J.C. Ryle on a Minister’s Duties

In preaching through the Gospel of John, I came across the following comments by J.C. Ryle. He is applying the aspect of God sending John the Baptist to ministers being sent by God as well. If a majority of the ministers would take their calling as serious as John the Baptist, the church would be far better off. Not that many do not take their calling seriously, but they do not take the Word of God seriously.

Ryle writes:

“Christian ministers are not priests, nor mediators between God and man. They are not agents into whose hands men may commit their souls, and carry on their religion by deputy. They are witnesses. They are intended to bear testimony to God’s truth, and specially to the great truth that Christ is the only Savior and light of the world… Unless a Christian minister bears a full testimony of Christ, he is not faithful to his office. So long as he does testify of Christ, he has done his part, and will receive his reward, although his hearers may not believe his testimony. Until a minister’s hearers believe on that Christ of whom they are told, they receive no benefit from the ministry. They may be pleased and interested; but they are not profited until they believe. The great end of a minister’s testimony is ‘that through him, men may believe.’”[1]

That is my great hope. That as I preach and declare God’s truth, those in the congregation will believe.


[1] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2007, Vol. 1, p. 14.

Righteous Standards

Part of my sermon for Sunday.

One of the most gripping events in the Old Testament comes when Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, decide to offer profane fire before the Lord. I think it is shocking to our culture and sensibilities because so many believe that whatever we do for the LORD, if we do it with sincerity then there can be nothing wrong.

In other words, we can do whatever we want when it comes to worshipping God as long as we do so sincerely. After all, that is what Nadab and Abihu were doing… offering fire to God with sincere hearts.

Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD (Leviticus 10:1-2).

I can imagine that the first time someone reads this text, their thoughts quickly jump to the unfairness of God. The reader is tempted to think that God is being too harsh on these two men. We are witnessing God’s justice being quickly executed and if God is so quick to execute these two priests, then He might just as easily exact justice upon us. The first-time readers of the Bible rarely understand why the judgment is issued so quickly. It is done so because these men are priests. They are being held to a higher standing because of there position before God.

Yet, God would not be unjust for doing the same to the layman who offered profane fire before the LORD. He has every right to do, but usually does not, instead grace and mercy.

The point behind this is that we do not have permission to worship God in any form we choose. God gives us boundaries by which we must approach Him because He is holy and will not be profaned. Listen to what He said in response to devouring Nadab and Abihu:

‘by those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.

Abihu and Nadad were certainly not regarding God as holy. Because God could not tolerate their profane actions, He punished them right then and there for the sake of the people. We do not need leaders who will enter into God’s presence with flippant and cavalier attitudes.  The leadership must understand the seriousness of worship. God has given us standards by which we may and may not worship Him

What are those righteous standards? The righteous standards we are given come from the Ten Commandments.

G.O.S.P.E.L. — Preaching That Teaches

This is one of the best presentations of the Gospel I have seen in a long time. It is done with rap overtones to it, but don’t let that keep you from watching it. His description of God was the best I’ve heard in a while. All this to say, this is great preaching. I know it has all the flash and the music, but this man is preaching God’s word in 4 minutes.

In for minutes, he summarizes all of man’s problems and shows the reality at all mankind face: we seek righteousness through our own religions, even Christianity. He even hits modern-evangelicalism between the eyes in that so many think that they obtain righteousness through our prayer meetings, Bible reading and the lot. If that is our righteousness, no matter how bible centered it may seem (it is not by the way), it means we are not saved and do not have the righteousness required to enter into heaven. What is necessary by us is perfect righteousness, which is an impossibility for man to achieve. Watch the video.

Hattip: Pyromaniacs. By the way, follow the link and watch the first video there. I’m really interested to see how Frank Turk responds to the loon in that video.

“Woe to you when men speak well of you!” Luke 6:26

J.C. Ryle writes concerning the verse above:

“Let that expression be carefully noted. Few of our Lord’s sayings are more flatly contradictory to the common opinion, both of the Church and the world, than this. What is more common in the world than the love of every one’s praise? What more frequent in the Church than to hear it said, in commendation of a minister, that ‘everybody likes him!’ It seems entirely forgotten, that to be liked and approved by every body, is to be of the number of those to whom Jesus says, ‘Woe unto you.’ To be universally popular is a most unsatisfactory symptom, and one of which a minister of Christ should always be afraid. It may well make him doubt whether he is faithfully doing his duty, and honestly declaring all the counsel of God.”

In other words, if a man is popular among all, is he really preaching the word of God as he should be? Think Joel Osteen.

The above verse is from Ryle’s commentary Expository Thoughts on Luke, Vol. 1, p. 182.

