Looking at the Bible on Two Levels


When studying a biblical passage or preparing  sermon, I look at the passage I am studying on two different levels. The textual level which deals with the immediate text, and the covenantal level which deals with the big story of the Bible. This can also be called the canonical level, the theological level, or the redemptive-historical level. Whatever you call it, it involves placing the text in the great context of all of Scripture.

The textual level places the reader squarely in the text at hand and deals with the characters, dialogue, places, concepts, grammar, logic, etc of the immediate text. At this level, the interpreter looks at the immediate context and traces the narrative or the author’s flow of thought.

The covenantal level lifts the reader up to a higher altitude to see the larger picture of Scripture and how the current text fits into the grand narrative of the Bible’s story. This level deals less with grammar and syntax, and more with theology and context. This level will connect the interpreter with the cross in some way and perhaps more broadly, to creation and consummation.

For me, it is helpful to briefly consider the covenantal level first. This sets the Scripture in its larger context and allows me to see where we’ve been and where we are heading and how this passage relates to the big motifs of Scripture. Second, I look in detail at the textual level, considering only what is at hand. This allows me to see how the various elements of the passage work together to tell a story that stands on its own. Third, I zoom back out after gleaning all the immediate passage has to offer and see how these newly discovered insights further relate to the rest of Scripture.


Must-Read: Let the Nations Be Glad


John Piper’s bolet-nations-be-gladok Let the Nations Be Glad was a personally challenging and devotionally rich reading experience. It caused me to think about missions in a way I had not done previously. While I was familiar with Piper’s main argument, it was an enriching experience to read the book for myself and to see the biblical and theological basis for the supremacy of God in mission. There was much I agreed with, much that challenged me, and some will require further reflection.

Piper’s main argument is that God must be supreme as the focus and motivation for Christian missions. Piper states that missions is not the ultimate concern for the church but rather worship is the ultimate concern. “Missions exist because worship doesn’t” appears several times throughout Piper’s book. This is a new way of thinking about missions and is a theologically faithful way to think about the Great Commission with which we are entrusted.

It is common to think of lost people or unreached people as the motivation and focus of missions. While it is certainly not wrong to be concerned for lost people (Piper makes this clear in chapter six), it is incorrect to make this the first concern. The glory of God among the nations is the ultimate goal. Yes, we certainly rejoice when a person is saved from the wrath of God in hell, but we are to look beyond that to the glory which results when peoples of the earth worship God.

This emphasis also has practical benefit. We have been prone to concern ourselves with conversions and professions of faith without going the distance with discipleship of those coming to Christ. If we see the worship of God being offered by those who do not yet know Him as the ultimate goal, this will drive our missions beyond acquiring professions of faith. We will continue discipling until the fruit of worship blossoms in those to whom we have preached. We will fulfill the Great Commission not it part, but in full.

Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper was a challenging read that pricked my heart concerning more than a few areas. I have read no other book in which the author places his finger on the nerve of missions urgency and presses until the reader is made uncomfortable. This will be a recommended resource for years to come.

High Points of the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention


Katrina and I had a great time at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis this year. This year’s meeting was exceptional in many ways. Here are some highlights from our experience.



The 2016 Pastor’s Conference began Sunday night and continued all-day Monday. We were privileged to hear some challenging sermons by some great speakers. The Pastor’s Conference theme this year was “Live This.” Dave Miller, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa was elected as 2017 Pastor’s Conference president and he is seeking to utilize pastors from smaller SBC churches who focus on expository preaching for next year’s conference speakers. I am looking forward to next year’s pastor’s conference and hearing biblical exposition from some faithful pastors.


Dr. Ronnie Floyd delivered a challenging message as president of the Southern Baptist Convention and challenged Southern Baptists particularly on the issue of racial reconciliation. This was followed by a panel on racial reconciliation by a number of Baptist leaders. One step forward in this area came in the passing of Resolution 7 which dealt with Southern Baptist’s use and display of the Confederate flag. This is a bold step forward for racial reconciliation for Southern Baptists. I encourage you to listen to Dr. James Merritt’s defense of Resolution 7:


Another important moment was Russell Moore’s defense of religious liberty for all Americans. Following his report as President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Dr. Moore was challenged by a pastor and messenger from Arkansas to explain why Southern Baptist support religious liberty for Muslims. His answer was perfect: 


Golden Gate Theological Baptist Seminary has officially changed its name to the Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. This name change coincides with their recent relocation to Ontario, California. I am encouraged by all of our seminaries as they are conservative and healthy. We should never take this for granted, for it was not long ago that some of our seminaries were teaching liberal theology and denying the gospel message. I am thankful for this generation of biblically faithful scholarship in the training institutions of our Southern Baptist churches.


In what was perhaps the strangest SBC presidential election ever, Dr. Steve Gaines, successor to Adrian Rogers at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, was elected SBC president. There were three initial candidates: Steve Gaines, J.D. Greear from North Carolina, and David Crosby from New Orleans. The first round of voting involved three candidates with no candidate receiving a majority. The second vote was a runoff between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear. The vote was so close and there were enough illegal ballots that neither got a majority during the second vote. Before the third vote, however, J.D. Greear graciously withdrew his candidacy and Gaines was elected by acclamation. You can see the historic moment here: 


This was an historic annual meeting for Southern Baptists in a number of ways and I’m sure we have yet to see the significance of all that was accomplished this year. I am glad to serve a denomination that despite all its divisions and imperfections manages to move forward in a way that is faithful to God and in step with the times.


Church Revitalization Assessment


Does your church need revitalization? Many established churches find themselves in need of some sort of revitalization upon objective evaluation. Sadly, most church members and leaders are often blind to unhealthy practices and attitudes because they have been used to them for so long. It is like getting used to an odor in your home (or church!) that has been there for years, but when a newcomer arrives, it is the first thing they notice. Here are some areas to assess when determining where church revitalization is needed in your church:


  • Strategic location – is the church situated for maximum evangelistic reach? Is there significant lostness in the community?
  • Adequate facilities – are the facilities suitable for the church to achieve its purpose? Are they well-maintained?
  • Financial stability – Does the church budget reflect the mission of the church, or is the budget disproportionate to the stated mission of the church? Are the finances being managed properly?


  • Objective and fair-minded – Are the members receptive to the Word like the Bereans of Acts 17:11? Or are they bound to sentimentalism and traditionalism?
  • Culturally sensitive – Does the church have a realistic conception of the unchurched world, especially their own community? Or are they so internally-focused that they have ignored their missional context?
  • Admit need of revitalization – Does the church recognize where they need help, or are they deluded into thinking they are healthier than they are in reality (Rev. 3:15-18)?
  • Missions-minded – Is the church in mission-mode or maintenance-mode? Surviving or thriving?
  • Optimistic and realistic – Is the church more positive or negative in their outlook? If positive, is their optimism based in reality or delusion?
  • Few traditionalist anchors – What are the sacred cows? How many of them? How non-negotiable are they?
  • Congregational Unity – Is everyone pulling in the same direction? Or are there opposing factions within the church?


  • Efficient and effective organization – What is the church’s internal processes and are they efficient?
  • Competent and capable leadership – What type of leadership? Deacons or elders? Whoever they are, are they fit to lead? Can they be led?
  • Corporate vision – Does the church have a biblical, working vision? Is it part of the DNA of the church? Could a lay-person communicate the church’s vision?
  • Millennial presence – What percentage of millennials comprise the membership? The leadership? `


  • Blended worship – Are the songs theologically substantive? Performed with excellence? Diverse in style?
  • International and domestic missions – How is the church currently fulfilling the Great Commission?
  • Effective evangelism – Does the church have an evangelism strategy? Are they utilizing it? Is it effective?
  • Healthy Sunday school – Does the church have a thriving discipleship ministry? What is Sunday school attendance compared to worship?
  • Good reputation in community – Does the community have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the church? Why?
  • Diverse demographics – Is the church reaching all the various sorts of people in the community? Does the church look like the community?

Nine Truths About Biblical Eschatology

Eschatology is the study of “last things.” From “eschaton” meaning “last.” Eschatology is the belief system about how God will bring the present age to an end and what will occur in the next age or ages and the nature of the final and eternal order of the cosmos. The Bible has much to say about eschatology or “last things” in both Old and New Testaments and in nearly every book of the Bible. Our eschatalogical view should be informed by and deal comprehensively with the entire biblical revelation concerning last things.
Our view of Scripture will naturally affect how we develop and understand eschatology. Any interpretation of last things that is borne from a low or liberal view of Scripture that does not affirm the full inerrancy of Scripture must be denied. Even within evangelicalism, however, there are multiple perspectives that can be broadly classified in four major views: amillenialism, historic premillenialism, dispensational premillenialism, and postmillenialism. These views can be broken down into even more nuanced positions, but these four categories pretty well cover the gamut.
Here are certain affirmations about eschatology that are foundational to our study whatever our position:
1. Eschatology is the study of “last things” including the consumation of this present evil age, the inauguration of the next age/ages, the nature of the next age/ages, and the nature of the final, eternal state of the cosmos, and the end of both the righteous and the wicked.
2. Our eschatology should be developed from a high view of Scripture and the full inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.
3. We must affirm the truthfulness and the inevitable fulfillment of every prophetic passage, however we interpret them.
4. Our eschatology should not have any “parts left over.” Every prophetic passage must be dealt with.
5. Our eschatological view must be informed by all passages pertaining to last things. We should not omit difficult or challenging passages from our study of this matter.
6. It is profitable and beneficial to set aside preconceived concepts and beliefs about eschatology and simply allow the Word of God to speak to us afresh.
7. Place yourself under the text, not over it. That is, allow the Word to rule and teach us, rather than sitting in judgment of the Word and making it agree with us.
8. Be faithful to wrestle with and embrace whatever conclusions that are drawn from the Scripture, no matter how difficult or challenging.
9. Subjects entailed in biblical eschatology: Israel, Antichrist, Millenium, Tribulation, Rapture, Resurrection, Judgment, Heaven, Hell, New Heavens and Earth, Glorification, Wrath of God, and of course, the Second Coming of Christ.

Four Ways Pastors Can Make VBS a Success


I love Vacation Bible School. I served as VBS Director at my home church before I became a pastor. It was hard work, but I loved it. As a pastor I loved VBS because I saw the church doing ministry and evangelism and I saw the gospel being shared with children in our community. Several of whom I was privileged to baptize! Here are some ways pastors can enhance their church’s VBS.


photo credit: Adam4d.com


The pastor sets the excitement level for the church. If you’re excited, let it show! If you’re not excited, get excited. In the weeks approaching, integrate VBS into your sermon application. Preaching on evangelism? Highlight VBS as a time to share the gospel. Prayer? Call people to pray for VBS. Consider having a VBS promotion Sunday where you pray over the workers and use some of the music. Maybe even preach the VBS theme verse.


Host an evangelism training event before VBS. Whatever evangelism method your church decides to use, make sure your workers are trained properly to share. Failing to plan for evangelism is planning to fail.

You could also consider teaching the VBS lessons in a five-week series on Wednesdays prior to VBS. Your teaching the subject matter to your VBS teachers could help them teach the material more faithfully themselves.


Set up an information booth for your church which contains membership information, upcoming events, new sermon series, a FAQ about the church and its ministries.

Have a specified child pick-up station for parents. Station your friendliest faces here to connect with families through VBS.

And don’t forget to have fun with the kids!


This is where most churches drop the ball. After all the preparation and execution of VBS, most people are ready to go on vacation and forget about it till next year! Host a worker appreciation party or banquet banquet on a Sunday night a week after VBS. Make if fun, let people unwind, share success stories about this year’s event, and THEN… talk about follow-up.

Use VBS as a funnel into Sunday School. Maintain an enrollment list and have Sunday School teachers follow up prospects in their age group. Make baptism, membership, and Sunday school enrollment a priority for those who have made professions of faith.


Books I Read in 2015


Here are the books I read in 2015 in addition to my Bible reading from the English Standard Version and the Greek New Testament.

  • Reading the Gospels Wisely, by Jonathan T. Pennington
  • Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher, by R.T. France
  • Studies in Matthew, by Dale C. Allison, Jr.
  • Matthew 1-7: Volume 1, International Critical Commentary, by Dale C. Allison, Jr.
  • Matthew 8-18: Volume 2, International Critical Commentary, by Dale C. Allison, Jr.
  • Matthew 19-28: Volume 3, International Critical Commentary, by Dale C. Allison, Jr.
  • The Apocrypha, English Standard Version
  • The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume 1, by James H. Charlesworth
  • The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume 2, by James H. Charlesworth
  • Jesus the Sage, by Ben Witherington III
  • Wisdom, Christology, and Law in Matthew’s Gospel, by M. Jack Suggs
  • Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Guide, by J.J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow
  • Introducing the Apocrypha, by David A. DeSilva
  • The Apocrypha Oxford Bible Commentary, by Martin Goodman, John Barton, and John Muddiman
  • Can These Bones Live? by Bill Henard
  • The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson
  • Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond by Nijay K. Gupta
  • New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide by David Allan Black
  • Reading Romans in Context by Ben C. Blackwell, John R. Goodrich, and Jason Maston
  • 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law by Thomas R. Schreiner
  • Romans (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) by Thomas R. Schreiner
  • The Trinitarian Controversy, by William G. Rusch
  • Confessions, by St. Augustine
  • Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, by Steven E. Runge
  • The Language of the New Testament, by Eugene Van Ness Goetchius
  • Advances in the Study of Greek, by Constantine R. Campbell
  • Basics of Biblical Greek, William D. Mounce
  • The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor, by John Piper and D.A. Carson
  • The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation, by Andreas J. Kostenberger
  • Is There a Doctor in the House: An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Biblical Scholar, by Ben Witherington III
  • Praying the Bible, by Donald S. Whitney
  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert T. Kiyosaki
  • How to Win at the Sport of Business, by Mark Cuban

God Has Not Called Us to Be Silent… or Vague


“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t know where this saying came from, but many of us have heard it as children and probably shared it (or at least wanted to share it) with others. I generally like to keep things positive online, sharing something funny or helpful or posting something from my studies. However, lately I’ve spoken out quite a great deal about the recent issues that are bombarding us from every media outlet: the gay marriage SCOTUS ruling, Bruce Jenner, and most recently, Planned Parenthood. I know that people generally would rather read positive, encouraging things on Facebook. I certainly get more likes and comments when I share “nice” things online. I’ve even been unfriended for the things I choose to say and share (this isn’t persecution, by the way). So why so serious? I’m glad you asked.

There are generally two extreme responses from the church concerning these kinds of issues and I’m sympathetic to both to a degree. One is to become angry and use the pulpit as a sounding board against the evils of society. This approach does little good. It generally abandons any Great Commission emphasis and only serves to calcify those already convinced of their view. It is a blowing-off of steam that accomplishes next to nothing. The other response is one of minimalizing at best and ignorance and avoidance at worst.

Many churches and pastors have reacted against the political activist response to the point that they don’t even want to deal with issues that are perceived as “political.” I get it. I really do. However, evil is evil, even if it has political baggage. Sometimes the refusal to speak to these issues comes from a less conscientious motivation. Some churches heavily rely on corporate excitement and momentum. Calling gay marriage a sin harshes the mellow. Demonstrating the evil of abortion doesn’t generate excitement. The pastors that lead such churches generally try to connect with their congregation with an abundance of funny stories and culturally relevant illustrations and it would be difficult to tackle these issues in their typical manner. Such churches and leaders will typically shy away from cultural issues because they want to remain “true to the mission” or they want people to “know what we’re for, not what we’re against.”

We expository preachers don’t get a pass here, either. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book or a through a large section of Scripture is in my opinion, the most faithful way for a pastor to preach to a congregation. However, it is sometimes easy for us to continue in our exposition on Psalm 23 rather than prepare a specific sermon for such a time as this. We boast that expository preaching declares the whole counsel of God, but “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Sometimes, it’s just time to speak specifically to what is at hand. Also, it is difficult to sufficiently tackle contemporary issues with a strict verse-by-verse model. There are no texts specifically on abortion or about internet pornography. Sometimes these sermons have to be crafted with special care.

But why tackle these issues? Why not remain true to the mission and not get involved in politics? Shouldn’t we just try to win people and stop ostracizing and polarizing with our political stances? First, let me say that marriage and sanctity of life were theological and moral issues long before they became politicized. The fact is, we aren’t invading the government’s territory, the government is encroaching on the church’s territory. I’m all for less political involvement by the church, but sin is sin and the truth is the truth. This isn’t a partisan issue, it is a gospel issue.

Secondly, we have a responsibility to speak concerning these issues. John Piper recently tweeted “They weren’t martyred because they were vague.” I love this. John the Baptist baptized thousands in the river Jordan. He called individuals to repentance and was beginning a spiritual revolution that was upsetting all of Judea. But it wasn’t until his message of repentance got very specific toward Herod’s unlawful marriage that he was imprisoned and subsequently beheaded. We have a responsibility to serve as a prophetic voice to the culture around us. If the church does not set forth God’s perspective on the issues at hand, who will? We also have a responsibility to serve as a voice of perspective to the congregations that God has entrusted to us as pastors. Any Christian minister that has not provided his congregation with a biblical perspective on these issues in light of the times is not a faithful minister and is more concerned with the bodies in the pews than the souls in his care. Those who sit in the pews not only need assurance of the truthfulness of Scripture and what Scripture says to these issues, but they also need help to process what is happening around them from a biblical perspective without erring into panic or apathy.

May God grant us as pastors and believers in the inevitably difficult days ahead of us to speak with prophetic voice both to the opponents of truth and to the believers reeling from the many voices on both sides of the argument. May we not lose sight of the Great Commission and may we commit to evangelism and missions with a laser focus, knowing that we are calling people to repent and abandon the sin and philosophy of this present world order.



Same-Sex Marriage Resources for Churches and Pastors


Screenshot 2015-07-12 17.44.27

Since the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, I’ve been trying to gather as many helpful resources as I can find for churches and pastors. I’ve gathered these to share with the pastors of the Union Association of Baptists where I serve as Director of Missions, but I realize that other pastors and churches would find these useful as well. Please feel free to share these with other pastors and churches who will benefit from this information.