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  1. This is Reaching the Nations Too

    Posted on March 5th, 2015 by David Burnette

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    How does the gospel get to the ends of the earth?

    If your answer to that question is missionaries – those who are trained, supported, and sent out to other cultures by churches and missions entities here in the U.S. – then, of course, you’re right. Our missionaries have been and continue to be critical to the advance of the gospel, which is why we must continue to support them with our prayers and our giving.

    However, the work of getting the gospel to all nations is also happening in ways that may not be on your radar. Consider three of these ways below, and think about how you might support the following missions efforts by praying, giving, or by your own participation:

    1. Translation work

    While it’s true that someone can hear and believe the gospel without having written resources in their own language, such resources are critical to the long-term spiritual health of individuals and churches. That’s why we have translation teams, or sometimes just individuals, who do the hard work of translating the Bible and Bible-based resources into other languages. Getting these resources to pastors and church leaders is an especially important first step. How else will believers be nourished, if not by the Word of life?

    2. International immigration

    We often think about going to the nations, but the nations continue to come to us. Sometimes they even live in our own neighborhoods. Whether it’s the Chinese student at a nearby college, the Sudanese family on your street that has immigrated to the U.S. for economic or safety reasons, or any number of scenarios, there are opportunities to reach the nations without boarding a plane. Simply opening up your home is a great way to minister to those who who face social and economic challenges. In some cases, these individuals may even come from unreached people groups, so your witness may be more strategic than you know.

    3. Missionaries who are international

    The United States isn’t the only country with Christians in it, which also means that it’s not the only country that sends out missionaries. Churches across the globe send missionaries across the globe. We should pray that God would continue to raise up men and women from other countries, countries that may even have better access than we do to certain people groups.

    Can you think of some other ways the gospel is going forth that we don’t normally think about when we talk about missions?

     

  2. Trusting God in the Mire: Reflections on Psalm 56

    Posted on March 4th, 2015 by Scott James

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    “In God we trust” may be a familiar idiom, but what does it look like when the rubber meets the road? Let’s take a look at a biblical example of what it means to trust in God in a practical sense. In Psalm 56, David gives some substance to the nature of trust.

    Running for Your Life

    Look first at the extraordinary situation from which David pens these words. The introduction of this Psalm says that it was written when the Philistines had seized David in Gath. Here’s the backstory: David is a young man whom God has anointed to become the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:112 13); the current king, Saul, is obviously not in favor of this, so Saul turns against David (1 Samuel 18:10ff) and sets out to kill him (1 Samuel 19:1). David is therefore running for his life and unfortunately ends up in the hands of his greatest enemy, the Philistines—carrying their slain hero’s sword, no less (1 Samuel 21:9–10). This is clearly not a good situation for David. The people of Gath immediately recognize David and, with a mixture of cowardice and cunning, David feigns madness to escape the deadly situation (vv. 12–15).

    David wrote psalm 56 in the midst of this terrifying situation. In it, David admits that when faced with a dire circumstance his initial reaction was marked by fear and panic. However, more important than his gut reaction, David asserts that steadfast trust in the Lord is the only solution to a troubling scenario like this. Easy to say, but what does that kind of trust actually look like?

    In order for us to understand the testing that David’s faith is undergoing, a large portion of Psalm 56 is spent cataloging how his enemies are bent on destroying him: vv. 1, 2, 5, and 6 all detail the unceasing assaults from which David is running. He is trampled, oppressed, attacked, and his cause is injured. He is the subject of evil thoughts and is the target of a strife-inducing manhunt that is ultimately aimed at ending his very life.

    Trembling and Believing 

    In the middle of this catalogue of doom, verse 3 shows us that David is no Stoic—he openly admits fear. But the great thing about this honest confession is that he immediately follows it up with an affirmation of his trust in God. It’s important to see from this that, in some sense, it is possible for fear and faith to occupy the same mind at the same moment.

    So that’s what David was up against, but what does his assertion of trust amount to? David tells us three times in vv. 4 and 10 that he puts his trust in God, “whose word I praise.” To trust in God is to rightly value His word. David trusted God by believing that God would actually do what He had promised to do. Specifically for David, the word he was trusting was likely God’s promise to give him the kingdom and make him the head of a royal dynasty (1 Samuel 16). At this point in the story—hiding out from the murderous Saul in desert caves, acting insane to escape the Philistines—this promise seems laughable. Despite present appearances, however, David still believes God’s word, so much so that it causes him to praise God (vv. 4 and 10) even while he is still neck deep in dire circumstances.

