Archive for February 2008
I had a night off from preaching last night. It was a humbling night as it was my “re-installation” service marking my title change from assistant to associate pastor. The distinction between the two would only be interesting to polity geeks so I will refrain from a long explanation. Simply put, it served as a ministerial vote of confidence from my congregation. I do not know a more humbling title than that of “pastor“. As I sat there on the front pew the gravity of my call and the grace of God came together in a way that I can only describe as a joyously solemn view of the sovereign love of God towards me.
All that being said, I did not preach on 1 Thessalonians last night. Instead of my usual Monday morning sermon post, I’m going to post two quotes from CH Spurgeon. I’ve recently begun reading a chapter a day of his book, Lectures to My Students. In it Spurgeon displays his characteristic humor combined with a wealth of practical wisdom for pastors.
The following quotes are taken from the last few paragraphs of his chapter entitled, Sermons – Their Matter.
What should a sermon be about? Spurgeon tells us.
“Of all I would wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, preach CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him. Justification by faith should be far more than it is the daily testimony of Protestant pulpits; and if with this master-truth there should be more generally associated the other great doctrines of grace, the better for our churches and our age.” 
Finally, in hopes of discouraging fights within the family of God, Spurgeon reveals his own desire to transcend denominational differences with the gospel.
“More and more am I jealous lest any views upon prophecy, church government, politics, or even systematic theology, should withdraw one of us from glorying in the cross of Christ. Salvation is a theme for which I would fain enlist every holy tongue. I am greedy after witnesses for the glorious gospel of the blessed God. O that Christ crucified were the universal burden of the men of God.” 
O that it were indeed! More timely advice could not be given to all those who bear the humbling title of pastor.
 C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students: Complete and Unabridged (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 79.
 Ibid, 79.
“That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree. ‘For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world’ (Acts 15:18; Eph 1:11). According to which decree he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe; while he leaves the non-elect in his judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God, which, through men of perverse, impure, and unstable minds wrest it to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.”
- The Canons of the Synod of Dort, 1.6
“I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces.”
-John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, tr. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press), I.II.1.
Mark Dever came to Jackson at the end of last year to give the John Reed Miller Lecture Series at RTS. I ran into Ligon one of the afternoons of the lectures. He told me that Dever’s material was some of the best stuff on preaching he has heard. I knew on that recommendation that I should download and listen to them.
It’s taken me a few months but I just finished the three-part series. They were excellent. I recommend them for preacher and layman alike. With his normal rapid fire delivery, Dever answers many of the most pressing questions for students of preaching.
- Should the sermon be the central point of the worship service?
- How important is preaching?
- Should the sermon be an extended monologue?
- What is the place of humor in preaching?
- Are sermons mainly for the lost or the saved?
- How should you address the unbeliever in a sermon?
- What makes a good introduction or conclusion?
- What dangers are there for those who preach the gospel?
Dever answers all of these and more over the course of these three lectures.
- The Symbol and Significance of Preaching
- The Use of Preaching
- The Art of Preaching
You can find them at the RTS section of itunes U.
A recent CBMW blog post by Steven Cavallaro was just too good to ice in my sidebar dugout. If you ever wondered who was the manliest man in a competition between James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Jack Bauer–Cavallaro give the answer.
I happen to agree and am patiently waiting for an end to the writers’ strike. Hmmm…how would Jack Bauer handle the writers’ union negotiations? Maybe season 7 will tell.
“Blessed be God for the revelation of the covenant of grace, wherein life and salvation is freely provided and offered to fallen man through the obedience and satisfaction of the second Adam. Well may it be called a covenant of grace: for it came from the rich and free grace of God, as its true spring; it is all bespangled with gracious promises, as the heavens are with stars; and all the blessings contained in it are gratuitous and free, such as men cannot plead any right or title unto by any merit or works of their own.”
-Thomas Boston, The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Thomas Boston (1853; repr., Tentmaker Publications: Stokes-on-Trent, 2002), 1:241.
“Thus God brings good, the greatest good out of the worst of evils. What greater evil or more atrocious wickedness can be imagined, than the violent death of the innocent Son of God, who went about doing good, and was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners? And yet what a rich and astonishing good resulted therefrom, even glory to God, and peace and good-will towards men.”
