An Encouragement to Those Who Minister the Word

John Piper, in his book The Supremacy of God in Preaching, shares his own testimony regarding being called to preach while a student at Wheaton College. This call came about as the result of hearing Dr. Harold Ockenga speak. Years later Piper was asked to speak at the Harold John Ockenga Lectures on Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

He says this about his opportunity, but in doing so shares a word which has continued to encourage me, and I hope will bring encouragement to those of you who will minister God's Word this coming weekend:

That was a precious privilege for me. And I prayed that it would be an acceptable tribute to Dr. Ockenga, who never knew me - and therefore a testimony to the fact that the true usefulness of our preaching will not be known to us until all the fruit on all the branches on all the trees that have sprung up from all the seeds we've ever sown has fully ripened in the sunshine of eternity.

Return from the Southland

Thank you to those who left well-wishes for my trip. I had a good day with my parents and some productive study time in the motel yesterday morning. I also benefitted greatly from listening to some main sessions and seminars from the 2005 Shepherd's Conference (John Macarthur). RC Sproul's talks on justification by faith were especially good.

I also came home to a dead Dell Dimension. I am pretty computer-fluent and worked through a couple of things, but my main office computer seems to have bitten the dust. Bought the farm. Etc. So I don't have access to all of my data for a few days until a replacement gets here, but I got a good deal on a refurbished Dell unit. In the meantime my blogging may be sporadic.

If you want some good listening, go to The Shepherd's Conference website. The mp3's cost $3 each, but the ones by Sproul from this year are worth your purchase and repeated listening.

Theological Discernment, Part 2

There were several good comments under my previous post. Thank-you to all who contributed some very practical ideas.

Some years ago I worked as both a full-time Associate Pastor and full-time school administrator for a church-run Christian School. My schedule did not allow me the time to do a lot of reading/study outside of what I would be teaching on, and I was also out of the theological loop to a great extent for about 5 years. I can remember going to an ordination council and being amazed at how almost every area of evangelical theology was being confronted by either a new twist or a different teaching. It is no different today.

My own theological education is on an undergraduate level, though I have taken some classes on a graduate level. Someday I hope to get my Masters. But for now that has to wait. Nevertheless, I have tried to remain theologically fluent in these ways:

  1. When I preach or teach a new area of Scripture, I update my commentary collection with one or two of the newest conservative commentaries. I made reference a few months ago to two books (one by DA Carson and the other by Tremper Longman) that give assistance in choosing commentaries. For example, as I began to prepare to preach on Romans, I bought Douglas Moo's latest commentary from the NICNT (Eerdmans)and Tom Schreiner's commentary from the ECNT (Baker). Both of these are up-to-date.
  2. I subscribe to Modern Reformation magazine, from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. I find their contributions to my understanding of Biblical Christianity most helpful.
  3. I purchase highly-recommended current systematics. In the last five years I added Wayne Grudem's and Millard Erickson's systematics. When dealing with an area of theology, I am able to be exposed to new lines of thinking that way.
  4. Blogs - Jon Trainer said that he finds that there are several blogs that discuss new thinking in theology, though he wisely encouraged continual reading of older works that have stood the test of time.
  5. Scripture - we need to be grounded in Scripture, as several of you said.

The challenge, of course, is finding time. Making time is probably a better word. I do not read as voraciously as I did when I was younger (my mom would often chide me as a kid about being up too early reading). But making a list of books that need to be read and then working through them is helpful.

Keep the comments coming, folks. I think that this has been of value and hopefully there are some lurkers who may share some thoughts as well.

Make sure that you check Milton Stanley's site today - he has a link about a number of preaching-oriented discussions that are on various blogs. It would be good to note them. Milton - you're moving soon, aren't you??

This will be my last blog entry for a couple of days. About 25 years ago my parents retired to Charlotte, NC. While they are in good health, I have tried to take a quick trip around their birthdays each year. My Mom turned 72 on Thursday, and I will be leaving either Sunday night or Monday for a quick trip down (basically sandwiching a day with them between two 600-mile days of travel). I have a number of sermons/lectures on my iPod to listen to on the road, plus some good Country music. I'll be back in the office on Thursday morning. I hope to have internet access while I am away, but will see all you folks again late next week.

