Have you ever been faced with an impossible situation? Recently, I’ve been faced with a situation where I can make no physical change. What I want, I can’t make happen. I have no power to affect change. I’m a fixer by nature. I don’t let things go. I want to try and try and try to make a difference. But now, I’m in a position where I can’t make anything happen. The situation is out of my hands and I don’t like that.
Instead of feeling hopeless, I’m hopeful but probably not for the reasons you think. I’m hopeful because of the old adage, the pen is mightier than the sword. The phrase came from Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, in his play Cardinal Richelieu. Usually, the phrase is used to discourage violence or physical altercation and to defer to political and administrative intervention.
You might think I’m planning on petitioning my Representative or some lobbyist. The issue I need fixing is far beyond the scope of Columbus, OH, or Washington D.C. Very few if any problems are fixed by politics, this one is way outside of their control but I’m still hopeful because the pen is mightier than the sword.
How am I hopeful? I have a situation where I need some change, some power to be on display. I didn’t write an edict or submit a law to be passed. I don’t know a lobbyist. Instead, I did a simple task that has profound strength and might. I took the situation and wrote it down on a 3×5 notecard, that’s it. I wrote it down on a regular notecard. It is the most powerful thing I can do.
Several years ago, I readA Praying Life by Paul Miller. In this book, he shares his method of cataloging his prayer requests. He takes individuals, situations, and personal issues and writes them on 3×5 notecards. On those cards, he writes specific prayer requests and Bible verses to guide him as he prays. His method has been very helpful to me. It is one that I use regularly.
I have a small binder clip with my notecards. On those cards are people, issues, and groups I pray for regularly. I have a couple of cards for those dearest to me. Why the 3×5 cards? Honestly, if I listed everything on a piece of paper that I wanted to pray for in a given day or week, I’d be overwhelmed and distracted. However, if individual things are on a 3×5 card, I know I can hold that in my hand and pray for it. Sometimes, I get through the whole stack, other times, I don’t. I have cards I pray for daily and others I pray for weekly.
But in it all, it’s just a 3×5 card that isn’t intimidating, unless, of course, you are resisting the God of the universe because I’m praying to Him. He spoke the world into existence (Gen 1-2). He upholds the world by the word of his power (Heb 1). All the world was created for him (Col 1:15-20). He knows all things from the end to the beginning and works it in accordance with his will (Is 46:10). He will not let the evil of this world win and will use the evil in this world to bring about his good (Gen 50:20, Rom 8:28). He laughs at the nations and rulers who try to resist him (Ps 2). Things for me (and you) are impossible but that’s ok because what is impossible with man is possible for God (Matt 19:26).
Sometimes, when we are faced with an impossible situation, we think, “I can’t do anything!” This is not true. You can’t make a change but you can do something. You can pray. I can pray. When we pray, we aren’t saying we are powerful. Instead, we are declaring our dependence and inability. We are lifting our prayer requests to the Lord who is powerful and mighty. He desires to move and act but in his great providence, he uses the prayers of man to accomplish his purposes so we must pray. We must ask him (James 4:2).
Why should you write down your prayer requests? Because the pen is mightier than the sword and your mind. When you write down a request, you are writing it down because you want to see it, pray about it, and because you are taking it seriously. Secondly, life is crazy. If you are like me and you have more going on in your life than you want. It can be very easy to forget things, even when they are important. If you write down your prayer request on a card, it’s impossible to forget. You’ll see that small stack of cards and be reminded to pray. You can’t make anything happen but you can pray!
I don’t have the power or ability to make the change I want. I can’t produce the outcome I desire but I can pray. I can be disciplined to pray to the Lord. I am thankful that God hears our prayers and answers prayers. Maybe you need to find some 3×5 notecards and pray. You can’t make things happen but you can do something. You can pray.
Michael Kruger, Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2022.
The idea of spiritual abuse is a hot-button issue. I was quite impressed to see Michael Kruger, a well-known New Testament scholar, and seminary president address this topic. He did a fantastic job. In reviewing this book, I have used some key quotes, especially from the beginning of the book, and fewer quotes and more summaries in the more pragmatic chapters at the end of the book. I encourage you to read the book on your own. Here is what I found most helpful:
“Some of the leaders we are producing –and, if we’re honest, some of the leaders we are wanting –have characteristics that are either absent from or completely opposed to the list of leadership characteristics laid out in Scripture (xi).”
“Here’s my point: some churches seem to have a lot of angst over whether there might be a church member somewhere bucking church authority. But there seems to be notably less concern over whether church leaders ever abuse that same authority. In their view, if there’s a problem with church authority, it’s almost. Always that there’s not enough of it rather than it going too far (xvii).”
“Yet the fact remains: some pastors are abusive (xvi).”
“So something needs to change. For the sake of the peace and purity of the church. And for the sake of the sheep we are called to protect, we must think more carefully about the type of leaders we are producing (xviii).”
Writing and using the term “victims.”
“First, some will take the use of this term as evidence that this volume is advocating a. Quote UN quote “victim mentality” among those who have suffered injustice, a mentality which presumes means that a person is free to build their whole identity around the bad things that have happened to them, blaming those injustices for all the problems in their life. But I wholeheartedly reject such a notion (xv).”
Chapter 1: The First Shall Be First
In this chapter, he begins to give case studies that focus on some prominent figures such as Mark Driscoll, Billy Hybels, James MacDonald, and Steve Timmis. He shows how their abusive power resulted in a ministry focused on a leader of charisma and celebrity instead of the biblical character qualifications.
