Book Review: Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller

One of the greatest gifts younger men in ministry can receive is the wisdom of older men. It’s why so many of us seek to find mentors, both living and dead—we want to know what we don’t know and learn from the more experienced. In his new book, Letters to a Young Pastor, Calvin Miller writes a series of notes to young pastors, sharing his experiences and insights from more than thirty years in vocational ministry.

Miller’s gift as a storyteller is on full display in this book—he’s consistently witty, insightful and engaging in each of his letters, whether dealing with a case of the Mondays (a preacher’s worst day), seeing the significance of your call (regardless of your church size) or venting about how megachurches pretty much stink (more on that later). And that, perhaps, is his biggest asset. Miller’s writing is a pleasure to read. For example:

[M]ost pastors who fall form grace sexually are not involved with strangers; they get involved with someone right in their own church. So be extra careful in this regard. I once had a secretary who surprised me by telling me on a nameless Tuesday that she couldn’t live without me. I don’t know what kind of reply she expected from this, but I said, “You’re fired!” . . . I might have seen this whole thing coming if I had done what I now am going to give you as a great principle for keeping your eros hidden under several thick layers of agape: Listen to your wife.1

(For a good laugh, read that excerpt with Bill Cosby’s style of delivery in mind.)

The best of Miller’s advice is practical and genuinely helpful—the stuff that seems like you should say, “Well, I should hope so” afterward… until you realize that you’re assuming you know it, but don’t. Little things like remembering that because Monday is your worst day as a preacher and you’re thinking about quitting, maybe wait to see how you feel on Tuesday. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb

The NINES: Jared Wilson on Preaching

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Also Worth Reading

Studying Other Religions: Kevin DeYoung offers a helpful piece on the basic history and doctrines of Mormonism. A good resource to help you better understand this Mormonism Explained: What Latter-day Saints Teach and Practice by Andrew Jackson (Crossway’s also posted an excerpt from the book on their blog).

Reading: Over at Crossway’s blog, Tony Reinke answers the question, “How do you prioritize what you read?

Lone Wolfing: David Murray offers some good pastoral implications from recent articles describing Obama as the loner President.

Conference: Desiring God has announced the 2012 Conference for Pastors: God, Manhood & Ministry—Building Men for the Body of Christ. The conference will feature Darrin Patrick, Doug Wilson and several others discussing the importance of biblical manhood. Here’s Piper’s video invitation:

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In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A Sign That Some Purging is in Order

Video: Don’t Be More Gospel-Centered Than Jesus

Bringing Back a Sense of Balance by Nate Palmer

Book Review: The Sacred Acre by Mark Tabb

3 Things I’m Looking Forward To About Our New Small Group

J.C. Ryle: Do Not Expect Peace Before The Prince of Peace Returns

Joel Beeke: Chosen to Holiness

Bloodlines: Racism in the 1960s American South—really appreciated this documentary that accompanies John Piper’s new book, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian.

Do Not Expect Peace Before The Prince of Peace Returns

“…And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

—Matthew 24:6-14—

We are not to expect a reign of universal peace, happiness, and prosperity, before the end comes. If we do, we shall be greatly deceived. Our Lord bids us look for “wars, famines, pestilence,” and persecution. It is vain to expect peace until the Prince of Peace returns. Then, and not until then, the swords shall be beaten into ploughshares, and nations learn war no more. Then, and not until then, the earth shall bring forth her increase. (Isa. 2:4; Psa. 68:6)

We are not to expect a time of universal purity of doctrine and practice in the Church of Christ, before the end comes. If we do, we shall be greatly mistaken. Our Lord bids us look for the rising of “false prophets,” the “abounding of iniquity,” and the “waxing cold of the love of many.” The truth will never be received by all professing Christians, and holiness be the rule among men, until the great Head of the Church returns, and Satan is bound. Then, and not until then, there will be a glorious Church, without spot or blemish. (Eph. 5:27)

