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Category Archives: Gospel

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Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart.

Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses  beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait.

But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.

We cry out on behalf of the children of Newtown, those most directly affected by this evil, and for children throughout our country and the world, whose little hearts are reeling with fear and terror. Give parents wisdom and kindness, as they seek to love their children well, this night and in the coming days. Raise up gifted counselors and care givers to serve those most traumatized.

Lastly, Lord Jesus, we cry out with a loud voice, How long, O, Lord? How long before you return to eradicate all evil, redeem all tragedies, and make all things new? How long, O, Lord, how long? Your Bride weeps and waits for you. In your merciful and mighty name we pray.

Scotty Smith

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The local church is the front line of ministry. In the battle against the spiritual forces of evil, the church is the trench. Christ’s bride is dug in, charged up, and ready to die for the freedom of souls. I relish the trench. It’s messy, at times gruesome, and the noise makes it difficult to sleep.

But I love it.

While there is no beauty in warfare (spiritual or otherwise), the battling bride is a gorgeous organism. Despite the muck, despite the damage, and despite the fight, she remains pure, white, and righteous. She belongs to Christ. She combats for Christ. She never stops engaging in the mission of reclaiming captives of darkness. The fighting white bride shines in the gray of spiritual war.

As a pastor, I realize the gravity of decisions I make. Vision isn’t just a compelling statement of future growth. Programs aren’t just tools for assimilating more people. Church events are far more than ways to make the community come to the campus.

When you invite someone to church, you’re calling them down into the trench. When you talk to someone about joining the mission, you’re asking them to suit up and grab a gospel grenade. The church is currently fighting a battle which will lead to ultimate victory. We win. Satan loses. And Jesus reigns. But we still must fight. The beautiful bride is a battling warrior.

Let’s stop pretending our churches are polished platforms of sanitized morality, speaking sentimentality apart from Truth. Let’s burn the preferences of wooden traditionalism. Let’s quit the silly game of worship experience one-upmanship. Let’s elevate spiritual grit above smooth and seamless operations. We’re in the middle of a serious war. Let’s get real about what we believe and who we’re really following.

When King Jesus returns, will he find the faithful in the trenches or in comfortable country clubs?

So we dig in. War is not won when soldiers retreat. Victory does not come to indifferent combatants. I’ve been guilty of placing myself on a pedestal. I’ve tried to climb into the ivory tower. I’ve ridden a few high horses. And I’ve found I’m at my best when I’m covered in mud in the trench of the local church. I’m fighting most fiercely when I’m not worried about my personal brand. I’m fighting well when I’m more concerned about the local pregnancy clinic than who retweets one of my pithy—but ultimately useless—140-character oddments.

So I fight.

I fight for people in the womb.

I fight for diversity in the local church.

I fight to help the poor.

I fight against injustice, and I fight for the widow.

I fight for every tongue, tribe, and nation.

I fight so sinners can clearly hear the deafening and all-consuming gospel.

The trench is the front line. I never want to leave until the battle is done. I want to die here: old, leathered, scarred, and exhausted. I can’t imagine approaching the throne of God unless I’m ready to collapse into the arms of Jesus.

I won’t stop until King Jesus returns, offering the victory promised. God, please don’t ever take me out of the trench. I want to die fighting.

Sam Rainer


It is not the church’s job to make the gospel “relevant” in the superficial sense of making its teachings fit with what our culture thinks. Our task is to show the Bible’s relevance in the substantial sense of being a timeless Word with things to say to every changing time and place.

I must admit there was a time in my ministry when I worried that the Bible seemed out of date and so irrelevant. I worried away, seeking “connection points” and “cultural signals” that could show my audience—whether live or in print—that Jesus is as relevant as MTV. Those who have read any of my recent works will know that I have not actually abandoned the “Areopagean” task of showing how the Risen Judge speaks to contemporary culture. But something changed in my ministry about ten years ago. Something dawned on me—or, more likely, was pointed out to me—that dispelled the worry.

Cultures are constantly changing, in some respects improving, in some respects getting worse, but always in flux. And yet the people of every particular culture think their special perspective is the high point. In this sense we are products of our time and place.

