The Idolatry Of Success (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #26)

golden-calfThe seduction is subtle, but so strong. We in the Independent Baptist world aren’t particularly more engrossed in it than other groups in Christianity, but engrossed we are. We give the all-too-common sin its own unique flavor. We drive relentlessly, as Jehu of old, to the ever elusive designation of success. In its pursuit, we lose things far more valuable.

In far too many cases, we (translation: pastors) get up every day and let success be the fuel that drives us in God’s work. We are a little hazy on how we will know if we reach the pinnacle of success, but on we go. We either: 1) decide we are farther along the road to success than others and become unbearably egotistical, or 2) decide we are behind and fall into the deepest depression. It is, in either case, the same problem. Yes, pastors are the worst offenders, but some, as it were, hitch their wagon to a star hoping to ride up into the glory of the star pastor.

It becomes the unsuspecting catalyst of abuse too. Success is never listed by our Lord as a spiritual commodity, so we are left to our own devices to procure it. That leaves us lonely in the unsteady hands of our flesh to guide our way. People become the pawns in our game. Pawns, as you know, are meant to be sacrificed to obtain the greater prizes. We start charging up the ladder stepping on fingers and even pushing a few right off. There is that greater goal you know. We push people to pull off a big day or have many bus riders or baptisms. Those things aren’t bad until we probe under the surface of why they are being pushed so intensely.

In many cases you don’t have to probe too deeply either. Whether the pastor is preaching in a guest pulpit, writing an article, or putting out a Facebook status or Tweet, he does the probing right before our eyes. There might a token “thank you” to those who worked hard, but the message comes through loud and clear–look at me and the great work I am doing for God. Can’t you see that I have got it! Success! The name of Jesus might get sprinkled here and there in the comments, but those comments really say you are looking at success and you should be impressed.

The abuse comes out in that the ones doing the work and those getting the credit are not the same person. Further, if success is not at the pastor’s perceived level of success he preaches hard sermons on their lack of dedication until they hit the altar and, more importantly, do better. Some get caught up in the same drama by seeking success in the pastor’s approval and praise. It comes, to the surprise of many, at quite a cost.

People are different. Some can go for years and never think it unnatural and stay relatively happy serving the pastor’s ego. Others go along for a while and then have their epiphany moment–they see what the pastor is really up to and they become angry and even cynical. Christ had nothing to do with the Christianity that got sucked into, but He gets collateral hard feelings from them. People leave churches for their own issues, and sometimes from their own backslidings, but some times from being used in an abusive, clandestine ego-building campaign of a pastor who lives for success.

I read recently where one speaking about some people’s mistrust of pastors said, “They have never known a pastor’s love; they have only known a pastor’s lust.” Perhaps if we want the sheep to act right we should quit treating them like mules.

I can’t say I’ve never been bitten by this bug. But I am learning. I think sometimes now of the pastor of 16 years of my growing up, Milburn White. With every passing day I see that he understood some things about pastoring that I need to see. He loved me. He never used me. He never wanted anything from me but what was best for me. Strangely enough, I had every possible job in the church I could and was involved with everything. He never rode me hard, but would always at just the right time say, I believe you can do _____. I was the type that often thought I most certainly could not. He believed in me. I was convinced that what I did was for Jesus because he NEVER made it about him. He made it about Jesus. When I saw him at my grandmother’s funeral a few years ago ( I had not seen him in many years before), he hobbled up and said he was so proud that I was serving the Lord, and that it made him so happy. Again, he made it not about himself. Yet he got what eludes many of us pastors–eternal and deserved gratitude and you can’t manufacture that. He made the ministry what God intended–to others and for Christ! Success? Would you say he had it? I pray when I am hobbling around someday someone will feel about me what I feel about him.

He had real success, something far removed from what I am writing against today. This success that so many go after today is insidious; it is treachery against the very idea of ministry; it is twisted service, misspent on me at the Master’s expense. The success-mad ministry of today is idolatry– the idolatry of self. I can’t serve Him and worship me.

