Questions For Fighting Sin in Community

Jared C. Wilson lists some questions that Ray Ortlund and a small group of men would work through as they sought to press the gospel into each others lives and fight sin. As Joe Thorn reminded me this morning, we need to foster a deeper culture of confession and grace within our lives. I find these questions helpful for getting together with a small huddle of men and sharing my life with them. I would encourage you to do so as well.

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not like other people, especially the Pharisee who despised the publican?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward, or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?
  20. Do I grumble and complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?

From Jared C. Wilson's The Pastor's Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry

For what it's worth I highly recommend Jared's book for any pastor or elder in the church.

Art as Listening

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to preach from 2 Peter 3:11-18 at Journey the Way. One of the guys in my Gospel Community commented to me that he had fun drawing during my message. At first this was a bit disconcerting to me mainly because I try to teach my children to pay attention during the service. However, for Brad drawing during a sermon is paying attention. The other day he gave me the picture he drew from my message and I wanted to share it with you.  One of the things that I've learned from this is that art has a place in our worship and listening. Some of us will take copious notes during a message, some will draw a picture, some will listen intently without doing any of those things. Yet each of these has a place in helping us learn, worship and grow in Christ.

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Thanks Brad for sharing this with me and my readers. If you want to listen to my sermon you can do that here. And then maybe draw a picture and send it to me. That'd be cool.

In Pursuit of The Inner Ring

In a speech of C.S. Lewis' that I recently read he described a fundamental reality that each of us are engaged in. It is the quest of what he calls the "Inner Ring." In Lewis' address he was specifically applying this "Inner Ring" to the sphere of the workplace but the Inner Ring exists everywhere. It's the network of leaders you want to be in with. Or the group of guys that get together regularly without inviting you. It's the people who have fun, throw big parties and enjoy life together. It's the crowd of families that get together to socialize and let their kids play together, but your family is not in on it. It's that circle of authors that you're striving hard to become part of. It is any group that you see external to yourself that you feel you should be part of, and in some capacity, for whatever reason, you're not on the "in" with right now.

We're all looking on the outside at Inner Ring clubs we long to be identified with. The problem, and the driving factor in reaching these inner rings lies in the fact that they are often just beyond our grasp. They lie at the fringe of our abilities or relationships and sit a fingers width away, but are incapable of being had. Unless…

Unless we become what we are not. Lewis' speech was given to young college-aged leaders getting ready to graduate and his point was to warn them in advance of the seduction of compromise in morals, values, and responsibilities to obtain entrance into that Inner Ring. For some moving the line of our morals to achieve partnership in our desired Inner Ring Club is a step to far, but becoming what we are not. To achieve the desired end we will justify the means and shifts of our calling, character, and souls to gain that elusive platform or degree or recognition. We will become what we are not.

I bring this up to personally wrestle with my own motives and pursuits of Inner Rings. Not every Inner Ring is evil or undesirable, nor is every motive or reason for pursuing a certain Inner Ring filled with idolatry and wanton abandon to the character of Christ. But in the pursuit of my Inner Rings I am beginning to see at least a distortion in perspective. In this way I am becoming what I am not.

How do we break ourselves from the pursuit of the Inner Rings? Lewis spoke of it this way,

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your heart unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourselves all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.

I would encourage you to pick up Lewis' volume The Weight of Glory and give his essay "The Inner Ring" some time.

Correcting an Error

This last week the good folks over at Gospel Centered Discipleship ran an article of mine on praying the imprecatory prayers. One of the statements I made in that article was that Psalm 137 was part of the Psalms of Ascents and that Jesus might have sang that particular song while traveling "up" to Jerusalem to celebrate a festival.

As I was doing some other work this week on the Psalms I realized that Psalm 137 wasn't included in the "Songs of Ascents" (Psalm 120-134), so my statement was factually in error because of where it sits in the Psalter. However, given the Jewish upbringing that Jesus had I am confident that he would have recited it at times, and known the words of the song well.

My apologies on the error.

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A Reminder For Myself (and Other Pastors)

People are not a commodity to be acquired, a market to be shared, a business to be grown, a system to be organized, a product to be manufactured, an industry to be monetized, a goal to be achieved, or a platform on which to stand.

People are fallen bearers of the image of God that by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are being reborn, remade, and renewed into the image of Christ.

