Must Repent

December 17, 2012

We have glamorized (idolized) the wrong things in life, i.e. the rich, the famous, the beautiful, the fifteen seconds of fame wanna-be’s.

Think about this statement:
The innocent must die for the guilty.

After the tragic events, in which a murderer killed 20 innocent children in Conn., I’ve thought to myself, it takes this kind of event for us as a nation to pause for a moment and reflect, “what got us here in the first place?”

There have been so many ideas, from banning guns to arming everyone to whatever.

As a believer in Christ, I’m not shocked by this horrific event, I’m disgusted, but not shocked because I see the sin in humanity. And a need of a Saviour.

Our nation allows for unborn children to be aborted, pot to be legalized, and unethical people in power to run this country. So, no wonder things of this magnitude happen.

So, for things to be made right, God sent his Son to die (the truly innocent) in our place (the guilty).

Now that’s grace.

That’s what we need. That’s what this country needs to realize and believe. If not, don’t be shocked, because more things like this will happen if we don’t want God in our lives.

What is Hypocrisy?

December 14, 2012

Many Christians misunderstand the nature of hypocrisy. It’s common to think of hypocrisy as the gap between your actions and your feelings. So if I do something without having my “heart” in it then I’m a hypocrite. Evangelicals are especially sensitive to this charge because we believe (quite rightly) that Christianity is more than “just going through the motions.” We know that having a personal relationship with Christ is crucial. We believe faith must be sincere.

And yet, we can easily misappropriate our good instincts. Some Christians wonder if they should still go to church if they don’t feel like it. They wonder if it’s right to sing the praise songs if they aren’t feeling worshipful that morning. They hesitate to give generously because “God loves a cheerful giver” and, well, giving doesn’t make them very happy. They aren’t sure they should repent of their sins or work to forgive their offender unless they feel really sorry and feel like forgiving. Many Christians fear that doing the right thing without the right feelings makes them hypocrites.

But is this really hypocrisy? Another word to describe this behavior might be “maturity.” Children only do what they feel like doing. Adults learn to do things they are supposed to do though they may not always be excited about it. Of course, as Christians we want to grow so that we feel good about what is good. But the Christian life is full of instances where the doing and the feeling do not exactly match—sometimes with feelings ahead of obedience and sometimes with obedience ahead of our feelings.

Hypocrisy is not the gap between doing and feeling; it’s the gap between public persona and private character. Hypocrisy is the failure to practice what you preach (Matt. 23:3). Appearing outwardly righteous to others, while actually being full of uncleanness and self-indulgence—that’s the definition of hypocrisy (Matt. 23:25-28).

The hypocrite is not the Christian who struggles against sin, fights against temptation, and keeps doing what is right even on his worst feeling days. That’s a hero. The hypocrite is the Christian who uses the veneer of public virtue to cover the rot of private vice. He’s the man living a double life, the woman fooling her friends because she has church clothes, the student who proudly answers the questions in Sunday school and just as proudly romps through immorality the rest of the week.

The sin of hypocrisy is not that we are more messed up than we seem. That’s true for all of us. The sin is in using the appearance of goodness to cloak the deeds of evil. The sin is in thinking that who others think you are matters a great deal more than whom God knows you to be.


Church Planting Idea

December 14, 2012

An interesting take on church planting. Thoughts?

Rethinking Church Planting: A Conversation with Jimmy Scroggins

Jimmy Scroggins is a pastor friend of mine. He currently serves at First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Jimmy is passionate about church planting in multiple forms and is involved in a mission network calledSendSFL. I’m excited to see new methods of church planting that can supplement and support traditional planting strategies. Today, Jimmy joins me on the blog for a discussion about the future of church planting.

Trevin Wax: One of the things we’ve talked about before is how the church planting structure in North America puts the planter under enormous pressure to attract givers to the new plant, not necessarily new converts. Elaborate a little on how you think our structure and strategy can unintentionally hinder passionate evangelism.

Jimmy Scroggins: First, I want to be clear that I have huge admiration for church planters. Their boldness and confidence in God to go out and start a church from scratch is amazing to me. I am also a strong supporter of church planting churches and organizations, and I am truly grateful for the current wave of resources that is being directed towards new church starts in North America.

Trevin Wax: That said, you have some misgivings about some church planting strategies.

