Monday, June 29, 2015


A great persepctive to the Supreme Court decision to legalize same sex marriage by Erik Raymond.
white house rainbow
This is a strange time for patriotic American Christians. On the one hand, we will observe the 4th of July this weekend. Most of our neighborhoods are ringing with fireworks and are adorned with symbols of American pride. Many will celebrate the 4th with family, friends, and an open grill. At the same time, our stomaches are still turning by the fresh reminder that we and our Christianity are increasingly not welcome here. This is truly a strange confluence of emotions.


In talking with a number of Christians last week I was struck by how the Supreme Court decision to legalize same sex marriage brought such an unsettling clarity to their perspective. Any morning fog that lingered in our minds that this was a nation that was at least neutral towards biblical Christianity was quickly eradicated last Friday. With the court’s affirmation, the chorus of celebrations on the news and in our neighborhoods, and then the White House being lit up in rainbow colors to celebrate the decision, it seemed to bring clarity. Most Christians knew this deep down but for some it did not home until last week. At some point they looked up and said, “I’m not welcome here.”


What do you do about this?
Well, we definitely should not turn into a bunch of evangelical jerks. As tempting as it may be to join in the tit-for-tat sarcasm, mocking, and crudeness, we must remember that we have a higher calling than such sophomoric trolling. We reflect Christ in our speech, conduct, and love.
We also should not shut-up. The court’s decision on marriage does not change what we believe about marriage. The Bible is still very clear and the church’s practice remains very clear. This changes nothing for us; we still have a prophetic voice to speak the truth of biblical marriage and how it displays the glory of the gospel. We still have something to say.


We do need to remember that this is not our home. Christians have for centuries lived in communities that did not welcome them. However, they made it and the gospel made it. The writer of Hebrews, writing to Christians who were feeling the pinch of a culture around them that did not approve of their religious convictions, provided these words at the end of his letter:
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)
We today do not have a lasting, abiding, continuing city. Everything has an expiration date on it; it is only a matter of time. We have to remember this as Christians living in America (or anywhere else in the world). While you you may have a physical address where you lay your head at night you are not home. Because as Christians we seek the city that is to come. This seeking is an ongoing, intentional pursuit. It is to characterize our lives. We keep on seeking the city that is to come. Hebrews uses several words to describe this city. It is described as heaven (12:23), rest (4:11), kingdom (12:28), a better country (11:14), a city that God built (11:10), a heavenly Jerusalem (12:22), and a heavenly country (11:14). We are looking ahead to the city that will come down from heaven where we will dwell with God and all his blood-bought saints forever! There are no feelings of being unwelcome there when we are gathered round the great table to enjoy feasting and fellowship with the church. Oh, and Christ will be there, ruling and reigning with all of his people giving themselves to him freely (Rev. 21-22).
We are a people who pray earnestly the words and intentions of the Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed by your name…Your Kingdom Come…Your will be done…” We want God’s name to be honored rather than disregarded. We want the King to rule and his will to be done. This is our great desire. When this is not happening here it serves to unfasten our grip upon this present world and lift our chin the look ahead, to seek the city that is to come.
If the events of last week knocked the wind out of you and made you feel unwelcome, then remember that we seek the city that is to come. If the current events serve to remind you of this, than bless God for his kind providence to you. Realizing you are not welcome here can actually be a blessing.
Finally, remember that Jesus never called the church to redeem culture or create a Christian America. Our job is to glorify God by declaring and demonstrating the gospel. The church is an embassy of grace on foreign soil. And we must remember that this church has been, is being, and will be built by Jesus Christ (Mt. 16:18). The gospel will advance and the church will be built whether the cultural wind at our backs or in our face. Our death-conquering King ensures it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


I found this compelling story on Gospel Coalition on the power of forgiveness, even if it is painful and incomplete. 
Telling your story can be strange thing, especially in this format, where complete strangers are likely the primary readers. Frederick Buechner once said that publicly telling your story is “like showing [your] baby pictures to strangers.” In other words, all babies look pretty much alike, unless you know the baby, and the same might be said of the stories we share.
I tell my story anyway because it is an opportunity to share something about the nature of God and the depth of his grace, mercy, and love.
So here’s (some of) my story.

