The Supremacy of Christ: Living for His Glory and Not Our Own (Hebrews 9)

1920x1080-it-is-finishedImagine that you were writing the script of your life. In your story, the place was yours to decide, as well as the people, the problems, and the pleasures. As the author of the story and the inventor of your universe, you got to decide how you would do it.

So, how would you do it?  How could you write up something so large, so complex, so weighty? And would it even be possible to write a grand story without imitating the story that God has written?

As I tell my kids all the time, all the best stories—the epic novels, the literary masterpieces, the Jeremy Bruckheimer movies—all of them plagiarize from the greatest story ever told. And in God’s story, we find a God who designed the whole universe to glorify his Son.

And knowing that, it is not too much to say that the heavens above us, and the trees around us, and the blood flowing in us, all of these elements were made by God to play a part in the story of God’s glory.

Just the same, the sacred history of Israel is filled with texts and tabernacles, priests and promises, crises and christs (i.e., anointed ones) that bring us to the cross of Christ and the new covenant that holds it all together. In fact, when we speak about the cross, it takes the entire Bible to understand its meaning. And without all the Bible, we would miss much of Christ’s glory. That said, if there was one chapter in the Bible that put all the pieces together, it might be Hebrews 9.

Hebrews 9 is a chapter rich in biblical theological intratextuality, which is a complex way of saying: Hebrews 9 is an explosion of biblical glory, which brings together all the elements of God’s story—the the covenants, the priests, sacrifices, etc. And when all of them find their fulfillment in Christ, we see that the story of the universe has a place for us, if we will draw near to God in Christ.

In other words, the Bible teaches us to stop seeking our own glory or to use God to write our stories. Instead, we are called to see and savor the supremacy of Christ in all God’s Word and God’s world. Hebrews 9 helps us to do that. And this last Sunday I preached a message on this glorious chapter, as the culminating sermon in our series on the cross. You can find the sermon here, and the rest of the series here.

May the Lord use this meager attempt to declare God’s glory to help us all delight in the supremacy of Christ and to live for his glory over and above our own.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Passion of God’s Propitiation: How the Cross Demonstrates, Defines, and Diffuses God’s Love (1 John 4:7–12)

brown sand love text on seashore

In Plato’s Republic, that ancient philosopher declared, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its law.” Thankfully, in the Bible, God cares about laws and songs and he provided both.

Outside of the Bible, however, there is something to the wisdom of capturing hearts and imaginations with song. And it seems that for decades, the songs of our nation have been filled with love, love, and love me do.

From Elvis Presley to Taylor Swift, love has trained a generation to embrace love as love and love as life. If you go back to the British Invasion of the Beatles, you will find that in less than 5 years time, the Fab Four had four chart-topping singles with “love” in the title, as well as four more top forty songs with “love” in the title. And the focus on love has not abated in the decades since. Indeed, it is not too much to say that Top 40 love songs have formed the appetites and affections of our age, all the while obscuring what love really is or ought to be.

It is remarkable, then, that when love gets so much attention in our world, our streets are overrun with rage, our social media posts spew hate, and our love-seeking leaders are so loveless. In fact, while the market for love has never been greater, the supply has never been more empty.

Made in the likeness of a God who is love and fashioned to know God’s love and to share love with others, it is both ironic and tragic that a world hungry for love is so starved for the same. And most strange of all, those who are most adamant about love are often the ones coming up with laws to penalize others who don’t love the way they do.

Apparently, when individuals and societies seek love without God’s love, they will form new laws to protect and promote their idea of love. Sadly, these new laws of love jeopardize God’s holy and good law, erase true love, and secure a future for love that is nothing like what the songs of our nation promise.

In response to this loveless, law-filled pursuit of unholy love, we should ask the question: What is love? Where do we find love? And who gets to define love? These are important questions and one’s that God’s Word answers in full.

