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My Top Ten Suggestions for New Pastors

As still a rather newish seminary professor, I am growing accustomed to seeing yet another batch of graduates go off into their first pastorate. I regularly get asked for a tip or two about what to do upon arrival (or sometimes I just offer them without being asked!). So I thought I would give ten of them that I regularly pass along one way or the other. Though surely there are others who have given such a list (Ah! A quick Google search after I compiled my list netted this one from the Banner and another one from Thom Rainer for some other ideas), here is mine for what it’s worth.

1) Form an external prayer team before you arrive. As Paul asked others to pray for his ministry (Eph 6:18-19; Col 4:3-4), so it is wise to ask for prayer support to sustain you through those early days. Giving friends and family who know you best some specific prayer items to ask the Lord to go before your arrival will best insure your paths will be straight.

2) Systematically visit with the congregation through your first year. Getting to know your new flock is essential to properly caring for them (Prov 27:23). Whether going […]

The Shoemaker’s Dream

The Russian author Leo Tolstoy wrote a touching short story entitled “Where Love Is, God Is.” In the story we are told that a cobbler named Martin had suffered a series of difficulties, including losing his wife, several children, then finally his three year-old son. A visiting missionary one day tells Martin he should devote himself to serving God and leaves him with a New Testament. One night Martin falls asleep while reading the Gospel of Matthew.

Martin then dreams, and hears the Lord promising to come to him. The next day, the shoemaker encounters several people in need whom he assists. Later that evening, the Lord speaks to Martin in the darkness, repeatedly saying “Is is I,” and at each of these instances the faces of the people Martin had helped that day are brought to his mind. Based on Matthew 25:31-46 regarding how our Christian faith should lead us to help those in need, Tolstoy’s story highlights the truthfulness of Jesus’ words from this passage: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (25:40).

The Shoemaker’s Dream is a wonderfully done children’s book rendition of Tolstoy’s work. A project of […]

Lifting Your Soul

Often we hear the psalmist speaking of “lifting his soul” to the Lord. Yet what does it mean to lift your soul? How do you actually do this?

Perhaps the closest sounding phrase we have to it in our modern parlance is when we speak of “lifting one’s spirits.” This idiom is used to describe trying to cheer someone up who is discouraged or depressed. Often you will see articles on ways to lift your spirits that encourage such things as reading inspiring quotes or changing your physical surroundings.

Yet this is not what is meant by the psalmist when he speaks of lifting his soul. The Hebrew word for lifting is nasa, and I recall as a student remembering it by thinking of NASA sending up a rocket. That picture of a rocket headed heavenward is helpful, for fundamentally to lift one’s soul means to deliberately come to the God of heaven in worship. By doing a simple study of the Hebrew poetic devise of parallelism used in the Psalms, we can identify more specifically what it means to lift our souls to the Lord.

Lift your soul to the Lord by trusting him to teach you how to walk in his ways. Psalm 25 says directly […]

Core Foundational Practices of Discipleship

Having laid forth several core foundational beliefs regarding discipleship, or in other words describing what disciples are and the intentionality required in making them, this corresponding post will now address how discipleship is to be practiced according to the Scriptures.

As stated in the previous post, the Great Commission of the risen Christ has been given to the church to fulfill; thus, the life of the church should be structured to obey this assignment. In calling his remaining eleven disciples to a mountain following his resurrection and reminding them of his complete authority both in heaven and on earth, the Lord Jesus commissioned the apostles in a special way. Then, following his ascension into heaven to take his seat at the Father’s right hand, the early church added a new apostle before Pentecost to replace Judas (Acts 1:12-26). These twelve men then stood in Jerusalem on that historic day of the giving of the Holy Spirit and proclaimed the gospel as the new Israel (II Pet. 2:9-10). They, with the other apostles and prophets appointed by Christ at that time, were the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). The instructions of Christ, the head of the church, given to and through the apostles recorded […]

Religious Liberty Requires Royal Loyalty to Christ

The following is a guest post by J.K. Wall who is a writer in Indianapolis. His modernized abridgment of William Symington’s work, Messiah the Prince Revisited, was published in 2014 by Crown & Covenant Publications. You can e-mail him at


