Reflections on T4G – David Platt

An unusual thing happened at the Phillips’ household last night.  I was showing my wife where she could watch and listen to David Platt’s sermon online from the 2012 Together for the Gospel conference.  As I showed her how to access the vimeo video my son Gavin, who attended the conference with me, came and sat down next to us and began to watch.  A few minutes later, my daughter Deanna squeezed herself between Gavin and me, and a few minutes later our youngest son, Adam, nestled into the fray by Elia.  There we sat, our family of five, squeezed onto the couch watching David Platt’s message on “God’s Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death Defying Missions” (Note: we also have a daughter who is off at college, so we are really a family of six)

It was great to have my family listen to a sermon that faithfully expounded Revelation 5 and allowed the text to drive the message…and what a message it is!  I won’t repeat all the content, but I will give some of my reflections personally and pastorally, but here is a summary of the main points of his sermon (the full text is below, thanks to Justin Taylor):

One Overarching Truth – A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions.

Three Underlying Premises

  1. Local ministry and local missions are absolutely necessary!
  2. Global missions is tragically neglected!
  3. Pastors have the privilege and responsibility to lead the way!

Four Theological Truths – that flow out of Revelation 5

  1. Our sovereign God holds the destiny of the world in the palm of his hand.
  2. The state of man before God apart from Christ is utterly hopeless.
  3. The greatest news in all the world is that the slaughtered Lamb of God reigns as the sovereign Lord of all.
  4. The atonement of Christ is graciously, globally, and gloriously particular.

Four Practical Implications of What We Should Do – That flow out of those four Theological Truths

  1. Let us lead our churches to pray confidently (for the spread of the gospel to all peoples).
  2. Let us lead our churches to give sacrificially.
  3. Let us lead our churches to go intentionally to all peoples.
  4. Let us lead our churches to die willingly.

Now, apart from being an excellent example of homiletics and expository preaching this message moved me and others to do some genuine heart reflection in the area of missions.  Ligon Duncan reflected that he thought David Platt’s sermon was the best message on Missions he had ever heard.

Kechuan Woman in Bolivia

John Piper reflected, “This may have been the most powerful missions message I’ve ever heard. I needed to be quiet with God.”  It was true, at the end of the sermon and after the closing song there was an unusual contemplative mood.  We all had a break before another panel discussion, but there wasn’t the rushing around and haste that was common during these times, but rather hearts reflecting, talking and taking in what God had just revealed – and that continues to be the stirring of this heart!

If you know me at all you know that I have a big heart for missions.  God has gifted me with opportunities to minister in countries like Russia, Bolivia and Costa Rica.  I am passionate about teaching the nationals to do the work of the ministry and my wife, family and church has sacrificed weeks so that I could be used by God for His investment in the Kingdom of God through me.  In fact, I have been accused of loving missions too much and that my heart is not really in the local church.  So, there was so much for me that was convicting, encouraging, affirming and envisioning to muse over with God.

1. I Was Encouraged. 

I was encouraged specifically by the reminder and reinforcement of what I know to be true, that God is Sovereign and that He is the one who is driving missions throughout the World…and I simply get to be a part of what He is doing.  He doesn’t need me, but he loves me and includes me in the spreading of His Gospel throughout the world by sending me on trips where I can influence through His Word a small portion of a people group whether it is the Bashkort people of Russia – an unreached group or the Kechua Indians of Bolivia.  This has been my passion for many years.  I have taken teams, taught pastors and invested much of my time to somehow be a part and use my gifts and influence for His glory.  He is good to have allowed me the privilege of joining Him!

2. I Feel Affirmed. 

Since missions is “my” passion it often comes across as a selfish personal endeavor rather than a responsibility that I feel because I am a pastor of God’s people in the most prosperous country in the World.  David’s clear direction is that Pastors need to take lead role in sending and being sent to do missions on short term, mid term and long term ministry.  This has been my passion and will be for a number of reasons that I have articulated in the past and which Platt emphasized, but primarily because it is “God’s” passion.  Here is what I have said…

  1. God has given me an education – and I must use it for His glory
  2. God has given me a position as pastor – and I must exercise it for His glory
  3. God has given me resources – and I must use them responsibly for His kingdom and glory
  4. God has given me freedom – to take time away so that I can invest and impact another people group for His glory

Those four stewardships come with great responsibility.  To not use them in a missions context, for me, is a shirking of my responsibilities before God.  It is not that I “want” to do missions for the fun of it or for some self gratifying purpose, but that I “have” to do missions for the glory of it.  And, in doing missions I find joy because I am being faithful to Him.  So, I love to take people with me to get “missionitis” and see the glory of God at work through our meager efforts.

3. I Am Convicted. 

I am convicted that, although I have been passionate about missions, I have not done enough.  In fact, with the accusations against me I have tended to be tentative rather than bold with regard for missions.  That boldness is in no way a detraction from the ministry of the Gospel in my church or community.  I work hard to faithfully proclaim the word to the people of God as well as to stir up the church to reach their community, but I must confess that I have drifted in the intensity of my missions passion on a corporate level as a result of the fear of man whose accusations have been unfounded, yet effective to silence me.  I am ashamed to admit it, but it is true!

4. I Am Looking Ahead. 

Our church, Gateway Bible Church, is in a great place at present.  We have committed to being a strong missions minded church and are stepping out by faith to give graciously to that endeavor.  So, as a new church plant, we have the great privilege of beginning with a clean slate.  That is a true blessing as well as an opportunity to pursue an unreached people group.  We want to approach missions effectively and God is gracious to us to give us some time to investigate what that will look like.  I am excited to lead a church family in the glorious global endeavor to spread His Word to the nations.

I would highly recommend listening to the message below…

Below is the text for the sermon gleaned from Justin Taylor’s blog – I want to thank Justin for his hard work in providing this resource…

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God’s Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death Defying Missions – T4G

One Overarching Truth

A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions.

Pastors who believe that God is sovereign over all things will lead Christians to die for the sake of all peoples.

Three Underlying Premises

This will clarify where we’re going, and maybe even disarm you a bit from objections that may already be rising in your mind and your heart.

(1) Local ministry and local mission are totally necessary.

I am not saying tonight—or advocating at any point—that we should neglect local ministry, in the local church or the local community.

(2) Global missions is tragically neglected.

The northern part of Yemen has 8 million people. That’s twice the population of the entire state of Kentucky.

Do you know how many believers there are out of those 8 million people? 20 or 30.

There are more believers in a Sunday School class in your church than in all of northern Yemen.

Over 2 billion people in the world today are classified as unreached—which means more than “unsaved” but that the gospel is simply not accessible to them.

(3) Pastors have the privilege and responsibility to lead the way in global missions.

