Archive for July, 2007

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Preaching ‘Like One Amazed’

July 31, 2007

One litmus test of any preacher’s heart is how he preaches the central, familiar truths of the gospel. From my own experience, it is sadly all too easy to be underwhelmed when proclaiming the highest and most glorious doctrines conceivable. The following quote by W.G.Blaike (from Iain Murray’s A Scottish Christian Heritage) therefore lays down the gauntlet afresh. It is a reminder that I must always preach from a “thrilling heart” which is “amazed at the glory of the message.”

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Ought not preachers themselves to live on the great fundamental truths of the gospel? Ought not our souls to be continually fed from them, and our hearts continually thrilling with them? Ought not a fresh glow to come over our hearts every day as we think of Him who loved us, and washed us from sin in His blood, and made us kings and priests unto God and to the Father?

Give us the plainest preacher that ever was; let him preach nothing that a whole congregation do not know; but let him preach with a thrilling heart; let him preach like one amazed at the glory of his message; let him preach in the tone of wonder and gratitude which becomes sinners to realise the great work of redemption, – not only will the congregation listen with interest; they will listen with profound impression.

..I believe that if only every tenth student that passes through our hands [New College, Edinburgh] were a man of this stamp, we should soon see a change on the face of society.”

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Second Life Evangelism?

July 30, 2007

Today the Times newspaper carried a fascinating story about one Catholic journal encouraging adherents to proselytize on the computer medium “Second Life.” I for one don’t have the time (nor inclination!) to get involved in this virtual world. But I do wonder if on any point of principle Christians shouldn’t engage with it? Perhaps some of you have first hand experience of Second Life. How challenging is it to be “in” this world but not “of” it?

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Top Blogs To Encourage Pastors

July 28, 2007

Recently, Said At Southern listed five blogs to encourage pastors. This got me thinking about some of the blogs I’ve found most helpful for pastoral ministry.

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So, in no particular order:

1. Pure Church – Thabiti Anyabwile consistently writes posts which are Scripturally sound and pastorally aware. Some of his series (for instance, what a good pastor is to do) are excellent.

2. Mark Dever @ 9 Marks blog and Together for the Gospel - What can I say? Dever’s reflections on ecclesiology particularly and the role of church leaders have been unswervingly biblical and a tonic for much that ails the church in our day.

3. Biblical Preaching (Peter Mead) – Peter is fairly new on the block, but I’ve really appreciated his posts. He is quite prolific – often several posts a day – and writes short, thought provoking articles on all things relating to preaching.

4. Desiring God Blog – Its hard to look past John Piper and co. Not always aimed at pastors, but as much as anything DG will keep you focused on your walk with God and the temperature of your worship.

5. Justin Taylor - There are just so many helpful links and articles JT links to, this is a must visit for pastor’s who use the internet.

Of course, there are many other excellent Christian blogs that I read which help me to be a better Christian. However, one thing that hit home in doing this exercise was how few blogs are devoted specifically to pastoral issues (9 Marks and Pure Church being exceptions). Perhaps there is a gap here that needs to be filled? Or maybe there are other blogs that I’m missing.

Any thoughts?

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Other Toolbox This Week
* Excellent Commentaries List
* Sermon Evaluation Form: Calvin Seminary
* Mohler on Music
* Potter and the Preacher
* John Stott Bows out at Keswick
* Henry Center Media
* When Graham Preached Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God
* In What Ways Should The Pastor View His Ministry?
* Learned This Sunday Night: Nothing but the Blood
* Get A Preaching Resource Team

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A Friday Quote

July 27, 2007

“The pulpit calls those who are appointed to it like the sea calls its sailor; and like the sea, it batters and bruises, and it does not rest….To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know that each time you do it, that you must do it again.” (Bruce Thielmann)

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Steve Lawson Interviewed

July 26, 2007

Continuing on the interview theme, one of today’s outstanding preachers has been interviewed over at Monergism. J.W.Hendryx puts the following questions to Steven J. Lawson:

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1. Who are those that have had a profound influence on you and your ministry (both living and deceased)? and why?

God has been pleased to bring select men into my life, individuals who have played a strategic role in shaping me into what God desires me to become. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This says, certain men have a stimulating and sharpening effect upon us. This has been true with me.

Undoubtedly, the most powerful influence has been John MacArthur, pastor/teacher of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles , CA . What I have learned from Dr. MacArthur is an unwavering commitment to biblical exposition with theological precision. This faithful shepherd is the embodiment of one whose preaching flows directly from the depths of a passage of Scripture. I have literally cut my teeth on his preaching and carry his influence upon my ministry. I have also learned from him the value of preaching verse by verse through entire books in the Bible over an extended period of time. Only in this fashion is the full counsel of God ensured to be brought to bear upon the life of a congregation. Dr. MacArthur has been very gracious to afford to me much of his time, a relationship which has greatly encouraged me in the things of the Lord. I have learned from this devoted servant what a gracious and humble spirit looks like in the life of a man of God.

In addition, R. C. Sproul, who is a former professor of mine, has had an extraordinary impact upon my life and thinking. His theological insights into Reformed theology, especially as it relates to the bondage of the will and monergistic regeneration, have been very helpful to me. I would also have to site his endearing spirit and winsome character as a strong influence upon me. Dr. Sproul has helped polish some of my rough edges by investing his life into mine.

In my earlier years, S. Lewis Johnson, teacher at Believers’ Chapel in Texas , was very influential in my life in bringing me to the understanding and acceptance of the doctrines of grace. No one was more Arminian than I was, yet the Word under his preaching transformed me. Sunday by Sunday for five years, I sat under his remarkable expositions and was greatly impacted. I will always be grateful for this gracious Southern gentleman with a commanding authority in the pulpit. His passionate gospel pleas at the end of his sermons still ring in my ears.

Further, James Montgomery Boice, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian, Philadelphia , preached two Bible conferences in my church for me when I was a young pastor. Those visits left an indelible impression upon me in my formative years. His confidence in the power of the preaching of the Word of God played a key role in shaping me as a young man in the ministry.

Each one of these men—MacArthur, Sproul, Johnson, and Boice—have made a significant investment in my life and have been a living example to me of an expositor/theologian who has rightly handled the Word of God.

Among those men deceased, several men have significantly impacted me through the written page. As John Piper says, “My best friends are dead men.” Some of my good friends who are dead would be Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, A. W. Pink, and, more recently, John Calvin. All four of these men have thundered their expositions of the Scripture into my heart, most specifically, in their exaltation of the sovereignty and supremacy of God.

2. What are the most influential books, apart from Scripture, that God has used tremendously in your growth as a Christian and in influencing your ministry?

First, I would reference A Body of Divinity (Banner of Truth) by Thomas Watson. This book contains a series of sermons that Watson preached as he expounded the Westminster Catechism. I learned from this book the God-centeredness of theology, as well as the sovereignty of God in all things. His chapter on “ Providence ” was especially helpful to me in understanding this grand, life-changing truth.

Second, I must single out The Forgotten Spurgeon (Banner of Truth) by Iain Murray. This book deepened my understanding of the doctrines of grace, especially the relationship between regeneration and faith. It also demonstrated for me that the doctrines of grace are to be preached with evangelistic zeal and fervor. Believing in the sovereignty of God should not make us stoic and monotone in our public proclamation. Rather, as I learned from Spurgeon in this book, these truths should arouse the passions of our heart to preach with our entire being. This was the genius of Spurgeon—he was “theology on fire.”

Third, I have been significantly influenced by reading the two-volume work George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival (Banner of Truth) by Arnold Dallimore. These excellent volumes convey something of the romance of preaching. Here in Whitefield’s life is the sheer adventure of a man who was entirely abandoned to the proclamation of the Word of God. Further, the warm piety of Whitefield’s life is compelling and contagious. If I could be anyone in church history, I think I would most want to be George Whitefield—on the back of a horse, riding up and down the eastern sea coast of the Colonies, advancing to the public square, lifting up my voice, and saying, “I have come here today to speak to you about your soul” and “You must be born again.” This is what I have gained from reading this excellent biography of Whitefield, an enflamed desire to preach the Word of God.

I would be remiss not to mention the sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The first six volumes which comprise The New Park Street Pulpit (Pilgrim Press & Baker) are especially powerful. The preaching of the early Spurgeon with all his youthful zeal is unusually arresting to read. Here was both light (truth) and heat (conviction) in the preaching of the Word. Here truly was one, as Richard Baxter said, who preached “as a dying man to dying men, as never to preach again.”

3. What prompted you to begin the phenomenal books that will be the five volume series “Foundations of Grace”?

What has prompted me to write the five-volume series A Long Line of Godly Men grew out of a desire to teach the men of our church the doctrines of grace. For the last three years, I have met on Friday mornings at 6:00am with our men, and have taught them biblical, systematic, and historical theology, specifically focused upon the sovereignty of God in salvation. I have wanted them to see that while we may be out of step with the times in which we live as we hold fast to these God-honoring truths, we, nevertheless, stand in a grand procession of godly men that spans the centuries. The great men of Scripture and church history, for the most part, have held to the truths of sovereign grace. These are the men who God has used to promote reformations, ignite awakenings, translate the Scriptures, and launch missions’ movements in their day. This five-volume series which I am writing with Reformation Trust—A Long Line of Godly Men—is the overflow of teaching these truths to the men of our church, so that it might reach a broader audience. Each handout has become a chapter in the book. Behind all this, my burning desire is to see a new reformation in this present hour.

4. As you have traveled to many different countries, do you see, by and large, a embracing of the doctrines of grace in other parts of the world? Do you think America is the most resistant to the doctrines of grace? Why or why not?

As I travel to many different parts of the world, I, unfortunately, see an Arminian base where I go. Tragically, the church in America , I have found, is the most resistant to the doctrines of grace. I think that this is caused by a culture and church that is saturated with political correctness, individual autonomy, and financial prosperity, as well as spiritual apathy and theological superficiality. All these elements have a deadening effect upon understanding the truth and feed Arminianism, in one way or another. Sad to say, the church is just as man-centered in other parts of the globe as it is here. We, who believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation, remain islands of reformed thinking in the midst of oceans of semi-Pelagian doctrine.

5. Do you see a trend rippling through modern evangelicalism that is turning back to the great doctrines of the reformation? If so, why do you think this is?

I am grateful to say that I do see what may be the initial sun rays of the dawning of a new day in the church. A resurgence in Reformed theology is definitely beginning to capture the minds and hearts of a new generation. Young people in their teens, twenties, and thirties are no longer content with the tired and trivial answers of my generation regarding the fundamental issues of a Christian world view. They long for more, and those answers are found exclusively in the depths of the Word of God. I am encouraged that there is a new wave of men and women who are marching onto the scene, who are committed to this great truth: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

6. What do you think is the doctrine that is most foundational for the church of today to be solid on in order to be a healthy church?

I believe that the most foundational truth for the church today, as well as in any generation, is the sovereignty and holiness of God. As one’s view of God goes, so goes the entire church. A high view of God inevitably leads to high and holy living. But a low view of God leads unmistakably to low living. A towering view of God in which He is seen in His unrivaled sovereignty and absolute holiness has the most dramatic and profound effect upon the church. Such a vision of God inspires transcendent worship, induces godly living, empowers tireless service, deepens spiritual fellowship, imparts supernatural joy, breathes abundant life, and motivates global outreach. The church will never rise any higher than her lofty view of God.