The Pain of Preaching

I thought about entitling this post, “The Pain of the Prophet,” but I didn’t want anyone to think that I was making myself out to be a prophet. I first had the idea about this article after preaching on Sunday and I wondered if what I felt after preaching was much of what the prophet felt when he was proclaiming truth to wayward Israel. I use to think that the prophet took great delight in saying the things he did. He got to stand for God and proclaim His truths to the people, both good and bad. That was naive thinking on my part and after preaching for 16 years, I’ve changed my mind. I think the prophets felt the heaviness of God’s truth before they proclaimed it, while proclaiming and after they had done so. God’s truth in the lives of believers is far to meaty to be flippant about. This is why so many of them struggled with what was being proclaimed. Think of Isaiah, and how he proclaimed the truth for five chapters of events, then found himself in the very Holy of Holies with God Himself. He was completely undone before the Lord and said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”

Don’t think for a moment that this realization didn’t take it’s toll on Isaiah. Not that the toll it took was bad. It was very good for Isaiah to undergo the scrutiny before the Lord that caused him to realize his own sinfulness. He needed that scrutiny and pain that was brought about just as we all do. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it was easy. God’s work in our lives is never easy. Easy is what you get from the many flippant pastors who enter pulpits week after week in order to make every one feel good about themselves. Preaching God’s word is never easy, and rarely makes us feel good about ourselves. If it really works in us, we welcome the uneasiness it brings, or even the comfort that comes from His word because we know that the end result is better than being left alone. If we want to shine like gold for the Lord, He must turn up the fires of sanctification to burn away the dross.

This is what Isaiah was going through before the Lord. It is what Jeremiah went through when he wept. It is what the other prophets in the Old Testament had to deal with as they spoke to Israel in a manner that seems so harsh at times. That harshness was working on the prophets when they proclaimed those truths.

Preaching God’s truth is much the same way today. When a pastor faithfully preaches the text, it works on him more so than those in the pews, as it should.

I would love to say that every time I enter into the pulpit it is nothing but pure spiritual joy. But to say so would be a lie. There are times when I am filled with His love and joy that make preaching a pure delight. But there are other times when it is very hard to preach God’s word week after week. It is hard to open God’s word every week and truly proclaim it without it costing the one proclaiming it. For if we are truly proclaiming God’s word, then God’s word is working on us and in us as we prepare the sermon. That is hard. Having the Holy Spirit examine my heart day after day, line upon line of my sermon, word study upon word study, begins to take it’s toll after a while. Especially when the text applies to my life as well as the lives of those in the pews.

I once had a fellow pastor tell me after his two-year anniversary with a church that it was then that real ministry was beginning to take place. I know what he means. After about two years we really begin to get to know our congregations and get to see what they need in their lives as we pick out our sermon texts. This is where the heaviness comes from, preaching what we know our congregations need to hear. It may not be what they want to hear, but as the Spirit leads us in this selection, we must trust that it is best for them and for us.

It is on days like this when I pray and look at the text I am going to preach that I want to run from it. I want nothing to do with it. It is not as though I want to be disobedient to the Spirit’s guiding, but I know that what I’m going to preach will step on some toes, mine included. Being a guy who loves to be loved, that is a tough proposition. I try the old bit of pulling up an oldie but goodie. There are no oldies but goodies in preaching. If we are really going to faithfully preach, we need to wrestle with the text as God wrestles with us.

So much so, that there are times that I find myself crying out to the Lord more than I do writing a sermon. Take the words, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” They seem like easy words to read and easy words to mentally agree with. Yet God is not trying to get us just to agree with those words. He is working in us so that we live them out as His children are called to do.

Does that mean that those words apply to me as well as those in the pews? Absolutely! The Father allowed His Son to die on the cross and gave me His Spirit so that I could live up to those words. That means He wants me to truly bless those who have persecuted me. This is not some theological theory to be bandied about as a philosopher does inside the local pub or college class room. He wants us to live it.

It is for this reason that I wrestle with the text. I don’t want to live it. I don’t want to ask Him to pour blessings on those who have persecuted me in some way or another. I know that we can expect persecution from those who are not believers, but what about those from inside the church? What about those who attack because I do preach God’s word? What about those who are supposed to cherish the preached word of God, but somehow, despise it? Am I supposed to turn the other cheek when they attack me, and ask for God’s blessing upon them?

My flesh wants nothing to do with it. Just like the flesh of the world it wants revenge. The Holy Spirit will have none of that. To seek revenge is to usurp His place as the final judge, and while we will judge the world in that final day, it’s not the final day yet. If my flesh seeks that revenge, then I’m just as guilty as those who have wronged me. The battle continues.

As pastors, we must let the battle continue. We cannot shy away from it as difficult as it is. We must never distance ourselves from the words we preach for that leads to cold, lifeless preaching. We must own each and every sermon we preach from a personal standpoint of knowing the words we proclaim are meant for us as well. We should never go into the pulpit to preach “to” the people, but to proclaim His word for all who have ears to hear.

