Friday, November 30, 2012

One Reason I Don’t Play the Lotto

My first semester of college was about to start. I had all of my tuition covered through grants and student loans. I had a backpack. I had a car for the drive. A full tank of gas. And a little bit of money for lunch. But I lacked one really important thing…books.

I owed $175 for books, of which I had about four dollars. It was Saturday evening. School started on Monday. What was I going to do?

Thankfully, I had been watching a good amount of health and wealth teachers that taught me to plant my seeds of faith. If I would put God to the test then he would certainly bless me. I only needed to believe.

I was very new and immature in the faith. I wasn’t even very good at the whole health, wealth, and prosperity thing. So I wondered what would happen if I took my four bucks, used some faith, and tried turning that into $175 bucks.

I got all prayed up, and nervously ventured to the local gas station. “Four lottery tickets please,” I confidently told the cashier. She pulled off the four tickets and I took them to my car, knowing in faith that I would be back in a few minutes to claim my jackpot.

First ticket. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch…nothing.

Oh, well. God is testing my faith. Ticket two. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch…still nothing.

Third ticket. This time I scratch off the winning amount side first. There are sweet prizes to be had. Surely, this is the winning ticket. My scratching routine reveals the same as the first three…a big fat nothing.

Last ticket. I nervously scratch it off, feeling a bit like a fool. I didn’t really feel like the Lord let me down. I just figured (rightly) that I was being an idiot. This one, though, was a winner. Free Ticket.

That God sure is a trickster. He really ran me through the ringer. So, I jaunted back into the store and claimed my ticket. Which I knew would give me a huge blessing once I unveiled it’s tender mercies. I couldn’t wait to get it back to the car. I scratched it off at the register. And to my shock it revealed that I had won…

NOTHING. A big fat zero. Now I had no money even to eat lunch.

The next morning I went to church, still smarting from my painful demise the night before. I sat towards the middle of our small church singing worship songs. I still had no idea how I was going to get books. Or what I would eat the next day. I figured that I would have to get by until my next paycheck when I could buy books.

I don’t remember the song that we were singing, but my worship was interrupted by a somewhat shy man that tapped me on the shoulder. With tears in his eyes he informed me that the Lord had moved in his heart to give me a check.

I thought maybe it would be $50 bucks. Maybe that’ll buy me food for the week. I looked down and noticed a two and a zero. “Twenty bucks”, I thought. Then I glanced again. It was $200. This would pay for my books and my lunch.

I wept.

You see I didn’t put one dime in the offering plate that morning. I couldn’t. I had blown it on lottery tickets. I was “trusting” God but in a way strikingly similar to the Israelites of old. It was as if I went to Assyria and Egypt to play the role of God’s little helpers. I had betrayed the Lord.

But I still had a $200 check in my hands and a lesson that I will never forget. Yahweh is faithful to His people. Not because I was faithful, but just because He is. I haven’t bought a lottery ticket since that day. I don’t need it. My God supplies all my needs. The Lord will provide.

If Hosea Prophesied in 21st Century America

Hosea’s story is a bleak one. God calls him to marry an unfaithful woman. It’s often debated whether or not she was unfaithful when God called Hosea to marry her, or if she turned that way. The answer to that question probably made little difference in the day to day workings of Hosea’s home. His wife was unfaithful. Period. There are clues to the text that his children aren’t really his, and likely they weren’t model Israelite citizens.

Hosea isn’t fundamentally about Hosea. It is about God. But God’s story is told through the deep pain of Hosea. This prophets life would not have been rosy. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be married to Gomer. Or to raise troubled children that are not your own. There faces everyday reminding you of your wife’s unfaithfulness. I do not have personal experience with this. Hosea did. And it shaped his message.

That truth has me wondering what would happen if Hosea were a prophet in the 21st century. Before I give my analysis I must confess that I am not a cultural guru. I do not have a Ph.D in postmodern thought. Nor did I pay attention in my college sociology class. But I am “in the trenches” ministering to adults and teenagers in the 21st century. And it seems to me that in our culture if your message is somehow shaped by your personal experiences then it is in the realm of subjective and not objective. It is tainted.

I wonder then what people in the 21st century would say when Hosea says, “you play the whore, O Israel…”

“Bitter much?”

“Come on Hosea, we know you’re just hurt by what is going on in your home life. You’re being too sharp because you’re carrying over the hurt that your harlot wife has caused you. You’re looking for somebody to blame for your pain and trying to spiritualize it by calling us harlots and saying it is a metaphor for how Yahweh feels about us.”

The power of Hosea’s metaphor would be dismissed. His message is shaped too much by his own personal situation. Therefore, Hosea’s truth might work for him or for other people that are struggling like He is, but it is not for everyone. “You can’t call the entire nation a whore just because your wife is one, Hosea.”

For Today

But Hosea was telling objective truth. And he was doing it through his very real personal pain. You better believe that Hosea was impacted by his home life. But Hosea isn’t fundamentally about Hosea. It’s about God. And God is using Hosea’s story to tell His own. God is using the subjective story of Hosea to proclaim His objective truth.

The 21st century preacher finds himself in a difficult spot. The culture tells him that he must be real and he must be authentic. Which is helpful and solid advice. But inevitably the more real the preacher gets the more easily what he is proclaiming can be dismissed. The preacher’s message is effected by the preacher.

I am not saying that the preacher has a license to change the objective truth of God’s Word. Far from it. But what I am saying is that God can use my subjective life story to proclaim His objective truth. The message isn’t tainted because the messenger is deeply impacted by the message. It’s tainted if doesn’t impact the preacher. 

Today in Blogworld 11.30.12

Dear Jack: A Letter to an Abusive Husband

Thabiti Anyabwile writes a letter to an abusive husband. The comments get pretty heated, which is sad.

Thoughts for Guest Preachers, And the Churches That Invite Them

I was a guest preacher last Sunday. It wasn’t my first time, but I imagine if it was that Dane Ortlund’s advice here would be helpful. I like his last statement: “As you leave, remember two things: (1) you are not as great a preacher as you think you are, and (2) your preaching is more effective than you think it is.”

Why You Should Consider a Social Media Fast

Kevin DeYoung did it. Here are eight ways that he benefited from the fast.

16 Rules of Biblical Interpretation

These are helpful. I may add a few or tweak a couple but I really like John Samson’s list of sixteen rules for biblical interpretation.

This should happen more:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

An Idiots Guide to Week 13 #NFL Predictions

9-7 last week. I should have gotten that Lions upset over the Texans. I did pick the Browns win over the Steelers but it was more of a faux-Steelers team with no Big Ben. Not so hot on my other picks either. Lance Dunbar was only 92 yards away from 100. This is week 13 which is the last week for many fantasy football leagues. Our 20 team league has 8 teams vying for 4 open slots. I could squeak in after an abysmal start but I don’t think it is going to happen. Here are my week 13 picks:

Saints over Falcons
Jags over Bills
Seahawks over Bears
Lions over Colts
Packers over Vikings
Texans over Titans
Chiefs over Panthers
49ers over Rams
Dolphins over Pats (upset of the week)
Jets over Cards
Bucs over Broncos
Browns over Raiders (actually I think the Raiders will win but can’t pick it)
Chargers over Bengals
Ravens over Steelers
Cowboys over Eagles
Giants over Redskins

Fantasy Stud of the Week: Arian Foster
Fantasy Sleeper of the Week: Ryan Tannehill

Other crazy picks:

Tannehill throws for 400 and 4 TD’s
Stafford has a big day against the Colts
Chiefs D gets 5 turnovers on Panthers
Browns/Raiders combine for under 20 points
Big Ben doesn’t play
Victor Cruz is shutdown on MNF
Foster rushes for 220 with 3 TD’s
RG3 looks like a rookie
Henne stays hot
Cutler barely reaches 100 yards

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review of Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp

In recent days the Discovery Channel has honed in on a few of the worlds most dangerous jobs; namely loggers and deep sea fishermen. These jobs are arduous and hazardous. According to Paul Tripp one other “job” that ought to be put on the list is pastoral ministry. In his book, Dangerous Calling, Tripp highlights the unique challenges of pastoral ministry.