Over 6,000 people groups with over 2 billion people in them are not yet reached with the gospel. This is a problem not for mission boards and mission agencies to address—this is a problem for every pastor and every local church represented in this room to address.

Pastors, we love people in our local churches (local ministry) and we love people in our local communities (local mission) to the end that one day all peoples in all the world receive the gospel of God and revere the glory of God (global missions).

And what drives all of this—in the heart of a pastor and in the heart of a local church—is rock-solid confidence in the sovereignty of God over all things.

Revelation 5:1-14

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me,

“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Four Theological Truths in the Text

(1) Our sovereign God holds the destiny of the world in the palm of his hand.

Revelation 5:1, “I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll. . . .”

Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy:

Almighty God, just because he is almighty, needs no support.

The picture of a nervous, ingratiating God fawning over men to win their favor is not a pleasant one; yet if we look at the popular conception of God that is precisely what we see.

Twentieth-century Christianity has put God on charity. So lofty is our opinion of ourselves that we find it quite easy, not to say enjoyable, to believe that we are necessary to God. . . .

Probably the hardest thought of all for our natural egotism to entertain is that God does not need our help. We commonly represent Him as a busy, eager, somewhat frustrated Father hurrying about seeking help to carry out His benevolent plan to bring peace and salvation to the world. . . .

Too many missionary appeals are based upon this fancied frustration of Almighty God. An effective speaker can easily excite pity in his hearers, not only for the heathen but for the God who has tried so hard and so long to save them and has failed for want of support.

I fear that thousands of younger persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of.

Add to this a certain degree of commendable idealism and a fair amount of compassion for the underprivileged and you have the true drive behind much Christian activity today.

(2) The state of man before God apart from Christ is utterly hopeless.

Revelation 5:2, “I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”

The scroll contains the grand purpose of God in the world. And the silence of heaven testifies to the sinfulness of man. No one is worthy, and John is weeping. There is no hope apart from Christ.

Thomas Watson: “Thus it is in Hell; they would die, but they cannot. The wicked shall be always dying but never dead; the smoke of the furnace ascends for ever and ever. Oh! Who can endure thus to be ever upon the rack? This word ‘ever’ breaks the heart.”

George Whitfield used to speak with tears in his eyes of “the torment of burning like a livid coal, not for an instant or for a day, but for millions and millions of ages, at the end of which souls will realize that they are no closer to the end than when they first begun, and they will never, ever be delivered from that place.

The way we talk about hell—helluva game, helluva song—shows we have no idea what we’re talking about.

The state of the unreached in the world: they haven’t heard of God—and yet they have heard him and seen him.

Romans 1:18-23, “What may be known about God is plain to them because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Although they knew God, they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like birds and animals and reptiles.”

The innocent man in Africa goes to heaven—the only problem is that he doesn’t exist. There are no innocent unreached people in the world. They are guilty before God and thus they need the gospel!

There are over 2 billion people in this world at this moment whose knowledge of God is only sufficient to damn them to hell forever. But there is hope!

(3) The greatest news in all the world is that the slaughtered Lamb of God reigns as the sovereign Lord of all.

“One of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:5).

He was promised centuries ago to patriarchs of old: “the lion of the tribe of Judah . . . to whom shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10).

He is the Root of David: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him . . . and he will stand as a signal for the peoples” (Isaiah 11:1-2, 11).

“I will raise up,” declares the sovereign Lord, “for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king” (Jeremiah 23:5).

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

“Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Throughout history, from the beginning of time, men have come and men have gone, women have come and women have gone, all of them, the noblest of them, the kindest of them, the strongest of them, the greatest of them—all of them have fallen prey to sin.

All of them—every single man and every single woman—a slave to Satan.

All of them—generation after generation, century after century—every single man and every single woman succumbed to death.

But then came another man—unlike any man or woman before.

This man did not fall prey to sin; He possessed power over sin.

This man was not enslaved to Satan; He was enslaved to righteousness.

And this man did not succumb to death; He triumphed over death.

How? By suffering as a lamb.

He was marred / despised / rejected / stricken / smitten / afflicted / wounded / chastised / oppressed/ pulverized in our place—and all who hide under the banner of his blood will be saved.

The Lamb of God has not only endured death in our place; he has defeated death by his power. He bears the scars of death, yet he is sovereign over death.

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.
Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

Revelation 5:7, “He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.”

Breathtaking audacity.

Salvation through sacrifice.

The consummation of the kingdom comes through the crucifixion of God’s Son.

Jesus was “obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has exalted Him to the highest place and given Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-9).

(4) The atonement of Christ is graciously, globally, and gloriously particular.

“Four living creatures and twenty-four elders fell down and they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed/purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth’” (Rev. 5:8-10).

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has “chosen you in him before the foundation of the world, that you should be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, He predestined you to be adopted as his son through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in Him. In Him you have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of your trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on you according to His purpose. . . . In Him you have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:4-11).

Brothers and sisters, if there are 6,000 people groups that have still not been reached with the gospel of Christ, then we have missed the point of the atonement.

Our obedience to the Great Commission of Christ is incomplete if we just make disciples. Our commission is to make disciples of all the nations, of all the peoples.

Particular atonement drives global missions. So if we believe Revelation 5:9 (if we believe that Jesus died to purchase people from every tribe and tongue and nation), then let us go to every tribe and tongue and nation.

Why? Because we feel guilty that we’re reached, that we have all these resources? Aren’t we just “guilting people” into going overseas to the unreached? We feel bad so we go?

No.

What drives passion for unreached peoples is not guilt, it’s glory—glory for a King.

It’s people who know that our sovereign God deserves the praise of not just 10,000 people groups on the planet, but all 16,000 of them. And we’re not going to stop until every single people group purchased by Christ is exalting His Name.

Four Implications of What We Should Do

(1) Let us lead our churches to pray confidently (for the spread of the gospel to all peoples).

Tell them Matthew 24:14. Tell them that “the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Tell them that, and then lead them to pray for the end to come. Ladd said this verse is “the single most important verse in the Word of God for the people of God today.” “God alone knows the definition of terms. I cannot precisely define who all the nations are, but I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned; therefore, the task is not yet done. When it is done, Christ will come. Our responsibility is not to insist on defining the terms; our responsibility is to complete the task. So long as Christ does not return, our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission.”

Teach them how to use Operation World.

(2) Let us lead our churches to give sacrificially.

For every $100 a Christian in North America makes, an average of $0.05 goes to the unreached.

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: “The Bible’s teachings should cut to the heart of North American Christians. By any measure, we are the richest people ever to walk on planet Earth.”

See Psalm 67.

God gives his people worldly wealth for the spread of worldwide worship. The sovereign God of the universe has willed for us to be wealthy for the sake of his worship.

(3) Let us lead our churches to go intentionally to all peoples.