Jimmy Scroggins: Yes. I worry that our standard strategy for funding planters is unlikely to start the number of sustainable, evangelistic, healthy congregations needed to advance the kingdom relative to the growing population and increasing lostness of our culture. The favored approach seems to go like this:

Identify a talented, driven, and probably well-networked planter.
Help him raise several hundred thousand dollars to fund him and his church for 3-5 years.
Count on him to lead his new church to grow fast enough so that by the time his funding runs out his church is self-supporting.
Trevin Wax: What’s is deficient about this strategy?

Jimmy Scroggins: The math simply does not work. Take Southern Baptists, for example. We are working to plant 15,000 churches in North America by 2022. If we are going to raise 100k each (a pretty conservative number for most contemporary church planters) to fund those churches, we are going to invest 1.5 billion dollars in the successful church plants (if you make it 300K per church – that makes it $4.5 billion). Assuming a 70% success rate (which would be phenomenal to the point of unrealistic), we would havetried to start around 21K churches, with a total investment of over $2 billion. I am afraid the math simply doesn’t work if we are hoping to plant that many churches in that amount of time.

Trevin Wax: Besides the math, what concerns do you have?

Jimmy Scroggins: I’m afraid this strategy forces the church planter to focus on attracting givers more than on evangelizing lost people. It really doesn’t matter how many lost people he reaches or baptizes; his sustainability and “success” will be evaluated and celebrated only if his fledgling congregation gives enough money.

The planter’s ability to remain “in business” is directly tied to his ability to shift the costs from his sponsor churches to his own congregation before his startup money is exhausted. It is unlikely that new believers will be able to carry that load fast enough. He has to go hard after transfers from other churches in order to make it work. So again, the focus of the church planter almost has to be on attracting givers as opposed to reaching lost people.

Trevin Wax: So where do we go from here? Your church, while certainly intentional about funding traditional church plants, is also involved in other kinds of gatherings. Tell us about that.

Jimmy Scroggins: As you said, we are indeed participating in traditional church plants, and by traditional I mean the funded approach with full-time planters and some type of “launch-large” strategy. But we are convinced that these types of plants take too long, cost too much and fail too often – at least if we are going to get to 15,000 by 2022. We have begun to develop and invest in two different approaches that we believe will be more effective, especially in metropolitan contexts where Southern Baptists have been weak.

First, we are going all in for bivocational church planting. We are working to identify, recruit, train, and place men in new church plants who will never require a full-time salary from their church. There are scores of white collar, middle and upper income, educated, successful professionals in our churches who have untapped capacity in terms of their time and energy. These guys can be motivated and equipped to plant churches. Of course, God has to call them, but we can help them hear God speak.

Previous generations of church and denominational leaders have basically said:

“If you are called to the ministry, you quit your job, you move your family several states away for seminary-based training, you learn to live in near poverty, and you help your wife and kids adjust to their new life and their new standard of living in their new town. And about the time you get halfway settled into the seminary community – you graduate and move again to a small church in a small place and begin your journey in ministry.”

No wonder very few people will voluntarily heed the call!

We believe there is a better way. We want to train church planters from our own church to plant new churches in our own community. They don’t have to move their families. They don’t have to find new jobs. They don’t have to strike out on their own. We can pour into them, help them develop their spiritual gifts, help them discover their unique calling, help them find a neighborhood that needs a gospel church, and ultimately help them form a church planting team.

Trevin Wax: What experience have you had in developing the bivocational church planting strategy?

Jimmy Scroggins: At First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, we have established a church planting residency program to equip bivocational church planters from our church family. The response has been overwhelming. We have ten men in our first cohort this year, and the waiting list for the 2013 group is already established.

We are pretty excited about bivocational church planting because it is a way to help make the math work. Although these churches will look very much like traditional, funded church plants, we believe they will have a greater chance of success because the pastors will not have to depend on the fledgling church as their sole source of financial support.

Trevin Wax: What’s the other approach you take?

Jimmy Scroggins: We are committed to reaching people that most church plants cannot afford to reach. There are thousands of people in our community who are homeless or very poor. Many are immigrants and many are in our community illegally. Traditional church planters can’t spend time reaching these folks. They can’t give enough to support the new work. But we have recently discovered a way to effectively go after these people.

One of our sister churches in West Palm is teaching us how to plant “rabbit churches” (so named because they multiply really fast). This church uses lay people to start new congregations in homeless camps, trailer parks, apartment complexes, and retirement centers. We are learning from this approach, and we are seeking to plant churches for “the least of these.”

