Sunday, March 29, 2009

Scared of What?

I mentioned that this morning's sermon (commentary found here) was one I had both anticipated and dreaded at the same time. I also mentioned a couple of times that the sermon was a little scary. Judging from the [very gracious] comments made on the way out the door, it seems like I ought to clarify what I meant.

I do not fear losing "my job."

    a) I don't have a job.
Now don't get me wrong. I work. I work hard on the work in the Word of God and I receive double honor for it. But it isn't a job, it's a calling. There's a BIG difference.
    b) Grace is not that kind of place.
God has gifted our church with a hunger and thirst for righteousness. It may not always be easy to hear, but God has graciously marked our church with a humility to receive His Word. (And since our church doesn't vote, and I KNOW our elders stand behind the truth, being "run out" is not really a concern.)
    c) There is a "fall out plan."
Even if the shocker of the world happened and I was dismissed from my church (it did happen to this guy), I trust that the Lord would provide me a job and also eventually a pulpit. I would be heartbroken to leave the greatest church in the world, but I've been called to preach the gospel, and I trust that God would continue to provide opportunities.

So, what does concern me?
Here are some things I've been praying the Lord protect us from:
Someone is bound to misunderstand what I said. I do believe there are genuine Christians in the Roman Catholic system and in the German Baptist Fellowship. However, I do not believe either church preaches the gospel. Inevitably, people will misunderstand that. Some will think I am saying that every German Baptist or Roman Catholic is going to hell. Others will think I was saying the differences aren't that big a deal because people can go to heaven out of those systems anyway. Either way, I'll be misunderstood.
A few people told me that they are going to have some conversations with some Roman Catholic friends/family soon. While this can be a perfect application of the message, provided it is done with love and concern for their soul, it can be disastrous if done out of judgement or mere church attendance is the goal. We want unbelievers to get saved and believers to remain strong in their faith. Souls are the goal, not filled seats.
Similarly, some may think the purpose of this sermon is simply church growth. It's not secret that we've seen a lot of "curious German Baptists" in the last couple years. I was not trying to push people over the edge that were visiting. (In fact, from my observation, it was a relatively low week for Brethren.) I meant what I said. If a person is in the Roman system, the German Baptist church, a liberal protestant church or even a Grace Brethren Church that is participating in silliness and neglecting the bold, weekly proclamation of the gospel, the person/family needs to leave and never go back. I didn't say they have to come to Greenville Grace. But they need to find a gospel preaching church. (I have a list I've passed out to people before.)
    Misdirected zeal
Quite frankly, I had a concern that some people would like the sermon too much. Sermons that directly call out specifics can sometimes lend toward self-righteousness or works orientation for the hearer. Our hearts are inclined to what I should do instead of what I should be. A sermon that simply tells people not to be in a false religion--or to lovingly pursue those who are--is not enough.
    Misaligned Affections
There was a church that was planted by the best church planter ever. After he moved on, the church was pastored by very capable men. The church succeeded at weeding out false doctrine and driving out heretics for many, many years. But Jesus was not pleased with the church. Quite honestly, this is where I fear my failures the most. I do not want to preach with the goal of preserving good doctrine. I want to preach good doctrine for the sake of loving Christ. The goal from this morning's sermon was not simply to walk out of church with a new checklist to use when evaluating doctrine. The goal is that we would all see that all have sinned and the only means to our salvation is through Jesus Christ our Lord! Worthy is the Lamb who saved me, when I didn't deserve it!

The "results" of the sermon are not really up to me. But these concerns can be used by the Lord to refine my speaking. This morning's sermon was far from perfect, but Lord willing, the Spirit will use it anyway. In fact, if the success of the sermon were up to me, now that would be scary!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Is Your Gospel Judgmental?

In a world where preachers are rethinking content and style, Peter reminds us:

In {all} this, they are surprised that you do not run with {them} into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign {you;} but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to {the} {will of} God.--1 Peter 4:4-6

In our age, pastors are begging their people to live more like the world. Completely ignoring statements by Jesus, they panic that the world does not seem to like us. Perhaps we need to let our hair down, live a little more loosely and show the world that we are just like them.

