Verify Installation


Your Greatest Help Lives Within You

Many of you know that I've recently transitioned from serving as Family Pastor at LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, Kentucky, to Senior Pastor at Oak Hill Baptist Church in Humboldt, Iowa.  It's been a big change (thus the lack of blog posts!), but God has been very good.  We sense that He has us right where he wants us for such a time as this. Maybe the biggest lesson God is teaching me so far is that He's with me.  He's given me the gift of himself - the Holy Spirit.  I'm learning to rely on him more than ever as I remind myself that the help I need lives right within me.*  The Holy Spirit gives me power to do things I cannot do on my own.  So when I'm faced with circumstances that are beyond my wisdom, instead of thinking to myself, "I can't do this," I'm reminding myself, "I can do this, by the power of the Holy Spirit in me."

What an amazing gift to ponder at Christmastime.  The help of the Holy Spirit living within us.

Praise God.

*Paul Tripp elaborates on this concept in his excellent DVD series called, "Portrait of a Struggle."



If you're a regular reader of Life2gether, you may have noticed a few changes. I'm in the process of redesigning the blog and adding some new features with the help of Currahee Graphics. I thought it was a good time for a change since my life will be changing dramatically in the next month. On December 4th, I will begin a new chapter as Senior Pastor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in Humboldt, Iowa. My wife and I are very excited about this opportunity and look forward to advancing God's kingdom in Humboldt and beyond. Please continue to pray for us in these next few weeks as we make the transition. Blogging may be light, but I look forward to what lies ahead.

Preparing for the Teen Years Now

I would venture to say that most readers of this blog have children under the age of 12. I'm in that boat too. And even though there are unique challenges that come with this stage of parenting, for the most part it's a joyful time watching your children learn and grow. Some have called these years (especially around 7-11) the golden years of parenting. Dennis Rainey likens it to "a lazy boat ride down the river on a pleasant afternoon." I don't know if I'd go that far, but it is nice when your kids can finally dress and feed themselves and even have meaningful conversations with you. But we know what's coming. Adolescence - those awkward, in-between years that scare us as parents because everything starts changing. If preadolescence is a lazy boat ride on a pleasant afternoon, then adolescence is a white-water rapids on a rainy day. Paul Tripp writes,

The teen years are often cataclysmic years of conflict, struggle, and grief. They are years of new temptations, of trial and testing.

That part we understand. In fact most parents approach these years with fear and trepidation just hoping to get through it safely. But Tripp goes on to say:

Yet these very struggles, conflicts, trials, and tests are what produce such wonderful parental opportunities.

There it is. Tripp says we can view our children's adolescence as either an "age of opportunity" or a "season of survival." Instead of being scared we can be excited as we approach these important years with hope in God.

With that in mind, here are a few excellent resources for parents as they approach this age of opportunity. My advice: read these books before your child enters into this season, not during.

The Space Between by Dr. Walt Mueller - A very read-able book on the changes that happen during adolescence and how to better understand your child (and you) through these years.

Age of Opportunity by Paul Tripp - I always appreciate Tripp's focus on how God parents us as we parent our kids. This is an excellent book on seizing the opportunity God has given us during these tough years.

Parenting Today's Adolescent by Dennis and Barbara Rainey - This is a comprehensive guide for parents that explores the many traps of adolescence (like peer pressure and dating) and gives you creative ways you can talk about them with your child.

**Read this related post: When Should I Talk to My Kids About Sex?

The Pastor and Personal Criticism

C.J. Mahaney begins a new blog series on The Pastor and Personal Criticism.  Here's one section from his initial post:

There are many reasons why [pastors] can expect criticism:

  • A pastor can expect criticism because of his own sin, which will inevitably be present in his heart and service, no matter how mature or well meaning he is (James 3:2).
  • A pastor can expect criticism because there are limitations to his gifting, meaning there will always be weaknesses in his leadership.
  • A pastor can expect criticism because we often preach below-average sermons. (After one sermon, a guy asked me, “So where do you work during the week?” My sermon apparently gave him the impression that preaching wasn’t my vocation.)
  • A pastor can expect criticism because people can be proud and ungrateful.
  • A pastor can expect criticism because, well, it is a sinful and fallen world.

But we as pastors often forget one more important reason:

  • A pastor can expect criticism because it is part of God’s sanctification process—a tool that he uses to reveal idols and accelerate the pastor’s growth in humility.

God enlists many to serve us to this end.

