The Balanced Christian Life

The normal Christian life (if there is such a thing) is one of balance.  But balance of what?

Preaching on Romans 2:12-29 this week at Redeeming Life Church, I noticed a picture of the balance the Bible speaks of.  Romans itself offers a nice illustration.  The first 11 chapters of the book are Paul's systematic theology.  It's what we should know.  It's our doctrine. Romans 12:3 through the end of chapter 16 provide us with a picture of what it looks like to live like a Christian.  It's what we should do and how we should act, all based on what we believe.  Romans 12:1-2 is the point in which these two things should intersect.

It's like an old hinge.  One side is fixed, anchored. This side is our knowledge, doctrine, and theology.  It's what we believe.  The other side is attached to the part that moves.  It's our actions.  It's ministry.  This side of the hinge is what we do.  And the pin in the middle that holds it all together is our love and submission to Jesus Christ.  (Take a look at Romans 12:1-2 with this illustration in mind.)

As we journey through the Christian life, most of us will default to one side or the other.  For most Christians one part of the hinge is larger than the other and we often see the world around us from the perspective of our larger side.  The lynchpin is the critical piece however.  How we love Jesus and submit our lives to him is not only what allows these two parts to work together, it's what we must entirely orient our lives around.  It's what make the hinge work.  Without the pin, the two sides become something other than the Christian life.  They become ugly.  They becoming idols.  But when the hinge works well, we have balance, joy, and faithfulness.  These two parts, working well together, held together by Christ, should be our desire.

*Photo used in this post comes from

When a Sermon Speaks

September 23, 2014

When I was in seminary I would often tune into the Liberty University convocations as well as the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary convocations.  (There's a difference.  Liberty is the undergraduate school which also includes a number of secular-type masters and doctorate degrees and LBTS is a seminary with masters and doctorate degrees of a biblical, theological, or spiritual nature.)  There were some memorable sermons, but one in particular changed my entire approach to seminary, ministry, and even life.

God used the following sermon by Francis Chan in November of 2011 to really get inside my soul:

Jump ahead to September 2014.  I am serving in full-time ministry as well as planting a church. Ironically, I'm teaching a preaching class for the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary CLD program in an effort to improve my ability to preach.  I selected some sermons that we're viewing and critiquing as a group.  Chan's sermon at Liberty was one of them.  

In preparation for the class, I watched the sermon again with the critique form in mind.  Based on the form, Chan's sermon doesn't cover all the 'correct' bases; but then, neither would Piper, Chandler, DeYoung, or even Billy Graham's sermons.  (My certainly don't and I'm starting to feel okay with that.)  This should probably cause us to re-think the seminary and 'textbook' approach to building sermons with an effort to keep the Holy Spirit at the forefront of our mind as well as an understanding that God uses different preachers how God will use different preachers. 

When I watched the Chan sermon a second time, it really didn't strike the same chord like it did when I first heard it.  I wondered what effect the sermon might have on the class, especially as they would be viewing it with the form in front of them.  I started to wonder if I was losing the passion I had in seminary after seeing the sermon the first time.  Had a few years of ministry and a handful hard critiques from others snuffed out the fire?  What happened? 

But then I watched the Chan sermon a third time in the class, without the form.  Again, God used this sermon to dig inside my soul.  I felt fired up once more.  Again, I have this passion to "look like a guy who walked out of the Bible, not the Bible Belt," as Chan says.  

Francis Chan's passion is moving.  It should liberate preachers who get a little fired up.  His excitement to preach and his joy doing it reminded me how blessed I am to have the opportunity to serve the Lord.  I'm blessed to have the opportunity to preaching God's Word, even if my style and approach doesn't stack up against the textbooks or professors or pastors who do it differently.  And I hope I can love Jesus and his Word and let that overflow out of me all over the place, even in my preaching.  

A guy once challenged me about what the sermon is and what it's for.  He saw the sermon like the breakfast meal--it's something you need regularly but it's not something that is really life changing in a single moment.  His argument was that it's sermon after sermon after sermon over many years that brings about change.  And this is true for some, but certainly God can use a single sermon to speak and move a person.  And maybe you'll hear this sermon and it won't speak to you at all.  But for me, at two different times, God has used this sermon to speak to me in ways I pray are life changing.  (It's unlikely that you'll ever see this Francis, that's for faithfully preaching the message God gave you to preach and to it with passion.) 

Soli Deo gloria!
Salty Believer

Called to Teach by William Yount

Yount, William R. Called to Teach: An introduction to the ministry of Teaching. Nashville, Tenn,   B&H Publishing Group, 1999.

Through his book, Called to Teach: An introduction to the ministry of Teaching, Dr. William Yount seeks to bring his readers to a “clearer understanding of how to teach, a deeper conviction for teaching ministry, and confidence that [the reader] possess the skills to make it happen” (x-xi). This may be a tall order for a book subtitled, An introduction; however, Yount does succeed in providing solid how-to material, a strong introduction to teaching ministry, and enough to leave the reader excited to try. His experience and expertise are present on nearly every page and his style is such that his arguments are accessible as well as convincing. Called to Teach serves as a great introduction to teaching, a guide for newer teachers, and a jolt back to something exciting for seasoned instructors.

In four parts, Yount moves through the overarching roles of the teacher. He starts with whom the teacher is in Part One, titled, “The Teacher as Person.” Opening with the Triad of Teaching, Yount introduces a textbook discussion; but before the reader can get lost in the linear nature of the thinking, feeling, and doing, the reader is challenged with the problematic methods many teachers. Yount argues that compartmentalizing the rational, emotional, and behavioral areas of learning open the door to grave weaknesses and is often is a disjointed approach (14-15). “The answer to the dilemma,” Yount writes, “is to integrate the rational, emotional, and behavioral into a single teaching style that communicates concepts clearly, warms students personally, and engages students productively” (15). This global model becomes the foundation for the remainder of the book.

As Yount builds upon his foundation he starts with the heart and motivation of the teacher. Providing many examples, he demonstrates that most poor teaching is do to a lack of maturity and proper motivation. “Mature teachers see teaching as a mission;” argues Yount, “The mission is greater than reading and lecturing and answering questions—it is to stimulate a desire for excellence, first in the subject at hand, but beyond that, in life itself” (37). Therefore, much of Yount’s opening two chapters deal with the teacher rather than the classroom environment, teaching style, or how-to material for instruction.

Moving into the second part of his book, “The Teacher as Instructor,” Yount shifts from the conceptual matters of teaching and the internal matters of the teacher toward the actual task of teaching. Idea after idea are shared in a structured approach that keeps each idea and subsequent example framed in clusters of concepts, demonstrating the value of one of Yount’s suggested formats (50). It is this section where most of the introductory matter of teaching is found and it is also this section that would likely be most helpful to the Sunday school and formal teacher alike. However, for those who need specific how-to material, Part Three, “The Teacher as Manager,” provides information on organizing the class, keeping order, and writing tests. Yount offers outlines and examples that could have an immediate impact upon the quality of the formal classroom. How to write good test questions and samples of the good, bad, and ugly serves as but one example. This section, however, will not likely be as helpful to the adult Sunday school teacher. The final part, “The Teacher as Minister” brings the entire endeavor into greater spiritual thinking.

Yount provides an excellent example of his approach and style through the way his book is written. For example, he argues, “As you gather material for your course, you will find numerous cross references—common essentials among the endless words—that reflect the structure of your subject. These are the elements worth talking about because they form the skeleton on which all the other words hang” (47). Called to Teach offers a fantastic skeleton of ideas without getting overly bogged down in the various theories and mechanics of teaching. He gives concepts as well as offering an introduction to the various ideas and theories. Yount also blends his whole-part, sequential, and relevance organizational ideas through out the book (49-50). He has a clear roadmap, leaving the reader aware of the destination but interested in the journey (47-54). And his personal experience offers engaging examples that allow the reader to warm up to Yount as a teacher.

