3 Reason to Journey through Gentle & Lowly:

This past month our church began reading through the book Gentle & Lowly by Dane Ortlund. It has been an encouraging month with some good discussion looking into the heart of Christ towards His people. There are at least three reasons why I believe this book is so encouraging.

1. Pastorally written

Dane does a great job of pastorally walking through the topic of the heart of Christ towards His own. Now this is an important part to see right up front and he sets this out clearly in the opening chapters that those who are his audience are those who have repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ. Everything being written and applied is to this group of people. This is not a book about Jesus as a general figure in history and his disposition towards all mankind, it is focused on His disposition towards His own, and from this position Dane is able to beautifully apply these truths to us, especially in our struggles with sin, suffering through disillusionment, and working through life’s hurts.

With that in mind it is not an academic work, but rather a work of pastoral devotion. He writes the text for those who are struggling to know Christ better and to grow in their relationship with Him and understanding of who He is. In doing so Dane is tackling a very monumental task with pastoral care and devotional attention. Each chapter is roughly 10-12 pages in lengthen working us through scriptural truths on the heart of Christ or reflecting on specific puritan’s teaching on Christ’s grace and mercy. On the other side since it is a pastoral work there are times where Dane will get a little overcome with trying to explain and illustrate the heart and love of Christ that it can become distracting from the thrust of the argument and encouragement he is seeking to give, for some this may be a blessing to others it could be a curse.

2. Christ Focused

The second reason this book is so impactful, is its Christ centered focus, specifically its attempt to bring us back to the reality of the humanity, of Christ. This work is meant to drive us forward into our love of Christ as we see Him as the God-Man. He was not simply taking on a pseudo humanity he took on humanity as it was meant to be free from sin, and he did it to save his own from sin. The whole text points us back to Christ; in all of our self-indulgent thoughts, we need Christ; in all our struggles and brokenness over sin, we need Christ; In all that we hold dear, we need Christ. He is our only hope in this life and the next.

With this immense task before him, Dane connects us deeply to the heart of Christ’s humanity and through it the love of God the father in sending Christ to save His own. Throughout the text we are continually refocused on the scriptural teachings of Christs’ heart towards those he ransomed from the grave. There is a lot to work though on this topic and at times there are many places he walks a fine line working through the texts of scripture ensuring he doesn’t fall into heresy, and when dealing with such a topic it is often easy to do, but he does it well. There are many footnotes and clarifying statements along the way to help readers better understand some of the theological ideas presented if one want to dive deeper..

3. Puritanically Rich

Finally the rich history of the Puritans is brought to bear on this topic. The Puritan writers offer a wonderful tapestry of observations and Biblical richness when talking about the mercy and grace of Christ, especially in his relationship to humanity. Dane gives us a glimpse into these men’s writings and in doing so their passion for the Lord and love for those they were called to shepherd. These men labored well in the Word to bring their people the depth of Christ’s love and the hope they could find in Him through all of life. If nothing else, this book stirs in us a rich desire hopefully to dive back into the works of some of these great writers and theologians.

The A2 Podcast

For those who have been reading the Publicans for a while now we wanted to make you aware of Andrew & Adam’s weekly podcast: A2. https://sonrisecity.wordpress.com/category/a2/ Each week we tackle different topics ranging from questions we have been asked by church members to issues happening in the world around us. The goal of this podcast is to be another point of instruction for those who call SonRise home as well as those who follow us here on the Publicans Blog. In the coming week we will highlight a few other podcast’s you may wish to follow.

10 Things You Should Know about R. C. Sproul by Stephen Nichols

Original Post: Crossway

1. Had R. C. not been a theologian, he would have been a baseball player—for the Pittsburgh Pirates, of course.

R. C. Sproul played baseball for a sponsored team. He was traded for three players. The announcement made the papers. But the sportswriter added these words, “Sonny Sproul”—as he was known before he became R. C.—“lacked a potential bat.” At the time he was in the sixth grade playing against mostly early twenty-somethings. His first time at bat after the trade, he ripped off a sharp single. Next time at bat, he pounded a home run. He had an actual bat. He was offered a baseball scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh, but went to Westminster College on an athletic scholarship.

2. R. C. met Vesta, the love of his life, when he was in the first grade and she was in the second grade.

Vesta Voorhis moved to the next street over from R. C.’s in the Pleasant Hills community nestled to the south of Pittsburgh. In between Vesta and R. C.’s home was the elementary school. That is where he first saw her. She was in the second grade, and he was in the first grade. From the first time he saw her, he knew he was going to marry her.

3. R. C. always loved music, and at the age of 63 he started violin lessons.

Dr. Sproul often said that in addition to caring about and pursuing truth and goodness and justice, we should also pursue beauty. He loved art, architecture, literature, and film. He especially loved music. He took piano lessons when he was young, but always admired and aspired to the violin. In 2004, Saint Andrew’s Chapel (the church where he served as founding pastor) opened the doors of the Saint Andrew’s Conservatory. R. C. was one of the first students—for the violin.