Puritan Richard Baxter got this. In his book to pastors, The Reformed Pastor, he wrote,

Because there are many eyes upon you, therefore there will be many observers of your falls. If other men may sin without observation, so cannot you. And you should thankfully consider how great a mercy this is, that you have so many eyes to watch over you, and so many ready to tell you of your faults, and so have greater helps than others, at least for the restraining of your sin. Though they may do it with a malicious mind, yet you have the advantage by it.*

Read the rest of this humbling post ...

Using Your Imagination to Fight Sin

God gave us our imagination. I think he wants us to use it more in our fight against sin. Here's what I mean:

Today I pictured my heart like a battlefield. I imagined myself sitting on a white horse with Jesus as my Warrior King going before me in battle. As the enemies of my flesh crowded all around me, Jesus charged ahead and fended off each one with his mighty sword. I thought of Revelation 19:11-16 and reminded myself that Jesus is a strong Savior who has rescued me from the power of sin and one day will rescue me fully from the presence of sin. Thanks be to God!

God gave us our imagination. When appropriate, I encourage you to slow down, picture the truth of Scripture in your mind and fight against sin.

What We're Teaching Our High School Students

I've really enjoyed partnering with my buddy Cam in our ministry to high school students called InsideOut.  Our desire is that our students would be changed by the renewing of their minds.  With that in mind (pun intended) we are currently making our way through a series called The 4G's taken from Tim Chester's excellent book called, You Can Change.  These are the 4 Truths about God that can set us free to live in light of the gospel: 1. God is great, so we don't have to be in control. 2. God is glorious, so we don't have to fear others. 3. God is good, so we don't have to look elsewhere. 4. God is gracious, so we don't have to prove ourselves.

You can read Chester's chapter on these 4G's here.  Chapter 2 (Why Would you Like to Change?) is also available here.  LBC members, please continue to pray for this ministry to our students.

Parents, do you struggle with control?

So, I'm noticing lately how much I struggle with control.  I like to have things my way.  The strange thing is that God is showing me this through my oldest daughter.  She fits the firstborn description pretty well.  She's smart and motivated, and very much a perfectionist.  She likes to have things just so, and if they aren't, she can get pretty emotional.  It's silly how we can get into arguments about such little, unimportant things. A couple nights ago, as we were getting ready for bed, I told her to brush her teeth first before reading her book.  But she wanted to read her book first and then brush her teeth.  I didn't like that. But she didn't understand why it mattered so much.  I told her because I said so.  She got frustrated and started whining back at me pleading her case.  But I wouldn't budge.  I was going to win this battle!  After all, I'm the parent and I'm in control!  And yet at the end of the day (literally!), I was tired and she was tired ... and I responded to her in anger.  I wanted her to be flexible and to not to have to be in control, but I was modeling the opposite: inflexibility and complete control!  Thankfully, God brought both of us to a place of brokenness over our sin.  I asked her to forgive me as I often forget that I am not in control ... I am not God.  We talked about how God has put me as an authority over her for her good and that even when she doesn't understand why I'm asking her to do something, she is called to trust me and not argue to get her way.  At yet at the same time, I told her that I need to release the control over things that don't really matter and really listen to her and her needs.  In the end, I'm still the parent, but I don't have to be a dictator, I can be a loving shepherd by the grace of God.

You see, God is parenting me as I parent my kids.  He's showing me that if I still struggle with control, why do I get so angry when my 8 year old daughter struggles with it?  Why am I so impatient with her when God is so patient with me?  If you're a parent that struggles with this let me share with you a book that has helped me.  It's called, Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel.  Here's one quote worth meditating on:

I'm urging you to raise your children the way God raises His.  The primary word that defines how God deals with His children is grace.  Grace does not exclude obedience, respect, boundaries, or discipline, but it does determine the climate in which these important parts of parenting are carried out (p. 20).

  • READ this related post: Learning to Let Go

The Comfort and the Call of the Gospel

Guest post by Dustin Shramek I mentioned the call and the comfort of the gospel in my last guest post (Sin - Confrontation - Heart - Idol - Gospel). Both are essential if we want to see true change in our lives. Imagine a man who abused his daughter. Our response is generally to give only comfort to the daughter and only focus on the call of the gospel to the father. We will not help that girl be the woman she is meant to be if we merely give her comfort and don’t help her see that the gospel also calls her to respond to her father’s sin not with more sin, but with holiness. If we merely comfort her and don’t warn her about the bitterness in her heart we will not have fully helped her.