7. Where do you think the monergism vs. synergism debate falls on this scale? can you elaborate?

I agree with Charles Spurgeon, who once noted that days of revival in the church are marked by, among other things, the preaching on the doctrine of regeneration. Our understanding of monergistic regeneration is absolutely essential for a holy and healthy church. Even having a converted church is at stake. The debate between monergism and synergism is nothing more, nothing less, than the controversy between a God-centered world view and a man-centered paradigm. Monergism teaches that ‘salvation is of the Lord,’ entirely and exclusively. Synergism fabricates that ‘salvation is of God and man.’ In this latter view, man becomes his own co-savior, and this robs God of His glory. A monergistic view of regeneration dusts off the high ground of soteriology and gives the church a firm place to stand and serve.

8. As you touched upon in our conversation. Describe the greatest trial that you have endured as a pastor and how did God minister to you (whether through Scripture, the Spirit, or other people) in that time and how have you been able to use it for the benefit of other pastors (see 2 Cor. 1:3-9)?

The greatest trial that I have endured in the ministry is being put out of the previous church that I pastored. The last six years of my pastorate there saw many pressures brought to bear upon me, each one provoked for teaching the full counsel for God. Issues such as expository preaching, the lordship of Christ, church discipline, divine sovereignty in salvation, and marrying only two believers created much controversy and caused much difficulty for me. Ultimately, it was the truths of the doctrines of grace that caused many people to gnash their teeth and reject the clear teaching of Scripture. In reality, this refusal was a clear and calculated rejection of God Himself, who is the Truth. Standing in the vortex of such a whirlwind was most demanding and draining.

What enabled me to persevere through this difficult time was the sufficiency of Scripture, the sufficiency of Christ, and the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit. The all-sufficient grace of God abounds to us and is always greater than our deepest valleys and darkest nights. God gives a greater grace to those who humble themselves in His presence. This was my experience.

The testimony of the psalmist was tested and found to be true: “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quite waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalms 23:1-6).

Either these verses are true, or they are not. In my time of greatest difficulty in the ministry, a season in which I was being attacked and assailed for preaching the full counsel of God, I found the sufficiency of God’s sustaining grace to be enough. Solus Christus—Christ alone—was my all and all.

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Gospel Coalition Interviews

July 25, 2007

Another wing has been added to the excellent Gospel Coalition website – the interview section. Watch Q and A videos with the likes of Don Carson, Tim Keller, John Piper and Mark Driscoll.

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Some of the fascinating questions put to the men above include:

How do you encourage young pastors in their preaching?
How does preaching affect how Christians see culture?
What advice do you have for young pastors in their family life?
What is the state of the pulpit today?
What message do you have for men/women in the church today?
What keeps you motivated to do what you do?

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Preach… Still

July 24, 2007

I am far too easily discouraged when my preaching is met with apparent indifference. Especially on those rare ocassions when I feel I have really ‘nailed it’, it can be deflating to witness gospel-seed falling on unproductive soil.

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In such moments, I need to hear from the likes of Jeremiah Burroughs. In his book Gospel Fear he reminds preachers that the harvest is God’s responsibility; whilst ‘sowing’ remains our remit.

“Many times the Lord will not go along with the ministry of the Word when it comes with the greatest power and the strongest arguments and, yet, at another time, the Lord will be pleased to bless a word that you only speak in passing. It may do more than all the others. There is scarcely any one faithful minister in the world who observes the work of God upon his ministry who does not find this to be true. Yet this is no argument why a minister should not labor with all his might and come with the strongest arguments. He is bound to do his duty.

Aye, be not discouraged. He may afterwards prevail, and God, I say, may bless many things that come from him. And therefore, I would exhort those who are to speak to such an audience with the words of Ecclesiastes 11:6: “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be a like good.”

“Therefore, let ministers go on and sow their seed and preach still. That which they have spoken (perhaps they have been delivering arguments that they thought would have moved the heart of a devil) has been opening the miserable condition of men and opening the riches of Jesus Christ. Well, there must be no discouragement; go on and sow your seed in the morning, and in the evening withhold not your hand.

Go on and preach again and again, and let the Word of God be presented before the hearts of the people. Though it has not wrought at one time, yet it may work at another time. ”

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