If you are a young pastor what do you do when you get the call that one of your church members has died? To whom do you turn? In most cases you don’t have the time to spend a few hours with a seasoned pastor for training and review in this area. You need help, right away.

This happened to me recently. After the shock I knew I had work to do, but I certainly was not polished in the care for the grieving nor the conducting of a funeral. A friend had previously ordered Brian Croft and Phil Newton’s helpful little book, Conducting Gospel-Centered Funerals. He gave me the book and simply said, “Here. I think this will help you this week.”

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I once heard someone ask RC Sproul a question. “What is the point of creation?” His answer was, “Holiness.” He nuanced it a bit to include “that people would glorify God by means of holiness.” If Sproul is correct (and I think he is) then this is a staggering statement. God is pursuing his glory through the reflection of his own holiness. The obvious problem here is the reality that none of us perfectly reflect this holiness. When we sin we are failing to be holy as he is holy.

When you think about the divine pursuit and the human problem then the Bible’s tone makes a lot of sense. What you basically have is God speaking and acting in order to procure holiness by waking people out of their rebellion.

How does God do this? How does he get people’s attention? How does he get your attention?

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Prayer before preaching is essential because, without God’s help, we are useless.

In Deuteronomy 32 Moses is no doubt feeling quite a burden. You see, Moses is about to die–and he knows it. He is going to look into the eyes of the covenant community once again. He is going to preach and plead God’s character, promises, and threatenings to them.  In the ensuing words of chapter 32 he uncorks one if the heaviest, pastoral, and most passionate sermons in print. Remember, it was this chapter that proved to be the sermon text for Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

How does he begin?

May my teaching drop as the rain….For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! Deu. 32.2-3

The preacher’s burden has never changed, therefore his prayer remains the same. God–may you be pleased to use my words to magnify your name!

Moses knew himself, a dying man preaching to dying men (to use Baxter’s phrase). As a result, he did not long for such temporal and base things like what the crowd would think of him, how they would remember him, or how he would feel saying what needed to be said. Instead, he pleaded the living word of the living God! And in his prayer he struck the flint for God to light up his people with an awareness of God’s awesomeness and sin’s repulsiveness. Oh, that more preachers would preach a deep awareness of their own mortality as well as God’s eternality!

Whether you are stepping into the pulpit tomorrow or will be in the pews tomorrow, this is they type of prayer that you can pray for the sermon: “May this teaching drop as the rain…may the name of the Lord be proclaimed, may he ascribe greatness to our God!

The best part about this: God answered the prayer. Read the sermon; it drips with God-centeredness.

Whenever you set out to teach a topic you have a myriad of challenges in front of you. What does the Bible say? What have other teachers written about this? How does it apply? When someone attempts to do this well, that is faithfully and accessibly, it is a daunting task—for most of us. Kevin DeYoung, however, seems to be a bit different. He’s able to tackle complex and urgent matters faithfully and accessibly.

You could argue that the most pressing issue for the church is to be clear on is the Bible. What we need today is to have confidence in the authority, clarity and sufficiency of God’s Word. Thankfully, DeYoung grabbed his pen and went to work.

In his new book Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me, we have this pressing matter succinctly addressed. The book is short (a mere 146 pages) but it is not light nor unaccessible. And his is the beauty of it; a well-written, clear, helpful book on the Bible. DeYoung provides a systematic study, interacts with individual passages, works through implications, and shows how this doctrine has been historically regarded. In other words, he approaches the Bible from a systematic, exegetical, biblical, pastoral, and historical perspective of theology.

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There always seems to be some sort of news of a scandal or shameful practices concerning professing Christians. Somewhere a pastor or professing Christian’s secret life of rampant sin gets revealed. As a result, we all (rightly) lose our collective breaths and our stomaches turn.

Then questions come. Why? How did this happen?

I remember hearing John MacArthur say,

“Nobody just falls out of a tree. They climb up in it, move around a bit, and then fall out.”

His point is obvious: this doesn’t happen overnight.

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How do you deal with difficult passages in the Bible? Thankfully the Bible is straight-forward and understandable. The most important things are the most clear. However, there are passages that are more difficult, requiring more work by the interpreter.

I remember about 12 years ago as I worked as a pastoral intern at a church. I was teaching through a passage and my pastor gave me some feedback. “You are calling out audibles like a quarterback.” I was working through a difficult passage and in order to prove my interpretation I marshaled some other (many) verses. Like Peyton Manning yelling “Omaha! Nascar! Bradshaw! Montana! Hut Hut!” I was calling out Bible verses from everywhere.

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Many years ago I was driving across the country to visit my future wife. As you can imagine I was eager to arrive so I minimized stops and attempted to make the 26-hour drive all at once. Going nearly a full day without sleep and in spite of being fueled on more Mountain Dew than is advisable, I began to nod off. I soon meandered over into the other lane and was startled by an 18-wheeler’s lights and horn! I awoke and swerved back in my lane. That shook me. My pulse went through the roof. I lost my breath. I contemplated what would have happened if I didn’t wake up. I was good for another 5 hours. No problems. After my pulse descended to reasonable levels I remember getting mad at myself. “How could I be so careless?”

