19 Marks of Real Community

authenticRay Ortland, a respected pastor from Nashville, Tennessee, unleashed a tweet-storm today about real, biblical community. Referencing multiple Bible Passages (1 Cor. 3:3; Romans 12:18; John 13:34-35; John 17:23; Philippians 2:2) about unity and love, Ortland, gave nineteen evidences of authentic, biblical community. After reading them I thought they were worth documenting as a diagnostic that any Christian could use to examine their own life and the health of their local church.

Ortland also mentioned Elton Trueblood who noted that “the Roman world had religion galore. What they didn’t have was community. The Christians did, and the world saw.”

Below are the tweets in the order they appeared. Read them and examine your own heart, and then evaluate the life of the church you are committed to, seeing if there is something you can do to honor Christ and love your brothers and sisters.

  1. Evidence of community: people hang out at church long after the service, enjoying one another.
  2. Evidence of community: people are careful to keep positive, relaxed, open relationships, quick to apologize and make things right again.
  3. Evidence of community: people respond to leaders with openness and trust, reasonable responses, not adversarial or aggressive.
  4. Evidence of community: prayer meetings don’t have long, awkward silences, but the people share a sense of reality with God and jump in.
  5. Evidence of community: no two-tiered justification, some above, others below, but all are equally dignified with inclusion in Christ.
  6. Evidence of community: people’s inevitable eccentricities are cherished as lovable rather than used as evidence against them.
  7. Evidence of community: the inevitable bloopers by the band are perceived not as embarrassments but as opportunities to relax and enjoy.
  8. Evidence of community: no need to be impressive, no grandiosity, but a settled confidence that Jesus is building something real here.
  9. Evidence of community: lots of laughter, when it’s right; lots of tears, when they are right. But no triumphalism at another’s expense.
  10. Evidence of community: conflicts and disagreements are pursued not with a desire to win but with a desire for the win/win.
  11. Evidence of community: people listen well, sincerely interested in one another’s thoughts, rather than demand a hearing for their own.
  12. Evidence of community: disturbing the community is so extremely distasteful as to be unthinkable. An awareness that this is sacred.
  13. Evidence of community: an awed awareness that every individual present has been sent there by Christ, entrusted by him to everyone’s care.
  14. Evidence of community: the confession of sin is perceived not as shocking or even risky but as normal and admirable.
  15. Evidence of community: the only competition is to outdo one another in showing honor, and everyone wins.
  16. Evidence of community: the manly men speak openly of their love and admiration for one another. No jokey put-downs. Deeply sincere.
  17. Evidence of community: everyone can’t wait for Sunday to get here.
  18. Evidence of community: disruptive people are not ignored but are confronted by the elders.
  19. Evidence of community: a big church feels like a small church. Warm-hearted belonging doesn’t require intimacy; it creates intimacy.

Which one(s) stood out to you. Where do you see yourself and your church excelling? Where do you see room for improvement?


When It’s Wrong To Raise Your Hands In Worship


Why do people raise their hands when they worship? I don’t know. I suppose you would have to ask each individual what motivates them. And therein lies the most important issue: Why? Why do people raise their hands when they sing? The “Why” most certainly has a lot of bearing on whether an action is right or wrong; whether it is an act of true worship or a vain expression that may look like worship.

In the last two weeks I have been to two gatherings in which all of us were instructed to raise our hands. I did both times. The first time I did so because I wanted my son to see that I could be instructed by someone who was leading me to respond to God through Jesus with songs as a medium for honoring God. Still I wondered, “Why? Why should I raise my hands? And if it is a good thing, why don’t I do it all the time?”

The second time I did it because the guy who was leading us to worship through song actually told us what it might mean to do so. He suggested that raising our hands as we sang was a way to visibly express our need of God – our reaching out to Him for help. “Okay!” I thought. “I can go with that.” And so I raised a hand to express dependence.

Then today in my daily Bible reading I read Psalm 28:2: “Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.” 

Now I have read the Psalms (a hymn book of prayers) many times over, but this was the first time this verse stuck out to me. Here I now had a biblical text expressing a Spirit-inspired description (2 Tim. 3:16) of someone raising their hands in a song.

But what is the Psalmist doing when he raises his hands? Just a quick glance at the context reveals that the person writing (likely David) is in a desperate situation. In verse one he is concerned that unless God helps him, he will be like everyone else who goes down to the pit (dies). So he cries out and asks God to hear his prayer for help. He is desperate. He is needy. He needs God in a bad way. And the physical expression of that very pressing reality is the lifting of us hands toward God’s holy sanctuary, which represents the presence of God.

Perhaps a picture will further illuminate what it might mean to lift our hands when we sing to worship. Imagine a child has fallen off their bike. They have crashed and it hurt and they are desperate, and maybe they are embarrassed too. So they see mom or dad in the distance and they cry out and hold their arms up in a way that basically says, “Come help me. Come comfort me. Come rescue me. I have fallen and I need help getting up. I need you.” When we raise our hands in melodious prayer, we should be expressing our need of God who is our Father, and we are desperate for Him to rescue and comfort

Do you know what it means to do something in vain? It means to do it without giving thought to why you are doing it. I suspect many of us do all sorts of things in vain and meaningless ways. If we don’t know why we are raising our hands when we sing, then we are doing it in vain and it can’t be worship because “those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

There may be other biblical texts in the Bible that would help us know why we should and can raise our hands when we sing to worship, but now we can worship according to the truth.


Reflections on the Hard Love Sermon Series


During the month of January we preached, taught, discussed and listened to five sermons on how a local church can love each other even when it is hard. And it is hard to love one another because we live in a broken world of broken people – people who are prone to wander away from God into sin.

Here are summaries for the five sermons:

  • Sermon 1: Jesus commanded (Matthew chapters 5-7) and did hard things (the cross). If we truly love Jesus, we  will obey all He commands (John 14:15 and Matthew 28:19-20), because we understand that He is trying to protect us and do good to us (Matthew 7:24-27). Love is wanting and doing what is best for others according to God’s word, and Jesus did hard love the best. If we love Him, then hard love we will do.
  • Sermon 2: Hard love is not just the job of the Elders and Deacons, but is the privilege and responsibility of every member of a local church (Philippians 1:1 and 4:1-3).
  • Sermon 3: Hard love is first and foremost an encouraging arm around the neck, not a just a pointing finger. The culture of our local church should be one of ongoing, informal, loving discipline so that we can be honest about the sin in our lives without excusing it (Galatians 6:1-3).
  • Sermon 4: There may come a time when one brother or sister has to start a formal process of church discipline if another brother or sister refuses to repent of their sin. After several steps of intervention, the so-called brother or sister may have to be treated as an unbeliever by the entire local church (Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). This is hard, but it is better to sternly rebuke a straying sheep than to let them be self-deceived (1 Corinthians 5:5). If they repent, we should restore them gently (Galatians 6:1-2).
  • Sermon 5: For hard love to work, we have to discipline ourselves to be in close relationship with other Christians so they can encourage us day after day. If we are not willing to be relationally vulnerable then how will others know how to speak truth-filled encouragement into our lives (Hebrew 3:12-14; 10:23-25)?

Reflections on the Hard Love Sermon Series:

  • We are striving to be a high-commitment church. I don’t mean this in a boastful way, or to be demeaning to other churches. But through the process of membership, we call people to be committed to Christ by being committed to His people in accountable relationships under the authority of God’s Spirit-inspired word. We do this because Jesus demands it for our own good (Colossians 3:15-16 and Hebrews 3:12-14). Jesus declares, without apology, that if any person wants to come after Him and have Jesus save their life, they must be willing to surrender their whole life to the One who gave His life for them (Mark 8:33-38). The way to gain your life is to deny yourself and be willing to give it all to Christ, and when you give your life to Christ, you become a part of His body through One Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-6). How can a person be be committed to Christ if they are neglecting the very body they are a part of? I think you know the answer. It is right and loving that we call people to be committed to Christ by being committed to a visible local church. I don’t know how you obey all that Jesus commanded without calling people to a formal commitment (See Matthew 18:15-17).
  • Our faith family embraced these hard love truths. Now the truth is, we will find out how much we trust and love Jesus when we have to actually do what we have He has commanded (John 14:15 and James 1:22). But the affirmation we have received from so many has been truly encouraging. There are many reasons this is such a hard pill for many professing Christians to swallow. For example, maybe some have been in church all their lives and never seen it done. Maybe others have seen it done really poorly. By the way, it could be done well and still not go well. Sin complicates things. Additionally, this whole idea of calling people to repent goes against the deeply entrenched belief that no one has the right to judge anyone else. Of course, if someone claims this, they haven’t thought much about their conclusion, because they have just made a very real judgment about how it is wrong to judge. We can’t live without making judgments, but we can strive to judge righteously (Matthew 7:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13).
  • It took us eight years to explicitly teach on this, but maybe that is for the best. I say eight years because that is how long I have been a pastor of Eagle Heights. I have been convicted for a long time that we need to involve the church if we were going to fully obey Jesus – provided it had to come to the final step of church involvement of putting someone out (Matthew 18:17). But as one of my seminary teachers used to tell us: “You need to teach before you reform.” Having said that, on several occasions the Elders have done most of Matthew 18:15-17, and as I told the church in sermon four, we once almost brought a guy to the church, but praise God, he repented. That instance and a few others made the Elders realize that we had to involve the church and explain that we must be willing to obey all Jesus commanded. It took us a while to get to this point, but now it has been explained and we need the whole church to be willing to pursue straying church members – if that is what it must be done.
  • I don’t ever want it to come to Matthew 18:17, but I trust Jesus’ words more than I trust the words of anyone else. None of our Elders enjoy wading into the entanglement of confronting a stray sheep and unrepentant brother or sister, but we have seen that there is sanctification in it and we have seen the joy of seeing a professing Christian repent.
  • I hope and pray more local churches will begin to pursue obedience to Jesus by practicing informal and formal church discipline. All that we do must be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14), but we cannot love God and wink at the very sin that sent Jesus to the cross. It is not loving to let people run headlong toward the destruction of sin. Yes, we must be careful not breed a culture of self-righteousness that nit-picks at every faith-fail and misstep, but we must call the church to the unrelenting pursuit gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered holiness. The church must be in the world, but not of the world. The church must be distinct in our love for the things that God loves, if we are to be attractive witnesses to the world. I remember distinctly an instance when a woman was telling another Elder and I the story of how her husband abandoned her and how she begged the leaders of their church to do church discipline on her straying husband so that he might bear fruit in keeping with repentance. I remember how she wept over the fact that they did not act and pursue him. That has stuck with me. I can’t shake that conversation. We may botch the Matthew 18:15-17 commands of Jesus, but it is better to have tried to obey Jesus and failed than to have failed by never trusting enough to try. We can’t live in paralysis because of the fear that something might go wrong. If someone is sinning unrepentantly, then something is already going wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right. We must trust and obey our perfect God and King who died for His imperfect body.

