A few weeks ago, I had the joy of speaking at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. It was such an encouraging day, to be back on the soil of theological education—the halls teeming with amazing people who have given their lives to teaching the Word. As I walked across the beautiful campus, sprinkled heavily with seasoned trees, I fought the temptation to sprint straight into the library and to smell the scholarship, to bury my head in an old book. (**A Worthy Rabbit Trail: Click here to read C.S. Lewis’ argument on why we should read the old books, and not just bestsellers.)
I’m so very grateful that Baptists fought and won the battle for the Bible when I was learning to ride a bike. Even more, I’m glad that our seminaries are still Spurgeon-esque—challenging young men and women to have blood that runs Bibline. My life was forever changed by the professors who forced me to study systematic theology, Old and New Testament survey, homiletics and Hebrew. I’m forever indebted to my teachers.
While I could say great things about all of our SBC seminaries, what has happened at Southeastern over the last decade, under Dr. Danny Akin’s leadership is nothing short of remarkable. The school has become a missionary-sending machine, a place where students are being challenged daily by the deep truths of the Gospel.
Dr. Akin has become one of my heroes over the last 15 years—and not solely because of his insightful sermons, his writings (click here to see the exciting new series from Danny Akin, David Platt, and Tony Merida), his spectacular presidential stats, or because of his denominational statesmanship.
I respect Dr. Akin primarily because of his sons.
In 2002-2006, I had the joy of serving as a college pastor in Jackson, TN. In that span of time, I became friends with Paul and Tim Akin, two university students and two apples that did not fall far from their father’s tree. Paul and Tim were two of the godliest, winsome, Christ-loving young men that I had ever come across. They were special, and clearly a product of careful parenting. Along with their twin big brothers, Paul and Tim have given their lives to the local church, serving in full-time ministry. The Akins raised four gregarious boys who have given their lives to the local church. I find this to be quite inspiring.
I have three sons and one daughter. I’m praying for four missionaries—four that seek to do something great for God. Because of Danny and Charlotte Akin, I have hope.
Thank you for having me at Southeastern, Dr. Akin. And thanks to all the professors who have challenged me over the last 10 years. Your words and your way of life are a treasure.
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7
Neither one of my parents came from churchgoing stock. My mom and dad married extremely young, ages 18 and 19, and soon started raising a family as best they knew how. I was the second of three Illinois boys. My dad was a painstaking steelworker who literally broke his back while packing 27 years worth of nails. Dad worked the swing-shift, which caused him to stay up all-night long every third week. I found this act to be quite heroic when I was a boy, hoping that one day I could stay up all night and tell about it (I’ve changed my mind).
The first time I remember hearing the word “church” was when an older couple in my tiny town stopped by my house unexpectedly. We weren’t an extroverted family who hosted a lot of folk, so I remember vividly this visitation from strangers. These two saints, Fred and Peggy, were on the “outreach team” for tiny Tampico Baptist Church before such teams even had a name. Boldly, Fred and Peggy stopped by the house and asked my parents to give their church a try. They handed us boys Chicago Bears pins and we immediately loved them for it.
To this day I don’t know why—I have never overtly asked him—but by the grace of God, my dad said “yes,” and for this I am forever grateful. Because of that one decision—frozen in time—my life took on a whole new meaning.
Tampico Baptist Church of the early 80s knew not technology. It was a musty smelling, modest building with the paint on the sign forever-chipped. Like the Lord Jesus, there was “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Is. 53:2).” The church was vanilla on the exterior, posting zero curb appeal. We went because some nice people cared enough to ask us in.
I was a kindergarten boy who still believed in Santa when the strangest thing started happening to me. The Scriptures were read Sunday after Sunday by Reverend Pete Carlson, a pale, quiet man who had odd-shaped fingers. My baby-soul was fed every Sunday, the words that would make me wise unto salvation—the Scriptures. We didn’t have children’s church or anything special: we all sat together in the main room, fanning our faces with the bulletin throughout the summer months. Week after week, the Word was read, and flimsy transparencies were flung onto the screen to help us see the arc of biblical history and the pre-, mid-, and post-tribulational views of the eschaton.
The Scriptures—Old and New Testaments—were burrowing in, like the most beautiful bug that meant me well.
A man named JB Philips, about 60 years ago, started translating the New Testament into modern vernacular and spent a year immersed in the biblical text. He described the experience of working with the Scriptures day after day. He said: “…again and again the writer felt rather like an electrician rewiring an ancient house without being able to ‘turn the mains off.’”
That’s the way I felt.
I was a lower class kid who was hearing the call of a kingdom. C.S. Lewis said, “The leaves of the New Testament are rustling with rumor.” I began to believe those rumors. The storyline of Scripture made sense of my world.
