God Loves My Boring, Unimportant Neighborhood

When people ask me where I live, I tell them Minneapolis, Minneapolis. It’s not really true. I live in Andover. To get to Minneapolis, you’ll drive for 35 minutes without traffic.

I’ve not seen too many books on missions, church planting, and ministry strategy that addresses a city like mine. It’s not a small town that people romanticize as a “sacrifice” to serve. Neither is it an influential urban center. It’s a sprawl. There is no racial diversity. I have lived here eight years, and I recently realized that I have seen probably a dozen people who have a different skin color than I do. I have seen one Muslim and no Hindus. There is no one I know of from Africa or Asia. My city is Scandanavian with a little bit of German. I thought about getting involved in some refugee ministry, but the nearest I found is 45 minutes away. When I interviewed at the Christian school that brought me here, the first groups of kids I met all had blonde hair and a last name of Larson, Olson, or Carlson. I am not exaggerating. There is no university here; there is a community college 15 minutes away. But you won’t find any college students in the churches. I don’t see many single young professionals on Sunday morning. I live in a city of families. And churches. Within three miles of my house there are at least a dozen.

Moving here required an adjustment. I grew up near Washington, D.C. My neighbor was a congressman. My dad was a high-ranking military officer. The high school I attended was diverse racially and economically. After I became a Christian I found that the evangelical churches included members that were making major decisions for our country. But Andover is no such place.

Does this sound like a place a strategic ministry should plant a church? Probably not, which might explain why there is no church within 25 minutes that teaches expositional messages from Scripture with an overall Reformed perspective.

The “probably not” is what scares me. My neighbors are not poor enough to attract support from mercy ministries. I can’t hand them a book, because they don’t read and have no interest in doing so. My neighbors work at Walmart. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a picture of them on the internet. Every house on my street has a truck in the driveway. Almost everyone here does manual labor and depends on the upper middle class and the wealthy to landscape their property and remodel their homes. 

Meanwhile my friends and I read books on shaping culture and influencing future leaders. Most of the Reformed ministry with which I’m familiar aims for fellow thinkers. We love reaching young, educated, globally minded, influential people who live in diverse cities. So who will reach the lower ends of the middle class? 

Ranking Sinners

Should I place value on sinners based on their influence? Ann Coulter does. We read with disgust her article criticizing doctors who treat Ebola patients in Africa. How dare she say we should focus on the United States when the world has so many more pressing needs for spiritual and physical healing! But I wonder if we do something similar, just on a different scale. Who are the trophies of grace in your mind? Athletes? Actors? Government leaders? I don’t want to lessen the miracle of salvation God works in the lives of these high-profile figures. But do you have a pecking order? Do you start with the influencers and pop culture icons, move on to the college students, remember the poorest of the poor? And then somewhere down the line think of … everyone else? I live with “everyone else.” Some of them don’t even use the internet!

To be clear, I pretty sure the apostle Paul, if he were working today, would not come here. Plenty of books have been written about his strategy, and it did not include places like Andover.

Yet few of us share Paul’s precise calling. Not all of his ministry priorities be ours. We are the people Paul left behind—the elders, the converts, the senders. It’s okay to be these people. When we think of doing something “big” for God, it’s okay to stay put. I can live here without guilt. I can also look at the people around me as people God has placed here. Indeed, God has placed me here to serve, to consider others more significant than myself (Phil. 2:3).

Good Teaching

Let me be specific about what I believe is part of the problem especially for Reformed Christians when reaching my neighbors. Think of your favorite preachers. How many of them are academics? Same for me. I love learning, and I love a well-constructed sermon.

But when by saying a sermon is “deep” or “powerful” you really mean “scholarly,” we have a problem. I pray God would raise up many more brilliant men! But many people I know can’t follow their sermons. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying to water down the Bible. I am saying we must labor to help the congregation understand the message. According to the Department of Education only 13 percent of Americans are proficient readers. How will you craft your sermon for the 87 percent? Will you complain they can’t handle the message, or will you press them into the intellectual waters gently?

Think of sermon applications. Do you know blue-collar workers with little influence but tremendous faith? By all means address everyone from the humble janitor to the amazing CEO. How do you speak to parents about having someone stay home with the kids? Do you think of dual income families as greedy, trading money for their kids? Most people in my neighborhood are dual income families—not because they want to, but because they feel they need the money to survive. How should you address what you might consider the frivolous spending of the wealthy when that same spending employs my neighbors?