    With this trust, David confidently speaks out: “I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (v. 4). In v. 9 he states that his “enemies will turn back” because he calls on the Lord as his deliverer. In vv. 12 and 13, David offers up a thank offering, saying to God, “you have delivered my soul from death.” David is so confident of his deliverance that he speaks of it in the past tense. That confidence is not based on guesswork, sketchy prophecy, or bravado; it is appropriate only because God has already told David what He has in store for him. David actually takes God at His word and acts upon it, even when the circumstances don’t seem to match. For David, this meant that he stepped out of the cave while the odds still seemed stacked against him. He continued the fight that eventually culminated in his ascension to the throne of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-3). That is trust in God.

    Not Just for David

    We too are called to trust God in a way that is every bit as real as David’s trust. Just as David heard God’s word through the prophet Samuel, so too we have a sure word, for the Bible is God’s very word to us. It is the vehicle through which He reveals His will and in it He makes countless promises to us. Our trust is firmly founded in this God who speaks.

    We trust in God by believing in what He has said and, no less importantly, by believing that He actually intends to fulfill His word. Hebrews 10:23 tells us that our hope is well founded because “He who promised is faithful.” Just like David, our hope is based on God’s faithfulness, not our present circumstances. So let’s step out in faith like David, praising God for who He is and living lives that show we believe He will accomplish all his good purposes, just as He said He would.

    – Scott James is a husband, a father of 4, an elder at The Church at Brook Hills, and a physician. He is the author of The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the Advent, which releases this October. You can follow him on Twitter at @scott_h_james.

  3. Raising Children to Counter the Culture

    Posted on March 3rd, 2015 by Lora Lynn Fanning

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    I’m not raising my kids to be safe. Oh, sure, we wear our helmets and our seat belts, but from the moment they are placed in my arms, I’m preparing them for the Leaving. We’re raising these little lives with hope that they will follow Christ. And we’re absolutely positive that will lead them to Dangerous Places. So while they briefly grow in our home, we tuck them up close and fill their heads and ears with stories of God’s faithfulness to carry them wherever they go. These stories are the Legacy I will give to my children: stories that teach them about a true and faithful God and how He relates to them.We eat most of our meals as a family. We sit around our giant table and the kids ask us to tell them stories of “the old days.” Sometimes that means two weeks ago, but other times, they want to know who we were before we were Mommy and Daddy. We tell them about our childhoods, our own testimonies of growing in faith. They like to hear the silly memories, but they benefit just as much from the bittersweet that lies in our history. With each story, we strum the same song of God’s faithfulness, His sweet mercy and kindness, His protection and favor.

    I’ve blogged for over a decade, piling up stories like the rock piles Joshua built on the other side of the Jordan – So We Do Not Forget His Faithfulness. My kids giggle over their own early antics, but they also appreciate reading the stories I wrote about our years of infertility and loss before our population exploded. They see their story all woven in with mine and how the thread of God’s mercy binds it all together. I remind them that they are God’s blessing to us, His grace to two undeserving people.

    We carefully show them their own crooked family tree, the grafted branches and the ones that look broken beyond repair. We show them God’s faithful hand in each story, each member of their legacy. We talk about loving our earthly family, our church family, and the perfect love of the heavenly Father, who loves us beyond our twisted limbs.

    We school our children at home, studying the stories of past cultures and heroes. With each new discovery, we examine something my own father drilled into me –  World View. We ask what other people and cultures believed about:

    • Where they came from?
    • Why are they here?
    • Who is in charge?
    • And what are the rules?

    Those four questions inform every decision, every story in existence. We hold those views up to our own World View based in Scripture, discussing where they differ and why. We’re teaching our kids to recognize Truth from lies, the Redemption in the story of the world, and how even the most rebellious souls and bad guys could find grace in repentance.

    In the evenings, when we’ve swept up the myriad of crumbs from the day, we gather in the living room to read. My husband reads literature first, right now it’s Anne of Green Gables. Not all of our children will immediately understand the rich depths of these books, but we hope one day they grow to love the beauty of the language and the narrative. We don’t shy away from the hard stories, the uncomfortable moments in great works of literature. They provide concrete examples to talk to our kids about the world, world view, and what the Gospel says about it. We hold even pure fiction up to the Truth and see what insight it brings us.

    We say good night with Scripture. Sometimes it is the parents who are weak, who want to rush through the Bible reading to get to bedtime. But these moments to talk and wonder over Truth with our kids are fleeting. We want to take every opportunity we can to talk about following Jesus – with all its danger and desperate dependence on Him.

