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Every Pastor Should Read ‘Note to Self’

Note to Self by Joe Thorn“Preaching it” is easier than living it. This creates significant problems when our speaking talent outweighs our personal character. Therefore, it is imperative that we, as shepherds, shepherd ourselves – that we hear the Word, do the Word, and preach to ourselves first. That’s why I love Joe Thorn’s book Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself (Re: Lit Books).

We often buy books to help us prepare sermons. You should buy this book to help prepare yourself. The book is divided into three sections, all revolving around the gospel. The first section leads our hearts to assume a posture of praise. The second teaches us how the gospel impacts our relationships with other people. The third reminds us of the impact the gospel should have on self. Here’s a line we need to hear concerning our wives…

You should seek to be the brightest representation of Jesus she sees, as you represent Christ as Savior and servant to her. That would look like seeking her out when you get home from work, instead of seeking solace for yourself. It means affirming her calling and gifts, listening to her, speaking words of encouragement to her, and at all times working for her good. Jesus loves you this way, and in like manner you are called to love your wife.

The gospel is not simply a salvation message intended for people who are lost and apart from Christ. The gospel is the central core of all that we are in Christ and all that we do for Christ. Believers need to be fed from the message of the gospel, and this book drives it home in the hearts of those of us who are most at risk for taking the gospel for granted – preachers.

Grab A Copy

How Can I Be Legalism Free?

I like rules, lines, and boundaries. I feel safer if I have clear parameters, which explains my love for graph paper. I like it when everything is nice and tidy. The problem is, life isn’t always nice and tidy. People around me don’t always play by my rules, and I’m the biggest boundary breaker of them all.

It would seem that the alternative to rules-based living would be no rules living, rebellion, and abandonment of moral restraint. But what if that isn’t the best alternative to legalistic living? Jesus’ greatest confrontations happened with legalists who not only lived by rigid sets of rules, but quickly judged others by those rules as well.

The New Testament message – the gospel – is one of liberation from legalism, but it isn’t an encouragement to rebellion either. It’s about being free to really live. But how? How can I really live a life free from legalism and still grow into the godly character that Jesus saved me to be?

Establish Some Foundational Principles

We can know certain things to be true, no matter what. They are unbreakable absolutes that cannot be compromised. For example…

  • God’s Word, the Bible (including the “Law”), is perfect, good, without any mixture of error, and therefore completely trustworthy as the basis for living life.
  • Holiness, complete maturity, and Christlikeness is God’s goal for every believer in Christ.
  • Legalism never gets us to that goal. (So let’s move on…)

Diagnose Thyself

My name is Brandon Cox, and I’m a legalist. At least I still struggle with the remnants of legalism in my life. I guess I’m a “recovering legalist” who still slips into the old frame of mind sometimes. In fact, I think we all tend toward legalism to varying degrees and the longer we’ve been believers, the more susceptible we are.

How can you tell if you’re a legalist? Here’s a quick checklist…

  1. I determine whether God likes me or not based on how well I’ve kept the rules.
  2. I might acknowledge I was saved by grace alone, but I think my effort has something to do with staying saved.
  3. I tend to pray less when I fear that God is probably mad at me about something.
  4. I think I’m disqualified from the Christian faith because I’ve messed up, in spite of the fact that I’m still alive and breathing.
  5. I tend to notice the “bad behavior” in others without giving thought to their past pain, poor upbringing, or unknown circumstances.
  6. When other sinners suffer for their choices, I hear a tiny voice saying “serves them right.”
  7. I’m more passionate about the rules I find easy to keep, and minimize the ones I personally struggle with.
  8. I’m all about being “in the Word” but sometimes fail to let the Word get into me.
  9. I love going to Bible study more than serving or witnessing because it “feeds me” and makes me feel more spiritually mature.
  10. I recognize that traditions are not necessarily biblical… unless they’re my traditions.

Thoroughly self-diagnosed yet? Let’s talk about the cure.

Heal Thyself

You need to know, up front, that you’ll never completely get over being a legalist. Since the garden of Eden, God has been all about grace. It explains why God made coats of animal skins to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. And since the garden of Eden, we’ve tried (with Satan’s help) to re-write the gospel to somehow include merit. As humans, we are rules addicts.

