Monday, April 30, 2012

Note To Self: Giveaway Winner Announced

Thanks for all that participated in the Note to Self: Giveaway.  Joe Thorn has written a tremendously helpful book.  A wonderful book that has been won by Bethany Wilhite. 

All you other jokers will have to buy the book yourself

Seriously, though, it’s well worth your ten bucks.  Stop crying about not winning the book for free and go buy the book

Quick Review of Two Quality Books To Help In Our Battle Against Pornography

The LORD will be awesome against them; for he will famish all the gods of the earth, and to him shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations.  (Zephaniah 2:11)
In the Lord’s war to dethrone idols and capture the heart of his bride there are few idols that are more alluring in our culture than sinful sex and pornography.  In fact pornography/adultery/lust is so ensnaring and so deadly that whole chapters of Proverbs are dedicated to it.  The typical advice isn’t “gird up yourself and fight this thing” it is usually “run away” (run towards Jesus). 

To help us wage war in this battle the Lord has seen fit to provide the church with two recent books.  These books are both excellent and will assist believers to do battle against porn. 

Wired for Intimacy By William Struthers

Of the two books this one is more technical and more detailed.  It is also more scientific than it is biblical (not to say that it is non-biblical).  Struthers’ main thesis in this book is that pornography literally hi-jacks the brain.  When men view pornography it creates a connection in their brain.  This connection robs them of their own identity and it also objectifies women that are created in the image of God. 

This book helps men to see that they are not only dealing with the present temptation to view pornography but they are dealing with an entrenched pattern in their brain.  At a certain point you probably cannot simply say “no”.  Your brain needs to be rewired.  You need to start thinking of women differently. 

As I read through, Wired for Intimacy, it helped me to understand things about my own journey and battle in this area.  This is an area in my life that the Lord delivered me from years ago.  But this book helps me to see that there is more to the battle than simply “don’t look at porn”.  There is a rewiring of the brain that has to take place and a relearning of how to view members of the opposite sex.  This book not only aims at convincing people that pornography is dangerous it also helps to identify the battle. 

One area where I found this book somewhat weak is in the area of healing.  There is a chapter dedicated to rewiring and sanctification.  That chapter is helpful but in my opinion it is not complete.  You almost need an entire book on rewiring.  Or to put it another way you need a book on sexual detox…

Sexual Detox by Tim Challies

Tim Challies has written this book not to convince you that pornography is wrong but to “move you to believe biblical truth about sexuality and have these beliefs determine your decisions”.  It is written to guys that are doing battle with pornography, hate it, and want to stop.  It’s written for guys that want sexual detox and the healing that Struthers points to in his book.

Challies’ book is short and succinct, and that is one of it’s greatest perks.  Guys need a resource that they can easily digest.  They need something that they will remember and something that will be a part of them as they wage war.  This book will help you do battle in those saner moments when you are not being bombarded with the temptation to lust.  In fact this book will probably be used by the Lord to rewire your heart and brain in such a way that those bombardments are perhaps less violent. 

The book has six short chapters that each have questions at the end.  Thus making this book perfect for a small group of guys to go through or even one on one settings.  It is an invaluable resource to the church.  Challies does a tremendous job of being honest about the struggle and at the same time truthful in applying the Scriptures.  He not only dethrones the idol of pornography but he also exalts the God-given gift of marital sex. 


If you only have the change to buy one of these books get Challies.  It is such a tremendous resource.  Pastors should order about ten copies of the book and keep them for counseling sessions.  It is immensely helpful. 

Buy Wired for Intimacy

Buy Sexual Detox

UPDATE: There is a new book out by Heath Lambert, Finally Free, which looks really good. I have not yet read it in full--so I cannot review. But I would suggest buying that book as well. 

Buy Finally Free 

Monday Ministry Musing: Praying for Preachers

Last night as I was preparing my heart and mind for preaching the Word in the Sunday evening service the Lord laid a heavy dose of conviction on my heart.  I found myself fervently praying for the preacher (myself), praying for faithfulness, praying that the gospel would go forth clearly, praying for what us preachers call “unction”.  Then it hit me.  I don’t pray like this when other people are preaching.

So I asked myself a few questions.  Why do I not pray as fervently when others are preaching?  What does that tell me about my heart and my passions?  Do I care more about the spread of the gospel or my spread of the gospel? 

Now I don’t want to be too hard on myself (if that’s possible).  I do know that anytime you buy a White Honda you begin to notice everyone else in town that is driving a White Honda.  When something is personal our eyes are more attentive and our hearts more fixated.  I think it’s only natural that I would be fervently praying before my preaching—and probably more so than when somebody else is preaching. 

However, this did serve as a rebuke to my heart and an encouragement to fervently pray for other pastors before they preach.  I preach on Sunday evenings and our lead pastor Jason preaches on Sunday morning.  This is a reminder for me to be very fervent in prayer for him not only throughout the week but also before he preaches.  My passion ought to be for the gospel to go forth no matter who is preaching. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How I Decide Which Books to Read: Or The Necessity of Reading What is True Alongside What is Tender

If you have followed this blog for any time you know that I am an avid reader.  I read (sometimes simply skim read) a decent amount of books every year.  Yet as one person has said, “my appetite for books does not match my ability to consume them”.  There are more books that I would like to read than any human being would ever have time for. 

Because of this I am becoming increasingly selective in what I will read.  I break up my books in a few different categories.  At any given time I am reading about 15-20 different books.  Usually a few from each of these five categories

  1. Ministry Helps—Anything that is designed to assist me in becoming a better preacher, teacher, writer, etc. 
  2. History—Biographies, Classic Books, Books like Mark Noll’s History of Evangelicalism
  3. Theology—Anything that is more doctrinal or theological than practical.  Ecclesiology, Soteriology, etc.  
  4. Life—Anything that helps me be a better Christian, man, husband, father, friend. 
  5. Stuff I Have To—This includes books for seminary and books that I have agreed to review.  Thankfully my “stuff I have to” category often intersects with the other four.
  6. Fiction—I usually try to read one fiction book at a time

These do not include Scripture reading or commentaries.  These are simply books that I am reading in addition to personal Scripture reading or preparing for sermons. 

I am convinced that it is absolutely vital that we read both what is true and what is tender.  If I look at a guys books shelf and all I see are theology books you can be pretty sure that he will be doctrinally savvy but will be pretty rough around the edges in his presentation of it.  He needs to start reading and being around the tender. 

The same goes for the guy whose bookshelf is littered with the practical, the tender, and the touching.  He’ll be really fun to chat with, he’ll have lots of friends, but chances are he isn’t going to be able to really dig deep and think theologically about issues.  He needs to make it a habit to also read the true alongside the tender.

If you aren’t a dedicated reader then I would just suggest to be sure you read 3 things at once.  First, Scripture.  Make sure you are reading God’s Word.  Second and Third, read something true and something tender.  (Of course the truth can be tender, and the tender can be true—I’m talking about emphasis). 

Friday, April 27, 2012

When Your GPS Unit Reads the Same But Your World Looks Different

Sojourn-1PeterWe begin a new series this Sunday evening on 1 Peter.  The series will be entitled Sojourn: A Travelers Guide to Christian Pilgrims.  Here is the introduction to the series on 1 Peter.  If you live in the Jasper, Indiana area I invite you to give us a visit Sunday evenings starting at 6:00.  If not feel free to check out our sermons online.

Do you remember the story of Rip Van Winkle?

It is set before the Revolutionary War in the 18th Century. Rip is kind of a lazy guy with a nagging wife. One day as she is nagging away at him he wanders up the mountains with his dog. He meets up with some fun-loving chaps and he ends up having a little too much whiskey.

When he wakes up his gun is rotted and rusty, his beard has grown a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found. He soon discovers that much more than his beard, gun, and dog have changed. The whole world it seems has changed to him. He gets in trouble for saying he is a loyal subject of King George, they are calling some other guy (what turns out to be his son) by his own name, his wife has died and most of his friends have died in the war as well. His GPS unit would still read the same location but somehow his very home has changed underneath him. He is, it appears, living as a stranger in his own hometown.