    Finally – when the kids are in bed and the dishwasher hums in the background, my husband and I face the End of Day questions – How much of today’s poor parenting will they remember? How will we ever surmount that difficulty with this child?… It drives us to our knees…

    Not all of our babies follow Christ yet. Their struggle for Truth is sometimes written all over them and the life of this family. And the ones who do follow – they labor next to their sinful parents for mastery over the old self, to walk in love in a household full of broken people…

    So as man and wife, we end our day with hands clutched together and hearts united in prayer for mercy, for favor, for strength, for wisdom.

    And then we start a new day – new stories to tell, new Story to live. We’re crafting a Legacy, woven with threads of stories and Gospel. I can’t send my kids out the door in bubble wrap, but I can wrap them up in their Legacy of Truth and Faithfulness and believe that what I’ve forgotten or mis-taught, He is faithful to guide and teach them without my broken help.

    Gospel-parenting is not Safe. But it is Good. It is True. And He is Faithful.

    Engaging an increasingly hostile culture is one of the topics in David Platt’s new book, Counter Culture. To find out more, go to CounterCultureBook.com.

    Lora Lynn Fanning is a wife, a mother of seven, and a member of The Church at Brook Hills, where her husband, Andrew, serves as an elder. She home-schools the children, and in her “free time” blogs at Vitafamilae.

  4. Help Relieve Poverty and Make Disciples – Pray for Vapor

    Posted on March 2nd, 2015 by Jonathan

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    Tagline: “Life’s a vapor. Don’t spend yours on the sidelines.”

    Vision Statement: We exist to glorify Christ by advancing the gospel and serving the poor.

    Mission Statement: We aim to establish sustainable centers for alleviating poverty and multiplying disciples in third-world environments.

    What They Do: You can break Vapor’s ministry activity down into three categories:

    1. Multiplying Disciples – sports leagues, community outreach, staff development, and local faith partners
    2. Alleviating Poverty – clean water, quality education, improved health, and accessible food
    3. Sustainable Centers – indigenous leadership, microbusinesses, local engagement

    Where They Are: Vapor currently has five centers in Kenya, Togo, and Haiti. These are funded in part by the profits of Vapor’s thrift stores in the United States, where Vapor is based.

    Happening Now: Today through Wednesday, Vapor is asking you to pray for them in a few specific ways. You can learn more about their three-day prayer initiative as well as download a copy of the initiative’s 2015 prayer guide by going to this page.

    Get Involved: Aside from joining in to pray for them over the next three days (and beyond), Vapor offers numerous ways you can engage with them in the gospel work they are doing in poor communities all over the world: give monthly, sponsor a child, go on a trip with them, become an intern, volunteer, request a speaker, or host a Vapor dinner. Their website offers more details about how you can get involved.

    Vapor is one of our Counter Culture ministry partners.  As they might say it, don’t stay on the sidelines…

  5. Memorization, Abortion’s Lunacy, Racial Bias, Freedom

    Posted on February 27th, 2015 by Jonathan

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    How Memorization Feeds Your Imagination: This is the first of 5 posts in which Joe Carter gives us tools to improve our ability to memorize Scripture. “By the time this series is complete you’ll be able to memorize short lists (such as the Ten Commandsments), learn techniques for memorizing long and detailed lists, and have memorized—and be able to recall—thirty key events from the fifty chapters of Genesis.”

    Four Unthinkable Conversations: This creative piece by John Knight shows the lunacy of aborting babies who test positive for disabilities in the womb. He goes further, saying that such abortions actually serve as strong evidence for discrimination against the disabled and must be met with protective legislation.

    Which Comes First–The Race or the Arrest?: “When asked whether it mattered that Garner was black and all the officers on the scene were white, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said, ‘I personally don’t think race was a factor.’ But it’s not that simple.” Bethany Jenkins goes on to explore implicit racial biases, how those can lead to unfair policing, and how the gospel is the solution.

    Stand with Barronelle Stutzman: Washington’s attorney general offered to settle with the Christian florist he filed a law a law suit against, but she didn’t bite. Read her stirring response in which she courageously stands for truth and freedom. Then stand up with her.

  6. Altar84 and the Know More Orphans Intensive

    Posted on February 26th, 2015 by Jonathan

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    The first ever Know More Orphans Intensive is in just a few days. This is one facet of the ministry of Altar84, which “exists to glorify God by mobilizing His people to care for orphans and vulnerable children until there are no more.” These events are great ways to get trained and equipped to care for orphans by a ministry that values and proclaims the gospel of spiritual adoption by our Father in heaven. To learn more about the Intensive or to register, go HERE. To find out more about Altar84, go HERE and/or watch the video below.

