A Commercial That Celebrates Dads: Awesome

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Yeah, so I get tired of the media portraying dads as clueless losers. This commercial is a refreshing change. I'm going to go buy a stinking box of Peanut Butter Cheerios just to express my gratitude. (HT: Dave Brown)

PROOF by Daniel Montgomery & Timothy Paul Jones

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A new book by my friend, Pastor Daniel Montgomery and scholar Timothy Paul Jones is at the top of my summer reading list. It's called PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace. I love the vision for this book. Montgomery and Jones wish to re-envision the traditional TULIP that explains reformed soteriology with PROOF: Planned Grace, Resurrecting Grace, Outrageous Grace, Overcoming Grace, Forever Grace. There's often a lack of "humble orthodoxy" when it comes discussions over Calvinism and TULIP, so I appreciate their desire to avoid being argumentative and sectarian. They want to invite people into a celebration of greater joy and freedom in gospel of God's Grace.

More info: Here's an interview the authors did with Justin Taylor about why they're not trying to draw people away or toward Calvinism. You can learn more at their website and find the book on Amazon.

Reflection on Genesis 40 & Mark 8

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Genesis 40 ends with Joseph being forgotten by Pharaoh's cupbearer whom he helped in prison. But we learn in the next chapter that God had an awesome purpose for his delay in rescuing Joseph.

Where are you in your own story? Maybe you feel forgotten by friends. Maybe you have literally been forgotten or passed over or ignored at work or some other setting. Joseph's story is a reminder that God's children are not ultimately defined by the neglect, forgetfulness or sin of others--being known and loved by God is all that truly matters.

This ties into today's reading in Mark 8 where Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him (Mark 8:34). Even if following and serving Jesus feels like losing your life, it's actually the only way to save it. There's no point in gaining the whole world if you forfeit eternal life. It's better to lose your life for Jesus then have "so called life" apart from him. It's better to be forgotten by man in a prison cell and remembered by the Almighty then free and far from the only One who can give us real life and freedom.

You can read along with others with our 2 A Day Bible Reading Plan.

The History of Student Missions

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Don't Sweat the Wicked

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Ever feel like people who ignore God and his commands have a better life than you?

He cheats on tests, doesn't get caught and gets a scholarship to a better college.

She ignores God's commands for purity, then finds the love of her life and marries while you're still single.

He bad-mouths the boss and cuts corners at work. And guess who gets the promotion at your expense?

Take a minute to read Psalm 37. It will give you perspective. It calls us to trust in the Lord and to keep doing good (vs. 3). It tells us to commit our way to the LORD and trust him to act (vs. 5). And it keeps reminding us not to fret, not to be envious, not to be angry. Why? Because God is the judge and all wickedness will be called to account by him. "The Lord laughs at the wicked, for he see that his day is coming" (vs. 13).

Evaluate your life not just by the short-term view of immediate results but by the long-term that includes the reality of God's final judgment of all mankind.

"For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints" (vs. 28).

Here's the "2 A Day" Bible Reading plan for this week:

Mon - Ps. 37 & Acts 15
Tue - Ps. 38 & Acts 16
Wed - Ps. 39 & Acts 17
Thur - Ps. 40 & Acts 18
Fri - Ps. 41 & Acts 19

Read along with others in our church and share what God is teaching you!

Psalm 22 and John 21

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Today our 2 A Day reading is Psalm 22 and John 21. A few simple reflections...

Psalm 22 is a prophetic, messianic Psalm that vividly describes the agony of Jesus on the cross. When we feel abandoned and alone it reminds us that only the Son of God truly faced the silence of heaven. And yet he kept trusting his Father. And all this for our sake. And what an awesome victory his suffering has accomplished. Because Jesus was afflicted for us God has exalted him. He will receive global praise: "all the families of the nations shall worship before you" (vs. 27).

The one who died is now alive forever. Here we are in the year 2014 and this promise is continuing to be fulfilled about Jesus: "Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it" (Psalm 22:30-31, ESV). Jesus has done it! He has brought salvation!

In John 21 the words of Jesus to Peter who wanted to know the fate of his fellow disciple always challenge me. "Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" (John 21:22, ESV)

I'm so prone to comparison. I want everything to be "fair" (whatever that means). Why does that person have something better than me. And sometimes I feel guilt over a harder road a friend is being called to walk. Jesus says to me, "What is that to you? You follow me!" You take the assignment I've given you. It's not about us, it's about him. Let's follow him today.

What do you learn from these two chapters of God's word?

"Though You Slay Me" By Shane & Shane (Featuring John Piper)

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"The Files" from the Dug Down Deep DVD Series

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For the Dug Down Deep Youth DVD series the team at BlueFishTV adapted my story "The Room" into this film called "The Files." There have a been a few video interpretations of my dream, but I think this is my favorite.

You can purchase the Dug Down Deep DVD set for your youth group here.

Sleep, Jesus, Sleep

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A few years ago my wife Shannon recorded this song on the Christmas album "Savior." I'd forgotten about it till this week when our seven-year-old, Mary Kate, sang it with her 2nd grade class at her school's Christmas concert. It's a beautiful Christmas lullaby and song of worship. Hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

New Lyrics for O Holy Night by Kevin Hartnett

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We sang this new version of O Holy Night by Kevin Hartnett at our church this past week. I absolutely love it and hope it catches on.