-Thomas Boston, The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Thomas Boston (1853; repr., Tentmaker Publications: Stokes-on-Trent, 2002), 1:191.
I love Paul’s prayers . It was a joy yesterday to preach through Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving to God on behalf of the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10).
Following this commentary, I broke Paul’s prayer up into four sections:
- Thanks for the Thessalonians’ active Christian virtue (vv 2-3)
- Thanks for the Thessalonians’ obvious election (vv 4-6)
- Thanks for the Thessalonians’ sense of mission (vv 7-8)
- Thanks for the Thessalonians’ gospel reputation (vv 9-10)
My first goal in the sermon was simply to point out the godly characteristics of the healthy Thessalonian church. Today’s lack of any homogenous definition of a healthy church makes this particular text crucial. Is a church’s health based on Sunday School attendance? Is a church’s health based on the size of their building? Is a church’s health based on how many missionaries are supported? Paul’s prayer provides a rubric for testing the health of a local congregation.
My second goal in the sermon was more subversive. –Spoiler Warning– I intentionally understated verse 2 throughout the sermon. I knew that if I preached this text with a title like–A Lesson in Church Growth–I’d have people saying by the end of the sermon, “Yeah, we need to go out and do these things!”
The only problem is that this go-out-and-get-it-done response is not appropriate for this text. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s work not an exhortation to our work. I spun the sermon on its head in the application and asked the question, “How do we make our church healthy?” After a brief critique of the consumeristic, method-based-paradigm of ministry I challenged the congregation with Paul’s Christo-centric paradigm for church growth.
“How did the church at Thessalonica come to be so healthy?” I read Acts 17:1-3, recalling Paul’s arrival and preaching in Thessalonica. Paul didn’t arrive at Thessalonica and give a seminar in church growth. He didn’t call in a specialist in church revitalization. He preached a three week sermon series on Old Testament Christology. He talked about the incarnate Messiah, Jesus Christ, and why he had to suffer and die. I then tried to drive the application home by urging the congregation to believe that a healthy church is God’s work when Jesus is loved, adored, understood, and worshipped as he presented from the entire Bible.
My hope is that the congregation would leave with a biblical definition of a local congregation. But more importantly I wanted them to see that a healthy local congregation was completely dependent on sovereign work of God exalting Jesus Christ through the Bible to and in desperate sinners.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 – A Lesson in Church Growth
–RSS readers can listen to the sermon here–
 This book is an excellent study in the prayers of Paul.
“The cause or guilt of this unbelief, as well as of all other sins, is nowise in God, but in man himself: whereas faith in Jesus Christ, and salvation through him is the free gift of God, as it is written, ‘By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God’ (Eph 2:8); and, ‘Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him,’ etc (Phil 1:29).”
- The Canons of the Synod of Dort, 1.5
For a long time now I’ve wanted an updated version of the Sum of Saving Knowledge. I kept hoping someone would write one. I got tired of waiting and wrote one myself. You can find it in my sidebar as Salvation in Christ.
I was first turned onto the Sum of Saving Knowledge reading the memoirs of Robert Murray MCheyne. By his own admission The Sum was instrumental in his salvation. He found in it a succinct explanation of the gospel set in the terms of the covenant of redemption. My natural love for M’Cheyne impressed that short work upon my heart.
The Sum was written by the Scottish Puritan David Dickson. Joel Beeke, in Meet the Puritans, describes Dickson and the importance of The Sum.
“About the time of his transfer to Edinburgh, Dickson and James Durham produced their famous Sum of Saving Knowledge (1650), an important federal presentation of the gospel. The book is still printed in Scottish editions of the Westminster Standards as a model of what to teach and how to evangelize in a manner consistent with the Westminster Standards. The Sum would later become instrumental in the conversion of Robert Murray M’Cheyne and scores of others.” 
I have read and re-read The Sum throughout seminary and ordained ministry to my own joy and instruction. I still find it a helpful and insightful presentation of the gospel.
