Monthly Archives: January 2016

Blending conviction and courage with civility makes an effectiveness witness

Love KindnessBook Review: Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue, by Barry H. Corey

Those outside the church will never be won over by watching evangelicals clad in razor wire lobbing accusations at each other or at the secular culture. It’s a new day for a winsome Christian witness without a diluted gospel message. The most effective witness will be done by those who blend conviction and courage with civility. We need both a firm center and soft edges.

These thoughts summarize the message of Dr. Barry Corey’s new book, Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue. Dr. Corey is the President of Biola University, a Christian liberal arts university in Southern California. As an alumnus of Biola and as a parent of two Biola alums, I was curious when I saw this book posted for review. I was both encouraged and challenged by the message of the book.

The title of the book comes from Micah 6:8 (ESV). “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

As the author explains,

I wrote the book out of frustration that those who represent the gospel are often caustic and harsh, picking fights with those whose views are hostile to theirs. In other words, Christians are often starting with unkindness. Unkindness has little effect beyond marshaling other Christians to admire our toughness and raising our own profile. This has gotten us nowhere in the cause of the gospel, our Christian call to be redemptive voices to that which is broken.

Our increasingly shrill sounds in the public square are not strengthening our witness but weakening it. Bullhorns and fist shaking—mustering armies and using war-waging rhetoric—are far less effective than the way of kindness, treating those with who we disagree with charity and civility. That doesn’t mean we don’t stand courageously for what we deem right, true, and just. But kindness is not incompatible with courage. Kindness embodies courage, although courage does not always embody kindness. Too often our centers are firm on conviction, but our edges are also hard in our tactics. This way is characterized by aggression.

And on the other hand there is the way of “niceness.” Whereas aggression has a firm center and hard edges, niceness has soft edges and a spongy center. Niceness may be pleasant, but it lacks conviction. It has no soul. Niceness trims its sails to prevailing cultural winds and wanders aimlessly, standing for nothing and thereby falling for everything.

Kindness is certainly not aggression, but it’s also not niceness. … Kindness is fierce, never to be mistaken for niceness.

In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme or the other, soft centers or hard edges. I’m proposing a different approach, a third way. Rather than the harshness of firm centers and hard edges, and rather than the weakness of spongy centers and soft edges, why don’t we start with kindness? Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges.

Dr. Corey opens the book with stories about his father. His dad was the one who taught Barry about the difference that showing kindness can make in the lives of people. In addition, his father modeled the character quality for his son. Barry is now doing the same in the lives of his family and the students of Biola.

Rather than merely talk in vague generalities, Dr. Corey gives specific examples of where kindness is needed today and the difference it makes. He describes how kindness can smooth the communication process between differing opinions, such as the issue of gay marriage. While not compromising his convictions, Dr. Corey engages in civil dialogue with those who take a different viewpoint. The author describes how kindness shows up and is present when people are suffering during times of grief and difficulty. He models how to show kindness to those who are unattractive in the world’s eyes and how to demonstrate kindness through the process of mentoring others. Dr. Corey also deals with how one responds when kindness is rejected.

Throughout the book, the author weaves together personal stories about his family, interaction with the community, conversations with students, and biblical principles to flesh out what kindness might look like in daily life. While you may not agree with everything Dr. Corey says, you will be challenged by the need to love kindness.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale Blog Network book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


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Posted by on January 31, 2016 in Biola University, Books, Quotes, Scripture


The Church is a Sending Community

About 350 years ago a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness. In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway?

Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision. With a clear vision of what we can become in Christ, no ocean of difficulty is too great. Without it, we rarely move beyond our current boundaries.

Unless we are careful, a church’s clear, compelling vision can dim and fade with time. We can become inward focused and lose sight of what God has called us to be and to do. To guard against that tendency, our church periodically reviews our vision and values, especially as they flow out of three key passages of Scriptures.