This is why we must let the Holy Spirit battle with us, to prepare us and get us ready for the proclamation that will take place.

For me, the battle usually begins sometime on Thursday afternoon when I begin my initial push to write my sermon. When the text is really cutting my heart, it lasts well into Friday and even Saturday. My lovely bride has watched me go through this many times. I will pray, and read, and pray some more, looking for a way out, asking God for some new direction. But He is resolute. In my spiritual exhaustion on Friday, I finally commit to another sermon and open up the file. I read it. “What a great sermon!” I think to myself. And it was a great sermon when I first preached it. Trying to fool myself into thinking I have found the solution, I call it a day.

Then my lovely bride asks me how the sermon is going. “Great!”

What is it on?” she asks gently.

I tell her. We talk about it. Then at some point, she asks that deadly question: “Timothy, have you asked the Lord what He wants you to preach.”

I bark! “Come on! Of course I have.”

She lets me believe that I have. Saturday morning comes. I’ve rested. I open the oldie but goodie, and punt it before I can get past the first page. That is not what God would have me preach. I go back to the text I have wrestled with all week, and finally begin to write. I’m resigned to His words working in my heart as well. Yes, I will bless those who persecute me as He has called me to do. And I will preach His word, as He has called me to do. That is my ultimate blessing to those He has entrusted me with. I’m fortunate. Most look forward to my preaching, never knowing the struggle I go through to bring them the word. They appreciate it nonetheless.

Many will never know what the preacher goes through while trying to prepare a sermon. That is fine. It’s not their cross to bear. It’s mine.The pain of preaching is mine as well. That is the call He has placed on my life, and so many other men as well. We are to wrestle with the text and let the Holy Spirit work in us as we prepare, so that when we proclaim, we will not just be proclaiming God’s word in some distant fashion, but proclaiming God’s double-edged sword that has cut us to the bone as well. That is the pain of preaching.

Top 10 Most Noble Jobs in the World

Part of my sermon this past week was on serving the Lord. Many often ask “how is it that we can serve the Lord?” A lot of serving the Lord is done with the mindset of doing those things that we are called to do as though we are doing them for the King of kings Himself. In other words, we are called by Him in our every day lives to serve Him with our every day lives. Christians often times get caught up on the idea that you can only serve the Lord if you are in a vocation directly related to the church. This isn’t true. We are actually called to serve Him where we are, whether we are husbands, father’s, mother’s, wives, friends, or in the world as a banker, carpenter, plumber, etc. It is not as though we have to have the church lay hands on us in order to serve the Lord.

The other aspect that I like to focus on in this line of thinking is the fact that all we do is noble in sight of the Lord, when we do those tasks in view of the Lord. If the King of kings was willing to wash feet, then no task is beneath the nobility of the calling placed upon us. In view of that, here is my list of jobs that I find noble because no one wants to do them, yet God calls us to do these tasks.

  1. Garbage collectors — these men and women do want no one aspires to do. Think of the smell each of us would endure without the work they do. They actually have to live with that smell. Therefore this position is noble because they are willing to help out their fellow man in dealing with garbage. I hope that they realize the nobility in this position.
  2. Nurses in nursing homes — especially poorly funded nursing homes. There have been times I have wanted to take these nurses aside and share with them the nobility of their work. They are working with those that are cast aside by society and cannot help themselves. It’s a tough and hard job that goes unnoticed by society unless something really wrong happens. The nurse who does this job needs to realize that there is One who notices her work. It is a noble task.
  3. Chicken pickers — those who slaughter and clean the chickens we eat. Just the smell alone would drive most of us to a vegetarian lifestyle. Yet there are people who do it so we can eat. Thank God for their willingness to do so.
  4. Stay-at-home moms — we tend to forget the importance of our wives staying at home with their children. While liberalism and feminism put this task down, it is the most noble calling a woman can have. She is not just raising children, but raising the next generation of citizens. We need to encourage mothers who do their work well, and correct those who do not do their work well.
  5. Anyone who works at McDonald’s — come on, you’ve seen how miserable these people are! Someone needs to encourage them.
  6. Telemarketers — OK, probably not. They serve no useful purpose to humanity. Plumbers — especially the guys that have to deal with septic tanks and port a potties! (The telemarketer comment was just meant to be funny).
  7. The sweat jockey — the guy who wipes up sweat off the basketball court during NBA games.
  8. Janitors — let’s face it, these guys get very little glory for keeping our malls, banks, movie theaters, etc., clean of the filth we leave behind. We need more good janitors.
  9. Dental Hygienist — same gross job as a dentist, but without the respect and title of a dentist.
  10. Proctologist and  GI doctors — crappie no matter how you look at it.

