Faith Alone!

I've finished 4 of the 5 Sola statements and preached on the subject of faith alone this past Sunday. In my reading, I came across an interesting and helpful quote from John Calvin.

Calvin wrote: This is the main hinge on which religion turns, so that we devote the greater attention and care to it. For unless you first of all grasp what your relationship to God is, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation, nor one on which to build piety toward God.

I explored that a bit, looking at Hebrews 10:19-22, hoping to show that justification by faith alone means, among other things, that I am not on probation in my acceptance with God, and that my access to God is not based on my performance. There are moments in a sermon when you can sense that you have the attention of your audience. Subjective, to be sure, but I felt that God was speaking to our people in that one point of the sermon.

Isn't it a freeing thing to know that we approach God because of what He did and not because of what we do? Praise God for His salvation!

By the way, the aforementioned Calvin quote came from a superb chapter written by Sinclair Ferguson in the book After Darkness, Light. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

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I printed out a good article this morning from the blog dialogos on the subject of quiet time/devotions. I look forward to reading it more thoroughly. I generally prefer to keep my quiet time related to what I am preaching on. But I also enjoy hearing about new ways of keeping time with God fresh.


Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I hope you have a great day with family and friends. We are truly blessed people.

I have been enjoying Purgatorio since I discovered the site the other week. As much as I hate the gimmickry that evangelicals use today, they might be trumped by some of the antics of yesteryear. Growing up as a youth grouper in the 60's and 70's made it possible to be exposed to former Mafia hitmen, unnumbered drug addicts, midgets, whistlers, burn victims, etc. who had a testimony. I do not question that the people who did this stuff were sincere, but sometimes we put on a freak show. Anyway, the record album covers on Purgatorio are priceless.

A few interesting quotes caught my eye this week. Philip Ryken shared a fascinating quote on the Reformation21 blog. Sad.

Fide-O offered this post with some good quotes by preachers about preaching. This one is good too.

Tim Challies, near the top of my favorites, has what I thought was a well-reasoned statement about Rick Warren. Thanks, Tim! Also worth reading is Steve Camp's review of Brian McLaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy.

Finally, good-bye to a classy man. Jim Thome, who signed a multi-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies three winters ago, has been traded to the Chicago White Sox. Thome played brilliantly in 2003 and 2004, hitting dozens of moon-shot homeruns in those two years. Last year be played for several months with injuries before undergoing season-ending surgery. Sadly, before he was shut down, the Philadelphia boo-birds were letting him have it a little. But they represented a minority. Most Phillies fans hurt with Thome at his inability to produce. His injury led to the emergence of Ryan Howard, a younger player with similar potential, and to clear the log-jam at first base, Thome was sent to the White Sox pending outcome of a physical. In an age of selfish athletes, I loved this quote, given during a phone interview yesterday:

"When I leave the game of baseball someday, I want people to recognize that I always put my teams first," Thome, 35, said in a telephone interview last night. "That's what I love about the game - being part of the team. I see in Ryan Howard what someone saw in me when I broke into the big leagues. And now it's time for both of us to seize the opportunity ahead of us. It's a win-win situation. I really enjoyed my time in Philadelphia, and I want to thank my teammates and the fans for a heck of a ride."

Class act, all the way. We (fans "own" their teams, you know) got a fine centerfielder and two great pitching prospects for Thome, but I'm going to miss him. I hope he hits a ton of homeruns for the White Sox. Thank YOU, Jim!

An Encouragement to Persevere

Laura and I had the opportunity to spend Thursday night through Saturday noon at Word of Life Inn in Schroon Lake, NY. We were attending a Pastor's Conference there because of the generosity of some folks in our church, and we had a great time. Dr. Donald Hubbard, who at one time was the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York City (Stephen Olford), brought great wisdom and insight into the life of Peter in his four sessions. We also had a touch of snow on the ground Friday morning, combined with the cold weather and Christmas decorations around the Conference, treating us to a foretaste of our favorite season (next to baseball season for me, anyway!).

One of the things that I appreciated most was the presence of dozens of fellow pastors, many of them serving in the upper New York and New England areas - not known for being easy for the Gospel. Many of these men serve in churches of 50-75 and faithfully preach Christ year after year. In an age where size dictates success, they would not be deemed as successful. But I suspect that God looks at this much differently.

Dr. Hubbard told a story during his last session that I think speaks to the heart of all of us who preach and teach. I know that I have written before about the idea of wondering if we make a difference. His story - true from his own experience - was intended to encourage us to realize that God is at work in ways we may never know.

He told of serving in a small church in Ohio at the outset of his ministry, and seeing a young lady evidence a sense of conviction as the Gospel was preached one night in an evangelistic meeting. However, the infant that she was holding began to cry and she left the meeting early. Dr. Hubbard found out who the visiting woman was, and after finishing his regular job one afternoon the following week, he went to call on her. He had just arrived at the home - an apartment over a bar - when the woman's husband and the husband's brother also arrived, greeted him gruffly, and went into the kitchen. He began to share the Gospel with the woman, but was stopped by the husband, who threatened to throw him down the stairs if he didn't leave.

Five years later, he was speaking in another church, and a man came to see him at the end of the meeting. It turned out that this was the brother-in-law of the woman, and he had overheard the Gospel during that brief time and had never been able to shake the words he had heard. He said that shortly after the visit five years before, the woman's husband had been shot and killed. He, however, had come to talk about Christ.

Thirty years later Dr. Hubbard was invited to go back to his first church and preach. After the service he was approached by a woman who asked him if he remembered a young woman with a baby who had left an evangelistic meeting, and subsequent a visit to her home. Dr. Hubbard replied that he indeed did remember such a visit many years before. The young woman said that she was in fact the infant in that story, and that her mother had come to Christ and that she herself had become a Christian along the way as well and they were both serving the Lord.

I'll gladly confess to a tear in my eye after hearing how our Sovereign God used the words of a young pastor who probably felt that they had amounted to nothing, and he encouraged us to remember that we don't always see the results of our ministry in the lives of our people.

So be encouraged, friends. What you did this morning in preaching God's truth is something God can and will use in His way. Let's keep at it, working hard in the Gospel, for God's glory!

Three Implications for Grace Alone! Today

I have been preaching on the five Solas of the Reformation. We studied Scripture Alone! on November 6 and Grace Alone! this past Sunday.

My goal has been three-fold: first, to highlight doctrines that are essential to evangelical faith; second, to help people understand and appreciate their spiritual heritage; and third, show that these beliefs were not just under attack in the 1500's, but in many respects are still current issues, even within so-called Evangelicalism.

While evangelicals would certainly affirm the essential nature of Grace, sometimes our behavior betrays that we really don't practice what we say we believe. I shared three indicators of this kind of thing: (interested parties, should there be any, can read the entire sermon at, and also listen to it at

1. We show that we don't understand "grace alone" when we present salvation as something that is the result of what we do. We've developed our own vocabulary in relation to the Gospel that lacks biblical root. As a result, when we ask people how they know that they are saved, they are likely to respond with something that they did: "I prayed a prayer" or "I went forward in an evangelistic meeting" or "I turned my life over to Jesus," etc. Semantics? I don't think so. If it were just sematics, there wouldn't be so many people questioning their salvation because they aren't sure that they "really meant it" or "really understood it." Sadly, security for some is in their response.

2. We show that we don't understand "grace alone" when we depend on marketing, techniques, having the right tools, etc., to reach people and help them grow. Our pragmatic approaches to ministry may be popular, but faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. People are not saved because of our cleverness.

3. We show that we don't understand "grace alone" when we think that our access to God is based on how well we're performing.

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For those of you who are in pastoral ministry, I would encourage you to consider either preaching or teaching these five great themes. My own study thus far has been spiritually enriching in my own life, and the feedback I have received from our people has been very encouraging.

Preaching and the Mind

Here is a great quote from Joel Beeke in a chapter entitled Evangelism Rooted in Scripture, out of the book Whatever Happened to the Reformation:

First, Puritan preaching addressed the mind with clarity. It addressed man as a rational creature. The Puritans loved and worshipped God with their minds. They viewed the mind as the palace of faith. They refused to set mind and heart against each other, but taught that knowledge was the soil in which the Spirit planted the seed of regeneration. Puritans thus preached that we need to think in order to be holy. They challenged the idea that holiness is only a matter of emotions.

The Puritans preached that a flabby mind is no badge of honor. They understood that a mindless Christianity will foster a spineless Christianity. An anti-intellectual gospel will spawn an irrelevant gospel that does not get beyond "felt needs." That's what is happening in our churches today. We've lost our Christian mind, and for the most part we do not see the necessity of recovering it. We do not understand that where there is little difference between the Christian and non-Christian in what we think and believe, there will soon be little difference in how we live.

page 245-246.

By the way, I recommend the book highly. It deals with several very relevant topics.

A Great Story

The 11-08-2005 issue of PreachingNow just hit my inbox. I loved this story, but also appreciated the counsel. I try to document thoroughly what I use from others, but I can't imagine preaching someone else's sermon.

In his new book Preaching: How to Preach Biblically (Thomas Nelson), John MacArthur includes a chapter of frequently-asked questions posed to him about expository preaching. One of his questions deals with documenting ideas we draw from the works of others: "A balance is the ideal. We cannot document every thought in our sermons. On the other hand, we should give credit where due.

"Pastors sometimes ask me if they can use my material. I have given them blanket permission for anyone to use my sermons and preach them in whole or in part if they wish, and I do not want any credit as the source. If what I say has value to someone, I am honored for him to use it for God's glory. The truth is all His.

"Yet if someone re-preached one of my sermons without enriching it by going through the discovery process, that sermon will inevitably be flat and lifeless. The great Scottish preacher Alexander Maclaren once went to hear another man preach, a young man with a reputation for being a gifted preacher. Much to Maclaren's surprise, the young man said at the outset of his message, 'I've had such a busy week that I had no time to prepare a sermon of my own, so I'm going to preach one of Maclaren's.' He did not know Maclaren was in the audience until Maclaren greeted him afterward. He was very embarrassed and became even more so when Maclaren looked him in the eye and said, 'Young man, I don't mind if you are going to preach my sermons, but if you are going to preach them like that, please don't say they are mine.'

Reflections on 9 Months of Blogging

I started this blog in February 15, 2005.  From time-to-time I’ve wondered about the value of doing this.  I don’t feel that I can post every day, and some weeks have gone by with only 1 or 2 posts.  But blogging has been a positive experience overall, for a number of reasons.  I thought I’d share some of those reasons.

  • I’ve met some really fine people.  There are a couple of fellow-pastors with whom I have corresponded outside of the blog.  Though we’ve never met, these are people for whom I pray once or twice a week, especially on Sunday morning as we all share in the common task of feeding God’s flock.  I’ve benefited from some insights from more well-known speakers and pastors who have used blogging as an effective tool for edification and instruction.  I’ve been encouraged by the blogs of several women, and by the blog of one remarkable young lady ho is a freshman in college.  

  • I have to admit that it is easy to be negative and focus on what is wrong – and there is a lot that troubles me in our generation – but I am encouraged by the faithfulness of many.  Not everyone has given in to the culturally-driven church.  There are a lot of people, plodding along (in a good sense) with their small-to-medium size congregations, which – to quote Howard Hendricks – is more than we are ever going to want to give an account for.  There are people who are concerned about the purity of the Gospel, about biblically-rooted Christian faith and life, and I have learned quite a bit from them.  

  • I’ve been pointed to some outstanding resources.  Books, lectures, other blogs – all of these have been useful.  One of the reasons I began Stronger Church was to be able to recommend things that were helpful to me.  For as many links as I have pointed to, I have received far more from the insights of others.

  • Blogging has sharpened my thinking.  Most of us who are in ministry are very busy and don’t have a lot of time to investigate every new idea that comes down the pike.  In fact, I am amazed at how often I talk to people who are really uniformed about what is happening in the Christian world.  I won’t compare reading other people’s blogs with going to school, but there is a benefit that comes from the reading and interacting.  It is in some ways like being in a classroom.

So to those of you who are represented in these paragraphs, I thank you.  You’ve left a mark on my life over the last nine months that has been significant.      

Evangelicals Ruin Something Else

Here's the copy from a recent Christian Book Distributor (CBD) advertisement:

Toto Baggypants (Junior Asparagus) is a young Flobbit who has inherited a mysterious bean with unique powers from his uncle Billboy (Archibald Asparagus). Toto sets out on a quest to discover the bean's purpose with Ear-a-Corn (Larry the Cucumber), Leg-o-Lamb (Jimmy Gourd), and the dwarf Grumpy (Pa Grape). Their quest is full of adventure, great danger (beware of the evil Sporks!) and much laughter. Join this fellowship as they climb Much Snowia, endure the Razzberry Forest, and eventually trek deep into the land of Woe. Will the "Fellowship of the Bean" complete their quest?

This new VeggieTales episode also features the original song "It's About Love" by country music star Wynonna Judd. Plus Larry the Cucumber, dressed up like Elvis, is featured in a special edition of Silly Songs with Elves!

I mean, granted it's not the Bible, but good night. Forget rolling over - Tolkien must on a rotisserie in his grave. I have never read the Lord of the Rings series, but I have listened to all 40+ 90-minute cassettes of the unabridged version three times. The ease with which one can identify biblical themes may be up for discussion, but LoTR is a piece of literary art. And these guys, making sure that cute 'n shallow win out, have made it into velvet painting.

How dare I criticize when I haven't even watched it? No need to - the problem is the concept. I don't care if the edible elves win a stinking Oscar. We've already got the Lord of the Universe portrayed as a baby carrot. Can someone put this crowd in a freezer bag before they work their dumb-down magic on anything else? Here's the message kiddies - don't take anything of substance seriously. We can make a cartoon of it.

Oh yeah:

8. A plush doll of Martin Luther that says "Here I stand" when you squeeze his belly.

How We Failed to Capitalize on Reformation Day

What is wrong with us? We've missed a major opportunity to make the Reformation relevant to 21st century people. The marketing geniuses that provide meaningful stuff for the shelves of our Christian bookstores certainly have overlooked this one. Why are we not seeing quality items for sale such as:

1. Indulgence trading cards.
2. An "educational" video series on the Reformers using animated pieces of fruit - or maybe cute little bears dressed in period costume.
3. Reformation T-shirts (oh right, we've got them)
4. Luther and Calvin vs. The Pope and Tetzel wrestling action figures.
5. A modernized version of the 95 Theses, entitled, "Hey Mr. Pope!"
6. Greeting cards with pithy sayings from Luther's Table Talk. Luther needs to be cartoonized of course. How cute! (Hey - is there any way we can get these on Starbucks cups??)
7. Diet of Worms gummy candy.

Oh well, maybe next year.