We want to become:

  • An Acts 2:42-27 Community of Faith—a family of families that is passionate about God’s word, fellowship, worship, and prayer; where outreach is a natural byproduct.
  • An Ephesians 4:11-16 Equipping Community—a place where gifted leaders focus on equipping people to serve; where the members are the ministers and the pastors are the equippers.
  • An Acts 13-14 Sending Community—a strong, established church helping to strengthen and establish other churches; sending our best into ministry.

The church in Antioch provides a model of this type of ministry. They were a strong, established church (Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3) helping to establish other churches (Acts 13:4-14:27).

The word “establish” can have two different meanings. One meaning is “to begin.” The house of Mark & Carol Wheeler was “established” on December 27, 1980 when we were married. A second meaning is “to strengthen.” In the New Testament, the word “establish” comes from the Greek word “steridzo,” from which we get our English word, steroids. The word “establish” means “to strengthen,” “to make fast,” “to support,” or “to fix something so that it stands upright or immovable.” There is a sense in which a strong, established church is a church on steroids!

Acts 11:19-21 explains that following the death of Stephen, a persecution arose which drove the believers out of Jerusalem. Some found their way to Antioch in Syria and began preaching to Gentiles. Many believed the message and a church was born.

Antioch was the last place you would expect to find a thriving church. The city was a melting pot of at least five cultures—Greek, Roman, Semitic, Arab, and Persian. It was not known for its virtues, but for its vices. It was famous for chariot racing, the deliberate pursuit of pleasure, and the worship of the goddess Daphne. It was the Las Vegas of its day, famous for moral depravity.

And yet, in the midst of sensuality and immorality, there was such a vibrant, spiritual movement that the people of Antioch coined a new term to describe the followers of Jesus Christ. The disciples were called Christians, or “Christ ones,” first in Antioch.

The church in Antioch shared the same characteristics as the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2).

  • They were committed to the Word of God (Acts 11:26).
  • They were committed to fellowship and sharing (Acts 11:27-30).
  • They were blessed with godly leaders (Acts 13:1).
  • They were committed to worship and prayer (Acts 13:2-3).
  • They followed the leading of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2-3).

The church sent two of her best leaders, Barnabas and Saul (later known as Paul) to begin a new phase of ministry. Paul understood his job description was to preach the gospel and establish the church (Ephesians 3:8-10). Paul’s strategy included:

  • Sharing the gospel in key cities on the trade routes (Acts 13:1-14:21).
  • Returning to strengthen the new believers (Acts 14:22).
  • Gathering the believers into communities and appointing elders to lead them (Acts 14:23).
  • Remaining accountable and reporting back to his sending church (Acts 13:1-3; 14:24-28).
  • Writing letters to the churches to continue the strengthening process (Epistles).

This is the synopsis of the first half of a sermon preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 31, 2016. It is part of a series on The Church. During the second half, I reviewed the core values of our church that flow out of Acts 2, Ephesians 4, and Acts 13-14. You can read them in their entirety in the sermon notes.



Shepherd your child’s heart

PowerPoint Presentation

Adapted from 33 The Series: Volume 6: A Man and his Fatherhood; Session One: Foundation

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Posted by on January 30, 2016 in Men, Parenting


Looking for strength when fear closes in

My son posted the link to a thought provoking article on Facebook. “Nikabrik’s Candidate” is written by Gina Dalfonzo and compares our current political landscape to C. S. Lewis’ book, Prince Caspian, one of The Chronicles of Narnia. The author explains that

Lewis had a remarkable understanding of human nature. He knew what it was like to feel that all hope was lost. And he knew that fear and despair can drive decent people to look for someone, anyone, who projects an appearance of strength.

In speaking of Donald Trump, Dalfonzo wonders aloud “how some who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are lured by a man who openly puts all his faith in power and money, the very things Christ warned us against prizing too highly.”

You may not agree with everything the author says, but the article will make you think.

Thanks, Jon, for posting the link.

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Posted by on January 29, 2016 in Books, Culture, News stories, Quotes


Press forward


Philippians 3:12–14

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.