Verse One (by Placide Cappeau, trans. John S. Dwight)

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Verse Two (by Kevin Hartnett)

Humbly He lay, Creator come as creature,
Born on the floor of a hay-scattered stall.
True Son of God, yet bearing human feature,
He entered earth to reverse Adam's fall.
In towering grace, He laid aside His glory,
And in our place, was sacrificed for sin.
Fall on your knees! O hear the gospel story!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Verse Three (by Kevin Hartnett)

Come then to Him Who lies within the manger,
With joyful shepherds, proclaim Him as Lord.
Let not the Promised Son remain a stranger;
In reverent worship, make Christ your Adored.
Eternal life is theirs who will receive Him;
With grace and peace, their lives He will adorn.
Fall on your knees! Receive the Gift of heaven!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Kevin Hartnett shares, "I wrote new lyrics for verses two and three a few years ago. I did my best to keep the 'feel' of the original (English translation) but move the song to one that emphasizes the true meaning of Christmas: the coming of Christ to Earth to redeem mankind. This song has a rather remarkable history. You can read about it here. The music was written by a Jewish man who set the lyrics of an infrequent church attender. Visit Kevin's website, here.

Does God Listen to Rap?

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A new book from Curtis Allen. Available from Amazon.com.

Pray for Iran

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This is a powerful story of Jesus saving a mother and daughter in Iran through the ministry of Iran Alive Ministries. Please pray for the gospel to continue to spread in this nation.

The Power of the Gospel

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"The power of the gospel comes in two movements. It first says, 'I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe,' but then quickly follows with, 'I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope.'" - Tim Keller, Center Church

Finally Free by Heath Lambert

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Heath Lambert's new book Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace is the best book I'm aware of on sexual purity and pornography. Both men and women will benefit from reading it. I highly recommend it.

Here's a helpful review of the book by Tim Challies.

When to Stop Reading the Bible

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"Do not expect always to get an emotional charge or a feeling of quiet peace when you read the Bible. By the grace of God you may expect that to be a frequent experience, but often you will get no emotional response at all. Let the Word break over your heart and mind again and again as the years go by, and imperceptibly there will come great changes in your attitude and outlook and conduct. You will probably be the last to recognize these... Go on reading it until you can read no longer, and then you will not need the Bible any more, because when your eyes close for the last time in death, and never again read the Word of God in Scripture you will open them to the Word of God in the flesh, that same Jesus of the Bible whom you have known for so long, standing before you to take you for ever to His eternal home." - Geoffrey Thomas, Reading the Bible

(Via my brother, Joel Harris)

The Beauty of Purity

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After the picture above of Bre and her husband, Josh, went viral, Bre decided to start a blog called The Power of Prayer to share the story behind the picture. Sexual purity isn't easy today. But God calls us to save sexual intimacy for the covenant relationship of marriage. Hebrews 13:4 says, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." For those who have disobeyed God's command there is grace and forgiveness through Jesus. And this same grace should motivate all of us--regardless of our past mistakes--to be holy as our loving heavenly father is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). If you're dating or engaged and struggling to honor the Lord in your physical relationship I pray Bre and Josh's story will encourage you. Obeying God is always best!

The Story Behind the Photo
Moments before I was to walk down the aisle my soon to be mother in law came in the dressing room where my bridesmaids and I were all gushing with giggles and fluttering about finishing last minute details.

"Sweetheart, your groom has called for you!".

In a nervous tizzy I said, "What?! I'm not ready! I have to get my shoes and..." She had already taken my hand and led me to a corner, where my groom was waiting. I barely sat down; I was filled with so much anticipation! So much excitement! So many nerves!

"Is he going to like my dress? Does my hair look pretty? Can he see me?!"

Right around the corner sat my soon to be husband, I so was nervous he might see me yet secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of him. In my excited state I was the first to speak,

"Hi sweetie! We're getting married today!"

"I know baby and I want to pray with you before we do."

There we sat around the corner hand in hand, and together we bowed our heads. People were rushing about; the wedding coordinator directing people here and there, the photographers snapping photos and the bridal party enjoying each others company. Yet in that moment, in the quietness of our hearts and minds, my husband and I were alone in the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

My husband prayed that God would bless our marriage, that through thick or thin together we would never lose hope in one another. That instead of focusing on each others imperfections we would always rely on Christ's perfection. That we would wake up every day and chose to love one another not through our own strength but by the power of Christ's perfect love.

With our hands clenched tightly to one another together we said "Amen", both with shaky voice and just like that I was whisked away to blot the tears off my face and put on my veil.

After my bridesmaids, mother, mother-in-law and every other girl in the room had finished zipping, curling, tucking and blushing me up I looked in the mirror. There I stood wearing my pure white wedding dress, ready to walk down the aisle to my Prince Charming.

See, he is not only my Prince Charming because of his incredibly handsome looks, or wonderful humor, or the fact that we have so much in common. He is my Prince Charming because he helped me protect the most precious gift that I owned, my purity.

Soon after we had started dating I nervously told my Prince that I was a virgin and planned to be until the night of my wedding; to which he replied he would have it no other way.

Throughout our dating relationship and engagement we constantly fought, what at times felt like a losing battle. We fought temptation with prayer, scripture and accountability. I had friends checking up on me if they knew we were together late at night and he regularly met with other Godly men to pray for strength. At times, especially as the wedding grew closer, we thought we were attempting to do the impossible.

"Why are we doing this?" I would ask in my weakness, and he would remind me, that it's because God had told us too.

"I can't do it, I can't... this is too hard!" he would confess to me and I would pray for his strength.

When I walked down the aisle in my white dress, I looked straight into the eyes of the man that had laid himself down to protect and honor the wife that God had given him.