We need to have short-term, mid-term, and long-term missions.

There’s no question that we see Timothy-type people in the NT and Paul-type people in the NT.

God calls Timothy-type people to stay in a church (among the reached) and shepherd the body.

God calls Paul-type people to leave the reached and scatter to the unreached.

And pastor, there are men and women in your church whom God is calling to Paul-type ministry. Maybe not everybody, but some of them. God is calling them to pack their bags and move overseas to spread the gospel among unreached peoples.

So are you

  • encouraging them?
  • calling them out?
  • coming alongside them?
  • taking time during the year in your preaching and in your pastoring to speak specifically to them?
  • leading the church to fast and pray like Antioch in Acts 13 and listening, “God, who are you calling out next to go long-term to unreached people groups overseas?” and waiting until he answers.

Are you listening? Could he be calling you?

Why don’t we just send money and let the local people do it? There are no local Christians, there are no local churches . . . that’s what it means to be unreached. God’s design is not for you and me to send them our money so they can lose their lives spreading the gospel instead of us.

(4) Let us lead our churches to die willingly.

A high view of God’s sovereignty fuels death-defying devotion to global missions. Pastors who believe that God is sovereign over all things will lead Christians to die for the sake of all peoples.

Romanian pastor Josef Tson recounted a time he was being interrogated by six men. He said to one of them:

What is taking place here is not an encounter between you and me. This is an encounter between my God and me. . . . My God is teaching me a lesson [through you]. I do not know what it is. Maybe he wants to teach me several lessons. I only know, sirs, that you will do to me only what God wants you to do—and you will not go one inch further—because you are only an instrument of my God. Every day I saw those six pompous men as nothing more than my Father’s puppets!

Tson again:

During an early interrogation I had told an officer who was threatening to kill me, “Sir, let me explain how I see this issue. Your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Here is how it works. You know that my sermons on tape have spread all over the country. If you kill me, those sermons will be sprinkled with my blood. Everyone will know I died for my preaching. And everyone who has a tape will pick it up and say, ‘I’d better listen again to what this man preached, because he really meant it; he sealed it with his life.’ So, sir, my sermons will speak ten times louder than before. I will actually rejoice in this supreme victory if you kill me.” After I said this, the interrogator sent me home. Another officer who was interrogating a pastor friend of mind told him, “We know that Mr. Tson would love to be a martyr, but we are not that foolish to fulfill his wish.” I stopped to consider the meaning of that statement. I remembered how for many years, I had been afraid of dying. I had kept a low profile. Because I wanted badly to live, I had wasted my life in inactivity. But now that I had placed my life on the altar and decided I was ready to die for the Gospel, they were telling me they would not kill me! I could go wherever I wanted in the country and preach whatever I wanted, knowing I was safe. As long as I tried to save my life, I was losing it. Now that I was willing to lose it, I found it.

So pastors:

Let us be finished and done with puny theology that results in paltry approaches to missions in our churches.

Let us believe deeply in the sovereign God of the universe who holds the destiny of the world (and our lives) in the palm of his hand.

Let us see the hopeless state of man before God apart from Christ, and let us lead our churches to pray, to give, and to go to unreached peoples with the greatest news in all the world.

We have been saved by a graciously, globally, gloriously particular sacrifice, so let us lead our churches and let us give our lives—let’s lose them, if necessary—for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom and the accomplishment of Christ’s commission.

And let’s not stop until the slaughtered Lamb of God and sovereign Lord of all receives the full reward of his sufferings.

Dr. CJ Markalbiti DeChandleplatterpiper III

Yup, it is a mouthful, but from where I sit right now, one week after the Together for the Gospel (T4G) 2012 conference I am still wading through my thoughts, God’s guidance and the pastoral encouragements given to me by Dr. CJ Markalbiti DeChandleplatterpiper III.

When you spend a few days immersed in fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, listening to powerful preaching from faithful expositors of God’s Word, praising God in simple but passionate worship and catching up with co-laborers from all over the country it is truly like drinking from a fire hose.  So, the aftermath settling of all of those factors, but in particular, the preaching of God’s Word is still actively at work in me.

Now, I went to the conference with every desire to blog every day and share some personal reflections, however, God convicted me that I just needed to listen, be fed and that the motives of my desire were tinged with pride.  So, I confessed my sin, sat back, listened and was glad for the relief and His ministry to my heart.  Then, almost as a confirmation, I received an e-mail alerting me to the fact that Justin Taylor had updated his blog.  I had just sat through the sixth General session with Kevin DeYoung and when I checked up to see what Justin Taylor had written I was warmly thankful because he had posted the notes from all the previous sessions including the one that had ended not ten minutes prior.  Thank you Justin Taylor!!

So, over the next few weeks I want to share with you some of my personal reflections on those messages preached by Dr. CJ Markalbiti DeChandleplatterpiper III.  I can honestly say that God brought an incredible cohesiveness to the conference through the theme of “The Underestimated Gospel”, the speakers, the times of singing, the testimonies and the conversation with my friends that followed.

You can listen to or watch the sermons here:

So, I want to encourage you to listen for yourself to one of the greatest speakers that I have had the privilege of listening to…

Dr. CJ Markalbiti DeChandleplatterpiper III

Jesus On Trial

I know that I have read John chapter 5 many times, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I realized how important it is.  Oh, we know about John 3 because it contains probably the favorite verse of Christendom and the incredible interaction that Jesus has with Nicodemus, a questioning Jewish leader.  We also know about John 4 because of the classic encounter that Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well.  But we are probably not so familiar with John 5.

Why is that the case? Maybe it is because all we focus on is the narrative parts of the Gospels.  Maybe the kind of discourse Jesus gives is pretty overwhelming, hard to understand or even rather technical.  Maybe we just want to get from the healing of an invalid to the feeding of the 5000 in chapter 6 that we have not taken time to discover the rich truth of John 5.  But, I want to encourage you to look there and study what John reveals to us, giving us evidence that will lead to our belief which will, in turn, lead to our abundant life (John 20:30-31).

