Sunday, November 29, 2009


As a pastor, I'm not usually sitting home on Sunday mornings. However, I was very ill yesterday and today I was still recovering, so I found myself at home.

I was alone, because Cheryl and Cullen headed off to church. So I decided to spend time in private worship which, I admit, was very refreshing. Instead of preaching to others today, the Lord had a different plan: that I would spend some time enjoying Him. And that's what I was able to do.

Here's what I read:

"You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound." (Psalm 4:7)

Did you catch that? What a great verse!

In my younger years, I wanted so badly to be "used by God." Yes, I wanted to know him (Philippians 3), but I had a strong desire to accomplish something for him. There's a whole lot of selfish ambition in that, isn't there?

But lately my prayer, more often than not, has been to simply enjoy the Lord. I know that if I enjoy the Lord everything else falls into place. This is my prayer for myself and for my family.

Also, our accomplishments (or perceptions of them) don't sustain us in the challenging times. Only the joy of the Lord has the power to overwhelm the anxieties and trials of life--not that life becomes a breeze, but we have a place of solitude in our heart when all else fails.

Lord, please lead me to enjoy you more, and to enjoy you most.

"Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:38)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Specificity: the key to joy.

I've continued considering practical ways to apply the gospel to my own life. The problem I run into, is that the popular phrase "preach the gospel to yourself daily," is somewhat vague.

First, the word "preach" is probably not the best word, because most people are not preachers. And even though I am a preacher, I very rarely preach to myself. I think to myself. Sometimes I talk to myself. But I almost never preach to myself.

Second, most of us conceive of the gospel as a short message of the good news. So, in trying to obey the above advice, I would sit down and review the basics in my mind... Man was created good, fell into sin, lost fellowship with God, God sent Jesus, perfect life, died on cross, man saved by faith. And while this is, in some sense, a summary of the gospel message (a poor one), I rarely found it helpful. This practice of daily self-preaching wasn't having the impact on my life that people said it was supposed to have.

Then I learned this. I don't need to simply review the outline of the gospel daily, instead I need to actually apply the gospel to my life. And I need to apply it in very specific ways. For example, say one evening I am convicted of sin. Perhaps I realize that I have been arrogant and rude towards my wife (not that that would ever happen). As soon as the Holy Spirit brings this to mind, I have an opportunity to apply the gospel to a particular situation. I need to repent of this sin, both to God and to my wife, and then remind myself Jesus always loved his family members perfectly. And because I am united to Christ by faith, the perfect obedience of Jesus is counted by God as being MY obedience. And the punishment for my sinful treatment of my family members was paid by Jesus on the cross. So the gospel tells me that my sin has been dealt with, and that I am accepted by God on the basis of Jesus' obedience, which by faith is mine.

In this way I can apply the gospel to my life without vagueness. I am convicted of, and repent of my sins, trust Christ for my salvation, and am again assured of my own salvation despite my continued sinfulness. This fends off legalism and works righteousness because I am continually leaning on Christ. It fends off license because the acts of contrition remind me that Jesus suffered because of my sinfulness.

Also, the more I do this, the more my eyes are opened to see how much more I need to do it... in the words of Jim Elliot, "Confession of pride suggested by David Brainerd’s Diary yesterday - must become an hourly thing with me." And not just confession, but gospel application!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Mall Cop in us all.

Last night Aubrey and I finished off our Thanksgiving festivities by watching Paul Blart: Mall Cop. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I like Kevin James' silly slapstick humor. And Aubrey liked it too, which surprised me a little bit.

[Some plot details ahead]

Paul Blart is a hapless Mall Cop who dreams of being a state trooper. He is overweight, unlucky in love, and rides a segue around the mall, deterring petty theft, and mediating insignificant arguments. Until one year, on Black Friday (appropriately enough), the mall is overtaken by terrorists. Blart alone is left on the inside, the only one who can attempt to play the hero.

I imagine this is the dream of every mall cop. Sure, for now they are the lowest rung on the law enforcement ladder, but someday something truly significant will go down at their mall, and they will have to call upon all their training, and all their segue riding skills, and they will be a hero.

