Got a blog? Like to review books?
If you said yes and yes, you will want to check out the Blogger Review Program at Moody Press.
Got a blog? Like to review books?
If you said yes and yes, you will want to check out the Blogger Review Program at Moody Press.
This is Part 3 in a series running every Monday. Details at the bottom of the post.
I first met Steve Rahn and his wife Denise in Maine during the 2011 LEAD Conference and got to know their story a little bit. What struck me at first was that this sweet, quiet couple was planting a church in a hardscrabble, not-so-sweet area outside of Boston. Brockton, Mass. is not easy soil. And Steve was doing things The Way You’re Not Supposed To Do It. He basically hung a church sign up, started a service, and started pounding the pavement, handing out granola bars to people on the streets and telling them about Jesus. And God started blessing their ministry. (In New England, the cookie cutter church planting rules rarely apply.) This past spring, Steve’s church — Grace Church Brockton — hosted a Gospel Wakefulness Conference, and my wife Becky and I got to spend more quality time with Steve, Denise, and their lovely little girls. Steve’s heart is for Christ and his gospel, which means it is for hardened souls in a hardened area. I’m honored to call him a friend and brother. I pray God will continue prospering his mission, and I hope you will profit from hearing more from him below.
Where are you from and how did you come to faith in Christ?
I grew up in Lansing, MI. I came to faith in Christ at a young age—probably 6 or 7. I actually remember very little about what it was like before I was converted. God used a few really long discussions between me and my mother to bring me to faith in Jesus.
How did you know you were called into pastoral ministry?
I actually wasn’t sure I was called to be a pastor until about a year into pastoral ministry! I thought maybe I was called to ministry during my college years, maybe even a little before, but I pushed back against that call for quite a while. A church that ran a Christian school in NC hired me as a school teacher after I graduated college. After one year at the school, the church asked me to serve as youth pastor. I agreed and about a year into that role I realized just how completely out of my depth I was. Out of sheer desperate need I began to study theology and pastoral ministry in a way that I had never done before. It was during that time that God began to grow in me a much deeper understanding of the gospel and of the call to proclaim that gospel. It was also during that time that He cemented in my heart a deep, unequivocal call to pastor ministry.
My next book is called Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus. At this moment, Amazon is offering it for preorder at $7.91. That’s 51% off the cover price. I have no idea how long that price will last, but if you’re so inclined to purchase it, this might be a good time to do so.
Thanks for forgiving this shameless self-promotion. I do try to keep such things to a minimum on the blog.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
– Philippians 3:12-16
The beginning of this passage affirms that what has been attained was not by Paul’s causal effort but Jesus’s causal effort. And the passage ends with Paul saying, “Let’s hold to what we’ve already got.”
“Not that I have already made it my own; Jesus has made me his own.”
“Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
We don’t graduate from the gospel. We hold true to it. And it alone propels us out and empowers us to press on. Grace-driven effort flows from the joys and wonders of worship that flow from beholding the amazing gospel of God’s grace.
Were this true in you, the sin in you would become your enemy. Do you profess Christ? Have you received Christ? Then, “Don’t just avoid sin; hate it” (Ed Welch). Be as intentional with your sin as Christ was. Carrying the banner of the gospel, which declares Christ’s conquering of sin and death, make bloodthirsty war with the sin in you. Watch for it, search it out, assassinate it with the word of God. Arm yourself with Spiritual armor, put on Christ, and spare no sin you find. Kill it, even as you trust the Spirit is killing it on your behalf. Because he is. And if he is, you should be too.
You won’t drift into holiness. The Spirit will take you there. But God uses means to achieve his ends, and his earthly means of Spiritually sanctifying you is your pursuit of the righteousness of Christ. That we are “being transformed” is a promise; that we should “be transformed” is a command (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 12:2). This Spiritual tension causes Walter Marshall to affirm in The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, his classic work affirming that grace is not only the grounds of our justification but our sanctification as well, that the reader must “endeavour diligently to make right use of all means appointed in the word of God, for the obtaining and practising holiness.”
This is an excerpt from my book Gospel Wakefulness (pp. 140-141).
