Glorifying God, Proclaiming the Gospel, Transforming Lives

The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

The World is Not Enough: A Meditation on John 21:25

Apr 13th, 2014 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

books

The largest library in the world is the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. It’s described officially as the research library of Congress, but in reality it serves as the official national library of the United States. It was founded in 1800, and was famously kick-started by a generous donation from the personal library of Thomas Jefferson. Today, it is estimated that its holdings include over 32,000,000 print holdings spread out over eight buildings, not including the audio, visual, or online content.

Let’s put that in a little perspective. The Library of Congress contains around 838 miles of bookshelves. If you read one book a day from the library’s holdings, it would take you over 60,000 years to read everything.

That’s a lot of books.

And I really do love books. Books are for a pastor what nails are for a carpenter. We have to be continually learning and studying if we are to be faithful shepherds who feed the sheep placed under our care. So we have to stay abreast of biblical and theological studies. We have to be constant students of the Bible. We have to be aware of the issues that our people will face as they seek to live out the gospel. We are leaders, and therefore we have to be readers.

Last week I was able to attend a conference in Louisville, Kentucky that is a pastor and booklover’s dream-come-true. Not only did Together for the Gospel provide great, soul-nourishing preaching, but it also provided books to those who attended. Between a pre-conference event (Band of Bloggers) and the conference itself, I walked away with a stack of free books that was almost as tall as I am.

That made me happy. Have I mentioned before that I love books? If you walk in my office you see books. If you come in my home you see stacks and shelves of books. If ever there was a bibliophile, I am certainly one. But enough about me, there really is a bigger point I want to make. One of the reasons I love books is not simply the enjoyment of their covers, the feel of the pages, or the pleasure of getting lost in reading.

A stack of books staggers me with the greatness of Jesus. A bookstore amazes me with the bigness of Jesus. A library shocks me with how big and good Jesus really is.

Does that sound strange?

Well it shouldn’t.

The Apostle John wrote the Gospel that is named after him. If you’ve read it, you know that it differs considerably from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Apparently it was the last Gospel to be written, and John, as an eyewitness and a member of Jesus’ inner-circle, wanted to make sure his narrative included some of the stories that the other authors had left out of their accounts. So John gives us a behind-the-scenes look at some of the amazing events in the ministry of Jesus. He connects his story around seven signs (miracles) that point to the true identity of Jesus as the Son of God, and he does that for the specific purpose of calling the reader to believe, to put their faith in Jesus. He wants to make sure that Jesus is the focal point of the story so much that he doesn’t even name himself as the author, except for the cryptic pseudonym of “the disciple Jesus loved.”

Everything in the story, every miracle and every teaching, is moving toward the climax of the story, the crucifixion and resurrection, and his narrative ends with Jesus being resurrected and reunited with his disciples around a breakfast picnic on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

That’s where John’s story ends, but before he pulls his pen away from the parchment he makes one last statement. He and the other apostles had written a lot about Jesus’ movements, miracles, and message during his public ministry. Their accounts of Jesus’ life would be the most read words in human history. So before he dots the last sentence, John makes one last point that points to just how amazing Jesus really is. John writes:

“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” – John 21:25

Wow.

John claims that his narrative, and the narratives of the other apostles, don’t come close to scratching the surface of the person and work of Jesus. They don’t tell everything there is to say about Jesus. They can’t tell everything there is to tell about Jesus. Jesus is too great, too big, too glorious, too mighty to be captured by human words. They tell us everything that we need to know about Jesus. They explain him truly, but they cannot exhaust him. Jesus is the infinitely inexhaustible subject.

So John says that if he had written everything there was to write about Jesus, the world wouldn’t be big enough to hold the books that would have to be written.

We may be tempted to skip over that verse. We may be tempted to just flip the page and start reading Acts. We may be tempted to overlook that verse as just an example of Holy Spirit hyperbole. John is just being poetic, we might say. John is just being a good writer, we might say. John is just ending his Gospel with a bit of apostolic flair, we might say.

But no, I think John is just telling the truth. Jesus really is that great. Jesus really is that amazing. Jesus really is that glorious. Jesus really is that beautiful. I think John Piper said somewhere that Jesus was more beautiful than he’d ever described him as being. I agree. You can’t get to the end of him. It will take an eternity (and then some) to take in his fullness.

If you’re like me, then at some point or another the thought that maybe Heaven might be boring might have crossed your mind. Seriously, how many times can you sing through the Baptist Hymnal? If you’ve ever felt that way, then I want to remind you that Heaven will be anything but boring simply because Jesus is the entire focus of Heaven. If Heaven was all about me and all about me hanging out with family members and friends, then yeah it will get old fast. If Heaven is only a paradise resort then even that will become mundane eventually. If Heaven is just a really big family reunion, then I’ll be ready to go after a few days (or sooner).

But if heaven is all about Jesus, then every one of us will be joyfully occupied forever, just seeing him, gazing at him, knowing him, and loving him. As John Piper has written, the one thing he cannot be is boring.

No, he isn’t boring at all. In fact, he’s so captivating that if every square inch of earth (including the oceans) were stacked thousands of miles high with books, with pages, then that wouldn’t even begin to be enough space, enough words, to say everything that could be said about Jesus.

Jesus is just that awesome.

So the next time you see a bookshelf, or a stack of books, or a library building, or a bookstore, don’t be intimidated by all the pages. Instead, be overwhelmed by Jesus and his glory. Be reminded that you could read a book a day, not just for 60,000 years but for eternity, and you still wouldn’t get to the end of him. You cannot exhaust the inexhaustible. You cannot drink dry a fountain that has no end.

The world is not enough.

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Together for the Gospel (Forever)

Apr 11th, 2014 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

t4g3“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 7:9-12

I just got in from a conference, Together for the Gospel (T4G) 2014. The event was held this week at Louisville’s KFC Yum Center. A good friend of mine from South Carolina, Jacob Helsley, came up and stayed with us, and during the days I got to spend time with some guys from our church as well as friends who were in town that I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

T4G is at its heart a pastor’s conference. We heard over ten hours of preaching from Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Thabiti Anyabwile, John MacArthur, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, David Platt, and Matt Chandler. We participated in great worship services led by Bob Kauflin from Sovereign Grace Music. We heard a number of helpful panel discussions and engaging breakout sessions. And we were given lots of free books – lots and lots of free books. It’s held every two years, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it is the best conference that I attend and genuinely the one conference that I mark on my calendar and look forward to. Pastors typically attend lots of meetings, business sessions, workshops, and conferences through a year, but for me, T4G is the best.

But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Conferences aren’t real life. A believer’s life isn’t lived in the context of a conference, even the best ones, and eventually the lights have to go down and everyone has to go back to their own responsibilities and struggles that are waiting just outside.

Sometimes as a teenager in our church’s youth group, I’d go through the common phases of “church-camp-disorder,” that draining back to the grindstone anxiety and letdown that is brought on by the realization that the “highs” of the camp or the mission-trip “experience” just wouldn’t last, couldn’t last. At the time I was devastated by being reintroduced to my ordinary life. I thought that maybe something was wrong with me. Maybe I was the reason I couldn’t hold on to how amazing everything thing seemed at the retreat or youth worship service. Maybe I wasn’t spiritual enough.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had those old feelings, and now that I’m older I think I’m beginning to understand something that I only glimpsed briefly years ago. Part of the good of big events like T4G is their ending. One of the best parts is its conclusion. One of its greatest gifts is that it sends us away, making the point that our ultimate destination, and our ultimate goal isn’t to pack-out an arena. We draw together for a mere few hours of refreshing, and then as we step back out into the sunlight, we’re reminded that our time together was just a shadow of the much deeper truth and the infinitely better multitude of worship that every believer is heading toward, that is already on their calendar.