As a small church pastor its easy to feel like a mall cop. As a small, country church pastor I have the lowest rung on the ministerial ladder. No one downloads my podcasts (I don't even have a podcast), I don't get asked to speak at theological conferences, most of the pastors in my own presbytery don't even know where our church is. But this is wrong, an attempt to seek my significance in all the wrong places.

I need to remind myself of these encouraging words (found, of all places, in BCO 47-2):
A service of public worship is not merely a gathering of God's children with each other, but before all else, a meeting of the triune God with His chosen people. God is present in public worship not only by virtue of the Divine omnipresence but, much more intimately, as the faithful covenant Savior.

A meeting of the triune God with His chosen people. Perspective restored. Its not about the size of your mall, but the faithful covenant Lord who calls you to serve there.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sermons by the Second Guy

I regularly download sermons by Matt Chandler, a high profile guy out in Dallas. I appreciate his heart, his humor, and his good theology.

He was apparently on a break from his pulpit recently because the recent downloads were by two other guys—Adam Thomason and Beau Hughes. These guys are campus pastors, which in the age of megachurches means they probably speak once a month to people who are expecting to hear the marquee guy.

I was encouraged by each of these sermons and commend them to you. But first, let me tell you what these number twos did well.

1. They did not apologize for not being the marquee guy. I’ve heard some people speak from megachurch pulpits and basically say, “Sorry, it’s just me.” But that’s not the worst part; the worst part is that they go on to try to imitate the other guy. Which leads to the next point.

2. They did not try to be the marquee guy. And why should they? The only reason would be to please the crowds. Yet God has called them to preach God’s word faithfully, according to their own gifts and personality. Yet I’ve heard some number twos make the mistake of (consciously or not) imitating the marquee guy’s humor, mannerisms, or ethos. It sounds canned.

Most importantly:

3. They spoke from a deep place. (This is my wife’s phrase, by the way.) Both these messages thoughtfully, profoundly, and pastorally applied God’s word. You’ll have to hear them. These guys clearly meditated on God’s word, applied it to their own deepest needs, and shared what they learned. And so, without fanfare… they brought it.

All preachers are ultimately number two guys. We are not Jesus. While a few big names such as John the Baptist will be occasionally confused with the Messiah, the vast majority of us won’t. Yet God chooses to use pastors and preachers to bring Jesus to the congregation. This can only happen if we let Jesus work in us and through us, without pretense or apology.

* * *

Note: The sermons are found on iTunes (Village Church audio) or here and are dated 11-08-09: Adam Thomason's sermon is entitled "Our Greatest Idol" and Beau Hughes's is "The Age of Anxiety."

For more information on "Bringin' it," click here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't (merely) Preach the Gospel to Yourself

I really liked Jeff’s previous post, and was eager to post some reflections on it. Especially on the line, “If I focus too much on my sinfulness it turns me into a legalist.”

So consider it a compliment that I wish to begin, or hijack, the question of “how do I preach the gospel to myself” with the following suggestion:


Well, let’s rephrase that. How about this:

Don’t merely preach the gospel to yourself.

John the Apostle wrote, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

James wrote, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). The following verses are pretty strong too.

Here’s what I’ve been learning lately: Our growth in the gospel will be severely stunted if we do not have others who are mirroring Jesus Christ to us through their forgiveness and surprising acceptance. And the only way we know we are really, truly accepted by another is when they see our sin and, wow, still like us.

Our tendency is to hide our real self from others. Little do we know just how much this corrodes the soul, for it ultimately reinforces our self-righteousness. It is a desire to appear together before others in order to maintain their approval, and this will manifest itself also in how we approach God.

We need some—many?—relationships, beginning with our spouse if we are married, which are intense enough that they require confession and forgiveness.

Of course, this goes both ways. Jesus also said, quite famously, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

So don’t merely preach the gospel to yourself. Hear it from others, when and where it counts. And preach it to others in the act of forgiveness so that you can pray with a straight face, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive those who are indebted to us.”