A “rabbit church” looks like a middle-aged deacon pulling up to the homeless camp with metal folding chairs stacked in his pickup. He arranges those chairs around a tree and calls the men and women out for donuts, singing, and Bible study. These people can’t or won’t give much money at all, but since this type of church doesn’t cost anything, they make budget every single week.

Trevin Wax: How will these methods affect the future of church planting?

Jimmy Scroggins: We are convinced that these two approaches – using bivocational planters to start traditional-looking church plants, and using lay-preachers to start “rabbit churches” – could be the future of church planting. And since these two strategies are very similar to effective approaches found in the Bible and throughout church history, we are confident they are going to work.

One thing’s for sure: traditional, funded, full-time church planters are not going to plant enough churches to truly penetrate the lostness of North America.


December 12, 2012



December 11, 2012

How to Make Your Resolutions Stick

There’s nothing biblical about new year’s resolutions, which is why I’ve always felt a certain freedom about them. Largely, that freedom has been expressed by ignoring them come February 1 or so, as most people tend to do. But in the years that I don’t fail miserably, I’m always grateful for accomplishing them.

The new year is a great time to start fresh. Many of us will make familiar resolutions about diet, exercise, Bible study, prayer, and money. As the clock counts down for the new year, I wanted to offer a few thoughts about making resolutions, helping them stick, and starting them off right.

Find Your Motivation

Real change only happens if we have real motivation. What is the goal of our resolution? Why are we trying to add (or for that matter, subtract) a habit from our lives?

Many Christians begin regimens of prayer and Bible study because they have been told they should. That’s not actually a motivation—it’s a sense of obligation. If we don’t have a vision in our minds for how that habit will transform us, our commitments will fade.

So ask yourself: Why? Why do I want to study the Word this way? How do I hope this changes my life? Here are some potential answers:

I want to read the whole Bible, to get a sense for the whole story of salvation.
I want to immerse myself in Scripture, reading big chunks to help me think more biblically.
I want to focus on smaller passages of Scripture, meditating on them and memorizing them so I always have them with me.
We need to cultivate desires that will sustain our disciplines—a vision of how we want to change that is substantive enough to keep us going when the going gets hard. Last year, I wrote this article about grace-motivated dieting. In it, I argue that diet and exercise should be motivated by the benefits of health, rather than social pressures, vanity, and the idol of youth. In particular, we should think about how our health affects our ability to love and serve others.

The same goes for any other resolution. Are we motivated by guilt? Are we motivated by fear of others? Are we motivated by idolatry? Start by understanding your motivation, and then discerning whether there’s a better way to keep motivated.

Then write down your motivation. Think of it as a vision statement: “I want to be healthy so that . . . ” or “I want to pray more so that . . . ” Keep it in front of you, and return to it whenever your will grows weak, sleeping in sounds appealing, or doughnuts start calling your name.

Make a Plan

Don’t wake up on New Year’s Day and start making resolutions. Change in our lives—whether we’re working on a golf swing or bad habit—usually comes slowly. When learning something like playing guitar, most teachers recommend breaking things down into little, learnable bites rather than trying to swallow whole techniques at once. Similarly, making changes in other areas will be most effective if the process advances in small steps. No one walks out the front door and runs a marathon.

For example, a few years ago, a friend of mine wanted to begin praying for an hour each day. This was a lofty goal, since he struggled to pray daily in the first place. But he made a plan to start simply—five minutes a day—and to extend his daily prayers by five minutes each week. Over the course of the year, a step at a time, he grew his practice. He relied on books like Ken Boa’s Face to Face to help guide his prayers along the way, and by mid-year, he was praying for an hour a day.

Again—it’s a principle that can be applied to any resolution. Start small. Don’t try to run a marathon tomorrow, but take a good long walk. You don’t need to go on a radical, cold-turkey diet (pun intended), but you could make a plan wherein, over four or six weeks, you make changes. Each week, make one change: cut sugars, reduce carbs, eliminate fried food, and so on.

There are lots of apps that help with this. I love the YouVersion Bible app for its reading plans—there are literally dozens of options for plans, in a variety of translations. You sign up for a plan, and it gives you a daily reminder, taking you right to where you need to be. It couldn’t be easier.

Similarly, there are great apps for health and fitness. Couch-to-5K is an app that starts with a very simple alternating walk/jog routine and daily steps it up until you’re running a 5K.

However you do it, make a plan. Write it down (preferably, in the same place you’ve written down your vision statement). Break down the changes that you want to see into small, simple steps, and allow yourself to take one small step at a time.

Start Early

The most effective thing I’ve found in recent years is to start early. Get a running start on your resolutions. Once you know what resolutions you want to make next year, you can begin them a few weeks early, and get ahead on your schedule.

Inevitably, life swallows up our time, we get behind, and that feeling of being behind schedule makes the challenge all the more difficult. If you miss a week of Bible reading because your work schedule went crazy, your kids got sick, or you simply let a few days build up, you feel like you’ve got a mountain of make-up work to do.

By starting early, you give yourself a grace-filled cushion. For instance, three weeks of a head-start on a daily Bible reading plan means 21 days of “grace” for the next year. Miss a day, no big deal. Miss a day or two a month and you’re still essentially on schedule.

So start early—especially if you’re starting from scratch.

Be Accountable

Make your resolutions known to close friends. Tell them your motivations, and recruit their help in keeping you on target. I’m personally not a big fan of using social media for this sort of thing, but you may find it works.

Give your friends permission to ask questions and call you out when you’re drifting from your vision, and keep them in the loop when you reach milestones, so you can celebrate together.

As I said at the beginning, there’s nothing particularly biblical about these kinds of resolutions. Some saints, like Jonathan Edwards, famously lived by resolutions. His were a series of questions and vision statements that guided his life. The missionary Frank Laubach famously resolved to remember the Lord constantly, and played his “Game with Minutes” in order to do so.

We can’t manipulate the way that God sanctifies us. But we can put ourselves in a place where we’re immersed in Scripture, where we’re seeking to be better able to love and serve others, and where we’re putting to death and replacing bad habits. As the new calendar year comes around, it’s a great chance to make a commitment to these ends. So seize the opportunity; take an inventory of how you’d like to see yourself grow this year; and take simple, practical steps to help make it happen.

Mike Cosper is pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He writes on the gospel and the arts for The Gospel Coalition.