“Given the church’s propensity to mimic the culture, it’s no surprise that the previous generation has seen increasing numbers of so-called celebrity pastors. Some churches want their own franchise player –someone who is strong, dynamic, and inspiring. They want someone exceptional, a charismatic visionary who can lead the way (9).”
“To be sure, the celebrity pastor doesn’t have to be exceptional to expect special treatment. It doesn’t matter if his church is 50 people or 500. He merely has to be the big fish in his own little pond (10).”
Writing on the need for servant leadership and not lordship, “Maybe we have hired men more eager to call down Thunder than to dawn. The servants towel and wash people’s feet (16).”
He begins his call to action which outlines the rest of the book. In this call to action, he is calling on fellow pastors and churches to care for the church by protecting her from bully pastors. “What if loving the church means loving the sheep – whom Christ loves –and guarding them against the wolves Christ asked us to watch out for (18)?”
“In other words, that the church is the beloved bride of Christ is not a reason to care less about her shortcomings; it’s a reason to care more. Indeed, the church is the most important institution on the planet. My prayer is that we can move past these defensive postures that might have built up from the unjust critiques over the last generation so that we can hear the just critiques. We need to stop thinking like lawyers – ready to litigate and rebut each and every attack – and instead be willing to hear the truth if it is spoken in our midst (18).”
Chapter 2: That Which Shall Not Be Named
The task to define spiritual abuse is the challenge. It is nebulous in some ways but this book couldn’t exist if he did not settle on a specific definition. He begins by saying what spiritual abuse is not before defining it. Spiritual abuse is not physical or sexual abuse. Those areas are defined and more determinative in nature. Spiritual abuse is more along the lines of emotional or psychological abuse. Older books on pastoral ministry used terms like spiritual tyranny and spiritual oppression which are more explicative of the idea.
Kruger defines spiritual abuse as, “When a spiritual leader –such as a pastor, elder, or head of a Christian organization – wields his position of spiritual authority in such a way that he manipulates domineers, bullies, and intimidates those under him as a means of maintaining his own power and control, even if he is convinced he is seeking biblical and kingdom-related goals (24).”
He highlights several keys to this definition. First, spiritual abuse involves someone in a position of spiritual authority. This aspect becomes quite harmful because when the person speaks, it is presumed, implicitly or explicitly, that they speak for God.
Second, spiritual abuse involves sinful methods of controlling and domineering others. The characteristics of gentleness and patience are replaced with aggressive means of lording power instead of serving as our Lord. He says, “The abusive pastor denigrates others not only to feel better about himself (thus feeding his narcissism) but also to demoralize those under him (29). He highlights those areas where someone is hypercritical, cruel, threatening, defensive, and manipulative. These types of characteristics lead to church members being afraid of their pastor. He points out, “It is not normal for people to have this sort of fear of their pastor (31).” The defensive pastor is critical but unable to take criticism, Kruger claims, a classic trait of a narcissist. Third, spiritual abusers seem to be building God’s Kingdom (but are building their own).
Finally, as a way to clarify some opposition, he gives five things that are not abuse. They are being unfriendly, intimidating personalities, not getting along, accidentally hurting someone, and confronting people’s sins. The challenge is that spiritual abuse is not a black-and-white issue. His definition and subsequent explanations are helpful as he continues his call to action regarding spiritual abuse even if a definition of it is “muddled and undefined (39).”
Chapter 3: A Heavy Yoke On Us
Kruger begins by examining evidence of sin and abuse in Old Testament before moving to the New Testament. His arguments for the Old Testament grounded all spiritual abuse in sin. The New Testament arguments were more helpful as he showed the servant nature of Jesus’s ministry. It is service, not authority that must describe the Christian ministry.
Kruger encourages churches to look for a gentle minister. The gentle minister is the antithesis of a narcissist. The narcissist shows no willingness to receive criticism. The humble minister can receive criticism. The final characteristic is kindness. The spiritually abusive is not kind because he “has a pattern of self-protection and self-gain (54).” The bully pastor seeks power and control (55).
He finished this chapter by looking at the call of elders in 1 Peter 5. He points out that the word eager in 1 Pt 5:2 “was historically used to describe civic leaders who sacrificed their time and money for the good of the city they served (55).” The following verse says elders should serve as examples. Kruger contrasts this with the self-seeking bully pastor who does not lead by example. “In other words, he does not stand behind the sheep, cracking the whip, but goes before the sheep as an example to follow (55).” He concludes the chapter with a sobering statement, “People don’t expect kindness from their leaders (57).”
Chapter 4: A Trail of Dead Bodies
The bully pastor acts aggressively and leaves many behind wounded sheep. Kruger argues the sheep are not left for dead in the open but rather are hidden from the church at large. His reasoning is as follows: “First, many victims of abusive pastors are silenced or forced to leave (62).” The second is, “the abusive pastor’s pattern of broken relationships is often no revealed to the larger leadership body and certainly not to the entire church (62).” Whenever it is revealed, “the problem is often downplayed and minimized – it’s viewed as a conflict that is inevitable in any ministry (63).”
He did a great job arguing against the sinfulness of both the victim and the abusive pastor. “Sadly, yet another misunderstanding of grace has to be used to defend abusive pastors and further harm the victims. If we are all equally sinful, it is argued, then that must mean the abusive pastor and the victim are equally to blame for the conflict. A wrong understanding of grace is used to minimize the heinousness of the abuse and accentuate the sins of the victim, whatever they may be (70).”
