Ephesians 5:25 In Action

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Piper Interviews Warren

Loving the Overlooked - Summer Camp

Brett Sanner writes:
Did you attend camp growing up?  In my own life, God has used it to strengthen, encourage, challenge, convict, and so much more!  This summer Helping Hands (our ministry here) is partnering with a number of other local groups to offer several camp experiences for refugees (men’s camp, family camp, and kids camps).  In the past, God has used these camps to change the lives of refugees!  We’re praying for even more lives to be impacted this summer.  Will you be a part of our summer camps this year?
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As the summer is approaching, may the Lord bless you in every way and to make you a blessing to many for His glory.
Some time ago I read a devotional thought which I want to share with you. “’When David was a refugee in the desert of Ziph… Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God’ (1 Samuel 23:16).  Actually, Jonathan went out to find him and encourage him. He could not meet all of David’s needs or solve all of his problems, but he could offer friendship, presence and prayer.”
This is what we, at Helping Hands, with your prayers and support, are trying to do for the refugees who have so many needs. We try to offer some food, clothing, medical help, shelter, showers and above all friendship and prayer that the Lord will intervene and open their eyes to know Jesus as their personal savior and to help them for their physical needs as well.
As we serve the Lord by serving the refugees each week at the Athens Refugee Center, we are also in the midst of planning and preparing for a great summer of outreach and discipleship. We’ll partner with two separate camps in order to serve and love refugee men, women and children. We will have the following outreaches:
I. With Hellenic Ministries, we will organize two camps, providing several staff members and helping cover the basic costs of the week.
1. June 6-10, a week of camp for single men
2. June 13-17, a week of camp for families
Helping Hands is seeking to contribute €1000 Euros (1500 USD) to help cover the costs of these two weeks of camp.
II. We will send about 25 Greek-speaking refugee children for 20 days to the Christian camp of the Greek Evangelical Church in the village of Kalamos, just outside of Athens. The cost is estimated for at €300 (425 USD) per child for 20 days of camp.  We will need €7,500 (10,000 USD), then, to send kids to this life-changing camp.
Please pray for these camps –that even now, God’s spirit would be at work in the lives of the refugee adults and the children that will attend.
Pray that the Lord will provide the means to cover the cost of these summer programs.
With love and thankfulness to God for each one of you and your prayers
Nikos Stefanidis
Director of Helping Hand
Would you pray for these weeks of camp?  Pray for safety, pray for fun, but more than anything, pray for the transforming power of God to be at work! Pray that this would be a defining week in the lives of these men, families, and kids.  Pray that they could say, “This is the week that God changed my heart; this is the week that I chose to follow Jesus!”
Would you give generously to help us cover the costs of these weeks of camp?  If you have a US credit card or banking account, you can give online HERE.  Designate your gift for “Helping Hands – Summer Camps in Athens.”
Otherwise, please send a check to one of the addresses below, with a note designating your gift to “Helping Hands – Summer Camps in Athens.”
International Teams – USA; 411 W. River Rd.; Elgin, IL 60123, USA
International Teams – UK; PO Box 11; Brecon, Powys, Wales, LD3 9WJ, UK
International Teams – Australia; PO Box 1123; Baulkham Hills, NSW 1755, Australia
International Teams – Canada; 1 Union Street; Elmira, Ontario N3B 3J9, Canada

This is a ministry near and dear to my heart.  If you look closely at the picture, you will see me (look at the guys in green)!  I can attest to the fact that these camps do indeed change lives.  Please - if you can in any way support this ministry, do it!

Keep yourself informed by visiting "Loving the Overlooked".  The blog of Brett and Kristin Sanner - and hey - feel free to support them as well!

Wrestling With An Angel

What a Good Pastor Says

Jared Wilson:

1. Please forgive me.

Better than "I'm sorry," which can often be followed with an "if" or a "but," these words indicate a humble heart. Bad pastors hide their faults behind the cloak of their authority, practice self-defense against all charges, and basically pretend. Good pastors know they're sinners and admit it.

2. You're right.

Good pastors know they're not always (not usually?) the smartest, most "spiritual" person in the room. They are zealous to give credit and acknowledge achievement and intelligence, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it encourages and empowers others.

3. You're wrong.

Bad pastors chicken out when it comes to calling people on sin or biblical ignorance. Good pastors brave potential conflict and hurt feelings and say "You're wrong" in gentle but firm ways when necessary.