We are not to expect that all the world will be converted before the end comes. If we do, we shall be greatly mistaken. “The Gospel is to be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations,” but we must not think that we shall see it universally believed. It will “take out a people,” wherever it is faithfully preached, as witnesses to Christ, but the full gathering of the nations shall never take place until Christ comes. Then, and not until then, shall the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Acts 15:14; Hab. 2:14)

Let us lay these things to heart, and remember them well. They are eminently truths for the present times. Let us learn to be moderate in our expectations from any existing machinery in the Church of Christ, and we shall be spared much disappointment. Let us make haste to spread the Gospel in the world, for the time is short, not long. The night comes when no man can work. Troublous times are ahead. Heresies and persecutions may soon weaken and distract the churches. A fierce war of principles may soon convulse the nations. The doors now open to do good may soon be shut forever. Our eyes may yet see the sun of Christianity go down like the sun of Judaism, in clouds and storms. Above all, let us long for our Lord’s return. Oh! for a heart to pray daily, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Kindle Edition)

$5 Fridays at Ligonier

Every Friday, Ligonier Ministries offers a selection of excellent resources from R.C. Sproul, Joel R. Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson and many other gifted Bible teachers for $5 each. These resources are fantastic gift to believers seeking to dig deeper in their faith. There are some fantastic deals this week, so check them out:

If There’s a God, Why are There Atheists by Dr. R.C. Sproul (Paperback)

Why do atheists believe in unbelief? R.C. Sproul demonstrates that atheists have a vested interest in denying the existence of God who claims moral authority over our lives. He turns the arguments of atheism upon itself. He shows how its underpinnings are fallacious, denying basic human assumptions that are undeniable. College students especially can benefit from hearing the Christian perspective on ideas many hear promoted daily in the classroom.

“This brief book successfully exposes the foolishness of unbelief, demonstrating that the giants of secular ‘theology’ are driven by their sinful hearts, rather than their open minds, just as Paul reminds us in Romans 1. Along the way, as with another more well known book by the same author we are shown the holiness of God, that we might not only believe, but worship.”
—R.C. Sproul Jr.

Preachers and Preaching by Dr. R.C. Sproul (Audio Download)

In this series, Dr. Sproul examines Martin Luther’s view of preachers and preaching, and demonstrates that Luther’s descriptions of a pastor and guidelines for preaching offer valuable instruction for the church today. As he discusses the qualifications of a pastor, including his spiritual gifts, knowledge, and doctrine, R.C. charges pastors, as faithful servants of the Word of God, to focus on nurturing their congregations not entertaining them. He reminds ministers of their high calling and discusses common snares that have damaged the effectiveness of preachers throughout the ages.

The Prince’s Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul (eBook download)

With The Prince’s Poison Cup, Dr. R. C. Sproul continues his series of books designed to present deep biblical truths to children on their own level. In this work, he focuses in on the atonement to show that Jesus had to endure the curse of sin in order to redeem His people from their spiritual death.

When Ella gets sick and has to take yucky medicine, she wonders why something that will help her get well has to taste so bad. When she puts the question to Grandpa, he tells her the story of a great King and His subjects who enjoyed wonderful times together—until the people rebelled against the King and drank from a forbidden well. To their horror, they found that the beautiful water in the well made their hearts turn to stone. To reclaim His people, the King asks His Son, the Prince, to drink from a well of horrid poison. The poison will surely kill the Prince—but He is willing to drink it to please His Father and help His people.

Richly illustrated, The Prince’s Poison Cup will help children appreciate the great love of God for His people and the awful price Jesus had to pay because of sin. A “For Parents” section provides assistance in unfolding the biblical elements of the story.

The Masculine Mandate: God’s Calling to Men by Rev. Richard D. Phillips (Hardcover)

There is a crying need in the church today for men to be men. But competing visions for what a man is to be —some growing out of popular culture and others arising from flawed teaching in the church—are exacerbating the problem.