He offers several principles to keep if there is to be any reconciliation between the abusive pastor and victim. “First, victims should not be asked to meet with an abusive pastor unless he has been held accountable (71). Second, victims should not meet with an abusive pastor unless he is genuinely repentant (72). Third, victims should not meet with an abusive pastor until they are emotionally and spiritually ready (72).” His caution in these areas is to protect victims and keep an abusive pastor accountable.
Chapter 5: Flipping the Script
Kruger uses this chapter to help churches identify the ways an abusive pastor manipulates and distorts biblical teaching and healthy relational structures. In his study, he found the greatest misuse of Matthew 18. He argues for a biblical approach that protects the victims.
He says, “We must remember that Matthew 18 applies only to the individuals who have been sinned against (82).” The abusive pastor can misuse this passage and hide behind an elder board. The victim can be railroaded by the abusive pastor who tries to make the “sin” of bringing offense to an elder board instead of addressing the abusive pastor directly. Kruger hopes to use the information from the last chapter to interpret Matthew 18 more rightly within the context of an abusive pastor. He plainly states, “Some abusive pastors treat Matthew 18 like Miranda rights (83).” The procedure does not trump sin. “Even if the accuser follows Matthew 18 and the abusive pastor admits some wrongdoing, that does not necessarily mean the behavior should not be reported to the church’s leadership (83).” The procedure is not a sin. It is a distraction and tactic by an abusive pastor. “If a pastor is accused of abusive behavior, be wary if procedural issues become the biggest concern of all those involved (84).”
Paramount to caring for victims and holding pastors accountable is the culture where people are free to speak up. “First, they need to make sure they have the correct definition of slander (86).” He goes on to say, “To speak up about a pastor’s abusive behavior – in appropriate ways – is not slander (86).” Furthermore, “Churches need to avoid creating a culture of fear around slander by assessing, honestly and fairly, the likelihood of false accusations of abuse against a pastor (87).”
The congregation should aim to protect victims from the attacks of abusive pastors. An abusive pastor “might bring up the past sins of the victims (90).” “In addition to highlighting past sins, the abusive pastor might attack the way the victims are handling the conflict (90).” “Sometimes victims are accused of having a victimhood mentality (91-92).” The final attack is sinister, “It is not unusual for an abusive pastor to fabricate claims against the victims to make himself look better (93).”
Chapter 6: Suffering in Silence
One of the illustrations, Kruger used was from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. At the end of the story, he cites the conversation between Sam and Frodo. Sam is speaking and asks Frodo if he is going to enjoy the Shire. Frodo responds by saying, “I’ve been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire and it has been saved, but not for me. It must be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so others may keep them (98).” The stark reality of people speaking up to make significant cultural changes is real. If we are to see any change, it is possible that someone must take the hurt, and someone must take the pain so that others can be safe.
Fear, anger, shame, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are all ways victims suffer emotionally when an abusive pastor acts aggressively and when the victim is not cared for properly. Van der Kolk wrote The Body Keeps the Score and Kruger uses this book to state, “Spiritual abuse is prone to create deep and serious mental scars that in turn can produce long-term physiological consequence (103).”
Special care to victims must be given because there are various spiritual effects as a result of an abusive pastor. Victims can have doubts about the church, Christianity, God, and even themselves. Those left in the trail behind an abusive pastor should not be left to suffer in silence.
Chapter 7: They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy
This chapter is more practical for churches. He begins with ways to prevent an abusive pastor from coming to the church. The way to keep abusive pastors away is to emphasize character over competency. Once a pastor is called, there are ways to help create a culture of accountability. Rotating preaching schedules, offering real feedback, and even providing an independent leadership board. The independent leadership board should, as argued by Kruger, include people from various socioeconomic levels, and educational levels, and should have both men and women.
The goal is to create genuine transparency. He gives two interesting ways to create this culture. He suggests publishing minutes from elder meetings. The second is to allow for an annual public forum with opportunities for questions and answers. This is not the place to accuse an abusive pastor that should be done in private to allow for proper channels and keep a public presumption of innocence until an investigation is finished.
Epilogue: A Final Word to Christian Leaders
As Kruger ends the book, he ends states, “The job of the shepherd is to care for the sheep, and this includes feeding them, protecting them, encouraging them, binding up their wounds, and, yes, correcting them when needed (140).” The quote from Thomas Watson is helpful, “A humble Christian studies his infirmities, and another’s excellencies (141).”
Bully Pulpit is helpful both thinking through the idea of spiritual abuse from prevention, care, and accountability. I give Kruger credit for taking on this tough topic. You might want to change the way he creates an accountability structure, but he has a method. If you do not have a method, this is better. Some method is better than no method.
2022 is a wrap! I always like to see my progress as a reader when the year is finished. I log all the books I finished through Good Reads. I read 55 books in 2022 and 24,471 pages. All this is from someone who did not read a book until college.
I read much more this last year than what is listed. I read portions of and wrote small reviews for almost another 50 books. I only log books that I finish in the calendar year. I record books that I finish on audiobooks. If you think that is cheating or taking a shortcut, should you record the books you read, you are welcome to keep those off your list! With 55 books this last year, I’ve ranked third place out of three with my family who records their books! I’m counting audio books because I need all the help I can get!
A couple of notes about the books you’ll see. First, you will see books about the Bible and Bible commentaries. I preached through Matthew over the last two years. I included the commentaries that I read for the sermon series. I read almost all of those commentaries, only skipping the parts that are redundant or where they quote one another.
