Ministry Would Be Great If it Weren’t for the People

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Today’s guest post is by Vyrso’s author of the month, Josh Kelley. Josh has been a pastor for 15 years and is the author of Radically Normal: You Don’t Have to Live Crazy to Follow JesusJosh has graciously offered to give away Radically Normal for free when you sign up to receive Vyrso’s daily deal email alerts! With Vyrso’s daily deals, you can get a new 24-hour deal through November 27. There are only a few days left to get this freebie—enter your email address on the Radically Normal product page to receive your free ebook in an email!

I cringed as I saw Mabel walking by my house. At church she told me she lived in my neighborhood, and now she’d found my house. As she walked up to my door, I put on my best pastor face.

“Hi Mabel, so good to see you!” I lied.

“Hi neighbor, I mean Pastor! God bless you!” she said, the words interrupted by nervous laughter. As she spoke, she bobbed back and forth, like a Hasidic Jew praying at the Wailing Wall.

I allowed her to chatter and bob away, nodding and smiling at appropriate intervals. After giving her enough of my Saturday, I politely drew the one-way conversation to an end.

“Can you pray for my corns first?” asked Mabel. “They’re hurting from the walk.”

She plopped herself down in a chair, took off her shoe, pull off her sock, and propped her foot up on another chair. She believed prayer required direct contact. I gingerly put my hand on the top of the offending foot, but she said, “They’re under here,” and wrapped my fingers around her toes.

A couple of minutes later, as Mabel was walking down my driveway and I was washing my hands a second time, my wife asked me, “What was that about?!?”

“That’s nothing,” I said. “She once had Pastor Bruce pray for her hemorrhoids.”

The Real Problem

Looking back, the part of that story that makes me cringe is not the memory of Mabel’s sweaty foot, but the stench of my own attitude. Back in Bible college, we used to joke, “Ministry would be great . . . if it weren’t for the people.” I saw Mabel as one of those people—I ministered to her because I had to. Given a choice, I would’ve spent my time with the movers and shakers who matched my idea of spiritual greatness.

Because I’m writing this to Logos and Vyrso users, I suspect that many of you are pastors, students, and lay leaders and that you’ve heard that joke before. Even if you aren’t in formal ministry, God probably brings hurting people across your path on a regular basis, people that are a drain on your time and patience. In either case, think about what “if it weren’t for the people” communicates—“They are lucky to have me ministering to them.” Somehow that doesn’t feel very Christ-like, does it?

In truth, you and I are lucky to minister to them. Here’s how I now see it. I’m crazy about my two young daughters. They are the apple of my eye and I’m very protective of them. Were I ever to ever allow you to care for them, it would be very high praise indeed.

I finally realized that Mabel is one of God’s precious daughters. He had given me the high privilege of carrying for her and I treated it as a burden. I say that to my shame. My attitude reeked worse than any sweaty foot. I’m learning that until I see it as a privilege to lay hands on Mabel’s feet, I am not worthy to do so.

This hasn’t been an overnight change for me. I’m learning to come off my high horse and be less impressed with myself and my Biblical knowledge. I’m learning that God cares a lot more about his broken children than I did. He has also allowed me to be deeply hurt by the sort of people that used to impress me.

Becoming less impressed with myself (especially when I had to get a second job at Starbucks) is a key part of my story, which you can find in my book, Radically Normal. It’s free on Vyrso until November 27, so you may want to download it and read chapter 2, “It’s Okay to Be Normal.” In the meantime, I pray that God blesses you with many stinky feet to pray for and the perspective to know that it’s a privilege.

Get Radically Normal for free when you sign up for daily deal email alerts! Through November 27, you can get a new 24-hour deal each day. Once you enter your email address, you’ll receive your freebie in an email. Be the first to know what’s on sale—sign up for the daily deal!

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America’s Black Children are Hurting: A Call to Action

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Today’s guest post is by John Turnipseed, the vice president of the Center for Fathering, Urban Ventures, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is also the author of Bloodline, his autobiography of going from a lost and frightened little boy to a gang leader, drug dealer and pimp, and finally to one of the nation’s most respected pioneers of community restoration. You can get Bloodline for just $2.99—today only—as a part of our daily deals promotion. 

Earlier this year, President Obama launched the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color. I was invited by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges to be part of this initiative for our city.

The current alarm in the African American community—which again centers on school failure, black male achievement and economic survival—has raised its eerie, ugly tragic sound again.

This will last for about two years and then disappear again after the money is disbursed. The children and conditions will be blamed for the failure because the cavalry came and did all it could, until another time when someone again rings the alarm of injustice and doom.

