subject.


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48 Seconds Of Pandas

This is a teaser trailer for an upcoming documentary about Pandas, filmed in imax format.
Anyway, maybe your day needs forty-something seconds of black and white cuteness.


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The Long Game (via Erik Raymond)

Erik Raymond provides perspective on the up and down experiences of pastoral life.
It’s easy to slip into regrets about the past or apprehensions about the future.
It’s also easy to feel overwhelmed in the present.
Raymond’s counsel is realistic and grounded.

Play the long game and keep your chin up. Have the pastoral job description at hand and remind yourself of it. If we are doing what we are supposed to be doing and focusing primarily on what we are called to do, then we can be safeguarded against pride in seasons of prosperity and despair during the difficult times. This will certainly free us up to rejoice in God’s sovereignty to make a people for himself—even by means of such unlikely materials.

Read the whole post here.


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Amazing Grace (I’ve Got A Reason To Sing) – Sunday Songs

Amazing Grace (I’ve Got A Reason To Sing) is from the Sing Team’s Sing On! album.
It takes the popular lyrics and melody for Amazing Grace and adds a new (and generally unobtrusive) refrain.
They do focus on the traditional lyrics, though.


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Heidelberg Catechism – Lord’s Day 2

Heidelberg Catechism – Lord’s Day 2

3.
Q. Where do you learn of your sin and its wretched consequences?
A. From the law of God.

4.
Q. What does the Law of God require of us?
A. Jesus Christ teaches this in a summary of Matthew 22:37-40: ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” (Cf. Luke 10:27.)

5.
Q. Can you keep all this perfectly?
A. No, for by nature I am prone to hate God and my neighbor.