10 Books To Buy For Christmas Presents

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Hey friends!  As you all know, I am a total and complete word nerd.  I love books.  This time of year, I get requests for suggestions as people are trying to buy last-minute Christmas presents.  Here are 10 books that I have grown to love, a mixed bag, for every kind of book reader.

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
The movie comes out Christmas day.  One of the most compelling stories of survival and grit that I have ever read.  My friend Ben Phillips recommended the audio book and I was GLUED.  Great for history buffs and people who like to turn off their brain from work and get lost in a story.

The Accidental Creative, by Todd Henry
Perfect for the creative person, who makes a living using his/her brain.  Henry guides you through building purposeful practices in your life that yield huge results.  Really helpful for New Year’s Resolution types who are wanting to make better use of their time in 2015.

The Conviction to Lead, by Albert Mohler
Mohler gives 25 principles for “leadership that matters.”  This one is really good for people in full-time ministry, especially pastors.  I was deeply challenged and encouraged.  Excellent to read in a one-chapter-a-day format.

Three Signs of a Miserable Job, by Patrick Lencioni
These leadership/business books are super-easy to read and are packed with thought-provoking ways to improve an organization.  Lencioni always spends a hundred pages or so, creating a fictional story that brings his points home.  He’s one of my favorites in this self-help, be-a-better-leader category.

The Noticer, by Andy Andrews
Happy, warm-fuzzy beach read.  Andy Andrews knows how to make a person rethink their life and see the world through a more positive lens.  Lynley and I both read this at the beach and felt a “happy” revival for a few days.

Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis
Simply, one of the best books I have ever read.  Lewis tells the story of his life, from a troubled childhood to the death of his mother to his conversion to Christianity.  Reads like a story rather than a theological treatise.  Great for deep thinking, reflective types.

Disciplines of a Godly Man, by Kent Hughes
This one has been around for a while and I’ve given countless copies away.  Really great for the guy who is wanting to get more focused in developing a well-rounded spiritual life.  Highly readable and not overly complex.  Men love this book.

The Shaping of a Christian Family, by Elisabeth Elliot
Lynley and I read this one aloud together.  The first 50 pages are a little slow, but this one really takes off as she tells the story of her life.  Elliot’s no-nonsense perspective on parenting and discipling children is uber-refreshing.

So What’s the Difference, by Fritz Ridenour
A must-read in this day.  Ridenour contrasts 20 major worldviews with Christianity, and does so in a simple manner.

Decision Points, by George W. Bush
You may not jive with George Bush, but this book is extremely helpful in getting inside the mind of man who made world-changing decisions that are still felt today.  Bush walks the reader through the top decisions he has made in his life and why they made sense to him.  His first decision described: the choice to get control of his alcohol problem.  This book is great for people who watch the news three times a day.

For Christmas, Help Start a Church!

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The “Sponsor a Week of Storyline Worship” Project

It’s the end of the year. Our family members are texting and calling with that wonderful question: what’s on your wish list for Christmas?

Confession: I can’t help it…I like gifts. A tree with presents around it makes me feel all warm and happy inside. (It’s hard to believe that gifts aren’t a universal love-language? What’s wrong with you, non-gifters? :) )

As 2014 comes to a close, I feel led to make a big ASK. Would you be willing to give an enormously helpful, year-end gift to Storyline Fellowship? Would you sponsor a week of worship? In February 2015, we plan to launch weekly services in a public school, which will cost us about $700 per week. This fee includes 1) paying for custodial overtime, and 2) renting the gym & adjacent children’s spaces. That adds up to about $35,000/year for worship gathering space, which we’ve discovered is not cheap!

Thanks be to God, in 2014, we were able to purchase all of the equipment needed to set up church every Sunday. We now own speakers, chairs, tables, bibles, and even trailers to contain it all.   Now, what we really need is to raise the money for rent!

Would your family, church, small group, or Sunday School class prayerfully consider giving a week of worship space to Storyline? This would be an unbelievable boost to get the church started. Perhaps you can’t afford to give the full $700, but would like to give a little toward the effort anyhow. We would be so grateful!

If the Lord leads you to invest in Storyline Worship 2015, you can do so in one of two easy ways:

  1. Mail a check payable to Storyline Fellowship: 15400 W. 64th Ave, 9E-14, Arvada, CO 80007.
  2. Jump online and give.  Just click here.

Lynley and I thank you for considering this partnership with us, as we strive to plant this church for the glory of God!  We know that many of you have already given, and for this, we are deeply thankful.  We hope that you have a very Merry Christmas, celebrating the birth of our Lord.

Hope to see you in Denver soon,

Ben and Lynley

Shots From Our Second Preview Service

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This past weekend, we experienced another incredible blessing as we opened the doors to Storyline for a second time.  After a remarkable first service in November, we hoped to build on that momentum this time and draw some families curious about the “Christian Christmas story.:  The theme this past Sunday was “The Miracle of Christmas” and I preached Luke 2, raising the question on whether miracles such as the Virgin Birth are compatible with reason and science.  In this highly-scientific city, these questions are the elephant in the room.  We had a great day, a full house, and many first-time guests that filled out visitors cards which opens up a line of communication with our follow-up team.

We want to thank our two mission teams that joined us this past weekend: Oakwood Baptist from Georgia and Calvary Baptist from Louisiana.  Both of these teams worked tirelessly—hanging door hangers, watching the Launch Team kids, and doing all manner of miscellaneous projects.  With their help, we moved the ball down the field big time!

Be in prayer for our Dec. 19th comeback event.  We have invited all of our guests to a Christmas family movie night at the school and we hope to continue to build relationships.  Our team is excited for the upcoming launch on February 8 and our next preview service on Jan. 11.

Attached are a few photos from Sunday, to give you a glimpse of the transformation of West Woods Elementary to Storyline Fellowship.

Thank you, Danny Akin

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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

The Heart Behind My “Preach the Bible” Post: My Testimony, Part 1

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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.















So Grateful for My Wife and Family

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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.

Pastors: Preach the Bible!

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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.