Puritans, Piety, and Prodigals: The Mortification of Spin

Mortification of Spin

An interview that Mortification of Spin did with me is now available on their podcast. Topics include holiness, backsliding, and why read the Puritans.

North Carolina (October 8-12, 2015)

The Beauty of North Carolina

The Beauty of North Carolina

(This blog post was written by my wife, Mary.)

On Thursday evening we flew to Atlanta, then to Ashville, NC. Pastor Mike Thompson and his wife Robin picked us up. We bonded immediately, talking about family and scriptural convictions. Joel was pleasantly surprised to learn that Faith PCA is the church where dear friends Olin and Jean Coleman were members before they went to be with the Lord. Olin was a leader of the Puritan Project in Brazil. As an elder, he mentored Mike and had a profound impact on him.

Our home for these days was a log cabin on a dirt road in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It is really dark in the country at midnight. After trying a couple wrong driveways, they were quite sure they found the right one. The code worked, and an autographed welcome sign confirmed we were in the right place. Phew!

Hiking with Mary in North Carolina

Hiking with Mary in North Carolina

Our favorite recreational activity is hiking, so we accepted with pleasure their invitation to come a day early to hike the Shortoff Mountain Trail. Dr. Howard Hall picked us up. About 25 folks of all ages came along, ranging from toddlers and babes in arms to a Superior Court Judge of North Carolina! We climbed 1,321 vertical feet in 4.5 miles. Aside from a rain shower, it was beautiful weather.

When some of the group arrived at the top, they realized they had not seen nine-year-old Emmett. Several of the men retraced our steps. The rest of us prayed. He had taken a wrong trail with others in the group, but when they had turned around, they didn’t realize he was out ahead of them. He eventually realized he was alone, and returned to the vehicle just as the men came looking for him. Relief and gratitude! We had a beautiful view of Lake James and the Linville Gorge—called the Grand Canyon of the East. It is always so refreshing to exercise in God’ amazing creation!

The conference began that evening and continued Saturday. The theme was “Parenting by God’s Promises.” The church has been studying Joel’s book on the subject. In six addresses, he spoke on many aspects—bringing our covenant children to Christ; parenting as prophet, priest, and king; encouragements and practical steps. We met some very special people, some who have huge challenges in their everyday life, such as a family with nine children, three of whom have a condition in which they are going deaf and blind. The dad is an orthopedic surgeon; the mom has a degree in psychology and homeschools the children. They drive a cheerfully painted mini-bus. Another couple has a daughter with a severe seizure disorder.

Pastor Mike and Robin Thompson, with their daughter Ginnie

Pastor Mike and Robin Thompson, with their daughter Ginnie

Pastor Thompson’s oldest daughter has a chromosome disorder. At 20 years of age, Ginnie can walk but not talk, except “Mama.” She has a constant smile and shows love to everyone. She doesn’t understand personal space, so she gets very close. She has certain favorites in the church. She adores her dad’s preaching. When the music plays, she stands in front of her dad or mom, and moves her arms up and down. All of these parents with special needs children have had their times of feeling they could hardly go on, but they all say they are so very blessed to have their special children! So much love! What a testimony of God’s grace working through trials! They ministered to us more than we ministered to them!

On Sunday, Joel preached on “Coping with Affliction in a Christ-centered Way,” “To Live is Christ and to Die is Gain,” and “The Utopian Marriage.” We had lots of fellowship over a soup and chili lunch the church shared. Friends formerly from Grand Rapids, now from Charlotte, NC, Leo and Marilyn Markwat, attended. This church has some very special, yet everyday people—doctors, a judge, businesspeople, teachers, nurses, factory workers, etc. We had wonderful fellowship, and they expressed much gratitude for Joel’s ministry. Soli Deo Gloria!

William Perkins on Galatians Now Available

With Paul Smalley, Editor of the Just Released Volume 2 of the Works of William Perkins

With Paul Smalley, Editor of the Just Released Volume 2 of the Works of William Perkins

I am so grateful that the second volume of The Works of William Perkins is now out. Paul Smalley did a fine job editing this exposition of Galatians. Derek Thomas and I are grateful to be general editors of the Works. What wisdom our Puritan forefathers had!

The Works of William Perkins fills a major gap in Reformed and Puritan theology. Though Perkins is best known today for his writings on predestination, he also wrote prolifically on many subjects. His works filled over two thousand large pages of small print in three folio volumes and were reprinted several times in the decades after his death. However, his complete works have not been in print since the mid-seventeenth century. This modern, typeset edition of the Works includes four volumes of Perkins’s expositions of Scripture, three volumes of his doctrinal and polemical treatises, and three volumes of his practical writings.

The first volume, edited by J. Stephen Yuille, contains Perkins’s chronology of biblical history, his exposition of Christ’s temptation (Matt. 4:1-11), and his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).

This second volume contains Perkins’s Commentary on Galatians. Perkins preached on Galatians each Lord’s Day for over three years. Ralph Cudworth obtained Perkins’s handwritten notes and edited them to publication. Because Perkins did not complete the commentary, Cudworth supplemented the manuscript with his own comments on chapter 6.

This commentary of Perkins and Cudworth on Galatians first appeared in print in 1604, two years after Perkins’s death. Perkins’s other writings had already begun to be gathered and published. When the three-volume edition of his collected works first appeared, Galatians occupied over 320 large folio pages in the second volume (1609). It continued to appear as a part of several editions of the Works through their final 1635 reprint. Evidently, interest in the commentary warranted its publication again as a separate volume in 1617.

Following the model taught in his treatise The Art of Prophesying, Perkins’s pattern in commenting on Galatians is to explain the text, deduce a few points of doctrine from it, answer objections raised against the doctrine, and then give practical uses of what the passage teaches.

J. I. Packer writes, “On the broad shoulders of William Perkins, epoch-making pioneer, stood an entire school of seventeenth-century Puritan pastors and divines, yet the Puritan reprint industry has steadily bypassed him. Now, however, he begins to reappear, admirably edited, and at last this yawning gap is being filled. Profound thanks to the publisher and heartfelt praise to God have become due.”

Upcoming Tour: In the Footsteps of Paul and John

Amphitheatre in Ephesus

Amphitheatre in Ephesus

What would it be like to follow the apostles Paul and John as they traveled the ancient world to preach the gospel? In May 2016, I will be leading a tour with Dr. George Kroeze through areas of Turkey and Greece to visit the very sites where the apostles once ministered.

Dr. Kroeze, former professor of Biblical Studies at Kuyper College, writes,

You will love seeing the site of ancient Corinth where Paul preached for a year and a half as well as visiting Mars Hill where Paul addressed the Athenian philosophers. We will see the places where early Christians received letters of Christ through the revelation to John. You will thoroughly enjoy this trip as it stimulates your faith and lends further insights into biblical teaching.

The tour will take place from May 18 to June 1, and will visit the sites of the ancient cities Athens, Corinth, Berea, Thessaloniki, Philippi, Troas, Pergamum, Smyrna (Izmir), Philadelphia, Sardis, Laodicea, Colossae, Ephesus, and Constantinople (Istanbul). Along the way we will see impressive ruins of the Greek and Roman civilizations, and meet faithful Evangelical and Reformed Christians persevering in Greece and Turkey.

There is also an optional cruise on the Aegean Sea aboard the Celestyal Olympia beginning on May 13 to 20, leading up to the land tour.

For more information, you may download the tour brochure and reservation forms. Please register in October, or November at the very latest.



Ten Commandments for Church Members Regarding Your Pastor



1. Don’t idolize your pastor. Don’t expect him to be able to do what only God can do. Don’t make a savior of him.

2. Don’t criticize your pastor, unless he departs from the truth, and then do it with tears. And please don’t expect perfection. He is a mere man—a weak, sinful man at that, just like you. His office is divine, but his person is human. He sets before you treasure in an earthen vessel. If you don’t remember that, you will cry hosanna today, but will crucify him tomorrow.

3. Don’t avoid your pastor. Go to him, tell him your needs, open your soul, but don’t waste his precious time. It is your duty and privilege to go to him with your questions and spiritual troubles—and that will be to his encouragement and joy.

4. Do pray for your pastor. Pray for his soul, that he may be kept humble and holy. Pray for his body, that he may be kept strong and spared for many years. Pray that he may be a burning and shining light. Pray for his ministry that it may be abundantly blessed. Pray for his wife, his family, his sermon preparation, his delivery, his counseling. Pray your minister full and he will preach you full.

5. Do be a good listener to and doer of the sermons your pastor preaches. Listen to and obey your pastor. As long as he preaches the Scriptures, receive it as the very word of God. Remember, he is Christ’s gift to you.

6. Do be interested in your pastor. Don’t let all your conversation with him be focused only on you. Be kind to him. Show interest in him, his life, and the life of his family; he is human too!

7. Remember to appreciate your pastor’s strengths and minimize his weaknesses, always reminding yourself that your next pastor may not have your present pastor’s strengths. Don’t compare pastors to each other, but learn to appreciate each pastor whom God sends you for the peculiar gifts that God has given to that pastor.

8. Look above and beyond your pastor. Look to Him whom your pastor sets before you.

9. Do be coworkers with your pastor and the consistory. Be self-forgetters, Christ-exalters, and co-laborers. Covet humility, wisdom, peace, unity—and put on charity.

10. Keep an eternal perspective under your pastor’s ministry. Ask God that your pastor may give a good account of your soul on Judgment Day. Remember you don’t have to give an account of your pastor’s blemishes and strengths on the Day of days, but you do have to give an account of what you have done with the word that he will bring you. If you are as yet unsaved, look on his ministry as one more major opportunity God is giving you to receive with meekness His engrafted word. Through his ministry, the Lord is saying that He has more people from your church to be gathered into His eternal harvest—and why should it not be you? Oh, that you would know the day of your visitation under your pastor’s ministry!

Ten Commandments for Pastors


1. Give priority to your personal communion with God. Put your own soul first: your maintaining communion with God is a prerequisite for being an effective pastor to your people. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers” (Acts 20:28).

2. Give priority to prayer and holiness. Undertake no sermon, no pastoral work, no task of the ministry without seeking God’s face in Jesus Christ. Follow John Bunyan’s advice, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” Personal holiness is not only a necessary pursuit but a joyful one and is usually inseparable from divine success in the ministry.

3. Be bibline all your life. Be like Bunyan, of whom Spurgeon said, that if you pricked any vein, the blood that would flow out would be bibline. Read the Word, study the Word, believe the Word, pray over the Word, love the Word, live the Word, memorize the Word, meditate on the Word, sing the Word, and practice the Word.

4. Remember that preaching is the primary task of the ministry, and that to do it rightly, you need the Holy Spirit two times for every sermon: once in the study and then again on the pulpit.

5. Be profoundly thankful and humbled for the honor of being an ambassador of Jesus Christ. Remain convinced all your life that you have a crucial vocation, for you are dealing with never-dying souls for a never-ending eternity.

6. Preach Christ to the full. Be determined to know no man after the flesh—including yourself—and to glory in nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified, exalted, and coming again! Be a self-forgetter and a Christ-preacher. You can never preach Him enough. Devote the best energy of your life into preaching Him biblically, doctrinally, experientially, and practically. Resolve, like Thomas Boston, to leave the savor of Christ behind in all that you do.

7. Love the triune God; love your wife and children; love people; love your work.

8. Maintain a radical sense of dependency on the anointing of the Holy Spirit in all that you think, say, and do. Lean upon the Spirit at all times.

9. Ask God to give you a few, very close pastoral friends with whom you can hold each other accountable. Love your brethren in the ministry, and do not compete with them.

10. Live every day with an eternal perspective that fuels evangelistic urgency for the lost and pastoral love for the saints’ maturation. Keep eternity in view in all that you do, so that on the great day you may give a good account of your ministry and may hear your Master say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt. 25:21)

Kansas City: September 25–28, 2015

With Pastor Harold Miller of Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA)

With Pastor Harold Miller of Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA)

I left Grand Rapids for Kansas City on Friday morning, but missed my flight in Chicago because we parked on the Tarmac for nearly 1.5 hours waiting for a gate! Our pilot, who has been flying for nearly thirty years, said he never experienced anything like it. Happily, I was able to get the next-to-last seat on the next flight and still made it to Kansas City in time for my first address. Pastor Harold Miller of Covenant Reformed Church (URC) and a friend of many years, together with his wife Carol and three children, were patiently waiting for me, and were so helpful to me throughout the weekend.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Kansas City

Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Kansas City

I spoke eight times in forty-eight hours in the beautiful Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA), pastored for the last eighteen years by Pastor Tony Felich, a graduate of Covenant Seminary. When he arrived at the church there were only eighty people; today there are more than four hundred, and they worship in a six million dollar complex that includes a Christian school with hundreds of students.

My first four addresses were for a conference sponsored by the Kansas City Alliance of Reformed Churches, which consists of seven churches. The theme was, Following God Fully, with the following addresses: How to Be a Modern-Day Caleb, Following God Fully as Spouses and Parents, Following God Fully by Teaching Our Families How to Overcome the World, and Following God Fully by Cherishing the Church.

Six of seven large boxes of books that RHB had sent ahead sold briskly. Throughout the weekend several people told me they couldn’t stop reading the books they bought. Selling books at conferences is so rewarding. I often think that the book ministry may be considerably more important than my speaking, as books have a wonderful longevity.

With Ministers of the Kansas City Alliance

With Ministers of the Kansas City Alliance

After the last address, I met for lunch with the pastors from the seven churches represented at the conference, and then spoke to them on How to Cope with Criticism. The excellent discussion that followed focused on how we as ministers could set a positive tone for our churches by being loving rather than critical in our own demeanor.

On the Lord’s Day, I preached three times for Redeemer Presbyterian. In the evening service, the seven churches came together for worship which made for a good crowd. I preached on How to Live and Die for God Fully.

I also had the privilege of meeting Sherri and Robert Reymond Jr., the son of Dr. Robert Reymond who was a great systematic theology teacher at Covenant Seminary for many years, and who also taught at our PRTS seminary a course on apologetics shortly before he died. When I heard that Dr. Reymond’s grave was only across the street from the church, I asked his son and wife to visit the grave with me. Dr. Reymond wanted a simple text placed on his gravestone that declared Christ’s gospel powerfully and looked away from himself entirely, so he chose Matthew 1:21, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Almost immediately I felt bonded to this dear couple. It was a nostalgic time, also because, providentially, Pastor Frelich’s father is buried right next to Dr. Reymond. What will it be for believers to rise together on the Great Day to eternally praise Immanuel with absolute perfection world without end!

With Robert Reymond at the Grave of His Father

With Robert Reymond at the Grave of His Father

I was up at 4:00 a.m. on Monday to take the earliest flights out which brought me home by noon to my wonderful Queen on her 56th birthday. I took her out for dinner at Rose’s on the water. What a gift she is to me! She is one of those rare women who become more beautiful in every way with the passing of years. Is it possible to be so grateful for one’s wife that you cannot put it into words? The Lord is so incredibly good.

Iowa and Minnesota: September 18–21, 2015

With Mary, newlyweds Rev. Bartel and Clarice Elshout, and Rev. Brian Najapfour

With Mary, newlyweds Rev. Bartel and Clarice Elshout, and Rev. Brian Najapfour

(The following post was written by my wife, Mary.)

We were home for 36 hours after our trip to RTS, then off to Iowa for the September 19 wedding of Clarice VanBeek and Rev. Bart Elshout—a very close friend of Joel’s for 46 years. The Lord graciously brought Clarice and Bart together as a grieving widow and a grieving widower.

Bart’s son-in-law, Rev. Brian Najapfour spoke at the wedding ceremony from Ecclesiastes 4:9–12, which concludes with “a three-fold cord is not easily broken.” His points were: 1. One; 2. Two is better; 3. Three is best. Joel spoke on Psalm 37:3–7 for the presentation of the Bible on God’s Recipe for a Happy Marriage: 1. Trust in the Lord. 2. Delight in the Lord. 3. Commit your way to the Lord. 4. Rest in the Lord.

Many emotions merged together at this special wedding among family and friends. There were the memories of parents who passed away, and the empty place left by the recent loss of Clarice’s mom. In addition to that, September 19 is also Clarice’s birthday and the birthday of Bart’s new father-in-law. Our thoughts were drawn to “God is our refuge and our strength, our ever-present aide.”

I spoke at length with Harriet VanBeek, Clarice’s sister-in-law, who just lost her husband Cornie at 73. He had been a paraplegic since he was sixteen, following an auto accident. They married and had two sons. Cornie never thought of himself as handicapped. Harriet loved him and committed her life to care for him. The hundreds of family, friends, and business acquaintances that came to the funeral visitation spoke of his exemplary character. Harriet mentioned she has their specially-equipped van for sale. A young mom of two boys (one who has cerebral palsy and will likely never walk) is interested in buying it. She too was paralyzed in her teens and got married. But her story has taken a different turn. Her husband left her. This woman wants to live independently, and the van would help, but she can’t afford it.

On Sunday morning, Joel preached for the Hull, Iowa HRC on “The Utopian Marriage” from Revelation 19 and taught an adult class on How We Should Develop Biblical Friendships. Rev. Najapfour preached in the evening on “Truly God is Good” from Psalm 73. We spent valuable and enjoyable time with my sister Linda and her family in Canton, South Dakota. Our son Calvin, his wife Laura, and her parents, and other relatives joined us for dinner, and for the afternoon.

With Pastor Judson Marvel

With Pastor Judson Marvel

Joel was also privileged to deliver an installation sermon on the ministry’s paradox from 2 Corinthians 6:8–10 in the Good Shepherd PCA church in Minnesota for Pastor Judson Marvel, a former PRTS ThM graduate. After several other PCA ministers brought greetings to the pastor and his new congregation, Judson Marvel closed the service with the benediction. He was so moved by the evening that it took him three times before he could pronounce it. Pray that God may bless his ministry to this church.

Good Shepherd PCA, Minnetonka, MN

Good Shepherd PCA, Minnetonka, MN


Jackson, Mississippi: September 14–16, 2015

With Dr. Elias Medeiros, his wife Fokjelina, and her parents, Margerita and Frans, former seminary president in Brazil

With Dr. Elias Medeiros, his wife Fokjelina, and her parents, Margerita and Frans, former seminary president in Brazil

(The following post was written by my wife, Mary.)

Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson invited Joel to speak for their seminary chapel and their mission conference. His chapel message was “Keep on Keeping On” from Hebrews 12. His mission conference addresses were on “The Age of the Spirit and Revival” and “How to Promote Genuine Church Growth.” He also lectured spontaneously for a preaching class on “The Golden Age of Puritan Preaching.”

Our dear friends, Dr. Elias (RTS’s mission professor) and Fokjelina Medieros, organized our itinerary and took us around. Elias had just returned from Brazil Tuesday morning and planned to go back Thursday to be with his ailing mother. He told how she was giving Gideon’s Bibles and evangelizing everyone from her bed in ICU, including the respiratory therapist as he was giving her a breathing treatment. Now we know from whom Elias gets his evangelistic zeal!

Fokjelina’s parents were also on campus, and were a delight to visit with. Her father served for many years as a president of a notable seminary in Brazil.

It was good to visit the RTS campus again, touching base with faculty and students. Joel also thoroughly enjoyed his serendipitous visit with Guy Richardson, the seminary’s personable president. Pray that God would richly bless RTS-Jackson and that the RTS students would go out and preach with passion.

Jackson Antique Shop with Two Widowers

After Joel was done speaking, we stopped at an antique store. The owner, Gary, had recently lost his wife. I asked him if he knew the Lord. He said he did and it was a great comfort to him. A customer, James, a bricklayer, chimed in that he had lost his wife four years before. He too was strengthened through his faith in Jesus. Joel pastored them and prayed with them. The joys and sorrows of the human condition—birth, growth, marriage, children, aging, death—were so poignantly felt. Seeking comfort and refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ created an instant bond between us. Pray for these two lonely men.


Update on Summer Travels

If you would like to read about my ministry trips this past summer (some of which have been posted on this blog already), you may download my latest pastoral letter.