Order We Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechism for Worship + Bonus Content

I want to thank everyone involved with the We Believe launch including but not limited to my wife LeAnn, Joshua Torrey, the endorsers, and everyone who pre-ordered it and/or shared it on social media. 

We Believe has over 350 pages of invaluable and timeless resources for your personal worship. The kindle version is available right now for $2.99. That's special pricing that will be available until Reformation Sunday—after that pricing goes up to $4.99. The paperback is $8.99 during pre-order. That's only $0.22 over physical cost of printing the book. After release, the paperback will be $12.99. 

Also, if you've purchased either format of We Believe, please fill out the form below (bottom) to receive a free bonus ebook by the end of November.

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Reorienting Toward Togetherness

There’s a lot of lip service given to the idea of multi-culture churches. We want to champion diversity, but it is easier to talk about than practice. I hope to encourage churches to pursue diversity within their congregations and leadership by digging into the reason we should pursue it.

The last several months have highlighted the great divide present between Christians of different ethnicities. The death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner show that Christians who love God still can’t agree on how they should demonstrate that love toward one another. The sixth commandment prohibits murder. Many of us self-righteously check that box off our list. However, John Calvin explains, “Unless we endeavor, as our ability and circumstances allow, to do good to our neighbor, through our cruelty we transgress this law” (Institutes. Banner of Truth, 2014. 149). We often transgress this law by not doing the good within our reach. That is why multi-cultural churches are needed.

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Servants of Grace Guest Post: “The Church: Gospel, Worship, and Mission”

I’m guest posting over at Dave Jenkins’ Servants of Grace today. Check it out: “The Church: Gospel, Worship, and Mission.”

In the time of the Reformation, the church local was at the center of every day life. The church and state were in bed together and so, in one sense, some questions about the church couldn’t be asked, but, in another very real sense, they didn’t need to be asked. Part of the recovery that occurred during the Reformation was one of a strong, biblical, and historical ecclesiology. The Reformation brought the gospel to the calloused hands of every day people. It did this by highlighting the importance of the Spirit’s power preached through the word of God. It also rooted the promises of God in the tangible sacraments of baptism and the wine and bread. It did this by practicing a simple liturgy rooted in the ancient gospel story that had been retold since the first in the beginning.

This is essential in understanding the church. We are primarily a covenant community brought together by the gospel. We are Spirit formed. We are Son bought. We are Father loved. We are a unique and visible picture of the gospel (Eph 5). Not only are we a picture of the gospel, we are rehearsing the gospel when we meet together. We are hearing the story told (Duet 6) and telling the story (Matt. 28:18-20). We are hearing God’s call to worship. We are confessing our sin. We are receiving the promise of forgiveness. We are hearing the Spirit as the word is preached. We are eating the body and blood of our Savior in the Supper. We are watching as God covers people with the waters of promise in baptism.

Read the entire article here.

Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and also writes for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and Servants of Grace. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel Centered Discipleship. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.

Get Your Copy of A Household Gospel Today: Paperback or Digital

We Wrestle with God

The name Israel means those who wrestle with God. Do you remember how Jacob got the name? He had left his wives’ homeland with their father hot on their trails. He was afraid he would force him to stay, but God commanded Laban not to touch Jacob. Then his brother Esau intercepted him on his journey home and Jacob feared for his life and the life of his family. The last time he saw Esau their father Isaac had died and Esau was plotting to kill Jacob. He put some space between his family and Esau.

[Jacob] took [his family] and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Gen. 32:23-28

This angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. The Father is not flesh and blood and so in the Old Testament the angel of the Lord, Jesus Christ, comes and often inserts himself in the story of Israel. This is an important moment for the church. Jacob is returning to the promised land. He is returning blessed by the Lord despite his sinfulness, despite his doubts, despite his fears. This community of faith is marked by its wrestling.

The New Testament church is a wild olive branch grafted into the root of Israel, and so we are those who wrestle with God as well. It’s always been a collective wrestling. We wrestle together as a community. We wrestle with the doubts and fears of our covenant family. We wrestle with our lack of faith. We wrestle for the fatherless and the widows. We wrestle for the weak and abused. We wrestle for our families.

During my most intense wrestling with the difficult questions about the faith, I recall that, although my faith seemed dangerously close to shipwrecking, the faith of my family, the faith of the Church, and, most foundational, the faith of Jesus Christ anchored me as it felt as though I was alone. The waves of doubt were billowing but my Anchor held fast.