I thank God through Jesus that our church was teachable and willing to receive this. May we always be willing to hear the word of God and trust Him, no matter what hard thing He calls us to do.

A Tribute to Jenae Tilley, An AWANA Cubbie

(This is the message I preached in honor of Jenae Tilley who went to be with Jesus on Thursday, November 3, 2016. I share it to honor her and make much of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.)

“We are AWANA Cubbies, we’re happy all day long. We know that Jesus loves us, that’s why we sing our song. We hop because we’re happy and we jump and shout for joy! Jesus is a friend to us, He loves each girl and boy.”

jenaeJenae Tilley, the AWANA Cubbies leader for Eagle Heights Baptist Church, would have sang the aforementioned song an untold number of times over the years since she first began battling the cancer that ultimately took her earthly life. She would have sang it week after week to children who were ages three to five years. She would have sang it to children like my four-year-old daughter, who taught it to me.

Let me break this song down because I believe it embodies Jenae’s  winsome and difference-making life.

“We are AWANA Cubbies” AWANA means: Approved Workman Are Not Ashamed and is taken from 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Jenae was a 2 Timothy 2:15 Cubbie.

“We’re happy (joyful) all day long.” Again, she would have sang this over and over through good days and bad in her fight against cancer. Can there be any doubt that she meant it when she sang it? When I would see her, all I ever saw was joyful optimism. According to her family, she would say: “Don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t give up on me. God is not done with me and He is going to use my to make others believe in Jesus.” Jenae was joyful in the Christ who could use cancer for good. She trusted in the Jesus that made her hop and jump and shout for joy.

Her spirit was compelling and attractive and motivating. She was, and is, inspiring. She was the kind of person who could make you want to live and die well.

But how? How could she be so joyful and optimistic with so much life in front of her? She had a trip to Hawaii planned. She had a daughter who had not yet graduated from high school. She had another daughter who is to be married in July. She had her first grandchild on the way. How could she be so optimistic and joyful through the ups and downs of fighting a relentless disease?

The answer is in the song. “We are AWANA Cubbies, we are joyful all day long. We know that Jesus loves us, that’s why we sing our song.” There it is. There is the answer. She sang the song because she knew that Jesus loved her and does love her. Let’s keep going. “We hop because we are happy (joyful) and we jump and shout for joy. Jesus is a friend to us, He loves each girl and boy.” There it is again. She had joy in trial because Jesus is a friend who loves.

Some may wonder how a God who loves could allow a disease to take the life of someone who was loved so much. If ever you wonder whether the LORD God loves people, all you have to do is remember that God sent His only son to be ravaged by sin and death on the cross, that whoever believes in Him, would live forever, even if he or she dies (John 3:16 and 11:25-26). Jenae knew the love of Jesus. Jenae knew that Jesus was, and is, her friend.

Jenae’s favorite verse was Philippians 4:13. You know it. It’s on the Christian list of most-oft quoted verses. It also frequents t-shirts, mugs and wall decor. “I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me.” But here is the secret to this passage; Paul is writing in the midst of trial. Most people won’t mention it because they probably don’t know it. Paul is in prison. Four times in chapter one, he reminds the Philippians he is in prison for the gospel of Christ, and if you read the verses (4:10-13) around verse 13, you hear Paul talking about contentment in the face of trial.

But not only can he be content in all circumstances, but he can be joyful in trial too. Paul is writing this letter from prison, but over and over again he talks about joy and rejoicing and gladness – like Jenae did when she sang the Cubbies song. In Philippians 4:4, Paul commands rejoicing. In 2:17-18, he speaks of being offered up like a sacrifice for the Philippians – sacrifices get hurt – and yet he says that he rejoices and urges them to do the same.

What on earth was wrong with this guy? Did he like pain and suffering?

What was wrong with Paul is the same thing that was right with Jenae. Despite her battle and affliction and trial, she had unwavering hope in Christ because she knew Christ loved her with his life and death.

