Monday, October 3, 2011

Going Deep- Book Review

Gordon MacDonald has given the church a story.  This story is a reminder of the great priority that discipleship ought to have in our churches.  The story is of a fictional church in New England- the same church that MacDonald imagined in a previous book titled Who Stole My Church?  MacDonald could have written this same book as a shorter, non-fiction work- but that would have been far less enjoyable to read and might not have stimulated as much thought on the part of the reader.  Instead, MacDonald packages his message in the form of fiction, but still manages to cite his sources appropriately (by making the sources part of the story and through the bibliography at the end of the book).

The story MacDonald tells is of a two year process in which a pastor and church discover the need to train future leaders and then work through the details of training those leaders.  Conversations, meetings, events, and even correspondence figure prominently as the primary conveyors of the story.

MacDonald's thesis is that churches should be training "deep" people (a term he borrows from Richard Foster).  A deep person is a mature or maturing Christian who lives as a devoted follower of Christ and serves the church and his world.  MacDonald recognizes that people need help in order to grow to be deep.  He suggests that the primary role of a pastor is to be a trainer of deep people.

I certainly agree with MacDonald's idea that pastors ought to be in the discipleship business.  Jesus' Great Commission to the church is that we are to be making disciples.  This is not a new idea, but a good reminder of a primary purpose of the church.

One area that MacDonald mentioned several times, but did not fully develop, is that a pastor who devotes his time to training other people will need to stop doing some things in order to have the time to devote to this main task.  At portions of the book, both preaching and hospital visitation are mentioned as areas in which the pastor might have to give less time.  How these tasks are to get done is not specifically stated.  A generous interpretation might imagine that these tasks will be supplemented by the people who have been equipped by the pastor.  My only objection to this thought is that preaching should be considered one of the primary areas of a pastor's time since preaching provides the opportunity to disciple a large group of people.  In addition, preaching  (both the preparation and the delivery of a sermon) is a primary means of fulfilling the pastoral responsibility of being in the Word and in prayer. 

I recommend Going Deep as a book that is both enjoyable to read and which will also cause you to think about your life and your church.  You probably won't agree with everything.  You won't find that your church is exactly like the church in the story (no two churches are the same).  But you will probably end up thinking about how your church could do a better job in developing people to serve Christ's church.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Are You Going the Wrong Way Again?

"Are you going the wrong way again?"  My wife asked me this question on a trip home from my parents' home a couple weeks ago.  First, it is odd that I had headed the wrong way earlier in the day when we went to my parents' house.  Of all the places in the world, one can usually find their way to their own home and to their parents' home.  But because I wasn't thinking, I had taken a turn that would lead me to a lot of other places where we normally travel.  Now on the way home I was asked, "are you going the wrong way again?"  I answered with these accurate but cryptic words, "No, I'm just not going the right way!" 

I wasn't lost.  I had been driving in one lane.  I had to quickly move over a couple of lanes when the road divided.  Hence, I was not going the wrong way because I had been traveling the right way up to this point and because I changed lanes in time.  But before the sudden lane change, I was no longer in a position to go the right way.  Maybe I should look into a career as a lawyer as a side job.

The song that way playing in our CD player while I was not going the right way is a song called, "You Are the Way."  It was written by Pat Sczebel and recorded by Sovereign Grace on their Worship God Live CD.  This song paraphrases John 14:6- "Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."  When it comes to what really matters you don't want to go the wrong way.  You don't even want not to go the right way.  What we all really need is to get to God His way- and that is through Jesus.  When it comes to your eternity, don't make excuses and don't try to talk your way into heaven.  Just follow God's way- which means following Jesus.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book Recommendation- The Good News We Almost Forgot

The Good News We Almost Forgot is not your typical book about doctrine. In fact, though it deals with many topics of theology, it reads more like a devotional. In this book Kevin DeYoung guides you on a tour through an old catechism (the Heidelberg Catechism from 1563). But even though the book is about a document from almost 450 years ago, the book itself is fresh and relevant.

A catechism is a series of questions and answers which guide a learner to truth. This particular catechism is made up of 129 questions and answers. The questions are grouped into 52 sections- one for each week of the year. DeYoung wrote the original form of this book in weekly installments as devotionals for the people in the church he pastors.

