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What is True Wellness? by John Dunlop, MD

What Is True Wellness?

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This is a guest post by Dr. John Dunlop. He is the author of Wellness to the Glory of God: Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.  Article adapted from: http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/09/what-is-true-wellness/


Will I Be Well at Age 95?

Henry came to his appointment huffing and puffing using his walker to get down the hall. I, as his physician, shook his hand and asked, “How is it going my friend?” Smiling he gave me a strong handshake and said, “Praise the Lord, I’m well, thank you!”

As pleased as I was to hear his response, it caught me just a bit off guard. I was 65; he was 95! I found myself wanting to feel just as well in 30 years. All kinds of questions began to pop into my mind:

Can we truly be well at 95, even when short of breath and using our walkers?

Will I be able to say I’m well if I am still on earth at that age?

What can I do now to increase the chance of being well in thirty years?

The Concept of Shalom

The ancient Hebrews contribute to our understanding of wellness by their use of the word shalom. Whereas shalom is often loosely translated as “peace,” the true meaning is far more extensive. At root, shalom means “totality.” It is the sense of wholeness we have when every part of our lives is in a profound harmony and unity within ourselves, with those around us, and with God. Shalom leads to wellness.

Where do we find the integrating principle that brings all of our lives together? Once again the ancient Jews had the correct answer. The famous Shema of Israel says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5). We are to be a people of one God. This must be more than something we recite for we need to have him as our single focus and see all other areas of life brought together in him. We are to love him with all of our hearts, souls, and might.

Our love for God is well illustrated in the Scriptures:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You. (Psalm 63:1-3)

We learn to love God with all of our beings and then find in him our fulfillment and greatest joy. In God we find what we need to be satisfied. We experience shalom through shema and that sets us on the way to true wellness.

All to the Glory of God

And yet while loving God and loving other people are wonderful—and may help us reach our ultimate purpose—they are not that ultimate purpose in themselves. To attain that ultimate goal we must go one level deeper.

Our overriding purpose in life should be to glorify God. We bring God glory in three distinct ways.

First, he is glorified in our own spirits as we find greater joy and fulfillment in him.

Second, others may give him glory as a result of something we do for them that reflects God’s love and goodness.

Third, God is glorified in his own being through our worship as we declare how much we treasure him. The apostle Paul speaks of Christians as being “the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Cor. 2:15). It is difficult to understand fully but in some way we remind God of the sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus, and in that he is greatly pleased.

Living with a passion for God and his glory will have the following results:

(1) It will free us from worry and anxiety as we will be less focused on ourselves

(2) We will function out of a sense of fullness, not emptiness

(3) It will energize us and ignite us with passion

(4) We will fulfill our true purpose, find our niche, feel at home, and be content

(5) We will do things with eternal impact

(6) We will experience wellness in its truest sense

6 Areas of Wellness

In order to have this unified focus on God and his glory in our lives we must carefully review each area of our lives to see what changes are needed. These areas include:

(1) Physical: Are we being good stewards of the bodies he has entrusted to us? This includes eating well, controlling our weight, exercising, getting proper rest, and taking advantage of the good medical care available to us.

(2) Mental: As age approaches it is increasingly important to keep using and sharpening our minds. Dementia may intervene but even that offers opportunities for God to be glorified.

(3) Social: Relationships are more important as we get older and we need to ensure that we’re making the best of them. It’s critical that we choose a living situation where we will not be isolated but can continue to build close friendships while strengthening our family relationships.

(4) Financial: Are our finances worry-free? Rarely can we increase our resources but we can often limit our expenses. We must be good stewards of the resources God has given us, saving to meet our future needs, and leaving room to be generous.

(5) Spiritual: Our later years offer rich opportunities for spiritual growth and service. Some of the fruit of the Spirit like patience and gentleness may be late bloomers. All believers, no matter their age, are given spiritual gifts through which they can help others. Our abilities may change over the years but there will always be need for prayer and encouragement for others.

(6) Emotional: Are we learning to be content? That must exist in three tenses: we must be comfortable with the past, satisfied in the present, and confident of the future. As age advances depression is all too common and we must learn to effectively deal with that.

