Fire in the Soul: A Few Reflections from Together for the Gospel 2018

t4g.pngFor the last ten years, God has kindly provided me a season of refreshing every other April in the city of Louisville through a gathering known as Together for the Gospel. When I began going, I lived in that city as I studied at Southern Seminary. In 2010 our family moved fifty miles north to Southern Indiana. And in 2010, 2012, and 2014 I made the hour drive to attend the conference (Living in Northern Virginia, I now find it hard to believe you go 50-miles in under an hour). Twice in those years I drove that distance by myself; soon to see many friends, but alone in my participation from my church.

Like many who attended that conference I rejoiced in the time together, but also lamented the lack of interest from my church.

Fast forward to this year, and I stand amazed at God’s kindness in letting me worship God with 12,000+ people from all over the world and with 20 people from our own church. For three days, it was a joy to hear messages from Mark Dever, H.B. CharlesLigon Duncan, Matt Chandler, and others, but what was most encouraging—most amazing to me!—was sitting in Section 210 with 20 brothers from Occoquan Bible Church. As David sang, “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:5).

For this last week at T4G, I praise God for his kindness in surrounding me with so many like-minded brothers in Christ. I marvel that 20 men from age 16 to 60-something would be willing to make a 10-hour drive to spend 3 days worshiping God. Little could I have imagined such a fellowship a few years ago, which heightens all the more my anticipation for how God might use the seeds sown last week in the lives of our church.

Here is a sampling of the encouragement we received last week from some of the brothers who went from our church.  Continue reading

Preaching a Definite Atonement

Sometimes people ask “Why did you write your dissertation on limited atonement?” To which I have two answers.

The academic answer is “because I wanted to apply a biblical theological approach to a contentious doctrine.” I believe that only by approaching the extent of the atonement with the whole canon of Scripture in view is it possible to rightly hold its absolute efficacy for the elect with its cosmic scope for all creation. That’s the academic answer.

The other answer is evangelistic: “I wrote my dissertation on the extent of the atonement to stress the fact that what God designed, he accomplished.” What Jesus did on the cross was not to pay for some of it. Jesus paid it all, by divine design and sovereign grace. For me this has tremendous practical, missional, and homiletical effect. Every sermon I (have) ever preach(ed), stands on the glorious reality of Christ’s definite atonement and calls sinners to believe in him.

This week while at Together for the Gospel (more on that soon), we saw the above video, which perfectly expresses this same conviction. The preacher is E.J. Ward, a powerful herald of God’s gospel whose Lexington Pastor’s Conference encouraged primarily African-American brothers and sisters the doctrines of grace. His short message takes its language from the old hymn, “Jesus Paid It All,” and shows why definite atonement is necessary for preaching the gospel as good news. (For more on this point, see my chapter in Whomever He Wills).

Listen to Elder Ward’s message and marvel at this fact: Jesus death did not pay some of it. Jesus paid it all. Then, ponder this question: How can we proclaim the power of the cross if we must call our hearers to add faith? Far better, Christ’s death pays the penalty for sin and establishes a new covenant which gives to the elect all that God requires—chiefly saving faith.

Brothers, preach the definite atonement of Jesus Christ. Universally call men and women to repent and believe. And trust that all God designed in eternity and accomplished in time, he will bring to effect by means of Christ’s death and the Spirit’s life.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Indianapolis Theological Seminary at Together for the Gospel

its

FREE BREAKFAST FOR INDIANA PASTORS Wednesday, April 13 at 7:00am in the Aloft Hotel – downtown Louisville

This week thousands gospel-minded ministry leaders will gather in Louisville, Kentucky at an event called Together for the Gospel. Accomplishing many things, the conference reminds us of the importance of the gospel, its place in ministry, and its power to bring hope to a lost and dying world. At the same time, this gathering of gospel-minded brothers and sisters provides countless opportunities to fellowship together. In truth, after the worship in song and Scripture, my favorite part of T4G is reuniting with seminary friends who minister all over the globe and to scheme with many of them for upcoming gospel projects.

It’s this latter goal—what I like to call gospel scheming—that prompts this post.

Indianapolis Theological Seminary at Together for the Gospel

The one gospel venture I’m most excited about this week is gathering with pastors from Indiana to meet for breakfast on Wednesday morning to talk about Indianapolis Theological Seminary.

For more than 7 years (as a youth pastor and senior pastor) I ministered in the Hoosier State. And though rejoicing in the place God has moved us to serve (Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia), I still love the state of Indiana and pray for the people and the pastors there.