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Posted by on January 28, 2016 in Scripture, Tim Challies


A visit from Noah

This evening, Noah joined the T&T group in Awana at First Central Baptist Church to tell how God instructed him to build the ark (Genesis 6-9). We learned that God is holy and must judge sin, and that God always keeps his promises.


A Church Needs a Holy Pastor

“The greatest need of my people is my own holiness.” Robert Murray M’Cheyne

A pastor who continually seeks after Christ and grows in holiness pursues the most important thing for his own soul and also for those under his care. They need a pastor who loves and is growing in the Lord to lead them to love and grow. We cannot lead where we have not tread. We cannot give what we do not have. We cannot teach what we do not know. We cannot set an example when we are not passionately seeking the Lord ourselves. Where our affections have grown cold, the church will suffer. When our confidence in the Lord is low, the church will feel the effect. The church requires, by God’s design, pastors who are holiness-seeking, faith-building, gospel-preaching, love-motivated, grace-imbibed, affection-stirred leaders of God’s people.

Our calling is a holy calling. If holiness does not mark us, then we should not be surprised when it does not mark our churches. There are few things more important in the life of the church than the holiness of its pastors.

Jason Helopoulos in The New Pastor’s Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry

Certainly a challenging standard to live up to, but a good reminder nonetheless.

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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Books, Ministry, Quotes


Don’t trust your brain

In making decisions, we are often counseled not to trust our emotions. Instead, we are told to be rational. However, we also need to be careful in following the advice our brains give us. The book Game Over is the fascinating conclusion of Andrew Klavan’s MindWar Trilogy. In a dialog between the main character, Rick Dial, and his mother, his mother warns him about trusting his brain alone.

“I’m scared, Mom,” he said

She nodded.

“I’m scared something’s wrong with me. Because of the Realm. The Breach. I’m scared something’s wrong with my brain. I mean, I’m not afraid of Kurodar. I’m not afraid of his monster or his men. Or that is, I am afraid, sure I am, but it doesn’t bother me. You know? When it comes down to it, I’ll fight them. I’ll fight anybody.”

His mom nodded. “I know you will.”

“But when you can’t trust your own brain …”

For the first time tonight, his mother’s eye widened a little in alarm. “No, don’t do that. Don’t trust your own brain, Rick.”

“What do you mean? Why not?”

“Because. Because your brain can steer you wrong, that’s why. If you want to do the stupidest, ugliest, meanest thing in the world, your brain’ll come up with excuses for you to do it. You know it will. It happens to everyone. Everyone who ever cheated on a test or hurt a friend or stuck a needle in his arm or go behind the wheel or a car when he was drunk–they all thought they had perfectly good reasons to do it. Their brains told them so. You can never trust your brain.”

Her words surprised him at first, but when he thought about it, he knew she was right. He could think of half a dozen times off the top of his head when he had done something really, really stupid and his brain had said to him, Great idea, Champ! You ride that skateboard down the steepest hill in town two days before training begins! Sure thing. What could go wrong?

Rick’s mom was expressing the truth revealed in Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed form heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”



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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in Books, Quotes, Scripture


The Church is an Equipping Community

If you were appointed to the planning commission for a brand new city, where would you start? Would you lay out the roads? Plan the neighborhoods? Determine the infrastructure and utilities? Identify where the schools, library, town hall would be?

While all of these elements are important, I would also want to ensure that there was a hardware store in the town. A hardware store transforms a bedroom community into a place where people truly live. When the hardware store comes to town, people paint their homes, plant their gardens, build their decks, and invite their neighborhoods over for a barbecue.

A good hardware store will do more than sell paint, lumber, potted plants, and barbecues. A good hardware store will offer classes and teach you how to do-it-yourself.

In a very real sense, the church is to function as a hardware store. The church is to be a place where gifted leaders focus on equipping the saints to carry out the ministry of God. It is a place where the members are the ministers and the pastors are the equippers. This is the principle taught by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:11-16.

Paul starts by explaining that God gave gifts and gifted leaders to the church. In particular, God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers to help establish and build the church. The chart below helps me to understand the unique functions and role of each one.