Shortly after that experience, an immediate family member also had a similar struggle with doubt and depression. I regularly told them that, although their faith was weak, it didn’t need to be strong. I would believe the promises of God for them. I would call out to God on their behalf. I would plead with God that nothing would separate them from Him. He was faithful to me and He would be faithful to them. He was. And isn’t He always faithful? Without a doubt. That’s the strength found in a community of faith that wrestles with God together.

But the wrestling doesn’t begin or end with us now. Centuries of Christians have wrestled with God before us. They strove with God. They asked Him tough questions. They doubted. They feared. They felt alone. That’s the beauty of being grafted into this ancient olive tree called the Church. We do not wrestle alone. We do not wrestle just in the now. We wrestle with the saints of yesterday. We wrestle as a collective Church united with Jesus Christ.

Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and also writes for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and Servants of Grace. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel Centered Discipleship. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.

Get Your Copy of A Household Gospel Today: Paperback or Digital

Social Media Ain’t a Covenant Community (or Why Social Media Shouldn’t be a Spectator’s Sports)

Count me as a friend of technology and social media. In fact, I recently wrote a piece for the CBMW Manual blog argue for the God glorifying benefits of technology and social media. God created all things and said, “This is good.” As Christians, we start there. He also gave us the command to create, work, and have dominion. The good includes these endeavors, and, therefore, includes our work as sub-creators (a quip borrowed from J. R. R. Tolkien). Of course, many people take beautiful, good, God glorifying things and turn them into ugly, perverted orcs. We must use discernment anchored to Scripture. I say all that as a preface for my post today.

I want to now pushback on social media. Some use social media as a stand in for flesh and blood covenant community. Social media and technology can never replace the living Church. You see it’s easy to defriend, unfollow, block, or not pin someone who you disagree with on social media. It’s easy to anonymously criticize someone. It’s easy to sub-tweet. It’s easy to make generalizations. It’s easy to slander someone when you don’t have to look them in the face.

It’s much harder when you are committed, hands calloused, to a living, local church. You can’t defriend, unfollow, block, or ignore someone, when you’re face to face with them week in and week out. It’s much harder to take pot shots and snipe in this context. (Notice I didn’t say impossible. It happens. We’ve all seen it.)

There are some in the Christian blog-o-sphere who are known for being shall we say prickly. I’ve heard more than once though, “So and so is a great guy [or gal], when you talk to them face to face or on the phone.” God forbid that our online persona is different than our true life person.

Where it has, social media devolves into a spectator sport on the level of WWE’s Monday Night Raw. We all have our favorite Christian wrestler...errrr I mean blogger, pastor, ministry leader. They don their two size too small spandex costume and strut out to their rockin’ theme song to the tune of three weekly blog posts. Many of us sit in the stands and cheer them on. We jeer their opponents. We mock and slur the other side. We are entertained.

All of this is just sad. This kind of social media spectacle only survives where anemic ecclesiology thrives. Where a robust eccelsiology is alive and well. This kind of spectacle will be on the fringe and shortly extinct. Where churches are rehearsing the gospel weekly and sending the Church out to rehearse the gospel in their daily lives, social media becomes an opportunity to rehearse the gospel in a small sliver of life. It doesn’t become the Monday night main event.

So let’s use technology and social media for the glory of God, but let’s not make it a spectator sport. Let’s always prioritize our local covenant communities. Let’s always prioritize our families. Let’s always prioritize soaking our lives in the gospel over watching our favorite online persona drop their finishing move on the opposition.

Orthodox Dialects: Community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ

The New York Times reported on a a linguistics project by Bert Vaux and Scott Golde.They are interested in examining the wide range of English dialects. You can take the survey here. Go ahead and do it. It’s quite interesting.

The example on Vaux’s and Golde’s webpage look at variation in describing carbonated beverage: pop, soda, coke, and soft drink. Which do you use?

As a former Navy brat who traveled quite a bit, the survey did a good job at pin pointing the areas where my family originated and where I grew up as a kid.

My family had never lived in the South before my dad retired to Greenville, SC. It was a culture shock moving down here. My cousin had been here for three or four years before we moved down. I could barely make out many of the words he was saying. Many of the variants for certain things I had never heard of. Gradually, I felt comfortable in the South. I now understand the dialect and appreciate the culture--the food, the values, and the people.

