Your walk with God is a community project!

. The isolated, separated, loner, Jesus-and-me religion that often marks modern church culture is not the religion that is described in the New Testament. Many of us live virtually unknown, and many of the people whom we think we know we don’t actually know.
Many of us live in endless networks of terminally casual relationships, in which conversations seldom go deeper than weather, food, politics, the coolest movie that’s out, or the latest cute thing your child did. Most of what we call fellowship never really rises to the level of the humble self-disclosure and mutual ministry that make fellowship actually redemptively worthwhile. Most of what we call fellowship is little different from what happens at the pub down the street. We should just call it “pubship” and tell people that they don’t have to worry, there will be little fellowship at the church dinner.
Hebrews 3:12–13 addresses the essentiality of community to the work that God has done and is continuing to do in you and me: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Daily Intervention of the Body of Christ
Why do I need the daily intervention of the body of Christ? The answer is as simple as it is humbling. I need this daily ministry because I am a blind man. As much as I would like to think that I see and know myself well, it just isn’t true.
Because sin blinds me to me, as long as there is still sin inside me there will be pockets of blindness in my view of me. It’s actually more serious than what I have just described, because whereas every physically blind person knows that he is blind, spiritually blind people are blind to their blindness; they actually think that they see, when in fact they don’t.
What about you? Have you embraced your daily need for the help of the body of Christ? Who knows you? Whom have you invited to intrude into your private space to function for you as an instrument of seeing? Do you have a name in mind right now? When someone who knows you points out a sin, a weakness, or a failure, are you thankful?
Or do you feel your chest tighten and your ears get red as you silently prepare yourself to rise to your own defense? Are you skilled at giving nonanswers to personal questions, or do you run toward the daily help that God has provided? That help is not something to be afraid of or shy away from, because it is a tool of God’s forgiving, rescuing, transforming, and delivering grace.

Billboards Removed After Image of Pastor Holding a Bible Was Called ‘Offensive’

If ever you needed proof that Christianity is under attack, this Bible billboard controversy is it. Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California was forced to remove his billboard ads at local malls, all because he was shown holding a Bible!
Each year, for nearly 30 years, SoCal Harvest hosts a crusade. And Pastor Greg Laurie wanted to get the word out about the church’s free, 3-night event. So, he contacted a local billboard company to buy some advertising space in malls around the area.
The ads were up for about two weeks when the billboard company asked Pastor Greg to revise them.
“There was nothing overtly religious about it [the billboard image],” said John Collins, Harvest executive director.
In fact, with no markings on the Bible Greg held in the ad, it could really be any book. Yet, the billboard company reportedly received multiple complaints and one “serious threat” from folks finding the Bible “offensive.”
The Harvest team wanted to be good sports, so they changed the ad. They removed the Bible completely and simplified the billboard, so it just listed the dates and musical acts appearing.But apparently, the complaints continued. The company wound up removing the billboards completely and refunding Harvest their money.
Christians Take A Stand After Bible Billboard Controversy
Despite the trouble, Harvest church took it all in stride.
“We’re certainly not upset with The Irvine Company. Obviously, they’re catching heat for allowing us to run these ads. We feel it is just unfortunate that people are complaining. It’s sad that our culture is at this degree of intolerance,” John Collins said. “There’s such intolerance against Christianity that we aren’t allowed to state that or to publicly advertise this event. That’s amazing.”
Rather than get upset, Greg Laurie decided to respond to the Bible billboard controversy with the two “secret weapons” of the Church — prayer and preaching.
Harvest started a campaign with a hashtag #StandForTheBible and reminded guests to be sure to bring their Bibles to the event. They added time during each night where leaders invited the crowd to hold up their Bibles and say, “We are not ashamed of the Bible, nor are we ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation.”
“Let’s get together for three nights and make a stand for Jesus Christ. The press is there. People are watching. It is hard to ignore 100,000 Christians worshiping God, bringing friends to hear the Gospel and holding their Bibles up,” Pastor Greg Laurie said.
The Power of The Bible
As proof that God can use all trials for good, the Bible billboard controversy inspired Pastor Greg to change up his sermon for Friday, the first night of the event. He decided to deliver a message on the power of the Bible.
“So I had not planned on giving a message on the Bible Friday night but decided I would because some people are offended by the very sight of it,” he said.
Despite having their billboards pulled by one company, the Harvest ads contracted through other companies remained up. And according to the Harvest website, 100,000 attendees turned up at the Anaheim Stadium and the event drew 9,260 professions of faith!
One thing is for sure. No man is going to stand in the way of God’s work!
“So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2:5
Article originally appeared on God Updates.

Morning Prayer

Dear Father in heaven, we come before you to receive what we need as your children who cannot find help and guidance on our own, but only through your Spirit. Enlighten us by your Word, which you alone can give. You will give us your Word so that we can know with absolute certainty and clarity how to serve you. Your Word will show us the truth that is to be revealed on earth in Jesus Christ. Shelter us in your hands. Strengthen us especially during suffering, and free us from fear and trembling. Fill our hearts with patience and joy. Amen.

