Saturday, May 31, 2008


A while back, when I checked my blog's reading level, I was rated as "post-college." I didn't rank as "genius," but I was happy nonetheless. Maybe I was feeling a bit prideful, too. Today I came back to reality. When I checked this morning, my blog had plummeted to "high school." Ouch. I'm not sure of the scientific nature (or lack thereof) of this scale, but it has knocked me down a few notches on the pride-o-meter. That's probably a good thing.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church

I realize this book has been out for a while (2004), but I finally got around to reading Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. The main reason I read the book is that I like the author, Mark Dever, and wanted to see what he has to say in this important text.

I call this text "important" because Dever challenges us all to take a hard look at the churches we are a part of. He suggests nine marks or characteristics that healthy churches will have. Dever does not say that these are the only characteristics of healthy churches, or that a healthy church has to have all of these. He is simply saying that these nine marks are a good measure of the health of a church.

The nine marks are:
1. Expositional Preaching
2. Biblical Theology
3. The Gospel
4. A Biblical Understanding of Conversion
5. A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
6. A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership
7. Biblical Church Discipline
8. A Concern for Discipleship and Growth
9. Biblical Church Leadership

The reality today is that when we look at the bible and then look at our churches, we see some similarities and many differences. The focus in many churches almost always seems to be on the latest fads or gimmicks to get people in the front door. The farther we stray from the bible, the less we impact the world like the early church did.

Dever has a desire to be biblical. Because of that, he has suggested these nine points in particular. All of these marks are taken from scripture and point the church back to the bible. Some churches practice some of these, but few practice all of them. For example, today you can find a good number of churches that preach expositionally, hold to biblical theology, and teach and believe the gospel. However, there are far fewer churches that have a biblical understanding of church membership, practice church discipline, or have biblical church leadership. I realize I am writing through my Southern Baptist lens, but I think I am correct.

If you have an interest in the church, and in church health in particular, then this book would be a good investment for you. It will make you thankful for where your church is biblical, and will challenge you to strive for change where it is needed.

If you don't want to buy the book, but are still interested in the information, try visiting the IX Marks website (click here). At the top of the web page, simply click on any of the nine circled numbers to learn a great deal about the nine marks.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Still Haven't Met a Hyper-Calvinist

With all the consternation in the SBC over Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism, it seems that it would be easy to find folks of both these persuasions in the convention. I'm a Calvinist and I've met many other Calvinists. However, I've never met a Hyper-Calvinist. In all my time in various SBC churches, at an SBC seminary, and on the mission field, I've never run across even one person who claims to be a Hyper-Calvinist.

Let's set a few definitions as we proceed. Calvinists (also known as "Reformed" or holding to the "Doctrines of Grace"), in a nutshell, believe that God is completely sovereign over all things, including salvation. Calvinists also believe that all Christians should spread the gospel.

Hyper-Calvinists also believe that God is sovereign over salvation. However, they do not believe that Christians should share the gospel. They believe this somehow dishonors God because He elects whomever He chooses.

Therefore, evangelism is the primary difference between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism.

Based on what I have seen and heard in my travels, I'm beginning to think that there are actually very few people who are Hyper-Calvinists. To all those who are denouncing Hyper-Calvinism, where are they all? I can't find them.

Even at seminary, where I ran into students with wide-ranging beliefs on the definition of church, missions, evangelism, discipleship, etc., I never met even one Hyper-Calvinist.

(By the way, Fred Phelps doesn't count because it is clear that he is not even regenerate.)

My greatest frustration with this entire issue is that some of the opponents of Calvinism within the SBC often confuse Calvinism with Hyper-Calvinism. Whether or not this confusion is deliberate I do not know. What we often hear is simply a straw man argument. The purpose in all of this seems to be a desire to make Calvinists look unbiblical; it is easy to do that when it is claimed that Calvinists are anti-evangelism and/or anti-missions.

We know, based on the historical record, that true Calvinists are missions-minded (or "missional," to use the new trendy word.) Great men like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, and Adoniram Judson were all Calvinists and believed in sharing the gospel.

The same is true today. We all know that John Piper is a Calvinist; he is also a strong supporter of missions. In fact, his book on missions, entitled Let the Nations Be Glad, is the best book on that topic I have ever read.

So where are all these Hyper-Calvinists? I still haven't met one.

To all those opposing Calvinism, please don't confuse us with those who don't share the gospel.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Journeying through Philippians

Over the past three Sundays, I have had the opportunity to begin preaching through Paul's letter to the Philippians. What a joy it has been!

Let me back up a bit. In the summer of 2004, while in seminary, I took a class from Dr. David Black on Philippians. This book is one of his specialties. Since he is a master-teacher of Greek, it was a thrill. During the class, we mainly used the English text, but Dr. Black couldn't help but break into the Greek once in a while. That class helped me to see just how wonderful this little letter to the Philippian church really is.

During the 2005-2006 school year, I took a class in expository preaching. Our focus during the first semester was Philippians. We discussed Paul's primary reason for writing the letter, what the main themes are, what the structure of the letter is, how to break it down into preaching segments, and how to preach through it. The entire experience was an excellent one for me.

Now, to have the chance to preach this letter at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church (near Savannah, GA) is a great privilege. It's also a lot of fun.

In looking at chapter one of Philippians, it is interesting to see where Paul's focus lies. After an initial greeting (1:1-2) to the church, Paul discusses his prayers for them and then prays for them. Before anything else in this letter, Paul shows his care for his brothers and sisters in Christ by lifting them up to the Lord (1:3-11).

We clearly see Paul's emphasis on the importance of prayer.

After his prayer, Paul talks about how the gospel is spreading in Rome, in part, because of his imprisonment there. He does not appear to be upset by his sufferings. Instead, he is thrilled to see both the gospel flourishing and the Roman church getting bolder in witnessing (1:12-18).

We clearly see Paul's emphasis on the proclamation of the gospel.

In verses 19-26, Paul discusses his driving force in life. Quite simply but also profoundly, he tells the Philippians and us that Christ is why he does what he does. Verse 21 could almost be a life verse for Paul. I love the literal translation of verse 21; it says, "For to me, to go on living Christ, and to die gain."

We clearly see Paul's emphasis on doing everything we do for Christ.

Verse 27 signals an important transition in the letter. Paul gives his first command. Using political language that the residents of a Roman colony would understand well, he literally tells them to be good citizens of the kingdom of God. Their behavior ought to be worthy of the gospel of Christ. He goes on to tell them that they do this by striving for unity, living courageously, and suffering graciously (1:27-30).

We clearly see Paul's emphasis on the importance of living in a manner that honors the gospel of Christ.

Chapter 2:1-4 is as far as I have preached so far. In these verses, Paul tells the Philippian church how to be united. It's clear based on several parts of this letter that the church was struggling with lack of unity (see 4:2). Paul tells them that if they seek the good of their brothers and sisters in Christ before their own, then they will be united. It is not a difficult concept to comprehend, just a tough one to live out day to day.

We clearly see Paul's emphasis on unity.

I'm very much looking forward to preaching the next section of the letter, the great Christ Hymn of 2:5-11.

What a privilege it is to preach the word! Getting to study and preach through books of the bible is a treasure beyond description.

Let me encourage you to study systematically through books. It will stretch you and make you learn new things all the time.

I Still Don't Understand the Internet - But I Like It

I have come to the somewhat humbling conclusion that I will never really understand the internet. I'm sure there are some smart people somewhere who do comprehend it, but that group does not include me.

Despite my ignorance, I have to admit that I do like the internet. It is amazing to be able to communicate with others all around the globe. In fact, that is one of the best reasons to have a blog - you get to discuss all sorts of things with people from all over.

The above map shows where people live who have looked at this blog. I realize that some of those hits were mistakes such as Google searches for "how to hammer a nail." However, to my continued amazement, there are some people who routinely return to this blog. For those who do, thank you!

For me personally, the best part of having a blog is being able to write about what I am thinking. Let's face it, in our busy and hurried world, we often do not take time to think through things at a deep level. Having a blog forces (or at least should force) you to do that. From that perspective, it wouldn't really bother me if no one read this blog. It is advantageous to simply be able to write.

Some people write in journals with paper and pen. That's great, but I can't stand it. For whatever reason, I much prefer the computer. So maybe this blog is a sort of journal. I don't really know.

Let me encourage you to blog. It will force you to think through what may be bouncing around in your mind. I will improve, at least a bit, your writing skills. It will give you a little time to sit down and stop hurrying around. You may even get comments from other parts of the globe.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Preachers - Beware Pride at All Costs

"I really enjoyed it."