Your goal is to disciple them towards Jesus. Not your church, not your program, not your agenda, not your book, not your ministry, not you. Let them know and experience, through your ministry, the reality of Jesus who said, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). This is the work of the pastorate.

Read the Bible like a Psychic

Ah ha! I knew I'd get your attention with that headline. But that's not what I mean. One of my favorite shows right now on T.V. is Psych. It's a weekly crime-solving/comedy/drama show that features two buddies who start a consulting agency for the Santa Barbara Police to help them solve murders and crime in the city. The main protagonist of the show, Shawn Spencer, has led everyone to believe that he is a super psychic capable of seeing visions and such to solve murder mysteries. But in all reality he's an everyday guy that just pays attention to all the details, and in noticing the small things ends up solving big crime. The brilliance of the show lies in trying to figure out the case as Shawn does, and noticing the clues.

And this brings me to the point of this post. What I have here is a little "how-to." For many understanding and seeing the "depths" of the Bible seems to be a supernatural ability that is beyond our normal, natural grasp. Finding the "nuggets" of the Scripture that yield deep fruit for application means achieving some supernatural plane of existence that few have acquired.

However, this isn't the case. I'd like to suggest that you too can be a Shawn Spencer of Bible study. All you have to do is pay attention to the details.

Here's a few tips to help you do this:

  1. Get a translation that helps clarify the details. By this I mean use an "essentially literal" translation like the English Standard Version. It seeks to be faithful to the word-to-word usage of the original languages. Using something like the ESV will help you see a close equivalent to the actual text.
  2. Get a readers translation to highlight the differences. That's right, reading the Bible like a psudeo-psychic means having another version of the Bible to highlight differences. If you remember the magazines as a kid that would have you look at two pictures and circle the differences between the two this is essentially what you are doing with the Bible. A readers translation falls on the more "dynamic equivalent" side of the scale. My current favorite is the New Living Translation (3rd Edition). It's readable, engaging and very faithful to the essence of the original text. Reading this alongside my ESV has helped highlight some details that I would have missed otherwise.
  3. Read Slowly. This, unlike solving crime in a 45 minute T.V. time slot each week, isn't a pressure filled race. So take your time. Examine the text carefully. Be very familiar with each passage you are studying. If you're studying a few verses memorize them word for word. This will help you recall the details of that particular passage.
  4. Know your grammar, gramma. Yes, grammar and parts of speech are essential to finding the details in the text. What are the nouns? What are the verbs? What role does each word in the sentence play in relationship to the other? If you are unsure of any of that stuff, don't worry. Resources like The Grammar Bible will help you understand the English language and those parts of speech better. Take your time with it and learn your native language well. You'll pick out the details a lot better if you do.
  5. Interrogate Everything. Ask questions of every word in a passage. Why did Peter call the Christians "holy nation" in 1 Peter 2:9? What does the word "proclaim" mean? In 1 Peter 5:5 who are the "younger" people that Peter is talking to? Think of each word, phrase, sentence and paragraph as a different person that you will have to interrogate to get to the bottom of the problem. By asking lots of questions you will begin to unearth some of the details that seemed to hide out before.
  6. Get Supernatural. By this I mean, prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to understand and see the details of the text. Bible study isn't just an all-natural science that can be boiled down to just a few tricks of grammar and language. Unlike Psych it is a spiritual endeavor, so treat it as such and pray. Ask, seek, knock. Our Father in heaven will be pleased to reveal the fruit of his Word by the enabling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Ask for help!

These are a few things that I've learned to help me grow as a student of Scripture. I encourage you to pick up your Bible and practice a little "Psych" skill on it. You'll be surprised what you see. You know that's right!

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Freedom and Family

Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. (Galatians 4:1–5, NLT)

Slaves. Yes, the Bible does tell us that we are slaves to our sin. The Bible does make it clear that our wills are not nearly as free as we would hope or dream or believe. We’re shackled to sin, and even when the freedom of the gospel comes, we still revert back to the sin-slavery because we can’t image how good things in Christ actually are.

But the good news is that we have a liberator. We have a redeemer. “When the right time came” is a statement full of impact. God wasn’t being lazy or passive in his timing of sending us Christ. He wasn’t procrastinating the work of redemption either historically or personally. Our redemption is always “at the right time.” And at that right time an objective work was done for us; “God sent his Son.” The coming of the Son of God was the perfect aide to our slavery. The Son was sent to redeem slaves. The Son was sent to lay down his life as a ransom for our sins and to take them upon himself. In doing so he liberated us from our slavery.

The story does not end there though as Paul writes. Not only did he free us from our slavery by his life, death and resurrection but he gifted us his family title. He adopted us with full rights and privileges as if we were God’s own firstborn sons. We have been gifted “the sonship.” All the inheritance of the family goes to us in Christ!

Today we don’t live as if we’ve just been freed from sin and so now we have to make it by our goodness or wisdom or cleverness into the family. No, that family status, sons and daughters of God, has been gifted to us in Christ! Freedom and Family! Bought by the blood of Christ and brought into the household of God. This friends, is good news!

The Loss of a Mentor, Leader, and Friend

I learned on Easter Sunday that one of my mentors and friends, Steve Fernandez, went to be with the Lord. He was the pastor of Community Bible Church in Vallejo, CA as well as the President of The Cornerstone Seminary. Pretty much from day one of my tenure at Cornerstone, Steve was willing to invest in, pray for, and counsel me in my life. We had several lunches together and according to my friends in California, Steve would continue to ask about me even after we moved to Kansas. His encouragement of me was huge and helpful, even as we navigated through some difficult times in California.

His passion for Jesus was evident and forefront in his life and ministry. I can't sing at church any more without thinking about Steve (and how he sung) and his desire for Christ to be seen as glorious everywhere.

I've embedded a sermon of his from the 2011 graduation ceremonies of The Cornerstone Seminary. You'll get a good flavor of his heart for Christ, and preaching here. I am glad Steve is with Jesus, but I will miss him here.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4_6DrfpHVg]

Raised: A Book for Skeptics on Easter

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I don’t know where Switchfoot picked it up, but in one of my favorite songs they sing, “doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.” Now, I understand that statement is easily dismantled if our “doubts” and our “beliefs” are jacked-up to begin with. However, as a Christian there are times when I’ve been able to sort through some truth and error because I’ve doubted the truth of some of the thoughts that have seriously troubled me and have believed the things that I already affirm and believe.

This brings us to the issue of the resurrection of Jesus. My naturalistic, scientific, rational-thinking, cessationationistic (look it up) self doubts that kind of thing happens. However, as I look at Scripture and honestly deal with my doubts I find this is one “doubt” that I should most certainly discredit. If Jesus is not raised from the dead then my “beliefs” are really the things I should doubt. At least that’s the way it goes in my head.

Now, enter Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson’s new book Raised? Doubting the Resurrection. This little book from my publisher GCD Books is an excellent book for the saved and skeptic alike. For the Christian it is going to frame and encourage you in understanding the reality of the resurrection and it’s day-to-day impact in life. It helped me see once again the prominence of the resurrection of Christ for our faith. Furthermore it helped me think through how to talk in a winsome manner with people who don’t believe in Christ or the resurrection. It helped shape me to live a “resurrection life.” I was personally helped by this little book. I encourage you to read or discuss it with someone who wrestles with the resurrection.

For the skeptic or non-believer this book isn’t going to beat you over the head with dogma or doctrine. It will raise some questions that you will have to intellectually and honestly deal with. It will give you a glimpse of why Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is true and life-changing. Unlike a ranting, debating, yelling street preacher this books tone is friendly and engaging. You might be challenged by the cross and resurrection, but you won’t be insulted for wrestling with the truth of it. I encourage you to read it and talk with a Christian friend about it.

With Easter almost here this book is a compassionate resource to engage and encourage people with the gospel. I encourage you to pick it up. You can download it in Kindle format, iBooks, or PDF.

Using Nextdoor in my Neighborhood

Recently a post from Timmy Brister sparked my imagination about getting to know my neighbors better and having a digital means to know them and connect with them. Timmy states:

This is my mission field, I am renewing my commitment this year to be the best neighbor I can be and positively invest in the welfare of my city. One of the creative ways I’m seeking to do this is through an online platform called Nextdoor. Throughout this tool, I am gonna try to create a neighborhood where one does not exist and bring those around me together.

In response I started a Nextdoor site for my neighborhood and last night had the chance to share about it at my neighborhood association meeting. There were a lot of positive things said about it and the neighbors seemed genuinely excited about it's usefulness.  I am excited about it's usefulness for the sake of the gospel. That is all that good technology really is, means to advance the Kingdom.