When You Don’t Trust Your Church Elder Anymore

“I don’t trust you anymore.”
That’s what I said to one of my church elders as I confronted him about a serious issue with his character. This difficult conversation, which came after many heated and frustrating talks with him, was hindered further by our age difference—I was the same age as his oldest son.
Challenges of Being Young
When I was 30 years old, I became the lead English pastor of a Chinese church. I had previously been the youth pastor and assistant pastor, and so this was a big deal, because it showed me that the older leadership was willing to work with younger leaders. I was excited to lead.
But I quickly learned that while the older elders may have said they want to work with a younger pastor, their actions communicated a different message. They were not keen on a younger pastor challenging them or leading them in more difficult matters. The same elder who had been my biggest advocate was the one I eventually had to confront.
Even now, I am the youngest member of our elder board, and one of the most challenging issues has been navigating generational and cultural differences.
Many younger Asian-American pastors who minister in established churches struggle to relate with older pastors and elders, and it can be hard to balance our role and our age. But in every circumstance, we must shepherd humbly and let Scripture guide how we lead members of our church—especially older members in leadership roles.
Biblical Foundation
Thankfully (but not unexpectedly), Scripture addresses this challenge that younger pastors face. Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to establish elders at the church there, and one of the issues the 30-year-old Timothy faced was leading older men, as seen in 1 Timothy 4:12–15 and 5:1–2.
These passages give us the pillars of how younger leaders ought to relate to older leaders. John Stott helpfully categorizes them into six ways Timothy should commend his ministry and gain acceptance for it.
1. Timothy must watch his example
2. Timothy must identify his authority
3. Timothy must exercise his gift
4. Timothy must show his progress
5. Timothy must mind his consistency
6. Timothy must adjust his relationships (1 Tim. 5:1–2)
Paul’s words to Timothy have become a personal manifesto for my leadership. As these words shape how I aim to lead, my hope is the Holy Spirit will continue to sanctify me in these ways.
Two Lessons Learned
As I applied 1 Timothy 4 to my life, I learned two major lessons on how to lead older leaders.
1. Remember they are not the enemy.
There will be times when you disagree strongly with an older leader. It may be of great significance, or it may be something relatively insignificant. The issue may be ministry-related or personal.
In all circumstances, we must resist the temptation to look at the other person as an enemy. We know we’re guilty when grace is nowhere to be found in our approach. We know we’ve made the person an enemy when we’re concerned with justice and the Word of God, but really we don’t care about the image-bearer of God.
This is a temptation for younger leaders when we are zealous but lack patience (Prov. 19:2). Even when we need to correct someone, we must remember we are still approaching a brother or sister in Christ.
When Paul tells Timothy not to rebuke, he doesn’t mean Timothy must give up his convictions from Scripture or stop caring about character and the truth. Paul means that Timothy’s attitude and approach must not be harsh. The goal is not to put people in their place. The goal is restoration.
Timothy’s actions ought to be similar to how he would approach his earthly father. This means respecting the older person and learning to love them. The concept of family should shape our relationships with those in the church.
2. Bleed the Bible.
Charles Spurgeon wrote illustratively about John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress: “Why, this man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.”
We ought to have Bibline blood. Timothy was to devote himself to public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. We need to lean our weight on the Word as well.
This is especially important when leading older men, since Scripture is the authority above all of us, no matter our age. We cannot assume we have the right answers simply because we’re young and know the most popular things. Neither can older men claim to be right merely because they have experience. We have no authority except that which comes from God’s Word.
Scripture is the authority above all of us, no matter our age.

This is also important as we look to lead across cultural differences. We all have cultural blind spots that show up in our values and leadership. Whenever I hear someone start a sentence, “Well, in the Chinese congregation . . .” or “Americans do it this way . . .” I want to pause and say, “While we recognize there are cultural ways of going about this, what does Scripture say about this?”
No one with a high view of Scripture wants culture to define how we lead in the church, but we must guard ourselves from naively presuming that Scripture alone is functionally directing our values. We are more influenced by our culture than we would like to admit.
For young pastors, leadership books with practical guidance can be helpful. But more importantly, we need to be a leaders formed by God’s timeless and trustworthy Word. May we lead with Bibline blood.
If I Had a Do-Over
If I could do it over again, I would not have said “I don’t trust you anymore.” Those words were weaponized to hurt. I used my concern for correcting a problem to rationalize my harshness. I allowed my frustrations to diminish the need to encourage and listen patiently.
If you are leading upward in your church, anchor yourself in Paul’s words—and let your leadership flow from there. I’m so thankful God has kept that elder in the church even though we’ve had our ups and downs throughout the years. It is testimony to his patience with me, a reminder of my need to grow in leading upward, and a sign to the other leaders that we want to pursue Christ across our differences. Praise God that Christ builds his church, even with weak leaders of all ages.

Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at SOLA Network.