What would Jenae say having now been in the presence of the one who made her sing, hop and jump for joy with little children every Wednesday Night? What would she say to us, having seen face to face the one who died for her sins and rose again, overcoming sin and death?

Jenae would say what she was already saying: “Don’t feel sorry for me. To live is Christ, but to die is gain and to be with Christ is very much better (Phil. 1:18-23). So join me! Turn from your sin and your own way. Turn to Christ and God’s way and trust the one who died for you and rose again, overcoming sin and cancer and death.”

Jenae’s life pleads with us to this day, to follow her example and know the love and friendship of Christ.

Jenae is in her lasting home with Jesus, which is far better. Won’t you trust in Christ so that you can know this Cubbie, Philippians joy, that Jenae knew and sang about? Wont’ you join her?

Little Things I Like About My Family

Quite often I notice something peculiar about my family that makes me think, “That is really unique to them and it endears them to me.” So I hope to keep an ongoing log, since often these things come strike me as unique but I forget about them until they happen again. Maybe I will use this strategically at some point to show that I am paying attention, and also to express why I love each of them so much. I will update this as content is revealed.


  • (02.06.17) My wife is very good at traditions that teach us something about what really matters in life. In the run-up to Valentine’s Day she decorates little sacks with our names on them. She then encourages us to place gifts in those sacks, or to write a note that expresses the reason why we love the one for whom the note was written. She also diligently uses an advent calendar to teach Bella the story of Jesus coming to earth. She is very thoughtful and very consistent. She is a Proverbs 31 woman.
  • (04.26.17) She is gentle, merciful and tender-hearted. But she is also learning to do and say hard things that need to be done and said. She continues to grow as a woman and person.


  • (08.04.16) He has a sensitive heart. When he has done something wrong, he has come clean. It hurts him to confess, but he can’t keep his failures to himself. I thank God that he has a heart that makes it hard for him to sweep his sin under the rug. This is one of the greatest assurances I have that he is truly a Christian. He also has a soft heart for people.
  • (04.25.17) L hit his first homerun yesterday. He hit it to left field and drove in two runs. There was no error on the play and he motored around to score. He was very excited and his teammates jumped up on him to congratulate him. It was the last at-bat of the game and we won by rain-out.


  • (09.08.16) Elijah came in from the first day of school so determined to work hard at Mathmasters – a timed math test the students do for awards. His teacher told the class they were going to have work hard and be on top of things. Elijah came home and promptly made flash cards, working diligently to master multiplication – over a weekend no less. He really is a hard and determined worker.
  • (02.09.17) I like that E doesn’t really care what his hair looks like. If it is sticking up in the back, no biggy. If I knew my hair was sticking up like Alphalpha, I would be anxious about what others think. Not E. He also doesn’t care if his pants look like he is ready for a flood. He does care about some things, like being late, but I like that he has a degree of not being overly preoccupied with superficial things.
  • (o4.26.17) The kid really is low maintenance in many ways. Not all, but most. He does require the coolest brand of clothes. He could really care less about getting new shoes. I have to almost make him go with us to try them on to buy them.


  • (08.04.16) She wakes up talking. Seriously, she immediately begins to talk the moment she is conscious, and then she talks til she goes to bed. The first part is entertaining, but the rest can get tiring. A few times on trips she has shared a bed with me and I have actually observed her open her eyes, and immediately begin to talk about the most random things.
  • (04.26.17) I like it when she crawls up on my leg and lays back and watches TV with me. It’s about the only time she stays still.
  • (04.26.17) She really likes to pick flowers and give them to her mommy. She often sees one or several from the car and wants me to stop so we can pick them.

One Of The Most Important Talks A Father Can Have With His Son

He will die for lack of instruction, and in the greatness of his folly he will go astray. Proverbs 5:23

This sentence is the concluding warning to a son about the very real danger of lust and adultery (Matthew 5:27-30). And as much as anything, it is a desperate and passionate plea for the well-being of a son(s). Read and listen carefully to the words of the teacher in Proverbs 5:1-7:

“Give attention to my wisdom, incline your ear to my understanding; that you may observe discretion and your lips may reserve knowledge. For this lips of the adulteress drip honey and smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold of Sheol. She does not ponder the path of life; her ways are unstable, she does not know it. Now then, my sons, listen to me and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep away from her…”

Do you hear the concern, passion and urgency? Thousands of years later, has anything changed that we should be any less concerned than the writer of Proverbs?

Boy illuminated by the blue light of a computer monitor

My own boys are at the age for which this is a very real threat to their soul because of the easy access to porn. They are on devices regularly and even though we have rules and we monitor it closely, we can’t be with them every single second. If they have a device in their hands, or are with friends who have access to the world through the web, danger is lurking. If they go to the grocery store, there are magazine racks full of women clothed provocatively to entice a sell of something. If they go to nearly any movie, even animated ones, the potential for lust is there. Satan has lust-lures everywhere, and every male (not to exclude women, but I am addressing fathers and sons particularly) must determine in his mind not to let his impulses lead him to take the bait and swallow the sin of lust hook, line and sinker. Satan never stops fishing for the ill-prepared.

