Lately I have been thumbing through Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students. This book is essentially a collection of lectures given by Spurgeon to the men of The Pastor’s College in 1856 concerning the nature of pastoral ministry, with an emphasis on preaching. The lectures are often quite profound, and also quite humorous.
A few days ago I came across this amazing passage on the pastor’s need for books:
“A good library should be looked upon as an indispensible part of church furniture; and the deacons, whose business it is ‘to serve tables,’ will be wise if, without neglecting the table of the Lord, or of the poor, and without diminishing the supplies of the minister’s dinner table, they give an eye to his study table, and keep it supplied with new works and standard books in fair abundance. It would be money well laid out, and would be productive far beyond expectation. Instead of waxing eloquent upon the declining power of the pulpit, leading men in the church should use the legitimate means for improving its power, by supplying the preacher with food for thought.” (180)
“If some little annual income could be secured to poor ministers, to be sacredly spent in books, it would be a godsend to them, and an incalculable blessing to the community. Sensible persons do not expect a garden to yield them herbs from year to year unless they enrich the soil; they do not expect a locomotive to work without fuel, or even an ox or an ass to labor without food; let them, therefore, give over expecting to receive instructive sermons from men who are shut out of the storehouse of knowledge by their inability to purchase books.” (181)
Spurgeon’s point, of course, is that pastors need to be intentional about thinking deeply and thinking clearly—and that reading books (specifically good books) is one of the finest avenues through which to expose oneself to ideas for thinking.
Next week I begin my ‘official’ education at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (I have done 2 classes online). I wanted to write about the reasons that I chose Southern—specifically, coming from a charismatic context (I have had more than one person marvel at me and wonder how in the world I got here—I am, of course, quite an anomaly).
While still living in KC (I had not idea we would move to attend Seminary), I looked at several seminaries, and here are some (not all) of the reasons I chose Southern.
1. Strong commitment to the word of God. For the last three decades, SBTS has stood at the forefront of conservatism related to the word of God. I knew that in my search for a seminary, the most important factor was a strong, unwavering commitment to the inerrancy and authority of the Scripture as God’s revelation for his people. This is definitely not the case with every ‘evangelical’ seminary (though there are many that hold fast), but Southern has an unflinching commitment to the Bible that stood out to me when researching various seminaries.
2. Theological integrity. I have been on a type of theological journey over the past four years. It has led me to hold some pretty strong theological convictions, and those most readily line up with SBTS (see the Baptist Faith and Message 2000). At the very heart of Southern’s purpose is the intentional equipping of ministers of the gospel who are able to rightly divide the word of truth. This excites me greatly about the time that is to come.
3. Gospel centered. At the heart of Southern’s mission is the gospel. One of the taglines of the seminary is, “We are serious about the gospel.” This sums up the focus of the training, and the quality of ministers that are being equipped at the school.
4. Caliber of professors. I have dabbled in theological studies for the past ten years of my life. I have read few books that really changed the way I engage and perceive the Scriptures. One of those books is God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment by Dr. Jim Hamilton. This book deeply impacted me while I was teaching a Biblical Theology class. When I began searching for a seminary, I wanted to look into studying where Dr. Hamilton taught. When I learned that he taught at Southern, I began to realize that many of the other authors of books that I really enjoy (Thomas Schreiner, Bruce Ware, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum) all taught at Southern, I began to seriously consider the school as an option (It also helps that there seems to be a resurgence of ‘Biblical Theology’ as a discipline here—which greatly exciting to me). What I have come to realize is that these men are esteemed highly throughout the academic world, and that their books are often read at other seminaries.
5. Emphasis on Biblical languages. One of the primary reasons I wanted to attend seminary was to immerse myself in the study of Biblical language (Greek and Hebrew). You can do a lot of theological study on your own, and you can learn a lot of ministry experience by doing it, but I found (at least for me, and my frame) languages are hard on your own. One thing that drew me to Southern was the Biblical and Theological Studies concentration, which allows a student to be saturated in original language exegesis classes.
6. Online/Distance program. Though this does not apply any more, it was a tipping point for me when I was first looking into different schools. Southern has an extremely flexible and practical online presence that allows people to do a majority of their degree online (two-thirds), while offering modular and hybrid classes to complete the residency requirements. It was one of the best online programs offered (of those that are not 100% online), and this was a key factor in me choosing the school.
To God be the glory,
I have lived in almost complete silence for the last three months (social media related, at least). Today, I am thinking about writing, and thought today would be as good as any to break the silence.
The extended silence has not, for the most part, been willful. Since our family left Kansas City on March 1st, our lives have not lacked a certain measure of craziness. I believe that we are (Lord willing) on the process of finally landing in our new(est) home, and settling in to a routine of life that will afford the opportunity to reengage “the world”.
I thought the best way to “break the silence” would be to give a quick update. Not only have we moved half way across the country—but four times since February 1st.
Here is the story:
As you may be aware, on March 1st of this year our family pulled up our roots from Kansas City and moved to Louisville, KY. As with any major life change there were a confluence of factors that led to this decision, but the primary reason we found ourselves relocating half way across the country was so that I could pursue a Master of Divinity at Southern Seminary. When we pulled out of the parking lot in KC nearly three months ago, we would never have imagined how our next several months would unfold—and I imagine we would have stayed put if we had any sense of what lay before us.
Arriving in Louisville, we were all excitement. Yes, the apartment we were moving to was small. But we know we could manage anything as a family, and that there would be sacrifices made along the way in order to achieve what we really wanted. After living in this small (and I mean small!) apartment for just over two weeks, we received a call from the landlord giving us an ultimatum: either move to the first floor (read, basement), or move out. It seems that the older, single woman that lived below us did not appreciate the elephantine footsteps of our three boys.
At first we were annoyed. We had just moved twice within the past two months (once from our home in KC to a temporary apartment, and once from KC to Louisville), and this was forcing another move on us. Then, we began to see this as a Godsend. Maybe we would find a bigger apartment that would not be such a sacrifice for us as a family (and also not on the third floor).
After looking for a week or two, we found a wonderful, spacious town home apartment that seemed like it would be perfect for our family. It was three bedrooms. It had a basement. It had big living areas. It seemed like our dream come true. We quickly applied, signed a lease, and moved in before we knew it.
Then, the problems began there. The first night there, our oldest son (Daniel, 6) had an asthma attack. Though he has struggled with asthma, he never has an attack unless it is exercise induced or tied to a respiratory sickness. After moving in we immediately began to recognize two major issues with the place: a previous history of cats (we could tell from the overwhelming pee smell) and a previous history of smokers. Both of these, we figured, were the problem with Daniel’s asthma, and we began to try and remedy the problem (we cleaned that place more thoroughly than anywhere we have ever lived).
However, no amount of cleaning could remedy the problem. Daniel continued to have asthma flare ups. Nothing too severe, but enough to be concerned. After about a week, we approached the management with the problem and they were eager to let us out of our lease (we came to find out from talking to our neighbors that there were likely mold issues because of a leaking roof).
What this meant was devastating: Two weeks after moving for the third time in less than three months, we were on the market again for a new place to live. I cannot begin to tell you how dejecting this felt to us. Our family has not really made a major life change in the course of its existence. Yes, we have added children—and though this is a change in a major way, it felt natural and drawn out (nine months of pregnancy, infancy, growing up, etc.). However, this was different. We were on the verge of living in four new places in as many months. For a family that thrives on a sense of routine and consistency (specifically my wife), we were, to say the least, unsettled.
We joked about understanding what the Israelites felt like in the wilderness. We were becoming efficient at packing up our things and moving to the next place we would stop. Our boys were starting to add the word ‘old’ to itself to describe where we had lived (i.e., “No dad, not in the old house. In the old, old house.”). Much of our family time was devoted to driving around Louisville looking for places to live (which, on a side note, has caused us to become quite familiar quickly with the new city).
After being released from our lease obligation at the town home (the mold place), we began to actively look for a new place. A week or two went by. Every day scouring Craigslist and Zillow, making phone calls, driving to another property just to see why it probably would not work for us (too few rooms, too expensive, too much on the third floor, too filthy, etc.). We really began to feel like there were no options for us. We did not know what to do, really. We had moved our family half way across the country, and we had no place to live—and we were not sure how we would find one. It was not like its just Abby and I, and we could hole up in any one bedroom we could find. Now, as a family of five, we have a lot more non-negotiables, and nowhere seemed to have them all.
We prayed. We looked. We called. We worried.
Then, one day, we looked at a random house (one that, I might add, I had no desire to go look at), and we knew it was for us. It was the first place we walked through that had all the non-negotiables. It was big enough. It was free standing (not an apartment). It was close to the church we attend. It was in our price range. We applied on the spot at the showing, and found out the next day that we could move in. Abby immediately took the boys to her parents’ in North Carolina (to get the boys out of the house with the mold), and left me to move oversee the fourth move in as many months.
We moved on Derby Day (May 4th), and began to settle in.
We have been here just under 3 weeks now, and we absolutely love it. There are no (foreseeable) problems, and we are starting to feel like we finally have a place to land here.
These three months have tested us. We have felt unsettled. We have felt dependent. We have had to really trust in the sovereignty and the goodness of God in ways that we have not in the past.
We are grateful to be in Louisville, and excited about what the Lord has for us in our time here. We are thankful to have a home and a place to put our feet for a while as we continue on our journey.
Next week I begin summer class, and I have a lot in my heart to write about and process.
To him be the glory,
Over the past three months things have been crazy in the Downing home. We have been wondering exactly what the Lord is doing in our lives, attempting to hold to the dual truths of his sovereignty over all things and his absolute and perfect goodness in his leading.
I have been mostly silent on the blog–predominately because I have been attempting to process things, and have not felt up to writing or engaging much on a “public” level. Yet, I wanted to make a couple announcements that pertain to our family, and where we will be going in this next season of our lives.
1. On March 1 we will be moving to Louisville, KY so that I can attend school in a full-time residential capacity. I have been taking online courses at Southern Seminary for the past several months. However, the way things have played out in our lives (i.e., knowing that planting is not the next right step for us), we feel that this is the right thing for us, and we are extremely excited about it. This is obviously a big move for us–ending our ten year stay in KC. We have loved starting and growing our family here, and are grateful for what the Lord has done in our lives over this past decade.
2. For those of you who are interested, our house did sell. On the 1st of January we did not think it would, and in a matter of three weeks everything turned around–and we moved out on the 23rd. It happened in quite a remarkable way, and freed us up to “change things up” a bit for this next season.
3. I plan to re-emerge from hiding and resume writing in a “public” manner after we transition and land in Louisville. This is exciting to me, because I feel as though I have a lot to write about, and I am excited to get it “out there”, wherever “there” may be.
Please pray for our family in this transition. We are very excited, and feel the hand of the Lord in our lives.
For his glory,
I want to give an update on where our family is concerning our sense of God’s leading to plant a church in New York City.
I must begin by saying that over the past two or three months, there have been some set backs in our journey, and we are left asking the question, “What do you have for us, Lord?” (This may be why I have been somewhat quiet here during that time). During this time we have been in the process of selling our home—and to make a long story short, our potential buyer walked away on January 1st, just as we expected to hear a final decision from our bank related to the sale. This has presented a major snag and left us in a place of confusion, and a place of not quite understanding where we are to go next in the process. However, here are some things I would like to say:
We are certain of the Lord’s goodness, and the sovereignty of his leadership. This does not change. We know that the Lord has been in the process, and is leading us perfectly along the path that he has for us. We feel assured in the fact that if this is his dream, than his timing will be perfect all along the way—and we need to rightly embrace both the triumphs and the hardships with faith and expectation of his sovereign move.
We still feel called. This has been a somewhat hard truth to retain over the past several months. For many months (May—September) we felt that there was a great deal of momentum related to our target move date of January. When October rolled around, it felt as though the bottom dropped out in many ways, leaving us questioning whether we sensed the call of God in the right way or not. Over time, both Abby and I believe that planting a gospel-centered church built on prayer and a desire to impact the city is part of our end-goal in ministry. However, we have begun to feel that the Lord may have a step or two before that goal. I have thought often in the past several months of Joseph, David, or Moses—and thought I am not in a cave or a dungeon, I understand that often the Lord speaks a vision a long time before he brings it to pass in his good and perfect timing—and often there is a hard season of training in between.