One weakness of Called to Teach is Yount’s handling of Scripture. Very little of his book, if any, was driven by God’s Word but instead seemed to be an after-the-fact add-on. If all the scriptural references were removed, with exception to the final section about the teacher as an evangelist, the book would work extremely well in the secular world. Many of the verses quoted were tacked on to further make the point rather than leading the idea. This paragraph from page 11 serves as but one example,
One last word on humor. Be sure that the humor is positive and uplifting. Avoid crude or vulgar jokes, stories with a double meaning, and even lighthearted pranks or gags. Humor is wrong when it denigrates others or demeans the sacred task at hand. “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:4).
Rather than simply tacking on the passage as if to spiritualize the point, a simple rewrite could have signaled that God’s Word was the leading reason for the argument. This paragraph could have opened with something such as, “Adhering to Paul’s instruction, ‘Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or course joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving’ (Eph 5:4), be sure that humor is positive and uplifting.” In addition, some of the Scripture used is taken out of context. In these cases, Yount may have been better off to avoid using the Scripture all together.

Another difficulty of Called to Teach is the feeling of screeching breaks when the reader hits Part Three. Part Two is helpful to anyone teaching in nearly any formal environment. Part Three however, is a rather mechanical manual on class design, testing, and keeping young people or those required to attend the class under control. This creates a lurch that leaves the reader suddenly feeling less excited about the ministry of teaching. The material of Part Three is very helpful but a strong signal of the coming shift may have removed this awkward transition. Another idea may have been to add two sections at the end: one for the Sunday school teacher and one for the formal classroom teacher. With an introduction to each section alerting the reader what was ahead, the hard shift in tone and structure could have been avoided and the excitement of the new teacher maintained.

An additional section on teaching outside the classroom could have been added as well. Much of Part One and Part Two could be incorporated into an out-of-the-box format for the father trying to find ways to teach his children, the camp counselor desiring to teach as they go, or any other non-traditional format. This section might have greatly enhanced Called to Teach and provided additional thinking on what it is to teach and disciple those the teacher is called to serve, even if outside of a formal class setting.

Shortcoming aside, Called to Teach is an excellent introductory book on the topic of teaching. It is exciting, flows well, and is enjoyable to read. Sunday school leaders as well as formal academic teachers could greatly benefit from Yount’s book.

* This post comes from portions of a paper written for the partial fulfillment of a DMin at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  It has been redacted and modified for this website.  ** Purchases from this website help support this ministry. 

Training for Ministry: Utah School of Theology

Not too long ago, I wrote about the good work that denominations and associations might be a part of.  One of those examples was the Utah School of Theology.  It's an Contextualized Learning Development site through Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary that affords people the opportunity for ministry training. 

You can earn a diploma and receive an excellent education by taking 8 high-quality classes (see more here). Or you can take four classes and earn a certificate (Communicating the Gospel, Old Testament Survey, New Testament Survey, and Introduction to Christian Theology). Both the diploma and the certificate are backed and accredited by GGBTS and you can even travel to the Golden Gate Mill Valley campus and walk in the graduation ceremony, if you graduate that is.

I am teaching Communicating the Gospel (CLP 1411) this semester and it will be hosted at Risen Life Church on Thursday nights.  We'll be looking at preaching and teaching and hopefully become better preachers and teachers of the gospel. 

Aug 21 - Dec 4
6:30pm - 9:30pm
RLC Class Room 106

I'd be happy to send you a copy of the syllabus if you'd like more information.  You can contact me here.

Live in the Salt Lake area? I hope you'll join us.  If you have never enrolled with GGBTS's Contextualized Learning Development program, you will need to complete this application:  (BE SURE TO SELECT UTAH SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY -- DRAPER, UTAH IN THE DROP DOWN MENU.) There is a one-time application fee of $30 that can be paid on the first day of class.

You will also need to go to the Utah School of Theology's site and register for the class here: It's $50 per credit and this course is a 3 credit class, for a total of $150. Shortly after applying at GGBTS and registering at the Utah School of Theology, you should receive some emails with additional information and payment and class instructions.

Don't hesitate to contact me with any questions. I hope to see you in my class!

* Photo taken by Paul Kelly and is registered under a creative commons license.

Don't Hate Your Job

Most people have a season at some point in life where they really don't like going to work.  In fact, some people even hate their jobs.  They don't get along with their employer, or if they are the employer they don't like their employees.  But the Bible teaches that this ought not be the case for Christians.

Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City, Utah has been journeying through the book of Ephesians and I was called upon to preach from Ephesians 6:5-9.

Ephesians 6:5-9 is often a text that gets skimmed over because readers think that the slave or the bondservant relationship to an earthy master is outdated in not relevant to life today.  They couldn't be more wrong.  In my sermon, I deal with the instructions to employees and employers.  Then I journey into what the text demonstrates as the larger Master-slave relationship we as believers have as Christians. Everybody is a slave to something, either sin or righteousness.  If Jesus is our Master than we are slaves who are truly free.  I explain this in greater detail in the sermon and you can listen by clicking on the link below.

You get the opportunity to serve Christ when you go to work.  What a grand opportunity!  Remember this as you head into work and have joy in your workplace because of what Christ has done for you.

*I opened my sermon with a very brief discussion of our efforts to plant a church in the Salt Lake valley.  Risen Life is our sending church and a core team is meeting in my home as we seek God's vision for how we are to begin this new work.  My name is Bryan Catherman and if you are interested in learning more about our efforts, praying for us, financially supporting us, or joining our mission, I would love to hear from you.  You can contact me here.

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.

Picking a Mid-Level Bible

I recently encouraged parents to select a Bible written in terms their child can understand.  Early in a child's growth, this may be something like the Jesus Storybook Bible.  This is not a stretch; parents tend to be excited about buying a child her first Bible; but then there's a disconnect between her first picture-book (or over-simplified Bible) and the adult translation she'll own later.  At some point, children need a full Bible they can read, understand, and enjoy.

There are a couple ways a parent can go.  The first option is to get a para-phrased Bible like The Message.  A para-phrased translation takes the general ideas behind giant amounts of text and writes a giant amount of text in English.  Para-phrased translations sometimes get a bum wrap because they are not the best option for study, but they are a good option for general reading and sometimes even devotional reading.  Eugene Peterson, author/translator of The Message, says in his preface,
"The Message is a reading Bible.  It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available.  My intent here (as it was earlier in my congregation and community) is simply to get people reading who don't know that the Bible is read-able at all, at least by them, and to get people who long ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again. [...] So at some point along the way, soon or late, it will be important to get a standard study Bible to facilitate further study" (NavPress, 2002, page 8).    
The different theories behind translating the Bible are many, as are the different purposes behind the translations.  It's important to understand the theory and approach of the different translations in order to understand which translation is right for the task at hand.  Often however, the theory and purpose is less concerned with the vocabulary and reading level of children.  Even Peterson's simplified The Message is focused on adult readers.

The second (and better option) is to find a Bible that was translated with children in mind.  There are not nearly as many full Bible translations with children in mind as there are picture-Bibles, but I've found one that seems good.  The New International Readers Version (NiRV) was specifically translated with children in mind.  Their goal was to produce an English translation of the Bible at an overall grade-reading level of 3.5 (3rd year, 5th month); but in the end thay managed to get it down to a 2.9 grade level. 