You will also see some fiction novels. I read fiction for two reasons. First, I enjoy it. It helps me to read to turn my mind off from thinking about church issues. It is an escape and an enjoyable one for me. Second, there are some fiction books that I read because I like stories and I am trying to learn how to write and tell stories better. As a preacher, I have a lot of growing to do. Those who teach preaching encourage reading fiction to develop as a storyteller. Oddly enough, they also encourage listening to comics to learn about speaking rate and inflection. They don’t encourage the use of jokes and gimmicks but do so for the public speaking aspect.
There are a couple of books on non-fiction educational learning. The Body Keeps the Score and The Boy Crisis came highly recommended. I learned a lot from these books. They did not give sufficient answers to the questions and problems they posed but looking at the problem of trauma and manhood through a secular lens was helpful.
The Bible is still undefeated. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’ll change your life! This next year, I’m reading the Grace and Truth NIV Bible.
A Dozen Things God Did with Your Sin and Three Things He’ll Never Do had some of the best chapters I read this year. The book is very good some chapters were excellent to think about how God deals with sin.
The Temple and the Church’s Mission this book is phenomenal. I wish I would have read it earlier. I plan to read more Beale this coming year.
Deep Discipleship is a good book that I’m not done thinking about yet. In the book, J.T. English challenges us to think about discipleship in the church as churches use small groups. He argues that we have forgotten the educational aspect of groups as we have encouraged fellowship/community in groups, think of the difference between Sunday school (education) and community groups (fellowship). I’m not sure exactly how his model works with the church I pastor but I’ll keep thinking.
Books I should have enjoyed more: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self came as one of the highest-reviewed books of the year. There is an abridgment that I plan on reading this year. I liked this book but there was a fair amount of material that did not interest me in the slightest. The Count of Monte Cristo is the best five books in one I have ever read. I started the year with this book and it nearly killed me. It was very good in spots but I’ve never wanted an abridgment more than this book. The audiobook is a mere 52 hours and 45 minutes. Insane.
Books I learned from as a pastor: Old Time Religion in the Southern Appalachians, I found this book at Half-Price books for a couple of dollars and read it in an afternoon. It was not great but it helped me understand some of the religious backgrounds of my church members who came from mining towns in Kentucky. The Devil Is Here in These Hills taught me so much about coal miners in the Appalachians. It was almost completely new material for me and it was fascinating as it was depressing.
Books that encouraged me: The Bruised Reed is a small book by Richard Sibbes, a puritan. It is a great book that focuses on the Lord’s kindness to us. If you are struggling with your faith, this book will encourage you. Praying the Bible is a reread for me. It is a great little premier on praying through Scripture.
That’s a wrap for me. What are your plans to read in 2023?
I began to pastor Clough Pike Baptist Church on January 21, 2021. I began an 85 sermon series from the book of Matthew. A month and a half prior, I preached from Matt 28:18-20 as my sermon that was in view of a call. Christmas Day 2022.
When I began my first Sunday, it was interesting to see the faces of people when they stood for the reading of Scripture and I read the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew 1:1-17.
I’m not a Matthew scholar but I have preached through the book and I’ve come across some books that I found helpful. These are not in any particular order.
Commentaries I found helpful throughout:
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNT) is a very nice series. Commentary series are not all equal and books within a series are not equal. I enjoy the layout and organization of the PNT as a whole. This edition of Matthew by Leon Morris is one of the better ones in the series for sure.
Morris answers many of the questions I have asked when reading the text. While not overtly helpful in thinking about application, he does an excellent job of helping the reader understand the historical setting. His citation of Old Testament allusions and quotes is better than most. He is theologically sound and scholarly enough to allow me to nerd out some. His comments on the Greek New Testament and etymology were very helpful in deciphering various opinions.
Hendrickson, William and Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Vol. 9, New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2001.
Early on I had some questions that other commentaries did not answer. I had another pastor friend who turned me on to this series. I had it on Logos so it made it easy to access. The books are available but they are not cheap or easy to come by. Outside of answering some questions, this commentary helped me to see the argument Matthew built throughout the different sections. Hendrickson is a master at deducing the flow of the argument in short succinct ways. This didn’t translate to my preaching but it did my understanding!
Carson, D.A. “Matthew,” in The Expositors Bible Commentary, edited Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.
Every commentary written after 1984 cites this work by Carson. I began to read him before I would read any other commentary because it seems that most people build off of his work. Reading Carson first allowed me to work through other material quickly because he addresses most everything and while other writers may deal with issues with more depth than him, they may not do so in a completely helpful way. I did not always agree with Carson but those times were few. This work is better at dealing with the text and less on the history concerning Matthew.
Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22, The New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1992.
The New American Commentary is the most egregious commentary series for having very good and very bad volumes. This commentary by Blomberg is one of the better ones in the set. I enjoy the layout and while it seems dated in some areas, it is helpful as a good pastoral commentary. There is a balance of academic and lower-level issues handled in this set. This book is good for pastors but accessible enough for anyone to find profitable. There were some historical and cultural issues that Blomberg explained better than anyone else.
Other books I found helpful but did not find helpful enough to dig into their entirety:
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009.
Keener had some parts that were excellent in cultural issues. Outside of some of the cultural issues, I did not find that I agreed with his arguments enough to continue to read and recommend.
Barclay, William, The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 1-2. The Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1976.
Barclay flirts with various points of heresy so I read him cautiously. Before commentators pointed to Carson, they would point to Barclay. His reading outside of the New Testament and sourcing is phenomenal. His theology, questioning of miracles, and his Christology are suspect so I read him some.
Boice, James. The Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5-7. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006.
Boice, James. The Gospel of Matthew: The King and His Kingdom Matthew 1-17. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books 2001.