The best of the cavalry, the most connected ones with the most credentials, and the most charming presenters will be the commissioned army assigned to fight the good fight to yield the sword of salvation, to rescue the young men of lost hope and promise. To once again free the slaves of a failed system, and to rescue the poor, unfortunate children of a failed race.

The current situation needs an old approach to solve this old problem. The problem is the breakdown of the core family in the African American community. This breakdown was at the root of my problems, as I share in my book Bloodline.

If you send a broken child to school, a broken child will return home. If you ask a broken community to raise a child, a broken child will be conceived out of this broken unholy alliance. If you ask a broken culture to solve the problem, a stronger broken community and culture will be produced.

But there is hope. God would not be so cruel as to desert his children. There was a blueprint left for us to find our way home and to mend the shattered lives of the children and community that are seemingly lost.

I say let’s do something different, but not foreign to us—something that has been stored in the creases of our hearts and the folds of our minds.

I am talking about getting back to the values that brought us to our greatest heights. I am talking about getting back to family for real. I am talking about going to get our children and teach them character, reading, and writing skills. I am talking about black businesses in our communities again and supporting them by buying from them. I am talking about directing the drug dealer to leave now, as his services are no longer needed. Yes, I am talking about upholding the beliefs and values of the God that has sustained us.

I am in my own city putting the call out for black men to come home and to stop waiting for the world to push us to the solutions that we already have. All we are missing is the will and the unity to move in one direction and to have restoration and revitalization of our family the common goal.

It is time to draw upon our spiritual roots and sit at our rightful place as parents, leaders, and decision makers in America. The schools can continue to be schools, but we will send unbroken children to them. The school system was not set up to be a parent—that is our commission. When black men recognize the sheer velocity of our voice and power used in a moral and cultural standard, the world will be begging for our inclusion and not begging for a solution to us.

This is a problem for all people with a moral compass to help with, but the ultimate responsibility lies on the shoulders of the capable African American men that must lead the charge.

We must reclaim our faith, family, and pride in being the great lineage that we are and get back on track so that our legacy will not fail our children. God makes us capable. He is just waiting for us to answer the call

Let’s get it done.

You can get Bloodline for just $2.99, today only. Hurry, the price will only last until 11:59 p.m. (PST).

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Being Faithful with a Multitude of Small Things: An Interview with Josh Kelley

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Today we have the pleasure of interviewing our author of the month, Josh Kelley. Josh is the author of Radically Normal: You Don’t Have to Live Crazy to Follow Jesus and has been a pastor for 15 years. Originally from northwest Washington, he is currently on a year-long, cross country speaking tour, joined by his wife, Marilyn, and their two daughters.

Josh has graciously offered to give away Radically Normal for free when you sign up to receive Vyrso’s daily deal email alerts! With Vyrso’s daily deals, you can get a new 24-hour deal through November 27. Enter your email address on the Radically Normal product page and you’ll receive your free ebook in an email and daily deal alerts through November 27.

 

Could you provide a little background for us on your story?

The backdrop for Radically Normal was the year and a half I spent as a bi-vocational pastor/Starbucks barista. As challenging as that time was, it really helped me see things through the eyes of my congregation. Pastors can easily forget what it’s like to be a Christian in the midst of everyday life, when you are not being paid to study the Bible and pray!

 

Tell us about the inspiration behind Radically Normal.

Radically Normal is basically the book I wish I had when I was younger. I worked very hard to be a good Christian (which is a good thing) but I never felt like I was going far enough. If giving 10% was good, was 20% better? Was 100% the gold standard? I also struggled to understand why the people who looked and sounded the most radical were the ones I couldn’t stand being with, and why the Christians I really enjoyed were pretty normal. Radically Normal is about 50% my stories and 50% guidebook to loving Jesus without being a religious nut.

 

What’s one of your favorite Scriptures that encourages people to live ordinary lives as they follow Jesus?

“Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him” (1 Corinthians 7:20 NIV).  C. S. Lewis put it this way:

“Before I became a Christian I do not think I fully realized that one’s life, after conversion, would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before, one hopes, in a new spirit, but still the same things.” (On Learning in Wartime)

While God does call some to go out and do spectacular things (Billy Graham and Mother Teresa come to mind), most of us are called to be faithful in a multitude of small ways. I think that the church needs to do a better job of honoring daily faithfulness instead of just focusing on the “great” Christians.

 

In the book you say, “Wholehearted devotion to God consists of radical obedience lived out in surprisingly normal, joy-filled ways. This is what I mean by being radically normal. It’s the biblical art of fully engaging this life while focusing on the next.” Can you give us an example of what that looks like in practice?

Imagine three Christians who all work as programmers at Microsoft. The first programmer does his job, but not much else. He isn’t interested in advancement. All he cares about is getting through his day so he can get to church. In his mind, that’s where he does stuff that really matters.

