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The End of Religious Liberty in the Land of Lincoln
Come June 1, marriage in Illinois will be defined as “between two persons.” I suppose we should be thankful that at least for the time being it’s limited to persons (not animals) and it’s limited to two (not three, four, or however many). Small mercies.

Why I love Seminary
Jemar Tisby: “It’s every person’s dream.  Imagine taking your hobby and moving it from the margins of your life to the center.  Making your pastime your profession.  That’s what seminary is for me.”

10 Reasons Why We Must Love Unloveable Church Members
Chuck Lawless: “I was a young pastor, and I was sure everybody in the church was kind, gracious, and Christian. Everybody would treat everybody else with the love of God. Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to learn that even in the church are people who don’t quite get there. Some people are really hard to love.”

How 450 Sermons Revealed Four Preaching Truths
Ed Stetzer: “At LifeWay Research, we recently studied the variety of ways pastors use the Bible by looking at 450 different sermons (all by different preachers). We gave our research team the audio files of these sermons and some objective questions about how the preacher handled God’s Word. Let me share about the research and my views on preaching at the same time.”

The Philanthropists: Thomas Guthrie
For those of you who may be interested in further information on Thomas Guthrie, my friend Andrew Murray runs a blog about him called Ragged Theology.

10 Wrong Instincts
R.C. Sproul Jr. challenges American Christians to rethink  (and repent of) 10 instinctive assumptions.


Walking with God in Everyday Life

The Bible says that “the Lord was with” Abraham, Joseph, David, and Hezekiah. We’re also told that Enoch and Noah “walked with God.” These are two sides of the one coin, two perspectives on the same experience of God’s special presence with His people.

This was a gracious experience. Humanity had severed itself from God by sin, but God in mercy came down to humanity again to reconcile, to re-establish, to re-connect, and to re-commune. These were all sinners separated from God by sin, and distant from God by nature. Yet God drew near to them, drew them to Himself, and filled them with His own presence. By God’s gift of faith in the coming Messiah, these Old Testament believers experienced forgiveness of their sin and God’s love shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit given to them. The Lord who had been against them was now with them.

This was a spiritual experience. If you looked at Enoch or David you would not have seen another physical figure with them. God was not with them physically. He was with them spiritually. By His indwelling Holy Spirit, God connected and communed with these men. The “withness” was a spiritual “withness.”

This was a personal experience. It wasn’t “the force” that was with them, but a person. It was not some impersonal power but someone with a character, a personality, a will, an ability to communicate, etc. As such, there was a sharing of personal thoughts, feelings, plans, hopes, etc. There was conversation between the Lord and those He was with. We don’t know how much the Old Testament believers understood of God being three persons, but they certainly knew a personal God.

This was a transforming experience. God cannot be with someone without it making a difference in their lives. Enoch and Noah stood out from everyone else in their generation. Heathen kings and officials, like Abimelech and Potiphar, noticed a difference in those that God was with (Gen. 21:22; 26:28; 39:3). God’s presence produced inner qualities of holiness, peace, contentment, and courage. In the Old Testament it was also associated with outward prosperity and success (e.g. Gen. 39:2-3; 1 Sam. 18:14; 2 Kings 18:7).

This was an enjoyable experience. This was not some unwanted and terrifying invasion of these men’s lives. No, this was the God who was their best friend, coming to walk with them through life’s journey. What a wonderful experience, especially when these men were often so otherwise alone in their spiritual pilgrimage!

This was a varied experience. Though God never leaves any believer in whom he has come to live, there are times when he withdraws the sense of His presence, the feeling of his nearness. For example, we’re told that God left Hezekiah to test him (2 Chron. 32:21). That cannot mean  God was with him one day and gone the next. Rather, it means that at this time Hezekiah did not have the conscious sense of God’s presence. God was there, but he was silent and still. Yes, the Spirit could be grieved in the Old Testament too, and such painful times taught these men how much they needed God’s active presence in their lives.

It was an everywhere experience. It was not confined to the Temple or Tabernacle, but God was with His people in building projects, in prison, on the throne, and on the farm. Wherever they went, whatever time of the day, they could enjoy God’s companionship. They could talk to Him, sing to Him, worship Him, enjoy Him wherever, whenever, whatever.

If Old Testament believers experienced this divine “withness,” this divine presence, how much more should we New Testament believers, who see Christ more clearly, who have the fullness of the Spirit’s indwelling, and who have so many other helps in our lives, families, and churches?

This article first appeared in Tabletalk. Sign up for three free months of the premier Reformed periodical. 


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Quick links as I’m in Orlando to speak at Ligonier’s Reformation Bible College.

Buddy, can you spare a dime?
Carl Trueman keeps puncturing some celebrity pastor bubbles.