In other words, one of the weightiest gifts of the good gift of T4G is that it doesn’t make me want to stay at T4G. It makes me want to finish my course. It makes me want to run the race with endurance. It makes me want to persevere to the end. It makes me want to complete the race. It makes me want to stand at the finish-line in victory. It makes me want to join the crowd of witnesses around the throne of God at the end and beginning of all things.

T4G had an amazing representation of believers from different parts of the world, from different denominations, from different backgrounds and ethnicities, all gathered to worship together. But it was all too local. It had to be. The place can only fit so many people. Only a small group of people could come, most of whom were pastors. It was a representation of the church, but it was a really tiny representation indeed. On that day every believer from every age will gather together in an expanse of space unimagined by human minds, a crowd “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”

T4G had a huge crowd present. There were almost 8,000 people at this thing. That’s a lot! It took a while to exit the Yum Center during our breaks! But, it was only about 8,000 people. The arena wasn’t filled to capacity. Very good numbers were kept. The attendees could be counted. But on that day the computers will crash. There won’t be enough counters. We won’t be able to number the vast sea of faces looking up at the beauty and glowing glory of the Lamb seated on His throne. The participants at a conference are by nature numbered. All the redeemed gathering for worship will by definition be unnumbered.

T4G had great worship services. I love the sound of 8,000 people singing with only the accompaniment of a grand piano. We sang great hymns of the faith. We were led in worship by Bob Kauflin. That man can flat play a piano. He can write some great songs. The times of singing were some of my sweetest moments in the last few days. But it doesn’t come close to the worship on that day when we all will be gathered together and will lift up palm branches, singing our hosannas of “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” In that moment we will not be singing to a man riding a humble donkey, but to the exalted king who is sitting on the throne forever. We will sing with lungs that are full of the air of heaven. And I guarantee, every rock on that new earth will keep its mouth shut.

Finally, T4G gave us a lot of great gifts. We were privileged to sit under the solid preaching of the Word. We were the recipients of bags of books. We received so much. Yet, we leave the conference with the realization that a conference like T4G, as good as it is, can never give us on its own the thing we crave so much. What makes Together for the Gospel powerful is that it proclaims the gospel. It isn’t powerful because it is the gospel. Only the gospel can give us what we long for most, an eternal reconciliation with God by the blood of Christ, that leads to the restoration of all things and the unending worship of God by the people of God.

I’ll be honest about some of my biggest struggles with big conferences like T4G, the only thing I dislike about it at all. I have a disability. I wear heavy metal (not the music) leg braces. Walking around downtown is more difficult for me. Walking from parking garages is a bit slower. My feet hurt more. My legs get weak. I find that when Bob Kauflin says, “let’s stand and sing,” that I just can’t get it together. I can’t stand up that long. I can’t get my balance. I end up having to sit through much of the singing.

But then I remember. The music that we are singing is telling the story that is pointing me forward through the years to a gathering when all this will change. My body will not be weak and broken, ravaged by a physical consequence of the curse. My Spina Bifida will be a distant memory from another age. And I read that beautiful verse that says the unnumbered multitude will be “standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Did you catch that? There won’t be chairs around the throne. They will not be needed. We will be standing. I love that promise. It is a beautiful promise of the gospel. I will stand forever, looking into the face of the healer who has bought me forever, standing in his presence, without braces, without sore muscles, without tired feet, without poor balance, without something to hold on to, because all I’ll have is someone to look up to, and I won’t be able to take him out of my sight.

I’m ready, and to borrow a line from Rich Mullins, when I look back on the conferences that I have loved the most in this world, “it won’t break my heart to say goodbye.” I love Together for the Gospel. It’s on my calendar for 2016. God willing, I’ll gather again in Louisville, and I’ll walk through the downtown and love (almost) every minute of it. But that’s not where my focus is. My gaze is on a date that is (maybe) a bit more distant. I’m looking forward to the unnumbered multitude that will sing the unending song of salvation, in the full presence of our God, as we praise the slaughtered and now enthroned Lamb who conquered by his blood. And in that day we will truly be together for the gospel – together…all of us…forever.

- Pastor Cade

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Lamech’s Longing: The Gospel According to (the Real) Noah

Mar 29th, 2014 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Flood of objections … Darren Aronofsky's Noah.This weekend the major Hollywood blockbuster Noah premiered in theaters. I haven’t seen it, and to be honest I’m not sure if I will. It looks to be pretty intriguing and have amazing special effects. For all of its faults, I’m sure the movie will show a pretty horrific vision of what a worldwide flood may have looked like. I remember going to the movie theater in Greenwood, Mississippi as a child and watching The Little Mermaid. The opening scene of that Disney classic is an ocean scene with huge billowing waves. I remember thinking that it looked like those waves were going to burst through the screen and sweep me away. All that to say, if I got a little freaked out by the ocean scenes in The Little Mermaid, the movie Noah might not be for me.

But I digress. My point here isn’t to review the new Hollywood epic (very loosely) based on a biblical event. My point here isn’t even to comment on what the filmmakers got right or wrong, or to say whether or not you should see it for yourself. I’ll leave that to other people who have seen the movie and the deluge (excuse the pun) of online reviews that are flooding (and excuse this one too) Facebook and Twitter.

I simply want to remind you that the biblical story in which Noah plays a central role is really all about the gospel. In other words, the primary purpose of the narrative isn’t to tell us about how horrible it was for God to destroy his creation through drowning. Instead, it’s whole purpose is to point us to the beautiful horror of the cross that is the only hope for a creation that has been destroyed by sin – the good news of Jesus Christ. The story of Noah isn’t a nursery tale. It isn’t safe, because the gospel isn’t safe. Golgotha isn’t safe. The cross isn’t safe. There is the stench of death in this story. No, Noah’s story isn’t safe but it is good, because it’s the story of the king who was crucified to save sinners.

The flood narrative is the fifth major event recorded in the Bible. (1) God creates the world. (2) God places Adam and Eve in Eden. (3) Adam and Eve eat the fruit and sin sweeps into the world. (4) Cain murders Abel. (5) God floods the earth. From its perfect beginning the narrative plunges downhill fast. In the span of just a few pages we go from pickin’ peaches in the Garden, to murder, to all humanity becoming so violently evil that God in his righteousness determines to wash it all away…literally wash everyone and everything away. The God who had spoken the universe into existence now makes another decision: He’s going to kill everything.

And yet in the midst of that horrific holiness, God also unleashes the surging rapids of redemption. God’s purpose and plan for his soiled creation is going to be demonstrated by a catastrophic opening of his sin-hating reservoir combined with his absolute commitment that a “seed of the woman” would indeed come who would slay the serpent and restore all creation.

And so the camera of God’s covenant-commitments zooms in on a baby boy. It zooms in on a firstborn son. It zooms in on a little newborn named Noah.

When Noah is being carted off to the maternity ward at the East of Eden Medical Center, only a few generations had passed since the days of old man Adam. The heavens and the earth aren’t that ancient at this point, and yet as we gaze around the landscape outside the long-lost garden it sure seems like a long time has passed since the days when God would walk in intimate fellowship with Adam and Eve in the cool of the new day’s dawn.

The world has changed. The curse has spread. The darkness of sin has descended like smog over the settlements of humanity. What had started with a murderous act of passion in a vegetable garden has grown to be one long killing field. Humanity is destroying itself and is destroying creation along with it. This is not how things are supposed to be. The Bible describes man’s state as thinking on evil continually. The lines of Cain and Seth have begun to merge into one creating a race of super-sinners, and in that growing shadow mankind began to forget about God, about who he was, about what had happened, and about what God had promised.

But not everyone had forgotten.