Exposure to pornography doubles in a generation

A point-blank, man-to-man question here: “Is your son prepared?”

Grandfathers, have you asked your son if he has had this talk with his son? Because if your son won’t talk to your grandson and lovingly warn him, someone needs to. It’s biblical. It’s needed. It’s loving. It’s the right thing to do. This needs to be done, and when it is done, it needs to be done again and again. Don’t be a coward to awkwardness. Do Proverbs 5 with your son and soberly say to him:

Lust and adultery will kill you, my son, so don’t go near it! But if you do, flee from it like Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife! It will cost you more than than a few moments of guilty pleasure. It will start small, but will numb you deeply, stealing your years. Pay attention son, I know! This is not something to be played with. This is deadly serious!  If you give in to it, you will live in perpetual guilt, and you will recoil from the love of God. It will make you withdraw from God’s word and God’s people. It will make you lazy, because porn is easy. You will not pursue your wife the way God intended. You will not value you her and you will treat God’s design of marriage with contempt. And generally, you will devalue women. You will treat them like objects instead of sisters who were created in the image of God. Son, don’t do porn! Flee from it! God’s way is better and more satisfying.


Fathers and grandfathers, honor God’s protective word and do this. And do it sooner rather than later. As is true in most cases, prevention is better than treatment. Get ahead of this if you still can, but for the love God and your son, do something.

I’ve only know one man who said he never looked at porn, and he said he didn’t look because his dad told him not to. Dad, don’t underestimate the power of hard talks. God uses hard-talk honesty.  That doesn’t mean it will work perfectly for you and your son, but it’s better to have tried than to have disobeyed. Trust the power of God’s word and do Proverbs 5.

One last thought to the guilt-laden dad or grandfather. If you are failing or have failed, remember that Christ finished the work of redemption for your sin and failures. Turn from your sin(s) (repent), rest in the gospel (trust/believe) and let it move you to obey (fruit of assurance) as you may have the opportunity. If you have failed, be honest and make much of Jesus and your need of Him. Jesus gives us the freedom to confess and be authenticate with others.

Let’s be honest, men, we need to do this. May the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead make it so for the glory of God together, for the good of others and our eternal joy.

15 Good Years and Counting



15 years ago today, at the building that Stillwater First Baptist Church meets in, Lacey and I made a “for better or worse, until death do us part” covenant. A covenant of God’s own sovereign and perfect making (Matthew 19:6).

When I do premarital counseling with couples I tell them: “I have never regretted marrying Lacey.” And I sincerely mean it. I have never had covenant remorse.

That’s not to say it has always been easy. We are two saved sinners who are in constant process of being sanctified of our selfishness by the power of the transforming Holy Spirit through the plan of marriage. One of the first things I realized after we publicly committed to each other was this: “I am a me-centered person. I am really selfish. I like things my way.” And by the way, I still can be very selfish, but Lacey has helped me see that, and by God’s grace He has used her to expose some of my blind spots and to help me be more like Christ. When we got married, I had little idea that God would use His plan of marriage to be so good to me (and hopefully her) in conforming me to the image of His son. In hindsight, it is surprising that this surprises me, because when we submit ourselves to God and each other – and they go together – then God uses marriage to make much of the gospel and make us more like Christ (Ephesians 5:21-33). If we miss the true purpose of marriage, we will make it about our happiness and we will be self-centered and there will be no joy in it. But when we give ourselves to God and another, it is in giving that we receive true and lasting joy. Yes, even when we give ourselves to very imperfect, often self-centered people, God uses it for His glory and our good.

But Lacey isn’t self-centered. She is giving and caring. That’s why the last 15 years have been so good. Lacey has submitted herself to her God and to her husband. I have tried to do likewise (Eph. 5:21). Here are some ways we have submitted to each other for the good of each other:

  • We have always tried to make Christ the center of our marriage, which means He is the boss of both of us. So when we have made a decision, we have always tried to do it in a way that submits to Christ and His word. So ultimately, we are trusting Christ and not each other for our greatest joy.
  • We have always tried to set clear expectations for partnership and ownership. For instance, we have a budget that helps us communicate on how our money will be spent. A budget is nothing more than a communication piece for expectations. Even if something seems obvious, it is good to say it so the other person can know what to expect.
  • We value each other’s strengths. Lacey is wonderfully hospitable and good at organizing to serve others. She is good at picking colors and helping me to be color-coordinated when I dress. She is much better than me at being optimistic and having faith. She is a better listener than I am. She has a sensitivity to worldly dangers that I don’t have. She helps me to be aware when I am insensitive to others.
  • We are intentional about liking each other and being friends. We still say please and thank you. We ask questions instead of making demands. We try to value each other’s likes – meaning she gladly lets me watch football and I  try to gladly let her watch Hallmark Movies (which are all the same). She likes to shop and I shop only out of necessity. I like to burn wood in SE Oklahoma. Lacey – not so much.
  • We have become good at admitting we are wrong and apologizing in a healthy way. I have had a lot of practice at this. We don’t go to bed angry, and when we apologize, we make a full apology. “Is being sorry enough?” 
  • We trust each other. I don’t ever wonder about whether Lacey  will forget the kids or spend more money than she should. I trust her fully to say and do the right things for our children, our family and our ministry together.
  • We support each other in dry seasons. There have been a few seasons in which both of us have been in life-funks. We trust each other enough to express it, and then we pray for each other and support each other with extra patience, even when it is hard.
  • We have goals that we are working on together. Discipling our children is our greatest joy and responsibility. We have financial goals we want to achieve. To do these things requires sacrifice for the greater good. Teamwork makes the dream work.
  • We pray together almost every night before we go to bed.
  • We know what marriage is and we love and trust God enough to adhere to His beautiful design. From the beginning marriage was God’s idea for one man and one woman to be committed to each other for a lifetime (Genesis 1:27 and 2:24; Mark 10:1-12). It’s not always easy, but it is, and will be worth it because God said so.

I like my wife and I have made the commitment to love her (do what is best for her according to God’s word) every single day. We are not perfect at marriage and it is not always easy, but because of God’s goodness to us through it, how can I regret any of it – for better or for worse?

It’s been a good 15 years, and if the Lord wills it, I hope for 15 more years of growth in marriage. Happy anniversary Lacey Prentice!

5 Group Best Practices

5 Groups are gender-specific groups of four to six people that meet weekly for the purpose of accountability and sharing honestly. These groups read through a book of the Bible as their curriculum and they meet for a defined period of time in order to multiply and replicate what has been modeled for them. (5 Groups – Questions and Answers)

I have led four generations of these 5 Groups and in doing so, through trial and error, I have been able to settle on some practices and habits that better facilitate our meetings. Here are several practices that have been helpful to the groups I have been a part of:

  • At a minimum, I have the group read the assigned passage at least twice before meeting.
  • I Send a weekly group text with a reminder about the text you are going to read. Sometimes I include a question of the week like: “How are you sharing the gospel with others?”
  • We always read the passage out loud together before we discuss it.
  • I make it known from the beginning that I will ask everyone to share an insight, a question and an application regarding the weekly assigned text. This provides accountability for reading the text prior to the meaning and it helps people to prepare.
  • I press for application, asking pointedly: “What does Jesus want you to do in light of the insight and questions you have about God’s Spirit-inspired word. This isn’t just about a great discussion or learning, it must also be about following Jesus.
  • I always make room for prayer. If our discussion has gone long when we meet, we still take the time to share prayer requests, and then we assign those requests to each person in the group, asking them to text the person they are praying for when they have prayed for the request.
  • I remind the group every few weeks why you are meeting with them. I will say to my groups that the reason we have designed these groups the way they are is so that they can do the same thing with someone else. I will sometimes say: “The reason I am doing this with you is so that you can do it with others.” I want to press the need for reproducing multiplication and I want them to be thinking who they might invite to join them when the next round of groups is started.

One of the things I like about 5 Groups is that they are simply this simple by design. All you need is a few faithful people, a plan to read a book of the Bible, some leader vulnerability for the sake of honesty and a consistent plan for a defined time.

What practices have worked best for you?

CH Spurgeon: Enter Christ, The Perfect and Ultimate Ark

Preached by Charles Haddon Spurgeon from February 19, 1865 on Genesis 8:21:

It would be very instructive to dwell upon each point of the resemblance between Noah’s deliverance and the salvation of every elect soul. Noah enters the ark: there is a time when we distinctly enter Christ and become one with Him. Noah was shut in the ark so that he could never come out again till God should open the door: there is a time when every child of God is shut in, when faith and full assurance give him an evidence that he is indissolubly on with Jesus Christ; grasped in Christ’s hand  so that none can pluck him thence, hidden in Christ’s loins so that none can separate him from the love of God. Then comes the the flood: there is a season in the Christian’s experience when he discovers his own depravity; he is saved, he is in the ark, he is however still a sinner, still the subject of imbred lusts: on a sudden all these corruptions break up, the beat upon the ark, they assail his faith, they endeavor if possible to drown his soul in sin, but he is not destroyed by them all, for by the grace of God he is where other men are not, he is where he cannot be drowned by sin, he is in Christ Jesus. He mounts as the floods deepen; the more he feels the depth of his depravity, the more he admires the fullness of the atoning sacrifice, the more terrible the temptation the more joyous is his consolation in Christ Jesus, so he rises in holy communion towards his God…

The saved souls first act is, like Noah, to build an altar unto God and, as a priest, to offer sacrifice, which as it rises to heaven, is accepted because it is a memorial of Christ…

If you wish to rise above the flood of judgment that every sinner deserves, then enter Christ, the perfect and ultimate ark.

Tough Questions from Genesis 5:1-6:8

This past Sunday during the sermon (Genesis 5:1-6:8) it was raining like it was the days of Noah during the flood. At least that’s what it sounded like with our building’s metal roof. I could barely hear myself think so I decided to jettison the second half of the sermon, and when I did I promised a blog concerning the questions I was sure people were wondering.

