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“Miserable Writers Are You All!” An Essay on Writing

Please forgive the reference to Job’s castigating his friends as “miserable counselors are you all!” (Job 16:2)

Writing books really is overrated. At the ripe old age of 71 I’ve been thinking, what meaningful ministry have I had and do I really have now? I love writing. I blog every day. I’ve written a bunch of books on a lotta different topics. My first book (The Other Side of the Good News) was a defense of the biblical doctrine of hell. Then I got a lot more joy by writing Heaven: Thinking Now about Forever. I wrote a three-month devotional book on Christian beliefs (DocDEVOS).

A publisher in Scotland had me write two doctrine books: DocTALK and DocWALK. I tackled the topic of sin in my book When Temptation Strikes. My latest book is a challenge to Christians to be a friend of sinners like Jesus was (Unlike Jesus: Let’s Stop Unfriending the World).

I’ve self-published several books such as Saved: Rescued From God, By God, and For God. When noted pastor Rob Bell appeared to turn away from the Christian faith, I used John Piper’s famous tweet and wrote Farewell, Rob Bell (an evaluation of Bell’s theology). Whatever Happened to Heresy began as a multi-submission to a Christian journal and then wound up as a short book.

I self-published two books from my students’ work in two of my seminary classes: Thinking about Theology and After This Life . . . What? I presented copies of these two books to my seminary dean and the university’s provost on ironically the day they ended my 20-year teaching career due to the university’s economic downturn!

I’ve also written books for students, such as The Top Ten Mistakes Students Make on Research Papersand How to Avoid Them! I even got so bold as to write a short pamphlet for preachers entitled Ten Specific Steps You Can Take to Make Your Sermons and Preaching Better!

I have tried my hand at writing fiction like John Baldacci or David Grisham (I mixed those names up on purpose for those of you who read fiction). I envy them the money they’ve made and the audience they have. I ventured into fiction with my short book Abandon All Hope. It’s about a man who dies and goes to hell . . .

But I’ve never really had an agent and none of my books has ever taken off.

There’s several reasons for that: one reason may well be that I’m not a good writer. But I think I am a good writer but I don’t have an audience. I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a name. I don’t have a platform that allows me to reach a lot of people.

Could it be that I’ve written stuff that’s not that important? But most of my books have been on the Christian life and on making the doctrines of the Bible understandable. I’ve even had people like J.I. Packer endorse my books! So I’m not sure that’s it.

Maybe another reason is that Christians are lousy readers. I talked with a Christian tennis friend who has read just about everything by John Grisham, David Baldacci, Tom Clancy, and several other fiction writers. “I just don’t read non-fiction,” he said. I asked him if he’s read anything by John Piper and he said, “Who?” I think our churches are failing to encourage our people to read.

Perhaps the question is, do we overvalue writing? I look at my other ministries: teaching online courses to 3rd world church leaders, mentoring a younger believer, editing some really good books on biblical eldership and other topics, praying for Christians that I know are broken and really hurting, seriously becoming a friend of sinners, seeking to do the best in modeling a godly marriage in our 50 years, working hard to influence our seven grandchildren to walk with a whole heart in the Lord.

I think the Evil One makes us believe that we’re not significant as Christian leaders unless we’ve got some best selling books.

But in the final analysis what impact have those fiction-writers had on eternity? Now I read their books because I enjoy reading their fiction, but have they impacted anybody for the kingdom of God?

I’ve had the privilege in my teaching career in Bible college and seminary of reaching hundreds of students, encouraging them to be strong in the basics of the Christian faith, to love the Lord, to love their families, to be willing to do all kinds of ministry.

But I’ve not been a best selling author and . . . that’s OK. I’m thinking of starting a group for authors called Hopeless Writers. What do you think?