The NiRV translation team consisted of both Greek and Hebrew language scholars, children's literature experts, and editors who would keep a keen eye on readability and vocabulary levels.  Using the NIV84 as their base text, they set to their task.  As they encountered larger words, longer sentences, or more difficult sentence construction, they would return to the original languages and try to translate them at a lower reading level and child-capable vocabulary.  (On a side note: It's my prayer that they DO NOT attempt to make the same theological changes to the NiRV that were made to the NIV84, resulting in the less-than quality translation called the NIV11.)

Let's compare some different translations with reading level in mind.

I'll use the Flesch-Kincaid readability formulas to compare readability.  Up front I need to say the Flesch-Kincaid is not perfect, but it is a helpful tool for comparison purposes.  These formulas use the number of words, number of sentences, and number of syllables to provide reading ease and a grade level.  They do not however compare vocabulary or theological concepts, and different test engines may provide slightly different results.  For the sake of my tests, I'm using the readability tool provided with Word for Mac 2011.

The Flesch-Kincaid is reported in two ways.  The first is readability.  It is reported on a scale from 0 to 100 with 100 being the most readable.  For example, a score of 90 should be readable by the average 11-year old, scores between 60 and 70 should be readable by a teenager between 13 and 15 years old, and a scores below 30 are probably best understood by university graduate students.  

The second Flesch-Kincaid formula measures grade level.  With ever-changing educational standards, this is not truly representative of what's happening in schools today nor is it any kind of guarantee (so please don't compare your children to these numbers!)  The grade-level provides a number that attempts to represent the grade level in years and months.  For example, a 3.9 would mean the 3rd year, ninth month.  In this post, I'll simply post the readability followed by the grade level.  (Up to this point, this post ranks at  53.5/10.1.)

Neither of these two numbers are as useful when looking at a single translation as when used to compare translation against translation (NiRV, NIV84, ESV, NASB, and the KJV).  Therefore, we'll look at a few translations using 5 selected verses (which just so happen to be taken from my children's Bible memory verses this month).  Each verse will include the readability and grade-level.  Remember, these numbers only measure so much, so there's real value in the human factor.  Just read the verses and think about how a child in the 2nd Grade may understand the verse.

James 4:10
NiRV - Bow down to the Lord. He will lift you up. (100/0.0)

NIV84 - Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (87.9/3.7)

ESV - Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (78.2/4.8)

NASB - Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (83.0/4.9)

KJV - Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (79.5/6.1)

Luke 19:10
NiRV - The Son of Man came to look for the lost and save them. (100/1.2)

NIV84 - For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. (100/1.6)

ESV - For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. (100/0.8)

NASB - For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (100/2.4)

KJV - For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (85.1/5.8)

Romans 5:8
NiRV - But here is how God has shown his love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (100/0.6)

NIV84 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (89.5/5.4)

ESV - But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (99.2/3.8)

NASB - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (85.1/6.1)

KJV - But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (72.3/8.1)

John 3:16
NiRV - God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life. (92.7/3.5)

NIV84 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (76.3/9.0)

ESV - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (76.7/8.5)

NASB - For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (69.7/9.7)

KJV - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (50.9/12.0)

Ecclesiastes 7:20
NiRV - There isn’t anyone on earth who does only what is right and never sins. (89.8/4.1)

NIV84 - There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. (90.1/4.6)

ESV - Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (84.4/5.2)

NASB - Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (70.1/7.6)

KJV - For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. (70.1/7.6)

Hopefully this small sample has helped shape your thinking a bit about translation.  It's also my hope and prayer that this post will help you, the parent, find a good mid-level Bible for your children. And by the way, when running these tests with all 5 verses together, the NiRV scored a 100/1.5, the NIV84 is 90.0/4.9, ESV is 90.1/4.6, NASB is 82.3/6.2, and the KJV 86.1/5.6.  It may also be helpful to run more samples and include other translations such as the NLT, HCSB, and the NKJV.  

*I have no connection to any of the listed translations, material or otherwise.

On Preaching

They stand and deliver Sunday after Sunday, alone or as part of a team, sometimes traveling, sometimes for the same flock for many years.  They are the preachers that so many sit under week after week.  From their biblical expository preaching many learn the Word of the Lord and are moved to respond accordingly.  

Preaching is a special calling that often takes discipline, training, and practice in addition to the aid of the Holy Spirit.  It's hard work and encompasses so much more than what is seen and heard on Sunday morning.  And preaching is nothing new; preaching, according to Dr. Jim Hamilton, "is as old as Moses." 

After reading Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell, Jared Jenkins and I amplified our regular conversation on the topic of preaching.  As our conversations grew more numerous we decided to start a series on the topic for Salty Believer Unscripted.  We quickly realized a better way to examine preaching would be to view if from a variety of perspectives so we talked with a guy after he preached his first sermon.  Then we talked to pastors who preach in the team ministry of a shared pulpit.  We chatted with church planters.  One guy we interviewed has a PhD in preaching.  Another preacher develops curriculum and cut his preaching teeth in another language.  We talked with an itinerant preacher.  A seminary professor who also pastors a church was on the list as well as a preacher who has been preaching every week at the same church since the 70s.  Through a conversation with a variety of diverse preachers we saw similarities and differences.  And I believe we got a better picture of preaching through such a great list of preachers. 

I deeply appreciate all the guys who contributed their thoughts and time to this conversation.  I learned a great deal as I suspect will be the case for others who listen.  These contributing preachers include: Andy Conroy, Kevin Lund, Robert Marshall, Dr. Travis Freeman, Trevin Wax, Kyle Costello, Rob Lee, Danny Braga, Douglas Wilson, and Dr. Jim Hamiltion.  It is a great privilege serving our Lord alongside them. 

You can listen to the conversation by following the links below:
-- On Preaching: Who's Qualified?  audio
-- On Preaching: Defining the Sermon audio
-- On Preaching: The Bucket and the Thimble audio
-- On Preaching: Stand and Deliver audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Andy Conroy audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Kevin Lund audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Robert Marshall audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Dr. Travis Freeman audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Trevin Wax audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Kyle Costello audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Rob Lee audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Danny Braga audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Douglas Wilson audio
-- On Preaching: A Discussion with Dr. Jim Hamilton audio

Salty Believer Unscripted is a weekly podcast.  If you would like to listen to more conversations like the ones listed above please subscribe.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted Podcasts:
iTunes  | Non iTunes

* Photo taken by Paul Kelly and is registered under a creative commons license. 

RLC Men's Retreat - 2013

From September 27 until September 29, 2013, some of the men of Risen Life Church met in a large home in Heber, Utah to study the book of 2 Peter, fellowship, and grow under the authority of Scripture.  The retreat consisted of 4 teaching/preaching sessions, of which the first 3 included breakout discussion sessions immediately following the sermon.  Men were selected to lead their small groups through a series of questions written by the teacher-preacher.  Kevin Lund opened the retreat with his discussion on 2 Peter 1:1-15, Benjamin Pierce discussed 2 Peter 1:16-2:22, Jared Jenkins taught on 2 Peter 3:1-14, and I concluded from 2 Peter 3:14-18.  In addition, every session included prayer and a rich time of worship through music (lead by Scott Graves as well as other musicians).  Sharing of Lord's Supper closed our retreat on Sunday morning.  Andy Conroy served as our house host and community group director for the retreat and Jeremy Jeffs filled in as our retreat deacon. 