Results come from many factors. Yes I should work hard and use up my very life in the ministry I have been given. (Don’t misunderstand me–I am not advocating a half-hearted approach to ministry). I should lead others to serve Him too. But never forget–Him, not me.

O Lord help me cast down the idol of success so that my blood, sweat, and tears, yes, my very life, may be given to You. Let me not live for the temporary applause of success here, but rather for the “Well done” from Christ’s lips.

Find all articles in the series here.

The Good Dad by Jim Daly

Well, who wouldn’t want to be? If you are like me, you wonder often if you are a good Dad. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, is one I would want to hear talk on the subject. We need all the help we can get.

I’ll admit that I did not exactly expect what I read here. First, this wasn’t just straight principles. It wasn’t just a list of what you had better do either. It was Mr. Daly telling what he had learned from the three father figures in his life–his real father, his stepfather, and his foster father. They all bombed out and were gone from his life by the time he was twelve, with each one being progressively worse. Coupled with the death of his kind mother, these men inflicted great trauma in his life. It was the kind of trauma that speaks to what is at stake in being a father.

He quoted a few of the horrific statistics on “vanishing dads” and the far-reaching effects upon our society, but he clearly came from another direction overall. He explained how he felt when the Dads failed him. One on the football field when his Dad was the only one not there, later when his father was drunk at his baseball game, or when his stepdad left after his mother’s funeral, all the way to when his stepdad made a wild and false accusation, we felt the pain with him.

Why was this book helpful? He made us realize perfection was not ours to have. That viewpoint is more likely to make us throw up our hands and walk away. But we can figure out what is most important. We can focus there. We can learn to yell less, to stop overreacting and remember kids go through phases, and to make a big deal of only what is really big. We can decide which rules are important and let the others go.

His explanation on page 93 on four types of parenting styles–uninvolved, permissive, authoritative, and authoritarian–was profound. Three of the four are no good. Like the little bear’s porridge was just right, so is an authoritative parenting style. We Dads ever battle crossing over to the authoritarian mode, or maybe it’s just me!

This book succeeds because in a roundabout way it keeps grace and the gospel from being swallowed up in harsh law. Though it challenged me, it made me feel better instead of worse. That is a tall order for a book to Dads!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 .


Are YOU Part of the Fringe Or The Mainstream? (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #25)

tough decisionsI suppose you could talk theoretically all day about the battles between the fringe and the mainstream in the Independent Baptist world, or of any group for that matter. It doesn’t mean anything until you decide if YOU are in the fringe or the mainstream yourself. Likely, you, as everyone else, sees yourself in the mainstream. Some group most unlike you is, to your mind, the fringe. We can’t all be the mainstream, though, can we?

After last week’s article, I was surprised to see how many thought the Independent Baptist world itself was swallowed up in the fringe. Do you suppose it would be fair to evaluate yourself in light of how the majority of God’s people would view you instead of how you view yourself? I fully realize that lining up with a majority in no way makes you right, but what about if we are speaking of those who love the Lord, have Him as a huge part of their lives, and generally show the fruit of the Spirit in their lives? Then we could answer the bigger questions.

Are we following Christ or man? Are we part of the problem or the solution? Are we right after all, or incredibly wrong? Are we advocating the Christian life represented in Scripture , or something that came to being over the years independent of the Bible? Yes, these are the bigger questions. So, in interest of the significance of the bigger questions, here are some questions for those who would accept the label Independent Baptist to ask yourself to determine if YOU are part of the fringe or the mainstream:

1. Do you suppose (a) that only those who think exactly like you to the smallest details could be right with God or true to the Bible, or (b) that though you are settled in what you believe, you realize that others could love the Lord as much as you without agreeing in every detail?

2. Do you believe (a) that the Lord Himself is an Independent Baptist, or (b) that while you feel most comfortable lining up with Independent Baptists in our times, you realize the Lord is bigger than such designations?

3. Do you believe (a) that some controversial standards (dress, movies, etc.) are essential to being a dedicated Christian, or (b) while you have you own position for what you feel honors the Lord in your life, you realize all dedicated Christians will not reach the same conclusion on these matters?

