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Feeling Dusty

“Remember, man, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
Many Christians around the world will be hearing those words as part of Ash Wednesday liturgies.
Apart from making my annual declaration about giving up needless asceticism for Lent, what can be learnt from the season?
Thoughts of 40 days of denial (or any denial, anytime) is counter-productive if it is thought to be emulating or repeating what Jesus did.
Jesus wasn’t simply denying himself for a time, he was contending against the forces of spiritual darkness and winning.
Any denials of our own simply point to our own inability to prevail against evil.
They usually demonstrate our own inability to prevail against ourselves.
Any asceticism on our part should not emphasise our capacity to emulate, but our frailty and dependence on Jesus’ achievement.
It is in the completeness of our weakness and inability that the extent of the Lord’s victory is come.
We don’t inspire ourselves through convincing ourselves of our capacity to walk like Jesus.
Our inspiration is a conviction of our incapacity, and the knowledge of both Jesus’ actions and the spiritual victory he shares with his people.


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Being Both Spiritual And Religious

I’m discovering the writings of Winn Collier.
Here he examines the trope ‘I’m spiritual, but not religious’ and points out that while the idea has some attractions, ultimately its just too thin to sustain a soul.

An excerpt:

Abstract ideals don’t have the grit I know is required to save me. Rather, it is Jesus’ body broken in the bread, Jesus’ blood spilt in the wine. It is my actual neighbor actually sitting next to me (someone I may not like, if I just get to choose), as we eat and drink together. It is the songs we sing and the Scriptures we hear. It is our commitment to living in this actual world (not the idea of a world). To say I’m spiritual but not religious would be, for me, like saying I believe in community but don’t want a friend or I love the wild but would never actually set foot in a forest. I need the real stuff.
Jesus, the harshest critic of distorted religion in history, didn’t set up general spiritual concepts. Jesus got dunked in water, gave us bread and wine around a Table – and then said, “Keep doing all this. Together. In my name.”

Read the whole piece here.


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Six Reminders On The Importance Of Pastoral Leadership (via Erik Reed)

Erik Reed developed a six item list to remind himself of the importance of pastoral leadership.
I’m conscious of building in preparation for those who will follow after me; and know that my role gets me a certain amount of trust and influence but only time and relationship will nurture deep trust and influence, so these two really stood out to me.

Remember the short life span of my leadership opportunity.
Someone is going to replace me. I am pastoring someone else’s future church. While recognizing this is sobering and humbling, it also motivating to lead well and courageously while I have the opportunity. I need to lead recognizing that I am a steward of something bigger than me.
Remember that my position gives me a seat at the table, but my actions determine the extent of my influence.
I am the Lead Pastor at The Journey Church. This gives me a seat at the table on leadership discussions and decisions. I have built in authority because of my position. But my position does not determine my influence, my actions do. This leads me to focus on what I do instead of where I am on the org chart. The most influential people are not always the ones with the most authoritative positions.

Read the whole post at Lifeway Pastors.


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Start Planning Your Own Funeral (via Grayson Pope)

Taking a cue from one of the less likely of Jonathan Edward’s well-known resolutions, Grayson Pope invites us visit the house of mourning to learn enduring lessons.
By planning your death, you should also be making plans about living.

An excerpt:

Start Planning Your Own Funeral
Jonathan Edwards is known for his famous resolutions—short promises he made to help keep himself on the path of righteousness. His ninth resolution reads, “Resolved, To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.”
He was resolved to think about his death and the normal circumstances it would bring. That means Edwards was resolved to plan his own funeral in his mind.
His example is one we can follow. Try this short exercise: for 10 minutes today, think through the reality that you will die. Reflect on all that thought brings, from death certificates to funeral plans and coffin choices.
Remind yourself that in Christ “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28); that your next breath comes only if he allows it. Imagine you will die tomorrow, next week, or next year.
Then, ask yourself questions like, “If I were about to die…”

  • “What would I do differently? What would I start doing? What would I stop doing?”
  • “Would I keep living the way I am—living where I live, doing the things I do, working the job I have?”
  • “What would I be ashamed of not attempting for God?”
  • “Who would I spend more time with?”

Surely, God will bring some things into focus, namely that we should live today like we’ll die tomorrow.
Resolve to think about your death more often.
Resolve to plan your own funeral every now and then, at least in your mind.

Read the whole post at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.


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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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(How Not To Be) Lukewarm And Lovin’ It – via Greg Morse at Desiring God

Greg Morse writes about how he remained lukewarm as a Christian, and what maintained that status:

Lukewarm and Lovin’ It
I didn’t cuss much. I wasn’t sleeping around. I went to church most Sundays. I must be a Christian.
I said that Jesus died for my sins. I sang the lyrics on the screen. I prayed before meals. I gave God props for my athletic achievements. I must be a Christian.
Sure, God wasn’t my all in all. Sure, I never read his word. Sure, I didn’t pray very much. Sure, I secretly loved sin. Sure, holiness seemed dreadfully boring. Sure, I rarely owned him in public or spent time with him in private. But he understood. I was only human after all. No one is perfect.
If God had not intervened, I would have awoken from my delusion to a lake of fire. I imagined I feasted at the table of grace, drank from the chalice of eternal life, but I was eating garbage and drinking sewer water. I was dreaming, like those described in Isaiah,

As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating, and awakes with his hunger not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking, and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched. (Isaiah 29:8)

I would have been the most miserable creature in all of perdition.
And I kept myself in my delusion, muting my conscience and convincing myself that I was right with God by this simple strategy: I refused to read God’s book and measured myself by the people around me.

Read the rest of Morse’s post at Desiring God to see what made a difference in his life.


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The Two Missions Of The Church (via Jonathan Leeman)

More like two sides of one coin rather than two separate works.
The church has an inward and an outward focus.
Or, as Jonathan Leeman puts it, to be an embassy and an ambassador:

The narrow mission of a church-as-organized collective is to make disciples and citizens of Christ’s kingdom. The broad mission of a church-as-its-members is to be disciples and citizens of Christ’s kingdom. The narrow employs judge-like or priestly words of formal separation, identification, and instruction. The broad rules and lives as sons of the king, representing the heavenly Father in all of life’s words and deeds. The narrow protects the holy place where God dwells, which is his temple, the church. The broad pushes God’s witness into new territory, expanding where his rule is acknowledged. For illustration purposes, we might say the narrow mission is to be an embassy, while the broad mission is to be an ambassador.

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