I invite you to be on mission, create a Nextdoor neighborhood here, and get to know your neighbors for the sake of the gospel.

Dogs and Demons

I can't stand dogs. Beyond their incessant need to bark, piss and shed hair I have found little use for them as creatures to be tamed and enjoyed as pets. You might think that I have never been a dog owner but you would be wrong about that. The first dog I ever had was a kind brute. A large Springer Spaniel we called Duke. Duke was our dog up until I was six or seven and I did like Duke. My father might tell a different story mainly because he was the one response for shoveling up Duke's refuse scattered all over the back yard. I remember my father shoveling Duke's poop. I don't think he liked Duke. There have been other dogs in our family. A few would bite us as children, one shed hair year round, and I am fairly sure that one was struck by lightening and was the strangest creature on the face of God's earth. Needless to say I've never had a dog do anything to make me feel like they were creatures worth keeping around. I have no idea why we as American's idolize dogs the way they do. Visit any developing country and pay attention to the dogs barking, peeing, and scavenging their way through the filth of poverty and pollution of a city and you can see why dogs do nothing to endear themselves to me.

Dogs remind me of demons. Low-life, worthless, vagabond creatures that won't live up to the glory they've seen and in every way bring the world around them down. I've never met a demon I've liked.

It's no surprise to me then that the demons and the dogs associated so closely the other night. As a small team of us drove into a remote village in Eastern India after sun-down we prayed. We were invited to walk through the boroughs of a village and sing, pray, and proclaim Jesus is Lord. Step by step we marched through the village with guitar song and clapping. We rejoiced that Christ is the King over all things and that he had sent us with a message of joy that these destitute villagers could be freed of their bondage and sin and be reconciled to the King over all kings.

The dogs were fine with the singing, they were fine with the message of Jesus' power and creativity. The dogs have been cowards while we painted and done manual labor in this country. Yet the dogs could not be silent with the message of the cross was preached. As if they were more important, as if they were more valuable, as if they were the point of all history and worthy of all glory they began to bark. Just when the declaration of the victory of the cross and the triumph of King Jesus in his death and resurrection was proclaimed, just in that moment the dogs began to bark. The demon-filled dogs began to draw attention away from Jesus and onto themselves. I hate dogs.

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Demons come as dogs and make commotion and distraction in the midst of the gospel message. Demons must be rebuked like dogs, told to shut up and be silenced by the authority of Jesus Christ.

Demons and dogs, dogs and demons. I pity neither, I love neither. They suppose that they, by their supposed freedom, are kings of the universe. They are the refuse of society, the low-life's of the spiritual realm. They are dogs. The God of peace, who brought back Jesus from the dead, will soon crush Satan and his dogs under your feet.

2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Library on Mission

Last night I attended the monthly meeting of my local neighborhood association. I figured this would be a good opportunity for me to learn more of the rhythms and nature of the few blocks that are around me. I also believed it would give me an opportunity to learn how to serve my neighbors and get to know them better. All-in-all the ninety minutes I spent with thirty people that I wouldn’t normally hang out with proved to be a good opportunity for me and gave me an idea beyond what I expected.

At our meeting last night one of the residents of our neighborhood shared a project she has been a part of that apparently is a global activity. She has a library in front of her house. It isn’t a huge library, and probably only has thirty-some volumes in it at one time, but apparently circulation and impact is excellent. She spoke passionately (along with two other Wichita residents who have a similar library in front of their homes) about the library and the enjoyment and fun that it is for her to see neighbors take books and even put books in her library for others to enjoy. She encouraged us to start our own “Little Free Library” and that got me thinking… what if I started a little library in front of my home? And, what if instead of stocking my library with the standard public library fare (which mostly consists of Twilight, Hunger Games, and Curious George type books) I stocked mine with classic writings from exceptional Christian writers that cover a variety of topics that deal with the soul. Could the Puritan Paperbacks be a missional tool to help the hearts and souls of my neighbors if they would take them up and read them?

My immediate neighbors already know I am a pastor, so this sort of thing would probably not surprise them. My gut says that if someone was struggling with depression finding a book entitled A Lifting Up For the Downcast in a “little library” in front of my house might help them. It might also give me an opportunity to pastor them. I envision a copy of Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ getting into the hands of a lost person who reads it and comes to Christ through Bunyan’s reflection on Scripture. I can see a person on my street picking up Facing Grief after losing a loved one. Inside each book would be an identifying stamp of my little library and a way to contact me for discussion.

I don’t know if my idea has any merit, if it will work or be beneficial. I merely caught an idea of an opportunity to put together a little library for my neighborhood of distinctly Christian and pastoral books that will help them come to know and love Christ. It doesn’t replace me knowing and having conversations with my neighbors, but it might grease the wheels in getting into spiritual matters in my neighborhood conversations.

Give me your thoughts! I’d really like to hear some wisdom on if this is a good, bad, or ugly idea for reaching my neighbors with the gospel.

Reflections on Ordination

Yesterday I was officially ordained as a minister of the gospel at Journey the Way. Here are some reflections and responses on the ordination process and being ordained as a minster of the gospel.

  • Ordination shouldn’t be about how much theological knowledge you have. It should be about the calling of God on your life, the gifting God supplies to lead the church and the character the Holy Spirit gives to set an example for the church. Doctrine is part of all that, but only a part.
  • Ordination has been cheapened by those who are not truly qualified and called. This is why I put off being ordained for so long.
  • It is deeply sobering to have 1 Timothy 4:11–16 read and spoken over you as a charge for your ministry and life.
  • I’m grateful my ordination council asked me more about my character, calling and competency than they did about the third person listed in the fourth genealogy of 1 Chronicles.
  • Nothing changes about me today. I continue working to bring the gospel to bear on the lives of the people God entrusts to me.
  • It’s deeply encouraging to have the body of Christ lay their hands on and pray over me and my family as I minister. I pray I shepherd them well.
  • Ordination is like tithing. It is the act of the church setting aside men for the sole purpose of devoting themselves to the work of the gospel. It is a calling to apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching.
  • Ordained pastors are not the only ministers in the church, they are the ones called to equip the church to be the ministers.
  • I am grateful for God’s grace in my life, He is far more kind than I ever deserve.

6 Months Later…

Six months ago, to the day, I began a new ministry position at Journey the Way and moved from the beautiful Sonoma Coast to the middle of the United States, otherwise known as Wichita, KS. In some ways the last six months have flown by. In many ways however it seems like I’ve been here for a while now. I suppose both are good. As I reflect back on the last six months here there are a few things that stand out to me.

  1. Although the culture is different, the problem with people is still the same. I am of course speaking of our heart problems. Sin still dominates the narrative of our lives and we live with it almost subconsciously. People in Kansas are just as deeply entrenched in sin as people in California. Somehow the great American values that we all believe exist in places like Kansas (and not California) really aren’t all that great. People may dress up, beautify or hide their sin in different ways here, but it is still sin. This is in many ways encouraging to me because I came here not as a savior, and not as a life-coach or wellness-improvement-director. I came here as a sinner myself knowing that the only remedy for my sin and folly is Christ.
  2. God’s grace is infinitely greater than I deserve or can comprehend. I am literally befuddled here in Wichita. It hardly seems that another day goes by and I am not standing there with my jaw on the ground wondering why in the world God has been so kind to me. We buy a house and He sends a hail storm to make the house better. He provides mercies for us that we aren’t even overtly asking Him for. Doors to meet neighbors and share the gospel open before us. My wife and children are deep sources of joy. I don’t deserve their company, let alone their friendship, love and support. God keeps showing us kindness after kindness after kindness. Today I have to confess I am better than I ever deserve.
  3. A new environment for ministry has revealed new (latent?) gifts. If you asked me about my gifting back in January of this year I would have told you that I’m first and foremost a “prophet” type leader. Good at holding forth vision for the church, calling people to repentance, bold and serious about the Word of God and see that as my major strength. You would probably agree with that, and to a degree I still believe that to be true. However hanging out underneath that “prophet” type of leadership (and maybe more dormant than anything) was a “kingly” type of leadership. “Kings” as we are described organize systems and structures for to enable growth, discipleship and gospel-advance. As I came to Wichita the church I found a natural expression of my gifts as a “king,” more so than I ever had before. That sort of discovery has been energizing and exciting to me. My use of a spreadsheet has increased exponentially. So far I like it.
  4. Kansas is a “Decider State” that needs the gospel. Kansas is often considered one of the “fly-over” states that can be easily dismissed and forgotten in the larger American culture. However, an epiphany of sorts occurred to me last night. While culture may trickle down from the big cities to the rural towns and villages, that culture does not become an embodied corporate identity until the villages and towns affirm and adopt that culture. Where did the battle for taking prayer out of public schools occur? It wasn’t New York City. It was Topeka, Kansas. Where was slavery hotly debated and even violently contested? Yes it was in Washington D.C. but in all reality it the fight was real in Lawrence, Kansas. It isn’t so much “As the culture goes, so goes Kansas.” It’s more like “As Kansas confirms, so the culture affirms.” All of this to say there is a deep need in the city-centers of Kansas for gospel-centered churches. We need a movement of gospel-centered, missional churches throughout our state. More then that we need a deep movement of the Holy Spirit to ignite and carry out this gospel fire.
  5. The river that runs through the middle of Wichita is called the “Ar-Kansas” river. The name of the Indian tribe is pronounced Kan-sas. Not Kan-saw. I have no idea why the state to the south of Missouri can’t pronounce it correctly.
  6. Church ministry is hard. Still. Whether it is church-planting or an established-church,  overseas mission work or youth work the ministry of the Word is hard work. It’s hard not because the Word is hard, but ultimately because we are working for spiritual transformation and maturity in Christ. The realization is that I can’t make blind people see. I can’t make sinners repent. I can’t make the religious humble. The Holy Spirit must do that. All of this to remind me that I am always out of my league as a pastor. Always.