There was a man named Lamech, a descendant of Seth who still saw the world as it truly was. He remembered what had happened and he was still longing for the fulfillment of God’s word. So when he held his newborn baby in his arms after his wife’s long and painful hours of labor, he hoped and dreamed that maybe the end was in sight.

As he held little Noah in his arms Lamech cried out, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Genesis 5:28-29). Lamech remembered the curse. Lamech remembered that the world he was living in was not the way the world was created to be. Lamech knew that sin had introduced pain, hard labor, and weary work onto humanity. He also knew that God had promised that a son, a male-child, a prince, a “seed” would arise to conquer and decapitate the dragon.

So he hoped that maybe this son was the promised one.

His senses and prophecy were indeed pointed in the right direction. His son would be used by God in a mighty work of salvation. Of all the men and women on earth Noah and his family alone would be the recipient of God’s mercy when God unleashed the flood of judgment on creation. Noah and his family would be sheltered by the mercy of God in a wood-carved sanctuary, and with him God would also save a representation from all creation. God would descend in fury, but he would also descend in salvation. He would pour out a violent-vengeance, but he would also pour out undeserved grace.

And it is in this horrific event that God would use Noah as a messenger of the good news that he was pointing forward to. Noah was not the chosen redeemer. He was not the prophesied “seed of the woman,” he wasn’t even the real point of his own story. Noah’s life and Noah’s faith and Noah’s salvation were played out as a cosmic-sized drama that would point to one of Noah’s distant descendants.

For you see, Lamech’s longings would indeed be met by another baby boy, another child, another distant son of Lamech, and that child would ultimately do what Noah could never have done. He would save not only a remnant of creation but instead would save a multitude from all peoples and would usher in the eternal age of new heavens and a new earth. Lamech’s longings were for a child who would reverse the curse, who would finally bring rest from the painful toil that is a consequence of our rebellion.

And Lamech’s child forces us to look through the years and hear a voice, not the voice of an elderly maritime zookeeper shouting over the rain and wind and waves, but of God himself standing in a boat and commanding the rain and the wind to stop. The same God who commanded the rain and designed the rainbow would calm a storm as he stood among his friends in a fisherman’s ark. Then he would speak again, not to the wind and the rain but to a sea of people. Jesus would look into the eyes of men and women who were burdened down by sin and would answer Lamech’s plea. Jesus would shout out, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Lamech cried out for a child to bring sinners rest, and in the person of Jesus Christ God gave him the very thing he longed for.

Like his distant ancestor Noah, Jesus would face the storm of God’s fury alone, only this time Jesus would accomplish what Noah’s floating petting-zoo never could. He would hoist a wooden crossbeam across his shoulders. He would anchor it to the rocky ground. He would look into the blackening skies, and he would endure the unleashing of God’s judgment on the sin of the world. He would face the raging sea of God’s judgment, a flood not of water but of his own blood. And he would do it in the place of sinners, in the place of the very men and women whose epic rebellion could never have earned such an awesome sacrifice.

And that is the gospel that Noah proclaims. That is the hope of Jesus’ cross, a hope that calls us not to find shelter from a flood of saltwater but to be plunged into the depths of Jesus’ mercy. The hymnist William Cowper was right all along: “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”

Swim deep my friends. Be swept away,

Pastor Cade

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A Constant Catechism: Talking About the Gospel in All of Life

Mar 28th, 2014 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

EmmausI was talking with a friend of mine last week and he mentioned how remarkable it was that we spend so much of our days asking and answering questions. He then remarked how it’s almost always the case that the questions that our days revolve around are almost always revolving around ourselves. We ask lots of questions in the course of a day, and many of them are completely self-focused. To be a people who typically don’t like tests, we sure do spend a lot of our time quizzing one another. Our mornings begin and our evenings end with a barrage of questions – a constant catechism:

How did you sleep? What do you want for breakfast? Did you dream last night? What should I wear? What time is your dentist appointment? Will you pick the kids up from school? How are you doing? Do I look okay in this shirt? Does this tie match? Did I remember to turn the coffee off this morning? What did you learn today at school? How was your day at work? What do you want for dinner? Where did I put my phone? Did you watch the game last night? Which restaurant would you like to eat at? What would you like to watch on TV? What time do I need to set the alarm clock for?

These are a lot of questions, and I bet you can think of a lot more that we constantly query each and every day. In many ways our lives really are one long inquisition, and if that’s true, then should believers care about the kinds of questions that we ask and answer? Should we care about what we talk about? Should we care about the kinds of conversations we have?

I think so.

The essential and central theme of Christian discipleship is bringing all of life under joyful submission to the person of God through the Word of God. To be a follower of Christ is to be transfixed on the glory of God, satisfied in the presence of God, centered on the gospel of God, and saturated with the Word of God in all of life. For that to be the reality for us, then our lives are to be intentionally, uniquely, and demonstrably Christ-focused. And if our lives are to be Christ-focused then the minutes and moments that make up our lives are to be Christ-focused as well. We cannot genuinely call ourselves Christ-followers if the vast majority of our days are spent without the slightest thought of or concern for Christ. It’s an eternity-sized oxymoron to call ourselves Christians and then spend almost all our waking hours completely disregarding Christ.

Then we must be concerned to live all our lives in the light of Jesus’ presence. So the questions that we build our lives on should take on a decidedly God-focused quality. The topic of conversation should be distinctly Christ-oriented. In other words, if God is to be the focus of our minds and hearts throughout the day, then surely it will follow that he will be primary in our speech and conversation. We can’t help ourselves. It’s ingrained in us. It really does seem like we were created in such a way that we just naturally talk about whatever it is that consumes our attention. We chatter about whatever it is that our hearts love most. It just bubbles up and over and spills out into our daily lives. So if the gospel really is our passion, then it seems like that will be fairly obvious. For the Christian, there is no neatly defined quarantine line between our lives as Christians and our “normal” lives as husbands, parents, employees, and all the other roles that we assume throughout a day. Christ is preeminent in every sphere of life or he isn’t preeminent at all.

It seems then that what we spend our lives focusing on really does matter after all.

That’s certainly the depiction of discipleship that we find on the pages of the Bible. The book of Deuteronomy provides us a rubric for what the lives of God’s people are to look like, what we’re to care about, what our hearts are to be set upon, and it calls us to a God-focused and Bible-saturated lifestyle in public and private. Deuteronomy 11:18-21 tells us:

”You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.”

Did you catch that? The believer’s life is to be lived in the light of life with God, in his presence forever. So the seconds that slip by us in the here and now are already to be consumed by the reality of who God is, what he has done, and what he has said. The Word of God is to be stored up within us. It is to be “bound” to us. The passage uses the language of placing it between our eyes, not because we are to literally superglue the Bible to our foreheads but because we’re to be constantly focused on it. It should be the hallmark of our family life, private life, personal life, and public life. The person and work of God is to be the topic of conversation throughout the day at home and abroad, as we relax and as we travel. The gospel is to be the agenda in such an outspoken way that it’s like having a billboard painted on the front of your house because it’s that obvious to anyone who might pass through.

That’s also the model that we have when we examine the life of Jesus. What do the private and public conversations between Jesus and other people tell us? What does the subject of his words tell us? It seems to tell us that throughout the day God really was at the forefront of his thoughts and desires. The story of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance on the road to Emmaus is a good example (Luke 24:13-35). That’s a vivid account of Jesus literally putting into gospel-practice the words of Deuteronomy 11. He is walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus on that first Easter morning and comes upon two depressed disciples going back to their “normal” lives. So what does he talk about? What conversation does he initiate? Where does he turn their focus? He asks them why they’re so emo, but then he immediately snaps them back to Bible-reality. As they are “walking by the way” they are spending their time discussing what the Bible says about God’s cosmic plans in and through the Christ. Jesus knows that what their day needs, what their hearts need is not to be made to forget their problems, nor do they need to be cheered-up by thinking about a ballgame or what they’ll have for dinner. What they need is to be brought back to reality by bringing their minds and hearts back to the Bible and therefore back to the crucified Christ who was buried just before the weekend but suddenly isn’t in his burial shroud anymore because he’s gone AWOL from the grave, busting loose from death itself.

