Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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Thom Rainer on Pastors and vacations.

Two years ago I spoke to a pastor about his church. After he shared with me all the areas in which he had been involved and the ministries he led, I asked him an innocent question: When do you take vacation? His answer flabbergasted me. “I don’t,” he said. I thought maybe he had misunderstood me, so I clarified. In the past six years that you have served as pastor, when did you take a vacation? “I haven’t,” he reiterated. I had heard him right the first time. This pastor had deprived himself and his family for the past six years. I anticipated burnout was not far away. Unfortunately, I was right.

A peek inside Max Lucado’s writing process.

Max is the author of almost 100 books with more than 80 million copies in print. There are probably less than five authors in the world who are that prolific—or that successful. It’s mind-boggling.

Paul Levy on Success in ministry is dangerous, accountability doesn’t work and other thoughts on falling from grace.

Recently I’ve spent some time with two friends who were in ministry but have fallen morally and so now find themselves out of a job that they loved, separated from their families and, in all honesty, struggling. I’ve showed what I’ve written to them and I wouldn’t say they were overjoyed at what I had to say but both agreed I could put this on here.

David Murrow on Holiday services and men.

Why are holiday services, which draw huge numbers of irreligious men, so ineffective at engaging them? I believe that holiday services are, by their very nature, poorly suited for men. They tend to hide the church’s greater mission under a mountain of religious tradition and ceremony. Holiday services also give men a skewed perspective on what the gospel is all about.

Kara Powell on What your calendar says about your view of God.

If I want to find out what a leader thinks about God, I don’t look at their prayer journal or their preaching. I look at their calendar. Everyone I know grapples with busyness. It’s often how we define ourselves. When someone asks us, “How are you?” our default answer is frequently one word: “Busy”. This busyness cuts across boundaries of faith, vocation, and socio-economic status.

Shawn Wood on His sermon prep system.

The job of a church planter and pastor has a lot of moving parts, but for me, the biggest of them is my time preparing to preach.

James MacDonald on When men act like men.

Everywhere you look, men are in trouble—falling to superficiality, entertainment lifestyles, sensuality, secularism, lives lived apart from God, reaping for themselves and their families the harvest of what they have sown. Someone needs to throw men a life line. Men are are sinking, and only Jesus Christ can save them. Christ Himself must invade the territory of men’s hearts and rule without rival or equal.

22 Quotes from “Prophetic Preaching”

If you preach, I’d highly recommend you pick up the series by Craig Brian Larson on preaching. Here are some quotes from Prophetic Preaching:

  1. We can avoid and deny this spiritual disease for years until someone uses God’s Word, not as a weapon to bludgeon us, but as a scalpel to cut through our layers of excuses and evasions. It takes courage and compassion, but these trustworthy pastors speak the truth, identifying our sin, calling it by name, and then gently leading us to the One who can heal our souls. That summarizes the ministry of prophetic preaching.
  2. Prophetic preachers don’t sugarcoat the truth; they don’t ignore or minimize the painful verdict; and they’ll declare what we need to hear, not necessarily what we want to hear.
  3. Prophetic preaching always begins with a high view of Scripture. There’s an assumption that God has something to say right now, in this city, to this group of people gathered for worship—young and old, rich and poor, American and Nigerian and Brazilian and Korean, believer and skeptic.
  4. Prophetic preachers also know that during each sermon human souls hang on a precipice between good and evil, God and idols, obedience and rebellion, heaven and hell. Marriages, families, and communities desperately need direction and healing. Thus the end game of preaching isn’t providing information or entertainment. People (both Christians and non-Christians) need to repent, believe the gospel, grow in Christ, and serve the world.
  5. There’s also a dark side or a danger in prophetic preaching: a lack of love for others.
  6. We’ll never break and win hearts with narrow, prudish, moralistic messages.
  7. Biblical preaching always invites people into Jesus’ grand “kingdom adventure.” In other words, if we ask people to release their idols, we had better hand them something more adventurous and satisfying.
  8. Prophetic preachers dare to proclaim that ultimately there’s nothing more heroic, attractive, and adventurous than trusting Christ.
  9. The very concept of purity is much more attractive than morality. Morality, whether this is a misunderstanding or not, seems to traffic in rules—to say, “Here are the strictures; you need to mind your p’s and q’s and behave yourself.” Purity calls us to a life of God-ward-ness and adventure; there’s something heroic about it. There’s something winsome about the life of purity.
  10. The authority for prophetic preaching doesn’t reside in the preacher. It’s not in the preacher’s personality (although God can use many different personality types) or in the preacher’s attempt to be relevant. The preacher’s authority has one basis: the authority of God’s Word.
  11. God’s Word like a lion: let it out of the cage, get out of the way, and it will take care of itself.
  12. People are hungering to hear someone preach the truth of God’s Word without reservation.
  13. There are two elements that every preacher should have: urgency and clarity.
  14. Clarity brings power and the authority of God’s Word. Urgency—or the sense that this message matters, so decide today—also brings the authority of God’s Word.
  15. The goal of a preacher’s message is that at some point people would feel convicted. Conviction implies that people are overcome with the gaps that exist between the lives they’re living and the lives God wants them to live. Conviction can happen at the entry point of the gospel or at some point in the process of progressive sanctification.
  16. Prophetic preaching derails when it starts speaking forcefully about stuff that the Scriptures don’t address forcefully.
  17. Postmodern people aren’t seeking experiences; they’re seeking God. And the point of preaching is to unveil him.
  18. In studying a passage to preach, I ask three questions: Who is God? How is he revealed in this text? What are the most natural inclinations that resist or deny that truth?
  19. If you are preaching, and your audience is learning truth, but they could never imagine being like you—responding to the world like you, thinking like you, and feeling like you—that’s not good.
  20. When you look at the New Testament and what it says about the church’s responsibility with respect to what is declared, the authority for preaching is never placed in the community.
  21. Too often people see preaching as just teaching, but if it doesn’t have a component of exhortation and challenge that calls people to change, to grow in Christ, or to take purposeful steps to build the kingdom, it’s not really preaching; it’s only teaching.
  22. Never preach a text you haven’t lived or that hasn’t lived in you.”

How to Worship this Morning at Church

The biblical injunction to whole-person worship includes the command to love the Lord your God “with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). That can mean strength of passion or strength of intellect but should not exclude the most obvious understanding of strength, not as an adjective describing the other capacities to love, but as a category by itself. The idea of a spiritual act such as worship being physical may seem strange to you at first, but it is both biblical and beneficial. Involving your body in worship is what aids in joining emotion with intellect. King David, the greatest worshipper the world has ever known, exemplified physicality in worship:

Voice: “I love the LORD, because He hears my voice” (Psalm 116:1). David’s pleas for God’s “hearing” might have simply been descriptive of God answering prayer, except that David frequently enjoined volume with words like shout, cry, and loud. Volume does matter in worship. And while intimate, simple songs are best not shouted, it is equally strange that we should express celebration and rejoicing at a volume that is not audible to the person beside us. How sad when spectators at a sporting event or the winner of a new toaster at Tuesday-night bingo outshouts the redeemed church of Jesus Christ. Volume does not equate to sincerity, but lack of volume at the proper time almost certainly highlights a sleepy, superficial engagement that insults the Spirit of Glory. “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you” (Psalm 71:23).

Eyes: Even inhibited worshippers seem willing to involve their eyes. The problem is that most do the one thing not prescribed for scriptural worship: close them. David frequently exhorted worshippers to let their eyes be part of worship, open them wide, lift them to heaven, let them be filled with tears of joy. “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Psalm 123:1)

Head: Unless kneeling or bowing in contrition, there is no good reason for the head to be tilted downward in worship. A man with a discouraged heart will often have a fallen countenance and his chin on his chest. But when the head is tilted back, the Vertical gaze adjusts perspective and allows faith to grow. “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).

Hands: Interesting again that the things most commonly done with hands in worship services, holding and folding, are not mentioned in Scripture as far as I know. The hands are possibly the most versatile and emotive assistants to physical engagement in praise. Occasionally someone not experienced in physical praise will complain about the commonality of rhythmic clapping in our worship services. Frankly, the complaint is less concerning than the rationale, which tends to center around a person’s lack of rhythm or discomfort with demonstrative worship. We clap in church because God commands us to,because it increases volume and builds enthusiasm. Why would any Christian resist what amplifies the praise of God? “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” ((Psalm 47:1) In my frequent trips through airports I have sometimes witnessed the spectacle of a young mom with little kids tugging at her side, holding up signs to welcome home their soldier husband/father. Without exception the shouts and jumping and holding up of signs, the tearful laughter and wide-armed embrace are offered without fear of how onlookers will view such extravagance. In view of God’s extravagance to us in Christ, we should be bursting at the seams to get to church every weekend and make our voices raw with whole-person praise. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord (Psalm 63:4; 134:2; 1 Timothy 2:8).

Legs: Kneeling can greatly enhance the worshipper’s sense of reverence and humility before a holy God. This can be done individually or corporately. We offer such frequent opportunities for this at the front of our church that it is not uncommon for folks to come at some point during the service without specific invitation. Others kneel or at least bow their heads at various points as the Spirit prompts them. “Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6)

Feet: Movement in time with the music is what some would call worship dance. We know that David danced before the Lord as an act of worship (2 Samuel 6:14). I have frequently stood too stoically in worship even with my eyes lifted and my hands raised, singing at the top of my lungs. I have prayed for the ability to engage my legs in dance that would not empty the room, but as yet I have not received that gift. We have had synchronized worship dancers, but that just didn’t fly in Chicago, where blue collar and da Bears are so deeply entrenched they tend to eclipse a more refined artistry. I do find myself occasionally jumping for joy, or seeking to shift my weight in time with the music. I want to grow in this way of expression.

-James MacDonald, Vertical Church (Location 3016)

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Saturday Afternoon Book Review: Vertical Church

Just got done reading James MacDonald’s new book Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church can be (kindle version).

Loved the emphasis this book has as compared to other books on leadership or church ministry. The entire book, while giving the reader an inside look at how Harvest Bible is laid out, the “pillars of ministry” they live out. It is all based on being vertical as a church. More concerned with glorifying God than themselves, more concerned with connecting to God than connecting the culture around them.

Here’s the back cover of the book:

An emergency call, and I rush from my coziness into the dark community where the police have requested a chaplain. Arriving in minutes, I find the family imploding with grief having just discovered their son hanging in the garage. In a moment of unshakable pain, he jumped off the ladder and into eternity. And I will never shake the look in their eyes when I asked why he hadn’t called a church. “Why would he do that?” Across town, a pool of tears on my kitchen table as an out of town guest feels the weight of his infidelity, despairing that his famished soul finds no refuge and that he has to board a plane to feel fellowship. “Has your church tried to help you?” And the Christian leader confesses he hasn’t been to church in years.

Infighting, backbiting, heartbreaking, frustrating … church.

Though exceptions do exist, the reality is that church in America is failing one life at a time. Somewhere between pathetically predictable and shamefully entertaining, sadly sentimental and rarely authentic, church has become worst of all … godless.

Vertical Church points to a new day where God is the seeker, and we are the ones found. In Vertical Church God shows up, and that changes everything.

If you want to experience God as you never have before and witness His hand at work, if you want to wake up to the first thought, “Thank God it’s Sunday,” if you’re ready to feel your heart beat faster as you drive to your place of worship … then devour and digest the lessons of Vertical Church.

I will admit, the first 4 chapters where MacDonald lays the foundation for his ministry philosophy started to get a little long, they are incredibly important. Without understanding our desire as humans for glory and transcendence, we will not understand how God fills that and how to help people move in that direction.

The second part of the book where MacDonald lays out the “pillars” of Harvest: Unashamed adoration, unapologetic preaching, unafraid witness, and unceasing prayer were great. The preaching chapter is worth the price of the book. I found myself taking all kinds of notes in that chapter and wished it was an entire book on preaching.

Personally, I was challenged in the witness chapter and the idea of boldness when it comes to evangelism. His argument against “relational evangelism” was fantastic, showing how our fears influence us more than Scripture does in evangelism.

