Friday, March 27, 2015

How to Hear Sermons: A Word From George Whitefield

As a pastor, I frequently am reminded of both the power and the frustration of preaching. To see God move by the preached Word is an awesome experience. To be the instrument by which God speaks never gets old. Yet more often than not, a sermon is easily forgotten and the exhortations are forsaken.

In an 18th century sermon, the great preacher George Whitefield exhorted his hearers on how they ought to hear a sermon. That is to say, Whitefield (who was used mightily by God in the First Great Awakening) preached a sermon on how to hear a sermon (you can read the entire sermon here).

There are two points in the sermon, the second of which will dominate our time here. His first point is straightforward and is summarized as follows:
But if it be the duty of ministers to preach, (and woe be to them if they do not preach the gospel, for a necessity is laid upon them) no doubt, the people are obliged to attend to them; for otherwise, wherefore are ministers sent?
It is the duty of preachers to preach faithfully the whole counsel of God's Word. It is equally the duty of the Christian to attend and listen to God's Word from their preacher.

This leads to his more developed second point. I will allow Whitefield to speak for himself.

1. Come to hear them, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty
Formality and hypocrisy in any religious exercise, is an abomination unto the Lord. And to enter his house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.

Hence it is, that so many remain unconverted, yea, unaffected with the most evangelical preaching; so that like St. Paul's companions, before his conversion, they only hear the preacher's voice with their outward ears, but do not experience the power of it inwardly in their hearts. Or, like the ground near Gideon's fleece, they remain untouched; whilst others, who came to be fed with the sincere milk of the word, like the fleece itself, are watered by the dew of God's heavenly blessing, and grow thereby.
Flee therefore, my brethren, flee curiosity, and prepare your hearts by a humble disposition, to receive with meekness the engrafted word, and then it will be a means, under God, to quicken, build up, purify, and save your souls. 

2. Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God
If an earthly king was to issue out a royal proclamation, on performing or not performing the conditions therein contained, the life or death of his subjects entirely depended, how solicitous would they be to hear what those conditions were? And shall not we pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to his ministers, when they are declaring, in his name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured?

When God descended on Mount Sinai in terrible majesty, to give unto his people the Law, how attentive were they to his servant Moses? And if they were so earnest to hear the thunderings or threatenings of the law, shall not we be as solicitous to hear from the ministers of Christ, the glad tidings of the gospel?

Whilst Christ was himself on earth, it is said, that the people hung upon him to hear the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth. And if we looked on ministers as we ought, as the sent of Jesus Christ, we should hang upon them to hear their words also.

Besides, the sacred truths that gospel ministers deliver, are not dry insipid lectures on moral philosophy, intended only to amuse us for a while; but the great mysteries of godliness, which, therefore, we are bound studiously to liken to, left through our negligence we should either not understand them, or by any other means let them slip.

But how regardless are those of this direction, who, instead of hanging on the preacher to hear him, doze or sleep whilst he is speaking to them from God? Unhappy men! Can they not watch with our blessed Lord one hour? What! Have they never read how Eutychus fell down as he was sleeping, when St. Paul continued like discourse till midnight, and was taken up dead?

But to return. Though you may prepare your hearts, as you may think, by a teachable disposition, and be attentive whilst discourses are delivering, yet this will profit you little, unless you observe a

3. Not to entertain any the least prejudice against the minister
For could a preacher speak with the tongue of men and angels, if his audience was prejudiced against him, he would be but as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal.

That was the reason why Jesus Christ himself, the Eternal Word, could not do many mighty works, nor preach to any great effect among those of his own country; for they were offended at him: And was this same Jesus, this God incarnate, again to bow the heavens, and to come down speaking as never man spake, yet, if we were prejudiced against him, as the Jews were, we should harden our hearts as the Jews did theirs.

Take heed therefore, my brethren, and beware of entertaining any dislike against those whom the Holy Ghost has made overseers over you. Consider that the clergy are men of lie passions with yourselves: and though we should even hear a person teaching others to do, what he has not learned himself; yet, that is no sufficient reason for rejecting his doctrine: for ministers speak not in their own, but Christ's name. And we know who commanded the people to do whatsoever the Scribes and Pharisees should say unto them, though they said but did not.