Now every analogy breaks down at some point so don’t press this any further than the single point that I am making. What happened to Rip Van Winkle is very similar to what happens to believers when God invades our life and transfers us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son Jesus. Our GPS unit still reads the same but everything is different. We start to live as a stranger in our own hometown.

This is especially weird if the Lord saved you a little later in life. If you have grown up in church most of your life I doubt you experience the Rip Van Winkle effect. But I remember how it was really strange how everything started to change. My view of life was different. Not all that cataclysmic at first but over time I look back and my whole view is shaken to the core. My friends no longer treat me as such a great friend. There is something that has decisively changed. Even within my own family I can feel that something has changed. The things that I once loved I cannot seem to find pleasure in anymore. The things that I used to find really boring, dull, and drab I now cannot seem to get enough of. The Bible—which once seemed confusing as all get out—I cannot get enough of. My GPS unit still reads the same but everything around me is different. Actually it’s not only the outside world that is different—but I’m different. 

This is what has happened to the believers that the apostle Peter writes his letter to.  Their GPS unit still read the same but they found themselves as exiles in their own homes.   And that is why we have titled our series on 1 Peter as Sojourn: A Travelers Guide for Christian Pilgrims. That is what we are sojourners/pilgrims and 1 Peter is written to those just like us that find themselves living in a strange world that they once called home.


Thanks to Doug Baker for providing the graphic.

Proverbs for Christian Blogging: Don’t Pick a Fight That Isn’t Yours

“Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm” –Proverbs 3:30

In other words don’t pick fights that aren’t yours.  That sounds reasonable enough but it kind of begs a question: what fight is mine? 

Consider this example.  I attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I have a vested interest in what happens there.  Dr. Albert Mohler is our President.  He is someone that I consider to be a very faithful man and a great leader.  In a very real sense he is one of the authorities that the Lord has placed in my life.  So, what happens when bloggers start taking on Dr. Mohler?  Is this my fight?  It involves me…sort of.

Or another example.  I am a pastor at First Baptist Jasper in Indiana.  I certainly have a vested interest in what happens here.  If the local paper began maligning one of our members would this be my fight?  It involves me…sort of. 

Though it is difficult to wade through these questions it is not impossible.  In his commentary on the Proverbs Charles Bridges notes:

We must guard…against causeless strivings.  A propensity to embroil ourselves in quarrels kindles strife, instead of following the rule of peace.  This spirit is a great hindrance to holiness and inconsistent with a true servant of God.  Irritable persons strongly insist upon their rights, or what they conceive to be due to them from others.  ‘Is there not’—say they—‘a cause?’  But impartial observers frequently judge it to be a striving without cause; that no harm has been done; none at least to justify the breach of love; that more love on one hand, and more forbearance on the other, would have prevented the breach; that ‘there is utterly a fault—Why do ye not rather take wrong?’” (Bridges, 39)

From Bridges’ commentary, the rest of Scripture, and my own experience I have developed these ten questions that I at least subliminally consider when deciding to “contend”. 

  1. Is this really “harm”?  Will a response from me only ratchet up the offense (add fuel to the fire)?  Sometimes we make things a bigger deal simply by pointing them out or challenging someone on them.  If it’s not actually harm then don’t ride your sled down the slippery slope and make a big deal out of nothing.
  2. How directly involved am I?  Is this my wife being maligned or is this a friend of a guy I knew in college?
  3. What is my heart in this?  Am I going to contend just to show how masterfully I can argue my points?  Is my contention just to gain notoriety or to win an argument?  Do I have a natural propensity to unnecessary controversy?  If I do, then I had better proceed with caution.
  4. Does my opinion matter?  Of course, like your grandma says everybody’s opinion matters.  But some opinions matter more.  That’s just life, sorry granny.  Per the above example concerning Dr. Mohler.  At this particular time in my life even if I “defended” Dr. Mohler from negative blogs—my opinion carries such little weight on these issues because I’m so far removed from his position that I probably should just let others closer to the situation deal with it. 
  5. Is this a “fire” issue?  Am I defending the deity of Christ or am I defending what prison Paul was in when he wrote Philippians? 
  6. Can the offense be covered in love?  Seriously, can I reasonably just drop this or will it continue plaguing my soul.  If you aren’t sure wait a day before responding to that blog comment.  If you “lost your chance” or you aren’t as fired up about it tomorrow it’s probably a good thing you hit “cancel reply”. 
  7. What do impartial observers say?  I know in our instant online society you post a tweet—it’s awesome for about 20 minutes and then nobody really remembers it.  But perhaps before entering a contention you should ask a few people that are distant observers. 
  8. Is it helpful to simply “eat this one”?  Most controversies will die out if you don’t respond to them.  Is that helpful?  Can you just not respond?  So what if a guy leaves a comment and thinks that my article was really dumb and he is upset that I misused a comma. 
  9. Do I have the right to interject truth?  I’m a little more quick to “contend” or give my opinion if it is with someone that is in my church.  I have “won the right” to interject truth.  But I don’t have any plans to write Rob Bell and tell him to repent.  Others have “won the right” to interject truth.  There are some issues that I should just leave up to a guys pastor or accountability group to deal with. 
  10. Should my contention be public or private?  Even if I do decide that I ought to contend I still cannot just type up a response and hit send.  I need to make sure that my contention should go public.  And that is an entirely different issue.

You might be thinking, “Wow, this seems tedious.  I probably would never comment if I followed through on all these”.  My response?  Good.  If it’s not your fight don’t bring boxing gloves and start throwing left hooks. 

Review of The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler

In 1786 Andrew Fuller wrote:

It seems to be one of Satan’s devices, in order to destroy the good tendency of any truth, to get its advocates to [make it trite] out of its senses, dwelling upon it in every sermon or conversation, to the exclusion of other things.  Thus the glorious doctrines of free and great grace have been served in the last age, and so have fallen sadly into disrepute.  If we employ all our time in talking about what men ought to be and to do, it is likely we shall forget to put it into practice, and then all is over with us.

I had high hopes of giving you a statistic about the number of books being sold on Amazon in the year of 2012 with the word “gospel” somewhere in the title.  I sorted them by Publication Date and scanned through 26 pages only to realize that I was only on April of 2012 starting from the December of 2012 selections to be pre-ordered.  I gave up.  It would have taken way too long to sift through all those to find a manageable number.  The word gospel has become somewhat of a buzzword. 

It is certainly a danger to have a “misfocused focus on gospel-centeredness”.  It is also a danger that with all of our talk of the gospel and the implications of the gospel we will in the end be guilty of simply assuming the gospel.  In doing so there is a real danger that all of us can be throwing around the term “gospel” but talk about two totally different things.  Matt Chandler has written The Explicit Gospel “to make sure that when we use the word gospel, we are talking about the same thing”.  It is Chandler’s desire to make the gospel explicit. 


In explaining the gospel Chandler looks at the gospel from two different vantage points; namely, ground and air.  The first part of the book is dedicated to what is termed the gospel on the ground.  Here he follows the God-Man-Christ-Response summary of the gospel.  He devotes a chapter to explaining each of these terms and within each chapter often engages in some polemics about what the gospel is not. 

The second part of the book is dedicated to what is termed the gospel in the air.  Here he follows the Creation-Fall-Reconciliation-Consummation meta-narrative of the gospel.  Again he devotes a chapter to each heading, explains the story, and occasionally engages in narrowing the definition to the exclusion of some other positions. 

The third, and final, section of the book engages a couple of dangers associated with an overemphasis on either of these gospel summaries.  In the ninth chapter Chandler looks at the dangers of keeping the gospel on the ground for too long, while the tenth chapter give the same treatment to the gospel in the air.  He notes that we must be faithful to both of these gospel summaries to really be faithful to the explicit gospel.  His eleventh chapter deals with moralism (which is really what the book aims to do battle with).

If you have spent any time listening to Matt Chandler preach you know what this book is about.  Chandler can be hard-hitting and funny at the same time.  He is engaging and yet serious.  Chandler’s preaching style is captured well in this book. 