How to Be Thankful for Your Messed-Up Church

If you were asked to write a note of thanksgiving about your church, similar to those with which Paul customarily began his letters to the churches, could you do it? Beyond the building, the location, the familiarity, and the friends, what about your church makes you thankful?
Without a habit of verbalizing gratitude, believers can easily develop a critical attitude toward the church. By contrast, thankfulness can set the tone for contentment and sacrificial participation with God’s people. For this reason, Paul wrote to the churches things like, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy” (Phil. 1:3–4). How can Paul be thankful for churches that, like ours, have significant problems?
The key to thankfulness in the church is a recognition that despite our massive faults, God is at work among his people. Here are three ways that God’s work can nurture gratitude in the church.
We Can Thank God for Gospel Fellowship
Paul thanked God for believers’ “fellowship in the gospel” (v. 5). The word for fellowship—koinonia—elsewhere translated as “partnership,” implies closeness and intimacy. The Philippians hadn’t just heard the gospel or even just believed the gospel; they had experienced profound communion with the essence of the good news: By his perfect life and sacrificial death Jesus has demonstrated a righteousness that now bears fruit in those who believe in him (Cf. v. 11). Nothing but the gospel’s reconciling power (2 Cor. 5:17–19) is strong enough to bind together people of different gender, age, ethnicity, education, personality, and socioeconomic status. As D.A. Carson has said, the gospel promotes “a precious God-centeredness” that we share with other believers.
Because of God’s saving work, his people also become promoters of the gospel—another reason to give thanks! The word “gospel” in Philippians usually denotes the activity of gospel ministry. In other words, Christian fellowship in the gospel is a tangible partnership, almost in a business sense, with those who labor in the ministry. God’s redeemed people become joint-partakers in grace and “in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (v. 7). In this sense Paul can say, “From the first day until now” (v. 5) the church has promoted the gospel through conversation, prayer, and financial contributions.
We Can Thank God for His Perseverance
Paul is also “confident in this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). He, and we, can give thanks that when the crucified and resurrected Christ returns, God will finish his ongoing work of rescuing his people from sin.
We have all wondered anxiously about whether we and our loved ones will finish well the Christian race. We know our weaknesses. To use language from the historic Canons of Dort, we are not free “altogether from the body of sin and from the infirmities of the flesh.” We are “drawn into great and heinous sins by the flesh, the world, and Satan” because of which we “very highly offend God, incur a deadly guilt, grieve the Holy Spirit, interrupt the exercise of faith, very grievously wound [our] consciences, and sometimes for a while lose the sense of God’s favor.”
This is all true.
The workshop of God’s grace is not littered with cast-off projects. The blood of Christ is too precious for God to waste on unfinished enterprises. The book of Acts says that God purchased the church with Christ’s blood (Acts 20:28). The book of Revelation shows this blood-bought church safely reigning with God around his throne.
Our confidence and thankfulness in the church is not based on our faithfulness but on the faithfulness of the God who always finishes what he starts.
We Can Thank God for Genuine Love
According to Jesus, Jesus’ love is one of the unmistakable traits of Christian discipleship (John 13:35). Not surprisingly, the Philippians were “in Paul’s heart” (Phil 1:7); he greatly longed for them with the affection of Jesus Christ (v. 8), which the Holy Spirit had poured out into his heart (Rom. 5:5).
Sometimes we fail to love fellow church members because we feel spoiled with friendships, but, from prison, separated from his brothers and sisters, Paul lamented, “I have no one like-minded” (Phil. 2:20). For us and for Paul, in God’s family are the people who share with us the mind of Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Spirit. Grace knits believers together in love because they are inescapably conscious of God’s shocking affection for them.
God is at work in his church. He will make his adopted children to be like his one natural son Jesus. He is opening our hearts to each other so that we can partner together in a costly but joyful gospel partnership. These truths change how we work together and what we are willing to sacrifice for the cause of God’s reconciling work among us.
In his thanksgiving sections, Paul doesn’t actually command thanksgiving; he simply models thankfulness, but through his example God can powerfully work thanksgiving in our hearts as well.