Tripp believes that “there are many pastors who have inserted themselves into a spiritual category that doesn’t exist” (23). This false spiritual category is confirmed and strengthened by the pastoral culture in which pastors live. Seminaries are often the breeding grounds for such “self-swindiling” (33) pastors. The downward spiral begins with a “distant, impersonal, information-based handling of the Word of God.” (52)  Eventually “brains become more important than hearts” and pastors fool themselves into thinking that because they have correct theological answers they must be doing okay.

After graduating seminary this knowledgeable and skilled seminary student will become the pastor of a church. A church of which the pastor will largely not be known by. Given the present pastoral climate in churches he will lead them from above practicing an “intentional culture of pastoral separation and isolation” (70). There he will die. Most pastors never truly become a part of the body of Christ. We were never meant to lead or live this way. This culture must change.

Such a culture breeds pastors that forget. They forget who God is and they forget who they are. Pastoral ministry, then, is a war zone. Even if the culture of pastoral ministry would change pastors would still fight their own selfish hearts. But given our current climate of pastoral ministry many pastors are not even aware of the necessity of fighting. And slowly they slip into familiarity and mediocrity. Eventually they forget who they are and begin preaching a grace that they themselves are not partaking in.

My Take

I deeply appreciate this book by Paul Tripp. I am not a lead pastor (only an associate pastor) but I still see every danger that he is talking about in my own life. From my experience Tripp is correct in his assessment of seminary. I believe that I attend one of the best seminaries around (SBTS) but I have heard in my classes from fellow students and felt in my own heart a type of head knowledge that is not matched to heart knowledge. For the most part faculty and staff at SBTS take great pains to be pastors as well as professors, but there are times when academia seems to rule the day.

According to Tripp his central point in this book is to give a “detailed exposition of what happens in the life of a person in ministry when he forgets to preach to himself the same gospel that he gives to others”. As such this book is a little light on practical application. This book is like reading a book that explains your disease in great detail and then points you to other resources for treatment. Some may give Tripp negative marks because of this. I think it is one of the strengths of the book.

If at the end of the day pastors read Dangerous Calling and drop to their knees pleading for mercy from King Jesus, then Tripp has done his job. Sadly, it can be a difficult task to truly convince us pastors that we are desperately in need of Jesus every moment. We will give that truth lip service but at the end of the day when it comes to “spiritual things” many of us assume that we’ve got this down.

Do not misunderstand me, though. There is practical help smattered throughout the book. There are helpful things that churches could adopt to help their pastors. Their are suggestions that pastors could implement that would strengthen them in the middle of this war zone. There is practical stuff, but that does not appear to be Tripp’s major aim in this book. He wants to hold a mirror up to pastors and compare what they see to God’s Word and His wisdom. He wants us to realize that many of us are dying and we need help.

For this reason Tripp’s book is invaluable to pastors. Speaking as a pastor to pastors he is in an adequate position to expose our pastoral pride. He does it with humility and as one that is in the midst of the struggle himself. Reading this book will lay you bare. But it will not leave you there. Tripp will help every pastor to remember the God of mercy anew. He lifts up our All-Sufficient Savior and encourages pastors to run to him. Drink deeply from the grace that we are to proclaim every Sunday.

Should You Buy It?

I agree with Joshua Harris, “pastors needs this book”. This book may be The Reformed Pastor of our day. It is weighty and necessary. If you are a pastor you really ought to purchase this one.

What if you are not a pastor? I would still suggest it. It will help you to help your pastor. You are called to minister to him as well.

The book can be yours for under $13 and I cannot recommend it enough. The promo video is below:

Dangerous Calling from Crossway on Vimeo.

Today in Blogworld 11.28.12

Life of an NFL Long Shot

This is long but interesting. The NY Times chronicles the story of Pat Schiller, an NFL long shot. (HT: Challies)

Balance is Bunk

Mike Glenn, writing on Thom Rainer’s blog, tells us that balance is bunk. Life cannot be balanced and we should stop trying to make it that way.

What Could Cause PK’s to Grow Bitter

Brian Croft mentions one heart-breaking reason: “from suffering subtle broken promise after subtle broken promise from their parents.” A painful but necessary article for pastors to consider. (I imagine this could apply to other jobs as well).

Disciple-Making and Sentence Diagramming

I have found sentence diagramming to be one of the most valuable things that I have picked up. I actually started doing it before seminary. I found great help from I appreciate this pdf. that Tim Brister has compiled to encourage everyone to do sentence diagramming. This needs to get into all of our churches.

Not that I advocate betting, but these videos are really cool:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

6 Principles For Spiritually Nourishing Your Family

I have been reading The Shepherd leader at Home by Timothy Z. Witmer. It is a short book that packs a pretty solid punch. Witmer encourages husbands and dads to know, lead, protect, and provide for their family. In his chapter on Spiritual Provision, Witmer lists six principles* that can help assist the spiritual reflection times you have with your family:

  1. Be realistic. Don’t set plans that you can’t actually sustain
  2. Be systematic. Do have a plan, though
  3. Be flexible. Rigidity will lead to disdain, it’s okay to miss a night
  4. Be consistent. Missing a night should be the exception, not the rule
  5. Be interactive. Be intentional about encouraging involvement
  6. Be real. Make this a natural reflection of your own walk with Christ

I have found Witmer’s book helpful. You may as well. You can purchase it at Amazon for only 8 bucks.


*The points are Witmer’s, the summary is mine

Today in Blogworld 11.27.12

Four Reasons Men Don’t Read Books (with a Practical Suggestion)

This one has made its rounds but I love it so much that I have to link to it. Tony Reinke narrows in on four reasons why men don’t read. I appreciate that he also offers practical helps for those of us that do read to encourage more male readership.

Does the Bible Separate Salvation from Baptism?

Josh Stahley provides an answer. Questions like this always provide lively discussion. It’s a difficult question.

Brothers, Supernatural Does Not Mean Stupid

Last week Piper encouraged pastors to realize that the ministry is supernatural. Today he reminds us that supernatural does not mean stupid. I appreciate Piper’s words here. Often “spiritual” morphs into “stupid and lazy”.

10 Ways that Satan Loves to Watch Marriages Fall Apart

Wise words from Deepak Reju. Here are 10 ways that we make our marriages fall apart. The devil enjoys having a front row seat watching us destroy ourselves and our marriages with these ten things.

I feel this guys pain. This is what would happen if I ever did standup:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An Idiot’s Guide to Week 12 #NFL Predictions

Happy Turkey Day!

Not too bad last week at 10-4. Almost got that Browns upset. Not so good on my other crazy picks. Mendenhall wasn’t a sleeper but he helped my fantasy team squeak by with a narrow victory keeping my slim playoff hopes alive for one more week. It’s turkey day so I’ll cut straight to the chase so we can get to consuming our tryptophan.

Lions over Texans (upset of the week)
Cowboys over Redskins
Patriots over Jets
Vikings over Bears
Raiders over Bengals
Browns over Steelers
Colts over Bills
Broncos over Chiefs
Dolphins over Seahawks
Falcons over Bucs
Jags over Titans
Chargers over Ravens
Saints over 49ers
Rams over Cardinals
Packers over Giants
Panthers over Eagles

Fantasy Stud of the Week: Trent Richardson
Fantasy Sleeper of the Week: Tony Scheffler

Other Crazy Picks:

Scheffler scores twice and goes for 100 yards
Pats beat Jets on last second FG
Lynch fumbles twice
Huge day for Philip Rivers
Fair showing for Eli but Giants ST gives up the game
Browns beat the Steelers by double digits
Lance Dunbar goes for 100 yards
Henne leads the Jags to a solid victory
3 turnovers for Flacco

A Prayer for My Son Isaiah From the Prophet Isaiah

    “Behold, God is my salvation;
        I will trust, and will not be afraid;
    for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song,
        and he has become my salvation.”
    With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
    “Give thanks to the LORD,
        call upon his name,
    make known his deeds among the peoples,
        proclaim that his name is exalted.
    “Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;
        let this be made known in all the earth.
    Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
        for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
(Isaiah 12:2-6 ESV)

Isaiah, your name means something very similar to “God is my salvation”. Literally, your name means “Salvation of God”. It is my prayer for you that someday this will be your song. Daddy is not your salvation. Mommy is not your salvation. You are not your salvation. Salvation will only be found in the Lord. I pray that your name is a constant reminder of that truth.