The Witnesses of Christ — Peter

I’m currently preaching through 1 Corinthians 15:1ff, where Paul recounts the number of witnesses who saw the risen Savior. They did not see visions of Christ, or manifestations of Him, but the physically raised Son of Man in bodily form. I stress this because there are those who like to say that the resurrection was spiritual in nature only. It was not. The resurrection of Christ, and our future resurrection is both spiritual and physical. Our bodies will be raised up and united to our souls (if we have already departed). This is why the writers stress that He was physical in nature, after all, He made them breakfast and ate it with them as well.

Sunday’s sermon was on Peter’s encounter with Christ by the Sea of Galilee. It was a real encounter, not something that was merely a vision. You can listen to the full sermon by going here. Other sermons are here. Just a side note, my voice was shot this weekend, so it does take just a tad getting use to listening to it. But I’m told it is worth it. May you be blessed by the preaching of God’s word.

Good Preachers Don’t Flatter

Judy T sent this to me earlier in the week, and I have to agree. It’s not the job of a preacher to flatter those in the congregation or stroke their egos. He is to preach for One, and One only, that is His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Not that we do not preach for those in the congregation, but we do not let them influence us in regards to preaching the text. I know some of my hardest sermons to preach, have been those that the world would have rejected outright, because when we preach the gospel faithfully, it truly is offensive.

Why is that?

Because the gospel says there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn any favor with God. If we are Christians, it is because He has chosen us, not because we have chosen Him. We are saved and redeemed because of His actions, not because of anything in us. This flies in the face of our fallen nature. We want to somehow add to our salvation. But to do so is to risk becoming self-righteous.

This message has fallen on hard times in our day. If you don’t believe me, just spend some time in a Christian bookstore. You will find book after book that look more like secular self-help books than books on the true gospel of Christ. Or the other motif, books about the “overcoming” Christian, as if the central message of the gospel was to help us “overcome.” We do not overcome our sin and suffering. That is not the message of the gospel. The message of the gospel is that our sin and suffering were so bad that One who was perfect had to die on the cross in order to save us from it. If there is any overcoming in the gospel, it is that He did so by dying for us. He didn’t die so that we could then become “empowered” or “self actuated” to be better people. He died because we are not better people. Good preachers preach this truth. No, it’s not flattering. But it is much better than that. When a pastor preaches the truth of the gospel, sometimes God uses it to redeem sinners to Himself. Sometimes He uses it to feed His sheep. And He always uses it for His glory.

Here is what Pastor Ryle writes and is found at JC Ryle Quotes:

Preachers: Don’t Flatter, Speak Truth

28 Feb

Well would it be for the Church of Christ, if it possessed more plain-speaking ministers, like John the Baptist, in these latter days. A morbid dislike to strong language an excessive fear of giving offence, a constant flinching from directness and plain speaking are, unhappily, too much the characteristics of the modern Christian pulpit. Uncharitable language is no doubt always to be deprecated. But there is no charity in flattering unconverted people, by abstaining from any mention of their vices, or in applying smooth epithets to damnable sins. There are two texts which are too much forgotten by Christian preachers. In one it is written, “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you.” (Luke 6:26) In the other it is written, “Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.” (Gal. 1:10)

~ J.C. Ryle


Do Not Fret Because of Evildoers… Trust in the Lord and Do Good.

I listened to this sermon by Jeff Arthur of Elizabeth Baptist Church in Bancroft, West Virginia on Saturday morning and I was really blessed by it. He is preaching from Psalm 37 and reminds us of the need to not fret, but trust in the Lord.

It’s interesting that fretting is really a problem for many believers because of the wrong that evil doers do to us. We tend to play the event over and over in our minds, thinking about how much wrong has been done to us. Yet, the Lord tells us not to fret over these things. We are to put them aside and press on, trusting in Him. If we don’t, as Pastor Jeff points out, we will fall into the trap of being a fool. Proverbs 29:11 A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.

I remember in seminary there were those who were into saying what came to their minds no matter how wretched, saying “I’m just being real.” Funny how even Proverbs declares that we should die to ourselves and being “real.”

Anyway, listen to the sermon. I think you will be blessed. Pastor Jeff has a wonderful way of saying things and reminds me of what Larry the Cable Guy would sound like if he were saved and cleaned up a bit. I don’t mean to demean Pastor Jeff in anyway. He just has a real pleasant country accent and demeanor about him. Here is the link:

http://www.sermonaudio.com/playpopup.asp?SID=6130694036

May you be blessed on this Lord’s Day.

The Authority of the Son

I was recently listening to a sermon by Elliott Greene in which he brought up the Great Commission. In that passage, Jesus says: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”

Elliott postulated that the disciples then asked “Lord, how far does your authority extend?”

To which Jesus replied, “Point to something.”

“Even death has to do what Jesus tells it.”