The outline that DeYoung proposes that the catechism writers used is: 1. guilt, 2. grace, 3. gratitude. This outline points out that we have a great guilt in the eyes of God because of our sin and have no way of absolving ourselves of this guilt short of an eternity in hell. God's grace has been extended to us in the person and work of Christ on our behalf- specifically His sacrificial death for our sins. After we have seen our guilt and the grace of God, we will then live lives of gratitude to God by living according to the way He has told us to live.

The elders at Grace Church have been benefiting from this book while we are reading it together. You can find more information about The Good News We Almost Forgot at:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sermon Videos now Available

Grace Church of Old Bridge now has videos of Sunday morning sermons available for viewing. You can watch them here:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Recommendation- The Next Story

I benefitted from a book about technology. Chances are, you will too. The book is not about how you can make Facebook and mobile phones work better. Instead, this particular book is a great reminder that all of our technology is supposed to work for us. Technology should serve you, not make you it's servant.

The book I am talking about is titled The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion. The book is written by Tim Challies ( and is a call to us who are now living in the digital age to live faithfully and wisely in these new times.

One of the most helpful portions of this book to me was the point that multi-tasking is actually a distraction. Like many people, I want to check my text or e-mail as soon as I hear a noise that tells me I've received that communication. It turns out that we are actually far less productive when we are able to be manipulated by such a small, beeping noise.

Be sure to also check out the section on immediate versus mediated conversation.

More information about the book can be found on the amazon site here:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


In my life I have averaged one trip to the dentist each decade. It's not that I have a fear of the dentist- I just have a fear of dental bills. We recently acquired insurance, so I headed off for my first dental visit in approximately ten years. The results were disappointing, if not predictable. The dentist was appalled by the condition of my teeth and promptly scheduled me with enough appointments in the coming months to significantly alter my once a decade average.

It's probably no surprise to you that there is a reason dentists want to see you twice a year (at least two reasons that I can think of and the first one is so they can collect a lot of money). The health reason for seeing the dentist more than a handful of times in one's lifetime is so they can fix any problems before the problem becomes too bad. Because I waited so long to see the dentist I now will have to endure a host of root canals, extractions, fillings, etc.

Perhaps many people view church the same way as the dentist. We would go if we saw the need for it or if we had the time or the money (okay, you don't need to have money to come to church, but not everyone realizes this fact). I figured that I could handle most of my dental needs at home- I brushed my teeth faithfully and thoroughly. We might be tempted to think that we can take care of our spiritual needs at home as well. We can read the Bible and pray and listen to music and sermons at home. But it isn't the same as coming to church where your friends and fellow Christians will help keep you from greater danger and give you the spiritual maintenance that your life truly needs. My teeth deteriorated when I limited my dental care to self-sufficiency. Your faith will deteriorate if you limit your spiritual care to what you can do yourself. Do yourself a long-term favor. Become an active member in a good local church. It will guard your soul and prevent larger faith problems.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Building Update- May 2011

Your Building Committee at Grace Church continues to be active. We are still looking at what size of building will best serve us and help us serve the community.

It appears that the building that we will build will be an addition to our current building. The new addition will probably sit in the space of our current foyer and will include a new entryway.

The two most likely scenarios right now are for either a small addition with classrooms, bathrooms, and entry space or a sanctuary with bathrooms and entry space. If we use only build the smaller addition we would continue to meet in our current sanctuary (of course we would try to do some things to make it a little nicer). If we build a new sanctuary we would use our current sanctuary for classroom space.

A major factor in deciding which building is right for us is the financing. We ought to be able to get a loan for the smaller addition, but we still need to find out if we can get the loan for the larger addition. Please continue to pray that we would follow God's leading in this decision.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Gospel Primer- Book Recommendation

A Gospel Primer for Christians- Learning to See the Glories of God's Love is an excellent little book by Milton Vincent. In the book we are reminded that gospel Christians need the gospel as much as they need to share the gospel. The book simply reminds us of our need to remember God's goodness in Christ, and then guides us through what God has done for us. The descriptions of the goodness of God are marvelously footnoted with Scripture. Both a prose and a poetic version of the glories of the gospel is included.

Grace Church of Old Bridge will be considering many of the truths from this book in our up-coming "Mid-Week Boost" meetings (Wednesday nights beginning May 25th).