Once we get to Henry’s age it’s unreasonable to think that we will continue to be totally well in each of these areas. But, if we review each of them and carefully take stock of where we are now,we can make some corrections that will maximize the chance of true wellness as our lives progress.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).


John Dunlop (MD, Johns Hopkins University) practices medicine in Zion, Illinois, and serves as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He is board certified in geriatrics, holds a master’s degree in bioethics, and is a fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. Dunlop is the author of Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician and Wellness to the Glory of God: Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life. Both published by Crossway Books.

 

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8 Advantages of Expository Preaching

Excerpt from Gary Millar and Phil Campbell’s Book [contributed by Andy Naselli]: Saving Eutychus: How To Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake: Kingsford NSW, Australia: Matthias Media, 2013, pp. 40-41 (http://andynaselli.com/8-advantages-of-heart-changing-expository-preaching/May 16, 2013)

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8 Advantages of Heart-Changing Expository Preaching

Expository Preaching

(1) Does justice to the biblical material which makes it clear that God works through His Word to change people’s lives–as it ‘uncaged the lion’ and allows God’s Word to speak.

(2) Acknowledges that it is God alone, through the Spirit, who works in people’s lives, and that it is not our job to change people through clever or inspiring communication.

(3) Minimizes the danger of manipulating people, because the text itself controls what we say and how we say it. The Bible leaves little room for us to return repeatedly to our current bugbears and hobbyhorses.

(4) Minimizes the danger of abusing power, because a sermon driven by the text creates an instant safeguard against using the Bible to bludgeon (or caress) people into doing or thinking what we want them to do or think.

(5) Removes the need to rely on our personality. While we all feel the weight, at times of having little ‘inspiration’, energy or creativity, if our focus is on allowing the immense richness of Scripture to speak in all its color and variety, the pressure is well and truly off.

(6) Encourages humility to those teaching. While it can be a temptation to think that we are somehow special because we are standing at the front doing most of the talking (and, on a good day, receiving the encouragement), getting it straight that the key to preaching to the heart is simply uncovering the power and freshness of God’s words helps to keep us in our place.

(7) Helps us to avoid simple pragmatism. If our focus is on working consistently to enable people to encounter God who speaks through the text, we will not feel under pressure to address every single issue and topic as it comes up in the life of the church. Conversely, working through the Bible week by week will force us to cover subjects that we wouldn’t choose to address in a million years. In other words, expository preaching is the simplest, longest-lasting antidote we have to pragmatism.

(8) Drives us to preaching the gospel. Expository preaching persistently drives us to the Lord Jesus Christ (wherever we are in the Bible) and so ‘forces’ us to preach the gospel–that is, to spell out what God has already done for us in the death and resurrection of His Son, and then to move from that grace to what God asks and enables us to do. When we preach the gospel we are not simply telling people how to be good or leaving them to wallow in the overwhelming sense that they are irredeemably bad.

 
 

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Dr. John Piper: Is Your Job For The Glory of God?

How to Decide About Your Next Job

How to Decide About Your Next Job

In 1997 I put a list of Bible texts together to help folks think through what job to pursue. Below I have taken that list and added comments to flesh out more specifically what I had in mind.

My prayer is that these thoughts will help saturate your mind with the centrality of Christ in all of life. He made you to work. And he cares about what you do with the half of your waking life called “vocation.” He wants you to rejoice in it. And he wants to be glorified in it.

May the Lord position you strategically in the workplace, as only he can when his people care deeply about these kinds of questions.

12 Questions to Consider

1. Can you earnestly do all the parts of this job “to the glory of God,” that is, in a way that highlights his superior value over all other things?

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

It almost goes without saying that a job that requires you to sin will not be done to the glory of God. Sin is any feeling, word, or action that implies the glory of God is not supremely valuable. So you can’t sin to the glory of God. But things are often not that clear. A job may involve me in questionable practices that are not clearly sin. Then the question becomes: Is my conscience clear? And the crucial text becomes Romans 14:23, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

2. Is taking this job part of a strategy to grow in personal holiness?

For this is the will of God, your sanctification. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

When Paul says, “Pursue righteousness” (1 Timothy 6:112 Timothy 2:22), he does not mean: at church and home, but not work. Our work is about half our waking life. If personal holiness in all of life is our calling, then how this happens at work matters. God will be pleased if you ask the question: How does this job fit into the overall strategy of my pursuit of Christ-like character.