4. Do you believe (a) that only a worship service and music that you are accustomed to could be the real thing, or (b) though you know exactly what kind of worship service and music you are comfortable with, you don’t believe that only could please the Lord?

5. Do you believe (a) that compliance to standards are the best gauge to determine the authenticity of a believer’s spiritual growth, or (b) that love of God, His Word, and love of others are far more accurate?

6. Do you believe (a) that we should separate from believers who do not live by the same standards we do, or (b) that we should only separate where the Bible specifically mentions separation?

7. Do you believe (a) that the “old-time religion” is our current practices that trace from the 20th Century, or (b) that the “old paths” are the timeless, foundational truths believed since Bible times?

8. Do you believe (a) that rip-roaring preaching on issues is the preaching the Lord loves and blesses, or (b) that  a careful, passionate exposition of passages in God’s Word pleases the Lord because it is His Word we need?

9. Do you believe (a) that pastors must be obeyed in all matters, or (b) that the Lord must be obeyed in all matters and pastors are a gift from Him who can only be followed to the extent they follow Him?

10. Do you believe (a) that we must work hard to please the Lord, or (b) that we are “accepted in the beloved” and there is nothing you could do to make the Lord love you more or less, and you serve Him simply out of love?

Really, the point is the fringe says doing exactly what we say is the critical issue while the mainstream would never dare rob you of your soul liberty, which is a Baptist distinctive that some paid for with their very lives. The question is easy. Too many A’s on this list and you may have the answer you don’t want to the question–are YOU part of the fringe or mainstream?


Find all articles in the series here.





The Fringe Versus The Mainstream (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #24)

fringe copyAre the problems in the Independent Baptist world across the board? Does taking the name alone make one guilty of all its crimes? Surely only the most hardened cynic would say “yes”.

Are Independent Baptists the only group in Christianity with an embarrassing fringe group? Certainly not. There is always that element that you wish would go away, at least publicly, that never easily can be silenced. If that is so, and it is, why do I write a series such as I do here? Someone asked me, one of the good guys actually, that very thing, as well as a few others. It is in the context of the dichotomy between our fringe and mainstream that the answer to why I write this series will be found. Our mainstream has some wonderful people who are kind and dearly love our Lord. At the same time, we have a rather wacky fringe group who do great damage to the cause of Christ. These two facts were never meant to be in an easy harmony!

Points To Consider In The Conflict Between Our Fringe And Mainstream

1. We Are Most Responsible For Our Fringe Group.

I might have some insight into the fringe elements of, say, the Presbyterians. Do you think that someone outside the group, though, would be taken as seriously as someone inside the group? Have I experienced the issues that plague them? Have I lived where they live? So I turn back to my own. In the same way it makes sense for a pastor to look to the issues of his church, or a parent to look after his own children, or a worker to address the issues of the organization he or she is part of, so it makes sense for Independent Baptists to address our own issues. It is, in fact, a dereliction of duty just as it would be in any of the above examples. To most people looking on, our silence appears as denial. It actually silences critics when we deal with a problem before they scream about it.

2. It Does Not Damage The Mainstream To Call Out The Fringe.

Actually, the opposite is true. Nothing lumps the mainstream and fringe together like never speaking out against the fringe. To never say anything is tacit approval of the fringe. If you met someone from a foreign country who mentioned that our country supports abortion, would you not as a Christian explain that some of us absolutely find it appalling that some who share the name “American” with us support such a position? There are some positions held by the fringe of the Independent Baptist world that I want to be far distanced from and say that I find appalling. I will use my influence too, such as it is, to fight abortion. I feel the same way about issues I have been battling against in 23 previous articles.

3. The Fringe Have Hurt Innocent People.

At what point does right trump public relations? I think the moment people are hurt, driven away, or abused is the time to throw the PR out the window. I could see Jesus doing that. Jesus did a number on the PR of the religious hierarchy when He overthrew the money changer’s tables. There are greater issues at times.

4. When You Call Out The Fringe You May Attract The Fringe On The Other Side.

I admit that there are people on the more liberal side who are equally of the fringe. They would hurt others to advance themselves in the same way. Of course there are, for example, church members who are working a personal agenda as much as some pastors (though that has not been my theme in this series). Some feel calling out the fringe makes the mainstream look guilty by association. I, for one, have never thought our wonderful mainstream could fairly be made equal to the fringe. In the interest of fairness, let’s not lump everyone who is exposing the wrongs they have experienced at the hands of our fringe as trouble-making, heartless compromisers either. The charge is not true. I know of too many stories where they have gone far out of the way to limit the consequences for others.

5. The Mainstream is Guilty Of Allowing The Fringe To Define Them.

Our fringe is particularly noisy. For decades they have had the microphone and used it like a billy stick. Our silence has been equivalent to shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot. I remember years ago when I wasn’t so disillusioned with politics that I heard this statement: ” ‘Do not speak against other Republicans’ is the Eleventh Commandment.” How did that work out?

6. Calling Out The Fringe Will Not Turn Away Non-Christians.

Again, I think the opposite is true. I have heard this from a few people, but upon reflection I do not believe it is true. In the first place, it is quite a stretch to assume an unsaved person would even read an article about Independent Baptists. In the event they did, or they saw a Facebook thread about it, I think it would actually encourage them. Many have suffered abuse from religion, so when they see Christians holding Christians accountable, they better can believe our sincerity.


So how long will I write? Until the victory is won! As in the aforementioned example, I will never stop speaking out against abortion until it stops. Nor will I stop speaking out against the abuses perpetrated  by our fringe until they are dramatically changed. I encourage others to join me until our voices drown out theirs. Let’s be the morally responsible mainstream who holds the fringe to account.

Find all articles in the series here.

The Best Bible Atlas of All–The Carta Bible Atlas




If you could only own one Bible Atlas, what would be your choice? The Carta Bible Atlas, 5th Edition, by Carta would be my recommendation for pastors like me and serious Bible students.  I make that recommendation as a Bible Atlas nut who owns almost every one out there. It has one claim to fame that allows it to outpace the pack–It has the most maps for specific Bible events. They are unrivaled for accuracy.

Carta maps are the preeminent ones out there today. They publish larger atlases for scholars like The Sacred Bridge as well as more popular ones for general audiences. This one, now updated, however,  has been the standard for years. Originally called The MacMillian Bible Atlas and a pastor’s favorite since the 1960s, five updates have only made it better.  I have used an older edition for years, but I love the maps that have since been added with all my old favorites still there too. I guess my son will get my older edition so he will have a great start on a Bible atlas

The additions supplement world history among the Bible maps. They put Bible history in the larger context. The world around God’s people is important to the narrative and are part of the story in many cases. The maps are better for the Old Testament than the New, but the New Testament section is improved from previous editions.

The maps are not as vivid or colorful as those in some other atlases. There are occasions where a conclusion on Bible history or chronology is more liberal than I could accept. Still, even with those caveats, this volume is the best. Read your biblical passage and turn to the appropriate Bible map in this volume and you will see for yourself. Better still, what you are given is not beyond what would be benefical to a pastor or teacher unlike the larger volumes designed for scholars.

There are extra features like a list on all the archaeological sites in Bible lands in an appendix as well as great indexes of persons and places for cross study. You might want two or three other Bible Atlases, for great color graphics and pictures, but this is the one you must have for rich Bible study.

This volume is available at most online book retailers. Check out the Carta website to see all the fine products they put out.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Check out my article on Bible Atlases in general here.


Salvation By Crucifixion by Philip Graham Ryken

How is that for a theme? You could hardly think of one more significant! In this slim, yet powerful volume published by Christian Focus, we find a treasure trove of thoughts. Based on sermons from a weekly evangelistic lunchtime outreach in the city of Philadelphia, we can only imagine how special those meetings must have been.

As you read you can tell you are in the hands of an accomplished expositor. Though this book could be passed out for outreach, preachers will find it suggestive and enjoyable. Even his illustrations are above average. Great thoughts on how one might preach on this topic are found in these pages.