In full disclosure, I didn’t know Boice finished the Matthew series. I only had through chapters 1-17. His commentaries are his sermons and they are some of the most edifying and encouraging. He was the pastor of 10th Presbyterian in Philadelphia, PA. These two commentaries helped me see the pastoral heart in the text. He also disagreed with great prejudice with Barclay which I enjoyed. However, when Barclay was helpful he noted that in his commentaries. I found him to be balanced not just in how he dealt with Barclay but in other areas, a trait I hope to grow more in as a pastor.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. La Vergne, TN: Spring Arbor Distributors, 1995.
If you are a theologian and you got caught in an assassination attempt against Hitler and you wrote a book about discipleship, I’ll read it. The Cost of Discipleship is not just a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount but it is primarily that and it is fantastic. When I preached through the Sermon on the Mount, this book most challenged the application of the text.
Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1971.
Lloyd-Jones is a master expositor and this commentary on the Sermon on the Mount was my first commentary on this subject. I have turned to it many times. Lloyd-Jones is not succinct but he is not superfluous. His thoroughness and what appears to be tenderness in dealing with the souls of those who heard him preach the sermons comes through in his commentary. I highly recommend it to you.
I read many other books, articles, and web pages. What was the most helpful? The Bible followed by the Greek New Testament. After 85 sermons through Matthew, my problem isn’t in understanding the text, it is obeying it. These verse at the end of the Sermon on the Mount summarize it best:
“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Matt 7:28-29).”
I wanted to write you to say thank you. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our last two years together. We have walked through about 85 sermons. You’ve taught me much of our King. I was not sure exactly where we would go when we started but I knew we’d be on this journey together.
You taught us and challenged us as you told us about Jesus. We began to see the themes of the King and the Kingdom as we walked through your gospel. As we walked through the life of Jesus, we saw his power to heal and save. We saw his tenderness to children and the needy. When we encountered the outcasts, we wanted to resonate with them but you kept showing us the religious people who just never seemed to get it. Everything we heard was not easy but it was necessary.
When we wanted to trust in our good works, you taught us the upside-down life of the Kingdom. The great sermon of Jesus taught us the character of Kingdom life in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12). We thought we are doing pretty good at this religious thing but you were strategic to record Jesus’s sermon that left us all condemned who rely on our best efforts (Matt 5-7). We were treated with much grace when we learned it wasn’t about doing great deeds for Jesus but knowing him (Matt 7:21-23).
With the emphasis on knowing Jesus as the essence of the Kingdom, we were energized to live with the Kingdom on display in our daily lives (Matt 8-9). As we lived to display the Kingdom, we saw how we are also sent to declare the message of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is no longer measured by geography but the Kingdom is on the move through the disciples of Jesus (Matt 10).
We were humbled again when the Kingdom expectations helped us stay on course by seeing Jesus as the Messiah. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, the one who gives us rest, the one who heals, and the one who gives us entrance into the family of God (Matt 11-12). If we are being honest, we’d like to hear Jesus teach and explain the parables (Mat 13). We want to follow Jesus but sometimes we settle for fandom. I think your gospel helps us religious people who want to make things more complicated and convoluted by things we can control (Matt 14). We don’t Jesus. He’s the King. He does as he pleases.
The Kingdom came into focus as we journeyed together (Matt 15-17). Jesus started to focus on the Kingdom community and gave us some very challenging words about how we are to live (Matt 18-20). Normally, we would want to leverage our privilege, wealth, family relationships, or even religious deeds, but the King will have not of it. If we come to him with anything, he rejects everything. If come with nothing, he gives us everything. If we are being honest, the upside-down life of the Kingdom is a work in progress.
As we approached the last week of the life of our King, the Kingdom passion, we can’t imagine what this time was like (Matt 21-28). The King’s entrance, final miracles, cleansing of the temple, and the last supper somehow didn’t prepare us for the crucifixion. I guess we are too often hard on Peter who denied Jesus. We are more like him than we want to admit but I guess that’s what we have learned, we are more like the anti-heroes of this story than we are like the hero.
Even more astonishing is that King Jesus knows all of this and still, he took the final cup of the Passover meal. He drank the fifth cup of God’s wrath. He drank the cup we deserved. Died the death meant for us. Death swallowed up in victory as he rose again.
It isn’t how we would have written up the story but it isn’t our story to write. I guess it isn’t yours either, you are just the one who recorded it. You were a tax collector and outcast but Jesus made you our teacher and friend. The Kingdom does that, doesn’t it? It takes enemies and makes friends. It takes outcasts and makes them family. All it took was for the Son of God to leave heaven and come to earth, live perfectly, die for us, and rise!
I think we have just scratched the service. For now, we will close your gospel but we will keep learning about Jesus. We will keep living out this Kingdom life. It isn’t our life to live but his. Thanks for helping us learn more about Jesus. We learned that what it took is what we could never provide. We need Jesus. You’ve taught us about him. Thank you.
You wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition where you shared about your church closing on Christmas. I would like you to reconsider. You don’t know me and I don’t know you so I’d like to introduce myself to you.
We went to the same school, have mutual friends, and even share the Send Network. What you need to know is I’m committed to seeing churches flourish in New England, especially in the Boston area.
I was born and raised in Florida but I have New England blood. Steve Grogan was my favorite Patriots QB until Brady brought us back from being down 28-3. For years, my grandparents would bring Fluff to us so I was able to trade Fluffernutters in elementary school at the lunch table. I may even consider church discipline if someone says marshmallow creme is the same as Fluff. I hate the Mets and the Jets. I am still trying to forgive Billy Buckner for 1986. Anytime someone says, “Number Four” I reply with “Bobby Orr.” I don’t care what anyone says, Bill Russell is the greatest champion and Larry is still underrated. The only proper donut is from Dunkin, sorry Krispy Kreme.
