Listen Up

Need a preschool-through-middle school curriculum? Well, in that case. . . .

listen upMarty Machowski. Listen Up: Jesus’s Parables for Sunday School. Includes DVD of curriculum text + music CD, $159.99, New Growth Press.

Everyone, including children, loves a good story, and who better to tell those stories than Jesus? This curriculum and music album, based on Jesus’s parables, helps children to understand the gospel and the kingdom of God through Bible reading, discussion questions, object lessons, puppet skits, fun activities, and songs for families from the Listen Up music CD. . . .
This twelve-week curriculum includes three learning levels—preschool–kindergarten (ages 4–6), elementary (ages 6–11), and middle school (ages 11–14)—and includes object lessons, crafts, and drama skits for each age group. . . .

  • Another transformational, gospel-centered resource from best-selling author Marty Machowski for children ages 4–11.
  • Each week children will learn simple stories each containing a surprising truth that illuminates the gospel and the kingdom of God.
  • Fun activities, object lessons, discussion questions, and songs teach the gospel through the parables in memorable ways.
  • The companion family devotional, Listen Up: Ten-Minute Family Devotions on the Parables, reinforces the stories at home.
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Lay Down Your Pride (Part 2)

Doing better? Good. So let’s revisit Romans 12:2. I have to confess, as a guy who readily enjoys being in his head, it’s a pretty easy verse to fall in love with. (That said, I dare suggest that extroverts are in their heads every bit as much as us introverts are—they just want the rest of us in there, too.) Here’s the problem—and the solution: I forget all too easily that Romans 12:2 is preceded by Romans 12:1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (emphasis mine).

We’ll explore the outward part of sacrifice more in the weeks to come, but suffice to say, nothing kills pride faster than having to sacrifice our outward selves. It’s probably very little coincidence that Romans 12:3 begins, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. . . .”

What does this sacrifice look like? Again, it starts on the inside. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17). Repentance is not just turning back. More importantly, it is starting over.

If change is only in our heads, it’s short-lived at best. However, when our hearts and spirits change, our bodies—and heads—follow. Our “sacrifice” becomes something we do joyfully instead of grudgingly. When we lay down our pride and become willing to change, our desire to put ourselves above others drops. Through humility, we put ourselves in the same boat as those we used to separate ourselves from—and because of that, we no longer desire to see that boat sink.

Lay It Down Today

Find a mirror, and take at least a couple minutes to look at it—or rather, at you. Don’t fix anything. Don’t primp. And don’t make faces. Just look. At you. Spend enough time looking that you’re no longer comfortable with what you see. Or go the other way: If you already hate looking at yourself, spend enough time that you’re able to see the person God created—the person behind what you see. Either way, take the time to see yourself differently—from God’s perspective.

Then, pray. Ask God to help you not to forget the person you are in his eyes. Ask him to give you the strength to lay down your pride and to live out the word he’s given you. Take some time tonight (or tomorrow night, if it’s already evening) to “reflect” on how God uses you in the next twenty-four hours. May God bless you as you live out his life today.

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The Biggest Win

Figured I’d better get this one posted now, while the NFL playoffs are still ongoing and (some of) the heroes of our book are still on another miracle run. . . .  Fans of Paul David Tripp will also no doubt enjoy this, as he’d featured these players prominently in a event last spring.

In any case, sports fans of all types should find this book inspirational, as it’s about a group of players who truly take their faith seriously, and played through their share of adversity to reach the highest level of success in their sport: the first-ever Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl win. And yet, it’s clear that their success on the field has not been their “biggest win”. . . .

biggest winJoshua Cooley. The Biggest Win: Pro Football Players Tackle Faith. 192p., $15.99, New Growth Press.

The Biggest Win gives athletes and sports fans of all ages a unique, insider’s look into the lives and faith of six Christian NFL players from the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl team—Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Jordan Hicks, and Chris Maragos. Through the ups and downs of their experiences, author Joshua Cooley shows how these high-profile athletes remain committed to God’s Word, genuine Christian discipleship, and sharing their faith. Using their voices and stories, The Biggest Win gives sports-minded readers hope and direction for living out their faith while competing. . . .

The Biggest Win combines biblical truths with practical direction on issues that every Christian faces—including dealing with adversity, competition, change, success, failure, and how to thrive by faith in a pressurized world. Encouraging male and female athletes in any sport, The Biggest Win guides them in finding their ultimate identity in Christ, not their athletic achievements, and assures them that their greatest prize is eternal life.

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Lay Down Your Pride (Part 1)

Now that we know who we are in Christ and have our heads on straight, now we can begin to deal with the process of laying down our sin. We’ll explore this more broadly in the weeks to come, but today let’s start with one sin in particular, and arguably the most basic: Pride.

Every act of pride is an act of rebellion. We’re not talking about taking pride in your work or being proud of your kids—we’re talking about the kind of pride that says, “This is mine and only mine. I am right. I, and I alone, deserve this.”

Or it might fly the other way: We might be so filled with self-hatred that we say to God, “You can’t help me. You can’t love me. No-one can. I am alone and I will stay that way. Because at least that’s mine.”

Now, most of us don’t actually talk this way—we don’t want to seem proud, after all—but think about your last angry or bitter reaction, whether anyone saw it or not. How does it stack up against our thoughts above? How did you say or think it?

For that matter, think about why we shy away from discussions on religion or politics—or, bully our way right through. Because our way, our beliefs, are threatened. God, however, is not threatened or intimidated. God can take care of himself—and us. But we must lay down our pride and let him.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like (James 1:22–24).

ghost-mirrorOver the previous couple weeks, we looked at laying down our thought lives—how to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Probably all of us have experienced an a-ha moment, when God revealed something brand new to us. Honestly, it’s a pretty . . . well, head-y feeling when the Spirit helps us see God’s will in a new way, whether it’s through the Word, circumstances, or when you’re just sitting there and this revelation suddenly . . . hits you.

