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Author: Ricky Alcantar (page 1 of 3)

Praying for a Reset: Longing for a Do-Over, Fearful of the Same

Have you ever longed to be refreshed, renewed, and refocused as you enter a new year? Then read on.

My birthday has two dubious distinctions. First, if you are Hispanic and on January 6th you eat a cake with a tiny plastic baby Jesus inside it then you have to throw a party on February 2nd. (This is real.) Second, it’s Groundhog Day, which is notable for a bizarre ritual involving a groundhog being accosted with television cameras first thing in the morning and also movie with Bill Murray.

This post will be about how this movie and the Lord’s Prayer matter immensely to resetting our lives and ministry.

Now, to my knowledge I’ve never actually seen the whole Groundhog Day movie with Bill Murray but I’ve gotten the gist in cable TV re-runs: Bill Murray is a jerk and finds himself reliving the same day (Feb 2) over and over again every time he goes to sleep. Besides a scene where he kidnaps a groundhog I think the movie sticks around because it speaks to a longing we all have and a dread that we all have: First, we want a do-over. There are days, weeks, years that we wish we could live over again. Maybe 2015 was like that for you. Second, we each fear being stuck in the same day, or year over and over monotonously doing the same thing again and again.

I feel this heading into 2016.

I want a do-over with some key personal and church decisions last year. And I dread that this year might be just like last year and the year before, that certain personal and ministry hopes will go unfulfilled. I long for a reset. A true reset. I long to wake up in 2016 refreshed, renewed and refocused.

In the last days of 2015 I found something that has been steadily resetting my heart and soul and changing the way I enter this new year. It’s not something new, because fundamentally what I need is not something new but something true. It’s hidden in plain sight:

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)

Jesus says “Pray like this.” This is meant as a model and it seems clear that this structure is not given simply because it pleases God (though it does) but because the progression is helpful for our hearts. Praying this way that will not just change the content our prayers, it will change us too. It will reset us.

When we become discouraged we’re often hit with one of two lies: “God doesn’t care about you,” or, “God can’t help you.” This is often why we take matters into our own hands as pastors, church planters, or leaders with disastrous results. We fail to remember who God truly is. If J.I. Packer is right and the most important thing about us is what we think of when we think of God, then we desperately need these few words.

He is Our Father. He is not a dispassionate taskmaster impatiently waiting for status reports on that floundering small group in our church. He is our Father. He loves us with the familial affection of a dad laughing at his son’s jump into the Fall leaves.

He is the King of Heaven. “Father in Heaven” is not his address, it’s a reminder that this Father is sovereign and above all. There is nothing to beyond his power or capacity. His dominion extends to black holes and galaxies, to microns and particles.

Last year I needed my dad’s help with something. I brought the request ready with several arguments for why I needed the help and how it was important and necessary. But a few sentences in my dad said, “Sure I’d love to help.” Not to be dissuaded I continued making arguments until he said, “Son. I’m your dad. I’m happy to help.”

This is our God: someone happy to help and full of power to do so.

Where parts of our lives currently feel out of control we must remember that he loves us and is sovereign over us. Where we look to the future we will only be filled with true courage knowing that someone is there who is both impossibly loving and impossibly strong.

And do not miss the impossible word right before “Father.” He is our Father. He paid and precious and dear price, the price of his only begotten son to purchase those two words for us. Jesus hung on a cross, forsaken by his Father so that we could be restored to our Father.

This means all that God is (this completely loving Father and completely sovereign King) he is for us.

When we think of failures and regrets from last year we must be reminded that we’re not trying to dig ourselves out of a hole with God this year. Our relationship is all of grace. When we think of our great successes from last year we must be reminded that God rejoices but we come to him as children based only on what he’s done for us.

I need to hear this.

When you’re replanting a church, planting a church, or just lead a small group of believers, the temptation when you need a reset is to start with yourself: a new strategy (“this small group book will fix us!” we think), a new plan (“this outreach will finally connect!” we think), a new sermon (“this one will finally change them!” we think). But Jesus reminds us that we must start at a different place. We start with God and our relationship with him.

And one last thought: starting here in prayer changes the tone and tenor of our requests. We do not come desperate to see our last-ditch ministry effort succeed, we come secure in his love and in his sovereignty. We do not parade in with a puffed out chest as if our church plant is a going to single-handedly turn redemptive history around, we come awed that God our father would love us much less use us.

We’ll pick this up next time. In the meantime there is enough here to reset our souls. There is enough here for pastors longing for a do-over and ministry leaders afraid of nothing changing.

“Our Father, who art in heaven.”

New Authors, New Schedule at Plant/Replant

Here’s the headline: We’re relaunching with two new authors and slower but better post schedule.

We’re excited about some future possibilities in this and think it’ll result in stronger content . Basically, we want to make the blog worth your time. If you’ve followed Plant/Replant you’ll noticed that we went strong for two months then took two months off. (Hey, we deserved a vacation ok?? This blogging stuff isn’t as easy as it looks. [Actually, it is.]) This new format should keep that from happening in the future.