In particular, 1 John 4:7–12 gives a thorough, cross-centered explanation of God’s love. And this last Sunday I preached a message from this text: The Passion of God’s Propitiation: How the Cross Demonstrates, Defines, and Diffuses God’s Love (1 John 4:7–12). I pray it may be a help to all who are looking for love and looking to understand how the cross of Christ proclaims a message of sin-forgiving love.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Preach the Manuscript: Ten Ways to Improve Sermon Delivery

jesusA few years ago I led an online class on the subject of preaching. As expected, we discussed all sorts of questions pertaining to preaching—sermon length, the use of illustrations, the necessity of expositional preaching, as well as how to preach Christ from the whole Bible. Among these conversations, we discussed the place for manuscripts over against using or not using notes.

In seminary, I learned from two gifted preachers who both taught that manuscripts were not helpful for preaching. For the first few years of pastoring, I followed their advice and brought into the pulpit four to five half-sheets of notes. This taught me how to preach to people and not just read notes. But a few years in, I deviated from their counsel and now manuscript all my sermons.

That said, I strive to preach the manuscript and not just read it. In using a manuscript, I value the clarity and forethought I can put into the message. And ultimately, that is why I change to a manuscript somewhere around 2011. At the same time, manuscripting does lend itself to a dry delivery. Still, I believe the benefits of manuscripting outweigh the costs, so long as preachers learn to do more than read their notes. To that end, here are ten things I’ve learned in preaching a manuscript that might help others who use a manuscript. Continue reading

“But He Just Gets Me”: Three Responses to Pragmatic Arguments for Plagiarism (pt. 2)

sean-foster-jrazH5W7niA-unsplashYesterday, I responded to two pragmatic arguments that are being offered in defense of preaching the sermons of another pastor. Today, I’m adding a third response to the pragmatic defense of ‘borrowing’ sermons. 

3. The Spirit of holiness cannot bless lawbreaking

In the Ten Commandments, the final three are these (Exod. 20:15–17)

“You shall not steal.

 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s [sermon]; . . . anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Okay, “sermon” is not in the original, but sermons would fit under the category of “anything that is your neighbors.” Written by Spirit-led men who study the Scriptures, the sermon is a gift that pastors give to their congregations. In this way, a sermon should not be understood as “his own.” Possessiveness is never a healthy habit for pastors.

That being said, sermons are the intellectual property of the preacher, and should be treated as such. Thus, to preach someone else’s sermon breaks either the eighth, ninth, or tenth commandments, if not all of them. To see this, let’s consider each in order. Continue reading

“But He Just Gets Me”: Three Responses to Pragmatic Arguments for Plagiarism (pt. 1)

freestocks-I_pOqP6kCOI-unsplashWhat do you say to the person who laments that the former pastor of the church, the one who was disqualified from ministry because of his verbal and physical abuse, is no longer preaching? Never mind the fact that this preacher held the Bible with violent hands and sealed his unrepentance with a divorce, this woman argued the merits of his preaching and said, “But he just gets me.”

In such an instance, personal sentiments have far eclipsed biblical standards. Ignoring whether this man was objectively qualified to preach, this woman’s subjective interest was in having someone who made her feel a certain way. Such is the case in many churches today.

Rather than upholding pastors to the biblical standards of leadership, many church-goers are looking for someone with a certain gift of communication, inspiration, or entertainment. Today, TED Talks have replaced Timothy and Titus as the standard for good preaching. And communication skills have exceeded a commitment to character.

To that point, I once talked with an elder from a large church who argued for their multi-campus model on the basis of the senior pastors extraordinary giftedness in preaching. More specifically, he said if this man doesn’t preach people will leave the church. He continued, so instead of trying to have different campus pastors, we record his sermons and replay them in our various campuses. This is pragmatism at its finest.