My Take

First of all, much props need to be given to Jared Wilson in this book.  Wilson did more than simply write and introduction or throw his name on the cover of the book.  He is largely responsible for the flow of the book and capturing Chandler’s preaching style in written form.  If you have listened to Matt Chandler preach you know that may have been a difficult task, but Wilson did a tremendous job.  While reading through the book you could almost hear Chandler’s voice preaching through the pages. 

While that is a good thing about the book it may also be one negative.  There are certain things that those familiar with Chandler will “get” but it may be difficult for those not-initiated to track with.  In one instance Chandler quips, “God was angry and moved me to Abi­lene for seven years”.  Knowing Chandler I know that he is making a joke about Abilene.  But those not knowing neither Chandler or Abilene the joke may fall flat and be actually somewhat distracting. 

For me though, I love it.  I love listening to Chandler preach and his jokes are hilarious.  I think it is wonderful that they were able to capture this on the written page.  Others may not enjoy that as much.  I only mention that to make the reader aware either for good or ill. 

As for the content of the book it is tremendous.  I have been preaching and teaching the gospel for a decade now.  In doing so I have tried to labor time and time again to make the gospel explicit.  Yet in reading through this book there are ways that Chandler shares the gospel that will help my own preaching. 

For the preacher and non-preacher that reads this book I think you will walk away from it having a more clear understanding of the gospel.  You may not get new information but you will certainly grow in your articulation of the precious truths of the gospel.  This book is valuable if for no other reason that Chandler’s emphasis on preaching the gospel in both “ground” and “air” forms.  Both are necessary and Chandler does a tremendous job driving that point home. 

Chapter 11 is worth the price of the book.  Here he combats the moralistic therapeutic deism that is so prevalent in our day and age.  I am glad the tackles it and he does a tremendous job doing so. 

Should You Buy It?

I received this book for free at T4G on Thursday morning right before I left for lunch.  I was very excited to read through it—as I have been looking forward to this book hitting the shelves since January.  Unfortunately for my reading aspirations I felt deeply stirred by the Lord that I was to give this book as a very large “witness tract” to our waitress at TGIF. 

I have no idea what will become of having left her that book.  But what I do know is that if she picks it up and reads it she will “hear” the gospel.  And as Chandler rightly says in this book she will respond to it—either through rejecting it or embracing Christ (whether for the first time or anew).  For this reason you should purchase this book.  If you are a believer it will cause you great joy in hearing the gospel explicitly explained.  It will also help you articulate the gospel better yourself. 

If you are an unbeliever and really want to know what Christians believe about Jesus, you may not get all of your theological questions answered in this book, but you will hear the timeless message of the gospel.  The gospel is explicit in this book. 

For all things “gospel” that are being released Chandler’s book is almost a pre-requisite.  Buy a copy today.  And buy another copy to give away. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Pain of Being Blackballed by @Challies and @TGC: The TRUTH Comes Out

Yesterday, I lamented my having been blackballed by Tim Challies and the Reformed Illuminati known as The Gospel Coalition.  Through years of faithful blogging I have been disregarded and mostly unnoticed. 

Hopefully you caught the humor in what I was doing and nobody actually took me serious.  I love Tim Challies, The Gospel Coaltion, and all those involved.  I’d be part of the Reformed Illuminati if they’d let me in.  I wrote what I did yesterday because I hoped to make a point today.  (Hopefully my point is not lost on anything that I wrote yesterday). 

Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him”. 

Everything that I said yesterday could, theoretically, be true.  It really could be possible that there is a conspiracy within the ranks of Challies and TGC.  They really could have read my stuff and somehow decided that I am a dangerous blogger that they should not give an audience to.  It really is possible.  And if you only read my side of the story from my very limited perspective (and if I hadn’t written it in such a ridiculous fashion) then you very well could have bought into this little conspiracy theory. 


There are two possibilities, though, that I absolutely refuse to accept that would refute my conspiracy theory.  The first possibility is that Challies and TGC have actually read a few of my posts and they are simply not up to the quality that they would like to feature on their blog.  Maybe my writin’ ain’t good enuf. 

A second possibility is that even though I follow Challies, TGC, and others on Twitter and Facebook and even though they may have me as a “friend” on their facebook account, or have seen my name appear on comments, they actually have no idea who I am.  They have honestly never read my blog.  Maybe an article here or there, but not enough to actually catch their attention.  They aren’t snubbing me—they just don’t know I exist.

What about Challies not saying hi to me at Band of Bloggers?  First of all, I doubt very seriously he would even know me, much less have a reason to say hi.  Secondly, I’m not sure many people on the internets even know what my face looks like.  You’d have to do some digging.  My Facebook profile is usually something ranging from Don Knotts to Gary Coleman.  And my twitter profile picture has been Ron Swanson and/or Prison Mike for the last few months.  Even if they knew my name they’d have no idea what I look like. 

My Point

Be really slow to jump on stories of conspiracy on the internet.  I have been involved in church discipline cases were it would have been wrong to have aired every aspect of a grievance.  Often times because people only hear one side of the story the assumption is that there must be some sort of mass cover up going on.  While that is certainly possible, and churches and Christian gatherings like TGC are not immune to power-gluttons, it is also quite possible that these are humble men and women that are simply using wisdom.

What appears to be “going on” is not always what is actually reality.  This does not mean that only “insiders” ought to be blogging or asking questions.  But it does mean that those who do not have a good majority of the information and are not privy to both sides in an issue should be very cautious and careful about making assumptions. 

What this also teaches us is that even in our everyday relationships we can wrongly assume that somebody is mad at us, blackballing us, ignoring us, giving us the silent treatment, etc. but in reality they have no idea what is even going on.  I have witnessed relationships be destroyed just because of a perceived offense or snub.  If you really do feel like you have offended a brother or if a brother has offended you the gospel calls us to make every effort at peace and reconciliation. 

If I really were offended or really were blackballed by Challies and TGC the method for reconciliation would not be to blog about it and expose them for all the world to hear my side of the story.  Reconciliation should happen by me emailing them and asking if my crazy theory is correct. 

Of course if I’m loony enough to believe such a conspiracy theory I am probably going to think that their gentle “no, there is no conspiracy” is really part of the conspiracy.  But at the end of the day I am still to make very effort to be at peace with them.  And if they are blackballing me (which they are not), and I have made an effort to reconcile, and then they do not reconcile, that is on them.  I don’t serve the Lord by exposing them.  I serve the Lord by praying for them and entrusting them to the work of the Holy Spirit. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Pain of Being Blackballed by @Challies and @TGC

I have been blogging now since 2007.  Early on I was just getting my feet wet in blogging and nobody knew who I was.  Things have changed.  I now get to blog for SBC Voices which is a massive power blog of the SBC.  Seriously, we get things done at SBC Voices.  Thanks to the leadership of the green-suited Dave Miller we are THE voice for the SBC. 

Yet as I have been faithfully plodding away writing about all things gospel there are two places my blog has yet to appear: Tim Challies and The Gospel Coalition.  NOTE: Yes, one time a quote from Andrew Fuller that I posted was linked to by Jared Wilson.  But he is not, as far as I know, part of the conspiracy.

Since 2007 I have hosted numerous giveaways and other things that are very similar to what Tim Challies usually puts on his A La Carte.  Every morning I check Tim’s blog thinking that perhaps the curse has been lifted and they will let me in to their inner-circle via a link to their blog.  And every day I get the same response—NOTHING.  I have even emailed Sir Challies and asked him to post a link to a book giveaway.  He responded with some sort of quick response—“I’ll take a look at it”.  Yeah, sure you will Tim.  You’ll look at it, laugh, and then pass it on to your cronies to laugh at as well.  (To think that I even defended Tim Challies way back in 2008.  It’s worth noting he didn’t link to this article either).

The same thing has happened on Justin Taylor’s blog and a few of the others at The Gospel Coalition.  I have commented numerous times on his blog.  And not stupid comments either.  Really high quality comments and ones that encourage him to check out my blog and bask in my awesomeness.  Yet from the ninth wonder of the internet world, known simply as JT, I received the same response as Tim Challies—NOTHING. 