Moving From "Smart Phone" to "Simple Phone"

If you have known me for any length of time you know that I’m a tech geek. If I can be (budget, availability, and need notwithstanding) I like to consider myself an earlier adopter of new things in tech. I usually upgrade my operating systems the day they are released regardless of what bugs I might encounter. I’ve always been curious about technology.

However, I don’t want it to dominate my life. I’ve noticed lately however that my phone has been in my hands a lot lately. Stephanie has probably noticed it too. My kids have probably noticed it as well. What am I doing on my “phone?” Oh the usual things. Email (personal and work), Facebook, Twitter, Sports, Games, “Productivity”, Retro-Photos, Reading, Connecting, Web, Music, Writing, Bible Study, So On And So Forth. I had all the important things on my phone. Right? Somehow my smart phone has become the one thing that if I lost I would be “up a creek” so much so that I couldn’t really do anything without out.

And so I got to thinking is this right? For me the answer is no. I need to move from having a “smart phone” to a “simple phone.” My guess is that some of you do too. So how do you turn your smart phone (that probably dominates your life) and turn it into a simple phone? Here’s some choices I’ve made with one caveat. Let’s start with the caveat:

Smart phones are not evil or immoral. It’s okay to have one and to use it that way. I just want to streamline my use of one. And for the snarky among us (you know who you are) getting a standard flippy-cell phone is no fun. So don’t suggest it in the comments!

Now on to the Simple Phone Strategy.

  1. Start with a clean install. By that I mean restore, reset, everything. Reinstall your OS and pretend as if you were getting the phone out of the box on the first day. Obviously back up and save anything important (like pictures) but the best way to move from Smart to Simple is to wipe clean the entire phone.
  2. Only One Page Of Apps. That’s right, only twenty apps (twenty-five if you have an iPhone 5) on your phone. I do have a concession to this rule, pre-installed apps don’t count. I dumped many of the system apps (contacts, compass, stocks, etc) into a folder and placed it on the second page. The idea here however is to keep your phone simple. Limiting yourself to one page limits what you do with your phone. So I have to make some choices about what apps I absolutely must have and use.
  3. One App Per Function. Now this might take some discipline. In the smart phone strategy I had four different camera apps. Obviously I can’t delete the pre-installed Apple camera, but I moved it into a folder and put it on my second page. I’ve put my preferred camera app in the spot Apple’s default one took. Essentially the idea is not to be redundant.
  4. One Email Account. Yep, that’s it, only one. And don’t pick your work email address either. I have found that if my work email is on my phone that I am tempted, when not working, to be working because my email is in front of me. The only email I have on my simple phone is my personal account. This is the one my friends and family use most to write me so I don’t mind them intersecting my life.
  5. If You Can Access it Via the Web, You Don’t Need an App. So Facebook isn’t an app on my phone. I don’t get any push notifications about it and I’m happy with that. Again the idea is simple, and non-invasive on my life. I want to control the phone, not the phone controlling me. The best way I found to do that is to limit my apps to those functions that aren’t available on the web.
  6. No Games. None. Sorry this is a tool, not a toy. Plus games distract me from people.
  7. If You Can Do It Better On A Bigger (Or Different) Device Don’t Install It. I don’t have a Bible app on my phone. Why? Because I have my physical Bible with me on a frequent basis. I don’t have a writing app on my phone. Why? Because I can’t write a long-form article well on a four inch touch screen well. I am limiting myself to apps that serve a specific purpose (such as Expensify) so I can stay focused and simple.