In America today, freedom of religion is being narrowed to merely freedom of worship.[1]

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last month explicitly recommended a legal doctrine that “distinguishes between beliefs (which should be protected) and conduct (which should conform to the law).”[2]

In other words, you can sing whatever you want in church, but you can’t come out of church and act on those beliefs—at least not with any special protection from the law. That legal viewpoint—already put into action in recent court and regulatory rulings—threatens public funding and tax breaks that now support Christian colleges, K-12 schools, poverty-fighting organizations and other charities.

Why is this happening?

Ignorance of, insensitivity to and even hostility toward Christianity are certainly factors—and the ones Christians like to cite most. But another big reason is that Christians, in large numbers and for many years, have been telling America that “freedom of worship” is all they really want.

At least, I know I’ve been saying that—in how […]

Core Foundational Beliefs of Discipleship

In stressing discipleship in my pastoral and professorial roles, there are core foundational beliefs that have been impressed upon me by my mentors and the study of Scripture. Here are the top five that guide me as I work with others.

The authoritative command of the risen Christ is for the church to be engaged in the work of making disciples. This truth is made most clear in the Great Commission that the Lord Jesus Christ gave his disciples on the mountain following his resurrection. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matt. 28:18-20 ESV). The church must seek to glorify God and the work his Son did in redeeming his people by actively working with people to shape them in becoming true disciples of the Lord.

The making of disciples must be seen as an intentional work, not an incidental one. Though the Great Commission is seemingly clear, commentators debate over the […]

Confessional Boundary Stones

Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.” -Proverbs 22:28

Around western Pennsylvania where I live, it is common to see yards and farmlands with stone walls taken from the the abundant flagstone found in this region. As you walk or drive by one of these walls, they convey a sense of boundary, antiquity, and definition. The walls almost seem to give off an aura of peace and permanence.

In recent weeks the Lord has given me a number of experiences where I have had that same feeling when it comes to the historic confessions and creeds of the church.

At the beginning of the academic year our seminary faculty treated the subject of providence from the Westminster Confession of Faith, and there was a sense of security in standing with these men reviewing and rediscovering the beautiful and comforting truths of this doctrine.

In a class on preaching I teach, we are discussing each week a portion of the statement on preaching found in the Westminster Directory of Publick Worship.

During the recent internet firestorm regarding the errant teaching on the eternal submission of the Son, it has been comforting to […]

Mortification and Vivification

As we have considered mortifying sin, or putting it to death, as taught by John Owen, we first looked at how the law awakens sin so we can address it in Christ and then clarified what is meant by killing sin by warning against mortification’s false forms. In this final post on this subject, I want to bring out another important aspect Owen treats regarding overcoming sin. Mortification is a hopeless business without the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, the pattern of gospel living Jesus and the apostles set before us is that we are not only to put sin to death but also live unto righteousness. Just as Christ died and then was raised, so we are daily to die to sin and live in obedience to Christ. As Paul told the Ephesians:

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which […]

Clarification on Mortification

Last week I treated a short section of John Owen’s work The Mortification of Sin. Without seeking to go through the entire work, I wanted to follow it up with another post or two on other portions that I have especially found helpful.

I, as others, have found Owen’s treatment deeply insightful and purifying with respect to my own heart motivations. Here are two recommendations from influential authors.

John Owen’s treatises on Indwelling Sin in Believers and The Mortification of Sin are, in my opinion, the most helpful writings on personal holiness ever written.” —Jerry Bridges, author of The Pursuit of Holiness

I owe more to John Owen than to any other theologian, ancient or modern; and I owe more to [The Mortification of Sin] than to anything else he wrote.” —J.I. Packer

In speaking of this subject, it is important to review the meaning of mortification.  Mortify means to put to death.  Our calling as believers is to put to death our sin.  In Romans 6:13, Paul  commands, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.”  So we must be crucifying the flesh or be engaged in the work of mortification as Christians. Yet, as Owen points out, […]