How It All Began

When I was 6 years old, my father murdered my mother.
In one thoughtless, terrible act, he put a violent end to years of physical and emotional abuse to my mother, my two sisters, and me. In just a few squeezes of a trigger, my dad took from three kids their mother, from my grandparents their firstborn daughter, from my aunt and uncle a sister. He took away a beautiful, creative, talented, vibrant young woman a few weeks shy of her 31st birthday. What’s more, none of this was particularly surprising to those who knew our family. After all, my dad was an unstable, volatile man addicted to drugs and alcohol, and gripped by a severe mental illness that went undiagnosed and untreated until after the murder.
He was convicted of murder in 1981 and sentenced to die in Georgia’s electric chair. His appeal reduced his sentence to life in prison.
In the aftermath, my sisters and I were adopted by my maternal grandparents, and in the face of that great tragedy, we did what any family would do—we circled the wagons, we bonded over our grief. A significant portion of that bonding came through our shared hatred of not just the evil things my dad did, but of my dad himself. So I grew up hating him, and 23 years without contact only increased the distance, fear, and disdain that defined our “relationship.”

Honor Thy Father

In 2004, when I was 29 and married to Melissa for all of a month, I was listening to a sermon about the Ten Commandments. At that point in my life, I had read the Ten Commandments countless times. I had read commentaries, written papers and sermons about them—yet somehow it had never occurred to me that the fifth and sixth commandments speak directly to my personal story.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
You shall not murder. (Ex. 20:12-13)
The question that began pounding in my head and heart was, “How am I supposed to keep the command to honor my father when all I really know of him is that he hurts people to the point of shattering the very next command about murder?” Right there in the pew I asked God to show me how I could honor my dad.
In a matter of seconds, God gave me a new understanding of what it meant to honor my father. What God laid on my heart in that moment was the phrase, “Look him in the eye.” To begin honoring him, I needed to look my dad in the eye, which meant, at the very least, I needed to visit him in prison.
A few weeks later, Melissa and I packed some bags and headed from our home in St. Louis down to Central State Prison in Macon, Georgia.

Eye to Eye

Melissa and I checked into the prison and were led by an armed guard through gates and checkpoints to an unadorned 8’ by 8’ cinderblock room with three folding chairs. The guard left, assuring us that she was just around the corner if we needed anything. I placed two chairs facing the door for me and Melissa, the remaining chair for my dad. After a few moments of silence, I heard the shuffle of shackled footsteps and knew that in a matter of seconds I would be face-to-face with my dad for the first time since I was 6 years old.
I decided that I would look my dad in the eye, stick my hand out, shake his hand, and then sit down quickly, so that he would be likely to follow suit and we could minimize the awkwardness.
My dad entered the room and, just as I’d planned, I looked him in the eye. Yet, for all my resolve to be a man in front of my dad, to shake his hand and to be tough, to stare him down if I had to, the actual result of our first moment together in more than 23 years caught me completely off guard.
When our eyes met, my dad was immediately overcome with emotion. His eyes instantly filled with tears. His head jerked downward, and his body shook, almost like a convulsion. He was literally taken aback by looking at his son after all those years.
Within seconds of meeting my dad, I learned the first of many grace-filled lessons that God is still teaching me about that encounter. I believe God wanted me to look my dad in the eye, not so that I could assert my manhood in front of him, not so that I could show myself to be strong, but so that I could see clearly that my dad is a sinful, broken, frail human being in desperate need of restoration.
The handshake melted into a hug, and before I knew what was happening, I was standing face to face with the teary-eyed killer of my mother, and the only thought running through my head was,God, be merciful to this man.
We eventually began to talk, and my dad offered a sincere apology for all the hurt he’d caused, for creating a situation where three kids grow up without their father and mother. He talked about coming to faith in Christ behind bars, and how with medication and proper treatment his mental illness is pretty much in check.

Not a ‘Feel Good’ Story

God used that day to heal both of us. My dad offloaded a years-long apology and request for forgiveness, while I was able to finally release childish notions of him being the epitome of evil. We were now two sinful men in need of God’s mercy and grace if either of us would find any real freedom in this life.
I’d like to tell you that since then our relationship has blossomed into a classic father/son relationship that’s the envy of anybody who knows us. That’s what I’d like to tell you. But that’s not the truth.
The truth is that I visited my dad only one other time in prison, and it was a confusing meeting that left me with more internal conflict than the first visit. We’ve exchanged letters and cards, but our contact has fallen off to the point that I’ve not even seen him since he was paroled nearly three years ago.
The truth is that while I’ve forgiven my dad, I continue to experience the occasional sting of resentment toward him. I’ve also learned the hard lesson that it is difficult to make room in your life for someone that you’ve gotten used to not having around.
My story, at least this part of it, is not a “feel good” story. So why share it?