It is also my pray that “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”. It is a deep well, son. It will never dry. There are many cisterns that you will drop your bucket into to find fulfillment. They will never satiate. Only Christ can eternally quench.

It is further my prayer for you that your life would be one that is marked by “giving thanks to the LORD” and for “making known his deeds among the peoples”. As you draw deeply from the well that is Christ, know that it is not meant to stay only with you. You dig deeply so that you can proclaim the excellencies of Christ to the nations. Jesus fills you so that you can exalt His fullness.

It is a great blessing that the “Holy One of Israel” is in your midst. May the truth behind your name cause you to shout, and sing for joy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Suggested Resources for Marriage Help

Earlier today I outlined one component of our churches strategy for assisting marriages. I promised a list of suggested resources for marriage help. Here you go.

What Did You Expect? by Paul Tripp
One of the strengths of this book is that it gives six commitments that couples can slowly work through to strengthen their marriage. It will help to build a solid foundation and these commitments will give a framework from which to build.

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is its author. Tim Keller is always helpful in explaining things boldly as they are but in a way that is compelling and reasonable. This is a decent book if you are married to a religious skeptic.

This Momentary Marriage by John Piper
Classic Piper. As typical Piper is unswervingly biblical. He looks at marriage from its eternal perspective. Sometimes the most helpful thing in marriage is to take a step back and to get a God-sized vision of things. Piper’s book helps with that.

No Ordinary Marriage by Tim Savage
Savage seems to pick up where Piper leaves off. His central claim is similar to Piper’s, in that God’s glory is the glue that bonds together our momentary marriages. However, Savage is more practical in how this works out in a marriage.

When Sinners Say I Do by Dave Harvey
You are a sinner married to a sinner. That is the central component to Harvey’s book but it is very helpful. Harvey shines in showing how the gospel informs and transforms our marriages.

Pursuing Peace by Robert D. Jones
Because marriage is the union of two sinners we will have conflict. Jones’ book is an excellent treatment of handling conflict biblically. This book makes practical the theology the other books set in place.

At every marriage conference we give away a free copy of one of these books.

Marriage Retreat Outline

I wrote the material for our marriage retreat. Actually, that is kind of a lie. Paul Tripp, Tim Keller, Dave Harvey, Robert D. Jones and a few other authors wrote a good chunk of it. All I did was take many marriage books and put them into a digestible form. Here is the outline of the marriage retreat.

Session One: A Theology of Marriage.

In this session we introduce the material and explain why the material is not immediately practical. We then attempt to define marriage. We use this definition. Our aim in this session is to get everyone on the same page as to what constitutes a biblical marriage and to help couples see that their marriage has meaning.

Session Two: The Gospel, Our Roles, Our Model, and Our Redemption

This session is an adaptation of a sermon I preached on Ephesians 5:21-33. Here we look at a sacrificial husband and a submissive wife. We also note that both of these are broken pictures and the reality is found in Christ Jesus. We use this session to not only inform couples of their biblical role but also to present the glorious gospel of Jesus.

Session Three: Marriage in a Broken World

Here we get honest about all of the struggles we face in marriage. We begin by having couples outline all of the problems that couples have in marriages. Then we attempt to get at the root of these problems. We look at the inward cycle of sin. We also use some material from Robert D. Jones’ book and give couples a way to think through the fog of marital conflict.

Session Four: Putting Our Theology Into Practice

In the final session (usually on Sunday morning) we watch a clip from The Dick Van Dyke Show. You can find the video and a brief outline of this session here. We use this episode to apply everything we learned in our marriage retreat. We close up the final session with a Q & A time and invite people to help us improve our marriage retreats.

Those are the basic teaching outlines. We also have group time after each session. After these sessions the guys and girls separate and discuss what they learned using a few guided questions. We then come back together and discuss everything as a group. There are also a few guided questions for couples to consider during their alone times.

Every conference we also send home a free book from our suggested resources list with each couple. I will post that suggested resource list later today.

Why Our Marriage Retreat is Not “Practical”

Early on in our marriage my wife and I attended several marriage conferences. Our marriage was not on the fritz or anything like that. We loved each other deeply but we needed some assistance in how to do life together. Seldom did these marriage conferences have lasting results. They gave us a few practical tips to take home and apply but within a few weeks our marriage slipped back into our natural way of doing things.

What was seldom addressed in these conferences was my heart. Oh, there was the obligatory session on making Jesus central in your marriage. But this was usually nothing more than a well meaning attempt to share the gospel with unbelievers. As the conferences progressed it seemed as if the gospel was left behind and we went forward into the really practical stuff. Most of this advice was nothing more than Christianized psychology or sociology class. All of the advice could have just as easily been taught in a secular setting minus the Bible verses.

Because my heart was never addressed all these conferences did was make me a more crafty and sinful husband. I could manipulate these “Christian” principles to get my way. They made me a more polished sinner.

Why Our Marriage Retreat is Not “Practical”

There are scores of Christian books and conferences out there that are very practical and honestly can be very helpful. Most people that come to a marriage conference want tips for changing their marriage. They want to know a seven-step process for changing their marriage. And so we acquiesce and give the practical stuff that people can take home with them and immediately apply to their marriage. The problem with seven-step processes though, is that they either work or they don’t.

One couple attends the marriage conference (couple A) and they find these practical tips helpful. They take these tips home and apply it to their marriage. Things begin to change. Their are so excited about this new material that they invite their friends (couple B) to attend the next marriage conference. They assure this young couple that learning this will help their marriage to become as happy and pleasurable as their own.

Couple B attends the marriage conference with Couple A. They learn the seven-step process, take it home and immediately apply it to their marriage. They have a new found hope that finally their marriage is going to be as happy as it was supposed to be on their wedding day. But then they hit a wall. It doesn’t work. For couple B these biblical principles “didn’t work”.

Naturally the struggling couple slips back into unhealthy, unbiblical, and even worldly practices in their marriage. Eventually couple B goes to the courthouse and files for divorce. They tried the Bible thing but it didn’t work. It didn’t fix their marriage, so God obviously wants them to not be together. (That may sound A to Z but I have witnessed this happen more times than I have fingers).

The difference between couple A and couple B is theology. Couple A went to the marriage conference with a relatively healthy theology of marriage. These practical tips assisted them in applying their theology. Couple B had a poor theology of marriage and so their application of the practical tips did little because they never addressed the heart.

Every problem that we have in marriage is fundamentally a theological problem. Or to put that another way every problem that we have in marriage is a “gospel” problem. It is not necessarily that we do not know the right answers to Bible questions. But it is that because of sin in our hearts, or perhaps because of ignorance, we are not applying the gospel—we are not applying our theology—to our marriage.

This is why our marriage retreats are not “practical”.

Or are they?

I believe giving people a theology of marriage coupled with a few helpful pointers is more practical than giving people seven steps. It is similar to the old adage that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish you feed him for a lifetime. When sinners are given practical tips but they are not taught how to address their hearts it is similar to just giving them a fish. But teaching people how the gospel informs every component of their marriage helps them fish for a lifetime.

Address the heart and apply the gospel. You’ll be eternally practical.