The second programmer works hard and is very ambitious. In fact, nothing will get in his way as he climbs the ladder. Taking credit for another person’s ideas or sabotaging their work, it’s all part of the game. At church, he sings just as loud as the next person and doesn’t even think about his questionable ethics. Work is work, church is church. Besides, he reasons, it just means more money to tithe on. Maybe.

The third programmer also works hard and is ambitious. He loves his job and feels God’s pleasure when he does well. He works hard to advance, but isn’t crushed if he gets passed over. He believes that his day job and his weekend at church are inextricable connected. He sees work as part of his worship and it’s obvious to his coworkers.

I want readers to think about which one of those three they are more like. Are they so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good? Or is it the other way around? Instead, the Bible calls us to be fully present in this life, while never forgetting that we are citizens of heaven. [Click to tweet!]

 

For someone that is conflicted with their Christian faith, what advice would you give them to live a satisfied life following Jesus?

I think Chapter 11, “Happy Holiness” might be very helpful to them. I can’t cover it all here, but the key point is that obeying God brings joy. The church frequently praises “obedience for obedience’s sake,” but the Bible consistently calls us to obedience for joy’s sake. (Speaking of joy, did you know that the Bible talks about joy more often than peace, grace, or even love? I share my research on joy in Chapter 8, “In Defense of Earthly Joys.”)

Just as my daughters have an easier time obeying me when they know it is for their benefit, it becomes easier to avoid sin and follow Jesus when we know “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

 

What is one takeaway you hope people embrace after reading Radically Normal?

I hope they walk away understanding that they can, by God’s grace, live fully pleasing to God right where they are—without becoming a missionary or going to Bible college. And furthermore, I want them to learn that they’ll have more (not less) joy in by doing so.

 

Get Radically Normal for free when you sign up for daily deal email alerts! Through November 27, you can get a new 24-hour deal each day. Once you enter your email address, you’ll receive your freebie in an email. Be the first to know what’s on sale—sign up for the daily deal!

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Quick Fixes to Deep Problems: an Excerpt from Radically Normal

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Today’s excerpt is from Radically Normal: You Don’t Have to Live Crazy to Follow Jesus by Josh Kelley. Josh has been a pastor for 15 years and holds a BA in biblical studies from Pacific Life College. Originally from northwest Washington, he is currently on a year-long, cross country speaking tour, joined by his wife Marilyn and their two daughters.

Get Radically Normal for free when you sign up for Vyrso’s daily deal! Enter your email address on the Radically Normal product page and you’ll receive your free ebook in an email.

One fine summer afternoon, I was working in the drive-through at Starbucks and had a customer order a Venti sugar-free, heavy-cream, no-whip Caramel Frappuccino Light. Allow me to translate. That’s a 20-ounce Frappuccino made with sugar-free caramel syrup, but instead of milk, she wanted unwhipped whipping cream. But (and she was very clear about this) she didn’t want any whipped cream on it.

As she pulled up to the window, I was curious to see what sort of person would order a Venti heavy-cream Frappuccino. I don’t want to be insensitive, so I’ll just say she looked the part. I chatted with her as her drink was being made and asked (as casually as I could) why she didn’t want any whipped cream on her drink.

“It’s because of the sugar in the whipped cream. I’m on a diet that lets me have as much fat as I want but no sugar.”

As I handed it to her, I said, “Just so you know, the base syrup we use has a little bit of sugar in it. Not much, but a little.”

“Oh,” she said. “That must be why I haven’t lost any weight.”

I’m rarely left speechless, but words failed me. I just grunted some sort of goodbye as she drove off. Let me get this straight—that drink had almost 70 grams of fat, and she thought a couple of grams of sugar was the reason she wasn’t losing any weight?

Even now I have to wonder. Did she really believe the sugar was the reason for her weight problem? Somewhere deep down, she must have known that losing all that weight might require a little more work than skipping the whipped cream on a 750-calorie drink. It’s easy to point fingers because her problem was so visible, but all of us crave quick fixes to deep problems. And quick fixes usually make problems worse. [Click to tweet!]

When I was young (but old enough to know better), I hated to stop playing when I had to go to the bathroom, so I’d just pee my pants. Cold days were the worst. I vividly remember that feeling of having to pee so bad but not wanting to go inside. There were a few glorious moments when I enjoyed the relief and the newly acquired warmth. But the relief was short-lived. Soon the warm turned to cold, and then came the chafing of my skin against the cold, wet denim, followed by that distinctive smell. I continued doing that until the third grade, my only year in public school. The shame of peeing my pants on a field trip motivated me to start using the bathroom.

Sin is the moral equivalent of peeing our pants. It begins as a shortsighted solution to a genuine problem or a short-lived pleasure at the expense of long-term happiness. I basically see God’s rules like him telling us to use the bathroom.