If the Bible affirmed what every passing culture believed, that would surely reveal that it was not a body of wisdom for every culture through all time. Imagine, however, that there was a book containing eternal wisdom for all cultures. What should we expect to find? We would discover that it was always at odds with every culture at some point, for cultures are always in flux, sometimes coinciding with the Truth, sometimes departing from it.

The true relevance of the gospel is found in its studied irrelevance to any particular culture, whether ancient Corinthian or modern New Yorker. We do not need another message that affirms what we already think in all our foibles and cultural particularities. We surely need one that is free to challenge, rebuke, frighten, and enlighten us, as well as comfort and affirm us when appropriate. That message is the gospel. It is precisely because the gospel was not crafted to endorse ancient Athenians or modern Americans that it is wonderfully relevant to both.

In this post-Christian age, exposing the myths of progress and relevance will allow our hearers to contemplate the possibility that something as old as the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the most “modern” men and women with the truth they did not know they were looking for.

John Dickson

1. God is near me to help me.

Philippians 4:5-6: “The Lord is at hand; [therefore] do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

2. God cares for me.

1 Peter 5:7: “. . . casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

3. My Father in heaven knows all my needs and will supply all my needs.

Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

4. God values me more than birds and grass, which he richly provides for and adorns; how much more will he provide for all my needs!

Matthew 6:26-30: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

5. The worst someone can do to me is to kill me and take things from me!

Matthew 6:25: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” [I.e., you still have eternal life even if you have no food; you will still have a resurrection body even if you are physically deprived.]

Luke 12:4: “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.”

Luke 21:16, 18: “Some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Romans 8:31-32, 35, 38-39: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

6. Anxiety is pointless.

Matthew 6:27: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” [Answer: no one.]

7. Anxiety is worldly.

Matthew 6:31-32: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things. . . .”

James 4:4: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

8. Tomorrow has enough to worry about and doesn’t need my help.

Matthew 6:34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Lamentations 3:23: “[God’s mercies] are new every morning.”

Justin Taylor

Perhaps you’ve seen the front page story in The New York Times titled “Old Church Becomes Mosque in Altered and Uneasy Britain,” which told of a former Christian church in Clitheroe, England, that was to become a mosque.

A second article on the same day, a bit more buried but still prominent in length, was titled “After Two Years of Work, An Updated Tabernacle,” revealing how the Salt Lake Tabernacle, completed in 1867 by Mormon faithful and home to the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, was nearing the completion of its two-year renovation. I took note of these two articles as they are indicative of the current rise in spirituality, but not necessarily to the benefit of Christianity.

My concern turned out to be even more prescient than I had feared.

The 2012 Religious Congregations and Membership (RCMS) Study, a study conducted once every ten years, was released this week. The headline is simple, but profound: “mainline Protestants and Catholics who dominated the 20th century are literally ground to the rapid rise of Mormons and, increasingly, Muslims.”

Mormonism, for example, is “moving into more parts of the county than any other religious group, making it the fastest-growing faith in more than half of U.S. states.”

Los Angeles County, the nation’s largest, is indicative: Mormons grew there by 55%, while Catholics shrank by 7%.

Overall, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) “reported 2 million new adherents and new congregations in 296 counties where they didn’t exist a decade ago, making them the fastest-growing group in the U.S.”

So much for the tabernacle.

Now for the Mosque.

In terms of overall growth, Muslims came in second to the Mormons, “with growth of 1 million adherents in 197 new counties, to a total of about 2.6 million.” According to Dale Jones, a researcher who worked on the study as part of the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, “Mosques have multiplied at a growth rate of about 50 percent.”

Consider the area in and around Orlando’s Orange County where, according to the RCMS study, growth exploded by a staggering 473%. Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, thinks the growth is actually double the amounts reported by the study.

Several explanations for the rapid rise of Muslims were suggested by the study, including “growth in the suburbs, an increased willingness by U.S. Muslims to stand and be counted, and more mosques being built to serve more worshippers.” Musri suggests the growth has been fueled by a wave of post-9/11 converts, American-born children of immigrants having kids of their own, and jobs in the booming medical industry.

So here is where we stand:

Mainline Protestant denominations and Catholics are in decline.

Even the largest evangelical denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, are also exhibiting a steady, multi-year decline.

But the Mosque and the Tabernacle? Muslims are likely to outnumber Christians in Britain in just a few decades, and the Mormon church now claims over 14 million members, including 6 million in the United States.