You can listen to the sessions by following the links below:
2 Peter 1:1-15, Friday Night, Kevin Lund
2 Peter 1:16-2:22, Saturday Morning, Benjamin Pierce
2 Peter 3:1-14, Saturday Night, Jared Jenkins
2 Peter 3:14-18, Sunday Morning, Bryan Catherman

You may also want to consider the questions from our 3 small group breakouts:

Session 1 (Kevin, 2 Peter 1:1-15):
1. Read 2 Peter 1:1. What Christian (past or present) do you admire? Do you realize that all Christians have a faith of “equal standing” to theirs? Why does God point this out?

2. Are you growing as a Christian? Which of the qualities listed in 2 Peter 1:5-7 are you strongest in? Weakest? What do you need to change for increased growth?

3. Read 2 Peter 1:10-11. True Christians stay faithful over the long haul. What are you doing to assure that you stay faithful to Christ to the end? Do you ever have doubts about your relationship with God? How do you deal with them?

Session 2 (Benjamin, 2 Peter 1:16-2:22):
1. How big of a priority is God’s Word in your life? How much time do you invest reading, meditating, and praying God’s Word regularly in your day or week? Knowing that our thinking, speaking, and interactions either point those we love to death or life, how should we view Scripture in our lives?

2. How do we identify false teaching? Who does Peter describe as a false teacher? What does false teaching look like “among us”…?

3. What areas of sin do you find yourself struggling with most in Peter’s description…sexual lust, pride and attention, greed, hardheaded stubbornness to listen, learn, and be discipled? In what ways are these sins teaching death to yourself and others?

4. In what ways do we cover up or blind ourselves to our own false teaching or false living? Why do we cover these sins or areas of our lives up? In what ways can we expose these areas of our lives?

5. What are some ways we can protect ourselves from becoming false teachers? How can you train yourself to regularly speak and live like Christ? How can you regularly encourage other men to follow and reflect Christ?

Session 3: (Jared, 2 Peter 3:1-14):
1. Have you heard your friends, co-workers, and family scoff at what the Bible teaches about our world? What do they say? Which of their questions really unsettle you? Have you been able to meet their accusations with truth? What have you learned today about the future of the world that has brought you peace?

2. What has God promised to do in the world and with the world as spoken through the prophets, Christ, and the apostles? Why has he waited so long to carry out His plan? Does this change your perspective on what God is doing in the world? What response in our lives does God’s patience with mankind demand?

3. Do you believe that God will destroy the earth and everything in it and make it new and perfect? Do you believe heaven is a floaty, spiritual place or a new, real, physical new heavens and earth? What is of true value in life if this is the case? How do you need to reprioritize your life if you believe Christ is coming back to destroy, judge, and remake the world?

4. How do we let the truth of the end of the world and eternity future drive us towards lives of holiness and godliness? Do we sit on our butts and wait for the end? Do we become street preachers and try to spread the Gospel at all costs? How does this truth bring us hope? What should your daily life look like living in light of the truth concerning the end?

5. How are we to be found without spot or blemish and at peace when Christ returns? How do we rest in the Gospel and yet strive for Holiness? What do you need to repent of today?

God the Great Initiator

“In the beginning, God created. . .” (Genesis 1:1) This is the opening of the first sentence on the first page of the Bible. These first 5 words (3 words in the original Hebrew) are indeed remarkable. They’re not a mark in time; they mark the very beginning of time as even time is a part of the created order.  God created and the Bible says He did it with the power of his Word. There was nothing, then God the Author, spoke and there was creation.

The idea of creation is really tough to get our mind around.  There’s nothing inside of creation that can illustrate something that was initiated from outside of creation. While it’s the Truth, it is nearly inconceivable from our perspective. We try, but if we're honest, we really can’t get our heads around it. Try it. Think of nothing. Imagine nothing. If you imagined a big dark space free of stars and light, you imagined something. Describe the nothing. If you started with a vacuum or a void or an empty space, you still started with something.  Explain creation that starts with nothing.  You can’t, but not because that's not how it happened, but because we just don't have the necessary frame of reference.

From our perspective of creation, we start with something and turn it into something else, usually something we think is better than what we started with.  But it's not as if God sat down in front of his typewriter ready to write and loaded a blank page a blank page.  God didn't stare into the grain of the painter's canvas for a while until the lighting and inspiration was right.  There wasn’t even a blank canvas waiting for the artist's paint before the, “In the beginning,” because God initiated everything.

God is the all-powerful Author and Creator of all things, including the our eyes through which we see his creation and our minds in which we try to understand it. And before “in the beginning,” he knew the beginning, the middle, and the end. It’s his story. It’s The Story. And God is the Author.  God is the Creator.  And God is Lord over it all.

But some--including many of America's Founding Fathers--would argue that after creation, God was no longer involved.  It was as if he created a clock, wound it up, and then set it on a shelf and forgot about it as it is winding down.  But this is not how the Bible describes God and the relationship he initiates with his creation.

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes a time in his early atheist life we he understood existence through the lens of the playwright. It was clear to him that, “if Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare's doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing” (1). As the author and creator of the play, Shakespeare alone held the ability to revel himself to his creation. He controlled the setting, the characters he placed into the setting, and the plot.  As a created character, Hamlet could only know Shakespeare if Shakespeare initiated the conversation.  Shakespeare would have to be a part of the play somehow. But it appears that was not the case.  Shakespeare was not  We on the other hand are a living creation.  Yet, where Hamlet never knew of Shakespeare, God initiated a relationship with us, his creation. Standing before us is a grand opportunity to know our God.

To initiate a relationship, God scribed his autograph upon us, his masterpiece.  Created deep within us is a desire to know God.  As a very part of who we are, we desire to worship.  But left on our own, we end up worshiping sticks and rocks, mountains and animals, money and people, our politics and sexuality.  Left on our own, with our need to know the Creator, we come up with weak ideas about who God is. We try to define God from our perspective.  Our finite minds use science and religion, philosophy and our imagination to fill in the blanks in an effort to initiate the conversation. But all of these ideas fall grossly short. These ideas can't really show us who God is; because if we are to know God it is God himself who opens the conversation.  It is God who defines who God is.  Our responsibility is found in the call to humbly listen and then respond accordingly. 

Take Abraham in Genesis 12 for example. Here’s a regular guy just minding his own business when God spoke. God initiated the conversation. Specifically, God introduces himself to Abraham and Abraham listened. It wasn’t that Abraham was doing everything right; in fact, he was a sinful man. It wasn’t that Abraham had made some special discovery or cracked some secret code. God spoke and Abraham responded. They conversed – the Creator and the created.

It gets even more remarkable. God continued to speak to Abraham, and the descendants of Abraham, and even gentiles outside of Abraham's family. Many were listening and in turn proclaiming the glory of God. More and more people were entering into the conversation with the Creator. By God’s Word—his initiated revelation—we were learning more and more about him. His Word was put to writing so many more could know God better and love him more. And then, the unthinkable happened. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)  God entered his story.  He became the ultimate manifestation of his Word.  He became the ultimate revelation of himself, to us, in terms we can understand. But why?

The Author wrote himself into the story because the story is about the Author.  His name is Jesus. But this isn’t the only reason Jesus wrote himself into the story. The Bible, God’s Word, shows us that God did more than initiate creation. The Bible teaches us that God did more than initiate a relationship with his creation. The Bible proclaims that God authored and initiated our salvation. And when God initiates a conversation, it's best you respond!

1. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956), 223-224.

*The graphic used in this post is in the public domain.

Is God Calling Me? By Jeff Iorg

Iorg, Jeff. Is God Calling Me?: Answering the Question Every Believer Asks. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing Group, 2008.

I once heard a pastor tell his congregation that he didn't have any kind of calling, he just thought that ministry looked like a good career for him.  As he made his argument, I wondered if this man should be representing God if God had not selected this man as his representative.  It's amazing that God even allows anybody to touch his Bride, that is, the Church, let alone those he did not set apart to do so.