Later I will show you the outline of our marriage retreat material.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

One of the Most Important Things We Do As a Church

It is no secret that marriages are struggling. It is also no secret that marriages are struggling even within local churches. This is not surprising. Marriage is the union of two sinners. Marriage does not come natural and they need healthy communities in order to thrive. They also need the gospel. With our increasingly fragmented cultures and the continual watering down of the gospel it is not shocking that marriage is falling on hard times.

In response to this trend our church decided to begin having frequent marriage retreats. One of the core values of our church is to be a gospel-saturated community. One area in which this is lived out is in equipping families. We believe that in order for marriages to thrive they need a robust gospel and to live life in a community informed by that gospel. Therefore, our marriage retreats seek to strengthen marriages by rooting marriages in the gospel and building a community saturated by the gospel.

The Plan

Our goal is to have one marriage retreat every quarter. These are not meant to be large groups. In fact we cap off our attendance at 10 couples per quarter (including the lead pastor and myself). Every quarter one of our deacons will go with his wife. He will also invite another leader that he has been actively training and discipling.  This leaves six open slots. Our deacon picks two families from his deacon family list to invite to the retreat. This leaves four slots. We leave these open to the church on a first come first serve basis.

We keep the cost at only $100 per couple. This covers the cost of most of their food and their room at the Highland Lakes Camp. We leave on Friday evening and return back to our homes on Sunday afternoon.

During the weekend we have four teaching sessions, group time, tons of free time, and worship time. Part of our goal is to encourage our leaders to step up and minister to these couples. We also want this to be an avenue for new leaders to emerge (those that our established leaders have been discipling). We also believe that this time away will build relationships between many couples in our church.

This is one of the most important things that we do as a church. It gives us an entire weekend to teach a robust gospel and to create and cultivate gospel-saturated communities. As marriages are strengthened so is our local church and community.

Tomorrow morning I will explain why our sessions are not “practical”…

Gospel-Colored Katsak For Sale

Last Tuesday I posted a video and invited you to make an illustration using the video. Once again you responded in vast numbers. I have been sifting through these illustrations for an entire week and now today I will post mine. By “sifting through” I mean “waiting for”. Like a naughty boy on Christmas morning my stocking was empty. So, I figured that today I’d share my illustration:

Here is the video:

It is pretty obvious from this video that Mike Rowe is not sold on the glory of a Katsak. People probably still bought the things but only cat lovers and people addicted to QVC. I seriously doubt that anyone was won over by Mike Rowe’s selling of the Katsak. Rowe isn’t sold on the product and so he is unable to sell it.

As I listen to Rowe I can’t help but think about gospel proclamation. Not that the gospel is something that we have to “sell” like a Katsak. But I can’t help but wonder if our confidence in the gospel pales even in comparison to Rowe’s passion in the Katsak.

Thomas Boston once said, “If you believe the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God, you can not speak to them as if you were telling a story”. I do not think that Boston is talking against storytelling. The Puritans were actually quite good at telling stories and applying the Scriptures to everyday life. What Boston is referring to is a blood-earnestness in our gospel proclamation. 

Rowe is basically saying, “Here is a katsak. I am going to do my best to convince you that it is something worth spending 25 bucks on. Personally, I think it is moronic but it is my job to convince you that it’s not. So look at all these amazing uses for a katsak…”

We had better be more convinced of the power of the gospel than that. We cannot afford to share the gospel like it’s “our job”. You don’t share good news like you sell a katsak. In fact, I very seriously doubt that you will share the news if you value it like Rowe does the katsak. Persecution will shut you up. But if it is truly good news and it has rocked your world then you share it in such a way that far more than QVC addicts are confronted with what you are proclaiming.

Rowe give evidence that convincing and passionate proclamation is not something that you can conjure up on your own. You have to really be convinced of its value. Do you value the gospel? Or is your proclamation similar to Mike Rowe trying to sell a katsak.

The Assyrian Captivity of Ministry

Last night my shipment of new power tools and power saws arrived*. A few weeks back the Lord really convicted me about my need to be intentional about serving my wife. One of the things that I decided to do in response was get serious about learning how to be more handy around the home. Hence my purchase of power tools.

One of the things I am quickly learning is that using the proper tool for each job is essential. Some saws are better at cutting around corners. Other saws are best used for cutting angles. And others are good for just lopping off the part of the board you don’t need. At the end of the day I am the one responsible for deciding which tool is best for the job.

I thought of my new power tools when I read this verse:

    Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it,
        or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it?
    As if a rod should wield him who lifts it,
        or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!
(Isaiah 10:15 ESV)

There is one thing every one of my power tools has in common at this moment. Inactivity. An axe does nothing unless I swing it. My saw does nothing unless I wield it. It would be stupid for my powerless power tools to boast in themselves when their ability to work comes from the outside.

Not so with the Assyrians. They are but a tool in the hands of Yahweh, yet they view themselves as much more. They are confident that their quest for world domination rests squarely in their own abilities. They cannot see the hand of Yahweh. They do not know that they will only be able to go as far as the Lord permits them. Foolish Assyrians…

More like, foolish believer. Isaiah 10 was a stunning reminder to me yesterday that I am but an instrument in the hands of my redeemer. Yes, I have certain gifts that are able to accomplish certain jobs. But it is absolutely foolish for me to boast when the Lord is simply using the tool that He crafted. It is also stupid for me to be depressed or envious when he leaves me on the shelf and uses a better suited instrument. 

Brothers and sisters, we are called to leave people in awe of the Carpenter and not the saw. Part of this is realizing that not every job requires our skills. We are but one tool in the Lord’s arsenal. Our call is to be faithful whenever the Lord picks us up for use.

When I drive by a beautiful house I seldom think about the tools used to create it. The glory is reserved for the architect. It is my prayer that as our local church spreads the kingdom of Christ into our community people give glory to the Builder and not the instruments used for building.


*On an unrelated note, If you notice an upswing in typos within the next few weeks it will be me adjusting to a couple missing fingers.

Today in Blogworld 11.20.12

Sacrificing Your Marriage on the Altar of Your Job

John Wesley’s marriage was a train wreck. It serves as a valuable lesson for us today not to sacrifice our marriage for the sake of our work.

Pithy Proverbs

In my opinion, one of the most misinterpreted books of the Bible is Proverbs. Here R.C. Sproul offers a little help for wisely handling these wise sayings.

5 Ways to Fight Insecurity

Leaders can be insecure. It is a battle we all face. Here are five ways to deal with insecurity.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals for Christians

Every year Tim Challies helps us out by compiling a list of cyber deals and Black Friday deals. You will want to bookmark this page as Tim will update it often.

Now this is a turkey burger that I might consider eating:

Monday, November 19, 2012

6 Signs You Identify More as an Instrument of Grace Instead of a Recipient of Grace

I am almost finished reading Paul Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling. I need to review this book within the next couple of days. But I also need to let this one soak for a little while. In the meantime I want to share with you a helpful section.

In his chapter on “Always Preparing” Tripp notes that “there is no grace that we offer to others that we don’t at once need ourselves”. He then gives a few signs that “indicate your work as an instrument of grace has caused you to forget or deny your identity as a recipient of that same grace.” Here are six:

  1. The Bible has ceased being a mirror
  2. Worship morphs from private quest to public duty
  3. Christianity becomes a system rather than a relationship
  4. Your desire to master content is not coupled with craving
  5. You have more concern for the sin of others than for your own
  6. The pride of knowing replaces the humility of being known

This book has proven both convicting and deeply helpful. I would recommend it to any person in ministry.

Get it today.

When The Man Hands You a Blackout…

I rely on electricity far too much. I never realize that truth until the power goes out because of a storm or a squirrel frying himself on a generator. No electricity is exciting for about 3 minutes. Then we all just blankly stare at one another wondering what to do with ourselves. No television. No video games. No lights. No radio. No computer. No internet. No power saws. Nothing.

That is until I remember that my iPad runs off of battery. Even though my internet connection is down I still have 3G. If I am lucky I will have a few precious hours before my battery dies. If I can just hold off until the power comes back on. This leads me to conclude that if the man hands you a blackout you kick him in the shin, laugh, and say, “Forgot about my iPad didn’t you?” The man can’t keep you down if you’ve got a stellar backup plan.

