Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How God's Sovereignty Impacts the Pulpit and Preaching.

Few doctrines impact the preacher and the task of expository preaching more than the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. But before presenting the many ways this truth impacts the Word preached one first needs to define this eternal attribute of God.

 In his systematic theology Wayne Grudem identifies sovereignty as “God’s exercise of power over creation.”[1] The Prophet Jeremiah says to God, “nothing is too hard for You” (Jer. 32:17).  The angel Gabriel reminds Mary, “With God nothing is impossible” (Luke 1:37), while Jesus Himself adds, “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

Because God is God he can do “whatever He pleases (Ps. 115:3).” And whatever God wills to happen will happen.[2] Or as R.C. Sproul puts it, “God owns what He makes, and He rules what he owns.”[3] In short, God has the right and the authority and the power to do whatever He so desires. He is the sovereign Creator and Lord of heaven and earth (Psalm 146:6; Acts 17:24; Rev. 4:1-11).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Expository Preaching: the Natural Overflow of Biblical Inerrancy

What is biblical inerrancy and how does this doctrinal conviction impact one’s pulpit ministry? 

An inerrantist is someone who believes that the holy Scriptures are divinely inspired and that the original manuscripts of Scripture are free from error.[1] 

 “Inerrancy is the claim that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be without error in all that they affirm to the degree of precision intended, whether that affirmation relates to doctrine, history, science, geography, geology, etc.”[2]

Because the ultimate author of Scripture is the Spirit of truth (see John 16:12-15) we can have complete confidence that God’s Word is pure and perfect (see Psalms 19; 119).  The apostle Peter put it like this, “And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:19-21).  A perfect God could only produce a perfect revelation.

Monday, November 23, 2015

"Peace if Possible, Truth at All Costs"

It was Martin Luther who once said, "Peace if possible, truth at all costs."  Sadly, this reformation quote is counter-cultural today even among the people of truth.  The new mantra for Christians and church leaders is "truth if possible, peace at all costs."

Yet it was Jesus who said, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the TRUTH and the TRUTH shall set you free." (John 8:31-32)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Preaching as Worship

When people ask me to describe my preaching style/emphasis I generally say Text-driven, doxological exposition.  

In other words, the primary goal of many/most of my sermons is 'wonder, love, and praise.'  In this regard the Reformers were right when they suggested that the pastor-teacher is the main 'worship leader' on the Lord's Day.

For pastors I think it would be helpful to rephrase Packer's quote this way, "Any preaching that does not lead to doxology and worship, is at a fundamental level, a flawed sermon."

Friday, November 20, 2015

Shallow Preaching Robs the Saints of Spiritual Riches.

After 95 expository sermons through the first 16 chapters of John's signature gospel the flock at First Baptist finally reached John 17 (the "beloved" chapter in this "beloved" Gospel).  People in our Christian community have suggested to some of our members that it's a mistake to take so much time to study one Gospel or book of the Bible.  Is this a valid criticism?  Should we adopt the preaching methodology of the larger congregations in town?  Are the masses correct?

As I evaluate the evangelical landscape both near and far it seems to me that verse-by-verse preaching is now passé- even in churches that once said they were committed to this methodology. For a season, verse-by-verse, book-by-book, line upon line, precept upon precept (expository) preaching was the flavor of the day in the American evangelical church- those days are gone. I believe the "Young, Restless, Reformed movement will experience a similar fate (when TULIP is no longer trendy and is therefore discarded), but now I digress.

Lighter, "surfacey", sentimental, overview type messages have taken the place of meaty, doctrinal, doxological, text-driven expositions.  I always find it quite ironic that people who say they love listening to Alistair Begg, Paul Washer and John MacArthur on the radio remain at churches where they are being feed more milk than meat, but that's a subject for another blog post.

While reading a selection of sermons from the greatest preacher in the twentieth century (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones) I observed that Lloyd-Jones himself took an entire year to preach through John 17 alone.  In his commentary the good doctor writes, "We claim that we are so busy that we have not the time to read/study.  We know our forefathers used to read the doctrines, but we have not got the time.  We want it all in a nutshell, and we want to go through the whole gospel of John in one address.  We want a bird's eye view of the whole Bible, and the result is that we miss the doctrine.  But here it is displayed, and because God has displayed it to us here, it is our duty to study it, in order that we may find some of the great possibilities that lie open to us.  It is a tragedy that we tend to live as paupers in the spiritual realm, when God means us to be princes.  But, above all, we study in order that we may assert confidence and a certainty and a steadfastness in our Christian lives." (MLJ, p. 44)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Choosing Your Church: The Ten Things that Matter Most

Choosing your church: The Ten Things that Matter Most
(by Joshua Harris, from Stop Dating the Church: Fall In Love With the Family of God; chapter 5).

Charles Spurgeon: “Do not go where it is all fine music and grand talk and beautiful architecture; those things will neither fill anybody’s stomach, nor feed his soul. Go where the gospel is preached, the gospel that really feeds your soul, and go often.”

What to look for in a local church?  The Ten Things that Matter Most:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Danger of Avoiding Difficult Texts and Doctrines

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When is the last time you heard a really thorough sermon on hell/eternal perdition (Luke 16:19-31, Rev. 20:11-15); marriage, divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19); biblical church discipline (1 Corinthians 5/Mt. 18:15-17); Divine reprobation (Romans 9-10); the Titus 2 mandate (esp. Titus 2:5); the wonder of God's sovereign/unconditional election (Ephesians 1); or the high cost of genuine discipleship (Luke 9:23-27; 14:25-35)?  For some of you its been a long time.

Even among American evangelical churches controversial passages/doctrines (like the sample list above) seem to be neglected with increasing frequency.  To make matters worse quite a few ministries that teach the Scriptures faithfully do not apply the Scriptures consistently (application is often where the rubber really meets the road in the local church).  Am I willing to apply the Scriptures even when it is going to cost me/us something? (Be it your reputation is slandered in the community; disgruntled members church hop to another ministry that will "do church" the way they want it done; your church budget decreases; etc, etc). In reading the pastoral epistles carefully it is crystal clear that Biblical ministry is not for the weak of faith (see Acts 16:13; 2 Timothy 2-3; Joshua 1:8-9)!

How does this slide happen?  It often takes place when verse-by-verse preaching is abandoned as the main diet of the church.  One of the chief dangers about thematic and topical preaching (or "surfacey exposition") is that preachers are able to skip around and avoid passages of Scripture that are deemed too controversial or just not 'applicable' to modern man (contra 2 Timothy 3:15-4:5; Acts 20:20-28).   More and more preachers cater their messages/worship services to the desires of the masses (note 2 Timothy 3:15-4:1-5).  In too many instances size and money is apparently more important than biblical depth and Christian maturity (contra Col. 1:28-29; Eph 4:11-16; Heb. 5:12-14).  

Mark Dever highlights one of the reasons why this approach to ministry (though subtle) is so dangerous.  Avoiding the doctrine of hell (or any other biblical doctrine) is just one step away from denying it altogether.

"Our Greatest Danger as Christians is ______ "

The late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once wrote, "Our greatest danger--indeed I feel it is my greatest danger-- is to read the Scriptures too generally instead of looking into them, listening to every phrase, taking hold of every utterance, asking questions concerning every statement.  Everyone of these statements in Scripture has a profound and rich meaning if we but take the trouble to look for them."

When I examine the professing evangelical Church in my own hometown and speak with pastors from around the country it is clear to me that many Christian ministries today are a mile wide and an inch deep.  In this vein, shallow, "surfacy" Bible study has become the norm rather than the exception.   As in the Old Testament it is"like people, like priests (Hosea 4:9)."  Apparently meaty, text-driven exposition repels too many "seekers" and church consumers (members); so a great number of preachers have adopted 25 minute sermonettes for Christianettes in order to keep their consumers happy.  Superficial church growth is often more important than making "mature disciples."

This problem is nothing new (see Hebrews 5:12-14).  (A.W Tozier and Al Mohler, among many other church leaders  have made very similar observations).   Tragically, biblical illiteracy defines a large percentage of American evangelicals today.  I take issue with this "surfacy approach" to Scripture because it is clearly out of step with Jesus' "Great Commission" (Matthew 28:18-20- teach them to observe ALL that I have commanded you) and with the apostle's Spirit-directed philosophy of ministry (Col. 1:28-29- We proclaim Him...that we might present EVERY person mature in Christ).  How can we expect church members to dig deeply into the infinite riches of Scripture when very few preachers model this from the pulpit?

I have long said that I learned how to study the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15), and in some ways to teach the Scriptures, before I attended my first seminary class.   When it comes to good bible study methods 'as much is caught as is taught.'  My pastors John MacArthur, Rick Holland, Jerry Wragg, Ken Ramey, Phil Johnson, and Kent Kolstad modeled how the approved workmen handles the Word of truth. They set an example for us to follow (1 Cor. 11:1).

When the majority of Christian preachers today teach the Word of God in a general (surfacy) way should we surprised when the flock views the Daily Bread as a five course meal?  God help us all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Golden Chain of Salvation

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The Divine Chain of Salvation (Romans 8:29-30)

“Not long ago I received a call from an editor of a Christian paper, who receives our Believers Bible Bulletins from a member of the church here. The editor is a member of a denomination that believes in a generally Arminian approach to biblical teaching. For example, he does not accept the doctrine of unconditional election, or election grounded in the sovereign good pleasure of God, just as we have been expounding it in this article. Nor does he believe in the perseverance of the saints, or the security of the believer in Christ. And yet, in spite of this, he occasionally prints our studies in his paper, apparently thinking that they might do his readers good, even though free grace is stressed. It was on a Saturday afternoon when he called me, and I was in our family room without a Bible before me. He introduced himself over the telephone and explained what he did with the studies. But he had a bit of a problem, he said. In the study on John 6:34–40, which he wanted to use in his paper, there were some strong words on sovereign grace and divine election. He told me that there was one particular paragraph that, if I did not mind, he would like to eliminate from the study, because it might be offensive to his readers. It was a paragraph in which I had cited John Calvin and had added some words myself. I asked him to read the paragraph to me, which he did, and it had to do with God’s gift of us to His Son. We discussed it for a few minutes, and then I suggested that it would be satisfactory to me for him to print the paragraph, but add a footnote to the effect that he, the editor, did not necessarily endorse all said in the paragraph. I thought that might satisfy both of us, and he agreed to do that. But then he added that He believed that those given to the Son would come, as John 6:37 says, but that there were other things that might be said about it. “I believe that those given will come to the Son,” he affirmed, but he added, “but we believe that others might also come, who had not been given.” I said to him that I did not have a Bible with me and, therefore, would he read John 6:65 over the telephone. And he read, “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” And he was wise enough to put together John 6:37,  “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me,” the sufficient condition for salvation, the divine giving, with John 6:65, “no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father,” the necessary condition for salvation, the divine giving, and then confess, “Well, that looks like an iron-clad case!” I said, “Yes, it is.” We must be given to come to Christ, and all of the given shall come. That is the divine chain of salvation.”

Article by S. Lewis Johnson (1998). Emmaus Journal, 7(2), 210–211

Monday, November 16, 2015

Three Reasons Christians Should Relish the Doctrine of Unconditional Election.

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The title of this superb article highlights the first chapter of Ephesians even though the article itself is based on Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17.  The subtitle of this S. Lewis Johnson excerpt is, Countering Arminian Objections Against Unconditional Election.

"The Purpose of This Gift (The gift of the elect given to the Son by the Father)
It demonstrates God’s sovereignty. And we should not pass on without a word or two concerning the designs of this election. First, God demonstrates His absolute sovereignty in His act of election. Proud and arrogant man cannot abide this and regularly objects. Paul in Romans 9:14, 19 offers up man’s complaints and decisively indicates the divine reply to human rebellion against the sovereign good pleasure of God. In these verses the apostle lays as the foundation of God’s counsels about man’s eternal state His sovereign will and pleasure (cf. vv. 19–23; Job 32:12–13).
The natural man, like the Arminian theologian, likes to think and say that God loved Jacob, because He foresaw that he would be a holy wrestler with God and a great believer, and that He hated Esau, because He foresaw that he would be a profane man, would sell his birthright for a mess of pottage, grieve his father with an unholy marriage, and seek to slay his brother, the holy-to-be Jacob. How contrary to Paul’s reasoning in verses ten through thirteen!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Am I One of God's Elect?

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"We need not ascend up to heaven to search the rolls of the eternal counsels.  All whom the Father hath given to Christ shall come to Christ; and not only receive Him as Priest, but give themselves up to be ruled and quickened by Him (as Lord).  By such a receiving of Christ we shall know whether we are of the number of those that are given to Christ." 
-Matthew Poole

"We are never told to wonder whether we are elect of not: we are instead told to believe in Christ to receive eternal life,
and then we are told that believers
are those chosen in eternity by
God to be given
to His Son. 
We know our
election not be peering
in God's inaccessible Book of Life
but by believing in the Lord Jesus
- Richard Phillips

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"The HOUR Has Come!"

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"Time did not force Christ to die, but Christ choose a time to die."


Friday, November 13, 2015

My Opinion Doesn't Really Matter Much And Neither Does Yours...

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"My function is very clear: I simply want to disclose to my church, in every environment, what is the mind of Christ."
— John MacArthur

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Glory of the Cross

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"In the cross, the Son manifests His perfect obedience, His infinite love for sinners, and His power over the prince of this world."  William Hendrickson
"Scripture juxtaposes, without embarrassment, God's sovereign election of certain ones to eternal life, His universal love for the world, and His condemnation of those who reject His mercy." D.A. Carson.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Pastoral PTSD (By J. A. Medders)

Pastor Medders helpful article on "Pastoral PTSD" first appeared here.  Even though our fiery reformational conflicts are now in the rearview mirror I know many pastors are still very much in the thick of it.  May His grace be perfected in our weaknesses (1 Cor. 15:58)! 

One of the things I have observed over the years is that trials and fiery conflicts are often the very best teachers. Pastors who have not gone through intense and prolonged periods of internal conflict themselves often offer unhelpful (naive) counsel to those battle weary ministers of the gospel whom God has sent to Corinth-like situation. 
Stop and reflect on this next point. Not all local church ministries are the same. Contrast the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 or compare Paul's ministry with the Philippians versus his painful experience with the Corinthians and you'll see exactly what I mean.  Some congregations treat their shepherds like esteemed servants of Christ, while others, chew up and spit out Word-driven pastors like chewing tobacco. 
But wait their is good news too! According to God's transforming grace, lukewarm, consumer-driven, and/or compromising local churches can be turned around- but often not without the loss of much blood, sweat, sleep, and tears (consider Al Mohler's personal testimony at Southern Seminary). J.A. Medders understands some of the unique challenges gospel ministry because he has clearly gone through the Refiner's fire himself. As such this article his article below is worth reading.

"Pastor Ted plops down in his peeling “leather” office chair, opens his Gmail, swigs his Coke Zero, and reads a two-sentence email from a church member: “Hey, can we meet? I’d like to talk you about something.” Depending on the state of Ted’s heart, he will either be encouraged or exhausted—maybe worried fearful of what’s about to happen.  I’ve been Pastor Ted. Have you?