***

Get Radically Normal for free when you sign up for Vyrso’s daily deal! Starting November 3, you can get a new 24-hour deal each day through November 27. Once you enter your email address, you’ll receive your freebie in an email. Be the first to know what’s on sale—sign up for the daily deal!

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What Are You Supposed To Do With Your Life?

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Today we have the pleasure of sharing an exclusive look at Johnnie Moore’s new ebook, What Am I Supposed To Do With My Life? This ebook aims to provide spiritual direction and clear guidance on the most frequently asked question Moore hears as the campus pastor at a Christian university. Take a look:

Young evangelicals are constantly told that our teen, college, and young adult years are a “waiting period.” We’re waiting for jobs, for spouses, for God’s calling. This isn’t the season to get to work, but the season to wait until God shows us what we’re supposed to do with our lives. So we’re supposed to pray and to wait for an answer, and when the answers don’t come, that’s when we start asking God to “send a yellow pigeon into our bedroom window at five p.m. on Thursday” if he wants us to be a missionary to a tribe of pigmy people. Since the end to the waiting period is vague, we start getting increasingly desperate to know what’s next, and then the prayers get crazier and crazier.

This kind of “spiritual waiting” isn’t helpful; it’s actually harmful. We may think it is grounded in faith, but it often comes out of fear. We are so afraid that we’ll do something God doesn’t want us to do that we demand proof after proof of his will so that we can make faithless, risk-free decisions. We are so afraid of taking a chance on what we might think is God’s will that we try to shift responsibility entirely to him, asking for him to give us a miracle and then while we’re waiting for the miracle we tell our friends that we are “waiting on God.” We want him to remove from the decision all of the ambiguity and uncertainty. That way, if things go wrong, we can shake our heads and tell ourselves that “everything happens for a reason,” and comfort ourselves with the thought that at least we did what God told us to do.

But did we? Is this how God speaks to us? This idea of “waiting for God to move” lulls us into the belief that these years—some of the most important years of our lives—when our habits and personalities are being formed, when we learn how to function in relationships and in the workplace, are not really that important after all. It shifts responsibility from us to God, leaving us free to waste our time with video games, fool around with relationships without serious intentions, and distract ourselves from our future plans with the technology and its drama we invite upon ourselves. This is one of the reasons why “thirty is the new twenty,” why our generation struggles to focus on serious things, and why we so egregiously delay adulthood. We agonize over decisions and often put them off, saying that we are waiting for confirmation from God that we are doing the right thing. In the meantime, we fill the space between “asking” and “hearing” by wasting valuable time on meaningless pursuits. Rather than swimming ahead, we’re just treading water, looking for a blinking sign to drop from the sky and tell us where to go and what to do.

We want God to answer all the “W” questions for us first—the who, what, when, and where. But is this really necessary? I don’t think it is. I don’t think we should embrace this type of attitude; instead we ought to embrace an attitude that believes that now is as important as the future, and that so much of the will of God is realized in the everyday decisions and moments that we can let roll by unrecognized while we’re waiting for God to answer bigger questions and to provide us with supernatural signs. Meanwhile, every season of life is equally important and every daily encounter matters just as much as future goals, and somehow these passing moments, which you’re tempted to discount, are actually the building blocks for your future.

Nearly every twenty something I know is playing this waiting game; rather than jumping in with both feet, they are twiddling their thumbs, waiting for a dove to descend from the sky or a dog to walk around the corner of a building. Meanwhile God has them—us—in lives that keep on ticking, day after day, and he’s given us a book filled with words of advice that we’re to apply to our lives every single day. There is always a logical direction to follow, a next nearest step to take, and often the will of God is more about following that next nearest step than it is about waiting for God to send a sign. It’s about being the person God would have you be in whatever situation he has you at the moment.

Sometimes we say that we’re “waiting on God” when God is actually waiting on us [Click to tweet!] He is expecting us to start taking life seriously and start taking advantage of the opportunities he has already given us, as opposed to waiting for the next new thing. He’s expecting us to live our current season to its fullest.

***

Want to read more? Pre-order What Am I Supposed To Do With My Life? on Vyrso today!

Reprinted with permission from W Publishing Group, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.

 

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Knowing God: An Interview with J.D. Greear (Part 2)

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Today we are continuing our exclusive two-part interview with J.D. Greear, author of the new ebook Jesus, Continued. You can pre-order Jesus, Continued on Vyrso today! 

In some of your writing about the book you say, “Through depth in the gospel and fellowship with the Holy Spirit, we can go from guilt-driven to grace-driven and gift-driven.” Can you give us an example of what that looks like in practice?

When we feel like we are responsible to save the world, we will feel like we are never doing enough—never being radical enough, never sacrificing enough. We’ll always feel guilty that we could be doing more. But when we focus on the fact that God doesn’t need us, that he multiplies loaves and fishes to feed multitudes and pulls $100,000 tax payments out of fish’s mouths if he wants, that burden is gone. When that burden is removed, we can be radically generous in response to God’s grace (that’s grace-driven), and fully surrendered to what God is telling us to do (gift-driven).

Recently I read that Pentecostals are the most effective mobilizers for mission on the planet. That is because they focus less on the enormity of the task and more on what God is directing you to do in his Spirit. The size of the task is crushing. Sensing that God has an assignment for you is empowering. The Baptist and Reformed communities are good at emphasizing the size of the task, which we need to hear, and feel. But we need to take our eyes off the field and look to the God who brings life back from the dead and multiplies our meager resources to feed thousands. Compared to the size of the task, we are nothing. Compared to the size of our God, the task is nothing.

God does not need us to accomplish the Great Commission for him, but wants to accomplish it through us.

For those that are currently mission-driven but burned out, weary, and longing for joy, what is one way they can start living a satisfied life in relationship with God through the Holy Spirit?

I sympathize with those who feel burned out from their mission-driven convictions. As I mentioned above, I would often pursue the mission with zeal, only to end up feeling paralyzed by the weight of it all. I toggled between summers of feverish activity and winters of guilt and fatigue.

The burden of that conviction nearly crushed me. My despair drove me to the Scriptures, and that despair eventually gave way to one of the most surprising insights I’ve ever had, one that has radically redefined how I see my service to Christ.

That discovery? God doesn’t need you! He never has. He never will. For anything. Ever. In Psalm 50:12 God says that if he were hungry, he wouldn’t come to me. God never approaches me as a needy God.

So it turns out I had vastly overestimated what I had to contribute. I didn’t have “more” I needed to give; I actually had nothing God needed to begin with. Nothing.

God is not now, nor has he ever, looked for “helpers” to assist him in saving the world. That doesn’t mean he isn’t calling us to give ourselves generously to that mission or to be sacrificially generous with our neighbors; it’s just that he’s not looking for people to supply his needs. He’s not short on money, talent, or time. He has never commanded us to go save the world for him; he calls us to follow him as he saves the through us.

So instead of asking the question, “What needs to be done in the world?” I should ask, “What is the Spirit of God leading me to do?” Just like Jesus told his apostles to wait on the coming of the Holy Spirit before they went out to the world, we are to look to the Holy Spirit for his direction in what God would have us do. We don’t “wait on” the Holy Spirit like they did, since we have him in our souls already, but we adopt the same posture of humble dependence on him that they had, looking for where he directs us to go.

Do you have any other examples of people that have moved from being weighted by the Great Commission to living empowered and focused based upon God’s gifting and speaking?

I am honored to be a part of a church where I hear stories about God empowering specific people for specific callings all the time. Their stories actually helped me to see how central the leading of the Spirit is in the pages of the New Testament. I could tell a dozen stories, but I’ll choose just one that makes the point beautifully.

I have a friend, Tony, who has adopted five kids, four from Ukraine and one from Kenya (and he says you have no trouble telling which ones are which!). The four from Ukraine he adopted at once. When I asked how he came to that, he replied that one summer he and his wife set out to study the book of Romans together. They felt struck by Paul’s admonition that those who know the gospel should become like the gospel. The more he learned about his own salvation, he said, the more he longed for a way to respond to Jesus for his great grace.

But how should they do this? As Tony and his wife prayed through that question, he came to Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 1:5 that God has adopted all believers into his family; then he read Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:1 for believers to imitate their God. “What better way to put the gospel on display,” Tony thought, “than to adopt an unwanted child?”

Tony asked God for the opportunity to do just that, and did God ever open that door! Tony went on a mission trip to Ukraine. While there, the orphanage director told Tony that someone had just brought in a set of four siblings. The kids, ages two through eight, were about to be split up and placed in orphanages around the country . . . unless someone came forward to take all four. When a worker brought the kids out to Tony, he saw four scared little children, all holding hands. They thought they were being called in for discipline. In that moment, Tony knew the Spirit of God had answered his prayer. “Those are your kids,” the Spirit said.

“I know I can’t take care of all the orphans in the world,” Tony said. “But God told me to take care of these four. I know adoption is not God’s will for every family. But it was clear it was the Spirit’s direction for us. We wanted to respond to the gospel, and this is the way the Holy Spirit directed us to do that.”

What is one takeaway you hope people embrace after reading Jesus, Continued?

I want readers to see that personal, interactive relationship has always been God’s plan for his people. This book exists to lead people to that experience if they’ve never had it, and help clarify it for them if they have. God has always been a God who is close and present with his people—but only since Jesus returned to heaven has he taken up residence inside of us.