That is so true when we realize where it is that Jesus sits. Jesus is not in heaven, sitting by the crystal sea, sipping on a mint julep, wondering what to do next. He is not lolly gagging around, hoping to find something interesting to do. He is not wondering what is happening on earth, hoping everything just sort of pans out for those who believe in Him.

No, He is not doing any of those things. He is sitting at the right hand of God the Father, in the place of authority. He is in the chair of authority, the place where God’s sovereign plan for humanity is being directed and guided and ruled.

This is why it is so important that we pray. By praying, we are entering into that throne room where our Savior rules with complete and total authority. In our text this morning, we are seeing that part of His glorification is that He is given this authority by the Father, for going to the cross.

1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should[a] give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.

Last week, we looked at The Hour of the Son and the Glory of the Son. This morning, we are focusing on the Authority of the Son and the Life of the Son.

This is the introduction to my sermon for this past Sunday. You can listen to the entire sermon, or download the written sermon, by going to our web page at Sermon Audio — Grace Presbyterian Church of Jackson, TN. Allow me to say that what I have written is not necessarily what I have preached. The meat and outline are the same, but the two are different sermons. If you read what I wrote, and listen to the sermon, you will see what I mean. What is preached is far more important than what I have written.

Also, feel free to forward the sermon to others. You know the importance of the preached word, and I’m not stingy with it. You might also check out some of the other sermons listed there. I recently listened to Alistair Begg’s sermon on The Good News of the Resurrection and The Interrogation. Both are truly worth listening to.

And I would be sorely mistaken if I didn’t give you a link to listen to Elliott Greene’s sermon which I reference in this sermon. You can find it by going to his web page: Tyrannus Hall — Foundation for Pastoral Development. The sermon is under the Westminster Convocation at the bottom of the page. Please, if you listen to nothing else, go and listen to Elliott’s sermon. He is a wonderful preacher, pastor, friend and true blessing to the Church.

Those of you who know me, know how much Elliott has helped me over the years. He is the man God used to help keep me in the ministry during my dark days as a failing, Baptist preacher. Now, he has also helped me remain in the ministry during my dark days as a failing, Presbyterian preacher (tongue in cheek, which means that is a joke, for those of you in Luxora.)

Elliott’s ministry through Tyrannus Hall is to be a seminary on wheels for those pastors who have been called to the ministry without the benefit of going to seminary. He helps those pastors get up to speed as far as education. He is perfectly suited for the task and does a wonderful job teaching men in the ministry. He is also associate professor of biblical and pastoral theology at Redeemer Theological Seminary in Dallas, TX.  The point is that he is a very gifted preacher, teacher and pastor. Listen to the sermon when you can.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is Now Roaring!

I found this wonderful story in Modern Reformation magazine in an article by Jon D. Payne. He found the story in a book by Iain H. Murray’s A Scottish Christian Heritage. I love Murray’s works because he helps put the history of the church in perspective and I recommend any of his books to you, which you can find at Banner of Truth Trust (BTW, Banner of Truth is one of the few places I recommend for buying Christian books. As for Christian bookstores, please, if you are a true follower of Christ, stay away!!!)

Here is Payne’s quote:

“One Lord’s Day as Robert Bruce (1554-1631) ascended the elevated pulpit at St. Giles Kirk in Edinburgh, King James VI was comfortably perched in his royal gallery overlooking the congregation from the rear. The relationship between Bruce and the Steward king, though once amicable, became strained due to Bruce’s unwillingness to negotiate the truth in light of James’s unscrupulous politics–especially as it concerned the newly established Presbyterian Church of Scotland (1560). On this particular Sunday, after Bruce commenced his sermon, the king showed his contempt for Bruce by carrying on a loud and impudent conversation with his courtiers. Bruce paused for a moment, and the king quieted down. When Bruce began preaching again, however, the king continued his ill-mannered conversation. After this took place a third time, the fiery Scottish preacher looked up to the royal gallery and declared: ‘It is said to have been an expression of the wisest of kings, When the lion roars, all the beasts of the field are [quiet]: the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is now roaring in the voice of his Gospel, and it becomes all the petty kings of the earth to be silent.'”

What an absolute wonderful quote, for it truly shows us the supremacy of the Gospel over the kings of the earth. No matter what position a man may hold, be it a king or a mayor or a Senator, when the Gospel is truly preached, they should quiet down and listen. Even the most exalted king or athlete or superstar is not above his or her need for the Gospel. It is through the Gospel that Jesus is speaking to us today. Not with new revelation, but in the proclamation of the ultimate revelation that has been already been given through and in the person of Jesus Christ.

I’m sure that King James VI was angered by that statement. But he would have done himself well by coming down out of his box seat and humbled himself among the peasantry at the foot of the cross. If a man is ever going to find favor with God, he cannot do so without coming to the cross and laying aside all his pretentious entrappings about himself.