A Healing

John Chapter 5 is an account of Jesus’ deliberate provocation through the healing of an invalid man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath.  The Jews, or as I like to call them, the Sabbath Police (the religious leadership) are offended that the once healed man is walking around town carrying his mat.  The fact that he is healed doesn’t seem to catch their attention, but the fact that he is violating their Sabbath regulations does.  It is quite a sad picture, isn’t it, but this story is much more than a lesson on “how to bring glory to God by breaking the distorted Jewish Sabbath rules!”  It is, however, a deliberate action by Jesus to enter into a conversation with the Sabbath Police regarding the fact that He is equal with God and therefore, He is God.  Now I say conversation, not because we have record of the Sabbath Police’s words with Jesus, but only because they were speaking questions in their hearts that Jesus already knew about.  Here is how John records it…

1But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

A Trial

So, Jesus is now on trial.  He is being accused of claiming equality with God as well as responsible for inciting another to break Sabbath, and both were blasphemy to the Sabbath Police.  What happens next is a beautiful picture of Christ’s humility coupled with His authority.  He takes time to defend His claim to be equal with God by giving the following evidence.  First, he wants his hearers to understand that His equality with God is rooted in the fact that He is united together in His actions (i.e. creation), love (an intimate phileo relationship) and responsibility as a giver of life and a judge of the world.  Jesus is not saying that He is equal with the father as if He is another god somehow competing with the father.  No, He is saying that He is intimately united and that unity is the source of His Equality.  Second, Jesus stresses that those two responsibilities, giving spiritual life and judging in the resurrection can only be accomplished if He is equal with God.

21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

In other words, if you deny that I am equal with the Father then you are denying the Father and you not only dishonor Me but you also dishonor the Father whom you call God.

Witnesses

Now, what happens next is truly amazing.  Jesus is on trial and in a typical trial there are many elements:  An accusation, a defense, witnesses, accusers and a verdict given either by a presiding judge or a jury.  So, in true trial fashion Jesus, the accused, give his defense (5:17-30), but he also recognizes that His testimony is inadmissible alone in a Jewish court of law.  In order for it to have any bearing there must be some corroborating testimony to His claim to be equal with God.

So, He first appeals to the testimony of John the Baptist whom the Sabbath Police initially embraced as a true prophet.  In fact they were drawn to him and rejoiced at the fact that after 400 years God was, once again, speaking through a prophet.  But over time, when they actually listened to his message, they turned away from him, but not before hearing him say about Jesus…

34 …I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:34 (ESV)

Next, Jesus appeals to the testimony of His Works, which can best be understood as the signs that Jesus was doing throughout Jerusalem, Samaria and the region of Galilee.  Although John’s gospel specifies seven signs, the reality is that each miracle pointed to Jesus as being God and having qualities and power that only God could have.

Finally, Jesus appeals to the testimony of Scripture, emphasizing that

39 …it is they (the Scriptures) that bear witness about me.

This, of course reminds me of the words that Jesus shared with the two confused and discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus who having listened to Jesus said…

32 …“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” Luke 24:32 

Confrontation

So, with three separate and weighty witnesses giving their testimony Jesus corroborates His personal claim.  But, He is not done talking.  Unlike our western trails, in the Jewish context the one accused has an opportunity to say something to and about those who are the accusers.  So, Jesus takes the opportunity to confront them in three areas:  Their ignorance due to their inability to understand the Scriptures; their emptiness due to the lack of the love of God in their hearts; and, their unbelief because they are not willing to accept the evidence clearly presented, but are willing to embrace false messiahs if they will scratch their backs and elevate them.

Verdict

That was a scathing confrontation, but Jesus isn’t done.  Although He is the one being accused His humility continues to be demonstrated as He recuses His right to be the Judge in this trial.  Instead He establishes that Moses, one of their hero’s, the one through whom their beloved Law was written would be their judge and weight the evidence in the favor of Jesus.

There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

The accusation has been made, a defense has been given, three witnesses have been heard, the accusers have been fairly confronted and the verdict is in…

Jesus is, in fact, equal with God.  He is God!

Now, the point that John’s Gospel is making is that we are the jury.  We have the opportunity to look at the evidence and consider if it warrants belief in the Gospel.  If we do, and we believe, John promises that we will have everlasting life and we will have it abundantly. (John 20:30-31)

T4G 2012 – Why Am I Going?

Why would I want to leave my wife and family and travel for 9-11 hours from San Francisco through Washington, DC. and on to, of all places, Louisville, KY, for a pastors conference?

  • Am I a glutton for punishment? No
  • Is it that I have little respect for my family? No
  • Is it that I need a vacation from my labors as a Pastor? Well, the answer there might be “Yes”, but that is not why I am going.

I had planned on attending the 2008 Together for the Gospel Conference (T4G) with my staff, but at the last moment I was unable to attend.  I enjoyed the conference at a distance and truly appreciated the way that my staff were affected for God’s glory.  That conference also brought out new friendships and relationship here in the Bay Area, in particular with one of my dearest friends in the ministry, Sam Shin from Wellspring Church in Pleasanton, CA.

In 2010, after my resignation from the church I had served for over five years, I was blessed by many brothers and sisters who supported me financially and sent me to be strengthened, encouraged and for God to have his way with me during that season of ministry contemplation.  God used it greatly through the messages preached, the fellowship of Pastor friends whom I love and appreciate, all being vehicles through which God was shaping my heart for that difficult season in my life.  It was a time of sincere contemplation, affirming convictions that had brought a challenge to my previous ministry and a fresh consideration about what God was going to do in my life.

Now it is 2012 and I am planting a church in the East Bay.  I have been working hard for almost a year with faithful brothers and sisters in Christ and can see clearly how God has been at work in the ups and downs of ministerial life to bring me and many others to this wonderful place.  Now I look forward joining with others from my church family, Gateway Bible Church, and sitting under the men God has ordained to open the Word.

Here is just a taste of what is in store for us…

Just think “Muppets Meets Celebrity Squares”…

And then, of course there are Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney & Albert Mohler, Jr.

In essentials unity…

Mark 2 – Biblical Theology – Part 3

This is a continuation of the discussion about the importance of Biblical Theology…

The Definition of Biblical Theology

I think that the definition of Biblical Theology found at the 9Marks web-site is helpful…

“Biblical theology is sound doctrine; it is right thoughts about God; it is belief that accords with Scripture.” (9marks.com)

Typically, Biblical Theology is understood in two ways…Sound Doctrine as well as a way we interpret the Bible.  Let me explain.  When we talk about biblical theology as sound doctrine we simply mean what the average person would think that it means, i.e. theology that is biblical, or theology that accurately reflects what God has revealed of himself in his Word.   This kind of biblical theology is simply always looking to know God more.  Sadly, however, many church leaders are often tempted to teach, or pressure their teaching pastor to teach, what is popular, what won’t offend, and what people’s “itching ears want to hear.”

The second way biblical theology is used is to describe A Specific Way of Interpreting the Bible. It describes a “hermeneutical discipline” (or way of interpreting the Bible) that attempts to trace the Bible’s one main storyline through all of the Bible’s different books and genres. Biblical theology in this sense looks at how certain themes develop throughout all of Scripture, “how the Old and New Testaments relate to each other, and how all of Scripture, in one way or another, points to the saving work of Jesus Christ.” (Thabiti Anyabwile, pg. 28)

Therefore, Biblical Theology is an attitude, commitment and conviction that the Bible has been given to us by God so that we can do two things:

  • Know God
  • Know God’s macro story as it is unfolded in the pages of His Word.

So, the question is…

Who is God?  What is He like?  How has He described or revealed Himself to us?

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them. ” (Exodus 15:11–12, ESV)

  • These we call “His Attributes”…

There are a number of ways to categorize His attributes, but I find the best way is to distinguish between what are called his “communicable” or “incommunicable” attributes.

  • Communicable attributes refer to characteristics of God that he shares with us in some measure, since we are made in his image—things like knowledge, wisdom, love, and mercy—in fact, the things Paul actually mentions in this doxology in Romans. God is infinitely above us in these things, of course, but we somewhat understand what they are since we share in them on a much lower level.
  • The incommunicable attributes are characteristics of God that he does not share with us, indeed, cannot share, since they are uniquely a part of what it means for God to be God. They involve such things as self-existence, self-sufficiency, and eternality. (Boice, J. M. (1991-). Romans (1413). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.)

So, the next question is…

How is God revealed throughout the pages of Scripture?

God is revealed through the pages of Scripture and we are blessed to gain a greater understanding of his attributes, but by His grace, we are given more.   As Mark Dever says,

“It is one thing to look at a resume; it is another thing to actually work with that person.” (Dever, 9Marks, pg. 61)

In that sense God’s attributes would be his resume.  However, we also have God on display through the pages of Scripture, in particular, the narratives, revealing to us how this unique, holy and just God relates to the people of His creation.  So, as we read the Word of God we see a variety of themes laced through the pages of His word, i.e. the fact that he is a creating, holy, faithful, loving and sovereign God, just to name a few.

This  now all brings us to the next question… “What are the implications or applications that Biblical Theology requires?”

The Implications of Biblical Theology

1. The fact that Theology Matters to God

Theology matters to God.  It is through theology that we truly find unity.  Or to say it properly, “Theology is the basis of our unity” because it describes “What we believe about Who God is, what He says and what He expects of us.”

Some may say, “Doctrine only divides us” as if Doctrine were a dirty word, but that is to misunderstand where unity really comes from.  It is true that doctrine divides us because doctrine defines key biblical truths.

Also, others often catch the contemporary spirit by saying, “Don’t we just all believe essentially the same thing?”  Well, Biblical Theology exposes that statement to be completely false.  If we neglect Doctrine we will likely be tempted to embrace such a slogan. But if we take it seriously we will have no option than to agree with scripture that God speaks clearly and wants us to know His will.  Albert Mohler says,

“Those who sow disdain and disinterest in biblical doctrine will reap a harvest of rootless and fruitless Christians.  Doctrine is not a challenge to experiential religion; it testifies to the content of that experience.  The church is charged to call persons to Christ and to root them in a mature knowledge of Christian faith.”

Here are some important questions that Mark Dever poses that will have radical effect on how we do ministry or live our lives:

  • Are people basically bad or good?  Do they merely need encouragement and enhanced self-esteem, or do they need forgiveness and new life?
  • What did Jesus Christ do by dying on the cross?  Did He make possible an option, or was He our substitute?
  • What happens when someone becomes a Christian?
  • If we are Christians can we be sure that God will continue to care for us?  If so, is His continual care based on our faithfulness, or on His.

The answers to these questions will fashion and shape how we do ministry.  Our answers must flow from a healthy approach to God’s Word and a theology that is truly rooted in understanding the nature of God.

2. Theology Matters Based on Essentials or Priorities

We have heard it before, but it is worth noting again…

“If we were to lay out everything that constitutes sound teaching, we would reproduce the whole Bible.  But in practice, every church decides the mattes in which there needs to be complete agreement, can be limited disagreement, and can be complete liberty.” (Dever, 9Marks Booklet, pg. 18)

The point is that not all the teachings of Scripture rise to the level of similar importance and where there is some reasonable difference we must not be dogmatic.  That’s why the old maxim of the church is helpful…

 “In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.”

3. Theology Matters For A Church or Individual to be Healthy

According to Wayne Grudem practicing Biblical Theology…

  • Helps us grow in our reverence for God.
  • Helps us to overcome our wrong ideas.
  • Helps inoculate the church against doctrinal controversies.
  • Is necessary to fulfill the great commission.
  • Deepens our understanding of and facility with the Gospel.

Let me encourage you to take the growth of your biblical theology seriously.  Remember, we are all theologians.  The question is going to be, are we sound theologians, foggy theologians or ignorant theologians?

It is your decision!

Antichrists and the Anointed

Mark 2 – Biblical Theology – Part 2

18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

In this passage the Apostle John clearly warns us that in the last hour, i.e. the time between the Cross and the Lord’s return, that there would be many Antichrists.  These Antichrists are John’s description for the opponents of Christ and their false teaching, which is in opposition to the apostolic eyewitness testimony about who Jesus is (cf. 1:1–4).  The greater context indicates that they abandoned the true gospel because they departed from the fellowship, having denied the faith (God’s truth regarding Christ) and that their goal is to confuse the faithful.

In contrast to the antichrists are the Anointed, those who have been chosen by God and indwelled with the Holy Spirit.  As the anointed we are His possession and thus, because we are His children, we are christ’s in this world.  Not only are we uniquely set apart, but we have all been given unique knowledge which He wants us to lean on and live by.

It is to this body of “knowledge” about the Godhead (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) that we now turn: Who He is, What He has done, How He has done it and What He expects of us.

The Need for Biblical Theology

The question we must ask at the beginning of this discussion is this: “How do we distinguish ourselves from the cults, false teachers and anemic Christians?”  How are we different from…Mormons, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bahai, Unitarians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindu’s, etc.

As we seek to answer that question please understand that it isn’t what we have in common that marks who we are but rather it is where we are different.  Think about it this way:

  • How would all those different groups describe God?
  • How would they describe Jesus Christ?
  • How would they describe the plight of man?
  • How would they describe the solution to man’s fallen condition?
  • How would they say we should live to please God?

Would you not agree with me that the answers to those questions would be far different?

Next however, many of those groups would say something like this: “Well, we may disagree on some points, but we are all Bible based in our beliefs.”  But friends, it is not enough to simply say, “We are Bible Based believers”!  Listen to the wisdom of Martin Lloyd-Jones on this topic…

‎Most of the cults which are so prominent in the world today claim that they are based upon the Bible. ‘Of course,’ they say, ‘we believe everything that the Bible says; our teaching is based upon it.’ Indeed, you will find that some of these people appear to know their Bibles very well. So it is no use just saying to them that you do not believe as they do because you believe the Bible. We must know how doctrine is to be found in the Bible if we hope to deliver these people in any way at all, if we are anxious to make them true Christians and to bring them to a real knowledge of God. We must be in a position to explain to them where they go wrong and where they are not biblical, and to help them to understand the source of their error. (Martin Lloyd-Jones, pg. 35)

Mark Dever also shares some helpful insights here…

“Today people believe to be true simply what they desire to be true.” Dever

“Long-held Christian beliefs about everything from the nature of God to morality have been reshaped and have been jettisoned in the name of making Christianity more relevant, more palatable, more acceptable to today’s hearer.” Dever pg. 58

Now friends, I think that Lloyd-Jones and Dever are absolutely right in their assessment.  Our view of God, our understanding of Biblical themes and doctrines is critical to our growth in Christ and to how we live our lives for His glory.