Conference on Sanctification
Tim Challies and I will be giving four addresses on sanctification in Indianapolis on 15&16 November.

My Family in Black and White
Some of the challenges involved in trans-racial adoption.

6 Reasons not to Abandon Expository Preaching
Don Carson: “Our aim is to take the sacred text, explain what it means, tie it to other scriptures so people can see the whole a little better, and apply it to life so it bites and heals, instructs, and edifies. What better way to accomplish this end than through expository preaching?”

Should every church be multi-ethnic?
“I meet pastors all the time who insist that their homogenous church simply reflects the homogeneity of their community. However, when they examine their community’s census data, they discover that there are significant numbers of diverse people all around them. (Want to know the racial/ethnic make-up of your community? Go here.)

5 Truths About Christian Suffering


The Gospel for Obamacare’s Victims

One of the culture shocks I experienced when I came to America from the UK six or so years ago was having to fork out for health insurance every month. Of course, in the UK health care is “free.” (Which means you pay twice as much for half the service, but you don’t notice it because it’s deducted via general taxation.)

In fact, not only did I have to fork out a monthly premium, but the insurance didn’t even kick in until I had paid $5000 in medical bills! However, I now realize that I got off pretty lightly then as my monthly premium was only $280 per month for a family of six.

Over the last two years, my premium has risen rapidly up to $800 per month a year ago, and now close to $1000 per month, the last two hikes due largely to Obamacare requirements. And I still have to pay the first few thousands of any bills!

Priceless Healthcare
I have to say though, that the healthcare we’ve received here has been of an incredibly high standard. While I’m so thankful for the amazing work medical professionals do in the UK, they just don’t have the time or the resources to offer the kind of care we get here. Grand Rapids hospitals are space age, the technology is at the cutting edge, the waiting times are virtually nil, and the staff have the time to care, which is absolutely priceless.

Expensive Healthcare
But, if the disastrous first month of Obamacare is anything to go by, it looks like American health care is going to end up costing a lot more, while the availability and quality of care is going to be significantly reduced.

A small minority will benefit, including the very poor and those with pre-existing conditions. However, as usual, the majority of the hardworking middle classes are going to take a huge financial hit, with premiums and deductibles rising on average 25%, and in some cases doubling, as millions are being forced into government plans despite the President’s oft-repeated promise that would not happen.

And most families just don’t have the money.

Rejected Healthcare
Americans are relatively well-paid, but as is the case everywhere, most families live to the very edge of their income and only have a couple of hundred dollars free every month to save up for special treats, car repairs, vacations, family trips, birthdays, college fees, etc. Obamacare’s premiums and deductibles are going to swallow up that small cushion, month after month after month.

Many can’t do it. Many won’t do it. They’ll simply refuse to pay the premiums and take the risk. Others will go into debt trying to maintain their previous lifestyle and pay the premiums. The remainder will pay the premiums but have nothing left over for life’s little luxuries. They all end up in the same place, increased costs and reduced health – both physically and psychologically.

Gospel Healthcare
What can Christians and the church do in this situation? First, confess our sin of omission. It’s tragic that Christian conservatives have not led the way in proposing legislation or designing healthcare programs that demonstrated practical love to the weakest in our society. We’re good at protesting against the evils of abortion and gay marriage; we’re not so good at providing for those who are impoverished by sickness and disease. The result? Under the guise of caring for the poor, the behemoth of Obamacare is changing the very nature of the relationship between the American people and their government, and also using the opportunity to impose social change and immoral values on individuals, families, and businesses.

Second, let’s be careful that when we oppose Obamacare, we don’t sound as if we could hardly care less about those who are sick, poor, and unable to afford or access health care. Although we must respect those whom God has set in authority over us and the laws they enact, that does not mean we should not argue against injustice and immorality in these laws. We are right to resist a bullying government’s intrusion into the most intimate parts of our lives. But when we do so, let’s sound a bit less selfish and a bit more loving towards those who desperately do need a safety net.

Third, teach financial stewardship to Christians. As premiums and deductibles rise higher and budgets tighten further, Christians are going to need regular and systematic biblical teaching on budgeting, planning, cutting expenses, etc. Future generations will need to learn much greater financial discipline than their parents. Dave Ramsey should do well out of Obamacare!

Fourth, pray for contentment. Yes, most of us will have much less money in our pockets. We’ll have to cut out some sports, some fishing, some clubs, some technology, some vacations, some clothes, etc. But we’re not exactly going to be living in slums. This is an opportunity to display God-centered satisfaction with our lot in life and demonstrate to others how we have learned to be content whatever our financial state.

