As Soon As…

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

2 Corinthians 4:7-11
  • As soon as I have time to settle that point of theology.
  • As soon as my kids are a little older and more self-sufficient.
  • As soon as we get through this next church activity (that is consuming my study and prayer time!)
  • As soon as we get the building paid off.
  • As soon as I can stop working two jobs.
  • As soon as life calms down a little bit.

This is when my human wisdom tells me I can be really fruitful for the Lord. As soon as. Imagine if the apostle Paul had lived in the “as soon as” mentality. As soon as my persecutions are over. As soon as a majority of the Jews are converted. As soon as I get a few more seminarians trained. As soon as all the apostles are on the same page. As soon as I have a really reliable team. As soon as the churches get their act together.

But this is not what we find. Instead, the apostle is in the midst of being troubled on every side, perplexed and persecuted, cast down and carrying about the suffering of Christ. And does this trouble him? No, he thinks that this is the plan. He thinks that God has ordained such a state of affairs specifically so that the heavenly treasure will not be mistaken for its earthly container. The chaotic fragility of our lives is allowing the power of God to be known in all of its excellency.

I find myself, even in mid-life, often confused about these things. Longing for a day when I can be truly fruitful for the Lord because all of life’s circumstances have suddenly fallen into place. Missing the daily joy of seeing God work in the midst of life’s relentless roadblocks despite my tiredness, despite my lack of eloquence, even my lack of ability. Maybe I need a new set of “as soon as” statements.

  • As soon as I stop believing that I am the one who brings fruit.
  • As soon as I start enjoying the journey as much as I long for the destination.
  • As soon as I see the blessings God has given instead of longing for the ones He hasn’t.  
  • As soon as I realize that I will always be an earthen vessel, and the excellency of the power will always belong to God.

On Ordaining Women, Part II – What is a Masculine Pulpit?

In my previous post about ordaining women to the pastorate, I tried to make the point that if you define the ideal pastor in feminine terms, you’re going to wind up with women wanting to be pastors, and they will actually be better at it than men (what with being women and all). If your job description is laden with descriptions that appeal to women, then you shouldn’t be surprised that women show up to fill out an application. So while it’s all well and good for Bible-believing Christians to simply say, “The Bible says a pastor should be a man, so that’s what we require”, there’s more to the story. If you try to hold the line on reserving the office of pastor for men while at the same time modeling a kind of feminine ministry, there will be consequences. You might wind up with frustrated masculine men because they are A) not every going to be considered for the pastorate, and/or B) never get to experience being led by a masculine pastor. You will wind up with fewer men in church generally because it turns out men will leave church when it starts to resemble a group therapy session. Or you might end up with masculine women because in the spirit of Genesis 3 they sense there is a real opportunity here to gain some authority over men.

But as several have cogently pointed out to me, I did not define or describe what a masculine pulpit looks like in my previous post. Certainly what has passed for masculine behavior in the past included ranting and raving from the pulpit about a variety of soap box issues, some of which involved people made in the image of God and for whom Christ died. I would agree that this not indicative of masculinity from the pulpit, but just because there’s such a thing as false/sinful masculinity, it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t pursue biblical masculinity. So the premise of this post is simple:

If God intends the pastorate to be occupied by men, it is likely that the pastorate requires masculine virtues.

That seems to me to be a pretty logical conclusion. But before my keystrokes cause the incense of burnt tire in your nostrils as the rubber meets the road, here is a necessary disclaimer. Men and women are more alike than they are different. This is a biblical truth and a truth borne out in the daily lives of 7 billion people. Men and women are made in the image of God and so they have overlapping virtues and vices. It would be difficult to say something of masculinity that doesn’t also apply in some lesser measure to feminity and vice versa (with the exception of a woman’s ability to have children). So as I speak of a masculine pulpit, of course some joker out there is going to say, “But women can be _________, too!” Yes, and indeed. Men and women both share a set of personality potentials because they are both made in the image of God. And yet, for all their similarities, the differences really do matter, as the Word of God testifies.

So what is a masculine pastor? Well we can reject out of hand any caricature or perversion of masculinity that Scripture rejects. To be masculine is not to be “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast. One route for getting a clue to masculinity is to look to the biological markers that distinguish men from women. For example, after puberty, men average roughly 20X the testosterone level of women. The male body is larger, denser, and has more muscle mass than a woman’s body. It seems men are built for action, for confrontation, for resiliency, and for strength.

My suggestion is that all of this indicates that men are to be ambitious and assertive, not to mention adventurous and audacious. And it’s not only because all those words start with the letter A, as if I was watching too much Sesame Street lately. There are a cluster of “hard” virtues that men are to exhibit, and which our culture has either demonized in the name of “male toxicity” or downplayed to a point that they become irrelevant. In a carnal man, these attributes are self-serving and destructive. But in the hand of the Redeemer, the wild world is tamed and families are protected and civilizations are built by these virtues.

The absence of these hard virtues results in a pastor makes the pulpit far too passive. I think “passive” is a word that fits the modern Western church. Where we should be leading, we have become followers. Where we should be confronting, we are compromising. Where we should be bold, we are obsequious. The New Testament remarks multiple times of the boldness of the apostles to preach the gospel in the face of fierce opposition and persecution. And the gospel they preached wasn’t confined to a worship hour on Sunday: it was the gospel for fathers, the gospel for wives, the gospel for children, the gospel for slaves, the gospel for masters, and the gospel for governors. It was a gospel that had Jesus at its center but proclaimed the Lordship of Christ over every aspect of life. So we can’t excuse ourselves by retreating into a “gospel center” theology where the gospel is the size of a pinball and the rest of life is the size of the galaxy. Perhaps we should listen to some words from our Presbyterian friends:

The Christian is to resist the spirit of the world. But when we say this, we must understand that the world-spirit does not always take the same form. So the Christian must resist the spirit of the world in the form it takes in his own generation. If he does not do this, he is not resisting the spirit of the world at all.

The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer

“In these times, let us remember the stages that our evangelical leaders have brought us through:

1. There will not be any need to fight.

2. There may come a time when it necessary to fight.

 3. It is too early to fight.

4. It is too late to fight. This is a post-Christian era.

Doug Wilson, Twitter

The absence of these hard virtues in the pulpit is reflected in many cases by a lack of these hard virtues in the pew. The roux from which the sauce is made is the family, and there is a huge amount of statistical data depicting the sad decline of male participation in the family. Were we able to statistically capture the presence of male headship in the family, do any of really doubt that we would see a corresponding decline, even in families where men are active? We have spent the last several decades telling men that they are to be “servant leaders” without telling them that the way they serve is by leading.

If you promote a masculine pulpit you will have to weed out the power hungry, the perpetually angry, and the brawlers. But you’re always going to have to weed something out. There is a reason that a man is to attain the pastorate, not be given the pastorate. What the church cannot afford is passivity in the pulpit. As a matter of fact, my greatest ministry regrets are not the times I did something clumsily or counseled someone indistinctly, but rather the times I did nothing and said nothing. I regret my passivity far more than I regret anything I actually attempted out of a desire to serve God or love people. (Of course, there are times when my motives were self-serving and carnal, and any fruit sprouting from such seeds is bound to be corrupt).

A few years ago, a church member told me that she was praying that God would give me a “Timothy”. In other words, a young man who would be useful to me in the ministry and that I could train/mentor. My response was that I, also, would like that, but on the condition that he be the kind of young man that I had to rein in, not prod to action. I would rather say, “You shouldn’t have done that” or “a better way to do that would have been …” rather than have to motivate him to do something (I am speaking here not of essentially moral actions, but of ministry activities). I would rather temper a fire that exists than have to walk around with a gasoline can trying to start it.

In the next post – Lord willing – one final thought on the issue of the masculine pastor.


On Ordaining Women to the Pastorate

The SBC has officially excommunicated disassociated Saddleback Church from its fellowship as a result of Saddleback’s ordination of women to the office of pastor. I am not a member of the SBC and have little understanding of its internal workings, so there is no commentary from me on that subject. But as a pastor, and one who tries to do it biblically, the issue of women being ordained to the office of bishop/elder/pastor is of significance and importance.

 While I also have no personal experience with Saddleback Church, they – along with their founding pastor Rick Warren – have a very public ministry. The Purpose Driven Church  was, sadly, a textbook in my Ecclesiology class in Bible College (just writing that sentence hurts my heart). The follow up book, The Purpose Driven Life, became a best-seller. So the ministry philosophy of Saddleback Church has been intentionally packaged and sold as a template for others to follow. In a tweet responding to getting the boot from the SBC, Warren notes just how influential Saddleback is (as if to say “Who needs the SBC?”) by stating their newsletter reaches 600,000 church leaders, one million alumni pastors list, and 11 million social media followers.

I’m going to limit some observations to the issue of women being ordained to the office of pastor, but its worth questioning at the outset whether the foundational philosophy of ministry didn’t orient this church to this outcome a long time ago. In other words, I don’t think you can say, “Well, we can follow the ministry philosophy of Saddleback and just NOT ordain women to the pastorate and all will be well.” As surely as Bird and Magic were destined to meet in the post season, so the ministry of Saddleback was destined to cave on this issue.

I think it’s fair to say that many see Rick Warren as a pastor to pattern themselves afterSuccess – or what appears to be success – has that effect. Warren has been influential in shaping the idea of what a good pastor is like, how he should conduct himself, etc… In fact, he might represent the product that many Bible Colleges and Seminaries wish to produce in a pastor, and its clear by his response that he thinks others should follow in his footsteps. Just as Teddy Roosevelt in many ways reshaped and then defined the role of President, Rick Warren has reshaped and then defined the role of Pastor.

So what is that shape? What mark has Warren left on the role of Pastor? My argument is that we can best answer that question by looking at those who are going to fill it. What kind of person fits in that space the best? In other words, if Rick Warren has shaped the pastorate and is now retiring, what shaped puzzle piece is going to fit in that void he will leave? We don’t have to wonder because it is happening in the present. The person who fills that space the best (or at least equally best) is a woman.

This issue is larger than one church, but because of its public ministry it is easy to see at Saddleback. The point I’m trying to make (probably very poorly) is endemic to Evangelicalism. We are treating the issue of whether or not women should be ordained to the office of Pastor as a standalone issue, when in fact it is simply the concluding chapter to a long story we have been writing. And it’s the kind of story that would fit in real well with the Amish Romance novels and Joyce Meyer Bible studies down at your local Christian bookstore

You see, the die is already cast. We have destined this outcome by creating a pastoral paradigm that actually best fits a woman, not a man. And if we have shaped the office of Pastor with curves in all the right places, what right do we have to tell a woman who happens to have just such curves that she can’t occupy that office? How can we tell women they cannot be pastors when we have spent the better part of the last half century creating just such a role? In a way, it would be unjust to deny ordination to a woman at Saddleback after Warren spent so much time making sure that a women would succeed best in that role.

So if Evangelical-types really want to hold the line on the issue of ordaining women to the pastorate, we are going to have to dig deeper to uproot the effeminate pastoral paradigm that we have been cultivating in our churches. If we want our pulpits to be filled only by men, then we must demand that our pulpits be masculine. The longer we encourage or even tolerate effeminate pulpits, the more likely (and in reality fitting) it will be when that pulpit will belong to a woman.  


The Lord Shut Him In

I don’t like tight spaces. The first time I remember panicking was when, during a sleepover at my buddy’s house, we were playing some sort of hide and seek game. I had found a cubbyhole to hide in and my pal, attempting to help me, blocked the entrance with a bunch of pillows so no one could see me. It was silly, but I panicked. That was a long time ago and my mild claustrophobia is largely under control. But I am a little embarrassed to admit that were I to be given a free ticket for an adventure to outer space, it’s likely that my distaste for being confined to a tiny ship with a limited air supply might over rule the desire for the adventure of a lifetime and an opportunity to see the heavens from a new perspective.

Being shut in is associated with pain and punishment. Children are “grounded” for disobedience. Criminals are locked up. The sick and infirm are quarantined. When liberty is curtailed, we feel it as a punishment. Confinement is associated with a debilitated condition and a lowering of happiness. So when I read the phrase “the Lord shut him in”, it struck me. For the one being shut in was the one man on the earth who had found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in. 

Genesis 7:16

Because God was pleased with Noah, He shut him in. Because Noah was righteous in his generation, God confined him to an ark. For forty days the intensity of the deluge that soaked the world beyond the ark was manifested as an unceasing reverberation within it, until it pressed upon their minds like a wet blanket and they forgot the distinctness of each other’s voices or the cheerfulness of a bird’s song. The day the rains ceased must have been like awakening from a drugged stupor as sounds became crisp and the fog of white noise dissipated. They didn’t know that it would be another 9 months before the ark would give birth to the future of man and animal kind.

Escape. That must have been what it felt like. I can’t imagine feeling any other way. It would be an escape to get off the ark. To walk beneath blue skies stretched like an infinite canopy above. To trace the contours of the earth until they dipped into the horizon, knowing that the their feet could now carry them to such places. To breathe air that hadn’t been filtered through the zoo that lived at arm’s reach. To wander with no purpose but to wander.

How hard it must have been to remember that the Lord shutting them in was gracious, not punitive. How easily their compass would spin and they would desire to escape the ark, forgetting that the ark was their escape from the wrath that had overtaken the whole earth. How tempting to grumble at unusually difficult circumstances instead of being grateful for unusually powerful salvation.

The Lord had shut him in. Shut him in with the seeds of all future life on planet earth. Shut him in with the animal kinds that would once again teem upon the earth and fill the heavens and nurture the ground and declare the glory of God in an infinite number of absurdities and dangers. Shut him in with the ancestors of 8 billion human beings who would one day build cities and cure cancer and write blog posts, win glory and bear shame, kill and be killed, love and be loved. Shut him in with the understanding that the ark was a place of safety when everywhere else was a place of destruction.

I still don’t like tight places. Especially when the air is stale and there’s no telling when the doors will open and release will come. But I do know that there are times when being shut in is redemptive, not punitive. There are times when, like a madman, we long for release from the very vehicle of our hope and salvation. There are days we forget that the reason we cannot run as far as our hearts would carry us is because we have been entrusted with seeds of future hope and glory. We must learn to be content when God shuts us in.


How to Establish a Christian Household, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I gave a basic definition of a household and what makes it distinctly Christian. With this foundation, we’re well on our way to figuring out the nuts and bolts of establishing a Christian household. But first, let me give you a basic example/test of whether or not you have a household at all.

Depending on your own circumstances you may have to use your imagination for this, but the basic question is, “Do your children need your permission to date/court/engage in a romantic relationship?” If you have a true household, the issue of who else gets brought into it is significant. If a father doesn’t actually give his daughter in marriage, then it indicates that his daughter in no way belongs to his household. If it’s purely ceremonial, then something is off.

2 Paths to Christian Households

The first, and easier, path to having a Christian household is to establish it that way from the start. Husband and wife are both on the same page regarding the rule of Christ in the home and children are brought up to know the Way. Once the foundation is laid, the house can be built up pretty quickly with the right structure to it. And while this path will not be devoid of any obstacles, at least the expectations are clear from the start.

The second, and harder, path to having a Christian household is to realize the necessity of doing so halfway down a different road, which means turning around, undoing a lot of stuff, and getting to where you should have been all along. But don’t let that stop you. If you are ten years into a marriage and starting to realize that what you really have is a few sinners living under the same roof and chasing their own agenda, then you should start where you are at.

If you are on this second path, you will have to exercise more patience. You will exasperate your children if, after you have been discipling them to be good little heathens for the past 10 years, you suddenly demand them to act like good little Christians. You may have to gauge the speed at which you move based on how much whiplash you are causing. But what will help the whole enterprise is if you, without saying a word, become more present for your family. If your kids notice that you are less interested in yourself and more interested in how they are doing, or if your wife begins to notice that her husband is getting easier to live with, then the whole enterprise has a pretty decent shot of success.


Since Christian households have a structure, an easy place to influence your household to become Christian is by intentionally, prayerfully, humbly, and cheerfully accepting the role that you are meant to play. This means going back to the basic designations of husband, wife, father, and children and following the household constitution.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 

Ephesians 5:22-6:4

A Christian wife is commanded to submit to her husband. A Christian husband is commanded to love his wife in the same way that Christ loves the Church. Christian children are commanded to obey their parents. And a Christian father is commanded to raise his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

No personality test is needed. No compatibility surveys required. These are basic commands and fundamental roles meant to establish structure in the home. In a home where the obedience of children is not required, truth and virtue are not communicated from generation to generation. In a home where a wife does not submit to her husband, the Lordship of Christ is not evident. In a household where a husband/father treats his family as a means to achieving his own pleasures, the spirit of Christ is absent.

Depending on how many household members are believers, at minimum you – dear reader – can do your part. I doubt anyone has gotten past reading the Ephesians passage quoted at length above if they are not a believer, which means you can adopt your God ordained role in your household even if others do not. A husband is to love his wife whether or not his wife is lovely or loveable, and a wife is to submit to her husband (insofar as it does not conflict with her obedience to Christ) whether he is worthy of such obedience or not. If you happen to be a minor in your household and you have unbelieving parents, honoring them instead of defying them is in your job description.

In other words, start with yourself.

Practical Steps to Take

Start by memorizing and praying about the role you have to play in your household. Depending on the age of your children, it might be appropriate to read a key passage regarding the Christian household once a week and even having a family project to memorize those passages.

Communicate your desire to live as a Christian within your household to your household. While this might seem like setting yourself up for failure, it’s better to be clear about what you are doing. If you are one of those who are coming around to establishing a Christian household late, it is wise and loving to tell the other members of your household what you are doing. Such a conversation from a husband might look like the below:

I want to let all of you know that lately I have been thinking more about what it means to be a husband and father, and that I realize I haven't been doing a good job of it. So I want to apologize to you all for that and ask for your forgiveness. I am beginning to understand that I will have to give an answer to God one day regarding the kind of husband and father I have been. I hope you will see a difference in me over the coming months and that means that there may be some changes in how our family functions. I would appreciate your support and prayers and please feel free to talk to me about these changes. 

The basic idea is to know, establish, and communicate what your household is all about. Or at minimum, what you perceive your role in your household to be. Establish the standard, and then learn to love the standard.


How to Establish a Christian Household

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 

Ephesians 2:19

I would like to make the case today (and perhaps in some coming posts) about the need for Christians to begin to think differently about their families. Christians, in particular husbands, need to make it their goal to establish Christian households. Instead of launching into all the reasons for this, let’s start with the basics of what a household is and what makes it Christian in nature.

What is a Household?

The Word “household” is important. It’s an old word but an even older concept, dating back to cultures that acknowledged and valued the existence of a social construct greater than the individual. It’s no wonder that this term seems outdated since the individual-unfettered and unencumbered- is the inspiration of modernity. The New Testament Greek word “οἰκεῖος” is more than a house; it is a household.

A household typically consists of family members working in cooperation towards the good of all those living within its borders. Most households began with a marriage and expanded to children, but extended family could become a part of it as well. Households could persists over generations and turn into nations, or through poor management or calamity pass away within one or two generations. Abraham’s household consisted of his wife, his nephew, and his servants/slaves. These all worked for the good of the household and derived their safety and prosperity from its well-being. Joseph became the head of his family household even before his father died (although Jacob was always honored as the patriarch) and invited his brothers and their families into it, eventually becoming a nation.

While it is true that there is no New Testament command to establish households, the reality of households is acknowledged frequently (1 Cor 1:16, 2 Tim 4:19). It would have been very difficult for the writers of the NT to conceive of the need to command households when their existence seemed self evident and assured. The commands to family members in Ephesians 5-6 is written in the format of a Roman household constitution. The keeping of many NT commands is either simplified or necessitated by the establishment of households, especially in the matter of caring for one’s own (1 Tim 5:4-9) and raising one’s children in the faith (Eph 6:4) This concept also helps us understand how the salvation of the head of a household would naturally result in the baptism of all household members into the faith (Acts 16:15).

A household is similar to a family, but implies a greater dimension of intentionality and responsibility. A family can be a family by accident (she happens to be my mom, etc…) but a household is established, built, and maintained. A household has a hierarchy and a necessity of cooperation and a culture that can be tasted. To be a household, a marriage must be more than a legally sanctioned “roommates with benefits” situation. Children must be more than boarders. Modern parenting is poison to the establishment of a household because the child is left exposed to the world to find his way instead of being disciplined in the values and traditions of the household. While the modern concept of the family is based upon association and feeling, the household is built upon genuine mutuality and cooperation in ways that are tangible.

If this all sounds a little stiff and hierarchical and heavy, then good. A household has weight because a household has substance. If your family looks like 4 people moving in different directions who happen to come together for a few meals a week, then you need to start thinking about establishing a household.

What is a Christian Household?

So what exactly is a “Christian” household? I would suggest 2 things. The first is that Christ is explicitly acknowledged as Lord. The persecution of the Church in the early centuries by the Romans boiled down to whether Caesar was Lord or Christ was Lord. Those who gave up their lives unto death did so because they refused to acknowledge Caesar as Lord. A Christian household has a clear understanding that Christ is Lord of the household.

The second feature is the practical reality of Christ’s Lordship. The Lordship of Christ must have more significance than some decorative wall art. The reality of Christ’s Lordship can be seen firstly in the structure of the household. Husbands, wives, and children accept their God-given mandates. The weekly schedule of the household reflects an un-compromised commitment to the Lord’s Day. The rules of the household reflect the rules of Christ.

But all of that would lead to a pretty suffocating environment if it was undertaken in the spirit of legalism instead of the spirit of Christ. So Christ’s Lordship must be acknowledged and honored but Christ’s spirit must also indwell and energize. There should be copious amounts of joy and service should be cheerful. For someone who had only experienced family dysfunction and suffering, sharing an evening with a Christian family should have the feel of a fairy tale.

The modern world has managed to associate religion with something heavy and dreary, like a rainy day that ruins the park. They have managed to gloss over the fact that the only color in the medieval village was the stained glass on the chapel and that the days of rest and feasting were all holy days. The truth is that the world is a dreary place and Christians are the ones who figured out how to play in its puddles. To be a Christian household is to face the pain and suffering of life beneath the banner of our Conquering Captain.


You should start thinking about your family as a household. Stop being the victim of a thousand demands placed upon you by other institutions and interests and start establishing your own schedule based upon Christian priorities. Stop spending your money on pleasures and entertainment and start investing it in the members of your household. Stop letting your kids be brainwashed by the vapid ideology of others and start instructing them in Christian truth and values. Under the banner of Christ, build something substantive in this world.


My Wife’s Apple Pie

A couple of weeks ago my wife made an apple pie for her dad’s birthday (at his request). It ended up being just the best apple pie you can imagine. Perfectly seasoned apple slices (a blend of Honeycrisp and Yellow Golden Delicious) had been softened to a perfect crunch without becoming soggy. The blind baked crust cut through clean with a knife and provided the perfect foundation for transportation to the mouth. The top, instead of a second layer of pie crust, had been crowned with some kind of crumb concoction to coronate this culinary delight.

Now imagine that as I spread word of my wife’s amazing, superlative, and exceptional apple pie that a well meaning friend pulled me aside and began to rebuke me for my pie idolatry. Clearly, I am informed, my love for the pie has exceeded my love for my wife. All I talk about is her pie and not she herself. My love for her should be pure: free from any attachments to such incarnate delights as pie. I am exhorted to repent of my idolatry for pie and focus my affections on the immortal soul of my wife.

“My dear gnostic brother, ” I reply. “How strange it is that you think I can love my wife without loving what comes from her hands. Were she not my wife, I would still think this a delicious pie, but my love for her only increases my love for her pie. And while it is true that I have spoken on many occasions about her pie while I have not waxed very poetic about her immortal soul in times past, let me assure you that it is only because I am a man and find that my words fail when it comes to her immortal soul but flow when it comes to her cooking. There is no idolatry here, but thank you for your concern.”

Now let me hasten to add that human beings are strange creatures and I suppose that there might be some husband out there who truly loves his wife’s cooking more than he loves his wife. The accusation is not an impossible one, but it does seem to be an unlikely one. I meet very few husbands who love their wive’s cooking who do not also love their wives. It is a rare husband who heaps public praise on his wife’s cooking or parenting or talents whilst despising that same woman. But I grant that such a crooked creature could exist.

Obviously, I speak in parables. Idolatry is a real and common thing with fallen man. There are idols in our hearts and idols in our hands (for covetousness is idolatry). Nevertheless, we need not accuse everyone of idolatry when they speak of the work of Christ’s hands as something to be loved and cherished, even if they speak more words concerning the created than the Creator. We are embodied creatures and we should not be surprised to find that words concerning the created come more easily than words concerning their Creator.

I am particularly concerned when well meaning Christians talk about the idolatry of family and children and nation when they never seem to talk about the idolatry of singleness and barrenness and globalism. Love for family and nation is at least a natural love. It is a commanded love. It is a Christian love, even if at times it becomes a disordered love.

We should be careful not to accuse a man of idolatry for loving his family. We should certainly not use the expression that a man “loves his family too much.” Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, a goal to which we must all aspire as an artist aspires to perfection. Paul never had to admonish men to love less. As a pastor, I have yet to meet a husband who loves his wife too much or a father who loves his children too much. Most of the men that I meet are too weak in their love. Too weak to love enough to lead. Too weak to love enough to speak truth. Too weak to love enough to discipline. To make hard choices. To risk the peace of our homes for the souls of those in our care. But to love too much? I don’t think so.

We should also be careful about accusing a woman of idolizing marriage or children. Hannah cried in anguish over her barrenness and the Lord rewarded her with a son who would guide the nation in the ways of God and bring about a great revival. Children are a blessing and it is good to seek after the blessings of God. And while there are women who do make an idol out of marriage and/or children, we really ought to be preaching against the enemy at the gate and not the enemy on the other side of the world. We live in a culture that tells women that their highest calling is in a STEM field and we provide free pills and abortions to make sure nothing as troublesome as a baby thwarts her efforts to become a second rate man. So by all means, write and preach about the idolatry of marriage as long as you spend about 10 times the amount of time writing and preaching against barrenness as the path to personal fulfillment. When was the last time your preacher (or you, if you are a preacher) exhorted the ladies at your church to be keepers at home? Do that about 100X and then lecture the moms about idolizing their role as moms.

This same restraint should be used before we judge those who love their country as being idolatrous. What is a country besides an extended clan? And why should we not perceive our country as a work of God’s hands? Does He not direct the course of nations and empires as much as He directs the course of an individual? I fully expect my Japanese friends to love Japan and work towards her good and seek to improve her failures. Can we not ask this of Americans?

Perhaps the giant beam in the eye of the guy who dislikes Trump is causing him to focus too much on the splinter in the eye of the guy who loves Trump. I don’t think Evangelical leaders need to apologize to the world because the people who pay their salaries like to fly American flags, want to secure the border, and want public schools to start educating instead of indoctrinating. Some of them even wear MAGA hats. (Not me: red diminishes the natural poignancy of my brown eyes).

Granted, out of the two topics – loving family and loving nation – the loving nation one seems to go wrong quicker and in weirder directions. I grant that. But if you are going to preach against a disordered love of nation, can you not also preach against the lack of love for your nation? Would it help you to swallow this pill if you used the word “community” instead of “nation”? If you are going to write against people who like to fly the flag a little too high, can you not also write about people who refuse to fly the flag at all? Or give grace to those who are passionate when that flag – for which some of them fought – is burned or perhaps takes a back seat to the flag of sexual perversion?

Before we get overly spiritual towards those who love being married and love having children and love being American (or Japanese or Russian, whichever might apply), let’s remember that marriage is honorable in all and the bed undefiled, and that children are a blessing from the Lord, and blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. It is good to eat hamburgers and hot dogs and wave flags on the 4th of July, even if it is as American as my wife’s apple pie.

The Christian is to resist the spirit of the world. But when we say this, we must understand that the world-spirit does not always take the same form. So the Christian must resist the spirit of the world in the form it takes in his own generation. If he does not do this, he is not resisting the spirit of the world at all.

Francis Schaeffer, the God Who is There

Facing Down Inflation

My reading this year has included some healthy doses on economics from the likes of Adam Smith, George Gilder, Thomas Sowell, Milton Friedman, and David Bahnsen. Inflation simply means that consumers are paying more dollars for the same goods and services, leaving many families gasping for financial air. It is certainly reasonable for folks to be concerned about inflation, but believers are not to live in fear. Out of the following observations written to help the Average Joe have confidence as he faces an inflationary environment, only 1 out of 3 comes from the world of economics. The first two, which are more certain and immutable, come from the pages of Scripture. So here are 3 things that will help you face down inflation with confidence.

God is Still Your Heavenly Father

It’s not as though God could provide for you when gas was under $2 a gallon but can’t when it rises about that mark. God does not suddenly throw up His hands in despair when faced with providing for His children in an inflationary period. Some of the greatest miracles in the Bible were miracles of provision. The Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness and it was perfectly human to think, “Sure, God could bless our crops when we actually had them, but can God provide food when there isn’t any?” Yes He can. Paul tells us that the whole Jewish sojourn is filled with examples that were written for us.

The Son of God became a man during a time when many were poor and sick and hungry, and He taught them to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Sometimes He was the direct agent of miraculous provision, feeding thousands with just a boy’s sack lunch. Are our circumstances worse than the circumstances faced by the Jews in that age? Probably not, but even if they were we can and should ask for God to provide our daily bread. Our Father is a good Father and will not give His children stones when they ask Him for bread. We do not want to be guilty of not having simply because we are not asking.

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread

Psalm 37:25

Wisdom Works Even During Inflationary Periods

Of course, God commits Himself to providing for our needs, not our wants. The average poor person in the USA is better off than many rich people of other places or eras. We are accustomed to an easy life (I type as I hide from the heat in my air conditioned office). Having God as our heavenly Father is no more reason to live life as profligates than having a rich earthly father is a reason to live as profligates. Scripture is full of wonderfully helpful counsel regarding matters of material possession.

Two significant attitudes are highlighted in Scripture that we ought to keep in mind. The first is the concept of stewardship, whereby I recognize that everything I possess actually belongs to God. I am to steward my possessions for good in this world. This attitude keeps me responsible and accountable for my money. The second significant counsel the Scriptures recommend is one of generosity. There are those who give and yet have, and there are those who grasp and have not. There are those who steal from the labors of others while there are those who labor that they might have to give to others. The spirit of generosity forces me to always think of myself as a producer and a giver, which changes how I approach financial difficulties.

Beyond attitudes, there are certain types of financial habits that are recommended by Scripture. For example, debt is discouraged while savings are encouraged. (Proverbs 22:7 vs Proverbs 10:5). Slothfulness is discouraged while hard work is encouraged. (Proverbs 6:16 vs Proverbs 14:23). The virtuous woman is extolled for her wisdom, labor, thrift, and fruitfulness.

Inflation is a stress test of your financial attitudes and acumen. Do you demand a certain standard of living and use debt to achieve it? Do you refuse to make personal sacrifices and so rob the Church of your generosity? Is your life filled with anxiety because you don’t know how much money you have or where it is going?

If this is the case, maybe you need a financial organization like Crown to help you grow in this area. Or you can become a cage stage Dave Ramsey acolyte for a year or two. The point is that you should not blame inflation for financial woes that are caused by mismanaging your finances.

Not All Bad News

So this last point is a bit of wisdom garnered from my study of economics. I think we all need to be careful about making “Inflation” the terrifying boogeyman of our nightmares. It’s true that your grandpa used to get a cup of coffee for a dime, but he’ll turn right around and tell you that his first job only payed $1.50 an hour. Wages rise with prices. Inflation is a feature (although some argue an unnecessary feature) of modern economics. And while inflation is currently outpacing wage growth, there are still plenty of opportunities for the resourceful, the industrious, the skilled, and the lucky to increase their material wealth in times of inflation.

I would also caution against the trend of dog-piling on the President, despite my aversion to all Biden policies. The first reason is because if the expansion of the money supply is the sole reason for inflation, then it seems to me that we should have started this process years ago under President Trump, who loved to send out checks. In recent times, the difference between a conservative and a liberal has just been the speed at which each would like to take us over the fiscal cliff. There’s no doubt that the profligate habits of Washington have hurt our economy, but that extends to both political parties. So I find it a bit hypocritical.

The second reason is a little more pragmatic. If inflation gets hung on Biden alone, then Biden could claim an economic turnaround before the 2024 presidential election when production increases and reduces the high rate of inflation. You note that I’m allowing for the possibility that inflation is transitory. Yeah, yeah, I know that was Biden’s line, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. I think it’s possible that inflation will remain high on certain types of items where shortages are projected for several years while others products will normalize as production capacities increase. There, I have thrown my prognostication into the arena where I shall preen if proved right and forget I ever wrote this paragraph if I’m wrong.

Lastly, it’s good to remember that we are now paying for those checks that came in the mail just a few years ago. For a simple (which I needed) explanation of inflation, check out David Bahnsen’s Responses to Doug Wilson’s questions.


So yes, gas prices stink and your grocery bill is going up. This is a challenge to face, not a monster to blame. And while we are facing down inflation, we ought to take some time to face our own personal financial attitudes and the financial repercussions of our political leaders. I am wholly sympathetic to families who are struggling financially, but I am not in despair. We should face inflation with the same hope, the same endurance, and the same acumen with which we face all of life’s trials.


Rejoicing Over Roe, with an Asterisk

Christians everywhere should unequivocally rejoice over the end of Roe. Since Roe, over 60 million babies have been killed in the womb. In the most recent Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court has affirmed that there is no constitutional right to an abortion (which makes sense, because there isn’t.) This is cause for rejoicing and gratitude to the Lord, to the many who have been fighting this battle for decades, to the justices who rightly interpreted the constitution, to the president who elected three of said justices, and to the States that have already begun working to write laws that respect the life of the unborn.

Let me stress again that it is not only ok, but it is good, fitting, appropriate, and pleasing to the Lord for believers to rejoice at this time. God has been kinder to us than our sins deserve, and should the particular kindness bestowed upon us by this ruling be met with subdued golf claps (at best) whilsts conscientiously making sure we aren’t disturbing any secular sacrifices taking place in the public square, it would be unfitting. Let us not tempt the rocks and stones to cry out. Christians have spent the last couple of decades worrying about how we come across to the world when the cross has crucified the world to us and vice versa. If the choice is between offending those who reject God and giving God the glory that is His due, I will choose to give glory to God any day of the week and twice on Sundays. If there is wailing in Ashdod because Dagon has been dismembered, it is not my job to cluck consolingly. So, PRAISE BE TO GOD FOR THE END OF ROE, Amen and Amen.

The Asterisk on this is not to diminish the rejoicing that Roe has ended, but to make the point that we sometimes think we are looking at the fountainhead when we are, in fact, several miles downstream. Abortion and its legality is a downstream issue and we would do well to take this reprieve to repair the foundations, lest they be destroyed.

Legislation/Political Foundation

As others have much more eloquently described, Roe v. Wade was simply a terrible legal decision. The United States of America is a constitutional Republic with separation of powers. When the judicial branch (of which the Supreme Court is the highest authority in the land) takes upon itself the role of creating constitutional rights ex nihilo, they have exceeded their rightful authority. It is frustrating to watch the left lose their mind over the recent ruling without the tiniest acknowledgment that if you want to legalize abortion, the path forward is via legislation in which the will of the people is expressed through voting, NOT through an activist court that gives you what you want.

The conservative justices are trying to save the judicial branch from ruin, and praise the Lord for them. A return to the basics of a constitutional Republic would, in my estimation, require two important additional corrections. First, the expansion of the Executive branch via Executive Order would need to be curtailed. George W Bush is the first president in my lifetime to abuse this authority, and every subsequent president has multiplied his error by leaps and bounds. Second, the bureaucratic state by which unelected officials determine what kind of cars we can drive, what kind of food we can eat, how tall the ceilings in our buildings need to be, and whether or not your kids can set up a lemonade stand without a permit, must be relegated into oblivion. All this would require is that no government department could enforce any of its regulations until all of its regulations had been evaluated and updated to remove outdated criteria. That should keep them busy for a few decades.

This return to a constitutional Republic requires an informed and educated public, which means that education will be at the center of the battle for the foreseeable future. Personally, I have abandoned any faith in the government schools and my advice to all Christian parents (just advice, I’m not speaking ex cathedra) is to remove your children from these institutions immediately.

Culture/Worship Foundation

The second aspect of this has to do with culture and worship. Now that the issue of abortion has been returned to the states, abortions will become easier or harder to obtain based on the population make up of that state. And so here is a big asterisk: overturning Roe does the pro-life movement no good if all 50 states eventually pass legislation to legalize abortion, which is what will happen if the culture goes that way, because politics is downstream of culture.

What kind of culture demands the right to kill their unborn children? What kind of culture cannot discern the logical incoherence of weeping with those who have miscarriages while celebrating those who terminate their pregnancies? What kind of culture can categorize abortion as “women’s health” when roughly 30 million women have been killed before they had a chance to stand on their own two feet? A culture that long ago exchanged the Creator for the created.

If politics is downstream of culture, then culture is downstream of worship. We become like the gods we make (Psalm 115:7-8). All people are worshipers. You, dear reader, are a worshiper. When man fell in the garden he did not cease to love, fear, or worship. He simply began loving, fearing, and worshiping the wrong thing in the wrong way. Those who worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, worship the Living God. The God who gives life and tells us to choose life. In the culture of life, marriage matters, sex is a gift not to be abused, men joyfully accept the responsibility of fatherhood, motherhood is a high calling, and children are a treasure from the Lord.

So what hope is there for a culture like ours? There is the hope of the gospel, where the blood guilt of 63 million lives can be washed away by the blood of God’s perfect Lamb. What revival can there be a for a national conscience seared by unbridled pornographic consumption and mindless sexual encounters? There is the washing of water by the Word and the transformation of a renewed mind. What future can there be for those who come late to labor in the Master’s Vineyard after idling away their day in vain and selfish pursuits? There is the merciful kindness of the Master Himself.

God has graciously given us a reprieve from our great national shame. We must use this reprieve to preach a crucified, risen Savior who came to give us life, and life more abundant. Ours is the better gospel, the better story, the better way, and it’s all because ours is the better God.

Among the gods there is none like unto thee, O Lord; neither are there any works like unto thy works.

Psalm 86:8

How American Workers are Redeeming Their Employers from Rigor Mortis

In the last two weeks I have been clubbed into a senseless stupor by the lifeless policies and procedures of 2 large American companies, only to be revived by acts of genuine and personal helpfulness of the employees of those companies. Here are my stories.

Story 1 – Lowes

I ordered some cabinetry online for pickup at my local Lowes. Typically I would just go to the store and pick them up, but since not every piece was in stock at any one location it was easier to select product online based on availability and schedule a pickup. The Ozark location sent me an email within a couple of hours telling me that their portion was ready for pickup, and since I had to go to a job site near the Springfield location I hoped that order would be ready soon as well. After my job site visit I pulled into the Springfield Lowes and asked if their portion of the order happened to be ready, where I was informed that if I hadn’t received a text or email they couldn’t tell me anything.

“Could I just go back there and see if they are pulling my order?” I asked.

“Well, it looks like they’re pulling the order, so maybe just come back in thirty minutes.” The girl said in a tone that would not inspire a priest to pray.

I was about to give in to her suggestion, and then I thought to myself, “I’m here, and they’re pulling my order, so why don’t I just go find them?” Which I proceeded to do. After wandering around a bit I found 2 carts with what looked like my stuff sitting in the back by lumber, and everything was there. All 10 pieces were on carts ready to go. My name was on them. Hurrah! But I didn’t know what exactly to do with them at this point. Drag them up to the Customer Service area and say, “Hey, here they are. Can I go now?” Seemed a little pushy.

There were a couple younger guys back there in lumber, so I asked them if I could take my order.

“We can’t let you have the order until customer service releases it.”

“How do I get customer service to release it?”

“The person who pulled the order has to tell them it’s been pulled.”

“Where’s that guy and how do I get him to tell customer service it’s pulled?”

To make a long story short, no one had ever told the guy who pulled the order how to close out the order on his handheld electric device, so he just pulled my order and walked away. Maybe he finished hours before. Maybe my stuff would sit there until the next day when someone stubbed their toe on it. Hard to say. So there was my stuff, and I had paid for it, but I wasn’t allowed to take it.

The two young guys looked at me and I looked at them. “What should we do?” I asked. They looked at each other and back at me.

It was a standoff.

But they were up to the task. What they didn’t have in authority or experience they made up in energy and common sense. They looked up every person who was logged in on “active duty” until they finally found someone who answered the phone and knew how to release my order. They told that person to meet us at the front desk. Then those two guys went out to my trailer with me and loaded it. They weren’t managers, assistant managers, or for all I know well paid. But instead of shrugging their shoulders and telling me to go back to customer service, they just worked to fix the situation. My faith in the next generation received a stiff shot of the old back straightener. Perhaps we will survive another generation.

Story 2 – Home Depot

A couple of weeks ago I went to Home Depot and found a fridge I liked. The man working at the appliance desk told me that I was better off to order it online and have it shipped to me as it was a new product and their system hadn’t really adjusted to it yet. So I did that, and in my hurry to place the order I simply hit ok when the “We didn’t find your address, but we found this address that is a close match” dialog box popped up. I confirmed the right street address so just assumed their system wanted me to type out “Street” instead of St or something like that. What I failed to notice is that it had changed the zip code on the delivery address.

Fast forward two weeks to a couple days before the fridge was scheduled to be delivered and I received a call from the delivery company. They told me they could not find a matching street address with the zip code that was on it but had found a matching address at a different zip code, which happened to be the correct one. I laughed and confirmed my zip code (how young and naive I was! Oh to return to the flower of you when hope bloomed that such ordinary miscommunications and errors could be solved with two people talking), only to be told that I would need to get Home Depot to change the zip code in their system. They were very nice but explained that their contract with HD was very specific and they would get in trouble if they delivered to a different zip code. Totally understandable…no problem…how hard can it be to get a zip code changed?

Rather than spend time on the phone, I decided to go to the store. You see, I had learned from my Lowes experience that it takes a person to actually accomplish anything. I spoke with Edwin at appliances and he was very helpful, assured me that he would alert the online order people and they would get the zip code changed that day. I even received a call a few minutes later from the shipping folks (again, very friendly and helpful people) who told me that Edwin had called them and told them to deliver it and that he had sent the change request to the online order people. Problem solved and it wasn’t even 8AM yet.

4PM hits and I get a call from the delivery people telling me that the online order folks had DENIED the zip code change request. There was nothing they could do unless I could call and get someone to change it and that even though the delivery date was a Saturday, she would come in and check to see if the order had been updated and if it had she would still deliver the fridge.

After about 4 unsuccessful attempts with the the “dial 1 for this or 2 for that” system, I hit enough buttons and screamed into the phone enough times to get a human being on the line. A really nice lady whose name started with an R. Was it Rachel? I don’t know, but she was great. At this point in the day I was underneath a house in the crawl space re-routing the washing machine drain pipe, so I had her on speaker and had to kind of yell as my body was in a lot of awkward and painful positions (there was about a 22″ clearance down there and I’m not quite as svelte as I used to be). I explained the whole situation…right address but wrong street code…two blocks away….fridge was 15 minutes away in a warehouse and shipper WANTED to deliver it to me…can we find a reasonable conclusion to this ordeal?

We spent 45 minutes together on the phone. She ended up being a virtual dinner guest for a few minutes with our family. After multiple times on hold, the bubbly optimism which characterized the beginning of our customer service relationship had given way to a soft anxiety. The joy was gone like a romance that bloomed in May but died in June. You see, not only had the request to change the zip code been DENIED by her supervisor, but she had actually been reprimanded for trying to change the zip code herself. How dare a customer service representative try to HELP THE CUSTOMER!!

“So what am I supposed to do?” I asked.

“You’ll have to cancel the order and place a new one,” was her muted response. I could practically hear the HD Hoover in the background as it sucked out yet another piece of her soul.

So I went and bought the fridge at Lowes, put it in my trailer, and hauled it home.


So here’s my very amateur take on the state of large corporations in America. Technology is great. I love when my life is simplified and my time is saved through technology. Processes are great. We all need processes to keep profits where they need to be because we all need to make money. But technology and processes are not your greatest resource. Human beings are your greatest resource. You company will boom or bust based on your people. Your people are keeping your customers coming back. Stop trying to suck the soul out of your employees.


Maintaining Marital Fidelity: The Danger of Gaps

It was pretty early on in our marriage-before kids anyway-when we got into a bit of a kerfuffle at church. There’s something extra terrible about getting into a kerfuffle at church, especially when you’re the pastor and your job is to stand up and declare the eternal glories of Christ. I’m sure it was hard for my wife as she played the piano accompaniment to hymns celebrating our good and gracious God. So there I was, about to ascend the sacred desk and preach, but on my mind was the space between my wife and I. I told myself that we could discuss the conflict after church, but I wasn’t buying it. So I asked the church to have a minute or two of silent prayer before someone came up and led us in a congregational prayer, and I grabbed my wife’s hand and we went to the fellowship hall to take care of the gap. I’m neither the smartest nor the most sanctified husband I know, but I’m thankful for this episode early in our marriage because it taught me the blessing of not allowing a gap between us.

Gaps can come in a variety of ways, but the commonality between all of them is that there is a sense of distance between husband and wife. Misaligned goals can cause a gap. Hurt feelings can cause a gap. Sexual abstinence can cause a gap. Distance is distance, and distance is dangerous. When God created mankind and joined together man and woman in the covenant of marriage, a central aspect of that union is that the husband will cleave to his wife and they will be one flesh. No gap. No space. No distance.

My understanding is that to cleave has something to do with being bonded tightly together, and the result of this is that two become one. The lines of distinction between individuals blurs in the eye of the beholders. The “one flesh” aspect of marriage is the result of cleaving. Husbands and wives are not room-mates with benefits. They are joined in such a way that in their own minds and in the minds of others, it is difficult to think of one without thinking of both.

In my personal as well as pastoral experience, gaps are usually small conflicts, hurts, miscommunications, etc… that are simply not dealt with immediately or well. These types of things are bound to happen as sinners live in proximity to one another, even though not all gaps start as a result of a particular sin.

When we have gaps, things get in the gaps. Except the “things” that get in the gaps are usually other people. Infidelity often starts with gaps. Maybe some well meaning person of the opposite sex notices the gap and sympathizes and just wants to help you, and then the gap between husband and wife widens while the gap between sympathetic listener and married man/woman shrinks. Or maybe the seductive adulteress of Proverbs probes and quickly identifies the gap. Or it could be an overtly sexual man looking for a conquest and exploits the gap.

Or maybe the thing that gets into the gap really is a thing, like pornography. Or a different thing, like online gambling. These aren’t bizarre and unlikely scenarios; these are things that I have come across during my brief sojourn. Married folks without any gaps don’t have a lot of time for such things, because they are too busy keeping out the gaps.

So as a man who is both a pastor and a businessman, my encouragement to you is to address the gaps between you and your spouse immediately. Don’t leave the house with distance between you. Don’t go to work until it has been addressed. Don’t preach, teach, or counsel until you close the distance. You may have to delay the full-blown conversation (in my opening example, we were not able to work through all of the conflict in that brief time before I had to preach), but you can assure one another of your love, your commitment, and your plan to work through the whole thing at the soonest reasonable opportunity. Distance is not your friend. Gaps are the enemy.


What I Want for my Daughters to Want

I didn’t expect to be a girl dad right out of the gate. My wife and I both presumed our first child would be a boy, and maybe our second and third, and then we’d get around to having a girl. We obviously know nothing. I love being a father to my girls, and as a father I have certain hopes and desires for them that seem counter cultural these days.

What I want for my daughters is to want to be mothers. I don’t just want them to want to have a kid or two at some point, but I want them to see motherhood as the normal, natural, and blessed outcome of a woman’s life as she lives for God. Other outcomes are possible, but motherhood is the normal and desirous expectation.

And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. 

Genesis 3:20

In one sense, I don’t care if my daughters go to college. (For that matter, college is becoming less a priority for me as a parent in general). I don’t care if they have careers or professional achievements. This doesn’t mean that I think their only utility is to be some kind of baby hatchery. I expect that my daughters will be wise, compassionate, competent, and skilled people whom the labor force will try to woo. But I hope that they choose to lavish their wisdom, love, and talents upon their family, their church, and their community instead of on a corporation.

Her children arise up, and call her blessed

Proverbs 31:28a

I want their babies to be the product of a loving covenantal marriage. I want them to want a man who can measure up to me. Maybe that’s prideful, but if I thought I was doing a terrible job as a man I would strive to do better. I want to set the bar high for them. I want them to choose a man who can lead them and their future children. A man who expends his energy and muscles on earning a living and caring for his family and improving his community, so that when he sits down-exhausted from his labors-she can bring him a cold beverage (and maybe a rockin’ sandwich) that expresses her gratitude and respect. In turn, he wakes up to lavish his love on her again the next day until no one can tell anymore where the cycle of respect and love stops and starts.

Her husband also, and he praiseth her. 

Proverbs 31:12b

My perception is that motherhood is not considered a high and noble calling by the culture of expressive individualism in which we find ourselves. Motherhood must be selfless or it becomes poisonous. Women who want a baby to accessorize their lifestyle are comic parodies of Eve. This perception is supported by the evidence of a society that is having fewer and fewer children, targeting girls with a barrage of “you can be anything you want to be, especially if what you want to be in in the STEM fields”, and loses its mind at the thought of not being allowed to abort its babies should they be inconvenient.

So I want my daughters to want motherhood to be at the center of their being. Should they be barren, I want them to be like Mother Dimble who managed to embody motherhood without being a mother. Should the Lord bless them with children, I want them to want to raise their own babies. I don’t want them to have a child and then find the shortest route back to the work force. And after they raise their baby, I want them to want to have another baby.

Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. 

1 Timothy 2:15

And I want all of this because I love my daughters and think they have a high and noble calling that comes not from the world, but from the heavens. That calling is to nurture life and enrich our world. This is not the easy way out. This is a calling to live the crucified life as much as any other calling, and perhaps more so.

Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also

Luke 2:35

A calling that will require the grace and strength of God to fulfill. A calling that will shape and form their very souls. A worth while calling.


The Unborn – A Biblical Primer

With Roe vs Wade back in the news, here is a list of biblical passages that Christians should consider as they think about the unborn.

Part 1 – The Value of the Life of the Unborn

The fundamental value of all human life (as opposed to the life of a cow or a caterpillar) lies in the biblical revelation that mankind (male and female) are made in the image of God.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 

Genesis 1:26-27

The circumstantial differences between people, such as their position within the social hierarchy, are not pertinent to value since both are made in the image of God.

Did not he that made me in the womb make him? and did not one fashion us in the womb? 

Job 31:15

The stages of development in the womb are part of the work of God in fashioning humanity. It is impossible to make distinctions on the value of the unborn based on their development as the entire process is orchestrated by God.

For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

Psalm 136:13-16

The unborn already have God given purposes for their life.

Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. 

Jeremiah 1:5

But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.

Luke 1:13-15

Part 2 – The Calling to Motherhood

Fruitfulness in progeny is a purpose and blessing from God.

And God blessed them (Adam and Eve), saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. 

Genesis 1:22

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. 

Genesis 9:1

And I will make thee (Israel) exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.

Genesis 17:6

Motherhood is the normative calling for women.

And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. 

Genesis 3:20

Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle. 

Deuteronomy 7:14

Her children arise up, and call her blessed

Proverbs 31:28

Part 3 – Response to the Social Injustice of Abortion

The midwives in Egypt refused to commit infanticide.

But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.

Exodus 1:17

The Israelites were forbidden from offering their children to Molech

And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD. 

Leviticus 18:21

Old Testament Jews and New Testament Christians are to seek the good of the most vulnerable

Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. 

Isaiah 1:17

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. 

James 1:27

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 

Matthew 25:45


The Biblical teaching on the value of the unborn is clear, as is the responsibility to the most vulnerable in society. These vulnerable ones include the unborn as well as mothers in distress. Just as Christians cared for exposed babies in the Roman Empire by establishing orphanages, homeless children in Europe by establishing Sunday Schools, slaves in the Western world by promoting abolition, so we find Christians in the 21st century funding and supporting pregnancy care centers, adopting, fostering, and caring for babies.


Complimentary Sanctification

Today I would like to make the case that sanctification, the process of growing and maturing into Christ-likeness, is most fruitful when the efforts of the public and the personal are complimentary. The need for 2 different approaches in these settings is due to pacing, and I’ll flesh that out below. In Scripture, we find the public services of the church described in the pastoral epistles where we are told how to conduct ourselves in the house of God, while the personal is emphasized in the “one anothers” of NT Church life.

First, we need to establish progressive sanctification as the norm for the Christian experience. This in itself is somewhat counter-cultural even within the broader evangelical culture. We preach the gospel to a world impacted by consumerism, emotivism, and the gospel of the therapeutic. Into that culture we preach a gospel whose fruit is the mortification of sin, the crucifixion of the self, and the humbling of the individual for the sake of the glory of God and love of others. In other words, everything about the gospel is counter-intuitive to a race of people who love themselves more than anything and to a generation that has created a world in which that self-love is lauded instead of critiqued. Nevertheless, this is the task of the Church: to make disciples.

Secondly, we need to understand that growing in Christ-likeness really is a process which, while involving various crisis moments, requires time. After investing an afternoon and some money into reseeding my lawn, I have daily scoured the ground for signs of new growth. My initial impatience at the speed of growth is slowly giving way to the satisfaction of seeing the blades emerging. It just took more time than I wanted. Growing up into the fullness of the stature of Christ takes more time than we would like, both in ourselves and in others. It often involves more effort than we would have anticipated and costs more than we budgeted for.

Let’s not pretend that our culture is more wicked and vile than, say, the first century Roman culture from which many Gentile believers were saved. However, the present culture has shaped people in such a way that discipleship seems to take a little longer than the culture of 50 years ago. Here are a couple of examples.

It’s a common joke among my tribe that “back in the day”, when you got saved that on your way out of the baptistry you were handed a Sunday School book and told to be at church the next week at 9:30 because you would be teaching the 3rd grade class. I have met multiple folks (in their later years) who told this story. It’s hard to imagine that happening today. Faithful church attendance continues to decline, and what would have been considered poor attendance fifty years ago is now considered faithful. This makes discipleship challenging.

Another example would be the attitude of the culture towards truth versus feelings. The battle over free speech vs hate speech is really a clash between a world-view that values truth and a world-view that values feelings. Feeling oriented people (which we all are to some extent, but is certainly more pronounced today than in the past) struggle with being told to do something that is unpleasant or to give up something that is loved. Preaching against sin is now considered hate speech by many.

We are called to make disciples of those who are influenced by a culture that appears to be further removed from virtue and truth than the culture of fifty years ago. But we are not to despair: the Cretans were liars, evil, lazy, and gluttons, and out of that group the gospel was going to yield such fruit that they would have their own elders in the church. I want to make the case that we are aided in our efforts by having both a public effort and a personal effort.

The Public Effort

The public effort is the weekly gathering of God’s people. It would be a terrible mistake to accommodate the structure and tone of this meeting to the culture. This refusal is in itself jarring because the demand of the culture is that everything accommodate itself to the happiness of the individual. The weekly gathering of the Church should be the most counter-cultural experience of the week, challenging the individual at a variety of levels.

Consider how little time is allotted in most worship services for prayer or for Scripture reading. Is this not a capitulation to the demand to be entertained and excited? Consider how carefully texts are trimmed and rephrased and even ignored so as not to offend the tender sensibilities of the listeners. Is this not an obeisance to the feelings of those listening? The public service should shape the people in order to please God, rather than letting the people shape the public service to please themselves.

I am not saying that church services should be intentionally boring, but they should definitely leave unsatisfied the fleshly desire to be coddled. The Word must come from God and go forth to form the people. If ever the demands of the people form the word, it will cease to be a Word from God. The passion that fills the church must be a Spirit driven passion to know God through His Word and rejoice in the Son, who brings us to God. And since these are Spirit given desires, they will not be present in the unconverted.

Those who have been conformed to the spirit of the age should find the public service of the church challenging. It should challenge our desire to be the center of attention. It should challenge our idolatry of self, pleasure, and all of our many fe-e-e-elings. It should challenge our conceit that our opinion matters. The public service of the church is a foretaste of maturity. It is a display of the Godward life. It is a manifestation of the community of Christ that has taken up its cross to follow Jesus. It is a weekly foretaste of the finish line. And as such, it will be too much for many to handle.

The Personal Effort

Which is why personal effort is so important. By personal I mean the one to one (or small group) discipling, parenting, mentoring, and various other one-another acts of the community of Christ that happen between the public services. It is essential that the public service of the church relentlessly set the bar high and proclaim without apology the offensive gospel of Jesus. But in between those public services, it is of immense service to engage individuals on a personal level.

One way that personal effort is useful is that it can rejoice in the incremental. When I preach from the pulpit, it is my job to preach the ideal, who is Christ. In doing so, I endeavor to preach above my own sanctification. But when I engage with folks on a personal level, it is easier to drill down into the specifics of life and find the next step rather than focus on the finish line.

Another way that personal ministry is necessary is that it can engage in dialogue and debate. Sermons have a heraldic quality that is diminished by interruption and dialogue (although an appropriate place may be found for these at other times). The text is read and expounded and then the hearers are exhorted. The personal allows for questions, clarifications, explorations of applications, challenges, and other types of dialogue which is useful to learning. A sermon moves on whether the listener understands, but at a personal level the pace of instruction can be modified.

Another way that personal ministry is useful is by communicating that truth is being spoken in love. By investing time and energy into individuals, we are automatically communicating something of our love for them. The conversations we have in personal settings tend to make our care and concern for others more obvious than a public sermon can. It also forms a natural kind of accountability.


The disclaimer to all of this is that taken woodenly, we could clearly find exceptions in these points. Sometimes public sermons do communicate love and encourage incremental change. Sometimes personal conversations come across as unloving and harsh. But I think there is enough general distinction to be helpful.

In my mind, this is a matter of pace. Disciples need both a finish line to which they can aspire as well as “in the moment” instruction. Public services set the pace of the entire community, but at various times and in various ways individuals will need help keeping that pace. Without that personal help, they will being to feel out of sync with the rest of the body and a sense of distance will set in. This may be chalked up to personal failure leading to guilt, or it may result in a judgmental spirit and anger towards the rest of the body. In either case the result is that the platoon loses a soldier. Without the public services, the body lacks direction. Without personal attention, the individuals lack the care they need to remain healthy in the body. This is the complimentary nature of the public and the personal aspects of discipleship.


Capitalism and Evolution

This post is inspired by George Gilder’s brilliant prologue to Wealth and Poverty, and as I am only a couple of chapters into the book I cannot comment on it as a whole. But the prologue is noteworthy not only for for its defense of capitalism, but for its verve. Is that still a word? It should be, because that’s the spirit of the prologue. He may be wrong, but if he is wrong he is wrong with panache. If his outfit is a fashion disaster, it is not for lack of color and embroidery. You may dislike his ruffles, but you cannot but admire his boldness in wearing them. If you don’t like the number his orchestra is playing, you must concede that it is not for lack of trumpets.

One of the relatively shocking approaches that Gilder takes is to defend capitalism not as a “best among worst” options nor as an approach to mitigate the general awfulness of humanity in the economic realm, but as intrinsically good and generous. Gilder is impatient with those who see the history of capitalism as a series of robber barons out to increase their own wealth at the expense of others, and he upbraids modern (and modern-ish) proponents with acquiescing to that historical perception.

If the argument goes “capitalism really was a terrible state of affairs involving slavery and oppression and the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer, but it somehow yielded us a 21st century system that really isn’t half bad” then we can say that there is nothing essentially better about capitalism than any other system of economics. At the battlefront of the terrible clash between capitalism and socialism, Gilder accuses the generals of motivating their men with a pathetic patriotism that amounts to “Men, it’s true that our country has been pretty terrible, but it’s not so bad right now so you should really try to put up a good fight.”

This is actually reminiscent of the evolutionary model of biological life. In evolution, given enough time something can come from nothing and then turn into everything. But that process (the past) must necessarily involve a massive amount of awfulness. Sure, what we wound up with is pretty darn functional: an ecosystem filled with symbiotic relationships, a humanity with a consciousness and rationality, etc… And because what we wound up with is pretty darn good, there’s no sense worrying about all the mountains of suffering and death that Evolution’s aborted offspring had to endure to get us to this point. If we buy into Evolution (as a macro-explanation for the existence and diversity of biological life) then we accept that Death is the mechanism from which Life comes. In the same way, if we go along with the story of capitalism as a story of self serving greed, then we accept that the mechanism for Prosperity is Greed. Gilder says that this is wrong and that greed is actually the death of capitalism.

What is so compelling about Gilder’s take is that you don’t have to be any kind of economic expert to understand in your bones that he is right, just as you don’t have to be a biologist (who alone can discern the mystical differences between male and female) to reject evolution. Evolution is manifestly backwards: life must precede death. The story of capitalism, as told by its opponents as well as its half-hearted defenders, is manifestly backwards: generosity must produce wealth. According to Gilder, that is what lies at the heart of capitalism.



It is everything that Youtube Premium is not. Namely, it is not digital. Everything about my favorite Christmas present is finite. There is romance in the 22 minutes per side restriction of a 33 that cannot compare to the endless supply of music stored up in well cooled server stations, waiting to be called upon to deliver an un-curtailed buffet of entertainment. Music that lives in “the cloud” is as close as your phone, yet aloof as the moon. It is everywhere, but it is also nowhere.

Photo by Anton H on Pexels.com

Vinyl is tactile. It is geographic. It is bound to a place where a disc of plastic meets an unwieldy turntable. It is everything that the younger siblings of the I-phone cannot understand and yet, as a human, instinctively long for. It is the joy of a child who finds greater delight in the meshed gears of a pocket watch than in the magic of numeric pixels on a screen.

An undeniable shiver of delight accompanies the drop of the needle into the grooves of the record. Yes, even a feeling of conquest if the finger of man has moved the needle to drop precisely at a sharper chasm marking the beginning of a different track. Or perhaps the needle will descend down the outer rim, spitting and crackling like a man tumbling down an embankment into some new terrain.

Digital music comes to us sterilized, as if it has been prepped for surgery. Like a thief who is careful to leave no evidence of his presence behind. Vinyl comes to us touched, bent, handled, loved, discarded, and discovered, much like people. The warp of the material knocks the orbit slightly off balance, resulting in a subtle vertical rise and drop like a wave. Does the Creator feel this satisfaction when He gazes at the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit as it changes every one hundred thousand years? Occam’s Razor is for problems, not for pleasure.

It is the limitation of the tactile that enthralls. Our digital age demands the abolition of all boundaries, which means that our digital age demands the abolition of Man. As our digital footprints extend perpetually, we leave no paths for others to follow. As we reach to touch foreign frontiers, we lose our grasp on our families, our friends, and our neighbors. No painting may truly be admired if the canvas is infinite. No song appreciated if it goes on forever. Endless choice has only led to endless anxiety. And boredom. Only boring people are bored.

The re-discovery of vinyl is the epiphany that we are embodied. An epiphany that has been subsumed by suffering, disease, war, mortality, and frustration. To live free of our embodiment is the longed for Utopia of a race held captive to death and deprivation. Like all man-made Utopia’s, the price is often humanity itself. We may live forever in splendor if we are willing to surrender that which makes us human.

This dilemma can only be resolved by the infinite becoming finite. Love, joy, peace, and glory must be Incarnate before they can be appreciated. The vastness of God would drive us mad while His absence would render us meaningless. The hands that scoop out the oceans and fling the stars into dancing galaxies must be riven with nails before we can appreciate them. The Mind behind the cosmos must speak in parables, aphorisms, hyperbole, and sermonic melody before we can hear Him. Love must bleed before we can comprehend it. Touch it. Embrace it.

I could go on, but my time is up.


2 Hats the Pastor Must Not Wear

Over the last couple of years as ministry has changed for many churches, I find myself occasionally talking to a friend or colleague who left pastoral ministry and has found himself looking for employment in the secular world. Job interviews inevitably get around to asking about employment history, experience, and skill sets. How does a man who has pastored for twenty years explain his experience and skill set? In secular terms, he has played the role of CEO, CFO, HR, Facility Supervisor, Complaint Department, Office Manager, and “Environmental Service Technician”. In other words, the pastor wears a lot of hats.

Apart from larger churches where roles are carefully defined, most pastors are comfortable being flexible in their responsibilities and responding to needs as they arise. Despite this necessity, wise pastors define themselves by their spiritual role in the church. They see themselves as shepherds of the flock, as heralds of the gospel, as teachers of the eternal truth of God, and as evangelists. While the pastor may every once in a while have to don his accountant visor, or his “van is broke down again” overalls, or his “time to get the plunger out” gloves, he knows these are secondary responsibilities.

The pastor’s perception of his role in the church is foundational to the execution of his responsibilities before the Lord. Some pastors get their priorities mixed up. Some pastors lose sight of their calling. But in twenty years of pastoral ministry, I have learned there are 2 hats that I must never don. There are two ways that I am tempted to view myself that are simply devastating to my effectiveness as a minister of God.

The Martyr’s Halo

The martyr’s halo is what I like to wear when I feel like no one loves God quite as much as I do, or no one sacrifices quite as much as I sacrifice, or no one appreciates sufficiently the level of service that they receive from my hand. Just writing those words is shameful because they are all thoughts that I have entertained over the years. Is there anything more self righteous than putting on the face of one who is bravely enduring the stripes of ministry simply for the sake of drawing more attention to one’s own deeds? Flow those phylacteries. Trumpet those tears. Drop the silver coins of your service from far above the offering plate so they might ring louder when they land.

There are certainly martyrs in Christianity, but legitimate martyrs are joyful. They gladly watch their property plundered and they sing praises in the prison cell and they count it a blessing to be able to suffer as their Lord suffered. But you, dear pastor, who labored hard over your message only to receive not one compliment, are not a martyr. Refuse to be one. Especially when the the devil whispers those delicious morsels in your ear, “If they only knew how much you did for the Lord…”

The Hero’s Hood

Conversely, the pastor must also never think that he is the hero of the story. Perhaps yours is not the ministry of martyrdom, but the ministry of a grateful and growing people who receive the Word with gladness and constantly express appreciation for the blessing you are. How tempting it is to see yourself as the hero of the story! The pastor is uniquely positioned to be present when God works wonders and is often the very instrument for good in God’s hand. Being an instrument is not to be confused with being the One who wields it.

Perhaps the tempting thought for this tendency sounds something like, “You could be the one to turn this around!” or “Think about the opportunities you’ll have when everyone sees what you did with this ministry!” Rushing back into my mind are all those introductions for speakers at Bible College that went like, “When Pastor Awesome first came to Lowly Baptist Church, they were meeting in a cardboard box on the fire escape of a condemned building, but after fifteen years they are now running six hundred, have a 12-acre facility built on top of a gold mine, and have changed the name to Synergy!” I joke, of course. But from Bible Colleges to book publishing to tweet counting to conference speakers, it’s easy for our hearts to get caught up in becoming a hero instead of pointing to the Hero.

Hang Up Your Hat

The solution for both false identities is to make sure that our service for the Lord never exceeds our gratitude to the Lord. The sobriquet of hero or martyr quickly fades when we live in awe of the grace that we have received. When your evaluation of what you do for the Lord exceeds your understanding of what God has done for you in Christ, you are nearing the tempter’s snare. So the next time you find yourself marching with plunger in hand to the rescue of the plumbing pipes, sigh not for the tragedy of your life. The next time a thankful believer testifies of how your sermon changed her life, puff not up with pride but instead, remind yourself that God once used an ass to speak, a rock to water a nation, birds to feed a prophet, and blood to wash away the sins of even the proudest sinner.


In Which Baloo Explains the Importance of Ontology

It was probably 1991 and one of my refuges during a year back in my birth country was American cartoons; cartoons like Talespin. In a way I envy my children who at ages 8 and below are able to navigate multiple streaming services to find the show they want. At age 11, I felt like the manager of television programming was a capricious god who delighted in thwarting my viewing desires, so it was a heady feeling of Herculean conquest when I managed to locate a show I wanted to watch.

It was Baloo who taught me the priority of Ontology over Epistemology, but I wouldn’t have known those terms at the time. The plot of the episode (Sheepskin Run, episode 51) was that Baloo needed to go back and get his grade school diploma so that he could attend his class reunion and see his buddies. After failing the final exam by one question, he realizes that he has been marked wrong regarding whether or not certain flora grew in the mountains. Baloo realizes that he has physically seen this species growing in the mountains and so he takes his professor on a death defying airplane ride to show him an actual plant growing where the professor though it could not, and in light of this reality the professor corrects the test and Baloo earns his degree.

This is the old way of thinking. This is science as I understand. This is biblical. The world and everything in it have a nature and our job is to discover and nurture that nature so that it might be fruitful. The sacred writings call this “dominion”. There is a reality which was spoken into existence by God; it is the endeavor of man to search out that reality and better understand it, though his understanding will be limited and, thanks to sin, twisted.

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.

Proverbs 25:2

What modern man seems to want is the opposite. Man wants to invent in his mind and then force the world to conform. In the Renaissance this was called magic, and in the 21st century it is called science. My suspicion is that this is what is behind the drive towards a “virtual existence”, where there are no limits at all. Modern man cannot give an answer in words to the most basic questions that our ancestors knew in their souls because modern man refuses to acknowledge that we were created with a nature that, while flexible, is nevertheless fixed. If this episode of Tailspin were to be written today, I wonder if the professor would rather deny reality rather than change his mind.

For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality, and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique.

CS Lewis, the Abolition of Man

Perhaps our refusal to accept that created things have a nature also lies at the heart of our failure to exercise dominion: we break the world around us, and ourselves, because we attempt to impose upon it that which its shoulders are unable to bear. If man exists to serve God and care for His creation, then it follows that abandoning this grand purpose will result in frustration, anger, bitterness, and anxiety. The childlike joy of discovery is largely missing today, even from the world of science, where discovery and laughter have been divorced.

The veneer of intellectual plausibility for all of this is provided by evolution, in which anything can turn into anything given enough time. If what we see now used to be something else, then modern man can feel confident that given enough time and effort, he can turn it into something else completely in the future. In the hands of modern man, dominion looks cruel and without compassion: the created world is his slave to be disposed of at his will. Our physical bodies are sacrificed upon the altar of our will.

The world we live in is organic but also established. Mankind will always be mankind, even if he enters the Metaverse. Men will always be men and women will always be women, regardless of surgeries and hormone blockers. Individuals and even entire generations may get drunk on the wine of some new philosophy and seek out marriages of 3 or 4, but like a rubber band that can only stretch so far, society will return back to the beautiful number of 2. Let all who rage at the heavens despair in this, and let all who bow to heaven’s will rejoice.


A Year Later

It was a year ago that we went in for our first specialist visit to discover the extent of our unborn daughter’s heart condition. Katie was somewhere around 21 weeks and we had just celebrated Christmas. We laid our little girl to rest on March 19, and two weeks ago we were finally able to get her monument set. Here are a few haphazard but sincere thoughts regarding the last year.

We still love the little girl God gave us. We have no memories with her to treasure, no pictures outside of ultrasounds and echocardiograms save the ones taken at the hospital after she was delivered. So it is just raw love anchored in a future hope. We talk about her in heaven and the kids bring her up all the time. It’s amazing to me how real she is to them, even though they never got to meet her. But if Penny were our only child, I would still consider myself a father for the love I have for her.

The Lord alone is a refuge for the day of calamity. Truth led us and Compassion kept us. We were never outside the love and power of our God for a second, so even in that terrible tomb of a hospital room we were safe. Money could not have sustained us. Friends could not have kept us. Only a God who Himself had conquered the sting of death was enough.

Suffering is everywhere. We know so many who this year have lost children through miscarriages. We know so many who have suffered in other ways that are foreign to us. None of us can plant our flag on the island of suffering and claim it for our own. We all live in this sin cursed world and the lie of unique suffering makes fools of those who believe it.

Loss is debilitating. After Penny passed, writing was hard. It had been my- our- way of processing our emotions and sharing our burden with our friends and family. But then it just became hard to write. Or preach. Or go to work. Nothing seemed worth writing about after Penny.

Parents never give up hope. Whether addictions or relationships or health, a parent is usually the last one to give up. We talked to so many doctors and cardiologists and specialists and almost all of them (there was one exception I can think of) tried to convince us that Penny would pass away. And we tried to convince them that she wouldn’t. Does it matter that they were right? Not a bit. I appreciate that they wanted us to be emotionally prepared for her passing, but we wanted them to be medically prepared for her survival. It’s a parent’s job to believe all things, because that’s what love does.

Continuing to live life is not a betrayal of the dead. Laughing at a joke is not a sin. Enjoying a good meal is not a transgression. Playing with my other children is not evil. The people around us do not have to apologize for celebrating births and birthdays. We cannot hold the world hostage to our grief.

The wise build their house to withstand storms. I’ve been very thankful over the last year for our marriage, which has been a source of comfort instead of anxiety. It would have been difficult to repair a relationship while walking through this valley. Deal with problems early and don’t let anything come between you. If you wait to repair your ship until the storm is lashing the harbor it is going to be much harder. Not impossible, but harder.

Everything I learned in Sunday School is true. Well, maybe not quite everything, but the parts that came from the Bible were all true. God is faithful. Trust in the Lord with all your might. Jesus saves. I know it’s a season of society where many are abandoning the faith, but I cannot fathom what they are abandoning it for. “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” (Ps 12:6). God has been faithful and true to His Word.

So here we are, a year later, perched on the edge of the calendar year. The same and yet different. Grieving and yet joyful. Tired but ready for the next thing. And thankful for all your prayers, all your comfort, and all of your love.


An Unreasoning Faith

It has to be the most unrealistic illustration ever. No one who has been present when a child is born thinks that on any such occasion since the dawn of time would the sudden presence of shepherds bring about joy. Why not throw in a few foreign dignitaries for fun? Nevertheless, this was the last page of the children’s Christmas story that I found myself reading last night.

The actual events of that night were distinct enough without any mythical additions. Perhaps “bizarre” is not quite reverent enough. “Surreal”? Mary and Joseph were caught up in events that spanned the empire and even beyond, for the Creator of the Cosmos was coming as a baby. As if that weren’t enough, it must have seemed to them that events were conspiring to make this birth as difficult as possible. There was no planning the delivery. No nursery awaiting his arrival. No days of rest leading up to the labor of labor. In fact, no decisions were left to Mary and Joseph, leaving them destitute of control. They were only left with faith that this was all happening as it was meant to happen.

Faith is entirely reasonable. I believe this with all my heart. An unreasonable faith is a faith in something that is unreasonable. God – the divine Logos – is wholly Reasonable. The dichotomy of faith and reason is a modern deception. In past ages, those who denied God, or at minimum a god, were the fools. But as we bask in the dying light of the Enlightenment, it is the faith-filled who are derided.

Believing in God is not a leap into the void of darkness; it is a step into the light. Faith is not a desertion of the corporeal for the ephemeral; it is an embrace of the substantial against the claims of reflections. Trust in God gains us Truth over mere “facts”, which are so malleable in the hands of fallen man.

But lately I have been thinking about unreasoning faith, which is different than an unreasonable faith. Can faith remain reasonable while the one expressing the faith is unreasoning? I have come to hope so. There have been too many nights where reason has deserted me. Too many days of being stripped to the core. Too many times when my inner man is reeling like a drunkard.

Even then, I think Reason is present. It is only completely absent in the place of outer darkness. But in these times of sorrow and sickness, Reason paints less in the sharp lines of charcoal and more in the hues of watercolor. These are the moments when Reason is more of a warmth than a syllogism. These are the times when we run unreasoning into the hands of our heavenly Father and trust that – despite all appearances to the contrary – what He has spoken in the light is still true in the dark.

That Bethlehem night was glorious, though Mary and Joseph could not apprehend it. The plan of the ages was coming to pass, though Mary and Joseph could not perceive it. The words of the angel were coming true before their very eyes, although it looked different than what they had anticipated. And so Mary and Joseph simply trusted. They must have wondered, “Can this be right?” And yet they trusted.

Your faith is no less reasonable when Reason seems to have deserted you. In loss, in sickness, in exhaustion and burnout, you can and should still trust, though you may not be able to reason your way to it. It is no less reasonable for your lack of reason. You are simply trusting out of a place where the distinctions between intelligence and affection and desire are beginning to blur. You are trusting like a child. Nothing is more sweet to Heaven than a child-like faith.


A Simple Paradigm for Pastoral Ministry

Our family’s first computer, purchased in 1995, used an MS-DOS operating system that required typing individual commands at a prompt. My dad purchased “DOS for Dummies” and was off to the races. Now, many many many years later, the complexity of those earlier code based systems has a simple interface that only requires users to “point and click” or even simply to push on a touch screen. All the complexity is going on in the background; the only thing that has changed in the simplicity of the interface.

Format Command (Examples, Options, Switches, and More)

After 15 years of pastoral ministry, I have come to value the simple. I am not a “detail person” and I do not have great gifts of administration, so overly complex systems, approaches, or paradigms weary my soul. On the other hand, to boil complexity down to simple principles allows me the freedom to pursue goals with hope and energy. There is something elegant in reducing complex tasks, such as pastoral ministry, to a few simple principles that inherently absorb the complexity and translate it into something achievable for minds like mine. Below are three principles derived from Acts 6:4 that have become my “interface” for the complexities of pastoral ministry.

But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. 

Acts 6:4

Pastor in Prayer

I think it is reasonable to say that a pastor should pray for everyone in his congregation regularly. As a bi-vocational pastor in a smaller congregation, I think I can reasonably pray for every member on a weekly basis. When we gather for corporate worship on Sunday morning, I want to have remembered each person I see in prayer. This doesn’t just mean “Lord, Bless __________and _________ today.” Depending on the occasion, I may give thanks for them, I may pray for a spiritual need, I may seek wisdom in how to pastor them, I may ask for favorable outcomes to trials in their life, etc… Every week is a little different.

By pastoring them in prayer, I am acknowledging that these sheep belong not to me but to the Good Shepherd. By pastoring them in prayer I am acknowledging my limitations to bring about change in their lives. By pastoring them in prayer, I am cleansing my heart from fleshly sins that arise in all earthly relationships when given the opportunity. By pastoring them in prayer I am regularly preparing for the day when, face to face with my Lord, I will give an account for those in my care.

Every congregation is different and every pastor is different. Perhaps some would find a weekly prayer too little while others find it too frequent. I can imagine the pastor of a church of 400 would struggle to do anything else if he prayed for each member weekly. Perhaps in a larger church the ministry of prayer could be divided up among the spiritual leaders of the church so that members were cared for in prayer more frequently. But I think it is safe to say that if a member walked up to their pastor to seek some advice or ask a question about a sermon and the pastor didn’t remember the last time he prayed for this person, it would be a problem.

Pastor in the Pulpit

By pastoring in the pulpit, I mean the reading, exposition, and application of God’s Word (1 Timothy 4:13). I should be familiar with my text so that when I read it, I do not stumble. Furthermore, I should be able to read it aloud with an emotion appropriate to the text. I should be able to expound it clearly (never exhaustively as we continue to grow in our knowledge and abilities) so that the truth is made plain. And I should have an understanding of how this text is intended to shape God’s people in His image.

God’s people are shaped by God’s Word, and the pastor/teacher is the gift God has given to the Church for the purpose of communicating the Word. It is a solemn responsibility to stand and deliver the Word. It may be the one time in a week when Truth rings loudest to the man who works a difficult job, or to the teenager who comes with neighbors and whose own family is a mess. It may communicate the needed strength to a parishioner who has always been faithful and appears strong yet is being sifted like wheat in her heart. The pastor cannot judge the effectiveness of the Word by the number who come to an altar or who compliment the sermon when it is finished: the Word is unfathomably effective in ways that cannot be measured.

Of course, this requires study and preparation. Most of my sermons are written on the basketball court or while walking or jogging, but the form only comes after texts have been read and meditated upon. There have been times in my pastoral ministry where I have used curriculum or study guides from books that I think are beneficial. Depending on the various requirements of a ministry, I think that is completely reasonable. But I also think that the pastor should endeavor to preach an original sermon for which he has labored during the weekly assembly of the saints and deliver that which God has first worked into his own heart.

Pastor Personally

The ministry of prayer and pulpit can become an “ivory tower” affair if the pastor is not connected with his people. In order for prayer and pulpit to be most effective, they must be informed by the personal relationship a pastor shares with his flock.

Many times, these relationships develop naturally over the course of time. There are weddings and funerals in every family that are natural times in which to observe, speak truth, serve, and simply be together. Conversing with people over coffee before Sunday morning church begins or staying after on a Wednesday night prayer service may be my best opportunity to find out how God is working in lives.

There may be other times when a pastor needs to be more intentional. Making visits to a home (a la Richard Baxter) or meeting for coffee might be appropriate ways to get to know and shepherd individuals/families in the church. Hospitality may play an important role in the personal aspect of pastoral ministry as your home is opened to your church family. A pastor need not be an extrovert, but he must love enough to get to know those in his flock.


After many years of pastoral ministry, I concluded that there were too many Sundays when I came home knowing I had spent too much time working on a building or planning an event to have actually pastored well. Even with this simple paradigm, I still struggle. So, dear reader, say a prayer for me and for your pastor: we are not sufficient for these things, but our sufficiency is of God.


Bring Back the Weddings / Bring Back the Funerals

According to The Knot’s 2019 survey of the wedding industry, only 22% of couples held their wedding at a church (religious institution). This is the same percentage as 2016, suggesting that only about 1 out of every 5 weddings are held at a church. Perhaps we should not be surprised as many in the “marrying age” (the average age of a person getting married in 2019 was 32) are no longer as invested in religion in general. Nevertheless, my anecdotal evidence is that faithful believers are more often opting to take their vows at venues or destinations. While I have not found (nor – to be honest -dug real deep) into the percentage of funerals that are held at churches, I assume it is potentially even lower than weddings.

blue and white wooden church during daytime

So my plea is for Christians to bring weddings and funerals back to the church. For those who know me, this may seem hypocritical since I had a destination wedding. Fair enough. Nevertheless, I’m still going to make the case. I am aware that a church is a people, and not a building. I am also aware that there is no biblical mandate for what I am proposing, so it falls into the category of wisdom and sentiment, both of which should be biblically informed.

Fighting Cultural Marginalization

We are living in an age when Christianity has been privatized. This is to say that it is only deemed acceptable in uber-private aspects of life. Liberal/progressive types have managed to convince a large portion of the population that separation of church and state – a phrase that does not actually appear in our constitution – is designed to keep God out of every aspect of public life, when in reality the Establishment Clause was probably designed to keep the government from interfering with the church. Add to this the hyper-atomization of society to the level of the individual and you all of a sudden have a culture that intentionally sidelines the role of the Church in society.

Nevertheless, marriage and death are trans-cultural realities of life that even the government has a hard time denying. They are also subjects over which the Church is uniquely authoritative. Marriage is depicted in the first two chapters of Genesis while death makes its appearance in chapter three. Marriage was instituted by God and thus, God is the unique authority over it. Death is God’s curse upon man for sin, and the final act of a soul before he must face God in judgement. Nevertheless, death has been defeated by Christ and therefore is not meaningless nor hopeless.

As we observe these definitive moments among ourselves, it makes sense to center them around that which is authoritative over them. It reminds us that modern, secular man cannot escape our Creator. It serves to remind those who may deny the Creator that they are made in His image. While it would take a series of outlandish exegetical maneuvers to declare it a sin to get married by a justice of the peace at a local courthouse (and no doubt many believers have done so for good reasons), it certainly paints a different picture than a wedding at one’s local church.

Contextualizing our Celebrations

This one became more noticeable to me at a recent funeral, but I think it applies to weddings as well. The only thing that takes place at funeral homes is funerals. Nobody rents the place out to have a baby shower. The whole place is set up for this one specific purpose, from the casket sales gallery to the family grieving room. But when you have a funeral at your local church building, you’ll be back in a few days for something that isn’t a funeral. You’ll be having a Bible study in the same room where you sat with your grieving family. You’ll be singing praises to your Savior in the same sanctuary where you committed the body of a loved one to the Lord. And I think there is something very healthy in this. It is good to remember that in the same place where tears are shed, marriages will be sealed with a kiss. Where man and woman are declared to be husband and wife, precious saints will be sent into the realm where marriage blossoms into something even greater.

Death and marriage both have a strong center of gravity. It is easy to get lost in their orbit. There is nothing wrong with new love and there is nothing wrong with grief, but both can become idols to which we bow. They need to be set in the context of a greater body of truth. Grief can be tempered with joy and marital tunnel vision can be enlarged and enriched.


Another reason I would encourage the return to church for weddings and funerals is to provide an easy way for fellow believers to follow the biblical admonition to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. This attitude of sharing in the joys and pains of one another does not have to be limited to a specific day, but can happen across seasons of life within the context of a local church. Again, it is perfectly possible for this to happen regardless of where the specific events take place, but there is something bonding about these events taking place within a shared space. It allows others a natural entry point into our joys and struggles. To be standing in the place where we stood when it happened makes mutuality natural.

Personal Preferences and Practical Considerations

Of course, there are practical considerations regarding family locations, number of attendees, appropriateness of church property (ie are you meeting in a local mechanic shop? Actually, that could be kinda cool…) that will always come into play. Additionally, there may be financial considerations that may affect the decision making. So file all of this under wisdom and sentiment.

A few years ago I had to bury a young man. He was pretty important to me as I had picked him up for Sunday School when he was a boy, led him to the Lord, and counseled him through various phases of life. Coming from an un-churched background and having gone through various struggles in life, his funeral – held at our church – was well attended by people that you would not normally see at church. As I conducted that service, I couldn’t help but think how different it was to invite these grieving friends and family here, to this place, where their loved one had heard the gospel and found grace and acceptance, than it would have been to go to a funeral home. Regardless of whether or not any of those folks come back (and some have!), it encourages my heart to know that when they drive by, they will remember that those who meet in that building every week loved their loved one.

I will simply conclude that my years of pastoral ministry lead me to say that when I die, I would like my funeral to happen in a church, where the gospel of Jesus Christ will be preached the following Sunday. When my children marry, I would like – circumstances permitting – to see it witnessed by the congregation among whom they were raised. Let’s bring back the weddings. Let’s bring back the funerals.


Why Are Elders Held to A Higher Standard?

There are two issues that make this a pertinent question to ask: 1) the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, and 2) the egalitarianism of our culture. The priesthood of the believer states that all believers share a priestly status so that no mediator outside of Christ is necessary. The protestant Reformation broke from the medieval church with its practice of class distinctions to eradicate the chasm between laity and clergy. The result was an emphasis on ministering among the people as opposed to above the people. I hold to this doctrine as true and biblical.

black and brown sheep close-up photography

The issue of egalitarianism is more cultural, more complicated, and much more dangerous. Egalitarianism is based on the concept of equality and has manifested in various ways throughout church history. Modern egalitarians, for example, do away with any requirements for church leaders to be men, promoting the view that men and women are equal. At times, egalitarianism also reigned in some sects of Christianity where there was no “leader”, but all were considered equal. This was the theology of the Quakers. Egalitarianism is complicated (but really not that complicated) because it is true that in Christ, there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile, bond or free. But this describes our fundamental relationship to God, not our function within the world God made nor within the Church God is building. There is little doubt in my mind that the modern church’s confusion over this issue is largely a result of cultural pressure, not a result of biblical clarity.

Scripture teaches that, although all believers have direct access to God and all believers share in the inheritance of Christ, the Church is a place of structure and hierarchy. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves” (Hebrews 13:17) is an explicit declaration of this, but the concept is found throughout the New Testament. The roles/positions that God has established within the church are Pastor/Elder/Bishop (all the same thing) and Deacon. In light of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, why are elders held to a higher standard? Below are several reasons why, in light of the responsibility borne by elders, they must be held to a higher standard.

Those Who Represent must Reflect

Within the church all are to be growing in Christ-likeness, but not all have the same starting point, the same circumstances, or the same attributes. Saul of Tarsus came to faith with a great amount of education, zeal, and sincerity. His conversion led to a quick promotion within the church. But some come to Christ through other paths that do not lend themselves as quickly to attaining a position of leadership. Everyone is to grow, but everyone has a different starting point and pace. I think even those outside the church understand this and can appreciate the efforts a church makes to welcome those being redeemed from the effects of life altering sins – whether their own or the sins of others. But that same grace that an outsider might show to an individual within the church will not be shown to the pastor of the church. The pastor ought to know better.

1Ti 3:7  "Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. "   

To those who are outside the church, the pastor is the one who should most embody the character of Christ. In other words, the pastor is the one held responsible for reflecting Christ to the community, therefore the pastor/elder must be held to a higher standard.

Those Who Protect must be Strong

One of the functions of the elders is to

Act 20:28  Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 
Act 20:29  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 
Act 20:30  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 
Act 20:31  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. 

The responsibility to guard the flock against false teachers is a serious business that requires strength. The elder has to know the Word well enough to spot false teaching, and judging by the content of many Christian best-sellers this is a rare quality. The elder must also not be afraid to confront, ask difficult questions, and make difficult decisions. The distinction between a worthy pastor and an unworthy pastor is described in Scripture as the difference between a shepherd and a hireling. The shepherd risks all for the sake of the sheep, while the hireling runs when there is trouble.

Those Who Restore Must be Spiritual

In the course of ministry, the elder will have to restore a fellow believer who has been overwhelmed by sin. Scripture specifically calls those who are “spiritual” to this task, in contrast to the one who is carnal. The reason for this necessity is that when pulling someone out of a ditch, it is not helpful to get pulled into the ditch. But gravity tends to work that way.

Gal 6:1  Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 

It takes a grounded individual to enter into the sinful circumstances of another and not be drawn himself into sin. It takes wisdom to address the various aspects of life that have been affected by personal sin. It takes persistent love to lead someone away from their sin and into the light. It takes patience to teach a saint that is overwhelmed how to bear their own burden.

Those Who Lead Must Be Ahead

In the New Testament, Paul the apostle presents an audacious challenge for the saints
“to be followers of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16, Philippians 3:17). As one who began pastoring at a young age, I have had the uncomfortable experience of knowing that certain of my flock (not all, mind you) were farther ahead in their sanctification than I. Of course, being farther ahead than I, they were often the most patient and kind.

It’s not a necessity that the pastor be the most spiritual person in the church, but it’s definitely a problem if he is not numbered among those who are. How can one teach what one does not know? How can one model behavior to which one has not attained? There is no such thing as leading from behind. The very qualifications of the elder require that he exhibit spiritual maturity.

The One Who Labors Must Give an Account

A surprising feature of God’s dealing with men is how frequently God leaves it up to them to take what He has bestowed and do something with it. He appears in brief and startling ways throughout redemptive history, and then seems to retreat to allow His followers to carry on the work. If a pastor does not teach well (apt to teach), then his congregation will not learn. Perhaps that’s a little too simplistic and stark, but it has all the advantage of being generally true. God expects His servants to do their jobs well so that the work of the Lord can be established. One day God will demand an account of your ministry, and those who built with wood, hay, and stubble will see their reward vanish while those who build with gold, silver, and precious jewels will see their work shine.


There persists the problem of a “super Christian” vs “normal Christian” dichotomy in the Church today, which is wrong and needs corrected. The normal Christian life is a life of growth into Christ-likeness, and those with the mentality of “sure, but he’s the pastor” are ignorant of their calling in Christ. We are all meant to grow up in Him. Nevertheless, the requirements for those called to exercise spiritual authority in the church limit such positions to the ones who exhibit spiritual maturity and the character necessary to perform the functions of eldership.


Resources for Laymen

A friend recently asked me to post some resources I would recommend for laymen in leadership position in the church. Essentially, those who are doing or assisting in the shepherding of the body but who also work full time and may not get the opportunity to “deep dive”, take seminary courses, etc… I thought it was not only a great question, but an excuse to write. Any excuse will suffice. The headings below represent a subject that is pertinent to those in these kinds of situations, and then underneath that is a suggestion or two of a book/resource that addresses that subject. Feel free to leave any of your own recommendations in the comments.

books on bookshelf


You may think this should go without saying, but the Bible should be your primary source for all that you do. I cannot tell you the number of conversations I have overheard where all sorts of authors were quoted, except the guys who wrote the Bible. When my dad was young, he worked for this pastor who read one entire gospel and the rest of the New Testament daily. Nothing beats knowing the Word. Nothing.


Your ministry will not rise above your worship of God. Furthermore, a right knowledge of God will cover a multitude of ministry errors. If you get God “right”, it’s a lot harder to mess everything else up. Conversely, a failure to properly understand the God you serve will result in a lot of pain and loss. So above all else, think rightly about God.

My first recommendation for this s Knowing God, by JI Packer. For a thorough and yet readable text on the nature and character of God, I don’t think anything else is its equal. Published in 1973, I doubt anyone would have predicted that a straightforward teaching of theology would become a best-seller. But it did, because nothing is more interesting than God. Along with the book, invest in the study guide and get a small group together to work through it.

My second recommendation is Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. The tri-une nature of our God is what so often distinguishes Him from other fancies of mankind, and yet it is an often neglected doctrine. This short book is well worth spending some time reading.


If you are a leader in your church, you really need some kind of understanding of progressive sanctification, which may also fall under the name of discipleship, growth in Christ-likeness, etc… Whatever term you use, your job is to help people walk through life in such a way that they reflect Christ and become more like Him. Soon after my own conversion, I was given Watchman Nee’s The Life that Wins. While I have come to disagree with him in some key areas, I will always be grateful that this little book challenged me to seriously deal with sin in my life in such a way that Christ would be glorified.

One type of resource you might use is a book like How Does Sanctification Work, by David Powlison. David was a leader in the biblical counseling movement and had spent a lifetime listening and helping people. This books really shows the diverse ways that God uses to bring His children into conformity to the image of Christ.

But another type of book you might choose is a book that challenges you to be holy, and I can think of no better one than Jerry Bridge’s The Pursuit of Holiness. It’s been a while since I read this book, but just thinking about it makes me want to re-read it.

Ecclesiology / Practical Church Ministry

As someone who is leading in the church, it would behoove you to know more about the church. If you go to a Christian bookstore, you will find a huge section of books telling you how to “do church”. There are conferences dedicated to this type of thing. I think most of them are about as useless as a one legged man in a butt kicking contest.

One great resource for this type of thing is 9Marks. This organization exists to equip church leaders with a biblical vision for building the church. They have a quarterly journal with great articles, they have books, study guides, podcasts, and all that good jazz. No bad jazz there. Just the good stuff.

One other book I might mention is The Trellis and the Vine, from Matthias Media. I think Matthias puts out good stuff in general, but this may be (to date) their most impactful book from the standpoint of helping churches develop a biblical ministry mindset.


One of your responsibilities as a leader in the church will be to interact with visitors and unbelievers. You should be able to articulate the gospel and answer some basic objections that people might have. There are entire ministries dedicated to apologetics, but it isn’t necessary to become an expert on creationism or post-modernism or anything else. I would find a book that shows you how to present the gospel well. My advice for that is CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity. My favorite is Orthodoxy, by GK Chesterton, but Lewis is more accessible and the issues he addresses still pertinent today.

Church History

If I could teach a course at Bible College, I might request to teach this one. Since graduating from college, I have spent a lot of time education myself on the great characters of church history. As you study church history, you are studying theology, evangelism, God’s providence over time, etc… A good start is Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language.


Sometimes you just need fuel. I confess that I sometimes read just for enjoyment and never feel guilty about it. The believer is to fight with joy. I am fueled by various authors and genres, from theology by puritans (although this is rare) to satires by Doug WIlson to absolutely anything GK Chesterton ever wrote about anything. Sometimes biographies are what I crave. Other times I go back and read Tolkien for the 100th time. Find what fuels your heart and makes you love God more. If you pick something by Joel Olsteen…just get out of the ministry.


Here’s my advice: if you have a limited amount of time, don’t use it learning Greek (or Hebrew) unless you have some very significant interest. The odds are you will not learn it well enough to do any good with it. But that’s just my opinion.


There you have it, my friend. The only additional comment I would make is that I purchase the vast majority of my books on my Kindle, which saves a ton of money and space. The best place to find Kindle deals on Christian books is here, where a guy named Tim Challies collects deals every deal. For example, at the top of his list today is Knowing God. Sounds like Providence, to me.


I Love Your Body

On a warm Spring day, you laid a blanket on the grass and met me with a picnic basket on my lunch break. There, in front of our first house, you told me that we were expecting our first child. When summer had faded into Fall and and Fall had frozen over into winter, I joined the fraternity of fathers. We took our firstborn home in January. I had driven through blizzards in perfect equanimity, but now the bundled up product of our love in the backseat had transformed every potential patch of ice to a mortal peril in my mind and the twenty minutes home were the capstone on a mentally exhausting weekend. Our world of two had expanded, and I was learning to catch up.

Her birth happened so fast the doctor barely had time to get into the delivery room. I remember the intensity of the moment: thinking that I was going to have to deliver my baby if the doctor didn’t hurry up, looking down when it was over to see you looking up at me and saying, “I could do that again”. In short, you owned that delivery. I say all of that to make the point that as traumatic as that was on your body, it happened too quickly to notice. Fast forward a few months to Friday evening, May 9th. Some strange and intensifying pains had plagued you for a couple days. It was after 11PM, and I just knew your appendix was going to explode. We left our sleeping child in a crib and passed the emergency babysitting crew (aka Nana and Papa) at the end of the block. The ER was packed. Of course it was packed. They shoved us in a room somewhere in the back for seven hours.

A nurse thought a kidney stone. Apparently I don’t know where the appendix is located in the human body, so that was out. The ER doctor came in to tell us, “This is over my head.” What?!? “Then why are you an ER doctor?” I screamed in my mind. Medication wasn’t diminishing the pain, and after pushing a human being out of your body just months before sans drugs I knew you could handle pain. Meanwhile, an emergency trip to check on the daughter was required, and by the time I got back to the hospital words like “mass” had been thrown around, and we aren’t Catholic.

I remember them wheeling you back into surgery. It was a Saturday, so there was no one in the surgery waiting room. Just me and reruns on the TV. A friend stopped by to sit with me for a while and pray with me. Some time later, you were out of surgery. Out of danger. I still remember the name of the surgeon: John Williams. I forget the name of my own kids, but his name I remember. That was your first surgery. Your first scar. You spent your first Mother’s Day as a mom at the hospital, and your daughter and I came to visit. Seven years later, we’ve been back to that same hospital for two more surgeries and three more children. They should name a wing after you. Wait, forget that. Let’s see if they have a “free fifth kid” policy of some sort.

I think that most relationships in the modern West start with physical attraction. Or I should say that physical attraction is a significant part of it. It might be possible to push through a time of being physically un-attracted to someone and see if it developed, but most people would probably give up and move on to someone else. I think it would be fair to say that, towards the beginning of a relationship, most men love women for their bodies.

If this condition were to persist, the relationship is bound to fail because our bodies are destined to change. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth!” is the biblical admonition. But the wife of your youth becomes the wife of your middle age and then the wife of your old age. And if you love your wife for her body, then your love is bound to wane.

But something has happened over these eleven years of marriage. I do not love you for your body. I love your body for you.

I’m losing count of how many times I have held your hand as you laid in a hospital bed. You have laid down your body four times so that we could bring new life into this world. Your body has been the vehicle by which a thousand daily ministrations have taken place. How could I not love your body? It houses and expresses you, my beloved and my darling.

There is something juvenile about a married man who expends his mental energy lusting for youth, even if it is his wife’s youth. I do not say it is not understandable, but it is juvenile all the same. Such a man may ogle girls who could be his daughter’s age and probably has yoked himself to the bondage of pornography, where his appetites have gotten stuck like a needle on a tachometer than refuses to rise to its rightful level. I’m not sure which is the greater sin: the adultery that he commits in his heart, or the ingratitude that he shows to the woman in his bedroom who bears his name. If he could ever learn to love her, then her body would be lovely to him. But alas, he is too much a fool to realize that any sense of injustice at being limited to enjoying only one woman’s body should be vastly outweighed by the cosmic miracle that he does in fact, get to enjoy one woman’s body. His love for his wife’s body has never turned into a genuine love for her, and now he is impotent to love her body.

I write all of this in the great Christian tradition of incarnate love. Eros is our servant, not our master. If it is true that the highest call of marriage is to picture Christ and the Church, then I maintain that this principle is Christian down to its core. For does not our Lord love the Church that lays down its life for Him? Does he not treasure even more deeply those who suffer for His Name’s sake? Is not the body made more beautiful to Him in service? He treasures every scar, as does any husband who loves his wife. This theme, then, is not unique to the shrine of our love. This is the current in which all lovers swim. This is how Christian men feel about their wives through child bearing, age, chemo, mastectomies, surgeries, and untold other seasons of change.

So, wife of my youth, I do not fear your body changing. I do not worry that you will one day get grey hair. I am supremely unconcerned about wrinkles. Whatever signs of age come, you will have earned along this journey we have undertaken together. You are the most beautiful woman I know because you belong to me. This possessiveness is neither narrow nor wicked. “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.” (Song of Solomon 6:3) This is love. And all the sons of God said “Amen”.


The Omitted Ordinance

At the front of the sanctuary is a table made of wood and stained to a beautiful golden oak. On it are inscribed the words “This do in remembrance of me.” A pagan visiting the church might be forgiven for wondering what is to be done in remembrance of whom. Perhaps our pagan is a curious sort and decides to come back again the next week. And then the next. And yet again. How many times would he have to return before finding out what exactly this table is for?

Communion Table This Do In Remembrance of Me | Clergy Apparel - Church Robes

Baptists (like myself) are not sacramentalists. That is, we do not believe that some sort of saving grace is conferred upon the person who receives or performs a religious act, such as baptist or Communion. Nevertheless, we practice both of these rituals under the label of “ordinance”. While baptisms are celebrated, it has been my experience that communion is not. I’d like to suggest a couple of reasons why this is the omitted ordinance and then make a modest proposal.

We Don’t Value the Lord’s Table

There are many baptists who, judging by their actions, don’t seem to have much use for the Lord’s Table. In some churches it is only given as a sort of threat and everyone spends some time sweating over their sin before partaking. Often it is regulated to a quarterly or bi-annual occasion to which only members are summoned. Perhaps there is some residual fear left over from our Baptist forefathers that we will come across as Catholics if we observe it too frequently. But this fear is really misplaced because the table of the Lord is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is His broken body and His blood shed for the remission of our sins. It points us away from ourselves and to the Lamb of God. It humbles our acts of self-righteousness before a supreme act of sincere righteousness.

Just because Communion is not salvific, it doesn’t follow that it is ineffective. We pray in church, knowing that our prayers cannot save us. We attend church, knowing that church attendance will not cleanse us from our sin. We worship in church knowing that even our anthems of praise must be washed in the blood of the Lamb before they can be presented to our Holy Father. Why shouldn’t the act of communion have a spiritual effect upon us? Can we not walk away from the Lord’s table strengthened, humbled, provoked to love the body, and satisfied with our Savior? I can tell you of times when I was revived at the table of the Lord and strengthened by the Bread of Life and do I feel guilty about that? Do I feel as though I have moved toward Catholicism or Lutheranism? I do not. I rejoice in my Savior.

Christ left us this act for our good. Let us use it for our good and for His glory.

We Don’t Have a Good Ecclesiology

My Ecclesiology class in Bible college was a bit of a mishmash of the Purpose Driven Church and some guided conversation. But that’s par for the course in an evangelical culture that is saturated in consumerism and a sense of individual autonomy, not to mention the constant propaganda that success can be measured in numbers, platforms, book deals, and re-tweets. In such an environment, we have forgotten that the local church is not a club to which you pay dues until you no longer feel like doing so. You don’t pay dues because Christ has paid for you. You are bought with a price and now you belong to Jesus. And the world knows who belongs to Jesus because those who belong gather under spiritual leadership to be instructed in the Word, minister to one another, and properly use the gifts of baptism and communion in their local assemblies.

The Lord’s table is at the center of where we gather. Not the beautifully adorned piece of furniture: the Lord’s table is the broken body we eat and the blood of the New Covenant we drink. And as you eat and drink in the presence of those with whom you are living as the community of Christ, you look around and see others who also have been purchased by Christ. It is there that we welcome the sheep for whom the Lamb died and we shepherd them at the table. Guarding the table is a genuine function (as demonstrated in 1 Corinthians 5) of the eldership of the church, but we are not guarding the table from the imperfect, or the struggling, or the faint of heart. These are the ones who most need to find themselves back at the foot of the cross where love and mercy meet, and where righteousness and justice kiss. It is only the intentionally rebellious who trample underfoot the blood of the new covenant that are to be censored.

As I interpret the Scriptures, I find that the most consistent way to observe communion is by limiting it to the membership of my own congregation. Else, how do we fence the table? As it relates to the local church, those who have gathered on the Lord’s Day consist of your own membership, those visiting who belong to another congregation, those who do not belong to any congregation, and those who are unbelievers. As you invite your congregation to the table of the Lord, some may feel excluded. And I would say that this is not a bad thing. Those who are visiting from another congregation should be provoked to remember their own assembly and desire to return to the care of their spiritual shepherds and the various members of their body with whom they have covenanted together. Those without a church home should be reminded that the normal position of a believe is in the body and they should actively seeking such a body. If they are unbelievers, they should see the beauty of the gospel displayed and be convicted to come and belong.

My Story

When I became the pastor, our church did not have a preferred method of observing Communion. It’s been a few years, but I remember trying to observe Communion before business meetings, at Christmas, Easter, and New Years, and maybe some other times. It was pretty haphazard. I’m sure there were times when went months without observing Communion. It was rare enough that I’m sure we had members who had not been to the Lord’s Table in over a year. So while we had a true membership in the sense that all members attended at least on Sunday morning regularly and all had testimonies of salvation and all were receiving pastoral care, we were not regularly gathering around the Lord’s Table.

One summer month, I announced that we would observe Communion every Sunday night in our service and I would preach about belonging to the body of Christ. Still, not every member attended – some for legitimate reasons and others because they just didn’t make the effort. So I decided that if Sunday morning was when all of our membership was most likely to be present, then we would start observing Communion on Sunday morning.

We started with open communion. We announced that all genuine believers in Christ were welcome. “After all,” I reasoned, “who am I to keep a child of God away from the table?” Not only that, but I had been blessed to observe Communion with believers in Scotland, Japan, and Mexico, so it seemed hypocritical to limit its observance. But I quickly noticed that these instructions were so broad that they caused confusion. Many Americans think they are genuine believers just because they are Americans. So were left with this quandary of risking offending people by limiting the observance of Communion to members during a public worship service. After contemplation, we decided that was the right risk to take.

So here’s how we do it. We observe Communion on the first Sunday morning of every month. Early in the service we make an announcement that goes something like this, “Thank you for worshiping the Lord with us this morning. It is our practice for the membership of our church to observe Communion on the first Sunday morning of every month. If you do not have a church home, we would love to talk with you about becoming a member here. If you are not a believer or are not sure what it means to be a believer, we hope you will come talk to us after the service about any questions you have.” At that point, I give a short Communion meditation and then we distribute the elements to our membership. This is followed by a hymn that points us to the gospel (we probably sing the Getty’s Commuion Hymn quartlery).

I understand that this can be a bit of an emotionally jarring experience in a world that prides itself on inclusivity. It is not our goal to make people who may already feel uncomfortable in church feel even more uncomfortable. We try to mitigate some of those feelings by observing Communion early in the service, allowing people to “settle down” emotionally. And it is true that we have gotten feedback that not being allowed at the table of the Lord bothered them. Some of those people left and never came back. Some joined the church. And some received Christ and followed Him in baptism.

A Modest Proposal

I’m not suggesting you do everything like we decided to do it. I’m not even suggesting you hold to the same Ecclesiology that I do. I have told our congregation that we may not always follow the same pattern we are currently using. I am suggesting you should think about the importance of the Lord’s Supper in the life of your congregation. Christ left us this ordinance for our good, and if your church is like mine, you need all the help of Christ that you can get. If you were to survey your membership and ask how they are helped by your corporate gatherings, would any of them even consider Communion as a possible answer? Do you have a piece of furniture at the front of your church that says “This DO in remembrance of Me”, but you never DO?

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

1 Corinthians 11:26

Godspeed to the Robertsons

First the Facebook pictures started popping up: Steve and Melissa were handing off the reigns of Master Club. Then came the confirmation that after three decades of faithful ministry at SouthSide Baptist Tabernacle, the Robertsons were leaving. Leaving with hope in their hearts. Leaving with friendships intact. Leaving with their imprint indelibly etched on the people they loved and served for three decades. It took me a minute to take in. Maybe a day. Maybe I’m still taking it in.

gray goodbye friends board

Who is this son of Robert whose departure is so momentous? If we learned to read the heavens might we find his story nightly etched with blazing diamonds above us? Like the clan from which he descended he has served the King. Like his ancestors his territory has been enlarged. Like the stubborn folk whose genes he possesses he has clung to the cross of Christ. Like the patriarchs of his ancestral island he has raised his children to blaze like torches against the darkness of the world.

And who has been his faithful companion? Who has born his children? Who has brewed untold gallons of coffee so yet another play can be performed or another missions trip be scheduled? A true Proverbs 31 woman! The kind of woman whose shadow sends shivers through the hearts of the feeble feminists. The kind of woman who does not fear the snow (a necessity for the climate to which they are going!) or tremble to put her hand to the plow.

I was eleven years old when I met Steve and Melissa.  I could only forget them should some illness pillage the deep chambers of my mind where memories forged in the drama of youth are encased by sincere love and affection. Words cannot express their impact on my life, as well as on the life of my wife. They may be surprised that they are frequent characters in the dialogue of mind as I ask myself “How would Steve do this?” or motivate myself with “the Robertsons would stay up finishing this”.

But this is no eulogy. They are not dead nor dying. They are living for the Lord. And when we live for the Lord, He uses us in new places. We do not grieve over this because we are assured of a future where parting has lost its bitterness. We rejoice for the new saints who will share their fellowship. We rejoice that gifts and talents sharpened in one local church ministry will be wielded with greater skill and precision in a new endeavor.

Servants of the Lord are both instruments of sanctification as well as objects of sanctification. We know that their new ministry is not a perfect place filled with perfect people. We know that they will be tried in unforeseen ways and surprised at the lengths to which God will go to perfect them. So while we hope for nothing but joy, we also pray that God “ would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;  And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

“Godspeed” is a middle English blessing of prosperity. Somehow it fits the occasion. It fits the people. Godspeed, Robertson family. May your journey be and bring a blessing.


Vaccine Hesitancy: An Apologia

The government is perplexed about vaccine hesitancy, which the WHO (God bless their little hearts) defines as “a delay in acceptance or refusal of a vaccine despite the availability of vaccine services.” There are some true nut-job, tin hat, Alice-through-the-looking-glass stories about the Covid-19 vaccine. But is it possible that there are some legitimate reasons for vaccine hesitancy? Such is the defense I will mount today, but first…

blue and white plastic bottle

I am not trying to convince anyone to refuse the vaccine. From the start of this pandemic I have tried to advocate for a broad range of acceptable behaviors based on individual circumstances. The vaccines available for Covid-19 fall into the realm of adiaphora: issues to which the Bible does not speak specifically and thus, over which we must not judge one another.

My defense will fall into two broad categories, based on my axiom (or did I read this somewhere?) that whenever the government tries to do something, it is actually doing two things. The first thing the government is doing is what the government is doing. So in the case of vaccines, the government funded and is lobbying for as many people as possible to get vaccinated. But besides the thing that the government is doing, the government is assuming and exercising some kind of authority. This is the second thing the government is doing. As a conservative, I don’t always disagree with the government’s aim, but I take exception to the power grab that ensues as a result of that aim. With that in mind, here we go.

Defense #1 – The Risk Benefit Ratio

In clear violation of Sowell’s profoundly accurate law that there are no solutions, only trade-offs, the government has delivered oracles of certainty that lasted about as long as the average American’s commitment to eating healthier. Nothing has been certain. All measures taken against the virus have turned out to be mitigating efforts, and there is a long history of contradictions, corrections, revisions, and addendums. Ted Cruz famously refused to wear a mask to the capitol building because he had received the vaccine and was therefore immune. Turns out you don’t get unqualified immunity from the vaccine, as the sick and hospitalized could tell you. This is not to say that the vaccine does not provide some level of immunity, it’s just to point out that it lessens the risk of having severe symptoms. See the word “risk” there? That’s what we’re talking about. Not cures. Not certainty. Risk mitigation.

So put yourself in the shoes of a healthy twenty-five year old guy who has probably been exposed to Covid-19 and has either had it and been asymptomatic or whose immune system simply fought it off. At this point, what does the risk benefit ratio look like for him? With a survival rate far above 99% for his age bracket and with immunity being conferred by getting it, he may decide that his risk is pretty low of seriously suffering from the virus and the immunity he would receive from getting the virus would be as good or better than the immunity he would get from the vaccine.

But what about the risk to others? As the delta variant has ravaged my neck of the woods, the data is trending in a way that suggests that the risk of transmission would not be eradicated by being vaccinated. Officially, we are being told that the most severe hospitalizations are from the unvaccinated. But the hospitalized people I know are all vaccinated. The viral potency level is just as high in those who have been vaccinated as in the un-vaccinated, and asymptomatic virus transmission is still a threat. In other words, vaccinated people can spread the virus to others, and vaccinated people can get the virus. Future data will show more clearly what the delta (no pun intended) is between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, but it’s at least a question mark right now.

Let’s not kid ourselves: there is no way anyone can guarantee anything. Remember the “murder scene” tape around the playgrounds? Remember 15 days to flatten the curve? Remember masks don’t work and then masks do work and then double masking is best of all? Remember travel restrictions don’t work and then travel restrictions do work? Remember that anyone who thought the virus started in a lab was a total whackadoo and now it turns out there’s a 50/50 chance that’s how it started? Remember when vaccines provided unqualified immunity until the CDC started recommending that vaccinated people wear a mask indoors? We think and we speculate and we make education guesses, but we know nothing.

On the other hand, all medical treatments have risks associated with them. Some are very minute risks while others are larger. Is the vaccine safe? Again, this comes down to trust and competency. It’s not just paranoid nut jobs who are concerned about long and short term side effects of the vaccine: it’s doctors, paramedics, pharmacists, nurses, and even employees of the pharmaceutical companies that developed the vaccines. The long term effects may not bother someone in their seventies, but someone who has yet to reach forty may have a different perspective.

To summarize, over the last two years the government has frequently and demonstrably contradicted itself, made promises it didn’t keep, predicted things that didn’t come true, and in general lost the trust of half the country. As such, individuals may come to the conclusion that the risk of a vaccine actually poses a greater threat than the risk of the virus.

Defense 2: The Limited Government Argument

But let’s say you have come to the position that all things being equal, you would be willing to get the shot. However, the threat of a government mandated vaccine is the push that sends you in the other direction. Does this mean that you are rebellious at heart? Possibly, but it could also be a strategic rejection of an authority being assumed by the government that you find foolish at best and dangerous at worst. You might remain unvaccinated in order to increase the demographic total of the unvaccinated from “manageable” to “we can’t arrest them all”.

I believe that this is a legitimate position to take in light of the events over the past year. Many churches have had to file lawsuits to protect their constitutional right to gather and worship. Can the government suspend this right in the event of a crisis? Yes, but it has to be legitimate. So if you look around and the local beer joint, and joint joint, and abortion clinic is merrily opening its doors every day, you might start getting the idea something illegitimate is going on. A “double standard” would be scaling back on the number of standards we have seen in the last eighteen months.

The application of Romans 13 in a pagan empire is radically different than the application of Romans 13 in a constitutional republic. The attitude of a citizenship coming out of slavery is different that the attitude of a citizenship in danger of going into slavery. If you are free, then you must act like you are free or your freedom is worthless. So if certain government officials are assuming an authority not given to them (or specifically prohibited from them) by the constitution, they are the rebels, not the ones refusing to obey. It is not a violation of Romans 13 to continue to assemble on the Lord’s day as this is a right given to American citizens. It is not a violation of Romans 13 to refuse a vaccine mandate.

(As a quick aside, the vaccine may be required for travel to other countries and you’ll either have to get it or forego visiting those countries. It may be required by your employer and your refusal may cost you your job. I think those are different issues and I am not addressing them here.)

So you may be the type that thinks there’s some benefit to getting the vaccine, but the threat of a vast government authority over your health scares you more than death by Covid.


The calcification around specific Covid narratives by the government and the MSM has been counter-productive because those narratives cannot bear the weight of the actual evidence (you know, SCIENCE!). Rather than force a particular course of action on others, we should debate respectfully and desist in judging others for coming to different conclusions about matters that are adiaphora. In this post, I have tried to push back against the narrative that all vaccine hesitancy is caused by misinformation or paranoia. I believe there are legitimate reasons for and against getting vaccinated based on individual circumstances. In time, we will see who was right. In the mean-time, let us live as free men and women.


5 Reasons to Read “Faithful Leaders”

A friend graciously gifted me “Faithful Leaders” by Rico Tice, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Here are 5 reasons those in ministry should add it to their reading list.

Faithful Leaders: And the Things That Matter Most  -     By: Rico Tice

1. It’s short.

This isn’t the most spiritual of reasons, but it’s a very practical one. The Lord has hedged me in on every side with blessings that bring responsibility, and time – not to mention brain power – is in too short supply to read a magnum opus. I know most of my friends in ministry face similar constraints. At just over 100 pages, Faithful Leaders took less than a week to finish.

2. It’s pithy.

Short doesn’t have to mean shallow. The Proverbs pack a punch, and so does Faithful Leaders. If you’ve been properly mentored, you won’t find a lot of new concepts here. But you will find potent truth expressed in axioms and adorned with personal experience. The formula works because its biblical as well as authentic.

3. It’s biblical.

I know, I know! This should have been first, right? But you shouldn’t expect me to recommend a book that isn’t biblical. You won’t find ministry hacks in Faithful Leaders. Tice heads straight to the heart of a pastor’s great responsibility before God. If you want to know how to double the size of your congregation in three easy steps, this is not the book for you. If you want to be ready to give an account of your ministry to God, then this book will point you in the right direction.

4. It’s Personal.

While holding pastors to a high standard, Tice also speaks from the humility of personal experience. I never felt beat down as though someone were telling me to just “Pastor Better!”. Instead, I felt encouraged by a brother in Christ who well knew his own fleshly infirmities. This is neither a diatribe nor a textbook, but a brotherly exhortation.

5. These quotes. Just to wet your appetite.

To explain simply, you have to understand very deeply.

Page 22

Find a fallen pastor and you will usually find a pastor who simply did not let God speak into one area of his life – and that is one area too many.

Page 51

Resentment is the child of envy, and envy is how idolatry feels.

Page 65

That’s the cycle: sin, grace, joy, service. You can’t short-circuit that without getting into problems.

Page 67


I think all pastors should periodically read something that reminds us of our calling, of our Savior, of our Gospel, and of our reward. Faithful Leaders is a great choice.


The Worst Reward

Three little children left the Dollar Tree clutching their rewards with two contented parents. A rare moment of parenting success – or at least it felt more like success than other moments do. We had challenged each of our children in an area that they needed to improve in a behavior, and then we had drawn 3 squares for each of them on a white board and put a check, or a heart, or a star, or a dinosaur, or a unicorn (their desires got more outlandish as the days went on!) in the box when they completed their challenge each day. When all 3 children had filled all 3 of their boxes, they each got to pick something out at the Dollar Tree (where everything is a dollar, or sometimes even less!) $3 plus tax bought us 3 days of improved behavior. A tub of tiny dinosaurs (Lily), a nerf dart blow gun (Josh), and a pink balloon (Luella) were small prices for us to pay. How great was their joy over such a small reward!

yellow and white trophy

Being at that stage where we are parenting “littles”, we knew we needed to keep the challenge short and the reward immediate. The juice had to be worth the squeeze for our little ones, and a month long challenge would have exceeded their attention span. We also knew that there needed to be a reward to keep them motivated and engaged. For me, the days of being motivated by a dollar are pretty far gone. I joke that it costs me $50 every time I leave the house. But I was happy for my kids because I didn’t want them to be disappointed. I wanted them to think that their effort was well rewarded.

There’s nothing worse in life than a poor reward – working extra hard at something only to receive the equivalent of a used trophy purchased from some flea market with your name written in sharpie over the last recipient’s name. But as my kids get older, I know they are going to have to come to terms with some disappointing rewards. They will do the right thing and no one will notice. They will expend more effort than others but come up short. They will fight the good fight and the only thing that will change will be them.

Part of the disappointment we sometimes feel springs not from our righteousness, but from our depravity. Our values are messed up. We want the applause, not the personal improvement. We want the salary, not the satisfaction of a job well done. We aspire for glory, but not the glory that comes from God. Our misshapen hearts are often exposed by our disappointment.

As Christians, we are promised rewards, but we sometimes think of them as the worst kind of reward. You give God the look your teenage son gives you when you say, “You learned a valuable lesson today, son, and even though you don’t think so right now, one day you’ll look back and appreciate it.” Yeah, right dad. But perhaps what’s even harder in the Christian life is that we are promised future rewards. Jesus said of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake that their rewards is great…in heaven (Luke 6:23). Concerning the religious hypocrites who prayed loudly on street corners to be seen of men, Jesus said that they had already received their reward. Their reward was the applause of men. The rich man (in the story of Lazarus the beggar) had received his good things in this life. And to Jesus, that was a pretty worthless reward compared to a heavenly reward. It was the worst reward.

Would you trade your immediate rewards for future rewards? Could you suffer for God without complaint and without acknowledgement knowing that these sufferings will turn into future glory? Could you labor without praise so that some other might one day enter into your harvest – and receive the accolades!

Over the course of the last few days one of my children’s precious rewards has floated up into the heavens, lost forever. The dinosaurs are being depleted as they are lost amongst the crowd of other plastic possessions. And the blow dart just doesn’t work. Fun rewards, but not lasting rewards. Let us learn to love the rewards to come. The rewards that last. Let us not confuse the worst rewards with the best rewards.

When God Says “It is Good”


It has been twelve weeks since we lost Penny and her death still weighs on our hearts daily. In a moment of tiredness I miss the daughter I never got to properly know. When my other three children are playing I grieve that they will not experience her joining them in their roller coaster ride of sibling play. It has probably been the mercy of the Lord that we stay busy, but both Katie and have both been longing for a day when we could really stop and think and process. That day finally came last weekend.

brown wooden cross on green grass field near lake and mountains during daytime

It has been hard to know what to do with this grief. Where is this grief supposed to go and what is it supposed to become? I have never found the Kubler-Ross model (5 stages of grief) particularly compelling or descriptive of my own experiences of grief. I know that in some ways we carry our wound of grief with us through this life until our hearts are healed in the life to come. But I had a sense that my grief was not yet pleasing to God.

So over the weekend I was reading Faithful Leaders by Rico Tice and came across a section where Rico lays out the questions he asks himself every morning and came across this:

Question: Rico, why is today a great day?

Answer: Because today is the day that God has planned for you, and if God says it’s good, then it’s good. Whatever God brings into your day -the things you’d choose and the things you definitely wouldn’t- he will work in them for your good.

Faithful Leaders, Rico Tice

And I realized that my grief would not be pleasing to God until I acknowledged His goodness.

In Genesis 1, God declares every day good. The Light was good. The heavens were good. The plants and animals were good. Every day was good. And then the cosmos was rent because of the lie that God is not good, and ever since that lie the world has been less like a garden and more like a wilderness. Like Israel wandering in the wilderness we cry out to God in anger that even the waters we stumble across are filled with bitterness. But then Calvary came along and God Himself drank the bitter dregs of our sin. The cross of our Lord has been cast into the sea of humanity’s bitterness and it has become sweet to drink. For those who have been purchased by Christ, every day is good.

March 19th was a day filled with pain and suffering. If I allow myself I can almost relive it moment by moment. We experienced enough pain on that day that if we allow it, it would dominate our hearts and poison our grief. Some might even think that reasonable, but it would just be another instance of believing the same lie that plunged our world into darkness. Instead, I believe the most definitive thing I can say about March 19th is that God was good to me. God was good to my wife. And God was good to Penny.

How can I say that? How can I believe in the goodness of God on a day like that? I can say it because of the Cross. The unceasing, life changing, overwhelming love of God is manifested in the cross, not in the circumstances of my life. And on March 19th the cross had not changed: God has still sent His only begotten Son to rescue a world full of sinners, of whom I am chief. The Father loves the Son with a special kind of love, but it was on the Son’s worst day – a day of pain and suffering – that the goodness of God was displayed with dazzling clarity. Salvation was born out of the collision between sorrow and love.

Many have shared with me how they prayed alongside of us and felt sure that God would heal Penny. Their own shock at her passing is almost startling. Why didn’t God answer our prayers? The short answer is that I don’t know. But I do know that when He didn’t, He was good to me.

And with that, I can weep like Jesus.


I’m Retiring “Post-Christian” from My Vocabulary

I have been using the phrase “post-Christian” in sermons for a while now to try to help my congregants navigate our society. But I have decided to retire it. I had been using the term because it does accurately capture the loss of a “center” in American culture. This center consisted of concepts such as the existence of God, the moral nature of the universe, and the need for personal virtue as expressed in classic Judeo-Christian ethics such as the 10 Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. The younger generations have been robbed of these foundations, leaving the secular gods to battle it out for dominance. So “post-Christian” captured that. However:

white printer paper with black text

“Post-Christian” is not accurate because nothing can be post-Christian.

Christianity will be the only religion standing because Christ will be the last one standing: everyone else will be kneeling. Like all generations we can only see backwards in time from our place in history, so we tend to view ourselves as indicative of how things are going to go: we have never learned the lesson of Ozymandias. But God is the God of the unexpected. The God who sees the end from the beginning. The God who humbles empires and exalts the humble. The God who directs the progress of His great salvation like a river through time. The eschaton towards which we are inexorably marching is an eternity of God pouring out His love on us through Christ Jesus, and there is no end to this marriage feast. There is nothing on the other side, so nothing is truly post-Christian.

“Post-Christian” is not accurate because the fundamental nature of the world has not changed and only Christianity can account for it with any sort of philosophical coherence.

The world is constantly trying to progress with no clue what it is they are progressing towards. Invariably, the world winds up producing philosophies that cannot account for the way the world actually is, and so they have to fall back on pretending the nature of the created world is different than what it is. This is why worldly philosophies are schizophrenic. Nietzche promotes the superman but he is a sickly little fellow. Cultural Marxists desperately acquire power while maintaining that the powerful are ruining the world. Post-modernists boast in the axiom that there are no axioms. Materialists claim there is nothing but matter and yet have invented gender. Only the unexpected contours of Christian doctrine trace the strange contours of the world in which we live. So the world God created will always be best described by the Book that God wrote.

Third, “post-Christian” wrongly implies that the best times are behind us.

It implies that Christianity had been tried and discarded as somehow unsuitable.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

GK Chesterton

The thing about discarded religions and philosophies is that they become paragraphs or chapters in academic works, whereas Christianity is constantly being reborn from generation to generation. If you want to learn about Stoicism then you’ll have to pick up a book; if you want to learn about Christianity you go to a church. It would be more accurate to say that our current world is a Pre-Christian world. And because of this, we have hope that the younger generations (like the Millenials and the I-Gens) will turn to God in greater numbers and with greater passion than we expect.


The Comfort of Concrete

It’s Spring in the Ozarks and that means thunderstorms and tornado warnings. When the storms come my children will comfort themselves beneath their warm blankets and clutch their fuzzy stuffies. They do this because they are children and they don’t know any better. They don’t know that the only thing their blankets can provide is a feeling, and feelings won’t keep you safe in the storm. My comfort comes from the cold hard concrete to which the framing of our house is fastened. And when I daily drive across Lake Springfield I take comfort in the concrete pillars that hold up my car.

Tailwaters Access (Springfield City Utilities) | MDC Discover Nature
Tail waters access, Lake Springfield

It may sound strange to get comfort from concrete, but the Scripture is replete with this imagery. Instead of concrete, it uses “rock”. Jesus tells us to build our lives on a Rock so that our house won’t collapse when the storms of life come (Matt 7:24-27). The Rock are the words that He speaks. When David feels like his steps are leading him to the pit he cries out “O Lord, my rock!” (Psalm 28:1) There is comfort in the Rock.

But we live in a juvenile world run by feelings, and so people cling to their blankets. Blankets do not save when the storms rage.

Two weeks ago – has it really been two weeks? – we were grief stricken. We were at our most vulnerable. There was no veil between us and the raw reality of Penny’s death. The doctor who delivered Penny and the head of the MFM clinic both offered words of consolation. “What” I wondered “will they say to us at this moment?” After they spoke, I wondered “Is this really the best they have to offer?”

Worldly wisdom is like a fuzzy blanket: it targets the feelings, but it could not keep us safe in the storm. In the end I interrupted the first doctor as he spoke and in retrospect, I wish I had kicked the second one out of the room. One of the less egregious but sillier things she said was “You can tell your children that instead of a baby, God gave you an angel.” I wanted to ask her if as a medical doctor or as a theologian she knew the difference between a human and an angel. Their words were untethered from any sort of truth and evoked the melancholy of a balloon floating away from the hands of a crying child. They were offering us what they could but they were ignorant of the great Consolation we already possessed.

What is getting us through the storm is the Truth we are standing on. Out of the abyss of death it rises up and while the storm rages above, our feet are sure and steady. Because we knew what and how to think, we could face our trial. Because we know the Truth, we can let our feelings serve us instead of mastering us. Truth may be terrifying, but it is never our enemy. “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32) Behind all the gory realities of the world sinners have marred is the glorious God of creation and redemption, who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.

When I spoke at Penny’s funeral, I held a Bible in my hand. I had thought about choosing a passage of Scripture to read, but I could never decide on one because I could only speak out of the totality of its message: the beauty of God’s creation and the image of God in man / the bitterness of sin and the death it brings to all / the love of God in sending Jesus to die in our place / the hope of the Resurrection / the surpassing weight of glory that lies ahead. These truths are anchors for the soul.

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

1 Thessalonians 5:13-15

Katie Writes, too – Thoughts on Comfort

“You’re going to be depressed… ” 

“This is going to haunt you for a long time…”

 These are just some of the things that my doctors said on the day I delivered my still born daughter.  The books they gave us to read and give to our children were equally unhelpful. I understand that they felt they must say something to the situation, or commiserate with us and validate the grief we felt, and I’m sure they meant well. Had I not been a Christian the statements and “advice” they gave would have solidified my hopelessness, and made me fall deeper into despair. 

low-angle photo of lightened candles

But God! Even when they were saying those things, my heart was shouting “Not true! Your God has you in His arms, He is holding your daughter as they speak. And you have Hope!” Yes I am grieving the loss of our baby and the plans we had for her, and all the things we won’t be able to experience with her. We wanted a fourth child so badly, we had come so far, and we loved her like she was already here in our arms. We didn’t get to hold her while she was living, or introduce her to her siblings and family.  And for that I will always be sad, and grieve her absence.

But this was God’s plan. Even though it hurts,  and I wish it wasn’t.  I wish I didn’t have a stab of sorrow every time I remember I’m not pregnant, but even in the midst of that He is faithful,  and the peace I feel because of that is miraculous.

Nate and I were discussing the phrase “the worst thing that’s ever happened”, because we could use that phrase and people wouldn’t question it.  But it doesn’t feel right.  This is terrible, and painful… yet we still have peace and hope, even though to some it doesn’t make sense.  When I hear that phrase, the only thing I feel that it describes is being lost: not having Jesus as your Savior. Being lost is the worst thing that can happen! I remember that hopeless feeling. No peace could come, because I hadn’t met the Peacemaker.  I was miserable because I had tried to make myself feel better and I was so  tired. I had prayed so many times for peace, and truly never thought I would know what it felt to be at peace. Then finally one day, I saw Jesus for who He was; Holy! … and I realized I was never going to be good enough and I needed to surrender to that and accept His life and sacrifice for my righteousness.  Oh what sweet peace when I did! I never understood how until He was real to me.  I didn’t have to worry if I was good enough  because I knew I never would be, and God was accepting my faith as righteousness.

So now as we go through the worst week of 2021 I am hurting, but I trust Him.  I am grieving,  but I have hope. And I want to praise God for His never changing character,  His love, and peace He gives to His children.


The Words I Said At Penny’s Funeral

When we found out the week after Christmas that Penny had a serious heart defect, we were faced with the possibility that she would die. It was hard as a father to take that. We want our children to live. But we determined to the best of our ability to be good parents to Penny regardless of how much time we had with her, and that meant making choices that were best for her instead of what we wanted. I don’t know that made a difference in any practical way as the Lord left us little to do, but it made a big difference in the way we looked at things, in the words we said, and in the peace we experienced. As parents, we are God’s representatives in our kids lives. And that’s why I wanted to be the last to speak today, because I think that’s what I should do as a parent, even though it hurts.

One thing we wanted was for people to know Penny, and we knew they might not have a lot of time. So for those who followed our journey online, loved on us, prayed with us, believed and hoped with us, I can only tell you how thankful I am for you. Maybe there was some selfishness on our part as it felt good to share this burden with those we love,  but I mentioned to mom the other day how strange it felt that Katie and I were the only ones who got to meet Penny, and she responded that it felt like she was known through us sharing her story, and that made me pretty happy, because I am still a dad proud of his little girl.

Another thing we did was give her the name Penelope Rae, so that she would share a family name with her Aunt Tiffany, who is a godly young woman full of faith and strength, and she is fighting her own battle right now.

Katie had a special responsibility in all of this as Penny’s mom, and I’m really proud of her. I can’t imagine a more difficult thing for a mother to endure than what she went through five days ago, but I could tell when it was over that love and faith are greater than her sorrow, so I know she will be ok.

When Penny died, my heart broke as a father. And if a father was all I was, I suppose there would be no end to the depths of my sorrow. But I am not only a father; I am also a son. A son both adopted into the family of God and a son born again through faith in Jesus Christ. The only reason I can pray to God as my heavenly Father is because God the Father once walked to a gravesite to bury His own Son, who died a terrible death on a cross to save the likes of me. And in just a few days we will celebrate His resurrection, His defeat of death, and His endless Life. Because the footprints left by Savior lead away from the tomb, I know that one day this grave will also be left barren. So today I can bury my child in hope that the grave is not the end of Penny’s story.

At the hospital, Katie said to me that she wished Penny could have known what a great dad she had, which is probably the greatest compliment I could ever receive. I am blessed to have a father who showed me enough of the fatherhood of God for me to want to know God as my father. So I told Katie that Penny is with her real Father, the one that I would have tried to show her. But now I don’t need to show her, because she knows and understands better than I do.

Let us Pray

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and God of all comfort

May we in this moment of sorrow yet taste and see that the Lord is Good

May our momentary grief be met with everlasting solace

And preserve our tears for the day of Comfort

No pleading is needed from this father

For you are the Everlasting Father

In goodness you granted us a child

And in love you received our child back to Yourself

Our eyes are fixed on You

Our treasure is in the heavenly places

And we continue our journey with the knowledge that Eternity is rushing towards us

And with eternity, our sweet Penny.



Penny’s First Words

My darling daughter,

It is March 19th, 2021, and there is a narrow window for me to write these words. The first wave of grief has receded and there is a calm before the tide brings in fresh sorrow. Deep within this raging storm of pain there is assurance, and hope, and even joy. The knowledge that you are now in the presence of our heavenly Father ballasts my soul and the storm cannot tear me loose from that anchor.

Most of us must pass through this veil of sorrow before we see the sights you now see. For most of us, eternity is a place where tears are wiped and wounds are healed. But for you, it is fresh joy. There are no wounds to heal; there are no tears to wipe. You have entered into that glorious place knowing nothing but the safety of the womb. The only pain in this is our pain, and as a father I will gladly bear that knowing you did not have to experience a life of hospitals and tubes and the clinical texture of cold steel. We handed you back to our Heavenly Father wrapped in the warmth of our love and safety.

Nevertheless, there are things that you will miss out on that I wish you could have known. I wish you could have known what kind of a woman your mother is. You would have seen strength and grace and faith in God. I wish you could have met your siblings, with whom you would have fought like all siblings do. Lily was so excited to have a baby in the house! Joshua has the most tender heart and would have fawned over you. And Luella, your oldest sister, would have been a second mother to you whether you wanted one or not. Beyond that there are a host of delightful, frustrating, loving, and quirky relatives and friends who would enrich your life.

We fought for you, my daughter. We fought in prayer and faith. We fought alongside a thousand saints who came to our aid. We fought with you, who beat the odds and surprised the experts until you had them believing!

But here we are: planning a funeral instead of a nursery. It would all be too much if I did not know that God had already saved your life long before I met you. How many times in the last twelve weeks have I asked God to save your life, and how many times did He whisper back: I already have!

When I was a boy I wondered what heaven was like and to be honest, it didn’t sound like the kind of place I wanted to be. It sounded boring. All those disembodied spirits flitting around aimlessly for eternity sounded more like a punishment than a reward. But now I know better. I know that all the best things of this life are just the seed and heaven is the harvest. I know that we are not trading what is real and firm for something that is ephemeral and faded. Where you are is dense with life compared to the mists below.

But another thing that bothered me as a boy was the children. When children die, do they go to heaven as children? The thought of a heaven where babies were stuck as babies and kids were stuck as kids made me sad for them. Could they not grow up? But I had it backwards: in heaven, we are all God’s children. In heaven I will be purged of my cynicism and my sin so that I can enjoy God in childlike joy along side of you.

I don’t know how all this works. I don’t who welcomed you or what your first words were. I assume that in the presence of the Word Incarnate all speak in the language of Eden or perhaps something even greater. I only know that in this backwards process of death and life, it is not me who will be whispering “Welcome home, Penny” but it will be you saying to me, “Welcome home, daddy.”


The Margins

As we hit week 32 of a pregnancy that by all accounts could have ended weeks ago, we are praising the Lord for His goodness and His grace. I am mostly thankful for you and your prayers, which I believe have made the biggest difference. We are thankful for the doctors, although by their own admission they have not been able to do much. Now that we are within shooting distance of a full term pregnancy, their attitudes are changing and we are starting to have discussions about what a delivery will look like.

stack of stones on brown sand

While we are people of faith and our hope and trust is in the Lord, we have never taken an attitude of superiority towards the doctors and nurses (and other health care workers) because we know that one day we may be relying on their skills and wisdom to save our daughter’s life. So when the doctors talk to us, we listen while keeping in mind that there is a side of the story that they don’t know: what God is up to. This update is to let those of you who have asked and prayed know what the doctors are saying, but like me, feel free to Pray Big.

On Friday we had another checkup and consultation with our fifth cardiologist. I joked that we were running each of them off and now whoever draws the short straw gets stuck with us! The team also consisted of a NICU doctor, an MFM OB, a palliative care doctor, and a social worker. The social workers knows what resources might be available to us since we live three hours away and we might need places to stay, etc… Fortunately we have a good support system at home but we also have friends in Kansas City who have offered us places to stay (Dan and Paige, if you’re reading I hope those offers are still open!) should we need them.

According to the cardiologist, Penny’s heart condition is stable but not improved, and she still has hydrops. The complications with her heart mean that they will not intervene until thirty six weeks gestation because their intervention would probably only cause physical pain and suffering with almost no chance of success. The NICU doctor walked us through what would probably happen following delivery: with Penny’s low heart rate she will probably not be able to sustain oxygen levels in her body, which will necessitate a breathing tube. She will also need to have tubes inserted to drain the excess fluids. There will be an electrophysiology team nearby in case her heart needs to be paced immediately. While Katie is recovering in one room, Penny will be in an adjacent room with a sliding glass door and I can go back and forth between the rooms to check on both and give Katie updates. Penny may be in the hospital for months, meaning that Katie will pretty much be living in Kansas City and we will be navigating this challenge.

This is all very different from our other pregnancies where we got to hold our babies immediately. All of our babies slept in the same room with Katie and got lots of cuddles and contact. It’s hard to think about the tubes and machines and pain that Penny will have to endure from day one. Treatment for her is completely dependent upon how she responds and while the doctors won’t put odds on her survival, they are constantly communicating to us the complexity of her issues. If treatment fails, the hospital will help us navigate the Covid restrictions so that family can meet their sister and their grand daughter before her short race is run.

We are living in the margins, and so far Penny has beat the odds. At week 20 there was little hope that we would make it to week 32. At week 28 and the development of hydrops the doctors were expecting her to die. I am particularly thankful to the MFM doctor who recommended the medicine Katie has been taking and which seems to be having a marginal effect, which has been enough to keep her alive. The margins are so tight. I asked the NICU nurse if there were babies who could sustain their own oxygen levels even with a low heart rate, and she said that she had seen it in the sixties or seventies, but not the fifties. Maybe Penny will be the first.

I ask these types of questions because while it is their job to help us think through all the terrible things that might happen, I believe it is my job to help them think about all the good things that might happen. Even the miraculous things. I don’t want them sticking and cutting and prodding my daughter if they don’t have to. I remember our first baby’s scream of pain when they drew blood from her heel and I know that every daddy instinct I have will be to protect my child from pain. So I hope and pray and ask that Katie will get to hold Penny as she held our other kids, and that Penny will come home and meet her siblings who are busy preparing for her arrival. Lord willing there will be no more updates until week 36. Until then, we are living in the grace of God.


Demo Day and the Dump Trailer

I may have a problem. Katie has informed me that I have started a remodeling project every trimester of Penny’s pregnancy. This next one we started is a big dog as we decided to tackle both bathrooms, which means our family of five is limited to using the new bathroom in the laundry room until I get at least the hall bath done.  Fortunately my friend Mike just bought a dump trailer and has been helping me demo the old bathrooms. The kids don’t bat an eye anymore and are always looking for ways to help.

One thing I have learned since my first remodel back in 2006 is that you might as well take everything down to studs and build it like you want. I have tried a few times to build on top of the old or try to get away with matching the old to the new and it just doesn’t work. In this case, we took out old subflooring as well because they had tiled it and there was no way to clean it off without spending massive man hours on it. We are also moving doorways and that means that the paneling, which Katie has valiantly spruced up over the last 5 years, was finally going to have to go. Now I can see all the fun stuff: the shoddy framing they tried to do around an old AC unit, the rotted wood on what used to be an exterior wall, and the spliced electrical wires dangling in the cavities.

When Mike got here with his super cool, super nice hydraulic dump trailer, we started in on the paneling. We were pretty surprised that we filled it with just that. So he hauled it off to burn so that we could start in on the stuff that would have to go to the dump. The next day we filled that up and off he was to the dump and back. Which we filled up again. Two bathrooms and we are up to three loads. By the time we get finished I’m sure there will be another.

Mike’s nifty trailer

Which got me to thinking (and here comes the “you see, Timmy”) how much demo I really needed in my life when I met the Lord. The self that He has had to take out of me, and the self that is still coming out, is shockingly volumous. LIke some of the old subflooring that had been nailed down for thirty years, it didn’t want to come out without a fight. But like a good remodeler, He is taking me down to studs so He can deal with the hidden issues, and when His work is complete I will be much more useful for His kingdom. In the mean time, there’s a lot of dust. You’ll have to pardon my mess.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In twenty years of pastoral ministry, it is rare that I come across someone who has benefited from counseling/therapy. Which is odd considering how many people have tried it. This might be anecdotal to me, but when I ask the struggler who has approached me to describe their previous counseling experience, I usually get something like “At first it felt really good to talk to someone, but then it just sort of fizzled out and nothing ever changed.” This leads me to believe that the majority of secular counselors could be replaced by a good and wise friend. Good Will Hunting moments are unicorns.

a person drowns underwater

So when I encounter someone who has benefited from counseling, I tend to notice. In The Coddling of the American Mind, which is essentially a critique of the fragility incarnated in higher education, Greg Lukianoff, one of the authors, overcame (or perhaps learned to cope with) depression using Cognitive Behavior Therapy. The authors of this books are not Christians but are also clearly intelligent, thoughtful, and well intentioned. They go so far as to recommend simple forms of CBT be taught to children as a way of helping them become anti-fragile. I find it interesting to see CBT recommended heartily by two self described liberals who are concerned about the fragility of the up and coming generation, so I thought I would do some exploring. (For an introduction to CBT try The Beck Institute).

I am struck by 2 reasons CBT might be successful, and these are shared traits of the Biblical Counseling that I practice. First, CBT treats the client as an active agent in the change process. This may seem like a no-brainer, but the reality is that for many of the common causes for which therapy is sought, the client is treated like a victim of a disease. The term “mental illness” captures this approach. For example, the practical result for many seeking help for depression, anxiety, and bi-polar disorder is a prescription. The CDC reports that in the years 2015-2018, 13.2% of Americans age 18 and over had taken an anti-depressant in the last 30 days. Since the overwrought response to the pandemic, anti-anxiety prescription use has dramatically increased. This medical model of therapy, whether intentionally or not, minimizes the agency of the individual.

But there are other reasons why counselors may refrain from challenging their clients in all but meaningless ways. In our increasingly Woke culture, a mental health worker at a university might expect a lawsuit or the loss of employment if they challenged the narrative of a client who belonged to an “oppressed” demographic. But it sounds to me like in CBT, a counselor can say “What are you thinking?” and “Does that actually reflect reality?” Like Biblical Counselors, those who practice CBT are willing to challenge their clients views, claims, perspectives, values, and conclusions.

Secondly, as implied in the name, CBT focuses on the thoughts. It’s reasonable to say that a lot of people seek counseling for conditions that are emotional in nature. How do we access the emotions? The short answer is that we have no idea. But we can address the thoughts. Scripture actually uses phrases like “the thoughts of the heart”, or “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Emotions are tied to our physical bodies, but they are also tied to our thoughts and behaviors. CBT enters the process of counseling through the thoughts as well, “Dr. Beck began helping patients identify and evaluate these automatic thoughts. He found that by doing so, patients were able to think more realistically. As a result, they felt better emotionally and were able to behave more functionally.” There is an echo of noutheteo in this statement, is there not?

But what does it mean to “think more realistically”? Here the paths between CBT and Biblical Counseling begin to diverge in (at least) two distinct ways. The first is that CBT contains no body of universal knowledge from which to define “realistically”. Biblical counselors have the Bible: an unalterable exposition of humanity’s origin and destiny, a unified narrative of redemption assembled across centuries and cultures, and a complete and sufficient body of Truth. Compared to this incomparable resource, CBT is quite limited. Human beings can be ruthlessly honest with ourselves and endeavor to be objective regarding the world around us. But even then – especially then! – the human soul seeks Transcendent Truth that must be revealed by God before it can be discovered by man.

Secondly, I find it difficult in secular therapy to determine the telos of the counseling because I cannot discern within that counseling paradigm what they think is the telos of the individual. What is the goal? Is CBT’s goal to make people happier or more productive? Do those terms differ from client to client? What if those goals are achieved and yet the counselor knows that the client is still not thinking realistically? Contrast this with Biblical Counseling which knows from our catechism that the chief end of man is to know God and enjoy Him forever. The purpose of man is not to be happy or productive, but to know God and in knowing God, become someone in whom the image of God shines forth. In so doing, a man often finds deep joy and accomplishes great things. But the order can never be reversed or the whole enterprise collapses. When my foster son was a teenager he took to sneaking out of the house at night and running away, which eventually led to the Department of Family Services taking custody over him. In one of the conversations I had with the team (consisting of three or four people) we had an argument that ended with me saying something like, “There’s a lot worse things for ______ than winding up in jail” to shocked faces. Their goal was to cajole him into obeying the rules long enough for him to age out while my goal was for him to learn that actions had consequences, which I considered a step towards some change in his character. Telos makes a difference.

After some research and some pondering, I get how CBT was helpful in Greg’s life. There is enough light in this world to tell the difference between imaginary and reality. There are enough God given faculties within the human soul to do the hard work of challenging our own conclusions and improving our mental processes. What it is missing in CBT is transcendental truth, a clear vision of humanity as made in the image of God with all the moral responsibilities that entails, and we could add to that the Biblical Counselor’s confidences in the redeeming work of Christ, the community of believers, etc… I also wonder how long CBT can endure without being co-opted by the medical model or the politics of progressivism. Still, I can say I am honestly happy for Greg and honestly happy that even little “T” truth is being utilized in counseling. Once the door of truth is cracked open, we can only hope Who might come walking through.


Ravi could have used some guardrails: Re-Examining the “Billy Graham Rule”

The egalitarian culture in which we live provides endless opportunities to conflict with a clear vision of God creating man and woman as distinct. Within conservative evangelical circles these distinctions have been addressed most robustly – outside of the teaching of individual churches – by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The Billy Graham rule, which came into the national spotlight again a couple of years ago when Mike Pence spoke about the precautions he takes in his relationships with women, is a practice in which evangelical men seek to never be alone with a woman (this is a simplistic overstatement; no one has an issue with riding in an elevator with a woman, etc…). This precaution is taken in order to avoid sexual temptation as well as to avoid accusations of impropriety. Below are some thoughts regarding this rule that I have assembled in some semblance of order, but it’s the kind of order you might see as a group of kiddos are told by the teacher to line up at the door. So please, limit your expectations.

Fallout from Ravi Zacharias’ abuse begins

We Still Have A “Flesh” Problem

Men are still attracted to women, and women are still attracted to men. Men can be deeply sinful (think David lusting over Bathsheeba) and women can be deeply sinful (think of Potiphar’s wife lusting over Joseph). And while we most often hear about the failure of prominent Christian men, such as the recent Ravi Zecharias tragedy, there are also cases involving women intentionally seducing men. When it comes to the sexes, sin is a two way street. On this issue of sexual attraction, we should not underestimate how overwhelming and intoxicating this temptation can be. We should also not underestimate how the ubiquity of pornography use has desensitized many consciences to the exceeding sinfulness of sexual immorality.

We Have a Problem on Top of a Problem

The #MeToo movement is a classic case of how worldly solutions to sinful problems tend to compound the problem rather than solve it. I am very glad that women who experienced abuse felt confident in coming forward and exposing the likes of Harvey Weinstein. I hope every woman who experiences abuse seeks justice. But I also hope that as a society we can cling to important principles of justice like “innocent until proven guilty” and a right to a fair trial. When the media and the mob simply pile on someone without giving that person a chance to mount any sort of defence, we are no longer living in a just society. So as with sin, justice is a two way street. In this day and age, men not only need to guard their own hearts but to guard their reputations.

The Problem Starts in the Heart

One biblical qualification for an elder is that he be “a man of one woman”. Or a one woman kind of man. The best defense any pastor has against temptation as well as impropriety is to be in love with his wife. Of course, celebrities can fake it in front of the camera, and Christian celebrities are no exception. But local church pastors can’t fake something like this for very long. (On a side note – This is the advantage of the biblical model of having local church pastors as opposed to celebrity leaders). The temptation for a man to stray is intensified when he is not loving his wife the way he should. Sin starts in the heart.

But There are Such things as Best Practices

Most church elders are now familiar with risk management regarding everything from church finances to a potential deadly shooting during a worship service. Churches with a robust children’s ministry will have best practices in place to minimize the potential of an abuser. These best practices discourage potential abusers from even attempting to gain access to kids. In the same way, elders should have best practices for guarding their own hearts, their own reputations, and the reputations of women in the church. Recent books such as “Why Can’t We Be Friends? Avoidance is Not Purity” suggest that policies of avoidance – like the Billy Graham rule – are not the solution. Note the quote below from a recent TGC blog post:

Withdrawing from women isn’t the solution. In fact, it’s part of the problem. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone in the garden, and it’s not good for men to be without women in the church. Men need mothers, sisters, and daughters in the faith, just as women need fathers, brothers, and sons. We are a family, a beautiful body made up of many parts. We’re vitally connected to one another, and every part is essential for us to function properly. Avoidance isn’t the remedy. Drawing near to God is.


I don’t know of any evangelicals who advocate for a complete avoidance of women. We worship together, we eat fellowship meals together, and our families form friendships together. The Billy Graham rule is specifically targeting one on one interactions between men and women, often in private places such as personal offices or vehicles. Flee youthful lusts….use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh…abstain from all appearance of evil…if your eye offends you, then pluck it out…Scripture has plenty to say about the nefarious nature of our flesh, even post salvation, and the lengths to which we should go to limit sin’s influence over us. Should I be the kind of person that is trustworthy in a situation where I am alone with a woman? Of course. Should I still have rules? You betcha.

While the author above does not single out the Billy Graham rule, she must be talking about something. She goes on to say “However, I’m concerned that certain well intentioned guardrails have the potential to harm women.” That is a pretty weak argument compared to the argument that a lack of guardrails have definitely harmed women. Ravi Zacharias could have used a few more guardrails. At some point, I assume that Ravi was faithful to his wife, and then at some point he was not. Would he have kept his marital vows if he had had more guardrails?

Wisdom and Rules

Legalism is the idea that righteousness can be achieved by rule-keeping. We understand that this is anathema to the salvation that comes by grace. But having rules does not turn one into a legalist. Discipline is not opposed to grace if discipline is born out of grace. Could we imagine a man who has a lot of rules about his interactions with women but is at the same time a lusting Lothario? Sure. But we can also imagine a good man who doesn’t have a lot of rules and in a weak moment ruins his ministry. In fact, we don’t have to imagine that because we see it around us all the time. Arbitrary rules woodenly applied will make for a clumsy and awkward ministry, but a lack of wise rules will lead to greater tragedies.

This Egalitarian Age

Because of the egalitarian nature of our age, I think it is much more common to see men and women together and much harder for men in the workforce to hold to the Billy Graham rule without compromising their employment. Should we advise men in our church to risk their jobs to hold to a certain standard? These are the types of issues Christians need to think through. For the moment, I see nothing in the news or the culture or the nature of mankind that makes me think that a pastor needs to spend more time alone with a woman who is not his wife.


The Radical, Offensive Gospel of Grace

If you have ever watched The Bachelor, you and I probably have nothing in common. Just kidding. But not really. It would not matter to me if this show got canceled, but it is instructive that the host got canceled. Which you can read about here, but the short version is that a contestant on the show attended an Antebellum themed party in 2018. Her social media history, as well as her dad’s voting record, were then gone through with a fine tooth comb. Chris Harrison, who has hosted the show since its debut almost 20 years ago, suggested that before the mob came for her with pitchforks they should show a little grace. This led to a Change.org petition to cancel him, which worked.

Image result for canceled

There is no way for people to be non-religious. Look at that most atheistic societies in our world, like North Korea, and you will find all the pageantry, worship, and formalism of the most advanced temple rituals. All religions seek after righteousness, which may come in the form of enlightenment or spiritual advancement or perhaps something as basic as the favor of the gods. But in all man-made religions, the effort of the worshiper to attain this righteousness is necessary. This plays out for us in the Bachelor cancellation case as the contestant failed to properly honor the code and by suggesting her sins were not worthy of immediate condemnation, Harrison associated himself with her sins. His way back to righteousness? To own his shame in an abject apology that is now well scripted by every PR firm in America: I deeply regret my insensitivity. I realize now that my words/behavior were harmful to the __________ community and I am going to spend some time reflecting on my own privilege.

All of which led me to think about how truly breathtaking the gospel of Jesus Christ really is, and how offensive is its grace! Sins – real ones, not the imagined ones of the current demos – that were unpardonable are wiped clean in a moment. The Samaritan woman who has had five husbands and is now shacked up with another man finds herself talking in public about Jesus with the very crowd she used to hide from in shame. The greedy tax collector who pads his pockets with the hard earned money of his own kinsman dines with the Master. The thief dying on the cross for crimes he committed will soon be in Paradise. The “sinner” woman who washes the feet of Jesus with her tears and dries them with her hair is sent on her way washed from her sins. The fisherman who denies knowing His own Savior becomes the first to preach the resurrection of that Savior. How momentously instant is the pardon of God! And yes, this grace is not “cheap grace”. The tax collector returns the money he stole. The fisherman goes to his own martyrdom. The repentance is genuine. But it is not effort on the part of the penitent but grace on the part of God that makes the difference.

But how offensive this gospel is to the self righteous. In what is perhaps the most explicit parable of God’s attitude toward His rebellious children, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. This story ends with the joy of a father at receiving back his lost son, but the bitter resentment of one brother towards his own Father for offering such undeserved pardon. This attitude of resentment, judgmentalism, and superiority were characterized by those in Israel who thought themselves to have no need of a physician, and thought little of those that did. Another parable of Jesus focuses on the forgiveness received by the penitent publican who smote his own breast while publicly acknowledging his unworthiness to even lift his eyes toward heaven, versus the self confidence of the Pharisee who was satisfied to be superior to the publican. Which one went on his way justified?

This kind of gospel is not just on the pages of Scripture, but actually plays out around us in every day life. But for brevity, let me choose a couple of rare jewels to illustrate the larger point. Corrie ten Boom’s family hid Jewish refugees from Nazi’s in their home in the Netherlands until they were betrayed by a fellow Dutchman in 1944. Corrie and her sister Betsy were sent to Ravensbruck, a brutal Nazi death camp, while her father died in a prison cell. At Ravensbruck they were beaten, starved, raped, and Betsy was killed. Throughout all of this, Corrie kept her faith in God and returned to Ravensbruck in 1947 to share the message of God’s forgiveness to the German people who had so cruelly treated her family. But she could not have known that one man who listened to her speak of the gospel that day was the very guard who has mostly cruelly abused and terrorized her. Following her evangelism, he reached out his hand to her. Because she believed that Christ had forgiven her sins, she took his hand. She did not cancel him.

Compare that to the “sins” of Woke-ism and you can see how petty are its gods and how shallow is its grace. Even the mention of grace makes it froth at the mouth, eager not for mercy but for blood. Man made religions find the gospel of Jesus Christ scandalous. This is why there is no salvation or reconciliation in the new secular order. But in the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is pardon for every sin, because Jesus has taken the sins of the world upon His shoulders. The blood debt has already been paid by Jesus Christ, and so there is room for forgiveness at His Table. Because the mob cried “Crucify him!” you are able to forgive others. Freely you have received pardon; freely offer pardon. If your brother – your own brother! – sins against you seven times in a day you are to turn and forgive him. This is why in the church there is no wall between Jew and Gentile, between black and white, between poor and rich, or between powerful and powerless. In the Church, we are all powerless before God who extends mercy to all. But this is an offense to those who feel more worthy of grace than others.

I leave you with one more story of the grace of God, this one closer to our day and age. Botham Jean was in his own apartment when he was shot and killed by Amber Guyger, who claimed that she had gotten confused and believed she was walking into her own apartment. After her conviction, Botham’s brother Brandt was allowed to give a victim-impact statement, and rather than pour out his own wrath and bitterness he offered a reckless, free, lavish offer of grace that ended in forgiveness. Brandt refused to cancel the one who deprived him of his own brother.


Hope Deferred

Yesterday morning we returned to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. It had been four weeks since our previous visit but in the mean time Katie had seen her OB and we had another echocardiogram at the local clinic. Penny has been gaining weight, growing, and moving around a lot. So we had a lot of hope in our hearts for the visit to KC. I had even wondered if we might witness a miracle and be told that her heart block had cleared.

Our first appointment was for an ultrasound with the maternal fetal medicine folks at 9AM, so we decided to spend the night in KC and celebrate Katie’s birthday and Valentine’s day a little early. After an evening of fondue at the melting pot and exploring the Ikea in Kansas City – where Katie and I not only got along but brought back some furniture for the church, which we assembled this morning in record time and without arguing, thank you very much – we had a bit of a restless night and early morning thanks to back pain and pregnancy insomnia. The silver lining was that over the course of the day I manged to go to the Roasterie three times.

In that first ultrasound we got some great pictures of Penny as she yawned for us, sucked her thumb, and performed a lot of acrobatics. She may be the most active of all of our babies, so that’s encouraging. Dr. Mundy, the MFM doctor, came in to tell us that there are some new developments that are not good. Penny now has hydrops, a condition where fluid is building up in two or more compartments of her body. Additionally, they observed some thickening of her heart muscles.

As we went into the echocardiogram room, I had already determined not to try and watch the whole thing, so I read some CS Lewis and got some work done while Katie fell asleep on the chair (thank you, Rita, for being so gentle and allowing her to get some rest!). Penny does not like to cooperate with these exams, so Rita got as much information as she could and then disappeared. We waited a long time. Maybe an hour. We learned that waiting is bad – it probably means a group of doctors are conferencing. When they came in, we met our third cardiologist as well as an electrophysiologist. There were two others present around the little table in our room, but it was the first time we had an all female team. Which, to be honest, was not good. Everyone was very kind and everyone felt the need to tell us how sorry they were. “Don’t be sorry, yet.” I replied. Later I would have to say, “You have no reason to be sorry or apologize, you have done nothing wrong.” It seemed like when the meeting started they were saying that they needed to know what we wanted, as if they needed us to make some kind of decision. But about 1/3 of the way into the hour long meeting, I realized that they weren’t actually telling us anything new. Katie realized that soon thereafter and asked, “So do you guys want us to decide something?” to which they all said no. Basically, they just wanted us to know that things are not going well. I probably came as close to getting frustrated as I have throughout this experience, but my internal compass told me that response was not helpful.

Then we sat there for a while longer, maybe another thirty or forty minutes, and waited for another group of doctors to come in. Who again, wanted to know what we wanted. At that point, I wanted a multiple choice test instead of an essay question. The answer we gave them that seemed to help them move on is that we want to make the best decision for Penny possible, that we would rather take the risk of her passing away in utero then to prematurely delivery her just so we could spend time with her, that we understood that post delivery interventions may not be possible, and that we do not want our daughter hooked up indefinitely to tubes and machines and subjected to unnecessary painful procedures that have slim to no chance of success. I found myself saying out loud all the things that eight weeks ago I hoped I would never have to say. Parents make choices every day that impact their children, but never have I had to make decisions of this magnitude. While hard to say, they were relatively simple to make: we cannot control things outside of our control. We cannot gratify our own emotional needs at the expense of making responsible decisions for Penny. We have been entrusted with the life of another for a season and while we do not know how long that season will be, we will do our best and leave the rest to God.

We did get a prescription for some medicine that may increase Penny’s heart rate and thus either keep at bay the progression of hydrops or, in the best case scenario, improve her condition. The side effect is that it will increase Katie’s heart rate and may increase her insomnia or make her jittery or anxious. We will return to KC in a week to see if this has been effective, and at that point we may have to make more – harder – decisions. We are living week to week at this point.

So we started the day with hope, and our hope had to be deferred to another day. But we still have hope. It has not been destroyed. I have hope because Penny loves to move and kick, which is a good sign. The other day she kicked my hand and I felt her strength. I have hope because God loves a last minutes rescue: He doesn’t always part the waters until Pharaoh’s army is pressing in or show up until His servants are cast into the fiery furnace. The NICU doctor told us that she would consider it a miracle if Penny came to full term. Of all the prayers that God has ever answered for me, this would by far be the most clear example of His intervention in the natural affairs of man, and I would love to witness it.

In the Christian life, hope often has to be deferred. The hope of the disciples that Jesus would rescue Israel had to be deferred until after the crucifixion. The hope Abraham had for an heir had to be deferred until after Sarah had passed the point where she could conceive. Joseph’s hope that his family would one day possess the land of Canaan had to be deferred until after his death, when only his bones were left to grace the Promised Land. Our hope cannot be destroyed, even by death, for we serve a God who knows His way out of the grave. Hope may be deferred, but never destroyed


Against Limited Atonement


I am grateful to many of those in Christ who hold to the theological perspective known as Calvinism. I believe Calvinism, with its high view of God, provided a much needed correction to the man centered religion that was threatening to overwhelm the American Church in the 20th century. I have been blessed by the writings of men like JI Packer and John MacArthur (among others) and would recommend their books and commentaries to anyone. Additionally, I was in Bible College during the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement, so I have seen many of my contemporaries embrace Reformed Theology.

cross silhouette on mountain during golden hour

I did not grow up hearing the doctrines of Calvinism explicitly preached and I remember my first encounter with it in high school via a discussion with a teacher at the secular school that I attended. Most of the preaching that I heard in my Baptist circles was not Calvinistic in nature, and could sometimes be anti-Calvinistic. In Bible College, I threw away any misgivings that I had one way or the other and determined that I would be whatever I was convinced the Bible taught, whether that be “Arminian” or “Calvinist”. That is a position I maintain today: to be whatever the Scripture teaches me to be.

The Issue

That introduction is to communicate that though I write today against the doctrine of Limited Atonement, I believe this to be an intramural discussion among genuine believers. While I don’t have an ax to grind (in the sense that I have some personal animosity towards Calvinism), the position I take is that Limited Atonement, which states that Christ died only for the elect, is incorrect. The most pungent defense of limited (or “definite atonement” or “particular atonement”) comes from the great theologian John Owen:

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either [1] all the sins of all men, or [2] all the sins of some men, or [3] some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved…. If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will (173–74; cf. 234).

The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, John Owen

Being that modern theologians such as Piper and Packer have both acclaimed this theological work as unrivaled, it bears thinking through the nature of this work and this paragraph in particular. Notice that Owen does not engage with the text in this paragraph (although he does in other places) but rather uses a form of logic/argumentation. He presents us with 3 options for why Christ underwent the pains of hell and then dismisses 2 of them as being unsatisfactory, leaving us with the conclusion that Christ must have died only for the elect. For Owen, the central question is what was the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross, which leads to the limited number of choices he offers in the quotation above. This point of Calvinism frequently falls back on a similar chain of logical reasoning rather than an engagement with the texts, for the simple reason that it takes a massive amount of hermeneutical gymnastics to make the following texts say something that accords with Limited Atonement:

The Biblical Texts

1 John 2:2  And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world

2Peter 2:1  But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 

Besides these verses, there are a host of verses that describe Christ’s redemptive work impacting the world, such as John 3:16, Hebrews 2:9, and Isaiah 53:6. In each case, a serious exegetical assault has to be mounted on the plain reading of the text in order to accommodate the doctrine of Limited Atonement. Let’s just think about 1 John 2:2. Is there any basis for treating the phrase “sins of the whole world” to mean “sins of other believers not present here at this time”? It would be a unique use of “world”. Furthermore, if John wanted to communicate something other than an unlimited scope to Christ’s work, why did he construct the sentence to be so easily misunderstood? There is no textual variant, no strange Greek word, nor any grammatical rule that can rescue these texts from the hands of those who hold to an Atonement available for more than the Elect.

Because Calvin himself used many biblical phrases such as “our Lord Jesus suffered for all” there is still some controversy surrounding whether he actually held to Limited Atonement. Trevin Wax addresses this in his 2009 post on this topic. In that post he states “Saying that Christ has died for the sins of the world is not necessarily a denial of limited atonement. It is simply the way that the Bible speaks of redemption. Interpret those verses however you want, but don’t be afraid to speak the way the Bible speaks.” The problem is that in speaking that way, one is led to the conclusion that the atonement reaches farther than the Elect who will believe. Words have consequences, even if they are theological consequences.


The first issue I have with the logic espoused by Owen is that it puts us in the awkward position of judging God. Owens implies that if we adopt a view of an unlimited atonement then we must say that Christ has failed in achieving the purpose for which He died on the cross. But are we to say that because Adam and Eve sinned in the garden that God somehow failed? Or that Israel’s failure to keep the Covenant reflects a flaw in God’s plan? Or that the Church’s sometimes lackluster Witness means that the sanctifying work of Christ is not coming to pass? Even if we adjust our statement concerning the purpose of Christ’s death to be something like “to provide salvation for all of mankind” I still would not want to pursue this line of reasoning. “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” Let us not apply syllogisms beyond our pay grade.

Secondly, I have often wondered why those who are such sound Bible interpreters in other matters make such an obvious mistake when it comes to the texts I cite above. I believe the answer is that the 5 points are mutually affirming and the fear is that if one falls then the entire tapestry begins to unravel. Consider the following from Piper, “They (Arminians) deny, specifically, that the death of Christ was not only intended by God to obtain benefits for people after they believe (which is true), but even more, Christ’s death was intended by God to obtain the very willingness to believe.” This means that if Unlimited Atonement is adopted then a support for other points of Calvinism (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace) is lost. This feature of Calvinism – of being presented as a hermetically sealed system – often results in a “stage cage” (a phrase even Calvinists sometimes use!) wherein all narratives, truths, texts, and conversations wind up at the Sovereignty of God in Salvation.

And I think that they are right to be concerned (from their perspective) because I have experienced that myself. As I studied the “doctrines of grace” I could feel myself being pulled into their gravitational force. But once the alignment was broken (through my studies on the extent of the atonement), I felt as though I could think about each tenet more freely. Rather than the pull of a singular star, I felt as though as the heavens were littered with glorious truths, among which shined many of the doctrines contained in Calvinism. You might say that when the light of Limited Atonement was extinguished, a thousand constellations took its place.

The Actual Conclusion

I doubt anything I just wrote will convince a committed 5 pointer. I may get shot at from the other side for being overly generous. But, like Luther, my conscience is held captive to the Word of God, and that Word clearly and often teaches that in some way, shape, and form the death of Christ extends beyond the Elect. Perhaps we could see the glorious Truths of Scripture more clearly if we could extinguish the glare of this error.

For further reading try this blog post from Randy Alcorn, and for his complete take on God’s sovereignty read his excellent book.


Pastors, Be Content with Your Church; Church, Be Content with Your Pastor

The road to Branson is adorned with billboards. (Surely, as an aphorism, it will go viral.) Shows, restaurants, hotels, and assorted other venues that make their money off of the tourism industry promote themselves along Highway 65 in hopes of capturing more of the visitors who are the economic lifeline of the town Homer Simpson called, “Las Vegas run by Ned Flanders”. Billboards are ubiquitous (and in my opinion, ugly) features of every major highway in America. In our consumer culture, the goal of advertising is not to inform, but to inflame. Advertising is not aimed at the mind, but at the lusts. Advertising is designed not just to satisfy desire, but to create desire that was previously unknown. Covetousness is rooted in our flesh.

rectangular beige board

In recent decades the Church has variously battled, scorned, embraced, and baptized consumerism as a church growth mentality. One of the more pungent odors of consumerism in the church is discontentment. Who knew they needed heated seats in their car until they had tried them? Who knew they needed a pastor that could rock designer sneakers until they saw one? You get the idea. (The issue is not whether a pastor should wear designer sneaks, but whether wearing designer sneakers becomes some sort of desirable focus for pastor and congregation alike). Since discontentment comes standard on all fallen natures, we have a potential sinkhole that has been enlarged by intentional excavations around it. And many, including myself, have teetered on the edge of that sinkhole.

We are all tempted to think that a change in circumstances will resolve our problems. The problem with the employee who changes jobs every time he has a conflict with his boss is that he manages to change his circumstances while remaining the same unmanageable person he has been the whole time. The problem with the church that swaps out their pastor every time his preaching grows dull to their ears is that they never address the dullness of their hearts. The problem with the pastor who changes churches every time the honeymoon period is over is that his ministry careers consists of all the excitement of dating and none of the fruit of marriage.

There are times when a change in the pastorate is necessary. Some men never met the qualifications of an elder to begin with. Others fall into sin. Some churches are viper pits looking for fresh victims to poison. And there are legitimate moves in ministry as directed by God whereby both parties (pastor and church) are strengthened by God through these changes unto His glory. But in my opinion, too many changes happen as a result of unrealistic/unbiblical expectations that result in a growing discontentment between pastor and church.

Pastors, don’t let discontentment grow in your hearts. You may sow, water, and plant, but only God can give the increase. Focus less on what others are doing (or not doing) for the Lord and how you can preach faithfully, minister gladly, and use the opportunities that you have. Imagine that you are a fresh candidate for this pastorate and think how you would see the opportunities differently. Discontentment will rob the time you could be doing something in ministry and replace it with time spent searching the internet for other jobs, or techniques to overcome your problems, or even more deadly temptations that will provide excitement in your dreary day. Determine to love the sheep – especially the wayward ones – over which God has made you overseer. Place your confidence in the power of God’s Word instead of in your own skills. Don’t let past failures or disappointments affect your faith in God’s promise to complete the work He started (you didn’t start it, dear brother) in your congregants. Let your discontentment lead you to become a better pastor instead of leading you to a different church.

Churches, don’t let discontentment with your pastor grow in your heart. If you have a pastor who faithfully demonstrates the character qualities recorded in Scripture, faithfully preaches God’s Word, and faithfully loves your church, don’t even think of replacing him. If there are areas where you think your church needs to improve, then volunteer to help. Don’t think those who have turned away from God will return just because you bring in someone more charismatic. If your pastor is burnt out, then don’t make him ask for a vacation: send him on one. If he comes to you and says that he is contemplating a change, handcuff him to an old heavy filing cabinet. If you have a faithful man of God at the helm of your boat, then do whatever you possibly can to help him – short of actually handcuffing him to a filing cabinet! Let your discontentment lead to a rallying around your leader instead of a replacing of your leader.

Thou shalt not covet applies to ministry. Don’t covet another man’s ministry, and don’t covet another church’s pastor. Be content. Godliness with contentment is great gain.


When the Trust Fund Runs Out

Financially, a trust fund is a an asset given by one person/party (grantor) to another person/party (beneficiary) that is managed by a neutral third party (trustee). Often these funds are set up for children who are too young to manage their own money, and so the money is left “in trust” until the child comes of age. Ironically, sometimes the trust fund is set up because a parent does not trust his heir to manage the asset. Today, I’m writing about a difference kind of trust fund: relational.

Social Security: What Happens If the Trust Fund Runs Out in 2034? | Money

Every relationship involves some measure of trust. Deep, meaningful relationships have built up a treasury of trust that yields intimacy, confidence, and joy. One reason I decided to marry my wife is because I instinctively trusted her. To some extent, that trust was earned over the course of two years of dating and engagement. But to some extent, marrying her was an act of faith; an act that has been rewarded with interest. Over ten years of marriage we have kept our vows, prioritized our relationship, and endured job, financial, and medical challenges. So when I got a text today saying that she needed my social security number, I was less concerned with why she might need it than I was in ensuring that it was really my wife and not some rando who had pinched her phone.

The connection between the financial trust fund and the relational trust fund has more in common than a fleeting rhetorical connection: what happens when a trust fund runs out? In popular conception, a trust fund baby melts down in the face of this loss because she is unable to face the weight of the world on her own. When a relationship runs out of trust, it crashes in upon itself – unable to bear the weight of its own framework. Friendships without trust become cold acquaintances. Lovers without trust become hot enemies. Spouses without trust become roommates wanting to split but with that pesky problem of both their names being affixed to the lease.

What happens when society loses trust in its institutions? You have America. The Great Divided States of America. Long-standing institutions like journalism are not trusted. Local, State, and Federal government are not trusted. Elections are not trusted – and this is not simply true of 2020 (see below). Big Tech is not trusted because…see below. The glaring double standard before us is as subtle as a Buddy the Elf. As obvious as Waldo at the North Pole. As out of place as a flamingo in the frozen tundra. Apparently my metaphors are heavily influenced by the weather.

It’s worth considering how trust has broken down and whether or not it can be rebuilt. Trust breaks down when commitments are not honored, when promises are not kept, and when incompetence becomes common place. And for this reason, the only kind of government that will ever keep trust with its citizens is a limited government. The government of Progressive Idealism is bound to break trust because it cannot deliver what it promises. Utopian ideals in a sin cursed world are doomed to failure. The government cannot save you, which is why it is a terrible substitute for a real Savior. Thomas Sowell puts it pretty succinctly, “There are no solutions, only trade-offs.”

Consider the stark difference between the billboard a few miles down the highway from me that simply reads “Stop Hunger Now” with the words of Jesus Christ, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). I love the idea of feeding people, but it isn’t that simple. A friend of mine who lives in a very poor county started a program to send backpacks of food home with kids from school over the weekend. They found that the kids were still coming back to school hungry on Monday because parents had taken the food from the kids for themselves, or even to swap out for drugs and alcohol. Another example would be the massive failure of cities like San Francisco or Seattle that have become uninhabitable for locals because of their policies to help the homeless.

Contrast this with a local bond issue to improve some roadways and bridges in our county. Upon completion, the county puts up a sign stating “Completed On Time as Promised.” Or consider the conversation I had with a local public employee who is largely responsible for the use of a massive bond program. For the last two years careful stewardship has yielded projects finished within budgets despite massive price increases over the last twelve months. These are the types of promises that a government can make and keep, thus building trust with its citizens.

But the Brave New World sort of folks are constantly dropping the ball. And because they need the populace to believe in their vision and in the myth of inevitability, they can never come out and own their mistakes. Which leads to blaming someone else or simply lying. “If you like your doctor, you can keep him.” Right.

Jesus, on the other hand, you can trust, because the foundational reality of the mission of Jesus Christ is that people are sinners. Jesus knows that a perfect system will always be ruined by sinful people, because that’s what happened in Eden. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) The plan of Jesus is to save the sinners from their sin, thus making them fit for His kingdom. Where there will be no sickness. No tears. No hunger.

Until then, we want our government trim and focused, not bloated and ubiquitous. We want a government that fixes bridges and balances budgets. Until we get that, the trust fund will always be running on fumes.


Personal Piety isn’t Enough: The Church is More Important Than Ever

The Water In Which We Are Drowning

With all of the hubaloo regarding the inauguration of Biden yesterday, I had intended to add my two cents to the overflowing coin bank of opinion on the recent 2020 elections. But due to unforeseen events, I am late to the party. That’s ok, my understanding is that if it’s mailed in it will be counted regardless of the posting date. Which remark probably indicates my political leanings, but be that as it may, this post is more about the Church than politics, although politics are the context in which I frame my thoughts.

whtie and brown cathedral

The next four years promises to be challenging from a political perspective to orthodox Christians, and I shall lay out some a priori assumptions that explains that assessment. 1) All forms of government are not created equally: there are forms of government that are more realistic about the nature of our world and that are designed in principal and practice to pursue righteousness (Proverbs 14:34). 2) The extremism of the Left (collectivism) is currently more dangerous than the extremism of the right (fascism), although that could change quickly. 3) The intolerant, censorious nature of Leftist policy is a danger to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. 4) The idolatry of Statism exhibited by Leftist government is threatened by bonds outside of the State, which has led to an assault on the family, on the nature of masculinity and femininity, and on the life of the unborn – to name a few. 5) The doctrines of the Left are embedded in our culture through institutions such as government via legislation, education via government schools, storytelling via entertainment, and control of information via Big Tech and traditional media.

Idolatry to the Left, Idolatry to the Right

As one of my friends recently pointed out, the last year has been a good one for exposing idolatry. In my part of the country and in my circles, the idolatry of the right involves a certain kind of nationalism. I think nationalism is good and something that will last for eternity: the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2). But even good things can become idols, and we can tell that they have become idols by the response of their worshipers when they start to slip and fall off their pedestal. There are those within Evangelicalism who have placed their trust in horses and in chariots (Psalm 20:7). There are those who have risked personal integrity, who have railed against the appointed rulers, who have lost sleep, who have denied reality, and in short acted like pagans because they were worshiping at the wrong altar.

But the Left is not short of idols. If I were to compare, I would say that the main difference between the Left and the Right is that the Right tends to elevate good things (patriotism, family, liberty) to the level of worship (which is a sin) , whereas the Left tends to worship that which is more intrinsically wicked. To love fornication is to love that which is twisted. To love death is to love that which is the opposite of the Lord of Life. From evolution to transgenderism, the gods of the Left are an abomination.

Personal Piety

In the midst of this, it should go without saying that personal piety is foundational. The individual who claims to know the God who is Holy and yet lives daily without evidence of holiness (or growth in holiness) is a problem. Salvation – the pardoning of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – comes to the individual. Then the salvation that is worked in by God must be worked out by the believer through the power of the indwelling Spirit. This is basic Christianity. In every age, the lack of personal piety rears its ugly head. In every age the Church can lose her saltiness because those who make up that blood bought Body of Christ are living in carnality.

The Church

But there is also something above and greater than the individual: the Church. While comprised of individuals whose personal piety determines her character, the church is greater than the sum of her parts. She competes in society – not on a personal level – but at an institutional level. She has righteous laws to compete with secular legislation. As the pillar and groundwork of Truth, she is the True Teacher of our race. Her Wisdom competes with secular dogma and philosophy. She tells the One True Story against secular fiction. The Revelation of God is expounded from Her pulpits. As such, the Church is always under attack because She embodies the Light of God in a dark world.

Christians CANNOT allow their aspirations to end with personal piety. It is the Church that must not fail. We may expect, particularly in progressive States, oppressive legislation and uncooperative legislatures. We should anticipate onerous regulations at our schools where we teach our children that God is our Creator and man is made in His image. We know that proponents of homosexuality and transgenderism and collectivism are marshaling their forces NOT against the main stream media and giant corporations, but against the Chosen of God who will not declared that Caesar is Lord, but that Christ is Lord.

And so we must attend. We must give. We must serve. We must worship together. If your attendance to your local assembly is sporadic, then sharpen it up. If you give your hard earned money to the very corporations that promote wickedness while withholding your money from the mission of God then change your financial habits. If you haven’t missed a football game but you have missed the worship of your Creator…well, that’s a problem. The best way you can stand against the secular wave is not via social media or activism or even voting, it is by faithfully attending church with your family. Get your kids in church!

But there’s one more thing. We can’t do all this with the attitude of the guy smoking a joint in the Capitol Rotunda. We can’t serve God while hating our fellow man. We can’t gripe and spew vile hatred against sinners and then bemoan that no one will listen to us when we proclaim the gospel. If we would be crucified with Christ, then we must forgive as Christ forgave. If we would bear the reproach of our Savior, we must also bear the compassion of our Savior. If gaining a soul means the plundering of our property, we should gladly lose our property so that others might gain their soul. Anything less is idolatry. And the world has enough of that without the Church adding to it.


A Worthy News Source

I grew up watching CNN International, and even as a teenager I remember enjoying Larry King interviewing a wide variety of personalities. When Princess Diana died, we watched the coverage and the funeral on CNN. So my background is watching and trusting CNN. But trust in the media is at an all time low and they have earned all the distrust they have received.

A New Study Shows Fake News May Benefit Your Memory

Of course, media bias is not a new thing, and it’s relatively obvious to anyone with eyes in their head that the media slants liberal. But for a long time I felt able to compensate for their bias in the way they reported the news. This started to change for me in 2013 when NBC, CBS, ABC, and CNN blacked out the horrific story of Kermit Gosnell, who was accused of murdering one woman and seven babies. Following his conviction he is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. They eventually came around to reporting on it, but for me it was far too little and far too late.

Then, after President Trump was elected in 2016, the Russia collusion story was relentlessly promoted by networks like CNN even though it was patently ridiculous. CNN devoted 26% of all of its coverage to the story and that increased to well over 30% during prime time shows. But it’s not just the networks that lean left; Fox News also followed the story relentlessly, though from a different political bias. Why does that matter? Consider the following excerpt from the Columbia Journalism Review:

For instance, on September 21, 2017, Hurricane Maria had just devastated Puerto Rico with catastrophic flooding and power loss; the Trump Administration had just finalized its decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement; the Senate faced an 11th-hour bid to repeal Obamacare; and the death toll from a massive earthquake in Mexico rose to 250 people. And yet, that night, CNN spent 20 percent of its airtime on the Mueller scandal, while Fox News spent 29 percent, and MSNBC spent 45 percent. Sean Hannity , who hosts the most-watched cable news show in the country ,  never once mentioned the humanitarian crisis facing millions of Americans in Puerto Rico.


When news media only reports on hot button political issues with the intent of flaming the fires of polarization or capitalizing viewership on soap box issues, other stories of significance get buried and we are all the worse for it. On top of that, many of the “conservative” sites seem designed to increase my blood pressure instead of my understanding or my faith. I appreciate and will continue to take advantage of sites such as the Daily Wire, but I need something a little more…NPR but without the progressive dogma.


So I have been looking for a news source that reports on stories that are important to me in a non-shrill way. I had come across multiple editorials over the last couple of years from World Magazine and so I began checking in with them regularly. I have appreciated objective, fact based coverage of events. There is no agenda to crucify nor deify Trump. They report on international stories, such as the recent “elections” in Uganda, or the continuing crackdown on evangelicals in Hong Kong. Their editorial are well written and grounded in biblical truth. Their website is easy to navigate and optimized for mobile. I foresee World becoming my go-to source for news on a regular basis.

WORLD produces sound journalism, grounded in facts and biblical truth. Through print magazines, online articles, and podcast programs, our trained journalists report on current events both global and national so that readers and listeners can see how God is at work in the world, no matter the headlines.


If you have found a news source that has been profitable to you, let me know about it in the comments along with the reasons it benefits you!


Like Groundhog Day but Without Bill Murray

Friday we headed back up to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City for a follow-up visit. Thursday, the climate prognosticators were saying that it might snow after 11AM. We left Springfield at 6AM and intermittently drove on skating rinks to Bolivar, after which the road conditions improved. With allowing almost an extra hour of drive time, we made it to the Fetal Health Clinic just five minutes late, glad to have arrived safely.

baby's white and black bassinet

The next two and a half hours were a study in deja-vu. I think both of us were pondering the torture of weekly or bi-weekly trips to Kansas City where an ultrasound would show the same heart defects and the same slow heart rate, which would be followed by the tortured attempt of a cardiologist to sound human while explaining the complexities of human cardiac anatomy to us. All the same, when the ultrasound technician began and located Penny’s heart, I found myself rooting for her with the same intensity I imagine myself feeling were she playing basketball. I wanted to see that heart beating in rhythm, and for a moment it appeared that it was. But it was not.

The cardiologist confirmed that the heart block (the condition where her natural pacemaker is not functioning, causing the upper and lower chambers to have no communication) is still present and poses a high risk. And on top of that, there are the structural abnormalities that will require surgery to correct. I couldn’t watch the screen the entire time. I answered emails and read articles. For a while I watched the little valves in her heart jump erratically and willed them to syncopate, but it became too much. There’s really nothing we can do, except pray and hope and believe. Apart from a miracle, she needs to make it to full term to have any shot at surviving having a pacemaker while on a heart and lung machine to oxygenate her blood, and then she has to survive at least one heart surgery after that. “We’d like you to get to know our palliative team during your next visit” was brought up. Fortunately, that will not be for another four weeks as we can monitor her locally, assuming there are no changes in her condition.

Is it insane to love a child I have never met? I have this recurring daydream where she sits in a bassinet and listens to me try to learn the piano with a sympathetic yet slightly condescending look in her eye. Her future seems so real to us and we want to bring her home.

The hospital is becoming slightly more familiar to me, but there are folks there who are clearly regular visitors. There was the mom walking in her girl of maybe twelve years who was bald and skinny and fatigued from the walk between the elevators and the entrance; the battle between the cancer and the chemo within her had drained her vitality. There were the parents whose children were too weak or malformed or diseased to walk at all and they rode in little carts. This hospital is a war zone where life daily battles death and the love of parents finds hope in the skill of doctors to save a child. Oh, and there’s a coffee shop. Weird. Katie and I are certainly not alone in our suffering.

Why do we love our kids so much? We love our children because we were created by a Father. This is not evolution or instinct or genetics: this is our Nature. And in this messed up world of pain and sorrow the hope we have is that our Father has not abandoned us, but has sent His only begotten Son to rescue us, though that meant His death. “What kind of love is this?” John would wonder. A love that sacrifices a Son to save a rebel. It’s a love that is even more amazing now that I am a father. Humanity is certainly not alone in our suffering: God has suffered in our midst.

So we are back to where we started. We have been told again what we already know. Penny needs your prayers. There’s not much else we can do except wait and trust. We are planning on bringing our little girl home, just like we brought home our other children. But I’ll share something that happened last week, and you can read whatever you like into it. I fell asleep around 10PM on Sunday night and woke up with the strongest feeling of peace in my heart around midnight. I had either dreamed or contemplated in the twilight between sleep and wake two things, and I could not tell whether these two things were consecutive or simultaneous. In one, Penny was born without the severe heart defects that had been diagnosed and we brought her home healthy. In the other, I imagined myself typing the words, “Penny has been healed” on this very blog. But I knew in my mind – in that way you know things in your dreams without knowing how you know- that what I meant by this was that God had welcomed her into His arms and she was safely with Him. In that moment of peaceful clarity, I knew that one way or another, Penny will be going to a home where she will be most welcomed and most loved. And that’s enough for me.


So There, Now You Know As Much As Me

7 days following the initial news of Penny’s heart issues, we left Springfield at 7AM to head to Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) in Kansas City. Our first appointment was at 11AM but with a solid schedule ahead of us we wanted to get a bite to eat, which took us to Panera. Being unfamiliar with Kansas City, I relied on navigation to get to CMH from there, which wound us through snow dusted streets and quaint neighborhoods until, like an apparition, the hospital materialized and we were plunging into the bowels of a parking garage.


At the front entry desk, we were not just directed but guided to the 3rd floor Fetal Health Clinic by a volunteer, and throughout the rest of the day we received the same personal care from every person we met. Pictures of healthy children adorned brightly colored corridors while giant spinning sculptures hovered above. The smell of Roasterie Coffee and the rainbow lights across the ceiling of the gift shop provided texture to a sterile environment. Later I would discover a chapel where I could sit and, quite frankly, cry for a while – alone with my God.

At the end of the day, it is a hospital. The human touches were all appreciated and the kindness of strangers memorable. But soon the testing commenced: an almost 2 hour marathon ultrasound that began with Rita and concluded with Matt, a cardiologist. As I watcher her little heart beat, I couldn’t help but marvel that every human being is kept alive by that little organ. It’s no wonder that we speak of the heart of the matter, or the saintliness or wickedness of an individuals heart.

Instead of an improvement in her heart functions, we learned that Penny’s heart abnormality is more complex than atrioventricular canal defect, although that diagnosis still applies. Her heart falls into the paradigm of heterotaxy, a condition wherein certain internal organs don’t demonstrate the “left side” and “ride side” that the human anatomy requires. We were happy to learn later than this condition is not represented in other internal organs, meaning she is developing normally. However, the primary concern is that the upper and lower chambers of her heart are not communicating, which means they are not beating in sync. The lower chamber, which does the heavy lifting of moving blood through the body, is only beating at just below 50 beats per minute, less than half of what is considered normal. Since her heart is the main health concern, this consultation with the cardiologist was particularly brutal.

Following these, Katie was taken in for a standard OB ultrasound and I was released to find food, coffee, and have a good cry in the chapel. They weren’t done poking and prodding Katie, so she did not get that reprieve. After that we spoke to a doctor from maternal fetal medicine, who helped us get a bigger picture of Penny’s health, and then a quick consultation with an anesthesiologist. Our final meeting of the day was with “the team”. Our team. All of this scheduling and all of the consultations were arranged by Bryan, a Fetal Cardiology Nurse Coordinator, who had been our point of contact since being referred to CMH. He was a wonderful asset throughout the day and we particularly appreciated his efforts.

So our hospital day concluded with a meeting with 10 individuals – 7 in person and 3 on screens. There was a social worker, neonatal cardiac specialists, palliative care nurses, a geneticist…you get it. They were all very kind and supportive. The end result of the day are as follows. Penny’s heart rate is dangerously slow and at some point, may not be sufficient to keep her alive in utero. She’ll be monitored frequently for signs that her heart is giving out at which point she will have to be delivered. The closer she gets to full term the better for her. We are at 22 weeks and I think everyone will be pretty happy if we get to 33, although I’m hopeful for 34 or 36. At birth she will need – if not immediately, very quickly – a pacemaker to get her heart beating correctly. She will probably have to stay in the hospital for at least a month after she is born. We have not even begun to look beyond that to the potential surgeries she will need to correct the other abnormalities in her heart.

There are so many potential outcomes at this point that we can’t quite bring the situation into focus. Yesterday was a roller coaster ride of emotions. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about all the different scenarios in which we could be parted from our daughter. I rose this morning confident that she is strong and she will live a glorious life. What will be our story? We know that only one outcome will come to pass, and that is what God has ordained. His is the hand holding the quill that writes our story…Penny’s story. And it is a hand both mighty to save and gentle enough to wipe the tears from every eye.

How are we doing? We are not crushed. There was laughter yesterday mingled with the tears. Katie and I spent almost six hours in the car together – talking, listening to music, and reflecting. I don’t think we are in denial. We are not hopeless. We told the doctors that we know Penny may die, but we do not live in fear of death. We thank you for your prayers and ask that you would continue praying for Penny. Pray that her heart heals. Pray that she can come to full term. Pray for a miracle. I seem to be having a hard time asking God for anything right now – I just know that I trust Him. So pray in my place, and pray big.

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Rom 8:31-39)

My Perfect Penny

Today we drive to Kansas City for a full schedule of tests/consultations at Children’s Mercy Hospital. By the end of the day we hope to have some answers. We had the opportunity to go last week and meet with only the cardiologist, but decided to wait until today so we could see the entire team of doctors. I admit that part of the reason I wanted to wait a couple of extra days is because so many people have been praying over the last week that I hope we might see a huge improvement in Penny’s heart.

As we go through this process, we are holding on to hope and to Hope. We have hope that God will hear our prayers and His will is to heal Penny’s heart. But we also have Hope that her heart is already perfect. And that is the Hope we have for all of our children, without which we would live daily with the terror of death upon us.

According to Hebrews 2:15, Jesus partook of flesh and blood – He became a man – so that he might “deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”. By becoming man and tasting of death for every man, Jesus has atoned for sins. But by rising from the dead, He has removed the sting of the grave so that Life – great and overflowing – has swallowed death. If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable. But we are not miserable.

It’s hard to explain our attitude to someone who does not have this kind of Hope. We fear loss and death as all mortals do, but we do not live in fear of them. From the day I brought home my firstborn I knew that my powers to protect her were limited. I also knew that I would rather see her use up her life on behalf of Christ than to waste it on this world. Every day as a parent I live in the Hope of the Resurrection, lest terror seize my soul.

We have hope today that the tests will show a marked improvement, but that hope is nested in a much larger Hope. If her heart rate is not higher today, or if the blood in her upper chambers is still mixing, or if the doctors look at us with long faces, I know that my Penny is already healed. She is being drawn in the wake of the Resurrected Messiah. She is rejoicing in the Victor’s Parade of the ages. In the Resurrection, she is my perfect Penny.

Why I’m not a Libertarian (but I might vote for one)

On the eve of the mid-term elections, I’ve been reading, studying, and thinking more about the nature of politics and mine own personal political leanings, and have come to the conclusion that I am not a libertarian, although I might vote for one. Libertarianism is represented by individuals such as Ron Paul (whom I voted for), Larry Elder, and even Elon Musk.

The Libertarian party believes in the maximum amount of liberty for the individual. This, in turn, lends itself to a belief in small government, unrestricted capitalism, non-interventionism, and boundless civil liberties. I endorse aspects (at minimum) of each of these, so it makes sense that given the choice between a progressive, a gutless conservative, or a libertarian, I might vote for the libertarian. The libertarian is a co-belligerent against the woke nonsense that has captivated political discourse in recent years.

There are a couple of issues which I could highlight that put me on the same side as the Libertarians. One would be the issue of free speech. Progressive ideology has become demonstrably censorious over the last several years, as evidenced by the “set my hair on fire” responses to conservative speakers at public universities, as well as by the Big-tech censorship during the pandemic that essentially shut down dialogue between opposing viewpoints. The second issue would be the bloated bureaucracy through which un-elected government officials dictate how businesses are run. Through irksome regulations (disincentives) and tax credits (incentives) the government “has its thumb” on the scales of the economy, which almost always results in bubbles, crashes, waste, and tax payer dollars.

So while I am sympathetic to those things and, with the balance of the scales being so far in the other direction I would vote for a sincere libertarian over a phony conservative, I have to ask myself whether I would agree with a government that is truly libertarian. In other words, if Libertarians took over the government (through elected means), would I find myself in some way fighting against their goals and aims? And the answer is yes.

The purpose of this post is not to explain what all of those disagreements would be, but to attempt to articulate the difference between my conservatism and libertarianism at a fundamental level. When I voted for Ron Paul in 2008 to be the Republican candidate for the presidency, I was struck that a vote for John McCain and a vote for Barack Obama were not very distinct. In other words, Ron Paul was actually saying something different than the others. That swayed me towards the libertarian viewpoint.

However, the longer I live the more I believe that a proper political system must be built on a better foundation. Libertarians and liberals both have their source in the Enlightenment idea that the liberty of the individual is a universal right that can be known through human Reason. If I’ve got that historical reality and definition correct, then I have (at least) 3 big problems with Libertarianism.

Individuals Without Natural Affection

The first issue I have is the focus on the individual. Societies are not only composed of individuals, but also groups, which have traditionally grown out of the natural affection between family and then clans. While individuals should also have rights, a society that ignores the reality of social constructs that lie between the level of the individual and the State are bound to wind up where America has wound up, with a massive government burrowing itself into debt through a commitment to caring for individuals from the cradle to the grave.

The issue of social structures larger than the individual is inescapable, as we can see from our current divided States of America. People will organize themselves into groups, even if those groups are not organized around the traditional formula of family and religion/church. The problem is that the groups we see organized in America today are largely grievance groups, bound together by their common victimization, even if that victimization is a perception rather than a reality. So the structures will always exist, but in a society that has intentionally destroyed social structures based on natural affection, such as the family and the church, the groups that materialize will be distorted, bound together by things like hate (ethnic supremacy groups) or by envy (victimization groups).

One way this works out is that the Libertarian doesn’t care what people do in their bedroom and who marries whom, as long as there is consent. If a married couple wants to divorce, then that is between them. But as a conservative I believe that marriage is a social institution that is recognized by the State for the good of society, and thus society has a vested interest in marriage for the procreation of children who will become good citizens and carry on the values of their family, clan, and nation. Downstream of all of this are the issues of abortion, school nurses treating children without the consent of parents, gay marriage, etc…

Freedom Without Responsibility

The second reason I reject the foundation of Libertarianism is because of the focus on freedom to the exemption of responsibility. The freedom of the individual is enshrined in the highest temple without a word to the concept of duty. America is a Republic requiring certain civic responsibilities. These include paying taxes, honoring the laws of the land, and aiding in times of national crisis. To bestow the rights of citizenship without requiring the responsibilities of citizenship is a prescription for disaster.

Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.

George Washington

Abundant quotations from founding fathers of our nation like the one above exist because the idea of a Republic continuing without a willingness on the part of the people to uphold that Republic made no sense to these men. And if we have responsibility to our nation, it holds that there will be times when in national interest, we have to pursue policies at the level of nations where we must impose restrictions on certain economic activities or intervene in the affairs of others.

A specific example of this would be the war in Ukraine. While there have been many military interventions in my lifetime to which I was opposed, I believe there is a moral obligation to assist Ukraine because we were the ones who convinced them to give up their nuclear weapons. We did this because disarmament was in our national interest, which it really was.

Reason Without Tradition

Finally, if my premise that Libertarianism is founded on Enlightenment principles is true, the the whole things comes down to the idea that the rights of the individual can be found through Reason. That is, that if only mankind could cast off the shackles of tradition, we could see the universal rights of man descended from the heavens like a New Jerusalem, suspended upon nothing but the I-beams of human goodness fastened with the bolts of brotherhood to the…darn it I ran out of metaphors. But you get the idea. Why in the world do we think that human Reason will lead all men to the same conclusion, when it manifestly does not? Because we have been brainwashed into thinking that Enlightenment philosophy is a sound universal truth.

Several wars and attempts at nation building should persuade us that this is simply not the case. You can put three people in a room together and human reason will not bring them to the same conclusion about any number of issues. Societies that have long traditions outside of Western philosophy are going to approach everything from a different angle, and the idea that we can export liberal democracy around the world and it is going to be received with open arms is completely false. Right now, the most obvious example of this is China, where a powerful global economy is run by a increasingly totalitarian government.


A system of government should reflect reflect ontological realities of the human condition and the way that societies begin, develop, and maintain themselves over time. While Libertarians may side with Conservatives against the current crop of Progressives on many issues today, I don’t think they have a philosophical foundation that can sustain a society over the long haul. Conservatism believes in conserving, and one thing worth conserving is our nation.

So go vote kids, and if there isn’t a true conservative on the ticket, vote for a Libertarian.