April 20, 2015 by
Eighteen pastors. Gallons of coffee. Pages of sermon notes. One purpose:
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Last week Jeff wrote a post asking for prayer for Sovereign Grace’s fourth Expository Preaching Practicum. As one of the participants, I can testify that those prayers were answered! For three days we were treated to expositions of God’s Word followed by specific encouragement and feedback on ways to grow. In each part of the week, God met us. Thank you to everyone who prayed for us!
So what does an Expository Preaching Practicum look like? Ten of the eighteen attendees were asked to preach a message they had previously given at their home church. This way the feedback received can be directly translated to the weekly sermons at each man’s local church. I’ll admit to a certain level of relief when I saw my name was on the name of “listening” rather than “preaching” participants. It takes courage and humility to preach to Jeff Purswell, C.J. Mahaney, and a room full of fellow pastors! But if, as Jeff reminded us on our first morning, the ministry of God’s Word is the central task of the pastor, then growing in that task is wort any cost. And these ten men leaned into their task with commendable eagerness.
After each message, Jeff led us in offering encouragement—and there was plenty of material! It’s all too easy to be aware of one’s shortcomings as a preacher, and this part of the process was intended to help each man see God’s grace in his preaching. As a listener, I never felt as though this were an afterthought or a part of the time to rush through; it was evident that Jeff and C.J. wanted each man who preached to leave keenly aware of God’s work in his ministry.
That same spirit also characterized the next part of the process, a time of feedback on ways to grow. The feedback covered a number of topics such as structure, delivery, and exegesis, but all with one central theme: How can we grow as more faithful, more precise servants of God’s Word?
Our three days together finished all too quickly, and we have each returned to serve the local churches we love. But by God’s grace, the effect of those three days will stir a passion to preach God’s Word with clarity and faithfulness. Thanks to everyone who prayed for us, and thanks to Sovereign Grace for hosting such a fruitful event!
Josh Blount is a pastor at Living Faith Church in Franklin, West Virginia. He graduated from the Pastors College in 2009. He and his wife, Anna, have one son.
April 16, 2015 by
This week we have the privilege of hosting our fourth Expository Preaching Practicum designed to serve the pastors of Sovereign Grace Churches.
We invited 18 of our pastors for three intense days of preaching, evaluation, and discussion, with the goal of serving and equipping these men as they seek to preach God’s Word with precision and passion. I am leading the practicum, along with C.J. Mahaney contributing his insights and experience.
We have just completed our second day and have one more to go. So far we’ve had 8 guys preach, representing 8 churches and 6 states. We’ve thought carefully about preaching through the lens of Paul’s letters, the Gospels of Mark and John, and the book of Ezra, seeing how each of these portions of Scripture delivers different aspects of God’s truth, applicable to different circumstances, all ultimately pointing us to our Savior. It has simply been exhilarating.
As those called to preach the word, it’s hard to beat gathering together to think hard and carefully labor over the Bible in a concentrated way. Please join us in praying for this practicum, that by God’s grace, we will grow together as a “company of expositors.”
As Director of Theology and Training for Sovereign Grace, Jeff Purswell is the Dean of our Pastors College, leads our theological training, and helps develop theology resources. He is also an elder at Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. He and his wife, Julie, have two sons.
Tonight we heard from Ian McConnell. Ian is the pastor for Preaching and Vision at Grace Bible Church in Philadelphia, PA.
NOTE: You can download or listen to the message here.
TEXT: Mark 6:7-14
And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts — but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.
One of the incredible things God does is accomplish his mission through frail people. God uses us, his people, to accomplish his mission. And God is not accomplishing his mission by sending just a few people on the mission. Every believer in every church is called to the mission of proclaiming the gospel. Every believer should embrace the motto: "Saved by Jesus, sent by Jesus."
Every disciple of Jesus is sent by Jesus on mission with the gospel.
If you don't have an identity you don't know what you are supposed to be doing. Identity drives activity. One of the greatest threats to us as Christians is forgetting who we are. If we neglect our gospel identity we will lose our sense of direction and calling. If we forget our identity as sent people we will be weak in outreach, church planting, and taking the gospel to the nations. We do what we because we are who are. If we forget who we are in Christ we will be weak. If we neglect our identity as sent people we will be weak in mission. Our identity drives our activity.
Therefore we must lead our churches in embracing our identity as people sent by Jesus. In Mark 6:7-14 we find a description of our identity as sent and a pattern of living the sent life.
There are four questions which emerge from this text. First...
WHO IS SENT?