You will find sin and brokenness wherever you travel and live from Dubai to London to Andover. As much as anywhere else my neighbors need Christ. They live somewhere even many Christians would consider boring and bland. But we call it home. And we share the same struggles common to humanity. A friend’s daughter just got married to another woman. Someone down the street has two kids and is not married. We had the SWAT team on our street a few years back because some drunk guy beat his daughter and had a gun in his hand. I had a swastika painted on my house. The local high school kids chanted “food stamps” when playing another school in a lower social class (both almost all white schools).

There is need here. There is need everywhere. Can you see it?

via The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

10 Quotes from Ray Ortlund’s Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ

These are 10 quotes from my Dad’s book Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway, 2014). I took my staff through this book this past spring, and the reverberations are still rippling outwards. I believe this book will have a similarly powerful effect on other readers. More than that, I think its message adds an important ingredient to the entire gospel-centered movement. I know I may be biased—after all, the author is my Dad! But for that very reason I’m uniquely qualified to have an additional insight into the book, which is appropriate for me to share: I’ve seen the author practice what he preaches.

May these quotes inspire our churches toward the beauty of gospel-centeredness.

**********

Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace. When the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful, that church will be powerful. But there are no shortcuts to getting there. Without the doctrine, the culture will be weak. Without the culture, the doctrine will seem pointless (21).

Every one of us is wired to lean one way or the other—toward emphasizing doctrine or culture. Some of us naturally resonate with truth and standards and definitions. Others of us resonate with feel and vibe and relationships. Whole churches, too, can emphasize one or the other. Left to ourselves, we will get it partly wrong, but we won’t feel wrong, because we’ll be partly right. But only partly. Truth without grace is harsh and ugly. Grace without truth is sentimental and cowardly. The living Christ is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). We cannot represent him, therefore, within the limits of our own personalities and backgrounds. Yet as we depend on him moment by moment, both personally and corporately, he will give us wisdom. He will stretch us and make our churches more like himself (22-23).

What matters most to God is not which sins we’ve committed or not committed, or how we stack up in comparison with other sinners. What matters most to God is whether we’ve bonded by faith with his only Son. In other words, God’s final category for you is not your goodness versus your badness, but your union with Christ versus your distance from Christ. To put it yet another way, what matters most about you in God’s sight is not the bad or good things you’ve done but your trust and openness to Christ versus your self-trust and defensiveness toward Christ (34, italics his).

I apologize for putting this so bluntly, but it’s in the Bible. We need to face it. How can we hope to be true to Christ if we look away from the Bible’s stark portrayal of our natural corruption? The Bible alerts us that a blasphemous attitude lurks in all our hearts. We tell ourselves: “What’s the big deal about this or that compromise? He’ll understand. He’s all about grace, right?” But what man would say: “What’s the big deal about my wife’s adulteries? It’s only marriage. I understand. I’m all about grace”? In the same way, our divine Husband does not think, “Well, she’s brought another lover into our bed, but as long as they let me sleep, what’s the big deal?” The thought is revolting. The love of Jesus is sacred. He gives all, and he demands all, because he is a good Husband. Only an exclusive love is real love. Only a cleansing grace is real grace. Would we even desire a grace that did not cleanse us for Christ (45, italics his)?

The gospel does not hang in midair as an abstraction. By the power of God, the gospel creates something new in the world today. It creates not just a new community, but a new kind of community. Gospel-centered churches are living proof that the good news is true, that Jesus is not a theory but is real, as he gives back to us our humaneness (65).

The only answer to one culture is another culture—not just a concept, but a counterculture. A church should offer the world such a counterculture, a living embodiment of the gospel (67).

The family of God is where people behave in a new way. I think of it with a simple equation: gospel + safety + time. The family of God is where people should find lots of gospel, lots of safety, and lots of time. In other words, the people in our churches need:

  • multiple exposures to the happy news of the gospel from one end of the Bible to the other;
  • the safety of non-accusing sympathy so that they can admit their problems honestly; and
  • enough time to rethink their lives at a deep level, because people are complex and changing is not easy.

In a gentle church like this, no one is put under pressure or singled out for embarrassment. Everyone is free to open up, and we all grow together as we look to Jesus (72).

The gospel changes us down deep at this intuitive level. When God justifies us in Christ, he directly counteracts our whole self-involved strategy for living. He credits a righteousness to us that depends on Someone Else, re-creating the Edenic relationship and drawing us out of ourselves into his fullness (John 1:16). We now live in Christ, the new and better Adam. At times, admittedly, our hearts still feel that we remain in a precarious position with God. We fear he will let us down. So we fall back into scurrying about to fill our emptiness with our own resources. But God graciously lets us wear ourselves out, and these efforts come to nothing. Life exists not in us but in Christ alone and Christ fully. We live in him (81, italics his).