The church would do well by remembering this truth, and pastors would do well to remember it as well. The pastor is not to be the latest hit comedian, or counselor, or big buddy, or motivational speaker. He is to be a man who stands in the pulpit week after week declaring the truth of God’s word, for in doing so, he is being used by the Holy Spirit so that we can hear from the Lion of Judah.

I can’t tell you the number of times I will have preached a sermon and someone will come up to me afterward and say, “I loved it when you said …, for that really spoke to me and encouraged me.” The entire time I’m thinking, “Did I say that?” I don’t remember saying it, but the Lord took what I said and encouraged someone in the congregation with it in such a way that it applied to their particular situation. That only happens when we preach God’s word faithfully.

Now think about what takes place when a pastor becomes a motivational speaker instead of a preacher of God’s word. Instead of looking to proclaim the truth found in Scripture, especially the parts that are unpopular, he uses God’s word as a spring board into a message that will motivate people to be better people. On the surface, this sounds good and to many, they believe that this is what should take place. After all, we don’t want messages about “suffering” and “righteousness.” We want messages that tell us how good we are and how much God loves us. Of course He loves us, we are such wonderful people!

But… that is not the Gospel. The Gospel doesn’t tell us how wonderful we are, but how wonderful He is in that He came to save us because we are so wretched. Whether we are kings or queens in reality or in our own minds, we need the gospel. We need to hear the truth that we don’t want to hear. We need to hear that there is nothing in us that will bring about favor with God. We need to know that what we truly deserve, which is eternal hell. I know, this doesn’t seem fair. But that is fair, for we have offended a Holy God and if He is fair, He gives all what they deserve. What we want is His grace which is found in The Gospel itself.

Motivational sermons won’t do us a lot of good at that point. Which is sad, because those who truly had their “best life now,” will get to think about that nugget of truth for eternity, and remember that they did indeed have their best life while on earth. As Abraham said to the rich man who burned, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”

Allow me to say, I don’t want my best life now. Let the Lion of Judah Roar! Let the Gospel go forth from the pulpits in America, as unpleasant as it is, because it is much better for us to humble ourselves under His word than to listen to the wisdom of the world.  Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

We need men in our pulpits who will proclaim the truth and not fear the outcome. I like what A.A. Hodge said concerning this:

“It is easier to find a score of men wise enough to discover the truth than to find one intrepid enough, in the face of opposition, to stand up for it.”

Unfortunately, much of the church today has drifted the way of the world, with motivational messages, and messages meant to uplift instead of conform us to the image of Christ. Conformity to Christ is not easy, it’s done through the fires of affliction and the pastor who punts on this issue is no pastor at all.

Brannon Howse writes the following:

Many such churches would claim to love truth but what they really love is a man-centered Christianity that helps them obtain success in their marriage, finances, family, and a positive attitude that produces health and a successful personal life without the pain of dying to self, picking up the Cross of Christ and being persecuted for proclaiming Truth.

II Timothy 4:3 tells us that many Christians will only want to hear what makes them feel good and appeals to their flesh; “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.”

Pastors must not buy into the world’s message and preach the Gospel, because God can take the message and convert souls. Motivational talks, while they may convert our attitudes for a day or a week, lack the power to change us into children of God. What is amazing is that God can take the meekest pastor, to the most bold, to the most confident, and used them to speak to His children. He can take those who are being as faithful to the word as they can, and speak throught them to convert the lost and bring them to salvation. But they must preach His word, not the world’s word.

Is there any king or president that can do that in our day an age? They may claim to be able to keep the seas from rising and they may claim to bring peace to the land, but all they can really do is hope the Lion of Judah blesses their endeavors. Otherwise, they are truly petty in their endeavors. Just think about King James VI. How much of his life and reign to do we know about? Was it all that important?

The reason I asked that is that the Lion of Judah roared in his direction on the Sabbath day so many years ago. The only hope that King James VI had of any future is if he listened to the roar. Did he listen, or just get angry like so many kings and queens of our day do. Remember, during his day, King James VI was on top of the world. Where is he now? If he shrugged his shoulders at the roar, it’s not pretty. Will you hear the roar of the Lion? Or will you just shrug your shoulders as well, and join the ancient and unknown kings in their place in eternity?

Sola Fide and Other Sermons Available

I just finished posted my sermons from Sunday at Sermon Audio Dot Com. The morning sermon was on the trial of the disciples as Christ was taken from them at His death and the joys that they would experience upon His resurrection. My main illustration dealt with Asia Bibi, which I’ve written about here, and how she is facing death because she stood for Christ. The darkness shes is going through is hard, but the joy she will experience, either through being released, or taken home to the Father, will far outweigh the suffering she now faces. The same was true for the disciples and is true for all of us.

The sermon for Sunday night was on Sola Fide, by faith alone. It is one of the five Solas of the reformation and how this truth is just as necessary today as it was during the Reformation.

You can get to GPC of Jackson page by clicking here.

Featured Sermon

Also I listened to the featured sermon of the day, by Voddie Bachman out of Houston on adoption. It was absolutely superb. He covers both spiritual and physical adoption and shows the absolute importance of understanding this doctrine for our spiritual lives. Adoption is another great doctrine that came out of the Reformation.

You can get there by clicking here.

Living Waters

John 7:37-38 “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

 

I will add that I have had to hold onto this verse quite a lot lately. Anyone in (teaching) ministry will tell you that often times, when we teach and preach a lot, we feel very empty afterward. There is nothing wrong with being empty after we preach, or even empty before we preach. We must not be empty while we preach. The only hope that any of us have in doing so, is to be filled with His Spirit so that living waters flow forth. That is my prayer when I pray, preach and teach. Let His living waters flow forth and bear much fruit.

Reading a Manuscript is Not Preaching

One of the hardest lessons for a pastor to learn is to truly lean on the Holy Spirit while preaching and not his manuscript. I know this all too well because in my tradition, we are prone to read our manuscripts instead of preaching the message of the gospel. While manuscripts may provide well documented theological arguments, reading from one is not preaching. Reading from a manuscript is nothing more than giving a theological lecture. Far too often in my denomination it is regarded as preaching. On the one hand, the manuscript process for preparation is to be commended because it requires research, prayer and time spent in the word of God. But on the other hand, it is bad because when you are reading a manuscript, the Holy Spirit is inhibited.

After all, did Peter read his sermon on the day of Pentecost? Absolutely not. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached with conviction. In my denomination, I think we like people to read manuscripts because they lack conviction. It’s safe. However, can you imagine if Peter had read the words: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.”

No, Peter didn’t read those words. He shouted them. He said them with conviction, and the men who heard were cut to the heart. That is what we want when we preach. We want those in our congregations to be cut to the heart where there is sin, and encouraged in Christ where there is brokenness. As has been said before, we want to comfort the conflicted, and conflict the comfortable. Reading a manuscript prevents this.

This is one reason why reading manuscripts is so popular. Preachers, by nature, want to be liked. We want all those in our congregation to like us and support us in what we are called to do. But the truth be known, if you truly preach the word of God, there will be people in any congregation that will not like you. They don’t want to hear the truths of God’s word, because God’s word is so powerful. It causes us to squirm and realize our own sinfulness, even those of us who preach it. Do you think I wanted to preach that Jesus told the disciples and us how much the world hates us? (See here.) Not really. It was a difficult sermon to preach, but one that needed to be preached. As believers we need to be confronted with the truth of the gospel. Part of that truth means that we are no longer liked by the world. But it is far better to be liked by Christ than the world.

The point is that when we read our manuscripts, we have a tendency to do so in a way that is non-confrontational. (Yes, I know that Jonathan Edwards read his manuscripts. Charles Haddon Spurgeon did not. Who is considered the prince of preachers?) It is also safe because it keeps us from saying something far to controversial or making a mistake. That’s right, it helps keep our pride in tact because we never have to apologize for making a mistake. Wretched.

I would much rather be used by the Spirit and make the occasional mistake which requires an apology than to quench the Spirit. But I had to learn this lesson.

Given that I find myself in a denomination that not only strives for the conversion of souls, but also theological purity, the fear was just too much to venture off the well-prepared manuscript. Given that my denomination tends to attract those who love theology, and love to argue theology, when you preach, there is always the chance that you will make a mistake in something you say and find yourself in a theological tempest. For that reason I stayed with the manuscript for far too long. It has only been recently that I have felt the freedom to depart from the manuscript, and even throw it out while in the pulpit. Again, I think we are better off. (Please don’t get me wrong. I still prepare a manuscript every week, or a highly detailed outline. But I’m not bound by it. I think the preacher who fails to study and pray throughout the week is a greater blight on the church than the the theological lecturer.)

Part of this comes from being confident. Not confident in myself, but in the message I am preaching.  It’s one thing to believe the gospel, and trust in Christ for salvation, it is quite another to proclaim that truth. Just examine yourself about witnessing to others. You know how difficult that is. Well, it is equally difficult to preach the word of God with all that it says about our sinful and depraved nature even to those who believe and affirm that we are sinful and depraved. Even in a group of people who fully acknowledge this biblical truth, we still want messages that tickle our ears. So it is difficult.

Pastors must be confident in the message we preach. The gospel is the power unto salvation and to preach it faithfully means that it will insult those in the congregation because the true gospel says to us: “sorry, you are not good enough, and you don’t measure up. However, if you put your faith and trust in another, then you will be saved.” Hardly the health and wealth prosperity gospel that is found in so much of life (see the Conservative Tea Party Movement). It also confronts those who look to the government for help, because the gospel says that we are not to turn to the government, but to God. So it is offensive to all parties in our country.