Jesus sends all disciples on mission. In Mark 6:7 we read, "And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits." Jesus called his disciples to himself, and he sent them out. And Jesus didn't just send out the twelve disciples. In Luke 10:1 Jesus sent out seventy-two unnamed disciples. The pattern we see emerging in the New Testament is Jesus sending out all the disciples to proclaim the gospel. All the disciples of Jesus were sent on mission.
As disciples we too are sent on mission by Jesus. Mission isn't for a few, mission is for all. All of us are called to be on a mission for Jesus Christ. Every disciple of Jesus is sent on mission by Jesus.
So where will the future church planters and church planting teams come from? From local church members who are already living out their identity as sent ones. In our local churches God is assembling an army of sent ones.
Pastors, are we equipping the members of our churches to be sent? Are we encouraging the members of our churches to embrace their identities as sent ones?
We see Jesus sending out ordinary people. But this is good because we serve an extraordinary God! God uses ordinary men and women to accomplish extraordinary things. The disciples Jesus sent were very ordinary. Most of them were hard-working, blue-collar guys. They weren't elite, educated people. They were just ordinary, everyday folks who made a lot of mistakes.
This shows us that the fulfillment of God's mission doesn't depend on the missionary but on the call and equipping of the One who sends. Jesus sent out the twelve not because they were specialists but to prove that God uses the weak to accomplish great things on his behalf.
Jesus sends us out in community. When Jesus sent out the disciples he sent them out two by two. Why? Because they needed each other. No disciple is sufficiently gifted to carry out the mission of Christ. Community and mission are not two separate things. Rather, they are tightly integrated. The Book of Acts shows the church on mission together. The church in Acts was knit tightly together and was simultaneously adding more people to their number. Community and mission are not opposed to one another, they work together in tandem.
How will the world know we are disciples of Christ? By the love we have for one another. By our Christian communities. The greatest apologetic for the Christian life is the love we have for one another. As we live out the Christian life together we provide a front row seat for those who desperately need Jesus. We demonstrate the reality of the gospel as we welcome one another in Christ.
Pastors, do we lead our churches to see the interplay of community and mission or do we speak of them as if they are separate categories?
The second question which emerges from this text is...
WHAT ARE WE SENT FOR?
Christ sends us out with a very particular purpose and agenda. We see this agenda in verses 8-13.
First, we are charged to connect relationally. In verses 8-10 Jesus says, "He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts — but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there."
Jesus wanted his disciples to connect relationally with the people they were sent to. They would have to eat and sleep in people's homes. They would have to get to know the people they were reaching out to. They would reach people in the midst of their ordinary lives. We also need to reach out and engage relationally with those who don't know Jesus. We need to build relationships with those who don't know Christ. We need to reach people in the midst of their ordinary lives.
Pastors, do we lead our people to have such packed schedules that they don't have time to connect with the lost?
We are sent to connect relationally so that we can proclaim the gospel. In verse 12 we read, "So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent." The disciples clearly proclaimed the gospel. They called people to respond to the message of Christ.
As sent ones we must proclaim Christ. As sent ones we must tell of the One God himself sent. We must tell people that there is hope for sinners through Jesus.
Pastors, are we equipping our churches to proclaim the content of the gospel? Are we equipping our people to share the words of the gospel?
We also need to communicate to people that there are serious consequences for rejecting the gospel. The disciples were commanded to shake off the dust of any city which rejected the gospel. The disciples had to courageously proclaim the gospel as well as the consequences of rejecting the gospel.
When we call people to repentance we are not just calling them to stop sinning. We are also calling them to embrace the infinite glory of Jesus.
Pastors, are we equipping our churches to proclaim the gospel courageously? Are we equipping the members of our churches to present the infinite glory of Jesus? Are we helping the members of our churches be appropriately sobered by the reality of Hell?
Jesus also sends us to demonstrate the power of the gospel in deed. In verse 13 we read, "And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them." Word and deed always go together. Only the proclamation of the gospel saves, but God often uses good works alongside of the proclamation of the gospel. Jesus doesn't just send us to say things, he also sends us to do things.
The third question which emerges from this text is...
HOW CAN WE DO WHAT WE ARE SENT TO DO?
Jesus sends us with his authority and ability. We see this in verse 7, which reads, "And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits." The disciples were sent out with the very authority of Jesus. Jesus had authority over demons, the Devil, death, and disease. In Matthew 28 Jesus says that ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. When he sends his disciples out he shares his authority with the disciples.
Jesus also shares his authority with us. He sends us on his mission with his authority. The very presence of Christ is with us and in us when we are sent on his mission. The presence of Christ is mediated to us through the Holy Spirit.