I wonder, though, if sometimes our backup plans might get in the way of repentance. That is what happened with the northern kingdom in Isaiah’s day. Disaster strikes them but its okay they have a backup plan.

“The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.” –Isaiah 9:10

God takes away their bricks and they say, “I’ve still got my stones”. When calamity strikes they never consider the need for repentance or “inquiring of the LORD of hosts.” (9:13) Instead they check their supply closet and pull out their backups. “Nice try, Lord, but you seem to have forgotten about our cedar collection.” Rather than considering repentance they run to another idol to find fulfillment.

Sadly, I am not that much different at times. There have been numerous times in my life when the Lord has brought profound sadness or disappointment. It’s a supremely loving thing for the Lord to do that, by the way. He will not allow me to find satisfaction in these lesser lovers. But my rebellion can run so deep that instead of repentance and returning to Yahweh I assume that what I really need is a shinier idol to appease me. One idol fails me and so I try to replace it with a different one.

Our rebellion goes so deep that the Lord has to shame every potential idol. He will have to not only take away brick and sycamore but he will also have to lay bare our stones and our cedars. This is why Israel was laid bare. And it is why so often our walk with Christ we have to be laid bare.

As I think through Israel’s rebellion, and my own, two things come to mind. First, I am very grateful that the Lord is relentless in His pursuit of my redemption. As Isaiah 9:7 proclaims, it is the “zeal of the LORD of hosts” that He will bring about rescue through His Messiah. I am grateful that He is more passionate about my sanctification than I am.

Secondly, when the Lord exposes idols and rips them from my hands I want to run to Him instead of on a shameful quest to find a new idol. When disappointment and suffering comes into my life I want my first response to be an inquiry of the LORD of hosts and not a plundering of my supply closet. I want to set all my affections upon the LORD without having any backup plan.

Today in Blogworld 11.19.12

What the Church Really Believes About Sanctification

I do not know the specific author of this piece but it is someone from CCEF. It really does not matter what we as a church say we believe about sanctification. At ground level when the rubber meets the road this is pretty much what the church at large believes about sanctification.

Brothers, The Ministry is Supernatural

One of the most shaping books in my life has been John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. In this piece Piper says the need to rebel against professionalism is ever present. He urges us to consider that the work of ministry is supernatural.

God’s Answer to “How Should I Live With Disability”

This is powerful. Justin Taylor introduces the powerful testimony of Krista Horning.

Textual Criticism in a Nutshell

You may not know what textual criticism is, but you should. I like detective shows. I like studying Scripture. That might be why I’m such a nerd with textual criticism. If only I were better at original languages. Nonetheless, I love doing textual criticism. Michael Patton explains the discipline.


This song is sure to get stuck in your head…but it might just save your life:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Should I Respond To This Comment?

Early on in my ministry (both writing and in the local church) I felt the need to respond to every criticism. Now I do not. Awhile back I spent some time thinking through how to determine whether or not to respond to a critique. Mostly, this is dealing with online discussions but it has application with a few minor tweaks to local church ministry as well. These three categories have helped me, perhaps they will help you as well.

I find it helpful to categorize comments into three categories. First, comment types of which I will never respond. Secondly, comment types of which I might respond once or twice. Lastly, comment types that I will respond to even at length.

Comments Not Worth a Response

  • When I am being slandered. I used to try to defend myself. Now I don’t even bother. God will defend me if I need defense.
  • When I haven’t been read. I understand skim reading and the nature of online communication. I don’t expect someone to spend a lengthy time on an article. Just skipping a point does not fall in this category. Only Scripture is important enough to demand readership. However, if you do not bother to read an article and go straight to the comments and this becomes painfully obvious, I probably will only respond by telling you to read the article.
  • When there is no need. I think some people like to hear themselves type. Some people will hi-jack another persons platform to build their own. Grandiose comments that point to the commenter will usually not get a response. I figure the goal of self-promotion has already been served. You don’t need my comment anyways.
  • When somebody wants to argue for the sake of arguing. This is not easily discerned. But if I can tell that somebody just wants to be contrary and is only concerned about being correct, I usually don’t engage.

Anything that you would add? At times I just do not respond because I do not have the time. But that doesn’t count. I would respond if I could, I just cannot.

Comments Worth a Brief Response

Some comments might mostly fall in the first category but one line or so in them would contain one of these elements. I will respond briefly. Others do not fit the above category but only necessitate a brief response.

  • When I am being misunderstood. It happens to everybody. Sometimes it is because I was not clear. Occasionally, it is because the other person missed something. I’ll do my best to clear up misunderstanding. But as soon as someone falls into arguing for the sake of arguing then my response will stop.
  • When not responding could lead to confusion. A few days ago someone left a comment that seemed to pit something I wrote against another article. I agreed with the other article as well. To not respond would have left the impression that we held contrary positions. I wrote a brief response to clear that up and ignore the paragraph or so of sharp remarks.
  • When someone else is being slandered. This only applies if it is direct response to something I wrote. If you use my piece to slander someone then I’ll call you out on it.
  • When only a brief response is needed. No need to be lengthy if I don’t have to.

Any that you would add?

Comments Worth a Lengthy Response

There is not a need to bullet point this one. It is everything else. I love humble engagement. I welcome critique. Even passionate critique. If I have the time I will engage in a lengthy response on any article if it is needed. I can use the sharpening. I do not have all of the answers.

Online discussions can be beneficial. But this takes time. And if I waste all of my time trying to defend myself, trying to prove everyone else wrong, or responding to things that do not elicit a response, then I will have no time left to actually engage when such a discussion would be healthy.


As someone reminded me in a comment a couple of weeks ago, “I’m not important”. This list is not an attempt to say, “I’m important and you need to follow the rules to have an audience with me”. That is not the case at all. This list is meant to be helpful to those that might be asking the same question that I do, “Should I respond to this”? It’s not always wise to hit “reply”. I want to be a responsible writer and I think these categories help.

Today in Blogworld 11.16.12

Four Models of Manhood

Tim Chester wonders whether or not we can diagram what it means to be a godly man. He gives it a shot. And I think he provides a helpful diagram.

12 Social Media Tips for Church Leaders

“If I could hit the rewind button on some of the things I’ve done really badly I would. I’ve seen many church leaders use social media really well. However some pastors and leaders have well, ahem, sucked at it to be honest (myself included at times). Some haven’t understood what social media really is and how to get maximum leverage from it.”

Don’t Sanitize the Psalms

“Unlike the stoic legalist or safe churchman, the psalmist expressed the full range of emotions in worship.” Steve Cornell urges us to not sanitize the Psalms.

The 7 Most Popular Contenders for the Antichrist

People love to guess who the Antichrist is going to be. Joe Carter gives the top 7 choices. Personally, I’m leaning towards David Hasselhoff.

This guy is obviously a witch. Not only did he guess which card I’d be pointing at but he also turned me into a newt. Now to decide on what we ought to do with witches…

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An Idiots Guide to Week 11 #NFL Predictions

I am back to idiot status after a 7 win week. I did, however, do a stellar job on my crazy picks. Doug Martin had 68 yards. It wasn’t quite a last second FG but it was a close one that the Saints squeaked out. Steelers did keep KC in the game. The Chiefs almost pulled off the upset. AP did go for 175 but only 1 TD. Cutler had 2 turnover but only played the first half. And the Browns surprisingly found a way to not lose on their bye week. I’m hoping to get back on track and pull off double digit wins:

Bills over Dolphins
Falcons over Cardinals (close)
Browns over Cowboys (not just wishful thinking)
Lions over Packers (this one is wishful thinking)
Chiefs over Bengals
Jets over Rams
Redskins over Eagles
Panthers over Bucs
Texans over Jaguars
Saints over Raiders
Broncos over Chargers
Patriots over Colts (wouldn’t be shocked by upset)
Ravens over Steelers
49ers over Bears

Fantasy Stud of the Week: Drew Brees
Fantasy Sleeper of the Week: Rashard Mendenhall

Other Crazy Picks:

Browns can’t stop TE’s, Witten goes off 10/114/2 TD’s
Drew Brees threatens to break records
Chiefs D scores 2 TD’s
Tebow plays because of Sanchez injury, leads comeback
Leftwich is servicable, Foles is not
Romo throws 3 picks
250 all purpose yards for LeSean McCoy
2 TD’s for Mendenhall
40 yards for Alfred Morris

Today in Blogworld 11.15.12

Never the Same—The Sawi People 50 Years Later

Stuff like this always stirs me. It is amazing seeing what the gospel does. Watch this video as it shows what 50 years of gospel advancement in a culture will do.

Brothers, Build a Gospel Culture

I’m digging this “Brothers,…” series from DG. Today Ray Ortlund encourages us to create a gospel culture. If you are stirred by Ortlund’s words to do that I would suggest picking up Creature of the Word.

30th Anniversary of Founders Ministries

Tom Ascol reflects on the origin and expansion of Founders Ministries. Happy 30th birthday. I know I have personally been impacted by the labors of Founders Ministries. Not to make me a better Calvinist but to make me a better follower of Jesus.

Don’t Just Share Your Testimony

Randy Newman shows how the Apostle Paul did much more than simply share his testimony. Share what God is doing in your life, absolutely. But do not stop there.

To everyone rockin’ an in-between mustache in Movember…hang in there:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fear-Mongering and Kingdom Loyalties

I read this article today: Texas Megachurch Pastor Says Obama Will ‘Pave Way’ for Antichrist. The money quote for me in that article is this one:

"President Obama is not the Antichrist. But what I am saying is this: the course he is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist."

Jeffress would go on to say that "it is time for Christians to stand up and to push back against this evil that is overtaking our nation" and to do so via "the ballot box

After reading that article on Jeffress I read through Isaiah 8. It’s amazing how fitting this passage of Scripture is to our current political unrest.

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.”

My point in this article is not really even political. I care little about a discussion on Obama, Romney, or any third-party candidate. What I do care about are those professing to be believers being swept up in worldly fear. The “they” in Isaiah 8 is not talking about Gentiles that are not part of the covenant. The “they” in Isaiah 8 is talking about people like the king of Judah that is wringing his hands in fear because two powerhouse nations are now in cahoots and seeking to terrify Judah.

That would be a scary thing. I do not want to minimize that. Nor do I want to minimize the reality of some of the fear that people have for our nation. There are real issues that ought to cause people real concern. The problem is not with the presence of concern. The problem is with what type of fear and concern is present.

Fear-Mongering Reveals Kingdom Loyalties

What Jeffress said is fear-mongering plain and simple. It is the Christianized version of the fear-mongering that takes place on much talk radio. If A happens then B is going to happen and then we’re all in big trouble. Christians get swept up into this and we start to fear the same thing that the world fears.

Is it wrong that I do not fear the Antichrist? Of course I would prefer that I never have to live during the reign of the Antichrist. I would prefer that my children and grandchildren do not either. But I do not fear his mock reign. Because that is all it is—a mock reign. Jesus will never lose His throne. It is to his kingdom that I am aligned. You can take away my American dream, my American economy, my American freedom and comforts, but you cannot take away Jesus. You cannot boot him out of the schools. You cannot boot him out of our nation. He’s not going anywhere.

Such fear-mongering reveals kingdom loyalties. When we “fight for America” through worldly fear-mongering we subtly reveal where our kingdom loyalties lie. The kingdom that we ought to be “fighting for” through loving proclamation is one that is not built by fear. It is built by love. And it is a kingdom in which such fear is not only wrong headed it is called idolatry. Our fear is reserved for our King alone.

Such thinking misunderstands evil as well. The “evil” in our nation is not the result of dirty politics. The “evil” that we are pushing back against isn’t found on the other side of the aisle. It is found in our hearts. Evil cares less about destroying America than it cares about destroying Americans. In the same way Christ did not come to rescue America; he came to rescue Americans…and people from every tribe, people, nation, and tongue.

Isaiah 8 calls us to fear the Lord. Let’s leave the fear-mongering to worldly politicians and ideologues and use our pastorates for proclaiming a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

Today in Blogworld 11.14.12

Why Go to Seminary?

Mark Rogers makes a compelling case for attending seminary. I’ve been thinking a good deal about this lately and Mark’s article is something worth considering. Anybody want to write a counter-point?

Do You Love Controversy or People?

Tremendous article by Dr. Jim Hamilton. “If you love truth and you love people, be prepared to let the truth correct you where you’re wrong. You’re not Jesus. The world’s salvation does not depend on you being right about everything. If you love the truth you’ll want the truth to have its way more than you want to be thought right. If you love people you’ll want them to think what is true more than you want them to think you’ve won the argument.”

How Do I Overcome Sin in My Life?

Michael Patton responds to a readers question and his answer is helpful to us all.

Does My Temperament Make Me Sad?

David Powlison continues a series on the effects of Scripture on mental darkness. In part 3 he looks at the role of temperament on sadness.

Here is what made John Stott excited:

When Your Preaching Leads to Pain

A few months ago for our anniversary my wife and I enjoyed a couples retreat. During this retreat we also enjoyed a couples massage. It was weird. Incredibly weird. But that is a story for a different time. I think our massage lasted for an hour. Though as awkward as the spelling of awkward, it was quite glorious. When our hour was up I  wanted to plead for another fifteen minutes.

Compare this with my trip to the doctor awhile back whenever he had to “work me over” a little. Something was out of whack and he had to contort me like a pretzel, punch me in the kidney, and make me cry like I did when Bambi’s mom got shot. The whole ordeal couldn’t have lasted more than 5-10 minutes but it felt like three hours. When I was finished I couldn’t believe that this meanie pants received money for putting me through such misery.

Preaching and Pain

As I reflected on these two different trips I thought to myself, I sure hope that whenever I preach people have an experience like a massage. I want people to “feel like it lasted about 15 minutes” and leave them begging for more. I never want people to leave on a Sunday morning feeling like they’ve been readjusted by a cruel doctor that has the gentleness of a porcupine.

Or do I…

As I thought a little more about this, I realized that the doctor visit was just as necessary as that massage. (Yes, that massage was necessary as my muscles were tied in a wicked knot). I did not like the doctor’s visit but that does not mean that it was not helpful and necessary. After all if we’re going to have a place for things like lament and deep repentance in the church that means that at times we might leave sore from getting whacked around a little. 

It does not mean that I have not faithfully proclaimed Jesus is somebody leaves the service still smarting. It might mean that. But it does not have to. Occasionally the grace of Jesus is uncomfortable. At times the Spirit of God convicts and tears and rips us to shreds. On occasion even the good news of the gospel aches a little—this is the affliction of the gospel

The Preacher’s Job

As an ambassador of God’s Word it is not my task to determine whether the sermon is a “work over” or a “balm”. (Honestly, it is probably a mixture of the two most of the time). My task is to preach the tone of the text. Before preaching, I always pray that the Lord would heal those that need healed and break those that need broken. That means that I do not get to decide whether I’m a masseuse or a pain-inducing doctor. I am called to be in awe of God and to preach as an overflow of that awe. I am called to stand before people and say, “Thus says the Lord…” Some will be comforted and others will be afflicted. Who belongs to what category is not my job.

Bryan Chapell is correct when he says:

Whether people depart alone or in the Savior’s hand will mark the difference between futility and faith, legalism and true obedience, dogoodism and real godliness.

Preachers are to proclaim Christ and leave hearers in the gracious hands of the Savior. But that is no sure promise that His gracious hands will not use our preaching as a means to chisel and painfully wreck our idols. My prayer is that people would be left in the hands of Jesus—because He knows far better than I whether His sheep need a massage or “worked over”.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

You Make the Illustration: Katsack

Inspired by Charles Spurgeon, a few weeks ago I attempted to launch a new series at Borrowed Light. It took off like a herd of turtles. But I’m still going to continue this whenever I get a chance. I will show you a YouTube clip and you make your own illustrations in the comments. I will share my illustration in a couple of days.