The Book of Hebrews often functions like the headlights of an 18-wheeler. With pastoral clarity it provides a number of warnings as well as reassurances. We are told do not neglect so great a salvation then we are told that we have an anchor of hope within the veil. We are warned about the danger of hardening our hearts through unbelief while also being reminded that Jesus has delivered his people from the bondage of death (cf chapters 2, 4, 6, 10, & 12 for warning passages).

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Evangelism is hard. I can’t think of anyone that I have met over the last 15-plus years of being a Christian who did not struggle with evangelism. Even the people who seem to excel and have the gift of evangelism readily confess their weakness.

So, why is it so universally difficult?

Some common answers include such things as not knowing enough Bible, fear of rejection, or not being sure how to bring up the gospel. I am more convinced then ever that these are symptoms of bigger issues. I’ve distilled my answer to evangelistic struggles into three areas: my view of God, my view of others, and my view of the gospel. I am convinced if we get these 3 down then we will be well on our way to diagnosing unfaithfulness and demonstrating faithfulness.

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“and again, as was his custom, he taught them” (Mark 10.1c)

A couple of years ago our son began driving. As parents, we spent time with him so he would learn the rules of the road and became more familiar with the car. One thing he seemed to continue to forget about where the speed bumps. We would cruise over them at 35 mph only to elevate and then bottom out. Each time he’d say, “Whoops.” Eventually he learned to slow down a bit as he came upon the speed bumps.

Sometimes, when reading the life of Jesus, we just cruise over the Christological speed bumps. In other words, we jump over what appear to be minor details in order to get to bigger details that we we know are coming.

I would argue, however, that there really are no insignificant items.

Take for instance the above reference to Jesus teaching the crowds. We know that Mark 10 goes on to provide a highly charged debate between Jesus and the Pharisess on the topic of divorce and marriage. In this case Mark puts a Christological speed-bump before us. We are bidden to slow down a bit before charging into the narrative.
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As a pastor I meet a lot of people who are looking for a church. One of the most helpful questions I can ask is, “What are you looking for in a church?” In one sense I hate this question because of the way it can reinforce our American consumer mindset. At the same time it gets right to the point. They are looking for something.

Then there is the other side of the spectrum, people who leave a church. It is basically the back door answer to the front door question, “What were you unhappy about in this church?”

What I have found is that most people do not filter what they looking for in a church through the Bible as much as through their previous experiences or personal ideals. Some of the most common things that I’ve seen in the last 10 years of pastoral ministry include the following:

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Our filthiness deserves that God should hold it in abhorrence, and that all the angels should spit upon us; but Christ, in order to present us pure and unspotted in presence of the Father, resolved to be spat upon, and to be dishonoured by every kind of reproaches. For this reason, that disgrace which he once endured on earth obtains for us favour in heaven, and at the same time restores in us the image of God, which had been not only stained, but almost obliterated, by the pollutions of sin.

Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, p. 290).

The Disgrace He Endured On Earth

Now the greater the ignominy and disgrace which he endured before the world, so much the more acceptable and noble a spectacle did he exhibit in his death to God and to the angels.

For the infamy of the place did not hinder him from erecting there a splendid trophy of his victory; nor did the offensive smell of the carcases which lay there hinder the sweet savour of his sacrifice from diffusing itself throughout the whole world, and penetrating even to heaven. John Calvin

A Splendid Trophy of His Victory

It is the Thursday before Good Friday. I can’t wait to preach tomorrow night and then Sunday morning. I love preaching Christ every week, but there is something about the Resurrection weekend that is particularly special.

However, when I woke up this morning I was drawn to think about someone I don’t often think about: the liberal pastor. By liberal I am not referring to political affiliation but theological conviction. In particular, I am talking about those who either deny the reality of or diminish the priority of the cross of Christ and his resurrection.

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There are many factors that make evangelism difficult. There is the internal spiritual alienation from God that renders the unbeliever unimpressed by God and therefore unresponsive to him in worship (Col. 1:21; 2 Cor. 4:4-6). Then there is the fog of worldliness that reinforces the heart’s unsubmissiveness to God and his Word (1 Jn. 2:16-17). We see this with the ongoing marketing of personal autonomy, self-discovery, and satisfaction in created things.

But there is another contributor to the fog that is very unhelpful. I am talking about the authority of personal experience. Today our personal experience and personal interpretation of that experience is the unquestionable authority that all must submit to.

Earlier this week I was talking to a number of unbelievers about Jesus. In the midst of the conversation one told me that he can see the future. He said that he has, on a few occasions, been able to see what was going to happen. He pointed to his buddy for confirmation and, as you’d expect, got the requisite head nod. I know that in this conversation I cannot slash the tires of his experience. If I even pull out the knife of reason or testing he will shut me down. Personal experience and our interpretation of it is the authority. We might call it Sola Experiencia. 

