That’s Not Fair!

That’s not fair! — How often have you heard this cry in your life? If you’re a parent, odds are you’ve heard it more times than you can count from your children. “Why does he get to do that and I don’t? That’s not fair!” “Why does my friend get to stay out until 11 and I don’t? That’s not fair!” But it’s not just children that cry foul in the arena of fairness in life, is it? We adults do it too. We’re just a little better at hiding it, or at least knowing how to keep our thoughts in our heads and not let them come out of our mouths like children.

Perhaps you’ve looked around and seen a family member or a neighbor receive material blessings in this life that you haven’t received, and you think to yourself, “That’s just not fair!” Perhaps you work and work and work, barely scraping by, all the while your friend does the bare minimum and gets the big end-of-year bonus and you cry out, “That’s not fair!”

Or perhaps you are striving to live a godly life, submitting yourself to the Lord and seeking to live for him, and it just seems that there’s one hurdle after another, one storm after another, and you can’t seem to get above board. All the while, you look around in the world around you and see the wicked, the godless, the unrighteous, who care nothing about the things of God, who are living for themselves, their own pleasure, and their own glory, and they’re wealthy, healthy, and carefree, and the cry of your heart is “THAT’S NOT FAIR!”

My suspicion is that each and every one of us has been in that very spot at one time or another in our life. Perhaps at many times. Perhaps even right now. It’s a temptation that is common to man because of the sinful jealousy and envy within our heart. And it is a temptation that is not only common to man today, but is an age-old temptation, dating all the way back to the garden when Satan convinced Eve that God was withholding something good from her.

Psalm 73

One of my favorite Psalms in God’s Word is Psalm 73 because it addresses this very struggle in our hearts. In this Psalm, we see Asaph — the Israelite worship leader and psalm composer — chronicle his descent to the depth of envy, the transition of how he saw clearly and gained a new perspective, and then the ascent back up whereby he regained a proper, heavenly, eternal, and Godward perspective on the fate of the wicked and the blessings of God. And he does so in a gritty, soul-bearing, telling-it-like-it-is honesty. John Calvin describes Asaph’s approach in this Psalm in the following way:

“The Psalmist does not ascend into the chair to dispute after the manner of the Philosophers, and to deliver his discourse in a style of studied oratory; but, as if he had escaped from hell, he proclaims with a loud voice, and with impassioned feeling, that he had obtained the victory” (Quoted in William S. Plumer, Psalms, 79).

Why Are We Envious Of The Wicked?

Simply put, I think that the root of our problem, and the root of Asaph’s problem, is that our focus is off. Our focus is on the wrong people, and our focus in on the wrong timeframe. 

The first mistake we make is that our focus is on them. Notice the pronouns in the first section of Psalm 73. In 9 verses (verses 4-12) we see the pronoun “they” or “them” used 17 times. And what is it that Asaph notices about them. He notices that they seem to live such easy lives (v.4-5), such prosperous lives (v.6-7), and such carefree lives (v.8-12). Like Asaph, we can often be tempted to jealousy and envy as we look around at the godless, wicked men and women around us, whether in our town or on TV, and be tempted to think “That’s not fair!”

The second mistake we make is that our focus is on us. Notice the shift in pronounce in verses 13-15. No longer is the focus on them, but now it is on me and I (7 times in these 3 verses). After turning the spotlight to ourselves in light of the the lives of the wicked, we begin to see our righteousness as pointless (v.13) and our hardships as preeminent (v.14). Such is the descent into the heart of envy and jealousy for each of us. Our focus is off.

How do we address our envy?

Just like Asaph’s clear transition in verses 16-17, we too need to “enter the sanctuary of God” by coming to His Word through prayer, depending on the sanctifying power and presence of the Spirit through the Word. Like Asaph, we need a new perspective. A paradigm shift. If we are going to correctly and biblically address our envy, we must immerse ourselves in the perfect, inerrant, sufficient Word of God, gaining a biblical, Godward perspective on reality rather than trusting our own faulty, skewed, and sin-filtered lens through which we view the world.

So what are the three areas that Asaph, and we, need a new perspective on?

We need a new perspective on eternal judgment

As Asaph came to the Word of God and gained a heavenly perspective, we see in verses 18-20 that he was able to see with clearer eyes the ultimate reality and ultimate fate of the wicked. Yes, they may be living easy, prosperous, carefree lives right now, but right now is just a small mist compared to eternity. And the eternal realities that await them are something none of us would envy.

We need a new perspective on ourselves

Like Asaph did in verses 21-22, we need to understand who we are apart from the grace and mercy of Christ. Nowhere is the Scriptural account of human nature a flattering one. Rather, we are described as dead, ignorant, and blind. When we fail to let God’s Word be the lens through which we see the world and through which we view reality, we are, like Asaph, brutish, ignorant, and acting like animals. As we seek to deal with the envy that creeps up in our heart toward the prosperity of the wicked, let us run to God’s Word, bathe ourselves in prayer, and immerse ourselves in His perfect Word to give us His perspective on our own sinfulness.

We need a new perspective on God’s presence and eternal blessings

As we gain a new perspective on God’s presence and eternal blessings from God’s Word, as Asaph did in verses 23-28, God reminds us of the fact that He is always with us, holding us fast through life’s struggles, doubts, and trials (Jude 24-25). And He reminds us that He, Himself, is enough. That He is the ultimate treasure for which we are redeemed. That He is not the means to another end, like the health, wealth, and prosperity of the wicked, but that He Himself is the end.

Be Satisfied In God

If you are tempted to envy, if you are tempted toward jealousy, if you are doubting the goodness and justice of God because of the prosperity of the godless all around you, let me encourage you to immerse yourself in God’s word, bathe yourself in prayer, rest in Christ’s righteousness granted to you through the Gospel, clothe yourself with holiness, and be content and fulfilled with God in Christ as your ultimate treasure. Pursue His Word to gain a proper, biblical perspective on the end of the wicked, on the sinfulness of your own heart, and on the presence and goodness and blessings of God — blessings most ultimately and most fully seen in the gift of Himself, through His Son, by His Spirit.

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The Jesusless Testimony

The title of this post is hard to type, let alone hear.

For a follower of Christ, having been born of the Spirit (John 3), having been given a new heart and new spirit—His Spirit—(Ezekiel 36), having been adopted as God’s son/daughter according to His gracious foreordination (Ephesians 1) through faith (Galatians 3), and having been secured by the faithfulness of an immutable God (2 Timothy 2), to share a testimony that is void of the One, namely Jesus Christ, who made this possible seems like an oxymoron and yet this has been my observation of late.

Even the above statement, full of bibliocentric, theological richness is neglectful of proclaiming the simplicity of the Gospel. Let’s begin with some basics…

What is a Testimony and What is Its Purpose?

The New Testament uses the word “testify” or “testimony” (or one of its derivations) thirty-five times (ESV). In everyone of those times the same Greek root, martus”, is used. It simply means “to confirm or attest to something on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness.”[1] We would call the one who is testifying a “witness.”

So it should be no surprise to hear Jesus tell his disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my [martus]” (transliteration added).

Witnesses testify. Period.

But of what? Look at these examples of martus from the book of Acts:

Acts 10:42—Peter said, “And [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead.”

Acts 18:5—“…Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

Acts 23:11—“…the Lord stood by [Paul] and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify also in Rome.”

Acts 28:23—“…From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus…”

Jesus, his divine identity, his sinless perfection, his substitutionary, sacrificial, atoning death, his triumphant resurrection, and his promise to save from eternal death by giving eternal life to all who come to God through Him is the fundamental message of which we have been called to testify of as witnesses. Without this message there is no salvation from God’s wrath upon the sinner. This is the Good New of which we testify (Romans 10:17).

A Testimony of God’s Salvation through Jesus’ Life & Death

My desire, here, is to point out that one may testify of how terrible their life used to be (drugs, chaos, loneliness, hate, fear) before coming to church (as if these four walls are some sort of magical converter) and then testify about how wonderful their life is now (peace, contentment, joy, friends, freedom) and never share the Jesus who gave them life, righteousness, and peace with God.

What a tragedy it is to have a Jesusless Gospel and Jesusless Testimony because we can’t look past how Christ has changed our lives to see and share the real Treasure, Jesus himself!

Simplicity in Sharing a Jesus-filled Testimony

Mark Dever, in his book “The Deliberate Church”, simplifies the Gospel message into four easy-to-remember words that serves to prevent us from falling into simply sharing the benefits of our salvation and failing to share the Savior.

God—A holy creator and righteous judge who created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever

Man—A rebellious creature who rejected God and sinned against His holy character and law

Christ—Fully God, fully man, sent to die the death we deserved so God might both punish our sin in Christ and forgive it in us

Response—Repent & believe. Sinful man must turn from his sinful ways toward God and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins already committed.[2]

Could it really be that simple; God-Man-Christ-Response? Do all the details of God’s gracious election, my sin-filled past, Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death & victorious resurrection, and what is now required of me and given to me in Christ when I repent and believe fit into this four-word reminder?