Some Background

Plant/Replant exists because of some good news, and to spread this good news. A couple months into starting this new blog we realized two things: 1) we don’t have as much time as we thought we did, and 2) we didn’t want to give up on the idea for Plant/Replant. Jacob is planting a church in Manchester, NH and I’m leading a church in El Paso, TX. We love writing, we love mission and we love Sovereign Grace Churches and we loved having a place where all this intersected. So how could we make this work?

Adding Authors

At the same time we often discussed “Is there anyone else who should be writing with us?” and two guys in particular came up:
  • My friend Rob Tombrella has a huge heart for mission and who, among other things, leads many missional initiatives as a pastor at Grace Church in Frisco, TX. Rob holds an M. Div from Southwestern University, and he’s led a church before coming to Grace Church. He also is chair of the church planting committee and the kind of guy that is up for anything as long as in the end people hear about Jesus.
  • Our friend Nick Swan  is a pastor at Crossway Church in the Charlotte area. There are many notable things about Nick including his current studies at Reformed Theological Seminary, his service on the Theological Committee for Sovereign Grace, his symphony level oboe skills, but we largely invited him to join us because he has the best beard in Sovereign Grace.

We’ve added these two authors to Plant/Replant and reserve the right to add more, especially if they have cool beards.

Here’s what I love about the idea of the four of us writing together: We are all profoundly different and minister in profoundly different places (town, urban, suburban) but we share the same values. We don’t even always agree on how those values should be applied but we hold them, treasure them, and seek to promote them. We all love our family of churches but don’t always agree on the best way forward either and we think our writing together will yield some good interaction and sharpening.

What to Expect

Topics: The driving idea behind Plant/Replant is that Jesus has called his church to join him in the work of making disciples in our neighborhoods and in the nations beyond. Because of our backgrounds Jacob and I will often bring a special emphasis on planting (Jacob) or replanting (me). But we’re grateful Rob & Nick will contribute to this conversation from their perspective in established churches because Jesus calls all churches to this mission whether they’re plants or not. We’re also hoping to write some more about polity and how it serves as a key support that enables mission to happen (really we’re hoping Nick will write about this since he’s significantly smarter than us, or appears so by virtue of his beard). Without strong polity the mission is hampered and undercut before it begins.

Frequency: Our goal is four substantive posts per month with a few extra posts thrown in. Each guy will post a 700-1,000 word article each month.

Interaction: With four of us we’ll also be looking for more opportunities for interaction between us. Maybe we’ll thrown in some things like taking a question in roundtable format or responding to one another’s posts in brief. We’re open to suggestions.

Thanks for reading

We know there are more than enough silly cat videos, Star Wars fan theories, and playoff projections to occupy your time online. Thanks for spending a few minutes with us–we’ll try to make it worth your time. At least, we’ll seek to point you to some good news about Jesus that’s always worth your time.

The Real Reason the Bible Bores You

About a year and a half ago I got my favorite Christmas present in a long time, and it taught me a lot about approaching the Bible.

It was a novel. Or rather, a fake novel. Or rather, it was a novel written in the margins of fake novel. The conceit was that this was a real “novel” that became something of a secret communication medium between two strangers trying to unravel a conspiracy. The best part was that as you turned the page you’d find a maps with markings for secret tunnels. Turn another page and find a drawing on napkins. Google something online and there would be a whole mysterious radio broadcast. The deeper you went, the deeper you were drawn. With handwritten notes and weathered photographs you fell into a world you weren’t completely sure was not real.

J.J. Abrams, the creator of the novel, wrote somewhere that he’s always been fascinated by the concept of a “mystery box” — that strange artifact waiting to be explored. There are mystery boxes in crime novels (the locked briefcase), in action adventure (the ancient artifact), in science fiction (the glowing orb). It’s like unwrapping a Christmas present only to find a smaller present, only to find another smaller present, as you delve deeper and deeper into the mystery.

Reading it is a jumble of flipping back and forth across the novel, notes, and artifacts, trying to piece a story together. And yet, the more maddening it became the more I was hooked.

What does any of this have to do with approaching the Bible?

Simply this: Too often we approach the Bible too much like a stodgy textbook and not enough like a “mystery box.”

Too often I wake up, groggy, approaching my Bible with all the excitement of reviewing my health insurance handbook. But in my hands is the ultimate mystery box, waiting to be unwrapped and discovered. It is thousands of pages written across centuries. There are books of history, lists, poetry, and letters. There is crazy apocalyptic imagery written by men in exile far from home. There’s a diary of a former member of a King’s court trying to rebuild an ancient city.

It gets better: You can read the rise and fall of a great king of Israel and then read his innermost thoughts through the poetry he wrote a few books over. You can travel with a doctor as the ancient world is turned upside down by a former persecutor turned evangelist, then read the letters the evangelist wrote as he waited for his execution. You can watch the creation of the world at the beginning of the book as stars explode across the darkness and mountains crash out of the ocean, and you can watch the world on fire at the end of the book as all is destroyed and renewed.

