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The Briefcase: Leading Well in the Midst of Your Untimely Death

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A note from Griffin: What follows is shared with permission from John Bryson, pastor of Fellowship Memphis. I remember first reading this post around 2013 and thinking “When I’m married and starting a family, I am going to do this.” Now that I’m married, I realize what an incredible act of selfless leadership this kind of preparation is. I emailed him and asked permission to share it here, and he kindly agreed. I’ve only lightly edited here, and now pass it on to any who desire to lead their families well. I hope that any husbands or fathers that encounter this post will take its recommendations seriously, and prepare  to lead their families in the most difficult time possible: the day you are no longer there to lead and care for them.

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I have a strong passion for men to step out of passivity and lead.  A unique place that needs your leadership is in the event of your untimely death.  I am working on what I call “The Briefcase”.

Here is the list I compiled of leading your wife and family well in the midst of your no warning / untimely death.  Please add to it, subtract from it or tweak it as you see fit.

I recommend both digital copies and physical copies of what follows placed in a designated file or briefcase. Your wife and at least two close friends needs to know where both [digital and physical copies] are kept and the two friends needs to be deputized by you to step in and execute (working gently and clearly with your wife) what it is you have left so that burden in not placed exclusively on your wife. In my opinion, the spirit of these intentional acts should be to be as clear as possible and as freeing as possible to your family left behind:

  1. A will prepared by an attorney.
  2. Ample Life Insurance.  My goal is term life and enough that my family would be debt free (including a house) and Beth would never have to work or re-marry if she chose not to do so.
  3. A letter to your wife expressing your love and appreciation for her and freeing her to grieve, live and trust Jesus.  He is good and does good.  I personally encourage my wife to remarry with my blessing if she find a man who loves Jesus, will love her and love our kids and to thank that man for me.
  4. A general letter to all your kids about your dreams for them as a family unit with your family values and traditions that you love.
  5. A specific letter to each kid affirming your love for them and what you have learned about them uniquely with your hopes and dreams for them.
  6. Possible letters to other family members and friends.
  7. A letter that addresses your desires for a funeral, burial, a couple of options for who to preach your funeral (options give freedom, you don’t want them to feel like a failure to you because a certain man couldn’t do your funeral) and some pall bearer options.  Also, any special music requests or if you have not strong desires or opinions, say that, so again, they are operating out of freedom, not guilt.
  8. Options / preference of where to bury you (later in life, as you can, you need to purchase cemetery lots).  I personally am directing Beth to buy the cheapest casket possible and not be suckered into emotional purchases at a funeral home!
  9. A list of all your assets. Specific as possible with every detail you have.
  10. A list of all your debts.   Specifically who the debt is owed to, account numbers, and phone numbers.
  11. A list of your life insurance.  Company, agent, amount(s), account numbers.
  12. A write up of why you bought the amount of insurance you did and what you may have envisioned it for (pay off house, amounts set aside for daughter’s wedding, college fund, etc) but with the freedom for her to use it as she sees fit.
  13. Any verbal financial agreements or understandings you have made or have been made to you from employers, family, friends, etc.
  14. Any desires you have for anything your own / your assets to be specifically given to any other people or individual kids.
  15. Set up a deal on your phone / calendar to remind you to re-visit and update your “Briefcase” annually.

Every time I read through this list from Dr. Bryson, one phrase comes to mind: intentional love. This list takes work. It takes thought. For some men it will be hard to put pen to paper and pour their heart out in the event of their unforeseen death. But it is the sort of selfless act that will bear great fruit in the life of your family. My mom died suddenly at age 48. For those who have not had to experience this, trust me when I tell you that what follows is so much stress, paperwork, and burden that you hardly have time to grieve. This will spare your loved ones of that burden.

I had a few additional ideas and notes to add as well:

  • Often we put off making a will because it is expensive or burdensome. Check with non-profits you support and see if they have any estate planning services. The organization I work for has an incredible group that walks you through the entire process, helping you think through things far beyond just money (things I never would have considered!). I know in Alabama the Baptist Foundation of Alabama has incredible and affordable legacy planning services. Don’t spend $5000+ dollars at a lawyer who’s just going to write up a generic plan.
  • It is true of most people that when they die, their life insurance will allow them to make a greater gift than at nearly any other time in their life. Have a conversation with your wife ahead of time about if you want to make a charitable contribution at this time. Only 1 in 40 people think to leave money to causes they support (including their church, missions, etc.) in their will.
  • Consider leaving a gift: It’s possible to set aside some cash for a year’s worth of flowers to be delivered to your wife monthly. It wouldn’t be hard for a friend to receive these instructions. Only do this is your wife would like it. Only you can answer that.
  • If there are any uncommon things that only you would know, include that: “we get the oil changed at X”, “those ______ I always buy you that you like so much is _______”, etc.
  • Perhaps opening the briefcase in an emergency would be traumatic (for example if you were on life support). Make sure you always include any end-of-life medical wishes in a front pocket of the case. This includes Do-Not-Resuscitate orders, coma response, etc. Do not leave your family unsure about your wishes for keeping you on life support or not.
  • Enough cash for food for a least a week. The week after a tragic death, it’s hard to get off the couch. Financial worries are immediate. It may seem silly, but covering the immediate week after will be a great blessing.
  • Finally, also have a contingency plan in place in case you and your wife were both to pass suddenly (whether a car crash, house fire, or some other tragic event). Your children will never need you to come through for them more than at that moment.

That’s all I’ve got. Thank you to Dr. John Bryson for allowing me to share his great ideas here. I hope you never need this. But if you ever do, I hope this will serve as a great tool to love and lead your families well.

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A Short Review of “Introduction to Global Missions”

Introduction To Global Missions by Zane Pratt, M. David Sills, and Jeff K. Walters was provided to me by Broadman & Holman Publishing Group for review.missions

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There are many great books on missions but few that are accessible, concise, and well-written. Introduction To Global Mission (ITGM)is such a book. Nothing less should be expected from Pratt, Sills, and Walters, each of whom currently are or previously have served as professors of missions at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Pratt currently serves as the director of Global Theological Education for the International Mission Board. Sills heads up Reaching and Teaching. Walters leads the urban ministry training center at SBTS. These men have served on multiple different continents and in varied contexts. It’s the breadth of experience that gives the book a balanced, measured tone that avoids ethnocentrism or “my way or the highway” attitudes towards missions.

The book begins with a theological foundation for missions that includes a discussion of mission vs. missions (are they the same?), God’s missionary purposes in all of Scriptures, and a whole Bible overview of world evangelization. This section is incredibly helpful and concise. An entire series of books could be written on just this. It could be butchered and muddy prose, or it could be insufficient in proof. Instead, ITGM’s Biblical argument is lucid and clear.

Following this is a section on missions history. This section is incredibly brief, though helpful. If any section of the book is lacking, it would be this one though I admit that 2,000 years of church history can hardly be condensed into 45 pages. Such as it is, this section well serves its purpose in showing the primacy of missions in the history of the church, especially recently. Note: This section is less than generous to the medieval Catholic Church and is also heavy on Baptist mission work once it arrives at modern missions. With that said, I do not think that represents much of a loss for the author’s efforts.

The last two sections of the book deal with applied anthropology, worldview and world religions, and the practicalities of missionary efforts. This section is drenched in personal experience and wisdom from the authors. Their emphasis on the local church’s place in disciple-making is noble and worthy of praise.

I’ve read many books on missions. Some focused only on the Biblical basis of missions. Some were just about the practicalities. Some focused on only one perspective to missionary efforts. There are better books on particular subjects that are far more narrow than Introduction to Global Missions. With that said, I can think of no better book than this for precisely the purpose of the title: to introduce a person to global missions. At 270 pages with clear section divisions and an accessible writing style, this book is an excellent sourcebook for all missions minded people and should become the standard for seminaries, Sunday School classes, home groups, and individuals seeking to become educated in regards to missions.

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Blessed Are The Nobodies

[Caveat: I promise I’m not trying to make this blog about Mark Driscoll. Though I have also written about him here.]

A friend recently pointed me to the all-too-soon created website MarkDriscoll.org. At one time, Mark was influential in my life and fed me the truth of the Bible on a semi-regular basis through writings, podcasts, etc. After watching his downfall (resigning the church he founded, removed from Acts 29 Membership, publicly scorned for his abuses, exposed for crudeness in online interaction, plagiarism charges, and on and on), I was all at once surprised, appalled, and interested to see that he was starting up once more.

Pastor Mark, as his website describes him, is something of an enigma to me. Do men without pulpits call themselves pastor? Isn’t a time of retreat in order? Why start a new website now when the public eye has only recently been against you?

At the very least, it’s bad timing.