But we are not just like them. We are alive in Christ, they are dead in their sin. How can they be called out of sin when we are choosing to participate with them.

I'm not suggesting overly controversial, loveless condemnation of others. We don't need to condemn, they are condemned already. However, when they start to feel the weight of that condemnation, they will more than likely lash out at us first.

How sad, then, when the pastor immediately tries to alleviate that condemnation. He is not helping God along, by recovering the relationship, but is actually outside the will of God.

Whether in the classroom, the workplace or even a pulpit...Preach on! Preach the gospel with love and grace and truth and live according to it. And when people accuse you of being narrow-minded or judgmental, praise God that the message is getting through! And pray for the person, perhaps this is the sign of God calling the person to Himself.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Book Review: Why Johnny Can't Preach

Why Johnny Can't Preach
The Media Have Shaped the Messengers
by T. David Gordon
©2009, P&R Publishing
108 pages

Though I knew nothing of the author, nor had I heard anything of the book, I decided to add it to my shopping cart while shopping online. The author explained that his title is to emulate the "Why Johnny Can't Series" (books on writing, reading, branding, etc.), but also liked the title because "Johnny" can be gender neutral. He does not state if he is complementarian, but rather presents it as if it does not matter. It seems that the author would rather avoid theological controversies.

General Flow

It's probably easiest to refer to this book in three sections:

First Section
As logic would dictate, Gordon first lays out his case that Johnny can't preach. Gordon not only offers personal anecdotes and statistics, he also states that it is typical to hear of a "good pastor" who isn't really able to preach, but carries his ministry with many other things. It is much, much rarer to hear of a "good pastor" who's people say, "You know, he isn't that gifted at many things, but he can at least preach." (I'd have to agree whole-heartedly with this statement.) Gordon even speculates that less than 30% of ordained ministers can even preach a mediocre sermon.

Gordon also appeals to Dabney's Lectures on Sacred Rhetoric to develop a litmus for good preaching. (I found this section quite helpful.)

Second Section
The reason Gordon tied in with the "Johnny Can't" Series becomes more clear as he makes his point that since most pastors can't read carefully today, the pastor is left with such a shallow working of the language, that his preaching is bound to suffer. Gordon suggests that since most read all literature as if it is a newspaper (just looking for high points or certain words instead of reading each word deliberately), many pastors prepare their sermons by simply looking for particular phrases or word studies.

He next suggests that a pastor's inexperience in writing causes him to slip into bad communication patterns. In the days of handwritten letters as a primary exchange, authors had to think of a sentence before they put it to paper. This forced the person to formulate a flow and structure (at least in his head) just to be adequately prepared. When this discipline faded, Gordon suggests that the preacher began to struggle with well spoken sentences.

To be honest, Gordon struck me as some sort of elitist antique. He didn't just recommend reading over television, but called for the reading of pre-World War I verse. He not only encourages handwritten letters (the backspace key just allows for too much laziness in preparation), but repeatedly scolds against the babbling that the telephone promotes. While this theme certainly fits his subtitle for the book (and thus, I should not have been surprised), it felt a bit like Gordon was simply calling the pastor to return to 1840 to be able to preach well.

Furthermore, I have no desire (nor ability) to be sophisticated. It does not seem the answer to preaching was oration or poetry. Didn't Paul deliberately avoid sophistication when speaking to those in Corinth. Wasn't the real power of preaching not found in the secular solutions, but in preaching Christ?

I almost set the book down unfinished...

Final Section
...I'm so glad I kept reading!

Gordon begins this section by telling the reader his intention was to keep the preaching discussion generic, hopefully avoiding all "hot topic" issues. However, Gordon finds himself compelled to share on some non-negotiable content issues. At this point, my eyes open wider. "What is Gordon (who I assumed I would find myself on another end of the spectrum on multiple issues) going to tackle in regard to content?" I wondered. To my delight, Gordon does not address the "what" of content, but the "Who."