3. Will this job help or hinder your progress in esteeming the value of knowing Christ Jesus your Lord?

I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8)

Think through the demands of this job and how it may affect your pursuit of knowing and treasuring Jesus. For example, will it require you to choose between excellence in work and faithfulness in corporate worship? Will it present you with sinful images or offers, to which you are most vulnerable — that is, which lure you to treasuring this world more than Christ?

4. Will this job result in inappropriate pressures on you to think or feel or act against your King, Jesus?

You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23)

The point here is bondage. All jobs constrain behavior. We must show up. We must produce these outcomes. We must follow these procedures. Constraints are not bondage if we joyfully affirm their wisdom. Will this job pressure you in ways that are in fact unduly oppressive and enslaving?

5. Will this job help establish an overall life-pattern that will yield a significant involvement in fulfilling God’s great purpose of exalting Christ among all the unreached peoples of the world?

Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)

I assume every one is a goer, sender, or disobedient, when it comes to the great commission. There’s no neutral zone. We don’t all go. But we all care that there be goers. We are all world-Christians. We are all burdened by how many unreached peoples there are. And we are all thrilled with news of gospel spreading.

Some jobs may advance this life-goal significantly by involving travel or multi-ethnic interactions. Other jobs may seem unrelated. But are they? Workplaces are the source of income for giving to the cause of Christ. Workplaces are places of conversion and recruitment for the global mission. Workplaces are places of training for the kinds of things one could do for a living in another country with few Christians. Workplaces are places for speaking intelligently and wisely about the peoples of the world.

6. Will this job be worthy of your best energies?

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

Nothing is to be done half-heartedly. This means that things that are not worth doing whole-heartedly should drop away from your life. Tasks don’t have to be high-impact to be worthy of high-effort. Most of the things we do in any given day are relatively low-impact. Working on an assembly line means doing hundreds of times a task that in itself seems low-impact. But if the product or the service is valuable, the cumulative effect of thousands of low-impact tasks is huge. These tasks can be transposed by an act of faith into worship. That is what it means to do them with your might and for the glory of God.

7. Will the activities and environment of this job tend to shape you or will you be able to shape it for the Christ-magnifying purposes of God?

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

Know yourself. We are all more or less vulnerable to different temptations. Christians are to be shapers of the world rather than being shaped by the world. Yes, it is true that we are all shaped by our culture (language, dress, etc.). But God means for this to be reciprocal. We share the culture of this world in order to communicate that we live for a treasure beyond this world. Does this job hold out hope for that? Or, realistically, is it too resistant?

8. Will this job provide an occasion for you to be radically Christian so as to let your light shine for your Father’s sake, or will your participation in the vision of the business tend by definition to snuff your wick?

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

There are companies — increasingly so — whose policies and procedures would muzzle your voice so seriously, you would not be able to speak with truth and love without being fired. Is the acceptance of this job the acceptance of that muzzle? Is that God’s will for you?

9. Does the aim of this job cohere with a growing intensity in your life to be radically, publicly, fruitfully devoted to Christ at any cost?

If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

If you are in a season of serious spiritual growth, ask how a new job will affect that. There are kinds of tasks, kinds of people, kinds of pressures, kinds of schedules, that may bring that growth to a screeching halt. Is this new level of love to Christ precious enough that you will prioritize it, if necessary, above the new job?

10. Will the job feel like a good investment of your life when these “two seconds” of preparation for eternity are over?

You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (James 4:14)

God says that there is a wisdom that comes when we consider the number of our days (Psalm 90:12). Therefore, it will serve your wise choice of a new job to ask how it relates to the brevity of life. When the Lord calls for us or comes for us, we want to be found doing what pleases him. And we want to feel good that we made a wise choice in view of how short and vulnerable life is.

11. Does this job fit with why you believe you were created and purchased by Christ?

“Everyone who is called by my name … I have created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:6–7). “You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

You are unique. That is amazing and true. I often marvel, in a crowded airport, that the thousands of people all look human, and they all look different. How can there be so many differences in this one kind of being? But there are. And none of them is an accident. God designed them all like unique prisms that refract his glory as only this prism can. The question is: Will this job conceal the uniquenesses of your prism? Or will it give you space to shine?