From a fantastic little book, The Bookends of the Christian Life, by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington:
[A] little-known seventeenth-century Puritan, Thomas Wilcox . . . wrote Honey Out of the Rock, one of the most helpful essays we’ve found on dealing with persistent guilt. We’ve updated into modern language a series of Wilcox’s instructions for dealing with persistent guilt:
- Shift your focus away from your sin and onto Christ: don’t persist in looking upon sin; look upon Christ instead, and don’t look away from him for a moment. When we see our guilt, if we don’t see Christ in the scene, away with it! In all our storms of conscience, we must look at Christ exclusively and continually.
– Shift your focus to Christ, our mediator. If we’re so discouraged we cannot pray, then we must see Christ praying for us (Romans 8:34), using his influence with the Father on our behalf. What better news could we ever want than to know Jesus Christ — the Son of God, co-creator of the Universe — is addressing the Father on our behalf?
– Shift your focus to Christ crucified, risen, and ascended. When guilt persists, remember where Jesus is and where he’s been. He has been upon the cross, where he spoiled all that can ruin us. He’s now upon the throne of heaven, as our advocate and mediator. His state in glory doesn’t make him neglectful or scornful of the guilty sinners he died to redeem. He has the same heart now in heaven as he had upon the cross.
- Shift your focus to the glory of Christ. If guilt still persists, remember that he pardons for his own name’s sake (Isaiah 43:25; Ezekiel 36:22; 1 John 2:12), because in pardoning us he’ll make us living monuments of the glory of the grace he purchased. It’s Christ’s own happiness to pardon, so he does. By embracing this truth, even the most desperate sinner’s conscience can rest absolutely assured.
- Shift your focus off of self-condemnation. When our conscience relentlessly condemns us, remember that Christ will have the last word. He is judge of the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5) and only he can pronounce the final sentence. Christ is the judge — not us or our conscience. So never for a moment dare to take the judge’s place by proclaiming irreparable guilt when he proclaims hope, grace, and pardon. If we think our sin is too great to be pardoned, remember that Christ doesn’t agree.
- Shift your focus off of self-contempt. If we’re focused on hating ourselves, realize that we’re focused on ourselves and not on him. Self-contempt is a subtle form of self-centeredness, which is the opposite of Christ-centeredness. Unless our self-contempt makes us look more at the righteousness of Christ and the cross of Christ and less at ourselves, the whole endeavor leads to death. Let our sin break our hearts but not our hope in the gospel.
Is it an orientation? Or a choice?
I remember walking into an adult bookstore for the first time. (This was before high speed internet connections were common and you could get the crack delivered to your home in 5 seconds or less.) I wanted to be there; and yet I didn’t. I was trembling inside and a little bit outside. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it. I was driven there by a compulsion — to see things I shouldn’t see, to get things I shouldn’t have, to know things I shouldn’t know. There are sections inside an adult video store; I hope you didn’t know that. Some repulsed me. Can you imagine that? Walking around a porno store and avoiding the “gross” stuff? As if it wasn’t all disgusting? I knew I should not have been there but I wanted to be. Everything inside of me said it was wrong, and everything inside of me said it would be okay. Just push through, get what you want, and get out.
Before you become numb to this battle and stop fighting it you must go through it. Was I in that store by my orientation? Absolutely. Was I in that store by my choice? Yes. And when I put Genesis 3 (“Did God actually say…?”) together with Romans 7, I see why I believed it was ultimately better at the time to feel good doing what I wanted instead of suffering the internal agony of not being who I was. It felt so much better to give in than to fight. Which is why so many porn users don’t fight it at all. The porn promises release. The abstinence promises pain. And then there’s this voice saying, “The pain means you shouldn’t be trying to change who you are.”
But there’s nothing else in me God wants to change except who I am. And this comes through the cross — Christ’s cross becoming my cross. What is better? To be warring all the life in Romans 7, denying urges and not feeling good inside, or doing what we feel is right simply because it feels good, better? One voice answers the latter, and it strokes the ear. The other strikes terror sometimes — okay, many times — but it takes us from Romans 7 to Romans 8.
Don’t believe the lie that struggling always to obey God is a worse lot in life than disobeying him with peace. God did not make us to “feel good inside” (or outside) all the time this side of heaven; he made us to share in the sufferings of Christ, that we might share in his resurrection. And the reality is, for many, the resurrection kind of life in these areas of death isn’t always postponed to the life to come. But you won’t know that until you’re willing to go to the cross for as long as it takes to die.
I don’t know what Kevin is talking about. This is what sermon prep looks like.
Monday AM – Day off. Hike to the waterfall with a mug of coffee and Bible. Hear from the Lord.
Tuesday AM – Coffee shop. Arc the passage in a moleskine to the sweet, sweet sounds of Bon Iver.
Tuesday PM – After all that hard work, spend afternoon in deep
Wednesday AM – Staff meetings are for suckers. Hand out git’r'done lists to deacons. Give people funny face when they ask you what you do all day. Dictate sermon notes to Siri.
Wednesday PM – Listen to a bazillion podcasts. Think, “Amateurs.”
Thursday AM – Take notes, notebook, Bible, and open laptop. Receive word from on high. (It’s from on high when the light gets brighter and an angelic chorus is singing. Anything else is probably a bad burrito.) Sermon is done, yo.
Thursday PM – Open up some commentaries on your passage to see what they got wrong.
Friday/Saturday – Windsurfing, or, you know, whatever.
Sunday 10:45 AM – Preach.
Sunday 11:15 AM – “Awe comes down.”
Sunday 11:45 AM – Shake hands with the people who can find you through the shekinah glory.
Sunday PM – Start reading through all the emails of thankfulness for your excellent sermon.
Monday AM – Day off. Wake refreshed and rested and ready to do it all again. Isn’t preaching awesome?
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.
– 2 Corinthians 6:11-13
An open mind — if by that we mean a discerning mind that tests all things and clings to what is good — is a very good thing. But it must be partners with an open heart. A wide open heart. An open heart is much preferable to what the world considers an “open mind.” The point of an open mind, like an open mouth — paraphrasing Chesterton here, I think — is to shut it again on something solid. Or, if you prefer Steve Taylor, don’t be so open-minded that your brain leaks out. If our mind is closed in the right way, shut on the solid things of Scripture, an open heart makes a lot of difference.
What does an open heart look like? It probably doesn’t wear its feelings on its sleeves, but is certainly transparent in its dispositions. An open heart has developed a thick skin but remains tenderhearted. Funny how that works.
An open heart feels no compulsion to self-protect or put on airs. An open heart sees no advantage in putting up a facade. An open heart knows it is hidden with Christ in God, so there is nothing left to hide. An open heart bleeds out grace. An open heart is generous with its affections. An open heart is missional with its passions. An open heart is hospitable to the joys and pains of others. It rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep. An open heart sits across the table from another open heart and does not check its watch.
An open heart feels the circumstances it finds itself in but, inhabited by the Holy Spirit, is tuned to the deeper frequency of the gospel’s indomitable joy.
An heart wide open speaks freely — and love comes out.
At the end of every Middletown Springs worship service, after we’ve corporately prayed a blessing over our community and sung The Doxology, I dismiss my congregation with these words: “I love you.” Why? Well, because I love my church! I look at them and I can’t help saying it. But I make it a discipline to say “I love you” so they know it’s okay to say such things to people who aren’t children or spouses, so they know their pastor — who might have been challenging them or even rebuking them in the midst of proclaiming the gospel to them — is doing so out of love, and so they will have a reference point for the freeness I feel to cry, laugh, walk around, yell, whisper, and all the other sorts of things that may be involved in exulting in the Scriptures. Over the last year or so, I’ve started to hear the call back “We love you too” from a few corners. They are widening their hearts also.
This is Part 2 in a series running every Monday. Details at the bottom of the post.
Roland Mitcheson is what one would call the “pastor emeritus” of Middletown Springs Community Church, the church I pastor in Vermont. His retirement opened up the opportunity for my family’s coming to New England. Pastor Roland is a fascinating guy, full of truth and wisdom. He’s one of the most evangelistic men I’ve ever met. Recently in the hospital for surgery, he spent most of his waking time there talking to anybody who’d listen to him about Jesus. And he is constantly doing this. Roland may have retired from vocational ministry but he has not stopped ministering one second. A lot of people ask what it’s like to have the pastor who preceded me remain in the church, and I have to confess it has been a great joy. Roland and his wife Betsy are two of the sweetest, gentlest, and wisest people we are privileged to know. Roland still ministers through our church by providing pulpit supply for area churches, leading the monthly community men’s breakfast and the weekly Sunday evening church prayer meeting, as well as frequently providing offertory music. (He is an accomplished pianist.) And Betsy leads our church’s Operation Christmas Child ministry and other “crafty” service projects. The two of them are frequent visitors of our shut-ins and nursing home residents, and they also lead our annual Vocation Bible School, a unique twist on the traditional vacation Bible school format. Roland is also an elder candidate. I can assure that his assessment process went a little differently than the other guys’! So you can see what an asset he is and they are to our church. And to me. Middletown Springs Church is a very unique community, full of graciousness and the sweetness of the Spirit. This is owed a lot to a decade of Roland’s shepherding. I love Pastor Roland and I’m glad to share some of his remarkable story with you.
Where were you born and raised and how did you come to faith in Christ?
I was born at a very early age in Stockton-on-Tees in the north of England! WW2 started when I was about 3, and Stockton was not too far away from ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) where my Father worked. This was one of the targets of the bombing raids and although we didn’t get hurt, my older sisters and I were taken to a concrete air raid shelter in our yard and joined by one or two neighbors where we became familiar with the drone of Heinkels and Messerschmitts and occasionally the whistle of a “doodlebug” (pilotless robotic plane) of the V1 or V2 variety.
Three times each Sunday we would walk the mile or so to attend the Plymouth Brethren Assembly for morning Worship, Sunday school and Evening Service.
One thing which sticks in my mind during the war years was the singing in German of the familiar hymns by German prisoners of war who were transported on a double-decker bus to the Sunday evening service from the nearby POW camp. One of our elders – an official of a large steel corporation – and his son, both spoke fluent German and preached to the men.
Coming to faith in Christ often involves several steps or links in the chain, and in those formative years these included my Mother going through the Pilgrim’s Progress with my sisters and me each evening, using a pictorial chart. A chart which I saw about fifty years later, incidentally, hanging in the print shop of the “Africa Inland Mission” headquarters in New Jersey.
Another link was a large scroll painted on the front wall of our meeting hall which read “Ye call Me Master and Lord, and Ye say well, for so I am!” John 13:13. I had often drawn that scroll while I sat in the pew but I realized one day that I couldn’t really call Him my Master and Lord in the same way my sisters and parents could.
Another link was when we had a visiting missionary from Jamaica called Harold Wildish – a man who could communicate with children through his vivid Illustrations of the Gospel. Interestingly, I came across a book about 60 years later that this beloved servant of God had written.
These links brought both an initial response to the Lord as I received Him into my heart, and helped me through my doubts. When we moved to the city of Birmingham in 1947 I was baptized as a believer and, with my sister and a friend, we got a pile of those old sixteen inch US radio transcription discs from “The Old Fashioned Revival Hour”, “Revivaltime,” “Showers of Blessing,” and “The Baptist Hour” and played these in nursing homes and hospitals.
When did you know God was calling you into the ministry, and what was your Early ministry like?
I believe the Lord is preparing us for ministry long before we ever realize it. My conscription into the RAF in Malta laid some of the groundwork as I wrestled with the temptations of youth, but also had opportunities to share one-on-one with other guys. I suppose you could say I was like Israel in the desert — facing both ways. Looking forward to the promised land, but looking back to the melons and pomegranates of Egypt. Interestingly enough, I recently got back in touch with six other guys I served with in Malta and we e-mail back and forth to New Zealand, Scotland, and England.
During my time in the RAF I got to travel some of the route Paul took from St.Paul’s Bay in Malta to Syracuse, the Straits of Messina, The Appian Way and Up to Rome. After my service time, I took a job in London and started attending Duke Street Baptist Church in Richmond .My Pastor there was Stephen Olford and he became a good mentor to me and challenged me to think biblically and to set my sights on future ministry. Stephen’s successor was John L. Bird, and it was during his ministry that the call on my life became clearer and more urgent. I can remember sitting in the choir facing the congregation and — although being a rather stoic Englishman — the tears would stream down my cheeks as I felt every message and song was directed at me.
“The devil had, as it were, swallowed up Christ, as the whale did Jonah — but it was deadly poison to him, he gave him a mortal wound in his own bowels. He was soon sick of his morsel, and was forced to do by him as the whale did by Jonah. To this day he is heart-sick of what he then swallowed as his prey.”
– Jonathan Edwards, The Excellency of Christ
Sick to death, the devil is.