His website’s About page reads:

Pastor Mark Driscoll is a Jesus-following, mission-leading, church-serving, people-loving, Bible-preaching pastor. In 2010, Preaching magazine named him one of the 25 most influential pastors of the past 25 years. He’s grateful to be a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody.

Pastor Mark is the author of many books, has written for CNN, Fox News, and The Washington Post, and has been featured as a columnist for The Seattle Times.

With a skillful mix of bold presentation, accessible teaching, and unrelenting compassion for those who are hurting the most—particularly women who are victims of sexual and physical abuse and assault—Pastor Mark has taken biblical Christianity into cultural corners rarely explored by evangelicals. He has been grilled by Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters on The View, gone head-to-head with Piers Morgan on CNN, debated the existence of evil with Deepak Chopra on ABC’s Nightline, bantered with the gang on Fox and Friends, and explained biblical sexuality on Loveline with Dr. Drew.

The page goes on to describe his accomplishments at Mars Hill Church, which is dissolving this upcoming week, and Acts 29, which removed him from membership for unrepentant sin. Needless, to say, that’s troublesome.

I remember when I first listened to Mark in 2008. I remember hearing him say that line for the first time (though I’m sure he didn’t come up with it):

I’m just a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody.

That’s all I wanted. Someone who would put themselves to the side and show me Christ.

It was the plagiarism, the power-hungry ministry structure, and the manipulation of best-seller lists that started the downfall of Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church. It seems to me that what follows the “just a nobody…” line in his new website’s About page is very telling.

I don’t know when, and I don’t know why it happened. What’s obvious, however, just reading through this page is that it did happen.

At some point Mark Driscoll become a Somebody trying to tell Everybody about Somebody. The problem is that when you have two Somebodies, the two tend to get confused. When the two get confused, glory can wrongly be given to the wrong Somebody.

In the current Evangelical celebrity culture, it’s really easy to get caught up in the dream of becoming Somebody. Of becoming a Voice. Of masses of Twitter followers. Of viral articles. Of sermon jams and sermon highlight clips. It can be easy to take the attitude that the greater we are for Jesus, the greater Jesus is glorified.

John the Baptist knew better when he said, “He must increase. I must decrease.”

Paul knew better when he said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”

We must learn to know better than to say we will become greater for his sake. He doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need our impressive About Me sections. God lacks nothing.

Let us take heed, lest we also fall and think that it’s better that a Somebody tell Everybody, than a Nobody. If all goes well, it will be the name of Jesus upon us, not our own name. We will be nobodies, so that nobodies like us will know that Somebody cares about Everybody.

Blessed are the nobodies.

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A Podcast For Every Young Minister

One thing nearly all seminarians I know have in common is that they listen to podcasts.

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Matt Chandler, Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio, David Platt, J.D. Greear and many other pastors all have incredibly successful podcast ministries with thousands upon thousands of downloads every single week. Ask any seminarian who their favorite preacher is and the majority will give you a name, a sermon title, and help you look it up on podcast.

“Did you listen to Piper this week?”

“Did you get that conference audio yet?”

“The other day I listened to Keller’s entire series while on a roadtrip.”

This is pretty common conversation at the seminary discussion table.

It’s good for aspiring ministers to listen to experienced pastors preach. I’ve learned a lot from the sermons I listen to via podcast. It was my freshman year of college that I downloaded my first podcast, a series of 10 sermons. Those sermons were the impetus for my return to the church and eventual call to ministry.

Many seminaries and divinity schools are finding out, however, is that the students they are sending to the churches are doctrinally astute but pastorally inept. So many basic things are needed to pastor well, and so few have gained even basic lessons in leadership, shepherding, and the practicalities of ministry.

Which brings me to my suggestion: Rainer on Leadership

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Rainer on Leadership is a podcast with a new episode every Friday. LifeWay’s Jonathan Howe and LifeWay President and CEO Thom Rainer explore questions of church and ministry leadership in a manner that is both candid and helpful. So many of the issues Dr. Rainer addresses would have totally passed me by if he had not brought them to my attention. It only takes 20 minutes of my time every week to listen to this podcast. That short time period has become one of the best investments of time that I make each week.

Episodes I have particularly enjoyed include:

Happy listening! I hope this podcast helps you as much as it has helped me.

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A Song For The Present Persecution by ISIS

My heart has been broken over the past months as news has poured out of the Middle East of atrocities committed by ISIS against their own countrymen, particularly against Christians. Christians have been shot, beheaded, tortured, and even crucified. It has been my prayer that God would stop their hand from evil and murder, as well as that he would miraculously save someone in their leadership (not unlike Saul as he ravaged the church). Likewise I have prayed for the Christians to have comfort, strength, and love for one another in this time.

Over the past three years, my favorite album has been The Water and The Blood by Sojourn, the musicians from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. The album is a re-imagining of Isaac Watts’ hymns, a multi-album project of Sojourn’s. Recently while driving down the road and thinking of Christians persecuted around the world, the song “Let The Seventh Angel Sound” came on. It’s long been one of my favorites, but had been out of mind for a season.

The song fits so perfectly the present situation in the Middle East.

God is not waiting back apathetically. He hears the cries of his people, and will execute justice on those who do evil to them.

Romans 12:19 says

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

The wrath of God against the oppressors of the church ought to comfort us in our distress as we are persecuted or as our brothers and sisters in the Lord are persecuted.

In light of this then, perhaps the most relevant stanza is this:

The angry heathen nations pout and roar
Their hands can harm his saints no more
On wings of vengeance flies our God
To repay the deficit of blood

Rather than go on and on about persecution and God’s justice, I’ll just give you the song to listen to for yourself. It’s number 5 on the tracklist below.


For lyrics, see the video below:

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Mark Driscoll and the Internet’s Omniscience: A Lesson For Us All

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Mark Driscoll is not having a good year. This past week news broke that 14 years ago, Mark Driscoll had posted regularly to a Mars Hill Church online forum under the moniker “William Wallace II” to troll his own church members. This wasn’t the “forever alone meme” style of trolling; instead it was full of coarse language and hateful speech I’m not comfortable reposting here. Of course this news took the Christian blogosphere, twittersphere, and at least three other spheres by storm. Driscoll is no stranger to controversy. This year alone he was busted for plagiarism, deceitful marketing of his book “Real Marriage”, and imposed a hiatus on himself from social media. There are entire websites dedicated to recounting stories of alleged spiritual abuse by Mark Driscoll, with stories from even those who were his closest friends. There are other sites and social media groups dedicated to the so-called harmful environment of Mars Hill, which generally place the blame for such an environment squarely on Driscoll.

The Slow Falldriscoll

Driscoll rose to fame through the emergent church movement at the beginning of the era of Evangelical blogging. During this time, Driscoll gained a reputation as the “cussing pastor”, with a glimmer of this on display is his famous YouTube sermon clip where he yells to immature men in the audience, “Who the hell do you think you are?!” From there he berates the men for the rest of the clip. After teaching through Song  of Solomon in a manner that was a tad crass, Evangelical leader and Grace Community Church Pastor John MacArthur wrote that Driscoll was not qualified for the office of pastor. That’s not to mention controversy surrounding Driscoll following the Elephant Room event, his hard-line stance on things like video games and the movie Avatar, as well as him claims to prophetic (occasionally sexually graphic) visions and gifts of knowledge. About two years ago, Driscoll departed from the neo-Reformed tribe he had been a part of in lieu of a tribe more like him: influential, non-denominational multi-site mega-pastors such as James MacDonald, Perry Noble, and the like.

Recently, multiple pastors and staffers at Driscoll’s Mars Hill have left, some of who have written lengthy ‘insider’s view’ pieces that are less than complimentary of Driscoll’s leadership style and character. All of this has culminated this week in the removal of Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from the Acts 29 Network, which he co-founded, and the Acts 29 board of directors requesting Driscoll resign his ministry for a time. The list of Driscoll’s offenses and failures go on and on, easily accessible by a simple Google search.

Most of these occasions, with exception of the Elephant Room, was followed by an apology by Driscoll. I agree with Jonathan Merritt, who wrote earlier this week that the radical grace of Christ compels us to grant forgiveness when asked for it. The scandal of the cross and the teachings of Christ is such that when someone asks for forgiveness, we are not allowed the prerogative of judging their motives. We are simply required to forgive and to love.

Still, I think there is something we can learn from the fiasco that has been Mark Driscoll’s ‘tenure of influence’. He has, unfortunately for him, become an example for all pastors regardless of their church size or influence.

Well Thought of By Outsiders

The apostle Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3 are often quoted in discussions about pastors who have failed in the public eye. When it comes to Driscoll, verse 7 is particularly germane. It reads, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” Because of the reality of indwelling sin in the believer, we need to realize that every pastor is going to fall short in various ways. Every pastor sins. To pretend that pastors are in some special category of über-righteousness is foolish. They will never be perfect. Still, there is a requirement for elders and pastors, beyond simple striving, that they should be Christ-like.

They should be so Christlike, the text says, that even though we ought to beware “when all men speak well of us” (Luke 6:26), we should still be well thought of by outsiders generally. Wendy Alsup wisely notes that, “If a man is not esteemed outside of his congregation at some level, outside of the Body of Christ at some level, he should not hold the office of elder.” This is not a commentary on someone’s salvation, so much as it is a comment on qualification. God may have qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col 1:12) without our being qualified to pastor. There is a terrifying warning that remains: disgrace is the snare of the devil. Not all men escape such snares.

Not long ago, it wasn’t that difficult to be well thought of by outsiders. Pastors with a long, private history of infidelity or insincerity were formerly exposed to the shock and chagrin of their followers. How could no one see this coming? Were there any indicators? In the era of the internet, a façade of public holiness with a private life marked by sin is not longer a possibility.

The Internet Never Forgetsclear-history

As a millennial, the ever-present reality of the internet’s permanence is a burden that can not be ignored. Every tweet. Every Facebook post. Every blog post. Every online insult. Every trolling comment. Every picture. It’s still there. Posts that have long since been deleted, sites that are now defunct, browsing histories that seem to have vanished have not truly been deleted, disappeared, or erased from possible discovery. The internet is forever. Mark Driscoll is learning that lately. How many more of us will learn that same lesson, especially those of us who have hardly ever lived without a large online footprint. For some, there are or will be those who desire to discover those online missteps and sinful wanderings. Where have you been?

It’s scary to think that someone could expose my every misstep online. I’ve been using the internet almost my entire life. I have never really known a world without it. It’s sickening to think my high school decisions are discoverable. It’s easy to long for the days where I could hide. It’s easy to lament the loss of a day when privacy was a reality.

God Sees More Than Search History

It’s harder to realize that those days of hiding secret sins never really existed. The internet is the closest we have come to a tangible omniscient thing in our lives. It’s not that the internet knows all— this isn’t a God-like omniscience. This is a pagan omniscience that can see your every keystroke and recover evidence of failures. It makes ads based on your browsing history (Anyone else glad Puritan Hard Drive has stopped stalking them?). For those with the will and desire to make it so, it can be the tool to your downfall. Could Driscoll have known 14 years ago that someone could easily find his lewd, vitriolic rants that were seemingly anonymous and bring them to the fore? Surely not.

The greatest reality of it all, however, is that there is and always has been an omniscience far beyond the internet. The all-seeing eye of God knows perfectly not only the keystroke of the finger, but the desires of the heart. He knows the thoughts, cruel and careless, and judges them fairly. In Matthew 12:36, the Scripture tells us that we will be judged on the day of judgment for “every careless word”. Nothing escapes his sight. No foul thought goes unnoticed. No sin goes unpunished.

It would be easy for Mark Driscoll to simply wish that these words had never been discovered. It would be easy for us all, likewise, to simply hope that our failings and foul hearts will simply go unnoticed and outsiders will think well of us based on the façade we’ve created. But we shouldn’t wish this. Instead, we should bring darkness to light. When the apostles tells us to, “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them,” (Eph. 5:11) that includes our own unfruitfulness. Darkness is not expelled when it is contained. Darkness dies by the power of the light. Repentance for Driscoll, indeed for all of us, is not to hope that we are never discovered, but to wish our sins never were. It is to agree with God about our failure, and utterly forsake them.

All the same, we must realize that the God who remembers every sin is the God who, “while we were still sinners”, died for us. As we strive to live lives worthy of the gospel of Jesus, we should act honorably and morally not out of fear that someone may see but as those who know that God sees all. Fear of the Lord should accompany our every keystroke. For many of us, our Twitter archive, Facebook timeline, or Google history exists as a tangible sign of our certain condemnation apart from Christ. In Christ, all is forgiven. The reality of our sure salvation, however, should drive us away from the snare of the devil and the disgrace that is only a click away. Instead, we ought to ask forgiveness where needed. We should bear fruits in keeping with repentance, treating those around us with charity, respect, and the kindness and love of Christ. We don’t do this to avoid the shame of possible exposure at the hands of the internet. We do this because Christ bore our shame. In the fear of the Lord, tweet.