And through it all it tells a single story: Shadows and types at first. But then those shadows become clearer and clearer till light bursts onto the scene and reinterprets all that came before and all that will come after. The story is about love lost and pursued and renewed. The story is about war; about forces arrayed against a single man who singlehandedly pushes back the darkness. The story is the one true story of the history of the world full of conflict and relationship and hope and renewal.

This. This is the Bible.

I think that many times we don’t read the Bible because it bores us (though we’d never admit it out loud). And the Bible bores us because we skim some pages, it seems old and disconnected from our lives. Frankly, a google search is more rewarding. But that is because we forget what the Bible actually is. We’re content to blow the dust off the mystery box, maybe peak inside, and say, “Well it looks like a bunch of old stuff I can’t use.”

The Apostle Peter says of these Scriptures, these “prophetic words” preserved in the Bible: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

That sentence is literary dynamite. The creator of atoms and mountains wrote poems. The creator of towering glaciers and desert sunsets wrote histories of kings and nations. The creator of fiery volcanos and intricate reefs, wrote a book. The Holy Spirit that animates creation and animates hearts also breathed out this book.

Your Bible is not a stack of meaningless data. It is a mystery box.

Open it.

Friday Variety: 3 Tools to Help You Create, Remember, and Declutter

I am easily attracted to new tools, new promises of productivity, and shiny new apps. But there are a few things that stick around, become part of my life, and general make things easier. The three things below are three things that have lasted and made my life better. You can use these in your work life, in your personal life, or some combination of the two. I’m using them regularly to create more, remember more, and declutter my life.

Todoist: A dead simple, gorgeous app that keeps you doing stuff

todoist

Recently relaunched with refreshed apps and interfaces, Todoist has been my go-to To-Do app for over a year. There’s a free version and there’s an app just about everywhere you could use one, plus a premium version for $29/yr.

todoist2

Here’s what I love about it:

  • I don’t think about it a lot. It has tons of features–you can prioritize and categorize and tag to your heart’s content. But when I just need to capture a to-do for a certain date (even at a certain time or place) it makes it dead simple.
  • It integrates with Gmail so that you can add emails as tasks. This has been a lifesaver for me so that I don’t lose track of an important email I need to reply to on a certain day, or after I get certain information.
  • You can add an extension to Chrome and add a website as a to-do. This is useful for saying things like “send this to Bob” later in your workday.
  • It gets out of the way. The design is intentionally minimalist and it lets you focus on what needs to get done.
  • I think that I have a great memory but I have a terrible memory. When I need to do something, I put it in and I really do remember.
  • When you finish your to-do list for the day it gives you nice suggestions like “Play some music” or “Adopt a kitten.”  I like to be encouraged, okay?

Evernote: An app that allows you to outsource your memory (which is good news for me)

evernote

Much has been written about Evernote. It’s a monster and chances are you’ve heard of it if you’ve spent any time in the productivity world. But I have a confession: I tried it a few years ago, didn’t get it and stopped. But about two years ago I went back and now I can’t live without it. If you’ve tried and failed, here are a few reasons to reconsider:

  • The web-based writer is just gorgeous. If you need to write a letter, or paper, or sermon, or something else, and you don’t want any distractions, try this. It doesn’t have all the features of a word processor but I often use it to sketch out ideas or write things down without worrying about formatting.
  • If you save articles or bits of information I just haven’t found a better way to save it than Evernote. I’ve gotten addicted to using it for saving potential sermon illustrations. When I read something illustration-worthy I put it in a big stack in Evernote and will scan through while I’m prepping for sermons.
  • I have a “meetings” stack of notes for people I meet regularly with. I modify these notes before each meeting, reviewing what we covered last time and what we will cover this time.
  • Again, I have delusions of grandeur when it comes to what I can remember. In reality I only remember the names of Star Wars starships, a detailed layout of Disneyland, the names of my children. Everything else goes in Evernote.
  • Jacob and I use Evernote to collaborate. We have an ongoing chat conversation about the blog and can easily share articles back and forth.

ESSENTIALISMA book about not doing a lot of things so you can do a few things really well

essentialism

Jacob recommended this book to me a few months ago and I’ve been working my way through it. We’ll probably have a blog conversation about this at some point, but I love it enough that I wanted to pass it along now. It’s not a book from a Christian perspective, but it aligns well with a Christian worldview. The book is built around the idea that we often spend too much time on what really does not matter and only a small portion of time on what matters most. How do we fix that? The book is winsome, has bite-sized chapters, and is beautifully designed.

 

 

essentialism2

I’m finding that the book is most useful not as a one-time sit-down read but an ongoing read. I read a bit each week and seek to apply it. It pushes me each week to spend time on what matters most and helps me fight the drift to the tyranny of the urgent.

What about you? 

What are your favorite productivity tools? Apps? Books? Leave a comment. We’d love to check them out and keep our recommendations going.