When his eyes first caught mine he looked into the face of the woman that had waited for him, the woman that would support him and love him for the rest of His life, through good times and bad.

I share all of this because in that prayer we prayed, which was captured here on camera we asked the Lord to use our wedding to bring Him all of the glory that He rightfully deserved. We had not gotten where we were by our own strength, but by His hand of protection on our relationship.

God has used this photo to inspire hundreds of thousands of people already and for that we are humbled and honored! I wanted to take it a step further and give God praise and thanks for how we arrived at that quiet corner, holding hands and ready to begin our lives together.

(Photo by Kim Burke.)

"Holy (Wedding Day)" by The City Harmonic Feat. JJ Heller

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I love this song. Check out The City Harmonic.

Rule-igion

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What is "rule-igion"?

We know the word "religion" is belief in and worship of God. "Rule-igion" is the idea that a right relationship with God is earned through rule-keeping. "Rule-igion" says that we have to climb our way up to God. In other words, it's through our performance and obedience and good deeds that we earn God's love and favor and blessing. We follow the rules, we live a good life and that puts God in our debt.

Rule-igion is the basis of almost every false religion in the world today. Sadly, it infects a lot of Christian churches.

But rule-igion is completely at odds with the good news of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that salvation is a free gift. We are not saved by our works we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.

This good news--what we call the gospel-- is the opposite of rule-igion.

The gospel tells us that we can't climb up to God, but God in love has come down to save us. Jesus has fulfilled the law for us. Jesus has paid for our sins through his death on the cross. Jesus has been raised from dead so that we can have eternal life. True salvation and right standing before God is something only Jesus can win for us--it is not a result of our works so that no person can boast.

And this is such awesome news that you have to wonder why anyone would ever want rule-igion instead? Here's the answer: because grace is scary and humbling. Earning God's favor by following rules gives us a sense of control. Rules let us control other people. And rules feed our pride and our sense of worthiness.

The gospel is humbling. Being saved by grace tells us that we're undeserving. Grace makes us dependent and indebted. Grace makes much of Jesus not us...

Listen to the full sermon titled "Rule-igion" from Matthew 12:1-14 here.

Now Available

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We don't get to choose between humility and orthodoxy. We need both.

Orthodoxy, for the faithful, evokes what's cherished and beautiful and eternal. Yet in our day, orthodoxy is too often wielded like a weapon, used to bludgeon others with differing points of view. The word has become associated with behavior like argumentative, annoying, and arrogant.

It's time for God's people to demonstrate both right thinking and right attitudes. We are called to embrace and defend biblical truth. But that truth includes repeated commands to love our neighbor, love our enemy, and be clothed in gentleness and respect.

In Humble Orthodoxy, author Joshua Harris examines New Testament teachings about the calling of believers to a love-infused courage that ignores foolish controversies, patiently endures evil, and champions truth with generosity of spirit. Without this kind of humility, Harris asserts, we become like the Pharisees--right in our doctrine, but ultimately destroying the cause of truth with our pride.

You can order the book from Amazon.com or ChristianBook.com.

Outrageous Example of Loss of Freedom

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Most of the lame-stream media isn't reporting this, but yesterday President Obama signed executive order 4113 otherwise known as "The Self-Portraiture Prohibition Order" which will allow the federal government to regulate the taking of photos of yourself in a mirror. This is an outrageous example of the government invading our privacy and stealing our freedom! Evidently this order has been driven by the Professional Photographers Lobby who feel threatened by the growing trend of people taking self-portraits.

Kevin Systrom, co-founder of Instagram is asking Americans to stand up for their rights and oppose this measure. "The prohibition of self-portraiture will effectively shut down Instagram," Systrom told AP News. Apparently 99.2% of all pictures posted on Instagram are what are popularly known as "selfies"--pictures by people (most often women ages 14-26) who take pictures of themselves in their bathroom mirrors. The remaining .8% of pictures on Instagram are by people snapping photos of their own feet (it's not clear if pictures of feet are effected by the order.)

But it's not just women who are outraged by the President's action. A considerable number of men use selfies to show off their abs. Bryan Johnson of West Virginia who works at Gold's Gym says, "Obama wants to take our guns now our selfies. What's next?"

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are joining together their considerable online influence to organize the April 15 "MARCH FOR SELFIES" protest in Washington, DC. "We are hoping to gather 2 million people, wielding their iPhones, snapping selfies and declaring that we will not let the government send us back to the dark ages," says Rachel Allison the march organizer.

Please visit www.March4Selfies.com. And help spread the word and tweet with the hashtag #SAVESELFIES. On Facebook please change your profile photo to a Selfie with a "V" for victory sign to make a statement that you won't let big government take away your freedom.

Oh, one more thing...Happy April Fool's Day! : )

3 Days

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In 3 days, my new book HUMBLE ORTHODOXY will be released. It's a call to this generation to care about Christian truth without being a jerk about it.

I'm so grateful for the people who made this book possible.

First, the phrase "humble orthodoxy" was coined by my friend Eric Simmons, who pastors Redeemer Church of Arlington in Virginia. It was his encouragement for me to give a message on this topic for the New Attitude 2005 conference that led to this book.

humbleorthodoxycover.jpgAfter I spoke on humble orthodoxy, John Piper strongly exhorted me to write a small book on the subject. But I didn't follow his advice exactly. Instead, I wrote a larger book called Dug Down Deep, with the closing chapter titled "Humble Orthodoxy." (I suppose the lesson in all this is to do what John Piper tells you the first time.)

When Dug Down Deep was published, many readers told me that the chapter on humble orthodoxy was their favorite and deserved to be its own book. One reader in particular asked me to make it a small book that could be easily shared with others.