Calling is important and answering the question, "Is God calling me?" is an important examination.  In his book, Is God Calling Me?: Answering the question every believer Asks, Dr. Jeff Iorg states, "'Is God calling me?' is the essential question you must answer before entering ministry leadership or accepting a specific ministry assignment.  Settling the issue of call is foundational to effective Christian leadership" (1).  He further argues that understanding the answer to this important question "charts a lifelong course of ministry leadership" (1).  In what could serve as a response to the pastor arguing that a call is not important, Iorg further writes, "As ministry leaders, we serve in response to God's invitation and at his pleasure, not at our initiative" (2).  This book serves as a tool to aid in finding the answer to this extremely important question.

"My first goal," writes Iorg, "is to cut straight to the heart of the matter and give you tools to work through the call process.  But detailed analysis and intellectual understanding are not enough.  My ultimate goal for you is clarity about God's call so you can answer affirmatively!" (3).  As clearly stated, Iorg sets out to meet his goals using the Bible and careful study, but also ideas and conversations that he has had about God's call for more than thirty years of combined ministry as a pastor and the President of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  He concedes that over the years, many others have shaped his thinking and at times critics have even changed his mind (2).  Peppered throughout the book are personal stories from Iorg's experience as well as those from many others.

Iorg starts by defining the concept of the call.  Here he provides a biblical foundation of the importance of the call as well as a strong understanding of the biblical history of calling.  He also provides his own working definition: "A call is a profound impression from God that established parameters for your life and can be altered only by a subsequent, superseding impression from God" (8).  After he has laid some groundwork, Iorg offers three types of calls, from the larger call all the way to very specific calls that function within an individual's larger call.  Continuing, Iorg deals with the kinds of people God calls (which are diverse and surprising), how to discern God's call, and how the calling shapes the life of those God calls.  And then in a very practical conclusion, Iorg discusses some specific calls such as the call into mission work as well as the call to pastoral ministry.

I originally picked up Is God Calling Me? at the recommendation of another pastor and friend.  A number of young men had been meeting with me about entering ministry in some capacity or another and some of them were even considering seminary.  As my pastor friend and I were discussing the call upon some of these other guys, he told me he read Is God Calling Me? as he was considering leaving a campus ministry for seminary.  I purchased the book thinking it would help me counsel these guys.  But as I started reading, I found myself working through each page, slowly chewing on the concepts and ideas.  It served as a great conformation of my general call and helped me process some aspects of present, specific calls in my own life.  I found Iorg's book extremely helpful.

As I was reading through Is God Calling Me? I had the opportunity to discuss the call with Ryan and Janai Rindels from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and Chris Smith from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The book was fresh on my mind so it entered our unscripted conversations.  Janai Rindels, Dr. Jeff Iorg's personal assistant, offered some great insight.  The guys also provided some helpful thoughts as they both serve as seminary recruiters.  You can listen to these conversations here:
-- Calling and GGBTS with Ryan and Jania Rindels audio
-- Calling and SBTS with Chris Smith audio
If I must offer a criticism of Is God Calling Me? it would be about Iorg's perspective.  Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president of a seminary.  He is seminary trained and holds a Doctorate of Ministry.  And while I am also seminary trained and greatly appreciate my seminary education, a weakness is found in the book is that some may be called into ministry apart from thinking about seminary.  Iorg did make an effort to support this thinking but it is clear that his bias held strong.  Using the terms informal and formal training, he discusses both saying, "Preparation for ministry leadership involves formal and informal processes; both are valid and necessary.  The best case is for the two forms of training to be integrated and to build on each other" (79).  Iorg then gives 3 sentences to an explanation of informal training before he says, "But is informal training enough? Usually not" (79).  Following this question are 4 pages of the positive and negative aspects of attending seminary.  While he makes a good argument for formal training--as should be expected from a seminary president--he provides way too little information on the positive and negative aspects of informal training.  

Apart from Iorg's bias toward seminary (which I also hold), Is God Calling Me? is an outstanding book for those thinking they may be called and wrestling with calling.  It's also extremely useful for the man or woman already called who will inevitably deal with additional specific calls from God as he or she journeys through a lifetime of ministry.  I highly recommend this book! 

-- Some of Iorg's other publications include: The Painful Side of Leadership, The Character of Leadership, The Case for Antioch, and Live Like a Missionary.

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

Sharing the Pulpit

Not too long ago I wrote about Team Ministry and the Shared Pulpit.  For many pastors, sharing the pulpit from Sunday to Sunday is a frightful idea.  For others, it's an enigma.  They'd love to have help or even some time off, but they just don't have the team to share the pulpit.  But for me, this summer, it wasn't a mystery nor was it frightful. 

Risen Life Church had four preaching pastors rotating from Sunday to Sunday as we journeyed through a sermon series called "The Story."  (You can listen to sermons and see the rotation schedule here.) We worked together on a rough outline.  We discussed the sermon direction from week to week.  We helped each other.  And except for a little time off, we were present for one another's sermons.  For the conclusion, all four pastors preached a shorter sermon on the themes they covered and we did it on the same Sunday morning, together.  Each pastor had his specific area to cover and we were separated only by a worship song.  The unity was amazing and I believe the morning was well received among the congregation.  I also believe it was fruitful.

This summer I realized that a shared pulpit, if done well, is more like a relay race than a class with a substitute teacher.  In a relay, each person is responsible for his individual run, but not the entire race.  Each man runs alone yet has the team backing him, with him, cheering him on.  Then he hands the baton off; not symbolizing that he's done, but that the race is run by the team, not the individual.  He continues to do his part for the man running at the moment and he may have another leg to run soon.  A relay team is exactly that, a team.  Each runner has different strengths and weaknesses and they race together. The team wins or looses together.  In a relay, it's great to have a strong runner but one good runner can't win a relay race alone.

A shared pulpit is like a relay team.  One week is one preacher's run.  Then he hands off the baton to the next preacher for the next leg of the journey that will be preached the following week.  Each man cheers on the others.  They pray for one another.  They are in it together, running toward a shared goal.  And no one preacher becomes a super-star.  They're a team, preaching together for the glory of God and his gospel.

* Photo taken by user, NoHeadLights, is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

Team Ministry and the Shared Pulpit

In his book, Love Your God With All Your Mind, J.P. Moreland argues, "No one person has enough gifts, perspective, and maturity to be given the opportunity disproportionately to shape the personality and texture of the local church.  If Christ is actually the head of the church, our church structures ought to reflect that fact, and a group of undershepherds, not a senior pastor, should collectively seek His guidance in leading the congregation" (Moreland, 191).  Yet in many churches today, we have a very strong senior pastor model with very little vision, preaching, or leadership coming from anywhere else.    

The Bible however, seems to suggest that the local church should be lead from a plurality of elders with a leader among leaders.  In Paul's letter to Titus, Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every town and then proceeds to instruct Titus in the method of selecting men of character to fulfill this role.  Only a couple verses later, Paul refers to these elders as overseers or bishops, translated from the word ἐπίσκοπον.  In Acts 20:18, Paul assembles all the elders (plural) in the Church of Ephesus, where Timothy pastors and later (verse 28) calls them overseers or bishops taken from the plural Greek word, ἐπίσκοπους. This, however, is not to say that every pastor is an elder and every elder is a pastor, nor is it so say that all the elders and overseers are gifted in the same way, if we understand Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 correctly. It does seem likely that Timothy was a leader among a leaders in the Church in Ephesus.  It was probably the same for Titus.  We see this model of a leader among leaders with the Apostles so it does stand to reason the same should hold true for elders.  While Moreland disagrees that there should be a leader among the leaders, the Bible does appear to present this picture.  It does not however suggest that the leader among leaders is the only one to provide vision, preaching, teaching, or leadership for the local church.  This should come from a team.