But how do we know when God is speaking to us, leading us? More havoc has been wreaked in the church following the phrase, “God just said to me…” than any other. How do we balance what God has clearly and definitely said in Scripture and how he moves, dynamically, in our world today?

I also want to help readers understand how closely the Spirit connects to the gospel. Many Christians today talk about the gospel and the Word; others talk all about the Spirit. But these connect at the deepest levels. The deeper you go in the gospel, the more alive you become in the Spirit. By believing the gospel message, Paul says, you are filled with the Spirit (Gal 3:1–3), and if you want to grow more full with the Spirit, you must keep plunging deeper into the gospel message.

***

You can pre-order J.D. Greear’s new ebook Jesus, Continued and download his other titles today on Vyrso.com! 

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Knowing God: An Interview with J.D. Greear (Part 1)

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Today we have the wonderful opportunity of sharing with you the first of a two-part interview with J.D. Greear, author of the new ebook Jesus, Continued. You can pre-order Jesus, Continued on Vyrso today!

Tell us a little about the background for your latest title, Jesus, Continued.

Early in my ministry, I secretly felt frustrated with my faith, because it seemed like the people in the Bible had a fundamentally different experience with God than I had. My relationship with God seemed to be one-way. All of God’s presence seemed stockpiled in the past: he created the world, died on a cross, and then inspired a Bible to tell us about it. God was like a busy teacher who had given me an assignment and then stepped out of the room, leaving me to get it done on my own. I had a “relationship with God” in the sense of praying to him about my problems and trying to trust that he was working—somewhere, somehow—to help me. But I didn’t have any real interaction with him. God was a doctrine I knew about rather than a person I knew.

I related to the Holy Spirit the same way I related to my pituitary gland: grateful it’s in there; know it’s essential for something; don’t really relate to it. It certainly wasn’t a sense of the presence of God with me, or a living, moving, dynamic Person.

Jesus, Continued is a book for anyone who shares that feeling. It’s about how the Holy Spirit God is actually present with his people, and through him we have the kind of fellowship with God the disciples had with Jesus (1 John 1:3). He moves in us, speaks through us. He calls us to follow as he goes about accomplishing the Great Commission through us. Mission is not what we do for him, but what he does through us.

This book is for those Christians who want to see God move from being someone they know about to someone they feel is truly present in their lives, someone they interact with personally. It is also for those who have gotten a vision for mission but soon grew weary at the size of the task or their inability to accomplish it. I’m thinking here of everyone from burned out pastors and missionaries to zealous college students and weary mothers.

What was the inspiration behind Jesus, Continued?

I took the title from Acts 1:1, where Luke says that in his former book—the Gospel of Luke—he “wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day he was taken up” (Acts 1:1). The implication is that Acts is what Jesus is continuing to do.

What this means is that the work Jesus began in his earthly ministry he now continues through his Spirit by the church. It’s not that in the Gospels Jesus worked, and now we, in his absence, work for him; during his incarnation Jesus worked through his earthly body and now he works through us.

I believe this is a crucial message to recover. When we approach the Christian life as something we do for God, we quickly feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and eventually burned-out. But when we are filled by the Spirit of God, drudgery is transformed into delight, and the crushing weightiness of the task becomes empowerment for specific callings the Spirit gives to us.

Was there a particular moment that you encountered God speaking to you through the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit appears 59 times in the book of Acts, in 36 of those he is speaking. I see no reason to think he has ceased moving and speaking to his people today, though those movements of us never takes on the weight or authority of Scripture (that level of revelation has ceased; the canon is closed). Scripture is complete, and contains all we need to be complete (2 Tim 3:16-17) But just as we see in the book of Acts, we need the Spirit to move dynamically in our lives to show us how to pursue and execute his mission.

And as I explain in the book, we always need to weigh our experience of God’s Spirit speaking to our spirit with other factors, like the testimony of Scripture and the wisdom of our Christian community. But the Spirit of God can and does speak to us individually. One particular way I’ve experienced that is through what I call “holy ambitions.”

When the Spirit of God wants to work in his people, he often starts by stoking the fires of a particular, holy ambition for a particular ministry or need. The fire of passion for God to do something in your generation, or on your campus, or in your family, grows to a fever temperature inside of you. It’s less of a “word” from God that it is a holy discontent with a situation, a broken heart over injustice and pain, or a burning passion to see God glorified.

For example, Scripture does not record God ever telling David that he wanted him to fight with Goliath. God did not summon David to a “holy huddle” in the pasture in which he said, “OK, David, there will be a giant there, and he will say this . . . and then you get 5 rocks, and then . . . .”