4. Do not depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought
For though this be an extreme that people seldom run into, yet preferring one teacher in apposition to another, has often been of ill consequence to the church of God. It was a fault which the great Apostle of the Gentiles condemned in the Corinthians. For whereas one said, "I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollos: are ye not carnal," says he? "For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but instruments in God's hands by whom you believed?" And are not all ministers sent forth to be ministering ambassadors to those who shall be heirs of salvation? And are they not all therefore greatly to be esteemed for their work's sake.

The Apostle, it is true, commands us to pay double honor to those who labor in the word and doctrine: but then to prefer one minister at the expense of another, (perhaps, to such a degree, as when you have actually entered a church, to come out again because he does not preach) is earthly, sensual, devilish.

Not to mention that popularity and applause cannot but be exceedingly dangerous, even to a rightly informed mind; and must necessarily fill any thinking man with a holy jealousy, lest he should take that honor to himself, which is due only to God, who alone qualifies him for his ministerial labors, and from whom alone every good and perfect gift cometh.

5. Make a particular application of every thing that is delivered to your own hearts.
When our Savior was discoursing at the last supper with his beloved disciples, and foretold that one of them should betray him, each of them immediately applied it to his own heart, and said, "Lord, is it I?" And would persons, in like manner, when preachers are dissuading from any sin, or persuading to any duty, instead of crying, this was designed against such and such a one, turn their thoughts inwardly, and say, Lord, is it I? How far more beneficial should we find discourses to be, than now they generally are?

But we are apt to wander too much abroad; always looking at the mote with is in our neighbor's eye, rather than at the beam which is in our own. Haste we now to the

6. If you would receive a blessing from the Lord, when you hear his word preached, pray to him, both before, in, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put in practice, what he shall show from the book of God to be your duty.
This would be an excellent means to render the word preached effectual to the enlightening and enflaming your hearts; and without this, all the other means before prescribed will be in vain.
No doubt it was this consideration that made St. Paul so earnestly entreat his beloved Ephesians to intercede with God for him: "Praying always, with all manner of prayer and supplication in the spirit, and for me also, that I may open my mouth with boldness, to make known the mysteries of the gospel." And if so great an Apostle as St. Paul, needed the prayers of his people, much more do those ministers, who have only the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Besides, this would be a good proof that you sincerely desired to do, as well as to know the will of God. And it must highly profit both ministers and people; because God, through your prayers, will give them a double portion of his Holy Spirit, whereby they will be enabled to instruct you more fully in the things which pertain to the kingdom of God.

And O that all who hear me this day, would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them! How would ministers see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven, and people find the word preached sharper than a two-edged sword, and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil's strong holds!

The Holy Ghost would then fall on all them that hear the word, as when St. Peter preached; the gospel of Christ would have free course, run very swiftly, and thousands again be converted by a sermon.

For "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever." He has promised to be with his ministers always, even unto the end of the world. And the reason why we do not receive larger effusions of the blessed Spirit of God, is not because our all-powerful Redeemer's hand is shortened, but because we do not expect them, and confine them to the primitive times.

It does indeed sometimes happen, that God, to magnify his free grace in Christ Jesus, is found of them that sought him not; a notorious sinner is forcibly worked upon by a public sermon, and plucked as a firebrand out of the fire. But this is not God's ordinary way of acting; No, for the generality, he only visits those with the power of his word, who humbly wait to know what he would have them to do; and sends unqualified hearers not only empty, but hardened away.

Take heed, therefore, ye careless, curious professors, if any such be here present, how you hear. Remember, that whether we think of it or not, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ;" where ministers must give a strict account of the doctrine they have delivered, and you as strict a one, how you have improved under it. And, good God! How will you be able to stand at the bar of an angry, sin-avenging judge, and see so many discourses you have despised, so many ministers, who once longed and labored for the salvation of your precious and immortal souls, brought out as so many swift witnesses against you? Will it be sufficient then, think you, to alledge, that you went to hear them only out of curiosity, to pass away an idle hour, to admire the oratory, or ridicule the simplicity of the preacher? No; God will then let you know, that you ought to have come out of better principles; that every sermon has been put down to your account, and that you must then be justly punished for not improving by them.

But fear not, you little flock, who with meekness receive the ingrafted word, and bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness; for it shall not be so with you. No, you will be your minister's joy, and their crown of rejoicing in the day of our Lord Jesus: And they will present you in a holy triumph, faultless, and unblameable, to our common Redeemer, saying, "Behold us, O Lord, and the children which thou hast given us."

But still take heed how you hear: for upon your improving the grace you have, more shall be given, and you shall have abundance. "He is faithful that ha promised, who also will do it." Nay, God from out of Zion, shall so bless you, that every sermon you hear shall communicate to you a fresh supply of spiritual knowledge. The word of God shall dwell in you richly; you shall go on from strength to strength, from one degree of grace unto another, till being grown up to be perfect men in Christ Jesus, and filled with all the fullness of God, you shall be translated by death to see him as he is, and to sing praises before his throne with angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, and the general assembly of the first- born, whose names are written in heaven, for ever and ever.

All Around the Web - March 27, 2015

Trevin Wax - dc Talk and the Influence of Faith-Fortifying Songs

The Gospel Coalition - On My Shelf: Life and Books with Darrin Patrick

Tim Challies - 5 Reasons to Rejoice in Persecution

Kevin DeYoung - Hymns We Should Sing More Often: Holy God, We Praise Your Name

Andy Naselli - 5 Free Classes on Ethics

Thursday, March 26, 2015

This is Who We Are What a Baptist Is and Believes - God the Father

God is Dad.  Let us not under-emphasize or neglect such an important reality.  If your like me, to say that God is our Father is routine, Christianeze.  We just say it without ever really thinking about what it means.  The next section of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 discusses the foundational doctrine of the Trinity; that is, God is three persons but one nature.  The BF&M 2000 says:

God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men.

Gen 1:1; 2:7; Ex 3:14; 6:2-3; 15:11ff.; 20:1ff.; Lev 22:2; Deut. 6:4; 32:6; 1 Chr 29:10; Ps 19:1-3; Is 43:3,15; 64:8; Jer 10:10; 17:13; Matt 6:9ff.; 7:11; 23:9; 28:19; Mk 1:9-11; Jhn 4:24; 5:26; 14:6-13; 17:1-8; Acts 1:7; Rom 8:14-15; 1 Cor 8:6; Gal 4:6; Eph 4:6; Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17; Heb 11:6; 12:9; 1 Pet 1:17; 1John 5:7

The first member of the Trinity is God the Father – God our Dad.  The words our and Dad are purposeful.  If God is Dad, then God is personal, relational, and knowable.  Like any dad, God isn’t distant or cold, but near and intimate.  At the birth of America, the rise of Deism was unmistakable in our nation.  Even the author of our Declaration of Independence was written by a Deist.  Deism affirms the existence of God but holds that He is distant and uninvolved.  God is rather cold in Deism.  But though few today refer to themselves as deist, many (including Christians) hold fast to such a belief (intentionally or not).

How many times have you asked, “where was God when tragedy struck?  Does God even hear my prayers?  Why do I feel so alone?  Has God forgotten me?”  If your like me, all the time.  Every hospital is full of rooms of people asking such questions.  Every funeral is populated by mourning loved ones shedding the tears of such questions.  Every church is full of members putting forth the front that all is good, but inside, they’re decaying.  That promising marriage is falling apart – where is God?  That rebellious child has abandoned their parents rock-solid faith – does God not hear the their prayers?  That young couple desiring to have a child can’t and yet the promiscuous girl too immature to be a mother does – what is God up too?