Certain moments as a kid remain etched in the stone of my psyche. I remember one spring day, playing on the swing set in my backyard. I was all alone. No one saw me. As my legs pumped the swing, and my face was forced upward, my eye caught a jet and its smoky tail. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a shower of joy as I looked beyond the plane. I quickly jumped from the swing, lay down on my back in the long grass, and gazed into the forever sky. It declared the glory of God, as the Scriptures said it would. I felt dizzy and hopeful that, with time, I would pass through the expanse, and see the grandeur of the One who made it all.
Adopting a Christian worldview at an early age, through the special revelation of the Scriptures, and the general revelation of the skies and the moons was life orienting. This picture of God, from Genesis to Malachi, from Matthew to Revelation, created an insatiable hunger in me. It caused me to see the dawn of time—that human history was indeed teleological, going somewhere glorious, moving toward a goal, toward a Person. The sheer depth and beauty of the biblical storyline shook me to the core.
As an elementary school boy, the testimony of unrefined Tampico Baptist Church transformed me. At the age of 7, I would receive the Gospel at a church Christmas event. Like John Wesley, who said of his conversion, “my heart was strangely warmed.”
I know that many people are later re-baptized in their adult years, confessing that their childhood conversion was simply a response to peer pressure or pure emotionalism. As a pastor, I always respected people who had the nerve to come clean and to practice true believer’s baptism. This wasn’t the case with me, however. Soon after I was saved, I started dreaming about doing something great for God. David and Goliath, Daniel in the den, Peter with his ear-slicing saber—I wanted to live a courageous Christian life and I knew the storyline of Scripture was the weaponry.
As a tween and teenager, I would read the Bible, by myself, every night before I would go to sleep. One page was all. Some nights, I would fall into the bed exhausted after a ball game, only to get back up, flip on the lights, and eat some scroll (Ezek. 3:3). “No Bible, no bed.” That was my ritual. It wasn’t legalism but a desire to stay the course.
Years of reading the Bible, bit by bit, even the parts I could hardly pronounce at age 12, began to rain torrential rewards. As I entered into the brutal war of middle and high school—wrestling every day with the snare of compare—I sat in the pew on Sunday, and was strengthened by the Scriptures—“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth (Eccl. 12:1). I formed convictions, like a child forming teeth, and I knew right from wrong. When I strayed from God’s laws, as we all do, my conscience condemned me immediately. The Word was like a wall, keeping me safe inside while the culture called me out to play—with sexual sin, substance abuse, and parental mockery. Only by the grace of God and the preaching of the Word did I survive. My heart was happy and I felt-fully alive, inspired by the storyline of Scripture. The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul (Ps. 19:7).
My late teenage years and my early twenties were special in my personal life—I met Lynley at a summer camp and we fell in love. It was while we were engaged that the next spiritual bon fire was ignited.
I met a man named Adrian Rogers.
Our lives collided on a cassette tape.
On a frigid day in early January, my family shoved off the shore of Tennessee and followed the call of God. We traveled west, west, and more west. 1000 miles later, we arrived on Russell Court, plodded through a sidewalk of snow, and walked with wet feet into a house that didn’t feel like home.
A whole new life had begun. A whole new chapter of our story–one that wouldn’t be as easy as we’d hoped.
I wish I could say that I’ve been a model husband and a focused father for the past 9 months, steering the family ship masterfully through this sea of change. That wouldn’t be true. By the grace of God, we have made it this far, and by the grace of God we continue. We go “from faith to faith,” as all believers do.
With Storyline’s first service behind us, I rejoice in saying that the atmosphere in our house has changed. We feel more at rest, more hopeful that we will indeed make it to the promised land, that we will see the birth of a Gospel-centered, multiplying church. The work has been worth it, even though it has been hard.
Thanksgiving arrives at the most natural time, as we reflect on this year of growth.
Lynley has been amazing. Loyal, solid, and determined, God knew I would need a mate with great grit once we answered this call to the West. On hard days, when doors close or setbacks show up, she refuses to quit. She simply doesn’t know how to stop going. For this, I am thankful. She has been raised “brave.”
Ava, Max, Miles, and Jack have been heroic as they walked into classrooms full of faces unseen on that initial day of school. God has supplied great neighbors, new buddies, and fresh confidence to endure the challenges of life that will come ahead. While we have no real yard to speak of in Denver, the street has become an incredible field for football. All things are new. And they are good. Beauty is coming forth from the ashes of the past months.
We thank God for this adventure, and for all that He is teaching us along the way. The Mandrells are truly thankful.
The word “expository” is rather odd, I admit. Most people look confused when I say that I believe wholeheartedly in “expository” preaching.
“And what exactly is THAT?” the more honest ones will say.
Expository preaching may sound intellectually impressive, but it speaks to something quite simple. To preach an expository sermon is to 1) read a passage of Scripture, 2) explain what it meant to the original audience, and 3) connect it to contemporary life. Hence, the right-minded expository preacher stands before his flock on Sunday with wobbly knees and a stomach unsettled. In his core, he believes that God has spoken to human beings through His Word, and woe to the preacher that runs off script!
True expository preaching is humbling to the preacher and gripping to the hearer. The preacher is not the point of interest and his personality is not what drives the message. He is an ordinary person, but one who speaks for The Extraordinary. The preacher’s job is simple: to “herald” the royal message, like the old town crier who sprinted to the square and shouted, “Hear ye, Hear ye, a message from the King!” When such announcements were made, people weren’t all that concerned about the spokesperson’s personal life. They were more interested in the substance of the message.
Unfortunately, from what I can gather, the American pulpit is sacrificing substance for sensationalism. There is a growing trend in churches that marks a strong move away from Word-centered corporate worship. Somewhere along the way, expository preaching was branded old-fashioned, on par with the 8-track player or the Palm Pilot. Expositors are a dying breed, on a trajectory toward extinction (hopefully not!).
Sadly, the trendy method of preaching nowadays is to grab a blockbuster movie clip and build a “Be a Better You” message around the catchy scene, perhaps sprinkling in passages of Scripture ripped out of context and revealed a thousand years apart. The new generation of preachers seems to be about making the message memorable (i.e.; long stories, elaborate sets and extensive visual aids) vs. making the message meaningful, with committed study, thoughtful exegesis and carefully-worded truths. What has happened to the meat??
I hope I’m not the only one that feels this way, but it seems to me that the first four words of every sermon should be “Open your Bible to….” From there, the pastor should draw peoples’ eyes to the text, not to his latest Google search.
Lord, help us, if we lose the life-changing Word. It’s happening in churches all over the country, and it’s not the first time we’ve done it (2 Kings 22). The consequences could be disastrous.
I can’t hardly talk about today without bursting into praise and worship. The first Storyline Preview service went beyond our wildest imagination. We stand in awe of what God is doing here.
On Saturday, Lynley and I stood in amazement as we watched the vision for Storyline come together like magic. Early Saturday morning, we met our long-awaited equipment in the parking lot of the West Woods Elementary School. Our portable church order finally arrived in two swollen trailers and we spent the day discovering and assembling everything. By the end of the day, as we stood in the back of the worship room listening to Justin and Ashley sing so beautifully about the cross, we were all emotional. The day had finally come, when we could invite our neighbors and friends to join us in community. The school had become a sanctuary. Even the school’s fantastic facilities guys—Jason and Chris—were amazed at the transformation.
This morning, we were so encouraged as the parking lot, kids spaces, and worship room filled up with people and with energy. This Storyline team that God has assembled is A+. I wish I could start listing names and the way that each person ministered to us greatly this weekend, but I’d be afraid of leaving someone out.
On Nov. 19th, we will invite all of our new friends to a fun PJs and Pizza Bowling night. This will give us a time to laugh together and get to know each other more. On Dec. 7th, we’ll offer our second Preview Service. It will be hard to wait, but we look forward to growing closer to one another and to God as we build this new church together.
Lynley and I wish to thank each of you for your prayers, your generous donations to the church, your notes, your friendship. We love you and we hope to see you all at Storyline Fellowship one day soon.
To see a whole bunch of great pictures from the day, click HERE!
Worship is the engine, the fuel of the local church–the rising tide that raises all boats. Without soul-refreshing times of worship, the Body begins to wither. People dry up, no longer serving out of the overflow. Storyline is serious about offering excellence in worship and this requires anointed leadership.
We are beyond excited about the person whom God has called to lead our first 5 services at Storyline Fellowship. Justin Kintzel, and his wife Ashley, are young, vibrant, authentic, and as you will see below, incredibly gifted. Take a moment and read Justin’s bio. Watch these two, brief videos to get a taste of what worship at Storyline will soon become.
Thank you, Justin and Ashley, for leading us!
Adjusting to a brand new culture, being the new kid on the block hasn’t been easy for Lynley and I. It has been especially challenging for our children, who walk into a classroom without a single familiar face, or a safe person to latch onto. The first week of school at West Woods elementary certainly wasn’t a breeze. Ava, in particular, came home the first few days with tears behind her eyes, fighting them off and trying to act strong. Lynley and I hugged and prayed and tried to divert attention with ice cream or some other “bribe.” :)
Two weeks ago, a blessing from the Lord came. A new email bounced into our inboxes. Ava had been awarded the Student Ambassador award. This recognition goes to one child in each classroom that has demonstrated respect for others, and exemplary character. Lynley and I jumped for joy because we knew how desperately Ava needed that reassurance. Before the little party was over inside our house, a second email came flying in. Miles too, was chosen by his teacher, for the Student Ambassasor award.
All this may seem a little melodramatic for some of you. I can certainly understand. For us, though, these little bread crumbs from God are a reminder that He is shepherding us, walking with us, reminding us that He never leaves, never forsakes. He is the “God of all comfort.”
Thank you for your prayers, as the Mandrell family and other families from around the country continue to adapt to this new mission field. We are grateful for each of you.