More specifically, over the last year I’ve joined a group of pastors to pray and plan, to dream and develop a local seminary in Indianapolis. The name of the school is Indianapolis Theological Seminary, a school that “exists to collaborate with local churches for biblical and theological training unto the glory of God.”

While at first, this “school” was little more than a dream and a desire for a local seminary to equip pastors and teachers, it has in the last eighteen months become a growing reality. ITS had its first class last fall. It has begun to make partnerships with other seminaries to offer classes for credit. And it is looking to begin a Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Ministry this fall .

If this sounds at all interesting, please get in touch with me or the leaders at ITS—Nicholas Piotrowski and Eric Bancroft in particular. You can also . . .

  • Check out the website to learn more.
  • Join us for breakfast on Wednesday at 7:00am in the Aloft Hotel. (Please RSVP) if you are an Indiana pastor and at Together for the Gospel.
  • Consider taking a class, if you are within driving distance of Indianapolis. This fall, a Greek class will be offered. And Steven Wellum and myself will co-teach Systematic Theology I.
  • And most importantly, PRAY—pray that the founding directors would have wisdom in laying the foundation of this school and that God would grant growth as he desires.

May God be pleased to raise up leaders and laborers to advance the gospel in Indiana and around the world.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Reflections from Together for the Gospel

yumWhen I think about Together for the Gospel 2014, there is so much for which to give thanks! Before all the specifics of the week fade into the past, I want to share seven of them. May they be reasons to give thanks for your own time there or reasons to prompt you to come to Together for the Gospel 2016.

1. The Preaching. As expected, the brothers who preached at Together for the Gospel brought weighty, glorious, gracious truth for us. Beginning with Mark Dever’s hope-giving message from Isaiah 36-37, the preachers called us to place our confidence in God, his Gospel, and its power to save. Particularly helpful for me were David Platt’s and John Piper’s messages. Together, they challenged me to pray and plead that God would save and sanctify those to whom I preach. Likewise, Kevin DeYoung’s message was a needed encouragement to preach the Word. Since I missed a couple of the messages, I will be visiting the T4G website to listen and watch (for free until June 1). You should do the same.

2. The Singing. Like the preaching, the congregational singing deeply encouraged my soul. Continuing the pattern of “mere worship” (i.e., a style of music that emphasizes the human voice over amplified instrumentation), Bob Kauflin led us in song from “center-court.” The music richly described the gospel, but my favorite songs were those written or adapted by Matt Merker and that can be found at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Especially, in light of rising hostility towards Christianity, the song “He Will Hold Me Fast” comforted my soul.

3. Meeting and Making Friends. After the preaching and the singing, the reason I went to Together for the Gospel is to see friends—friends from college, from seminary, from ministry, and from a number of other places around the way. For instance, I had a chance to catch up with one of my oldest running mates in ministry. He and I met in college (ca. 2001), when we were both in Campus Crusade for Christ. Thirteen years later, it is a precious joy to see how God has worked in this brothers life. For me, chances to grab coffee or Qdoba with gospel-centered friends reminds me of God’s faithfulness in my life. It also spurs me on to keep walking with God and praying for others to do the same. One of the sweetest gifts in the Christian life are friends who point us to Christ; at T4G I have reunited with and made many.

4. The ERLC Dinner. On the same note, it was a blast to catch up with a ton of brothers from Southern Seminary at the ERLC Dinner. In an evening sponsored by Dr. Russell Moore, my former Sunday School teacher and School of Theology Dean, it was a joy to see so many serving the Lord all over the country. Even more, the evening concluded with a Q & A about ethics and country music (go figure ;-) and the way that the ERLC serves Southern Baptists and beyond. It was encouraging to fellowship with young pastors, theologians, and ethicists who stand on God’s promises and lean into the public square.

5. The CBMW Conference. From one acronymed-ministry to another, the CBMW pre-conference, national conference was a hit. Occurring in the same room as the first T4G, more than 1300 men and women listened to John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Russell Moore, Danny Akin, Eric Mason, Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Owen Strachan, and a panel of wise, godly women discuss topics related to biblical manhood and womanhood. The night before, the impossible was done, as a small army of kind-hearted servants helped pack bags and put out books for all the conference attendees. On the whole, this conference started the conference well and showed great promise for CBMW’s continuing voice among young evangelicals.

6. My Father-in-Law. With all the joys mentioned so far, the greatest joy of the conference was introducing my father-in-law to all the speakers, the singing, and the ministries represented at T4G. Upon the conclusion of the week, he wrote to me and said

I don’t know how to tell you how thankful I am that you invited me to the conference.  I would not have gone without your encouragement.  Truly the Holy Spirit spoke, challenging me on many fronts. The spiritual challenge, the fellowship and the wealth of resources combined to bless and overwhelm me, like getting a  drink from a fire hydrant!! 