Go Ask Someone Older

When your next major decision comes — what house to buy, where to go school, who to marry — do the wise and unexpected thing: Ask someone older than you.
Most people in America, for instance, get married today without getting serious counsel. They meet each other, go on a few dates, get more serious, decide they want to get married, then tell people they’re getting married. They may keep a couple close friends up to date through the process, but they barely have a category for “counsel” — much less counsel from someone older. So, they wed without guidance. And according to Proverbs 11:14, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls.” Many marriages fall the same way.
“Without counsel plans fail” (Proverbs 15:22), and not only wedding plans. Do you want to take the wrong job, or buy the wrong house, or join the wrong church? Then ignore the godly people in your life who made those decisions years ago (and have seen many others do so).
But if you want to marry well, choose well, and commit well, then ask someone older than you.
Consider King Rehoboam as a case study in refusing good counsel. Unlike many today, Rehoboam did seek guidance from his elders, but how he handled their wisdom is a warning to any of us. If we never ask someone older than us, we’re warmly inviting adversity, affliction, and even disaster. But even when we do ask, subtle (or obvious) opportunities arise to despise wisdom. Rehoboam teaches us how not to seek counsel.
Rehoboam started well: “[He] took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, ‘How do you advise me to answer this people?’” (1 Kings 12:6). When we are confronted with a difficult or complicated decision, one aspect of wisdom is to ask “the old men” (or women).
Many of us don’t even think to ask for counsel. We just do the best we can with what we have and know on our own. Even those of us who do ask for counsel often neglect to ask someone older than us. We ask our peers, typically those experiencing the same dilemmas and making the same decisions, and with the same shortage of life experience. Our friends know us best, and they’re most immediately familiar with our stage of life, so we assume they must be the best people to ask.
But age and experience have a place in the pursuit of wisdom. Job says, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12). So, ask someone with (many) more days than you.
When you do ask someone older for counsel, resist the impulse to make up your mind beforehand. The older men advised Rehoboam, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7). Not only is the counsel wise, but it also benefits Rehoboam. If, as king, you strive to serve the needs of the people and lessen the burdens on them, they will never stop serving you.
“But [Rehoboam] abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him” (1 Kings 12:8). When they gave him counsel he didn’t like, he rejected it and retreated to his friends. He wasn’t really looking for counsel; he was looking for approval. And if we’re only looking for approval, wise counsel will fall on deaf ears.
If you only receive counsel when it agrees with you, you’re not really receiving counsel. When you go to others older than you, fight to keep your mind genuinely open to what they have to say.
So, if someone older than you disagrees with you, should you just do what they say? Maybe. But not always. Rehoboam wasn’t necessarily wrong to disagree with his counselors, but he was unwise to disregard their counsel so flippantly and arrogantly. Instead of listening well, pressing into their seasoned perspective, asking good questions, and seeking to understand, Rehoboam just dismissed them and took an easier path to approval: his peers.
If someone older, who manifestly loves you, disagrees with you, take a default posture of humility and openness, genuinely seeking to be persuaded. “You who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). Don’t just tuck humility in your pocket in case you need it in the conversation. Clothe yourself in humility, because God gives grace to the humble — to those gladly willing to admit that they might be wrong.
“King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father” (1 Kings 12:6) — men who had lived and led, succeeded and failed, suffered and persevered. “But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him” (1 Kings 12:8) — young men with whom he was more comfortable, boys who were more like him.
Why do we, like Rehoboam, default to our peers? Positively, because they typically know us best. And they’re often the most available (they’re already a part of our life). But negatively, they’re most likely to agree with us. Not always. Good friends are hard to find, but they do exist. But whether they are good friends or not, peers consistently lack the same wisdom we do — the wisdom that often comes with age, maturity, and experience. We do need counsel from our friends because they know us. The danger is that they’re more like us.
One way to avoid pitting older, wiser counsel against counsel from your friends is to make someone older than you a friend. Pursue a real, life-on-life friendship with someone in a different stage of life. When you already have an ongoing friendship with that person, you don’t have to bring them up to speed on the last five years in five minutes to get informed counsel. They already know you and are ready to speak into your life.
Perhaps the brightest warning in Rehoboam’s story is that his friends’ advice encouraged him to serve himself at the expense of others. They cheered on his pride, and told him to threaten the people, “Thus shall you speak to this people . . . ‘Whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions’” (1 Kings 12:10–11).
True wisdom will be suspicious of any advice, from young or old, that elevates me and my desires while hurting someone else. Some decisions may end up hurting others to some degree — whom we marry or don’t, where we live and work, what church we join — but counsel that elevates me to the unnecessary pain or inconvenience of others should give us considerable pause. We should weigh that kind of guidance with even more prayer, counsel, and patience.
Why does Rehoboam reject good counsel and accept the bad? Because the older men called him to humble himself, while the younger men stoked the fires of his pride. They provoked him, “Thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs’” (1 Kings 12:10). His friends knew that Rehoboam would come down hard on the people if they questioned his manhood — his strength, his independence, his ability to make his own decisions. Satan seeds our thinking with the lie that real maturity is being able to make decisions on our own.
God doesn’t leave us to make any major decisions on our own. He wants us, first, to lean on him and ask for his wisdom (James 1:5). And typically what it means to lean on him involves listening well to godly people in our lives, especially godly men and women who have lived and learned more than we have. If we isolate our decision-making from other believers, we not only forfeit sage perspective and good judgment, we also may “be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Nothing keeps more of us from good counsel than our own pride, especially when it comes to asking someone older than us.
Now, not every believer older than you will be wiser than you, at least not in any given situation. The psalmist declares,
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts. (Psalms 119:99–100)
If you only ask someone older, and never meditate on the word of God, and therefore are not shaped by his wisdom, how will you recognize bad counsel (or know how to handle wise counsel)? If you jealously seek advice from the aged, but do not seek to obey God himself, you will horde the wisdom of the age, but not the wisdom of God.
Job’s friend Elihu, wise beyond his years, rightly says, “It is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right” (Job 32:8–9). But even while the older men spoke foolishly, “Elihu waited to speak to Job because they were older than he” (Job 32:4).
Wisdom doesn’t end with asking someone older than you. We begin there, but then vigilantly seek God’s will in whatever advice we hear. When you ask for counsel, make sure God’s voice in Scripture is always the loudest in your ears. Ask someone older than you, and then ask if their voice harmonizes with his word.

