Our Impending Choices?

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

I don’t do a lot of blog reading (or writing, obviously!), but there are several that I check about once a week because I usually find something useful. One of those is the blog of Tom Chantry, a Reformed Baptist pastor from the Milwaukee area.

Here is a nugget about our country’s presidential race:

“Every four years, American Christians are told that we have a moral obligation to vote.  It appears that this year one nominee for President will be a professional bandit with the ego of President Obama, the fidelity of President Clinton, and the honesty of President Nixon.  His opponent will most likely be an unindicted traitor who has already gotten U.S. security and intelligence personnel killed by setting politics over duty.  Will someone please explain to me which commandment requires me to participate in this choice?”

I don’t know of such a commandment, so I will be of no use to Tom, and let’s hope and pray that we end up with a much better option.

Fathers and the Lord’s Supper

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

At least in our immediate circles it is agreed that family ties don’t dissolve when passing through the doors of the church. That doesn’t diminish the authority or devalue the role of the church, but it does leave family authority and roles in tact, which leaves us carefully navigating how to rightly interact in circumstances where there seems to be overlap. One such place is in the observance of the Lord’s Supper, specifically, what role a father, as an authority in the family, plays in regulating this ordinance of the church, if any.

I would like to explore this subject and provide a few thoughts which I believe are relevant and important.

When comparing the Mosaic covenant to the new covenant, one thing which is immediately apparent is the dramatic difference in the number of ordinances. Ordinances under the Mosaic covenant seem almost innumerable, while under the new covenant, there are only two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. With the coming of Jesus Christ, all of the shadows that prefigured His coming become unnecessary, and so He has left us with only these two great pictorials – baptism, picturing spiritual resurrection, and the Lord’s Supper, picturing the enlivening and sustaining power of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. In light of this, how important it is that we observe these two ordinances with care and precision! Their close association with the gospel message – a preaching in picture, so to speak – makes it absolutely essential that our observances communicate exactly what was intended. No more, no less.

This brings us to the topic of this post, which is to explore a father’s role in the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Consider these two central points:

1. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the church.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper, the Apostle Paul said, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” (1 Corinthians 11:23a). That is what we should be striving for: an observance that represents just what Paul received from the Lord and delivered to the churches. And what is that? 1 Corinthians 11 makes it clear that this ordinance is to be observed according to the repeated phrase, “come together” (verses 17, 18, 20, 33, 34). It is an ordinance for a gathered local church, not an ordinance of the family. 

This accords perfectly with what Paul has already said in the previous chapter, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). One important aspect of the Lord’s Supper is our oneness, expressed through our communion with each other and with our great Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Which brings us to the second point. 

2. There is one Mediator between God and man. 

What the Apostle Paul says with such great clarity in 1 Timothy 2:5 has a bearing on our observance of the Lord’s Supper: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus”. The way in which we observe this ordinance cannot risk miscommunicating on this point. Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters of biological families have one relationship with regards to this great remembrance of the life-giving, sacrificial death of our Lord – that of spiritual brothers and sisters. To risk confusion on this point by encouraging or even allowing a father to be the exclusive point of distribution of the bread and the cup to the members of his family is to incur a great risk without a hint of warrant from Scripture.

That does not mean, however, that a father does not have an important role as a spiritual brother to his wife and children. Of course he does! To again quote the Apostle Paul, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any tespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1). This is an important role, it has clear implications for an observance of the Lord’s Supper which includes careful self-examination and repentance, and it is a role that a father may often be in the best position to play. But it is not an exclusive role, and it is not a mediatorial role.

For these two straightforward reasons, it is overwhelmingly the better part of wisdom to avoid having a father distribute the elements of the Lord’s Supper to his family. I would go so far as to say that distribution of the elements exclusively through fathers is a rejection, though likely unintended, of the Regulative Principle of Worship, which constrains its adherents to only do in corporate worship those things which have clear warrant in Scripture, either by command, pattern, or necessary inference.