One especially painful experience has been the snubbing by Trevin Wax.  A couple years ago Trevin was kind enough to offer me some linkage love on his blog Kingdom People.  Now it is hosted by The Gospel Coalition.  Has Trevin linked to me since then?  Nope.  Once he began being hosted by TGC he apparently forgot that I existed and deleted me off his list of blogs to check out. 

It has become painfully obvious to me that I must have done something to tick off the Reformed Illuminati.  They have the power in the blogosophere and these turkey’s will not share it with anyone.  I assume that those that do get linked to by Challies and Taylor and the other big guns must be in on the conspiracy somehow.  Perhaps they have towed the line and they aren’t as dangerous of a blogger as yours truly. 

I had been praying about whether or not to expose this conspiracy.  Part of me wants to just let it die and build traffic the hard way.  I went to Band of Bloggers this year in Louisville, KY.  It was represented by folks from TGC (like Justin Taylor and Colin Hansen) and Tim Challies.  I figured that I would show up and enjoy watching them get nervous in my presence.  I wondered what they would do.  Would they address it?  Would they say hi?  Would they nervously glance away? 

The Snubbing Continues at Band of Bloggers

My friend Jason and I were waiting patiently outside the portal to enter Band of Bloggers.  We showed up a little early and ended up being some of the first ones to enter.  After a couple of minutes I noticed a guy that looked eerily familiar walking up the steps.  It was none other than THE Tim Challies.  He stopped and very arrogantly stood no more than 3 feet from me.  I could not believe that he was so brazen as to do this.  After all the snubs.  He didn’t even look at me, he didn’t acknowledge my presence, he didn’t even say “Hi, Mike”.  Once again from Challies I received—NOTHING! 

Perhaps Justin Taylor or the others on Band of Bloggers would be nicer and actually mention their snubbing the little guy.  That’s okay I could have handled even a veiled apology.  What did I receive from them?  NOTHING! 

So here I am exposing the conspiracy.  I’m not going to stand for it any longer.  I’m exposing these guys and getting tons of traffic as a result.  I cannot handle their snubs any longer.  These men must be exposed for the power-gluttons that they are. 

Now that you know the backstory of why I am doing this…Tomorrow I will expose these jokers for who they really are and explain what is REALLY behind this conspiracy. 

Note to Self: Win a Free Book

A month ago I had the opportunity to read and review Joe Thorn’s book Note to SelfYesterday I interviewed Joe and promised to giveaway a copy of his book.  I want to give away one copy of this book to the one that the Lord has chosen before the foundation of the earth—through a random number generator and a Punchtab giveaway.  Perhaps this is you.  Enter to win!

A Song I’m Really Digging Right Now

From David Crowder Band, Enjoy!:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why You Can’t Scare People Into Heaven

I am reading through Matt Chandler’s first book, The Explicit Gospel.  I am almost finished and Lord willing I will post my review on Thursday or Friday.  One particular section that highlights not only Chandler’s writing skills but also his gospel presentation concerns the inadequacy of “scare tactics” in evangelism. 

Knowledge of and belief in hell—as important as they are—are unable to create worshipers.  Yet misunderstanding this reality is historically how the doctrine of hell has been abused and misused by so many men in the name of God.  You cannot scare anyone into heaven.  Heaven is not a place for those who are afraid of hell; it’s a place for those who love God.  You can scare people into coming to your church, you can scare people into trying to be good, you can scare people into giving money, you can even scare them into walking down an aisle and praying a certain prayer, but you cannot scare people into loving God.  You just can’t do it.  You can scare them into moral acts of goodness.  But that’s not salvation.  It’s not even Christian.  (Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel, 49)

If you are familiar with Chandler’s hard-hitting and gospel-centered preaching style that is what you get in this book.  If you do not want to wait for the review you can go ahead and buy yourself a copy today: The Explicit Gospel.

7 Questions with Joe Thorn Author of Note to Self

Last month I had the opportunity to review a great book by Joe Thorn titled Note to Self.  I found the book immensely helpful and one that I plan on purchasing a few copies of to hand out to people who may find it helpful.  Joe was kind enough to answer 7 questions for me about his book, his beard, and his church.

1. I love the idea for this book.  It's almost like selling your personal journal but it is so much more.  Where did the idea for this book come from?

It's a habit I've worked on for almost 20 years through journaling. A few years ago I posted a couple posts on my blog titled, "Note to Self." Someone from Crossway saw those posts and asked if I could write a book in the same vein. I was excited to do it, and working with Crossway has been amazing.

2. Who is the book written for?

In one sense it is written for any Christian who wants to explore what it means and looks like to "preach to themselves." It is definitely suited for a broad audience. It's been great to see young and old, men and women, responding so positively to it. In another sense I wrote it for myself and the church I pastor. The people of Redeemer are always first in my heart and attention in ministry.

3. For a few years now I have been working on training students to preach the gospel to themselves.  One of the obstacles that I run into (especially for baby Christians--like many of our teenagers) is that their lack of expansive gospel knowledge makes this discipline difficult.   When trying to apply the gospel to certain situations in their lives they often give blank stares and "uhmmm, baby Jesus" type of answers.  Any tips?  How do you help those that are newer believers grow in their ability to preach the gospel to themselves?

It's important to understand the gospel itself, and it's myriad of applications and implications. I think it's helpful to see the gospel as what God has accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Christians need to be able to unpack what Jesus did in each of these aspects of his redemptive work. From there we can begin to apply his work to our various needs, experiences, desires, temptations, weaknesses, frustrations, fears, etc. What this really calls for is a commitment to grow in a Christ-centered systematic Theology. And, we are all growing as theologians. It takes time. So start wherever you are, learn from others who are farther along, dwell long in the word of God, stay hungry, and stay humble.

4. You pastor at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL.  Tell us a little about your church and share with us one of the coolest things that you see the Lord doing in your church at this time.

We started Redeemer Fellowship almost 5 years ago. This is the healthiest church I have even been a member of, and it's a true honor and privilege to serve the people as Lead Pastor. Most recently we have had to move to two Sunday services to handle the number of people and our small space. Our goal is to return to a single service once we get the space issue figured out. What has been so encouraging in all of this is how everyone at Redeemer is stepping up to sacrifice and serve in new and necessary ways so that we, as a church, can function well and carry out the mission Christ gave us. We have amazing leaders and volunteers God is using to do it all, and I have so little to do with most of it.

5. Is preaching the gospel to yourself an exclusively personal discipline?  Or is there a way that this discipline can also be exercised corporately?

Well, by definition it is a personal discipline, but it certainly yields fruit that benefits the entire congregation, as we minister to one another out of what God is teaching us. If we are to exhort and encourage one another, this should be growing out of what we have been saying to ourselves. And while preaching to ourselves is something we do personally, we often do it together while sitting under the preaching of God's word.

6. You have started a new blog called Bearded Gospel Men.  What is your inspiration for this new website? 

Haha. Honestly, I started that blog as a venue to get the beard nerdity out of my system. No one really wants to hear me blather about pogonotrophy, so I started BGM to keep it all in one location. I think I finally have it worked out. The beard is going strong, but the blog is fading. maybe someone else will take it over for me.

7.  Personally, what are your beard goals?  Apart from preaching the gospel to it, do you have any beard growing tips?

My goal is something of the mid range Knoxian longbeard. Some depictions of the Scottish Reformer have his beard hitting his stomach. Other have it hitting the bottom of the chest, which is, for now, my goal. But, it's just a beard, so I'm not taking it too seriously.

Tips? Stop shaving is a good place to start. Be patient. It takes time, months to get somewhere. Stay committed. If you're going long you will go through some rather unruly stages. In the end, any facial hair is better than none. So grow a handsome 'stache, goatee, or a full beard. But don't grow anything unless you are first willing to live as a man.

Check out Joe’s progress:


Thanks to Joe for conducting the interview.  May the Lord bless your beard growing but more than anything may he bless your walk with Christ and your ministry! 

Stay tuned to Borrowed Light as tomorrow we will give away a copy of Joe’s book Note to Self. 