4. R. C.’s conversion verse was Ecclesiastes 11:3.

As a freshman at Westminster College, R. C. stopped by the cigarette machine in the dorm lobby, put in his quarter, and received his pack of Lucky Strikes. He was on his way to Youngstown, Ohio for a night out. Sitting at a table was one of the captains of the football team. He was studying his Bible and motioned for R. C. to come over. He was reading Ecclesiastes and showed R. C. this verse: “If a tree falls to the north or to the south, in the place where the tree falls, there will it lie” (Eccles. 11:3). That verse ricocheted in R. C.’s head. He forewent his trip and returned to his room. He saw himself as a dead tree, rotting on the ground. He called out for God to save him.

5. R. C. wrote his bachelor’s thesis on Moby Dick.

To R. C., Melville’s Moby Dick is the great American novel. In his bachelor’s thesis from 1961, he referenced how Ahab vainly thought that by charting the Great White Whale, he could control it and eventually kill it. Then R. C. delivers this line: Ahab represents “the shallow religious views of mankind.” The seed for Dr. Sproul’s classic text, The Holiness of God, was sown.

6. R. C. went to the Netherlands for doctoral studies not knowing a single word of Dutch.

The first day of his studies, he spent 12 hours getting through one page of one of his textbooks. He looked up each word, recording it on a 3×5 inch card. And the next day, he did it again. And then again.

7. R. C. had the vision for Ligonier Ministries while teaching a Sunday School class on Christology.

In 1968, Dr. Sproul was teaching philosophy and theology at Conwell Theological Seminary on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia. He was bored. But on Sunday mornings he taught a class at Oreland Presbyterian Church comprised mostly of adult professionals. The course was on the person and work of Christ. The deeper he went, the more they listened. He began to think of devoting his life to teaching outside the formal academic classroom.

I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.

8. R. C. first preached a series on the holiness of God at a Young Life camp in Saranac Lake, New York, in 1970.

The first time Dr. Sproul read the Old Testament as a new Christian he came to the realization that God is a God who plays for keeps. That was in 1957. He had been gripped by the holiness of God. At Saranac Lake in 1970, he offered a five-part series on the holiness of God. Later, it was one of the first teaching series recorded for VHS tapes at the Ligonier Valley Study Center in the mid-1970s. In 1985, he published the book. The holiness of God is central to Ligonier Ministries, which R. C. Sproul founded in 1971. The mission statement for Ligonier is “to proclaim the holiness of God in all of its fullness to as many people as possible.” It was the central theme of his teaching. He believed that people both in culture and in the church did not know who God is—that is, who God is according to God’s self-revelation. As he said, there is only one attribute of God raised to the third degree (Isa. 6:3).

9. R. C.’s heart’s prayer was for awakening.

Of Dr. Sproul’s many heroes from church history, Jonathan Edwards stands out. One of Edwards’s sermons, “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” had a particular influence. In 2014, he led a Ligonier study tour through New England. The tour reignited his desire to preach for awakening. R. C. emphasized the theme of awakening throughout his life. He prayed for awakening daily. In the final years of his life, his zeal for awakening intensified.

R. C. Sproul preached his final sermon on Hebrews 2:1–4 on Sunday, November 26, 2017. His final sentence was this: “So I pray with all my heart that God will awaken each one of us today to the sweetness, the loveliness, the glory of the gospel declared by Christ.” By Wednesday of that week, he developed a cold that continued to worsen. He entered the hospital on Saturday, December 2. Within two weeks, he was in the presence of God.

10. R. C.’s tombstone reads, “He was a kind man redeemed by a kinder Savior.”

Few have a wider smile than R. C. Sproul had. He loved to laugh and was always quick to deliver a one-liner. He enjoyed people. He truly knew the generosity of God, and that propelled him to serve people. He was known for standing for the truth. Over the course of his lifetime he took many such stands for the truth. He endeavored, however, to be kind. He was acutely aware of his own sin and of God’s mercy and grace in forgiving him. This was the cause of his desire to be kind. Most Sundays on the short drive home from church, R. C. would ask Vesta if he had been kind to people in the sermon.

Stephen Nichols is the author of R. C. Sproul: A Life.

From the Archives: Go Therefore

Go therefore…

Two of the most important words to us in Scripture: ‘Go therefore…’

What is so important about this phrase for many probably is not the words themselves but how often it has been preached and how often these two words have been addressed. As an alumnus of Southeastern Baptist in Wake Forest, I heard these words a lot. These words helped to shape my understanding of the gospel and the importance Christ put on our call not just to pastors and missionaries, but to all believers. We are called to go, or as can be derived from the text ‘to be going.’

Now before I get too far ahead of myself there are some crucial things in Matthew 28:18-20 that we need to embrace. First while the verse does say go, there is a very important phrase before that, a phrase that makes it all possible, a phrase that shapes how, why, and to what end we go and it is this simple phrase: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Let us just stop right there. In Jesus’ final words to his disciples He wants them to understand the most important thing about what is to come and what is happening right now and that is: All authority is His, All power is His, All that can be and ever was to be is His. In these 11 words Jesus gave the disciples and us everything we ever need, not just to go but to live.