Because I'm in a season in which preaching and pastoring at my church is my primary focus, this project could only be completed because of the help and partnership of Eric Stanford, a gifted writer who was willing to take the content from my sermons and the original chapter from Dug Down Deep and weave and rearrange it into a brand-new book. He also wrote the study guide that is included in the book. I am grateful for his excellent work and his ownership of the message.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Please help me spread the message of Humble Orthodoxy. You can order the book from Amazon.com or ChristianBook.com.

6 Days

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In 6 days my sixth book, Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down, will be released.

I still can't get over the fact that I've been given the honor of being published. I will never forget the day in 1996 when a publisher called to tell me they had read my proposal and wanted to publish my first book. It was April 1st and I almost didn't believe them--I thought it was an April Fool's Day joke! Almost seventeen years later to the day, I'm honored to have a new book being published by the same house.

I'm praying Humble Orthodoxy will encourage many to take a strong stand for biblical orthodoxy and do this with gospel-motivated humility and gentleness.

You can order the book from Amazon.com, ChristianBook.com, Barnes & Noble as well as your local Christian bookstore.

7 Days

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A week from today on April 2, my newest book HUMBLE ORTHODOXY will be released. It's a small book, but its message is one that's very important to me. Our generation can't choose between humility of heart and orthodoxy of belief--we need both. We can hold truth high without putting people down.

I'd be honored if you'd read it and, if you agree with its message, share it with others. You can pre-order the book from Amazon.com or ChristianBook.com.

John Stott on Preparing a Sermon

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I'm reposting something I put together for myself several years ago after reading John Stott's book Between Two Worlds on preaching. This is basically an outline of his chapter on preparing a message with slight additions for my own personal use. I hope it encourages fellow pastors. (The picture is from 2005 when I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Stott who has since gone on to be with the Lord.)

Steps for Preparing a Sermon

1. Choose your text and meditate on it.
- Read the text, re-read it, re-read it and read it again.
- Probe it, chew on it, bore into it, soak in it.
- You are not called to preach yourself or your ideas, but charged to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Clarence Edward McCartney: "Put all the Bible you can into it."

2. Ask questions of the text.
- What does it mean? Or better yet, what did it mean when first spoken or written?
- What did the author intend to affirm or condemn or promise or command?
- What does it say? What is its contemporary message? How does it speak to us today?
- Remember: Keep these questions distinct but together--the text's meaning is of purely academic interest unless you go on to discern its message for today, it's significance. But you cannot discover it's contemporary message without first wrestling with its original meaning.

3.Combine diligent study with fervent prayer.
- All the time you study cry humbly to God for illumination by the Spirit of truth. Like Moses, "I pray you, show me your glory" (Exod 33:18), and Samuel, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening" (1 Sam 3:9).
- Stott: "I have always found it helpful to do as much of my sermon preparation as possible on my knees, with the Bible open before me, in prayerful study.
- R.W. Dale: "Work without prayer is atheism; and prayer without work is presumption."

4. Isolate the Dominant Thought of the Text.
- Every text has a main theme, an overriding thrust.
- A sermon is not a lecture, it aims to convey only one major message
- The congregation will forget details of the message, but they should remember the dominant thought, because all the sermon's details should be marshaled to help them grasp its message and feel its power.
- Once the text's principle meaning has been determined, express it in a 'categorical proposition.'
- J.H. Jowett: "I have a conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching...until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as a crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting and the most fruitful labor in my study...I do not think any sermon ought to be preached, or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon."
- Ian Pitt-Watson: "Every sermon should be ruthlessly unitary in its theme."
- Don't by-pass the discipline of waiting patiently for the dominant thought to disclose itself. You have to be ready to pray and think yourself deep into the text, even under it, until we give up all pretensions of being its master or manipulator, and become instead its humble and obedient servant.

5. Arrange Your Material to Serve the Dominant Thought
- The goal is not a literary masterpiece, but organization that enables the text's main thrust to make its maximum impact.
- Ruthlessly discard irrelevant material
- Subordinate material to theme so that it illumines and supports it.
- Golden Rule for Sermon Outlines: Let each text supply its own structure. Let it open itself up like a rose to the morning sun.
- Be precise with your words. It is impossible to convey a precise message without choosing precise words.
- Words to use:
- Simple and Clear words. Ryle: "Preach as if you had asthma."
- Vivid words. They should conjur up images in the mind.
- Honest words. Beware of exaggerations and be sparing in use of superlatives.
- C.S. Lewis: don't just tell people how to feel, describe in such a way that people feel it themselves.
- Don't use words too big for the subject.

6. Remember the Power of Imagination--Illustrate!
- Imagination: the power of the mind by which it conceives of invisible things, and is able to present them as though they were visible to others. (Beecher)
- Remember that humans have trouble grasping abstract concepts--we need them converted into pictures and examples.
- Exert your greatest effort for illustrations that reinforce and serve the dominant thought.
- Think of illustrations as windows that let in light on our subject and help people to more clearly see and appreciate it.
- Beware of illustrations that draw too much attention (to themselves instead of the subject) or which actually take people away from the main point.

7. Add Your Introduction
- It's better to start with the body so that we don't twist our text to fit our introduction.
- Stott: A good introduction serves two purposes. First, it arouses interest, stimulates curiosity, and whets the appetite for more. Secondly, it genuinely introduces the theme by leading the hearers into it.
- Don't make the intro too long or too short. "Men have a natural aversion to abruptness, and delight in a somewhat gradual approach. A building is rarely pleasing in appearance without a porch or some sort of inviting entrance."