Furthermore, the biblical picture of ministry is in teams.  Moses was teamed with Aaron (Exodus 4), Jesus sent the 70 (or 72) out in teams of two, or ministry pairs (Luke 10), Peter and John appear to be a strong ministry team in the Book of Acts, as do Barnabas and Paul.  And think about the differences in giftings, skills, and personalities that each man brought to the team!  For example, think about that first mission trip and church planting excursion by Barnabas the encourager and Paul, the hard hitting theologian. I discuss the biblical picture of team ministry in the following video that I recorded some time ago as part of a community group leader's training process:

 So it stands to reason that the ministry of the pulpit, that is, the preaching should be shared among a team of gifted preachers.  Moreland argues for this as well, saying, "[F]or two reasons I do not think a single individual ought to preach more than half (twenty-six) of the Sundays during the year" (Moreland, 194).  His first support is that "no one person ought to have a disproportionate influence through the pulpit because, inevitably, the church will take on that person's strengths, weaknesses, and emphases" (ibid).  How easy it is to find churches that demonstrate his point!  He continues: "By rotating speakers, the body gets exposure to God's truth being poured through a number of different personalities, that is more healthy" (ibid).  One objection that may come up is that the ability to preach among those preaching is not of comparable skill, but Moreland argues that this presents an opportunity for the one of higher quality to train the one of lower quality which will actually produce a spirit of training up preachers and teachers. But this is not to say that every preacher must preach the same way and in the same style, for that would attempt to trump the calling and gifting of God upon each individual preacher.

Moreland's second argument for a shared pulpit has to do with capability.  He says, "no one who preaches week after week can do adequate study for a message or deeply process and internalize the sermon topic spiritually.  What inevitably happens is that a pastor will rely on his speaking ability and skills at putting together a message" Moreland, 194).  The sermon will actually be stronger, sturdier, and more sound because the preacher will have more time.  The result for the congregation is a well prepared sermon every week of the year that doesn't fall into the trap made in Moreland's first support.  Additionally, each preaching pastor will have ample time to minister to the flock through visitation, counseling, teaching, prayer, and personal devotion because he will not be responsible for preparing every sermon.  And the preacher can take time off to rest, rather than burn out from being in the pulpit 52 weeks of the year along with all of his other responsibilities.

I am blessed to have personal experience with a shared pulpit.  I serve on the pastoral staff at Risen Life Church where we highly value team ministry.   We have a shared pulpit between two preaching elders.  On occasion, two other pastors--myself and Jared Jenkins--have been afforded the opportunity to preach.  This summer, we are actually engaging in a four-preacher rotation as an experiment to see how we work together and how it is received by the congregation.  (At the time of this writing, I have already preached the opening sermon in the series.)  Not only has this arrangement been instrumental in the post-seminary training of Jared and I, it has allowed us to learn and grow well under two other gifted preachers.  The sermons are indeed well prepared and the variety of a two-preacher rotation lends itself as a support of Moreland's argument.  I suspect a four-preacher rotation will have a similar effect.  I can see firsthand how much a shared pulpit has allowed the primary preachers to have time to minister throughout the week as well as train up future leaders, teachers, and ministers.  Rest and time off is often not too challenging as we work in teams.  Support for one another may also be stronger.  Additionally, for the most part Risen Life Church is not built around a single pastor. If any one of us left, it would not be a serious blow to the local church, and really, that is how it should be.      

1. Moreland, J.P. Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs, Colo: NavPress. 1997.

* Photo of the USA Lightweight 2003 World Champions is in the public domain.

Filling the Bucket: How to Research for a Paper (or Sermon or Lecture)

I've posted portions of many of my papers on this website as I was marching my way through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.  As a result, I now see specific spikes in traffic on certain pages, suggesting that somewhere in the world a Bible college or seminary professor has assigned a similar paper.  I wonder how many attempts are made to plagiarize from this sight?  I hope instead, students are simply looking to see what others have done and find sources and points they might not have previously considered.

Occasionally I get questions about writing papers or finding resources.  Living in Salt Lake City, resources are a little more difficult to come by.  BYU has the closest library of religion but the materials I needed from BYU could only be found on the comparative religion shelves next to the rows and rows of LDS materials. (By no means are they shelved together; and in fact, they're separated by all the other religions of the world.)

I also receive questions about doing well in seminary and having any kind of life. Therefore, I thought I would share the method I found most helpful while living with limited resource books, under crushing deadlines.

If you're in seminary, you're working full-time, and you have a wife and two kids, you've got to find methods to work fast or you'll go down in flames.  It would be nice to have ample time to fully read and re-read many books on whatever topic you're writing on, survey every piece of material ever written, request library loans from other parts of the country, travel to rare manuscript museums, and thoughtfully compare everything you find.  That, however, is called a dissertation and you should keep in mind people take years to write them.  You are most likely writing a 6 to 25 page paper and you'll have 5 more this semester alone.  You don't have the luxury to mosey through your topic or deal with it as thoroughly as you'd probably like.  If writing a seminary paper were archeology, you'd be working like Indiana Jones. 

The key to a good paper is getting a full bucket of information and then finding the exact right thimble's worth to print.  The same is true for a sermon, lecture, or discussion lesson.  But filling the bucket can be very time consuming.  Here's how I did it in seminary (and often still do it for sermon or class preparation):

1. Start with a healthy amount of prayer.

2.  Find every passage of Scripture on the topic you are dealing with, in favor or not. (If you're writing or preaching on a specific Scripture passage, you've just saved yourself some time!)  It often helps to scan systematic theologies for passages you might not have thought of.  Use cross references and take rabbit trails from the texts you have to those you don't yet have.  Write down a list of all relevant Scripture you find.  Keep it organized and close by.   Also, if you find anything in those systematic theologies related to your topic jot a brief summary note of what you found, where it's located, and the title. Put a sticky note to mark the page and start an organized pile on your desk, kitchen table, or some other place where you can work. Pray about what you've found thus far.

3.  Pray as you start step 3.  Search the academic journals (I had access through the Liberty library to a huge amount of resources and digital articles.)  Look for other papers on your topic and also search your list of Scriptures to see if anybody used the same text to deal with your paper subject.  If there's anything remotely dealing with your topic or the Scriptures, skim it to see if it has any gems that will contribute to or argue against your thesis.  Sometimes a larger paper on the passage doesn't have anything to do with your topic but might still have something that contributes in a helpful way.  Quickly read the section you found to get a feel for what you've got.  Bookmark, download, or print the article if it may be usable.  Jot a brief summary note of what you find, the title, and where you found it. Keep your summary notes organized!  If you print the articles, start more organized piles. Pray about what you've found thus far.

4.  Pray as you start step 4.  Look through every introduction, biblical encyclopedia, and dictionary you can get your hands on. If you find anything interesting at all, put a sticky note in the page and add it to the appropriate pile.  Jot a brief summary note of what you find, the title, and where you found it.  Keep an eye out for any additional relevant Scripture passages to add to you list. Pray about what you've found thus far.

5.  Pray as you start step 5.  If there were any relevant words in the Scripture that were cause for debate or simply left you curious, go to the lexicons.  As many as you can get your hands on.  If you are able, look at the original languages.  If you find anything interesting at all, put a sticky note in the page and add it to the appropriate pile.  Jot a brief summary note of what you found, the title, and where you found it. Pray about what you've found thus far.