But we can break free. Jesus invites us to His freedom…

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

~ Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Paul developed a distinctive theology of freedom.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

~ Galatians 5:1 NLT

Here are some steps to take…

  1. See your sin for what it is. It’s an offense to God to sin. No, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over past mistakes, but you also shouldn’t vindicate yourself on the basis that sin “isn’t a big deal.”
  2. See Jesus for whom He is. He’s your sacrifice. Nothing you’ve done could have prevent Him from going to the cross just for you. He’s the only perfect and righteous Savior.
  3. See the cross for what it is. The cross was where He died for your sins. In other words, your sins are paid for. Stop trying to pay the debt yourself. Every time you do, you ignore the cross and insult His sacrifice.
  4. Embrace grace. Revel in it. Bathe yourself in the idea of it. Roll around in the concept that you are free… free indeed!
  5. Embrace grace… more. Don’t stop thinking about it. Read about it. Read about how Jesus showed it. Understand that you’ll never totally understand it, but don’t stop trying.
  6. Show grace. In fact, mob people with it. Show it when you don’t feel like it, when it doesn’t make sense, and especially when it would feel better to do otherwise.

I recently joined the People of the Second Chance. No, it’s not a cult. It’s just this…

People of the Second Chance gives voice to a scandalous movement of radical grace in life and leadership. We challenge the common misconceptions about failure and success and stand with those who have hit rock bottom in their personal and professional lives. We are a community that is committed to stretch ourselves in the areas of relational forgiveness, personal transparency, and advocate for mercy over judgment.

We are not ashamed of our scars, wounds, or failures and leverage them as a source of strength and character development.

People of the Second Chance have experienced a second chance so we actively support social justice organizations and advocate for the vulnerable, forgotten, and left behind.

We are People of the Second Chance.

3 CORE PRINCIPLES
1. GIVE A SECOND CHANCE:
We extend grace in our relationships, workplaces, and in the world.

2. RECEIVE A SECOND CHANCE:
We refuse to be victims and are not defeated by our past. We courageously open ourselves to personal forgiveness.

3. BE A SECOND CHANCE
We sacrificially give our time and resources to the work of renewal, restoration, and social justice.

You don’t have to join a movement, attend a Bible study, or wear a badge. Just embrace grace! Celebrate it and never look back. You can be legalism free. Jesus said so!

Also, if you’d like a nice downloadable pdf of this, check out the same post on the Grace Hills Church website.

Dear Church… Go and Multiply

My friend, Stephen Gray, has recently made a comment on Twitter that has really hit home with Angie and I…

Church multiplication is a spiritual decision of a church to put the needs of a desperate world before self-preservation.

And that reminds me of another thought offered by my mentor, Grady Higgs…

Churches should be born pregnant.

Multiplying SeedThe book of Acts traces the amazing work of the Holy Spirit through the apostles and it records the numerical growth of the church in its earliest ages. What is interesting to read is that in the first few chapters, God was adding people to the church. Then in Acts 6, there is a division and the leadership gets spread around to seven newly ordained leaders. Suddenly, the church multiplied.

The same is true on a broader scale in Acts 8 when persecution came under Saul and people were scattered around everywhere preaching the Word. The early church was willing (or rather forced by persecution) to lay down its instinct toward self-preservation and begin the work of multiplying.

Multiplying (planting other church-planting churches so that a local church has children and grandchildren) is a scary thing. Why? Because it costs money, takes time, consumes resources, and causes us to devote a little less time to maintaining what we have. But it’s God’s way of aggressively growing His kingdom.

One of the values we’re building into the core of Grace Hills Church is multiplication. We’ll immediately be bringing interns and residents alongside us to learn and grow, whom we will then send out to lead church planting teams elsewhere. We want to be involved in the planning phases of our church’s first baby before our first year of worship services is over. In this way, we’ll be a kingdom-focused “teaching hospital” that has a global understanding of what God is doing in our world.