One Reason Tom Schreiner is My Favorite Professor @SBTS

Not only is Tom Schreiner a faithful pastor he is also one of the best scholars of our day. Yet, perhaps his best quality is that he models grace and humility in his teaching and preaching. I am happy to have Dr. Schreiner as one of my professors. But his preaching, teaching, and writing skills are no match for his awesome rapping skills.

(HT: Denny Burk)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday’s Ministry Musing: How to Preach the Whole Counsel of God

One of my ministry goals is to be able to say with Paul at the end of ministry, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”  (Acts 20:26-27)

If the Ephesian church became jacked up a few years after Paul’s ministry he was innocent of their blood.  He was faithful in His ministry.  He declared to them the whole counsel of God.  He left nothing out.  He preached on the joyous things and the difficult things.  He preached in tears and he preached with smiles.  He unfolded for them the entire redemptive plan—the parts we like and the parts that are hard to swallow. 

I want to be able to say that at the end of the ministry that the LORD has called me to. 

I am convinced, however, that verses 26-27 do not happen without being able to say with Paul in verse 24, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”  If I have a tight grip on my own life and I try to preserve my life, my job, and my comfort then I will not be bold enough to “preach the whole counsel of God”. 

Preaching the whole counsel of God means more than preaching an expository sermon from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.  Preaching the whole counsel of God means standing up against power-hungry leaders that would happily damage the flock for their own gain.  It means faithfully preaching a text even if it’s hard to be heard of the moo of the churches sacred cow.  It means getting in the lives of broken and rebellious people on a Thursday afternoon when you would rather be doing sermon prep.  It means being poured out continually.  Suffering.  Being misunderstood.  Being at times lonely.  Being rejected.  Being an outcast. 

Unless you’ve already become convinced that what is precious is not my life—organized, controlled, comfortable—just the way I like, then you will not preach the whole counsel of God.  You’ll play it safe.  You’ll be silent when you should speak.  You’ll speak when you should be silent.  You’ll hedge your bets and call it “protecting the church”.  You’ll avoid conflict like the plague and offer a dying people “peace, when there is no peace”. 

When the Gospel Transforms

But when the gospel transforms our lives like it did the Apostle Paul we truly get over ourselves.  We come to see that what is really precious is the unchained, unbound, unstoppable gospel of Jesus Christ?  We come to believe with Zephaniah that "The LORD…will famish all the gods of the earth, and to him shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations.”  When Christ who cannot be lost is all that we have we are able to preach boldly because all that matters is already ours.

Not only will we preach boldly but we will also loosen our grip on the flock that the Lord has entrusted to us.  Because this is no longer “my ministry” but it is only a small part in a much bigger story we can become like Paul and “commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified”.  When the ministry is no longer mine and my name is no longer attached to it, then I can actually entrust the people to the Good Shepherd. 

Paul was no super-hero.  He was drinking from the same fountain that is available to us today.  The gospel is deep enough, wide enough, and powerful enough to captivate any minister of the gospel and stir our hearts to say, “my life means little, what I really want to see is the kingdom advance.” 

Proverbs for Christian Blogging: The Fountain That I’m Not

Proverbs can be a very helpful book to turn for those wanting to engage in online communication for the glory of God.  We have already noted from Proverbs 1 that Christian Bloggers Should Not Join an Ambush to Gain Traffic or “I’d Rather Be a Small Life-Giving Blog Than a Highly Visited Tomb”

Today we look at the second…

#2 Wise Blogging Flows From a Sure Fountain and I’m Not It

I do not think this is truly ironic but it is at least Alanis Morrissette Ironic.  There is a life behind this post that I want to make you aware of.  This article itself has been sitting in my “drafts” for about a week.  What I desire to say in this article is that faithful bloggers are dependent bloggers.  The only source from which we derive wisdom (that which alone is worthwhile and lasting) is the LORD.  We cannot conjure up wisdom in ourselves we must seek the LORD for wisdom. 

Here is the “ironic” part: I am having a really difficult time writing this article.  It has went through two or three different editions.  I know that I could have just hit “publish” last week and then moved on to #3 in this series.  Yet, to do so would have been hypocritical because I knew deep down that I was simply writing just to get #2 out there.  And the whole point of #2 in this series is to say, “don’t do that”.  So my utter dependence in the LORD is being highlighted in trying to write this article. 

One of the best tips for gaining an audience with your blog is to post often.  A large reason why Tim Challies has gained the audience he has is because of faithfully blogging every day.  Of course he is also a great writer and the Lord has blessed His online ministry.  Not everyone should write an article every day.  Yet, it is wise to have a steady flow of material coming from your site. 

The faithful blogger, then, desires to create quality content at least on a semi-daily basis.  The problem, though, is that he/she is not an overflowing fountain of wisdom.  The faithful blogger does not simply want to post something just because it is Tuesday and this is her day to post.  No, the faithful blogger wants her writing to be saturated with Christ-centered wisdom.  What then is the pressed blogger to do? 

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.  For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.

This Proverb is telling us that we must diligently seek out wisdom.  We do not find it in ourselves but we are given wisdom by the LORD.  The LORD is very gracious and desires that His people be marked by wisdom.  Therefore, we must diligently seek His wisdom and not our own.  For me this means two things. 

First, I am a dependent blogger.  I cannot write quality posts just because it is Monday and I usually write something about ministry.  If truly useful stuff will flow from this blog it will not come because I am an amazing writer.  Truly edifying material will come because the LORD has graciously bestowed upon me wisdom which I diligently sought out (or in His grace He just slapped me in the face with it). 

Secondly, there is only one fountain and I am not it.  The only fountain from which wisdom flows and that fountain is the Lord.  Many may draw from this stream with broken pales or dirty buckets but if we are to have wisdom it must come from this spring.  Therefore, the wise blogger will keep his “ear attentive” and when he hears wisdom he will write it down.  This way he will not be drawing each morning from a blank slate but from hours drinking from the fountain of wisdom. 

You are a dependent blogger (and commenter).  If we truly desire to edify the body in what we write (whether through article or comments or other social media) then we will stay close to Jesus and come to grips with the fact that He is the fountain and we are not. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review of The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry by David Rohrer

There is a spot on my stomach—somewhat stretched from too much McDonalds—that is a reminder of my days as an avid baseball player.  I am not certain that it would classify as a scar.  It’s nothing gnarly.  It is not a portrait of a painful injury or anything of the sort.  It is simply a discoloration of the skin that certainly belongs in the scar family but probably as a sissy third cousin. 

That “thing” on my stomach comes from not one play but a lifetime of aggressive baseball.  It probably originally came from diving for ground balls playing shortstop or second base.  It grew more pronounced with each stolen base and head first slide.  It comes from stretching singles into doubles.  And also of doing really silly things like trying to score from second on a potential double-play. 

Honestly, I never really think about that “scar”.  But it is there and in a very real sense it is a part of who I am.  It has become a part of my life though there was nothing cataclysmic that birthed it into existence, nor does it possess a  neon light that causes me to notice it in my every day life.  Some books are like that.  You probably only vaguely remember them but they have somehow become a part of you.  They get under your skin and shape you in ways that you really are not aware of.  (For some reason I feel like Garth from Wayne’s World right now). 

I think David Rohrer’s book The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry will be like that scar.  Nothing earth shattering.  Nothing that I will really fully remember.  But something that will latch onto me and become a part of who I am.  

Weird skin analogy over…


At the heart of Rohrer’s book is the belief that pastors are not fundamentally organizational managers but prophets called by God to proclaim His timeless Word of truth.  The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry compares the life and ministry of John the Baptist with the contemporary preacher.  At its core this work is a pastoral theology.  But it is more gritty than abstract and more practical than it is heady. 