David simply found himself in a place with a defiant giant, burning with holy zeal. He assumed that meant God wanted him to fight. Furthermore, God gave David no assurance that he would defeat Goliath on that day. David simply believed God wanted him to fight the giant and trusted God with the outcome.

I’ve had a few moments like that in my life. For instance, I spent two years living as a missionary in Southeast Asia. Shortly after I left, the worst tsunami on record swept onto the island, killing more than 100,000 people. When I returned and stood at the very spot where the tsunami had come ashore, I sensed God telling me that he would send a wave of salvation through that same area, and that our church was to continually place people there on the ground believing it, waiting for it to happen.

Not every ambition in our heart comes from God, but God certainly uses holy, burning desires like those as a compass to point true north for your life, to show you where he wants you to go and how he wants you to be involved in his mission. You likely will experience it as a holy discontent—a conviction that God wants something different than what the situation currently is. You sense him inviting you to lay hold of his willingness and release his power.

What’s one of your favorite Scriptures that empowers people to live fruitful lives?

In John 16:7, Jesus told his disciples, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” In other words, if they understood what was being offered to them in the Holy Spirit, they would have been glad he was returning to heaven if that meant getting the Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit in them would be better than having him beside them.

That’s a staggering promise. How many Christians today are experiencing the fulfillment of that promise?

When the disciples had Jesus beside them, he wasn’t just a force or a principle. He was a person, someone they interacted with. Someone who spoke into their lives.

The Holy Spirit is to be the same for us. He desires to have fellowship with us (1 John 1:3). And he is to be our guide, as we see him guiding his church throughout the book of Acts. He powers our ministry the way he did those first Apostles. In some ways, the book of Acts can be seen as one extended commentary on Jesus’ promise in John 16:7. The Spirit inside the apostles was even more empowering than Jesus beside them.

He gives us resurrection power over sin, applies the promises and warnings of Scriptures to our hearts, and shows us what parts of the Great Commission belong to us. He turns “good” ideas into “God” ideas. These things make his presence inside us even better than Jesus beside us.

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You can pre-order J.D. Greear’s new ebook, Jesus, Continued, and download his other titles today on Vyrso.com. Be sure to check back Friday for part two of our interview with J.D. Greear.

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A Writer’s Life with Philip Yancey

What's So Amazing About Grace?

Today’s guest post is from Philip Yancey, a best-selling evangelical Christian author. You can get Yancey’s best seller, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, for free on Vyrso through the month of October!

A writer’s life is a strange combination of isolation and busyness.

The act of writing itself requires quiet, reflective time. I can’t write if someone walks into the room. I block out distractions by listening to music through my headphones, and by shutting off my cell phone and email program.

Eventually, though I have to pay for the isolation. Right now I’m sitting on an airplane frantically trying to catch up on the accumulated emails and scheduling details that I put off while writing. A new book is being released—Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?—which I’ll be presenting to a group of pastors in Boston. While flying east for that event, I’m reviewing notes and fine-tuning a PowerPoint file. Soon I’ll take that presentation on a seven-city book tour.

When I’m writing, I focus on one thing only. When I’m catching up, I flit from place to place like a hummingbird. Flying across Ohio, suddenly I remember a strange and confusing passage I read in the Bible this morning. It appears in the latter part of Ezekiel, a series of very detailed instructions on the building of the temple and the resumption of animal sacrifices. Many of the rules described echo those in Leviticus, but some have changed. Why is so much space devoted to these details? I ask myself.  And what does this passage have to do with us today? I wonder how modern Jews, who have nothing resembling the temple described, interpret these chapters with their architectural specificity. Are the blueprints symbolic or literal?

When a line of questioning starts bugging me, I have great difficulty getting back to other tasks.  Magically, because I have Logos Bible Software, I can look up the answers right now, sitting in a chair in the sky zooming across the American heartland. I have access to hundreds of Bible resources on my laptop computer, and in a few minutes I can survey a variety of opinions from scholars who have addressed my very questions.

Last weekend I spent hours moving hundreds of books and reference works out of danger from a basement flood. Thinking back, I have to smile at the contrast between those books, which take up so much space in my office, and a software program I can carry in my coat pocket. In some ways I’m old-fashioned. I still listen to classical music, I stubbornly cling to my flip-style “dumb phone,” and I don’t use Twitter. I must tell you, though, that I am forever grateful to live in an age that makes it possible for me to carry the wisdom of the ages with me, wherever I go.

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Check out Yancey’s upcoming tour for his new book, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? and download What’s So Amazing About Grace? for free all through the month of October.

 

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Great Leaders vs. Bad Leaders

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Today’s guest post is from Russ Crosson, president and CEO of Ronald Blue & Co., a  strategic wealth management firm that oversees over $7 billion in assets. Russ is the author of four ebooks including Your Life…Well Spent available through October 14 for $2.99.