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2021 in writing

 

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How Do I Want to Be Remembered?
(A Study of Romans 16)

You may have heard the story of the three friends who were at a fourth friend’s funeral. At the viewing, they had a quiet conversation with one another. One asked, “What would you want others to say at your funeral about your life as they attended your viewing?” They thought for a few moments and the first friend said, “I would hope they would say that I was a faithful husband and a good father.” A few seconds later the second friend said, “Man, I would hope they would say, ‘he was a great co-worker and a godly example to all!'” The two friends waited and waited and finally asked the third friend, “What would you want people to say at your viewing?” The man thought for a moment and then said in a loud voice, “I would want them to say, ‘LOOK! HE’S MOVING!”

In Romans 16 the Apostle Paul lists 31 names of believers whom he commended for their partnership in the gospel. And he gives ten specific statements about those friends. Here is most of Romans 16, followed by the ten truths I hope others will say about me at my funeral!

Today’s Challenge: What steps can you take today to increase the likelihood that some of those statements will be made about you at your funeral?

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2021 in Romans 16

 

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A Ministry Update!

Friends: I am so thankful that the Lord is giving me opportunities to serve Him in my dotage (I’ll be 71 on Groundhog’s Day!). Here are a few areas that you could pray for!

Teaching ministry with my Ethiopian brothers and sisters: Linda and I were to go to Addis Ababa last August to work with some national pastors, but the trip was cancelled due to Covid. Since then I have taught a couple of courses to this group of pastors via Zoom. Presently we are in a short course on the Holy Spirit. Please pray for their encouragement as we study together.

Editing work for Christian Focus Publishers in Scotland: One of my few talents is uncovering dangling participles, comma splices,and basketfulls of sentence fragments! Please pray for my work on one manuscript right now entitled “Behold! An Invitation to Glory!” by Justin Huffman.

I continue to have great joy in teaching first year Greek to my friends Paul and Stephen in New Jersey through Zoom. They are to be commended for their diligent work in this tough language. Please pray for them — and for me! Just a reminder, I’m open to starting a new online Greek class for any who have an interest. Here’s the link you need.

The Lord has given me opportunities to produce message videos for several churches. I’ve done a series such as “Unlike Jesus: Let’s Stop Unfriending the World!”, “The Spiritually Healthy Family (A Study of the Epistle of Titus)”, and “Developing a Biblical Relationship with God the Holy Spirit.” If your church wants to use any of these, I’m available to meet with your church via Zoom. Please pray for my ongoing work on such messages.

I’m always writing stuff and I’m still committed to several of my own projects. I think my next book will be on the topic Developing a Biblical Relationship with God the Holy Spirit. I’m also working on a study of Philippians entitled Finding Deep Joy in a Sad, Shallow World. And I’m seriously considering a series with the title A Five Minute Theology: Devotions in the Basics of Belief. I would appreciate your prayers for focus and commitment to these projects. (Man, that’s an irritating graphic, isn’t it?).

That’s it. Please pray for me. And for the Lord to bless the work of my hands in my senior years! Thanks!

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2021 in ministry

 

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Self-Commendation (A Study of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10) Part 4 (Conclusion)

Friends: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my friend Frank (in New Jersey) and I have been doing an email Bible study for over a year. We read the same chapter every day for a week — and then send a brief email of encouragement to each other. We’ve completed most of the epistles of the New Testament — and it’s been a great discipline for both of us.

Let us continue our study of several verses in chapter six:

Self-Commendation (A Study of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10): Part 4

II. The Specifics of Self-Commendation (vv. 4-10)

We’ve thought about Paul’s list of the 28 items he gives showing how his behavior and mindset in ministry commend him. We’ve seen some of his difficult circumstances in which he served. We then noticed the positive qualities which marked Paul’s work. Let’s notice the last section of those items:

These nine couplets show the ministry contrasts which Paul experienced. He does not sugar-coat the challenges he faced, but pairs them with the positive aspects of serving Christ. If we only had his list of the positive parts of ministry, they would be: glory, good report, genuine, known, living on, not killed, always rejoicing, making many rich, possessing everything! But we don’t get to choose only the positive. Paul’s ministry — and ours — includes very negative items: dishonor, bad reports, charges of being an imposter, regarded as unknown, dying, beaten, sorrowful, poor, and having nothing. It should come as no surprise when ministers drop out and become insurance salesmen.