Fifth, preach the Gospel. Obamacare’s costs will end the American dream for many people. Others are never going to get a chance at it. That’s really sad; yet it’s also an opportunity. In the midst of the evaporating mirage of prosperity we have the water of life to offer thirsty and disillusioned people. We have the Great Doctor who came to heal the sick of their deepest disease and who offers His services for free (Luke 5:31-32).


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How to rapidly improve your writing and preaching
The question is, are we brave enough?

4 Reasons To Teach the Bible’s Storyline
Why is it so important for Christians to be able to connect the dots of the Bible’s grand narrative?

10 Errors to Avoid When Speaking About Sanctification and the Gospel
Kevin DeYoung: “Sometimes the truth can be seen more clearly when we state its negation. So rather than stating what we should believe about sanctification, I’d like to explain what we should not believe or should not say.”

3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Turn Your Homework in Late
Late assignments come with a price, and we often fail to count all the costs before letting that deadline slip by.

Jesus Makes Sense of My Complicated Relationship with the Psalms
Stephen Altrogge wrestles through some problems he’s encountered in the Psalms.

The Power of Introverts (Animated)
Susan Cain’s best-selling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is brought to life in a brief video.


8 Leadership Lessons from Sir Alex Ferguson

“Sir Alex who?” ask most Americans.

Try to imagine the soccer version of Tony Dungy.

Sir-Alex-Ferguson-001

Sir Alex spent 26 years as manager of Manchester United, one of the richest and most successful clubs in sport. During these 26 years, Sir Alex won 13 English league titles and 25 other domestic and international trophies, including two Champions League trophies. The Harvard Business Review analyzed Ferguson’s Formula and came up with 8 Leadership Lessons.

It’s a fascinating and extensive article on the psychology of leadership (the full article if free but you need to sign up to HBR to access it). But what struck me as I read it was that although some of the principles of leadership were applicable to church and ministry, some would be disastrous if brought into the church setting. Here’s a summary and some of the best quotes.

1. Start With the Foundation
When Sir Alex arrived at United there was a dearth of young players in the first team. Although it would take years to pay off in a results-driven industry, he started youth academies and invested in centers of excellence. He says: “I wanted to build right from the bottom. With this approach, the players all grow up together, producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit.”

2. Dare to Rebuild Your Team
Even in times of great success, Sir Alex worked to rebuild and refresh his team while continuing to win trophies and yet spending less money than any of his main rivals. The key to his success was looking 3-4 years ahead: “The cycle of a successful team lasts maybe four years, and then some change is needed. So we tried to visualize the team three or four years ahead and make decisions accordingly.”

3. Set High Standards and Hold Everyone to Them
“We never allowed a bad training session. What you see in training manifests itself on the game field. So every training session was about quality….I said that to them all the time: ‘If you give in once, you’ll give in twice.’ And the work ethic and energy I had seemed to spread throughout the club.”

4. Never, Ever Cede Control
“You can’t ever lose control—not when you are dealing with 30 top professionals who are all millionaires,” And if any players want to take me on, to challenge my authority and control, I deal with them.” An important part of maintaining high standards across the board was his willingness to respond forcefully when players violated those standards…Before I came to United, I told myself I wasn’t going to allow anyone to be stronger than I was. Your personality has to be bigger than theirs. That is vital.”

5. Match the Message to the Moment
When he had to tell a player who might have been expecting to start that he wouldn’t be starting, he would approach it as a delicate assignment. “I do it privately,” he told us. “It’s not easy. I say, ‘Look, I might be making a mistake here’—I always say that—‘but I think this is the best team for today.’ I try to give them a bit of confidence, telling them that it is only tactical and that bigger games are coming up.”

“No one likes to be criticized,” he said. “Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. So I tried to give encouragement when I could. For a player—for any human being—there is nothing better than hearing ‘Well done.’ Those are the two best words ever invented.”

6. Prepare to Win
“Winning is in my nature. I’ve set my standards over such a long period of time that there is no other option for me—I have to win. I expected to win every time we went out there. Even if five of the most important players were injured, I expected to win.”

7. Rely on the Power of Observation
Sir Alex increasingly delegated the training sessions to his assistant coaches. But he was always present, and he watched. “As a coach on the field, you don’t see everything…A regular observer, however, can spot changes in training patterns, energy levels, and work rates….I don’t think many people fully understand the value of observing. I came to see observation as a critical part of my management skills. The ability to see things is key—or, more specifically, the ability to see things you don’t expect to see.”

8. Never Stop Adapting
“Most people with my kind of track record don’t look to change. But I always felt I couldn’t afford not to change. We had to be successful—there was no other option for me—and I would explore any means of improving. I continued to work hard. I treated every success as my first.”

Which of these leadership principles are helpful for ministry? And which would be damaging?

You can read the whole article here (free sign up).