8. Add Your Conclusion.
- Conclusions are more difficult. Avoid endlessly circling and never landing. Avoid ending too abruptly.
- A true conclusion goes beyond recapitulation to personal application. (Not that all application should wait till the end--the text needs to be applied as we go along.)
- Nevertheless, it is a mistake to disclose too soon the conclusion to which we are going to come. If we do, we lose people's sense of expectation. It is better to keep something up our sleeve. Then we can leave to the end that persuading which, by the Holy Spirit's power, will prevail on people to take action.
- Call the congregation to act! Our expectation as the sermon comes to an end, is not merely that people will understand or remember or enjoy our teaching, but that they will do something about it. If there is no summons, there is no sermon!
- The precise application of your sermon depends on the character of the text. The dominant thought points us to how people should act in response. Does the text call to repentance or stimulate faith? Does it evoke worship, demand obedience, summon to witness, or challenge to service? The text itself determines the particular response we desire.
- Consider the composition of your congregation. It is good to let your mind wander over the church family and ask prayerfully what message God might have for each from your text. Consider their unique circumstances, weaknesses, strengths and temptations.

9. Write Down Your Sermon
- Don't take too long to get to this stage! Get something on paper, don't endlessly noodle on vague notes (this is my temptation).
- Writing obliges you to think straight.

10. Edit it Again
- View hitting your time goal (40-45 minutes) as just as essential to its overall effectiveness as anything else you do. People will take more away if you say less.
- Ruthlessly cut the unneeded and extra. Look for places where you can be more concise.
- Err on the side of cutting things--especially long quotes.

11. Pray over Your Message
- Stott: "We need to pray until our text comes freshly alive to us, the glory shines forth from it, the fire burns in our heart, and we begin to experience the explosive power of God's Word within us."

9 Lessons From God Concerning Sickness

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The website J.C. Ryle Quotes shares the following from a tract Ryle wrote entitled "Christ in the Sick Room".

Sickness is meant...

1. To make us think--to remind us that we have a soul as well as a body--an immortal soul--a soul that will live forever in happiness or in misery--and that if this soul is not saved we had better never have been born.

2. To teach us that there is a world beyond the grave--and that the world we now live in is only a training-place for another dwelling, where there will be no decay, no sorrow, no tears, no misery, and no sin.

3. To make us look at our past lives honestly, fairly, and conscientiously. Am I ready for my great change if I should not get better? Do I repent truly of my sins? Are my sins forgiven and washed away in Christ's blood? Am I prepared to meet God?

4. To make us see the emptiness of the world and its utter inability to satisfy the highest and deepest needs of the soul.

5. To send us to our Bibles. That blessed Book, in the days of health, is too often left on the shelf, becomes the safest place in which to put a bank-note, and is never opened from January to December. But sickness often brings it down from the shelf and throws new light on its pages.

6. To make us pray. Too many, I fear, never pray at all, or they only rattle over a few hurried words morning and evening without thinking what they do. But prayer often becomes a reality when the valley of the shadow of death is in sight.

7. To make us repent and break off our sins. If we will not hear the voice of mercies, God sometimes makes us "hear the rod."

8. To draw us to Christ. Naturally we do not see the full value of that blessed Savior. We secretly imagine that our prayers, good deeds, and sacrament-receiving will save our souls. But when flesh begins to fail, the absolute necessity of a Redeemer, a Mediator, and an Advocate with the Father, stands out before men's eyes like fire, and makes them understand those words, "Simply to Your cross I cling," as they never did before. Sickness has done this for many--they have found Christ in the sick room.

9. To make us feeling and sympathizing towards others. By nature we are all far below our blessed Master's example, who had not only a hand to help all, but a heart to feel for all. None, I suspect, are so unable to sympathize as those who have never had trouble themselves--and none are so able to feel as those who have drunk most deeply the cup of pain and sorrow.

Summary: Beware of fretting, murmuring, complaining, and giving way to an impatient spirit. Regard your sickness as a blessing in disguise - a good and not an evil - a friend and not an enemy. No doubt we should all prefer to learn spiritual lessons in the school of ease and not under the rod. But rest assured that God knows better than we do how to teach us. The light of the last day will show you that there was a meaning and a "need be" in all your bodily ailments. The lessons that we learn on a sick-bed, when we are shut out from the world, are often lessons which we should never learn elsewhere.

(via J.C. Ryle Quotes)

The Deciding Factor in Salvation

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"Calvinism and Arminianism both affirm that God has chosen not to save everyone; the paths diverge over whether God's electing grace or our free will is the deciding factor in salvation. In the Calvinist account, though, God's love is finally greater than the fallen heart's rebellion and resistance. God will not let those whom he has chosen have the last word in this matter, but redeems them, renews them, and keeps them until glory. In the case of neither the elect nor the reprobate does God coerce the human will. Rather, in the former case he frees sinners from their bondage to sin and death, and in the latter case he leaves sinners to go their own way." - Michael Horton, For Calvinism, page 64

Humble Orthodoxy: The Book

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Today I opened the first box of my newest book, Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down. It releases in one month on April 2. You can pre-order it here.