So, I ask the question again…”What makes us stand apart from all these different religions?”  The answer is rather simple, but extremely important…

  •  “We take Theology seriously.”

Now, that answer is dependent on our seriousness and our willingness to be diligent in pursuing theology as an ongoing activity of our daily walk with God.  Sadly, however, there is apathy among believers today regarding “theology” as if “theology” is a discipline held exclusively for Pastors and experts.  But, that kind of thinking runs contrary to the teaching of Scripture.

Listen, If I ask you to tell me about Jesus and your answer is, “Jesus is Love! He is the great example for us to follow.  He inspires us to live our lives using our gifts to do good to others and to leave a legacy for others to follow,”  here is what I would say.  “Regardless of whether that sentence is biblically true or not, you have just given me a theology.  You have formulated a doctrine of understanding about Who Jesus is.”  Friends, that is doctrine…that is theology.  Everybody has a theology, right wrong or confused!

I am encouraged again by Martin Lloyd-Jones’ words…

‎How are these doctrines to be found in the Bible? How is one to discover them? Now that is no idle question, as I think I can show you very easily. But it is never enough to say, ‘I am not interested in doctrines. I’m a Bible person. Let these clever people argue about doctrines if they like; you give me the Bible and I am satisfied.’ That is a very foolish (ouch), indeed, a ridiculous (yikes), statement to make, because people who come to the Bible must believe something as the result of reading it. The question is: Are they believing what they ought to believe?  (parenthetical commentary is mine)  (Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1996). God the Father, God the Son (p 35). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.)

Theology

So, let’s first define the word “Theology”.  It comes from two Greek words – “theos” & “logos” which together mean “The Study of God.”  We can broaden the topic by saying that everything contained in the Bible is “about God”, so as we study the Bible we are studying God.  That study is also called “teaching” or “doctrine”.

Listen to what the Apostle Paul says to both Titus and Timothy in his Pastoral Epistles about the word “sound” as it complements the words, “doctrine, teaching, faith, etc.  The word “Sound” means reliable, accurate or faithful. At its root it is an image from the medical world meaning “to be whole or healthy”.

 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, ” (1 Timothy 1:10, ESV)

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, ” (1 Timothy 6:3, ESV)

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. ” (2 Timothy 1:13, ESV)

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, ” (2 Timothy 4:3, ESV)

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. ” (Titus 1:9, ESV)

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, ” (Titus 1:13, ESV)

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. ” (Titus 2:1–2, ESV)

So, Paul is all about theology being present in the church in teaching, in living and as the basis for church and family life.

More to come…

Biblical Theology Matters…

Mark 2 – Biblical Theology – Part 1

I’ve heard the statement hundreds of times coming from well meaning people, but I am saddened every time I hear it.  It goes something like this…

  • “Why are we so focused on doctrine when what we really need to do is focus on Christ?”
  • “I want to encourage unity in the church so I really don’t want doctrine to cause division.”
  • “We are all evangelical Christians and essentially believe the same things, right?”

Well, although I may have something to say on this topic in a later post, I thought that I would share an article by Albert Mohler, Jr., President of Southern Seminary, on this very topic.  Interestingly this article was written in 2003.

The 20th century witnessed an increasingly energetic revolt against doctrine. A denial of specific formulations of classical Christian doctrine has been evident in some quarters, while others have rejected the very notion of doctrine itself.

Doctrine has even fallen on hard times even among those who call themselves evangelicals. Some evangelical historians now argue that the defining principles of evangelical identity are not specifically theological–at least beyond the most general affirmations. If true, that judgment would be a disgrace to any people of God. As it is, however, evangelicals have a proud doctrinal heritage and have historically given careful attention to confessions of faith and doctrinal issues.

Doctrine is, quite literally, the teaching of the church–what the church understands to be the substance of its faith. It is no substitute for personal experience. Evangelical Christians have given clear witness to the necessity of personal faith in Jesus Christ, but that personal faith is based in some specific understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He accomplished on the cross. After all, we do not call persons to profess faith in faith, but faith in Christ.

There is no Christianity “in general.” Faith in some experience devoid of theological or biblical content–no matter how powerful–is not New Testament Christianity. Those called to Christianity in general may believe nothing in particular. But faith resides in particulars.

Some churches seem to think that doctrine is a concern for those of a certain intellectual bent, but unnecessary for most Christians. Interest in doctrine amounts to something like an intellectual hobby. Others steer clear of doctrine for fear of argument or division in the church. Both factors indicate a lack of respect for the Christian believer and an abdication of the teaching function of the church.

Those who sow disdain and disinterest in biblical doctrine will reap a harvest of rootless and fruitless Christians. Doctrine is not a challenge to experiential religion; it testifies to the content of that experience. The church is charged to call persons to Christ and to root them in a mature knowledge of Christian faith.

Sociologists and historians observing the American church scene indicate that one of the first signs of denominational decline is a lessening of doctrinal attention. Many mainline Protestant denominations have followed this course, with a weakening concern for biblical doctrine followed by decline in membership and evangelistic outreach.

Yet, evangelicals should not recapture a healthy concern for biblical doctrine merely as a means of avoiding organizational or congregational decline. We must do so because nothing less is worthy of a New Testament people. The essential issue for the church is faithfulness.

Churches lacking an intentional and effective program of doctrinal instruction risk becoming the company of the confused. Charles Spurgeon told the painful story of the Irishman who attended a sectarian religious society meeting. Telling of the meeting, the man recounted: “Oh, it was lovely: none of us knew anything and we all taught each other.”

American evangelicals must curb the decline of doctrinal concern in our midst and recapture the teaching responsibility of the church. Doctrine without piety is dead, but piety without doctrine is immature at best, and inauthentic at worst. Faithful Christians are always concerned with the development of true Christian piety and discipleship in believers. Yet, as John A. Broadus commented over a century ago, doctrinal truth is “the lifeblood of piety.”

Those who call for a “doctrineless Christianity” misunderstand–or misrepresent–both doctrine and Christianity. Pragmatism and program concerns dominate the lives of many Christians and their congregations. The low state of doctrinal understanding among so many evangelicals is evidence of a profound failure of both nerve and conviction. Both most be recovered if there is to be anything even remotely evangelical about the evangelicalism of the future. (From http://www.crosswalk.com/news/al-mohler/why-doctrine-matters-1233547.html)

Thanks Dr. Mohler for your excellent insight and helpful words…Truly Doctrine and Theology are critical for the health of the church!