This authority is what gives the Gospel power, Jesus conquered the grave and in so doing revealed all authority to be His and has made it evident for all to see and know. And because of this authority He is now sending out His disciples on the most important task of their lives to make more disciples. Surprisingly to some, we see that Christ’s authority was not dependent on the disciples, but rather one who sent them. In this they are assured that it is not by their might or power that people come to know Him or grow but by the authority of Him alone.

However this should be a motivation for the pursuit of making disciples not an excuse, if for no other reason than the fact that this is commanded by God. As we continue in the text we see that the disciples are to teach every new believer the commands of the Lord and to follow after His teachings and the truth of the Gospel, which clearly means the one He is giving them here before He ascended. In the book of Matthew these are the last words of Christ to the 11 remaining disciples. His final words are to go, baptize, teach, and know that He is with them. And these words apply to us today as much as they did then. We are called to go. God has placed each of us in this specific place, in this specific time, with our specific jobs and neighborhoods not simply for our own well-being, but for the proclamation of the Gospel. We exist and are called to go and make disciples, some will go to far off countries, some will go across the street, some will go to a new city or job, but all will go and as we go we make disciples.

For most of you who read this you will say you have read this before. There is nothing new here, I will agree with you on that. For most of us this is one of the first things we learn when we come to faith. I mean we came to faith because someone told us, whether that be a relative or a friend someone told us, someone spent time with us, someone walked us through the basics of the faith, someone taught us about the work of the Spirit in us leading to holiness, someone taught us we needed to forgive others and seek forgiveness when we sin. Someone discipled us, whether that was one-on one or in a group. Someone followed Christs command to go and make disciples. How did they grow in holiness and understand the Lord more, they followed his commands to go and make disciples. You are the product of God’s work in their lives.

So I write this not because it’s new or revolutionary, but because it is the most basic thing we are called to do and at times it is one of the easiest to forget.

I pray for each of us that we will never forget, because we have the assurance that all authority is His and He is the one at work, so rest in Him and go make disciples.

3 Reasons Why……You should know George Whitefield.

1. He Was One of the Most Prolific Evangelists of the Church.

In many ways he is the driving force that God used in bringing revival to America in the 18th century. Whitefield was a man on a mission to proclaim the gospel to all who would hear, from town to town, he boldly proclaimed the good news of salvation in the open air. He preached God’s wrath against sin and grace to the repentant throughout the American colonies at a time when such things were not done.

2. He Believed No One was too Far from the Grace and Salvation of God.

One of the driving forces behind Whitefield’s open-air preaching was the need for people to hear the truth of God who did not have churches to gather in. In his early days preaching in England he was rejected from preaching in the churches due to the focus on the gospel as the means of God’s salvific work, thus leaving him first to preach in prisons and then from the prisons to the fields. His first primary location was Kingswood, a people mostly rejected by English society. He firmly believed that all men needed the gospel, and that the gospel was for all mankind.

3. He Gave His Life to the Proclamation of the Gospel.

George Whitefield’s aim in life was to be fully spent for the cause of proclaiming the gospel, and in the end he did just that. He often stated that he wanted to be buried in a crypt under the pulpit of the final church he preached at and in 1770 after arriving in town he proclaimed the gospel one last time at Old South Presbyterian church in Newburyport, Mass. where he died hours later and was buried. Every inch of the man was given to the proclamation of the gospel. He was only 55 when he died but in those years, God used him to proclaim the good news of Christ’s work to many who had never heard its truth and sparked the flames of reformation in the American colonies.

A Reminder of How We May Learn Through Disagreements.

As we come to the close of 2020 I was reflecting back over some of the things I have written over the last several years, and the following article hit me square in the face. It is one I am personally striving to do and at times still easily falling, especially in a year where tribalism seems to be growing and divisions easily erected. We have ceased to listen. I hope it will encourage you and maybe convict you as it did me.

Sometimes it takes a younger you to remind you of these things.

*Originally published Dec, 2018

Over the last few weeks in the office we have been reading the book: Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves. It is a wonderful read and one that will make you think deeply about what it is we love so much about Spurgeon’s preaching and teaching ministry, but it will also at times made us step back and disagree with Spurgeon’s views on several things such as preaching books of the bible, liturgies, the New Birth, and scripted prayer.

Today’s post isn’t a review of the book but rather what the book helped me to see and think more deeply about. I’ve posted on it before, but I think it bears reminding that some of the very people our heroes ranged against and called out as heretics or worse are us. As a Baptist I love the reformation and appreciate all that Luther did and at the same time know he would have considered me as much a heretic as the Pope in Rome. Augustine was the father of much of what we find distasteful in the Catholic church such as baptism for the remission of sins in infants, Purgatory, Limbo, and a host of others, yet he also helped to solidify theologically the truth of Monergism and a full appreciation for the Sovereignty of God. Bavinck and Kuyper in Holland could not reconcile the role of the church and state, especially in the training of ministers, and in the process their partnership as ministers of the gospel was frayed.