The point is that for pastors to be effective, we must preach God’s word, and trust in the Spirit while we do so. This means that we preach, or proclaim the truth, not read it. Yes, we can read from our manuscript at certain points, or read quotes, or look to it for the order of our message. But that is only a guide and we need to be ready for the Holy Spirit to take us down a different path if necessary. He may lead us away from the manuscript all together. That is wonderful if He does so. That means we are leaning on Him to give our congregations what they need, and not what we think they need. As long as we are preaching His truth, than so be it. But let’s not read it, let’s preach it.

New Testament Commentator William Hendriksen wrote the following about Jesus using parables in His sermons:

“The minister, therefore, who spiritual contact with the world of human beings destined for eternity consists of delivering–mostly reading?– to ‘his own’ people one sermon a week, or even two, without stirring appeals, tender admonitions, illustrations, and/or a climax; and who then retires to his study for the next six days, may well ask himself whether anyone will ever say about him, ‘I recognize that he has been with Jesus.'”

Hendriksen has no room for preachers that read sermons. And we should not either. We are called to preach God’s word, not read it.

The Sermon — Preparing to Listen

I’ve again started visiting Reformation 21 because the articles are so well done. It is put together by those committed to the Reformed Faith and we can really learn a lot from them. Ian Campbell has a good post on preparing to listen to the sermon. He is basing it on Christopher Ash’s booklet, Listen Up! A practical guide to listening to sermons.

This guide goes beyond the typical attempts to being there and just staying awake. Although those to steps are helpful, here is what Campbell lists along with my own comments in italics:

  1. Expect God to speakWe understand that when God’s word is being faithfully preached that we are actually hearing from HIM, that is Jesus Christ. This has been lost on the modern church because so many fail to believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. The modern preacher is led to believe that he needs to be a coach, a counselor, a good friend and never gets around to proclaiming what God has proclaimed. Yet God’s word is far more sufficient for the body of Christ than any message based on humanistic beliefs. When we do preach God’s word, Romans 10:14, in the original, says we hear HIM, that is Jesus Christ! By the power of the Holy Spirit Christ uses the fallen preacher to proclaim His truth and those in attendance actually hear the savior.
  2. Admit God knows better than youremember, He is God, we are not. He is the infinite and all knowing God who knows the beginning from the end because He made both. So let’s quit putting ourselves in His place and admit that when it comes to the things of faith, the real and meaningful things of life, He knows best.
  3. Check the preacher says what the passage saysthis is why you should have your Bible in your lap following along with the preacher, even if/when the words of Scripture are displayed on the screen in front of you. You need your own copy of God’s word, and you need to know it well. Following along with what the preacher says is one way to know if what he is saying is true. If so, then number 2 applies. If not, then typical, modern-day preaching has taken place and it’s time to find another church.
  4. Hear the sermon in churchyes, I know that we record the sermons and send them all over the place. But you need to be with the people of God on the Lord’s Day sitting in the presence of the preaching. When the people of God are gathered on the Lord’s Day, we are mysteriously caught up together into HIS presence as we receive His grace in the preached word. One of the reasons that I believe the church is so weak today is that we have lost the deeper understanding of the means of grace and gathering for corporate worship.
  5. Be there week by weekwe need a steady diet of God’s word. This is the way to true spiritual health.
  6. Do what the Bible saysdo I need to comment on this one?
  7. Do what the Bible says today – and rejoice! Satan loves it when we put off being faithful while it is yet called Today!

I might add a few more.

  1. Pray that you heart is prepared to hear God’s word throughout the week. So often when we arrive on Sunday morning, our hearts and minds are filled with the problems of the world. We need the extra prayer so that we can focus on what is being said and understand it. Remember, we are dealing with spiritual truth. The only way we can ever have a fuller understanding of God’s truth is by the power of the Holy Spirit. So let us ask God to send Him and help us understand and hear.
  2. Pray for the pastor throughout the week. You would not believe the number of spiritual attacks that we go through every week while we are trying to prepare Sunday’s sermon. Your pastor needs your prayers and God’s protection on his time, his heart, his focus and diligence. So many things pop up during the week when we need to be studying and praying that your prayers are vital for us to do a good job.
  3. Encourage others to do the same. This will help people realize that what is taking place on Sunday morning is far more important than what takes place at the Rotary Club or any where else. God’s people are gathering to hear God speak and to be in His presence. This should stir our hearts to be reverent, attentive and filled with joy. Tell others of this rich truth.

I hope this has been helpful. You might even have a few more suggestions. Let us know in the comments section if you do.