Gordon presents four possible types of sermons that preachers preach today:

Moralism--"Whenever the fundamental purpose of the sermon is to improve the behavior of others, so that Christ in His redemptive office is either denied or largely overlooked, the sermon is moralistic." (p 80)

How-To--"Unlike moralism, it [How-To sermons] expends less time describing what one ought to do, and more time how to go about doing it...I would love to challenge the how-to preacher to preach a sermon on 'How a Leopard Can Change His Spots,' since, biblically, this is as easily done as a sinner's changing his ways...It is worse than Pelegianism because it doesn't even accept the burden of attempting to prove that the will is morally unencumbered by original sin; it assumes this heresy from the outset." (p 82)

Introspection--"Some of the neo-Puritans have apparently determined that the purpose and essence of Christian preaching is to persuade people that they do not, in fact, believe...And it is absolutely debilitating to be told again and again that one does not have faith when one knows perfectly well that one does have faith, albeit weak and imperfect. (p 83,84)

Social Gospel/So-Called Culture War--"...the Christian pulpit is devoted to commenting on what's wrong with our particular culture, and what ought to be done to improve it, either by individuals or (worse) by the coercive powers of the government...So the one inadmissible thing to a culture warrior (that cultural change is out of our hands) is the basic subtext of everything the Bible teaches." (p 85, 86)

Gordon reviews many of the resources he has quoted before. In fact, he goes back to Dabney, and shows how a Christ-centered sermon was the assumption. At one point, Gordon states:

Such Christological preaching feeds the soul and builds faith. Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has the exact opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with out culture. Faith is built by careful thorough exposition of the person, character, and the work of Christ.
Ultimately, I'm not sure how helpful handwritten letters and poetry readings can be for pastors and their congregations. Even if it does refine the preacher's message, if the congregation is not reading such material, could he still struggle to connect with them?

However, I do know this: Seeking to preach Christ from all of Scripture will not only benefit the congregation, it will grow the pastor as well.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

James MacDonald: Exalting Grace?

On sharing that preaching is not what we preach, but who we preach. MacDonald then openly confessed:

I have to acknowledge that this has been a point of growth for me. Early on in my own ministry, I thought, Well, it just needs to be Word centered. Aren't you glad this is a place where I am growing too? And several years ago, a lady who used to sit over in this section, wrote me a letter. It wasn't the nicest letter I've received, but I needed to hear what she said. I had just preached on a passage, I think it was in Titus, and I was talking about the roles of men and women. And I said, This is how a woman is to participate in the leadership of the home. This is the role that God has appointed for a man. I challenged people and called them to that and then closed in prayer. And she wrote me a letter and said, You know, James, I could have heard that same message in a mosque. I could have heard that same message in a synagogue. And I don't remember her exact words, but her point was this: All roads in preaching lead to the cross. And at the end of the day, whatever the passage that were studying, there is no capacity to put that into practice without the life of Christ in me. And we're not just some horizontal do-good society. We're people with God's Word. But listen, the fuel to do what it says is Jesus Christ, Himself! Romans chapter five says, "Having been enemies with God, we have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son, and now, having been reconciled, we are being saved by His life." It's the life of Christ in us. And so I just committed myself at that point, that not a Sunday would ever go by, not a service would ever go by, when I wouldn't tell people about the God who loves them so much that He sent His Son. And if we would turn from our sin, and embrace Christ by faith, we could know God's forgiveness. God wants that message sended forth every time we open our mouths. And that is the focus of preaching.
I praise God for James humility to listen to this woman. It would have been easy for him to dismiss her as ignorant.

And I also praise God, that like James, Greenville Grace is a place where I am growing too!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Most Blessed Pastor

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.--2 Corinthians 5:18-21

I don't deserve to be a child of God. I do not deserve to be entrusted with the gospel message. I do not deserve the privilege of being an undershepherd. And I do not deserve to be born and live to see this time.

John MacArthur recently shared why he is encouraged:

[Rick Holland] What encourages you most about the future of exposition, and what discourages you the most as you look at the up and coming generation?

[John MacArthur] Well...I have to tell you that I am greatly encouraged. You know, we opened "the vault" at Grace to You [all mp3's are now free]. That was ridiculous.

[RH] What were the statistics of the first weekend or month...

[JM] Listen, just to put it into perspective, my thought was...we had a $3 deal where you could download a sermon on mp3...$3. We did four thousand a month. So that's $12,000 a month, $144,000 a year. We kind of thought, if people want it, they'll pay for it, and it will have value to them. And then we finally realized, people are getting stuff for free, they're getting bad stuff free. They're getting almost everything free. Why don't we just make it all free? It went from 4,000 a month [downloads], so far, we're in about the fourth month, to a million a month.

So, the great conclusion is, people preach what's free! That's scary. So if that's what they are going to preach, we got to get it to them free. [on the audio, these sentences are clearly tongue in cheek]

No, but it has removed the barriers. So my response: I literally, in one month went from wondering if anybody cared about Bible exposition, to being absolutely thrilled about how many people must be doing biblical exposition...because there is no other reason to be downloading that stuff. It's stunning! Al Mohler and I were talking about it yesterday, the young generation is coming up literally owning reformed theology and Bible exposition. I promise you, that is what is happening to the young generation. These older ministers and pastors who aren't into Bible exposition and aren't into sound reformed theology are not capturing the young generation. They are not capturing them.

MacArthur then went on to explain that the older he gets, the younger his congregation gets.

I see what MacArthur is saying, but I also see more. I must say that this is one other reason why I believe I am blessed beyond measure to pastor at Greenville Grace. I love our people. It has been a thrill to see younger generations respond to the church's ministry [we recently added a third nursery, and it really isn't enough!], but God has given us this opportunity without sacrificing the "older generations" (wince...who really wants to be labeled like that?).

I preached a heavy, hard sermon this week (you really have no other choice when God is killing people), but did not have to fear whether the congregation would listen and receive it. I do not face pressure that the church does not want to hear the Word. I told someone this week, "It's so nice to know I am at a church that would get rid of me if I chose NOT to preach the Word."

I love you all, and don't want any of us to take it lightly. He is the One who causes us to "hunger and thirst for righteousness." We have not done that work on our own. He's really doing an amazing thing here at Grace. But not just at Grace, but around the globe as well!

I truly do not deserve to shepherd at a church where people of all generations crave the Word of God.

Establish Your word to Your servant, As that which produces reverence for You.--Psalm 119:38

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tom Pennington: Exulting Grace?

Tom Pennington has served as the senior pastor of Countryside Bible Church in Southlake, Texas, since October 2003. His role involves teaching during Sunday services, overseeing the church staff, and serving as an elder. Before coming to Countryside, Tom served for 16 years at Grace Community Church in various roles. Most recently, he served as the Senior Associate Pastor and Personal Assistant to John MacArthur and as co-pastor of Sojourners, a Sunday-morning adult fellowship group. Before that, he was the managing director at Grace to You. Tom earned his B.A. and M.A. at Bob Jones University and served as a member of the faculty while taking additional Ph.D. classes in New Testament Interpretation. He and his wife, Sheila, have three children: Lauren, Katie, and Jessica.

Speaking at the Shepherds' Conference, Pastor Pennington made the following observations from the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians:

    1. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, we learn that the right motive is a desire to encourage our people to be loyal to Christ, rather than loyal to us.
Is it more important to you that people attach to you--to your group--to your movement--or to have the loyal to Jesus Christ?
    2. In the second paragraph, it runs from 1 Corinthians 1:18 through the end of the chapter, we learn that we must have a desire to elevate the glory of God in the gospel, rather than our own glory.
You want people to think of you as intelligent, as cultured, as elite, as educated, or are you content to be thought of as foolish, and weak and base? As despised as a nothing and a nobody so that God gets all the glory.
    3. In chapter 2:1-16, we learn that we must have a desire to promote the wisdom of God in the Word of God, rather than our own cleverness.
Paul says that's exactly how he came in the early part of chapter 2. Let me ask you, are you concerned that people think you are cool, that you are edgy and clever, or are you more concerned that their faith rest in the power of God? Jon Piper was right the first time when he said, "You can exalt your own cleverness and the glory of God at the same time." Do you want the people who hear you to be more impressed with your mind, or with the mind of Christ. Are you more concerned that people leave your church saying, "What a great preacher!" or "What a great God!"?
    4. In chapter 3:1-9, we find that we must have a desire to magnify the work of God, rather than our own accomplishments.
Do you constantly remind yourself and others that you are just a worker? God's the One Who is doing the growing. That your abilities are a gift from God? That your specific ministry, the place where you're serving, is a gift of God's grace to you? And that the results of your efforts are also a gracious gift of God's providence in your life? Or do you try instead to elevate your own accomplishments?

Pennington shared these thoughts in the midst of describing the materials which may be wood, hay and straw, as opposed to gold, silver and precious stones. A man may claim he is a christian preacher. He may even open his Bible and speak out of text written in it. Yes, he may even systematically walk his way through a book(s) of the Bible. But if Christ is not glorified by celebrating the gospel on every page Scripture, then it will burn up at the final judgement.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Modest Preaching

It seems like many Christians are compelled to prove to non-believers that we are not prudes nor stuck in the mud.

In churches, pastors and believers seem to think that speaking on sex will somehow earn the respect of non-believers who already live in a sex-saturated culture.

Now surely, sex is a wonderful gift from God our Father to us that is to be enjoyed between a husband and wife within covenant relationship. In fact, it is most glorifying to God when it is enjoyable for the members of the marital relationship. However, this does not negate that the topic should be spoken of honorably. Not just for the sake that sex should be honored, but even more so for the fact that our wife should be honored:

You husbands in the same way, live with {your wives} in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.--1 Peter 3:7
It seems to me that if we would not want our wife to dress in such a way that causes men to picture her intimately, we should be careful not to speak of intimacy in ways that causes them to picture her in their mind. We should do all we can to not just tell the world sex is fun (they already know that), but proclaim that it--and more importantly, our wife--is to be greatly honored.

Clowney on Christ

If the Old Testament is to point to Christ, does that mean we can learn from the successes (and failures) of the men and women recorded?

When we're given examples, they are examples of faith. Not primarily faithfulness, but faith. But then, as people of faith, their faithfulness comes into view. And I think Hebrews 11 is an example of that. It's a list of heroes, not of people who triumphed on their own strength. It's people who were believers. It's in a chapter about faith. So it is important to remember, they become examples to us, not in their own strength, but as they were believers and were trusting in God.--Dr. Edmund P Clowney*

*from "Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World"--Reformed Theological Seminary Seminar Lectures; Edmund Clowney & Timothy Keller; Session 3, Q&A; minute 8:35

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Judah, Tamar & Priestly Ordination

Christ glorified by celebrating the Gospel on every page of Scripture.

Every page of Scripture...

This seems to be the stumbling block for many. Is it possible to preach Christ and the gospel from every page of Scripture? What about passages that do not have any apparent typology? What about passages that seem to be simply stating historical events?

While the following two are flawed examples, if you are asking these questions, I hope these serve as examples that I am not talking about weird typology or every passage serving as nothing more than an evangelism crusade message:

Judah & Tamar (Genesis 38)

Ordination of Priests (Leviticus 8 & 9)

[If you want a brief summary, simply read the introduction, exposition and conclusion sections and skip the commentary section.]

Friday, March 6, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Signs of the Apocalypse

I passed these three signs yesterday. (Church names have been replaced to protect the guilty. There is no correspondence between the church and its replacement name.)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Humility received

David Mohler puts me in my place.

Now why wouldn't Charity go out with me in jr/sr high?

Sermoneutics update

Recently, our church had to postpone a course due to the lack of interest. Initially, we were presenting the "sermoneutics" class the same way; if there was enough interest, we'd do it, if not, we'd postpone.

As of right now, there are nine men signed up for the class, and we do not foresee postponing it. If you are interested, you have until this Sunday to sign up.