The Lord’s people have a right – even a duty – to delight in God by delighting in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. It is a beautiful picture of the gospel, and a wonderful time of feeding on Christ by faith and acknowledging our oneness in Him. May our observance of it be what Paul received from the Lord and delivered to the churches.

Divorced from Worldliness, not from the World

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

I am greatly benefiting from reading “The Brokenhearted Evangelist“. It is written by Jeremy Walker, a young-ish pastor who serves alongside his father at a Reformed Baptist church outside of London.

Here is a great quote (page 74):

“Is your church a light to the world? Are you the salt of the earth? Is your light shining before men – all men – from the top to the bottom of society? This is not a picture of a church divorced from the world, but of a church divorced from worldliness and engaged with a fallen world for the glory of Christ.”

I know I must become more of that kind of man.

What about you? What about us?

 

Aristocrats in Our Own Righteousness

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Aristocrat: a member of elegant nobility. With that definition in mind, consider this quote from Charles Spurgeon.

“We are all aristocrats in our own righteousness; we do not like to bend down and come among common sinners. If we are brought there, it must be the Spirit of God who casts us to the ground.”

True and brilliantly stated. All of mankind shares an unrelentingly self-justifying nature. We are aristocrats in our own righteousness, and we think most everyone else a common sinner. I am reading Charles Spurgeon’s “Spurgeon on the Holy Spirit” with a couple of young men, and I heartily recommend it. Here is the extended section that contains the above quote.

     “A person comes into church one morning. He is one of the most reputable men in London. He has never committed any outward vice; he has never been dishonest. He is known as a staunch, upright tradesman. Now, to his astonishment, he is informed that he is a condemned, lost sinner, and just as surely lost as the thief who died for his crimes upon the cross.

     Do you think that man will believe it? Suppose, however, that he does believe it, simply because he reads it in the Bible. Do you think he will ever be made to feel it? I know you say, ‘Impossible!’ Some of you, even now, perhaps, are saying, ‘Well, I never would!’ Can you imagine that honorable, upright businessman saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ – while stands side by side with the harlot and the swearer? Can you imagine him feeling in his own heart as if he was as guilty as they, and using the same prayer and saying, ‘Lord, save, or I perish’?

     You cannot conceive it, can you? It is contrary to nature that a man who has been so good as he should put himself down among the chief of sinners. But that will be done before he will be saved; he must feel that guilty before he can enter heaven. Now, I ask, who can bring him to such a leveling experience as that, except for the Spirit of God? You know very well that his proud nature will not stoop to it. We are all aristocrats in our own righteousness; we do not like to bend down and come among common sinners. If we are brought there, it must be the Spirit of God who casts us to the ground.

     Why, I know that if anyone had told me that I would ever cry to God for mercy and confess that I had been the vilest of the vile, I would have laughed in his face. I would have said, ‘Why, I have not done anything particularly wrong. I have not hurt anybody.’ And yet I know this very day that I can take my place on the lowest form, and if I can get inside heaven, I will feel happy to sit among the chief of sinners and praise the almighty love that has saved even me from my sins.

     Now, what works this humiliation of heart? Grace. It is contrary to nature for an honest and an upright man in the eyes of the world to consider himself to be a lost sinner. It must be the Holy Spirit’s work, or else it never will be done.”

J.C. Ryle’s Classic, “Holiness”

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

At this year’s annual national NCFIC conference, “The Highway of Holiness,” I had the great privilege of giving a message on J.C. Ryle’s classic book, “Holiness.”

If you know me well, you know that this book is on my very short “must read” list. Should you decide to invest the time to listen to my summary, I hope you find it very profitable.

 

If you are interested in the book, here are two great options:

  1. A free ebook version
  2. A hardback version

Happy listening and/or reading!

 

The Gross and Muddy Pleasures of Sense

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

The old writers can be difficult to read, but even so they make use of language in ways virtually unknown to the last few centuries. The unusual word choices drive the meaning home in a profound way.