So why can we expect people to respond to the gospel? Because we are sent with the authority of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Why should we expect people to be delivered from Satan when we speak? Because we are sent with the authority of Christ through the Holy Spirit.
In and of ourselves we are weak. But we are sent with the authority and the ability of the risen Christ. The same Spirit which raised Jesus Christ from the dead is the same Spirit which fills us and enables us for mission. Is there anything the Spirit can't do? No!
Pastors, are we helping the members of our churches to proclaim the gospel with the authority of Christ by the power of the Spirit?
The final question which emerges from the text is...
WHY ARE WE SENT?
Verse 14 answers the question for us. "King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known." As the disciples went out and proclaimed the name of Jesus his name became known. This is our motivation! We are sent so that the name of Jesus might become known. We are sent so that the spotlight might be put upon Jesus.
Our mission is all about spreading the fame of Jesus.
We have so much hope for our mission. As pastors let's lead our churches in this. Let's encourage the members of our churches to embrace their God-given identity as sent ones.
The mission will be successful. Why? Because Jesus himself is in it.
NOTE: You can download or listen to the message here.
This morning we heard from Rick Gamache. Rick is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Bloomington, MN.
NOTE: You can download or listen to the audio of the message here.
TEXT: 1 Peter 1:3-7
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Being a pastor is really hard. Being a pastor is also a joy. Being a pastor is the constant experience of broken-hearted joy. The accent is on joy for sure. We get to explore the depths of God's word and watch the gospel tranform people. We get to see marriages restored. We get to see the Holy Spirit cause men and women to be born again. There is a real, certain, deep joy in being a pastor. But the joy we experience as pastors is a broken-hearted joy.
As pastors we understand verse 6, which says we are grieved now by various trials. We weep with those who weep as dreams are shattered and lives are in disarray. We see marriages broken by pornography. We see families ravaged by cancer. We feel grieved by various trials.
Praise the Lord for the word "necessary" in verse 6. There is sovereignty and love and wisdom in that word. The trials we experience are precisely measured and poured out by our loving Father. The trials we experience are never, ever punishment. Jesus took away our punishment at the cross. Our trials are necessary in order to shape us into the likeness of the Chief Shepherd so that we might minister to those in our care. Our trials are necessary in order to make us effective ministers of the gospel.
In order to lead our people to joy in Christ we must rejoice ourselves. So how do we rejoice in the midst of all our sufferings? How do we maintain hope while we are grieved by various trials? Our passage shows us how to rejoice in the midst of the necessary trials we experience.
Peter begins his letter by saying, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!" Peter knows he is about to speak of glorious, wonderful, joyful truths. As he considers the incredible truths he is about to communicate his joy bubbles over into praise of God. If we comprehend the truths Peter speaks we too will bubble over in joy even in the midst of trials. We will explode in praise as we walk through trials.
Peter then says, "According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again..." Peter uses the word "mercy" intentionally. Mercy is something that meets us in our distress. God met us with incredible mercy in the midst of our absolute distress. We were dead in our sins. We were walking corpses. We were proud, angry, and hostile toward God. We were enemies of God. We had no interest in God. And yet in spite of all this God met us with his mercy! He caused us to be born again! He took our hearts of stone and made them hearts of flesh. He did it all! If this doesn't cause us to praise God then nothing will!
We return to this truth again and again because it causes joy and worship to rise within us. And if we don't understand what God did in our past we won't understand how God is going to work in our future. Our past salvation is all God's work, and our future salvation is also all God's work.
The implications of these verses for ministry are staggering. If God could cause me to born again he can certainly do a great work in those in my church.
Peter goes on, saying, "... to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead..." We have been born again to a LIVING HOPE. This is not an uncertain hope. This is not a "maybe" kind of hope. Biblical hope is an assurance that God will do good to us in accordance with all his promises. It is a sure, certain, unshakable hope.
And our hope is a living hope because it is connected to the resurrection of Christ. The fulfillment of all God's promises were secured for us by the sacrificial life and death of Christ. When the Father raised Christ from the dead it was his great stamp of approval over all Christ had accomplished on our behalf. God considered all Christ had done for us and said, "Yes! It is complete. All my promises have been purchased for my people." Our hope is sure because God approves of Christ's work which purchased all of God's promises for us.
Our hope is as sure as the resurrection of Christ.
Peter tells us the exact nature of our future hope when he says, "...to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you..."
How do we endure in the midst of trials? We take hope in our certain future. We look ahead to our glorious future. We have an "inheritance" coming our way. What does it mean to be heirs? It means we share in Jesus' inheritance. And what exactly is Jesus going to receive as his inheritance? ALL THINGS!