Dialects within the Church
When I think about the different dialects represented across the United States, I’m also reminded of the variation within the body of Christ. I was raised as a fundamentalists Baptist who then transformed into a Reformedish type who is now a confessing Presbyterian. Getting comfortable with the Presbyterian dialect is a task. I’m so used to Baptist speak--I either describe something in a way that doesn’t click with my Presbyterian hearers or would hear one thing and relate it to my Baptist dialect/culture. For example, a word like baptism means something different from one tradition to the other.

Also, I interact regularly with Lutherans. Their tradition also has its own dialect. The example of baptism still demonstrates how a single word needs clarification when speaking with someone of a different religious dialect. It’s all too common and too easy to bulldoze ahead without listening and understanding.

An Orthodox Dialect
I’m also encouraged by a common orthodox dialect. I can fellowship with a Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican, or Presbyterian and have a common orthodox dialect. You can tell that at the root our faith is planted firmly in the historic, orthodox faith of Jesus Christ. The gospel is our common dialect. The Apostles’ Creeds sum up this kind of dialect:

1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:

3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:

4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:

5. The third day he rose again from the dead:

6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:

7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:

8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:

9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:

10. The forgiveness of sins:

1l. The resurrection of the body:

12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

Blind Spots
Some might huff and puff about all the Christian denominations, and in some ways I understand the complaint. On the other hand, one benefit to the variety of Christian dialects is way those differences should assist as we seek to understand ourselves in Church History and also to see through to the heart of our blind spots.

We all have blind spots. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists all do things well, and don’t do other things as well. We all have a spotted history in some way. In seeking to understand another dialect, we can see our own blind spots clearer. We can see where we have failed. See where we need the Spirit’s transformative work. We can celebrate where others have succeed. We can celebrate the grace of God and His sovereign work through his gifting of the Church.

So in our interactions with other Christians in different faith traditions let’s seek to understand their dialect. Let’s seek to find our common orthodox dialect. Let’s seek to humbly pursue understanding and wisdom. Let’s seek to learn from the Spirit’s work in them. Let’s be quick to hear and slow to speak. Slow to sling mud. Slow to assume the worst. Remember it’s one faith. It’s one communion of saints. One God.

“Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

How Should the Gospel Change the Church’s Celebrity Culture?

The Church’s Celebrity Culture

As a country, we love celebrities. Some people follow celebrities around for their job and snap pictures of them doing ordinary things. Did I say that’s their job? Crazy, right? You can’t check out at the grocery store without being slapped in the face with the latest celebrity gossip.

There’s undoubtedly a celebrity culture in today’s American church as well. Just like we love our athletes and rock star, we also love our homegrown mega-church pastors. And while there’s not church paparazzi, there’s an equivalent. People who’ve made it their sole purpose to follow these church celebrities closely waiting to pounce. And let’s be honest, there’s always opportunities to pounce.

The celebrity and the paparazzi go together like Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. It seems like you cannot have one without the other. The one is always trying to trap the other.  Today I want to ask: How should the gospel change the Church’s celebrity culture?

Context Makes the Celebrity

First, we should define our terms. When I use the term celebrity I mean someone who is well known or famous. With that definition in view, the term can be either positive or negative depending on context. Paul, for instance, says, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me” (Romans 16:7). Andronicus and Junia were well known or famous to the apostles. Paul himself was a celebrity of sorts. He was known through out the Roman empire--by churches, the Jews, and high ranking Roman officials, even the emperor. We’ve also had church celebrities through out church history--Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Jerome, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

It seems the only restriction placed on celebrity (in the sense of being famous or well known) is that the individual not be well known for the wrong kind of things. Paul tells Timothy, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7). On the flip side, Paul admonishes the Corinthians who were divided by who they followed. They each had their favorite well known preacher, and the people were more concerned with their pet pastor than with Jesus Christ. Paul by his example encourages pastors to constantly point their followers back to Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2). He knew only Jesus Christ crucified.

In general most people who I’ve spoke with about this view the church celebrity culture as negative. I submit that’s because we’ve mishandled the situation. As Paul says, people well known by the church should be violently pushing and pointing their followers to Jesus Christ. They shouldn’t be concerned with their position, power, and authority. Soli deo gloria.

We’ve flipped it. Oftentimes the controversies rise up because it seems many well known Christians are more concerned with their position, power, and authority and less concerned about the integrity of the gospel.

I think someone who does a great job of managing celebrity is John Piper. He doesn’t care about the money. His eyes aren’t on the riches and fa