Yes. And notice: God is the beginning, Christ is the hero, and the glorious ending brings me back to God. My only contribution to my, now, wonderful victorious life was the sin that made it necessary. Thank you Jesus!

These four little words are ready to be unpacked in their entirety as you share the glories of Christ before a large audience or piece-by-piece as you, over a cup of coffee as the weeks and years pass by, point your listener(s) back to the Christ who saved you! Jesus is the not just the source of your salvation but he is also the subject of your salvation. As J.I. Packer so aptly and succinctly stated, “God saves sinners.” God is the instigator and that actor in our salvation. The only thing we bring is our sin. Jesus is, and must remain, the star of our story!

Christian-When you’re asked to share your testimony make sure that you do more, far more, than testify of how great your life is now; testify of how great your Savior is!

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 617). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Dever, Mark; Alexander, Paul (2005). The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel. Wheaton, Il. Crossway.

Paul in Ephesus: A Biblical Model of Pastoral Ministry

Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17-38) takes place at the end of his third missionary journey. On his way back to Jerusalem, Paul summons them while at Miletus in order that he might encourage them in the faith and charge them to continue the work of caring for the church of God. As Alexander Strauch has noted, this speech is a virtual pastoral manual. Paul begins by first reminding the elders of his time spent among them, how he ministered the gospel to them. Yet before he begins his actual commands to the elders in verse 28, his opening remarks provide us with a model of ministry worthy of emulation. Here, we learn that the pastoral ministry consists of both demonstration and declaration of the gospel.

Pastoral Ministry as Demonstration

And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews” (Acts 20:18-19).

First, Paul’s practice was public. Before Paul mentions the message which he taught them, he reminds them of the message that he lived before them. Here, Paul calls them to remember his practice—his character, his conduct, his work, his way of life. The Ephesian church could all testify to how Paul lived because they all knew him intimately! He had lived among them, in the same environment as the church. He was their brother, their friend, their pastor, and their fellow worker in the gospel. He didn’t live in isolation and wasn’t unapproachable. Like a good shepherd, he smelled like his sheep; he had dirt on his coat and fleece on his sleeves.

Second, Paul’s practice was above approach. He was confident that they could reflect on any portion of the three years that he had spent with them, from the very moment he stepped foot onto Asian soil, and his life would hold up to their scrutiny. They had witnessed firsthand his pastoral ministry, his godly character, and his courage in the face of persecution. But how exactly had Paul lived and ministered among them? This he goes on to clarify in verse 19.

Third, Paul ministered as a slave of Christ.  The word “serving” here means to act or conduct oneself as a slave, as one who is in total service to another. It is to be characterized by undivided allegiance to one’s master. Paul was controlled by the love of Christ and gratefully labored in the service of his good and gracious King. Paul also ministered with all humility. This is the same word found in Philippians 2:3-4, where Paul calls the church, based on the gospel of Jesus Christ, to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This is humility which takes the form of unselfishness and self-forgetfulness; it’s not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less! Finally, Paul ministered with tears and trials. Paul was personally and emotionally invested in the Ephesians. He not only cared for them deeply but continued to serve his Lord despite the profound anguish he felt because of Jewish opposition.

These verses serve to highlight a crucial aspect of pastoral ministry: shepherding is deeply relational and inescapably personal. It’s not simply preaching a sermon or teaching a Sunday School lesson; it’s imparting a way of life, investing in and setting an example before the flock. We are to lay down our lives for the sheep in humble, grateful, and joyful service to our Lord and Savior. We are to walk worthy of our calling and model the gospel before them in joy and in sorrow, in peace and in trial.

Pastoral Ministry as Declaration

“…how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21).

As Paul continues, he reminds them not only of the godly life which he demonstrated before them, but of the gospel message which he faithfully declared to them. He calls them to remember his preaching—his words, his message, his teaching, his witness. First, Paul’s preaching was bold. This phrase, to “shrink back,” means to avoid doing something out of fear. It’s same word in Galatians 2:12, where Peter “drew back” and separated himself from eating with Gentiles, fearing the Jews. Here, Paul reminds them that he did not keep silent during his time with them, but boldly declared the message of the gospel.

Second, Paul’s preaching was comprehensive. Notice the terms he uses to describe his gospel declaration. He proclaimed to them everything that was profitable; in verse 27, Paul will explain this as being the whole counsel of God, since it is Scripture alone that is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). He taught them doctrine, which means that he provided a structured explanation of the gospel for the purposes of retention and better understanding its content. And Paul testified to the truth of the gospel. He “bore witness,” which means he was eager to make a solemn declaration about the truth of the message he proclaimed.

Third, Paul’s preaching was both public and private. He was not only involved in public gatherings and preaching sermons before large crowds, but he was personally invested in teaching sound doctrine to individuals and families! In other words, Paul was devoted to the work of Christian discipleship. This is an often-neglected component of pastoral ministry. We fail to realize that while Sunday sermons are necessary, they are not sufficient (for more on this topic, I highly recommend The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne). Simply put, individual instruction is complementary to public proclamation. We are to apply the whole counsel of God in specific, Spirit-directed ways to the needs of our sheep.

Fourth, Paul’s preaching was for all people. The good news of Jesus Christ is to be preached to all without distinction; the ground is level at the foot of the cross. As Paul told Titus, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (2:11; cf. 1 Timothy 2:4-6). What’s profound about this statement is not just that Gentiles are indeed included in the people of God (the “mystery of Christ” in Ephesians 3:1-12), but that Paul continued to preach to the Jews who persecuted him and rejected him! Paul showed no partiality in his pastoral ministry and gospel declaration.

And fifth, Paul’s preaching was all about repentance toward God and faith in Jesus. This is a beautiful summary of the gospel that all elders are called by God to declare. Repentance is necessary because all, both Jews and Greeks, have sinned and face God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-3:23). However, by grace through faith in the risen Lord Jesus, everyone who trusts in him will be saved from God’s righteous judgment (Rom. 3:24-8:39). This phrase portrays repentance as an integral component of saving faith; both must be boldly declared if we are to be faithful ministers of God’s gospel.

Watch Yourself and the Teaching

Paul’s model of pastoral ministry as both demonstration and declaration is a recurring theme throughout the New Testament. In fact, this model of ministry also applies to the sheep as well. However, Paul’s emphasis is particularly found in the instruction given to pastors and leaders of the church. Paul commands Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:12-16). Pastors must pay careful attention to both their practice and their preaching to “care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This is our calling as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pastor, what kind of farewell could you deliver to your church?

Give Me the Old Paths

If you grew up in Baptist churches in the South, chances are you heard either a preacher, a church, or a ministry through a sermon or church sign declare a need to get back to “old paths.” I can remember many times hearing preachers talk about all that was wrong in churches today and then cry out, “Give me the old paths!” This phrase “old paths” is taken from Jeremiah 6:16. Yet, as I think back on these “old paths,” the problem with meaning behind this jargon for many is that their paths are not really old. The “old paths” they were referring to were beliefs, methods, and practices that can only be dated back to originating between 1900 and 1950. The “old paths” of altar calls for salvation, KJV-onlyism, dispensational eschatology of the Scofield/Hagee variety, join the church but attend rarely if at all, and Heavenly Highway hymnals are not the real “old paths” in evangelicalism. All of those items are a blend of Finneyism and Pelagianism that makes man the center of salvation. They feature revivalism techniques popularized by men like Billy Sunday, Frank Norris, and Jack Hyles such as making decisions, walking an aisle, and repeating a prayer, and a populistic theology that equated the United States with Israel as God’s choice people. Are these the real “old paths” that marked evangelicals, specifically Baptists? Give me the old paths, the real old paths! Consider the following “old paths” that need to be recovered in Baptist churches:

Christ-Centered Exposition

The history of Baptist preaching contains some great expositors who preached sermons rich in doctrine, pastoral application, and pointed chiefly to Christ! Consider the great sermons by Benjamin Keach on the parables as he unfolds the gospel witness in the discourses our Lord gave. The eminent John Gill faithfully preached line-upon-line and precept-upon-precept in the many volumes of his sequential exposition of the Bible. Andrew Fuller’s sermons through Genesis contain beautiful jewels of how the gospel is to be seen in the Old Testament. The great Southern Baptist preacher, John A. Broadus, taught preachers that, “We cannot understand the Old Testament, except we read it in its bearing upon Christ, as fulfilled in him.”[1] How can one not read the sermons of C.H. Spurgeon and be stirred in their hearts by the beauty of the gospel! Many today think that shallow sermons must be preached else our hearers be bored, lost, or unable to comprehend! Listen to Mr. Spurgeon’s counsel:

Some preachers seem to be afraid lest their sermons should be too rich in doctrine, and so injure the spiritual digestions of their hearers. The fear is superfluous. . . . This is not a theological age, and therefore it rails at sound doctrinal teaching, on the principle that ignorance despises wisdom. The glorious giants of the Puritan age fed on something better than the whipped creams and pastries which are now so much in vogue.[2]

Baptist pulpits need to be marked more than ever by faithful expository preaching that goes through books of the Bible with Christ as chief! The manner in which you preach is going to be the model your flock imitate when it comes to Bible study: what are you showing them?