Because Jesus is the heir of all things we too share in his inheritance of all things! Along with Christ, we will inherit a glorious, redeemed, new heavens and earth.
Peter uses specific, vast adjectives to describe the nature of our inheritance. Our inheritance is NOT perishable. It is NOT defiled by sin at all. It is NOT fading. Everything in this world dies and fades and withers. Not our inheritance with Christ. Our inheritance is free from death and decay. It will always be fresh and new and vibrant and pure. Our inheritance is undefiled. Right now everything is dirty and defiled by sin. Our inheritance will be gloriously free from sin and foulness.
We will never get used to our inheritance in Christ. We will be dazzled throughout all eternity.
Our inheritance is kept in heaven for us. It is right now being kept for us by God and will continue to be kept for us until we receive it. This is as certain as certain can be. God himself is keeping our inheritance safe for us.
The greatest blessing of our inheritance will be God himself. Revelation 21:3 says, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God." If God did not give us himself our inheritance would not be satisfying. But God himself will dwell with us and be in our midst. This is the absolute greatest blessing of our inheritance!
But how do we know we're going to make it to the end? How can we be assured that we'll make it to the end? Peter tells us. He says, "...who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." We are under the power and protection of God himself. He is our strong tower, our unshakable fortress. He does not protect us from trials, but he will certainly keep us until the end. We are being guarded in this life by incredible, unstoppable power. We will make it to the end!
Our life right now is only the title page! We have a glorious future in front of us. What a hope we have. Let's build our lives on that hope.
NOTE: You can download or listen to the audio of the message here.
Tonight Craig Cabaniss spoke to us from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Craig is the senior pastor of Grace Church in Frisco, TX.
NOTE: You can download or listen to the audio here.
TEXT: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
A new word has been added to the dictionary, and that word is "humblebrag". According to the dictionary, a humblebrag is, "A statement in which you appear to be modest but which you are really using to proclaim your achievement." The humblebrag has become standard fare in online media. Many people give themselves props on social media under the guise of humility.
All of us are tempted to humblebrag in one way or another. When we humblebrag we want other people to respect and honor us. We want people to see how great we are. We want to boast in what we have accomplished and accumulated.
We all battle to locate our boast outside of ourselves and in Jesus Christ. We are tempted to boast in ourselves. We are tempted to boast in our ministry accomplishments and achievements. But we absolutely must boast in Christ. Ministry according to the flesh will always boast in self. Ministry according to the Spirit will always boast in Christ.
Paul's boast and approach to ministry were integrated. His message molded his life and dictated his ministry methods.
Leading into 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Paul spends time showing both the foolishness of the gospel in the eyes of the world and the foolishness of those God calls to himself.
In our text Paul begins to explain the "foolishness" of his own message, ministry, and methods. He begins by talking about the message he preaches.
1 Corinthians 2:2 says, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." Paul was so laser-focused on Christ that he could claim to have known nothing other than Christ and him crucified. Christ was the absolute crux of Paul's ministry. Paul was not communicating his own ideas or wisdom, he was communicating the testimony of God. Unlike the money-hungry preachers of the day, Paul did not preach his own message to the Corinthians. Rather, he preached the gospel which had been entrusted to him.
Paul did not self-determine his message or mission. Rather, he was a steward of God who had received a message to deliver. Because he was a steward of God's message he could also entrust the results of that message to God.
A man who is entrusted with a message delivers the message faithfully and then entrusts the results to God.
Our assignment is similar to Paul's. We are called together as a group of churches to proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified. We cannot define our own message or ministry. We have been entrusted with the gospel and are called to be faithful to deliver that message. When this message produces results we will then boast in God and what he has accomplished.
The message of a crucified, executed, suffering servant was the message Paul preached again and again. It was the nail he hammered again and again. It was a message of folly to the world. It sounded weak and uninspiring to the Corinthians. But the message of Christ crucified is the power of God to those who are being saved. Because the message of a crucified Savior was the power of God, Paul would hang his entire ministry on the cross.
Paul preached a cruciform message. Everything he preached was in the shape of Christ and him crucified.
We can become overly familiar with the message of Christ crucified and forget how radical and counter-cultural it is. Our culture is obssessed with celebrity and wealth and status. The message of the cross is one of suffering and shame. It is the message of men rejecting the Son of God and scandalously killing him. It is the message of the Son of God bearing the wrath of the Father.