At the same time, we would be fools to think that we can merely throw the commands of the gospel at the father and show him all the ways he should be different and think that will make a lick of difference in his life. If there is any hope for change in him he must meet the living God and find the comfort of the gospel. He needs forgiveness. He needs grace.

Certainly in different situations we will focus on the call of the gospel more than the comfort of the gospel or vice versa. But we must never separate them so much that we don’t see how they go hand in hand.

Romans 8:1-17 is a great example of a text that has both call and comfort. I have posted the text below and simply pointed out where we see the comfort and where we see the call of the gospel.

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [comfort] 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. [comfort] 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [comfort] 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [comfort and call] 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [call] 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [comfort and call] 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. [call]

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. [comfort] 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. [comfort] 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. [comfort]

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. [call] 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [call and comfort] 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [comfort and call] 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [comfort] 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [comfort] 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. [comfort and call]

Sin - Confrontation - Heart - Idol - Gospel

Guest post by Dustin Shramek The heart is the key to behavior and if we want to help one another or be helped we must get to the heart. When we confront we move beyond the behavior and help our brother or sister see how sin is at work. For example, you see a friend speak in anger to his wife. You can ignore it, but that isn’t loving to your friend, to his wife, to his children, or to the others who see Christ dishonored through this man’s sinful speech. You can simply confront him with a bold proclamation against his sin, but that isn’t loving either. We need to gently point out sin and then seek to help him.

You can very gently say something like, “I noticed when we were together earlier that you said ______ to your wife. It seemed as though there was anger in your voice. What was going on?” If your friend is wise he will receive these questions with gladness. If he is like me he might be defensive. Either way, we trust that the same Holy Spirit prompting me to confront is also at work in his heart to conform him to the image of Jesus. He will likely pass the blame for his anger by telling you what his wife did to make him angry. Of course, she may very well have first sinned against her husband, but we know that no one makes us respond in sin. We do that ourselves. So our goal is to help him own his own sin.

He doesn’t need, primarily, better communication tips. He doesn’t merely need a list of do’s and don’t’s in communicating his frustrations to his wife. He needs to see his heart in the midst of his anger. In some way he was living for his own kingdom and his wife had gotten in the way of his goals. Perhaps he had elevated peace of mind as an idol in his heart. His wife then did something that caused stress and he responded in anger because she became a barrier to the peace of mind he wanted. Perhaps he had elevated some activity as an idol in his heart. His wife then did or said something that put the enjoyment of that activity in question so he responded with anger because she became a barrier to that enjoyment. Perhaps having a submissive wife has been elevated to an idol in his heart. He wants the community to know that his wife submits to him so when she did something that calls this into question he got angry at her because she had become a barrier to the status he wanted.

The point is this: Behind his anger is some kind of idol. He had ceased living for the kingdom of God and was living for his own kingdom. His wife did not play by the rules of his kingdom and so he responded with anger. This is the problem of marriage. You bring together two people with two different kingdoms and expect them to live in harmony. You soon learn that the other is not playing by your rules and conflict comes. This is why it isn’t enough to merely give better communication tips. If someone is still living for his own kingdom he will simply use those communication skills to continue living for his kingdom. There needs to be a change of heart. And this is what we want to do when we are confronting friends.

If we are going to help a friend experience heart change we must never forget that there is one means by which a heart is truly changed—the gospel. We cannot love our neighbor without the gospel. The gospel hits at every point of need. This husband needs to change. He needs to love his wife like Christ loved the church. It isn’t enough to merely quote from Ephesians 5 about what a husband is to do. We must help our friend place his story—his life—into the larger context of God’s story. We read the command, “Husbands, love your wife like Christ loved the church.” But we can’t actually understand what that means without understanding the whole story. We need to understand how sin has separated us from God so that God sent his beloved Son as a man in order to die for the sins of his people. And by this death and his subsequent resurrection God has created a new people to whom he promises to use his omnipotent power to work all things for their good.

The gospel makes a claim on our lives. It calls us to change. It calls us to holiness and obedience. So we need to preach the gospel to one another and call each other to greater holiness and obedience. But we will never be able to heed the call of the gospel if we don’t also have the comfort of the gospel. We need to understand that in Christ our sins are forgiven. I can’t live the life God wants me to live if by living it I think God will love me more. I first need to know that God loves me and he couldn’t possibly love me more because his love is already endless. It is the knowledge and experience of that love that enables me to strive for greater holiness. We obey not in order for God to love us, but because he already does.