Greater Story

In Romans 8:28, when Paul says, “What then shall we say about these things?” the things he’s talking about are “sufferings,” “futility,” and “bondage to corruption.” In other words, what shall we say about things like dads murdering moms and families torn apart by violence and abuse?
Paul gives us a response to just such things beginning in verse 37:
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:37-39)
Yes, we live in a world where murder is real, but these parts of our stories do not tell the final word for those who are in Christ. We are conquerors, not because of anything we’ve done, but because what belongs to Jesus—who conquered Satan, sin, and death—belongs to those who are in him. That is the final word, the ultimate story.
I tell you my story as a way of testifying to that story.
  • We see brokenness from my dad who was worn and weary from the guilt and loneliness that resulted from his misdeeds.
  • We see restoration and redemption in the hug that we shared after years and years of being separated from each other.
  • We see restoration in the reality that my worst fears about my dad did not rule the day, and that the experience I feared might turn into a nightmare actually turned into a poignant, life-giving experience.
I tell you my story not so you will say, “Be more like Joel, because he was obedient when God told him to go visit his dad.” I tell you my story not so you will say, “How heart-warming that Joel and his dad reunited.” I tell you my story so that I can also tell you that even amid the brokenness and tragedy of our lives, and our imperfect obedience in response to them, we are nevertheless “more than conquerors” through Christ. His death and resurrection are real and operative not only in the moments of shining redemption, but also in the ugly, painful moments during which we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons” (Rom. 8:23).

What About You?

Do you know your own story? Have you examined your own story for gospel themes like brokenness and redemption? Have you been honest with yourself and with God and owned up to the bad behaviors and motives that mark your story? Have you looked for and found Jesus and his redemption in your story?
If you haven’t, please consider these things. As you do, remember that Jesus was the Word incarnate. Among everything else this truth means, it certainly means that God speaks to us not merely through words, but through events, through the triumphs and tragedies of our lives. If God can be found in a manger in Bethlehem, he can be found in the broken places of our stories. 
Joel Lindsey is lead pastor of Grace Church in Racine, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Melissa, have three sons. Joel is a contributor to For the Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

Monday, June 22, 2015


Our church has a concentrated focus on discipleship.  I often get pushback from those I encourage to disciple others is that they do not know how.  We think we are unqualified or don't have the skill to do so but any of us who have come to faith in Christ can and should be personally discipling others.  Here is one way.  Just do it!
It’s hard to overestimate what God can do in the life of a follower of Christ through a strategically chosen book. A Latin American pastor and I recently read a chapter of the Spanish version of John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage. We read during the week and talked about the content each Friday. After several weeks, the pastor asked if he could have an extra copy to disciple a couple in his church with marital problems. The following week the pastor asked for a second copy because the husband and wife refused to study together. After several weeks of studying separately, the husband showed up at the door of his old home with tears in his eyes and the Piper book in his hand. “I have been doing marriage wrong,” the man said to his wife. “Can we please read the book together?”
As Jesus proclaimed the Great Commission (Matthew 8:18-20), he provided simple, significant instructions for all Christians. He closed out his earthly ministry with a charge that calls all believers to global evangelism. Making disciples in obedience to Jesus can be done in many ways. As a frequent trainer of disciples I have seen few other tools equal the powerful effect of a gospel-centered, Bible-based book in the hands of an obedient disciple-maker. 

Books as Discipleship Tools

There are few occasions where my work for the kingdom feels as powerful as when I have a theology book in one hand, a Bible in the other, a couple of chairs, a new believer or two, and a shade tree. Of course, we must use discernment; no book, save the Holy Bible, is flawless. Every author is sinful and susceptible to bias and error. Thus, when a book is used as a discipleship tool it should always be accompanied by Scripture.

How to Do It

Here are some helpful tips for using books in discipleship relationships.
Scripture. Have a Bible open and ready. When verses are cited, look them up. Don’t assume participants own or know the Bible. The book should always be used to point to the teaching of Scripture. Weigh all truths on the scales of God’s Word. 
Sound. Use books that espouse biblical, grace-centered doctrine. Don’t take a risk in this setting with an unfamiliar author. A book must point to Christ and be supported by the Bible or not used.
Small. Discipleship groups should be intimate; one to five participants is ideal. People get intimidated in big groups. Encourage responses and limit the sharing by know-it-alls. Depth is desirable.
Speed. Proceed neither too fast nor too slow. Be flexible with the schedule. Allow the interest level to dictate pace. Don’t force completion of a chapter or section until it is fully understood.
Straightforward. If you don’t know the answer, say so and commit to reporting back with more clarity. Read the material in advance. Acknowledge difficult topics and stick to the relevant issues.
Seek. Pray for direction from the Lord as a group and on your own. Open, close, and cover the discipleship group in prayer. Listen to the Spirit and trust him for guidance.

This Can Happen

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of leading three teenage boys through R.C. Sproul’s book Now That’s a Good Question. Each week we read a section, and the four of us came together to talk and pray about the content. The boys came from different backgrounds. One grew up in a legalistic home, one in a culturally Roman Catholic home, and the third in an unchurched home. As we sat in a circle each week, the boys would challenge the content of the book, which seemed like wildly original theology to each of them. The discussion topics were intimate, the shouting was loud, and the tears were real. Two of them gave up the study, citing heresy, only to return weeks later. By the time we finished the book, the boys collectively asked if I had another book we could study together. I continued to disciple the boys for years. After one of them shared the “new doctrines of grace” with his pastor, I was invited to preach on this topic in his Pentecostal church.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and martyr for Christ, said, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” The lifeblood of the church is to make disciples for Jesus Christ and teach them how to make other disciples. The church is a place to educate, instruct, and prepare its members to reach the world and share God’s love, mercy, and truth. Books are one excellent means of achieving this goal of discipleship. 

Recommended Resources

Mike Pettengill is a full-time missionary serving in La Ceiba, Honduras, with Mission to the World. Mike is a team leader of a 12-person mission team. To learn more about the Pettengill’s work in Honduras visitPettengill Missionaries.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Get a Friend!

It is often said that leadership is lonely.  I have felt this personally and so seek out younger pastors who seem to be struggling.  Here is great advice form Michael Duduit . . . 
I am mid-way through a month-long study leave in Cambridge, England, where I am doing research at Tyndale House as I work on a book. I’ve enjoyed meeting scholars and graduate students from many nations at this evangelical study center. Meanwhile I’ve been staying at Ridley Hall, a college for Anglican ministers, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know future Anglican clergy, as well as pastors there on sabbatical or retreat stays.

This morning, I visited with a veteran pastor—31 years in ministry, 27 years in his current church—who is on retreat. He’s a few years from retirement, and he talked about the struggles of ministry without having close friends. I suspect that will sound familiar to more than a few readers.

Harry Truman once said that if you want a friend in Washington, “get a dog.” I love my dog, but God made us to be in relationship with Him and one another. We also need to get a friend.

Let me suggest to you the same thing I advised this veteran pastor: Seek out other ministers in your area, outside your own denomination. Invite them to breakfast or lunch, or maybe just grab coffee together. Get to know them. You’re likely to find they are just as hungry for friendship as you are.

Surveys show that a large percentage of pastors have no close friendships, and that absence will chip away at your spirit in time. If that describes you, commit yourself today to reach out and build relationships. If you are blessed to have a “band of brothers” in ministry already, look around and see if there is another brother who needs you.

Michael Duduit

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


More good advice on moral integrity, this time from the Gospel Coalition . . . 
During my time in seminary I took a leadership course taught by the late, great Howard Hendricks. As we studied the life of David, Hendricks shared a study he conducted with a group of men in full-time ministry who had fallen into a morally disqualifying sin.
At the time, I had only been a Christian for a few years, but unfortunately the subject was all too relevant. During my early days I had witnessed several men whom I loved and respected fall into serious sinful compromise. At one point in those days, the falls came so frequently I felt as if I was on the spiritual beach of Normandy watching buddies’ lives get blown apart all around me.

Fallen Soldiers of Christ

The study examined 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure within a two-year period. As far as Hendricks could discern, these full-time clergy were born-again followers of Jesus. Though they shared a common salvation, these men also shared a common feat of devastation; they had all, within 24 months of each other, been involved in an adulterous relationship.
After interviewing each man, Hendricks compiled four common characteristics of their lives: 
  • None of the men was involved in any kind of real personal accountability. 
  • Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship.
  • More than 80 percent of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.
  • Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”
As I reflect on this study, four lessons come to mind. These are applicable for pastors, plumbers, stay-at-home moms, and anyone else who seeks to follow Christ.
1. Sin thrives in isolation.
Satan lives in the darkness and longs to keep us there. Lies live best in the darkness. That’s why when God calls us to himself, he calls us into the church.
God has created the church to be many things, including a community of people who help each other fight sin and love him. He calls us into relationships where we speak truth to one another (Eph. 4:1525), confess sins to one another (James 5:16), and love each other enough to chase after each other if we stray (Matt. 18:10-20Gal. 6:1-2James 5:19-20).
Who knows you? I mean, who really knows you? Who not only has permission, but is currently acting upon that permission to ask you penetrating questions? Are you answering those questions honestly, or are you hiding details and painting over your sin to guard your image? Do not hide from God’s gracious aid of loving relationships.
2. If you flirt with sin, you will fall into sin.
Sin’s slope is slippery. The longer you walk along the edge of the abyss, the more likely that your foot will slip. The men in the study put themselves in dangerous situations again and again. They ignored the words of Solomon, who warned his sons to “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8).
These men did not guard their hearts, or the hearts of the people they were supposed to be protecting. Instead, they became blinded by the deceitfulness of sin (Eph. 4:22Heb. 3:13) and were led into the ditch of destruction (Matt. 15:14).
What ways are you flirting with sin? What provisions are you making for the flesh with regard to lust (Rom. 13:14)? What guards have you stepped over? What details are you hiding? What e-mails are you deleting? What search histories are you erasing?
Sin is crouching at your door (Gen. 4:7), and the tempter is looking for an opportunity to pounce (1 Pet. 5:8). How are you making his aim easier?
Flee from sin, don’t flirt with it (Gen. 39:6-12Prov. 5-7, Rom. 6:12-132 Tim. 2:221 Pet. 2:11).
3. Pride blinds us to our weakness.
Many of us think this sort of serious sin would not happen to us, just as those fallen pastors thought. But 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Let us not forget that Samson, the strongest man in the Bible; Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible; and David, the man after God’s own heart, were all overcome by the temptations of sexual sin (Judg. 14-16; 1 Kings 11:1-82 Sam. 11-12Ps. 51). No one is above the temptation to sin in grievous ways. If you doubt, you are on your way to a great fall.
Beware! Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
4. Purity is cultivated by loving Jesus.
Somewhere along the line, each of the men in the study began to drift. Prayers became less passionate. The promises of God in his Word grew dusty. Love for Jesus became something spoken of in the past tense. The seduction of sin and enticement to sacrifice all to satisfy inner longings became too strong to resist.
But Christ is stronger. Hear these words of promise afresh:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14–16)
There is no sweeter assurance of help than Christ Jesus the Lord. He stands ready at God’s right hand to supply the grace and mercy we need.
Do not allow your hearts to grow cold toward the Lord who loves you so. Draw near to him daily, moment by moment, in hopeful expectation that he is better than any fleeting pleasure that might entice your heart. Do not seek him only in days of desperation, but seek him daily. Walk with him. Rekindle passion. Plead with him to help you. He is able to do it, and he delights to do it: 
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)
Come Lord Jesus, come.

Monday, June 15, 2015

10 Commandments to Help Church Staff Maintain Moral Integrity

Good advice from Rick Warren . . .

No matter how many times I hear it, it still shocks me: A pastor announces his resignation because of adultery. Often it’s with someone within his church, sometimes even someone actively involved in ministry, such as a choir member or Sunday school teacher.
It’s such an incredible waste of God’s resources that it not only grieves me, it angers me. I have told my staff that if any of them even flirt with temptation, I will come after them with a baseball bat, and I’ve told them to do the same with me.
As Christian leaders, we need to be above reproach. Paul wrote, “Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.” (1 Cor. 10:12, Msg)
That’s why I established these Saddleback Staff Standards for maintaining moral integrity:
  1. Thou shalt not go to lunch alone with the opposite sex. *
  2. Thou shalt not have the opposite sex pick you up or drive you places when it is just the two of you. *
  3. Thou shalt not kiss any attender of the opposite sex or show affection that could be questioned. *
  4. Thou shalt not visit the opposite sex alone at home.
  5. Thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex alone at the office, and thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex more than once without that person’s mate. Refer them.
  6. Thou shalt not discuss detailed sexual problems with the opposite sex in counseling. Refer them.
  7. Thou shalt not discuss your marriage problems with an attender of the opposite sex.
  8. Thou shalt be careful in answering emails, instant messages, chatrooms, cards, or letters from the opposite sex.
  9. Thou shalt make your secretary your protective ally.
  10. Thou shalt pray for the integrity of other staff members.
* The first 3 do not apply to unmarried staff.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” ~ Eph. 5:3 (NIV)