Some big questions are being answered. Over the last six months or so I have had two glaring questions in my heart related to moving: (1) do I need to be a part of a church for some time in order to gain wisdom/experience in a world I am unfamiliar with, so that I can have counsel and wisdom to not make unnecessary mistakes along the way?; and (2) do I need some form of covering as we move forwards, so that we are not just parachuting into one of the biggest cities in the earth with no support system for what many believe to be one of the hardest occupations in the earth? I believe that these delays are the mercy of God to force us into answering these questions. I have been in contact with several different people in the “church planting” world, and as I have discussed and shared my story, both of these questions have been overwhelmingly confirmed. We are not exactly sure what this “looks like” for us, and are asking God to reveal the next right step of our journey, and to give us great levels of wisdom and discernment.
So, with those things being said, would you consider praying for us in this season?
Pray for wisdom. Related to the last point, we are asking that the Lord would give us clear direction for the next right step on our journey. We have few options at this point, and are asking the Lord for clarity and certainty—to be filled with the knowledge of his will with discernment and understanding.
Pray for courage/faith/perseverance. I am not going to lie, these past several months have been very difficult for us. We feel a lot of disappointment, and it is a fight to remain in the truths that I outlined above at all times. We know and trust in the goodness and perfect leadership of God in all things, and ask for the faith and perseverance to continue to walk in truth in the face of misplaced expectations and disappointment.
Thank you for being a part of our story.
For his glory,
Today Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, released his new book, Who Do You Think You Are?
I must be honest: I have been looking forward to this book for some time. A few weeks ago I signed up to be a part of Mark’s “street team”, for a chance to get a e-copy of the book, and to help promote the book through social media outlets. I jumped at the opportunity to receive a free copy of the book, and to give my opinions about it.
I read it over the weekend, and would like to give you three reasons why I think you should read it as well:
1. It is Relevant
Are you alive? Well, than this book is honestly for you.
If you are breathing and have a pulse, than this book sets out to answer the premiere question of your life: “who am I?”
Driscoll sets out to unpack what the Bible (specifically the book of Ephesians) says to answer that question, and I must admit, it is done very well. Each chapter looks at a different perspective of the question, and answers it by saying “I am _____”.
I must admit, when I first “thumbed” through the table of contents, I was less than optimistic. I thought his dealing with the text would be a bit forced—attempting to make each passage in Ephesians applicable to a different identity of the believer in Christ. However, as I read the book, I was pleasantly surprised with the way he did it. Driscoll moves the reader through each passage of Ephesians with skill and poise, marrying together deep theological truth and lucid, engaging prose that is easily accessible for everyone.
2. It is Pastoral
This is where Driscoll shines. Though the book is remarkably deep theologically, it is approached from a distinctly pastoral angle.
As you read, you can tell that Driscoll is drawing from 15+ years of pastoral ministry, and you can see great wisdom in each area.
Each chapter skillfully brings the reader to a place of truth and wisdom related to a different fundamental issue/question that we all ask.
There were several places in the book where I felt as though I was the story being told—but also know of many others whom I have talked to who could have as easily been placed in the story as well. This is what happens when a seasoned pastor writes—true, deep, pointed, and fundamental questions are answered by the truth of God’s word.
3. It is All About Jesus
The fundamental theme of the book is nothing more than a long reflection on the gospel. With each turn the reader’s gaze is lifted from themselves towards Jesus and what He has done.
As people, we can only find identity outside of ourselves—and as believers, the Scripture is clear that we can only find our identity in Jesus. This book, from beginning to end, constantly reminds us of that fact—rooting us deep in the truth of what God has accomplished in Jesus, for His great glory and the renown of His name in all things.
I hope you will consider reading the book. I do not think you will be disappointed.
For his glory,
Last year may have been the best of your life. For some of you, it may have been the worst. Most likely, it was just another year, filled with ups and downs, trials and triumphs, and lots of monotony in between.
If you are anything like me, the turn of the New Year brings about a variegated set of emotions related to the past year and what I desire for the next.
However, I find that at major times of reflection (like the turn of the year, a birthday, etc.) my thoughts almost always gravitate towards what I have, or more likely have not, done. I spend much less time reflecting on the time passed seeking to see what God has been doing in the midst of the various cycles of life.
If I had one resolution for today, it would be to spend less time evaluating my achievements, or lack thereof, and more time evaluating how God is working in my life.
Happy New Year. May 2013 be filled with great evidence of the glory of God in the midst of your life; and may you be able to see it more clearly and appreciate it more profoundly.
For his glory,