My wife’s father is one of the most diligent servants of the Lord that I know. He is an associate pastor at Ashburn Baptist Church in Orland Park, Illinois. At that church, whose pastor happens to be his father, he leads in music, organizes (just about) everything, and makes endless visits—to name only a few of the things he does. He loves the Lord and the gospel, yet to date, he’s never been to T4G (or heard of Kevin DeYoung or Matt Chandler, if you can imagine). Consequently, he had a blast, was deeply encouraged, and edified to go back to Chicago and continue reaching the lost with ongoing zeal.

7. Prayer, Pleading, and Passion. Finally, and most importantly, I left T4G 2014 with a great burden to pray for the lost. John Piper’s final message in some sense completed for me a course in Christian Hedonism (i.e., Piper’s theology). For more than 12 years, his sermons and books have shaped my thinking about God, the gospel, and ministry. Yet, in all that time, I’ve never connected in Romans 9-10 the relationship between predestination and prayer. That connection was massive for me, and showed me how much farther I have to go in my theology and my prayer life. As I left T4G, I desired and still desire to be more zealous to pray for others and to tell them “Jesus wants you.”

All in all, the week was memorable, motivating, and Messiah-centered (forgive the forced alliteration). For me it truly refreshed my soul, and I pray it did the same for you, or that it will do the same for you in 2016 (April 12-14, to be exact).

In summing up this week, let me encapsulate seven things to make the most of Together for the Gospel, or any conference like T4G.

  1. Go for the content of the messages. Conferences are in vain, if the Gospel of God is not preached. And conferences are also in vain, if we are not letting the message speak to us. Plan to make time for the Word.
  2. Go to worship freely. For those who plan worship services, T4G is a glorious rest. To be able to enter the Yum Center without any care for service planning is tremendously refreshing. Still better than just the freedom from preparation though, the content of the songs, the testimonies, etc. is rich with fuel for worship.
  3. Make plenty of time to meet with friends. This is a doubled-edge sword. It was great to meet new friends and to “network.” But honestly (and I may be wrong in this) it was so much more enjoyable to go and reunite with old friends instead of just trying to met the latest author or blogger. I’ve done that before and it’s tiring. I love meeting new friends, but this week was so good because it was filled with old friends for whom I can be myself.
  4. Make time to pray, journal, reflect, dream, repent and recommit. As much fun as it is to see friends, make sure that during or after the conference, you take time to apply the truth that God shares with you. Life change happens when we look in the mirror, see the mess, and by God’s grace do something about it.
  5. Get to know ministries that matter. To say it differently, support those ministries which are solidly committed to the gospel and find out how you can encourage them and be apart of their work. T4G had a host of ministries worthy of your support. Make sure to engage with those brothers who are doing good work; they can serve your church and they need your support.
  6. Take someone with you. If possible, bring someone new. Or better, help someone else go. On my desk, I have the receipt of a pastor who paid for the hotel room of another pastor (and no, I’m not speaking about myself like Paul did of himself in 2 Corinthians 12). This brother-pastor has been a great encouragement to me, and it spurs me on to know (if only by accident) that he (with his church) footed the bill for someone else to go. May more of us do that, as we can.
  7. Finally, remember that the real work is not conference work; it’s local church work. As Albert Mohler closed the last session with the reminder that the important work is not what happened last week in Louisville, the important work is what happens every single week in chruches in Des Moines, Iowa, Auburn, Alabama, and Anchorage, Alaska—not to mention those brothers in other countries. It’s the work that goes on the churches that proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ that is truly important.

For that reason, I give thanks for all that happened last week, and I look forward to Together for the Gospel 2016, but only through the maze and the haze of two more years of ministry that I pray will be twice as fruitful, by God’s grace, in part because of what I heard, read, discussed, and saw at Together for the Gospel 2014.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

[photo credit: Ivan Mesa’s girlfriend]

Gospel Reflections

Preaching through Galatians and attending Together for the Gospel have caused me to think a lot about the gospel lately–what it is, what it is not, how to preach it to those who “know the gospel,” how to speak of it gravity and glory to those who don’t know it.

I have put down a couple thoughts on our church’s website: www.cbcseymour.org.  I pray these meditations might encourage you and more than that the gospel itself would be the source of your greatest encouragement.

Together For the Gospel: 7000 Who Have Not Bowed The Knee

God FOR Us: The Power of a Preposition

Soli Deo Gloria, dss