That’s what the Emmaus disciples needed on that first Easter morning and that’s what we need on every morning and every afternoon on every day after Easter. We need hearts that are “burning within us” because we are always talking about this Jesus that won’t stay dead, and we’re always talking about the things he said and did that completely change everything.

So I want to encourage you as we go into this weekend. Be intentional about the gospel. Sure, enjoy your weekend with your family. Of course, watch some basketball; it is March Madness after all. But the one thing that should dominate your conversation more than anything else isn’t how a teenage athlete performs on television, but on how the God of the universe has broken into history, your history and turned everything topsy-turvy, upside down. At the end of the weekend your family, friends, and coworkers really should know more about your passion for Jesus than your passion for sports, more about your Savior than your bracket.

So talk about Jesus. Talk about the gospel. Ask each other gospel-driven questions.

There are lots of ways to make this a part of your daily life. Discuss your upcoming Sunday School lesson with your spouse. Read the verse(s) that Toby will be preaching this upcoming Sunday and talk about what they say. Ask one another how they’ve seen the gospel at work throughout their day, what they’ve learned about Jesus, what we’re thankful for because of Jesus. Write down a series of questions about God and the gospel that you’re going to ask yourself and your family each and every day. Pick up Don Whitney’s book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health and read through it. Pick a book of the Bible and another Christian book and read it with your family or friends and then talk about what you’re reading. Read through the Baptist Catechism (questions and answers about what the Bible teaches) and use it to help disciple your children (and yourself). A copy is available from John Piper and Desiring God Ministries at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-baptist-catechism. Work through it during family devotions. You can even get the catechism set to music and play it in your car.

However you do it, I want to encourage you to talk about Jesus – today, tomorrow, and every day after. Whether you like it or not, our days are going to be spent in a constant catechism. We’re going to talk about something. Something is going to be the focus of our minds. Something is going to be the chief topic of our conversations. Something is going to consume the questions we ask and answer. It just so happens, that the gospel really is the only subject that deserves to be.

Have a great weekend!

- Pastor Cade

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The Five (Part Two): Where to Begin with Five Essential Authors

Mar 25th, 2014 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

booksLast week I wrote about five authors I think believers should spend the rest of their lives reading. While encouraging Christians to read lots of books from lots of different authors, I tried to answer this question: If you could only read five authors for the rest of your life, who would they be? Building on that question, I encouraged you to be intentional about developing a small group of lifetime authors who will be your friends, conversation partners, and teachers for the rest of your life. The five authors that I recommended were John Calvin, C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer, John Piper, and Charles Spurgeon.

You can go back and read that original article for the actual reasons why I chose these five authors, but in this follow-up I want to offer a small amount of practical help. Maybe you want to follow my advice. Maybe you’d like to begin developing a reading schedule with these five authors. So where should you begin? While not listing a full bibliography for each of these authors, I want to suggest a few books to get you started in the right direction. For each author I’ll recommend a few things by them and at least one or two secondary resources to give you a bit of a better introduction to their lives and thought.

1. John Calvin:

Calvin is the oldest author I recommended (having died in 1564) and the most misunderstood. Far too many people either love him or hate him regardless of whether or not they’ve actually read him! So how can you get started?

If you want to begin to actually read Calvin for yourself, I’d start in two places:

First, pick up an edition of the two volume work Institutes of the Christian Religion. The McNeil and Battles translation and edition is the best in my opinion, although you can find a few good abridged versions.

If you want something a bit less daunting, there are a few good devotionals that offer daily selected readings from his works. Among these, Coffee with Calvin edited by Donald McKim, Day by Day with Calvin edited by Fackler and Hudson, and Heart Aflame: Daily Readings From Calvin on the Psalms are good volumes to pick up.

There are tons of biographies of Calvin and works on his life and theology. A few helpful introductions to Calvin are:

Calvin on the Christian Life by Michael Horton, With Calvin in the Theater of God edited by John Piper and David Mathis, and John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, Doxology by Various Contributors .

2. C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis may be the easiest author to begin to jump into. If you’re new to his writings, however, here are a few places I’d start:

First, read the essay/sermon ”The Weight of Glory”. When that’s done, read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters. Follow these books by reading Lewis’ autobiographical account of his early life and conversion to Christianity from his life as an atheist in Surprised by Joy. With those works behind you, you’ll have a good introduction to Lewis’ thought and writing and can begin moving onto his many other works.

For a great introductory biography, C.S. Lewis, a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath is a great place to start.

3. J.I. Packer

To begin reading Packer, drop everything you’re doing and go get his most important book Knowing God. This is a book to read and reread over and over again.

Other books of his to read early on include Rediscovering Holiness: Know the Fullness of Life with God, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, and In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement.

For more on his life and work, Alister McGrath’s biography is one of the best places to start.

4. John Piper

John Piper has written a lot of books, and as far as I’m concerned they’re all worth reading. If you haven’t read him before, however, there are a few books that you really should begin with: First, read Desiring God, and then read When I Don’t Desire God, and God is the Gospel. These books are going to give you a great introduction to Piper. Most of these books, along with thousands of sermons and articles by Piper are all accessible online for free at http://www.desiringgod.org.

Piper is still living and very active in ministry, and a biography of his life and work hasn’t been written yet. If you want a secondary resource that will introduce you to the various aspects of his ministry and theology, however, you can pick up the book For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor.

5. Charles Spurgeon

As I mentioned in the first article, Spurgeon’s writings (with his sermons included) compose the largest body of writing by any single author in the English language. So there isn’t any lack of things to read by the “Prince of Preachers!” For the beginner, however, there are a few good places to start:

I love the tiny little paperback collection of sermons titled Christ’s Glorious Achievements. It’s small enough to fit into a pocket, but is a great collection of sermons by Spurgeon that highlight the major thrust of his preaching ministry. You can also begin to read through his devotionals Morning by Morning and Evening by Evening, and these are oftentimes published together in one volume. The devotional Look Unto Me: The Devotions of Charles Spurgeon, edited by Jim Reiman is also a good book for beginners.

For more background on Spurgeon’s remarkable life and ministry, there are three books I’d recommend wholeheartedly. The short books The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson and Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore are both helpful introductions. Finally, begin to read through the definitive work on Spurgeon’s life, theology, and ministry written by Dr. Tom Nettles of Southern Seminary, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

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Honor Such Men: Happy Birthday Pastor Toby

Mar 17th, 2014 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

Toby and FamilyI first met Toby seven years ago. I was teaching high school in Vicksburg, Mississippi and was active in supply preaching for churches in our local Baptist association and across the river in the edge of Louisiana. One afternoon I received a phone call from a church south of town that needed someone to preach on an ongoing basis as an interim, and to be willing to do so indefinitely. Their pastor had been hit by a car and was currently in the hospital in Jackson on life support. I didn’t know anything about the church, and I didn’t know their pastor, but I began to drive down the twenty or so miles on Sundays and serve Shiloh Baptist Church through preaching.

Thankfully their pastor pulled through, and soon he was able to come home. That’s when I first encountered Toby’s intense passion for the people that God had given him to shepherd. He was incapacitated to say the least, but as soon as he was able to leave the hospital he had one thing on his mind. He had to make sure his church was being provided for, and since he didn’t know the young guy from Vicksburg that was preaching in his pulpit, he had to make sure he wasn’t a wolf in sheep’s clothing, delivering arsenic laced sermons in the guise of sweet-tea spirituality.

