Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

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Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

Blessed is he who is not offended by me.
— Matthew 11:6 —

These are the words Jesus spoke to John the Baptist, when John sent his disciples to Jesus asking this question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

If you have never considered the pain of John’s words, it is worth time to ponder.

In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist is introduced as a faithful witness to Christ—a witness who so longed for the kingdom of God that he is willing to lose his kingdom. In John 3:30 he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” These are the words John declared, when his disciples came asking him about Jesus and the fact that more people were following him.

With humble faith, John accepted his role as a friend of the bridegroom and thus when the groom arrived, John rightly and righteously slipped out of the way. In fact, after John 3 the Baptist is not heard from again in John’s Gospel.

Nevertheless, this does not mean we do not know the rest of the story. Because we do! In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, we have the report that John was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch after his wife’s daughter requested decapitation as a party trick.

Yet, before his execution, Matthew 11 records the words that John sent to Jesus, as the forerunner to the Lord lay imprisoned, awaiting his deliverance or his death. And why does John ask his question about who he is? Is it because John doesn’t know Jesus, or believe him to be the Son of God? No, it is because things are not going as John anticipated! Continue reading

What Does Jesus Say About You? Four Witnesses, Four Warnings, Four Marks of Faith (John 5:30-47)

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What Does Jesus Say About You? Four Witnesses, Four Warnings, Four Marks of Faith (John 5:30-47)

Who do you listen to? And how well do you listen? An honest answer to those questions will tell you a lot about who you are and who you will be in five, ten, or fifty (thousand) years.

Few things are more important than the voices that we will listen to. And few gifts are more precious than men and women who testify to the grace of God in the gospel. If you are listening to others who speak of Christ, point to Christ, and help you follow Christ, you can know these are not just good friends, they are gifts from God.

On Sunday, we considered a similar line of thought as we heard the testimony of four “witnesses” who all tell us something about Christ. At a time when Jesus’ identity was in question and his actions were inviting opposition and the threat of death, Jesus turns to John the Baptist, his works, his Father, and the Scriptures to declare that he is the true Son of God.

Just the same, we need to hear these voices today, as they tell us who Jesus. Moreover, with these witnesses, Jesus warns us of many deadly symptoms of unbelief. Therefore, if you are looking to see who Jesus is or if your faith is genuine, this sermon may help. You can listen to exposition of John 5:30–47 here.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Preach Hebrews the Next Time You Don’t Have a Preacher, Plus a Post-Script on Answered Prayer

dawn-mcdonald-2RADIf5oR28-unsplashWhat will you do the next time you do not have a preacher? Oh, I am not talking about planning for an upcoming Sunday when you, or your pastor, will be absent, or when multiple teaching elders are unavailable. I am talking about when it becomes apparent 10 hours or 10 minutes before Sunday morning that the man called to preach simply cannot do it.

In such a situation, you have a few options. You could call on someone to preach something already prepared. Such preparation includes having a sermon ready, but it could also mean calling on a “prepared” person who could open a text and give a faithful exposition. Elder-qualified pastors and Bible teachers would fall into this category. And one of the best Resurrection Sunday expositions I ever heard came from a seminary professor who was called to preach 10 minutes before service as the teaching pastor lay ill in his office—literally, he was writhing in pain on the floor. (He’s okay now).

Extreme moments call for extreme measures. And churches shouldn’t be surprised that in a fallen world where clay pots preach the glories of God that sometimes those vessels of dust cannot stand and speak. Yet, knowing that, we can still be caught off guard, or in need of immediate relief. And this last weekend was such a case in our church.

What We Did When the Preacher Couldn’t Preach

As many readers of this blog know, I am not a full time blogger—hence, the regular but not absolutely consistent blog schedule. Day to day, I have the joy of serving at Occoquan Bible Church, located in Northern Virginia. Since 2015, I have been pastor for preaching and theology. So, most Sundays I am the one standing up and preaching.

At the same time, we have a deep bench of gifted preachers. And if you check our website, you will find messages from Ben, Rod, Jared, Dave, Ron, and Jeff. All of our elders have preached multiple times to our church. And by conviction, we do this because we believe the pulpit is the Lord’s, not man’s. It is God’s Word that is preached, not our own. And it is the faithful preaching of God’s Word that builds his church, not the gifting of any one pastor. For that reason, we intentionally share the pulpit. And by design I preach about 40 times a year, not 52.

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Seeing is Believing: Returning to John’s Gospel

john03In the Spring of 2020, our church began a new sermon series on the Gospel of John. Little did we know that things would get really weird in March of that year, when the onslaught of Covid-19 led us to stop gathering for eight weeks. During that time and after, we looked Psalm 90–106 and Joel. Thereafter, our church studied Daniel, 1 Peter, and Proverbs 1–9, to name a few. Yet, it has always been the hope to resume our sermon series in John.

Thankfully, and under the Lord’s providence, we plan to restart this series next Sunday. In that sermon, I will give an overview of the whole Gospel. The following week, I will (Lord willing) restart a verse-by-verse exposition of John’s Gospel. That first message will begin where we left off in John 3 with the incredible encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. Today, for those in our church or others who might benefit from a sermon series on John’s Gospel, I share the five messages that we preached in 2020.

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Brother-Theologians: Preach the Word!

samuel-zeller-432101A few years ago I wrote this article on David Prince’s website. As I go to teach Systematic Theology 1 this week, I am reminded of it, and the need for theologians to be preachers.

In theology, we are not just called to study and store up knowledge of truth. We are called to study to show ourselves approved so that we may preach—or teach, or write, or counsel, or anything else that qualifies as heralding the good news—sound doctrine. To that point, I repost this article, in hopes that God may continue to raise up men sound in doctrine who will preach the Word.

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When I came to seminary, I wanted to study the Bible and theology. Having never “preached” a Sunday morning message, I was uncertain as to the role preaching would have in my life. Ten years later, through a combination of providential opportunities and willingness to preach whenever I was asked, I have finished my theological education  (Yes, it took a decade!) and have preached more Sundays than not.

For nearly five years I have filled the pulpit at my current church—first as a supply preacher, then an interim pastor, and last as the senior pastor. In the lustrum before serving at our church, I like so many of my seminary peers preached in nursing homes, urban missions, country parishes. It was a wonderfully painful time, one where precious little flocks like Corn Creek Baptist Church endured my preaching and helped me learn how to preach.

During that time, preaching was a priority, but so was theology. By training, I am a systematic theologian, or at least, that’s what my degree says. Therefore, as a pastor and a theologian, I feel a measure of familiarity with both vocations. And I feel a fraternal affection and responsibility to exhort aspiring theologians with what Paul commanded Timothy: Preach the Word! Continue reading

A Grace That Endures: Eleven Words of Comfort in Times of Crisis (Psalm 119:25–32)

boat out at sea at dusk

Amazing grace, How sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found, / Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, / And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear / The hour I first believed.

These lyrics are the opening words to John Newton’s famous hymn Amazing Grace. And they recall his miraculous conversion from a trader of slaves to a slave of Christ. And if you have tasted the grace of Christ  in your life and experienced the forgiveness of sins, the regenerating work of the Spirit, and the undeserved love of the Father, then his lyrics are precious beyond words. For in Newton’s hymn, we find a testimony of grace that recalls our salvation as well.

Yet, Amazing Grace is not only a hymn of salvation, it is also a hymn of preservation. For it continues . . . Continue reading

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