6. Pray as you start step 6.  If there's anything historical that may have something to do with your topic, look at the historical events. Who were the players?  Did they write anything? Did they make any arguments?  What were the outcomes?  Are the events significant, strange, interesting?  (For example, if you're writing on works vs. grace, you probably should read about how that thing with Augustine and Pelagius went down.  If you're writing on specific spiritual gifts, it might help to look at stuff like Azusa Street. What's up with the two Great Awakenings?  How did Edwards read his sermons in such a boring fashion and yet people were getting radically saved?  Might Spurgeon's salvation story be relevant to your topic on providence or the work of the Holy Spirit?)  This stuff may help with your argument but more often than not, it adds some points of interest that make the paper interesting.  Of course, be sure to add something to the effect of, "While this story is but a single instance it should cause us to wonder how. . . "  (Academically, it's wise to concede that it's merely anecdotal evidence.)  Also, look for any additional mentions of Scriptures you may have missed.  Jot a brief summary note of what you find, the title, and where you found it. Put a sticky note in the page and put the book in its appropriate organized pile. Pray about what you've found thus far.

7.  Pray as you start step 7.  Go through every commentary you can get your hands on for all of the Scriptures in your list.  If you find anything interesting or relevant, put a sticky note in the book and jot a quick note.  It is also helpful to start noting where scholars are in disagreement.  Keep an eye out for additional Scriptures, theological arguments, and interesting or debated original language items you may have missed.  Lay the commentaries out on a table or floor in organized piles.  Agree, disagree, or supporting info in other areas.  Do whatever helps you to visually organize what you've got.  Also, get a wide breath of commentaries from newer to older, liberal to conservative.  Based on what I could get my hands on, I often had an occasional obscure commentary from the early 1800 or 1900's that I could connect the dots between differing ideas, saying something to the effect of, "However, so-in-so's later scholarship lends greater credit to/ or discredits. . . ." It's also nice to take a view through other faith positions such as the Catholic and Jewish commentaries.  I recommend checking out for some additional ideas.  Sometimes these will allow you to present a wider range of information as you narrow your topic or argue against some counter-positions.  Unfortunately, you may not have access to all these commentaries so you need to go with what you can get.  Don't hesitate to ask local area pastors what they may have in their libraries. And you might need to make a personal investment.  Jot a brief summary note of what you find, the title, and where you found it. Put a sticky note in the page and put the book in its appropriate organized pile. Pray about what you've found thus far.

8.  Pray as you start step 8.   Go back through the systematic theologies, introductions, histories, and other resources, looking in the Scripture index for all the Scriptures on your list.  (Most Christian books have and index of Scriptures mentioned. That's your new best friend!)  Determine if any of these Scriptures were used in a discussion helpful to your topic.  Is there anything you missed?   Also look through the table of context for your topic as you now understand it, more formed and specific.   Skim every thing you find to see if it has anything to do with what you're dealing with.  If so, jot a brief summary note of what you find, the title, and where you found it.   Don't forget the sticky note so you can come back to the page fast.  Put the book in the pile. Pray about what you've found thus far. Thank God for what he's shown you up to this point and ask for energy to keep going. 

9.  Pray as you start step 9.  Based on all the information you've looked at, you now probably have some buzz words that run through the arguments.  You've seen them often.  Google the buzz words.  But by all means, DO NOT TRUST what people write on the internet unless it's absolutely credible and truly helpful for your argument.  This even includes  (Only on very rare occasion, might it be helpful to use something just point out how people may understand something or how nutty the fringe views might be, but that's it.)  Instead, look at what they quote on the topics.  Check their footnotes.  See if they use anything you've missed and then see if you can find that resource.  Did they mention any Scripture you missed and should check out?  But don't jot a note yet. You really aught not quote what you found on the internet unless it is absolutely necessary.  Look at the resources and Scriptures first.  If the stuff you found on the internet was correct and used in the proper context, go the corresponding section above and follow those directions for the original sources.   Then jot a note.  Pray about what you've found thus far.  

10. At this point, these resources and commentaries may have provided you additional Scriptures along the way.  Look through your Scripture list.  Do you have any that have not been run through this process?  If so, repeat steps 1-8 for your new finds. Pray for perseverance; you're almost done! If you don't have any more Scriptures to explore, it's probably time to move to the next step.

11.  Thank God for everything he has shown you.  You've made it to the outline and writing phase. Pray you'll find the right thimble to take from this huge bucket.

Now your bucket is so full and the pile of books on your table is so large you're paper is about to write itself.  You should have a ridiculous amount of resources based on what you could find AND it's all centered around the Scriptures.  In addition, you'll have some resources that nobody found and that should be refreshing to the professor.  (I'm sure they get really tired of Matthew Henry!)

Pray again.  Re-read all the Scriptures on your Scripture list.  Go back through all your notes.  Reread the places where you've put sticky notes.  Are there any books you can remove from the table?  Do you see the various sides of the arguments?  Are you starting to come to conclusions yourself?  Are there counter-arguments against your thesis that you can't account for?  How will you deal with them?  Start asking yourself as many questions as you can think of.  Pray.  If you were teaching a class, what would people ask you?  If you were asked to sit in on a debate, what would your counter-parts bring to the discussion?  What would you bring?  How would you summarize your thesis for a closing statement?  Who would win the debate?  As you lay all this out, start creating your outline. Start narrowing.  Find your thimble.  Pray some more.  Once you're outline is done, it's time to start writing.

Now you'll need to do the hard work of figuring how to turn your thimble into a paper.  You'll probably have a hard time getting under the maximum page limit, but that's much better than stretching to reach the minimum.  This is because your thimble is still too big.  Keep working at it. Get the best in and don't worry about the rest.

You certainly won't use everything you found as you start writing.  Even if it seems good, compelling, or witty, if it's not relevant toss it out.  Only use what really deals with your topic well.  And by all means, don't just create a laundry list of quotes.  The quotes come along to support the logical direction of where you're going and what you're arguing.  You did the research, now write a paper that shows of the very best of what you found.  Be happy to leave the crap on the cutting room floor.  Take control of the material.  Pray about what stays and what gets cut.  

Researching is fun if you think like Indiana Jones (if you need to, get a good hat).  If you learn to enjoy the process, you will likely learn and remember a great deal that will help you long after you finish school.  And you may earn good grades AND have a life too!

Christian Suffering 1 Peter 4:12-19

The Christian life is no bed of roses.  From time to time, followers of Jesus Christ face fiery trials and in these trials we sometimes find ourselves confused.  We ask questions like, "How can God let me suffer like this?" or, "Doesn't God even care that I'm suffering?" or maybe even, "Am I suffering because God is punishing me for something?"  In our times of difficulty, these questions become more than questions, they often become our way of inditing God.  But before we throw down accusations, we really aught to re-think Christian suffering.  

What often troubles us is why Christians suffer.  It's a serious questions and one worth wrestling through.  1 Peter 4:12-19 is one of the great texts that helps us come to a better understanding of God's will and purpose in our fiery trials. 

I recently preached on this topic at Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City.  If you're a Christian, you've likely suffered, are suffering right now, or will suffer sometime in your future.  If this is you, it is my hope that this sermon may be helpful to you. 

Christian Suffering -- 1 Peter 4:12-19

How Does the Kingdom Grow?

Books on missions and evangelism could fill libraries and bookstores, pastor's shelves and recycle bins.  Many of these books are very good, but I've found most the ones that I've read are more focused on a new plan.  Do we need a new plan?  These books talk a lot about Kingdom growth, but how does God's Kingdom grow?  The Jesus often discussed Kingdom growth and used illustration like light, seeds, and yeast.  He seemed to teach that the Kingdom grows one person at a time as God's people bring the light into dark places.

