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What Do You Need To Do To Go Backwards In The Christian Life? Nothing. (via Sinclair Ferguson

Words from Sinclair Ferguson posted on the blog Tolle Lege.

“Hebrews is all about persevering in sanctification. Without holiness, writes the author, ‘no one will see the Lord.’ We must therefore ‘strive’ for it (Hebrews 12:14).
He uses vigorous language. His verb (διώκω, strive) appears regularly in the New Testament with the sense of ‘persecute.’
Such strong language was needed here because these Christians were facing hardship and opposition. They therefore needed to pay careful attention to the gospel, to digest what they had heard, so that they would not drift away.
What do you need to do to slow down and go backwards in the Christian life? Hebrews’ answer is: ‘Nothing.” Drifting is the easiest thing in the world.
It is swimming against the tide that requires effort. And the Christian life is against the tide all the way. Spiritual weariness, being ‘sluggish,’ is one of our great enemies. The author is all-too-familiar with its tell-tale signs.
Christians then, as now, were confronted by many pressures. Some of them had suffered deeply for their testimony to Jesus Christ. We might think that anyone who has withstood trials would be in no danger of failing to persevere.
But the battle to be holy is fierce, the opposition is strong, and the obstacles are many. Even those who have won great victories in the past can become weary. Spiritual lethargy can set in, and we begin to drift.
We constantly need to be encouraged to keep going (Hebrews 3:12-13).”

–Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted To God: Blueprints For Sanctification (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 191.


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Growth In Godliness Is Not Measured By What Already Comes Easily To You (via David Murray)

David Murray asks “Why do we take our individual, personality, character, gifts, or calling and make that the sum total of godliness for everyone else?”
After numerous examples of what he means, he sums up:
“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.”

Read the whole post here.


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Six Symptoms Of Spiritual Heart Failure (via Stanley Gale)

The joys of advancing years include a more necessary interest in personal health.
Stanley Gale observes that, by contrast, an individual’s spiritual health can be in jeopardy at any age, and that there are a number of commonly observable conditions that precede a breakdown in faith.

From Gale’s post:

What are the signs of spiritual heart failure? We can note at least six symptoms.

  1. Attendance in weekly worship becomes optional and irregular. This is pretty serious. God designed us to be worshipers. He sought us to be worshipers. And He turned our hearts from idols to worship Him as the true and living God. You can be sure that neglect of corporate worship is a sign of a heart that is not given over to God in everyday life.
  2. A spotty prayer life. Like shortness of breath and struggle for oxygen, irregular prayer does not breathe in the oxygen of God’s grace in continual awareness of Him and dependence upon Him. This condition often takes in shallow breaths of periodic prayer that fail to fill the lungs or hyperventilate in panic prayer in times of great distress.
  3. Gospel habituation. Habituation is where you tune something out after a while, like you might not notice the loud ticking of a clock in your home but a visitor hears it loud and clear. We can do that with the gospel. It can become familiar, ordinary, and unamazing. God has given us ways to keep that from happening, like hearing Christ preached and celebrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but our diseased heart doesn’t take it in.
  4. Poor appetite and inadequate diet. God has given us a rich banquet in His Word, all the nourishment we need for our growth in grace. But we rarely partake. We don’t feast on it. We content ourselves with snacking on a nugget every now and then. But even then we don’t savor it. We don’t chew on it through attention and meditation, drawing out its flavor and absorbing its nutrients of truth.
  5. Inactivity. A healthy heart has blood flow in and blood flow out. Heart failure affects this circulatory system. It becomes enlarged for lack of exercise. It doesn’t spread nutrients throughout its own body or the body of Christ. It does not look to serve but to be served, unlike the One whose heart was in perfect health. With no sense of sacrifice or suffering, it becomes weakened and ineffective.
  6. Spiritual Listlessness. Indifference to the things of God and tolerance of what dishonors Him are signs of arterial sclerosis, hardness of heart. One contributing factor to this condition is isolation from fellow believers. Without them in our lives to stimulate us to love and godliness, our hearts can be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Separated from the body of which we are a part, our fire grows dim and our enthusiasm wanes.

How do we address spiritual heart failure? Prescription for each symptom is found in the Word of Life. But it begins by approaching the Great Physician, asking Him to “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24)

Read the whole post here.


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Overcommitted Churches (via Thom Rainer)

Thom Rainer writes about how churches can find themselves with so many programs and activities that they become ineffective at discipling Christians and sharing the Gospel.

From Rainer’s post:

So how did our churches get in this predicament? The causes are many, but here are seven of them:

  1. Our churches equate activity with value. Thus busy churches are deemed to be churches of value. And busy, exhausted, and frustrated church members are deemed to be Christians of value.
  2. Programs and ministries became ends instead of means. I recently asked a pastor why he continued a ministry that had dwindled from 220 participants to 23 participants. “Because,” he said, “this program is a part of the history and heritage that defines our church.” Warning: If a program defines your church, your church is in trouble.
  3. Failure of churches to have a clear purpose. Even the best of churches can only do so many things well. Once a church has no clear and defining purpose, it has no reason to start or discontinue a program or ministry. That issue then leads to the next two reasons.
  4. Church leaders have failed to say “no.” Some church leaders can’t say “no” to new programs and ministries because they have no clear or defining purpose on what they should do. Others leaders simply lack courage to say “no.”
  5. Fear of eliminating. Once a program, ministry, or activity has begun, it can be exceedingly difficult to let it die. Sometimes leaders lack courage to kill programs. Sometimes they are blinded to the need to kill programs. Sometimes they hesitate to kill a program because they don’t know a better alternative. We need more churches in the program killing business.
  6. Church is often defined as an address. As long as we think “church” means a physical location, we will try to load up that address with all kinds of busyness. Many churches are ineffective at reaching their communities because their members are so busy at the building they call the church. That’s both bad ecclesiology and bad missiology.
  7. Churches often try to compete with culture rather than reach culture. A church in the deep South had a dynamic basketball ministry where they fielded community basketball teams comprised of church members and non-believers. But once the church built its own gym and recreation center, the church members started spending all their time playing at their new facility. In an attempt to have a gym as good as those in the community, the church ironically became less effective reaching those in the community.