More information about the book can be found here:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

State of the Church- 2011

Each year I preach a "State of the Church" message. The summary of this year's message in the form of the letter I gave to the congregation is available in the notes section of Grace Church's Facebook page:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Cousin Vinny and the Judges

The American Bar Association listed the movie My Cousin Vinny as #3 on the all-time list of their 25 Greatest Courtroom Movies. In this movie Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei played an engaged couple from Brooklyn who traveled to the South so he could sever as a lawyer for his cousin who had been wrongly accused of murder. You might be able to guess that people from Brooklyn talk differently than people from the South. Both areas have distinct accents. There are times in the movie when the southerners can't understand what Vinny is saying. And Vinny has a lot to learn when it comes to Southern culture. In fact, even though Vinny is a lawyer, he has a lot to learn when it comes to courtroom behavior. It turns out that Vinny is actually an auto mechanic who studied law at night school. This will be his first case.

When Vinny gets in front of the judge, his New York brashness and lack of respect for courtroom procedure get him thrown in jail every day for contempt of court. It is abundantly clear that the judge doesn't like him. His life was made far more complicated because of this judge who was always getting mad at him. By the end of the movie, Vinny was trying to skip town in a hurry (after winning the case) because he thought that the judge had just figured out his true credentials. Instead, the judge came up and said how great it was to have Vinny and that he had finally been able to verify Vinny's qualifications. It turned out that Vinny's girlfriend had called a judge that knew Vinny and had him send the positive recommendation. Having a judge that liked him was what eventually overcame having a judge that couldn't stand him.

While I don't think that this movie has much of anything to commend it to us spiritually, the attitudes of the judges illustrate and important truth. It is always better to have a judge who is pleased with you than a judge who doesn't like you. Remember that God is our ultimate judge. When the time comes for you to be judged by God, would you like to approach Him as a friend or as a foe? Would you rater come before God for judgement as someone who has made Him happy or as someone who has disappointed Him. The Bible tells us how we can have a relationship with God in which He is happy with us.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin

In 1852 a woman named Harriet Beecher Stowe published the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. This book became the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century. Stowe clearly wrote the book with the purpose of undermining the slavery of the American South. The book is rightly or wrongly credited for influencing people to bring about the Civil War which lead to the freedom of the slaves.

Not wanting to rush into anything, I finally read this novel (now more than 150 years after it was published). I must admit that I was shocked at how compelling the story of the book actually was. It is a real page-clicker (if you read an electronic edition as I did). No doubt one of the reasons for the terrific interest in the book was because the book itself was terrifically interesting.

I believe that what made this book interesting were the plot, the characters, and the conversations. Even though I had a good idea of what the book was about and what the impact of the book had been, I was still surprised by the many plot twists throughout the book. The characters were made life-like through an assortment of interesting observations and through the way they acted. The characters were written in such a way that you would not have any trouble imagining them as real people. The conversations between the characters seemed like real conversations that would have taken place at that time in America's history. Most likely the reason that Stowe was able to make the events, characters, and conversation seem so true to life was because she admitted that she based the story on composites of real people and on conversations she had had and on events of which she knew to be true.

Stowe very clearly argues against the evils of slavery. She wrote in order to encourage people to set the slaves free. But while she encouraged freedom, she did not write against the South completely or exclusively. Surprisingly, she showed that the prejudice of Northern people was often more severe and just as wrong as the prejudice of those in the South. She also showed that people in the South often treated their slaves as part of their family, though they might have never considered granting them their freedom. While the positive aspects of some slave holders were shown, the evils of the system and the heart-wrenching way in which it continually ripped families apart was highlighted even more.

Very few novels impact their generation the way this one did. Very few novels take on a societal issue and encourage people to do something about the issue the way this one did. Very few novels draw you into their story with such life-like characters, facts, and plot the way this one does. These are some of the reasons that very few novels stand the test of time the way this one has. If you haven't already read Uncle Tom's Cabin, it is certainly worth taking the time to enjoy.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Church Covenant

The elders at Grace Church have initiated a Church Covenant. A Covenant might be a new concept to you. Basically, a covenant is an agreement. It is a promise. A church covenant is an agreement that a church member makes to the members of the church.

While church covenants were once a common, they are far less common today. We thought that bringing in a covenant would be beneficial to our membership. Our covenant is a reminder of the things that we promise to do for each other. We would like each member of the church to read and affirm the covenant each year. I don't think that our new covenant makes new requirements for us. Instead, our covenant spells out plainly some of the expectations that any church has and calls us to live up to these standards.

Here is a copy of the covenant that we are proposing for Grace Church of Old Bridge.

I welcome any feedback regarding the wording of the covenant or questions about how the covenant will actually function.