I’ve already received the question plenty of times, “why plant a church around other churches?” If you’re asking that, you’re thinking too much about geography, buildings, and all the things a church is not. The fact is, there are very few if any places in America where large and overlapping circles of people haven’t yet been reached and changed by the gospel’s influence. And I think we can agree that the number of church buildings physically present in a community is absolutely no gauge of the level of genuine life-transformation that has or has not taken place.

If your church hasn’t been intentional about investing in planting another new church within the last three years, repent and make a change today. Abandon any scrambles for self-preservation and unselfishly invest your resources for the growth of the kingdom of God. I’d hate to be a church sitting on piles of uninvested resources the moment Jesus comes back.

What would we say? “But Jesus… at least we kept our doors open!”

Photo Credit: Raymond Shobe

Ordering the Priorities of Life

Priorities

Priorities are a continuing struggle for most of us. For people in ministry leadership, this struggle usually doesn’t result from a lack of commitment, but from a lack of clarity about our commitments. That is, we’re either over-committed or we’re committed to mutually exclusive priorities. We are all given 168 hours in a week, but some of us use those hours more effectively than others.

So how do you order your priorities in such a way that major areas of your life don’t fall behind? How do you juggle all the stuff of life so that nothing hits the ground and breaks? First realize that you can’t juggle perfectly. No one can, but if practice makes perfect (or at least grows us toward the goal of perfection) then practice we must!

Define Your Roles

You may not like labels, but I do. I don’t want to be boxed in or defined by a limited perspective, but I do like the clarity of identifying who I am and living out my life according to my God-given roles. For example…

  • I’m a disciple. That’s my first role. before anything else, I’m a child of God, which comes with certain realizations (well-stated in the “Radicalis Declaration“). So my priorities begin with who I am as a believer.
  • I’m a husband. God put me into a till-death-do-us-part, one-flesh relationship with the love of my life and I have certain things I need to be concentrating on when it comes to growing my marriage and growing as a husband (and my wife will attest that I have a long way to go).
  • I’m a Dad. God has given me two of the most precious kids on the planet, and they need for their Dad to focus on how to be a better Dad.
  • I’m a Pastor. And as a Pastor (literally shepherd), I have a focus on people – caring for them, teaching them, mentoring them, and I have plenty of room to grow here too.

The list goes on. I do freelance web design work. I volunteer my services for some organizations. I’ve been a member of some boards and committees. I’ve been a speaker at meetings and conferences. Those are some of my labels – my roles – and I could probably come up with dozens, just like you.

Until we understand who we are in Christ and whom God has called us to be and to become, we won’t have a good grasp on what we’re here to be doing each day. Because of my roles, my priorities begin with prayer and reading God’s Word. My priorities include intentionally thinking about the needs of my wife, my kids, and the other people God has placed under my shepherding care.

What about you? What are your priorities? What are the big roles you need to be thinking through?

Photo Credit: Richard Summers

Praise: Life’s Toughest of Tests

Refiner's FireJesus’ followers are constantly being tested – not in the sense that He’s trying to make us fail, but in the sense that He’s preparing us to pass. He tests us through trials and troubles, just as a craftsman “tries” or purifies metals in intense and melting heat. But the toughest of tests isn’t loneliness or loss. It isn’t suffering. It’s praise.

“Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised.” ~ [youversion]Proverbs 27:21 NLT[/youversion]

Success brings its own test, and it’s often much more difficult to pass than the test of suffering. Think about it. How many mistakes have you made in your life as a result of hoping everyone around you continues to like you? We avoid painful truth. We become in authentic. We allow pride to creep in, which “goes before destruction.”

If we’re not careful, we will actually begin to believe all the good things others are saying about us in our moments of success. When this happens, we’re in danger of believing that we’re untouchable or incapable of failure. Great heroes are forged in the fires of suffering and I wouldn’t diminish the role of suffering in the believer’s life. But if death to self is the key to discipleship, then death to criticism and to praise is necessary.

We’re living in an age where too many leaders have too much success too early, and too little character to prepare them for handling the spotlight. If you’re in a spot in life where everyone is singing your praises, guard your heart all the more aggressively against pride. Withstand this test, stay humble, keep a right perspective on self in relation to God and you’ll come forth as gold!

Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson