The Forgotten Mission Field

Missions and evangelism--really one in the same--are important.  At least five times Christ called his people to reach the world with the gospel (John 20:21, Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20, Luke 24:46-48, and Acts 1:8).  This means we should be reaching the world around us as well as collectively reaching every corner of the globe.  Some have taken up this call and faithfully dedicated their lives to this purpose.  Others use their vacation time to serve missions a couple weeks of their year; while still others use missions as a "religious cover" for a vacation. Whether in our communities and at the work place, or around the world, the life of the Christian should include some kind of answer to this call. (This however is not the entirety on the Christian life as some passionately argue.)

Many of us in American gravely overlook, even forget an obvious mission field.  It's the ministry to children in our local churches. The Bible clearly shows that parents have a responsibility to teach their children, but this is not to say that the local church can't be there to help.  And what about the families where parents aren't Christian but may attend a local Christian church?  I went to church as a child but wasn't a believer until I was 25. What about guests?

Working with children can be difficult, but not always. 

A teacher or servant-hearted volunteer working with children could have an impact on the next generation and maybe many generations to come.  He or she may also impact this generation because the child could potentially be how God reaches the parents.

If you feel called to teaching, preaching, missions, or evangelism, deeply consider a ministry that reaches children.  I'm sure there's a children's ministry that could use your help.

*Photo by Cosey Tutti is registered under a creative commons license and used by permission.

Studying at Golden Gate!

I'm thrilled to announce that I have been accepted into a Doctorate of Ministry (DMin) program at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  I plan to focus my attention in the area of making and gathering disciples, in other words, church planting.  We hope to engage in church planting with Risen Life in the Salt Lake area in the future so this should prove rather helpful.

My family will remain in Salt Lake and I'll stay on staff at Risen Life Church; however, I will need to make three trips for seminars to California (San Fransico during the first 2 years, and likely Los Angels after that). 

Interestingly, after I completed a Masters of Divinity at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Lisa was ready for me to be done with my studies.  She was right; we needed a break.  However, after some time had passed, we started to think about additional study.  I had attended a PhD preview visit to Golden Gate and took Lisa with me.  We enjoyed the campus and I loved what they had to offer but that program just didn't seem like the best fit at the time.  

A year later I attended Mission Week at Golden Gate and took a Risen Life Church team with me.  While introducing a friend to Dr. Iorg, the conversation shifted to me.  God seemed to be opening a door.  With an hour I was speaking with Dr. Wilson and others.  As the week progressed it seemed God might be placing a path before me.  After more time, lots of prayer, reflection, discussion with my wife and others, and a counting of the cost I decided that I would simply apply and see what might happen.  Then I got accepted.

I have a large student loan so my wife and I agreed that I would not engage in any further studies if it would require increasing this loan or distracting from paying it off.  The total amount needed for the Doctorate or Ministry program is $9,300, plus books and travel costs.  This will be broke up into six installments and I'm now praying for funds.  I'm applying for scholarships and grants and will most likely ask for books for my birthday and Christmas.  God has brought Lisa and I this far in the process and we're hopeful.  (If you're the praying type, please consider adding this to your prayer request.  If you're really wealthy and just itching to help a guy in ministry out, please keep me and church planting in Utah in mind!)

Works and Grace at the Same Party?

"Christianity is about grace," so many believers rightly proclaim, "salvation is through grace alone!" This is a regular statement made in many confessions of faith and statements of belief as a reaction to those who argue that there is some task or tasks to earn salvation.  The Bible argues that there is not a single work that one can engage in to earn salvation. It's a free gift because the work was done and completed by Jesus Christ.  But how often does this 'no-works' thinking bleed into areas where it ought not to?  The Bible is full of instruction, guidance, and commands.  How many times do its readers dismiss the difficult passages simply because they look like 'work'?  And the bigger question is how Christians reconcile works and grace?

In some areas of the country the works vs grace argument is hot.  It may have been even more intense some 1600 years ago when Augustine and Pelagius were arguing about it.  Augustine's position (which claimed that salvation is by grace alone) prevailed and Pelagius was branded a heretic. That issue, however, didn't get at the reality that God still asks us to do things.  Why?  And what's the deal with this work?

I was recently asked to preach on what Proverbs has to say about the topic of work.  I chose Proverbs 6:6-11 as my primary text.  This question continued to nag at me as I was studying.  How can we explain that salvation is through grace alone but it is also by God's grace that we are given instruction, guidance, and commands once we become Kingdom citizens?  If doing or not doing these works has no baring on our salvation, why do them?  What are they for? 

In simple terms, it's like a castle with a large moat around it.  From outside, there's nothing a person can do to bring the drawbridge down. However, Jesus has done the work to lower the drawbridge and it was work only he could do.  He invites us to cross the bridge and enter the castle to live with the King. This is a free gift.  It's grace. But there is another gift of grace given to us and that's the Kingdom ethic. We've been given instructions, guidance, and commands to help us relate well with the King, other Kingdom citizens, and those who have yet to cross the drawbridge. While some see this Kingdom ethics as work, it's actually a gift too. The Kingdom ethic isn't something that could cause us to get kicked out once we've crossed the bridge; but rather, it is so something that teaches and conforms us to look more like the King. Yes, it's a gift, and that's grace too.

While I could explain this further here, I'd rather point you to the sermon.  If this question is nagging at you, or you are trying to reconcile how grace and works fit together, please consider listening to this sermon: Proverbs on Work. I pray that it's helpful in how you understand God and his Word.

*Photo by Sean Molin and is registered under a creative commons license.

A Mother's Mourning

March 25, 2014
By Lisa Catherman 

“If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to 'glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see her grandchild.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Grief is an unwelcome house guest.  It comes unannounced and at an inopportune time.   It stays longer than anticipated and sucks the life out of you.  My grief is that way.  When my son Titus died in November, I was swimming in the ocean of grief.   (You can read his story here). The frigid waves were gently lapping against my legs, but I was able to stay on my feet.  I think this was in part due to the fact that we were loved and loved well by the people around us.  We were blessed with weeks of meals, visits, flower arrangements, cards, gifts, free chiropractic treatments, a time-share vacation, and the outpouring seemed endless.  Plus, I was just plain busy.  I was busy with the holidays, homeschooling, packing, moving, and remodeling our new house in January.

February brought stillness.  In that stillness, out on the horizon, the monstrous wave of grief blew in and bowled me over.  I was taken off guard and found myself drowning, clinging to whatever I could find, and gasping for breath.  On Valentine’s weekend my husband was gone on a weeklong work trip.  The kids had been sick for the first time in 3 years.   The dog was sick and even dying; we just didn’t know it yet.  I was driving my kids home from a visit to Grandma’s and the frustration and anger I spewed at them was so ugly.  I got home and laid on my bed weeping.   As I questioned my ability to mother, my son rubbed my back and gently encouraged me.  “Mom, I just want you to be happy," he said, "What was your favorite thing we did today?  What can I do for you?”  In that moment, I realized that the wave had knocked me over, unaware.

I spend my sleeping hours grinding my teeth to the point that they've moved.  I endure my waking hours in intense pain from headaches, neck and back pain, face pain, complete exhaustion, and even my plantar fasciitis has flared up.   Emotionally my sorrow is always at the surface.  I could cry or scream at any moment, for any reason.  It may be that pregnant woman I see that sets me off, or even the friend’s new baby.   It may be when I drive by the hospital where Titus was born.  It may be a song or the mementos of Titus’ short life.  It may be a date or milestone that I had expected and hoped to have during my pregnancy.

March 30th was to be my due date.  As I reflect on that day, I had expected a day filled with joy, a day where I’d hold my son, comfort him, bring him to my breast and give him the life within me.  I had expected to bring him home to a nursery and a family anticipating his arrival.  I had expected that I’d see his brothers hold him, playing peek-a-boo.   I expected to see a father wrestle with his young son and teach him to be a man as he grew.  And as C.S. Lewis said in the quote above, my motherhood is written off with Titus.  The expectations I had of this life with him will not happen.   Instead, he has gone to be in the loving embrace of his Father in Heaven and my arms are empty.

I know the truthfulness of God’s Word.  I know his promises.  Life has taken me on many difficult journeys that have rocked me to the core.  As a pastor’s wife, I expected to weather this well.  I think others may have expected that much of me too, but the truth is I’m weak.  I know that apart from God I can do nothing (John 15:5).   And, I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).  God is gently reminding me of who he is in this and drawing me closer to him like a hen draws her chicks under her wings. He is reminding me of his faithfulness even when I’m unfaithful (Psalm 36:5).  He is reminding me of his compassion towards me (Psalm 86:15).  He is reminding me that he is unchanging (Hebrews13:8).  He is reminding me of his kindness (Psalm 145:17).  I know I will not be better tomorrow or even the next day, but I also know I will come through this.  I know that one day, God will wipe every tear from my eyes and there will be no more.  In the meantime, I know that my Abba Father, my daddy, will carry me through these waves.  I will cling to my rock that doesn’t move.  His ways are perfect, and I will trust in Him.  I pray that in my sorrow, I can be a witness of God’s love to those around me.

*Photo by user, "Little Wild World" is licensed under a creative commons license.

J.D. Payne on Church Planting

Dr. J.D. Payne visited Utah recently to discuss sharing Christ, starting churches, and strengthening churches (the mission of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Association).  I had the privilege of hearing him speak on these matters as well as interviewing Dr. Payne, Russ Robinson, Adam  Madden, and Dr. Travis Kerns on the topic of church planting after the conference.

Dr. Payne serves as the Pastor of Multiplication at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.  He also served on staff with the North American Mission Board and was an Associate Professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He's been an editor of missional magazines and journals, served on missional boards and associations, served as a pastor of five churches, worked to plant four churches, and has written books to include Missional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel, The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members, Discovering Church Planting: An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting, Evangelism: A Biblical Response to Today’s Questions, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission, Roland Allen: Pioneer of Spontaneous Expansion, Kingdom Expressions: Trends Influencing the Advancement of the Gospel, and Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church.  

"The more complex a church," argued Payne, "the less it will be reproducible."  Unlike many church planting books, Payne didn't argue for one specific model or one specific level of complexity, but instead challenged his listeners to think about the starting point.  He took his audience through the biblical picture of planting churches; that is, making disciples and then gathering them together to be the church.   Instead of criticizing big, complex church that takes millions of dollars and lots of people to reproduce somewhere else as 'instant church,' he pointed out that while that's biblically permissible, it is difficult and really not normative.  But neither did he advocate that the only way to start churches is in homes with nothing but new believers and a pastor recently raised up from among them.

"Before we can discuss church planting," Dr. Payne opened with, "we need to understand what it is we are planting."  His starting point was extremely refreshing.  He spent nearly an hour simply looking at what Jesus meant when he said 'Church.'  We examined at what the local church looked like in Acts and the Epistles.  And it wasn't the process of planting or entering an unchurched community that we explored, but simply church.  What is church?  What is local church? What is the big C Church?  "How we answer these questions determines how and what we plant," said Dr. Payne.  I believe he is absolutely correct. 

Dr. Payne sat down with a pastor from First Baptist Provo, a pastor from Christ Fellowship, the Salt Lake City SEND City Coordinator, and me to record a Salty Believer Unscripted podcast on the topic of church planting.  He was extremely informative, and really, just an easy going guy.  We laughed and joked and he was extremely gracious when I got his name wrong. (Thanks J.D., that was really embarrassing but you were much easier on me than I deserved! )

If you're interested in starting churches and making disciples (or if you just want to hear me make a boob of myself), I highly encourage you to check it out here:
A Discussion on Reproducible Church Planting with Dr. J.D. Payne
Learn more about J.D. Payne, download free books, and keep up with what he's doing at  Also, you can find this podcast and many others like it as well as many other resources at in the Resources section and you can subscribe to Salty Believer Unscripted on iTunes.
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A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George M. Marsden

Marsden, George M. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008.

While on a road trip, I decided to listen to the audio book, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden.   At only eight chapters, a preface, acknowledgments, and a conclusion, the book is relatively short and seemed about right for my return trip from San Fransico to Salt Lake (to include some breaks away from the book).

Marsden sets out to paint a picture of Edwards as a revolutionary, although one unlike those of Edwards' day.  To assist in drawing this comparison, the book opens with a lengthy discussion of Benjamin Franklin, and more specifically Silence Dogood, the fictitious editorial writer used by Franklin.  Into the second chapter, Edwards' family and Edward himself become the primary subject of the work.  Marsden journeys through Edwards' life at a rapid pace; yet at times slowing down to nearly a halt in order to discuss a finner detail or event here and there.  From Edwards' ministry ambitions to the early awaking and then the First Great Awakening a decade later, interesting details are offered.  From being voted out of the pulpit to venturing into a Native American mission to becoming the president of Yale, many speculations of Edwards' emotions supply much food for thought.  And finally Marsden concludes with a comparison of Edwards and other revolutionaries like Benjamin Franklin.

I found this book enjoyable although I nearly gave up on the work at the end of the first chapter.  The exploration of Franklin and Silence Dogood was an odd way to start and didn't leave me with a desire to hear more.  It was boring.  However, things changed quickly in the second chapter and then I found myself wanting to continue all they way to the end of Edwards's life.  At the conclusion however, Franklin comes back into the picture and a commentary is offered.  Marsden speculates what may have happened had Edwards lived into the Revolutionary War, as did Franklin.  Here, Masden offers many thoughts on materialism, deism, and the social order.  Marsden certainly seems to know Edwards but the conclusion assumed Edwards would not have changed.  Edwards was, from what I gather from this book, a consistent man, but wars and age often change people.  Personally, I could have started reading in chapter two and avoided the conclusion.  Had I done so, I believe I would have had an enjoyable, informative, and interesting biography of Edwards.  I could have done without the commentary.   None-the-less, I enjoyed A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards and would recommend it to anyone interested in this period of history, Jonathan Edwards, or serving in the pastorate.

*I have no material connection to this book, financial or otherwise.

A Discussion with Dr. Albert Mohler: Church Planting in a Changing Culture

The culture of America is changing at a rapid pace and in the cross hairs is cultural-Christianity.  "This is a pretty expensive turn," said Dr. Albert Mohler in a discussion for Salty Believer Unscripted; "but it really doesn't help us to argue as to whether it's good or bad because we don't get to choose our times." 

Mohler spoke at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah and then addressed area pastors at First Baptist Church of Provo.  Preaching from the first chapter of First Peter, Mohler made a strong case that we are seeing some major cultural shifts which will impact the American church but the elect exiles need not be surprised. "The question is," he later told Jared Jenkins and I, "is now what do we do?  What does faithfulness require us to do?"   

Dr. Mohler took some time to sit down with Jared and I to discuss and record a podcast dealing with the question: What does church planting look like in light of the coming cultural shifts? 

We discussed the need for less infrastructure, more flexibility, and a willingness to take less for granted.  He also argues for a little different approach by dropping the expectations on the other side of our present models.  Stained-glassed windows, pipe organs, paid staff, and programs (among many other things) may have to change.  Things may look a bit different in the future.  In addition, I was encouraged and concerned by his charge that Christians in the Pacific North-West may have a responsibility to help other Christians around the nation as the "iceberg melts."  It seems that we're closer to the front edge of these changes (especially Seattle and in the heart of Moromdom) than are believers in other parts of the nation. 

"You are on the cutting edge of what America is going to look more like," Mohler stated.  He continued,
"The fact the evangelicals are in a minority and have been for a very long time, virtually from the beginning of Utah as a territory, means you're on the cutting edge as a laboratory of what Christians in the rest of America are going to wake up and find.   I'm not asking you to rejoice in every particular; I am asking you to consider the fact that the Lord has giving you the stewardship here to help the rest of the Church to figure these things out."
I'm extremely thankful for the time Dr. Mohler gave us to discuss church planting on the front edge of these changes.  If you'd like to listen to our Salty Believer Unscripted discussion with him, you can find it here.  And I'd like to encourage visit

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Follow Me as I Follow Christ?

How many times have you heard a pastor give instructions or guidance that you're really not sure he follows himself?  "Here's what you should do," he says, although he may not have any experience to back it up?  I wonder how often I do this. Or how about those time when a pastor gives some kind of instruction followed by a slightly out of context passage, attempting to use the Scripture as a convincing hammer? 

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul offers a block of instruction on the topic of food.   Christians in Corinth were eating food that the Law suggested was not good to eat.  Other believers were invited into homes and their hosts were serving food that was sacrificed to idols.  The issue however, was not the food or the Law, but the attitude of the believers toward one another.  They had disagreements as to how others in the Church should behave regarding the Law, these hosts, and the various ideas surrounding food.  Paul deals with the attitudes and at the conclusion of his instruction, Paul says, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV).  

"Follow me," Paul says, "as I follow Christ."  That's a bold statement!  The first question we probably ask when we hear Paul's words might be, "Why wouldn't Paul just say follow Christ?"  Some might even claim that Paul is being arrogant here.  "He's making much of himself rather than Jesus" they may argue.  How can Paul make such a statement?

Galatians 2:20 provides us some insight into Paul's thinking.  He writes, "I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I life by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, ESV).  

When Paul is saying follow me, he is really saying follow Jesus.  Only as Paul is filled with the Spirit and sanctified more and more, he is able to demonstrate how Christ lived and instructed us to live. 

"But why wouldn't Paul have simply instructed people to follow Jesus," we may still ask. "Why wouldn't Paul have encouraged them to ask, 'What would Jesus do?'"  Well, at the time Paul didn't have the Gospels or the New Testament to turn to.  As an Apostle, one of his responsibilities was to model the gospel and write God's revleation under the authority and guidance of the Holy Spirit for future generations.  However, I believe he would have said the exact same thing even if he had the 27 books of the New Testament we have today.  Paul served as an under-shepherd of Christ and was filled by Jesus himself.  The more Paul was full of Jesus the less room he had for himself.  As Paul was crucified, daily, he was becoming less.  And the more he could be a living example of Christ (even if he could have handed someone God's written Word), the more people could see and experience the Living God through Paul.

People can and should read God's Word for themselves, but how much better would it be if they could meet Jesus in conjunction with their reading and studying?  How much better would it be if God's people could follow Jesus, literally.  One way to do so is to come in contact with God's people who are filled with Jesus.  And God's appointed leaders, being filled with Christ, should be able to look at the people they are called to care for and say, "Follow me as I follow Christ."  When the flock sees a shepherd, they really should see Jesus. When a lost person meets a missionary, he should see Christ. When a child looks to her dad, she should see God living in him.  

It is in this way that a pastor can lead even when he may not have the personal experience or worldly qualifications.  If he is dead to himself and filled with Christ, then it should be Christ guiding the leader so the leader can guide the flock.  The key however, is that the leader is following Christ and being filled with the Spirit of God.  And in this way, the leader can say "I'm following Jesus, journeying toward God; follow me if you'd like to get there too." 

*The photo used in this post is in the public domain and is made available from the National Archives.

Equipping Ministers - A Good Work for Denominations

Church denominations have received a beating in the past couple decades, and in some cases rightly so.  In other cases, these blows might be undeserved.  It's easy to find believers and non-believers who are quick to point out all the negative aspects of one or many denominations.  And it's equally as easy to find brothers and sisters who are excessively tied to a denomination, sometimes even above the universal Church and the advancement of the Lord's Kingdom.  Case-in-point: the polarizing effect at the mere mention of the Southern Baptist Convention.  

Jared Jenkins and I specifically discuss what a denomination is and what it is not in a podcast recorded for Salty Believer Unscripted.  We also talk about the purpose of denominations and include some pros and cons.  You can listen to that here.

Without getting into all the arguments of denominations (you can listen to a podcast on that above), I'd like to examine one way that a denomination might help fulfill Ephesians 4:11-16.  This text reads,
And he gave apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, but craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (ESV). 
From this text, it would appear that the purpose of church leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  This is not necessarily to say that all the saints will enter a profession of full-time ministry or even some kind of formal bi-vocational ministry.  But the saints must be equipped.  And if the saints are to be equipped, the leaders should also be well equipped.

The local church is a great place for leaders to learn and grow, but it is not the only place.  Seminary is a helpful resources for pastors to develop skills and understanding.  Some denominations support seminaries.  But what about those individuals who can't attend seminary?  This is where the denomination can help.

If a denomination is the pooling together resources from a number of smaller local churches, it seems that a teacher from one local church could greatly help pastors from many local churches.  This would allow a pastor with a seminary education to share his knowledge with others.  The teacher would have the ability to equip other ministers and then together they could equip the saints.  The role of the denomination then, should be to bring these people together.

And example can been seen in Salt Lake City among the Salt Lake Baptist Association.  The SLBA has partnered with a seminary program of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary called Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD).  At the very heart of this program is the desire to equip the saints.  They call it the Utah School of Theology.

The Utah School of Theology offers very affordable diploma programs accredited by GGBTS.  Upon the completion of the program, students receive a diploma backed by GGBTS; but along the way students receive a high quality education from seminary trained instructors.  Some of the professors are even seasoned guys with PhDs who have taught at other seminaries.  Applicants need not hold a bachelor's degree (unlike the seminary) and the courses are typically taught in the evenings. 

It's my hope that as more denominations work toward equipping the saints rather than some of the other things they do, the beatings will subside.  One way is to help train up the church leaders. And when the denominations focus on the right things, maybe the gospel will be advanced at a greater speed into the far depths of the world!

On Grieving

February 11, 2014

"Blessed are those who mourn," Jesus said, "for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4, ESV).  For the one mourning, this can be an odd statement.  Confusing in a difficult time.  But truly, there is something amazing in these words.

"Blessed?" might the grieving mother ask.  You can almost hear the pain in the question of a daughter who lost here father, "How am I blessed?" It's difficult to see a person mourning the loss of friend or family member.  From within this perspective, it's hard to see the blessing.  Blessed?  It certainly seems like a fair question.    

In November of 2013, my wife and I lost our baby.  We mourn, but we've also been comforted.  Blessed, actually. The comfort comes from God, often through others.  There are times in our grieving and sadness when we directly feel the hand of God and experience his peace There are also times when we are comforted and blessed by God's people.  Obviously I would prefer not to have lost my son and I certainly wish my heart was not grieved, but without this sadness, I wouldn't have this opportunity to experience Jesus' promise or feel drawn to God as I do in this way, at this time.  The comfort would not likely be as sweet without the mourning, just as the joy of the day's first light is greater after enduring a difficult dark night (Psalm 30).

While it can be a challenge to see the blessing from within the clutches of a grieving season, that does not change the truth that it is a gift.  For those who mourn, there is grace from God, a blessing.  This gift may be easier to understand in eternity, when our views are not clouded by our fallen nature, but blessed are those who are comforted now. 

At the moment I wish Lisa and I were grieving less and our feelings of comfort more, but we realize this is a journey that is often traveled slowly.  The road feels long, but Christ is with us.  "Blessed are those who mourn."

Shortly into our mourning, I sad down with Tina Pelton and recorded a two part podcast series for Salty Believer Unscripted on the topic of grieving.  If you are grieving or in a position to comfort or bless someone who is, these podcasts may be helpful.

Grieving: A Conversation with Tina Pelton
-- Grieving (Part 1) audio
-- Grieving (Part 2) audio 

  *The painting of "Old Man Grieving" is by Vincent van Gogh and is in the public domain.

Redeeming the Barnabas House

My family recently moved into the parsonage of the church where I'm on staff.  We don't hear the term, "parsonage" much anymore so I'll explain.  A parsonage is defined as a house owned by a church that is provided to a member of the clergy.  They are typically located next to the building where the church meets.

For the past few years, this particular parsonage was loaned to a para-church ministry as a sort of halfway house for families coming out of extremely difficult situations more commonly associated with Utah.  The residents were overwhelmed with life, had little understanding of property maintenance, and were afraid of outsiders who might have been equipped to help.  In the end, the old the parsonage didn't receive the care it needed.

My wife cried when we first inspected the house.  "How could anybody live here?" she questioned.; "How are we going to live here?"  The place was a mess.  Missing tile in the bathroom allowed water to feed mold behind the bathroom walls.  The jammed garbage disposal housed food from weeks before. Many drawers and cabinet doors were falling apart and the hardware was missing.  The sewer was flooding into the basement.  The carpets hadn't been vacuumed in months, maybe years.  The stove didn't work.  And as we peeled back one layer of mess, we would discover even more brokenness, even more stains, even more stench.  We tried to open the blinds, but most were inoperative, keeping the house in a continual state of darkness.  One friend who helped us clean suggested a solution:  "Light a match.  Drop it.  Walk away."

As we got to work, we witnessed the Body of Christ in action.  People came to help us clean.  A brother who works for Behr commanded an army from the church as we painted the entire house with paint God provided.  A believer is creating a stained-glass window for the front door and still another brother who installs glass is going to put it in.  Mold removal and carpet cleaning were offered by another member of the body.  People have helped remove trash and move appliances.  The bathroom was ripped out by a guy who occasionally attends our Sunday services and many among our church family are praying for him as we hope to see his life radically transformed by Christ. Two brothers from another local church rebuilt the bathroom and another guy from a neighboring church is looking at replacing part of the flooded carpet, and maybe patch some stains in another room. God provided us with nearly new appliances and the church purchased another.

When I cut down the blinds light flooded into the house.  "Just having light shining in here makes a huge difference," my wife proclaimed.  So it is with us.  Our natural state is worse than this house.  In our sin, we are broken, messy, and stinky.  The stuck blinds of our life keep the Light out.  And just as the parsonage couldn't fix itself, we too are deteriorating more and more as time marches on, unable to restore ourselves.  As layers of our life are peeled back, more messes are exposed, more brokenness discovered.  Enter the gospel.

It's recorded in John 14:16-17 that Jesus said, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you" (ESV).  A common thought among the world is that before the Holy Spirit is willing to dwell in us, we have to fix ourselves up.  That's not what the Bible says, but many try anyway.  Others think they are beyond hope.  "Light a match," they cry.  But hope is found in Christ.  He alone is the carpenter of our salvation.  In our brokenness we are able to see the gospel for what it is! 

As we watched the parsonage be redeemed by God, through his grace, at the hands of his people, we noticed an iron "B" on the chimney.  (I've learned is was there when the church bought the house over 50 years ago.)  Around the dinner table we talked about the redemption of the parsonage, the gospel, and our desire to use this gift from God to shine Christ's Light into dark places.  I decided we should name the parsonage, and we remembered the "B."  Feeling very encouraged, we shared some ideas.

In the book of Acts is the account of a man who traveled with Paul to plant churches and shine the Light of Christ in dark places.  It is said that he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and many were added to the Lord because of his faithfulness (Acts 11:24).  He equipped Paul for ministry (Acts 11:25-26).  His name means son of encouragement (Acts 4:36).   And his name starts with a B.  We had our name: The Barnabas House.  May our season in the parsonage live up to such a name!

Seven Steps for Planting Churches (Planter Edition)

North American Mission Board. Seven Steps for Planting Churches (Planter Edition). Alpharetta, Ga: North American Board, SBC, 2003.

Tom Cheyney, George Garner, David Putman, Van Sanders, and John Shepherd put their church planting experience together to create Seven Steps for Planting Churches "[...] to serve as a simple resource in the hands of scores of ordinary people committed to do an extraordinary work: (vi).  If you're thinking the titles sounds rather Baptist, you're right--it's a publication of the North American Mission Board, a Southern Baptist Convention organization supported by the Cooperative Program and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.  And it may be the SBC goal of seeing 100,000 SBC churches by 2020 that gives reason for a publication that's focused on a church-planting vision (vi).

Seven Steps for Planting Churches is exactly what it claims to be--a book that provides 7 steps to plant churches. Cheyney, Garner, Putnam, Sanders, and Shepherd argue that planting churches is about "expanding the kingdom of God through evangelizing unreached or under-reached people" and the steps in this book increase the chances that a planter will get there (1).   Each step gets its own chapter, which include Receive a Vision from God, Define Church Planting Focus Group, Develop a Church Planting Team, Identify Resources, Evangelize Unreached People, Launch Public Ministry, and Mobilize and Multiply Ministry.  While many planters may argue over these steps, the authors seem to have drawn from their collective experience which includes many years of planting churches all over the US and abroad, pastoring, and serving in church planting ministries, and completing doctoral degrees.  Still, it's likely differing ideas and steps for planting will come from many different backgrounds and camps, from yesterday and today, for today and tomorrow.

This book is a short "how-to" that's oversimplified.  It's highly unlikely that apart from the Bible a complete and timely book on planting churches could ever be written, let alone one that's only 69 pages and proves the 7 steps.  Additionally, the SBC's publication is over a decade old.  How much has been learned in the past 10 years?  How much has changed?  This is not to say that older books are less valuable than newer ones or that there are not lessons to be learned from older.  Much of the material in Seven Steps for Planting Churches is helpful and fairly timeless.  But then there's some timely "do it this way" kind of stuff that may actually give some trouble to planters in different contexts.

Seven Steps for Planting Churches (Planter Edition) contains some little gems of helpful information but a lot of dirt has to be sifted in order to find them.  I wish I could give this book a high recommendation but I suspect the only people reading it are those required to do so.

*This book was among a stack of other books given to me by a NAMB Send City representative because I have entered a church-planting internship through NAMB and administered by my local church where I serve on staff.    

The Church History ABCs

Nichols, Stephen J., and Ned Bustard.  The Church History ABCs: Augustine and twenty-five other heroes of the Faith. Crossway: Weaton, Ill, 2010.

Kids can learn a lot from the history of the Church.  Parents, for that matter could learn a lot, and most Christians today are completely unfamiliar with the history of our spiritual family.  Enter Dr. Stephen Nichols and Ned Bustard's The Church History ABCs: Augustine and twenty-five other heroes of the Faith.  This is a book that teaches both children and parents about 26 characters from Church history.

Nichols writes (and Bustard illustrates) short, fun blurbs about each character as if from that character's own perspective.  The pictures are full of icons and clues about the individuals as well.  For example, Augustine's page reads,
"When I was a young boy, I took some pears that did not belong to me.  I did not want the pears, I just enjoyed doing wrong.  But God loved me and Christ died to forgive all my sin.  Years later when I was serving as a bishop, I wrote two famous books.  And I worked hard to remind the church that God loves us before we love him" (5). 
The picture not only features a cartoon of Augustine, he's also holding a copy of Confessions and he's sitting on a pair.  (Augustine happens to be my four-year-old's favorite story in this book and he can recite this little historical story verbatim.)    In the back is a section with short articles about each person written for adults in a format more like something found in a typical history book.

My family reads one page a night around the dinner table.  We love it.  But in addition to the fun and the lesson in Church history, it has also been amazing to see the practical life lessons my children are picking up on.  We've read the stories of martyrs and missionaries.  The faith of these heroes has been an encouragement to our entire family.

The 26 heroes of the faith (27 technically, with the Wesley brothers) include:  Augustine, Anne Bradstreet, John Calvin, John Donne, Jonathan Edwards, John Foxe, Lady Jane Gray, Hippolytus, Ignatius, Absalom Jones, John Knox, Martin Luther, Monica, John Newton, John Owen, Patrick, Queen Jeanne of Navarre, Bishop Nicholas Ridley, Charles Spurgeon, Tertullian, Zacharias Ursinus, Antonio Vivaldi, John & Charles Wesley, Francis Xavier, Florence Young, and Ulrich Zwingli.    

This is a fun book and a great way to get an introduction to Church history.  I highly recommend it!

*I have no monetary connection to this book.

Lessons from Church History

In the forward to 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Holman Reference), J.I. Packer says, Both the processes and characters of history have a vast amount to teach us; studying them matures our judgment and frees us from blind submission to present-day prejudices" (XI, 2000).  In short, history is important.  Christian history then, is even more important considering the depth, weight, and magnitude of the our relationship with God through the ages. 

The Bible is a written history, either of the individual's words or a narrative, or both.  Even the book of Revelation which is often thought only to be a book about the things to come is history.  Revelation 1:1-2 provides an introduction that something suggests something happened and John wrote it down.  Like the history of book of Revelation, Christian history (with includes John and his books) holds lessons and instruction for the present and future as well as a look into the past. This is precisely the point of Hebrews 11 and the fantastic picture and instruction provided in Hebrews 12. 

Truly believing that we can learn much and be greatly encouraged by the history of Jesus' Church, Jared Jenkins, Benjamin Pierce, and I recorded a series of podcasts about lessons we can learn from Church history.   In each podcast, we briefly examine a person or event from history and then discuss lessons or encouragements we've learned.   Our heroes of Church history come from the patristic age all the way forward to the mid-1900s and include both men and women.  We selected apologists, scholars, pastors, preachers, missionaries, martyrs, politicians, pioneers, and front runners in social justice. 

If you're interested, you can subscribe to "Salty Believer Unscripted" on iTunes or listen here:

Lessons from Church History
-- Athanasius and Lady Jane Gray (Part 1) audio 
-- Patrick and the Puritans (Part 2) audio
-- Jan Hus and Charles Spurgeon (Part 3) audio
-- Conrad Grabel, George Blourock, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Part 4) audio
-- Polycarp and John Chrysostom (Part 5) audio

*Photo of Natural History Museum of London, England was taken by Geof Wilson and is registered under a creative commons license.