These are just some guidelines I’ve given myself to make my iPhone simple, functional and something that stays in the background of my life and not in the forefront. Maybe they will be helpful to you. Let me know what you’ve done to make your smart phone more like a simple phone.

Everything That's On My Mind (Almost) - September 26, 2012

  1. Discovered last night that our minivan will actually fit in the garage. Of course I have to climb out the rear hatch to get out of the van in the garage, but it fits.
  2. Our internet service is so slow I just got an email that someone sent me in 2004.
  3. Our bulletins were printed upside down on the inside at Journey the Way this last Sunday. We told everyone it was because we want to see God turn their marriages upside down.
  4. I am eager to get my basement office turned into my basement office. My books need to breathe.
  5. Discussing theological complexities on Twitter is stupid.
  6. Thinking I can be the exception to #5 is stupid.
  7. I am stupid.
  8. Galatians 1:3–5 is a sufficient and robust declaration of the gospel. We can say more, but we can’t say less.
  9. Apple orchards in Kansas are fun, but Gravenstein orchards in California are more fun.
  10. One of my former college floor mates started a Facebook group to bring the Dryer 2 men of the past 30 years together. I’m not sure I like the current culture of my old floor.
  11. According to Ethan when Allison wakes up in the morning she is “grouchin.”
  12. Allison turns five next week. How did that happen?
  13. Reading Luther, Calvin and other old dead guys is good for my mind and my soul. Living guys don’t have the weight of time and experience to stand behind their work.
  14. Two out of the three albums I’m listening to this week are hip-hop. How did that happen? Do I even like hip-hop?
  15. Stephanie. Saying her name just makes me smile. Nine years ago I skipped a Monday Night Football game between the Broncos and Raiders (something I swore I’d never do) just to meet her. So glad I did. So glad she liked me.

What Is The Gospel?

I was foolish the other day and attempted to throw stones at a beehive on Twitter and then was mad that I got stung. For the record, having a solid theological discussion over a medium that limits your discourse to 140 characters is my great folly. Furthermore, I regret being able to be so quickly goaded into a discussion with such limitations. These are my foibles. Maybe I’m learning from them.

However an important question was raised in the midst of this theological back and forth. No doubt much ink has been spilled over this subject over the centuries and it is probably the most important question of Christianity. Namely, what is the gospel? Many have written excellent works on this question that deserve to be read and considered.[1] However, it seems to me that we seem to be ignoring simple, straight-forward texts like Galatians 1:3–5 so that we can define some sort of “robust” or “broader” gospel. Paul states:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Herein is the robustness and clarity of the gospel that can be stated in a simple form. It declares to us we have grace and peace from and with God because the Christ, Jesus has died in our place to make us right with God (justification) and deliver us from the present evil age (sanctification), and this was the preordained plan of God so that He receives all glory forever and ever.

If you have any doubt over this being the good news then ask yourself, why would Paul declare a curse on anyone who distorts or teaches another form of this gospel in the following verses (Galatians 1:6–9)? It makes no sense to me (and maybe I’m just simpleton trying to argue with intelligentsia) to wrangle and divide the person of the gospel from the work of the gospel. Both are the good news. Jesus died to save sinners. It is that robust. It is that simple.

That’s why children “get” the gospel. They are capable of recognizing themselves to be sinners and Jesus to be the only Savior, and so, often with faith stronger than ours, they believe that good news. To say the gospel is a person (namely Jesus) is good but unless we talk about what He has done (justification) we have no basis for any grace or peace. Which is exactly how Paul begins this letter. Grace and Peace.


  1. Recent examples of this include John Piper’s God is the Gospel, Matt Chandler’s Explicit Gospel and Michael Horton’s The Gospel-Driven Life  ↩