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That Time God Told a Man to Kill His Only Son

Sacrifice_of_Isaac-Caravaggio_(Uffizi)

Our culture has bought into this strange notion that we are ever-evolving in our enlightenment and everyone who is old and dead is dumb. Everything we thought pre-Elvis is primitive and ignorant. So ancient story about God visiting an old man named Abraham and instructing him to sacrifice his teenaged son Isaac on an altar with a knife is downright offensive to our modern sensibilities. It’s one of those stories skeptics zero in on to illustrate the outlandish nature of God’s brutality.

And I’ll admit, I’ve often struggled with the story. Human sacrifice is certainly out of line with everything else that God has revealed and seems to break several of the big ten commandments. Could the story really be the account of a senile old man hallucinating? Or was God just that mean back then? But my doubts seem to wash away when I realize what’s really going on in the story, found in Genesis, chapter 22. And when I get it, I’m overwhelmed with the nature of God’s grace.

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I Messed Up! And I Think I’ll Do It Again This Week

Miles Davis on Mistakes

A few weeks ago, I made a bit of a dumb mistake in my role as Editor of Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox. I took a risk and tried to do something creative and it didn’t land the way I’d intended. People noticed. I sent a note of apology to the team and wallowed in my feelings of failure a bit until I got this note from Pastor Rick…

Thanks Brandon. This is your mistake for this week. Now go make a different one next week! It’s how we learn!

Few words have been as immediately healing and empowering. And it makes sense in light of Rick’s main article this week on Pastors.com entitled Why You Should Make At Least One Mistake Each Week. Rick says,

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5 Questions to Ask When You Think You’ve Heard from God

light-industry-lamp-ceiling

Discernment. I have a love-hate relationship with that word. On the one hand, some Christians use discernment as an excuse to go on a witch hunt, disqualifying as many leading voices as possible and labeling people “false teachers” at the drop of a hat. Entire ministries are built on this kind of paranoia, and it’s a little sad.

On the other hand, discernment can also be an overlooked and under-valued virtue. In our desire to remain positive, sometimes we accept non-truths and half-truths without thinking through them deeply. When we’re not careful and discerning, we’ll say a hearty “Amen” to any pithy saying that gives us the warm fuzzies.

This is nothing new. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about our imbalance with discernment two millennia ago. In the closing remarks of his first letter to them, he gave them five big pieces of advice about discernment (I’m inserting #’s for emphasis):

(#1) Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. (#2) Do not scoff at prophecies, but (#3) test everything that is said. (#4) Hold onto what is good. (#5) Stay away from evil of every kind.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NLT

Paul’s advice sounds a lot like the tip W. A. Criswell used to give about reading, “Read a book the way you eat fish – swallow the meat and spit out the bones.”

An over-active discernment muscle will cause us to be critical of anything that might disturb our spiritual comfort, including the Holy Spirit himself. But failing to test what we think we’re hearing from God is equally dangerous. Let me zero in on Paul’s phrase “test everything.” I live by five tests. When I think I’m hearing from God, here are five tests I apply that I believe will help you be appropriately discerning too:

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5 Reasons Why Men Just Can’t Win

Go Fight Win

I try. I fail. I try and fail again. Why can’t I just win? Why can’t I get this right?

I ask myself those questions a lot, but even as I ask them, I know the answers. They’re on the tip of my tongue and God’s spirit often reminds me of them right in the middle of my pity party, which is so inconvenient. And I think that, as a man, I’m not alone. All men struggle. All men have internal battles. And all men wonder if they’ll ever really win.

For your benefit and mine, for the sake of all men, let me just spill my guts about why I just can’t win. Or at least, why I don’t win when I don’t win. Reflect on how you see these in your own life.

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3 Ways to Try to Kill the Church In America

Old Salem Church and Cemetery

So the big news among religious leaders right now are the latest results from new research conducted by the Pew Research Center. The data reflects what I and plenty of other leaders have been anecdotally observing for a while – Christianity is losing ground while other religions are growing along with the number of unaffiliated people.

One of the most interesting statistics for me personally is this little detail:

The new survey indicates that churches in the evangelical Protestant tradition – including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Presbyterian Church in America, 0ther evangelical denominations and many nondenominational congregations – now have a total of about 62 million adult adherents. That is an increase of roughly 2 million since 2007, though once the margins of error are taken into account, it is possible that the number of evangelicals may have risen by as many as 5 million or remained essentially unchanged.

That means two things. First, evangelicalism has more adherents than a decade ago. And second, that growth hasn’t kept up with the actual total population growth in the U.S. In other words, we’ve reached more Americans, but we’re reaching less of America as it outgrows us.

The Washington Post shared the news with a simplistic headline of Christianity faces sharp decline as Americans are becoming even less affiliated with religion. Most of those commenting on the article give evidence of not having read the article. The consensus would be something along the lines of “Christianity in America is shrinking because it’s too conservative theologically.” This seems logical, but there’s a problem. It isn’t true. As I commented there,

So, evangelicalism, generally referring to those who believe in a supernatural God, a risen Jesus, and a trustworthy Bible, are doing alright, while denominations that have given up on biblical theology in an attempt to be more agreeable with the surrounding culture are shrinking. Interesting.

This is a point most people seem to miss. After pouring over Pew’s report and reflecting on some of my own observations about evangelicalism in America, I’ve come to some conclusions about what is really going on. I’ll summarize them this way – there are three ways we’re killing the church in America. They are…

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