Archive for May, 2008

Lloyd-Jones on Preaching

I am one chapter away from finishing up Lloyd-Jones’ classic work “Preaching & Preachers.”  Lloyd-Jones died in 1981 so obviously I only know him through his books and biographies.  Though different in many ways, I see many similarities between MLJ and my former pastor John MacArthur.  Both men are/were very comfortable sharing their convictions and opinions on topics surrounding the pastoral ministry and preaching.  Sometimes they’re a bit too strong in presenting their personal convictions (as opposed to their Biblical convictions).  With that said, both men are/were willing to stand for the Truth even if it meant marginalization and public scorn.  Both men are/were gifts to the universal Church.

 

In Chapter 13 Jones addresses the topic of “What to Avoid” in preaching.  All in all I found it a somewhat average chapter with an absolutely wonderful concluding summary (pg. 264).  


He writes, “What is the rule then?  It is: be natural; forget yourself; be so absorbed in what you are doing and in the realization of the presence of God, and in the glory and the greatness of the Truth that you are preaching, and the occasion that brings you together, that you are taken up by all this that you forget yourself completely.”

The Church God blesses (pt 6)

Why type of external things do people typically point to when determining whether or not a church is successful and blessed of God?  They often point to a churches’ facilities or the lack their of.  They point to all the programs a church puts on throughout the year.  They point to the size of the congregation (bigger being more blessed).  They identify the people that actually make up the churches’ congregation (do they have prominent community members attending there church?).  Yet when you read through the New Testament those things are never mentioned when evaluating the spiritual health of a congregation.  How shocking!

 

I acknowledge that this series of posts could have been written by any Christian.  It’s not as if any of my points are super insightful or deep.  Here is the good news.  God loves to bless His children and thankfully He has laid out what He wants His Church to be very clearly.  You just read the Word and it is right in front of you.  That leads me to wonder how so many congregations can miss that which is so plain and obvious?

 

God blesses Churches that are (#5) Spirit-filled and Spirit-led.

 

One of the Ascension gifts of the Resurrected Savior is the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 1:8 Jesus says to his disciples,  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…At conversion every Believer receives the Holy Spirit (He’s the down payment if you will of our future inheritance, note also Ephesians 4:30). 

 

Galatians 5 exhorts us to walk in the Spirit and to be filled w/the Spirit in effort to live a Christ-centered life.  As a church body we must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, which at minimum, means committing ourselves to prayer and to the Word (Acts 2:42)!  The early Church in Acts was blessed by God for lots of reasons. It’s clear to me they were Spirit-filled and Spirit led and were used mightily by God.  

 

Next, God blesses Churches that are (#6) dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission

 

When is the last time you invited someone to your home church?  When was the last time you shared the gospel with someone who isn’t a Christian?  One of the main reasons why Jesus gave us His Spirit was to fulfill this purpose. Acts 1:8, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

 

Our God is a global-minded God therefore we should be global-minded Christians.  As you know, Missions is about 4 basic things: 1. Giving; 2. Sending (Acts 13); 3. Praying; 4. Going (Mt 28).

 

1 Peter 2:9  adds this layer, But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  One of the reasons why God saves people is so they can declare His majesty and greatness to the nations.  The gospel is the power of God until salvation and faith comes by hearing; so how will people hear that message without faithful preachers?!? (note the progression in Romans 1-10).

 

God may not be calling you to China but He is interested in you living out our faith in Freeport, Ill or wherever you might live.  Personal evangelism is not just for evangelists & missionaries!  It’s an individual responsibility and a corporate obligation.  Some churches that are really strong in in-reach are really weak in outreach.  I believe that God still blesses Churches that are (#6) dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission. 

The Peril of Systematic Expository Preaching on Special Occasions

About once a year I encounter a preaching dilemma related to a special day on the American calendar and the text that comes next in our sermon series. Last Sunday was just such an example. We’re in the book of Nehemiah and last Sunday was chapter three. I struggle to imagine a more challenging text to preach through at any time (save maybe chapter seven of Nehemiah) and having to preach it on Mother’s day was even more daunting.

Unlike some of the other ET authors who schedule their sermons out months in advance, I don’t do this very well. I’ve tried, it just always ends up changing so much I usually scrap it. I also readily admit that I’m not a big fan of special occasion preaching. I know people come with expectations of me saying great things about mom or dad on their special days, but my experience has taught me that if I emphasize one group on a special day, I’ll likely ignore someone else on their special day and end up insulting them unwittingly.

This past Sunday, maybe against wise counsel, I pressed on into Nehemiah three for Mother’s day. Quite a few in the congregation gave me a puzzled look as I began and the PowerPoint showed Nehemiah 3 as the text. Taking the queue from Nehemiah himself, I have to say that, “the good hand of my God was upon me.” I won’t sugar coat this thing, preaching a text that lists records of names and hanging wodden gates is challenging, preaching it on Mother’s day is up hill, both ways in the snow. BUT! Here is the lesson I learned and I trust will be an encouragement to you in your sermon preparation and preaching.

I believe it is those moments that cast us, as preachers, into a place of humility and dependence that might escape us as we get in our exegetical ruts. I was forced out of my normally neat propositional box this past Sunday, but in so doing I really believe that God allowed me to broaden my preaching in general. I was also not able to nuance a lot of things because there is not a lot to nuance in this text. Oh sure, you can go on and on about the kinds of refuse the Jews collected at the Refuse Gate, but honestly, how helpful is that?

Instead, I was forced to take a larger section text that I am normally comfortable taking and to do the hard work of prayerfully finding principles with in a text that seems like a Fort Knox of exegetical gold. I can’t recall praying more for a sermon and honestly, depending less on commentaries. It was me, my Hebrew text, BW 7.0 and lots of time with God. It was invigorating.

How did it go? Only God knows. Thankfully there were no rotten tomatoes thrown and a few encouraging comments. What I am especially thankful for is that God used this challenging text on a very special day to renew my confidence and dependence on him in the preaching enterprise. It forced me to work hard and pray harder. Maybe it was not the best Mother’s day sermon possible, but in the end it made me a more humble preacher and I know that will be a blessing to our church in the long run.

Men, don’t shy away from the challenging texts, even on those special days. I believe it can be a place where God deepens your faith and dependence on him in your preaching.

Press on!

The Church God blesses (Pt 5)

Which leads us to #4.  God blesses Churches that faithfully practice the Biblical ordinances.

 

There are lots of places that mention baptism and communion, but let’s start in Matthew 28:18-20;   And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Of course you know the main imperative in this text is to make disciples which is supported by 3 participles (Go to them, baptize them, & teach them).  Believer’s baptism is a NT Ordinance.  It’s an outward symbol of inward faith in Christ.  When someone is drawn to Jesus they should be instructed from the Scriptures with reference to baptism (it’s the first step of obedience for genuine believers, etc, etc).

 

The Lord’s Supper (or Communion) is the other N.T. church ordinance-  In Luke 22:19-20 , Jesus  took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

 

1 Cor 11:23ff instructs us that Communion is an opportunity for the church to remember.  As humans we’re prone to wander and forget.  “So lest we forget Gethsemane, lest we forget Thy love for thee, lest we forgot thy love for thee, led me to Calvary.”  We should do this in remembrance of the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.

 

The Lord’s Table also gives the Church a chance to rejoice.  Christ died for our sins once for all; the just for the unjust. It’s also an occasion for us to examine ourselves and to confess our sins.  Paul offers a caution in 1 Corinthians 11 that should lead us to faithfully examine our hearts and our lives before God.  1 Corinthians 11:26 notes, For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

 

(#4)  God blesses Churches that faithfully practice the Biblical ordinances.

What type of Church does the Lord love to bless? (pt 4)

God blesses Churches that are #3 Committed to personal and corporate holiness.

 

If you’re familiar with your Bible you know that God is a God of holiness! (Is 6)  He is perfectly set apart from sin…in a league all of His own!  It’s a tragedy so many people today try and bring God down to make Him more relatable or politically correct.

 

When God saved you and I He called us to become who we are in Him.  He declared us to be something we were not (righteous) on the basis of Christ’s life and death (2 Cor. 5:20-21).  We receive this alien righteousness through faith in Christ.  Of course we realize soon after our conversion that practically we still struggle with indwelling sin (read Romans 7).  Positionally we are righteous, but practically we are in process of becoming who we are in Him.

 

1 Peter 1:15-16, But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  God wants us to be holy people.  To be set apart from our fallen culture.  To be holy as He is holy.

 

God wants His Church to be set apart from the world too-Note Ephesians 5:25-27  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

 

In light of texts like these Christ’s bride should take sin seriously!  In fact, it was Jesus Christ who instituted what many today call “church discipline”.

 

For time sake I can only reference Matthew 18:15-20.  In this text we find that professing Christians (who won’t repent of clear cut sins) should be humbly confronted.…And the final step in the Church discipline process is to put an unrepentant (professing) Christian out of the church. 

 

What are some of the reasons why Jesus instituted “church discipline”?

 

1) Because if a church wants to remain blessed of God she must be committed to cooperate and personal holiness (And a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough, 1 Cor 5:6).

 

2) The ultimate goal of this process is restoration (not discipline per say).

 

3) For the sake of the churches’ testimony and for the sake of evangelism  (note the outcome of Acts 5)

 

4. Because Christ wants His Church to be holy and chaste!

 

Now if any of this sounds a bit over the top let me encourage you to read the following real life stories:

 

A) Nadab and Abihu (Lev 10)

B) the story of Uzzah (1 Chron 13)

C) Isaiah’s vision (Is. 6)

D) Ananias and Sappira (Acts 5)

E) the Corinthian church saga (1 Cor 5)

 

All that to say, God still blesses Churches that: #1  Rightly identify and worship the Lord Jesus Christ that #2 Submit themselves entirely to the Bible; & that are #3 Committed to personal and corporate holiness.

For goodness sake…

For goodness sake…can’t the church be more gracious to their pastors? 

I talked with a couple friends last week that shared similar heartaches.  One is a layman and the other is a pastor.  Both were struggling with men within the church that were trying to undermine the lead pastor.

When people within the church rise up and try and subtly take out their lead pastor what would God have you to do?  I must admit each situation must be considered on a case by case scenario.  Sometimes a pastor is given too much grace for way too long to the detriment of a local body.  But more often Diotrephes’ are allowed to run unchecked.  

One would hope that in moments like this a fellow elder or deacon would step in and defend the truth and God’s servant of the truth.  Sadly, I have heard of too many instances when this does not happen.  A Pastor is left defenseless as his congregation and his leadership team stand aloof.  

No godly Pastor wants to take up his own cause and risk the perception of being viewed as prideful or being perceived as a ‘personal kingdom builder type’.  Sometimes good men are led by God to take “the high ground.”  They’re forced out of the church without a new ministry opportunity to go to.  They choose not to have another round of debates within their leadership circle.  They just quietly leave, in fear of another Christ dishonoring church-split taking place within a particular community.

Other times godly men are led by God to humbly raise some questions with reference to their own ministries.  I think of Paul’s own example in 2 Corinthians 10-12.

The sad thing in all these cases is that Pastors are forced to make a decision in matters they never should have to agonize over.  This is where i believe sanctified and mature congregation members and especially elders and deacons should step in and intervene on behalf of their pastors.  In the words of Rob Wilkerson, “These are the kind of friends who are loyal to him (the pastor) because of their belief in the hand of God in their pastor’s life.  This was the case with at least some of those who were Saul’s companions, 1 Sam 10:26-27.”  

If some within the Corinthian church would have done this imagine what the book of 2 Corinthians might have read like?

I am qualified to write this post because by God’s grace I’m not speaking to my own situation.  I grieve however when i hear about fellow ministers of the gospel being forced into situations when they must choose between either defending themselves and their ministries or picking up their Bibles and going somewhere else.   It’s in this context i ask: For goodness sake, can’t the church be gracious to their pastors?

Answered Prayers

After much prayer I have accepted the First Baptist Church of Freeport’s call and will serve as their next Senior Pastor.  Thank you so much for your prayers!  Andrea and I are very excited to start this new chapter in our ministry lives.

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