Read the whole post at Rainer’s blog, which also promises a follow-up which deals with churches that have de-programmed and become more effective.


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Guarding Against Being Church-Attending Idolator (via Jared Wilson)

Our human hearts were once described as factories that produce idols.
Jared Wilson points out that production can continue in the life of the Christian, and can occur in the settings in which we gather for worship each week.
From his post:

On Sundays, our sanctuaries fill with people seeking worship, and not one person comes in set to neutral. We must take great care, then, not to assume that even in our religious environments, where we put the Scriptures under so many noses, that it is Jesus the exalted Christ who is being worshiped.
Every weekend in churches everywhere, music is performed to the glory of human skill and artistry. Once upon a time, I sat through a little ditty in a church service in which the congregation was led to sing, “I can change the world with these two hands,” and the question struck me like a lightning bolt: “Who exactly am I worshiping right now?”
Likewise, every weekend men and women file into church buildings in order to exult in the rhetorical skill of their preacher, to admire him and think of their church as his church, not Christ’s church. Many of us file in each week to enjoy the conspicuous spiritual exercises of our brethren. We worship the worship experience; we tithe with expectation of return from heaven’s slot machine; we dress to impress; and we serve and lead to compensate for the inadequacies in our hearts that only Christ can fill. Every weekend, hundreds of preachers extol a therapeutic gospel from the pages of the same Bible where the real gospel lies. We Reformed are not exempt, as too often our affections are poured totally into doctrine with only vague admiration reserved for doctrine’s Author.
A church will become idolatrous in a heartbeat because it’s already there. So we cannot set our worship on autopilot. We cannot mistake the appearance of busy religiosity for worship in spirit and truth. We see in Exodus 32:5 that even the worshipers of the golden calf ascribed their worship to the covenant Lord Yahweh.
The gospel imperative, then, is to return again and again to the gospel indicative. Our first duty is “gospel obedience” (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17), which is to stand at attention to Christ upon the gospel’s “ten hut.” Our hearts and minds flow through the rut of idolatry, but the deliberate proclamation of Jesus at every possible turn will force us off our idolatrous course. Martin Luther advises us:

I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.

Tim Keller elaborates: “So Luther says that even after you are converted by the gospel your heart will go back to operating on other principles unless you deliberately, repeatedly set it to gospel-mode.”
The proclamation of the good news of Jesus and the extolling of his eternal excellencies is always an interruption, always a disruption. It alone will bring the sword of division between where even our religious hearts are set and where they ought to be. For this reason, we cannot go about minding our own business any more. We must mind God’s (Col. 3:1-4).

Read the rest here.


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Small God, Small Calling – Big God Big Calling (via Jen Oshman)

Jen Oshman writes about the product of a tendency to desire a comfortable, easy to manage life – a comfortable easy to manage God.
From the article:

There’s a destructive cycle often lived out in Western, wealthy Christianity – and in my own heart. Here’s the cycle:

We Christians believe we have a small calling, so we call on a small god, and we grow a small faith. Our small faith fuels our small calling, which in turn perpetuates our belief that our god is small and asks us to do small things.

I’m attracted to this cycle as much as anyone. Messages to pursue safety and comfort engulf me. The dominant goals in my community are health, good education for our kids, a strong retirement account, and plenty of sports on the weekends. We’re all pursuing these goals, even in our churches. We’re cheering for one another as we chase our small dreams and claim it’s what our small god would want.
The calling is small because we can do it in our own power. We’re neck deep in self-help theology, and we applaud one another when we look within ourselves, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and do whatever it takes to self-actualize. If the God of the Bible doesn’t fit our small calling, we rewrite or misinterpret what he says.
Many churches in America have exchanged God’s true calling, God’s true character, and the true faith for a manageable, small cycle. But Jesus destroys the small cycle when he calls us to follow him and die.

Big Cycle
“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34–35). This call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus is not small and manageable.
Scripture calls us to live out a big, risk-taking, self-denying cycle. To answer this call we need a huge God capable of doing huge things. We need a faith that’s robust and doesn’t reject hard things but acknowledges that the hard things are, in fact, what God has designed for our good and his glory. This cycle – the opposite of the small cycle – acknowledges our calling is big, our God is big, and he will give us a big faith to carry out our big calling.

Read the rest here.


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Growth Requires Connection (via Dan Rockwell at Leadership Freak)

Dan Rockwell observes that: “Building an environment of growth is one of leadership’s greatest challenges and opportunities.”
From his post:

Community:
Growth requires community. We stagnate and die in isolation. Everyone needs seclusion to refresh and reflect. But growth requires connection.

  1. Who knowingly participates in your growth?
  2. Whose growth are you actively encouraging?
  3. Who knows your growth goals? Whose goals do you know?
  4. How might you establish and nurture growth-connections between team members?

Confrontation:
Growth is a myth in environments that tolerate deceit, backstabbing, malevolence, and hypocrisy. Leaders who tolerate offenses against community – in the name of delivering results – destroy growth and limit results.

  1. Never tolerate a high performer who destroys community.
  2. Eliminate hypocrisy by practicing transparency regarding strengths, weaknesses, and development. Teams can’t pull for each other if they don’t know each other’s growth-goals.
  3. Remove people who work to undermine others.

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