I must also say that I am no fan of abridged versions of anything. I don’t mind updating documents to remove antiquated English spellings. But I much prefer to read something in its entirety as close as possible to the way the author wrote it.
However, The Sum was intended–at least in part–to be evangelistic. It did function as a Westminsterian gospel tract for a long time. It still may function that way in some segments of the world. But the people to whom I minister would find it difficult to digest. The wording is complex. The sentence structure is elaborate. Some of the theological concepts are mentioned too briefly to grasp with comprehension. Somewhat without a church background or without a background in covenant theology would miss its major themes. So I decided to make an attempt at a condensed version. My purpose was to summarize The Sum in such a way that it would present the gospel in the context of the covenant of redemption in a way that someone without a knowledge of covenant theology would be able to understand.
I would love to know your thoughts and suggestions.
You can find the Dickson’s original version here.
 Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With a Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 669.
Yesterday I preached on 1 Thessalonians 1:1. It was the introductory sermon to an expository series on Paul’s letter to the infant church at Thessalonica.
I have always found the first sermon in an expositional series the hardest to preach. In beginning a series on a book of the Bible my goal is to familiarize my people with the historical background of the author and audience. This means that I talk at length about history. In this particular sermon I take the first half of the sermon to introduce everyone to Thessalonica, its background, and its place in Paul’s second missionary journey.
I walk a fine line in sermons like this one.
On one hand, I know that the background of a Bible book is incredibly important to understanding the content of the book. For example, Paul’s admonitions on sexual immorality in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 must be rightly set into the pagan setting of sexually charged pagan worship.
On the other hand, I fear giving a history lesson and not a sermon. I can speak for 3o minutes about interesting things in the Bible but if I do not proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ then it is only a good lecture and not a sermon.
My main goal in the sermon was to present Thessalonica as a strategic Roman city that was turned upside down by the gospel.
I wanted my hearers to see
- The sovereignty of God in missions
- The importance of preaching Jesus from the Old Testament
- The offensiveness of the gospel to the world
- A congregation’s need for the encouragement and exhortation that comes from God’s word.
1 Thessalonians 1:1 – Turning the World Upside Down
–RSS subscribers can access the audio file here–
I often wish that I could blog everyday. I’ve even attempted to do it on occasion. But I’ve come to the conclusion that of all the things I am called to do as a husband, father, and pastor blogging is not highest on the list. One of the things that demands most of my time as a pastor is teaching and preaching. I’m going to conduct an experiment here at Mining Grace in an attempt to blog about my preaching.
I just began a series on 1 Thessalonians that should run for a few months. As I preach each sermon, I’ll post the audio here with some thoughts on how I prepared the sermon, what I wanted to get across, and how I think the passage applies today. In letting you into the sermon preparing and delivering process I hope to show you two things:
- I am a busted clay pot–2 Corinthians 4:7. I don’t consider myself an accomplished preacher. I still feel like a rookie in the minor leagues. Hopefully you will see that preachers are just men in desperate need of the gospel that they preach. May God be glorified through my weakness.
- There is no magic in sermon preparation. Honest pastors admit that they preach good sermons and bad sermons. The most honest pastors admit that God often uses their bad sermons most to humble them further. Sermons are crafted through diligent study and prayer. They aren’t delivered by the Holy Spirit to my cubby in the work room.
I just wanted to give you some preface before you start seeing audio files popping up around here at Mining Grace.
To God be the glory.
“The wrath of God abideth upon those who believe not this gospel; but such as receive it, and embrace Jesus the Savior by a true and living faith, are by him delivered from the wrath of God and from destruction, and have the gift of eternal life conferred upon them.”
-The Canons of the Synod of Dort, I.4
Thomas Boston writing on the creation of Eve out of Adam’s side,
“[Eve's body] was not made out of man’s head, to show her that she is not to be her husband’s mistress, nor usurp authority over him (1 Timothy 2:12); nor out of his feet, to show him that she is not to be his slave, to be trampled on by him; but out of his side, near his heart, to show him that she must be treated as his companion, loved, nourished, and cherished by him.”
-Thomas Boston, The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Thomas Boston (1853; repr., Tentmaker Publications: Stokes-on-Trent, 2002), 1:179.