The cross is not a message of celebrity and fame and power. It cuts against the grain of everything we love. The message of cross does not entertain or impress. Apart from the saving power of God, the message of the cross will not impress or draw people. The cross shows our rebellion and sinfulness and hatred toward God. This is an offensive message. This is not a popular message. It doesn't make sense to a culture impressed with celebrities and intellectuals and millionaires.
The cross will never be cool. But it is the only saving message!
When God causes the lights to come on for a person the cross goes from being something detestable to something beautiful and glorious.
Do you share Paul's commitment to the gospel? If your ministry was summarized could it be said that you knew nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified?
The gospel is not just and adjective we add on to other words, like gospel-church, gospel-book, or gospel-man. The gospel is the absolute center of our message.
Sovereign Grace Ministries has changed in many ways. We have a new polity and new leaders. But we absolutely do not have a new message. We are still building everything we do in our churches upon the gospel. We're not looking for a new message or re-shaping the one we have.
We preach the same message Paul preached. We model our ministry after Paul.
Paul was a cross-shaped minister of the gospel. 1 Corinthians 2:3 says, "And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling..."
At first glance Paul does not seem like a weak man. He was stoned, beaten, and shipwrecked. He preached the gospel boldly in many different places without the slightest trace of fear. He seems like a tough guy who is impervious to all opposition.
But to the Corinthians he describes himself as weak. This is not false modesty. Paul was very aware he was weak. He showed up in Corinth experiencing both fear and trembling.
But the Lord comforted and strengthened Paul in the midst of his weakness. This is how God operates. God strengthens and refreshes and reassures those who are aware of their weakness and dependent on God.
Paul said that he died every single day. His life was a cruciform, cross-shaped life. Weakness was a regular, constant experience for Paul.
But Paul embraced his weakness and even boasted in his weakness. His weakness was a platform for the God of strength. God displayed his great strength through Paul's weakness. Paul did not try to showcase himself. Rather, he boasted in his weakness because he knew God's power would be displayed through his weakness.
God ensures that our lives are always consonant with our message. We preach a message of weakness. We live a life of weakness. God calls weak men to preach a crucified Savior, and he will ensure that we live in that weakness. We don't run from our weakness, we boast in our weakness so that God's power will flow through us.
We preach the same message as Paul. We model our ministry after Paul. And we use the same methods Paul used.
The Corinthians were enamored with the great rhetorical speakers of the day. They were mesmerized by the philosophers and speakers who dominated the culture. Paul contrasts his style and delivery to these speakers.
1 Corinthians 2:4 says, "...and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power..."
Paul did not rely on great arguments or fancy rhetoric. Rather, he relied on the Spirit to come and demonstrate the power and reality of the gospel. Paul did not rely on himself or draw attention to himself. Rather, he spoke the message of the gospel in plain, simple language. The Spirit used this simple, glorious proclamation to save the Corinthians. Paul was trying to preach Jesus and then get out of the way. Paul didn't want to obscure the message of Jesus. He refused to adopt any sort of method which would obscur the purity of the message.
The fact that the Corinthians were believers was proof of the Spirit's power and the reality of the gospel.
Paul's method informs our methods. We must hang on to and place our hope in the gospel. We cannot place our hope in self. We cannot place our hope in programs. We place our hope only in the gospel and the power of the Spirit.
One of the sure signs we have a misplaced approach is that we are constantly searching for the latest and greatest ministry trend. If we are constantly looking for a new way to do ministry we have a misplaced hope.
We must hang on to weakness. We don't like weakness. But God's power is most clearly displayed through weakness. Our weakness forces us to call out to God and to rely on his strength alone. We experience God's sufficient grace in our times of weakness.
Where are you weak today? What feels overwhelming to your soul? What causes you to feel fear?
Let your weakness press you into God. Our weakness displays God's great strength. We shouldn't run from our weaknesses, we should embrace them and expect to see the power of God. Paul boasted in his weakness because it became a way for him to experience the power of God in his life.
The cross also unites us to one another. We have a common message, mission, and calling. We may have diverse methods and preferences but we are built upon the same foundation. In our weakness let's hang on to one another. Weak people need others. Weak churches need others. Let's be drawn together in weakness so that we might experience the strength of God. Nothing solidifies our partnership like the gospel message.
As we look to the future we should have high expectations of God's power. But we need to have sober expectations of how that power will come. It will come through weakness. We never leave weakness behind.
Paul was a cross-shaped messenger preaching a cross-shaped message using cross-shaped methods. Let's emulate Paul in our ministry as well.
NOTE: You can download or listen to the audio here.
Jeff Purswell opened our Pastors Conference by speaking from Isaiah 40:27-31. Below is a summary of his excellent sermon.