As I wrote in Christ Among the Dragons, the reason we are losing ground so dramatically is two-fold:

First, passivity; we do not seem to feel it is urgent to reach people for Christ.

The second reason is hostility. Many Christians are intensely adversarial and view those outside of the faith as needing to go to hell.

Neither will make you particularly prone to outreach.

The irony is that neither Mormons or Muslims have such barriers. They are only too willing to reach out with urgency, and acceptance.

Which is precisely why they are the largest and fastest-growing.

James Emery White

 

 

Words few parents want to hear.

Then, shock, fear, shame, guilt, questions (“How will we deal with….?” “What will our friends think?”)

As a pastor who has walked down this road with numerous parents and siblings, I appreciated the sound wisdom of the recent Harvest Newsletter.

What do you do when you find gay pornography on your child’s computer? What do you say when he or she comes home for Christmas and announces, “I think I’m gay?”

While there are no easy answers, here are suggestions proven by time and the Scriptures.

1. You don’t need to know all the answers, or all the questions. You don’t have to respond right now. You’ve got a lot to think about.

2. Affirm your love for your child. Nothing should cause you to lost that love. Keep the lines of communication and relationship open. Ultimately, your child is not rebelling against you.

3. Ask him/her what they mean? HOw long felt like this? Is this a conclusion drawn because of gay feelings?

4. You don’t need to know details of your child’s sexual activity. When a child is over 18, it is enough to ask, “are you in a relationship? With whom?” If the child is under 18, ascertain the level of behavior: is it limited to porn? Has there been sexual contact? Have laws been broken? Has a predator been involved? This can be a difficult conversation and a Christian counselor can certainly help.

5. Ask your child if he is content to be gay, or if he wants to change?

6. You can’t change your child – no matter how hard you pray, or plead, or threaten, or convincingly argue. Only a transforming relationship with Jesus will lead to a heart change which leads to behavioral change.

7. Your child doesn’t need to become straight. Yes, you read that right. What your child needs is what God calls everyone to – a life of faith and repentance. Heterosexual sex will not solve problems. The opposite of homosexuality is not being straight – it is believing the truth about God and living a lifestyle of faith and repentance, a life of worship of Jesus.

8. Your child’s struggle with homosexuality is something the Lord means for your good You can’t control your child’s struggle or repentance. YOu can respond to what God is calling you to do – live a life of faith and repentance yourself.

9. Bring others in. No matter how strong you are, you can’t deal with this alone. This may be the greatest battle of all – to share your heart with trusted and spiritually mature friends.

10. Boundaries may be necessary to protect your child or your family. Boundaries are not punitive or manipulative. Boundaries are in the spirit of speaking the truth in love.

11. Pray, love him and give him space to make his own decisions. You can respect those decisions, without condoning or agreeing with them. You can be honest about your hurt, but do not withhold your love.

12. God has placed you in this situation with a son or daughter who is struggling. He is at work in a 1000 ways you can’t see.He has not forgotten you.

This “teaser” hooked me. I may not read the book, but I could not agree more. Our churches are too safe!

‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.’ — Acts 17:6 That was the startled cry, circa 50 AD, from a hastily assembled mob in Thessalonica. Paul and Silas had been arrested for preaching the gospel. They were viewed as revolutionaries, dangerous men who were upsetting the status quo and inciting riots. But they were just two ordinary men, walking in the power of God, sharing a simple message of his love and grace. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the likes of this.

If you ever find church boring or you believe something is missing from our churches today, you aren’t alone. Mark Buchanan believes there is a visible gap between the life Jesus offered to us and the life we’re living, between the church Jesus envisioned and the church we see today.

When Jesus announced that the Kingdom was at hand, this can’t be what he meant. Instead of counting everything loss to be found in Christ, we’ve made it our priority to be safe instead of dangerous, nice instead of holy. Author and pastor Mark Buchanan believes that we need to recover a simple idea: that God meant his church to be both good news and bad news, an aroma and a stench — a disruptive force to whoever or whatever opposes the Kingdom of God and a healing, liberating power to those who seek it.

 

 

“What is the instructive lesson to be learned from this first syllable of the angels’ song?

