Lay Down in Silence


As we examined last week, we’re often slaves to our own agendas without even realizing it. We can become so paralyzed by self-analysis and self-inflicted hurry that we forget how to simply be obedient in the things God’s already called us to—and to realize that is all God asks of us.

As yesterday’s assignment suggested—and you’re doing it, right?—we’re going to spend much of this week practicing the discipline of silence, and in a variety of venues. Because there’s a variety of venues where we need to begin practicing it. We need to be prepared for what God truly wants us to be doing, in every part of our lives.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:1–5).

Our ears are itchy, and arguably at a level never before seen in history. As a society, and on a personal level, we’re addicted to news media, social media, sports, games, music, movies… anything that will get our adrenaline flowing and make us feel more alive. If we’re being honest, this is also a testimony about the state of our real lives. We want to be distracted from other things, from responsibilities, from the grind of work, from the pain of dealing with other people, with life itself. And just as clearly, we’re looking to derive our (self-)satisfaction from something other than God. And once we become distracted from God, it becomes impossible to obey him in the moment.

Again, I say all this as a fellow sinner who’s increasingly shocked by his own shortcomings and hypocrisy. Most of us love having at least an aura of drama in our lives—especially if that drama is more vicarious than personal (although some of us love the personal drama as well). As I write this, a 7,500-acre forest fire is raging about fifteen miles northwest of here; in fact, we can both see and smell the smoke from here. (Fortunately, it’s in a national forest area and no homes have been destroyed.) Yet, there’s some part of me that wants to see those numbers get even bigger, even while the logical part of my brain reminds me that by doing so I’m assenting to the destruction of God’s creation (which I love hiking in, for that matter). You’ve likely felt that kind of rush (and conflict), too.

And as a native New Jerseyan, don’t think I haven’t pulled out our proximity to/experience of 9/11 on occasion to impress my fellow Coloradoans who’ve only heard about it from afar. I say to this my shame, but also again because I’m pretty sure it’s a universal experience. Somehow, for some perverse reason, simply being in the vicinity of a big event makes us—strike that; makes me—feeler bigger, too.

That’s the dirty little secret—let’s go ahead and say it: the satanic lie—behind much of our obsession with instant information, and with much of our busyness: It offers an instant substitute to our God-given desire to become a part of something bigger than ourselves. It gives us the chance to lose ourselves in something—other than God. We’re not willing to wait for God to do his work in his time, and so we turn elsewhere. And we are the lesser for it.

By laying down in silence, we turn back to God. And remember: Turn back means repent. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23). We must give ourselves the chance to hear God’s voice, and to experience his new compassions, because he’s been offering them all along.

Let’s set aside our distractions—and our egos that have become so deftly intertwined with them—and give God our full attention. The daily surprises that come by walking in the Spirit will beat anything we can try to come up with on our own.

Lay It Down Today

Let’s literally “bring it home” today. Sometimes in the next twenty-four hours, set aside one hour to not only be silent but completely media-free. No Web, no radio, no TV, no reading, no nothin’. Within those parameters, how you use the time is completely up to you. Take a long walk, or lay in bed and do absolutely nothing, but do it silently yet mindfully before God. Unplug from the world and plug into God’s presence.

It might be uncomfortable at first—and don’t be surprised if all sorts of thoughts start flying around—but remain intentional toward God. Give those distractions the chance to die down. You might actually enjoy it. You’ll certainly have a deeper sense of how constantly distracted you are from God—and what those distractions are. If you enjoy this activity, consider expanding your time to a half-day or even an entire day sometime in the future.

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Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches


For all you Baptists in the audience. . . .

Biblical Foundations for Baptist ChurchesJohn S. Hammett. Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology. 400p., $25.99, Kregel Academic.

An updated examination of ecclesiology from a Baptist perspective.

In this useful book, professor and former pastor John Hammett helps church leaders think through foundational questions about the nature of the church. Blending biblical teaching and practical ministry experience, Hammett presents a comprehensive ecclesiology from a historic Baptist perspective, examining crucial contemporary issues such as church discipline, the role of elders, and church ministry in a post-Christian culture.