This is a funny one, so you should enjoy it as well. Here you go:

Also, if you have any video clips that you would like us to make an illustration out of email them to me: mike AT fbjasper DOT org.

Today in Blogworld 11.13.12

The Great Tragedy of the 2012 Election

This is very powerful. I don’t want to spoil any of his point so just click on the link and consider Garrett Kell’s powerful article.

Brothers, We Are Not Sisters

Catchy title, helpful article. Doug Wilson will certainly stir up some controversy on this one. Mostly because of who is saying it more so than what is actually being said.

3 Questions to Ask of Your Sermon

Trevin Wax, one of the editors of The Gospel Project, shares three questions they ask of each lesson in the curriculum. Trevin believes we could extend that to preachers as well. I agree.

The 15 Most Fascinating Accidental Inventions

I love articles like this. Here are fifteen things that were created by accident.

Great ways to pay for seminary:

I'm joking of course.

Where Instability Comes From

Have you ever been around someone that has a tendency to go from A to Z faster than a bobcat on an energy drink? You know what I mean. Said person gets stuck in traffic. They then play out the entire litany of consequences that will come from their impending tardiness. In their mind they are about to get fired. Then they will not be able to pay their bills so they will lose their house. The next thing you know the guy is talking about how he will be homeless and eating raw onions out of someone’s garbage can.

A similar thing happened to Ahaz in Isaiah 7. He was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim” and so his heart and the heart of the people “shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind”. He panicked. He went from A to Z at this news. In his mind the kingdom was undone. In his mind the nation was only moments from being destroyed. Never mind the promises that God has made. “You don’t understand, man, Syria plus Ephraim equals absolute disaster”.

This is why the Lord said to him, “be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint…” I also like how the HCSB phrases it, “Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly”. Ahaz was being called to faith in God instead of fear. God gave him a promise that their plans are not going to succeed. He then calls him to trust saying, “If you are not firm in faith you will not be firm at all”.

Balm for Noisy Hearts

When our hearts are noisy, fearful, and depressed like Ahaz it is a sign that we are not trusting in the Lord. A to Z thinking comes from a faulty foundation and a lack of trust. When we fail to trust the Lord everything becomes unstable. We lose our anchor.

In the midst of his fear the Lord graciously gave Ahaz a sign: “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God is with us”. Though fulfilled in Ahaz’s day this promise pointed to an even greater Immanuel. God would literally take upon flesh and be with us. It is to this Immanuel that we place our trust. We rest in this Immanuel as God’s provision and presence.

Are you fearful and depressed? Is your heart noisy? That is a warning sign that your heart has lost its focus on Immanuel. Your instability is evidence that your faith has lost its firmness. You’re believing a different story than the one told by Yahweh.

Yes, Ephraim and Syria are scary. Yes, it seems as if everything is about to go down the tubes and you’re only one bad decision away from eating raw onions out of a garbage can. But in the midst of this we are being called to believe in the God that raises the dead and turns hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He is powerful and can even use our onion-eating moments into joy.

Only in His promise do we find stability.

Monday, November 12, 2012

From Woe to Go

“Woe is me! For I am lost…”

I had a very embarrassing “date” one time. I went with a group of friends to a bowling alley. No, the fact that I went to a bowling alley wasn’t the embarrassing part. What shamed me was the presence of black lights.

When I left my dorm room I looked pretty fly in my black shirt and Levi’s. However, by the time that I got to the bowling alley and found myself under the hateful glare of those black lights I had somehow developed a horrible case of psoriasis, spilled bleach on my pants, and had a stain on my shirt that looked like Gary Coleman leg wrestling an ostrich.

Black lights have a way of exposing flaws that are hidden in regular lights. Every blemish on my clothes screamed out at the crowd to laugh at me. Now I know that only idiots wear black clothes to an event featuring a black light.

Isaiah the prophet had a similar experience (though intensely magnified) in Isaiah 6. Upon his vision of the “King, the LORD of hosts” Isaiah says “Woe is me! For I am lost”. Before this vision Isaiah probably felt himself to be a pretty good chap with a pretty wholesome tongue. But when he finds himself in the penetrating holiness of Yahweh his sinfulness and inadequacy to be in the presence of the Lord is glaringly obvious. Isaiah feels as if he is being ripped asunder. He cannot get low enough. It seems as if everything within him wants to hide but there is no place to go and so he does the only fitting thing—he pronounces a curse upon himself.

When a sinner, like Isaiah, has a true vision of the splendor and majesty of Yahweh his only one fitting response is brokenness and contrition at the ugliness of his sin.

Thankfully, for Isaiah and us, the story does not end there. The Lord in His grace touches Isaiah’s mouth and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for”. Isaiah is clean. Somehow this sinful prophet is able to now stand in the presence of Yahweh. Isaiah is not only confronted with God’s majesty and splendor and terrifying holiness. He is also confronted with God’s life-changing grace.

“Here am I! Send me”

One verse after Isaiah’s cleansing is his commissioning. Notice that in verse 5 when confronted by the Lord’s holiness Isaiah is groveling upon the floor trying to find some portal to escape. He is undone. He does not want to be seen. He wants to be come nothing, to be annihilated if that is possible.

Now notice Isaiah in verse 8. It seems as if he is like the kid in fourth grade that kept raising her hand saying, “pick me, pick me, pick me”! He wants to be noticed. He wants to be used. That is what grace does. It turns brokenness into bold missional fervor.

Yet, I wonder how many of us act as if we are still living in Isaiah 6:5, “woe is me”. There are at least two reasons why we would not have scores of people in our churches saying “here am I! send me”. One is that our God is not big enough. Missional fervor comes after brokenness before the Lord’s presence. It seems to me that God seldom uses people in mighty ways until people become utterly convinced that there is no way that God could possibly use someone as vile and dirty as them.

The second reason why people aren’t shouting out “Here am I! send me” is because we see sin where God sees grace. Some people are convinced that they are vile and dirty and there is no way that God can use them. And so they sit there saying “woe is me”. But if God has taken away your guilt and your sin has been atoned for, you had better not be saying “woe is me”. You aren’t vile and dirty and unable to be used by God. You are redeemed. Therefore, our only fitting response is “Here am I! Send me”. 

God’s powerful grace turns woe into go.

Today in Blogworld 11.12.12

What Your Church Bulletin Says About Your Priorities

Our praying and what we emphasize on our church bulletins reveals whether or not we have God-sized priorities or Jacob-sized priorities. (HT: Trevin Wax)

Did Jesus Turn Water Into Wine or Grape Juice?

The title says it all.

Andrew Fuller Conference Audio Available

My biggest disappointment with not being able to attend SBTS this semester was having to miss Dr. Haykin’s class on Andrew Fuller, as well as this conference. I am glad they have made the audio available.

What We Need Now (And Evermore)

I appreciate this word from Jared Wilson. “Our churches don’t need our political laments. They need our deep, abiding, all-conquering, sin-despairing gospel joy. This and this alone is the hope of the world.”

The Consummation of all Things:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Suggested Resources For Family Ministry

I recently had a dear friend ask me to give him a few resources for implementing a family ministry structure in the church that he pastors. I thought that perhaps others might benefit from the list I provided.


“Our church wants to begin doing family ministry”. That sentence can mean any number of things. The people in your church probably have differing ideas as to what actually constitutes family ministry. That is why you need to have a season where everyone gets on the same page as to what family ministry actually consists of. The most helpful book for doing this is 3 Views of Family Ministry edited by Timothy Paul Jones from the Perspectives Series. (Read my review here).

Though I ultimately embrace a different model, one book that will need to be considered is Voddie Baucham’s Family Driven Faith. Here he makes a strong case for the necessity of family ministry. I prefer the Family-Equipping model and so I believe that Baucham overstates a few things. However, this is a valuable resource in showing the need for doing family ministry.