Here are a few other things that jumped out to me in the book:

  • Where Jesus Christ is at work, things are happening that cannot be explained by rational categories.
  • Any pastor who doesn’t grieve deeply the loss of people is in the wrong line of work.
  • When people are taught that their ultimate purpose is reaching the lost or building a church or extending their hands to the poor, they derail during difficult times.
  • When people are taught that their ultimate purpose is reaching the lost or building a church or extending their hands to the poor, they derail during difficult times. Horizontal purposes, even ones that express God’s heart for the lost, are not adequate to sustain a lifetime of devotion to the gospel through the valleys people inevitably face.
  • God won’t do through me what He can’t do in me.
  • evangelism and discipleship are equal in priority because both bring more glory to God.
  • A church that tries to feed thirty-ounce exegetical ribeyes that satisfy the seminary graduates and no one else is not an acceptable alternative. Doctrinally precise churches that pride themselves on depth and substance but reach almost no one, while critiquing everyone who does reach people as shallow, do not honor God or steward the gospel better.
  • If you expect Jesus to congratulate your doctrinal accuracy that reached a white suburban elitist few but didn’t weep for lost people or socialize with sinners or find ways to meet the gaping needs of the broken all around you, you are going to be crushed by disappointment when you meet the Savior.
  • No theologian anywhere who takes the Bible seriously sees salvation as anything other than a sovereign act of God. But we have so elevated the role of human persuasion in evangelism that we see ourselves significant at the center of every human interaction, using our personalities and cultural connectedness to convince a person to Christ.52 All of this is an offense to the saving God who draws people to Himself and just needs the messenger to speak the gospel words in love then get out of His way.
  • Worship or adoration is the most powerful expression a human being is capable of. When worship is directed to an unworthy person or object, we call it idolatry. Idolatry, not pride as we are often told, is the root of all sin. Pride is the wrong view of self that fuels idolatry, but the ultimate sin is the actual act of placing anyone or anything on the throne that is God’s alone.
  • The highest and most powerful human experience is to express our love to the most worthy object of that affection. In the elevation of Christ’s worthiness, our greatest joy is discovered. The greatest sin, then, is directing that adoration elsewhere, not only because it insults God, but also because it insulates our hearts from the delight we were created to revel in. To fail at worship is the greatest failure a human is capable of with the gravest and most immediate of consequences. But when a believing community amplifies worship as their ultimate priority, they are shaped by that adoration into the most powerful human force possible.
  • We preach so that worship will increase, not the reverse.
  • We don’t worship so that preaching will be more impactful for us; we preach so that worship will be more impactful for God.
  • If we believe God is present in our worship as He promises to be,20 then we must frame all language of worship as to Him and not merely about Him.
  • Preaching is much less about the person or the place it happens and more a pattern for how God wants His message given.
  • Bible explanation is not preaching. Exegetical review by itself is not preaching.
  • If you are unpacking your lexical study and dispensing biblical accuracy without Holy Spirit urgency, you are not preaching in the biblical sense,
  • Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A true understanding and experience of the Truth must lead to this. I say again that a man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one.
  • All truth is God’s truth, but hear this: all truth is not God’s Word.
  • God’s voice will not be heard in our churches unless we are preaching the Bible.
  • The biggest leak in the boat of biblical authority during proclamation: apology. How did we come to the place where we think God needs PR? Who is responsible for the constant concern about how culture hears what God has to say? When did we become more anxious about offending people than offending God, and why? Preachers who manufacture content or marginalize what God has said because they are concerned that people will be offended by it or the culture won’t be comfortable may convince themselves they are giving God a leg up, but the one they are really protecting is in the mirror. Trust me on this; God is never watching in appreciation when we make His Word more palatable to pagans. I am not for pulpit ranting, and I don’t believe God is honored in making the Bible complicated where it’s simple. Preaching should not nullify the Word of God through tradition or negate the Word of God by speaking in religious terms the uninitiated can’t access, but Vertical, biblical preaching should never place loyalty to the audience’s sensitivities ahead of loyalty to God and His Word.
  • Preoccupation with making sure the listener is not offended leads inevitably to offending God.
  • If no one ever says, after hearing you, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” you don’t have a ministry like Jesus had, and you’re not being faithful to the Word of God!
  • Apology preaching teaches people to resist the Bible’s authority instead of submit to “it is written.”
  • When you evaluate a message, how much weight do you give to asking, “What did the Holy Spirit do?”
  • In order for God’s voice to move through a human mouthpiece, that person must have a true sense of Who the sermon is about, which begins with a clear understanding of whom it is not about.
  • God has done more than give us good news He wants to get out. He has given us a manner that must accompany every method and a rationale for that manner. The single term that best describes the way God wants His gospel given is boldness.
  • Boldness (parrhesia) is used forty-two times in the New Testament. It is translated “openly,” “freely,” “plainly,” “with confidence” but most commonly some form of the word “bold.” A bold witness is not a pushy witness. A bold witness is not a loud witness, unless it needs to be. Boldness is not obnoxiousness. It’s not rude or demanding. Boldness is the furthest thing from some wild-eyed preacher screeching in the streets, “You’re going to hell!” Boldness is clear, direct communication in the face of potential opposition, nothing more or less.
  • Boldness is simply speaking the gospel plainly.
  • unless you are willing to be the aroma of death to those who are perishing, you will never be the aroma of life to those who are being saved.
  • When the church becomes a circus, concert venue, or a clown show, God is long gone, glory doesn’t come down, and we are left with the performance we put on to tell people about a God they will never experience personally.
  • If you are not willing to be the aroma of death to those who are perishing, you can’t be the aroma of life to those who are being saved.
  • The idea of having conversations with a person for months or years to “earn the right” to talk to him or her about Jesus betrays an elevation of the role of human persuasion in evangelism that just doesn’t square with the Gospels or the book of Acts.
  • Unless we believe that God has installed a hunger for Himself in the human soul, we waste massive amounts of time seeking to engage people instead of simply addressing the longing for transcendence God has already given.
  • God must speak in the preaching, God must show up to receive our worship, God must ripen the hearts of people to the gospel, and all of that He will do if we pray biblically, but He will do none of it if we do not pray.
  • Prayer is the first thing our flesh stops when times get easy, and true prayer is the last thing we resort to when times get tough.
  • The reason God responds to persistence is because prayer is changing the one who prays.
  • We needed greater specificity into our prayers, asking in faith for God to do actual, measurable things such as breaking someone’s addiction or bringing a family back together.