This from “The Life of God in the Soul of Man” by Henry Scougal (1650-1678):

“Amidst all our pursuits and designs, let us stop and ask ourselves, For what end is all this? At what do I aim? Can the gross and muddy pleasures of sense, or a heap of white and yellow earth [silver and gold], or the esteem and affection of silly creatures like myself, satisfy a rational and immortal soul? Have I not tried these things already? Will they have a higher relish, and yield me more contentment tomorrow than yesterday, or the next year than they did the last? There may be some little difference betwixt that which I am now pursuing, and that which I enjoyed before; but sure, my former enjoyments did show as pleasant and promise as fair, before I attained them; like the rainbow, they looked very glorious at a distance, but when I approached I found nothing but emptiness and vapour. O what a poor thing would the life of man be, if it were capable of no higher enjoyments!”

To what extent have you traded the imperishable pleasures of knowing God in Christ for the gross and muddy pleasures of sense?

That, friends, is an awful trade.

Upcoming “Highway of Holiness” Conference

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

It is just five weeks until the upcoming National Center of Family-Integrated Churches “Highway of Holiness” conference, October 29-31 at Ridgecrest in Asheville, NC, and I am already looking forward to it.

If you haven’t decided to go yet, please consider these invitations:

At this conference I have the privilege of profiling J.C. Ryle’s classic work, “Holiness,” and the preparation for that is pure joy. Here is a description:

J.C. Ryle’s Classic, “Holiness”

In a day where sanctification is the subject of considerable controversy in the church, J.C. Ryle’s classic, “Holiness,” is an enormously helpful treasure. Ryle carefully considers and then refutes the two great errors regarding the doctrine of sanctification: blurring the lines between justification and sanctification, and isolating them from one another. Blurring the lines welcomes legalism and erodes justification by grace alone through faith alone. Isolating one from the other invites false assurance and an environment of compromise. By keeping justification and sanctification rigidly distinct yet unbreakably connected, Ryle gives us the biblical doctrine of holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Friends, don’t come for a book report. While the book will be profiled and summarized, Ryle puts forth a robust doctrine of holiness, ill suited for a lecture but perfectly suited for earnest preaching. 

Join us!

Not Want of Time, But Waste of Time

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

From Chapter 1 of J.C. Ryle’s “Old Paths,” regarding the danger of neglecting our Bibles:

“You are in danger, because there is not a single reasonable excuse you can allege for neglecting the Bible. You have no time to read it forsooth! But you can make time for eating, drinking, sleeping, getting money and spending money, and perhaps for newspaper reading and smoking. You might easily make time to read the Word. Alas, it is not want of time, but waste of time that ruins souls! – You find it too troublesome to read, forsooth! You had better say at once it is too much trouble to go to heaven, and you are content to go to hell. Truly these excuses are like the rubbish round the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s days. They would all soon disappear if, like the Jews, you had ‘a mind to work.’ I say for the last time, Will you not repent and read your Bible?”

Who else cuts through our excuses and gets right to the heart of the matter? Precious few. I am thankful for the authors and preachers who can prick my conscience and bring me face to face with my own compromises.

May we take up our Bibles with a renewed vigor to hear from God!

Still Not Marriage

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

At the very end of July 2013, I posted “That Will Never Be Marriage” and promised to republish it annually for five years. This is now year three.

That Will Never Be Marriage

The progress made by the proponents of homosexual marriage is nothing short of breathtaking. If momentum means anything at all, it will only be another year or two until same-sex marriage has been so overwhelmingly accepted in the United States that those who oppose it won’t even have a significant platform for articulating objections. The advocates who have so skillfully advanced it will have the luxury of just shrugging and waving us off with disdain. In my lifetime, we will have switched spots.

Almost forgotten is the God who called all things into existence with only the words of His mouth. He is the One that keeps the debate from being over. God should never, ever be left out of any equation, because no matter what mankind says or does, He always speaks last, and what He says goes. In card playing lingo, every card in His hand is an ace of spades. Always the highest card. Always trump. Always.