December 11, 2012

When God asks you to wait, what happens to your spiritual muscles? While you wait, do your spiritual muscles grow bigger and stronger, or do they become flaccid and atrophied? Waiting for the Lord isn’t about God forgetting you, forsaking you, abandoning the ministry he’s called you to, or being unfaithful to his promises. It’s actually God giving you time to consider his glory, grow stronger in faith, and grow in courage for ministry. Remember, waiting isn’t just about what you’re hoping for at the end of the wait, but also about what you’ll become as you wait.
So waiting always presents us with a spiritual choice-point. Will I allow myself to question God’s goodness and progressively grow weaker in faith, or will I embrace the opportunity of faith that God is giving me and build my spiritual, pastoral, ministry muscles?
It’s so easy to unknowingly revisit your belief system when you’re not sure what God is doing. It’s so easy to give way to doubt when you’re being called to wait. It’s so easy to forsake good spiritual and ministry habits and to take up habits of “unfaith” that weaken the muscles of the heart. Let me suggest some habits of “unfaith” that weaken us during waiting.
1. Giving way to doubt. There’s a fine line between the struggle to wait and giving way to doubt. When you’re called to wait you’re being called to do something that wasn’t part of your personal or ministry plan. Therefore you struggle to see it as good. Because you and I are typically convinced that what we wanted was right and good, it doesn’t seem loving that we’re being asked to wait. You can see how tempting it is then to begin to question God’s wisdom, goodness, and love. Don’t be naive: there’s much doubt that visits people in ministry.
2. Giving way to anger. It’s easy to look around and begin to think that the bad guys are being blessed and the good guys are getting hammered (see Psalm 73). There’ll be times when it simply doesn’t seem right that you have to wait for something that seems so obviously good to you. It’s tempting in your anger to give way to thinking you’re smarter than God, that you’d be a better sovereign than the Sovereign. It all begins to feel like you’re being wronged, and when it does, it seems right to be angry.
As a result, it’s important to understand that your anger isn’t so much about people and circumstances. No, you’re angry with the One who’s in control of those people and those circumstances. You’re actually giving way to thinking that you’ve been wronged by him. I’ve been amazed over the years at how many pastors needed to confess to me that they were more than disappointed with their ministry life; they were angry with God.
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3. Giving way to discouragement. This is where I begin to let my heart run away with the “If only_____,” the “What if_____,” and the “What will happen if____.” I begin to give my mind to thinking about what will happen to me and my ministry if my request isn’t answered soon, or what in the world will happen if it’s not answered at all. This kind of meditation makes me feel that my life or ministry is out of control, when they’re actually under perfectly wise and loving control. Rather than my heart being filled with joy, my heart gets flooded with worry and dread. Worry and dread aren’t the seedbeds of hopeful, courageous, persevering ministry. So I spend my free mental time considering my dark future, with all the resulting discouragement that will always follow.
4. Giving way to envy. When I’m waiting, it’s tempting to look over the fence and long for the ministry life of someone who doesn’t appear to have been called to wait. It’s easy to take on an “I wish I was that guy” way of living. You can’t give way to envy without questioning God’s wisdom, faithfulness, and love. Here’s the logic: if God really loves you as much as he loves that other guy, you’d have what the other guy has. Envy is about feeling forgotten and forsaken, coupled with a craving to have what your neighbor enjoys. This is deadly, because you tend not to run to someone for help if you’ve come to doubt him.
5. Giving way to inactivity. The result of giving way to all of these things is inactivity. If God isn’t as good and wise as I once thought he was, if he withholds good things from his children, and if he plays favorites, then why would I continue to serve him? Maybe you don’t consciously think these things, but you begin to stand with many pastors who’ve lost both their joy in and also motivation for ministry. Maybe this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing after all; maybe I’ve been kidding myself.
Sadly, this is the course that many people, even those in ministry, take as they wait. Rather than growing in faith, their motivation for daily pursuing God is destroyed by doubt, anger, discouragement, and envy. So the muscles of faith necessary for productive people-helping, God-honoring ministry, that were once robust and strong, now atrophy and grow weak.
In reality, waiting points us to God’s goodness. He’s wise and loving. His timing is always right, and his focus isn’t so much on what you’ll experience and enjoy, but on what you’ll become. He’s committed to using every tool at his disposal to rescue you from you, to shape you into the likeness of his Son, and to hone you for the work to which he’s called you. Waiting is one of his primary shaping tools.
Habits of Faith
So how do you build your spiritual muscles during the wait? You must commit yourself to resist those habits of “unfaith,” and with discipline pursue a rigorous routine of spiritual exercise. You must run to your Savior of grace, knowing his grace never gives up even though you’re often tempted to.
Here are the things that he’s designed for you that will build the muscles of your heart and strengthen your resolve: the regular devotional study of his Word, consistent and candid fellowship, looking for God’s glory in Creation every day, putting yourself under excellent preaching and teaching of Scripture (even preachers need to be regularly taught), investing your quiet mental time in meditating on the goodness of God (for example, as you’re going off to sleep), reading excellent Christian books, and spending ample time in prayer. All of these things will result in spiritual strength and vitality.
Do these things seem obvious to you? You’d be surprised how many pastors have confessed to me a lack of good spiritual habits. It’s sad to think of how many pastors live in functional isolation, not putting their hearts in places where they can be watched, warned, protected, and nourished. Without daily meditating on God’s glory and grace, all you’re left to meditate on are the struggles within you and the problems outside you. No wonder our pastoral muscles grow weak.
Is God, in grace, asking you to wait? If so, what’s happening to your muscles while you wait?

From Paul Tripp

What We Need

December 9, 2012

What Kind Of A Pastor Do Sinners Need?

Sinclair Ferguson answers this question from his Marrow Controversy Lectures:

But when your people come and have been broken by sin and have fallen into temptation and are ashamed to confess the awful mess they have made of their life, it is not a Calvinistic pastor who has been sanctified by vinegar that they need. It is a pastor that has been mastered by the unconditional, free grace of God. It is a pastor from whom ironclad orthodoxy has been torn away and the whole armor of a gracious God has been placed upon his soul-the armor of one who would not break the bruised reed or quench the dimly burning wick.

You see, my friends, as we think together in these days about a Godly pastor we have to ask, what is a Godly pastor? A Godly pastor is one who is like God, who has a heart of free grace running after sinners. The Godly pastor is the one who sees the prodigal and runs and falls on his neck and weeps and kisses him and says, “This my son was dead, he was lost and now he is alive and found.”

Pastors, when sinners are drowning (and trust me…they are!), don’t tell them to paddle harder and kick faster. Throw them the life-line of amazing grace.