Have a great day learning, worshiping and serving Christ tomorrow!!

Theological Discernment

From Scott Gibson's Biblical Preaching in an Anti-Authority Age in Preaching to A Shifting Culture.

Preachers need to cultivate theological discernment. Evangelicals are pastoral people. We want men and women and boys and girls to embrace Jesus Christ as Savior. Our passion to reach souls may at times soften our ability to determine strengths and weaknesses of practices, methods, or the theological assumptions behind them. At times we exhibit an evangelical naivete. Evangelical naivete may be seen in the following ways: First, we assume that what is done has been thought through and is biblically sound. Second, we are pragmatists and think, "If it works, it must be fine." Third, we compromise our misgivings by keeping silent. Or worse, we don't have the theological background informing our ministry, and thus we fall prey to anything that comes along.
One of the challenges that I find is that there is an enormous amount of change in today's theological climate. It seems that almost every major doctrinal category has been re-thought, re-developed, questioned, etc. - within "evangelicalism."

What do you do to stay theologically sharp when you have numerous other pastoral tasks to care for?

Commentary Series Reviews

Parableman has a very good review of commentary series. Those of you who buy reference books are going to want to print this out.

The Cry for Relevant Biblical Preaching

Written by Haddon Robinson in Preaching to a Shifting Culture (Baker)

The cry of the hour, we are told, is for relevant preaching. What thoughtful person would disagree? Who would want to argue for irrelevant preaching? When we talk about irrelevant preaching, however, someone needs to ask, "Relevant to what?" As food is relevant to hunger and water is relevant to thirst, the most relevant preaching for the inhabitants of the twenty-first century is biblical preaching. As nothing else, it speaks to our wilderness times crying for a voice. Without a "Thus saith the Lord" behind our preaching we are pathetically irrelevant. Preachers who take the "experts" of the culture more seriously than the Scriptures may end up being neither relevant nor biblical. If they do not believe that when the Bible speaks, God speaks, they will not only misdiagnose the fundamental needs of their listeners but also have nothing of substance to offer them. Too much of current preaching resembles cotton candy that appeals to people's hungers but possesses no value as food.

I should also point out that this book would work well in a study group situation as it contains questions at the end of each essay/chapter.


I am certain that this will open the doors to intensive philosophical debate, perhaps for decades to come.

Last night I am sitting with my son at the Phillies-Mets game here in Philadelphia. Randy Wolf, the Phillies starting pitcher, pitches 8 superb innings, but he is out of gas to start the 9th inning and allows 3 successive singles to the top of the Mets order. The manager wisely decides that a change is needed. Tim Worrell, a veteran relief pitcher, makes his way to the mound and strikes out Mike Piazza for out number 1. But then, with the count 3 balls and 0 strikes, he grooves one to Cliff Floyd, who sends it somewhere over the continent of Europe to make the game 5-4. He holds on to get the next two outs and we win, but INJUSTICE has occurred.

Wolf gets charged with 3 runs in his official stats because his were the 2nd and 3rd runs to score on the homerun by Worrell. Yet doth this not lack equity? I believe (and here is where you may disagree with my belief system) that the pitcher giving up the homerun thereof shouldst be charged with half of the runs he alloweth that wouldst otherwise be charged to the previous hurler.

What say ye, brethren and sisters??

Preaching to A Shifting Culture & ESV Reformation Study Bible

One of the best books I read in 2004 is a booked edited by Scott M. Gibson entitled Preaching to A Shifting Culture. The subtitle, 12 Perspectives on Communicating that Connects comes from twelve essays by noted preachers and theologians in the Evangelical community.