Rev. Richard D. Phillips believes the problem and the inadequate solutions being put forward demand sound exegesis of biblical passages relating to masculinity. The Bible alone has the answer to what men are to be in the eyes of their Creator.

In this book, Rev. Phillips provides this essential exegesis and issues a call to reformation in the evangelical church’s attitude toward the role of men in the family, the church, and society.

Ligonier’s $5 Friday sale runs until 8 a.m. Eastern Time Saturday morning.

Note: This is not a paid post, however, I am part of Ligonier’s affiliate program. As such, I earn a small commission from purchases made through these links.

A Sign That Some Purging is in Order

The other day, a friend from my Friday morning men’s group gave us two bookshelves. This was a wonderful gift to us as we’ve been wanting to get some new shelves that are a bit sturdier than the ones we’ve had since our college days. Well, Thursday night after we secured them to the wall (Hannah would no doubt wind up pulling the things down on top of herself if we didn’t), I took the three boxes of books that had been sitting in the living room since we moved and put them on. Here’s the result:

Nine shelves out of 14—Full. And a solid half dozen boxes that are still waiting to be delivered to our house. Oh my…

(Good thing we didn’t get rid of the old shelves.)

Could it be that a purging is in order? Stay tuned…

3 Things I’m Looking Forward To About Our New Small Group

The ladies of our old small group (photo by my friend Roland)

For a number of years at our previous church, Emily and I led a small group. By and large, this was a great experience for us. It stretched us a ton, helped us build relationships with a number of great people (many of whom we’re still friends with today) and gave us an opportunity to discover some of our gifts. Two and a half years ago, just before we transitioned to Harvest, our group came to an end, and everyone went their separate ways.

Since then, we’d been considering the right time to get back into a small group, ideally thinking that we’d come in as members and maybe lead another group down the road if the need arose. Last week, a need arose, so we stepped up to the plate. We’re currently in the planning stages, figuring out what day and time we’ll meet and when exactly we’ll start, as well as reading through the training material (!) we’ve received, but here are three things I’m really looking forward to about starting our new small group:

1. Serving others. Because I’m naturally quite an extreme introvert, small groups really push me to get out of myself and serve other people both by opening our home up to new people and by being available to listen, speak and pray as needed.

2. Oversight and accountability. One of the things I love about Harvest’s model for small groups is there’s a high degree of accountability and oversight. The groups all (usually) study the same materials that is approved by the elders and pastoral staff, which is nice because it brings a level of cohesion to the church that just doesn’t exist when everyone is doing their own thing. This model also serves to guard the gates against the spread of false teaching. When our group begins, we’ll be studying When God’s People Pray by Jim Cymbala for about six weeks. I’ve not read anything by Cymbala, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s all about. The group leaders are also overseen by “flock leaders,” other members of the church who work to coach, support, correct and minister to leaders. This is especially important because too often leaders (if they’re not careful) can wind up sitting off on their own instead of truly being a part of the group.

3. Finding out who is going to be in our group. It’s going to be really neat to see who winds up in our group. One of the challenges of being a fast-growing church is that it gets a bit difficult to get to know a lot of people; I’m hopeful that our group will gel well and that anyone who is brand-new to the church will be able to develop some strong relationships.

So those are three of the things that I’m looking forward to about our new small group. I’m pretty excited to see what God does through this season.

Are you in a small group? If so, what do you appreciate most about your group?

Book Review: The Sacred Acre by Mark Tabb

I am  a huge biography fan; as much as I love learning about concepts and ideas, those ideas become so much more meaningful when they’re connected to a person. I am not, however, a huge football fan. In fact, sports in general have always baffled me. I just don’t get the appeal. So how did I end up reading The Sacred Acre: The Ed Thomas Story by Mark Tabb?

The simplest explanation is that I was just looking for something encouraging to read. And in reading about Thomas’ crucial role in Parkersburg’s recovery, his bold proclamation that the team’s field would be ready for the first home game of the 2008 season (100 days after the tornado), and the impact that Thomas had on so many former players (many of whom went on to play in the NFL), I got exactly that.