Put another way: "If I seek to hide from others my sinfulness, it turns me into a legalist."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Three truths recently learned

1. We are saints. So says the Bible (Eph 1:2, et passim). This does not mean that my life is particularly noteworthy for my good deeds, or even that my good deeds outweigh my bad. It means that I am united to Christ by faith. I am united to him in such a vital way that his obedience is counted as my obedience. His death is counted as paying for my sins. I am seated with him in the heavenly places, so that when God looks at me, who does he see? He sees Jesus. This is why I am accepted by God, and why that acceptance is secure. We are saints (i.e. holy) because Jesus is holy.

2. Nevertheless, I often feel more like a sinner. And its true, I do still sin. A lot. As they say, simul justus et peccator. The problem is that when my heart feels like I am a sinner, then I find myself trying to earn God's favor. That can't be done.

3. The only way to strike a healthful balance in my life between my identity as a saint, and the reality of my sinfulness is to apply the gospel to myself everyday. If I focus too much on my sinfulness it turns me into a legalist. If I focus too much on my sainthood, I will tend towards license and probably pride. But if I preach the gospel to myself daily, and actively apply it to specific areas of my life, then I can keep both truths in their proper place. This leads to humility. Not to mention love, and joy, and peace, and patience, etc.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hebrew Mnemonic #1: The Moose

As you no doubt figured out, the title of this blog is a mnemonic device. When Ken and I were in seminary, we spent countless hours together studying Hebrew vocabulary, and coming up with mnemonics to help us remember it. I have many fond memories of those days! And "The moose are in need of reproof" has always been one of my favorite mnemonics.

The Hebrew word musar means 'reproof, correction, discipline,' so its no stretch to see where the mnemonic comes from. And Ken, artist that he is, had quite a clever accompanying sketch of an adolescent moose trying to hide the fact that he had just sent a baseball through a window. Boy, that moose was in need of reproof!

The word musar only appears 50 times in the OT, 30 of which are in Proverbs. Which means, lexically speaking, its a pretty scarce word. But theologically speaking it is a high octane word, packing some real theological punch. Consider the following.

Proverbs 3:11 My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline (musar) or be weary of his reproof (different word), for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

Here Solomon tells us that the LORD exercises discipline with those whom he loves. And when the Lord disciplines us, we know it is a sign that he is treating us like sons. In this sense, we are all "in need of reproof" and the process of being reproved is a part of the Holy Spirit working in our lives for our sanctification and growth in holiness. Many of us are familiar with these encouraging words as they are cited in Hebrews as well.

But there is also another side to musar. Note this familiar passage:
Isaiah 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement (musar) that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

Whereas in Proverbs, musar commonly refers to the ongoing discipline in the believers life, here in Isaiah it refers to the once for all act of Jesus bearing the chastisement of the Lord in our place. These two uses of musar, as ongoing discipline, and as once for all punishment, are theologically quite distinct, but able to be covered by the same Hebrew word.

More and more I am convinced that a prerequisite for spiritual maturity is the ability to clearly distinguish these two senses. Let me explain.

Last week I was eating breakfast with a friend from church. He asked me this: "Do you believe that God punishes us for the bad things we do?" To which I answered, "No, I believe that God punished Jesus for the bad things we do." And that's true. Every bad thing I've done, or will do, has been dealt with through the death of Jesus. And for this reason my relationship with God is secure. This is the Isaiah 53 sense.

But there is also a Proverbs 3 sense. Everyone who has been adopted by God as his son or daughter receives the grace of his fatherly discipline. It is only because we have been accepted by God, that we have the opportunity to learn and grow in our relationship with him.

Once we learn to accept the Lord's fatherly discipline as an act of His love, we are able to humble ourselves, and grow in grace. If, however, we think that God is judging us for the sin in our lives, it will only work itself out in fear and a subtle theology of works. Keeping these two sense of musar in line is a necessary step in deftly and aptly applying the gospel to our own lives.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Lord Thinks We're Crazy (Part Two)

This is part two of an emerging manifesto. To read part one, scroll down...

