Category Archives: Church Growth

Saturday Sampler: February 26 — March 4

cross-sampler-02Commenting on something she read in The New York Times, Elizabeth Prata has an essay in  The End Time discussing Practical magic’s resurgence that I believe is worth your attention.

In Learn to Discern: The Corruption of Christianity (the latest in a series in Growing 4 Life), Leslie A. shares an essay by her brother,  Pastor Dean. Dean examines six popular trends which have dangerously weakened the visible church.

Once again, Rebekah Womble knocks it out of the park on her blog, Wise In His Eyes. This time, I recommend her blog post, Women, Don’t Feed on Fluff for its Scriptural guidelines on discerning whether an author or teacher is worth our time (and money).

As Reformed Christians commemorate this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we must consider the differences between us and Roman Catholics. Blogging for The Cripplegate, Jordan Standridge asks Which Jesus does your Roman Catholic friend believe in? This post offers helpful guidelines for witnessing to Catholic friends and family.

Michael J. Krueger has been writing a series for Canon Fodder. His latest installment, Taking Back Christianese #8: “It’s Not My Place to Judge Someone Else”, takes on the common misapplication of Matthew 7:1.

Lisa Morris of Conforming to the Truth cautions us about The Upside Down Truth About Quick Bible Devotions. Ladies, we can do better.

Are you observing Lent this year? If so, Michelle Lesley lists 40 Things to Give Up for Lent as an encouragement to think Biblically about the season. If you wonder why (after writing so strongly against observing Lent Tuesday) I’ve included her article on this Saturday Sampler, read what she has to say.

Even through Brian Lee’s article, Repent of Lent: How Spiritual Disciplines Can Be Bad For Your Soul, appeared in The Federalist three years ago, it raises points about the practice that mustn’t be overlooked. Perhaps this is the most Biblical treatment of Lent I’ve read so far.

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Sturday Sampler: January 8– January 14

Tulip Sampler 01Anxiety is (sigh!) yet another sin I continue to battle. So I appreciate Clint Archer for writing Don’t Worry, Be Godly — Pt 1 for The Cripplegate this week. Archer adds a touch of whimsy to this difficult topic, and he offers a helpful working definition of anxiety. I can’t wait for next Monday’s post in this series.

Denny Burk’s article, “I Got Gay Married. I Got Gay Divorced. I Regret Both” examines Meridith Maran’s New York Times article by the same title. Interesting reading. Hopefully it will educate those who believe same sex marriage is simply a mirror of traditional marriage.

I write incessantly about reading Bible verses in their proper context, and I expect to do so for quite some time. The Beautiful Art of Biblical Knowledge that Autumn Beck authors for She Disciples uses a frequently quoted (and usually misapplied) verse to teach us how context leads us to the correct interpretation of God’s Word.

Leave it to Jen of One Hired Late In The Day. She’s Finding Encouragement From That Which Discourages. Perhaps her essay will inspire you to do the same. I also highly recommend her article, Let’s Talk About Evangelism, which contrasts Biblical  evangelism with the Church Growth Movement.

Sometimes I wonder if I like Rebekah Womble’s blog, Wise In His Eyes, simply because she shares my mom’s maiden name. But posts like Restless: Because You Were Made For More, in which she reviews Jenny Allen’s book of the same name, assures me that Rebekah deserves to be read because of her Scriptural insight and her fair approach to analyzing what she reads. Jenny Allen’s book probably isn’t worth your time, but Rebekah’s blog definitely is!

Stephen Altroggie of The Blazing Center gives us 5 Reasons To Read The Bible When You Feel Absolutely Nothing. Since I’m presently reading Leviticus without much excitement, I find Altroggie’s blog post refreshingly encouraging. I also agree with his assessment.

Elizabeth Prata often receives questions from readers of her blog, The End Time. She answers a particularly intriguing inquiry with her post, Mail Call 4: Why do some women discern false teachers and others accept false teachers? Elizabeth gives a basic reply that, sorry to say, we usually overlook.

My many years in seeker-sensitive churches cause me to cheer Owen Strachan’s article, The Hot ‘New’ Church Growth Method, in the Gospel Coalition Blog. Please, seeker-sensitive proponents, people like me have been trying to tell you this very thing for quite some time!

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Saturday Sampler: December 11–December 17

christmas-sampler

Certainly we should welcome millennials into our churches, appreciating their fresh perspectives and encouraging them to develop their gifts. But in A Response to 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church, Leslie A. of Growing 4 Life reminds us that we must never accommodate the next generation at the expense of church integrity. I’ve watched a church make that mistake. It’s terribly sad.

With humor and Biblical accuracy, Peggy Overstreet of GladnessInYourPresence gives us a discernment lesson with her post, FAKE NEWS, MR. ROGERS AND ITCHING EARS. Enjoy!

Gulp! Michelle Lesley is right in her article, Sharing Christ with the Muslim Immigrant Next Door, and my flesh really doesn’t like the truth she conveys. But, as I said, she’s telling the truth, and many of us (including me) need to hear her message.

Okay, after being thoroughly convicted by Michelle’s post, ONE MOVE LEFT! by Jian Ming Zhong of Christian Reformed Ink Archives should encourage us that God always has something more to do.

In  his blog post entitled Sorrow, Depression, & the Holidays, Eric Davis of The Cripplegate offers a compassionate and Scriptural examination of depression. At this time of year, many people feel their emotional struggles with heightened intensity, making Davis’ message particularly important and encouraging.

In a guest post for Satisfaction Through Christ, Rachel shows us that Normalizing Sin results as we surrender our minds to certain genres in popular media. She also suggests ways to keep ourselves sensitive to sin.

Writing for ParkingSpace23, Jason Vaughn challenges Christians who oppose any mention of Santa Claus with his Reprise: Will Santa Make you a Bad Parent? Taking a very different position from the  blog post by Kari Dent that I included in last Saturday’s Sampler, Vaughn joins her in remembering the importance of Christian liberty. I think he presents an interesting and valuable perspective.

Here’s a healthy New Year’s challenge: In Knowable Word, Peter Krol writes Dear Church: I Dare You to Trust Your Bible This Year.

In observation of Christmas Eve, I’ll skip next week’s edition of Saturday Sampler. John and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year full of Christ’s richest blessings. Thank you for reading and supporting The Outspoken TULIP.

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Some Roads Only Lead To Abandoned Dog Racing Tracks

When I lived in Memphis back in 1995, Mom  came out to visit. She stayed in a hotel only two miles away from the nursing home (where I lived). On the Saturday of my visit, my friend James picked me up in my van, and we set out for Mom’s hotel.

1995, of course, hadn’t yet seen GPS devices, so we honestly believed the road we’d taken led to the hotel. But 15 minutes later, as we found ourselves on the bridge crossing the Mississippi River into Arkansas, James remembered that the road split way back near the nursing home. We had stayed on the wider, more traveled road, thinking it would get us to the hotel in downtown Memphis. Instead, it led us to an abandoned dog racing track in another state.

This story fluttered back into my memory one day as I thought about the various trends and teachers flooding the evangelical church today. At first, we don’t notice any deviation from Biblical doctrine. In fact, we see these trends and teachers attract more people to church, and we conclude that the numbers signify God’s blessing. Just as James and I assumed the broad, more populous road would take us to Mom’s hotel, so evangelicals trust these popular movements and teachers to lead them to spiritual truths.

But often, the popular route ends up miles away from truth. Things that appear to  be Christian may actually lure people to a counterfeit spirituality. And popularity may, to our surprise, even serve as an indication of deviation from truth. Consider this passage from the Lord’s own Sermon on the Mount:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” ~~Matthew 7:13-27 (ESV)


The narrow gate squeezes  out false doctrine.  Though it’s so much easier to jump on whatever bandwagon comes to “a church near you,” Jesus holds us accountable to examine the quality (rather than the quantity) of each program and teaching. Beth Moore and Rick Warren, for example, may inspire millions of people to buy their books and attend their speaking engagements, but they manipulate Scripture to preach a  false gospel of  narcissism instead of elevating the Lord Jesus Christ. Similarly, the Gay Christian Movement concentrates on rewriting God’s Word for the sole purpose of legitimizing their sexual  sin. 