Now I say all this for two reasons. First, there is always a chance we are wrong, not about the gospel but at times on its application when scripture is less than clear. Second, there are good and godly brothers and sisters in Christ who we can learn much from, whom we will equally disagree with on these tangential things. Both of these things we need to remember because at the end of the day we live to imitate Christ and become more like him, not necessarily other Christians, they at times point us to Christ and at times are worthy of admiration, but ultimately it is Christ whom we pursue.

 We Might Be Wrong

No one likes to be wrong. Let’s just face it, red marks on a test don’t tend to bring out our most excited moments (though many of us can agree we learned a lot from those red marks). Being corrected for our attitude or unrighteous behavior isn’t a fun day, though necessary. I’ve spent the last 6 years in full time ministry before that I spent 7 years in Bible college and seminary, along the way I read a lot of the Bible and equally a lot of theology texts. My office is filled with commentaries on the Word of God and books discussing how we should live out these truths. In Seminary, I focused my studies on Christian ethics (Or the practical outworking of theology in everyday life).  This time taught me a lot about what it means to be wrong and to be gracious in doing so, but it also showed me areas of my theology that should have been peripheral that had become central, things that being wrong about didn’t change who I was in Christ. Such as how does the Spirit gift individuals and what does that look like, what should the church sing, how do we practice church discipline, in what ways can baptism be performed, how often should we take communion, and what role does Communion, the Word, and singing play in weekly and personal worship?

I could ask these questions to a whole host of pastors and theologians and get a wide variety of answers and in that way, it taught me that it was okay to accept that possibility of being wrong in some areas of the Christian life, but not to settle for being wrong. It is important that we acknowledge that there are mysteries too marvelous for us to full comprehend or articulate. We must accept that there are areas of the outworking of the gospel that take effort to dive deeply into, and we should. The point of accepting that you could be wrong is not to be lazy in the process but to push harder into Christ and to trust in Him, to dive deeply into His Word and allow it to be the guide of who we are and how we then shall live. He gives us His Word to know Him and His family and to live out the truth of who has been revealed.

Now I know there are a lot of traps with what I am saying, and I’ll admit that as well. Hebrews encourages us to continually be on guard against falsehoods and to not be led astray into disobedience but to fight all the more for the faith and to rest in Christ our great High Priest who gave all for us, and for the Glory of His father. So, while it is good to accept, we may be wrong on the peripheral we must not give ground on the reality of who Jesus is, what salvation is, the work of the Holy spirit producing righteousness, the call to repentance, the work of God through all of scripture. These are the areas of the faith first and foremost to be wrong is to be outside of the faith. These are questions while they may be answered with different words will have the same substance, will reflect the same gospel truth, Spurgeon, Luther, Augustine, Bavinck, Kuyper, Piper, MacArthur, R.C., Gurnall, Athanasius, Polycarp, John and Paul would reflect the same gospel reality.

Learning from Others

Now that was a long way to highlight the importance of learning from those who we may, at times, disagree with on peripheral issues. Again, this is not a call to start picking up Osteen and Bell books, no need to take down that old Brian McLaren book on the 19 different Jesus’. No this is more about the importance of getting outside of our tribal instinct and studying the truth of scripture and seeing how other godly people have applied the text and lived it out. When I was in college, I went to an interdenominational school made up of a host of different theological backgrounds all studying the scriptures together and having lively and gracious discussions on the outworking of that faith. I learned a lot about loving my brothers and sisters well in disagreement from brothers whom truly reflected and lived out the gospel. I didn’t agree with everything they thought but I agreed with how they lived, for they lived it out far greater than I. Especially while those in my same camp seemed to move farther and farther way from the actual practice of the faith, while condemning these brothers as legalists or worse.

It is an amazing thought that we read men whom we openly would disagree with if they were around today, but the measure of their lives proved that they ran the race, they kept the faith, and in Christ have been rewarded greatly. In a day and age where we have become more tribal than ever, I fear we have stopped listening to those we disagree with, and in some ways, we have stopped learning.  If you are afraid to pick up a book by John Wesley because of his views on Holiness, you will miss his great care for the preaching of the Word and deep reverence he had for God. There was a reason Whitefield and Wesley were great friends, and they learned a lot form each other even while disagreeing over aspects of doctrine. If Spurgeon’s view of preaching topically drives you to forsake his preaching you will miss his rich exposition on the Psalms or the beautiful encouragement, he gives to suffering saints through the preached word, while simultaneously presenting the hope of the Gospel to the lost.

Ultimately, we need to be people committed to the cause of Christ, learning the truth of Scripture, defending the faith well, and growing in our love and dedication for the Saints.

Meet the Publicans: Matt Noble

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Today we chat with one of our long running contributors Matthew Noble.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Matt: My name is Matt Noble. I was born in Peterborough, New Hampshire, but grew up in Wesley Chapel, FL. Currently I live in Land O’ Lakes, FL with my amazing wife, Rachel, and our awesome son, Levi. I am a huge sports enthusiast, and I enjoy spending time with family and friends. By God’s grace I was born into a Christian family, raised in the church and saved at a young age. In my early 20’s I was called into ministry and I have been serving Christ and His church since.