I found nearly all of the essays to be of value, but in particular
  • The Necessity of Preaching Christ in a World Hostile To Him (Bryan Chapell)
  • The Relevance of Expository Preaching (Haddon Robinson)
  • Connecting with Your Congregation (Keith Willhite)
  • Who's Listening Out There? (David Hansen)
  • The Postmodern Mind and Preaching (Jeffrey Arthurs
  • Evangelical Preaching in a Global Context (Timothy Tennent)
  • Biblical Preaching in an Anti-Authority Age (Scott Gibson)

If you're looking for one of the must-reads to help you communicate more effectively, and encourage you to stay faithful in the task of actually teaching/preaching the Bible as opposed to letting the Bible be the launching pad for therapeutic pick-me-ups, I'd recommend this book highly. Those of you in missions or involved with missions would do well to read Tennent's chapter. It's under $10 at most discounters.

The link that I post is for Westminster Seminary Bookstore here near Philadelphia. I find their prices on scholarly and pastoral books to be about the best around, and their $5 per order shipping fee is superb. Of course, I have the advantage of driving 3 miles over there, paying no shipping, and being able to browse to my heart's content. Need anything? Send me some money and I'll be glad to um, get it, um for you and send it out when I, uh, get a chance . . .

They are selling the Reformation Study Bible for a paltry $39.99 instead of the usual $69.99 (that's in black or burgundy genuine leather). The Wittenburg Gate has an article about it, and I have been using it for a few weeks. The notes are very good, a good team of contributors, and a nice sized print. It's not a small book, though - you could ward off a terrorist gang with it if you had to - but it's nicely done.

Hey - I'm enjoying my first three months blogging and appreciate the different people I've been in contact with. Too bad that we can't do lunch!

(P.S. A factoid - the Blogger spellcheck does not recognize the word . . . blog. Go figure!)

How to Listen to A Sermon

Gleanings of Grace is a reformed blog that had this interesting article by George Whitefield (1714-1770).

"Therefore consider carefully how you listen" (Luke 8:18).

1. Come to hear them, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty. To enter His house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.

2. Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God. If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, and the life or death of his subjects entirely depended on performing or not performing its conditions, how eager would they be to hear what those conditions were! And shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured?

3. Do not entertain even the least prejudice against the minister. Consider that the clergy are men of like passions with yourselves. And though we should even hear a person teaching others to do what he has not learned himself, yet that is no reason for rejecting his doctrine. For ministers speak not in their own, but in Christ’s name. And we know who commanded the people to do whatever the scribes and Pharisees should say unto them, even though they did not do themselves what they said (see Matt. 23:1-3).

4. Be careful not to depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think. Preferring one teacher over another has often been of ill consequence to the church of God. It was a fault which the great Apostle of the Gentiles condemned in the Corinthians: "For whereas one said, I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollos: are you not carnal, says he? For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but instruments in God’s hands by whom you believed?" (1 Cor. 1:12; 2:3-5).

5. Make particular application to your own hearts of everything that is delivered. Oh, that persons, in like manner, when preachers are dissuading from any sin or persuading to any duty, instead of crying, "This was intended for such and such a one!" instead would turn their thoughts inwardly, and say, "Lord, is it I?" How far more beneficial should we find discourses to be than now they generally are!

6. Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put into practice what he shall show from the Book of God to be your duty. If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them! How ministers would see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven, and people find the Word preached sharper than a two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s strongholds!

Hannah Grace Spence - April 14, 2005 - Our second grandchild (no need to tell me that I don't look old enough to be a grandfather!)

Laboring in the Gospel

Yesterday morning I participated in a commissioning service for a couple who is making a change in their ministry with an internationally-based Christian literature mission. These dear people have faithfully served outside of the country, and for the last twenty-some years they have served in a high-level administrative capacity here in the US.

The time has come for them to turn over the leadership of the US ministry to someone else, and with great joy they watched as their oldest son assumed the position that his dad occupied for the last two decades.

Bill and Marge will be relocating to the southeast, where they will serve as representatives for the mission, visit some mission bookstores here in the US and assist in recruitment. While they are grateful for the opportunity to lay aside the weight they have carried so well for these last years, as I sat listening to their international director talk about the new work they would be doing, I could not help but wonder if they would feel, in this new work, that they would somehow be doing something of lesser significance.

I had preached on Sunday morning from Romans 1:16-17, and on Monday was out walking at a local park in the late afternoon and was listening to a sermon by RC Sproul that I had downloaded. As it happened, he was preaching from the same passage. One of the things he noted was that in verse 16 Paul writes that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation, and then he spoke about how we are so prone to rely on gimmicks and programs to do the work of God. But it is the Gospel that changes lives, and it is the Gospel - and only the Gospel - that has God's power behind it.

When it was my turn to share something with them and pray for them, I shared a bit about this and reminded them that as long as they are involved in Gospel-related work, what they did was of great significance. We are all laborers in the same great field. Some do higher profile work than others, but we're all in there. What will ultimately be the gauge of our success and that which shapes our legacy is our staying in the Gospel: faithfully rooted in God's Word, focused on Christ, ministering to people.

No gimmicks needed!

A Great Hymn

Some of you may be singing this in your churches. We sang it for the first time on Sunday. It fit so well with the theme of justification by faith, and the words are worth meditating on. May it encourage your hearts!

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Behold Him there the risen Lamb
My perfect spotless Righteousness
The great unchangeable I Am
The King of glory and of grace
One with Himself I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ my Savior and my God
With Christ my Savior and my God

I bow before the cross of Christ
And marvel at this love divine
God's perfect Son was sacrificed
To make me righteous in God's eyes
This river's depths I cannot know
But I can glory in its flood
The Lord Most High has bowed down low
And poured on me His glorious love
And poured on me His glorious love
CCLI Song No. 2306412
© 1997 Sovereign Grace Worship (Admin. by Integrity's Hosanna! Music)
Charitie Lees Bancroft / Vikki Cook CCLI License No. 747245

Sermon Finished

Well, I've finished it. Some rearranging, but essentially the same thing. I found a great closing illustration of what Paul is talking about in Romans 1:17 in John Piper's book Counted Righteous in Christ that I have to share with you all. I hope it encourages and strengthens your love for Christ and what he has done for you!

My daughter, Talitha, is six years old. Recently she and my wife and I were reading through Romans together. This was her choice after we finished Acts. She is just learning to read, and I was putting my finger on each word. She stopped me in mid-sentence at the beginning of chapter 5 and asked, “What does ‘justified’ mean?”

What do you say to a six-year-old? Do you say, “There are more important things to think about, so just trust Jesus and be a good girl”? Or do you say that it is very complex and even adults are not able to understand it fully, so you can wait and deal with it when you are older? Or do we say that it simply means that Jesus died in our place so that all our sins might be forgiven?

Or do we tell a story (which is what I did), made up on the spot, about two accused criminals, one guilty and one not guilty (one did the bad thing, and one did not do it)? The one who did not do the bad thing is shown, by all those who saw the crime, to be innocent. So the judge “justifies” him; that is, he tells him he is a law-abiding person and did not do the crime and can go free. But the other accused criminal, who really did the bad thing, is shown to be guilty, because all the people who saw the crime saw him do it. But then, guess what! The judge “justifies” him too and says, “I regard you as a law-abiding citizen with full rights in our country” (not just a forgiven criminal who may not be trusted or fully free in the country). At this point Talitha looks at me puzzled.

She does not know how to put her finger on the problem but senses that something is wrong here. So I say, “That’s a problem, isn’t it? How can a person who really did break the law and did the bad thing be told by the judge that he is a law-keeper, a righteous person, with full rights to the freedoms of the country, and doesn’t have to go to jail or be punished?” She shakes her head. Then I go back to Romans 4:5 and show her that God “justifies the ungodly.” Her brow is furrowed. I show her that she has sinned and I have sinned and we are all like this second criminal. And when God “justifies” us he knows we are sinners and “ungodly” and “lawbreakers.” And I ask her, “What did God do so that it’s right for him say to us sinners: you are not guilty, you are law-keepers in my eyes, you are righteous, and you are free to enjoy all that this country has to offer?”