"Thank you so much."

"That was a great sermon."

"You really spoke to me."

"I love your preaching."

These are some of the things preachers hear from well-meaning people after they have spoken. In fact, I've heard just about all of these.

I currently have the opportunity to preach twice each Sunday and lead prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. I'm thankful to God for allowing me to do this. After each sermon, I try to greet the people as they exit the building. Most folks want to say something nice about the sermon. There is no problem with that.

The problem lies with me, in my heart. After hearing all of those nice words, there is a big temptation to think I am something special. I can sometimes sense insidious thoughts creeping around in my head - prideful thoughts. After listening to compliments, I have to be careful not to begin thinking that my speaking ability is excellent, outstanding, tremendous, fabulous, and amazing, etc. I could easily begin thinking that I am the next John MacArthur, John Piper, or Alistair Begg.

The reality is that I am nothing special. In fact, unless God speaks when I'm in the pulpit, nothing good is going to happen. Frankly, this is the case when anyone is preaching and teaching.

Pride is such an insidious danger. I'm reminded of verses such as these:

Genesis 3:6 "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate." Pride is implied in Eve's desire to be wise.

Proverbs 16:18 "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

Proverbs 29:23 "A man's pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor."

1 John 2:16 "For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world. "

Pride is a (if not THE) cause of much sin. It is the ultimate dethroning of God in our minds and replacement of ourselves on the throne. It is us saying we are the cause of the good that has occurred. When we remember just how corrupt we are (click here for more on that), then we realize what blatant idolatry pride really is.

So what should we do when faced with this dilemma? When I'm feeling prideful, I first quickly repent. I also remind myself that anything good that happens in the pulpit comes directly from God. Anything bad comes from me.

On top of that, I think about verses such as James 4:6, which says, "But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'"

Let us all, no matter what our circumstances, resist pride and cling to God, the only source of good.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I'm Glad to See This

A few weeks ago I posted about a great new book for teenagers, by teenagers. It is entitled Do Hard Things.

I'm glad to see that my 14-year-old daughter, Caroline, is also enjoying this book. In fact, she posted about it on her blog. You can read her thoughts here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Two Good Little Books

After voyaging (and often slogging) through vast theology books in seminary, I now find it very refreshing to read relatively short, simple, straightforward books. I enjoy direct, everyday speech like people ordinarily use. When I sense that the author is having a conversation with me, I know I am going to like the book. I've recently read two books like this.

Living the Cross Centered Life, by C. J. Mahaney, is a fun book that focuses on the meaning of the gospel and how we are to live it out. Mahaney repeatedly makes the point that we should never get over the wonder of the gospel. He stresses that this should be the primary message of the church. Based on reading just one book of his, I can see that Mahaney is a down-to-earth man who has never gotten over how amazing it is that God has saved him. He gives examples from his own life before and after he was saved to illustrate this point.

Some books discuss the gospel as if it were just about something that took place 2000 years ago. The authors somehow manage to reduce the glorious message of Christ's saving grace to just a few theological constructs. Not so Mahaney. This book reads like a conversation. As you read it, you will feel like you are sitting down with him, drinking coffee, and talking about what sinners we are and what a merciful Savior we have.

This book will encourage and inspire you to take a fresh look at the gospel.

Speaking of the gospel, the second book I recently finished is entitled The Gospel & Personal Evangelism, by Mark Dever. As an author, Dever is primarily known for writing various books on church polity and church health. However, in this text he deals with what the title says - the gospel and evangelism. He tackles various questions such as "What is the Gospel?" "How should we evangelize?" "What should we do after we evangelize" and "Why should we evangelize?"

Like Mahaney's book, Dever writes as if he is having a conversation with the reader. Using examples from his life as an agnostic and as a Christian, he discusses reasons that we don't evangelize and encourages us to do so.

This book would be good for any Christian to read. It is simple, biblically-driven, and easy to get through. Warning: it will challenge you to look at your own practice of evangelism. It is convicting to hear Dever explain evangelism as something that ought to be a regular part of our lives instead of a practice we do at a certain time of the week.

I just realized that these two authors are also two of the four founders of Together for the Gospel. Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan are the others. I also see that Mohler wrote the forward to Mahaney's book, and Mahaney wrote the forward to Dever's book.