Another helpful book is Trained in the Fear of God edited by Timothy Paul Jones and Randy Stinson. This books gives theological, historical, and practical reasons for installing a family-equipping ministry model.


If you have everyone on the same page as to what actually constitutes family ministry, and you everyone decides that the family-equipping model is the best option then you will need to figure out how to implement a family ministry strategy. There is no better book for doing this (from a family-equipping perspective) than The Family Ministry Field Guide by Timothy Paul Jones.

Another helpful resource, though honestly I think you only need Jones’ book, is The Family-Friendly Church by Freudenburg and Lawrence. This book will serve as somewhat of a vision casting book. You will see here what other churches are doing to help equip families for a “home-based, church-supported ministry”.

Day to Day:

You’ve got your family ministry up and running. Now what? Here are a few books that I have found helpful in the day to day operations of family ministry:

Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp (excellent resource for parents of teens)
Family Shepherds by Voddie Baucham (excellent resource for dads especially)
A Parent Privilege by Steve Wright (great reminder of the privilege of parents)
Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick (read my review)


I am probably biased on this point. Forgive me. But I do think I am correct. SBTS seems to me to be leading out in the field of family-equipping ministry, thanks in part to the leadership of Timothy Paul Jones. I say this to say keep your eyes open for things coming from SBTS in this field. They are usually pretty high quality and cutting edge in this relatively new perspective on family ministry. One particular resource that you need to subscribe to is Family Ministry Today. This journal will help make you aware of new books in the field of family-equipping ministry as well as various issues that you might have.

Furthermore, I have found the folks at SBTS to be very accessible to the local church. If you have questions that arise during your implementation of family ministry contact the school.

Bottom Line:

If you are lost in all of these suggestions and you really only want to get 1 book get The Family Ministry Field Guide. If you can get two then add the Perspectives book. And be sure to keep an eye on the Family Ministry Today site.

Uncomfortable Grace is Still Grace

I forget if it was college or the latter years of high school. Whenever it was, I prayed something really stupid. You see I looked around at many of my friends that were able to do whatever they wanted to do and it seemed they were able to do it without even a tinge of guilt. Not me. I had what seemed like an angry bear of conviction that would pummel my soul and emotions whenever I would engage in sinful activities. My prayer in that day was that the Lord would simply leave me alone and let me do what I wanted to do without feeling so badly.

Stupid…stupid…stupid prayer. I was basically praying the Lord’s judgment on myself and I did not know it. I was acting like the Lord’s vineyard in Isaiah 5 and praying that the Lord would treat me the same:

    I will make it a waste;
        it shall not be pruned or hoed,
        and briers and thorns shall grow up;
    I will also command the clouds
        that they rain no rain upon it.
(Isaiah 5:6 ESV)

As I read through Isaiah 5 this morning I was reminded of my ignorance. I was painfully reminded that Isaiah 5 ought to be my story. There is absolutely nothing within me that does not deserve to be carried off and banished just as these Israelites were. I deserve for the Lord to not prune me, to lay me to waste, and to have His anger stretched out against me. I even prayed for it.

Thankfully the Lord in His grace disregarded my foolish prayer. He continued to hound me and prune me. He is molding me and shaping me into the creation of His desire. I am a vineyard…a stubborn vineyard…that He is radically dedicated to. Even His dry and painful seasons are meant for my redemption. May I think Him for every moment of His work.

If you are being convicted by the Lord today thank Him for it. Do not be dumb like I was years ago and pray for the Lord to remove His rod of conviction. Thank Him that He is still pruning you. And remember His uncomfortable grace is still grace. 

Today in Blogworld 11.09.12

Cheap eBooks

Adopted for Life by Russell Moore is only $3.03
Modest by Tim Challies and RW Glenn only $2.99
The Mighty Weakness of John Knox by Bond and Lawson only .99

Brothers, Train Up the Next Generation

Ministers cannot afford to only be concerned about finishing their own race.  Mike Bullmore shows us the necessity of training up the next generation.

Did God Choose Barack Obama as President?

Dave Miller asks a very good theological question. I think Dave does an apt job of defending his position (and mine). Honestly, I do not see how a contrary position can be ultimately comforting.

Parenting is Hard for a Reason

Parenting is hard. There is a reason for that. Christina Fox explains.

Concrete buffer gone wild.  I’m not sure why I like this so much:

(HT: Patrick Schreiner)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Slightly Less Than Idiots Guide to Week 10 #NFL Predictions

I changed the title after my stellar 12-2 performance last week.  I missed the Browns upset (almost happened though).  And I was totally off on the Titans surprising the Bears.  Every other game I picked correctly.  I was not so accurate on my other crazy picks—but they are called crazy for a reason.  This week I’m a little less confident in my picks:

Jaguars over Colts
Giants over Bengals
Titans over Dolphins
Lions over Vikings
Patriots over Bills
Saints over Falcons
Chargers over Bucs
Broncos over Panthers
Baltimore over Oakland (last second FG)
Jets over Seahawks (surprising blowout)
Cowboys over Eagles
49ers over Rams (close though)
Texans over Bears (blowout)
Chiefs over Steelers (upset of the week)

Fantasy Stud of the Week: Jamaal Charles
Fantasy Sleeper of the Week: Taiwan Jones

Other Crazy Picks:

Blaine Gabbert has a solid line with 300 passing yards and 3 TD’s
Saints beat Falcons after a last second missed FG
Doug Martin is held to under 60 yards
Jets D/ST scores 2 TD’s
Steelers commit enough dumb turnovers to keep KC in the game
Texans offense is shut down but helped by 3 bad Cutler turnovers
175 and 2TD’s for Adrian Peterson
200 and 2TD’s for Jamaal Charles
The Browns don’t lose
If I am wrong and the Chiefs lose, Romeo Crennel loses his job

Quick Review of Heart of the Matter

I am a big fan of CCEF, the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation.  Several of the books published by those affiliated with CCEF have been life changing. One of the most instrumental books in my walk with Christ has been How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp. But CCEF’s impact on my life does not stop with that book. I have also received marital help, assistance in dealing with issues of shame and abuse, training in counseling others, and much more. 

All of the writers affiliated with CCEF are very good at exposing our sinful tendencies. Reading these books will rip you open and expose you.  But it never stops there. In as much as they tear they also heal with gospel balm. They never leave you on your own to deal with your problems. Change is always found in a person; namely Jesus Christ. The folks at CCEF are very faithful in pointing to Jesus.

With my love for CCEF it will be no surprise for you to hear that I was excited about Heart of the Matter. This book is a compilation of sections from other CCEF books put into a daily devotional format. Each day the reader is given a Bible verse and a brief devotional related to that passage.

Everything You Need

One of my favorite things about CCEF is that they believe that God has given us everything that we need for life and godliness in the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in His Word. That is essentially what this book is about. Every day the reader is given a devotional that relates to various life situations. I believe that a year in this book would convince the reader that they have in Christ everything they need for the situations that life throws at them. In fact, they’ll probably come to discover that it is not merely “life” that is throwing things at them but the God of grace. 

There are a variety of topics included in this book: love, hope, grace, redemption, faith, contentment, conflict, relationships, prayer, fear, patience, humility, and anger. Not everything is covered but the reader is given a framework for relating the gospel to everyday life.

Should You Buy It?

I plan to use this as a daily devotional in January. I would not suggest only using this book, though. It does not have in depth study of the various texts. This book is valuable in application. I would suggest taking the passage at the top of each day, studying it a little, chewing on it, thinking and praying through it, and then reading the devotional that goes along with the text to drive home gospel application. 

The book is retailing at $19.99 which is not a bad price.  I imagine that it will go down as the book becomes more readily available at online stores like Amazon. Yet, even if it does not 20 bucks is not a horrible price for a book that you will use all year. 

I believe you would benefit from reading this book. 


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