The primary barrier to displaying the beauty of Jesus in our churches comes from the way we re-insert ourselves into that sacred center that belongs to him alone. Exalting ourselves diminishes his visibility. That is why cultivating a gospel culture requires a profound, moment by moment “unselfing” by every one of us. It is personally costly, even painful. What I am proposing throughout this book is not glib or shallow. So much is set against us, within and without. But the triumph of the gospel in our churches is still possible, as we look to Christ alone. He will help us (83).

As Christians, we should not be discouraged when we are misjudged and mistreated. It is part of gospel ministry. We should expect it and accept it for the Lord’s sake. Those who refuse the Christ that we proclaim rarely admit that their choice is against him. To justify themselves, they look for ways to blame us. Yes, we should always admit our true failings with utter honesty. But it is striking how confident the apostles were, how absent from the New Testament is a spirit of self-accusation. Hand-wringing appears nowhere in 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, where Paul sums up his whole ministry (99-100).

via The Gospel Coalition | Latest Articles

Kindle + Evernote = ♥

As time goes on, I find myself doing more and more of my reading on my Kindle, and taking advantage of its super-simple ability to make notes and highlights. At the same time, I find myself relying on Evernote to help me retain and organize information. Books hold the information I want to know while Evernote holds the information I want to retain. When I put the two of them together, I get a powerful system to record and remember what I have read. Let me share a simple technique to quickly and easily get every one of your Kindle notes and highlights into Evernote.

Install Evernote Web Clipper

Before you do anything else, visit Evernote and install their Web Clipper browser extension, available for all major browsers. 

Visit kindle.amazon.com

Once you have installed the Web Clipper, you are ready to track down your notes and highlights. Visit http://ift.tt/rrrx5U and sign in using your Amazon username and password:

Kindle

Locate Your Book

After logging in, click on “Your Books” to see a list of the books you own in Kindle format:

Your Books

Click the title you would like to export to Evernote:

Kindle

Note: If you have a huge library, see my note below titled “For Big Libraries.”

Find Your Highlights

Click on “You have X highlighted passages:”

Highlights

Use Evernote’s Web Clipper

You will now see a page with a simple listing of all of your notes and highlights, just like this:

Highlights

Note: Do not scroll all the way to the bottom of this page; for some reason, doing that will automatically load the highlights from the next book on the list.

Click the Evernote Web Clipper icon in your browser:

Clipper

Choose what notebook you’d like to save your highlights to, add any tags you would like associated with them, and then click “Save.” Be sure to leave “Article” selected under the “Clip” heading.

Save

Give Evernote a few seconds, and it will save every one of your highlights. Now simply open up Evernote, and allow it to synchronize. And just like that, you will have all your highlights saved forever:

Book Notes

For Big Libraries

Let me add one note for people with extensive Kindle libraries. When you click “Your Books,” you may find that you have too many to easily list there. In that case, you can use the search function. When you search, it appears that Amazon finds the printed edition of the book rather than the Kindle edition. This means that you will need to look to the sidebar where it says, “You have a different edition of this book.” Click “different edition” and you will be all set. Then carry on with the step above under the heading “Find Your Highlights.”

Edition

There are two great benefits to moving all your highlights to Evernote. The first benefit is searchability—your highlights and notes are now searchable in Evernote. When you search for a topic you may be surprised to learn that it was covered in a book you read; not only that, but Evernote retains the location information, so you can return to the exact spot and read the surrounding context. The second benefit is retention—you can return regularly and skim through your highlights to remind yourself of the book’s key points. This is an effective technique for retaining information and ideas.

So there you have it. Kindle + Evernote = ♥.

(Bonus Idea: If you have a membership at Books at a Glance, do the same thing with their book summaries—add them to Evernote!)

via challies.com - Informing the Reforming

“…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” —Titus 2:13-14

RESOURCES FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES, MENTAL ILLNESS, AND THE PAIN AND SUFFERING THAT COME WITH THEM.

One of the largely overlooked aspects of the fall of humanity is the impact of God’s curse on our bodies and minds. You have never met a “normal” person. You have never met a person who was not in…

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]] via ConfessingBaptist.com Real-time Roundup

To Tumblr, Love Pixel Union