Justification is a Verdict

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"Justification is a verdict, a declaration, that one who is actually unrighteous in oneself is righteous before God solely on the basis of Christ's righteousness being credited through faith alone. Therefore, justifying righteousness is not infused into us but imputed to us. It is not enabling but saving. It is not partial but complete. It is not the goal of the Christian life but the source." - Michael Horton, For Calvinism, page 135

Worship Songs Featuring Shannon Harris

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God gave my wife an amazing voice. I'm so grateful she's had the chance to use it to sing his praises. Here's a listing of the songs she's been a vocalist on for Sovereign Grace Music over the years. A few of my favorite tracks: Gospel Song, Mercies Anew, In the Valley (Remix) and I Stand in Awe. Listen here.

Are You Putting Jesus on Hold?

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Here's a sermon I preached on Matthew 8:18-22 about the cost of discipleship. In it I talk about the fact that sometimes we like the idea of following Jesus more than the reality. To illustrate the point I share what has to be one of the most humiliating experiences of my life (and that's saying something!). About 15 minutes in you'll hear the story about me joining a gym.

How Should a Reformed Pastor Be Charismatic?

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In an article for The Christian Post, Anugrah Kumar, shared the following summary of a message at this week's Desiring God conference for pastors in Minnesota:

The message by U.K. Pastor Tope Koleoso was entitled "Sovereign Grace, Spiritual Gifts and the Pastor: How Should a Reformed Pastor be Charismatic?" and encouraged church leaders not to sidestep the supernatural in the Christian faith and ministry, but to rightly understand and exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit while shunning fanaticism.

Koleoso, who leads Jubilee Church London in the U.K. read out Acts 13:1-12, and asked why would anyone who is Bible-believing, Christ-centered and theology-loving be hesitant, cautious or resistant to the Holy Spirit? It is perhaps, fear, he suggested. Sometimes it's rational, and sometimes it's because some people are abusive and hurtful in the name of the Holy Spirit. Fanaticism is at times mistaken as spirituality.

In Mark Chapter 1, after the Spirit came upon Jesus, He went about teaching, preaching, healing and delivering people from evil spirits. However, the church in the West wants to do only two things: teach and preach. They shy away from healing diseases and delivering people from demonic influences.

"You came into the kingdom supernaturally; you're going to be sustained in the kingdom supernaturally," Pastor Koleoso reminded the pastors. There are consequences if pastors do not teach about the power of the Holy Spirit and how to access it, he warned. "If we don't pursue the things of the Spirit the way that the first century Christians did, we'll end up preaching an anemic ... diluted ... deficient ... even a destructive gospel."

In the West, we've become pragmatic and natural-thinking, said the Nigerian-born Koleoso. "We're called to something deeper." It takes integrity and humility to say, "Lord, help us."

In Acts Chapter 1, the disciples were told to wait for the Spirit who would give power to make them witnesses. "Early church knew nothing of just going out without waiting." Jesus has asked His followers to make disciples, but we are not doing it, Koleoso added. But in the early church, Christians did not know discipleship that was apart from the filling of the Holy Spirit.

Koleoso also suggested some pastors may not have the resources to deal with demonic situations in their churches. "You cannot theologize Satan away; you cannot lecture him away ... You need the power of the Holy Spirit to address those situations ... This is a supernatural calling; the whole thing is supernatural."

Whether you are charismatic or reformed, you have to be filled with the Holy Spirit daily, the pastor emphasized.

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? "It means to be restored to the initial intention so that you once again have the relation and resources." It's imperative, not a choice, he said. And we have to continue to be filled. "No one can say, 'I've got it; I've got it all.'"

Koleoso encouraged the pastors to buy Terry Virgo's The Spirit-Filled Church, to learn about the presence of God, and to buy Sam Storms' The Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Gifts.

Pastor Koleoso concluded by saying, as Paul said, let everything be done in a decent and orderly manner. This means there has to be leadership in the church. The freedom in Spirit must not surrender to fanaticism, our openness to the Spirit must never violate the Word of God, and our expression of joy must never degenerate into mere excitability.

Read the full Christian Post article here.

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear

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stop-asking-jesus-into-your-heart.jpegStop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart is an outstanding book. Thoroughly biblical, easy-to-read, pastoral, engaging and even funny.

Greear writes, "If there were a Guinness Book of World Records entry for 'amount of times having prayed the sinner's prayer,' I'm pretty sure I'd be a top contender." He struggled for many years to gain an assurance of salvation and eventually learned he was not alone. "Lack of assurance" is epidemic among evangelical Christians.

In Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, J. D. shows that faulty ways of presenting the gospel are a leading source of the confusion. Our presentations may not be heretical, but they are sometimes misleading. The idea of "asking Jesus into your heart" or "giving your life to Jesus" often gives false assurance to those who are not saved--and keeps those who genuinely are saved from fully embracing that reality.

Greear unpacks the doctrine of assurance, showing that salvation is a posture we take to the promise of God in Christ, a posture that begins at a certain point and is maintained for the rest of our lives. He also answers the tough questions about assurance: What exactly is faith? What is repentance? Why are there so many warnings that seem to imply we can lose our salvation?

Such issues are handled with respect to the theological rigors they require, but Greear never loses his pastoral sensitivity or a communication technique that makes this message teachable to a wide audience from teens to adults.

I've already given the book to a friend who was wrestling with these questions and she was greatly helped. I plan to keep a stack around to give out. Whether or not you struggle with questions of assurance this book will help you understand and treasure God's saving grace and make you more effective in sharing the hope of the gospel and calling others to repentance and faith.

The book releases February 1, 2013. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.

Simeon's Trust Workshop on Old Testament Narrative

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Our church is hosting a Simeon's Trust Workshop for pastors with David Helm March 20-22, 2013. David is an excellent teacher with a passion to see preachers gain the necessary tools for preaching and teaching God's word---in this case, Old Testament Narrative.