Related Resource: Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger than You by Paul Tripp

Trust in the Slow Work of God

This poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin encouraged me today: Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. Yet it is the law of all progress that is made by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow. Let them shape themselves without undue haste. Do not try to force them on as though you could be today what time – that is to say, grace – and circumstances acting on your own good will will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new Spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser. 

(HT: Mark Peterson)

Parenting Reveals What I Believe About the Gospel

Parenting reveals what I really believe about the gospel.  It's a window that sheds light on the truths that are in my head and are slowly making their way into my heart.  And whatever comes out of my heart in those parenting moments is a good indicator of how well I understand the gospel.  Let me give you an example. The other day one of my girls shocked me by saying some unkind words right to my face.  I felt hurt, and I felt fear.  Hurt that I could be spoken to that way and fear that my daughter was capable of those kind of words.  So in that moment I reacted in anger.  I raised my voice and told her to go to her room.  After a long discussion we came to a place of reconciliation.  But I felt like a failure as a father.  How could she say that?  Where had I gone wrong?

In that moment, I was so focused on my feelings I quickly forgot the gospel.  The gospel says I am a sinner capable of using sinful words just like my daughter.  But my hope is not in my performance or in hers.  My hope is in Christ rescuing her just as he has done for me.  Because in Christ, I am a sinner that's been forgiven.  In Christ, I am not a failure.  In Christ, I am always in union with Christ in his resurrection and perfection.  So in Christ, I'm a perfect parent regardless of my performance.

So what do I do when I fail as a parent?  My friend, Dr. Eric Johnson, explains:

The gospel leads me into accepting my parenting where it's at, taking my ongoing sins and failures (and successes) to Christ, and receiving forgiveness for my sins and mistakes as a parent.  But I must remember that I am in Christ: his beloved child, righteous, already complete and perfect.

As we parent our children, let's remember that God is parenting us.  He's using our parenting experiences to reveal what we really believe about the gospel so he can grow us more deeply in the gospel.

Don't Be Afraid to Speak a Word

Yesterday I was encouraged to receive a needed word from a brother in Christ and share a needed word to a different brother in Christ.  It got me thinking.  This should be normal for Christians. We ought to be open to the Spirit's nudging and not afraid to share a  word of encouragement, a word of wisdom, or even a word of rebuke.  Too often we forget the horizontal dimension of God's grace. We think the only way that God will work in our lives is through our personal "quiet times."  Could it be that God is waiting for you to avail yourself to others in community who can speak a word to your soul?  And could it be that God is nudging you to use your mouth as a means of grace in someone else's life today?  Pray for it.  Be open to it.  Don't be afraid to speak a word (perhaps from the Word!) into someone's life.  And then be ready to humbly receive a word when God sends his messengers your way.

When God Surprises You

Paul Tripp invites us to be honest and open to God's gracious "surprises":

The surprises along the way are God’s surprises. He is never caught off guard or unprepared. He calls us to follow him beyond the boundaries of our wisdom, strength and character. The waiting we have to do and the surprises that we face are meant by him to be tools of grace. They are designed to release us from our self-reliance and the hold our dreams for our lives have on us.

In those moments of surprise, it is important to remember that you may be confused, but God isn’t. In this moment when you are not sure what is going on, you haven’t been abandoned. No, the opposite is true: you are being rescued. But living this way is hard for us.

I encourage you to read the whole thing.  Paul Tripp has a way of breaking into our hearts with the truth and grace we so desperately need.

Slavery to Busyness?

Michael Wallenmeyer shares his thoughts about a book that could liberate many of us from our slavery to busyness:

Sometimes the busyness I see in my own life and in the lives of others seems more like slavery than anything else.  Why are we so darn busy? Why are there no margins in our life? Why does it feel like we can never slow down? What are we teaching our kids based on the fact that we are traveling at the speed of light? What is the cost of this busyness to our families and our spiritual well-being? Should we just accept this frantic pace and learn to deal with it? Or is there something deeper going on in our hearts? Do we need to examine our lifestyle in the light of the gospel? Tim Chester is a sharp theological thinker and a man I respect greatly. He wrote a book that is a must read for Christians today caught up in the rat race,“The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness”.

