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The Church’s Next 10,000 Years

It was a slick PowerPoint—presented by a (self-described) cutting-edge ministry practitioner—that sent me over the edge. Carefully presenting cherry-picked research, this ministry leader offered a doomsday scenario for the American church: heresy is rising. Millennials are fleeing. Culture is changing. Of course, this inevitable slouch toward Gomorrah could be prevented, we were told, if we purchased this organization’s brand-new curriculum. If I sound cynical about the demise of the church, it’s because I am. I read Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:18 and I believe them: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome…

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The glory we don’t see: Looking harder for glimpses of God at work around us

Every week I met with a drug dealer, a shady business-man, and a serial gambler. Only you wouldn’t know it, because sitting in the pew next to me, they looked just like church people. Middle class. Put together. Churchy. But here they were, trophies of grace, evidence of some strange and mysterious redemption. Glimpses of some other world where sinners become saints, not at all of their own making. Chances are, this is your reality, too, if you attend church regularly. It may seem everyone is gathering from the corners of your community on Sunday, dressed up and spiritual. But…

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The Tension of Influence and Humility

In his book Playing God, Andy Crouch writes of an incident with a well-known megachurch pastor. In the pastor’s study, Andy quizzed the leader about how he managed his power. “We are all servant leaders here!” he said. “We don’t care about power.” Then the two left and walked into an office space where church staff members were busy working. When the pastor entered the room, the staff immediately sat up straighter and acted busy—a visible sign that the pastor had power he didn’t want to admit he possessed. This a fitting anecdote for the age in which we live, the…

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So you want to make disciples

What does it mean to be on mission for God? Evangelicals are asking this question more often in a culture that seems increasingly inhospitable to Christian witness. So words like missional and incarnational are all the rage, driving people to think holistically (another buzz word) about their presence in a particular local community. These discussions are good because they help equip God’s people to fulfill the Great Commission in our time. And yet I wonder if we often complicate the task of making disciples. Sometimes our evangelism language is so stilted and academic that it paralyzes everyday Chris-tians from utilizing…

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Called to the cubicle: Regardless of where we work, we’re all in full-time ministry.

“Brother John gave up a lucrative career in the business world to enter full-time Christian service,” the pastor announced. “He’s working for Jesus now.” The church erupted in applause, but my heart sank because I felt sorry for the man sitting next to me. My father, a skilled tradesman, wasn’t leaving his business to enter “full-time Christian service.” Was he somehow less of a believer or less spiritual than those who received a paycheck from a Christian 501(c)(3)? These are questions that rattled around in my teenage brain. Fortunately, I later acquired a more robust theology of faith and work…

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No, you can’t have it all now: How we preach a prosperity gospel without even knowing it

If you were to ask most Christians, you’d find many consider the prosperity gospel to be an unbiblical teaching offered by religious hucksters. But there’s a subtle way in which a similar message creeps into our theologically sound churches—a back-door heresy perhaps more damaging than the promise of a bigger house or fatter bank account. It is the prosperity gospel of instant life change. I often heard a version of this during testimony time in the otherwise fundamentalist church where I grew up. Some former alcoholic would stand up and say something like, “I was hungover on Saturday, and by…

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Loving Jesus means you’re commanded to love fellow believers–all of them

I’m not a big bumper sticker guy, but I couldn’t help noticing the one proudly displayed on my new neighbor’s car. When I first saw it, I was excited because it said, “JESUS LOVES YOU” in large capital letters. Great! I thought. A Christian has moved in next to me. I imagined early morning Bible studies, perhaps even attending church together, exchanging prayer lists, or swapping casserole recipes for church potlucks. But the rest of the bumper sticker gave me pause. In fine print, under the “JESUS LOVES YOU,” was a cryptic second line: “But everyone else thinks you’re a…

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What The Incarnation Means for Our Bodies

The angel was clear, to Mary, about the mission of Jesus. In his angelic announcement, he said that Jesus would come to “save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).” To be our Savior, God had to become human. He had to suffer as a human. He had to take on the full punishment of God’s wrath for human sin. This was God’s plan all along, an event that took place at “just the right time” (Galatians 4:4-7). The prophet said that it would “please the Lord to bruise him (Isaiah 53:10).” Jesus accomplished what no man could accomplish. He, as…

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Book of Wishes: The reason we long for more

It arrived every November, wrapped in cellophane, its pages filled with new possibilities. On the cover, a dreamy holiday image, pulling your heart into the season and beckoning you to indulge in hours of wish making. It’s hard to overestimate the sheer joy the Sears Wish Book brought to my young heart. Before Amazon and Apple. Before Walmart and Black Friday. Before Facebook and Google. Every year, I waited with anticipation and longing for the day this catalog would come. A savvy wisher would ignore the advice on the front page, which warned shoppers against skipping to other sections and…

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When everything isn’t awesome: Is the modern evangelical worship service a safe place to lament?