So long before Toby should have been out and at Sunday morning worship services, there he was, and beginning from that first meeting he and I began to be bound together as brothers, friends, pastors, and fellow servants of our Lord in ways that we couldn’t begin to imagine. His friendship has been one of the most significant friendships of my life. He and his family ended up moving to Louisville not long afterwards, and as far as I was concerned he and I may never have much contact again. I was happy teaching and serving through an itinerant preaching ministry and in a teaching role at my home church in Vicksburg, and I had just started dating this pretty girl from Natchez. So as far as I knew our friendship may have run its course.

But I was wrong, wonderfully and gloriously wrong. It has been one of the great privileges of my life and young ministry to serve alongside him as a pastor. We’ve served together now for almost four years, and I am daily thankful for the gospel impact that he has had in my life. And today is his birthday, and not only that, but a few weeks ago he also marked his fifth anniversary as senior pastor of First Baptist Church Henryville. So I want to take this opportunity as one of the pastors here at FBC, as one of its leaders and shepherds, to both model gospel-gratitude and to call each of us to be thankful for this pastor that God has called to serve our body. Birthdays are days of gifts and presents, and while that usually means that we give gifts to the person who is celebrating the birthday, today I want to remind you that Toby has been, and continues to be, a gift that has been given to us.

The term pastor refers to a shepherd. A shepherd is placed over a flock to lead it, guide it, feed it, protect it, defend it, care for it, and to love it. A pastor of a local church then, is an under-shepherd (under Christ) who serves with the authority of Christ to fulfill these responsibilities. We have three pastors on staff at our church, and as the senior pastor Toby serves in the primary role of shepherding. He guards and guides the flock and oversees and serves alongside the other pastors charged with assisting in the pastoral work. That may all seem pretty standard. Many of us would agree that this is exactly what a senior pastor’s responsibilities are, and yet I want to remind all of us of the specific blessing that we have been given by having Toby as our senior pastor. As I see it, there are three specific aspects to pastoral ministry (all modeled by the apostle Paul) that characterize his ministry, three things that we dare not take for granted:

1. First, Toby is first and foremost a preacher of the Word. His commitment as a pastor above all commitments is to be a faithful, gospel-centered expositor of scripture. As many of us know, he has been strongly influenced by the example of Charles Spurgeon, and as such we might truly call Toby the Charles Spurgeon of Clark County! Spurgeon was committed throughout his life to being a preacher, understanding that this is the central and foundational task of all pastoral ministry.

Paul implored his younger associate to be faithful to “preach the Word!” (2 Timothy 4:2), and Toby recognizes that this command must be the cornerstone of a pastor’s service. It is no small thing to have a faithful pastor who will faithfully and fearlessly stand before a people week in and week out and call us to read the Word, understand the Word, believe the Word, obey the Word, cherish the Word, and have lives that are transformed by being submissive to the Word! Left to ourselves we all want spiritual junk-food. In our sin, we enjoy man-centered pep-talks. It is the mark of a faithful pastor, then, to not just give us what we want, but to give us what we need, and what we need is the continual diet of the Bible’s truth. Toby takes Jesus’ words to “feed my sheep,” seriously, and he believes that Jesus meant exactly what he said.

2. Second, Toby sets an example and a standard of not being merely a pulpit expositor. What do I mean? I mean that even though Toby would passionately agree that the most important task he has each week is to preach to our flock each Lord’s Day, he is not content to only preach us the gospel on Sundays. He is a pastor. He ministers to us. He visits us. He cares for us. He disciples us. He presents an example of an evangelist to us. He is a faithful pastor behind the pulpit, in our homes, in our hospital rooms, and in our workplaces.

He cares. In times of rejoicing, in times of tragedy, in times of grief he is committed to being a faithful shepherd. Paul, in his farewell message to the Ephesian elders, reminded them about his ministry in their city and modeled this pattern of pastoral ministry. He reminded them that, “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time…serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me…how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:18:-21). Toby seeks to follow Paul’s example.

3. Third, and finally, Toby not only preaches to us faithfully each week and cares for his flock throughout each week, but he is also committed to living among and with us in and through all of life. Toby understands that a pastor is not a professional, and he understands that a shepherd is called to care for a flock, and you can’t care for a flock without loving it. I know this much is true, just under his love for Jesus Christ and his family, the family of faith at FBC Henryville has his heart. There really isn’t any place he’d rather be than at Henryville, and there really isn’t any group of people he’d rather be with than us. That means he doesn’t have office hours as such. That means that when he takes a yearly vacation cruise, he really does genuinely want his friends from Henryville to come along with him!

Toby understands that to be a servant of the gospel means to hold nothing back from those he is called to serve through the gospel, to not sanction off a part of his life that is separate from those to whom he is a pastor. Paul knew this too. One thing that is certain through his letters is that Paul never delivered the gospel to his churches without also delivering himself. To Paul, his life and his message were inextricably bound together. If he was to give them one, he had to give them the other. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he and his fellow church-planters “cared for you, because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Paul isn’t saying that their lives are a greater gift than the gospel, but he is saying that giving the local church their lives is a demonstration of their deep love for the church in and through and for the gospel.

These three things characteristics are the bedrock pillars of Toby’s ministry to us and among us. They demonstrate not only how much he loves us, but even more clearly how much he loves his Savior, and how seriously he takes his charge as a pastor. That is a great gift, and we would do well to be thankful and to express that gratitude to God and to Toby. The Bible is clear about how we are to treat those whom God has given us to be our shepherds. We are told to “honor such men” (Philippians 2:29), and to “respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).”

Those last words are not suggestions that are only applicable on their birthdays or during Pastor Appreciation Month. They are to be believed and lived by the believer throughout our lives. I am a pastor, and I have a pastor. And I am thankful that the pastor God has placed over me is Toby Jenkins, and today on his birthday I am continuing to esteem him very highly in love.

- Pastor Cade

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The Gospel on the Wall

Mar 16th, 2014 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

handwritingIt was a night that no one at the banquet would ever forget, as the wealthy and powerful king Belshazzar sat feasting at a sumptuous table along with the wealthiest and most powerful governors in all the land. The great dinner was going splendidly, even as they brought the golden pieces of furniture from the Temple of the LORD in Jerusalem and began to mockingly eat and drink from them. For Belshazzar it was a feast truly fit for a king, a hedonistic party to rival any of Gatsby’s.

Then the party was crashed.

Belshazzar’s blasphemous banquet was interrupted by an uninvited guest. His name had not been on the invitation list. He had not signed in for the evening, but in an instant everyone in the great hall knew that he was there, and they immediately knew that he was the center of attention. It was a feast for a king, and so, as was proper, the king decided to show up.

A hush fell over the great hall as a single solitary hand appeared levitating above the heads of the revelers. The hand rushes to the great plastered wall and begins to scribble a message: “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin.” And then in an instant, like a flash of lightning the hand vanished. Soothsayers from around the kingdom were sought for but none could interpret the mysterious message. Then Belshazzar sent for someone else. He called to Daniel, the servant of the Most High God. Daniel answered the summons, read the warnings, and spoke the message to the king. Daniel’s warning was ominous. The message had a very specific meaning: “Mene – God has brought an end to your kingdom, Tekel- You have been weighed in the balances and have been found wanting, Parsin – Your kingdom is given to the Medes and the Persians.”

And it was so, and so the mechanizations were put into motion that would bring the people of God out of exile in Babylon and back to the land of Abraham’s promise.

That story, recorded in Daniel 5, is one of my favorites and has always given me chills! Amy was excited to be able to teach the story this morning in Children’s Church using the Gospel Project for Kids material. The story has everything: mystery, the miraculous, the supernatural, prophecy, and judgment. We all want Belshazzar to get what’s coming to him, and we cheer when Daniel bravely speaks the truth to the very heart of power.

Yet, if I’m honest, the older I get this story has taken on a special significance. When I read it, I still feel the blood rushing when Daniel pronounces the message, but I’m also convicted of my own sin. I can imagine the horror of having that message appear on my bedroom wall. In fact, that cold-hard truth is confronts us from every page of the Bible. The Spirit through the Word confronts and convicts us of our sin. And we are told that our puny little kingdoms will end, our greatest possessions will be spread out in a last will and testament, and then the Bible hits us where it hurts. It tells us that we all come up short. We’re lacking. We are weighed on the holy and righteous scales of God’s perfections and the pronouncement is clear: We are wanting. We don’t measure up. We’re not good enough, and if we think we are we’re just as deceived as bad ol’ Belshazzar.

And what’s so monstrous, and so monstrously stupid, is left to ourselves we delude ourselves into believing that we are good enough. There is a self-righteous little legalist in all of us that wants to thrust out our chest and show the world what we’re made of. The problem is, in our depravity we’re not made of very much, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We want to be rule-keepers, traditional analysts, and judgment police. At the end of the day we can oftentimes find ourselves being like the religious leaders that snatched an adulterous woman in the heat of passion at a five and dime hotel and drug her to Jesus. Part of our grand plan is always to make ourselves look a little bit better by making “real” sinners look as bad as they really were. We want to escape judgment by rounding up our own posse and throwing up the blinds on everyone else, all in an attempt to justify ourselves before God.

But how does Jesus respond to this legalistic charade, this kangaroo court, this imbecilic execution team? Jesus does something that we never see him do anywhere else in the gospels. He ignores the religious leaders and the trembling woman who sits waiting to have her skull bashed in with a rock. He doesn’t pay them the time of day, or so it seems. He stoops down onto the ground, and with a solitary finger, he begins to write in the sand.

Now, I know I’m guessing some here, but hear me out. We aren’t told what Jesus wrote. It seems to be just a passing detail that someone would include from actual eyewitness testimony. Jesus, the Galilean rabbi, was spelling out letters in the dusty street of Jerusalem. And I kind of think I know what he might have written. Just remember, this is God in flesh. This is the God of Israel that now stands as the judge and jury over the fate of the poor sinner’s life. This is the same God who had so dramatically given a message to the wicked king of Babylon. So I like to imagine in that moment, perhaps, Jesus’ mind was back in that banquet hall, and in the sand he wrote the same message, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin,” and then he looked up and locked eyes with the arrogant would-be murderers. He wiped his hand, that same wall-writing hand on his cloak, and whispered: “whoever is without sin, who isn’t afraid of being balanced, who isn’t frightened by the holiness of God, start throwing your rocks.”

And there was a long pause of silence, ended only by the sound of rocks thudding to the ground and the shuffling of sandals retreating into the shadows of the city streets. Perhaps, Jesus whispered, “I didn’t think so,” as he finally looked up at the woman, and looked her in the eyes.

And here she still sat, in the dock, in the defendants chair, in waiting for the verdict from the only one who really could throw a rock and kill her where she knelt. Her drama wasn’t over. The rabbi from Nazareth had not rendered his decision. All of heaven and earth held its breath, and with a smile of mercy that twinkled with the eyes of grace, Jesus asked: “Where are those who would condemn you?” She whispered back, “They are gone. They no longer wish to press charges.” And Jesus lifted the young girl off the sandy street and whispered into her ear, “I don’t wish to press charges either. I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Now that was a dramatic moment if there ever was one. Jesus, the sinless one, looked into the eyes of a sinner, and confronted her with her own unworthiness, confronted her with his own right to judge and condemn her for all eternity. And instead he gave her grace.

Was Jesus being soft on sin? Was he just being tolerant, non-judgmental, and politically correct? Was he showing himself to be enlightened by modern standards? I don’t think so. The woman didn’t get off easy. She was confronted in her sin. She was publicly shamed. The curtains were quite literally pulled back and exposed her for the sinner she was, and Jesus didn’t argue the point. She was a sinner. She did deserve death. She did deserve condemnation, but instead in the early morning light of a Jerusalem morning she locked eyes with the Savior.

Jesus’ hands had written on the wall in the Babylonian banquet hall. That same hand had scribbled in the sand (to borrow a phrase from Michael Card), but there was one other thing about that hand that the adulterers forgiveness was founded on. Max Lucado, in his book He Chose the Nails imagined the scene. Jesus is taken to a rocky crag outside the walls of Jerusalem, the holy city. He is led like a dog outside the camp, and his bloodied body is thrown onto the rocky ground, ground full of stones much like those that fell on the street from the hands of the legalists. And Jesus’ arms are stretched out. And Jesus turns his head to see the shadow of the hammer, and through blood-stained vision he sees the hand. He sees his hand, the same hand that had flung galaxies into the milky darkness, that had carved the canyons of the world, that had molded out Adam and Eve from the muddy clay, and had cast back the Red Sea waters with a simple flick of his wrist.

And he sees the same hand that had written the commandments on stone tablets on Sinai, the same hand that etched words of judgment in the royal palace of Belshazzar, and that had scribbled a word of truth to the stony hearts of men and women like myself who so often want to try and make it on my own.

And then he saw something else. In one quick moment, the eyes of Jesus saw his eternal hand unfurl as his wrist willingly stretched out to take the nail, the spike. And the hammer swung down in one quick moment. And Jesus screamed. And the rusty nail sunk into the flesh of the God-man and then held unbending to the wooden timber behind it.

And that hand, that beautiful nail-pierced hand is the hope for every adulterer, and every legalist, and every cripple, and every criminal, and every tired and weary sin-stained heart on earth.

The hand of Christ is our hope because now his hand writes out another word, a better word, a gracious word, a gospel word with the dark crimson ink of his own blood. All the legal charges that anchored us to the bottom of condemnation’s depths, like a mill-stone, have been “nailed to the cross, and I bear them no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” Because of that bloody hand and that bloody cross, Jesus’ words are whispered to me, “arise child; there is now no condemnation, for I alone have done what you could never do.”

The gospel assures us that the hand of God, the hand that writes on the walls of our hearts, is nail-pierced, and that nail pierced hand writes out the words, “I have been weighed in the balances, and I have not been found wanting.”

It is finished. It is finished indeed.

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A Wilder Passion: Patrick and the Global Gospel

Mar 15th, 2014 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

ITR-PCL-00045299Monday is Saint Patrick’s Day. This entire weekend is set aside for wearing green, eating Lucky Charms, celebrating shamrocks, participating in parades, looking for leprechauns, running in marathons, and running from people who are trying to pinch you for not wearing green. As you can see, things can get a little crazy. So crazy in fact that in many parts of the country it’s also a day for some of the wilder parts of life. It’s become a national feast day for partying and drinking, followed by a bit more partying and drinking, followed by…well you get the picture.

It’s pretty clear. We love Saint Patrick’s Day. We want to wear t-shirts that read “Kiss me. I’m Irish!” even though there’s not a drop of Irish blood in our body. We like giant green hats and Kermit the Frog. And like many people, we’ll do anything for an excuse to have a good time. So this holiday is tailor made for taking a break from our troubles, faking a bad accent, and trying to forget whatever stresses that are holding us down.

And yet, for all of this holiday’s celebrations most of us don’t take the time to stop and ask some pretty basic questions: Who exactly was Patrick? Was he Irish? Did he play for the Saints? Did he have anything to do with snakes? Did he invent a popular marshmallow cereal? Did he even look good in green?

These are some big questions that deserve an answer. If we’re going to mark this day on our calendar, then we really should know what we’re celebrating, and as it turns out the truth is mind-blowing. This holiday actually celebrates not a drunken fraternity member with a bewildering obsession with good luck, but instead honors a man who had another obsession altogether. Patrick had a wilder passion than anything that later grew up around his legend. He was a man who was sold-out and driven by one great and magnificent focus: the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed to the lost and dying nations.