The Workshops on Biblical Exposition aim to recover the centrality of God's Word, preached expositionally, to the benefit of the life and health of the church in our generation. In order for this kind of preaching to take place, the Bible must be properly understood and rightly handled. And so, this workshop consists of two and a half days covering Principles of Exposition (instructional talks on how to better handle Biblical texts), Model Expositions (engaging demonstrations of expository sermons), and Small Group Practice (times when you will share and receive feedback on two passages you prepared in advance). Each of these sessions is carefully designed to be inter-related for the greatest value in improving your work.

Pastors, I highly recommend this seminar and hope you'll consider joining us. When our pastoral team attended one last year it was one of the best training contexts we'd ever participated in.

Here's the registration and hotel information for the workshop.

Kings Kaleidoscope: "All Glory Be To Christ"

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I really like "All Glory Be To Christ" by Kings Kaleidoscope. It's a new worship song set to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. We're planning to sing it tomorrow on the last Sunday of 2012. (via Jane Eliza Huie)

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive

To you who boast tomorrow's gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing
All glory be to Christ!

His will be done
His kingdom come
On earth as is above
Who is Himself our daily bread
Praise Him the Lord of love

Let living water satisfy
The thirsty without price
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing
All glory be to Christ!

When on the day the great I Am
The faithful and the true
The Lamb who was for sinners slain
Is making all things new

Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light
And we shall ere his people be
All glory be to Christ!

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign will ever sing
All glory be to Christ!

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas from Emma, Shannon, Mary Kate, Wasabi, Josh & Joshua Quinn. God bless you!

The One Who Poured Himself Out

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Commenting on Philippians chapter 2, Gordon Fee writes, "Here we see why the 'scandal of the cross' was so central to [Paul's] understanding of everything Christian. For in 'pouring himself out' and 'humbling himself to death on the cross,' Christ Jesus has revealed the character of God himself. Here is the epitome of God-likeness: the pre-existent Christ was not a "grasping, selfish' being, but one whose love for others found its consummate expression in 'pouring himself out,' in taking on the role of a slave, in humbling himself to the point of death on behalf of those so loved."
- Paul's Letter to the Philippians, page 197
Quoted in the sermon "Servanthood" by Mark Mitchell.

Purity After Impurity

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Here's a helpful post from The Gospel Coalition about knowing God's forgiveness and walking in purity after sexual sin. Authors Julia Huisman and Tammy Johnston share openly from their own experience and provide four simple steps for combatting remorse and shame: 1. Accept God's forgiveness. 2. Accept the consequences. 3. Fight against condemnation. 4. Recommit yourself to purity.

Read the full article.

Great Purpose

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"There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with great purpose." - Alan Redpath

(quoted in Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story)

The Gospel at Work Conference

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The Gospel at Work conference, coming to Covenant Life January 11-12, 2013, was born out of a desire to help Christians think and live differently in the workplace. If you work a 9 to 5, will someday be working a 9 to 5, or are in between working a 9 to 5, this conference is designed for you and will build you up.

Come and be taught and encouraged by Os Guiness, Mark Dever, Bob Doll, Michael Lawrence, Eric Simmons and more fine speakers.

Despite the fact that most Christians spend half of their waking lives at work, most have been taught very little on Sunday mornings about how to apply the truths of the gospel to the practicalities of their Monday to Friday work life. It is not uncommon for Christian professionals to hold an undeveloped, if not flat-out unbiblical, theology of work.

The conference will address questions like:

• What is God's purpose for my work?
• How does the gospel change my work?
• How does applying the truths of the gospel help me manage differently?
• How does a Christian strategize and plan his or her career?

I hope you'll make plans to attend. Register online and begin to pray that God would be glorified, that employees would be built up, and that our workplaces will be an area of extraordinary, gospel-centered, faithful and fruitful living.

Visit thegospelatwork.com to learn more.

Worthy is the Lamb by God's Servant

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Great song. From the album Simple Love which releases Oct. 16th.

The woman who does the mime in this video, Monielle McAllister, is a member of Covenant Life and an artist in her own right. Look for more from her in the days to come.

Awakening a Hunger for God

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Studying and preaching on the spiritual discipline of fasting. I found this quote by Piper provoking:

"If you don't feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: 'This much, O God, I want you.'" - John Piper, A Hunger for God, page 23

Love is Sweet, Life is Hard

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A young woman named Patty made this and gave it to me and Shannon today at church. We were so blessed by the gift and have it sitting on our kitchen counter. Thanks, Patty!

Too Tough on the Guys Who Are Trying?

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I got some great feedback from a young man in our church after two of my recent sermons from Matthew 5, both of which touched on aspects of marriage (the messages were "Jesus on Lust" and "Don't Break Your Marriage or Your Word.") In his mid-twenties, he kindly expressed appreciation for both messages and then went on to voice concern about how I challenged single men to "put down the X-box, grow up, pursue a wife, and glorify God in that relationship" (or words to that effect).

Let me share some of his e-mail (with his permission):

I think I understand your heart and the cultural situation that would lead you to make such a statement. I think your heart is for God to be glorified through marriage relationships and the women of the church be cared for and provided for in that way ... And the cultural situation of the USA is [that] men are passive, they prolong adolescence, and they abuse or neglect women to varying degrees...


I'm not knocking that at all. I love that heart to care for and provide for others and to above all bring glory to our Savior through our marriages. But Josh, I know very few men in the church who need to hear that exhortation.