The Sin No One Wants to Talk About

There is a sin that is often overlooked, ignored, or unseen. It can take many forms, affect many different sorts of people, and be called by many names. In James 2, it is called the sin of partiality.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? … If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (Jm. 2:1-4, 8-10)
The kind of partiality referred to here isn’t the kind that just prefers steak over chicken. Partiality is a result of judging others and doing so unfairly. Like two sides of a coin, this partiality involves both loving and hating. James is specifically speaking about how people are treated when they enter into the presence of God with other believers. The assembly he writes to was showing favoritism to the rich while treating the poor with disdain as if they were inferior. They were making a distinction among themselves: a distinction that was evil and sinful. They were holding the faith in partiality, showing favoritism, and thus judging in a manner inconsistent with the faith they held.
Holding the Faith Impartially
This is sinful in God’s eyes because showing partiality is hating your neighbor, one of the two fundamental laws of God. More than that, however, it goes against the very gospel faith the assembly claims to hold to. The whole point of Christ’s kingdom ministry and work on the cross was to widen the doors of the assembly, to break down the barriers that once surrounded Israel, and to welcome any who believe, whether rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, male or female (Gal. 3:28). Before Christ, God’s covenant was ethnically specific. But now, because of Christ, all who believe in him “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Furthermore, when Christ sent his apostles out into the world, he sent them to every nation (Matt. 28: 16-20).
This gospel does not make distinctions. It does not judge some to be superior and others to be inferior. God’s grace is not selective based on race or gender or any other criteria (Rom. 2:11; 3:22). If you are a sinner (as all are), then you are not only able to enter the house of God, but you need to enter the house of God. All are in need of the justifying work of Jesus Christ that saves.
The assembly of believers—the church today—is called to be the visible expression of that grace, love, and salvation made possible by the death and resurrection of Christ. When it fails, the church has stopped reflecting the impartial gospel of Jesus Christ, making Jesus look bad to the world. If God shows no partiality in whom he saves, then his people, called to image his grace and mercy to the world, are called to be impartial, too.
How Is Partiality Shown Today?
Haven’t we all done this to one another at some point in our lives, judging others not according to gospel grace but according to our own selfish ideals? Partiality, unfortunately, can sneak into our words and actions in both bold and subtle ways. It often forms the choices we make, particularly who we talk to and prefer to hang out with or, more obviously, in demanding people that who are different from you conform to your ethnic customs, traditions, and other non-biblical aspects of Christian life. It can manifest more overtly in pursuing with the gospel people of a certain race while excluding other races from evangelistic efforts. Recent events in America have cast a light on the racism of many people who claim to hold to the Christian faith. This is the sin of partiality at work. Even among mono-ethnic churches, racism, cliques, and bias based on a number of factors can go unchecked, influencing the life of the assembly.
Whatever it is, we Christians need to help one another stay away from the sin of partiality. The particularity of this sin is that it is very easy for whole groups to fall into a partiality mindset. Like the cliques in schools or racism of nations, the sin of partiality is often shared and shown by groups of people rather than individuals, and when a group is characterized by partiality it is all too easy for members of that group to turn a blind eye to their individual exclusion to stay in favor with the group.
Hope for Tomorrow
There is no doubt that this is a difficult sin to confront and fight, but this fight is not hopeless. We fight it not in our own strength but in the strength of the Holy Spirit who is given to help us (Heb. 4:16, 13:6). If we find ourselves guilty of this sin, rest assured that forgiveness and reconciliation—with God and others—are ours in Christ Jesus. If we come before him in repentance, he is always faithful to forgives us, to receive us, and to grant us the grace to continue growing in imaging him (1 Jn. 1:9; Rom. 8:29).
Christians, of all people, have no fear of condemnation or judgment when we repent. In fact, we have the liberty to repent daily because God’s forgiveness in Christ is lavishly abundant, extravagantly overflowing. Jesus is the way for us to escape the darkness and hopelessness of evil and to be joined to his body that forms the beloved community. Here we have the freedom to repent as many times as we sin and to be conduits of grace to one another, reminding each other of the beautiful gospel God gives us impartially.
Leah Baugh
Leah Baugh is a staff writer at Core Christianity and Associate Editor of Bible Studies at White Horse Inn.

10 Things the Woman Married to Your Pastor Wants You to Know

Lucas and Mia were a natural fit for the small but growing church in Tribeca. Everyone knew them for their vibrant personalities. Lucas demonstrated leadership finesse. Mia had an exceptional ability to winsomely engage cynics and intellectuals. The couple nurtured a growing network among New York City’s business elite.
Within 24 months of their arrival the church was thriving. But Lucas and Mia were not. Eight months later Lucas announced they were leaving. They vacated their apartment in five days.
Why do couples like this leave the ministry? Of the many rumors that swirl around a pastor’s resignation, we don’t often consider the hardship that ministry places on the pastor’s wife and on their marriage. We easily acknowledge that the happiness of both marriage partners affects marital health. Yet we’ve been slow to correlate how the well-being of a pastor’s spouse affects the long-term vitality of the church.
Women married to pastors face unique challenges. Keeping the following in mind (along with a commitment to regularly pray for her and her marriage) could affect your church more than you realize.
1. She’s Her Own Person
She’s not an appendage of the pastor. She may even have differing political, social, and biblical views than her spouse. But she’s in a position where sharing those views could negatively affect her husband’s job.
Allow her to be who she is. You might be surprised and delighted to discover how different she may be from what you assumed.
2. She Has a Calling
It might not be what you expect, and she may still be figuring it out. Many women consider their husband’s call to a specific pastoral position as a joint calling for both of them. Others do not. And some women married to pastors are hoping someone, anyone, will tell them what their ministry should be, in hopes of not disappointing others.
Confused? So are we. After years of serving in pastoral ministry, some women confess a sense of loss, of not even knowing themselves. They were too busy serving where needed. On the other hand, others may be minimally involved in church ministry with a calling focused outside the church.
3. She May Struggle Financially
In one of our local Parakaleo groups, we were discussing financial hardships and laughing over the ingenious ways we’ve stretched a dollar. I asked how many had ever been on food stamps because of ministry salaries. Half the women raised their hands. I was reminded of how delicate the financial situation is for many women in ministry.
4. She Shares Her Husband with the Whole Church
Depending on the size of the church and whether there are other competent staff members, pastors can be on call 24/7. Family dinners, holidays, and vacations are often interrupted by crisis situations. While some of this disruption can result from unhealthy boundaries in the pastoral home, ministry constantly involves crises.
When you meet a pastor’s wife who seems unusually wise, is her own person, and can speak truth in kindness, you are in the presence of a woman who has come through fire.

