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Your weekly installment of things we’ve been reading (and watching) around the web.

Book Review of the Week

After Acts, by Brian Liftin. Reviewed by Tim Challies. Early church history is an interesting animal. Accounts of what happened to the apostles (and other early church noteables) are legion, but often chock full of obvious legend. Did Thomas actually make it all the way to India? Was Peter actually crucified upside-down? Whatever happened to Jesus’ mother and brothers? Liftin assigns grades to each “fact,” helping us sift the legit from the . . . somewhat less so.

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Sadly, most of us can all too easily recount stories of pastors who betrayed their congregations, who hurt the very people God had called them to love, who—in short—made their ministry all about them.

Some of these pastors may have had their own inflated sense of grandeur from day one. But more often than not, these are the same guys who entered the ministry legitimately wanting to serve others, not angling to build an empire. And yet somewhere along the way, they got a taste for glory. And instead of being the shepherds of God’s people, teaching them to have faith in God, they become stumbling blocks, impediments keeping people from considering God at all.

As a Christian leader, I don’t hear stories like that and congratulate myself. I hear them and tremble. Because the same pride that has shipwrecked countless other ministries lives in my heart. And in yours.

We need to be constantly vigilant for signs that our ministry has become all about us. Here are a few:

1. Infrequent prayer

Most pastors enter the ministry desperate for God. It’s the fuel that got them going in the first place. And if their first few months (or years!) are tough—filled with bickering congregation members, budget quarrels, and failure after failure—the desperation just increases. But as uncomfortable as those trials are, they often produce a wonderful fruit: desperate prayer.

Prayer as a discipline is good. But prayer as a cry of desperation is better. When we see our need for what it truly is, no one has to command us to pray. We cry out because we are desperate. We cry out because we believe instinctively what Jesus said: “Without me you can do nothing.” And when that plea for God fades, it’s a dangerous sign that we are feeling self-sufficient.

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There aren’t many societies that praise weakness. Ours is no different. Whether you’re a pastor or a police officer, an on-the-go salesman or a stay-at-home mother, weakness is seen as a liability. Nobody wants to be weak. Strong is the name of the game.

Sadly, our obsession with strength blinds us to a key biblical truth: God uses the weak. It’s so pervasive that you’d be hard-pressed to find a book of the Bible that can’t be summarized this way. And yet despite being hard-wired into the very DNA of Scripture, we don’t really believe it. We still clamor after strength. But God doesn’t need our strength to deliver us. In fact, our strength is actually more of a liability than an asset.

I’ll go a step further: God is so single-minded in his preference for weakness, that when he wants to use us, he often begins by weakening us. Case in point: the Bible’s most courageous coward, Gideon.

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