This second edition contains updates throughout, including:

  • substantive changes to chapters on the nature of the church, Baptist church polity, and deacons.
  • an expanded chapter on baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  • a thoroughly revised chapter on church models like multisite churches and missional churches.
  • a brand-new chapter on meaningful church membership.

 

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Lay Down Your Agenda  


We’ve had to lay down a lot so far. Some of it has no doubt been difficult; maybe it’s even felt unnecessarily negative to some. But we have a much longer journey ahead, and we need to travel light—especially since our journey takes us even further upward. Therefore, the object of the next several Monday entries is to encourage you to lay down the law—and leave it there.

Now, when I say this, I’m not just asking you to admire my mild attempt at cleverness. What I really intend is to encourage you to live as if you’re not only walking in the Spirit day by day—but ideally, moment to moment.

Something you might have noticed over the course of our journey together so far is we’ve been moving from dealing with our longstanding struggles with sin to addressing daily temptations. Today, we begin condensing the timespan even further, as we begin exploring the things that tempt us to go into some sort of “spiritual autopilot” rather than obey God in the moment. (If you haven’t noticed this sequence before now, that’s OK—I just picked up on God’s strategy here myself.)

This transition from day-by-day to moment-to-moment is equally, if not more, true of the works we claim to do in Jesus’ name. As Andrew Purves puts it in his wonderful book The Crucifixion of Ministry:

Of course we should not exclude asking “What would Jesus do?” There is an appropriate place for the moral influence of Jesus. But it is more important to ask, “Who is Jesus Christ for us today and what is Jesus doing here and now, in this hospital room, during this committee meeting, during this service of worship, in this counseling session and so on?” . . . Wherever Christ is and wherever we are joined to him, there truly is the intentional, disciplined and faithful ministry of the church. It is not our ministries that make Christ present; it is the present, living Christ who makes our ministries possible.

Whatever it is that I truly do for Jesus, he is already there. I’m the one who’s showing up—and arguably late for the party. Not him.

At the same time, we very often want to do the right things, but we don’t know exactly what the right things are. Oddly enough, this is often when our prayers are most effective. There are times where God gives us the confidence to pray for (and then pursue) something, knowing it’s in his will, but usually our best prayers come when we’re empty. When we have no agenda except, “Not my will, but thine.”

But more often, we’re in that “autopilot” mode, bearing ahead without keeping our eyes open to what other things God wants to accomplish right now. We want a stake in the ground, a fixed point, a checklist—because that’s far easier for us than following wherever the Spirit leads—at least in the short term.

Nonetheless, eternal life starts now. To follow is to lay down your control. What could I possibly plan for myself that’s better than God’s plans for me?

In fact, I’m going to pray this for myself right now. Feel free to join me, and we’ll talk again next week:

Lord, help me to rest in the work you’ve already given me, and to always remember that it is your work. Help me to lay down my agenda and hand over control to you, so that I may remain open to the next work you desire me to find Your joy in, in every moment. Amen.

Lay It Down Today

The good news is, you don’t have an assignment—at this very moment. The better news: The following assignment is meant to last all week. (After all, it’s only bad news if you think of it that way.) It does require some work on your part.

For the remainder of this week, commit to getting up at least a half-hour early to spend time with the Lord. Some of you may already get up early for Bible reading and/or prayer, others not; either way, take some extra time at the beginning of each day this week to be in God’s presence, silently. It’s OK to add Bible reading or other spiritual reading during this time, but be sure to leave time to do . . . nothing, in God’s presence. Enjoy him. Relax in him. Take peace in him, before starting your day. Try to be observant this week about how God uses your time with him—even after you’re done.

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The One New Man


For those looking for a somewhat less academic approach to the Israel question than Three Views on Israel and the Church a couple weeks back, here’s another take for you. . . .

OneNewManCoverAriel Laurence Blumenthal. The One New Man: Reconciling Jew & Gentile in One Body of Christ. 272p. $14.99, Deep River Books.