    Altar84 is one of our Counter Culture ministry parters, a great way for you to get involved in caring for orphans, one of the issues discussed in David Platt’s latest book, Counter Culture.

  7. Faithfulness in Egypt

    Posted on February 26th, 2015 by Jonathan

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    Adversity is nothing new to Ramez Atallah, president of the Egyptian Bible Society. We wrote about him almost a year and a half ago when, amid the confusing government transition in Egypt, the society’s bookshops were burnt to the ground by Muslim fundamentalists.

    This blow did not dissuade him from the work before him, however. He resolved to rebuild the bookshops and replenish their resources so that the Word of God could continue to spread throughout Egypt.

    Then, the events last week in Libya. ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians. Devastating news, particularly for Egyptian Christians like Ramez Atallah. But, in the words of this encouraging CT article, Atallah was once again “undaunted.” He saw an opportunity for gospel proclamation in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, and he took it.

    Under Atallah’s leadership, the Egyptian Bible Society has now distributed over 1.65 million copies of a pamphlet titled “Two Rows by the Sea.” The pamphlet depicts the horrifying scene from the ISIS video: two columns of men walking by the sea, one in black and one in orange. There is a beautiful poem that powerfully describes the executed and their executioners, followed by a series of questions about the two rows. Which row understands? Which row sees? Which row will prevail? Which row pleases God? Each of the questions is simply answered by a couple passages of Scripture.

    Needless to say, the brief publication packs quite a punch. Now, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who were rattled by the executions have had these questions about God, suffering, evil, and truth directly posed to them. Not only that, they’ve been proposed an answer: the gospel of Jesus.

    We bring this story to your attention for several reasons.

    First, we need to pray for the spread of the gospel in Egypt. Ask God to powerfully use “Two Rows by the Sea” to confront people with the truth of Jesus, and ask him to use Christians to help explain it further to lost people who read it.

    Second, this story is a powerful reminder that we do not fight flesh and blood, and that God uses evil for good. Be encouraged and continue to trust that God is moving even in depressing headlines.

    Third, we ought to be challenged by Ramez Atallah’s example of perseverance and endurance. Atallah continued to faithfully serve where God had placed him despite having his bookstores burned down less than 18 months ago. When the time came for God to use him in a huge way, he was ready.

  8. Parenting in a Hyper-Sexualized Culture

    Posted on February 25th, 2015 by Jonathan

    Sexual immorality is a pervasive problem in our culture today. You can hardly go out without being in some way assaulted by sexually inappropriate images or messages. This is why David Platt discusses the issue at length in his new book, Counter Culture. How are Christians to respond to such sin? How are our lives supposed to looked markedly different from the culture around us?

    And what do we do as parents?

    In the video above, we asked counselor Heath Lambert, a father, how he attempts to faithfully shepherd his children in a culture so saturated by sex.

    Dr. Heath Lambert serves as Executive Director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. ACBC is the largest biblical counseling organization in the world with certified counselors and counseling training centers in 17 countries. He is also the author of Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace (Zondervan, 2013). The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors is one of our Counter Culture ministry partners. Learn more about Heath at their website.

  9. The Great Commission and The Great Commandment

    Posted on February 24th, 2015 by David Burnette

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    Although most followers of Christ are probably aware that they should be sharing the gospel, my guess is that many will tell you that they feel convicted about their failure to do so. Either they don’t do it well, or, more often, they hardly do it at all. This often leads to guilt, which, those same people can tell you, is a poor motivator in personal evangelism.

    So what should motivate us as we tell unbelievers the good news of Jesus Christ?

    In The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Pastor Mark Dever shares three biblical motivations for evangelism. The first motivation is, quite simply, a desire to be obedient. That’s good and right, and it shouldn’t be labeled as legalism. After all, the Great Commission commands us to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). The second motivation to personal evangelism is a love for the lost, which Jesus himself has uniquely modeled for us in his life, death, and resurrection. Both of these motivations are crucial if we want to continually engage unbelievers.