I thank God for the work that is going on with Send Boston and the other networks of churches in the area. You started your article disagreeing with Kevin DeYoung. Usually, that’s not a good starting point. Sadly, I think it may be the strongest part of your article. Here’s why you should reconsider and meet on Christmas Day this year.
First, the counter to your argument is written by Dustin Messer, an Anglican. Both DeYoung and Messer are meeting on Christmas Day. Since you are a Baptist, I would encourage you to have better ecclesiology than them! Ha!
Secondly, you should meet on Christmas Day because it simply is what Christians do. In your article, you mentioned two reasons to not meet. You mentioned that 80 people in your church would be traveling out of town and the set-up would be challenging. You then mentioned the highly secular area of your church would not lead you to believe any neighbors would be joining for worship.
You gave a great counter to your arguments when you said if you had a service your members would attend. I’d like to look back at your points and think differently about them. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll have reconsidered.
Your church, mine, and every other church do not exist for their neighbors. We exist for the glory of God as the body of Christ. You have 20 people who would “almost certainly come to any service we (you) put together.” Brother, you have 20 people ready to worship King Jesus on his birthday!
Also, let’s think about the set-up and takedown. I served for years at a church plant. Set-up and takedown are tough but it doesn’t have to be for 20 people. You don’t need smoke and lights. You don’t even need mics. You need a Bible and 20 chairs. I get that it is “uniquely difficult” but difficult isn’t impossible.
Thirdly, you mentioned the context of your situation and the context of Hebrews 10:25 and here I think you are mistaken. Hebrews 10:25 says, “not neglecting to meet together” you focused on the habit aspect of not meeting together. The problem is not meeting together, habit or not. The church in Hebrews and yours are neglecting, forsaking, and abandoning meeting together. I want to encourage you to meet. I think your context demands it. The spiritual darkness of Somerville needs it.
The last time Christmas was on a Sunday was back in 2016. I was a missionary in Ecuador at that time. I preached that morning and as I did, I looked out to an older lady who was fighting sleep. She was there though and I appreciated it. After service, I learned she traveled 8 hours on a bus overnight so that she could be in service that day. For the sermon, I dressed up like Joseph and ran into the church yelling, “I’m a father, I’m a father!” It was my favorite service I ever preached in Ecuador, maybe ever. The service was great. I was happy, we had about twenty that day.
If you don’t meet for worship this Christmas Day, maybe you will next time. The next time Christmas is on a Sunday is in 2033.
The State Convention of Baptists in Ohio took place in Cuyahoga, OH outside of Cleveland on November 14-15, 2022. There were two hundred messengers, many of who are pastors. Dr. Ray Umphrey of Briggs Road Baptist Church was the president and will serve in the same role next year alongside Dr. Jeremy Westbrook the Executive Director.
Dr. Westbrook shared his vision for the SCBO and the accompanying budget for the 2023 year. There were a few dissensions and some questions. The tenor of the meeting was very good and encouraging.
Nothing was more encouraging than the Pastor’s Conference. Brian Croft with Practical Shepherding began the conference. His story is remarkable. He pastored one church for seventeen years. When he left, there were seventy-five members and a yearly budget of $110,000. You might think that is not enough. He’d tell you that isn’t the full story. The full story is thirty-two families are serving overseas as missionaries or as pastors who were sent out from that church! Allistair Begg finished off the conference. He challenged us to follow the church growth plan from Acts 9. It is simply this: edify the church and watch it multiply.
Throughout the Pastor’s Conference and the Convention, The Jason Lovins Band lead us in worship. They did a great job of leading us with songs old and new. In full honesty, most of them were new to me because I didn’t grow up hearing old hymns. His testimony is incredible. They recently released a song and music video about it.
Some things I found hopeful at the SCBO:
The not-so-good news is the SCBO has only met budget 3 out of the last 20 years. The hopeful side comes as 2022 looks to be a year in the black. This is without taking into account the sale of Seneca Lake or the three-year grant from the North American Mission Board.
The SCBO presented a good paper as a response to the Sex Abuse Task Force and the report of the Southern Baptist Convention. The report had good definitions, practices, and procedures to follow. Compiling this information at each level is helpful for churches.
The SCBO budget has money earmarked for ethnic churches. In the county where I live, our school system has over twenty languages represented. There are only one or two churches that target these languages. There are more languages in the entire state and having money dedicated to their work is good.
The partnership in Florida will allow states to work together. Dr. Westbrook wants to see SCBO walk alongside Florida Baptists and their work with One More Child. One More Child is a ministry helping churches and their members with foster care and adoption. I’m very familiar with the ministry having grown up in Florida. It will be a welcome here in Ohio.
Dr. Westbrook wants to focus on the pastors of the churches in Ohio. This is part of the regional catalyst system. Instead of centralizing all ministries in Columbus, he has hired people who are geographically spread out around the state for better connection. He shared about the prayer ministry of Bill Elliff. He was emotional when sharing about it. Bill Elliff will come to Columbus to train the SCBO staff and the Associational Missional Strategists (the new name for the DOMs).
The Send Luncheon was a hit. We got some massive sandwiches from Panera and some nice coffee cups, a NAMB staple. What was better though was hearing from three guys who have used NAMB to plant a church. We heard of a revitalization/campus method that plans to be autonomous. We heard from a seasoned church planter who is planting a second church. The last one was a Nepali church planter who took a night off of work to attend and share how NAMB is helping them.