Before I try to answer the questions of inquiring minds, I want to reiterate what I said on Sunday. It is fine to ask questions and wonder, but be careful that tertiary concerns don’t distract you from Jesus who is the fulfillment and end of all the scriptures (John 5:39; Ephesians 3:10; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Yes, be eager to learn – be a sponge – but if it doesn’t help you follow Jesus with all your heart and mind, what good is to you in eternity? Always keep in mind that the author could have said many more things than were written, but the author whose writings are inspired by the Holy Spirit (John 20:30; 2 Timothy 3:16), was intending to tell you something about the triune and only true God. Sometimes we wonder about things in the text that the author did not mean to answer and we must be careful not to chase those rabbits too far down the hole of fruitless distraction. Therefore, we must always be careful to stay teachable but we must also say what we can say for sure so that we don’t get lost chasing speculations that have no firm answer. The Bible is not just a book of ancient curiosity, but a book of special revelation that points us to the way ,the truth and the life (John 14:6). We must keep our eyes on the intended authorial meaning, and we must make essential truth our rallying point for unity.

Now back to my promise and the reason you are likely reading. Genesis 5:1-6:8 is a faith-testing passage because it has verses that many have questions about, but it also has verses that may cause us to question whether we can trust the Bible.

Here are four questions that I suspect many people had from Sunday’s passage.