In The One New Man, author Ariel Blumenthal unpacks the “mystery” found in the second and third chapters of the book of Ephesians: God is reconciling Jew and Gentile together “in His flesh” through the cross of Christ. Amazingly, Paul’s vision of the church as the “one-new-man”  preserves the uniqueness of Israel, while simultaneously upholding the God-given identity and calling of every “tribe, tongue, and nation.” This powerful work of Jesus is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant and is at the heart of God’s redemptive plan for both Jews and Gentiles.

God’s plan to “restore all things” links Israel and the nations together in loving service to one another and has been playing out on the stage of world history over the last 150 years. The gospel for both Jew and Gentile is at work in the world and is reconciling all things and all people to Himself—and to one another.

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Lay Down Your Future: a small-group session


For this session, you’ll need….

  • beanbags, stress balls, or other soft items that can be tossed around—two for every group of four or fivestress ball

Laying Down Your Day (10 minutes)

Have everyone get into subgroups of four to five. (If your group is less than eight people, stay together.) Give each subgroup two beanbags (or whatever items you’re using).

I’m sure everyone’s experienced a certain amount of tension today, so let’s de-stress a bit before going any further. A couple of you are holding beanbags. Take a few moments to squeeze them. Let out some of that stress . . . that’s it!

Now, toss your beanbag to someone else so he or she can squeeze it. But don’t give any clue who you’re going to toss it to next. Keep squeezing and tossing your beanbags around for the next minute, then we’ll move on.

After a minute, have subgroups discuss the following questions:

  1. When have you felt like you’ve had more things thrown at you than you could handle? How do you normally respond when that happens?
  1. Is all stress bad? Why or why not? 

Allow five minutes for discussion, and then bring subgroups back together. Ask for volunteers to share a few of their answers.

There are plenty of poor ways to respond when we’re feeling stressed or anxious—anger, negative talk, withdrawing from others, turning to bad habits or addictions…. The list goes on, and we’re all too familiar with it—and for that matter, so are the people we subject to our responses. So today, we’re going to focus on the kind of perspective God desires us to have as we face the things that come at us—or for that matter, the things that haven’t yet happened that we’re already worried about.

Laying Down the Word (30 minutes)

Read the following passage from “Lay Down Your Anxiety,” and then read Matthew 6:25–34. Discuss the questions that follow.

God intervenes in our lives when he’s supposed to, at our time of deepest need—not when we think he ought to show up, or when it would be easiest for us. Those who constantly take faith-filled risks live in 11:59. The rest of us would do well to remember that 11:59 might, in fact, be the best place to live our lives.

  1. What usually makes you more anxious: things that are currently happening, or things you think are about to happen? Why do you think that is?
  1. Think again about your responses to those situations. What do those responses say to God (maybe even verbally) about your ability to trust that he’ll “clothe” you with whatever you need in that moment?
  1. When have you had an “11:59 moment”—when you’ve said, “OK God, I give up,” and then God addressed those things you were so concerned about (or at least your anxiety over them)? Talk about it a little.

Take turns reading Luke 19:12b–26. Then read the following passage from “Lay Down Your Expectations,” and discuss the questions that follow:

God wants to create new things through us—not just give us control over things (and kingdoms) we already know. We can only prepare to receive them by remaining obedient to the King, and by remaining faithful to his kingdom and the things he’s already entrusted to us. . . .

So stop expecting too much from yourself spiritually, or otherwise. Stop expecting instant regeneration, or instant success. Trust God as you once did. Don’t try to anticipate his moves before he’s made them. Allow him to grow you at his pace, instead of thinking you can run out ahead.

  1. Which servant in our Luke passage do you feel more like right now? Why?
  1. What’s your reaction to the idea that God wants to create new things in your life, and will in fact reward you for your current faithfulness?
  1. Where are you trying to push God for an answer to a “crisis” you’re facing right now, or an area you’re tired of being “stuck” in? How’s that working? Based on your reading and discussion this week, what do you think God’s been trying to tell you?

It’s worth remembering that our ability to trust God with our futures doesn’t just affect us—it also affects our responses to the world around us. The more we try to protect ourselves, the less room we have in our lives for both God and others. Let’s close by spending some time with the “others” piece.