She knows it has something to do with Jesus and his coming and dying in our place. That much she has learned. But what more do I tell her now? The answer to this question will depend on whether Mom and Dad have been faithfully taught about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Will they tell her that Jesus was the perfect law-keeper and never sinned, but did everything the judge and his country expected of him? And will they tell her that when he lived and died, he not only took her place as a punishment-bearer but also stood in her place as a law-keeper? Will they say that he was punished for her and he obeyed the law for her? And if she will trust Jesus, God the Judge will let Jesus’ punishment and Jesus’ righteousness count for hers (italics mine).

Thanks for praying, Milton (and any others who prayed for me)! Can I take you folks to lunch after church tomorrow? (sly grin)

Wrestling With a Text

I spend chunks of time on Tuesday and Wednesday on sermon preparation, working through the passage so that by Thursday I can write the sermon itself. I need to give my outline to our secretary on Friday morning, so I plan my week to work accordingly.

Tomorrow I'm going to go into the office and remove all the inserts from the bulletins and replace them with new ones. Why? No, not because I seriously need counseling, but because the sermon has changed. This happens rarely, but it happened today. I spent 6-7 hours trying to wrestle a sermon into submission. I suplexed it, gave it a flying elbow, tried for a leg drop, and went for the power slam, but it wiggled out every time.

For some reason this one is a hard one. I'm in the early stages of what will probably be a longer series on Romans. I'm preaching from a great text on Sunday (1:16-17). I think I understand the concepts Paul presents, but putting them into a communicable form has been hard. I'm not sure why.

We live in a day when doctrine means little to even some in ministry, let alone the average person who will listen to our sermons. That means that phenomenal and foundational concepts like justification and imputation need to be explained in such a way that is both understandable and accurate.

In addition, our typical evangelical gospel presentation (TEGP) of "just invite Jesus to take over your life" is light years away from faith in the finished work of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you know what, it ain't just another way of saying the same thing no matter who says it.

I'm still not settled on my final draft. On Saturdays I usually tweak and prep my powerpoint slides. Tomorrow is going to be more than tweaking. But this passage is about important stuff and it is too key for my dear people not to understand. So if you're a reader passing by today, pray that God enables me. I don't believe in ripping off someone else's presentation - for moral and pragmatic reasons. If things are true to form, this one will marinate overnight and I'll wake up with an "AHA!" moment.

Thanks to Jon Trainer for including a link to some resources on justification in his blog today that I discovered right at a time when I needed a brain prod. As John Calvin would have said, "What luck!!"

Christian Traditions Selector and Other Things

Boar's Head Tavern has a link to a Christian Traditions Selector Quiz.
All in good fun, of course. Of course. . . Here's my profile.

Rank Item Percent
1: Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic) (100%)
2: Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist (97%)
3: Congregational/United Church of Christ (80%)
4: Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God (78%)
5: Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene (77%)
6: Presbyterian/Reformed (77%)
7: Church of Christ/Campbellite (58%)
8: Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England (57%)
9: Seventh-Day Adventist (52%)
10: Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.) (50%)
11: Lutheran (42%)
12: Eastern Orthodox (30%)
13: Roman Catholic (9%)

I've enjoyed reading Kristen at Walking Circumspectly. She's got a lot of good things to say and says them well. One of her latest posts on the dangers of false teaching was excellent.

Tim Challies at has a great article on Decisional Regeneration. Worth a read.

Finally, my beloved Phillies blew their third game in a row, with the bullpen again giving up the tying and leading runs. Sob, sniff.

How to Grow a Church

Mark Dever's 9 Marks newsletter (avaialable free through points to this link.