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Matt:I am an elder at Cornerstone Community Church of Pasco, a Southern Baptist Church in the Reformed tradition. I serve as Pastor of Student Ministry. I have been on staff since 2017 and I am very grateful that God has called me to this community of believers. 


Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Matt:I desire that there would be genuine growth both spiritual and numerical in the church for God’s glory. I want to see believers equipped and strengthened and I want to see unbelievers come to a saving faith in Christ. 


Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Matt:When you can see the fruit of God’s Word blossoming in someone’s life. Seeing them eager to be at church, eager to read God’s Word, eager to share Jesus with others. That brings joy to my heart. 

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Matt: Time restraints. Being able to properly prioritize family, ministry, and a full-time job.  


Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Matt: Being faithful where God has called you. In the little things or in the big things being faithful to serve Christ and His church. 


Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Matt:I have dislocated both pinkies on separate occasions while playing football. 


Andrew: Random concluding question: if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would you rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Matt: I am not sure I understand the question? Is that Star Wars? But the answer is always John Piper. 

Meet the Publicans: Matthew Mahan

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Today we get to know our newest contribute Matthew Mahen.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Matthew: My name is Matthew Mahan and I hail from the Great Lakes region of NE OH and NW PA. I have been married to my beautiful bride, Liz, for the last eleven years, during which time God has blessed us with three young children (6- and 1-year old boys and a 3-year old girl). We have bounced around the USA throughout our marriage, having lived in PA, TX, AZ, CT, and FL.

As far as where I am from spiritually, I grew up as a denominational mutt – my parents’ litmus test for choosing a church to attend was less denominational-centric, more focused upon which churches had pastors who would preach and teach the Scriptures faithfully. I have inherited that legacy from them; these days I find myself worshipping our triune God as a member of the Anglican Church in North America.

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Matthew: I am just finishing my second year as the Rector (Head Pastor) of All Saints Anglican Church in Pensacola, FL. We are a member church of the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word.

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Matthew: Above all else I hope and pray that through my ministry people are better equipped for discipleship to Jesus Christ.

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Matthew: The biggest joy I have in this calling is seeing how God works through the ministry of the church to grow the faith of parishioners in Christ and the development of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Matthew: I have found the biggest obstacle for ministry, outside of my own sinful flesh and weaknesses, has been the stranglehold that local traditions can have in liturgical churches. So quickly can meaningful traditions become ossified and gain near-idol status, all while losing their initial vitality and vibrancy.

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Matthew: I define success in ministry as faithfully handling God’s Word through preaching, teaching, and exhortation, and rightly administering the Sacraments. I think the Biblical picture of success is faithfulness – especially in the midst of a darkling generation – and cannot be defined by numbers.

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Matthew: I love reading good science fiction novels, from Arthur C. Clarke to Michael Crichton, to C.S. Lewis, to Andy Weir.

Andrew: Random concluding question: if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Matthew: I would prefer Luther for the first half of the journey – there’s a man who would appreciate second breakfasts and a good pint at the end of a long day’s journey – provided that when we got closer to the goal our paths diverged so that he could serve as a diversion on a separate route! If I had to choose a companion who would stick by my side the whole way through (what a terrific joke! Better put, with whom would I choose to tag along and offer whatever meager service I could), out of the given choices I would go with John Calvin. If I am allowed to choose from other theologians or pastors of the past 500 years, give me C.S. Lewis for the journey any day.

Meet the Publicans: Austin Wynn

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Throughout the next few weeks, we’d like to introduce them to you. Today we get to know Austin Wynn.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Austin: In God’s kindness, I’ve been blessed with a very full and abundant life. I grew up in Metro Atlanta (Suwanee to be exact) to a church-going family. God graciously opened my eyes to the Gospel in my junior year of high school. It was in my college years at Valdosta State University that He then graciously opened my eyes to a girl, Emily Ruth Phillips. Emily and I have been married for eleven years and have been blessed with four uniquely gifted kids (Annie Ruth- 8, Everett- 7, Elias- 4, and Lydia- 1).

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Austin: I’m so blessed to be able to serve the great people at Westside Baptist Church in Valdosta, GA (Winnersville, USA). We began serving at Westside in 2017.

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Austin: I couldn’t put it any better than Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). I long to see people grow deeper in their faith in Christ and their love for Him, His church, and their lost friends and family.

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Austin: I absolutely love seeing glimpses of a growing Gospel awareness in His people. I often see such growth through evangelistic encounters outside the body and discipling relationships inside the body. Seeing the spark of a Spirit-given hunger for God’s Word in new believers is one major reason I do what I do.

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Austin: Satan, the flesh, and this world offer so many myriads of obstacles to the advancement of God’s kingdom. In my current ministry assignment, I’d say one of the biggest obstacles I face is being a solo pastor. I need brothers who can come alongside me and help me in prayer, the ministry of the Word, and leading His people. I know the responsibility falls on me to invest in men and train them up for such a task, but this takes time and patience (2 Timothy 2:2). 