    Finally, Dever mentions a third and more foundational motivation in our evangelism – love for God. This may sound obvious, but it’s true. Our greatest need is not a spiritual pep talk or more willpower, but rather a greater love for the One whom we proclaim. Now that doesn’t mean that our love of God has to feel sufficient before we speak; our love will always feel too weak. But it does mean that our pursuit of unbelievers must be the fruit of our pursuit of God. To put it another way, obeying the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) should the fruit of obeying the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-37). Dever cites John Cheeseman on this point:

    Love for God is the only sufficient motive for evangelism. Self-love will give way to self-centeredness; love for the lost will fail with those whom we cannot love, and when difficulties seem unsurmountable [sic], only a deep love for God will keep us from following his way, declaring his Gospel, when human resources fail. Only our love for God–and, more important, his love for us–will keep us from the dangers which beset us. When the desire for popularity with me, or for success in human terms, tempts us to water down the Gospel, to make it palatable, then only if we love God will we stand fast his his truth and his ways. (100-101)

    How will this observation change your approach as you seek to be faithful in sharing your faith?

    (1) John Cheeseman et al., The Grace of God in the Gospel (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1972), 122.

     

     

  10. Teenage Temptations, Old and New

    Posted on February 23rd, 2015 by Becca Benson

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    “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

    The often-quoted words of Solomon stand true today. Sexual immorality is not a new topic. The world has known of it since the days of Genesis. This generation of teens is not the first to experience the temptation and pressures of sexual immorality. But are they walking in a time of different and maybe even greater pressure?

    Same Command, Different World

    “Flee from sexual immorality.” 1 Corinthians 6:18a

    The command remains the same, but the world is different. Teens today face the tension and temptation on an almost constant basis. The pressure from peers that we have talked about for decades lives on; but today the ease of access created by a world that is ever connected opens doors and opportunities nonstop.

    Outside voices and expectations are louder today and permeate deeper into the crevices of teen culture and innate belief. The longstanding perspective of teens feeling guilt, shame, or even questioning whether sexual immorality is right or wrong no longer exists. We live in a “do what feels good” culture that teaches teens to empower themselves by following their desires alone—sinful or not.

    At Their Fingertips

    Today there are apps and social media galore to allure and give access. There is no hiding in a world that is always visible and expecting your life to be displayed in pictures and clever sayings that are 140 characters or less. The number of likes your photo receives is far more important than anything else. How can you possibly have a life if it isn’t documented for the online world to see?

    Their pressure is not to just live; but they must do it in perfect fashion. If they don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend, obviously they are not worth anything according to the world. If they aren’t participating in sexual activity, how could they possibly be happy or keep that significant other . . . is what they are being told. There is no understanding or belief that their bodies are valuable but rather they are just one notch to be used in climbing the ladder of popularity and acceptance.

    The desire to belong, to fit in, and to be loved and accepted is an ever-growing monster in the heart of a teen that drives actions and gives birth to belief that satisfaction comes in fulfilling sinful desires and giving the voices around them the role of god to proclaim their truth. These desires become their idol with stronger powers than many of us realize.

    They Are Not Exempt

    In ministry, we are often tempted to hope and even pray that our students would simply make it through. We can even stoop to hoping that they will only make “small mistakes”. And in that we forget that even teens are called to holiness. Even teens are called to deny themselves and walk in godliness. First Corinthians 6:18b-20 applies to them as well.

    This generation is not accepting of mediocrity or middle-of-the-road religiosity. They either believe it or they don’t. They do not mindlessly accept something and try to live their lives by it. When it comes to sex, simply saying “Don’t do it” might not be the answer. Jesus taught big truth; why don’t we?

    How do we walk with them through the deafening expectations from a sinful world filled with people who do not naturally walk towards holiness?

    They Need You

    We as believers are called to flee, but also to go. There is a generation in desperate need of truth. There are teens across this world that need you to aggressively pursue a friendship with them in which you share the beautiful truths of Christ’s gospel and the satisfying reality of self-denial and pursuit of the only One who fulfills. They need to hear your voice. They need to see your life. They need you to teach them about forgiveness. How are they to know what mercy and grace are if we do not teach them through both their difficult and triumphant days?

    It is an incredible thing to see teens pursuing the Lord. They can remind us daily of God’s presence in their lives as they run hard after holiness amidst seemingly insurmountable pressure. May we trust in the God who is greater than our desires and this over-sexualized culture. Ask the Lord to renew your hope and set firm your belief that he is greater and worthy of the praise of this next generation.

    Engaging an increasingly hostile culture is one of the topics in David Platt’s new book, Counter Culture. To find out more, go to CounterCultureBook.com.

    Becca Benson serves as the Associate Student Minister at The Church at Brook Hills.