Addressing the Pragmatism of Pulpit Plagiarism

Today, I’m not here to talk about the demerits of multi-site churches or what makes for good preaching. Instead, I want to address the pragmatism that funds those churches and invites church-goers to value charisma over character. More specifically, I want to address the practice of using another man’s sermon and preaching it for themselves.[1]

Already, I’ve addressed this subject in two blog posts—On Plagiarism and Preachers: Why Plagiarizing Sermons is Popular, But Biblically Indefensible; The Sermon Begins in *Your* Study: Why ‘Apt to Teach’ Means More Than ‘Apt to Speak’—but now I want to respond to three pragmatic arguments that were raised against my first post. Continue reading

On Plagiarism and Preachers: Why Plagiarizing Sermons is Popular, But Biblically Indefensible

nycholas-benaia-2wGjjX8Qb-g-unsplashIt seems, frankly, utterly unthinkable to me that authentic preaching would be the echo of another person’s encounter with God’s word rather than a trumpet blast of my own encounter with God’s word. Now to be sure, my sermon should be an echo. It should be an echo of the voice of God. But not an echo of an echo of the voice of God. So that is my conviction.
John Piper  —

When it comes to light that a pastor has been borrowing the work on another—what we might call plagiarism in the pulpit, sermon borrowing, retweeting, or any other euphemism for violating the seventh commandment—it is deeply troubling. But if that pastor has any influence on the life and ministry of other pastors, it is even worse, because it says to younger men, who are finding their way in the wilderness of pulpit ministry, that it is acceptable to use the work of others. 

To date, I can think of two pastors I knew personally who were fired for preaching someone else’s sermons. And I have heard many reports of the same. I can also think of many others whose ministries I have written off as unfaithful after learning that they were reheating the meals of others. And most recently, I have watched the unbelieving world make sport of God’s people because of plagiarism in the pulpit.

In recent days, it has come to light that the president of the SBC, Ed Litton, has been found retweeting sermon material from J.D. Greear. You can watch his expositions of Romans 1 and Romans 8, both of which demonstrate word-for-word dependence on Greear’s work. Both men have released statements explaining the matter (see here and here), but with 140+ sermons pulled from the Internet, more explanations are needed.

Without addressing the specifics of the Litton situation, I want to step back and ask the question: Is it wrong for a pastor to borrow material from another? What does it mean to plagiarize in the pulpit? Why is this such a common practice? And what does Scripture say?

To start with, I am not first to tackle this subject. Albert Mohler has discussed it, so have D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Justin Taylor and Andy Naselli (who lists many others). Letting Carson speak for the bunch, he expresses the severity of the problem.

Taking over another sermon and preaching it as if it were yours is always and unequivocally wrong, and if you do it you should resign or be fired immediately. The wickedness is along at least three axes: (1) You are stealing. (2) You are deceiving the people to whom you are preaching. (3) Perhaps worst, you are not devoting yourself to the study of the Bible to the end that God’s truth captures you, molds you, makes you a man of God and equips you to speak for him.

Carson’s words are severe. And they are matched by the severity of others listed above. Yet, the consensus of these evangelical leaders does not mean there is consensus on the issue. For on the trusty Internet, you will find James Merritt’s permission for plagiarism, websites selling pre-packaged sermons, and encouragement for pastors to partake in the practice of using the work of others.  Thus, in what follows, we need to answer three questions.

  1. What is Plagiarism? And does it apply to borrowing the work of another when permission is received and attribution given?
  2. Why is Plagiarism so prevalent today? Who is championing it?
  3. Is Plagiarism Biblically Defensible? (My answer: No, it is not!)

Answering these three questions, we can define our terms and evaluate from Scripture the practice of retweeting sermons. Continue reading

The New Birth: The Source of Our Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3–5)

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In a dying world we need a living hope. Thankfully, those who have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ have such a hope. As I preached on Sunday, this hope cannot be thwarted by death, neither ours nor those whom we love. In fact, when we are confronted and crushed by death, the life God gives us in Christ guards and actually enlarges our faith. As a result, outward circumstances cannot destroy the one who has been raised to life in Christ, such perilous conditions only prove the strength of God’s resurrection life.

With that truth in mind, let me encourage to find help and hope in 1 Peter 1:3–5. You can listen to the sermon or watch the sermon below. You will also find below a few helpful articles to encourage your faith.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Getting into 1 Peter: A Brief Introduction to this Grace-Filled Book

image001This Sunday we begin a new sermon series in the book of 1 Peter. And I want share three reasons, even four, for why we are looking at this letter and why this book is so timely. These three reasons come from the outline of the book itself, and will both introduce us to what we will find in Peter’s first letter and how its contents equip us as Christians to live in our day.