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Austin: As my pastor, Bill Cook, said at my ordination service, success is faithfulness. As much as the world tells me success is nickles and noses or budgets and backsides, I’ve sadly seen that isn’t the case. Therefore, my prayers and efforts are aimed at being faithful to God and His Word, faithful to my wife and children, and faithful to the sheep with which He has entrusted to my care. If I’ve carried out the charges given in 1 Peter 5:1-4 and 2 Timothy 4:1-5, then I will have succeeded as a minister of the Gospel (no matter what people say or don’t say about me once I’m gone).

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Austin: On the light side: I like listening to Bluegrass with my daughter (long story) and eating Moose Tracks ice cream.

On the serious side: That I’m smack dab right in the middle of my own sanctification and need their prayers like crazy. Not that its much of a surprise, but my feet are made of clay and I’m wrestling with principalities and powers as they are (so prayer and encouragement is huge).

Andrew: if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Austin: All of the above! Luther would help me punch the devil in the face everyday. Calvin would help me press on for God’s glory. Spurgeon would help me not give into discouragement. R.C. Sproul would help me tremble before God instead of Mordor. John Piper would help me desire God more than the ring of power. If forced to choose only one, I’d say Spurgeon because he has finished his race, is a fellow Baptist, and God gave that man a way with words!

Meet the Publicans: Don Carpenter

Here at The Publicans we have many contributors. They labor each week to bring you posts and thoughts and rich Scriptural content to encourage us. We’re thankful for each of them. Throughout the next few weeks, we’d like to introduce them to you. Today we begin with Don Carpenter.

Andrew: Who are you and where are you from?

Don: First, I am a sinner saved by God’s grace. Through the years, I have learned that my identity begins with Christ and everything flows from there. As a result of God’s grace, I am a husband to Angie, a father to Faith & Cole, a son to parents, a shepherd to His people in EBC, and a friend to far more than I deserve. We are from the St. Louis Metropolitan Area (Illinois side); a small rural community in the heart of corn-country.

Andrew: What church do you serve?

Don: I serve the Lord in Eldred, Illinois at Eldred Baptist Church. We are a New Hampshire Confession church that focuses on living inside the covenant-community of faith while seeking to make disciples through evangelism and relational discipleship.

Andrew: What do you desire to see most in your ministry?

Don: I long to see a genuine movement of the Holy Spirit that manifests in (1) a profound love of God that leads to personal holiness in the lives of our covenant members, (2) our covenant members living an Acts 2:42-47 life devoted to Christ & His Church, and (3) the salvation of the lost in our community through the evangelistic efforts and Christ-like lives of our covenant members.

Andrew: What is your biggest joy in ministry?

Don: My biggest joys are always connected to witnessing the salvation and sanctification of those entrusted to me by God. As John wrote, “There is no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). The Lord has proven this true time and time again in my life.

Andrew: What is your biggest obstacle in ministry?

Don: Without question, my biggest obstacle in ministry is me. Sometimes, my obstacle is pride and self-sufficiency that keeps me from coming to the Throne of Grace where I may find the help I so desperately need. Other times, it is my tendency to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry (even if I hide it on the outside). Thank God my Great Shepherd is still guiding & correcting me with His rod & staff; His discipline is a comfort.

Andrew: How do you define success in ministry?

Don: Success in ministry cannot be measured by growth and decline alone, although they can be helpful tools. Jesus is Lord of both and has given both to EBC at various times. Success in ministry is my learning to trust God with the results of the faithful proclamation of His Word. God’s Word always accomplishes His purposes; I need, simply, to trust Him.

Andrew: Tell us something your church might not know about you.

Don: I am far less certain about how to do what I know God’s Word commands me/us to do. The Lord has given me a strong personality and I think that it helps me hide my insecurities. Since coming into a Sr. Pastor’s role, I have learned the significant difference between knowledge & wisdom. God’s Word provides me/us with the knowledge of what to do but it is God’s Spirit that gives me/us the wisdom to apply that knowledge in my/our context. This has humbled me greatly and continues to do so. And for that, I am grateful.

Andrew: Random concluding question, if you were sneaking into Mordor to destroy the ring of power who would rather have at your side: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul, or John Piper?

Don: Luther. He was willing to stand alone, face-to-face, against the most powerful force of evil for the Truth of the Gospel. Not to mention, Luther would certainly have some incredibly hilarious insults to throw at his opponents along the way.

Don, we’re sure thankful to God for you and His work in us through your writing. May God continue to do that more and more, amen!

Feed, Tend, and Follow

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” … “Feed my lambs.” … “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” … “Tend my sheep.” … Simon, son of John, do you love me?” …  “Feed my sheep”… “Follow me.”

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved … When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

John 21:15-23

The conclusion of John’s gospel should be a great encouragement to us when we think about Gospel ministry. In His final interaction with Peter, Jesus not only restores him to ministry but gives him a direction and an encouragement to persevere in ministry despite what transpires around him. He is reminded to keep his eyes focused on Christ and his heart set on those whom Christ puts under his care. This two-fold commission is the task for of each of us in the church and it is amazing how easy it is to lose sight of these simple tasks every day for the distractions and aspiration of the world.