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I grew up playing and watching a lot of baseball. It was almost a religion for me and Fenway Park in Boston was my church (so to speak). To further the illustration, the elders and leaders were players on the Red Sox. I think of Roger Clemens, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Carl Yastrzemski. When I would arrive at Fenway I can remember walking out of the tunnel and being overcome by all of the images and sounds. There was the fresh cut grass, the 37′ wall in left field, the Prudential Building, and the sight of the players warming up. I was absolutely invested–I might have even secretly felt like was on the team.

Several years ago one of these players, Roger Clemens, was investigated for cheating. He was found to have used performance enhancing drugs, or banned substances. Clemens, along with a bevy of other players, have received something of an asterisk on their career because they have dishonored the sacred tradition and integrity of the game.

As a baseball fan I can appreciate the way the league, players, and fans have renounced the way these guys tried to take a short-cut. Some players cared more about themselves than the game. This, according to baseball is unacceptable.

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Last week we had Mez McConnell from 20schemes come to Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne to talk about church planting in poor contexts. We did this in order to spur on this type of work in our community as well as raise awareness for this crucial ministry in Scotland.

The goal of 20schemes is:

Our long term desire is to see Scotland’s housing schemes transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ through the revitalisation and planting of gospel-preaching churches, ultimately led by a future generation of indigenous church leaders.

To that end we will initiate a church planting and revitalisation effort by recruiting training supporting and sending church planters,female outreach workers,ministry apprentices and short term interns to work part of church planting teams within Scotland’s housing schemes.

We believe that building healthy, gospel preaching churches in Scotland’s poorest communities will bring true, sustainable and long-term renewal to Scotland’s schemes.

We have all of the talks on our website here. I cannot recommend them highly enough. There is a significant paradigm shift that needs to happen when thinking about mercy ministry. I think Mez nails it.

You should also listen to his sermon on Sunday morning at Emmaus. The text is John 18:1-11. Here is the link.

If you are a church that is looking to partner with an international ministry–that is truly doing work–consider partnering with my friends a 20schemes. I know these guys and love them. Listen to the talks and reach out to them. (link)

Lately I am learning of the indispensability of personally listening to sermons. Let me explain. Over the last several years I have preached, on average, nearly 50 Sundays per year. The times I have not preached I have been on vacation or traveling. As a result, I very rarely sit under preaching. I am making a distinction from listening to sermons and sitting under preaching. I listen to sermons all the time but rarely sit under the preached word live.

I believe that this has not helpful to me. In fact, I need to sit under live preaching.

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Have you ever felt like you were alone in your church? Maybe you look around and think, “There are not a lot of people like me.” In some sense that may be true. There may not be many people who were raised in your hometown, like the same type of food, enjoy the same hobbies, and prefer the same music. So, yes, in this sense you may not be able to chop it up with them about your favorite team or curry or novel.

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Nobody likes to be criticized. Everybody appreciates a compliment. These are the two most non-controversial statements ever written on this blog. But they are true.

Pastors get their fair share of both.

One thing that I am learning as a pastor is that the good friends actually bring both.

There will always be people to criticize you when you preach the Bible, deal with sin and frankly, are a sinner yourself. They will make mistakes and get mad at you. You will make mistakes and they will get mad at you. This is life in a fallen world.

At the same time there are a lot of people who are just kind. They give compliments, affirmation and always say nice things. You rarely hear them speak critically.

At first glance (and with all honesty) we might prefer that our churches be filled with the later and devoid of the former. It seems like this would be a much nicer and more tolerable climate.

But would this be a good gospel climate? Continue Reading…

Along with several thousand other pastors and church leaders, I am here in Louisville for the Together for the Gospel conference. This event and the corresponding movement seems to keep growing without any indication of plateauing. Therefore, it is a real joy to come and take it in, rejoicing in this season of abundant blessing.

There are some personal items that I am excited about. Let me highlight a few.

1) Concentrated Exposure to Preaching. Some health and fitness people go on radical cleanses or others do extreme training spells. These have the effect of a radical impact on the body. Preaching, this much preaching, can be very impactful for me and countless others. I am prayerfully excited about what God will do with his knife that is all blade (Heb. 4:16).

2) Singing. I love to sing even though I am horrible at it. To have several thousand passionately singing together, with the weight of ministry and burden for people anchoring the ballasts of our souls–this is powerful stuff. It is truly a portal into heaven where Christ is supremely treasured opinion the praise of his people.

3) Being Surprised. A friend reminded me last night that we serve the living God. Therefore, he is active and working in our lives. He often surprises us with his word with a familiar passage. He comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. He knows what I need and when I need it. God surprises me like this and I am looking forward to more.

4) Meeting New and Talking with Old Friends. This event welcomes a unique fraternity together. We are able to instantly connect and understand one another. To hear the stories of gospel triumph in faraway lands or pastoral faithfulness in a surprising place—these things bless my soul. We are not alone. In fact, there is a great multitude who have not bowed their knees to Baal.

5) Being Here with my Son. This year I am blessed to be here with my 18 year old son. It is a rich privilege and gift of grace to be able to experience this with him. I look forward to seeing its impact on him as well as I fervently pray for generational faithfulness in my family.

If you are at T4G consider coming over to the 20schemes event with Tim Challies on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I would love to meet you and be encouraged by your ministry.