  1. How can I (we) trust the Bible when it says that people lived almost 1,000 years in Genesis 5:1-32?  To get the ball rolling, there are living things on earth that live a long time compared to the life expectancy of humans. For instance, Ming the deep-sea clam lived 507 years. I don’t know how humans verified that scientifically, but let’s give Ming the benefit of the doubt. A bristle-cone pine is capable of living up to 5,000 years. So there are living things that can live a really long time – for whatever that is worth. But humans living upwards to a thousand years? Seems more mythical than factual – right? By the way, can you imagine having a child when you are 815 years? I can barely keep up with my children at the age of 40. If you presuppose a human can’t live that long under any circumstance, then I suppose nothing will convince you otherwise. I suggest you stop reading here and get on to more important things because life is short these days. In the United States the life expectancy is a bout 80 years on average. However, in Genesis 3:22 Moses records the LORD God saying that had the man and woman taken from the tree of life and eaten, they would have lived forever. It appears then that never-perishing bodies was the original intent. But sin happened and death came just as promised (Genesis 2:17). Also remember Genesis chapter one, that God creates with awesome power by speaking the creation into being. Is it really so hard to believe that God can create a human that can live a thousand years if He can speak into being the universe in all its magnificent enormity? Would not a thousand years seem like a moment to an eternal God? Jeremiah 32:17 proclaims: “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah is right in that if God can create, then is it too hard for Him to sustain eternally (Hebrew 1:1-4)? If you believe in God and believe He is there, do you not have enough faith to expect that He would be God-like and extraordinary in what He is able to do? Don’t you believe in a God for whom all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)? Perhaps you, or someone else might say, “Well, I just can’t believe in miracles like immortal elves (The Lord of the Rings) or virgin births (Matthew 1).” “Christians believe in the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus. Materialists believe in the virgin birth of the cosmos. Choose your miracle.” – (Glen Scrivener) One worldview says there is a cause and the other(s) says we don’t know – at least not yet. If there is a creator God, we have to give Him all the credit He deserves as the God for whom all things are possible. In no way am I suggesting that we should have a non-wondering, blind faith. We should observe the creation and wonder so that we might wander at God. Faith is based on knowledge. But having said that, why is it so hard to believe that an eternal God can be trusted to sustain people for hundreds of years on planet earth? If you believe the Bible, you do believe God will speak you into being for all eternity – right? 1,000 years doesn’t seem that long when you think about it that way.
  2. Who are the sons of God? I read no fewer than five commentaries and the one point they all agreed on is that this is greatly debated and there is no scholarly consensus. On the other hand, John MacArthur is quite sure he knows what it means and I find his arguments to be very compelling. You can read his sermon and argument here  DEMONIC INVASIONMacArthur argues that the “sons of God” (Job 38:7) are demons who possess men that results in child-producing relationships with the “daughters of men”. MacArthur says this is one of the reasons the people of that time were considered so wicked by the LORD God (6:5). Their activity was literally demonic. Some have pointed out that Matthew 22:30 suggests that angels are spirit-beings that are incapable of sexual relations and therefore the angel/demon hypothesis should be dismissed on these grounds, but MacArthur counters with the idea that these demons were simply inhabiting men who could reproduce. The other option is that the “sons of God” were simply the Seth-ites, or those from the line of Seth; Adam’s youngest son mentioned in Genesis chapter four. John H. Sailhammer contends that chapter six of Genesis is a summary description of people doing what people do. Namely, they were living life, flourishing (Gen. 4:17-22) and multiplying according to the blessing of God (Gen. 1:26-28). Jesus said in Matthew 24:38, “For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage…” There are other options, but these two seem to me to be the best. The question must be asked, however, what in these verses suggests that God’s merciful patience had come to an end (6:3)? Why would He say that they would have 120 more years to repent (6:3) and then judgment would come by way of flood? The demonic solution seems to be the best answer, but as for me, I am still undecided. But what can we say for sure? Here is my answer. With human flourishing came the flourishing of wickedness and the LORD God was grieved and ready to act in judgment. Wickedness was run-a-muck, and God had had enough.
  3. Who are the Nephilim? In Genesis 6:4, Moses tells us that they were on the earth when the sons of God were having children with the daughters of men, and that they were mighty men with legend-like reputations. The only other time the name Nephilim is used in the scriptures is Number 13:33 when the spies report what they saw in the promised land. “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are  part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” From Numbers 13:33 we can conclude that the Nephilim were a large people – a giant-like people. Perhaps the spies and those who were with them as they plotted to enter the promised land remembered Genesis 6:4 and decided to describe the people they saw with the name: Nephilim? Keep in mind, that the only people who survived the flood, according to the Bible, were Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives. So the Nephilim the spies encountered, would not be the descendants of the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4. The most we might conclude then is that the Nephilim in Gensis 6 were large and mighty. But take note of what the text explicitly says about them: “Those were mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” Moses speaks of them as exceptional mortal men and he speaks of them in the past tense. Maybe they were those mentioned in the line of Cain (4:17-22) who were renowned due to the human flourishing that came about in their time. Nevertheless, twice he takes care to emphasize that they are men. They are not aliens. They are not part demon and part human. They are men. Why does Moses mention this? MacArthur suggests that some in his time may have thought they were super-humans because they were part demon and part human, and therefore, Moses is dismissing this myth and saying there is no such thing and the people he is leading shouldn’t think demon mingling will help them. There are angels and demons, and there are humans, but there are no demon-humans. One final suggestion. The Nephilim are those in the line of Cain, and their giant-sized bodies were the sign that God gave to protect Cain from retaliation for killing Abel (4:13-15). Remember though that Cain’s line would have been wiped out by the flood, since Noah was of Seth’s line. So the Nephilim of Numbers 13:33 were not  the result of God’s sign of protection to those who the spies saw. So what can we say for sure? The people Moses was writing to must have known what he was talking about, and whatever he meant to teach with this obscure mention of the Nephilim, we can be contextually sure that God was going to judge the world unless there was repentance.
  4. Was God admitting He was wrong to make man in Genesis 6:5-7? A few translations suggest that the LORD God was brought to repentance – a change of mind that leads to a change of action – because of the wickedness of the humans He created. Other translations say God was sorry, remorseful and that He regretted that He had made humans. Does this passage teach that God was wrong and He needed to change His mind in a repentance sort-of-way? The LORD God was patient for well over a thousand years before He declared that He was going to give mankind 120 years to repent before the flood delivered judgment (6:3). He desired that His crowning achievement repent. He felt anguish and disappointment that men and women had chose to go their own way instead of God’s way. These are the words that Moses chose to communicate the way the LORD God felt. One commentary described God’s response to wickedness this way: “God is not robot. We know him as a personal, living God, not a static principle, who while having transcendent purposes to be sure also engages intimately with his creation. Our God is incomparably affected by, even pained by, the sinner’s rebellion. Acknowledging the emotions of God does not diminish the immutability (unchangeable-ness) of His promissory purposes. Rather, His feelings and actions toward men, such as judgment or forgiveness, are always inherently consistent with his essential person and just and gracious resolve.” God does not repent of wrong, though He grieves and anguishes over it. What we witness in this passage is a personal God who has been deeply wronged by a close friend and so He experiences all the feelings that accompany betrayal. John MacArthur, who does not have a reputation of being a feely-kind-of-preacher, explained it this way: ‘”The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth and He was grieved in His heart.” This is what He felt. He felt sadness. He felt grief over what man had become. And the Lord expressed that sorrow in human terms. It was as if He was sorry He made them. Obviously God isn’t sorry in the sense that He was getting information He didn’t expect. He wasn’t sorry in the sense that it hadn’t turned out the way He thought it would, He knew exactly how it would turn out. But that didn’t make Him any less sorrowful and it didn’t make man any less guilty. And His sadness is not tied to some surprise, but His sadness is tied to the fact that He has no choice. His holiness demands destruction. It is necessary, it is inevitable, it is consistent with who He is. His holy nature has no choice but to punish him, and that brings Him grief. So we saw what the Lord saw and we read what the Lord felt.’ If God is incapable of wrong, then He is not perfectly holy, and if God is not perfectly holy, why do we have to repent and why are we judged for violated a infinitely righteous God. In Genesis 6:5-7, we get a snapshot of the LORD God who grieves over the just punishment that sin requires.

I don’t know if I have helped? I have tried to model thinking through these challenging questions in a biblical way, while challenging us to keep our eye on what the Bible is clearly teaching. It grows our faith in God to think through these things and be challenged by them. At the end of the day, you will either believe God, yourself or someone else. Trust Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One. The Bible, even the Old Testament, is ultimately about Him (2 Timothy 3:15-17).