Sovereign Grace Theology

It is quite a strange phenomenon that those who claim to hold to the “old paths” in Baptist life reject Calvinism/Doctrines of Grace/Reformed theology as heresy! Would they anathematize all of these men: John Bunyan, Andrew Fuller, William Carey, Samuel Pearce, Obadiah Holmes, James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, and C.H. Spurgeon? All of these men were well grounded in the doctrines of grace. Reformed theology laid the foundation and served as the grid for how Baptists understood the world. The great institutions and movements that many Baptists proudly point to were built upon a theology of sovereign grace as found in Reformed theology. The doctrines of grace fuel and guide in how to think biblically about evangelism, missions, and discipleship. For material on how the doctrines of grace and Baptist heritage are interwoven, check out: https://founders.org/. We need a recovery of these precious doctrines! Mark Dever describes the preaching that historically marked Baptist pulpits: “The dominant preaching and teaching of the earlier part of the [19th] century was clear and unapologetic on the points of human depravity and divine election, of irresistible grace and perseverance – doctrines which tell little of what I must do, and much of what God has done.”[3] Reformed theology will not bring only the doctrines of what we call the TULIP but they will bring the proper understand of the law and the gospel, the providence of God in every part of our lives, and covenant theology.

Distinctively Baptist Federalism

While there are many dispensationalist brothers that I have learned from and respect, there is much I find wrong with that system and hermeneutic. Furthermore, one either speaks from pure ignorance or blatant error if they claim that “the old paths” in Baptist life are anything but a well-grounded federal or covenant theology. If you read 17th century Baptists like Spilsbury, Keach, Bunyan, and Coxe, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. if you read 18th century Baptists like Abraham Boothe, John Gill, and John Ryland, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. If you read 19th century Baptists like James P. Boyce, John Dagg, Robert Howell and C.H. Spurgeon, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. Why do Baptists need to recover a Baptist covenantal understanding? Consider this summary from Spurgeon:

THE doctrine of the divine covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is a master of divinity. I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and of grace.[4]

For more information about Baptist covenant theology see: www.1689federalism.com

Robust Confessionalism

Many Baptists today parrot the Campbellite movement that said away with creeds and confessions. This is not the Baptist position. Baptists have historically used creeds and confessions as a doctrinal basis for pastors and preachers, for church membership, for teaching members the core tenets of the faith, and for associational membership. Baptists wrote confessions of faith from the beginning as found in the 1st London Confession in the 1640s and the 2nd London Confession in the 1670s/80s. Baptists in America adopted confessions from the north in New Hampshire, the mid-Atlantic in Philadelphia, and the south in Charleston. When the first Baptists came to my home state of MS, the first church organized did so around a confession. That confession would later become the confession of the first association of Baptist churches in Mississippi.[5] Baptists did not use these documents as something to cast a quick glance at but as real documents with theological teeth in them. They were tools to explain the Bible. Only those who rejected orthodoxy rejected the usage of confessions and creeds. Dr. Greg Wills writes:

Baptist churches and associations in America had adopted confessions of faith with few exceptions…It was against this uniform practice that Alexander Campbell aimed his efforts to reform Baptist churches. He attacked the Baptists for their use of creeds and for the Calvinistic doctrine contained in them. He drew many Baptists to his views until Baptist churches and associations expelled Campbell and his followers in the 1830s. Campbell’s followers became known as the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ. Baptists reasserted the scriptural grounds for their adoption of confessions of faith.[6]

Churches need today to declare what they believe, why they believe, and how they will use what they believe to further the kingdom of Christ in this world! The Baptist way is a way of putting on paper, supported by the Bible, and testified to by church history what we believe!

Biblical Polity

I cannot recommend highly enough two books: 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever and Democratic Religion by Greg Wills. These two books show the biblical and historical pattern of Baptist churches. Local church membership was covenant membership. A church covenant was more than an ornament hanging on the wall. Members publicly affirmed and wrote their signature to covenant with one another in a local church. A healthy congregationalism led by faithful elders was the polity. The ordinary means of grace, the regulative principle, and a healthy understanding of the Lord’s Day all drove Baptists in their polity and celebration of the ordinances. The “old paths” knows nothing of a drove of “carnal Christians” who comprise membership roll books in so many churches. The “old paths” are found in the covenant understanding of what it means to be a local church.

Conclusion

So, what are the “old paths” that we should be longing for in Baptist life and in evangelical life? These are the paths, in many ways, of not only Baptists but the Puritans, the Reformers, and even Augustine. It goes back though to the apostle Paul and to our Lord Himself. Let me give Spurgeon the last word as to what we should be preaching and teaching:

The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.[7]

These “old paths” were not only thundered in Scotland and England but were championed throughout the United States, especially among Baptists in the South. Let us resolve to once again commit ourselves to these biblical marks that form the faithful heritage passed down to us!

 

[1] Sermons and Addresses, 160-161.

[2] https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-charles-spurgeon/

[3] Polity, 13.

[4] https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/did-spurgeon-hold-to-1689-federalism/

[5] http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/1806msbc.htm

[6] History of SBTS, 1859-2009, 20-21.

[7] http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/calvinis.htm

Blessing or Barbarism? An Answer to the Issue of Abortion

I hope you’ll understand my reason for penning this post with the grit, brutality, and rank candor that I employ. While a sensitive issue, this is not an issue that we can afford to tip-toe around. Children are being slaughtered and the church must be bold and brave to speak up. I only hope that my voice and pen will rise above the fray to inform souls and save lives…

+++++++

I remember the day well. It was late April of 2016. I had just returned from a conference and my beautiful wife had just returned from her 20 week ultrasound. As I sunk into the couch in our living room and stared into Danielle’s distraught face, I prepared myself for what I was sure would be life-altering news. The news came. Our baby, who we – surrounded by friends – had discovered was a little girl less than a week prior, had massive congenital heart defects that threatened her life and assured us that she would undergo open-heart surgery shortly after birth. My shock transformed to rage when Danielle then informed me that having made this discovery, the doctors had reminded her that a fetus with AVSD (the heart defect our baby would suffer from) often carried chromosomal imperfections as well and that chromosomal testing should be done so that we could “make an informed decision.” You may not understand my vexation. You may think I overreacted. You may assume that I am an ardent right-wing bigot with low mental acumen and zero compassion for the expectant mother. So whatever your perspective of me or position surrounding this debate may be, please allow me to explain my disgust.

The choice before us was brutally straightforward. On the one hand we could choose a difficult pregnancy, extremely high medical bills, countless days in the NICU and then CVICU, routine cardiology appointments, physical limitations for our child, and possibly chromosomal abnormalities. That seemed overwhelming (and quite literally has been). Or we could choose to “terminate the pregnancy.” This would mean that on a specified date Danielle and I would make our way to the hospital where a skilled and careful surgeon would insert a suction catheter into my wife’s uterus sucking out the amniotic fluid surrounding our child. The doctor would then ask for the Sopher clamp – a 13 inch long instrument, made of stainless steel and designed with razor sharp teeth on the end. Pressing the clamp into the uterus, the physician would blindly search for something upon which to clasp those steel teeth. He would then take hold of, forcibly twist, and jerk the clamp back. Emerging from Danielle would be a four inch leg that had been kicking her mommy from the inside for the past 7 weeks. Then would come little arms, a developed spine, operational intestines, and a heart that had been beating since day 18. All the while we would know that our baby, who could react to pain since week 8, was feeling every act of violence against her person. Having extracted most of the tiny body, the surgeon would then insert the Sopher clamp one last time to search for something roughly the size of a large plum – namely the baby’s skull. He would know his job was a success when white material oozed from the cervix, the material being a tiny brain that had been channeling waves since week 6. In the end, perhaps a little face would have come back – as is sometimes the case – staring now lifelessly our way. Throughout this whole procedure, all of the extracted baby parts would be placed on a tray and reassembled so the doctor could make sure that the entire baby was accounted for and that there were no parts left behind. There would lay our lifeless, dismembered baby girl.

Dr. Warren Hern, a Boulder, Colorado abortionist who has performed a number of second trimester abortions, says these operations can be troubling to a clinic staff including the doctors themselves. He states, “There is no possibility of denial of an act of destruction by the operator. It is before one’s eyes. The sensation of dismemberment flows through the forceps like an electric current.”

Abortionist Lisa Harris once wrote of her experience aborting babies while herself pregnant: “With my first pass of the forceps, I grasped an extremity and began to pull it down. I could see a small foot hanging from the teeth of my forceps. With a quick tug, I separated the leg. Precisely at that moment, I felt a kick – a fluttery ‘thump, thump’ in my own uterus. It was one of the first times I felt fetal movement. There was a leg and foot in my forceps, and a ‘thump, thump’ in my abdomen.”

These were our options. The blessing of life or the barbarism of death. It was not a choice in our minds. It should not be a choice for anyone. Our little girl would live.

For decades the argument for abortion centered around the false assertion that a fetus was not human. Potential mothers had the right to decide to terminate their pregnancies, most often for the sake of comfort and convenience, because they, after all, were human and the fetus was merely a collection of tissue. However, recent science has so disproven this ridiculous theory that intellectual pro-choice advocates must in fact acknowledge that abortion is the killing of human life. In an article entitled “So What if Abortion Ends Life?” written by Mary Elizabeth Williams, a staunch pro-choice activist, she declares this fact and her position: “Yet I know that throughout my own pregnancies I never wavered in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that is what a fetus is: a human life. And that does not make me one iota less pro-choice.”

This is diabolical selfishness of the most depraved order. Additionally it is intellectually inconsistent. If someone assaults a pregnant woman and intentionally or unintentionally ends the life of her unborn baby, the assailant is charged with first degree homicide. However, that same mother can willfully choose to end the life of that child, at minimal expense, and it is merely a discarding of undesired cells. If a mother is excited for her baby then that baby is in fact a child; but if that same mother is unprepared for or inconvenienced by the baby then it is just a ball of material.

This week a notable politician, following the celebrated triumph of making full-term abortions legal in New York state, tweeted the following: “Forty-six years after Roe v. Wade, we affirm what will always be true: Women have an unalienable right to make their own decisions about their health care. Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” My response – and common sense, science, and conscience back this: Baby rights are human rights (since we know that unborn children are in fact human life). A baby, as a person – flesh, blood (often of a different type than his or her mother), body, and soul – have an unalienable right to live. And to take it one step further I would ask of the tweet, “always be true to whom?” If it is merely true to you – because it’s what makes you feel fuzzy, or it’s what “seems right to you” – then you have zero authority to dictate that this must be true to anyone else. If it is not just true for you, but is universal truth then there must be a standard of universal truth to which you are appealing. There must be Truth outside of and beyond you that you are calling others to submit and adhere to.

Though science and our souls rise up to validate the treachery of the murder of unborn humanity, there is a higher authority, an absolute truth to which we make our first and final appeal (and before the cacophony of protests swell accusing me of appealing to authority I would simply ask: to what final authority do you submit?) If there isn’t one then you have no absolute right to claim that civilizations that legalize infanticide are evil or wrong. That is merely, your opinion that you cannot press with conviction upon anyone else. Contrasting individual judgment is sacred Scripture – the highest authority. Scripture declares that all humanity is fashioned in the image of God and is therefore inherently, unavoidably, and equally valuable. Scripture states that murder – the willful, unjust taking of life – is evil. Therefore, abortion in any form or at any stage of pregnancy is a diabolical atrocity against the Creator and His most masterful creation.

My sincere and earnest hope is that the church of Jesus Christ will not retreat to uncomfortable silence on this issue. My hope is that babies will be saved, mothers will be loved, and truth will reign. My hope is that not-yet-ready mothers will be supported by the church and will place their little ones in homes of parents who will love and care for them – as our own birth mother did for our first and third child. My hope is that foster care and adoption will blossom within Christianity and that infanticide in the womb will end in our nation. My hope is that those who have administered abortions or endured abortions will know the forgiveness that is found in our Savior and be freed from crippling guilt. Life is precious, valuable, and beautiful. Let’s do all we can to fight for it.

Semper Reformanda

Walk It Out

Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

These are some of the most important and strategic words ever penned in human history. 

They serve as a halftime address—a coach’s “chalk talk.” Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2are capable of leading God’s people to victory. But please don’t let your familiarity with these verses lead to passivity. Let’s Study them anew and afresh. If you do, God will transform you from the inside out. 

After devoting eleven chapters to heavy-duty theology, Paul transitions in chapter 12 from doctrine to duty, from creed to conduct, and from belief to behavior. 

He says, “In light of what God has done, here is how we should live.”

To put it another way, the apostle encourages us to turn our theology into “walkology.” 

In other words, we are to live out our beliefs. Paul uses the imperative thirteen times in the first eleven chapters of Romans; he uses it eleven times in chapter 12 alone!

In fact, this chapter has more commands in it than any other chapter of the New Testament. It is a chapter of action! Paul’s thesis is: Beliefs should impact behavior.

Present Your Body (12:1) I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship

This verse is one of the most important in the entire Bible and contains more key theological terms and truths for its size than perhaps any other verse of Scripture.

Verse 1 gives the “what” that we are to do in response to God. Paul opens this new unit with the word “Therefore” (oun).

What is the word “therefore” there for? “Therefore” looks back to all the doctrine that Paul has covered in chapters 1-11.

Paul believes that you haven’t really learned the Word until you live the Word. 

How well have you learned the Word? Have you been applying the truths of Romans? When you study the Bible on your own, do you bring it to bear on your life? Are you just a hearer of the Word or are you a doer of the Word?

Only when you become a doer of the Word, have you truly learned the Word.

Paul writes, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God.” Instead of a command or a demand, Paul urges, or better yet, exhorts his readers

Paul functions as a Christian coach who challenges and encourages us to reach a particular goal.  Paul speaks as a Christian brother to other Christian brothers and sisters. 

This is a family affair! The apostle exhorts us to respond to “the mercies of God.” 

Paul informs us that God’s love for His people is unconditional. Is God merciful? You better believe it! 

God chose us, called us, saved us, released us, and will one day take us home to heaven. Indeed, God’s mercies are past finding out!

That is why I’m convinced that the best motivation to live for Christ is a good memory of all the mercies He has blessed us with. 

Long-lasting change only occurs when gratitude for God’s mercies is the chief motivation. The Bible’s way of preaching holiness begins by reminding Christians who they are, what they are, and what they have. 

Who are we? We are the children of God with all of the power of God working on our behalf? 

Where are we? We are in the kingdom of God and have died to the dominion of sin. 

What do we have? We have the Holy Spirit, we have Jesus’ intercession working for us, and we have the power of God ready to come to our aid. 

The best way to motivate people is to show them what God has done for them and let them rise to the challenge of responding to that love appropriately.

In response to God’s mercies, Paul challenges us “to present” our bodies. 

Please note that Paul does not say “yield” or “surrender” your bodies but “present” them. Yield and surrender are biblical terms, but they imply a measure of reluctance or hesitancy. 

Present, on the other hand, implies a glad, happy, willing offering of oneself. If I yield or surrender a gift to my wife, she will not be impressed by my efforts. I mean, who does that?

Our presentation of our bodies to God as a sacrifice for His use, just like my presentation of a gift to my wife, is to be a joyous and spontaneous act. 

God is not asking you to dedicate your gifts, abilities, money, time, ideas, creativity, or any such thing. He is asking you to sacrifice yourself. 

Remember the clear words of our Lord in Matthew 16:24: Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

This is an appeal to those who have been set free by grace to live under grace by presenting all that they are to God. 

Paul states that you are to present your body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.”

The words “living,” “holy,” and “acceptable” all follow the noun “sacrifice.” 

There are three qualities of our sacrifice: 

(1) Living: In the Old Testament believers were called to “make” a sacrifice from a dead sacrifice. In the New Testament believers are called to “be” a sacrifice from a living sacrifice. The point is: God wants you to live to die. Most believers could take a bullet for Christ in a moment of courage, but every believer struggles to die to self and live for Christ on a daily basis. 

(2) Holy: We are to be wholly dedicated, “set apart” from the world and belonging to God. The term speaks of being fully abandoned to God. This means that as individual Christians and as a corporate church, we must do all that we can to ensure that holiness is promoted. That is why we must exercise church discipline. That is why we must speak the truth in love. That is why we must disciple new believers. We are commanded to be holy as God is holy. 

(3) Acceptable: The term “acceptable” builds on the Old and New Testament concept of the sacrifice as pleasing God. When you present your body as a sacrifice that is living and holy God is pleased.

Paul states that when you present your body as a sacrifice you have fulfilled your “spiritual service of worship.” 

The Greek adjective translated “spiritual” is logikos, from which we derive the English word “logical.” 

Logikos pertains to reason or the mind, and therefore does not really mean “spiritual.” It is better translated “reasonable” or “rational” 

I think what Paul is saying is: “If you consider all that God has done for you—a sinful being—the only reasonable response is to offer Him your life.”

After all, this is the only logical response! Why would freed slaves continue to serve their old master?

Presenting your body to serve the interests of your new Master, on the other hand, is completely logical—very much in keeping with good sense.

 A response of sacrificial worship expresses a heart of gratitude. It puts feet to our faith. 

Beliefs should impact behavior.

Renew Your Mind (12:2)  Do not be conformed to this world,[c]but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.[d]

The world’s philosophy is pretty simple: If you want something, go get it (partners, possessions, and power).

In the worlds eyes, people are important primarily because of what they can do for you. If they can’t do anything for you, don’t waste your time on them. 

Nowadays the publics opinion defines the truth.

Popularity is more important than holiness. 

Faith and everyday living are unrelated. 

Live for the moment and don’t concern yourself with consequences…. 

You are the center of your universe; don’t let anyone push you around! 

Our world also screams tolerance (religions are the same; accept and affirm same sex marriage) and truth is not absolute (what’s good for you is good for you). 

Listen, you cannot not be shaped by these influences. You have to fight hard against the tide of sin, self, and Satan. 

Ask yourself, How much television do you watch in the course of a week?

How many movies do you watch in the course of a year? What type of music do you listen to? What magazines, books, and websites do you read? 

How much time are you devoting to social networking? Who are your friends? What type of influence do they have on you? What are your hobbies? How do you send your discretionary time?

Even though Paul is writing to the church, we are a group of individuals. These verses are speaking specifically to YOU. 

Will one diseased fish affect the whole tank? Will one mad cow infect the whole herd? 

Will one person conformed to the world have an effect on our church? 

YES! BUT I dare you to be different. Stand up for Christ. Don’t go with the flow; go against the grain. Rebel against the status quo—become a disciple of Christ. Your life will be an adventure!

Turning from the negative to the positive, Paul goes on to say, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  

The term “transformed” is the Greek word metamorphoo, which forms the root for the English word “metamorphosis.”When a tadpole is changed into a frog or when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, we speak of it as a metamorphosis. 

That is what God wants for each of His children. At what stage are you in this Christian transformation? Are you staying in the larva stage? Caterpillar? Baby butterfly? Full-grown butterfly? Where are you on the conformity to Christ growth chart? 

Listen, Before you were saved, you were so accustomed to sin that you wore a groove into your heart and mind, like a river cutting a gorge through rock. 

What you now need to do is make some new grooves. That’s why Paul says you must be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

God wants your body and your mind; He wants all of you. Is there anything or anyone that you are withholding from God? Is your marriage and family yielded to Him? Is your vocation His? What about your finances or hobbies? Will you present yourself to Him today and every day hereafter? If you will, your life will never be the same. 

Walk out that robust theology you know oh so well.

3 Reasons to Attend Church Regularly

In 2016 it was recorded that 73% of Americans claimed to be Christian. However, when the same group was asked if their faith was very important to them or if they attended church at least once a month the percentage dropped from 73% to 31% (The State of the Church 2016 – Barna). Less than half of the people who claim to be Christians attend church regularly. And regular attendance for them could be just once a month (12 times a year). So, the percentage of those who attend church weekly is less than 31%.

But the Bible commands that Christians are to be faithful to their church. The author of Hebrews tells his readers that they are not to neglect meeting with one another, as is the habit of some (Hebrews 10:25). And then again to his readers he commands, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). How can a person obey and submit to their leaders if they are not faithful attenders of their local church? It’s not going to happen. The implication here is that we need to be regular church attenders. Then Luke, in the book of Acts, tells us that Christians in the early church met regularly, day by day, to fellowship and attend church together (Acts 2:46). We can see a pattern of believers meeting together often in a church setting. This is what Christians do; they meet regularly to worship the Lord.

But why is this so important? What benefit is it to be at church regularly? Let me give you three reasons why it is so important:

SERVE & BE SERVED

First, it is important to attend church faithfully so that you can both serve and be served. One of the ways the Bible defines the church is as a body (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christ is the head and believers comprise the rest. And each member of the body plays a big part. Just as a human body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing a leg or an arm so a church body is not as effective as it could be if it were missing members. Each member of the church body plays a vital role in the church. It is important that you regularly attend your local church so that others in the body of Christ can serve you in ways that you cannot serve yourself. You need people who will disciple, encourage, admonish, and correct you. You need people who can serve you through the gifts God has given them. You can only get that when you gather together with other Christians. You also need to attend church regularly so that you can serve others. There are those in your church who need your encouragement, discipleship, and correction. God has given you gifts that He wants you to use for the benefit of the body as a whole. You cannot serve others if you are not around them. Therefore, it is of great importance that you strive to faithfully gather together with other Christians weekly at your local church.

HEAR THE WORD

Second, it is important to attend church faithfully to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The book of Acts tells us that the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42) and we are to do the same. We do not have “apostles” today in the Biblical sense, but we do have gifted preachers and teachers who rightly share the Word of God every week from the pulpit (Steve Lawson). These men are sharing the very apostles’ teaching (the Bible) that Acts 2 speaks of and we would do well to devote ourselves to their teaching. We do that by regularly attending the services and Bible studies at our local church.

It is through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word that sinners are saved, sanctified, and equipped for ministry work. We can see this clearly from the teaching of Paul in his epistles. Paul, writing to Timothy, reminds him that it was the Word of God that made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). In the same passage Paul also instructs Timothy to continue to learn the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:14) as it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul tells Timothy that the word is profitable and then he tells him to preach that word (2 Timothy 4:2). The preaching of God’s Word is one of the primary ways Christians grow in godliness. It is crucial that Christians regularly attend a Bible-believing church so that they can get a steady dose of Biblical preaching that will help grow them in the faith.

In addition, Paul tells the Ephesian church that God gave “the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Not only does the preaching of God’s Word bring sinners to salvation and help Christians in their walk with God, but it equips them for ministry. Regularly sitting under the preaching and teaching of your local church will prepare you to do ministry work. You will be able to share the gospel, disciple others, and lead a Bible study, or small group. It is important that Christians are faithful to their local church and regularly sit under their pastor’s preaching so that they might grow in godliness and be equipped to do ministry.

OBEY THE LORD

Third, it is important to attend church faithfully because God commands it (Hebrews 10:25) and that is reason enough! If God commands us to do something it is in our best interest to do it. He is infinitely wise and knows what is best for you and me. The book of Isaiah tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is infinitely wiser than us and He knows better than we do what is best for us. Therefore, when God commands us to be regular church attenders we should joyfully comply.  It is in our best interest.

God created and implemented the church for His glory and our good. It is His desire that we meet regularly as Christians to sing, pray, study the Bible, and encourage each other in the faith. Make it a priority to regularly attend your local church for your good and God’s glory.

A Word on New Beginnings

One year ago this week I posted a blog on the Meaning of an Ending. In it I reflected on the last day of Moses leading the people towards the promise land but being restricted by God from entering the land himself. This post was a reflection not only on my New Year’s Eve sermon but also on that previous Sunday where I announced that I would no longer be pursuing the Pastorate of the church where I had served as interim pastor for the previous 2 years and where I had start ministry several years before that. 3 months later on April 28th I would say good bye to that wonderful congregation and begin a new journey at a new church with new responsibilities; leaving the weekly preaching behind to focus on handling the day to day organization and administration of another local body. The final Sunday of 2018 was the first time I was once again behind the pulpit on a Sunday morning preaching in 8 months and today I want to highlight the main aspects of what I learned along the way looking at New Beginnings.

Look to Christ Alone

First, It is easy to get distracted in our everyday lives by everything that we believe we know is coming: work, spouses, kids, bosses, etc, but at the back of our minds we know that none of those things will be completely predictable. Sicknesses creep up on us out of nowhere, jobs are lost with little or no warning, cars breakdown, kids have new troubles, life is unpredictable. 2018 may have started as a year you were excited for with many opportunities, but by the end of the road you couldn’t wait to get it over with and pass it by. The reality is that every day has challenges of its own that cannot be seen or predicted by our own eyes. But the one thing we do know is that our savior is unchanging. He is who He has always been and will be who He has always been.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28

As Christians we are called to cling to Christ take up our crosses and follow him. In every endeavor it is to Christ we look, we must rest in the reality that as his sheep we are being kept and look after, even if the results or situation isn’t what we would like them to appear. When the Israelites came to the river Jordan (Josh. 2-3) and stood upon the banks of the flooding river it was hard for them to imagine that this task was going to be an easy one, but what this generation did know is that their God was in control, and when he gave them instructions to follow the ark and in so doing trust him walking forward into the waters, they did it with eyes focused on the ark that went before them, just as God had instructed.

The Israelite’s followed God through the Jordan, the Disciples followed Christ to the ends of the earth, we must as well trust in Christ alone moment by moment through the good and through the evils of this world, knowing that he will hold us fast. When I announced I was leaving previous position there were moments leading up to that where I didn’t know what would be next, the job i currently have was not in any way a sure thing, but the one thing I knew was that God was in control no matter what happens. Now there were plenty of times over those months where i wrestled with this truth, and with my own flesh and selfish desires, and fears. It is easy to say our eyes are fixed on Christ but some times the waters do look insurmountable, and that’s because for us they are, but for God nothing is.

Trust in His Word Alone

Second as we look to Christ we must also be looking with ears open to the truth of His word and with a heart set on following His word for us. When we look forward into the unknown, we are not left to figure it out on our own, for God has given us His word and instruction for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). When the Israelites were looking at the Ark in the Jordan, they were not left to figure out how to enter the land, the Lord had given them instructions on how to walk and pursue Him. They were instructed to consecrate themselves and to follow his lead, and to follow His word and presences. Truly our eyes cannot be fully set on Christ if our hearts are refusing to head his words.  In Peter’s second epistle he reminds the church to seek in growing in their affection for the Lord by walking in the truth of His word, to grow up into the faith that they have been called. As we look forward are we striving to know Him more and become more like him according to His word, or according to our own devices?

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:1-8)

As I came to the end of my tenure the Words of Paul to the Philippian church were especially encouraging, for in these words we find the mindset Christ has called us to have; a mindset that by its very nature is unlike the world. here we seek to do what is best for those in the family of faith not ourselves. We sacrifice for their good and for the growth of their faith. It is so easy to yearn for our own way and our own glory, but that is not the way of Christ.

Give Glory to Him Alone

Third, through all that comes our way let us give glory to God alone. Now this may seem like a no brainer, but there are many a time that we lose sight of who it was that brought us through the River. How often do we get through trials and tribulations in this life and forget all the ways God got us through, especially when a new trial comes our way. It is easy in a moment to thank the Lord for his work on our behalf, but how often is that moment fleeting or not passed on. For the Israelites at the Jordan they were instructed to construct a memorial of stones representing the Lord work in preserving each tribe and fulfilling His promises, so that every generation would be encouraged to pass this truth on to the next that God delivered His people, by his work alone, not of their own doing. When God does a mighty work in our lives how do we remember it; how do we pass it on; who do we instruct with it? Sitting here in 2019 in ministry it is amazing to see how God put everything together to bring me here today. How a Interim pastorate that was only to last 90 days turned into 2+ years and in that time the relationships the Lord brought along my path lead me to the church I now serve at today. The Lord orchestrated all of these events according to His glory. And I am but the recipient of his kindness.

I pray that as you look backwards over the last year that you can easily see the aspects of God’s sovereign work moving you to where you are today. Hopefully in that you can see how he kept you focused on Him and his words, and how when you strayed, he refocused your eyes back on Him. Should this not be your case, I would plead with you to take a moment and look to Christ, hear his word, be convicted of the truth and walk humbly before him in joy, knowing that he is sovereign over all of our joys and trials, leading us home to himself.

 

 

 

 

 

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

This week in 1973, an important supreme court decision legalized abortion nationwide. Since then, some sixty million babies have been aborted. While a mother’s womb was once the safest place for a child, it is now one of the most dangerous. But the issue that lies at the root of the abortion debate is whether or not there is life within the womb. Recently in the news, I saw the terrifying report about Chris Watts, the Colorado man who murdered his wife and two daughters. Then there was mention that he was being charged with four counts of murder because his wife was pregnant with their unborn child. Yet what is not explained is how our society can justify the taking of unborn life for millions of others. Since the rise of postmodernism, our culture affirms that each of us can come to our own conclusions in these matters and neither opinion is right or wrong. But the ultimate question that remains is whether or not there is life in the womb.

In Psalm 139, David is basking in the limitless expanse that is God. He marvels at God’s omniscience (perfect knowledge of all), omnipresence (existing fully everywhere), and omnipotence (infinite in power). In verses 13-18, David is particularly humbled by God’s intimate acquaintance with him while in the womb. He shares that God, perfectly knit us together, sovereignly planned our days, and graciously upholds us even now.

God perfectly knit us together

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” -Psalm 139:13-15

Our family has been given quilts and rugs after the birth of a child by sweet church ladies or other friends. These knitted hats and hand-woven quilts or scarves are greatly appreciated because of the amount of detailed work involved by the giver. We know that someone put a lot of thought and energy into these, though we didn’t know they were doing so at the time. They were knitting in secret and we were blessed with the finished product. God’s involvement in the birth of a every human life is not minimal. He is intimately involved in the womb and throughout the days of that child’s life. David uses a Hebrew word here that speaks specifically to the creation of one human life. It is the same word used in Job 10:11 which states, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.” David speaks of the most secret parts of human anatomy and declares that we are each, “intricately woven” by God. We ought to be humbled to know that there is no part of us that is hidden from the gaze of God. Nothing about us was accidental or haphazard, for it was none other than the Divine Creator who formed us. H. Hammond, a deceased commentator, remarks that our flesh, bones, skin, nerves, and arteries are so weaved together, “that no embroidery or carpet-work in the world can compare with it.” We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. But not only were our days in the womb planned, but everyday of our lives thereafter.

God sovereignly planned our days

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”- Psalm 139:16

Until our generation with the invention of the Ultrasound (sadly after Roe V. Wade), life in the womb was totally unseen and mysterious. It was reserved for God’s eyes only. Now we can see 4D images of babies in the womb, yet it is still a shadowy form we behold. The life in the womb remains for scientists a beautiful mystery that cannot be explained satisfactorily without mention of God. Yet this is merely the earliest stages of that life. God has a book which contains every day each of us will ever live, perfectly planned out to the nanosecond. Our God not only knits us together in the womb, he predetermines every passing moment of our entire lives before any of them even come to be. This is such an encouragement for us in the daily pressures of life. God is never shocked or surprised by our pain. Like a Master storyteller, He is orchestrating all these crazy events by Divine design. Ephesians 1 says God has been doing this from, “before the foundation of the world,” and that He, “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” In Ephesians 2:10 we’re informed that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” This goes for not only everyday we will face, but the very one we call `today.`

God graciously upholds us even now

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.” -Psalm 139:17-18

Every time our family goes to the beach, it seems we bring more sand back with us than is possible. David says if we could count God’s thoughts of us it would be more than all the sand on all the beaches in all the world. His thoughts toward us are best exemplified in the Gospel. His care for us led Him to send His only Son into this world as a baby who would bear the curse of our sin and drink God’s judgment for us on the cross. We will never get over the depth of God’s mercy and grace to us in Christ. It doesn’t make sense why God loves us sinners with such breadth and depth and height and length. And so may we spend eternity marveling that such a Creator is also our Redeemer.

New Year’s Day Prayer

I have been praying that God would grow our local church; not so much numerically but spiritually as I believe that lasting numerical growth flows from authentic Spirit-led growth. I did not, however, see coming what the Lord was doing while I was away.

Our Advent season typically reaches its climax at our Christmas Eve service (when Christmas doesn’t fall on a Sunday) after which I retreat into a week of reflection, rest, and preparation as the current year comes to a close and the new year approaches.

This year I received a phone call from the Chairman of Elders informing me that at our monthly prayer meeting he and our newly hired Asst. Pastor formulated a plan for 24 hours of prayer on New Year’s Day. A sign-up sheet would be created with forty-eight, thirty-minute increments and made available to the congregation at December 30’s worship service.

Excitement, doubt, concern, thankfulness, and anticipation filled my heart.

I’d like to be super-spiritual and tell you I knew that our members would jump at the opportunity to pray for hours at a time for 24 hours on a day that is typically filled with sleeping in because of the late-night festivities that preceded it, but I’m not and I was concerned and doubtful.

However, God in His faithfulness saw fit to fill forty five of forty eight slots and my first day in the office of 2019 was filled with joy, hope, encouragement and excitement as I saw the revolving door of person after person and family after family fill our sanctuary on their knees, with the Word open in front of them, praying through our teachers, leadership, programs, missionaries, and a church plant in South America.

I learned three important lessons on the first day of 2019:

First, God is faithful. He answered my prayers to mature us in Christ and I don’t believe He’s done yet either. I’ve been praying earnestly that spiritual fruit of maturity would adorn the branches of this local tree, Christ’s Church in Eldred, Illinois. A devotion & dependence upon the Lord manifested in prayer is a hallmark of the local Church (Acts 2:42). I couldn’t be more grateful to the Lord!

Second, the Lord confirmed that the work being done here belongs to Him and not me. The Lord placed this on the hearts of our leadership in my absence. In the secular world that would be scary as it could be perceived that I am no longer needed. But for a Sr. pastor to see his church seeking Christ apart from his presence is overwhelmingly encouraging. Eldred Baptist needs more Christ and less Pastor Don (John 3:30). I am thankful for that reminder!

Lastly, I learned that I expect too little from the Lord. I am humbled and convicted by my skepticism as well as encouraged to call Christ’s Church to greater things in 2019. I am firmly convinced that pastors lower the bar too often to make Christianity more palatable for the culture; clearly that pastor is me, too. I have also been praying that God would reveal sin in me of which I was not aware. Again, He is good and faithful!

The same God who created light before He created the sun is creating in us an unquenchable thirst to know Him more fully, love Him more deeply, and be near Him more frequently. Surely, 2019 will bring more growth, more goodness, and more of God.

In 2019, may we all respond as the boy Samuel did when the Lord spoke to him, “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9).

Pick Up and Read

As 2019 begins, many resolutions will be made and many goals will be set. Resolutions and goals come to pass only if discipline characterizes an individual’s life. When it comes to the spiritual disciplines of the believer, there is a fine line one must walk between mechanical, robotic actions and half-hearted devotion. Christians are to be a disciplined people with an acknowledgement of dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, all of the spiritual disciplines are to be seen as means by which worship of the Triune God takes place. One of the most important disciplines in the Christian life is reading. So, as the new year begins, let me offer you some encouragement as to what you should pick up and read.

The Bible

Above all other books, the Bible should be at the center of our daily reading habits. This is the special revelation of God that reveals to us the nature of God and the redemptive storyline. Every doctrine found within the pages of Scripture relates to one another and is marrow for life. The reason that the Bible is not read is that we do not understand what we hold in our hand. This year, take your Bible, read it, write about what you read, ask questions of the text, and discern how the gospel relates to this passage. Since we believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God, should we not seek to know it more and more? Is there anything else in our lives that should impact how we live apart from the Holy Scriptures? When I have grown cold and dulled to the Word, there is a great emptiness and misery that accommodates each day. When considering the Bible, you hold in your hands, remember the sacrifice of men like William Tyndale. Tyndale is a Christian martyr who was executed due to the fact that he desired that the common man be able to read the Scriptures for himself in the English language.

A Bible-reading plan is a solid means of structure and discipline in searching the Scriptures during the year. Reading with an accountability partner is an excellent means to keep you on track. If you miss a day, do not stop and wait for the next January 1st to roll around. Take up the next day and begin again to search the Scriptures. In 2018, I utilized the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan (https://www.mcheyne.info/calendar.pdf). This year, I will follow a chronological Bible reading plan (http://static.esvmedia.org/assets/pdfs/rp.chronological.pdf). Here are some other Bible reading plans that you can benefit from: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/. May 2019 be a year of the Bible in your life by which you are left in more awe of the God who creates, redeems, sustains, and keeps!

Reading the Classics

My fellow Publican, Zack Ford, and I are planning to begin a 4 year journey through these Christian classics (http://www.longing4truth.com/mark-devers-christian-classics-reading-challenge/). Mark Dever organized this listing that covers the early church, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Sibbes, Spurgeon, and others! As Zack shows, this is a very intense and ambitious reading plan. I would not recommend someone do this on their own (I have tried!!) but read this with others. Not only is this another means of accountability but this will provide excellent opportunities to engage and learn with others regarding what you are reading. Furthermore, you might be prone to read only one person or era in church history. This is an excellent way to become more familiar with figures from each epoch of church history.

Puritan Paperbacks

I was overwhelmed when my church family at NTBC presented me with The Banner of Truth’s “Puritan Paperback” series for Christmas! What a goldmine! The Puritans can be difficult to read at times but it is profitable to the soul. “The Bruised Reed” by Richard Sibbes is an excellent place to start! Why not form a group in your church that is dedicated to reading one of these books a month and discussing it? You will find your life enriched and solid wisdom given to pass on to others! https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/series/puritan-paperbacks-1/

Biographies

While I am a history nerd, I realize that not everyone else cares for history like me. Still, I would argue that we suffer greatly when we fail to know history and live as if time began with us. One of the best means to acquaint yourself with history is by reading biographies. This is true whether we are dealing with figures like George Washing and Winston Churchill or John Owen and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Steve Lawson’s series “A Long Line of Godly Men” is an excellent introduction to biographical reading of some of the great men in the history of the church. These volumes are manageable to read. While these are not exhaustive or even typical biographies, this collection of books will introduce you to some of the heroes of the faith showing how their lives still speak to us today. If any one person strikes up your interest more, there are many resources cited in the book that will guide you in further reading. I highly recommend these books! https://www.ligonier.org/store/collection/long-line-godly-men/

Conclusion

Above all, read in 2019! You will be amazed at how much you can cover and learn if you set 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour each day to read. In you reading, heed the words of C.H. Spurgeon, “Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.”

The Reason for the Season

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb (Luke 2:8-21).

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. We decorate our houses. We give and receive gifts. We spend time with family and friends. And we eat many festive meals. I really enjoy this season as I am sure many of you do as well.  But so often we fail to miss the reason for the season. We fail to focus on Christ. We celebrate Santa more than we celebrate Jesus and this shouldn’t be.

Jesus brings much more than a red sack of small toys, He brings salvation to the world (10-11). It’s the best news that brings the greatest joy: the enemies of God become the friends of God, all because of the work of God on their behalf. Jesus steps into His creation. He puts on flesh and dwells among us. He lives a life of perfect obedience in our place, dies a sacrificial death for us, three days later He rises from the dead defeating sin and death. Now all who repent and believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. This is the reason for the season. This is cause for celebration and great joy.

Notice the reaction of the angels, shepherds, and Mary in our passage above as they ponder the news of Jesus. In verse 14 we are told that a multitude of angels all proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest.” In verse 20 we read, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” And in v. 19 we see that, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The news of Jesus was not dull, unimportant, or casual to the people in our passage and it should be to us either.

The news of Jesus’ incarnation should bring great joy that leads to worship and adoration. As you spend time with family and friends today do not forget the reason for the season. Make Jesus the center of the celebration.

More Love

“I am a meaningless noise; I am nothing; I gain nothing.” You won’t find these words in the latest version of any best-selling, self-help masterpiece. But, you will find them (not verbatim) in the Wisdom of God, through the pen of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

God has moved me to this reality using two primary mechanisms in the last several months: (1) Through the study and prayerful pursuit of spiritual gifts, and (2) Through discipling two men whom God placed in my life for discipleship who are not connected to my church.

First, a couple of times per year I teach a new members/new believers class in our local church. There are a few Sunday’s where I teach on spiritual gifts and their exercise for the edification of the Body. This practice, regularly, has me searching through the Scriptures in preparation.

As I learn to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31), I couldn’t help but be drawn to Paul’s immediate follow-up in that same verse, “And I will show you still a more excellent way” (emphasis added). Can I prayerfully pursue the higher gifts and disregard (or make second place even) the “more excellent way,” which clearly is love (1 Cor. 13)?

After all, I, without love, as defined by God, am “meaningless noise…nothing…and I gain nothing.” When read, considered, and meditated upon, this is a pretty harsh reality to accept. This means the gifts He has given and the kingdom work (not to even mention the gifts I am prayerfully pursuing) done, when lacking the single greatest ingredient, is of no value and gain nothing. None? Really?

Yes, really.

The Lord has shifted my focus from spiritual gifts to love, the “still more excellent way.” Praise God!

Second, often times I use Don Whitney’s “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” when I am beginning a discipleship relationship in order to teach men how to live the Christian life. In the opening discipline of Bible Intake Whitney says this:

“No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply in no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.”

In his two chapters on Bible Intake, Whitney points his readers to the supernatural workings of God through hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word. While working on committing 1 Corinthians 13 to memory, the Lord has shown me that what is lacking in not more gifts in my spiritual armory. It’s love. Love is the muscle behind the ministry; and not just any love but love as defined by God, in Christ!

In short, God used the exercising the gifts He’s already given me (namely, teaching & discipling) to show me that it wasn’t more gifts I needed (although they are to be earnestly desired) but love that was missing. Without it, I am just noise, I’m nothing, & I gain nothing. Nothing.

Isn’t God good? I went looking for more and He’s teaching me a more excellent way to utilize that which He’s already provided.

More love. Who doesn’t need to grow in love? Surely, I do. Surely, you do. And by His grace, surely, we will! After all, in His grace you were “predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29 who is Love personified.

Grow us, Lord, in love; make us, I pray, like Christ.

“He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Learning through our Disagreements

Over the last few weeks in the office we have been reading the book: Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves. It is a wonderful read and one that will make you think deeply about what we love so much about his preaching and teaching, but it will also at times make us step back and disagree with Spurgeon’s views on several things such as preaching books of the bible, liturgies, the New Birth, and scripted prayer.

Today’s post isn’t a review of the book but rather what the book helped me to see and think more deeply about. I’ve posted on it before, but I think it bears reminding that some of the very people our heroes ranged against and called out are us. As a Baptist I love the reformation and appreciate all that Luther did and at the same time know he would have considered me as much a heretic as the Pope in Rome. Augustine was the father of much of what we find distasteful in the Catholic church such as Baptism for the remission of sins in Infants, Purgatory, Limbo, and a host of others, yet he also helped to solidify theologically the truth of Monergism and a full appreciation for the Sovereignty of God. Bavinck and Kuyper in Holland could not reconcile the role of the church and state, especially in the training of ministers, and in the process their partnership as ministers of the gospel was frayed.

Now I say all this for two reasons. First, there is always a chance we are wrong, not about the gospel but at times on its application when scripture is less than clear. Second, there are good and Holy brothers and sisters in Christ who we can learn much from, whom we will equally disagree with. Both of these things we need to remember because at the end of the day we live to imitate Christ and become more like him, not necessarily other Christians. They point us to Christ and at times our worthy of admiration, but ultimately it is Christ whom we pursue.

 We Might Be Wrong

No one likes to be wrong. Let’s just face it, red marks on a test don’t tend to bring out our most excited moments (though many of us can agree we learned a lot from those red marks). Being corrected for our attitude or unrighteous behavior isn’t a fun day, though necessary. I’ve spent the last 6 years in full time ministry before that I spent 7 years in Bible college and seminary, along the way I read a lot of the Bible a lot and equally a lot of theology texts. My office is filled with commentaries on the word of God and books discussing how we should live out these truths. In Seminary specifically I focused my studies on Christian ethics (Or the Practical outworking of theology in everyday life).  This time taught me a lot about what it means to be wrong and to be gracious in doing so, but it also showed me areas of my theology that should have been peripheral that had become central, things that being wrong about didn’t change who I was in Christ. Such as how does the Spirit gift individuals and what does that look like, what should the church sing, how do we practice church discipline, in what ways can baptism be performed, how often should we take communion, what role does Communion, the Word, and singing play in weekly and personal worship?

I could ask these questions to a whole host of pastors and theologians and get a wide variety of answers and in that way, it taught me that it was okay to accept that possibility of being wrong in some areas of the Christian life, but not to settle for being wrong. It is important that we acknowledge that there are mysteries too marvelous for us to full comprehend or articulate. We must accept that there are areas of the outworking of the gospel that take effort to dive deeply into, and we should. The point of accepting that you could be wrong is not to be lazy in the process but to push harder into Christ and to trust in Him, to dive deeply into His Word and allow it to be the guide of who we are and how we then shall live. He gives us His Word to know Him and His family and to live out the truth of who has been revealed.

Now I know there are a lot of traps with what I am saying, and I’ll admit that as well. Hebrews encourages us to continually be on guard against falsehoods and to not be led astray into disobedience but to fight all the more for the faith and to rest in Christ our great High Priest who gave all for us, and for the Glory of His father. So, while it is good to accept, we may be wrong on the peripheral we must not give ground on the reality of who Jesus is, what salvation is, the work of the Holy spirit producing righteousness, the call to repentance, the work of God through all of scripture. These are the areas of the faith first and foremost to be wrong is to be outside of the faith. These are questions while they may be answered with different words will have the same substance, will reflect the same gospel truth, Spurgeon, Luther, Augustine, Bavinck, Kuyper, Piper, MacArthur, R.C., Gurnall, Athanasius, Polycarp, John and Paul would reflect the same gospel reality.

Learning from Others

Now that was a long way to highlight the importance of learning from those, we may at times disagree with on peripheral issues. Again, this is not a call to start picking up Osteen and Bell books, no need to take down that old Brian McLaren book on the 19 different Jesus’. No this is more about the importance of getting outside of our tribal instinct and studying the truth of scripture and seeing how other godly people have applied the text and lived it out. When I was in college, I went to an interdenominational school made up of a host of different theological backgrounds all studying the scriptures together and having lively and gracious discussions on the outworking of that faith. I learned a lot about loving my brothers and sisters well in disagreement from brothers whom truly reflected and lived out the gospel. I didn’t agree with everything they thought but I agreed with how they lived, for they lived it out far greater than I. Especially while those in my same camp seemed to move farther and farther way from the actual practice of the faith, while condemning these brothers as legalists.

It is an amazing thought that we read men whom we openly would disagree with if they were around today, but the measure of their lives proved that they ran the race, they kept the faith, and in Christ have been rewarded greatly. In a day and age where we have become more tribal than ever, I fear we have stopped listening to those we disagree with, and in some ways, we have stopped learning.  If you are afraid to pick up a book by Charles Wesley because of his views on Holiness, you will miss his great care for the preaching of the Word and Deep reverence he had for God. There was a reason Whitefield and Wesley were great friends, and they learned a lot form each other even while disagreeing over aspects of doctrine. If Spurgeon’s view of preaching topically drives you to forsake his preaching you will miss his rich exposition on the Psalms or the beautiful encouragement, he gives to suffering saints through the preached word, while simultaneously presenting the hope of the Gospel to the lost.

Ultimately, we need to be people committed to the cause of Christ, learning the truth of Scripture, defending the faith well, and growing in our love and dedication for the Saints.

Preaching is Strange

When it comes to the event called preaching, there might not be anything more exhilarating, more puzzling, more exhaustive, more challenging, and more rewarding then the man standing behind the sacred desk expounding the Word of God. Truly, preaching is strange because it an event that requires human discipline and preparation, while at the same time can only accomplish good by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.

Why is preaching strange?

Discipline in the Study

As those who are commissioned to preach the Word of God, there can be no substitute for diligent study and preparation. Our time must be well-spent in working through the text, understanding the passage in the context of the redemptive narrative of the Bible, as well as gleaning the doctrines from the text through the lens of systematic, biblical, and historical theology. Meditating upon the text and chewing on the text are essential for us as we think about the congregation, we will be feeding the Word to. None of this can be neglected. Yet, discipline in the study is not only a process of reading, thinking, and writing. The preacher’s time in the study must be one of cultivating spiritual disciplines in his own life. I will confess, more times than I care to admit, that my time in the study was an exercise in writing a sermon rather than seeking to be personally fed and changed. In our time in the study, we must come desiring first to be changed and to be conformed into the image of Christ. It is not enough for me to know what my people need to hear from the text. I need to hear from the text. I need the conviction of the Word to pierce my own heart.

Preaching is a public act of worship. How dangerous it can be for us to substitute that public act for private adoration, worship, and sanctification. Let us commit to pray for ourselves and for other ministers of the Word that we not neglect personal holiness for the public platform that comes with preaching. As one writer puts it, “The biographies of the finest Christians illustrate for us, the bedrock of the truly devoted life is a daily discipline of private prayer and meditation on the Word of God. No matter how far along the Christian way we travel, our need of these things will never diminish. As has often been said, there are no shortcuts to holiness.”[1]

The Power of the Spirit

            Paul was a model theologian-preacher. The apostle faithfully expounded the Word, connecting Christ to the themes of the OT, and rightly setting forth the word of truth. Yet, as the apostle argues in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, the power lies not in the preacher but the Holy Spirit. For all of our preparation and study, there can be no substitute for our reliance upon the Spirit of God. Ezekiel 37 summons us to join with Ezekiel in understanding that the breath of God is what brings life to the valley of dry bones. There is no more humbling truth for the preacher to know and live by then that his role as a herald means that he is not the main attraction. When the preacher begins to think he is the star of a production, then he has forgotten all he claims to be. The preacher is the messenger sent forth to declare the glories of God and the mighty power of the kingdom. If we do not rely upon the Spirit of God, if our confidence be in our own abilities, then we will resort to tricks, emotional manipulation, and seeking to always be “fresh” and “relevant” by the standards of contemporary culture.

As we step into the pulpit, realizing how we are totally dependent upon the Spirit of God brings a peace and rest to our souls. This does not give space for laziness in the time of preparation. However, it will cause us to be aware that the people need not hear from me but from the God of heaven. Spurgeon said it well, “It is better to speak six words in the power of the Holy Spirit, than preach seventy sermons without the spirt.”[2] When Martyn Lloyd-Jones described preaching as “theology coming through man who is on fire,” the great pastor pointed to the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why we need Him during our time in private study and prayer. May God help us all to realize how desperately we need the Spirit as we preach!

What About Feelings?

            What about those Sundays when I step out of the pulpit and feel like a failure? I imagine that all preachers feel this way at some time. Personally, the Lord has blessed me where I preached and everything seemed to go almost perfectly. When I stepped out of the pulpit, I felt like Whitefield or Spurgeon, like I just hit a grand-slam, and any other image you can think of from sports. That type of “buzz” can become an idol. Not every Sunday feels that way. What do we do then? Some Sundays we can feel like hypocrites because we know that we are sinners and fall short in so many areas. Brother preachers, you are not supermen. You are sinners who have been transformed into saints, clothed in robes of Christ’s righteousness, heralds of divine grace, and stewards of the Word of God. Each time we preach, we are involved in a spiritual battle. As I was recently reminded, preaching is about us being faithful and not about attaining a feeling.

Conclusion

Preaching is no easy task. Sometimes the reward comes a time after we are finished preaching that sermon. Regardless of where Christ has put you, remember that you are His herald. That’s a solemn, weighty task but also a joyful, glorious labor! Preaching is strange. Just as soon as you think you have figured it out, you receive a divine reminder that you really have not. That sermon you think you fell flat on your face in the pulpit is the one that God uses to change a life. Is it because of the preacher? No, it is because of the Spirit of God who happens to use clay pots like you and me. Let us rejoice in that as Sunday approaches! May our preaching be that which glorifies God!

[1] John Cheesemen, The Priority of Preaching. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 24.

[2] Ibid., 27.