However, here’s what we often forget in that moment: Insight is just that. It’s insight. At the point we receive it, that’s all it is. It’s a good thing, but it’s a comparatively small thing unless we put it into action. We have an epiphany; we’re inspired by a book or someone’s personal story; we’re moved to tears by a thought—but that’s only a beginning. It’s a seed of something bigger, not the bigger thing itself. What we do with that seed is what matters.

If we do nothing, the moment passes. Nothing changes. That’s one possibility, and we do it often enough. It’s a shame, but it could be worse. For instance….

If we share about this incredible thing God’s shown us and then do nothing with it, we’re like our James 1 “man in the mirror.” We’re actually worse than when we started—because we’ve taken a gift from God and made it about us. We’ve probably primped in that mirror more than a few times; maybe we’ve even flexed our muscles to prove to ourselves what powerful spiritual warriors we are. We’re kidding no one, especially God.

Yet, because God has allowed us this experience, we’ve allowed ourselves to feel superior about it. If we’re not brought to a place of humility and response, we actually allow something given to us by God to be used by the enemy instead. That thought should stop us in our tracks and ask forgiveness right now.

In fact, if that’s where you’re at, stop right now and deal with it. We’ll pick this back up next week; I’ll be here. Getting right with God is more important. . . .

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Middle Knowledge: Human Freedom in Divine Sovereignty

Calvinist? Arminian? If you can roll with the headiness, you might just enjoy this book espousing a position that’s, as one friend once described his own position (and as I’ve pretty much described mine since — and we originally came from opposite poles of the argument), “Calminian”:

Middle KnowledgeJohn D. Laing. Middle Knowledge: Human Freedom in Divine Sovereignty. 368p., $27.99, Kregel Academic.

Most Christians believe God is in control, but they are unsure of how to reconcile that control with their struggles with sin, the command to evangelize, and the immense suffering in the world and their own lives.

Laing offers an introduction to the doctrine of providence based on the theory of middle knowledge, first articulated in the sixteenth century. This view describes how creatures have true free will and God has perfect knowledge of what each creature could and would do in any circumstance. Middle knowledge helps answer the most perplexing theological questions: predestination and salvation, the existence of evil, divine and human authorship of Scripture, and science and the Christian faith. Laing provides extensive biblical support as well as practical applications for this theology.

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Lay Down Your “Head” (Part 2)

True story: Romans 12:2 was my life verse even before I came to know Jesus. Here’s the King James version I first read it in more than thirty years ago: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” There’s so much packed into that verse, and space doesn’t allow us to fully unpack it here. Maybe my own pre-Christian experience with it will help illustrate, though.

When I first read this passage as an I-believe-in-God-but-I’ll-be-anything-but-a-Christian, I immediately sat down and wrote an essay on the power of saying “no.” There was truth to that response—but it wasn’t the whole truth. I had locked squarely into “And be not conformed to this world,” and was on board with “but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind,” but “that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”? Who cared? I didn’t. Not yet. However, without it the little truth I genuinely knew was as good as a lie.

Our lives are no longer our own. The key to a renewed mind is the willingness to lay down our thoughts in order to learn God’s. As we let go of what’s “ours” and take hold of what we know to be God’s, our minds begin to be purified. The Spirit begins to untangle truth from untruth, the wheat from the weeds. God’s will becomes less of a mystery, even as God himself remains an ever-deepening mystery. Even when we can’t immediately see or understand where God is leading us, he honors the spirit of submission he’s given us—and our resolve to stay in submission—and leads us there anyway.

yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding….

Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul (Proverbs 2:3–6, 9–10).

To know yourself better only makes you more like you. To know Jesus more is to become more like Jesus. That’s what God has desired for us since the day of creation. So lay down your head, and be transformed.

Lay It Down Today

What’s your “life passage”—or at least a passage from God’s Word that’s spoken to you recently? Take fifteen minutes now, and let it speak to you some more. Sit quietly before the Lord and simply meditate on your passage, then close your time in prayer. Here are a few guiding questions to help you process:

  • Why is God bringing this passage to my mind? Why now?
  • What’s the one thing that most needs transforming in my life—that God wants me to lay down right now?
  • How can I invite God deeper into that part of my life and let him work?
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Reformation Worship

For those who like their liturgy old-school and yet reformed in nature, this book has it in spades—from Luther to Calvin to Zwingli to Knox to The Book of Common Prayer, with any number of stops in between….

Reformation WorshipJonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey, Eds. Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present. 736p., $69.99, New Growth Press.

Christians learn to worship from the generations of God’s people who have worshipped before them.

We sing psalms, because thousands of years ago, God’s people sang them. Five hundred years ago, the leaders of the Reformation transformed Christian worship by encouraging the active participation and understanding of the individual worshiper. . . .

The structure of the liturgies, language, and rhythm continue to communicate the gospel in word and sacrament today. They provide a deep sense of God’s call to worship and an appreciation for the Reformers as, first and foremost, men who wanted to help God’s people worship.

This book will also be of great interest to theological scholars and students who wish to understand early Reformation leaders. A useful tool for individuals, Reformation Worship can be used as a powerful devotional to guide daily prayer and reflection.

By providing a connection to Reformation worship, Gibson and Earngey hope their work will inspire readers to experience what John Calvin described as the purpose of all church worship: “To what end is the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, the holy congregations themselves, and indeed the whole external government of the church, except that we may be united to God?”

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