Month: July 2018

Why a Great Tribulation?

Preaching through Mark 13 was hard. The themes taken up in this chapter—the destruction of the temple and fall of Jerusalem, the Great Tribulation, Second Coming of Christ, and faithful discipleship—are both humbling and exhilarating to study. I remember coming to verse 14 and the “abomination of desolation.” I sought to demonstrate from the text how this future event will take place during an unprecedented period of tribulation on earth—indeed, “such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be” (v. 19). The Great Tribulation is significant not only because it exceeds in horror any known event in human history, but also because it marks the period of time immediately preceding the Second Coming of Christ. Therefore, Jesus exhorts us to “be on guard” or “take heart” or “not be led astray” from the path of discipleship (v. 23). I had several questions of this text. One of my questions was, Why? Why a Great Tribulation? Why would God do this? I offered three …

Pastoring and Hot-Air Balloons

I’ve only been in a hot-air balloon once. And it was tied to the ground so I could only go so high and then no higher. But that was fine with me given that cutting the rope would have left me unanchored to the ground below, an idea that I wasn’t ready to embrace. So much of the Christian life is like this: we don’t want to let go of control (our anchor) and fly at the will of our God. Of course, behind this desire for control is our own “God-complex.” In our pride we think we can steer the course of our lives better than the Lord. We trust our own wisdom more than his. But this is the height of folly given our finite, imperfect wisdom when compared to the infinite, perfect wisdom of God. Indeed, God alone is all-wise and, therefore, we ought to unhesitatingly embrace his control over our lives. Isaiah reminds us that God is “wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom” (Isaiah 28:29). And we know that in …

Jordan Peterson and Gospel Hope

[The following is the conclusion from a recent sermon I gave from Acts 2:25-36.] With all that is going on in the world today at large and in your life in particular you may be tempted to grow weary and lose heart. This was the case for one Jordan Peterson fan who attended his recent book tour event in Indianapolis, Indiana. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and University of Toronto professor, and the author of the national and international bestseller 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos. His book tour has sold out venues across America. An intellectual and self-help guru, Peterson is offering his own brand of hope and finding a huge market. At Peterson’s book tour events he lectures for about an hour and then moves to a time of Q&A. The questions are sent via Twitter so he opens his laptop to mine the best ones for the audience. According to a person at the event, Peterson answered some “light” questions before coming to one where he paused and said, “This is a serious one.” …

The Purpose of Pastors

You’ve been floating resumes and looking for positions and pulpits. Inevitably, you may receive a call — after what felt like an eternity — to sit down with a search committee. I can see it. You are sitting in a room that’s been temporarily converted from a youth room to a conference room, and you are sitting across a table from a few church members who might feel unsure about what they’re doing. They’re going to ask you: “We’ve got this retirement community across the road, how would you plan to reach them?” Or, “We’ve got a burning desire to start a family ministry here, how do you plan to start that?” My goal is to show you that you should look in Ephesians 4:11-16 for your answer, and that you would be fortified to resist every effort to get you to consider some boxed ministry module, some guru’s system, or anything else that can be marketed. Elders and church leaders are God’s gift to the saints Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians that God …

July 4th and Freedom in Christ

Like millions of Americans this week, my mind is on the Fourth of July holiday and what it represents: our freedom as a nation. This freedom is a precious thing, bought with the sweat, toil and blood of countless Americans who initially fought to obtain it (Revolutionary War), as well as those who have fought to secure it in the centuries since that fateful day in 1776. Gratitude without measure wells up in my heart when I consider the brave men and women of the American military who, this Fourth of July, will be fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to combat the tyranny of terrorism. These soldiers stand in the train of valiant warriors who fought in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and the first Gulf War. Each of these conflicts—while unique in themselves—shared the common goal of protecting American freedom. Today’s battles are no different. But even as I prize my freedom as an American, I am moved to consider a greater freedom—my freedom in Christ. It is the …

Preaching as Longing

What do people do who long for something? They run toward it. This struck me anew on my way back from a recent mission trip to Ethiopia. Upon arriving back in the states my heart was longing to see my family. When I saw them for the first time in 10 days I made a beeline to embrace Anna and the kids. Indeed, longing is not a weak emotion—longing moves you to run toward the object of your affection. Longing for Christ as Longing for Heaven As Christians we long for Christ. Therefore, we design our lives around the single, earnest pursuit of Him. Isn’t this what Jesus meant when he said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). In other words, our lives are not about seeking “all these things,” but Christ. This is the note the author to the Hebrews strikes. He says that one of the ways we “run with endurance the race set before us” is by …

The Menaces of God’s Word

To be ready to preach on Sunday requires resting your head on holy things throughout the week. And on Saturday evening it is especially important to have some reading of a devotional nature. Tonight I went to Thomas Watson’s The Godly Man’s Picture. I was particularly moved by chapter four, “Showing the Characteristics of a Godly Man.” In this chapter Watson details 34 specific characteristics that mark a godly man. In characteristic number 9, “A Godly Man is a Lover of the Word,” Watson writes of the “menaces” of God’s Word: A godly man loves the menaces of the Word. He knows there is love in every threat. God would not have us perish; he therefore mercifully threatens us, so that he may scare us from sin. God’s threats are like the buoy, which shows the rocks in the sea and threatens death to such as come near. The threat is a curbing bit to check us, so that we may not run in full career to hell. There is mercy in every threat (61). A …

25 Helps for Family Worship

If you are like me, you probably made a few resolutions for 2018. I hope one of them was to disciple your children more intentionally. I also recognize, however, that “discipling your children” is something you know about in the abstract but find hard to figure out exactly what that means. For a lot of us, we did not grow up in homes where our parents made concerted efforts at discipling us (largely because no one had done the same for them!), and thus, we don’t have much to go on in our immediate context nor experience. Yet, providentially, God has given his church many teachers—one of whom is Richard Baxter (1615-1691). Baxter is remembered as a premier English Puritan and prolific author. One of his most influential works was The Christian Directory. Baxter wrote this treatise with the aim of providing young, “unfurnished and unexperienced” ministers with a detailed outline of all that is involved with being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Volume 1 is itself nearly 950 pages alone! On the subject …

A Preacher’s Decalogue

As a seminary professor, I am deeply grateful for how the new year has opened with seasoned pastors and teachers offering their wisdom for young (and not-so-young) preachers. For example, in “Advice to a Young Preacher” Peter Adam outlines fourteen indispensable principles for preachers, none more important than the first: Learn to love the Bible. We love God, so we love His words. We know the mind of God from the mouth of God and we live by every word that comes from His mouth. Preacher, learn to love all of the Bible. Learn to meditate on it day and night. Fill your mind and heart and life with God’s truth. If God’s words are not in your mind, heart, and life, they will not be on your lips. Learn the self-discipline to avoid reading your ideas into the Bible. Whenever you read the Bible, don’t think, “I know what this means, so I don’t need to read it carefully.” There is always more to find, more to uncover. Indeed, no man should preach who …

Technology and Preaching

I recently had a student tell me that he preached in a church in Tennessee that had him speaking from a platform that turned into the equivalent of an IMAX experience for the congregation. The technology allowed him to “take” his listeners to places like outer space and the holy land of Israel with moving, high-definition digital images, changing weather patterns, and movie-theater quality sound. As he was selling me on this experience and the value of it for all churches, I kept thinking to myself, “In all this noise, how could they hear a word he said?” But being distracted from my student’s words is not the biggest risk of using technology in preaching. The greater danger is missing God himself. My theology of preaching understands the preaching exercise as nothing less than a monologue from heaven. In other words, the expositor (peaching as monologue from God requires exposition of biblical texts) is a messenger for God as he heralds the truth of any particular biblical passage. This, of course, is how the apostle …