Prophets Evangelists

Pastors & Teachers

“One sent”

Reveal Scripture Share good news

Lead the church

First century

Every century

Laid the foundation

Build the church



Some people have the idea that pastors only work one day a week and play golf the rest of the time. Others think the pastor should do all the ministry since he is the professional and we pay him to be the minister. In the average church, the pastor burns out while the people rust out. The sad truth is they are both “out.”

However, Paul explains in verse 12 that the leaders—evangelists, pastors and teachers—are NOT to do all the work. Instead, their task is to equip others to carry out the work of ministry.

The word used for “prepare” or “equip” is a fascinating one. It has a wide range of meaning including setting a bone (classical Greek), mending a net (Matthew 4:21), supplying what is lacking (1 Thessalonians 3:10), correcting a fault (2 Corinthians 13:11), and restoring the fallen (Galatians 6:1). If you weave them together, you get a definition that says, “To prepare or equip is to bring into an orderly spiritual state and frame those who had been as it were dislocated and disjoined by sin, and then to strengthen, confirm, and advance them, so that each, in his proper place and function, might contribute to the good of the whole.”

Going back to verse 7, Paul indicates that each one of us has received a spiritual gift. Rather than put it in a storage container and preserve it, we are to put them into service. The role of the pastor and leaders is to train and equip people to use their gifts in the best way possible.

Paul goes on to explain that when equipping takes place, maturity is possible (12-16). Growth is possible and the body can be built up and reach maturity. Paul lists seven evidences of a mature body:

  • Unity (13). Unity does mean uniformity, but rather that we are all focused on the same faith.
  • Knowledge (13). Knowledge is more than intellectual content. It is growth that comes from experience. We discover that God’s promises are true and he can be trusted.
  • Spiritual maturity (13). Maturity involves becoming more like Jesus Christ.
  • Stability (14). Instead of chasing the latest fad, trend, or book, and being caught up in error, our faith gives us stability.
  • Loving testimony (15). We can bludgeon people with truth or love them so much we never confront sin in their lives. We speak the truth, but it is balanced with love.
  • Service (16). Each one does their part as they put their gifts into service.
  • Growth (16). Rather than one person or group burning out, the body grows as it builds itself up in love.

I take away three lessons from this passage. One is that church leaders need to change our standards of evaluation. Success is not based on how many people attend an event. It is not based on what happens in the building. Success is based on what people do with what they learn. A second lesson is “No ministry = no maturity.” If equipping doesn’t take place, if people aren’t using their gifts in service, the body of Christ is doomed to perpetual adolescence. The third lesson is that leaders must focus on training. As my friend Tim Jack used to ask, “Are we really equipping people, or are we just keeping them busy?”

This is the synopsis of a sermon preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 24, 2016. It is part of a three-part series on The Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


Another thrill ride from Andrew Klavan

Game OverBook Review: Game Over (The Mindwar Trilogy, Book Three), by Andrew Klavan

Game Over is a fast paced, thrilling conclusion to Andrew Klavan’s Mindwar Trilogy. The first two books tell the story of Rick Dial, a former high school football star who lost the use of his legs in a car accident. After his accident, Rick tried to lose himself in videogames. His gaming skills were what made him valuable in battling a deranged terrorist named Kurodar. Kurodar developed a computerized world from which he sought to launch an attack against the United States.

Twice before, Rick entered the MindWar Realm as a Mind Warrior and defeated Kurodar. The third book begins as Rick discovers that a connection has formed in his brain that sends him hurtling into the Realm without his consent—and brings the Realm’s monsters into the RL—Real Life. The book builds to a climax where Rick has no choice but to enter the Realm to face the terrorist one last time.

Klavan penned a thrilling story aimed at a YA or young adult audience that skillfully blends a sci-fi plot and video gaming concepts. Along the way he weaves biblical principles into the story without becoming preachy. The book includes a Reading Group Guide to help a small group discuss the content of the book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on January 23, 2016 in Books