Especially in high-risk areas, the pastor is often the first person called during suicide attempts, when someone is jailed, when a church member is in an abusive relationship, when a marriage is breaking up, and so forth. Even celebratory events such as weddings, sporting events, and baptisms still take time away from the pastor’s family. Pastoral couples are honored to be involved in their congregants’ lives in this way. Just be aware that their time is limited for good reason.
5. She Is Harmed by Gossip
Gossip is idle talk or rumors, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. Gossip doesn’t have to be malicious. A simple rule of thumb is to not tell other people’s stories. Let them be the purveyor of their own information. If you hear information from someone about another person, consider a kind way to stop the gossip chain: “You know, I bet Marjorie would want to tell that story herself.”
If it’s malicious gossip, take a hard stand: “Regardless of how bad this situation has become, I don’t want to participate in gossip. Will you go with me back to the person speaking about this and help me stop it?” While I can laugh about it now, at times I discovered through gossip at church things about myself that even I didn’t know.
6. She’s Living with Unrealistic Expectations from Others (and Herself)
Well, who isn’t? Whether it’s our moms, kids, boss, or difficult neighbors, we all experience the pressure of expectations. But consider if you were also living with the expectation of being at church every time the doors opened. What about being told how you should dress? How your children should act? What is appropriate to say or not to say? How you should spend your money? How many people you should invite to your home for dinner? You would be surprised how often women married to pastors are criticized for these things.
Many women married to pastors also work full-time, participate in several church ministries, meet with couples for premarital or pastoral counseling, and attend community functions. It’s already a full life. Your pastor’s wife often needs to be reminded that the only audience that finally matters is the audience of one—her heavenly Father.
7. She Probably Finds Friendships in the Church Tricky to Navigate
It’s virtually impossible for her to know if her church friendships exist because someone is drawn to her or because of her husband’s role. Many women discover, when their husband leaves a pastoral position, that people they thought were friends really weren’t. They assumed the Christmas cards, social invites, long conversations over coffee, or trips to the beach were due to friendships. It’s devastating to discover that, without his role, the friendship was never really there.
The same happens in the reverse. Congregants may think they were closer friends with the pastoral couple and discover a similar scenario when the pastor and family leave. It’s painful for all involved. Rich friendships can still be enjoyed, but it requires maturity and an understanding that some topics are off limits.
8. She’s Harmed by Criticism of Her Husband
Pastors have been told they don’t work hard enough, disciple enough, preach well enough, visit congregants enough, and so on. Everyone has his or her own job description of what a pastor should do. Almost no one realizes the impossibility of meeting these expectations. How many hours should a pastor work? Fifty? Eighty? There’s plenty to be done and usually no one stopping him except his wife. When he’s criticized for not doing enough, she can feel guilty for trying to help him maintain healthy boundaries.
Pastors often share with their wives a disgruntled leader’s comments or what was said in a contentious meeting. But she isn’t part of the conversation when a situation is solved, often doesn’t even know if it’s resolved, and is left without a safe space to process the situation.
And unlike spouses in many other professions, these are the same people with whom she worships. When you meet a pastor’s wife who seems unusually wise, is her own person, and can speak truth in kindness, you are in the presence of a woman who has come through fire. Learn all you can from her, even if it’s just through observation.
9. She Lives with Stress and Ambiguity
Ambiguity is endemic to ministry. For the pastoral family, the system is not clear. All members of the family participate either directly or indirectly in the church. There is some role expectation from the congregation, which must be fulfilled by the pastor, the wife, and even the children. This level of ambiguity causes high levels of stress for pastors’ wives. Consider showing her the same compassion you would extend to someone who has recently received hard news. Why? Because this has likely been her experience on any given day.
Unlike others experiencing sorrow, however, she probably is unable to share the event and its effect, or process it with others in the church. Hearing that a trusted staff member plans on resigning, that a key church leader is having an affair, that the church can’t pay its bills, that her husband’s job is in jeopardy, that her closest friend decided to no longer attend church, are the kinds of revelations women in ministry face on a regular basis.
Not all women married to pastors experience all of the above. Many enjoy a wonderful, caring church community. And most of the pastors’ wives I know enjoy working in tandem with their husbands to see God’s kingdom advance in their city.
Regardless of the differences, the item all women married to pastors has in common is number 10.
10. Her Righteousness Comes from Christ
She, like you and me, doesn’t get her righteousness from measuring up to the standards of others, from her church attendance, from knowing Scripture, or from how much money she does or doesn’t spend on her wardrobe. If she has trusted Christ for her salvation, in God’s courtroom the verdict has been given. Her flaws, mistakes, shame, and sin were placed on Jesus Christ. He took on himself what she deserved. And what’s more, God gave her Christ’s righteousness. Pastors’ wives have been given the verdict of righteous, beloved daughters.