In each of the nine chapters Rohrer pits the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist versus an aspect of pastoral ministry that the contemporary preacher can be tempted to drift towards.  They are as follows:

  1. Making Ready a People Versus Being the Parson
  2. God’s Work Versus Our Vision
  3. Proclaiming the Good News Versus Managing the Message
  4. Accepting Our Office Versus Cultivating Loyalty
  5. Inhabiting a Place Versus Propagating a Program
  6. Inviting Awareness Versus Administering Anesthesia
  7. Trusting Truth Versus Fearing Instability
  8. Risking Doubt Versus Denying Dissonance
  9. Receiving God’s Blessing Versus Seeking Approval

He closes the book by reminding the pastor of his role to “carry a light that is not his”.  As such we are not called to save the church but to point a bony finger towards the One who did and still does.

My Take:

I did not expect to fill this book with underlines.  I assumed that it would be occasionally pithy but mostly a call to “take care of yourself” and “find peace with Jesus” or some other trite phrases.  What I found inside the pages was everything but.  I felt as if David Rohrer was a dear pastor friend that knew the war that often waged within my heart.  Throughout the book he does what he encourages his reader to do; namely, shine the spotlight on Jesus. 

This book is gritty and gutsy.  Rohrer does not mince words, nor is he afraid to call out shoddy excuses for pastoral ministry.  Yet, he does it gently and what seems to be as admonishment from the lips a friend.  This is but one sample of the type of penetrating insight that fills the book:

…if the avoidance of controversy and the maintenance of the appearance of stability is our aim, it’s a safe bet that we will not venture very far into the work of being a prophet.  Instead we will find ourselves in spaces of anxiety about abstractions such as the well-being of “the ministry” or “the good of the congregation,” but the real work of connecting people with the earth-shattering good news of God’s invitation to an eternal covenant relationship will have little space in our schedule.  Our calling is to trust the truth of our message rather than to fear the unpleasantness that comes when people initially deal with waking up.  (117)

Again, none of those statements are really all that cataclysmic.  Nothing in there really strikes me as new information.  But there is something about the way that Rohrer writes as a pastor/friend that causes the truth of what he is saying to seep deep into my soul.  I know that as I carry around the scars from aggressive baseball I will carry around this book throughout my ministry.  It is simple yet engaging and profound. 

Should You Buy It?

It may sound a little ridiculous to suggest this to those that are not in pastoral ministry but I would do just that.  Few books I think really would give the non-pastor a glimpse into the heart, soul, and frustrations that come with pastoral ministry.  It can help you to serve that fellow pilgrim in your life that people call “pastor”. 

Certainly, if you are a pastor I would suggest this book.  If you are an avid reader like myself, and have read scores of books on pastoral ministry, there will not be new information.  But that is not why you should read this book.  You should read this book because it will cut to the heart.  You should read this book because it will probably be used by God to expose pastoral idols in your heart and it will point you to the life-giving Jesus. 

You can buy it here: The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry

The Minister’s Temptation to Fraud

I did not think that I would enjoy and benefit from this book as much as I have.  But, David Rohrer’s book The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry is gritty, honest, and helpful.  Consider this selection:

It would not be overstating the matter to say that after a sermon I sometimes feel a bit like a fraud.  Feeling like I have been neither fully true to myself nor fully faithful to the gospel, I shake my head in confusion over the question, Why do I masochistically spend so much energy on the production of this weekly implement of torture?  In the face of this tension, the temptation is strong to put on the pastoral persona and hide.  If I feel like a fraud, why not just go with that and become one?  Put on the costume, play the role, entertain the troops, and dispense those weekly spiritual analgesics that serve only to dull people’s pain and encourage them to go back to sleep.  Go for the laugh or the tear, but carefully clothe it with an allusion to a biblical text, and people will feel the faintly numinous stirrings of something that approximates the presence of God.  Then in the wake of the delivery, listen for that off-screen voice that says, “That’s a wrap,” descend from the pulpit, call it a day and begin the work of learning the lines for next week’s show.  (Rohrer, 101-102)

Perhaps I am simply revealing the desperateness of my own heart but I can relate to what Rohrer is saying.  I think every minister—no matter their theological underpinnings—can be tempted to feel and act out in such a way. 

If you are a pastor or want to get inside the brain of a pastor (not sure why anyone would desire that), then I would suggest picking up a copy of The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Making An Assumer of Yourself in Counseling

There are few things worse in counseling settings (read—”helping friends out”) than to assume that you really know what is going on.  After hearing a persons story and struggle it is quite easy to jump to conclusions from our own experience and our own theological assumptions. 

In his book, Instruments in the Redeemers Hands, Paul Tripp not only helps us see the problem of assumptions he also offers a few correctives that encourage us to ask the right questions. 

When you assume, you do not ask.  If you do not ask, you open yourself up to a world of invalid conclusions and misunderstandings.  You may try to be God’s instrument but miss the mark because you are putting two and two together and getting five—and you don’t even know it.  Thanks to your assumptions, the person you think you are helping may exist only in your mind. (168)

I think that danger may be especially prevalent with theology and book nerds like myself.  We can assume that just because we “know fundamental things about people in general” that we know the person we are counseling.  Yet we should not confuse this general theological knowledge with “knowing the particular individuals God has sent our way”.  Tripp is even more pointed when he says:

“…you cannot know me only by knowing what Scripture says about me.  You will know wonderfully helpful things about me as a human being, but you will not know how these truths are uniquely manifested in my life without asking.” (169)

In order to combat this temptation to assume too much we are advised to do three things:

1. Always ask people to define their terms.  (“Huge fight” to one lady might be “minor tiff” to another)

2. Always ask people to clarify what they mean with concrete, real life examples of the terms they have used.  (Give me a concrete example, step by step, of the “huge fight”)

3. Always ask people to explain why they responded as they did in the examples they have given you.  (Share your reasons, values, purposes, desires.  Ask the person to evaluate what is behind the behavior.  “Taking the camera off the scene and putting it on the person”).

If you found this helpful and you spend any time with people you would be well advised to invest a little cash in Paul Tripp’s book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.  Not only does Tripp have the wisdom and perseverance to grow an amazing mustache he also knows a fair bit about gospel-driven counseling and relationships as well. 

You can purchase the book here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ronald Wayne’s Most Foolish Exchange

This tweet is making its rounds through the Internets:

As I read that I thought to myself, “I wonder if this is perhaps the dumbest exchange in the history of mankind”.  The guy figured that Apple would be a success but he couldn’t risk the bumps in the road and the potential risk of Apple.  So he exchanged his stock in an up and coming business for 800 pictures of George Washington.  That exchange cost him over 58 billion dollars.

This has to be perhaps the worst exchange in the history of mankind. 

Or is it? 

Actually this exchange by Ronald Wayne is not even the most foolish exchange in his own life.  From what I have read of him it appears that Wayne has lived his life in rebellion to his Creator.  He has, as Romans 1 states, “exchanged the truth of God for a lie”.  He has chosen to “worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. 

That was me.  I lived a good portion of my life exchanging my “Apple stock” for the fleeting pleasures of 800 bucks.  After all 800 bucks is tangible.  It’s safe.  It pays dividends now.  Even though a life hidden in Christ probably has its rewards it’s risky, too dangerous, too many bumps in the road.  I’ll take my 800 bucks. 

Sadly, this is the daily exchange rate of unbelievers.  They trade in the blessed God—the one of whom it is said, “in His presence is fullness of joy”—for treasure that does not last.  They have decided that the safe though fleeting pleasures of today will prove more valuable than risky faith in the blessed God. 

Jesus changes this.  His Spirit stirs our hearts to be dissatisfied with moth-eaten treasures.  The stars shine, the earth trembles, the heavens testify to His greatness and our heart begins to ache for the something more.  The risky Jesus proves all too attractive and all too lovely to throw away our life on lesser gods.  And so our hearts leap.  We refuse to hedge our bets and play it safe.  We lay it down and follow the One who says, “Follow me, come and die.” 

And there…There in the strong arms of Jesus we find rest for our weary souls.  There the heart of the foolish exchange is broken.  There we meet the blessed God!  There we taste and see that the Lord is good!  There we find life—as it is—hidden in Christ. 