Unfortunately there is no such thing as a pastoral ministry simulator. A pastoral ministry simulator would be so helpful! If only there were a simulator which would enable us to simulate all the challenges and trials of pastoral ministry. But pastoral ministry cannot be simulated. It is one long exercise in non-normal maneuvers.
There are many things which make our gathering tonight special. We gather with shared beliefs, values, and history. We gather together as friends and co-laborers in the gospel. But we also gather together with burdens, heartbreaks, and temptations. Pastoral ministry is difficult, trying work.
And as pastors we have a dangerous opponent in Satan. In Satan we face an opponent who specializes in striking shepherds so that the sheep will scatter. Ministry cannot be simulated. Because pastoral ministry is difficult and because we face a difficult opponent it is no suprise that pastors become weary. This is different than tiredness. Tiredness is remedied by sleep. Weariness is not remedied by sleep, vacations, or leisure. It can last for days, months, or even years.
Weariness is a persistent fatigue of the soul that has lost sight of a better future. Joy is diminished and hope is fading. Weariness produces more than fatigue. It produces questions, softens convictions, and weakens resolve. Young pastors and new pastors are not often prepared for weariness. The text that we are looking at tonight speaks directly to our weariness.
Isaiah 39 tells of impending disaster. Bcause of their disobedience and idolatry the people of Israel will soon be exiled, and the city of Jerusalem will be destroyed. Isaiah 40 shows Isaiah looking out into the future, after the destruction of Jerusalem and after the exile to Babylon. Isaiah 40 is addressed to a dislocated, devasted, and guilty people. He is addressing a future people who are weary after years in exile. He is addressing a people who have lost sight of a better future.
In Isaiah 40, Isaiah makes three distinct points. First...
THE DESPONDENT HEART
Isaiah 40:27 says, "Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Two attitudes would dominate Israel while in exile. First, they would feel very isolated. They would feel isolated from God and isolated from God's land. They would feel cut off from the Promised Land - the very land which was proof they were God's people. Their very identity as the people of God would be called into question. These circumstances would tempt them to believe that God was done with them. That he had abandoned them. Left them. Deserted them.
Do you ever feel outside of God's field of vision? That God does not truly see your circumstances? That God does not understand? You may ask, "Is God even aware of what I'm going through?"
These are not merely emotional statements, they are theological statements. To say God is unaware of us is to make a loud theological statement.
The second emotion Israel would experience would be a sense that God didn't even care. That their way was completely disregarded by God. That God no longer even cared about them. The exile would cause the people of Israel to ask:
- Is God Sovereign?
- Is God Good?
Pastors are not immune to these questions either. We may sanitize them or say the right thing, but we are certainly not immune to these difficult questions. We face pain in ministry. We face pain at home. When we face pain we are tempted to question God's sovereignty and goodness. And we come alongside people with the exact same struggles and questions Israel faced.
The most immediate application of this text is for those paralyzed by guilt. The Israelite exiles were justly punished for their sins. They were justly driven out of the Promised Land. They were aware of their guilt. And maybe you're aware of your sin as well. You preach justification but privately you have disqualified yourself before God. You are a pastor in permanent exile, permanently at held at arm's length by God. You need to hear the words of Isaiah.
Isaiah does not leave us in the midst of questions and doubts. He points us to our majestic God.
THE MAJESTIC GOD
Isaiah 40:28 says, "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable."
Isaiah begins by insightfully calling the people of Israel away from what they have seen to what they have heard and what they know. What they have seen tempts them to doubt God. What they have seen tempts them to interpret life through appearances. Isaiah calls them back to the unshakable truths they know about God.
We also need to regularly remind ourselves and others of what is true in contrast to what we see. So much of pastoring is helping people remember what they have already heard. Much of pastoring is helping people NOT live based upon what they see and feel, but upon what they already know about God.
Isaiah reminds the people of who their God is. Isaiah piles up three names of God to rivet the people's eyes on the transcendence of God.
He Is the Everlasting God
He is the God of eternity. He is not like Israel. He has no beginning and no end. He is not bound by the limitations and ravages of time. We are acutely bound by time. Time increases the pressure of trials and fears. But time does not effect God. He is not pressured by time. He lives in the eternal now. All time is always before God. God is calmly and inexorably working out his purposes in our life. He is not hurried or desperate. He is simply God.
If you are harried, God is not. If you are frantic, God is not. If you are jaded or disillusioned, God is not. He is not cynical and his zeal has not flagged. He is not like us.
He Is The Lord
This is God's personal name. He is Israel's God. He is not an abstraction or an idea. He the true God of eternity who is Israel's God. He is also our personal God.
He Is The Creator
He is the Creator of the ends of the earth. Isaiah wants Israel to know that God truly can deliver them from every enemy, including both the Assyrians and the Babylonians.
Because God is the Creator of all the earth we must quit thinking God is like us. He is NOT like us. God does not grow faint or weary. He doesn't start out strong and then get weary. Situations never get out of his control. They never need to be revisited, revised, or reengineered.
His understanding is unsearchable. God's understanding of all things transcends our ability to comprehend. Our problem is that we think we can understand God's purposes. We assume that we can search out God's understanding. But we absolutely cannot understand God's sovereign purposes.
Never doubt God's ability and never think you know what God is doing.
Our weariness is often the result of pride. We become preoccupied with trying to understand God's secret purposes. With trying to figure out his unsearchable wisdom. We demand that God explain himself. This pride leads to weariness.
The solution to weariness is to turn away from self-sufficiency and to live the empowered life.
THE EMPOWERED LIFE
Isaiah 40:30-31 says "Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."
Isaiah uses intentional strong contrasts between us and God. Even the strongest grow weak and weary. God never grows weak or weary. Even the most powerful men grow faint. God never grows faint.
We are designed as creatures to be dependent on God. Self-sufficiency is a violation of our very design. God created us to be completely and totally dependent on him. We were designed to receive power from outside of ourselves.
How do we get this power? We wait for the Lord. This is not just any kind of waiting. It's not just killing time. This phrase means to wait expectantly and hopefully for the Lord. We wait with a confident expectation that God is at work. We resist the temptation to try to work things out on our own and we wait upon the Lord. Those who wait on the Lord live with a confident expectation of his action on their behalf.
Why is waiting on God the way by which he gives us his strength? When we wait on God we are adopting the posture for which we were created. We were created for trusting dependence upon a loving Creator. We know that God is not tightfisted. He has open hands ready to bless us.
When we wait upon the Lord we are confessing our complete dependence on him and our complete confidence in him. When we wait on God we are letting God be God. We stop trying to be God. We release our demands and we embrace God's provision. We accept God's timing and therefore his wisdom.
Waiting forces us to confront the reality that we are not in control. That our circumstances are beyond our wisdom and understanding. How we respond when we have to wait tells us what we are actually living for and hoping in. When we wait on the Lord we are really saying that God is enough.
Waiting is not God's way to deprive us. Waiting is God's way to change us. They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. The word renew really means "to substitute". When we wait upon the Lord we exchange our weakness for God's strength. We exchange our inability for God's ability.
When we say, "God I can't handle this," we are actually proclaiming reality. We never were made to handle this life on our own. But we exchange our weakness for God's strength. The promises of God allow us to face every day with glad expectations of God.
The greatest reason we can be assured of God's mercy is because he has provided his Son as a substitute on our behalf. Christ has secured all of God's promises for us. Christ has secured God's limitless blessing on our behalf.
Let's go forth hoping in God's sovereign goodness. He is working on our behalf. He waits to bless those who wait for him. Wait expectantly for him.
Sovereign Grace Church (Bloomington, MN) is doing a preaching series called Shared Values, focusing on the priorities that unite Sovereign Grace as a family of churches. Their website says:
Just over a decade ago our local church joined together with a small band of churches known as Sovereign Grace Ministries. The reason we joined is because we recognized several shared values that define both our local churches and all the churches in SGM. And all these years later, nothing has changed. The same values still define our church and still define Sovereign Grace as a whole and form the basis of our unity and provide clarity as we partner together to plant churches founded on these shared values. Join us as we take 7 weeks to consider these values one at a time and remember who we are as a local church and who we are as a wider family of churches and what a privilege it is to partner together for the glory of God’s sovereign grace.
Last week, Rick Gamache began this series by addressing the most important value of all in "We Are Gospel-Centered." Watch a video of his message below, or visit Sovereign Grace church's website to download or stream the audio.
Rick Gamache serves as the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church. His primary responsibilities are to provide vision and direction for the church through preaching God’s Word and leadership of the pastoral team in fulfilling our mission to “make disciples who delight in, declare, and display the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.” Rick and Delaine live in Minneapolis and have five children: Brontë, Thaxton, Cosette, Yari, and Haddon.
April 5, 2012 by
Categories: Preaching | Resources
C.J. Mahaney recently preached three sermons at Solid Rock Church that touch on surprising parts of Scripture. You can listen to them below, or check out his older sermons.
A Surprising Punch Line, on Luke 18:9-14
A Surprising Command, on James 1:1-4
A Surprising Prayer, on Psalm 88:1-18
December 16, 2011 by
The Old Testament book of Leviticus is filled with detailed ancient rituals which have not been performed now for almost 2,000 years. So preaching through the book of Leviticus in a modern church is a herculean task, but it’s also a challenge a growing number of pastors are willing to take on. Jared Mellinger, the senior pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church, is one of them. This year he preached a text-topical series through the book (lasting from May to September). I asked him about the experience.
Was Leviticus as hard or intimidating to preach as you were expecting?
Preaching straight through the entire book would have likely been very challenging, and it would have forced me to say things that my parents taught me to never talk about in public! I cheated a bit and decided to limit the series to 14 sermons on select passages. After studying the entire book, I identified four major themes in Leviticus, and then preached sermons that focused primarily on those themes. There is some great scholarship on Leviticus that makes preaching this difficult book less challenging.
What was the effect of all those months in Leviticus on your own soul?
I fell in love with Leviticus as I studied this book.
The four themes that we focused on in the series describe what Leviticus did in my own soul.
First, I learned to stand in awe of the holiness of God. God gave us Leviticus because he is determined to be regarded as majestic and glorious among his people.
Second, I came to see more of the sinfulness and seriousness of sin in my own life. Chapters 4 and 5 of Leviticus, in particular, expanded my understanding of the doctrine of sin with categories like sins of omission and unintentional sins.
Third, Leviticus helped me grow in treasuring Christ’s work of substitutionary atonement and deepened my understanding of the absolute centrality of his death on the cross.
Fourth, I was challenged to grow in radical holiness in every area of life. Reading Leviticus causes me to continually re-consecrate my life to the Lord.
How did folks in the church respond to the series?
People were enthusiastic about it and we saw God answering our prayers for the series. I was greatly encouraged. My brothers and sisters at Covenant Fellowship love God’s Word, so they are always quite happy as long as we are feeding them the Scriptures. But still, it was challenging to transfer a passion for Leviticus beyond the Sunday service.
One woman told me she was excited about Leviticus after one of the sermons, but when she went home to read Leviticus that week, she rediscovered that the book was just as lifeless as she remembered it to be! I think we can all relate to that challenge on some level. Also, a good number of people had questions about certain obscure texts they were already familiar with. I had lumberjacks saying, “I can’t wait until you get to the part about beards,” and mothers of teenagers saying, “I am very much looking forward to the passage on tattoos.” I’m afraid I might have disappointed some people by dodging certain issues!
What unexpected benefits did the church experience from the series?
After studying Leviticus, I think we now have more confidence in approaching difficult sections of Scripture. We have learned through experience that all Scripture is breathed out by God, relevant to our lives today, and profitable in equipping us for good works. We were also able to understand more of how the Old Testament and the New Testament relate to each other. We came to realize how essential familiarity with the Old Testament is in knowing and treasuring Jesus Christ as we ought. And the book of Hebrews came to life in a whole new way for us as we understood it in light of Leviticus.
What (if any) resources were surprisingly helpful to you as a preacher of Leviticus?
The book of Hebrews was helpful! Although that was hardly a surprise. Also not a surprise was Wenham’s masterful commentary on Leviticus (the resource I found most helpful), and Ross’s Holiness to the Lord. One book that isn’t as well known as it should be, in my opinion, is Immanuel in Our Place: Seeing Christ in Israel’s Worship, by Tremper Longman. It is the best resource I know on the Old Testament sacrificial system, the sacred spaces of the tabernacle and temple, the priesthood, and the special festivals and days on Israel’s calendar. Also, Andrew Bonar’s commentary was the resource I used in my devotions. He brings life and passion to Leviticus, feeds my soul more than any other author on Leviticus, and shows how each passage points to Christ.
You can find the 14-week sermon series on Leviticus listed below. And preachers considering Leviticus may be interested in this list of resources compiled by The Gospel Coalition.
- Holy: Why Leviticus? [05.01.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: The Perfect Sacrifice [05.15.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: Realizing Our Guilt [05.22.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: True Repentance [05.29.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: The Priesthood [06.05.11; Rob Flood]
- Holy: The Glory of the Lord Appears [06.12.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: Bewail the Burning [06.26.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: The Consecration Connection [07.03.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: Full Atonement! [07.10.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: The Sanctity of Sex [07.17.11; Jim Donohue]
- Holy: Holiness through Love [07.24.11; Jace Hudson]
- Holy: Holy Celebration [08.07.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: If Your Brother Becomes Poor [09.11.11; Jared Mellinger]
- Holy: He Will Remember the Covenant [09.25.11; Jared Mellinger]