This is not a traditional biography, in that it doesn’t start with Thomas’ birth and end with his death, murdered at the hands of a mentally-ill former student in June of 2009. Tabb could have written that book, but I don’t know if it would have been nearly as compelling to read. Instead, he chooses to focus heavily on what turned out to be the last year of Thomas’ life, from the day of the tornado until his murder, peppering in relevant details about his background as he went. The result is a book that highlights Thomas’ character more than his just his accomplishments. And I think that’s what I appreciated most about the book because it made me care about this man who I’d never heard of until reading this book. [Read more...]

Bringing Back a Sense of Balance

Today’s post is by Nate Palmer. Nate is the author of Servanthood as Worship: The Privilege of Life in a Local Church (Cruciform Press, 2010). You can follow him on Twitter at @palmernate.

The 2008 US Presidential Election was the most reported-on election in history. According to the Pew Research Center, the election was the subject of one-third of all media stories (across all mediums) in 2008. Given the amount of fervor and energy for political news in a 24hr news cycle, imagine if the media stopped covering politics entirely once the election was over—not one single copyedit, blog post, commentary, or headline.

Of course, this scenario would never happen – it is absurd. The campaign is not more important than the actual execution of the office. Yet, Christians often treat Jesus Christ in a similar fashion. Christ’s Humiliation is often the focus of our Christian study at the expense of his exaltation. But as we learned last time, the exaltation of Jesus is a vital piece of the Gospel.

Christ himself provides the most compelling justification for the importance of his exaltation and its inclusion in his Gospel message. In response to some of his follower’s expressed dismay of his pending ascent into heaven, Jesus tells them, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)

The exaltation secures work of the Holy Spirit, who produces both the spiritual awakening of the unbeliever as well as the process of spiritual growth in the believer. From his Throne, Christ directs the Holy Spirit in building his church and sustaining his people (Hebrews 9:14). Without the Holy Spirit’s work, our hearts remain hardened and our eyes closed to the truth of Christ. For Jesus, his Gospel message was deficient with His exaltation.

Omitting both the ascension and session from the Gospel is to think of Jesus like an actor, who having performed heroically in the first act, now rests comfortably backstage awaiting his dramatic return at the end. Yet, Christ is not backstage nor is he resting. Instead, he is actively involved in building and sustaining God’s kingdom from the very throne of Heaven. John Calvin states, “Christ by rising again began to show forth his glory and power more fully. Yet he truly inaugurated his Kingdom only at his ascension into Heaven.”1 Christ now sits triumphantly on the heavenly throne, having defeated once and for all the power of sin and death, still working as the old hymn goes “to ever life and plead for me”. [Read more...]

Chosen to Holiness

The elect are called to holiness through the Spirit’s sanctifying work. Peter says this, affirming that sinful, depraved people cannot enter into the presence of a holy God and live a holy life unless God, through His Spirit, sanctifies them. Peter says the Spirit does this work of sanctification in those whom the Father elects. The original Greek here indicates that growth in holiness is an ongoing process rather than a one-time act. This ongoing work draws the elect to pursue holiness in dependence on the Spirit. So Peter says to believers later in this chapter, “As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:15).

In this, Peter refutes the greatest objection Arminians have about the doctrine of election. “If election is true, men can live as they please,” Arminians say. “Therefore election is a dangerous and demoralizing doctrine. If people glean their assurance in any way from election, their holy walk with God will be compromised.” Peter replies that the very purpose of election is to make men holy. God’s election does not destroy moral effort; rather, as Spurgeon notes, “God’s choice makes chosen men choice men.” And Thomas Watson says, “Sanctification is the earmark of Christ’s elect sheep.”