That’s right. Saint Patrick was all about gospel-fueled global missions – reckless, sacrificial, death-defying, risk-taking missions.

Patrick himself wasn’t actually Irish at all. He was born in Roman Britain sometime in the mid to late fifth century. He was a contemporary of Arthur (if such a British warlord ever existed at all), and as such he lived in the deepest and darkest era of what was an already deep and Dark Age. The traditions that grew up around his life all seemed to tell a very basic storyline. He was born in Britain, a son of Christian parents, and came to love the message of the gospel at an early age. His life was turned upside down, however, when as a teenager he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. He lived in Ireland for about six years before he was able to escape, fleeing back to his native homeland in England.

Then his life was turned upside down. Everything that God had been preparing him for met one night in a dream as his love for the gospel and his passion for its reception became focused on his former tormenters. He became driven by a deep desire to see the men and women of Ireland know the grace of the Savior that had changed his life. So, wildly and recklessly he went back. He went back to Ireland and spent the rest of his life proclaiming the message of the gospel in the land of his former enslavement. And God used Patrick in a mighty way. A revival of conversion spread through Ireland. The light of the gospel turned that land upside down, not because Patrick was a superhuman saint, but because he was a missions-hearted servant who proclaimed a superhuman gospel – a gospel that changes lives then and now.

Earlier today I read about the horrific recent events in Somalia, where Islamic extremists have been engaging in public beheadings of Christians. We read those accounts and gasp. The days are still dark, and we’re left wondering like King Théoden in the beleaguered fortress at Helm’s Deep, “what can men do in the face of such reckless hate?” Aragorn’s answer, and Patrick’s answer, is that we ride out to meet it. In the midst of the darkness we do not retreat, but instead we run into it with the light – the light that cannot be extinguished.

Honoring men like Patrick is good, but we would do well to honor them in the spirit and heart for that which they gave their lives. If we are to celebrate Patrick, then we dare not do it just by wearing green or four-leaf clover pins. If we are to celebrate his legacy, we are called to share his passion, a passion that is wilder and more dangerous than a weekend binge, but a passion that is eternal, life-giving, and worth everything we are. Patrick counted the cost, and he walked back into the darkness, and the gospel changed everything.

Oh that God might give us a million more Patricks who will walk out of the comfort and sleepiness that besets us and into the raging and chaotic world, with the message of the reigning and victorious king. Patrick was passionate for the Christ. He was passionate for the cross. He was passionate for the lost. That is a legacy worth celebrating, and that is a legacy worth replicating.

May we all be Irish as Patrick was, not by birth, but by an overwhelming commitment to a global gospel that has and will triumph over all things.

- Pastor Cade

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Christian History and the Christian Life

Mar 14th, 2014 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

BonhoefferBeginning this Summer I’ll be beginning a special series of studies at First Baptist Church Henryville. We’re preparing to begin the new sermon series Follow+: Living the Gospel Centered Life on Sunday evenings during the next school year in connection with our AWANA Children’s Ministry. I’ve also been wondering about how we might begin to incorporate and offer some aspects of Church History for our church, and I think this upcoming sermon series provides a great opportunity to see that happen.

Our upcoming sermon series is going to ask a very basic question: How does the gospel impact all of life. How does the gospel impact marriage, dating life (for people who aren’t married!), parenting, jobs, rest, hobbies, housework, retirement, sickness, schedules, social media, and owning pets (along with a ton of other areas of life)? In other words, what does life begin to look like when the gospel destroys the wall that we oftentimes try to build between what we call the sacred and the secular.

So the entire series is about the powerful intersection between the real gospel and our real lives. And that’s where Church History begins to be relevant. Its beauty is more than dates, events, names, and movements. Church History is important because it offers us two thousand years of companions who have lived the life of the gospel before we were ever born. To be familiar with their stories, their struggles, their wisdom, and their examples is to learn from some of the giants of the faith on whose shoulders we all stand.

Crossway Books has recently started a series of books entitled Theologians on the Christian Life. Each book offers a book length spiritual biography of an important figure from the past. Volumes in the series have so far included Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Wesley, Benjamin Warfield, and John Calvin. Many other volumes are planned for release in the coming months. And taking this series as a cue, I believe getting to know some of these great figures of Church History can be very helpful and greatly encouraging.

So here’s what I’ll be starting. Beginning this summer I’ll be offering a series of special once-a-month sessions examining a different figure from Church History and how their life, theology, and example provides insight into what it means for us to live the Christian life. One Sunday a month at 5:00 PM, we’ll meet, go over a brief biography of a different important individual, explain the major aspects of their thought, and discuss together how their stories speak into our stories. In the process, we’ll get to know more about Church History, ourselves, and the Christian life.

I’m looking forward to getting started! I’ve got a rough outline of the individuals we’ll be covering, but if there’s any particular figure from Church History that you’d like to know more about, then let me know in the Comments section below!

-Pastor Cade

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The Five: 5 Authors to Spend the Rest of Your Life With (Part One)

Mar 14th, 2014 | By | Category: The Inkwell: A (Gospel) Blog

libraryI love books, all books – big books and small books; old books and new books; fiction and biographies; fantasies and histories; books about dictionaries and books about doctrines; books about geography and especially books about Jesus. If you’ve ever perused the bookshelves in my office (pictured to the left) or dusted off the stacks of books in my home, you’ll understand that I pretty much agree with Thomas Jefferson who once said, “I cannot live without books.” That may be taking it a bit far; I think I could live without books, but I certainly wouldn’t want to.

Nor should I. After all, believers are a book people. Christians are a people whose faith comes through the written word. We are a people who live on pages. Our souls are strengthened through sentences. We are a book people, primarily because we are a people of the book. We are a people who care about words chiefly because we care about the Word. We only live by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” our rock-bottom commitment has to be to the Bible above all things. Believing that to be true, Charles Spurgeon once famously said that believers should “visit many books, but live in the Bible.” He’s right. For the Christian there is only one indispensable book: The Bible. It is the book that we are to bleed. Above all descriptions, may we always be known as a people of THE BOOK.

And because we are a people of the BOOK, we are also a people who are helped by, encouraged by, and spurred onward in our life with Christ by other books that point us to the book above all books. Two thousand years of church history are behind us, and we are given the awesome opportunity to profit from the insights, failures, struggles, and wisdom that have been left to us over the years. We have a two thousand year old library of gospel-soaked and God exalting books to be our friends. We shouldn’t take lightly the gift of encouragement, strength, and refreshment that helps us along our weary journey, through the written travelogues of other pilgrims who have trod this way before.

The problem, though, is that oftentimes we can be overwhelmed by how many books are available to us! I mean, I have a lot of books on my shelves! How do we know which books to read? How do we sort through the stacks of covers and bibliographies? How do we even begin to climb the mountain(s) of books that many of us have access to? Those are good questions. The truth is none of us has the time or energy to read everything that has been written. We don’t even have the time to read and savor every good book that is worth reading. So what’s a Christian to do? Well, my counsel is fourfold:

1. First, make a commitment to be a reading Christian.

2. Second, read what you like. Not all of us have the same interests. Not all of us have the same stories, and some of us will like some books more than others. In other words, don’t read what you have to read, but instead read what you want to read. Life is too short to struggle through a library of books that you just don’t like.

3. Relax. There’s no way you can read everything. There’s no way you can digest every valuable insight from every wise author. And that’s okay. Read the Bible more than anything (as Spurgeon said, live there), and then as you are able, read other books and become familiar with them. Winston Churchill’s counsel is appropriate: “If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle…them – peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances.”