Whose job is it to teach young, unmarried women not to delay marriage for fun and thrills?

Do young women understand how to get to a stable marriage?
I found a very interesting post on a blog called Oz Conservative, which is run by an Australian traditional conservative. In the post, he looks at two women who wasted their 20s on fun and thrills. Both of them are childless and unmarried. And they are complaining that they should be married with children. How did it happen?
Excerpt:
Rachael spent her youth going out with the bad boy type:
relationships have never been my strong point. Historically, I’ve picked good-looking villains and addictive personalities.
I’ve had a ball and many passionate experiences, but nothing functional enough to constitute a long-term future and never anyone ‘normal’ enough to bring home to meet the parents.
Although she puts a positive spin on being single, she admits:
I’m realistic. I’ve probably missed the boat as far as children are concerned, and that is a shame…
[…]Yes, the life I have today is not quite the one I envisaged 20 years ago as a young woman. I foresaw a satisfying career along with 2.4 children and a handsome husband.
Then there is Bibi, now 44. She tells her story this way:
I am staring down the barrel of a lonely future without a man, let alone children.
And how do I find myself in this perilous position? One reason is undoubtedly that men like young women. Yes, I was young once and all that. In my 20s and 30s I wasn’t exactly a supermodel, but I was constantly surrounded by men. The trouble is I wasn’t necessarily looking to settle down back then…
Now that I am, there are very few available men out there and the ones there are would be more interested in my teenage nieces than in me…
[…]Bibi has a lot of friends in exactly the same boat:
In my close circle of friends, there are eight of us who are single and childless. This is a generational phenomenon – we are all aged between 37 and 45.
When our mothers were that age, such numbers would be unimaginable.
Like many women writing this kind of literature, when she looks back she recognises the negative influence of feminism on her generation of women:
I think the feminist teachings of the Sixties and Seventies seeped into our brains. My mum couldn’t be called a feminist, but I, too, grew up thinking we could be anything we wanted to be and have a fulfilling career, life and relationship…
[…]What she is trying to say here is that feminism pushed marriage and motherhood down the list of priorities (“there was more to contend with beforehand”). She admits that she was led into the magical kind of thinking I described earlier in which there is nothing in reality to limit having things as you want them to be (“we didn’t realise that men wouldn’t be interested … my generation was spoilt – unrealistic, even”).
The comments to the post are very interesting.
I was thinking about whose job it was to warn young Christian women about these bad choices, and I remembered a passage from the Bible.
Titus 2:3-5 explains:
3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.
4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children,
5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
The problem is that many older Christian women made a lot of mistakes in their youth, especially with alcohol and premarital sex. And for most of them, it’s more important that they not feel guilty about it, than that they warn younger women not to make the same mistakes. So, instead of admitting guilt and setting boundaries, they often tell young women that it doesn’t matter what you do in your 20s because God, the cosmic butler, will make everything work out in the end.
We just had a situation where one woman who had a successful marriage tried to give younger women some very basic advice about how to be attractive to marriage-minded men. And what happened was that she was attacked by pretty much everyone. The reaction seemed to be strongest from Christian women, however, who insisted that God’s grace meant that Christian women didn’t have to care what the Bible taught about morality and wisdom. The important thing was that they follow their desires in the moment, because to exercise self-control would be “horrible” and would “send the wrong message”. Telling a woman not to do what she feels like is worse than murder, because women must always do what feels good. Who cares about the words of the Bible, when a woman has feelings that are a direct line to God’s mysterious will for her happiness?
One of the commenters on this blog put it this way:
I’ve been observing this phenomenon among so-called “Christians” for well over a decade. Concepts like “tolerance” and not being “judgmental” took hold in our culture and many Christians absorbed the mindset completely. If you point out that what someone is doing is sinful or might potentially lead to sinful behavior, they act defensive or turn the tables on you and say “well, you’re not perfect either!” Some even say that they do certain things for the express purpose of not being “legalistic,” because clearly, legalism is far worse than compromising one’s witness. Jesus has become a postmodern hippie whose primary message is “let’s all be cool to each other.” The only sins left are transgressions against the belief that everyone is equal and worthy of acceptance.
In reading the responses to Lori Alexander’s article, my greatest takeaway is that people are rationalization machines. If they’ve made mistakes, they won’t humbly acknowledge them and use the wisdom of their experience to guide others in the right direction. Instead, they’ll try to find a way to argue that their mistakes weren’t mistakes at all, and that the real sinner is the person who’s judging them for what they did. It’s a deceitful, selfish game, and anyone who plays it is an enemy of the Gospel. Their argument essentially boils down to “every woman, regardless of whatever bad decisions she’s made in life, is entitled to a loving husband who’ll provide for her.” Same way everyone’s entitled to free health care, regardless of whether sufficient medical resources exist, I suppose. It doesn’t work that way, ladies.
And they use this feminist scare word “shaming.” How dare you “shame” me? I would go so far as to say that shaming is a good thing, because it incentivizes proper behavior. Men have good reasons for wanting their wives to be virgins, and if you remove the stigma against premarital sex, a lot of women are going to take Biblical teaching on the subject less seriously. If Christian men as a whole agreed that they would only marry virgins, I guarantee you that a lot of women would think twice about what kind of men they associated with. If you feel “shamed,” it’s probably a sign that you haven’t truly repented of your sins. Sin separates us from God, and if you see your sins for what they are, you should have no problem condemning the sins that you yourself have committed and discouraging them in others.
I’m sorry for this long-winded ramble, but it disgusts me how much politically correct rot has infested the churches, and this entire incident just confirms that Paul was correct to forbid women teaching. When everyone is afraid of upsetting women, we get false teachers popping up everywhere spreading a destructive message with nothing but rhetoric behind it. The end result? Fewer marriages, fewer children, fewer people taking Christian teachings seriously, and more people being miserable and lonely. Once you start ceding ground to liberalism, the whole thing eventually unravels. Lots of good Christian men and women can’t find a spouse anymore, because their society has lied to them and they don’t realize it until it’s too late. Did their churches stand against the world? Did their churches provide them the guidance they needed? Or were their churches too afraid to be seen as “out of touch,” and did they prioritize numbers over holiness and correct teaching? If we are sincere believers, it should be obvious which is more important.
Many of the women who chose to delay marriage for fun and thrills with the bad boys grew up in married Christian homes. Parents and pastors have, for one reason or another, decided that it is too unpleasant to warn young Christian women that their behavior may involve some costs in the long term. They don’t want to make them feel bad, and women’s feelings are so very much more important than what the Bible says, or even what peer-reviewed research on marriage best practices says. Even theologically conservative pastors just don’t have the courage to address the influence that feminism has had on the goal-setting and decision-making of young, unmarried women. It’s much easier to blame men when the woman’s fun and thrills plan doesn’t work out.