God wants to make His elect holy, for He has predestined them to be conformed to the image of His Son. No one can then say, “I am elect; therefore, I do not need to be Christlike.” Rather, as Peter implies, a believer should say, “Because I am elect, I cannot avoid being Christlike.” God’s elect cannot be at peace living in sin; they cannot live under sin’s domination (Rom. 6:11-14) or live counter to Christ and His will. If we are elect, God has committed all the fullness and glory of His resources to make us like His Son. As surely as God has determined to save the elect from eternity past and provided the cross of Calvary as the means of that salvation, so He has determined that the effects of that salvation will be holiness, even into eternity.1

Around the Interweb

How to Prepare for Hell – A “Just in Case” Letter to My Unbelieving Friends

Michael Patton offers a very thought-provoking and challenging letter to his unbelieving friends:

Now, I know what you are thinking. Don’t quit reading though. Hear me out. I am notnecessarily trying to evangelize you or make you love Jesus. I am trying to tell you how to prepare for hell. Just give me some slack here. Though what I am offering to you is still as far from heaven as the east is from the west, it may do some good. Though you do not believe in heaven or hell, you have to admit: you could be wrong. Yes, I admit, I could be wrong too. But if I am wrong, what awaits me? Eternal darkness? Nothingness? Fine and good. However, if you are wrong, something terrible is coming. I can’t prepare for nothingness. You can prepare for Hell. This is a “just in case you are wrong” letter.

You would do well to read it in its entirety; it’s excellent stuff.

Also Worth Reading

Elephant Room: James MacDonald—”Humble Pie—A HEARTY Meal

Ministry: Thinking Through Your Church’s Mercy Ministry

Interview: Darryl Dash interviews Dave Kraft, author of Leaders Who Last. Here’s the audio: :

Video: This is just awesome—

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Free Stuff: This month’s free audio book at is Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper (the Kindle edition is $2.99, if you’re a fan of cheap eBooks).

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Book Reviews:

A few highlights from week one of the Awaiting a Savior blog tour

More Than a Footnote (a guest post by Nate Palmer)

J.C. Ryle: Let Us Watch and Be On Our Guard

A.W. Pink: Sovereignly Placed Upon a Conditional Footing

(Cheap) Christian E-Books for Your Kindle!

Bloodlines: Racism in the 1960s American South

Via Crossway:

An exclusive video documentary featuring Pastor John Piper as he walks through his personal story of growing up in the segregated South. His personal story boldly champions the transforming power of the gospel and the beauty of racial diversity and harmony in Christ.

Let Us Watch and Be On Our Guard

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

—Matthew 24:3-14—

The first general lesson before us, is a warning against deception. The very first words of the discourse are, “Be careful that no one leads you astray.” A more needful warning than this cannot be conceived. Satan knows well the value of prophecy, and has ever labored to bring the subject into contempt. How many false Christs and false prophets arose before the destruction of Jerusalem, the works of Josephus abundantly prove. In how many ways the eyes of man are continually blinded in the present day, as to things to come, it might easily be shown. Irvingism and Mormonism have been only too successfully used as arguments for rejecting the whole doctrine of the second advent of Christ. Let us watch, and be on our guard.

Let no man deceive us as to the leading facts of unfulfilled prophecy, by telling us they are impossible–or as to the manner in which they will be brought to pass, by telling us it is improbable and contrary to past experience. Let no man deceive us as to the time when unfulfilled prophecies will be accomplished, either by fixing dates on the one hand, or bidding us wait for the conversion of the world on the other. On all these points let the plain meaning of Scripture be our only guide, and not the traditional interpretations of men. Let us not be ashamed to say that we expect a literal fulfillment of unfulfilled prophecy. Let us frankly allow that there are many things we do not understand, but still hold our ground tenaciously, believe much–wait long, and not doubt that all will one day be made clear. Above all, let us remember that the first coming of Messiah to suffer, was the most improbable event that could have been conceived, and let us not doubt that as He literally came in person to suffer, so He will literally come again in person to reign.

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Kindle Edition)