Some challenges ahead for the SCBO:
Financially, the SCBO is in a good place. However, the SCBO does not present any financial statements to the convention. The SBC and most churches will give a balance sheet so people know what is in the accounts. Since the SCBO does not do this, it is hard for anyone to know what is going on financially. There is a financial committee that sees what is going on but this same committee allowed for the budget to only be met 3 out of the last twenty years.
The SCBO and NAMB partnership is a very good thing for Ohio Baptists, if your church is new or if it is dying. Dr. Westbrook wants to address the established churches. Out of the 700+ churches in the SCBO, many are established churches so connecting with and equipping them is paramount. Dr. Westbrook is a church planter and those in the catalyst positions are focused on church plants. This is a good thing but there is a need to assist churches that are already here.
The IMB had a fantastic video with Dr. Paul Chitwood. He said, “Missions is why we came together and why we stay together.” The problem is the video was right after lunch and before the worship. There were maybe only 15% of the people there and almost not SCBO staff. I look to suggest a time that we will combine the NAMB luncheon and highlight the IMB missionaries who came from SCBO churches. We could also make this part of the regular meeting and have the pastors stand who have missionaries from their churches.
The SCBO was a great time. Things are on the move in Ohio. Better days are ahead. There is a great past and the future is very bright.
Veteran’s Day began as Armistice Day during World War I. At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Allied Forces and German temporarily ceased their hostilities, an armistice. Armistice Day continued to be a day to remember those who died during WWI. The name was officially changed from Armistice Day to Veteran’s Day in 1954 by Dwight D. Eisenhower. This is the history of Veteran’s Day but it is not my history of Veteran’s Day. I’d like to tell you my history of Veteran’s Day.
On April 21, 2001, I joined the U.S. Army. Two weeks after graduating Highschool, I entered Basic Training. The last field training exercise I had in training was on September 11, 2001. I moved back home to Florida and waited to start college. I can still remember the first time I took my friends to the Veteran’s Day Feast Fest. What is that? It is a modified progressive dinner. Most progressive dinners will give a different course at subsequent locations. Veteran’s Day Feast Fest is just multiple dinners at restaurants that give free food to Veterans. It would make Hobbits jealous.
For many years, I would start at Starbucks for coffee, Krispy Kreme and Dunkin for breakfast. Then I’d find a pizza place or Red Robin for a burger. Dinner is always a challenge because this is when the old timers come out in their mesh trucker hats with their military unit on them. They’ve got a vest, scraggly beard, and usually a cane. They come to eat and they usually stay a while. Usually, after dinner the food coma sets in, the meat sweats haven’t stopped since the second lunch so then after a couple of Tums, I’d fall asleep. Thankful for my country, the free food, and the opportunity to serve in the Army.
After getting married in 2008, Veteran’s Day Feast Fest (VDFF) became a dual celebration. Katie’s birthday is November 9th so we would often combine her birthday and VDFF. She always thought it was ridiculous. I thought it was ridiculous she only wanted one lunch!
A couple of years later, we were out celebrating VDFF and I got a phone call. It was a phone call that changed so much for me. VDFF changed. How I viewed the world changed. How I viewed my military service changed. The week of Katie’s birthday changed. It all changed because I got a call to put on my dress uniform and go inform a family that their 18-year-old son, who had only been overseas for a month and a half was dead. For them, Veteran’s Day would forever point to Memorial Day.
For me, a day of celebrating and feasting immediately turned into a day of darkness and difficulty. The joy of service became the bitter reality of the cost of service. It became the hardest day.
I’m learning hard days, even the hardest ones are not days to avoid. In the face of difficulty, we can cower in fear or we can face it. If we choose to face difficulty, and I think we should, we can approach cautiously or we can approach confidently. If we are given these two options of caution or confidence, we must choose confidence. Throw caution to the wind, you have just this one life so live each day and give each day all you can. Caution never captures the prize. Have confidence in the face of difficulty. Something will break, as long as it isn’t you, you will conquer. Sure you will be tired and maybe have some scars but those will just be reminders of victory. Go confidently. To the victors belong the spoils. We could say that another way, on Veteran’s Day, we feast.
Church family it is with great joy that I send you this email. Today’s ruling of the SCOTUS has overturned Roe v Wade. Since 1973, an estimated 63,000,000+ lives have been taken through abortion. The Justices ruled the Constitution had no provision for abortion and is therefore not a federally protected right. For now, the issue of abortion has been pushed down to the States.
In Ohio, abortion is legal for up to 22 weeks. The ‘heartbeat’ bill is the proposed bill in our legislature now. Most people expect this bill to pass and be signed quickly. This bill will ban all abortions when a heartbeat is detected. There are two exceptions to medical conditions but nothing related to mental health.
For us as a church, what does the overturning of Roe v Wade mean? First, it means we rejoice. The Lord has shown great kindness to us as a nation after the scourge of abortion. We are as a nation, more fractured and separated from biblical ethics now more than ever. Yet even in this, God has shown his might in this decision. We can take no credit for this. God is the one who has defended the life of the unborn, just like he always has.
1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. 2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. 3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:1–3 (ESV)
Second, we must mourn the loss of life of 63,000,000+ image-bearers. Each of these lives was made in the image of God. He formed them in the womb. He knew them. He loved them. He created them to live for his glory. Even in this, he knew their days. He knew the shortness of their life. The worth of their life is determined by God their Maker and being made in his image. The worth of their life is not determined by those who took their lives in the womb. God determines their life and with their deaths, we must mourn.