“Cake, Medium Rare!”

Mark 1 – Expository Preaching – Part 2

To begin with I want to draw your attention to two passages of Scripture that send chills up and down my spine as I imagine a world where what they express is true…

11“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. Amos 8:11-12

And…

Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. 1 Samuel 3:1

So, the question is screaming at us…Is the Word of God “rare” in our day and age?

Think about it…we have tons of Bible’s don’t we?  I remember counting how many Bible’s I owned personally and it was staggering.  Then add to that how many I have in my home.  As I have worked with the people of Russia people have asked me, “Can we send over some Bible’s with you?” and I have to respond, “No, they have plenty of Bible’s”…and the people are shocked but it is true.  Bible’s we have…volumes and volumes of them.

So, I ask the question again, “Is the Word of God “rare”?”  And the answer to that question is, in one sense no, because we have so many Bibles and resources available to us on the internet, etc.  On the other hand the answer is yes.  We have the Word of God but does the Word of God have us?  What I mean is this: Do we love it, read it, study it, breathe it, live it?  Is it proclaimed from our pulpits? Is it truly our guide for living?

And friends, that is what brings us to this very important topic, Expository Preaching.

Listen to what Alistair Begg says…

“Large sections of the church are oblivious to the fact that they are being administered a placebo rather than the medicine they need.  They are satisfied with the feeling that it has done them some good, a feeling that disguises the seriousness of the situation.  In the absence of bread the population grows accustomed to cake!  Pulpits are for preachers.  We build stages for performers.” Begg, pg. 11

Those are some sobering thoughts from a pastor that believes wholeheartedly in the exclusivity of expository preaching.  Another pastor, John Piper, taking on contemporary preaching from a different angle says,

 “Laughter seems to have replaced repentance as the goal of many preachers.  Laughter means people feel good.  It means they like you.  It means you have moved them.  It means you have some measure of power.  It seems to have all the marks of successful communication – if the depth of sin and the holiness of God and the danger of hell and need for broken hearts is left out of account.”  (“The Supremacy of God in Preaching.” Pg. 55-56)

Again, listen to the wisdom and counsel given by C. H. Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers on this subject…

“Evangelism of the humorous type may attract multitudes but it lays the soul in ashes and destroys the very germs of religion.”  (“Forgotten Spurgeon” by Ian Murray, pg. 38)

What is interesting is that Spurgeon balances out this statement in his “lectures to students stressing the need for and the proper place of humor in the life and ministry of the Pastor.  (Lectures, pg. 212.)

When people are nurtured on cake it is no wonder that they want the icing with all the sprinkles too.  You can’t blame them!  The fault doesn’t lie on the part of the listener but on the part of the man of God called with the task to “preach the Word.”  Either he is going to be faithful to that command or he is not.

This was such a serious matter that Paul’s last few words to Timothy emphasized this priority on the part of the pastor.  Here is what he says.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ” (2 Timothy 4:1–5, ESV)

It doesn’t take long for mature believers in Christ to look around at Christian culture and see that people are gathering to themselves teachers who will say what they want them to say.

Speaking personally from experience I have been told the following (and this is just a short list):

  • “Pastor, you talk way too much about sin!”
  • “It seems that every time you preach that you zing us with something.  What we need is to be encouraged.”
  • “Don’t you know that people’s attention span is only 20 minutes?  They can’t listen to you after that, so you have to say all you need to say in that amount of time.”
  • “Pastor, it is your job to send us away feeling good about our relationship with God, that we are under grace and with practical tools to face the world we live in.”
  • Etc.

Now, my first response to all of those comments is to humbly ask God to reveal too me if there is any way that I am being disobedient to Him in my manner, tone and expression of loving care for the flock.  I recognize that I am a sinful servant of God and that my sinfulness can get in the way of God’s people hearing God’s truth.  I want to know that and be teachable.  That, however, is not what is usually going on.

As I review 2 Timothy 4:1-5 I see expressions like, “people will not endure sound teaching” and the commands to “rebuke” and “reprove” as well as “exhort.”  To be faithful with the charge I have been given means that I must take seriously what God is saying to Timothy through Paul and to me through His inspired Word.  I have a God-given responsibility to “reprove” and “rebuke” just as much as I have the responsibility to encourage through exhortation.

The problem is, as Alistair Begg identified, that people are used to a diet of cake and don’t have the stomach to “endure” sound teaching.  They are offended by it.  Ultimately they don’t want to be told “Here is what God is saying to you through His Word!”  Oh, they want to hear about all the blessings, the parts about forgiveness & grace, promises and hopes…but when you start to meddle with their souls then they become uncomfortable, angry and are willing to confront the pastor when he is simply doing what God has called him to do.

That calling is to “Preach the Word.”  But what does that mean?  Well, first, let me highlight what Preaching the Word is not…

  • Preaching the Word is not entertaining the crowd so that they will like what you have to say and will respond according to a predetermined plan.
  • It is not using the pulpit to fight for political causes.  God is not a republican, nor is He a democrat.  God is sovereign and sits on His throne.
  • It is not conjuring up “new truths” that somehow only you have been able to glean from your own personal study of the Bible.  If that is true you may end up making multiple predictions of the Lord’s Judgment and return and ultimately have to live with eternal egg on your face.
  • It is not becoming a storyteller.  Certainly in preaching the pastor will use stories to illustrate, explain or apply what he is unpacking, but telling a story should not replace or becomes that substitute.
  • It is not “being real” in the pulpit.  Too often there is a feeling that the preacher needs to be authentic to be sure his hearers know that he is a sinful struggler just like them.  But friends, forced authenticity is very inauthentic, isn’t it.  At times a faithful Preacher will share how a certain passage or theme is working in his life.  That is a natural and, in my opinion, an appropriate use of authenticity.  However, when there is a goal of authenticity we run the risk of drawing attention to ourselves and not to Christ.
  • It is not sharing the latest pop-psychology.  Certainly some psychological insights can be helpful or may give some practical directions, i.e. a person suffering with depression needs to implement arenas of structure in their life, etc.  But that is simply not the Gospel or the Word of God.

Expository Preaching, however, looks at the preaching task in a far different manner.  It has a different attitude to God and His Word.  It approaches the task of preaching, the passage under consideration and the implications contained in that passage with a reverence that is rooted in the charge God has given.

To “preach” is to “Herald” (kerusso in the Greek).  It is a word that describes the role of a herald that is a representative of a king.  The herald is gathered to the king and is given a message to proclaim to the kingdom.  The herald is then tasked by the king to go as his mouthpiece and proclaim that message to the towns and villages of the kingdom.  His job is to speak the words of the king!  He is not to think about the message, change the words, judge whether the message is harsh, loving, helpful or could be said in a better way.  That is simply not his call.  He is not the king, but simply a representative of the king and his job is to be sure that the message is communicated clearly.

The preacher, then, is to herald.  But what is it that he is called to herald?  Paul identifies that as “The Word”, which is really a synonym for other descriptions used in the Pastoral Epistles, i.e. deposit, commandments, sacred writings, scriptures, the faith, the truth, the gospel, etc.

So far we have seen that God has charged the Pastor/Teacher with the incredible task of “Preaching the Word”, but why use the expression Expository Preaching?  Isn’t all preaching that uses the Word of God pretty much the same?

I will begin with that thought in my next article…

Camping on This…

There is a lot to say about a man who proposes to be a shepherd and a faithful teacher of God’s Word yet, himself, ignores it when it contradicts what he wants to say.  The simple answer to his delusional predictions is found in Matthew 24:36…

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.  (Mt 24:36)

Now, for the purpose of edification and clarity I have collected a few blog articles that I think are helpful responses to the Harold Camping debacle.  And, may I say this.  This is just another reason why there is a huge need for Expository Preaching in our country, especially here in the Bay Area.

From Dan Phillips (no relation, but must be from good stock) at the Pyromaniacs blog and at his own:

Harold Camping, the True Gospel and Hedged Bets

Harold Camping Glorifies God: Seventeen Ways

Eric Landry from the Gospel Coalition writes…

The Pastoral Challenge and Opportunity When the Rapture Doesn’t Happen

From Reformaton 21 here is a message on The Folly of Setting Dates

The Folly of Setting Dates

Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Seminary in CA has written a very sober accounting of Harold Camping’s theological demise.  You can either read the whole article as a pdf or in parts at his blog.

I was relatively young and in seminary when Harold Camping came out with his 88 Reasons Why the Lord is Coming in 1988.  I was horrified by his assertions then, as he sought to rebound by adding a miscalculation and am still horrified by how he has done so much damage to the body of Christ, especially in the Bay Area.  I personally people who have worked at Family Radio and have also been greatly troubled by his radical teachings of recent years.

May we learn all the lessons we can learn and do our best to wipe the egg off the face of Christianity because of such misguided teaching.  May we also learn the importance of sound hermeneutics and a faithful exposition of God’s Word.

Today’s Preacher Reviewed…

Mark 1 – Expository Preaching – Part 1

What is a healthy church?  What marks it out as being faithful to what God has commanded and established in His Word?

Well, the first mark, Expository Preaching, is this week’s topic.  So, a few articles may be helpful to set the stage and to draw our attention to God’s clear call to “Preach the Word.”  In this article, however, I want to take a snapshot of the kind of preaching that takes place in churches every Sunday.  I hope that you will understand that I am only seeking to paint a picture of the reasons why God centered preaching is so needed.  Listen to what Alistair Begg has said in his excellent little resource, Preaching for God’s Glory.

“Large sections of the church are oblivious to the fact that they are being administered a placebo rather than the medicine they need.  They are satisfied with the feeling that it has done them some good, a feeling that disguises the seriousness of the situation.  In the absence of bread the population grows accustomed to cake!  Pulpits are for preachers.  We build stages for performers.” pg. 11

So, what are these placebo’s?

  1. The Cheerleader – This particular pastor desperately wants to be liked and accepted.  No matter the text of Scripture he is going to find some way to positively inspirational.  As he reflects on his sermon he is more concerned as to whether people laughed a lot, were affirmed or went away more self-assured than when they arrived.  His goal is not holiness, but wholeness.
  2. The Conjurer – This pastor has the great ability to get out of Scripture truths that others seemed to have neglected or simply have not seen.  People often leave the service saying to themselves, “Wow, it is amazing what he got out of that text.”  Sadly, this is not due to a careful exegesis, but a manipulation of the text to say exactly what he wants it to say.
  3. The Storyteller – He has been convinced that “since people won’t listen to preaching anymore, and since they will listen to a good story” that he should stop trying to preach and, in stead, develop his storytelling gifts so as to convey God’s truth.  The subtlety here is that biblical preaching does include telling stories, but not to the neglect of careful and clear exegesis.
  4. The Entertainer – For this pastor, the preaching moment is a performance utilizing his varied gifts to impress the gathering that has been trained to sit back, relax and assess the effectiveness of his communication.  “He was a good communicator” is the common anthem in such cases.
  5. The Systematizer – This man uses the text of Scripture as a regular springboard into his specific theological or doctrinal system.  He speaks more to defend and define his system than to affect the hearts of his listeners.
  6. The Psychologist – This man can often have helpful and practical insights into life and how we live it, but he is usually not speaking with authority from the Word of God.  He is often mixing secular psychology with Scripture and coming to unscriptural, yet plausible conclusions such as “Man’s greatest problem is not his sin, but his low self-esteem.”
  7. The Naked Preacher – This teacher has as his core value the need to be authentic and “bare all” because he believes that it is the only way, or the best way, to be relevant.  His is the “real” deal, so to speak.  He is hiding nothing.  In taking this stance, however, he is neglecting to focus on God, His character and His glory.  It doesn’t take long for people to know that we are sinners struggling our way through our Christian lives.
  8. The Politician – This man can find the USA and the Republican Party in many texts of Scripture.  Depending on his culture he can be more concerned with the support of our president, the plight of minorities, standing up and marching for a particular agenda and our need to vote on proposition XYZ.  There is always a place for fair and healthy discussion regarding our country’s politics, but too often this preacher has saturated his role and every text with this concern.
  9. The End Time Guru – This specialist can find Israel, Russia, Lebanon and Gorbachev under every rock and bush of every Bible verse.  He is preoccupied with the “coming of the Lord” and is often quick to pounce on conspiracy theories.  Again, we are called to live in light of His coming, but not to neglect the rest of Scripture as we wait.  Neither are we called to force a passage to say something that it clearly isn’t.
  10. The Hobby Horse Rider – This man is stuck on one or two issues.  No matter where he may be in a text of Scripture he will always find a way to get back to his favorite topic.  In years past it has been things like KJV Onlyism, the evils of Rock-n-Roll, Y2K, etc.

Now, as I reflect on this list I am humbled to realize that I can so easily drift into one of these modes if I am not firmly and seriously committed to preaching the Word.  As a pastor I have often been under great pressure to shift my stance to accommodate someone or a group of disgruntled people in the church, yet, I have had Paul’s words to Timothy firmly screaming in my ear….

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ” (2 Timothy 4:1–5, ESV)

“Lord, help me to be that man!”


(
Thanks Alistair Begg for your insights on this in Preaching for God’s Glory)