First, in a world of idols inviting us to identify ourselves with them, 1 Peter reminds us of who we are in Christ. In modern, psychological, and political parlance, 1 Peter 1:1–2:10 give us a rich pedigree for understanding our self-identity. As The Bible Project helpfully illustrates, these verses depend upon various Old Testament types and shadows. They apply things like the Passover, the Priesthood, and the Temple to new covenant believers. Indeed, just as Israel found their identity from all that God did for them in the Exodus, so Christians are to find their identity in all that Christ is and all that he has done for us. Jesus is our Passover lamb who makes us a living temple and a holy priesthood. These are rich truths, we need to understand who we are.

In a world that teaches us to make a name for ourselves or to find meaning in the brands we buy or the political movements we support, 1 Peter gives a better way of living. In particular, 1 Peter 1:3–2:10 expounds the meaning of “elect exiles” (1:1–2), as Peter teaches us to find our true identity in biblical terms and titles. In a world of identity politics, few chapters in the Bible are better equipped to remind us who we are, who God has called us to be, and what it means to be God’s elect exiles. This is the first reason we need 1 Peter. Continue reading

Seven Pastoral Practices for Bringing Biblical Theology to Church

woman holding book

Yesterday, I gave seven pastoral cautions for bringing biblical theology to the church. And as advertised, here is the rest of the story: seven pastoral practices for bringing biblical theology to church.

This is list primarily for pastors and the role their preaching can play in helping their congregation value a unified reading Scripture that leads to Christ—for this is what the best biblical theology does. However, these encouragements may also serve any member of the church, as healthy congregational have more than biblical pulpits. They must also have members who long for and pray for the Word of God to grow in their midst.

Continue reading

Churches Are Gathering Again: Here’s Why It Matters So Much

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. . . so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now
be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,

— Ephesians 3:10–11 —

This Sunday our church plans to regather again . . . outside . . . with appropriate spacing.

Approaching this Sunday, it is worth recalling that it has been more than two months since our congregation assembled to worship Christ, sing praises to God, and hear his Word. This means, it has been more than two months, that our church has fulfilled its calling to be a public witness to the resurrected Christ. Maybe your church has been closed for just as long?

As we prepare for service on Sunday, we are excited to meet again, to take the Lord’s Supper, and declare the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and brought us into his light. We have been grieved by the loss of fellowship and the chance to see our family of faith. But even more, we have—or, at least, I have—been even more grieved that our non-assembly means that God’s life-size billboard of grace, the church, has not been seen in our region for nearly a quarter of the year. With that reflection in mind, I preached the last two sermons on Joel.

While Joel addressed a people whose physical temple had been closed by God, there is an analogy to the church. The local church is the living temple of God, where Spirit-born, Spirit-filled living stones gather to testify to the Lord’s excellencies (1 Peter 2:9–10). The church, as Paul says in Ephesians 3, is the means by which God glorifies his grace on the earth, before the watching eyes of angels and men.

Keeping this in mind recalls why not gathering is such a big deal, and why it is something that cannot go on indefinitely. Christian discipleship means more than getting our weekly sermon fix via Zoom, it means gathering with the saints, testifying to the resurrection of Christ, and being the light of the world which invites others to come out of the darkness. This is perhaps the greatest loss during the days of COVID-19, and one that we may have missed along the way.

In our church, we have prayed much for church to open again. And we rejoice that we will, by God’s grace, gather this Sunday. Joel’s message to a closed temple has been a help to see the need we have to gather. If you are still uncertain about gathering, take time consider Ephesians 3:10–11, 1 Peter 2:9–10, and the book of Joel. I am persuaded that they give us strong medicine to combat the complacency of non-gathering brought about in these days.

May these sermons encourage you and challenge you to consider the essential place of gathering with the saints. For indeed, the church (the assembly of God) can’t be the church when it doesn’t church (=assemble). To that end, let us continue to pray and pursue every opportunity to assemble, until the church is once again meeting with regularity with all the saints.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds