First Look: An Interview with Matt Smethurst, Author of Before You Open Your Bible

Thanks for reading my blog series First Look, where I interview authors about their new books. The goal is to point you to solid, Christ-centered resources by giving you a peek into the author’s mind and heart.


Matt Smethurst is the managing editor of The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife, Maghan, have three children and live in Louisville, KY. They belong to Third Avenue Baptist Church, where Matt serves as an elder. He is author of Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures For Approaching God’s Word (10Publishing, 2019).

Tell us what your new book is about.

Before You Open Your Bible is about nine heart postures that will spark a richer experience with the Book—and the God—we claim to love. So many great resources exist on how to read and study the Bible, but I’m actually not aware of any that focus exclusively on how to approach it in the first place. That’s what I’ve aimed to provide in this brief “prelude” or “prequel” of sorts. Because without the right heart postures, we’re not yet ready to start reading.

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The Secret to Strong Friendships

What makes a friendship? Is it personalities? Or context? Or proximity? Yes. These areas where two people’s experiences overlap are usually good starting places for close friendship. But I’d argue that the strength of a friendship over the long haul depends not primarily on personality or context or proximity, but on prayer.

Personalities change because people do. Contexts change as people become interested in new hobbies and pursuits (and less interested in old ones). Proximity changes as people move, whether a town or state away, or across the ocean. But when all these factors change, we can still pray, trusting God to use the means he has given to strengthen our friendships with other Christians—and to change us.

The Privilege of Prayer

My longest friendship has lasted 11 years through overseas moves, marriages and funerals, joys and sorrows. Another close friendship began in a season of shared suffering and has continued through many others. Yet another started on a casual neighborhood stroll and has become a deep and intentional sharing of hearts.

What has bonded such unlikely people, kept us going through changing times, and made it such a joy to be friends? The friendship of Christ that we share––the privilege of being united to one another because we’re first united to him.

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First Look: An Interview with Jeff Medders, Author of Humble Calvinism

Thanks for reading my blog series First Look, where I interview authors about their new books. The goal is to point you to solid, Christ-centered resources by giving you a peek into the author’s mind and heart.


Jeff Medders is the Pastor of Preaching and Theology at Redeemer Church in Tomball, TX, right outside of Houston. He’s married and has two kids. Jeff writes books and articles, and talks about writing on his podcast Home Row. He is author of Humble Calvinism: And If I Know the Five Points, But Have Not Love… (The Good Book Company, 2019).

Tell us what your new book is about.

Humble Calvinism explores the five points of Calvinism—TULIP—showing how the doctrines of grace should humble us before the Lord and before one another. This book isn’t a defense of Cavlinism—it’s an exhortation to real Calvinism, humble Calvinism, Christ-like and fruit-of-the-Spirit Calvinism.

The points of Calvinism point somewhere, to someone: Jesus of Nazareth. He is the marrow of the doctrines of grace. Total Depravity reminds us that we are totally dependent on Jesus. Election shows how we are chosen in Christ. Each point points to Jesus. The most important five-letter word in Calvinism isn’t TULIP—it’s Jesus.

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What Should I Do When I’m Struggling to Read God’s Word?

There are times when I read God’s Word and the words seem to fall flat. I’m hungry to hear from God, eager to meet him in my Bible, yet nothing jumps off the page or particularly moves my heart.

This can feel like looking at a delicious meal, and wanting to enjoy it, but having no appetite for it.

Identify Your Motives

Such hunger and disappointment reveal two attitudes about the human heart, one we should pursue and be thankful for, and one we should confess and flee from:

First, our hunger and disappointment mean we desire God. This is good! We want to hear from him, because we love him and want to obey him. We desire to know the God who speaks and walk closely with him by opening the Scriptures.

But our hunger and disappointment can equally say we expect God to reveal himself on our terms and timing, according to our needs and feelings. If we’re not careful, our time in God’s Word can become less about knowing him and more about checking off a list of spiritual duties to make ourselves feel good.

Usually, our hunger and disappointment are some combination of both. So what can we do? Where do we turn?

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First Look: An Interview with Abigail Dodds, Author of (A)Typical Woman

I’m excited to roll out this blog series entitled First Look, where I’ll be interviewing authors about their new books. The goal is to point you to solid, Christ-centered resources by giving you a peek into the author’s mind and heart.


Abigail Dodds is a wife, mother of five, and grad student at Bethlehem College & Seminary. I’ve long admired her writing abilities, but mostly her desire to exalt Jesus in everything she writes. She is author of (A)Typical Woman: Free, Whole, and Called in Christ (Crossway, 2019).

Tell us what your new book is about.

(A)Typical Woman answers the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian and a woman?” It isn’t looking at all the verses in the Bible about women or addressed to women and then trying to assemble a composite of the ideal woman for us to try and imitate so we can be real women. The book is simpler than that. It isn’t throwing out the necessity of paying close attention to what God has to say to us in particular passages as women, but it isn’t trying to achieve womanhood. Instead, we want Christ to be our beginning and end. So we must examine two parallel and conjoined realities: the gift and reality of being born––made through Christ––as a woman, and the gift and reality of being re-born––made through Christ––as his daughter.

The book has three sections:

  • “Women Through and Through” is the foundation of the book. It examines our new birth, our womanhood, how we read the Bible, the meaning behind our bodies, holiness, etc.
  • “Women in All We Do” looks at some of the particular callings women have.
  • “Fearless and Free Women” is more personal, looking at how Christ matures us as Christian women.

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Pastor, Involve Your Wife in Your Job Search

Are you a pastor? Or are you married to one? Then you’ll benefit from a book I had the privilege of contributing to, Benjamin Vrbicek’s Don’t Just Send a Resume: How to Find the Right Job in a Local Church.

When my husband and I got married, he was pastoring middle- and high-school students at our church. He loved his job and was excellent at it––but we knew the end was near. He had agreed to work in this role for five years, at which point he wanted to become a preaching pastor.

We hoped and prayed this would happen at the same local church, but only God knew.

Through many unknowns, we started discussing the possibilities. Would God direct us to stay somehow? Would he have us elsewhere near our home? Or would he call us to pick up everything and move across state lines?

After about a year of waiting, we got the call: We were staying at the same church, in a different role. Hallelujah! But the waiting was intense, and it stretched and grew our marriage in a unique way.

Pastor, as you begin (or continue) your job search, know that your wife desires to be involved. She knows you better than anyone, will speak truthfully, and wants what’s best for you. The following are five ways my husband involved me during our season of searching and waiting––and I hope they’ll be helpful to you.

Through Commitment

As husbands and wives are joined in the covenant of marriage and united in Christ, one spouse’s calling means both spouses must be called. In other words, your wife should have peace and clarity about the jobs you’re looking at and pursuing, especially when it comes to decision time.

My husband always reminds me that “we’re in this together.” No, I may not be preaching on Sundays or pastoring the flock, but I’m one with him, so any job search needs to be a united effort and decision. Your devotion to your wife extends even to this.

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What’s Motivating Our Online Authenticity?

What’s motivating our online authenticity?

What’s the heart behind our sharing an embarrassing or ungodly or messy or raw moment on social media? Is it truly to offer, in a spirit of humility, an example of what it looks like to walk humbly before the eyes of God?

Or is it to garner likes and attention—to gain the eyeballs of man?

Probably both. Our motives will always be mixed in this life, until our hearts are rid of sin forever before the presence of Christ. But it’s struck me lately how disingenuous our messiness is if we’re using it for the wrong reasons, and often the wrong reasons can feel like gray areas, difficult to identify in human hearts that often desire both the glory of God and man.

Jesus warned his disciples of practicing their righteousness before people, to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1). He gives a few examples: giving, praying, and fasting. The same principle applies to our online sharing: Are we practicing our “righteousness” in the form of rawness and authenticity before others to be seen and praised by them? Is our authenticity an end in itself, or a means to a greater end?

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When a Christian Leader Fails You

Leaders in the church aren’t exempt from sin. No one is. We don’t expect perfect people to lead our congregations, create our resources, and speak into our culture. But we do expect them to uphold the Bible’s authority and walk in holiness. We do want them to remain faithful to Christ.

So what are we to do when a respected Christian leader fails the church, in any context? How are we to respond?

Rejoice in God’s Unchanging Nature   

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19)

God is immutable. He never changes his mind. He makes good on what he says he’ll do, and he upholds every word he has spoken. Think about all the plans God has made and communicated to us, plans he had formed before eternity past, and consider how he’s been faithful to fulfill them. Think about his goodness to keep his promise of salvation to unworthy sinners. Think about the unbreakable new covenant of Jesus’ blood, poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.

As we consider the leader who has changed, we can rejoice in our unchanging, trustworthy, and true God. He will never leave us, fail us, betray us, or change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).     

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Why I Publish on Ministry Blogs

I’ve appreciated the recent online conversation, started by Tim Challies, about the benefits of keeping a blog-blog versus writing primarily for group blogs or ministry blogs. I actually agree with much of what Tim writes about the importance of maintaining personal blogs, especially the freedom they allow for cultural commentary and responding to current events (a freedom that many ministry blogs don’t allow), along with the benefits of faithful “plodding.”

I keep a blog-blog, and I served almost five years as an editor to a ministry blog (shameless plug: Unlocking the Bible), so I feel I can comment from a unique, dual perspective. When it comes to publishing online, I try to abide by the “one home, one away” guideline (the keyword being try). Here are four brief thoughts on why it’s important to keep publishing “away” on ministry blogs:

More eyeballs

If our objective is to exalt Jesus Christ and share the good news about him with others and help them see how this good news applies to every corner of their lives, don’t we want as many eyeballs as possible to see what we’re writing?

Numbers aren’t an evil motivator. Sure, my heart’s not perfectly pure and won’t be until I’m with Jesus, but I genuinely want to point as many people as I can to him. Many writers don’t have a global blog-blog following, but many ministry blogs do, so I think it’s making the best use of the time (and using common sense) to seek out the biggest and widest platform for the soul-transforming message we proclaim.

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When a Good God Encounters a Gay Girl

I saw them as I drove up our street. Both girls had beautiful, long hair and were about 16 years old. Then I noticed they were holding hands and sharing intimate embraces. Just friends? Maybe. But probably not.

This scene is common nowadays. Christians can’t ignore the subject of homosexuality, as it’s so interwoven with our culture. We need to know how to engage with it, following the example of our Lord Jesus who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And this requires us to pull up a chair and listen well to those who’ve walked its road.

Full of Worship

Jackie Hill Perry is one such woman. Growing up in a broken home, she had an absent father and suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a friend’s older brother. Her first book, Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been, recounts these circumstances that shaped her gay identity, but in Perry’s words, “Sexual abuse is not what made me gay. Nor did fatherlessness. They only exaggerated and helped direct the path for what was already there––which is sin” (37).

818h+uu5khlHaving struggled with same-sex attraction (SSA) for as long as she can remember, Perry recounts her story with humility, pointing us ultimately to her good God. From the beginning, she tells us that’s her agenda:

Leaving this word-filled place with a developed understanding of me and a shallow revelation of God would make all of my efforts worthless. . . . This work is my worship unto God that, with prayer, I hope will leave you saying, “God is so good!” (3–4)

And it does that. I know Perry better, and have a better understanding of SSA, because of this book; but more importantly, I know our good God better. It caused me to revel in the miraculous––that God awakens the dead and opens blind eyes to the truth that’s in Jesus, that he’s gracious to relentlessly pursue those who’ve rejected him, and that he does the impossible in saving rebels.

I’m worshiping, and for that reason I’d say Perry did what she set out to do.

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