We’ve all been there.  What hope do we have?  For one, God is Dad.  Such a fundamental understanding of God assures us that our prayers don’t fade in the wind, our questions aren’t empty concerns, and though we are alone, we can be comforted, though we are confused, there are present and real answers, and though life is tough, God is in control, aware, and active.

I’ve learned more about God in the past 22 months than I had the previous 24 years of my life.  Though where I fail as a father, God triumphs as our Dad.  I lock the door at night concerned for the safety of my family, because as dad its my primary responsibility.  I learned to pour formula in a bottle because my son needed me.  I wear a seatbelt because I have a family.  I wrestle with a toddler because I enjoy Elijah’s smile.  I am awake when he is, I run when he is in danger, and of course, I discipline when he is in the wrong.

God is Dad and thankfully He’s better at it than me.

But this language of God as Father, especially in the BF&M 2000, means more than just God’s closeness to His creation.  It also means that God is the source of everything and in “providential care over” everything. To no one’s surprise, Elijah was not dropped off by a stork.  He is the offspring of Amanda and I.  Without our union, Elijah would not exist.  Elijah is here because we are.  Likewise, we are here because God exists.  This means that as Elijah has value to us, so too we are valuable to God.  Issues over life and the protection of life are fundamental because life is a God issue.

God’s providence reminds us that just as creation was purposeful, so is everything else.  Every disaster and every celebration is well within God’s good purpose.  So even when we suffer, we can celebrate knowing that all is not lost, all has a purpose, and God will triumph in the end.  If God is Dad, then God is provident and in control and for that we rejoice.

God the Father is an important doctrine that we dare not take for granted.  If God was not Dad then we are a people without hope.  Let us live in comfort and peace knowing that He who created the world is not a distant, cold God, but an intimate Father that planned my existence and has me in His arms.

This is Who We Are: What a Baptist Is and Believes - Introduction
This is Who We Are: What a Baptist Is and Believes - Scripture
This is Who We Are: What a Baptist Is and Believes - God 
This is Who We Are  What a Baptist Is and Believes - God the Father

All Around the Web - March 26, 2015

Justin Taylor - In Death, a Witness to Life: Kara Tippetts (1976-2015)

Thom Rainer - Nine Traits of Mean Churches

Canon and Culture - Going to Pot: Why the Rush to Legalize Marijuana Is Harming America

Preachers and Preaching - Faculty Breakout Sessions: Inerrancy Conference

CBS - Iraqi Christians persecuted by ISIS

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Logic on Fire: Lloyd-Jones on Preaching

From Martin Lloyd-Jones's book Preaching and Preachers:
What is preaching? Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! Are these contradictions? Of course they are not. Reason concerning this Truth ought to be mightily eloquent, as you see it in the case of the Apostle Paul and others. It is theology on fire. And a theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology; or at least the man’s understanding of it is defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A true understanding and experience of the Truth must lead to this. I say again that a man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one.

What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.

All Around the Web - March 25, 2015

Albert Mohler - Al Mohler on keeping the Southern Baptist faith

The Gospel Coalition - 4 Questions About Heaven

Canon and Culture - Why Non-Judgmentalism is Unloving

John Stonestreet - Busy or Full?

Justin Taylor - Three Free Lectures by Russell Moore: “Onward Christian Strangers: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel”

The Ville!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

This is Who We Are: What a Baptist Is and Believes - God

Amanda and I disagree regarding food.  I like my bacon to still have meat and fat on it.  Amanda, on the other hand, likes for her bacon to be so burnt it could hold up a bridge.  I like my steak to be medium-rare while she likes hers to be like charcoal.  We also disagree with buffets.  I love them and always try to get my money’s worth by stuffing my face.  Amanda, however, isn’t so fond of them.  Why is one of the many mysteries of marriage.

Buffets are great because one can easily pick and choose what they want.  I like steak, but I don’t like broccoli, so I’ll take the steak and leave the broccoli.  I especially like fixing my own desert: a chocolate chip brownie covered in Hersey’s chocolate syrup with chocolate ice cream on top covered again with more Hersey’s chocolate syrup.  Is your mouth watering yet? – mine is.