May the Lord break our hearts of the foolish exchange…

People You’ve Probably Never Heard Of But Should: Ichabod Spencer

With a name like Ichabod he has to be great.  Spencer was born in 1798 in Rupert, VT.  He was converted shortly after his 18th birthday.  He actually began his career as an educator.  In 1830 he was called to be the President of the University of Alabama.  He, however, felt that the Lord had called him to preach.  He served as a colleague-pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, MA.  If that sounds familiar it is because this is the same church that Jonathan Edwards served. 

In 1832 Spencer accepted a call to a church plant in Brooklyn: The Second Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn.  At the time they called Spencer they had 40 congregants.  At the time of his death 22 years later—and still their pastor—they had grown to be one of the largest in Brooklyn.  Spencer died in 1854. 

Why You Should Know Him:

Anyone named Ichabod that rocks suck wildly awesome side-burns is worth getting to know.  Apart from this, however, Spencer is known to us mainly through his two volume Pastor’s Sketches.  His Pastors Sketches is a compilation of 77 stories (from over 20,000) that he carefully recorded after visiting with members of his church and community.  Spencer had been convicted that it was his duty to visit the home of every member of his church every year.  He did this for the 22 years that he pastored the church of Brooklyn.  (A daunting task when they had 40 members—even more when they grew to one of the largest churches in Brooklyn). 

A rough estimate is that he visited over 800 people per year for 25 years of labor.  What is even more remarkable still is that he wrote out in detail every one of these visits.  He never intended to release these to the public but many faithful friends encouraged him to release them for the good of the Church.  After the release of these Sketches, Spencer’s fame grew.  He then received numerous letters—each he answered with his noted pastoral care. 

Not only his Sketches (which are available) but his model is one that should cause every pastor and every lay person pause.  He had given himself completely to the Lord’s work and gained much fruit.  His life is an encouragement for believers to be serious about our call as ministers of reconciliation (that is EVERY believers call). 


This is a small section from The Brown Jug

“You are already somewhat advanced in life. Your remaining years will be few. You have no time to lose. You have lost enough already. If you do not become a follower of Christ soon, you never will. You have a family of children. You have never set them an example of piety. You have never prayed with them as you ought to have done. Your neglect goes far to destroy all the influence which their mother might have over them. They copy your example. God will hold you accountable for a father’s influence. You may be the cause of their ruin, because—”

“That often troubles me,” said he, (interrupting me in the middle of what I designed to say.)

“It ought to trouble you. It is a serious matter, for a father to live before his sons without acknowledging God, without prayer, without hope, just as if he and they had no more interest in the matter of religion than the beast, whose ‘spirit goeth downward to the earth.’”

“Yes, indeed it is,” said he. “And I am now getting to be an old man, I wish I could get religion.”

“You can. The whole way is clear. God’s word has made it so.”

“I will begin,” said he, emphatically. “But I wish you would make a prayer with us. I will call in Mrs. E— and the boys.”

He immediately called them.

After my saying a few words to each of them, and briefly addressing them all, we knelt together in prayer. As we rose from our knees, he said to his children, very solemnly:—“Boys, I hope this visit of our minister will do us all good. It is time for us to think of our souls.” I left them.

Read the rest…

The above sample shows how Spencer would often plead with sinners.  This would be another one of those dear saints that would help an angry and divisive Calvinist.  Honestly, the Lord will probably use Spencer’s ministry to encourage every believer—no matter his/her soteriological convictions—to be about the work of the ministry of reconciliation. 

Further Reading:

A Pastor’s Sketches: Volume 1 and 2
Much of the biographical information I found and adapted from here
“I Can’t Repent” is one of Spencer’s Sketches
Most of his published Sketches are available here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday’s Ministry Musing: Fast Tracking Spiritual Growth and Golden Calves

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Exodus 32:1 ESV)

If this story was not so sad it would be wildly humorous.  The Israelites have been waiting at the bottom of the mountain to hear from the Lord.  They have already promised that “all the words that the LORD has spoken we will do” (Ex. 20:3).  Then Moses jaunts up the mountain to receive the word of the Lord. 

Hours turn into days.

Days turn into weeks.

Weeks turn into a month. 

Finally, the people at the foot of the mountain call together a meeting and say, “Let’s face it…this Moses chap…who really knows what has happened to him.  He’s not coming back down from that mountain.  We liked his vision, we liked his idea about being in covenant with this YHWH, but seriously guys this is taking a REALLY long time.  Can’t you just make us a god so that we can worship, we’re too tired of waiting on YHWH.” 

So Aaron follows the people and they take up a missions offering, throwing their gold into the offering plates.  When the ushers gather together they give all their prosperity to Aaron who then crafts it into a golden calf.  I assume they called this idol something similar to YHWH because they ascribe to this assemblage of metal the work that YHWH had previously accomplished.

They wanted the fruit that YHWH had promised but not the labor of trust and love that it took to see it. 

I would really like to laugh at them.  Then I realize that I’m probably somewhere amongst them--plotting out plans for church success, spiritual growth, and helping people to worship a convenient “YHWH”.  You see, I have my own little sacred cows that I have constructed under the pretext of worshipping the living God.  I have my own plans to fast track the spiritual growth of the flock that I am called to help shepherd. 

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”. 

Day of Jesus Christ?!?  That’s might be take awhile.  “As for this return of Jesus, we aren’t sure when that’s going to happen”.  Let me help you out, Lord.  I think I can fast track their spiritual growth.  I’ve written these really helpful articles on my blog…


Lord, Your people are in your hands.  You hold them with an immovable hand.  Your arm is not too short to save.  Mine is.  When I think that I know better, when I am tempted to construct my own sacred cows help me remember that the only thing that brings us to completion is the finished work of Jesus.  Yes, finished work of Jesus.  You don’t need my golden calves.  You don’t need anything from me.  Yet, you bid me come and die.  May I follow you even if at times it looks like I’ve been slaughtered on a scary mountain. 

Proverbs for Christian Blogging: Not Joining an Ambush

I have found that Proverbs is one of the most helpful places to turn for help in Christian blogging.  The Proverbs frequently help us in our communication with people; both fools and the wise.  Hopefully Christian bloggers write to edify the wise.  Sadly, Christian blogging is often hi-jacked by the fool.  Therefore, Proverbs is one of the best places to turn for help in online communication.  To that end this begins a lengthy series (going through every applicable chapter of Proverbs) to find help for Christian Blogging.

#1 Christian Bloggers Should Not Join an Ambush For Traffic Gain

    My son, if sinners entice you,
        do not consent.
    If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
        let us ambush the innocent without reason;
    like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
        and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
    we shall find all precious goods,
        we shall fill our houses with plunder;
    throw in your lot among us;
        we will all have one purse”—
    my son, do not walk in the way with them;
        hold back your foot from their paths,
    for their feet run to evil,
        and they make haste to shed blood.
    For in vain is a net spread
        in the sight of any bird,
    but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
        they set an ambush for their own lives.
    Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
        it takes away the life of its possessors.
(Proverbs 1:10-19 ESV)

It may seem like a stretch to call the worst of watch bloggers “those whose feet run to evil and make haste to shed blood”.  But calling everybody to “accountability” and trying to torch Christian believers seems to me to be very similar to what is being discussed in this Proverb. 

If we are not careful as Christian bloggers we can be tempted to “walk in the way with them”.  Our hearts can be tempted towards the “unjust gain” of increased blog traffic.  Controversy sells.  It sells in linking to controversial stories and sites.  It sells in engaging controversy and writing about it.  But at the end of the day the traffic gained from throwing our brothers and sisters under the bus will “take away life”. 

Of course there are debates that need to be had.  There are discussions and even controversial ones that must take place.  It is not wrong to get blog traffic as a result of a thoughtful, gracious, and helpful piece that deals with something controversial.  What is wrong is joining in an ambush for the sake of blog traffic. 

1:15 says, “my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths”.  Decide for yourselves if this is a stretch, but I think this Proverb is telling us to simply not play the ambush game (neither as a fellow ambusher or as one trying to lay a snare for the one doing the ambushing).  Just walk away and go a different path—even if its rough, rugged, and filled with the hard labor of cutting out your own path to finding an audience.