You get the cross from several vantage points: 1) The Necessity of the Cross, 2) The Offense of the Cross, 3) The Peace of the Cross, 4) The Power of the Cross, 5) The Triumph of the Cross, 6) The Humility of the Cross, and 7) The Boast of the Cross. He never stretched texts to get these points–they are there!

The humility of the cross on Philippians 2:8 was my favorite while the boast of the cross on Galatians 6:14 was the most enlightening for me. It is so pleasant and helpful to linger at the foot of the cross again.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

This one is a dandy!


Is Shunning In The Bible?



Have you ever experienced it? Being shunned, I mean? Perhaps you have seen it in an Amish movie, but have you seen it in the Christian world? It shows up in two distinct places in some cases:

1. Families

The story usually goes this way…someone decides that certain standards that their family held are not what the Lord actually asked of them in Scripture and they make changes. Most would call this a mature step as each person must individually seek the Lord and make relationship with Christ personal. Plus, in matters not addressed in Scripture, this move is actually exercising our own priesthood as a believer as told us in God’s Word. The problem comes when some members of the family take exception to the changes. In many sad cases, the relationship becomes strained. In a few isolated cases, the relationship is ended. The person is shunned until they repent of the changes they have made. In every case I am personally aware of, discussion is shortly limited to complete agreement or the discussion is over. Logical arguments are not accepted and biblical ones are belittled and ignored.

2. Churches

In this case the shunning may be over standards, but it is more likely a case of not submitting to the pastor’s overreaching demands. While there are situations where church members disrespect and try to manipulate the pastor in their own shameful power play, I speak here of cases where pastors misuse their power in turning the church into their personal kingdom (I say that as a pastor who believes the pastor is the first authority under Christ in the local church). Someone wouldn’t mindlessly accept the increasingly unbiblical demands of the pastor and then are pushed out the door. Usually this expulsion is followed by a smear campaign, sometimes accompanied with a tirade from the pulpit, and ended with incredible pressure on the whole congregation to break fellowship and have no contact with the lambasted person under fear of similar repercussions.

The pain is disgraceful and horribly out of place among God’s people. In the cases involving family, holidays and family gatherings are smashed, relationships gutted, and hearts broken. If the case involves parents, you have the added devastation of the cry of every heart to be accepted by parents. If it involves the church, there are all those awkward encounters around town.

I have written on standards, soul liberty, and pastoral abuse from several angles on this blog, but in this matter of shunning I particularly ask us to look at the Bible together. Can you find verses that champion shunning? Some may cite separation verses but none of them are ever prescribed to be used in such cases, and there is not a shred of evidence that they are to be carried out this way.

Where really is there even a story in the Bible of shunning in this way? There is the shunning of Absalom by David after Absalom killed Amnon. That wasn’t even over something as minor as a standard, but actually a horrible and serious matter. David would not speak to him in any way–it was a complete shunning. Come to II Samuel 14 and we find a woman of Tekoah who the Bible presents as a heroine for getting David away from his ridiculous shunning. It caused deep problems too. David, I believe, had great regret over this when Absalom died. Check out David’s emotion in II Samuel 18: 33, “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” How catastrophic when life is over that the tale ends so tragically. This Bible story is not exactly a ringing biblical endorsement to the shunning that some practice.

It is not the glory of God that is honored in shunning, but the basest of unchristian behavior. A complete shunning is not called for in the Bible. Please do not cite the church discipline verses in I Corinthians 5 where the context is the Lord’s Supper and the putting away is in regards to churching someone over horrible sin–in that case incest. Even in the case where church discipline must take place, the shunning I described above is never told to us as something to do by the Lord.

Believe it or not, the doctrine of eternal security can be brought into the discussion. J.I. Packer once said, “What sort of father is it who never tells his children individually that he loves them, but proposes to throw them out of the family unless they behave?”  He wasn’t writing about shunning, but the way God treats His children should demonstrate how to treat children, even erring ones. Does God cast you away when you err? While the Lord is always right, we are not. So does pushing someone away for a difference of opinion seem right when there’s some possibility that we are wrong? That is really self-apparent, isn’t it?