On a related note, take a look at this. Piper's Swans are Not Silent series is excellent.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Beaten to the Punch

I was going to write about something interesting that has happened to our family, but my wife Alice beat me to the punch. Since there is no reason for duplication, click here to read what she wrote and what I was thinking about writing.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Our Family

This is a recent photo of our family. My wife Alice is on the left, while Caroline (14) and Mary (11) are on the right. Bobby (9) is on the bottom. I appear to be presiding in the back.

This picture was taken while we took part in a Camp Sunshine retreat for cancer patients/survivors and their families. We spent most of a weekend at the New Ebenezer Retreat Center about 30 minutes from here. We are thrilled to now be over one year past chemotherapy for Bobby (read more about that here). Thank the Lord!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

"The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World"

I've decided to begin posting BRIEF reviews whenever I complete a book. Personally, I do not like long book reviews. I want it short and to the point, so that's the way I'm going to do it.

Yesterday I completed "The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World."

The title of this book is a bit misleading because it suggests that it is all about Martin Luther. That is not the case. In fact, only one chapter in nine focuses on the German Reformer.

This book is a quick (about 150 pages) and fun look at the primary characters of the Reformation. Stephen Nichols, professor at Lancaster Bible College, does an excellent job of making the story of the Reformation come to light. Nichols writes in such a manner that the reader feels like he is reading a story. That's why I was able to finish this book in just a few days.

This text has eight chapters. After the introductory chapter, Nichols focuses one chapter each on Luther, the Swiss Reformers, the Anabaptists, John Calvin, the British Reformation, the Puritans, and the women of the Reformation.

If you are looking for an in-depth study of the Reformation, this is not the book. If you are looking for obscure details about any Reformer in particular, this is not the book. However, if you are looking for a fun read that gives a broad overview of the main participants in the Reformation, then this is the book for you.

"The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World" is published by Crossway Books.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Unity Without Relativism - Some Suggestions

The bible is clear that God desires unity for His church.

As Christians, we have unity in Jesus Christ.

When we discuss subjects such as unity, disagreement, and doctrine, a large dose of humility is a key.

Scriptural authority and truth are of great importance. We should always test our beliefs and practice by comparing them to scripture.

How do we deal with this? How can we have unity without falling prey to relativism? I certainly do not have a step-by-step process (nor do I think one exists), but I do have some suggestions. Some of these may have come from your comments.

-We need to move beyond thinking that theological differences automatically mean that we should separate. In my denomination (SBC), we have a tendency to argue over just about anything and everything. This should not be the case.

-We should pray earnestly for the unity of the body.

-When we disagree on an issue, we should pray that God will keep us united as we discuss it.

-We must accept the fact that we can be incorrect. I'm not suggesting relativism, but rather humility.

-Keeping Galatians 1:8-9 in mind, we should look at whether or not the subject of disagreement in any way harms the gospel message (not the truth of the gospel, but our proclamation of it).

-As believers, we ought to search the scriptures together, with humble and truth-seeking attitudes, desiring to discern exactly what the bible teaches about what is disagreed upon.

-If we cannot agree, we are left in a difficult spot. For most of us, this seems to be the crux of the issue. What do we do in these situations?

I have a suggestion. I realize my answer may not please very many of you, but here it is anyway: when we come to a place where we cannot agree due to biblical convictions and conscience, I propose that we remain united in spirit, but not gather on a regular basis for worship and mutual edification. In other words, we remain united with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we only gather with those who are like-minded on certain core issues. What are those issues? Beyond the gospel, I think there are probably not very many of them. This is where scripture and conscience will have to decide.

In my case there are a few issues that would keep me from gathering with other believers for regular worship services if we were in disagreement. Those issues (stated in the positive) are the truth of scripture, the authority of scripture, believer's baptism, male elder/pastors, one man-one woman marriages, and spiritual gifts being used for the edification of the body. There may be a few more, but I can't think of them at the moment.

I consider myself to be united with all other Christians as I go about my life. I'm excited to meet and talk with anyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ. We share a special bond that I do not have with non-believers. However, this does not mean that I will automatically join with this person in a local church. I would first want to find out what he believes about the above issues.

Let's take an example - baptism. In general, Christians either believe that it is biblical and good for infants to be baptized, or it is unbiblical for infants to be baptized. I do not see how these two positions can be reconciled within the local church. No one has ever explained it to me. Are those who find no biblical support for infant baptism (like me) supposed to support parents who baptize their infants? Is this good in order to keep unity?