Today’s Challenge: Paul commends himself, but does so with complete honesty. If you are in professional ministry, do you have someone with whom you can share your deepest struggles? If not, pray that God would give you such a person!

 

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2020 in 2 Corinthians 6

 

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Self-Commendation (A Study of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10) Part 3

Friends: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my friend Frank (in New Jersey) and I have been doing an email Bible study for over a year. We read the same chapter every day for a week — and then send a brief email of encouragement to each other. We’ve completed most of the epistles of the New Testament — and it’s been a great discipline for both of us.

We’re now continuing our study of several verses in chapter six:

Self-Commendation (A Study of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10): Part 3

II. The Specifics of Self-Commendation (vv. 4-10)

We’ve thought about a definition of self-commendation in our first post (making sure we’re not putting a stumbling block in anyone’s path and working so our ministry will not be discredited). But what, specifically, does it mean to endure in the service of the Lord? We’ve noticed the 28 items that Paul lists showing how his behavior and mindset in ministry commend him. Let’s notice the second section of those items:

These are positive qualities that mark Paul’s ministry. When you and I are serving, are we serving in purity, understanding, patience, and kindness? Can we confidently say that we are doing our work “in the Holy Spirit” and “in sincere love”? We are to be marked by “truthful speech” and we should desire to wield the “weapons of righteousness” in the “power of God.” Those are high qualities — but they are not optional IF we wish to appropriately commend ourselves and our gospel!

Today’s Challenge: Which of those nine qualities in that second list do you need to work on? What steps will you take to tackle at least one of them? (Feel free to leave a comment below).

 

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2020 in 2 Corinthians 6

 

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Self-Commendation (A Study of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10) Part 2

Friends: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my friend Frank (in New Jersey) and I have been doing an email Bible study for over a year. We read the same chapter every day for a week — and then send a brief email of encouragement to each other. We’ve completed most of the epistles of the New Testament — and it’s been a great discipline for both of us.

We’re now continuing our study of several verses in chapter six:

Self-Commendation (A Study of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10): Part 2

II. The Specifics of Self-Commendation (vv. 4-10)

We’ve thought about a definition of self-commendation in our first post (making sure we’re not putting a stumbling block in anyone’s path and working so our ministry will not be discredited). But what, specifically, does it mean to endure in the service of the Lord? We’ve noticed the 28 items that Paul lists showing how his behavior and mindset in ministry commend him. Here, again, is that chart of those 28 items, Notice how we have marked the first section of those items:

I would describe those 10 items as commending oneself in difficult circumstances. Those conditions are not what any of us would want — but Paul’s honesty in those trying situations is refreshing and praiseworthy.

Today’s Challenge: How dare we think that ministry is easy, problem-free, or without opposition? Don’t hesitate to list (perhaps both for the Lord and for those you serve) some of the difficult circumstances you are facing in ministry. This is truth, not complaining. And ask others to pray that you will be faithful through these challenges!

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2020 in 2 Corinthians 6

 

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Self-Commendation (A Study of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10) Part 1

Friends: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my friend Frank (in New Jersey) and I have been doing an email Bible study for over a year. We read the same chapter every day for a week — and then send a brief email of encouragement to each other. We’ve completed most of the epistles of the New Testament — and it’s been a great discipline for both of us.

We’re now working our way through 2 Corinthians. Here’s my outline for several verses in chapter six:

Self-Commendation (A Study of 2 Corinthians 6:3-10): Part 1

What in the world does it mean to “self-commend”? Self-commendation is not the same as self-promotion. And this passage is critical in understanding how one establishes himself in ministry . . . and endures in serving Christ!

I. A Definition of Self-Commendation (vv. 3-4)

   >>> Negatively, it means we do not put a stumbling block in anyone’s path.   Nor do we discredit our ministry by our conduct.

  >>> Positively, it means we live and endure as servants of God (v. 4).

II. The Specifics of Self-Commendation (vv. 4-10)

We will examine these 28 characteristics of a godly, self-commending ministry in our subsequent posts.