Here’s the verse that changed everything for me:

“By this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jesus in John 13:35).

I used to wonder whether Jesus’ statement was realistic. I never want to be on the other side of an issue from Jesus, but in the back of my mind I wondered: Would unbelievers really be affected at a deep level by seeing fellow Christians treat each other kindly? Is the love within a church really as important as, say, correct doctrine?

I’ve learned that the answer to those questions is certainly “yes!”

But I also learned something recently that I think we often miss: When Jesus was speaking these words, he was speaking to his disciples. These were to be the leaders of the church following Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus was speaking these words to church leaders! He was speaking to the disciples who would become the apostles who would carry the gospel across the globe. Peter hung out in Jerusalem; Philip was sent to Ethiopia; Thomas went to India.

This means that in order for outsiders to see that we really follow Jesus, we need to love each other not only within our churches but across the whole spectrum of churches within the community (and world, for that matter). Pastors need to love other pastors, congregations need to love other congregations, denominations need to love other denominations. We can’t be in competition or assume the worst about one another—which we do, whenever we take the approach that “our way” is what is “truly needed.”

I'm speaking here about the competition that often takes place between one Bible-believing church and another. I am not talking about sheep being in competition with wolves; we should not unite with wolves who deny the basics of the gospel. But sadly, I find (in my own heart and elsewhere) a tendency to be suspicious of those who are even mildly different - or who threaten our territory.

Think about it. How many people don’t even bother with church because they pass 100 different churches and they have no idea “who’s right and who’s wrong”? They do not perceive us as working together and communicating the same message, and as a result they just throw up their hands in frustration. There is not a unified front, and it is killing us. Better: we are killing us.

And I know we sometimes try to join together but, let's face it - if no one can tell we're working together, we've got a lot of work to do.

The Lord thinks we’re crazy. We’re trying to be a witness in our community without joining hands with other like-minded, Christ-centered churches. All because of a lack of willingness, a lack of time, and – let’s be honest – a whole lot of pride.

As a result, people don’t know we are followers of Jesus. They don’t know who we are following or if we’re following anybody. They’re confused. And they probably think we’re just nuts, which, in fact, we are.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Lord Thinks We Are Crazy (Part One)

I have a note stuck to the door of my church office which reads “The Lord thinks we’re crazy.” Occasionally people wonder why. Here’s the story.

I moved from New Jersey to Virginia Beach two years ago. One major difference between the two locations is the number of evangelical churches per square mile and, for the matter, the number of Christian license plates as well. In Virginia Beach, it seems to be the exception that someone does not have a Christian vanity plate (such as my favorite, HALOO-YA).

Because of this contrast, I began wondering and praying about what purpose the Lord had for me in this regard. How do you do ministry in a way that is not sinfully competitive? How do you rid yourself of the sinful tendency toward suspicion of other churches – you know, the attitude that says “they are not like us, therefore they must be doing something wrong.”

Finally, I resolved to get to know some of the other pastors in the area. My goal was to simply meet them, learn about their heart for ministry, and incorporate their concerns into some of my prayers. For example, if I were to drive by their church perhaps I could pray for them. What I did not plan to do was create some sort of elaborate partnership that would never get off the ground, or make promises that couldn’t be kept concerning ministry partnership. Simply get to know them, put a face to the church, and pray for them.

I decided that the first pastor I would try to meet would be the Calvary Chapel pastor up the street from our church. After all, I used to attend a Calvary Chapel church. I left that church as my theology took a turn for the more historical and Reformed, but I still love them. And besides, the church is only a half (not full, but half) mile away.

And as I headed toward his church, that’s when it hit me in full force: The Lord thinks we are crazy.

Here we are as Christians, whether pastors or not, seeking to serve our communities with the gospel. And yet we don’t even know the first thing about what other churches are doing. Let me tell you why this is so crazy: As Christians, we are brothers and sisters. We have a common Father, Savior, and Spirit, and we are on a common mission. If we don’t know what Jesus is doing in other churches, especially ones a half mile away, we don’t really love our community in Christ’s name; we love ourselves.