A couple years ago, I took a day off and treated my family to a matinee showing of The Lego Movie. My wife and I have four children—three girls and one boy—so this day was like an oasis for my son and me, surrounded as we are by princess movies. As it turns out, everyone, girls included, enjoyed the film. What we didn’t realize, however, was that the theme song “Everything is Awesome” would replace “Let It Go” from Frozen as the tune that would get stuck in our heads most often. By the end of the summer, for the…

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Why recognizing our need for grace enlarges our capacity to give it

British author and thinker G. K. Chesterton was once invited by a London newspaper to offer his opinion on what was wrong with the world. Legend has it he sent a brief letter in reply: Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton This echoes the thoughts of another philosopher. In one of his final letters, Paul wrote his protégé Timothy and volunteered an answer to a hypothetical question: Who is the world’s worst sinner? Which human being was the biggest problem, in Paul’s mind? Was it Nero, the wicked despot who gleefully slaughtered innocent Christians? Was it the…

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15 Years and Counting

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:31–33 ESV) Fifteen years ago, a man waited by a church stage in Chicago as a beautiful young woman from Texas walked down the aisle. When you get married, you do it without knowing, fully, what is ahead. You know the other person,…

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Thanksgiving, When There is No Reason to Be Thankful

There was little to be thankful for in those first few, difficult, ravaging years. The bitter New England cold had claimed half of the Mayflower’s first courageous travellers. The comforts of their homes in England, warm food, adequate furnishings, reliable city infrastructure—this was all gone and replaced with a crude and uncertain reality in the New World. Still, these men and women stopped to say thank you. We don’t really know if this feast—perhaps in the early 1620’s in Plymouth, Massachusetts—was “the first thanksgiving”, but we do know that these hearty souls found time to offer gratitude to God, in…

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Christianity Is Not a Plastic Smile

Today Lookout Magazine published my latest piece on Christians and a theology of suffering: There is a country song I like to play around the house that always irks my wife. Josh Turner croons, “Everything is fine, fine, fine.” Angela detests it because she says that this is my go-to answer whenever there is a problem at home. While I won’t stop playing Josh Turner, I have to acknowledge that she is right. Everything is not fine. Though we are redeemed, rescued, chosen, forgiven, and risen, we still live. On mission. In the world. We are already in the kingdom of God and…

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The Church on the Ground Versus the Church In Your Head

I’m over at Southern Seminary Equip today talking about the reality of shepherding. Here is an excerpt: You envisioned, in your first ministry, leading with the help of a robust elder board, made up of guys who read Calvin, together, on the weekends. You were going to launch a human trafficking ministry in your first year, an apprenticeship program in your second year, and, if all goes well, a church planting initiative in your third. But the church on the ground seems vastly different than the church in your head. One of your elders wonders why you don’t let the…

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On My Nightstand

Books, for me, are therapy, a way of relaxing from the pressures of the world. My habit, lately, has been to physically read books on theology and the Christian life and to listen, via audiobook, history and biography. I’m almost always in the middle of reading a book and listening to a book. George Will recently discussed this kind of rhythm in a radio interview and I think it suits me pretty well. Currently, these books are in my book pile: From Weakness to Strength by Scott Sauls The best thing I can say about my friend Scott is that he…

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The Way Home: Art Rainer on Ways We Can Handle Our Money Biblically

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who enjoy doing their finances and those who don’t. For those who don’t, like, me, we need help. Art Rainer, VP of Institutional Advancement at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a helpful book, The Money Challenge. Art joins me to talk about ways we can handle our money biblically and how churches can teach sound financial concepts. Show Notes Twitter: @ArtRainer Websites: artrainer.com Book: The Money Challenge

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Some Thoughts on Writers and Platform

There is a lot of conversation these days (mostly on digital platforms) about writers, publishing, and platform. The conversation has been stimulating and thought-provoking in some ways and unhelpful, I think, in other ways. Mostly, it seems, that some are frustrated about the difficulty of getting published and the demands publishers make and the reality that writers who have bigger audiences are often favored over those with smaller audiences. How should Christian writers think about these things? I have a few observations. These are not “thus saith the Lord”, but more “here is Dan’s opinion”, which, if you add $5 will…

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Editor Series: Carol Pipes

Carol Pipes has been helping tell the stories of God’s work around the world. As the editor of Facts & Trends, she has helped Southern Baptist churches apply the unchanging gospel to changing times. Previously, she served with the North American Mission Board as editor of On Mission, which tells the story about the good work of Southern Baptist churches in North America. She serves on the board of the Evangelical Press Association and has received numerous awards for her work. Dan Darling: Let’s talk about your calling. Has writing and editing been a lifetime pursuit or something you picked up late…

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Editor Series: Erin Straza on her love for words

Erin Straza is gifted with words. She is currently the managing editor of Christ and Pop Culture and Christ and Pop Culture Magazine. She is the host of the popular Persuasion podcast. She has worked with Spread Truth Ministries, Christianity Today and other publications. She also has a great new book out: Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom from Habits that Bind You.  Dan Darling: Let’s talk about your calling. Has writing and editing been a lifetime pursuit or something you picked up late in life? And if so, what first interested in you in words? Erin Straza: My love for words goes back to childhood—periodically I…

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