R. C. Sproul is one of my modern-day heroes. He is one of my two favorite writers (John Piper is the other). He is a strong Christian man. I hope I grown in Christ to be like Sproul someday. However, if you know anything about him, you know that Sproul is a big proponent of infant baptism. How could we have church together? I'm still waiting for someone to explain this to me.

I heartily support the unity of the body of Christ. However, holding to our biblical convictions is also important. Humbly accepting the fact that we are fallible creatures, we ought to strive for unity with all other Christians. However, this should not be unity at all costs. God's commands for us to be united do not suggest complete unity (uniformity) no matter what.

This is certainly a difficult issue to work through. Let's remain united in spirit with all Christians. However, let's also let scripture and conscience lead us in deciding which doctrines are worth standing up for.

As always, please let me know what you think. Thanks.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Unity Without Relativism: Is It Possible?

We know from the bible that God wants a united church. For example, Jesus says in John 17:20-21, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me."

When we search scripture, the only place we are told to divide is over the gospel itself. In Galatians 1:8-9, Paul writes,"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed."

In light of the above verses, it seems that Christians should not divide over issues that are secondary to the gospel. These might include the authority of scripture, the truth of scripture, baptism, the Lord's Supper, women's role in ministry (especially the pastorate), God's sovereignty vs. man's free will, spiritual gifts (especially speaking in tongues), etc.

However, if we say that the above issues are not worth standing up for, then it also seems that we are, in essence, saying that they really don't matter and that whatever someone believes about these is fine. How do we avoid how relativistic this seems?

So, is it possible to be united as a church without falling into relativism on everything but the gospel itself?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I am increasingly disturbed by the ridiculous number of denominations we have in Protestantism. I long for unity within the church. However, I also long for the church to be as biblical as possible in all areas, not just unity.

I'm going to share my thoughts on this in a few days (I doubt that it will be anything earth-shattering), but I would like to get your ideas first. Can the church be united without falling into relativism? If your answer is "yes," please tell how and be specific. If your answer is "no," please tell what hope we have for obeying Christ's commands for his church to be one.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Some Good News

I received some good news this week for which I want to praise the Lord. For the next few months, I will be preaching and teaching scripture on a regular basis at a local church.

Let me back up a bit. Back in February I was asked to fill the pulpit at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church, near Savannah, GA. We live about fifteen minutes from the church building. Since that time, I have preached there fifteen times. The church members have been very welcoming and kind to our entire family. The church is currently in the dreaded "pastoral search process." I have met with them about this, and am one of the candidates.

The leadership of Chevis Oaks has asked me to preach twice on Sundays and lead their Wednesday night prayer meetings for the foreseeable future; that means until they have decided upon a pastor. That pastor could be me, but maybe not. I'm just happy for the opportunity to preach and teach God's Word.

Today at Chevis Oaks I preached about hope in Christ from I Peter 1:3-5, and later preached about worry from Matthew 6:25-34. I thank God for this opportunity.

It will certainly make for a busy schedule. I am now working 40 hours per week retreading tires, and will be adding sermon preparation and delivery to that. This will be a challenge, but I look forward to it.

Thanks for your prayers. Although our future is still up in the air, we know that God controls it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"Do Hard Things"

I enjoy reading. In fact, I'm reading much of the time that I don't have to be doing something else. One of the best books I have read in a long time, and which I highly recommend, is "Do Hard Things." The most interesting thing about this book is that it is written by teenagers.

This book was recently written by Alex and Brett Harris, younger twin brothers of Joshua Harris, who is probably best known for his book, "I Kissed Dating Good-Bye." Alex and Brett are home-schooled young men who are tired of seeing the teen years wasted. Instead, they challenge teens to use the years from 13-18 as a time of launching into adulthood. They speak a lot about this on their website.

In "Do Hard Things," the Harris twins challenge teens (and adults) to rebel against low expectations. They set the bar high and go after it. This is a very encouraging read for anyone, but in particular for teens and parents of teens. It is a breath of fresh air in our culture. I don't read quickly, but I devoured this text in just a couple of days. I wish I had read this book when I was twelve years old.

May God raise up more teens to challenge the status quo! May our churches encourage this!

Thursday, May 1, 2008