Buffets are great when it comes to food, but not so great when it comes to theology.  In our postmodern, relativistic, tolerant society, we have turned our understanding of God into a buffet of beliefs.  We want a God of love, but don’t want the wrath and judgment part.  In goes God’s love, out goes His righteousness. We want a God who is personal yet distant enough to not hold us accountable.  In goes God’s as personal, out goes His Omnipresence.  We want a God who is like us and our culture and so we reject His Immutability.  In other words, though God created us in His image, we have to return the favor.

Thankfully, God isn’t limited to our wants and needs.  God is not clay that we can mold and shape.  The motivation behind such theology is to turn us into gods where we determine truth, morality, and righteousness.

God is greater than our imagination.  The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 writes concerning God (before venturing into discussing the Trinity):

There is one & only one living & true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, & personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, & Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness & all other perfections. God is all powerful & all knowing; & His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present & future including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, & obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.

If I can sum up this description of God is would be: God is beyond human language and description.  By my count, the BF&M 2000, in this one paragraph, uses approximately twenty different adjectives to describe God.  The statement of faith says that He is one, personal, the Creator, the Redeemer, infinite, holy, perfect, Omnipotent, Omniscient, triune, and eternal just to name a few.

This is an important reality when we speak about God: our human language is limited and cannot adequately describe God.  This is why so many confessions of faith and theologies utilize multiple and countless adjectives to describe God.  He is greater than our human language.

But there is a serious danger at this point.  Though we can never fully describe or grasp God, that does not mean that we ought not seek to understand and study His character.  Many in modern evangelicalism that simply ceases to try to explain or understand God.  This is a convenient way of excusing licentiousness and bad theology.  After all, how can you say that your theology is right when theology (the science and study of God) is impossible since God is beyond human description?

At this point we must admit that though God is beyond complete understanding, He has clearly revealed Himself to us.  Our responsibility is to take what He has revealed about Himself and affirm, believe, and apply those truths.  We know God is holy because the angels in heaven sings such wonder (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).  We know that God is immutable because Scripture clearly says that He does not change (Malachi 3:6-7a; Romans 11:28-36; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17).  We know that God is love because it has been revealed to us (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8, 16).  We could do this all day.  Christian theology is not the art of guessing about God.  Yes, God is beyond words, but that does not mean that God cannot be known at all.  In His grace, God has not only revealed Himself in the creation and in our conscience, but also through the canon of Scripture.

This means that we have a responsibility in understanding, studying, and applying what God has revealed.  Scripture, at its center, is direct revelation from God about God.  Apart from the Bible we would know very little and what could be known would be speculative.  If God can be known (though not exhaustively), are we taking advantage of it or are we simply leaving our Bible’s on the shelf until next Sunday?  We say much about God, but because of our infrequent study of Him, we know very little about Him.  We struggle and want to know where God is and yet are unwilling to understand His nature.  All theology is practical and the study of God is no different.  If God is Omnipresent (everywhere) then I am not alone.  If God is immutable (unchanging) then my salvation is secure.  If God is holy then injustice and evil will be judged and I need not retaliate.  If God is forgiving, then I know how to forgive.  If God is love, then I know how to love.  If God is Sovereign then I need not fear.  If God is provident, then I need not worry about tomorrow.  If God is creator then I know that I am not an accident and God has a purpose for me.  Will I fulfill and do His will?  Though I struggle, I know God.  Though I mourn, I know God.  Though I am worried and anxious, I know God. 

There is a God and He has made Himself known to us and what we know is far beyond our comprehension.  So though we cannot pull God down, let us instead lift Him up and praise Him name as he truly is.  Thanks be to God that we are not in the dark but can enjoy the light of truly knowing who God is.  To study and encounter God is to be overwhelmed.  Are you overwhelmed?

This is Who We Are: What a Baptist Is and Believes - Introduction
This is Who We Are: What a Baptist Is and Believes - Scripture
This is Who We Are: What a Baptist Is and Believes - God