Today’s Challenge: Paul’s view of his ministry is a healthy one — and given for our instruction! Which of the above 28 aspects of ministry do you find present in your service for Christ? Pick one that you need to focus on for the next while — and ask God to help you grow in that area.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2020 in 2 Corinthians 6

 

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God’s Co-Workers! (A Study of 2 Corinthians 6:1-2)

Friends: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my friend Frank (in New Jersey) and I have been doing an email Bible study for over a year. We read the same chapter every day for a week — and then send a brief email of encouragement to each other. We’ve completed most of the epistles of the New Testament — and it’s been a great discipline for both of us.

Let us continue our study of several verses in chapter six:

God’s Co-Workers! (2 Cor. 6:1-2)

1. The Incredible Privilege (v. 1)
We are God’s co-workers! He doesn’t need us! But He has invited us in. And we get to work with Him!

2. The Critical Message (v. 1)
“We urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.” What does that mean to “receive God’s grace in vain“? God’s grace not only saves us, it teaches us how to live (see Titus 2:11-15 for a full explanation of God’s teaching grace). Our lives are not to be content with just being saved from His wrath. We are to press on to godliness and conformity to Christ!

3. The Crucial Present (v. 2)
“Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” This sure sounds like a gospel appeal, doesn’t it? Were there unsaved in Paul’s Corinthian audience? Of course. But perhaps he is referring to more than soul-salvation. He is challenging these believers to a life of response to the God who “heard” them and “helped” them.

Today’s Challenge: If you are in full-time professional ministry, take time to thank the Lord for your partnership — with HIM! If you are not in vocational Christian ministry, thank Him for the work you are enabled to do for the kingdom — by His grace and strength!

 
 

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Suffering?! What Suffering? (A Study of 2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

Friends: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my friend Frank (in New Jersey) and I have been doing an email Bible study for over a year. We read the same chapter every day for a week — and then send a brief email of encouragement to each other. We’ve completed most of the epistles of the New Testament — and it’s been a great discipline for both of us.

We’re now working our way through 2 Corinthians and we’re in Chapter Four:

Suffering?! What Suffering? (A Study of 2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

What is “this treasure” (v. 7) to which Paul refers? The passage is clear. It is: “The word of God” (v. 2), “our gospel” (v. 3), “the light of the gospel” (v. 4), “we preach . . . Jesus Christ as Lord” (v. 5), “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (v. 6). But being “jars of clay” which contain this treasure comes with a cost — suffering!

I. The Descriptions of Paul’s Suffering (vv. 8-11)

II. The Purpose of Paul’s Suffering (v. 10)

>>> “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”

III. The Benefit of Paul’s Suffering (v. 12)

>>> “So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (v. 12)

Today’s Challenge: In a real sense, we believers are walking dead men.  We carry with us the death of Christ who can become LIFE to those who believe. How in the world could we think that such a ministry would be accomplished with no suffering attached to it?! Count yourself privileged today to suffer . . . for Him!

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2020 in suffering

 

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Keys to Not Losing Heart (A Study of 2 Corinthians 4)

Friends: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that my friend Frank (in New Jersey) and I have been doing an email Bible study for over a year. We read the same chapter every day for a week — and then send a brief email of encouragement to each other. We’ve completed most of the epistles of the New Testament — and it’s been a great discipline for both of us.

We’re now working our way through 2 Corinthians. Here’s my outline for several verses in chapter four. (I needed to include the entire chapter below):Keys to Not Losing Heart (2 Cor. 4)

1. Follow God-Honoring Ways in Your Ministry (v. 2)

2. Set Forth the Truth — and Yourself — Plainly (v. 2)

3. Recognize That the Minds of Unbelievers Are Blinded (vv. 3-4)

4. Don’t Preach Yourself, But Christ! (vv. 5-6)

5. Don’t Minimize Your Own Suffering for the Savior (vv. 7-12)

6. Do Your Work Out of Faith in the Lord Jesus (vv. 13-15)

7. Be Motivated by the Biblical Certainty of Eternity (vv. 16-18)

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2020 in ministry

 

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