And so that will never be marriage, no matter how many people say it is or how long they say it. Two men, no matter what they say or what they do, can never be married. Two women, no matter what they say or what they do, can never be married.  Because marriage is God’s, and no amount of momentum can ever change that. It is His institution, given in the first chapter of the book of beginnings. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…’” (Genesis 1:27-28a). “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). This is God’s. This is marriage.

Is there another view to be had in all of Scripture? No. None. The last prophet of the Old Testament is simply representative: “You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the LORD has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.” (Malachi 2:13b-15). Three profound things are learned from the three questions in the text and their answers. God responds when His institution of marriage is dishonored, it is only God who can make two one, and He does so to increase those who honor Him. All three of these truths stand immovably between God’s creatures and any such thing as gay marriage.

And the New Testament seals this truth with stunning clarity. Having spoken at length about how husbands and wives must relate to one another, Paul says this: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32). This is why, just a few verses earlier, he said that husbands must act like Christ and wives must act like the church. Because this institution was created by God to play out the most sacred drama – the gospel drama – before a home and before a world. So Christians can never, ever accept homosexual marriage, because it fundamentally upends the gospel drama. It destroys the gospel picture that God created marriage to be. And so that will never be marriage.

I am setting reminders on my calendar to republish this each year for the next five years, because saying it once won’t be nearly enough. I will need to lay my eyes on these words again and again myself, and I’m guessing you will too. And when we read it, we will remember that God always has the highest card to play, that He always plays trump, and that He will act at just the right moment.

“Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: ‘Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.’… Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.” (Psalm 2:1-6, 10-12).

Brothers and sisters, our duty is to declare the truth of Scripture, never letting the light of that truth be extinguished by even the greatest multitude, and to pray fervently that when our God acts, it will be to grant repentance and faith to those enslaved to sin, and not to send the judgment we so richly deserve. May we be found laboring tirelessly towards those ends!

The Anatomy of a Sermon – Thoughts on Preaching

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Early Sunday mornings, after the sermon is completely written, I print it and go back over it thoroughly, making additional hand-written notes and highlighting certain places to draw my attention to them as I preach.

On an average week, this represents 1 hour of work. For those keeping track, that brings my total time to prepare a sermon to a range of 11-15 hours.

As an example, here is what I carried into the pulpit for a recent sermon:

Final Sermon Sample

The entire file is accessible here.

Here are some additional thoughts related to actually delivering the sermon.

  • Position of the sermon notes makes a difference. I find myself less tied to my notes and more able to make eye contact if I have my notes elevated and tilted at a good angle. It sounds silly, but for me this makes a big difference. There are enough challenges with sermon delivery without having to crane my neck to see my notes.
  • There are ways to make sermon notes “preaching friendly”. I make the font big (for me, 12 point Arial, but whatever). Sentences are bad, at least long ones, and short bullets are good. I maintain generous spacing to make it easier to find my place. I use as many visual cues as I can think of: colors (sparingly), bold, italics, underlining, and highlighting.
  • Urgent appeals are an essential part of preaching. If there is no urgent appeal to be made, then I shouldn’t be preaching. Preaching is fundamentally about proclaiming the word of God so that people change and make progress, and that requires urgently appealing for change. Done well, an urgent appeal is accompanied by a marked difference in intensity. Obviously if this is too frequent, it loses its significance. I normally identify one or two spots where I think an urgent appeal is appropriate, or where a particular point should be made more forcefully, and then I increase my intensity markedly in those places.
  • God loves His people. Paul says this to the Ephesian elders: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28). However much or little confidence I have in any given sermon, I always go into the pulpit with the full assurance that God loves His people and will help them to be well fed.

If you have the time and inclination, print out the sermon notes and listen to the sermon with those in hand.

I hope you find it to be a sound, expository sermon, and that this series of posts helps you grow in your ability to prepare and deliver the same.