12. Does this job fit together with the ultimate truth that all things exist for Christ?

For by him all…have been created by [Christ] and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

If all things exist for Christ, can there be any wrong jobs? Yes. Because humans try to use things for purposes other than the glory of Christ. Everything God made is good. It exists to communicate something of his greatness and beauty. Will this job free you to take what he has made and turn it for uses that honor him?

I hope you can tell from this that there are few easy answers when asking about what job to pursue. The aim here is not to make it easy, but to make it Christ-centered, Christ-exalting, and Christ-empowered. If your heart is right on these kinds of questions, God will guide you. Seek him supremely in these ways, and let your heart be your guide.

About the author: John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books. This article is adapted from September 9, 2014 (http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/how-to-decide-about-your-next-job)

 

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2014 in John Piper, Vocation

 

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God’s Part In Ministry by Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt

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Christian workers must clearly understand the role God plays in evangelism, discipleship and other aspects of ministry. Unless we consciously operate out of a God-centered model of ministry, we will automatically default to a human-centered model, and all the defeat that comes with it.

A moment’s reflection tells us that what we propose to accomplish in Christian ministry is supernatural. To reach people’s hearts with conviction of their need for Christ, to train them up in the faith, to impart the deep things of God in a life-changing way, to oppose and defeat powerful evil spirits—these are acts that no human can hope to accomplish, no matter how intelligent and competent that person may be. The key to ministry success is always the same: That God moves through us “leading us in his triumph.” (2 Cor. 2:14) Spiritual failure in ministry is predictable when leaders try to supplant the power of God with human charisma, ingenuity, marketing skill, force of will, or social manipulation, even when these are supplied from the best of motives.

Although no real ministry will go forward without the power of God, we should not deny the human part in this process, which would be “super-spirituality.” Paul declares that he and the other apostles are “God’s fellow workers.” (1 Cor. 3:9) Yes, “neither he who plants nor he who reaps are anything but God who causes the growth.” (vs. 7) But this is a figure of speech meaning that compared to God, the planter and reaper are nothing. We should not understand this hyperbole literalistically. Do we really think that everything would have come out the same even if Paul had never gone to Corinth to plant? We hold that his planting did make a difference, and Paul argues this as well, as the whole point of 1Corinthians 3 is that every Christian leader should “take care how he builds.” (vs.10) An honest reading of the Bible reveals a strong doctrine of human agency in ministry. God has elected to work though human beings, and therefore our actions are important.

What, then, should we anticipate God will do from his side in our ministry?

In the first place, God directs our ministries. Leaders are to come to the scriptures, and to the Lord in prayer, seeking to know his will for our ministry. Ministry that departs from the direction God wants may bear some kind of fruit, but becomes “wood hay and stubble” the further we depart from the leading of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, God seems willing to continue using ministries that are off-target, apparently because he places a higher value on reaching the lost than on complete fidelity to his leading. Paul observed this phenomenon in Rome. (Phil. 1:15-18) This is probably the meaning of Mark 9:38-40 as well. Even in 1 Corinthians 3, the “wood hay and stubble” may be used by God, but it will not be rewarded. In fact, the Bible abounds with examples where God continued to use leaders who went astray, sometimes very badly. What are we to conclude?

On one hand, since it is God’s will to direct our ministries, we should seek that leading often and earnestly. Even though God may continue to use off-target ministries, we assume that we will bear more spiritual fruit the closer we are to God’s ideal. This is increasingly obvious as time goes on. In the short term, human-based ministry may look good, but it tends to deteriorate over time or bring disgrace upon the Lord’s name. On the other hand, we should never become paralyzed by the notion that “Unless I know exactly what God wants in each situation, I can’t move forward.” We can move forward based on the general knowledge of what God wants, and in areas we are unsure, we can remain open to any correction in our course that God may want to show us, knowing that he will not let us come to irreversible harm (Phil. 3:15).

The direction of God extends not only to major issues like whether to preach the word or to practice church discipline, but to more subjective areas like when someone is ready for leadership, or with whom to invest our discipling time and effort. Teachers have to consult God on what slant to take when teaching a particular text. Evangelists must ask when to make a more direct call on the lost. Leaders must plead for insight as to how much to expect from a particular disciple. All believers need discernment as to Satan’s next move. In all, there are thousands of decisions in ministry requiring divine guidance.

Secondly, God empowers our ministries. Jesus’ declaration that “apart from me you can do nothing,” is again a figure of speech. He doesn’t mean we can do nothing at all, but that we can do nothing of spiritual value apart from him. As Christian leaders, we realize that we depend absolutely on God for things like:

Evangelism. While a warm demeanor, patience, good arguments, and heartfelt pleas matter in evangelism, only the Holy Spirit can finally convict a person of their need for Christ and bring them to repentance. (John 6:65)

Conviction. We can preach truth, but we depend on God to convict people’s hearts to follow the truth. Apart from spiritual conviction, people will listen to the truth with passive curiosity. This is likely the power Paul referred to in 1 Cor. 4:19,20.

Development of Christian character. No amount of blustering and Bible thumping will transform human lives, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

Overthrowing demons. How could any human hope to impact a spiritual being like Satan apart from the power of God? (Rom. 16:20)

Filling Christian meetings with spiritual power. Paul asks his friends to pray that he be “given utterance” when preaching. (Eph. 6:19) He knew that preaching must be anointed by the Holy Spirit in order to be effective.

Failure to understand or believe in God’s role in ministry will always have negative results. These results include arrogance during “in season” times, as well as panic, pushiness and discouragement during “out of season” times. On the other hand, reliance on God’s role in ministry will promote thankful humility during “in season” times, and stable perseverance during “out of season” times. Those who depend on God’s part have confidence in God’s adequacy through us.

The effect of a God-Centered Perspective on our Attitude

Consider the likely effect that a proper outlook in the area of God’s role will have in each of the following areas. On a three column grid, describe the outlook and actions of the human effort minister on the left, the God-centered minister in the middle, and the reason for the difference on the right.

A. Witnessing 

1. Less fear of rejection because we know they are not rejecting us, but God. Unlike the man-centered witnesser, we realize God must quicken people’s hearts, and if they don’t respond, there is nothing we can do about it.

2. Less tendency to push because human or social pressure would not result in conversion anyway. The God-centered minister learns to wait on the power of God.

3. More likely to use the Word. God-centered ministers know that God works through his word. While using the Bible with one who doesn’t believe the Bible may seem absurd to the natural mind, God says his word “will not return void.”

B. Discipline

1. No fear of sin. Instead of reacting out of fear that sin will ruin our church, the God-centered minister has a settled confidence that Christ will build his church. We become free to discipline sin for the good of the sinner.

2. No doubting of God’s ability to change lives. Man-centered ministers are tempted to become fatalistic about those in chronic sin, thinking “they’ll never change.” The God-centered minister knows God’s power is great.

3. Less apt to try to force people. Again, human pressure is not an adequate motivation for permanent and real spiritual change. While the Bible does prescribe pressure in certain extreme situations, God-centered leaders are less prone to jumping to this conclusion.

4. More patience. Human-based ministers lose patience because they are waiting on fallen humans to change, rather than waiting on God to bring change.

C. Teaching and preaching

1. More boldness and confidence. God-centered teachers and preachers know that God infuses our utterances with power, and that it is his will to bless the church. Instead of relying on self-confidence, which often withers, these rely on God-confidence which is reliable.

2. More tendency to pray against the Devil. The God-centered speaker knows that each talk is a spiritual battle that must be fought with the weapons of righteousness.

D. Discipleship

1. The God-centered discipler tries to get in line with what God wants to do with particular lives. They realize that God’s gifting of individuals is an indication of his will for their lives.

2. More emphasis on discernment, and less on program. The key becomes recognizing what God is doing, rather than having the ultimate method that can’t fail.

3. More relaxation, leading to more trust from disciples. Since the God-centered minister sees himself as a facilitator of God’s development of another’s life, people sense that they aren’t being made to follow the discipler’s will, but that both are trying to follow God’s will.

4. More willingness to teach in-depth Bible study. Those who conceive of discipleship in sociological terms see little reason to waste large amounts of time learning God’s word. They prefer to teach techniques and formulas and consider deep critical issues in Scripture a waste of time. The God-centered leader knows that people are sanctified through the word of God.