And on an on the deception goes, slowly and subtly leading evangelicals away from the Biblical Christ into a parody of Christianity as lifeless as those dog racing tracks in Arkansas. Perhaps my attempts to demonstrate how various trends and teachers steer people in wrong directions appear unloving and unnecessarily divisive as I “rip” cherished teachers and ideas. But love, if it’s genuine, warns people that they misread maps and follow the traffic on the wrong road.

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Reviving New England Book Review

reviving-new-england-coverAbout 11 years ago, a friend graciously drove me and John down to Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum that recreates the original settlement of the Separatists who came to America on the Mayflower. The interpreters portray some of the actual people who lived on the settlement in 1629, remaining resolutely in character as they interact with their 1st Century visitors. When we visited, several conversations revealed the deep Christian convictions of those men and women who came from England to establish a society built on Scriptural principles.

How, I wondered, did Massachusetts go from that godly foundation to the first state in the union to legalize same sex marriage?

I found my answer by reading Reviving New England by Nate Pickowicz. But Pastor Nate’s book went far beyond giving me a history lesson on New England’s distressing descent into apostasy; it gave me hope that the Lord might once again restore this region to  its Biblical roots.

One key element to revival, according to Pastor Nate, is  a return to expositional preaching. Since John and I became part of our present church two years ago, we’ve experienced the joy of sitting under expositional preaching, and agree wholeheartedly that this type of preaching most effectively brings people a clear understanding of God’s Word. God’s Word in turn,  transforms hearts so that people experience regeneration and grow into mature and productive Christians.

The book highlights the importance of personal holiness as a component of revival. Unconfessed and unrepentant sin can infect an entire church body, rendering it ineffective in setting an example to a lost world. True revival calls out sin, proclaims forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and demands repentance as evidence of saving faith. The chapter on repentance challenged me to make sure I continue to pursue holiness in my walk with the Lord.

Time prohibits me from detailing any more of Pastor Nate’s points. I pray that you’ll get the book for yourselves. You see, it’s not about reviving New England only. In truth, a revival in New England would ultimately lead to revival all over America. Consequently, the principles laid out in this book apply to all the regions of our country. As we’re on the verge of electing a president who demonstrates just how far this nation has strayed from the devout faith of those believers who landed on Plymouth Rock, we clearly need to pray earnestly for revival whatever we live.

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My Pastor Doesn’t Care (And I’m Glad)

Discernment BibleThe Lord has blessed our church with a pastor who loves the people he serves. In the brief time that we’ve known him (a little over two years), he’s demonstrated a deep concern for the congregation as a whole, as well as for individual members. He has shown touching compassion toward me and John, especially regarding John’s health issues.

Our pastor also loves the Word of God, and loves it with a passion that refuses to water it down to accommodate popular evangelical trends, worldly attitudes or sinful behaviors.  His preaching reveals his complete unwillingness to compromise Scripture. He really wouldn’t do well in the Church Growth Movement, since he apparently disdains the marketing techniques of people like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley . In one of the first sermons he preached at our church , my pastor had the audacity to insist that a church shouldn’t be structured around surveys or consensus, but rather should follow the Biblical pattern that Christ laid out through His apostles.

Sometimes, my pastor steps on toes when he preaches. As a matter of fact, in the past two weeks he’s gotten even more confrontational by preaching on John the Baptist and God’s command for repentance. This man simply doesn’t preach sermons designed to make people comfortable in their sin.One Sunday, for example, after he preached a sermon that “happened” to address some sin that I’d been entertaining all week, I accused him of reading my diary. John told him once, “Your preaching makes me uncomfortable…and I want more!”