In each of the opening questions put before Peter, Jesus is asking him does he Love him. Not long before we saw Peter turn away and deny Christ and now, we see Christ restoring him and preparing him for ministry by revealing his heart. Peter never stopped loving the Lord he allowed fear to turn his eyes away from following Christ and in that moment, he lost sight of the goal. Now, Jesus lays before him the reality that the love he has for Christ comes with a mission to follow Him while feeding & tending the sheep the Lord places before him.  Peter is being commissioned to be an ambassador of Christ and proclaim the good news and build up the church.

This is the task that remains for us now in ministry. We too are called to tend and feed the sheep that the Lord has placed under our care. Every day we labor in the Word and prayer for the good of others. We see the task that Peter is being given is a heavy one, and a beautiful one, not flowing from selfish ambition, but from a love for Christ. This is paramount to our task in ministry. If our goal is ever to make much of us and not to love Christ, we have lost the very heart of our purpose as shepherds. Our first and primary role flows from a love for Christ and in that love a love for those we are given to care for daily in word and prayer.

The second aspect of our love for Christ is seen in our call to follow Him. We are not called to feed and tend the flock of God by our own wisdom or creativity, but by following the word of Christ alone. He has given us all we need to tend to and love those whom He has placed under our care. He has given us the Word which reveals all we need for life and godliness. In the Word we are shown how to love them well and pray for them, and from this love and knowledge we seek to minister to them in their brokenness leading them back to Christ day by day as he leads us back to himself day by day. We cannot divert our eyes from following Him, for as we do we begin to lose track of the one who saved us and the one who sustains us, we can quickly begin to build a new foundation based on ourselves. When we stop following Christ in how we lead we will lead wrongly, we will feed and tend to the flock no longer out of love for Christ, but out of a misplaced love for ourselves and our name. This is why I think we see Peter corrected in the end one last time as he points to John and asks what the Lord’s plans are for him. In this moment, Christ quickly points out that it is not his to worry about. His task is to follow Christ wherever that leads and to care for those he is given along the way, and the Lord will lead John and given to him those to tend and feed of whom he will give an answer.

This final admonition is one we need to be reminded of, especially in ministry. The Lord has a plan and task for each and everyone of us. He has people whom he will place among us to love and minister to daily. It is these whom we will give an answer for and it is these whom he has called us to give of ourselves to feed and tend as we seek him. This knowledge should free us from jealousy of other people’s ministry, it should free us from the burden to seek within ourselves some new and creative gimmick and it should alleviate the stress of performance anxiety. This should lead us to lovingly care for those before us and pray for our brothers in Christ as they labor for those under their care.

Old Path’s Still True

Heidelberg Catechism

Q & A 105

Q. What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?

A. I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor— not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds— and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.

I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.

In our day and age we must not forget the simple things the Scriptures and these faithful catechisms teach us. Here before you is the 105th question of the Heidelberg catechism used to instruct children and adults in the truth of godliness for hundreds of years. What is so important in this little paragraph for us today is the depths to which the sixth commandment addresses murder. Murder is far more involved than the simple matter of ending someones physical life and has far more repercussions than we think.

Our country is in a state of upheaval at the moment over the death of George Floyd and the discussion over the nature of race relations. On Tuesday, Don wrote a great article highlighting the reality behind much of what we see as hate. There exist in our world a systemic issue, sin and along with it comes hate. What is worse is this is not only in the world but in the church. If you venture onto social media you will find some of the most vile and contemptuous words and accusations coming from Christians at one another. In many ways the church has adapted the culture’s propensity towards division and hatred.

So therefore, let us remember every day as we speak to one another and post online, that we represent Christ to a lost and dying world. As we speak the Lord calls us to be an encouragement to the body. The commandment before us calls us not just to not raise arms to kill one anther but not to speak in such ways, nor think it. Let us think well of each other, giving the benefit of the doubt and seeking to hear, love and encourage one another with the truth of the gospel.

As believers we hold the only true hope for the world and it is not in this world, but in Christ, and His Kingdom.

The Table in Exile….

There has been a lot of talk over the last month about what makes a church. How do we define its actions and, most importantly, how are we supposed to act in this season of separation? The reality is, at this moment, we are not assembling. We are not physically gathering together, hearing the voices of our church family raised in song, passing the elements, hugging one another, or sharing life together. In the absence of our normal routines, it is understandable that we would begin to make compromises as an attempt to find what normalcy we can. However, I hope this post will encourage you to use this season as a time to allow your heart to feel the weight of that longing and grow your desire for the communion of saints without compromising the integrity of the things we hold dear. Specifically, I want to address the theology of the Lord’s Table, in absence of the gathered body.

“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.”