The men in the church that I know are doing a good job of honoring God in their pursuit of marriage, not a sinless one, but an honest, genuine effort. Between me and the other single and recently married men in my small group, around 30 different relationships have been pursued over the past 5 years ...

And to hear such an exhortation ... without a corresponding encouragement to guys who are trying, can be so tempting. Pursuing relationships is ... probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. And there seems to be so little apparent reward for our efforts (of those 30 relationships that were pursued, only three went anywhere).

I am grateful this brother took time to write. I wrote back and asked his forgiveness for being too sweeping with my statement. Yes, there are men who need to be challenged. But I didn't think carefully about men like him who are seeking to pursue marriage faithfully. I should have nuanced my words more and also commended brothers who are stepping forward (and getting turned down).

To other men in a similar situation, I apologize for not being more circumspect in the way I spoke to this issue. And I encourage you from Galatians 6:9: "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."

After this brother presented his concern to me, I posted about this topic on my Facebook page and received a plethora of great comments for both single men and women. Here is a sampling of helpful observations:

A husband and father to two daughters exhorted: "Husbands, love your wives ... and the wife must respect her husband." [Ephesians 5:25,33] - Young single men, are you living lives that women can respect? ... [Consider] ask[ing] a close trusted friend or a close married couple for some honest observations.


A recently married young lady wrote:
Girls ... have good friendships with guys ... We're free in Christ to enjoy people, make memories, and trust God to fulfill His plans for us. And who knows! Someday one of those mutually enjoyable friendships might turn into romance.

A mother shared this thought:
Guys - are you pursuing God as much as you are trying to pursue ladies?

A young woman observed:
Christian women being encouraged to hold out for "the one" is a good thing, but can be out of balance because the woman's mental picture of what she is looking for in a guy is often pretty unrealistic ... Girls need to be encouraged to be willing to consider imperfect guys who are growing in the right direction.

As I read over these I was reminded of our need for the community of the local church and the wisdom and grace that flow from it.

So now I'd love your perspective. How do you think churches can grow in encouraging men and women toward marriage? Is there too much pressure already? Or is marriage being unnecessarily delayed by the people around you? Are girls too quick to say no? What would you say to a guy who's getting weary of trying?

The Reward of His Suffering

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The video above features a new song from Matt Papa that is a powerful call to world wide missions. Matt is giving the proceeds from the song--every single dime, for it's lifetime--to missions. You can see which organizations here.

Listen, and then go support the cause by buying the song on iTunes.

Don't Chase the Latest Thing

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This brief video is my response to the question, "What word of encouragement or advice would you give to fellow pastors?"

Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp

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Just finished a new book by Paul Tripp entitled Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. It challenged me, convicted me and also gave me fresh faith for pastoral ministry. I highly recommend it to any pastor, seminarian or church member who cares about his or her leaders. The following is a description of the book from Paul Tripp's website...

There's something very dangerous about pastoral culture...

After traveling the globe and speaking to thousands of churches worldwide, Paul Tripp has discovered a serious problem within pastoral culture.

He's not only concerned about the spiritual life of the pastor, but also with the very community of people that trains him, calls him, relates to him, and restores him if necessary.

Dangerous Calling reveals the truth that the culture surrounding our pastors is spiritually unhealthy - an environment that actively undermines the well-being and efficacy of our church leaders and thus the entire church body.

Here is material that both diagnoses and offers cures for issues that impact every member and church leader, and gives solid strategies for fighting the all-important war that rages in our churches today.

It's the most honest discussion of ministry you'll ever encounter.

Learn more about the book and the DVD course based on it here. Order the book here.

Eyes on the Prize by Sara Groves

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With just a piano & acoustic guitar, Sara Groves plays her beautiful song "Eyes On The Prize," accompanied by Steve Mason of Jars of Clay. The song is from her new album "Invisible Empires." My friend Erik Sheffer introduced me to the song. There's a cool story of how the Lord blessed him through it which you can read here.)

The Sheep That Was Lost

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These photos reminded me of Jesus' words about the lost sheep in Luke and how he pursues us and rescues us from our sin. And I couldn't help but thinking that this is the kind of pastor I'd like to be, going after those who are straying and in spiritual danger. I'm grateful for the men who serve as undershepherds of the Chief Shepherd. Your labor isn't in vain, brothers! Don't grow weary!

"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." - Luke 15:1-7 ESV

Shophouse: a New Restaurant by the Creators of Chipotle

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bowl.jpegI'm a big fan of Chipotle and was interested to read an article today in TIME about a new venture by the creators of Chipotle called Shophouse. The menu, which looks brilliant, is inspired by Southeast Asian cuisine. You choose rice, noodles or lettuce as a base, then one of four meats (or tofu), a vegetable, dressing and garnish. So far there's only one restaurant in Dupont Circle. But if the success of Chipotle is any indicator get ready for these to begin spreading across the country.

Joshua Quinn Won! [Update]

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Okay, big favor to ask...my 10-year-old son, Joshua Quinn, is a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers and of safety Troy Polamalu in particular (that's him dressed as Troy last October). Right now he's trying to win a football signed by Troy. To win he needs to have friends "like" my comment found at this link. If he gets the most likes in the next two days, he wins the ball. But right now he's about 10 "likes" behind the front-runner.

Please help JQ! Just click on this link and "like" my comment (highlighted in blue). If he wins you can visit the ball anytime! My boy thanks you in advance.

Help Joshua Quinn!

UPDATE: Thanks to you, we won the contest 505 votes to 468! We're very grateful! Thanks for taking the time to help him out. I wish you could have seen his face this morning when he woke up and found out he got enough votes.

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