There are several qualities which I’ve observed that I believe distinguish a good leader from a bad leader.

Great leaders support the strengths in others. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that in any entity, the men and women who emerge as tomorrow’s leaders will likely have more skills and abilities than the current leader. And therein lies the greatest distinction between a great leader and a bad leader.

Great leaders aren’t afraid of the strengths found in others. Bad leaders are intimidated by them. 

As a leader, you have the choice to either bring talented individuals along and allow them to grow by using their talents and gifts or be intimidated by their strengths and look for someone not as skilled and gifted so you will never be challenged. The latter is what bad leaders do. Great leaders build winning teams—teams that will endure for generations to come.

Great leaders have strong relational ability. A great leader is easy to have a relationship with; a bad leader is hard to have a relationship with. Leaders who are fearful of losing their positions or being overshadowed by others will continually be watching their backs. They won’t let themselves be vulnerable or get too close. They keep their cards close to the vest. In doing this, these bad leaders believe they will always be needed. The business relationships they do have will generally be at a surface level only.

Great leaders relate to others in openness and with transparency. These leaders spend time with their people training, coaching, mentoring, teaching and doing whatever is needed to prepare them for future leadership. When they’re at work, they’re “all in” and engage with others in order to be a holistic mentor to next-generation leaders.

Great leaders accept feedback. Because great leaders don’t fear strengths in others, they can listen and accept feedback without feeling threatened. Great leaders value input even when it’s not what they want to hear or they disagree with the opinion. Bad leaders tend to be threatened and go on the defensive, ignoring advice that’s contrary to what they think. These types of leaders tend to listen only to what makes them feel good and often misinterpret lack of agreement as disloyalty.

In conclusion, outstanding leaders willingly lay themselves aside and concentrate on the mission rather than on their personal goals. They help others grow and perform to the best of their abilities. They promote the success of others rather than promoting themselves. All leaders have a choice where they direct their focus: on others or themselves.

Great leaders focus on others . . . where will you choose to focus?

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Interested in reading more? Check out all of Russ Crosson’s ebooks on Vyrso today!

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Sneak Peek from The Way of Wisdom—Now Available!

The Way of Wisdom

Today’s post is an excerpt from Boyd Bailey’s newest devotional, The Way of Wisdom: A Journey Towards Spiritual Growth. This book of daily devotionals provides wisdom that is grounded in scripture and packed with practical guidance. Here are two excerpts from the ebook:

Comparison’s Crazy Cycle

When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” John 21:21-22

No one wins when comparison is the criteria for being valued. If people are the plumb line for a sense of success—then there are always those who are smarter, prettier, and richer. An unrealistic appraisal of others feeds a feeling of failure. On the other hand, pride puffs up with a subtle notion of superiority when it looks to others as a standard for living. Jesus smiles and says, “What is that to you?” Comparison is not a win for anyone. Yes, we can be inspired and instructed by a life that seeks to emulate the Lord, but we are not to idolize any individual. Of course, we are wise to learn from the mistakes of others, but not with a secret delight that believes we look better when the unfortunate look bad. Our discontent is compounded under the demanding nature of comparison. We cannot enjoy what we have for the allure of what we don’t have. Comparison kills contentment. It is a crazy cycle! “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.

When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

Related Readings: Proverbs 8:11; Ecclesiastes 4:5-6; Romans 12:15; James 3:14-16

Demolish Strongholds

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

Strongholds are Satan’s attempt to strangle spiritual life out of the saints of God. The enemy is not slack in his attacks, indeed he is always on the prowl to pronounce judgment and dispense shame. Some of his strategic strongholds are pride, addiction, and self-absorption. He sucks in a susceptible heart and a wandering mind with alluring sin. The devil builds a faithless fortress and launches missiles of doubt with false ideologies. How do strongholds take hold and grow in our lives? Ironically, a strength can become a stronghold. Healthy confidence drifts into arrogance. The gift of discernment grows into a judgmental attitude. The discipline to work out regularly and eat right becomes an obsession that consumes every minute of our discretionary time. The goal to get ahead financially grows into greed and a sense of superiority. A strength can be a stronghold. Divine strongholds defeat Satan’s. Trust in the Lord tears down demonic strongholds and erects His faithful fortress over them.

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him” (Nahum 1:7, NKJV).

Related Readings: Psalm 9:9; 27:1; 37:39; Lamentations 2:2-5


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Do you have any examples of a way you’ve demolished a stronghold of the enemy or became more content? We’d love to hear your stories—share a comment below! If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can get your copy of Boyd Bailey’s The Way of Wisdom today on Vyrso for just $7.49!  

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