 

  • He is glorified in every dew drop that twinkles in the morning sun.
  • He is magnified in every wood flower that blossoms in the copse, although it live to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness in the forest air.
  • God is glorified in every bird that warbles on the spray; in every lamb that skips the mead.
  • Do not the fishes in the sea praise him? From the tiny minnow to the huge Leviathan, do not all creatures that swim the water bless and praise his name?
  • Do not all created things extol him? Is there aught beneath the sky, save man, that doth not glorify God?
  • Do not the stars exalt him, when they write his name upon the azure of heaven in their golden letters?
  • Do not the lightnings adore him when they flash his brightness in arrows of light piercing the midnight darkness? Do not thunders extol him when they roll like drums in the march of the God of armies?
  • Do not all things exalt him, from the least even to the greatest?

But sing, sing, oh universe, till thou hast exhausted thyself, thou canst not afford a song so sweet as the song of Incarnation.

Though creation may be a majestic organ of praise, it cannot reach the compass of the golden canticle—Incarnation! There is more in that than in creation, more melody in Jesus in the manger, than there is in worlds on worlds rolling their grandeur round the throne of the Most High.

Pause Christian, and consider this a minute. See how every attribute is here magnified.

  • Lo! what wisdom is here. God becomes man that God may be just, and the justifier of the ungodly.
  • Lo! what power, for where is power so great as when it concealeth power? What power, that Godhead should unrobe itself and become man!
  • Behold, what love is thus revealed to us when Jesus becomes a man.
  • Behold ye, what faithfulness! How many promises are this day kept? How many solemn obligations are this hour discharged?

Tell me one attribute of God that is not manifest in Jesus; and your ignorance shall be the reason why you have not seen it so. The whole of God is glorified in Christ; and though some part of the name of God is written in the universe, it is here best read—in Him who was the Son of Man, and, yet, the Son of God.

 Charles Spurgeon, Christmas morning worship, 1857

Jim Dennison’s blog this morning is worth repeating:

 

America’s military presence in Iraq has officially ended.  U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has told the troops, “Your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside and to offer hope for prosperity and peace to this country’s future generations.”

While we’re scaling down operations in Iraq, we are apparently escalating them in IranMilitary officials are now saying that the RQ-170 Sentinel drone that crashed in Iran was ours, and that it was surveying suspected nuclear sites in the country.  We have good reason for such an investigation.  Dennis Ross, who just retired as President Obama‘s top Iran policy official, warned on Tuesday: “If Iran has nuclear weapons, the potential for nuclear war in the Middle East goes up dramatically.”

These are just the latest headlines from this volatile region of the world.  What makes these issues relevant nine days before Christmas?

Jesus was “the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).  That means he was a direct descendant of an Iraqi.  Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31), the site of modern Tel el-Muqayyar in southern Iraq’s Dhi Qar Governate.  God called him to “leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), and the rest is history.

The Magi who brought gifts to the infant Christ were from ancient Persia.  Second-century Christian art in Roman catacombs depicts them in Persian garments, as did a golden mosaic over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  In other words, Jesus’ first Gentile worshipers were Iranians.

Two principles follow.  One: God loves Iraqis and Iranians, and is at work in their ancient lands.  More Muslims are coming to Christ than ever before, many after seeing visions and dreams of Jesus.  By some reports, there are as many as two million secret Christians in Iran.

Two: we should join him.  I pray every day for 100 million Muslims to come to Christ over the next year, and ask God to lead Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei to salvation.  If he could bring Saul of Tarsus to himself, can’t he win anyone to his Kingdom?  What impact would such conversions make around the world?

The Child who chose an Iraqi for his ancestor and Iranians for his worshipers now chooses you and me to advance his Kingdom.  The Magi brought him their best gifts.  What will you give him today?

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During its hardest moments, the storms of life often seem out of control. Our fate may sometimes seem to lie in the hands of hostile people, or in the outworking of impersonal forces of one kind or another. Yet the reality is that our every experience in this world, from the apparently coincidental to the determined acts of wicked men and women, lies under the control of our sovereign God…No sinful act ever catches God by surprise or thwarts his sovereign will…For believers in Christ, each circumstance is the Lord’s means of furthering His sanctifying goals. He has not abandoned or forgotten us. On the contrary, He will walk through these trials and preserve us through them by His grace.  lain Duguid

Tuesday, November 27, 1739 – …I preached from a balcony to above six thousand people. God strengthened me to speak nearly two hours, with such demonstration of the Spirit, that great numbers continued weeping for a considerable time.

