Category Archives: preaching

My Calling

Five or so years ago my pastor asked me to consider preaching a sermon. Before long, I was preaching once or twice a month. I enjoyed the study, and there were times when I enjoyed the preaching itself. But I struggled with the whole idea of  being “called to preach,” and wondered if I should be preaching at all.

We moved away after a couple of years. I was relieved to not have to preach anymore. But then I wondered if I was “running from a calling.” I wasn’t sure if there was a calling or not, but I was afraid of ignoring it if there was. I decided to give it another chance. With the encouragement of a friend, I got on the local Baptist association’s supply list. If it is God’s will that I preach, I thought, then they will call me. If not, they won’t. They did.

As I was asked to preach more and more, my internal struggle grew stronger. There were reasons why I didn’t feel right about preaching. I often felt like an impostor or fake. Not quite Gina Welch in the land of believers, but something like that. What if they find me out?

The bright side was that I finally had a good excuse to enroll in some seminary courses. If I had the leisure and the loot, I could be a lifelong seminary student. But taking the courses made my struggle even worse.

While I was in my office studying class notes or sermons, I had a wife and two little girls who I ignored. A baby boy was born during that time, too. When I was with them, I wasn’t pleasant. You would think that someone spending so much time in edifying activity would be a blessing to be around, right? Wrong. I was irritable, preoccupied, tired, stressed, and ugly. The last had nothing to do with the work, but I have to blame it on something. And I was still confused.

I wore myself out trying to discern a calling. Unfortunately, Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something wasn’t out yet. But I found some good advice from Spurgeon. If you can quit preaching, he said, then quit. I was pretty sure that I could. After a lot of prayer and talking about it so much with my wife that she wanted to scream and throw things, I removed myself from the list and informed all of the churches that I was no longer available. Then, to make sure that they would never call me again, I started attending a Presbyterian church.

Though I was at peace with my decision to quit preaching, I still spent a lot of energy wondering if I had some sort of calling, or if I would ever be of any use.  I’ve finally realized that I do have a calling. It’s quite clear, and quite close. I am called to be a husband and father, and I have visible proof. And I’m also called to serve my local church in whatever small way that I can. And I’m called to serve whomever I have the opportunity to serve, in whatever small way.

One of the reasons that people encouraged me to preach was my love of studying the Word and theology. But this should be normal for a Christian. We all need it. Whether we preach to a congregation of hundreds, or teach a class of five, or have a child at home, how we share our faith and present the gospel is important. While thinking about whether to continue to preach or not, I was afraid that my study would be wasted if I quit. I was wrong. Each time that my six-year-old asks a question, I realize how much more study I need.

What a calling to be a spouse, or parent, or friend, or church member. Want to teach theology? Spend some time with a curious four-year-old. Want to be a Christian counselor? Get married. (We change roles regularly on that one.)

In the home or church, there are no unimportant jobs. Sure, we need pastors. But we also need faithful church members who love and encourage one another. And we need faithful fathers and mothers who see parenting as the high calling that it is–one that takes a lot of thought, study, effort, and prayer. And we need spouses who put as much effort into their marriage as they do their jobs and hobbies.

Am I making too much fuss over small things? Being a parent,  or a spouse, or a faithful church member? Who has perfected these things? I want to be friends with them. Well, maybe I don’t. But my point is that God has clearly given me a job, and I have yet to do it well. I do have a high calling. We all have a high calling. We just need to see it that way.

The Book on Preaching

 
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones
 
Zondervan
 
 

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed in expository sermons with substance. While the pastor of Westminster Chapel, London, he preached through entire books of the Bible, often delivering more than one sermon per verse. (His sermons from 1 John fill five volumes!) He believed that “the primary task of the Church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.”

In Preaching and Preachers, the Doctor urges preachers to take their calling seriously. “The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching.” With that in mind, he shares what he learned through his many years of pastoring and preaching. Chapters (there are 16 of them) deal with the character of the preacher, congregations, the preparation of the sermon (and the preacher), the shape and form of sermons, illustrations and humor, and the act of preaching itself. I particularly benefitted from the chapter, “What to Avoid.”

I’ll often enjoy a book enough to read it twice. This is one that I’ve read three times–I’ve certainly benefitted from it more than any other book on preaching. The author’s style is straightforward and enjoyable to read. He is dogmatic at times, and in a few places it is evident that these lectures were delivered several decades ago. (He lists the tape-recording of sermons as a “peculiar and special abomination” of the time.) However, the practical advice he gives will never be outdated.

This is the book on Biblical, theological, expository preaching. Preachers would benefit from reading it, but their congregations would benefit even more.

Puritans and Altar Calls

“The Puritans insisted that the ultimate effectiveness of preaching is out of man’s hands. Man’s task is simply to be faithful in teaching the word; it is God’s work to convince of its truth and write it in the heart. The Puritans would have criticised the modern evangelistic appeal, with its wheedling for ‘decisions’, as an unfortunate attempt by man to intrude into the Holy Spirit’s province. It is for God, not man, to fix the time of conversion. ‘God never laid it upon thee to covert those he sends thee to. No; to publish the gospel is thy duty…. God judgeth not of his servants’ work by the success of their labour, but by their faithfulness to deliver his message’–so says Gurnall, and he speaks for them all. When the preacher has finished instructing, applying and exhorting, his pulpit work is done. It is not his business to devise devices in order to extort ‘decisions’. He would be wiser to go away and pray for God’s blessing on what he has said.”

J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness

Lou Tiscione on “Perseverance and Glory”

This morning Lou Tiscione, the pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA) where we are attending, completed a sermon series on the book of Jude. The entire series has been instructive and edifying, but I found this morning’s sermon particularly encouraging. It was taken from the 24th and 25th verses of Jude:

 

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (ESV).

 

As you might guess from the 24th verse, the main theme of the message was perseverance, or as some call it, preservation. Regardless of the word, we rejoice in the truth. It is God who accomplishes all of our salvation, from beginning to end. He who calls you is faithful to keep you.

 

You can listen to or download the sermon here.

2009 Sola Conference: Dr. Steven J. Lawson

I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning than by listening to Dr. James White in person (see my post below). But if that wasn’t good enough, I was blessed to spend the next hour listening to Dr. Steve Lawson.

If I were to be a preaching pastor, I would model my ministry after Dr. Lawson. His preaching is a perfect blend of fire and knowledge. It is always expository, always serious, always rich, and always urgent. Dr. Lawson preaches in the tradition of Richard Baxter: “Like a dying man to dying men.” I don’t believe there is anything wrong with having heroes of the faith; most of us have them whether we admit it or not. I am unashamed to say that mine is Dr. Lawson.

The Dr.’s text was I Corinthians 1:30: “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

These three–righteousness, sanctification, redemption–are inseparably bound, he said. There is never justification without sanctification. They are the “heads and tails of the same coin.” Dr. Lawson repeated the familiar phrase of the reformation:

“Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.”

The no-Lordship belief, which says that justification doesn’t necessarily lead to sanctification, or that the sanctification may not begin until much later in life, is a serious error. And it is an attack on the true nature of justification by faith alone.

A new standing with God, one that is the work of God, always leads to a new walk. And that new walk, said Dr. Lawson, is our assurance.

The rest of the message was a look at the life and resolutions of Jonathan Edwards, a man who sought sanctification with all of his energy. I will not go into the details of that message other than to say that it was one of the most powerful I’ve ever heard.

Dr. Lawson’s newest book, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, is an expanded version of the sermon. I’m reading it now and I’ll review it shortly, Lord willing.

Thank you, Dr. Lawson and Dr. White, for proclaiming the true gospel of Jesus Christ. And thank you, Countryside Bible Church, for hosting such an edifying conference.

Servants and Hirelings

On the Sunday before Christmas, daddy kept his monthly preaching appointment. Five people were there. Attendance was a little down—there is usually ten to fifteen, mostly little old ladies.

I wonder how many would bother to drive to a church and preach to five people. I wonder how many would drive to preach to five people when their church is 227 miles away. Would it depend upon the offering? In this case, the church can’t afford to pay for the gas.

Should it surprise us, or should it be normal? If there were more true servants, it would be more common. But I’m afraid there are more hirelings than servants. More that would leave their sheep for a flock with a bigger benefits package.

Would Paul have traveled 227 miles to preach to five people? I’m sure he would have. And I’m sure that Jesus would have walked that far to preach to one person—an adulterous woman, or a drunk man, perhaps.

So my dad drove to the church. He probably unlocked the door and made the coffee. I’m sure he said all the prayers. I know he led the singing. And then he delivered the message and drove home. Why? Because the church asked him to, and he feels called to do so. He feels called to serve, not to be served.

Random and Confused Thoughts About the Question of “Calling”

What does it mean to be called to preach? And who is to be the judge of the calling?

I’m not sure what the answer to either question is.

It seems that there is more to “calling” than having ability. We could take any great orator, teach him the Bible, and put him in the pulpit. Combine that with a need in the church and many would be sure that the man was “called.” If he disagreed, he would be warned about being “disobedient.”

Shouldn’t the man know when he is called? Jeremiah did. Isaiah did. Paul knew it. And today, some feel it just as strongly. But some are left with doubts. Who is calling, God or man? How do we know? And are we obligated to answer the call of man?

After a semester of seminary discussion boards, I am aware that the Holy Spirit speaks directly to many of my classmates–most of them, it seems. At least they say that He does. And they are sure of everything. But that’s not my case.

Besides a supernatural aspect of calling, isn’t there a practical aspect? Many, take Mark Dever for instance, can look back over their lives and see how God was preparing them for ministry even before the call. Others look back and see only sin and failure—and a million other signs that they were not called.

And then we have the qualifications in the Pastoral Epistles. “They say what they say,” says the Southern Baptist. But then no two Southern Baptists can agree upon the meaning of “above reproach.”

So, do we leave it to the church to decide whether or not a man is called? Considering some of the preachers embraced by the church at large, we apparently can’t be safe doing that.

There comes a time when a man must decide on his own, regardless of advice. And regardless of what “the Lord has revealed” to someone else. It seems that two witnesses would agree. That is, the church should feel that the man is called, and the man ought to feel that the man is called. Called by God, that is.

Such questions are easy to folks that I know. Everything is ABC and black and white in the world of Life-way. But it’s not, really, is it?

Last Sunday I listened to a man preach about spiritual birthdays. “Do you know yours?” he asked. “You should.” No. No, I don’t know mine. Few things in my life have been that clear. And least of all the question of calling.

So what’s the conclusion? Well, I don’t know. Some things are sure. I am called to be a husband and father; I have proof of that. I am called, as a believer, to love the Lord and my neighbor. I am called to do my best each day at the secular job which God has given me. And I am called to study the Word that I might grow closer to my Lord.

But my wanting to study the Word and grow spiritually does not mean that I am called to preach. We should all have that desire.

A Dream

At the risk of sounding at least foolish if not crazy, I’m going to tell you about a dream. I remember very few of them, but this one has stayed with me since I had it about a year ago.The background is this: I had a preaching appointment at a church I’d never been to before, and as always I was nervous. To be honest I was probably too focused on the impression I made rather than the Word of God. Here is the dream:

I showed up at the church, but it wasn’t to preach. I was selling strawberries. On the surface they were the biggest, most beautiful strawberries you’ve ever seen, and I was apparently proud of them. It seems that I was selling them for around thirty or forty dollars each. People were interested at first, but as they examined them they found that they were corrupt – very corrupt. When you turned them over they were completely rotten. Needless to say, the people were not impressed and I left ashamed.

What do I make of this dream? Should I try to interpret it as though it had some spiritual significance? I could have just eaten too close to bedtime – strawberries maybe. Bad ones. Or I could have been reading Jeremiah 24:1-3 when I fell asleep. I’m not sure. Regardless of the interpretation, I have applied it in the following ways:

First, in order to avoid presenting corrupt fruit to my listeners (or readers), I need to remember to stay close to the Word of God. The closer to the Scriptures, the more pure and clean my message will be. The further I stray by adding my own stories or ideas, the better chance there is of spoiling.

Second, I am reminded that if I do present anything that is good or valuable, it is only by the grace of God. There is nothing for me to be proud of. When it’s good, it is a gift and to be given freely. If I think too highly of myself I’m sure to be abased and ashamed.

A third possibility is that everything I have to offer is altogether corrupt and worthless. This idea tempts me to quit altogether, but I think the first two applications are the more conservative. And if I follow number one and two, by His grace number three will not be true.

A Moral Lesson in Every Narrative?

Isn’t this a description of most Southern Baptist preaching and teaching, especially when dealing with an Old Testament text?

“Readers too often project some moral or spiritual truth over a biblical character or event, paying more attention to the moral lesson they think they see in the narrative than to the actual point of the story itself. The underlying objection to interpreting the Bible in a moralistic, exemplary fashion for every narrative passage (when such a purpose cannot be sustained on the basis of a fair reading of the text) is that it destroys the unity and the authority of the message of the Bible. Under this method of handling the text, each narrative tends to be cut off from the redemptive history and the promise-plan of God, and this results in a severe fragmentation of the message of the Bible” — Walter Kaiser, Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics.

Sinners Drawn to True Holiness

Robert Murray M`Cheyne died in 1843 at the age of 29. The Lord had used him greatly in the converting of souls and reviving of the church in Scotland. He had an uncommon burden to see people come to Christ. He also had a great desire for personal holiness: “I ought to meditate often on heaven as a world of holiness—where all are holy, where the joy is holy joy, the work holy work; so that, without personal holiness, I never can be there.”

This likeness to Christ was seen in M`Cheyne by most who knew him or heard him speak. He preached his last sermon at Broughty Ferry a few days before he became sick. After his death, an unopened letter delivered during his illness was found. It was from a man who listened to that last sermon. “I hope you will pardon a stranger for addressing to you a few lines. I heard you preach last Sabbath evening, and it pleased God to bless that sermon to my soul. It was not so much what you said, as your manner of speaking, that struck me. I saw in you a beauty in holiness that I never saw before. You also said something in your prayer that struck me very much. It was, ‘Thou knowest that we love thee.’ O Sir, what would I give that I could say to my blessed Saviour, ‘Thou knowest that I love thee.’”

M`Cheyne saw his closeness to God as the most important preparation for ministry. If we are seeing a lack of growth within the church, perhaps the ministers need to turn from gimmicks to prayer and fasting for a true personal holiness. A shallow, ‘Christian’ morality encourages pride and drives people away, but a humble holiness full of the love of Christ will draw sinners.