5. Less likelihood of bossing. God-centered disciplers know that convictions to follow the Lord must come from within disciples as they respond to the Holy Spirit. Change that results from external pressure would be pseudo-change.

E. Leadership

1. Easier to admit problems in the church. Unlike the human-based leader, who is ego involved with the well-being of the church, the God-centered ministry has no reason to avoid looking at bad news.

2. Easier to avoid pessimism. At the same time, God-centered leaders don’t become negative, because they know God has the power to handle even severe problems.

3. More inclination to raise up others– less need to “hog the ball.” Human-centered leaders secretly think their own competence is the key to the success of the church. Since they interpret the growth of the church in terms of cause and effect on the natural level, it makes no sense to have a less-experienced, less competent new leader speak and lead. The result is a man-centered ministry, where the significant public roles are always filled by the great man.

4. More time and effort devoted to prayer. The God-centered minister knows that only God can build the church, and that every advance requires his power.

Many more examples could be cited. This perspective affects every area of ministry. As in personal sanctification, learning to rely on God’s power instead of our own power is a process which takes time. No leader can claim to have this area down completely.

One of the main ways we learn to depend on God is by experiencing failure (see II Cor. 11:30-33; 12:9,10). As we respond properly to these failures, we gradually learn to minister in dependence upon God’s power.

- See more at: http://www.xenos.org/classes/leadership/godmin.html#sthash.fJLueUZO.dpuf

 

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Jonathan Edwards: Why Did God Create The World?

The theological riches of the Puritans’ writings are often hid from modern readers because of the archaic language. As Ben Stevens says in his introduction to Why God Created the World: A Jonathan Edwards Adaption, Edwards’s “tone and grammatical acrobatics make the original text nearly impossible to read.”

In his new book, Stevens reworks the tone and style of Edward’s brilliant work, Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World (1765). Stevens’s efforts have resulted in making a daunting and difficult text accessible for a general audience.

We’re pleased to provide an excerpt from chapter two of the book that provides “first steps toward an answer” to the question, “Why did God create world?”

Let’s begin by considering the implications of what Christians already agree on about God’s personality. That will greatly reduce the scope of the things we need to consider, and given the size of this topic, that reduction would be a relief. Christians from across the spectrum agree on a surprising number of things on this point, but let me list the two that I think help us zero in on an answer.

First, we agree that God is glorious and happy, independent of any external circumstances. His glory and happiness are eternal, and he doesn’t live in fear that someone will steal or wound his joy. Second, we agree that the universe receives everything from God’s hand and consequently has nothing to give back to him that he didn’t already have before creation.

These are not radical Christian convictions, but they go a long way toward eliminating many popular suggestions about why God created the world. I would summarize their implications like this: If God does not need, and cannot receive, anything new from something he creates, then he must not have created in order to fill a need he had.

With one stroke this point wipes out much of what the world’s pagan religions have thought about their gods for millennia. But at the same time, it raises another question: If God didn’t create because of a need he had, then what prompted him to create at all? I think the most logical conclusion is that if creation does not arise to fulfill some need that God has, then it must arise because of the way it promotes something he values.

This short set of considerations has already carried us most of the way to our answer. Let’s take a final step by thinking about what makes things valuable. I think that piece will complete the puzzle.

Value

As I explained in the last chapter, some things have value because of the way they serve a greater purpose. We might say they have a preliminary value. In this case, however, we are talking about things that are inherently valuable, things that God valued before there was any creation. Broadly speaking, we might say we’re looking for things that are, in and of themselves, good, true, and beautiful.

With this point in mind, ask yourself the question: What existed before the creation of the world that was good, true, and beautiful? I believe you will see that everything that existed before the creation of the world, which was good, true, and beautiful . . . was God. If there is a God who created the universe as we know it, then that means there was also a time when everything we love, which inspires us, and which gives us goose bumps, was all simply an aspect of his personality.

Life as we experience it now doesn’t force us to recognize this point. A man can experience love, for example, whether he believes in or acknowledges God at all. But this is a result of creation. It’s a result of the fact that God has diffused himself throughout human experience. There was a time before the creation of the world when the distinction would have been invalid, a time in which the thing we have come to know as love was literally embodied entirely in one (triune) being.