The book is asking us to take a look at our heart to see if we are not so much victims of busyness, but rather to at least contemplate the idea that we are perpetuating this pace of life because of the things we are pursuing. But, the book does not simply stop with a critique of our own ambitions, it points us to biblical truths that can liberate us from this self-imposed slavery. Here are the liberating truths from chapters 7-12…

  • Chapter 7: I’m busy busy because I need to prove myself-The liberating rest of God
  • Chapter 8: I’m busy because of other people’s expectations-The liberating fear of God
  • Chapter 9: I’m busy because otherwise things get out of control-The liberating rule of God
  • Chapter 10: I’m busy because I prefer being under pressure-The liberating refuge of God
  • Chapter 11: I’m busy because I need the money-The liberating joy of God
  • Chapter 12: I’m busy because I want to make the most of my life-The liberating hope of God

Check out this video of Chester explaining why he wrote the book.

God Wants You To Give Up

Paul Tripp, from his new book on marriage called, What Did You Expect:

"His grace purposes to expose and free you from your bondage to you. His grace is meant to bring you to the end of yourself so that you will finally begin to place your identity, your meaning and purpose, and your inner sense of well-being in him. . . . To add to this, he designs circumstances for you that you would have never designed for yourself. All this is meant to bring you to the end of yourself, because that is where true righteousness begins. He wants you to give up. He wants you to abandon your dream. . . . He knows there is no life to be found in these things."

(HT: Walt Mueller)

Death Precedes Life

Michael Wallenmeyer on how change in the church can often be painful, but needed:

Here is what the gospel tells me, death precedes life. The good news of the cross is that Jesus was willing to go through the pain so that others could experience new life. My greatest hope and desire is that this same gospel truth is at work in our church.  God is always reforming His church, and sometimes reformation means something dying for God’s glory.

(Read the whole article, "Missional Pain and the Hope of the Gospel")

Effective Gospel Ministry

Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, from their helpful book, Gospel-Centred Church:

"Effective gospel ministry is long term, low key and relational."

  • Long term -- credibility and integrity ... demonstrated over a long period of time
  • Low - key -- work that's going on quietly, quite ordinary but w/gospel intentionality
  • Relational -- this is the heart of the gospel, sharing not only the gospel, but our very lives

The Gospel for Day 2 and Beyond

This Sunday I'm blessed to be a part of Stephen Cavness' Spring Renewal Services at his church in Cave City, Kentucky.  Here's the list of speakers and their topics.  I'm looking forward to preaching from Romans 12:1-2 on, "The Gospel for Day 2 and Beyond."  My buddy, Lisle Drury, will preach on Sat. from Luke 18:9-14 on "Genuine Repentance: for Salvation and Everyday."  Please pray for us. thursday, may 20th 6:30 PM – randy shaw – “the holiness & majesty of god”

friday, may 21st – 6:30 PM – brandon porter – “man’s relationship to god: in need of redemption”

saturday, may 22nd6:00 PM – lisle drury – “genuine repentance: for salvation & and every day”

sunday, may 23rd11:00 AM – doug wolter – “the gospel for day 2 and beyond”

sunday, may 23rd6:00 PM – john nelson – “more than religious: loving christ ”

Detecting Your False Self

Jonathan Dodson, from his article, Gospel Identity: We All Have Identity Issues:

We all have identity issues. Many of us have created an alter ego....This alter ego contends for our identity. It pulls at your heart, your longings. It tells you that if you were just a little more like this or that, then you'd be somebody. If you were better looking, if you were more successful, if you were married, if you were more spiritual, if you had more of a following on Twitter or Facebook, then you'd be somebody.

How do you detect your alter ego? Where do your thoughts drift when you have down time? What do you daydream about? Follow your thoughts, your dreams, your heart-longings and you will find your alter ego — the thing or things that call for you to find security/identity in them.

Eric Johnson, Professor of Soul Care at Southern Seminary, calls this the "false self".  He writes,

It is indeed false.  It is every way that we choose to live outside of God's will.  It is our way of resisting God and others.  It is our attempt to control our lives and sometimes the lives of others.  It is rooted in a refusal to not trust God to secure us.  It is how we say, "I will do this my own way.  I will not believe God or his words.  I will be good on my own.  I will not trust Christ crucified and raised from the dead."

Some examples of the false self could be: the good boy, the independent one, the performer, the busy one, the perfectionist, the controller, the passive one, the religious one, the expert, the addicted one, the codependent, the stoic, the clown, the judge, the critic, the liar, the rager, the know it all ...  All of these are about control.  I will control how I experience life.

His conclusion: The false self must be identified and laid bare before God and others (Ephesians 5:8-14).  In this place of nakedness and brokenness, Jesus meets me, loves and heals me.