The above example is how the Kingdom could grow in Salt Lake City, Utah, but the idea applies everywhere in the world.  We are called to be light in dark places.  Our relationship with Christ should be spilling over everywhere we go.  Be filled with Christ and let your relationship with him overflow into all the places you go and wherever you find yourself.

Saul Consults a Necromancer? - 1 Samuel 28

Christians in the West are often slow to credit any kind of spiritual power behind witchcraft or mediums or necromancers or the like.  While this credit belongs not with God and is certainly not positive, it is power even if demonic power.   It almost seems as if we say, "these things hold no power, demonic or otherwise," so as to undercut the legs of the spiritual warfare happening around us.  But when we do this we're wrong!  Saying there's nothing behind the medium, witchdoctor, or practitioner of the demonic is not to see the situation for what it is.  Saying there's nothing behind the practice neglects the words of Paul to the Corinthians when he writes, "I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons" (1 Corinthians 10:20, ESV).  There is indeed a demonic power of some sort behind these practices today just as the pagan sacrifices  in Corinth were demonic.

In light of our feelings surrounding witchcraft and talking with the dead, we tend to be a bit shocked when we come across 1 Samuel 28.  Here, Saul consults a medium in an effort to hear the Word of the Lord through Samuel, who had passed away.   Saul is in direct disobedience to God's Law that says explicitly not to consult mediums (Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:10-12).  In addition, in 1 Samuel 28:3 we see that Saul himself had put the mediums out of the land and even had to travel by night to En-dor in disguise because he knew he was doing wrong.

The necromancer is concerned that she will be in trouble by practicing this evil behavior for Saul, but Saul assures her that it will be okay and then emphatically pleads with her to raise Samuel so he can talk with him.  At one point in the chapter, it seems that Samuel is raised, although the text really only demonstrates that Saul believed he was talking with Samuel.  (Scholars disagree as to whether this character was actually Samuel, some kind of demon, or some sort of messenger of God.)

The point of this chapter however, is not to get into the hows and whys of witchcraft, but instead demonstrate the distress Saul is in and his subsequent misbehavior as he demanded to hear from God concerning his own glory and well-being.  It only stands to further show the depths of Saul's rebellion and even provides support for God's tearing the kingdom from Saul and giving it to David, a man after God's own heart. As is always the case, it is important to see this text in light of the context and primary point.  That being said, I'd like to encourage you to pick up your Bible and check out 1 Samuel 28.  In addition, Jared Jenkins and I discuss this particular text as one of our "Tough Text" series topics.  You can listen to that 20-minute podcast or subscribe to Salty Believer Unscripted for many other unscripted discussions.

*Photo of Lassa witch doctors was taken and used by the CDC.  It is presently in the public domain.

Reading More of God's Word

Christmas has passed.  The wrapping paper is picked up and the tree is down.  Many of us start shifting our thinking to the up coming new year.  We may set goals or even proclaim our resolutions for the next 365 days (which most of us forget by February).

This year can be different.  I'd like to encourage you, or maybe even challenge you to be in your Bible more.  Feast on more of God's Word in the coming year than you did in last and allow God, the Author to speak to you.  Be filled!  Be transformed by what God has for you this year.  Whether you decide to read the same book over and over every month, or the New Testament or Old Testament, or the entire Bible, or the parts you've read the least, or your favorite sections of Scripture you love, be reading and reflecting on the message of the Bible.  Be reading often, even if it's only a single verse each day.

Despite what some people may argue, you don't have to read your entire Bible in a year, every year.  You can read your entire Bible many more times in a year, or you can focus on only a section.  The key is that your are reading.  

One thought might be to get in touch with your pastor and find how what will be preached and taught in the coming year.  Start reading those books of the Bible a couple times before they are preached on.  Another idea might be to go back through past sermon series you've enjoyed and read those books again.  You might even be able to find an archive of those sermons to listen to as a supplement to your reading. 

And by all means, be reading an age appropriate Bible to your children! Here are some suggestions.

There are lots of reading plans out there.  Some cover the the New and Old Testaments as well as the Psalms each day, some are chronological, some start at the front and end at the back.   Some go through the entire Bible in a year; others don't.  It's not that important as long as you are in the Word.

I have found that having a plan and using a list of some sort really helps me.  It may help you too!

But please remember, the idea is not to read to be able to smugly say, "I read the entire Bible this year;" the reason for reading to connect with God, grow in your knowledge of Him so you love Him more, and be transformed by allowing God to speak in to your life.  It's not enough to mentally know the Bible, you've got to ingest it and allow it to fuel your soul.

YouVersion is a free Bible app for phones, tablets, and computers that has lots of reading lists and study tools.  You may find that your Bible or study Bible has a reading plan in an appendix.  If your church is using The City, check out the  "Bible" feature in the left menu and explore your Bible more.  You can also visit ESV Reading Plans or Read the Bible in a Year for many downloadable or print plan options.

Here are some useful tools as well:
Scriptures to Know
Chronological Bible Reading List

The Bible in 180 Chapters
Bible Reading Checklist
New Testament Reading Checklist

It's my prayer that God's people are reading his Word, the Bible, more this year and are greatly transformed by what He has to teach us! Or if you've never read the Bible, it's my hope you start.

*Photo by Imagens Evangelicas is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

Children's Sermon, Christmas Eve 2011

December 18, 2012.

Christmas Eve services are a great way to keep the Christmas focus on Jesus.

Children's Sermon, Christmas Eve Service. 2011.

If you are not a regular church attender, find a good Christmas Eve service and attend.  Meet and worship Jesus this Christmas.  If you're in the Salt Lake area, consider Risen Life Church.  6:00pm and 7:30pm.  2780 E. 3900 South, Salt Lake City, Utah 84124.  (

* This video, others like it, and many other resources are available here.

You Will Be My Witnesses

December 4, 2012.

I am truly bless to serve on a church staff that provides me with so many opportunities to grow as a pastor.  We're presently in a sermon series titled, "As We Reach" because about a year ago we added the word 'Reach' to our mission and it's our hope that a lifestyle of evangelism becomes a part of our DNA in the coming years.  At Risen Life Church we seek to experience real life transformation and we do that through our mission: "connect, grow, serve, and reach."   This week I was able to step into the pulpit and preach a message titled "You Will Be My Witnesses." 

In addition, we've had some video testimonies that open each sermon.  Nathan Sweet, a gifted photographer and film maker, has been helping us create these videos.  (They've been really great.  Here's a sample, and another, and even another.) However, we didn't have anybody lined up for this recent week so we didn't shoot an interview.  Nathan is a busy student so when Pastors Kevin and Robert asked if we could still have a video, I stepped up to the director/editor plate.  It's certainly not of the same quality as the videos Nathan produces for us and there's one really bad edit (oops!), but I feel like we were still able to tell a story, thanks to a willing participant, some construction lights, the help of Sean Patrick on the sound board in our worship center, and a couple video cameras (one of which uses video tapes--remember those!). Because of our sound limitations, we were also limited to the worship center backdrop.  Here's Tina Pelton in the video that ran just before I preached the message:

It's not often you find a pastor so willing to raise up future leaders and even share the pulpit.   I get to work with two!  We serve in a team ministry model so our senior pastor, Kevin, works closely with Pastor Robert and they rotate each week in the pulpit.  And even with this arrangement, they allow me and another pastor (Jared Jenkins) to preach from time to time--even more in 2013.

Like I said, I am blessed and couldn't ask for a better place to serve and learn after completing seminary!