Creation must have arisen because of the way it accomplishes something God values. God values things like goodness, truth, and beauty. And yet those words are simply labels we have come up with to describe things that were, before creation, all him. So I think we are logical to conclude that if God could have created the universe to expand and increase himself—and, implicitly, all the things that we have come to know in the abstract as goodness, truth, and beauty—then that best explains the logic behind his decision to create a universe in the first place.

Perfect Priorities

At first this may all sound very odd, but I am simply suggesting that God makes the same connection that we make in the course of properly setting our values and priorities. For example, we value things like paintings. But we would never value a single painting more than the artist who painted it. In fact we value the artist more because he is the source of such great beauty. Setting his value higher actually acknowledges the value of any one of his individual paintings. And Christians would want to take the last logical step and affirm that God, who first had the idea to make artists, should have an even higher place in our priorities for the same reason: that he is the source of artists.

The idea I want to propose is that the logic that leads us to value God more than anything else . . . must also lead God himself to value God more than anything else. He must, or at least ought to, come to the same conclusion about the importance and value of his role that we do: that he should have the greatest priority because his existence and work lead to the existence and work of all other good.

Let me take this a step further. We believe that God is good, not just because he’s divine, but because he makes perfect judgments, and because he faithfully evaluates and appraises whatever he sees. In contrast to the often haphazard way humans put one thing before another, God uses accurate weights and measures. So, although it seems strange at first, we put God’s judgment into question if we assume that he doesn’t accurately esteem the most valuable entity imaginable: himself.

Conclusion

I recognize that in some ways, the thesis I have offered here raises as many questions as it answers. But we still have plenty of time to fill in the gaps and think through the implications. For now, I believe it is logical to conclude that:

1. God created not out of a need he had but because of the way creation accomplished something he valued.

2. God ought to value himself and his attributes more than anything.

3. Creation must have resulted from the way God saw the value of expanding himself: his goodness, truth, beauty, and all the things that are a part of him.

That is my theory in its most essential form. What it means, whether it is true, and whether we can know it’s true—that’s where we’re headed next.

* * * * *

Excerpt taken from Why God Created the World by Ben Stevens. Copyright © 2014. A NavPress resource published in alliance with Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ben Stevens (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) works for Greater Europe Mission in Berlin, Germany. Keep up with him on Twitter and at www.benstevens.de.

 

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Os Guiness on Church Growth

Church Growth—First Things First

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When all is said and done, the church-growth movement will stand or fall by one question: In implementing its vision of church growth, is the church of Christ primarily guided and shaped by its own character and calling—or by considerations and circumstances alien to itself? Or, to put the question differently, is the church of Christ a social reality truly shaped by a theological cause, namely the Word and Spirit of God?

Behind this question lies the fact that the church of God only “lets God be God,” and is only the church, and is free when she lives and thrives finally by God’s truths and God’s resources. If the church makes anything else the principle of her existence, Christians risk living unauthorized lives of faith, exercising unauthorized ministries, and proclaiming an unauthorized Gospel.

Yet, that is precisely the temptation modernity gives to us—the very brilliance and power of its tools and insights mean that eventually, there is no need to let God be God. In fact, there is no need for God at all in order to achieve measurable success. Modernity creates the illusion that when God commanded us not to live by bread alone but by every word that comes from His mouth, He was not aware of the twentieth century. The very success of modernity undercuts the authority and driving power of faith until religion becomes merely religious rhetoric, or organizational growth without spiritual reality.

In light of this, it is curious that the church-growth movement’s use of modernity is one of its most prominent but least examined features. Modernity poses the greatest problem for the church-growth movement— because it appears to be no problem at all. It is most dangerous at its best—not its worst—when its benefits and blessings are unarguable. No civilization in history has amplified the temptation of living “by bread alone” with such power and variety and to such effect. In today’s convenient, climate-controlled spiritual world created by the managerial and therapeutic revolutions, nothing is easier than living apart from God.

One Christian advertising agent, who represented both the Coca-Cola Corporation and engineered the “I Found It” campaign, stated the point brazenly: “Back in Jerusalem where the church started, God performed a miracle there on the day of Pentecost. They didn’t have the benefits of buttons and media, so God had to do a little supernatural work there. But today, with our technology, we have available to us the opportunity to create the same kind of interest in a secular society.”

