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Common Slaves

Common Men; Uncommon Master

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Small Churches; Big Problems

If only leading a church was as easy, trouble-free, and glamorous as it looks on TV! Indeed, it is a high honor, and an inestimable privilege to be called to be a part of the local church. But since the church’s inception, the church has battled scandal, division, ravenous wolves masquerading as sheep, attacks from without, and attacks from within.

A small, rural church is usually just one conflict from major, destructive division or even extinction, and those conflicts can appear from just about anywhere for almost any reason.

Understanding, navigating, surviving, and healing from church conflicts is the subject of the Common Slaves Conference. There are no mega-churches in the Common Slaves network; we are all part of small-town churches that suffer major body-wide trauma every time any division arises. We know how damaging it can be to have even a single person or family at odds with the leadership, or other members of the body. None of us are a part of a church where 25 people can leave unnoticed.

We have recruited some of the great veterans of small-town small church ministry to come present to us the things they have learned about living, dying, surviving, and recovering from destructive church conflicts. All of them share a similar, Reformed philosophy of ministry – Jesus builds His church; programs, models and marketing gimmicks don’t. As such, their approach to all things, including conflict, is God-oriented, not man-centered.

This is a one-day conference for pastors, elders, and “churchmen” (the lay-pillars of the local church). We are also inviting wives – we have learned from our own experience that they often suffer most during times of church upheaval. We have planned out 4 sessions, some good Q&A, some time to meet and get to know other brothers and sisters from the area, and some good food too.

We want to thank Crossway, Ligonier, Whitehorse Inn, and Bethlehem College and Seminary for their participation to make this day of great profit to all!

For the date, time, and location, and speaker info, see the Conference page.

To purchase tickets (brace yourself, it’s almost $20, but if you email me I’m sure we’d take a goat, 2 chickens, or a pound of butter instead) click here

-jr

Alice: Biopsy Day

First, Shelly and I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support. As I write that, it sounds so cliche, so let me try again. The bride of Christ, often belittled and maligned for her dysfunction, has dazzled us with her tenderness, compassion, and affection. Jesus doesn’t marry down, and although His work with His bride isn’t done yet, we’ve been privileged to see something of what He sees in her, and I have to tell you, it’s awesome.

Let me catch you up… Monday was Alice’s birthday. What a bittersweet day that was. I always take the kids for breakfast on their birthday. Rock Creek Cafe. I barely managed to hold it together as I wondered if this would be the last one I’d ever have with Alice. I gave her all my bacon when she wasn’t looking. She held one up, “Want one Dad?” That’s Alice. She just knows how to do it. And she can eat pancakes, my word. A plate-sized, 1/2″ thick pancake, and she ate most of it, with three strips of bacon and a cup of apple juice. That’s my girl! Ate more than me that morning, that’s for sure. I gagged down a couple eggs and some toast. Continue reading “Alice: Biopsy Day”

One of the challenges of ministry in “small” churches is the nagging suspicion that God will judge our ministry like we do, which is often based on our ability (or lack thereof) to produce fruit, or by comparing our results with the industrial strength, professional, polished fruit bearers. John Piper offers some helpful and encouraging thoughts here:

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/are-small-churches-less-fruitful

thanks to Pastor Charlie Handren for passing this along

Our lot is cast in an age of abounding unbelief, scepticism and, I fear I must add, infidelity. Never, perhaps, since the days of Celsus, Porphyry and Julian, was the truth of revealed religion so openly and unblushingly assailed, and never was the assault so speciously and plausibly conducted. The words which Bishop Butler wrote in 1736 are curiously applicable to our own days: ‘It is come to be taken for granted by many persons, that Christianity is not even a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious. And accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this was an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were by way of reprisals for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.’ I often wonder what the good bishop would have now said, if he had lived in 1879.

JC Ryle

Let us not glide through this world and then slip quietly into heaven, without having blown the trumpet loud and long for our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Let us see to it that the devil will hold a thanksgiving service in hell, when he gets the news of our departure from the field of battle.

by C.T. Studd

What a thing is sin!

What a thing is sin, what a devil and master of devils is it, that it should, where it takes hold, so hang that nothing can unclinch its hold but the mercy of God and the heart-blood of his dear Son! O the fretting, eating, infecting, defiling, and poisonous nature of sin, that it should so eat into our flesh and spirit, body and soul, and stain us with its vile and stinking nature: yea, it has almost turned man into the nature of itself… wherefore sin is a fearful thing, a thing to be lamented, a thing to be abhorred, a thing to be fled from with more astonishment and trembling than one would fly from any devil, because it is the worst of things… and because where it takes hold it so fasteneth that nothing, as I have said, can release whom it has made a captive, but the mercy of God and the heart-blood of his dear Son. O what a thing sin is!
-John Bunyan

many thanks to Dr. Ivan Fiske for the gift this evening of Bunyan’s works, from which this is taken. jr

Choosing Better, pt.7: It is Better to Attend a Funeral than a Party

It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 

Here is a seemingly morbid portion of Scripture, and hardly a common piece of advice: Better to go to a funeral than a party.

My Dad, who is far more gifted with acronyms and alliteration than I could ever be, summarizes the book of Ecclesiastes this way: ITIA –“I Tried It All.”

It’s good to read books, because in a matter of hours or a few days you can absorb material it took the author perhaps years to learn. It’s good to talk to elderly people, because if you’re willing to listen and learn, in a matter of a few conversations you can take graduate level courses from the school of their hard knocks and keep the bumps off your own head. Continue reading “Choosing Better, pt.7: It is Better to Attend a Funeral than a Party”

How does my theology affect my understanding of salvation?

Last summer while teaching through 1 John, I wrote the following chart to help understand how some of the most popular broad theological categories understand some of the various aspects of salvation, particularly in regards to Assurance of Salvation.

I wrote this assuming genuine believers by faith alone in Christ alone in each of the three representative categories, so my aim here was not to demonstrate how one type of theology cannot result in genuine conversion, but rather to demonstrate how each system of thought affects how believers understand and relate to their salvation. Continue reading “How does my theology affect my understanding of salvation?”

The Deceptive Allure of Predictable Parenting

We live in a cause-effect mechanical world. Insert coin, press button, can of pop falls into the tray. Turn key, press accelerator, car goes. Search, shop, click, and in two days a box shows up on your doorstep. This is the world we live in. It’s built on predictability. It is a mechanical age. Actually, it’s a mechanical world, but modern man has begun to figure out how to predictably manipulate the creation, which is governed by unbreakable natural laws, in order to set in motion a series of controlled events in order to produce a desired outcome.

If that sounds too complicated, here it is more simply: If one understands something about the properties of concrete, steel, and bedrock, he can engineer a mighty bridge and know before it’s built how far it can span and the weight it can carry.  The predictability of the elements of the bridge make the final product less-than-surprising to the one who engineered it, at least if done properly.

Imagine trying to build a house without some certainty that the lumber will behave fairly predictably – it won’t turn into linguini at a random moment for no reason, leaving a house looking like a beached jellyfish – all flesh and no bones. Or imagine if electricity was suddenly conducted by plastic, causing essentially all buildings to burst into an instant conflagration. Imagine the stress of flying in a jet without the certainty that the laws of physics that govern the burning of fuel and principles of thrust will remain operative throughout your flight. Continue reading “The Deceptive Allure of Predictable Parenting”

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