The Dying Away of Cultural Christianity

Christianity’s Collapse . . . or Clarification?
The number of people in the US who call themselves Christians is shrinking. And that’s a good thing. Every few years, new data shows an ongoing decline of Americans who identify as Christians and an ongoing rise in those who identify as religiously unaffiliated (“the nones”). Yet headlines announcing the death of American Christianity are misleading and premature.
“Christianity isn’t collapsing; it’s being clarified,” wrote Ed Stetzer in 2015 following the release of Pew Research data showing the Christian share of the American population declined almost eight percentage points from 2007 to 2014. Stetzer points out that the surge in “nones” is because nominal Christians are giving up the pretense of faith while convictional Christians remain committed.
The “God” of Cultural Christianity
For most of US history, to be American was to be “Christian.” National identity was conflated with religious identity in a way that produced a distorted form of Christianity, mostly about family values, Golden Rule moralism, and good citizenship. The God of this “Christianity” was first and foremost a nice guy who rewarded moral living by sanctifying the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (i.e., a substantial 401(k), a three-car garage, and as many Instagram followers as possible). This form of Christianity—prominent in twenty-first-century America—has been aptly labeled “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a faith defined by a distant, “cosmic ATM” God who only cares that we are nice to one another and feel good about ourselves
This faux God—stripped of theological and historical specificity and closer to Santa Claus than Yahweh—began to flourish amidst the gradual “death of God” narrative advanced by philosophical, literary, artistic, and scientific elites from the Enlightenment to postmodernity. In this context, mainstream Christianity became less about truly believing in God and supernatural events like the incarnation and resurrection; it became more about the rites and rituals of Christianity-flavored morality: a convenient, comfortable, quaint system of personal and societal uplift. Thankfully, and predictably, this sort of toothless, “nice,” good-citizen Christianity is on the decline.
Why? As Terry Eagleton observes, it’s because Christianity is fundamentally disruptive rather than conciliatory to polite society and powers-that-be:
The form of life Jesus offers his followers is not one of social integration but a scandal to the priestly and political establishment. It is a question of being homeless, propertyless, peripatetic, celibate, socially marginal, disdainful of kinsfolk, averse to material possessions, a friend of outcasts and pariahs, a thorn in the side of the Establishment and a scourge of the rich and powerful.
What we are seeing in American Christianity is a healthy pruning away of the mutant and neutered forms of it that are easily abandoned when they become culturally inconvenient or unfashionable. As Russell Moore observes, “A Christianity that reflects its culture, whether that culture is Smith College or NASCAR, only lasts as long as it is useful to its host. That’s because it’s, at root, idolatry, and people turn from their idols when they stop sending rain.”
What It Means to Follow Christ
Rather than being a cause for alarm, the dying-away of cultural Christianity should be seen as an opportunity. It used to be too easy to be a Christian in America; so easy that one could adopt the label simply by being born in this “Christian nation” and going to church once or twice a year (if that), in between relentless attempts to swindle the stock market, accumulate beach properties, and build an empire of wealth and acclaim.
To be sure, and especially in contrast to much of the rest of the world, it’s still easy to be a Christian in America. But it is becoming less easy and certainly less normal. And that’s a good thing. Christianity, founded on belief in the supernatural resurrection of a first-century Jewish carpenter, has been and always will be abnormal. Again, Russell Moore:
The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction. Only a strange gospel can differentiate itself from the worlds we construct. But the strange, freakish, foolish old gospel is what God uses to save people and to resurrect churches (1 Cor. 1:20–22).
Following Christ is not one’s golden ticket to a white-picket-fence American dream. It’s an invitation to die, to pick up a cross. Christians are those who give themselves away in love and sacrifice to advance a kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36).
As C. S. Lewis writes: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

Brett McCracken