This warning should not be confused with the superspiritual fallacy that flatters the church as being purely spiritual and theological, turning up its nose at all lesser, “unspiritual” insights or techniques. That error is simply the opposite extreme. Just as Christians are flesh and blood as well as spirit, so the church of Christ is in the business of pews, parking lots, and planning committees as well as prayer and preaching.

There is, therefore, a place for the latest scientific study on parking lots. But we are told by church-growth gurus that “the No. 1 rule of church growth is that a church will never get bigger than its parking lot.”

No. 1? Above growth in faith? Before growth in the Word and Spirit? God forbid. For the church of Christ, the latest sociological study never has more than a low-level place—even in a “freeway fellowship” culture such as California. What truly matters after the accumulated wisdom of modernity has been put to good use is that the real character of the church remains to be demonstrated, the real growth of the church remains to be seen. Otherwise we fall foul of the charge leveled by rock star Michael Been of The Call: “Everything that goes on in every major corporation goes on inside the church, except as a sideline the church teaches religion.”

If Jesus Christ is true, the church is more than just another human institution. He alone is her head. He is her sole source and single goal. His grace uniquely is her effective principle. What moves her is not finally interchangeable with the dynamics of even the closest of sister institutions. When the best of modern insights and tools are in full swing, there should always be a remainder, an irreducible character that is more than the sum of all the human, the natural, and the organizational.

Hans Kung writes: “Given that Jesus Christ is the head of the church and hence the origin and goal of its growth, growth is only possible in obedience to its head. If the church is disobedient to its head and His Word, it cannot grow however busy and active it may seem to be; it can only wither. Its development, no matter how spectacular, will prove basically misdirected; its progress, no matter how grandiose, will prove ultimately a disastrous retrogression. The valid movements in the church are those that are set in motion by God’s grace.”

The notion of the remainder, the irreducible, the noninterchangeable, and the unquantifiable is fundamental to grace and to the church. The church of Christ is more than spiritual and theological, but never less. Only when first things are truly first, over even the best and most attractive of second things, will the church be free of idols, free to let God be God, free to be herself, and free to experience the growth that matters.

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REPLANT by Mark Devine and Darrin Patrick: Book Review

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A Story of Hope For Dying Churches – Review By David P. Craig

Estimates from some church experts (e.g. Ed Stetzer) on the state of churches in America say that approximately 4,000 churches close their doors every year. This book is the story of a one time mega church in downtown Kansas City that began in the 1800’s and how it was in danger of dying in the early 2,000’s and how it was turned around into a thriving church again.

It’s a good story of how “cartel’s” work to bring about paralysis and decline in churches (lots of churches have these types of cartels) and how an interim pastor (Mark Devine – a professor at Midwestern Seminary) had the wisdom and wherewithal to weather the storm and in God’s good providence see a positive outcome for this particular church – with the help of another mega church from St.Louis led by Darrin Patrick (author of Church Planter and For The City).

The book isn’t really a handbook or manual on “how to” replant a church, so much as it is just the story of how two churches came together to save a dying a church. It is a story of God’s grace and providence in bringing together the right people at the right place at just the right time to make a big difference in Kansas City.

I think it’s a wonderful story that I hope will “play out” in different venues around the world. If there are any principles to be gleaned from the book it would be the following: (1) The importance of a shared vision among the leadership team; (2) The importance of wise and godly leaders praying fervently for their local church; (3) The importance of being flexible and willing to change as a church (not changing the gospel – but changing forms and functions for the sake of the gospel); (4) The importance of cooperating with the greater body of Christ and taking risks for the sake of Christ’s Church (that it’s something worth risking for!).

I recommend this book especially for leaders that are in churches that have plateaued or are in decline. It will give you some ideas, warnings, red flags to watch for, and will also encourage you by giving you some positive steps to glean from in the St.Louis and Kansas City connection. There is not just one way to “replant” a church, but it will encourage you to know that God loves His Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. My hope is that God will use this book to motivate, encourage, and give ideas to struggling churches and that they will thrive once again for His glory and His Kingdom!

 

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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