Instead of shunning, I believe we should hold the shunners accountable. The weight of Scripture is against them as is the guilt of hurting fellow believers whether family or fellow church members. We can’t make any person do anything, but we can avoid shunning ourselves and love those who have felt the blows of the heavy hand of shunning.


This was originally IBTR #23.  Find all articles in that series here. My experiences come primarily from my background as an Independent Baptist, but I have learned through a great deal of interaction with others that this problem is in many branches of Christianity.





Building A Ministry Of Spiritual Mentoring by Jim Grassi



Would you like some practical help on discipling men? Most pastors, including me, are alarmed at the falling away of men in our churches today. We want to address the issue and we have help in this volume published by Thomas Nelson. Mr. Grassi has written on these issues before, but here he gives us the nuts and bolts of a mentoring ministry with just enough background to make sure we see the gravity of the situation today.

He succinctly rehearses the urgency in our society that churches must face. The absence of fathers have well nigh destroyed our culture. Amid the wreckage we find ineffective churches. We have in Jesus Christ what men need. Are we reaching out to give it?

If you are like me, you scratch your head wondering how to do it. That is where this book is valuable as the practical implementation makes up the bulk of the book. He begins by making sure we understand the concept of what mentoring really is, that we avoid the misconceptions, and that we put in place a solid team to carry it out. I appreciate his explaining that neither a pastor nor any other man can handle this ministry alone. It would be overwhelming and likely crash the ministry.

His guidelines for assessing where men can productively fit in to make the ministry thrive are outstanding. I can see easily see using them exactly as he gives them. It gives men an opportunity to show where their strengths really lie. There is a place for every man!

Whether it be ideas of things to do, how to be intergenerational, how to foster real relationship, or assessing when things are off, he has the bases covered. For what it is, this is a great volume!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.



The Worst Crime (Independent Baptist Truth Revolution #22)

If we Independent Baptists were to practice real introspection and ask ourselves what is the worst crime that comes out of the issues we struggle with at times, what would it be? In this series I have slammed the pettiness that overtakes our movement at far too many points often. You may think that pettiness is annoying at most and not the biggest of problems, that it is of the roll-your-eyes variety. Could it be more?

Well, it comes across as a big deal to those who practice it. These pettiness perpetrators have presented it as life and death. To them, music, dress standards, and other extra-biblical issues are the Christian life, or so they come across. Some are offended to be told they come across that way, but it the subject most often on their lips, and the key element in how they size up other Christians. Strangely, pride, arrogance, temper issues, rudeness and the like are rarely discussed while going to a movie theater might prove once and for all someone’s spirituality or the lack thereof! Before you think I am too dramatic, I personally know far more people who have been shunned or separated from because of these petty issues than any of the aforementioned spiritual problems.

Let’s look beyond the individual elements that make up the pettiness and instead consider its impact in toto. How serious is it? Let’s consider it in light of a very possible future scenario. How will this pettiness appear to all of us if intense persecution comes?

If we must worship, as some other Christians have done, with a whisper so we can hear the footsteps of the authorities coming to get us, will these petty issues matter? If we are secretly meeting in the woods in the winter for church, will her pair of pants matter? If someone risks his life to share the Gospel, will you be obsessed with the rhythm of the music he listened to that morning? If she shares her food with you, will you care that she would go see a movie at a theater if she could? If you met one not ashamed to mention the name of Jesus, would you really write him off if a buddy said he was liberal and should be separated from? No, so why now? Only times of plenty can afford pettiness.

You may say, these issues are not petty to me. Well, to you I ask, will they honestly matter if being a Christian is itself life and death? You may say yes, but I humbly submit that I do not believe you. The potential of persecution has never been greater in America, so our pettiness grows ever more ludicrous. When it comes, we will remember in our pain the waste involved in our pettiness and weep. That is, too, the worst crime.

Find all articles in the series here.