I'll provide the first few paragraphs and then you read the excellent commentary that follows:

How can you have a growing church? According to the advertisements in a recent issue of one prominent evangelical magazine, churches can grow by attending a seminar on effectively training church leaders in the local church; by ordering some new Sunday School literature; by buying electrical communications gear from a store in Alabama; by picking the right study Bible or Christian book, the right college or seminary. One prominent seminary, if you enroll, claims to "empower you to be a world changer."

Church growth today is big business. Many people, from bureaucrats in declining denominations, to sociologists of religion, to earnest young evangelical pastors, would like to know what a growing church is like and how to have one.

The apostle Paul knew that fundamentally a growing church is made up of growing Christians. And so he took time to pray for and to instruct the Christians he knew. And by God's grace, the church grew. Let’s turn now to Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, beginning at 3:12.

The Gospel and Children

Pastors: Read this (click here).

We have raised a generation or two of kids who have been told as Toddlers, that Jesus is happy with them when they obey mom and dad, share with their friends, etc. Then we suddenly start to tell them that they can't please God by their works and they need to be forgiven. We want to make sure that we can accommodate the Holy Spirit's apparent lack of ability to interact with children (forgive the brimming, steaming sarcasm) by revising the Gospel so that they are asking Jesus to be their "special friend." And when they don't show any fruit when they reach their teen years we help them by yet another clearly biblical experience (molten lava-laced sarcasm) - rededication. And if they don't get rededicated and instead live like pagans, well, at least they "prayed the prayer" when they were younger. Whew! That was close.

My wife had a kid in her class who told her that he was saved because he prayed a prayer that a clown (obviously following first-century and Reformation evangelism procedures) told him to.



Take a cleansing breath, Peter. It's opening day. Just a few more hours. Relax. . . .

Preaching . . . the Pope

Milton Stanley is a fellow-preacher whose site I visit daily. Transforming Sermons has a link to a good article by Herschel York on preaching. Visit Milton's site, and stop in here for York's article.

About the Pope. I'd be stunned by some of what I am reading by evangelicals about the Pope if it weren't for the fact that doctrine apparently has a smaller and smaller role in what we consider "Christian." I respect the man for a lot of things, but I find it hard to believe that some of us feel that he has "preached the gospel" to millions of people. Have we lost an understanding of that Gospel? Or don't we care? Is it something to sacrifice for the sake of "unity?"

Read my comments about Terry Schiavo in a post from the other day. What I said about her applies to the Pope. I'm not going to judge the man's soul. That's God's job. But unless I misread the Bible, he presided over a system filled with error. Confessing Evangelical has some balance here.

I'm feeling more and more like a dinosaur with each passing week. Sigh.

Christians Who Are Learning

Phil Steiger's blog Every Thought Captive has a couple of great paragraphs on the centrality of our people learning that reminds us about what's important.

Phil quotes a book by Darrell Guder (I've not read the book personally)
Rigorous biblical learning must be the missional congregation’s priority. The congregation intentionally commits most of its time together to biblical study….This means that the members are learning to think Christianly; they are learning how to see the world through the eyes of Jesus’ they are becoming biblically literates in order to be effective translators of the gospel into
their world. [160]

and then says:

Here! Here! I know there are several good and faithful ways to handle Scripture in a service and in a congregation (exegetical vs. topical preaching, etc.), but this statement of Guder’s has the ring of truth to me. I have personally stuck with verse-by-verse teaching myself because of this conviction, and I know that there are plenty of faithful pastors and congregations that “indwell” Scripture through a more topical way of preaching and teaching. But I have also noticed that many times when a pastor says they preach topically, what they mean is, “I preach a kind of pop-psychology, self-help gospel.” The point of their preaching is taken more from the latest TV show or book written by an NBA coach than from Scripture.

If we are to be salt and light, if we are to be the kind of witness people recognize as distinct from the outside world, then Scripture must be our focus and our text, no matter our style of pulpit ministry. How else are we, the flock of God, to learn what our God desires of us? If the church does not hold up the standard of Scripture, who will?


If you are looking for worthwhile sites by other pastors, check Adrian Warnock's site. Adrian has been blogging for some time, and has consistently helpful input for preachers. Check him out!