1 Cor. 11:33-34

One of the questions we have been asked is, “Why are we not doing a virtual communion during this season?” It’s a good question, and we acknowledge there are other church bodies who have been observing the Lord’s Table virtually, but we do not feel this is the most biblically accurate representation or purpose of the Table. Paul gives a hearty admonition to the Corinthian church to be prudent in how they come to the Table. It is not a trivial matter, but one that requires humility, reflection, and community. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul was clear that the Table should be a communal activity of the church. In chapter 11, he rebukes those who are seeking only to serve themselves through the Table at the exclusion of the rest of the church. They are not exercising proper judgement towards one another. Also, as we see in the text, there is far more at work than a simple meal. For he openly encourages them to eat at home if in need of food, then come to the Table to be with your family. For the Table is much more than food, it is a meal with the family of God, in communion with Christ, lived out in humility and forgiveness, expecting and practicing for the great wedding feast of the Lamb.

However, these are not the only things we can glean from Christ’s institution of the Table and Paul’s admonition. We also see that the fencing and admonition given at the Table have no bearing if we freely partake in our homes, as we are not engaged with other believers calling us to repentance or forgiveness. Christ gave the church the command to practice this together as we await His return, where we will eat it with Him in Paradise. It is in this waiting that we truly see the need to be assembled together at the Table. The Table reminds us of the price paid for our sins, the Savior who paid it, and that we are not alone in this salvation. When we come to the Table, we are not alone; we are together as God’s people, living in anticipation of the feast to come.

So, as we yearn for the great day of the Lord and the feast we will experience as His bride, so too in this season we wait and yearn for the feast we share together. Therefore, our hearts should reflect to a degree what Israel felt in exile: a yearning to return home, a desire to experience the wonder of the temple again, and sadness over what has been lost. Oh how sweet it will be when all is returned, when we feast again with our church family, when we hear the voice of our neighbors sing songs of victory in the midst of sadness, when we see the wonder of baptism and new life spring from the ashes of death, when we marvel at God’s work day by day around us.

May our weeping be turned to singing on the day we gather together once more at the table.

Rejoicing in the Lord

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:4-9)

It’s easy to become anxious more and more each day as the news reminds us of the uncertainty of the times we are now living in, and yet this is hardly the first time the world has encountered such epidemics. The Spanish Flu in the early 1900’s reeked havoc across the world, and throughout the middle ages viruses would flourish and destroy many lives. I certainly don’t want this to sound callous or unfeeling, because that’s hardly the case. However, the reality of this not being a new endeavor reminds us that, as the book of Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun. The Lord is the Sovereign one over all that happens around us including the plagues that seem to tear the world apart. Because of this there lies within those who believe a deep sense of peace in these uncertain times.

Looking at Paul’s admonition to the Philippians we are struck by the fact that in that moment Paul was in jail for Christ, there was no evidence he would be freed and a chance he would lose his life. His times were far from certain but his hope in Christ was unwavering, and because of that security he could pray. Paul here is very clear on the hope found in Christ in uncertain times. These closing words to the book should bring us a sense of peace in our current day.

Let’s stop and reflect on Paul’s encouragement.

Rejoice over Worry

Paul’s thoughts here begin with a good reminder that no matter the situation there is room to rejoice for those who are in Christ Jesus. Think about all that we have in this moment, especially compared to many around us. We face a massive hurdle ahead, yet we have homes, food, running water, technology that allows me to write this today, and even the ability to see and pray with my brothers and sisters in Christ. The Lord has blessed us in many ways. Also think of how much time we have to slow down and reflect on the goodness of God, to see His mercies even in suffering. We learn that life is a vapor, but the hope of Christ is eternal, in that there is much to rejoice in. There is also a reminder that we are to take each day as the Lord has granted it to us. We should rejoice with each breath He has given to us because our days are not guaranteed and as we see now are a very high commodity. We can’t control the outcome, but we can control how we face it. So let us face uncertainty with rejoicing in our God.

Prayer over Self

Not only are we called to rejoice and give thanks we are called to pray. This is a key aspect of our need to rejoice in the face of uncertainty: the Lord is at hand. As the old hymn use to say: “I can face uncertain days, because I know my savior lives.” Here is the hope of our prayers, the Lord lives and hears us. He is the one who controls the future. He is the one who has ordained our days. He is the very real help in the midst of peril, and He is the source of our peace. This doesn’t mean we are foolish in how we live, but we live in wisdom (following good health and safety habits) and thankfulness trusting in the Lord. Here we are being encouraged to turn to the One who gives true peace; peace that is not fleeting and far more secure. All the more we should continue to pray for the Lord grace and mercy to those serving the broken and sick in this season. Those who by God’s providence are putting themselves in danger to help those around us.

Good over Evil

Paul concludes with a reminder of the things that we should set our attention on. For here, Paul’s calls us to look at the good things the Lord is doing and has done. We are not to get distracted and fearful, we are to be focused and thankful. Our focus is on the good work of the Lord in the midst of chaos, the certainty of His kingdom in the midst of upheaval, the hope of a future in the midst of our anxious tomorrow.

Let us look to the good things and trust the Lord through the evil. Let us pray with fervent hearts to the one who hears us, and through it all let us be people who rejoice and sing for our hope is unfailing.