Laying Down Your Life (20 minutes)

Ask for a volunteer to read 1 John 4:18. Then read the following passage from “Lay Down Your Fears,” and discuss the questions afterward:

Whether it’s a preemptive strike or a full-scale retreat, we’ll do just about anything to avoid the hard work of loving others. But the way to God is through loving others. . . . Even the difficult matters in our lives are signs of God’s love for us. When we can place ourselves before those circumstances, neither shrinking back not attacking, the perfect love of God can be fully manifested in us.

  1. In what tangible ways does God’s love removes fear, anxiety, and stress from our lives? When have you experienced this truth?
  1. How does being freed from fear, anxiety and stress, in turn, free you to love others the way God intends? Try to come up with some concrete examples—either past, present, or future.

During our last session together, we paired up with others in the group to whom we’ll stay accountable for the remainder of this study. Get back in those pairs now. Give yourselves enough room that you can talk confidentially and/or not interrupt another pair’s discussion. 

Give everyone time to pair up. If people are absent, help stragglers get with another pair for the rest of this session. Again, it’s OK to have a triad, but have no more than three.

In your pairs, review Paul’s “remedy to fear” from 2 Timothy, from “Lay Down Your Fears.” Spend up to five minutes discussing which of the items in this bullet list are speaking to you the loudest right now, and why. Keep it to your one or two top items each.

When you’re done sharing, spend another few minutes praying for one another over what you’ve shared. Again, set aside a time each week when you can touch base with one another. Once you’re done, remain quiet and give other pairs a chance to wrap up. May God bless each of you this week, as you trust Him with whatever your future brings—this week and beyond.

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The Church Planting Journey


As a lot of you know, I’ve been involved in my share of church plants—a few successful ones, as well as a couple unsuccessful ones (that shared one foible in particular . . . more on that later). One of those successful ones started in our home, in fact; and later on, as I went through pastoral ministry training, one of the resources I ravenously absorbed was Bob Logan and Steve Ogne’s Church Planter’s Toolkit. Inspirational, but also “had been there,” and thus reassuring (because before things ultimately went right at said plant, everything went wrong; fortunately, God protects his vision).

Fast-forward some years later, as my pastoral ambitions channeled into the world of Christian publishing—and then, in the wake of a blown-up department, I got channeled into the world of freelancing. As it turned out, one of the first books I would work on in my new situation was The Missional Journey by Bob Logan. It was an honor then, and three books later, it’s an honor now.

And that brings us to this book—which revisits, revises, and refreshes many of the ideas from The Church Planter’s Toolkit for a new generation of church planters. As Bob himself puts it:

[W]hile the principles haven’t changed, a lot of other things have. The world around us and the situations in which we are planting have changed. The possible ways the church can look have changed. The way the church is perceived from the outside has changed. We are now planting churches in a world that isn’t looking for churches. It’s not (usually) that people are hostile to churches; they just have no category for them.

For these reasons and more, church planters need this book more than ever.

Robert E. Logan. The Church Planting Journey. 328p., $17.99, Logan Leadership.

It’s worth noting up front that two-thirds of the book is devoted to what ought to be happening before a church plant’s first service (whether public or private). But that’s not to say that church planters who have already “gone public” don’t have a lot to learn here. We all have blind spots that need to be addressed, if only in retrospect—and since many church planters don’t stop at planting one church, they’ll be that much more equipped for the next go-round, or more importantly, for imparting needed wisdom to first-time church planters.

The first steps before planting a church, of course, are making sure 1) that’s it’s really a God thing; and 2) that’s you’re (especially spiritually) ready for the task ahead. Thus Part 1, “Get Ready: Personal Commitment and Readiness,” focuses on personal preparation, addressing such issues as developing vision and values, confirming your calling, identifying and maximizing learning opportunities, gaining a better understanding of the church-planting process, and preparing for challenges and discouragement.

Part 2, “Get Set: Preparation and Planning,” gets into the nuts and bolts of actually beginning the church-planting process: building a core team, identifying the people you want to reach, designing ministries that will be effective once things get started (because once things start flying, it’ll be too late), establishing financial support, and developing a proposal to present to your sending church/denomination/organization.

In Part 3, “Get Going: Living Out the Mission,” things turn outward. This is where you’re beginning to make the contacts you need to get established, and to actually starting to create a distinct church body: casting vision, engaging the culture around you, making disciples, creating and multiplying disciplemaking communities (small groups, etc.), and finally (if it’s your church’s/group’s focus/intention), launching public worship services. As noted here, the latter chapter isn’t necessary for cell/house churches or for churches meeting in a restricted country, but most of you will have an interest.

Finally, Part 4, “Keep Growing: Ongoing Development and Multiplication” looks at developing the young church, its leadership, and beyond, including evaluating/developing the organization/church structure, strategic planning, navigating change as the church continues to develop and grow, and finally, successfully creating church multiplication.

Each of the book’s 20 chapters concludes with a Journey Guide that can be used individually, or far better, with your core group. Included are checklists to make sure you’ve covered each area of development thoroughly; a specific discipleship focus; strategies and discussion questions; and guided prayers for yourself, your team, and your intercessors (because trust me, if you haven’t got a group of people praying for this effort, it won’t happen).

Implicit in all of this is the need for accountability—which, not coincidentally, was the element missing in those failed church plants mentioned at the beginning of this review. The mechanisms and strategies here, if used properly and faithfully, will eliminate that problem—or at least give you the means to address it promptly, before it takes the entire church down.

In short, this is an essential book for church planters, at whatever stage of development you’re in. And if you need additional guidance, click on that Logan Leadership link above, because I’m sure Bob can help you with that, too.

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Lay Down Your Fears


A great deal of the sin in our lives is little more than a lame attempt to protect ourselves from the possibility of being sinned against. Whether it’s a preemptive strike or a full-scale retreat, we’ll do just about anything to avoid the hard work of loving others. But the way to God is through loving others. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). We long to be perfect, but God’s perfect work in us cannot be completed without a willingness to expose ourselves fully to the people and situations God has placed before us.

Even the difficult matters in our lives are signs of God’s love for us. When we can place ourselves before those circumstances, neither shrinking back not attacking, the perfect love of God can be fully manifested in us.

Almost all of us struggle with fear, whether we show it or not. No less a man than Timothy—who helped Paul write the books of 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon—clearly struggled with fear throughout much of his ministry. Consider the advice from Paul, near the end of his life and while in prison, to the man who by this time had become bishop of Ephesus:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.  Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:5–14, emphasis mine)

What’s Paul’s remedy to fear, then? Several exhortations come up here:

  • Remember your faith, and who you are in Jesus (v. 5).
  • Take the spark God’s given you, and fan it into a flame (v. 6).
  • Exert the “power of love and self-control” you’ve already received (v. 7).
  • Be willing to take some heat for the gospel you believe (v. 8).
  • Remember that Christ conquered death—what more is there to fear (v. 10)?
  • Accept suffering as part of the package of both sanctification, and of life itself, and realize that even in those times God’s protection remains upon you (v. 12).
  • Do what you know to be true and right. Obey God, faithfully and in love (v. 13).
  • Through the Holy Spirit, guard what God’s already given you (v. 14).

Which of these is at the top of your list right now? In what ways can you step out of fear and into “life and immortality to light through the gospel”? Eternal life begins now. So lay down your fear, and step boldly into the light.

Lay It Down Today

If you can’t do this final activity immediately, do it in the next twenty-four hours: Read Paul’s two letters to Timothy in one sitting. They’re ten fairly modest chapters (less than two hundred verses total), but chock full of fatherly advice and en-courage-ment to a son in the faith. As you read, put yourself in Timothy’s place, reading these personal letters from a spiritual father he might never see again in the flesh. Think of these letters as a mentor writing to you, sharing his life experience while he still has the opportunity. Feel the immediacy.

After reading, ask God to show you how to act upon what you’ve just read. Which of Paul’s words struck you hardest, and why? What does God want to do with that? Spend time praying through that, “pushing” God for an answer. Don’t stop until you’re satisfied you’ve laid all out your fears, anxieties, and concerns before God. Then let him go to work, and watch what happens.

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