4. Jesus loves you.

Why did we stop saying this? I think because it became cliche. I'd love to see a recovery of the art of "Jesus loves you." Strategically said at times of others' admissions of failure, sin, or trouble, "Jesus loves you" is a fantastic way to speak the gospel into people's lives.

5. I love you.

I think one reason we stopped saying "Jesus loves you" to people is because we don't really love them ourselves. Might as well save the hypocrisy, eh? But good pastors lay their lives down for the sheep. Telling people you love them is a reminder to them and to you that sacrificial love is your calling.

6. Me too.

Next to "Grace is true" (see below), these might be the most important words in pastoral counseling. Bad pastors trade regularly in "Not me." In the pulpit and in the office, bad pastors set themselves apart from their congregations with tales of adventure, spirituality, and personal holiness. In the pulpit and in the office, good pastors talk of sin and trials and utter ineptitude and say, "Me too." I have seen entire countenances change when I've said some variation of "Me too."

7. Any time.

Of course you don't mean it literally. But you kinda do. Good pastors are available.

8. Thank you.

Bad pastors think they're owed. Good pastors know everything is a gift.

9. Grace is true.

I think deep down we all want to hear "You're approved" (see below), which is why we find "Grace is true" such a radical statement. You probably won't use the words, of course. But good pastors take the opportunity to glorify God by "talking up" his amazing grace every chance they get. Just 30 minutes ago, my writing of this post got interrupted by a visitor who wanted to talk about works and grace. I relished the chance to confirm his suspicion that grace is true. Bad pastors may say grace is true but the context of their teaching and the expectations in their leadership say "Your works must be this high to ride this ride." I know some of my friends hate it when "gospel" is used as a verb, but I just have to say it: Good pastors gospel their people. :-)

10. You're approved.

Everyone wants to believe they have what it takes, which is why it's such a bummer to hear the first half of the gospel and learn we really don't. Don't leave your people hanging. Be a good news pastor. Bad pastors beat their people up with their failures. Bad pastors are always disappointed. Good pastors know grace is true and Jesus is Lord, so they are ready to challenge every self-despairing soul with the wonderful truth that in Christ we are approved by God. Good pastors tell people they do have what it takes when they have Jesus' righteousness. Do you trust Jesus? You're all set, then.

That is an excellent list.  I am thankful for faithful men and I pray that the Lord would continue to form me into the pastor I am called to be.  What good things does your pastor say?

N.T. Wright on Hawking on Heaven

"Hawking is working with a very low-grade and sub-biblical view of ‘going to heaven.’ Of course, if faced with the fully Christian two-stage view of what happens after death -- first, a time ‘with Christ’ in ‘heaven’ or ‘paradise,’and then, when God renews the whole creation, bodily resurrection -- he would no doubt dismiss that as incredible. But I wonder if he has ever even stopped to look properly, with his high-octane intellect, at the evidence for Jesus and the resurrection? I doubt it -- most people in England haven’t. Until he has, his opinion about all this is worth about the same as mine on nuclear physics, i.e. not much."

Are Christian Romance Novels Emotional Pornography?