You can gain a quick following by being a controversy seeking and controversy centered blogger, but at the end of the day it reeks of death and not glory.  I’d rather have a small blog that is life-giving rather than a highly visited tomb. 

7 Reflections on #T4G12

First of all I am thankful to my wife and church family for giving me the opportunity to attend this event.  It was a blessing to me and a great encouragement to my soul; both as a pastor and as a believer.  The speakers were faithful, the worship was wonderful, the fellowship enlivening, and the books were many.  I will not go into specifics as to what a particular speaker said, etc. but ere are a few things that I took from the conference. 

1. I have been underestimating the power of the gospel.  I need to stop it.  It’s not that I’ve been trying to “add” to the gospel.  It’s just that I have been silent or neutered in speaking when I should have been bold and confident in the Lord’s power.

2. I need to get over myself. 

3. God is really really amazing, and really really powerful, and really really a bunch of others words that cannot adequately describe how GOD, God is.  (I know that sentence didn’t make sense—but the only word to describe how ___ God is, is to use His own name).  He is sufficient.  He is worth every ounce of difficulty.  He is the point. 

4. I am to passionately labor with every bit of energy that I have within me to make Christ the only boast of this generation.  I am invited by God to join with Him in His task of creating a people from every people group.  That’s an awesome and joyous task. 

5. Jesus paid it all.  He really is going to keep me.  Yes, I labor and do it passionately and prayerfully.  But He is mighty to save!  Though many can take this statement the wrong way—it is helpful to my soul to know that I can missionally and pastorally screw up and Revelation 21-22 is still going to be a reality.  I don’t want to mess up.  I want to be faithful.  But the blood of Christ frees me up to just live. 

6. My task=be faithful to what God has called me to.  I don’t need to strive to anything other than faithfulness. 

7. There is nothing quite like being passionately involved in praising and worshiping God with 9,000 other passionate worshippers.  Heaven is going to be amazing (understatement of the millennium). 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

You Need the Church and We Need You

Richard Lovelace is correct:

…it is impossible to grow to full stature as an individual while separated from smaller and larger groups in the church, nor can the body grow without the renewing of its members.  (Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 19)

Certainly this is much more than simply attending a worship service on Sunday morning, evening, or Wednesday night.  This is speaking of a vital union that believers have with one another and that must be lived out in the day to day rhythms of life. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Idol Destruction 101: Summary

There is a good amount of talk in many Christian circles about the necessity of rooting out and destroying idols and replacing them with Christ-exalting joy in Him.  This series aims at considering this task and how to go about destroying idols. 

Part One: The Question is Begged
Part Two: The Path of Introspection
Part Three: The Keswick Effect
Part Four: Who Destroys Idols?
Part Five: The Twofold Strategy
Part Six: Making it Practical
Part Seven: A Note From Mr. Spurgeon

I welcome any suggestions, kickback, or questions of things that I did not cover in this series that you wish that I would have.

The Root of Angry and Divisive Calvinists: Summary

Part One: What Happened to Mark?
Part Two: Is Seminary the Problem?
Part Three: The Root
Part Four: Knowledge that Puffs Up
Part Five: Letting Disputes Die, A Sign of Healing
Part Six: Epilogue, Or What Continued Happening to Mark
Part Seven: How to Help an Angry and Divisive Calvinist
Part Eight: Why the Title?

I pray that this series was beneficial.  It may also be helpful to check out this series at SBC Voices and the comment threads, especially on the first two parts.  (Note: That Part 5 at Borrowed Light is missing at SBC Voices, so parts 6-8 are 5-7 at SBC Voices). 

In response to some of the kickback from post 1 at SBC Voices I penned this article that you may also find helpful:  Brothers, We Must Do Better.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Root of Angry and Divisive Calvinists: Part Seven

You probably have a “Mark” in your life.  We want to be living in the epilogue and not in the beginning of the story.  Here is how to help the “Marks” in your life.  If “Mark” is not a Calvinist but is carrying some other doctrine in an angry and divisive manner I think the advice could still pertain. 

Also keep in mind that I’m a Calvinist who sadly used to be a little too close to Mark.  These are some of the things the Lord used in my life—both from Calvinists and non-Calvinists to help me walk more faithfully in step with the Spirit and not be “Mark”. 

Calvinists helping “Mark”

  1. Love him.  If God has given you the grace to be a humble Calvinist then rather than dismissing angry and divisive young Calvinists you need to love them and do the difficult thing of entering into their lives.
  2. Model humility when discussing doctrine (any doctrine) with those who differ.  Differ and teach others with gentleness and respect.
  3. Call him out on his arrogance, pride, and divisiveness (after #1 has been firmly established).
  4. Minister with Arminians.  I say Arminians but I really mean any that aren’t hardcore Calvinists like Mark.  He wants to make everything about Calvinism.  Put people in his life who really don’t care much about the issue but just want to see Jesus glorified.  This will season him and help him see there are more important issues than whether or not a man’s favorite flower is a Tulip.
  5. Be a consistent Calvinist and push Mark in the same way.
  6. Have him read fiction, biographies, and practical books just as much as doctrine. 
  7. Have him teach children.  (Or better yet have him get married and have his own children—though I wouldn’t suggest you being in control of this).
  8. Hang out with dead guys (John Newton, Charles Simeon, Robert Murray McCheyne, etc.)  These guys will agree with him doctrinally but their humble hearts will be contagious
  9. Be Trinitarian.  We Calvinists love to give lip service to this but we can easily become doctrine centered and not fixated on the beauty and majesty of the Trinity.  The only thing that can really help Mark is a better grasp of the gospel—or perhaps the gospel having a better grasp on Mark.  Keep the gospel central not his Calvinism.
  10. Entrust “Mark” to the work of the Spirit.  He’s not an unbeliever he’s just acting like one at times.  The Spirit wants Mark to be a humble and consistent believer more than you do.  He’s in charge of Mark.  Entrust the Spirit to mold and shape Mark’s heart. 

Non-Calvinists Helping “Mark”

If Mark is like many angry and divisive Calvinists then he is sinning by making Calvinism the issue instead of love.  He will probably have less respect for you and your walk with Christ simply because you are not a Calvinist.  He will try to convert you to Calvinism so that you finally get ministry correct.  He will not be quick to listen to you or even to fellowship with you.  This is sad.  This is sin.  But this is a painful reality (though not as pervasive as some would have us believe).  Still you are called to help Mark…

  1. Love Him.  It will be hard because Mark is going to insult you. 
  2. Don’t argue theology with him.  This is what he wants.  A Calvinist will never win this argument with an angry and divisive Arminian.  Same goes for someone trying to win this debate with an angry and divisive Calvinist.  Even if you win who cares—you’ve both lost because “Mark’s” heart hasn’t been addressed.
  3. Have him hang out with dead guys.  Your chance of “softening” Mark is pretty negligent.  But you can certainly put a few of these men in his life that are Calvinists who will season him.  Have him read a healthy dose of Newton or Charles Simeon. 
  4. Make the Gospel Central.  If you have a high view of God’s sovereignty, you love Jesus, you care about doctrine, you share the gospel with people, etc. then hopefully Mark will begin to see past his silly idea that Calvinism is the most important question you can ask of somebody.  Help him see his (and your) identity is in Jesus and not adherence to TULIP.
  5. Entrust “Mark” to the work of the Spirit.  He’s not an unbeliever he’s just acting like one at times.  The Spirit wants Mark to be a humble and consistent believer more than you do.  He’s in charge of Mark.  Entrust the Spirit to mold and shape Mark’s heart. 

Many of those in the Calvinists helping “Mark” could be applied here as well but I have intentionally kept this list more short and to the point.  The biggest thing you can do is to love “Mark” and point him to people that he will naturally trust and respect (just because they were the Scarlet C).  Keep plodding along, keep preaching the gospel, keep growing yourself, and keep loving Mark and entrusting Him to the Spirit.  Your goal isn’t to get him “un-Reformed” your goal is to get him to love Jesus more and to trust the Spirit.  If Calvinism is false don’t worry—the Spirit will work on Mark’s heart and fine tune his theology as well. 


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