Tuesday, April 30, 1740 – Towards the conclusion of my discourse, God’s Spirit came upon the preacher and people, so that they were melted down exceedingly.

May 14, 1749 – I believe there were near twelve thousand. I had not spoken long before I perceived numbers melting. As I proceeded, the influence increased, till, at last, thousands cried out, so that they almost drowned my voice…What tears were shed and poured forth after the Lord Jesus…After the last discourse, I was so pierced, as it were, and overpowered with the sense of God’s love, that some thought…I was about to give up the ghost. How sweetly did I lie at the feet of Jesus. With what power did a sense of His all-constraining, free, and everlasting love flow in upon my soul! It almost took away my life.

From George Whitefield’s Journal

O God, grant such preaching – and such moving of the Spirit today! May I be so pierced and overpowered by your love!

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I love the simplicity and depth of Kevin DeYoung’s formulation:

One God. We worship one, personal, knowable, holy God. There are not two gods or ten gods or ten million gods, only one. He has always been and will always be. He is not a product of our mind or imagination. He really exists and we can know him because he has spoken to us in his word.

Two kinds of being. We are not gods. God is not found in the trees or the wind or in us. He created the universe and cares for all that he has made, but he is distinct from his creation. The story of the world is not about being released from the illusion of our existence or discovering the god within. The story is about God, the people he made, and how the creatures can learn to delight in, trust in, and obey their Creator.

Three persons. The one God exists eternally in three persons. The Father is God. The Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is God. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, is also God. And yet these three—equal in glory, rank, and power—are three persons. The doctrine of the Trinity helps explain how there can be true unity and diversity in our world. It also shows that our God is a relational God.

For us. Something happened in history that changed the world. The Son of God came into the world as a man, perfectly obeyed his Father, fulfilled Israel’s purpose, succeeded where Adam failed, and began the process of reversing the curse. Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. He rose again from the dead on the third day. By faith in him our sins can be forgiven and we can be assured of living forever with God and one day being raised from the dead like Christ.

Obviously, this doesn’t say everything that needs to be said about the Bible or Christianity. But I find it to be a helpful way to get a handle on some of the most important distinctives of a Christian worldview. Feel free to steal it and use it for yourself. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4.

Someone once asked me, “why don’t we sing the old hymns anymore?” When I asked which hymn she had in mind, she mentioned a revival hymn written in the 1920s. I suspect the hymn was very familiar – and she was feeling the need for something stable and familiar in her life. Perhaps the hymn was related to a spiritual or emotional milestone in her life, and singing it would enable her to re-experience the feelings again.

There is nothing wrong with her question or desire, and I tried to suggest she gather some friends at her house for a hymn-sing.

I also told her, “your hymn isn’t old enough. Let’s sing some really old hymns. Let’s go back several hundred years – and sing songs with what Spurgeon called, “good strong doctrine.”

Here are two examples of old hymns that have come to mean the world to me. Their exalted view of God is a great encouragement to me.

God moves in a mysterious way

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Be still my soul

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

“When I started doing this I thought it would be a fun, exciting exercise. What I saw is that this can turn soft-spoken Christian leaders into junkyard dogs. What are our five words at Willow? We are still in the process of agreeing. But what I’m working through as I try to distill this, my five words are:

“First, love. “God so loved the world. . . .

“The second is evil. The world is fallen. The guy who just recently killed about 20 people, there is no other word for that than evil. And even in our own hearts, why is it that when I promise a thousand times I won’t say certain words, I say them anyway? When I do something that brings bad results 100 times, why do I do it again? There is evil out there, and it has a little bit of a grip on me [that is, even as a Christian — we aren’t perfect yet]. That’s just true, and part of the message of the Christian faith.

“Third, rescue. Through the substitutionary atonement of Christ. Redemption is available as a gift.

“Fourth, choice. There has to be something about making a choice. You don’t have to choose this stuff. Some people try to clean up their own act, or thumb their nose at God. We have to come to Christ and make a choice to accept his rescue.

“Fifth, restore. When you come to Christ, you are restored and you join a team of people who are helping make things better in the world.”

Bill Hybels

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.

. . . let [the pastor or zealous member] nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God. Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief. Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren. Let him do what he is committed to do, and thank God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, LIfe Together