Russell Moore hits another one out of the park here!  It is such a good article that I have copied it in full below.
"On the nightstand of a woman in your church, there’s a Christian romance novel and a Bible. Does that matter? On the Kindle of a teenage Christian woman in your congregation’s youth group, there’s a “young adult” fiction bestseller. Should that concern you?
A new book by Boston University researchers Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, A Billion Wicked Thoughts, offers a disturbing look at how Internet search engines reveal much about the sexual and emotional desires of men and women, and how they differ. The research confirms in some ways what almost everyone knows: men are visually engaged, attracted to youth and sexual novelty, and are thus vulnerable to visual pornography.
The research explores further what the commercialized romance industry tells us about what it means to be a woman (at least in a fallen world). Women are much less likely to be drawn to visual pornography (although more do so than one might think), but are quite likely to be involved in such media as Internet romantic fiction or the old-fashioned romance novel.
The romance novel follows, the researchers argue, a typical pattern. The hero is almost never, they say, a blue collar worker, a bureaucrat, or someone in the traditionally feminine occupations (hairdresser, kindergarten teacher, etc.). He is competent, confident, and usually wealthy. He is, in short, an alpha male.
But, they argue, this alpha male is typically a rough character who learns to be tamed into kindness, kindness to her. Thus, you wind up with not only the strong silent cowboys with the soft interior life, but also these days vampires and werewolves and Vikings.
And all of this is moving toward the climax of the romance story: the “happily-ever-after.”
“Romance novels rarely have a sequel,” the book concludes. “Once the hero and heroine are joined in love or matrimony, they get their Happily-Ever-After, presumably with a bevy of children and domestic bliss. Further adventures would violate the female fantasy of true, committed, eternal love.”
“Though there are many series of modern romance novels, once a couple gets their Happily-Ever-After in one book, they only resurface as beloved supporting characters in future books, with each subsequent book’s focus on a new hero or heroine.”
Of course, as they do with pornography, these scholars explain all of these archetypal female desires in a Darwinian need for the woman to seek out a mate who can be simultaneously monogamous and protective of the offspring. This evolutionary desire is seen in the strong male who pours out his feelings of devotion, and whose lifelong commitment is frozen in time and certainty in the Happily-Ever-After moment.
While I don’t share all the presuppositions of these scholars, I think they’re on to something about the allure of the commercialized romance story. Pornography and romance novels aren’t (or at least aren’t always) morally equivalent, but they “work” the same way.
Both are based on an illusion. Pornography is based on the illusion of a perfectly willing, always aroused partner without the “work” of relational intimacy. Often romance novels or their film equivalents do the same thing for the emotional needs of women that pornography offers for the erotic urges of men.
And in both cases, what the “market” wants is sameness. Men want the illusion of women who look just like women but are, in terms of sexual response, just like men. Women want the illusion of men who are “real” men, but, in terms of a concept of romance, are just like women. In both artificial eros and artificial romance, there is the love of the self, not the mystery of the other.
Thankfully, we do not yet have a market for “Christian” pornography (but just wait, someone will find a way). But we do have a market for “Christian” romance novels. Now some of those classified as such aren’t really “romance novels” at all. They’re complicated looks at the human condition, especially male/female relationships, from a Christian vantage point.
A lot of this genre, though, is simply a Christianization of a form not intended to enhance intimacy but to escape to an artificial illusion of it. Granted, there’s no graphic sexuality here. The hero and heroine don’t sleep together; they pray together. But that’s just the point.
How many disappointed middle-aged women in our congregations are reading these novels as a means of comparing the “strong spiritual leaders” depicted there with what by comparison must seem to be underachieving lumps lying next to them on the couch?
This is not to equate morally “romance novels” with the grave soul destruction of pornography. But it is worth asking, “Is what I’m consuming leading me toward contentment with my spouse (or future spouse) or away from it? Is it pointing me to the other in one-flesh union or to an eroticized embodiment of my own desires? Is this the mystery or a mirage?"
What do you think?

Bunnies Always Hop

There is no shortage of "worship wars" in the Church today.  I want to say it's sad because it is, but pathetic is probably a better word to use.  There are many within the Church that make music "the issue" all the time. "Numbers are down.  We need to change the music."  The fact remains that numerical growth does not equal spiritual growth or blessing for that matter.  

No doubt, music can draw crowds, but it has little or no power to keep them.  Bunnies always hop.  Oh sure they come for the music, but that's it.  So when someone does it bigger and better, they hop on over.  

And don't misunderstand me either.  I know there is a lot of bad music out there, and there are a lot of churches that need to revisit the issue.  But that is not the only question that needs to be asked.  In fact, it may not be in the top ten.
Kevin DeYoung discusses this idea of music being "the big drawing card", and he offers some better questions to ask in regards to declining numbers (I would offer that they are great questions to ask of a growing church as well).
Is the gospel faithfully preached?

Is the Bible taught with clarity and passion?

Are the sermons manifestly rooted in a text of Scripture?

Do the elders/pastors and deacons meet the qualifications for church office laid out in the New Testament?

Are the sacraments faithfully administered and protected?

Is church discipline practiced?

Do the elders exercise personal care over the flock?

Are there good relationships among the staff and other leaders?

Is the worship service put together thoughtfully and carried out with undistracting excellence (as much as possible)?

Do the people in the congregation sing the songs with gusto or are they going through the motions?

Is a high bar set for church membership?

Are the people of the church engaged in personal ministry?

Is the congregation marked by increasing prayer and evangelism?

Do the pastors believe in the complete trustworthiness of all of Scripture?

Do they take adequate time for study and preparation?

Do they truly believe and eagerly rejoice in their church’s/denomination’s statement of faith, creeds, and confessions?

Are their lives examples of personal holiness?
If these questions are being asked on a regular basis, chances are you will have a healthy church - regardless of the “numbers”.  Is your church asking the right questions?  Or is it trying to please bunnies?  If that’s the case, you need to remember the truth about bunnies - bunnies always hop.

Sin's Potential to Dehumanize

Paul Tripp, What Did You Expect? (Crossway, 2010), pp. 47-48:
Because sin is antisocial, it tends to dehumanize the people in our lives.
No longer are they objects of our willing affection. No, they quit being the people we find joy in loving.
Rather, they get reduced to one of two things.
They are either vehicles to help us get what we want or obstacles in the way of what we want.
When your wife is meeting the demands of your wants, needs, and feelings, you are quite excited about her, and you treat her with affection.
But when she becomes an obstacle in the way of your wants, needs, and feelings, you have a hard time hiding your disappointment, impatience, and irritation.
This is where another eloquent biblical observation comes in. It is that we are kingdom-oriented people. We always live in the service of one of two kingdoms.
We live in service of the small, personal happiness agenda of the kingdom of self, or we live in service of the huge, origin-to-destiny agenda of the kingdom of God.


Loving Your Wife in the Little Things

This is just another reason why I love reading Practical Shepherding.  Here Brian reminds us of a surprising way to love our wives.  If you've been a husband for a nano-second or more, you know this is true! Brian writes...

“What is something practical I can do to make you feel loved and appreciated by me?”  Husbands, are you ready for the first thing out of her mouth?
“Be mindful of the little things you do day to day so that they do not undo what I have spent all day working on.” 
Huh??  That’s right guys.  No..bring me flowers.  No…leave surprising romantic cards.  No…take me out on a date regularly.  The answer above was the surprising first thing out of her mouth.  I inquired more.  She explained how she spends so much time cleaning and picking up after the kids throughout the day only for them to continue to destroy it. 
So, she helped me understand the discouragement she feels if I come home for dinner and the first thing I do is carelessly sit all my stuff on the table she had already cleaned 5 times that day.  She helped me realize when I do those things it communicates to her I have not been mindful at all of what she has done to try and keep our house a warm, picked up, restful place.  She was right.  The point was rammed home when she said, “It would be like me sitting down at the end of the day and erasing a page of your sermon, because what I saw you were working on did not look important.  Ouch.  She had made her point.

The Death of the "Mushy Middle"

HT / Z

Come & Live!

Renovation Church - On Mission

HT / Z

EP for Children

Jesus Wants My Heart - Daniel Renstrom has released an EP of children’s music (iTunes only). Go ahead and buy it and you’ll be helping fund a full-length album for kids. And why not check out his other albums—they are well worth the purchase.

HT / Z and Challies

90 Days of God's Goodness: A Review

Suffering.  One thing we all experience and at the same time one thing we never want.  It is a subject that Randy Alcorn has tacked previously in his book If God Is Good - and quite well I might add.  This time around in 90 Days of God's Goodness, Alcorn broaches the subject of suffering in devotional form offering many of the principles he set forth in his previous book.  
It seems odd at first - looking at suffering devotionally, but I found it quite helpful. The fact is that we will never fully know the mind of God when it comes our suffering which is why we need a strong biblical faith.  “When people lose their faith because of suffering,” Alcorn says, “it suggests a weak or nominal faith that didn’t account for or prepare them for evil and suffering. Any faith not based on the truth needs to be lost—the sooner, the better.”

If you’re looking for deeper theological insight into suffering , this is not the book you want.  If you’re looking for comfort and spiritual strength when you feel you have none, look no further. There is Scripture, there is pastoral wisdom, and there is prayer in abundance.  In every instance the reader is brought to the God who can be trusted in all that He does.  God is seen in the fullness of His perfections. “If we see God only in terms of his love or mercy or compassion—as wonderful as those attributes are—we will not worship the true God but an idol of our own imagination. An idol that will, in the end, disappoint us, just as everything that is not God always will.”

“Often we look at suffering from our perspective and forget that God sees another vantage point.”  More often than not our human perspective on suffering leads us into wrong thinking which leads into wrong thinking about God. “A lot of bad theology inevitably surfaces when we face suffering.” 90 Days of God’s Goodness is not bad theology; it is the opposite in fact.  It will help you to “count it all joy.”

Review copy provided by publisher (FTC 16 CFR, part 255)