It’s really quite insane.

As I pulled into the Calvary Chapel to say “hi,” I noticed they sponsored a daycare center for disabled people. I should know that, I thought. What if I were to share the gospel with someone who would benefit from that service (in Christ’s name, no less)? What if someone in our church were to benefit from this?

I should know that!

What else don’t I know? Or rather, who else don't I know - and why not?

It’s crazy...

Douglas Wilson on debt

I've been unhappily reading through Douglas Wilson's book Mother Kirk this week. I've now read six of Wilson's books, and loved all of them, with four exceptions. Ok, ok, that was a Wilsonesque attempt at humor, but the truth is, I always find Wilson to be a very mixed bag. But more on this later.

Late in the book, he has a section on why a church that practices tithing should be able to build a new building without going into debt. And it appears that he's completely serious when he attempts to illustrate thusly:
Imagine a congregation of one hundred households with an average income of $25,000 annually. Such a church (if tithing) could support two full-time staff members and one missionary family at a very reasonable wage and still be able to save $750,000 in five years.
So let's do the numbers. This church has around 400 members (maybe a few more if the average family has 2.3 kids), their annual budget is $250,000, of which they are apparently spending only 100k, and banking the rest in a savings account.

Where even to begin with this? By asking how a church of 400+ is managing to get by with only two staff members? No youth pastor? Music guy? Secretary? Or by asking why these two staff members are so woefully underpaid? Only 33k per year in total compensation? (this is assuming they also give the missionary 33k, and since they only support one missionary, I assume they are attempting to pay his whole salary. oh, and this assumes that salaries are the only expense this church has!) Or might one ask why this church only spends 33k on charitable giving, but manages to put 150k in the bank each year?

Perhaps I'm being too hard on Wilson, thinking about what he writes like this. In fact, he doesn't argue in this section that debt is unbiblical or immoral, only that it is unnecessary. And his main argument for its unnecessariness is this one absurd example.

I suppose its just happily ironic that this section on debt comes right after the section in which Wilson opines passionately against boring, modern, cost efficient buildings, and encourages churches to build grand, lavish, expensive cathedrals.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Moose Are Indeed in Need

Thank you for visiting our blog plant! Please grab some coffee, look around, and feel free to join in.

You will notice that we do not have a charismatic leader. Instead, we have two everyday guys - is that equivalent? We are good friends from seminary (graduated in '03), and currently reside in two states (one each), with two wives (one each), and two children (one each). We are both in pastoral ministry, hoping to make a difference in others' lives...and more than that desiring Jesus to make an ever greater difference in our own lives.

This blog is dedicated to ministry, biblical, and theological themes. To put it another way, this blog is dedicated to reflections on God's word and in particular the Hebrew words, opinion pieces concerning church life in our necks of the woods, and a grab bag of interesting and occasionally life & death topics.

I'm glad we're writing this blog together so we can keep things interesting, not to mention keep things going. But I'm more glad that you are here, to join in the discussion.

Now, you may be asking yourself, "Do we really need another blog? Aren't there plenty of good ones around already?" The answer is, well, there's not one that fits our particular niche - namely, one written by us. Together. On these topics. Yes, we'll be the first to admit, Jeff does have another blog; and I (Ken) have gone multisite, with a loose affiliation of blogs in various states of health. But this is different... it's a team effort. And we're pretty excited about it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jeff and Ken: An Unstoppable Blogging Team

As of today, Ken and I are teaming up on a new blogging adventure. We will be blogging about all things related to the church, pastoral ministry, the bible, God, Jesus, Christians, books, commentaries, and ridiculous Hebrew mnemonics. We'll be one of those unstoppable teams. Like Michael and Dwight...
I have been Michael’s number two guy for about 5 years. And we make a great team. We’re like one of those classic famous teams. He’s like Mozart and I’m like...Mozart's friend. No. I’m like Butch Cassidy and Michael is like...Mozart. You try and hurt Mozart? You’re gonna get a bullet in your head courtesy of Butch Cassidy.