13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in mymother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:13–16 (ESV)
Third, we must continue to do business as usual. It is a blessing to be part of a church that has a history of caring for the unborn. As a church, we support A Caring Place a pregnancy resource center that leads the way in our area. Keep them in prayer as centers similar to theirs have been vandalized since the Dobb’s opinion leaked. We support children in our area through our sewing ministry where blankets, clothes, and other items have been donated by the thousands to the Cincinnati Children’s hospital. We donate backpacks for kids in foster care who are in need. These are the regular things we do as a church. Some of you work individually in various ways in our community. As a need arises, we have always cared for people in need. Recently, we have supported families, single moms, and even older adults who are in need. For us as believers in Jesus, caring for the needs of others is the most natural thing we can do. We agree with and model ministry was given to us by James, the brother of Jesus.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)
Fourthly, we must renew our efforts in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must recognize the enemy has blinded the eyes of many who try and justify abortion. If their eyes are not open to the atrocity of abortion and the seriousness of their sin there is no hope. God will not be mocked. He alone is the author of life. He will not let sin go unpunished. Their only hope is the life-saving message of the gospel.
The message is this: God has made man in his image. He created them but they rejected him in sin. Man has lived contrary to God’s law and sought to usurp his power and his place as supreme in this world and their life. Their acts of rebellion against God deserve God’s wrath. They are unable to appease God because they have positioned themselves as God’s enemy. The only hope man has is in God’s intervention. In his great kindness and love, God sent his one and only Son into the world. Jesus came to earth and lived in perfect agreement with God’s Law but in a great reversal, he was sent to the cross to die. In his death, he died for our guilt. The innocent died for the guilty. He paid for our sin and guilt. On the third day, he rose from the grave. Anyone who calls on his name will be saved. When this message is heard in the heart of man, if they will call out to God for salvation, his wrath is appeased because of the death of Jesus on the cross. This is the message we must share. It is our only hope and this hope is more than enough.
11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. 12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? Proverbs 24:11–12 (ESV)
We must share the message of the gospel and pray for a mighty move of God. Man cannot be saved by persuasive speech. No one comes to the knowledge of Jesus as Savior unless the Father draws them and the Spirit reveals it to them, so we must pray. Prayer must be accompanied with sharing the message of Jesus. The world may see it as folly but for those who hear it through the work of the Spirit, it is the very words of life.
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:21–24 (ESV)
Today, we celebrate life. We mourn for the loss of life. We press on in our efforts to care for the lives of those in need. We do all this so we might share the message of the gospel.
What a day it was yesterday, we celebrated Mothers Day. Hopefully, you went out to eat, wore nice clothes, and smiled for all the pictures. But you know what happened? Weekend chores were probably neglected, lunches were unmade, and laundry remained undone. After a day of celebrating all the moms, there comes the Monday after Mother’s Day.
I can leave the house for the day or even days for work and the house continues to function, almost without any interruption. What happens when my wife leaves for a couple of hours? Pandemonium, total and complete chaos ensues as I’m left in charge. I am big on the idea that dads never babysit but in my house, I’m the JV team of keeping the house going. I may cut the grass and deal with the gross stuff. I may even help in planning fun things but in keeping things orderly and organized, well, let’s not address those deficiencies!
Monday comes, school for the kids, lunch, dinner, laundry, and everything else to do remains. All the things that need to happen today, just today, are not adequately addressed by one day of celebration. Can we adequately celebrate our mothers or those who are the mother of our children? Nope, we can’t do it, and it’s not even close.
On this Monday after Mother’s Day, I am thankful for the day in and day out work moms do. There is this glorious mundane work of mothers. There is a constancy in life and work that only comes from present and persistent moms. Mothers have a calming presence as they continue on the routine of life. They live and serve their families with little to no fanfare. Moms receive the fiercest attitudes from their kids. They deal with all of the things.
I posit this to you, mothers must be a ministry priority for any church, especially the global church. If we are to think missiologically about the impact moms have on the health of the church, we must think about mothers and their role in the life of the church. Timothy, the pastor of the church at Ephesus, and a key disciple of the Apostle Paul was taught the Scriptures by his mother and grandmother. Paul writes, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Tim 1:5).”
If you have read the book The Insanity of God we can see the way the church is persecuted in different parts of the world. The stories of the imprisonments are incredible. The men go to prison and continue to share the gospel, make disciples, and even plant churches. In the book, there are stories of men spending years in jail because of leading churches and sharing the gospel. What stood out to me is the need for ministry to women because they are the ones who remain at home while the men serve a prison sentences. The women of the church help to share the gospel with the kids. They live out the gospel before their children, raising another generation of gospel-believing boys and girls when the men are in the home and when they are gone.
For us in the US and the West, the chance of being imprisoned for the sake of the gospel is almost nonexistent. Even still, the role mothers play in the lives of their children remains. What ministry could function without the women and moms of the church? None of them, even the men’s ministry!
What is the method for developing a robust ministry that emphasizes the importance of women and mothers? Paul writing to another of his disciples, Titus, writes, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (Titus 2:3-5).” On the Monday after Mother’s Day, we see that what is needed is for older women to teach and train younger women how to live, love, and lead a life following the Word of God. So it is, what is needed again is not a day to celebrate all the mothers. What is needed again, is the mundane Monday mothering and instructing of the ins and the outs of life. We see on the Monday after Mother’s Day what we need is moms.
To all the moms out there, thanks for what you do. You are raising a generation of faithful children and your husbands are thankful, especially on the Monday after Mother’s Day.