All in all, a great book. One definitely worth reading if you are a church leader or desire to see God do more in your church.

Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like
  1. Geoff Surratt on 5 ways to make your church stickier. Love the “guerrilla greeter” idea.
  2. John Piper on Same-sex attraction and the inevitability of change.
  3. James MacDonald on Common mistakes for young preachers.
  4. Really excited to read Dave Kraft’s new book on leadership. If you haven’t read Leaders who Lastyou need to (it’s also $3.82 right now).
  5. Mark Driscoll on Should we abandon the idea of hell?

Links I Like

Links I Like

  1. Tim Challies on What sanctification is and is not. This is incredibly helpful. 
  2. Mark Driscoll on How to get things done. Helpful list on productivity. 
  3. Pete Wilson on 3 things every pastor should unlearn
  4. 4 myths attacking the church today.
  5. Ed Stetzer on Preach the gospel, and since it’s necessary, use words
  6. The idea of evangelism makes me uncomfortable

Links of the Week

  1. Speaking well of your spouse. This is crucial in any marriage, I also find it dictates if a marriage is healthy.
  2. Russell Moore on Who’s afraid of a woman president?
  3. Revival and preaching.
  4. Steven Furtick on Make the ball come to you. Great leadership principle.
  5. Relevant Magazine wrote two articles, 6 Things That Divide Christians & 6 Things That Unite Christians. Great reads.
  6. Ted Kluck on What happens when the worship leader is the one being worshiped?
  7. James MacDonald on Preaching.

Am I Healthy?

Last week, Katie and I got to spend the week with the other Acts 29 pastor’s and their wives. It was awesome being together with over 500 leaders, talking life, ministry, leadership. Laughing, worshiping together and hearing some great preaching from Mark Driscoll, Sam Storms, James MacDonald, Matt Chandler and Jeff Vanderstelt. It was also amazing to be away without our kids, to take long walks, sleep in til 9am (crazy now). The theme of the week was “Am I Healthy?” and was a great look at the health of leaders. Really thought provoking.

Anyway, someone made a video of the week that you can see below. The song playing was the highlight of the worship time. Can’t wait til we roll that out at Revolution.