Please don’t misunderstand me and accuse me of worshiping my pastor. Such idolatry really doesn’t interest me. I’m aware of his imperfections (at least some of them), and I do judge everything he says with Scripture. But I do want to praise God for His grace to bring me and John under the care of a pastor and board of elders who desire to obey the Lord rather than structuring a church that would appeal to any  specific demographic. These men have no interest in fitting into the general culture. And this freedom from catering to popular opinion liberates them to proclaim God’s Word with integrity, even when it offends people.

Love is kind, according to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, but it also grieves at wrongdoing and takes joy in truth. Sometimes, love needs to override sentimentality for the purpose of holding fast to Biblical  convictions. In the process, feelings get hurt. Homosexuals hear that God considers their lifestyle abominable. People who base their spirituality on mysticism hear that their experiences lack  validity. And rage-aholics like  me will hear that Jesus likens our angry outbursts to murder. Love demands leaders (or any brother or sister in Christ) to confront our sin whether we like it or not.

I don’t enjoy it when my pastor says something that forces me to see sin in my life. Like any sinner, I’d like to listen to brief flowery sermons that wouldn’t call me to repentance. But praise the Lord for blessing me with a pastor and elders that desire my holiness more than my emotional comfort. They don’t care if they hurt my feelings…because they love me.

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“The Bible Says So” Really IS Enough

Shadow BibleAndy Stanley claims to accept the inerrancy of Scripture in his article, Why “The Bible Says So” Is Not Enough Anymore, but he clearly indicates that he rejects its sufficiency. He contends that people with college or post-graduate educations require more sophisticated evidence in order to embrace Christianity. To make this point, he writes:

Appealing to post-Christian people on the basis of the authority of Scripture has essentially the same effect as a Muslim imam appealing to you on the basis of the authority of the Quran. You may or may not already know what it says. But it doesn’t matter. The Quran doesn’t carry any weight with you. You don’t view the Quran as authoritative.

Close to half our population does not view the Bible as authoritative either. If you’re trying to reach people with an undergraduate degree or greater, over half your target audience will not be moved by the Bible says, the Bible teaches, God’s Word is clear or anything along those lines. If that’s the approach to preaching and teaching you grew up with and are most comfortable with, you’re no doubt having a good ol’ throw-down debate with me in your head about now—a debate I’m sure you’re winning. But before you chapter and verse me against the wall and put me in a sovereignty-of-God headlock, would you stop and ask yourself: Why does this bother me so much? Why does this bother me so much—really?

Since when, I would ask Andy Stanley, do non-Christians determine whether or not Christians can appeal to the Bible? I agree that non-Christians regard the Bible as being on par with Islam’s Quran, but their false perceptions don’t negate the reality that God’s Word has inherent power that no other book (including the Quran) can rightfully claim.

As a young Christian, I learned that Scripture has power precisely because it’s God’s Word rather than a book written by fallible human beings. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the writer of Hebrews wrote:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

If the Word of God is really that powerful, how can the skepticism of non-Christians limit its power?  Sure, without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, non-Christians will reject the Bible’s authority, but that rejection doesn’t mean that God’s Word suffers from impotence. The truth of God’s Word merely exposes the lies of human reasoning (see Romans 3:4).

The rejection of God’s Word doesn’t mean, in other words, that God’s Word has failed. In the limitations of our human thinking we simply don’t know if the Holy Spirit wants to use Scripture to bring a person to faith, plant a seed that will result in conversations years down the line or confirm a unbeliever in judgment. But we can rest assured that the Lord never wastes His Word.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ~~Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)

The denigration of God’s Word is not a postmodern phenomenon, and Christians don’t meed to supplement it any more in the 21st Century than they did in the First. Evangelism depends on God’s Spirit ministering through His Word, not on intellectual cleverness or pragmatism. We can quote the Bible with confidence, resting in its authority regardless of whether or not others accept that authority.

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