4. And finally, we come to the major emphasis of this article: Knowing that you can’t read everything, and knowing that there is only so much time in life, commit yourself to reading some authors more than others. I suggest that you take five authors and spend the rest of your life with them. Oh by all means read other books and other authors, but let a select few be your lifetime friends and companions. Dig deep into these authors. Read and then reread them. Enjoy all books, but make these authors your inner-circle, your best friends, your guides. Do this so that throughout your life while you love and appreciate many authors and many books, there are at least some authors and some books that you know, really, really, know.

So who should these select authors be? Who do I recommend you spend the rest of your life with? Well, granted, each person’s list may be a bit different, so this list isn’t set in stone, and I may have answered this question differently in the past (and may again in the future), but this is my list, and I believe it’s a good list. I love all my books, but if I was told that for the rest of my life I could only read books from five authors, who would I pick and why? If I was on a deserted island and could have the complete works of only five authors, which ones would I choose? I would choose these companions (listed in alphabetical order) who have influenced me and impacted me more than all other authors, and I would encourage you to get to know them for yourself:

1. John Calvin – C.S. Lewis noted our tendency for “chronological snobbery,” the misguided belief that only modern ideas and authors are valuable or worth our time. Lewis understood that we need to read authors from the past, and even advised that for every modern book we read, we should not return to a modern author until we’ve read at least one book from someone in the past.

That’s good advice, and that’s one reason I value the writings of John Calvin. Now, I understand, for some of you putting Calvin on the list might seem strange. I think that’s due to a lot of untrue and unfair caricatures that have spread over the last five hundred years. Sometimes people who are unfamiliar with his writings think that Calvin is a dour, mean-spirited killjoy who has an unhealthy preoccupation with predestination and hell, or at best an author who only wrote about what later became known as “Calvinism.” The thing is, however, that those caricatures are NOT true.

Calvin is one of the greatest writers in all of history. His prose is unmatched, even in an English translation. His writings are often devotional, immensely practical, deeply theological, and are grounded on the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God. He consistently calls his readers to see all of life as a display of God’s glory and to live all of life centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is no overstatement to say that Calvin is probably the most influential author from the last five hundred years. Additionally, to read Calvin is in many ways to be marinated in both the early church fathers and the theological heart of the Protestant Reformation. Reading Calvin provides a helpful introduction to early church theologians like Augustine and others, and his writings are the clearest expression of the core doctrines that shook Europe during the Reformation. It is no wonder why Philipp Melanchthon (Martin Luther’s contemporary, friend, and “right-hand man” in Wittenberg) simply called Calvin (and not Luther), “The Theologian.”

2. C.S. Lewis – Anyone who has spent much time around me knows how much I love C.S. Lewis. Sometimes it may seem like it’s all I can do not to quote Lewis on almost any subject! My bookshelves in my church office and at home are full of his books, and I’ve turned to them repeatedly throughout my life.

And in some ways that may seem a little strange. After all, I have some very real disagreements with Lewis (as I do with Calvin and every other author on this list). Lewis was certainly not a conservative evangelical Christian. I believe his views on the Bible, the atonement, and the afterlife are all seriously deficient and problematic. So why do I wholeheartedly recommend him (albeit with a healthy dose of discernment)?

Lewis’ writings are an overwhelming example of a man who saw all of life through the lenses of who God is and what he has done in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He got some things wrong (as we all do), but what he got right, he got gloriously right. His mind and imagination were on fire with the truths, the deepest truths of the universe, and everything he ever wrote (after his conversion) was written through the filter of what had happened to him when he had encountered the saving grace of God. As a former atheist, he never got over what it meant to encounter the one, true, and living God in the person of Jesus Christ. His friend Walter Hooper once said that Lewis was “the most thoroughly converted man I have ever known.”

If that weren’t enough, I’m convinced that Lewis is the master of taking huge, life-altering, deep truths and explaining them in language that is easy (or at least easier) to understand. No one writes like Lewis. No one else explains and explores the implications of the gospel like Lewis, whether he is writing a defense of Christianity or a fairy-story for children. As his friend Owen Barfield said, “what he believed about everything was present in what he said about anything.”

3. J.I. Packer J.I. Packer is one of the two authors on this list who are still alive as of the writing of this article, and one of only a handful of modern authors that I believe are worth returning to over and over again throughout a Christian’s life. He would deserve to be on this list even if the only thing you ever read by him is Knowing God, but his other writings are just as good and just as important.

Born in 1926 in England, he heard C.S. Lewis lecture in person while he was a student at Oxford University, and he was later heavily influenced by Lewis’ writings. He would later become even more heavily influenced by and indebted to the English Puritans, and one reason Packer should be on this list is solely because to read his works is to in many ways read the entirety of Puritan theology flowing through the pen of one author. If you read Packer, you are in a sense also reading John Owen, John Bunyan, Richard Baxter, and others.

Packer’s specific contribution lies (as mentioned above) in his book on the person of God, Knowing God, his writings on the Puritans, the inerrancy of the Bible, devotional and experiential life for the Christian, holiness, and as the General Editor for the Bible translation that Toby, Logan, and I all use – the English Standard Version.

4. John Piper – John Piper is the other living author on this list, and perhaps the one author who has influenced me more than all others. Piper, longtime senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, and currently the chancellor for the Bethlehem College and Seminary as well as the founder of Desiring God Ministries, has influenced a whole generation of Christians over the last thirty years.

Piper’s work, in both his sermons and his written works, consistently and continually call us to be passionate for the pleasure that is only found in the presence of God. A passion for God’s glory, for the centrality of the cross, for the sovereignty of God in the midst of suffering, and in radical, risk-taking, death-defying, and life-giving missions to the ends of the earth are all summaries of everything Piper’s ministry has been about. There are few authors who combine a sold-out passion for God’s glory with a solid theology of both suffering and missions like Piper.

Additionally, by reading Piper throughout all of life you will also be secretly ingesting the entirety of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards is almost certainly the greatest theologian and intellectual that North America has ever produced, but the writings of this eighteenth century genius, pastor, and missionary can be dense and hard to read. Edwards is worth the trouble of reading, but he can be hard to read. But Piper takes the thought of Edwards and slams it into every sentence he has ever written. To spend a lifetime reading Piper is to spend a lifetime reading Edwards, because as J.I. Packer once noted, the ghost of Edwards walks through most of what Piper has written.

5. Charles Spurgeon – Finally, the last name on my lifetime reading list probably isn’t a surprise. Spurgeon is incomparable. I know I said that Piper had probably influenced me more than anyone else, but that probably wasn’t true. That statement almost certainly belongs to Spurgeon, the only man to be known as “the Prince of Preachers.” I mean, he’s the only author on this list that I have a handwritten page from that is framed and on my office wall!

Charles Spurgeon was the longtime pastor of the Baptist Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, and he was one-of-a-kind. He was an anomaly, combining a fire-hot passion for the gospel, intellectual genius, unmatched energy and vigor, and giftedness in preaching that has perhaps never been equaled. He once preached to over 23,000 people at one time with no microphone and is estimated to have preached to over ten million people over the course of his life, all in an age before modern media and technology. It is no overstatement to say that Spurgeon is almost certainly the greatest preacher in the English language, and his literary output is unmatched. When you take his sermons that were published in book form during his lifetime, along with the many other books and devotionals that he wrote, his writings make up the largest body of work by any single author in the English language…ever.

Spurgeon’s writings combine humor, vivid imagery, simple explanation, a fierce commitment to the Bible and the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all of life. His writings are cross-centered, God-anchored, and speak to the believer (and the unbeliever) with pinpoint application for every area of life during every season of life. His struggles with depression and suffering are well known, and he provides refreshing water for the believer that is likewise struggling and suffering throughout life by anchoring all of life to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Coming in Part Two: Where to Begin With the Five Authors Recommended

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