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May 27, 2007

I think the powers that be must have read my blog and noted my comments about the music being “not quite rock concert loud.” This morning the music seemed noticeably louder. I’m quite the fan of loud music, so this suits me fine, even if it is difficult to use my laptop when my foot keeps tapping. When 3,000 voices are added to the already amplified singers and instruments, it becomes very loud indeed. It’s a good thing.

I’m sitting in the middle of the room at a table with four other people, all attempting to describe what’s happening here. There are two guys from Boundless and Ricky Alcantar from New Attitude. On the other side of the sound booth is another table where I believe the Rebelution guys have set up shop for the weekend. And during the times of teaching there are laptops throughout the auditorium with others typing out their thoughts and, no doubt, posting them for the world to read. This morning I met up with Josh [Harris] at Starbucks and we were imagining what a conference would look like where there was no liveblogging, no audio recording and no video. Conferences have become something that people can experience by proxy-that they can experience, at least in part, even if they are not at the actual event. It’s a good thing, too.

The morning opened with something called Community Groups and Family Groups, where the people attending the conference join together in small groups to begin to apply what has been taught and what they are learning. Every Community Group is divided into several Family Groups, each led by a young man who leads and guides discussion and prayer. There are, I believe, 180 of these groups. Aileen and I are not participating in these, so you’ll have to go elsewhere to find out what this part of the experience is all about. I’m sure it’s also a good thing.

There are to be three general sessions today (and three tomorrow and one on Tuesday). It’s hard to believe it’s Sunday today as the days all kind of seem the same at conferences. We’ll hear from Mark Dever this morning, then from Al Mohler this afternoon, and finally from C.J. Mahaney this evening. It’s a busy day, really, with sessions running from 10:45 AM until 10 PM. It’s bound to be a great thing.

May 26, 2007

We arrived in Louisville after two good and uneventful flights, including one that is the shortest I’ve ever been on. Our first hop took us from Toronto to Cincinnati, a flight of about an hour and a half. The flight from Cincy to Louisville clocked in at just sixteen minutes or something like that. No sooner were we up than we were down and on our way to the hotel. After waiting through a long check-in line at the hotel (it seems we arrived at the Galt House at the same time as a busload of conference attendees being shuttled in from the airport) we got settled into our beautiful and spacious room. And then we went to find the conference venue, the same venue that will be used for next year’s Together for the Gospel Conference. And here we are.

Now this is definitely not your grandmother’s conference. I don’t say that to be disrespectful to grandmothers. Rather, this is a conference both by and for young Christians. And it shows. It is loud (not quite rock concert loud but pretty close) and boisterous. Yet it is controlled and clearly well put together. There is a lot of excitement in the room along with the 3,000 or so young people in attendance—people representing 39 states, 6 countries and 3 continents. It’s certainly a far cry from some of the more recent conferences I’ve been to: The Basics, Twin Lakes, Ligonier and so on. And that is part of my attraction to it. I am, once again, delighting in diversity.

The conference kicked off at 7:30 and began with a worship set that included a mix of hymns, modern worship songs, choruses and a few Sovereign Grace favorites. Eric Simmons then introduced the conference and its topic—spiritual discernment. It seems that the purpose of this conference, like the New Attitude conferences before it, is to rediscover truth and to live in the light of it. Sounds good to me!

The first teaching session fell, as we might expect, to Josh Harris. His exhortation was simple: we must be humble before truth. When we encounter truth we need to first live it ourselves and then humbly proclaim it to this lost world. We need to proclaim this truth not as people who are right but as people who have been rescued. You can’t have humble orthodoxy without discernment. You can only love the truth if you can distinguish it from error, and this is what discernment is all about. Tonight’s goal is to introduce the topic and to convince us of its importance, thus whetting our appetites for what is going to come over the next three days.

So what is discernment? The simplest definition is “the ability to judge well.” It is the ability to identify something of good quality. A person with a discerning ear is a person who can judge good music or a person with a discerning eye is a person who chooses his decorations or clothes tastefully. Conversely, when people choose poor quality we say that they lack discernment. Discernment is very similar to possessing wisdom and the two are very closely connected. Wisdom is the ability to understand and to see life in light of who God is and how He has created the world and then to make appropriate decisions. Discernment is a part of living a wise life but is specifically the ability to distinguish between things. The root word means “to separate apart.” Discernment is the ability to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error, wise and unwise. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” This is a description of the activity of discernment. First you test, examine and look closely. You determine the true nature of what you’re interacting with. And then you have to sort that idea or concept—you need to hold on to or cling to what is good and avoid what is evil. You need to not only see and distinguish but also act on what you see in light of what God values. This is really quite straight forward. If that’s discernment, do we really need a whole conference about this?

Josh provided two reasons we need to give attention to this topic. First, discernment is not as simple as doing something like picking the peanuts from a bowl of Cracker Jacks. We are not born with a full measure of discernment and it is not always obvious what is good and what is evil. If people always announced that they were evil, discernment would always be an easy discipline. Yet the real content and the eventual consequences of ideas and practices that we encounter in this world and in the Christian subculture are not always obvious. There are subtle, unhelpful tendencies; there are pitfalls we don’t immediately see. Discernment between wise and unwise counsel isn’t always easy and it’s sometimes mixed together.

The second reason we need to take the time to focus on discernment is because whether or not we have this discernment is a matter of life and death. These are not exaggerated words. There are portions of life where discernment is of little consequence, but in the spiritual realm we’re talking about our souls. We’re talking about whether or not we will know and obey the truth that has the power to redeem fallen humanity. We’re talking about whether or not we will know the living God for who He is. We’re talking about whether we’ll walk the narrow road leading to life or the broad path leading to destruction. We see this throughout the Bible where people have set before them the path to life or death. Discernment matters because our souls are at stake and we have the chance to distinguish truth and live it in such a way that we can serve those around us—people who need to hear the untainted gospel. Discernment ultimately matters because God’s glory is at stake. The right understanding and right application of God’s Word brings glory to Him.

The Bible tells us in many places how we can grow in discernment. It shows us that this is not the privilege of only a few Christians. There are several passages Josh pointed out: Psalm 119:125, Daniel 2:21 and 1 Kings 3:9. We’re not only to ask for it but to work at it. The first step in gaining this knowledge is studying God’s Word: There are several passages pertaining to this as well: Psalm 119:104, Ephesians 5:10, Hebrews 5:14.

The remainder of the message was based around Romans 12:1-2.

Chapter twelve of Romans is a significant transition in this letter. He has just explained that we can only be justified by faith in Jesus who died as our substitute. The first eleven chapters provide the glorious gospel. In chapter twelve Paul makes the transition from the truth of the gospel and begins to look at the ethical implications for this gospel on our lives. He turns to practical application. These first two verses are very pivotal, holding on to two things: the truth of the gospel and gospel living. And this is what discernment is really all about. Holding on to the truth and to the application. “I appeal to you therefore brothers by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” In light of what Jesus has done for you, here is the perfect response: Give Him everything that you are.

In verse two Paul explains the work that is involved in maintaining a life of worship like this. How do you stay on the altar as a living sacrifice? How do you live a life that is fully given to the Lord? It tells us we need to live in a certain way so we can perceive the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. The reason we want discernment is so that we can know and follow God’s will. The reason we want to grow in discernment is that we want God. We want to please Him and walk humbly with Him, glorifying Him. This passage tells us what this kind of discernment requires:

Discernment requires resistance. “Do not be conformed to this world.” It could also read “do not be conformed to this age.” We need to resist being pulled along by the modern godless way of thinking like the world. Don’t think like the way this world thinks. Resist this! An aspect of discernment is taking the time to understand our age and its values. Do you know how this world is trying to make you conform to it? Have you ever taken the time to truly understand the values of our age? This takes a lifetime of hard work to do and that’s why a conference like this needs to celebrate the teaching of men who are a generation or two ahead of us. We need those who have trained themselves in discernment so they can come along beside us and help us understand the culture. The resistance takes work but inevitably following God’s way and choosing His good and acceptable and perfect way involves being rejected by this world. It involves the loss of this world’s admiration and respect. Not being conformed means that you don’t fit in. It means that you’re going to be left out. You need to count that cost. This is one thing to agree to during a conference like this, but a completely different matter when we get to real life. The practice of discernment requires a break with the world. Christian nonconformity is not the cool kind. When rock stars are nonconformists they are cool, but when Christians are nonconformists we’re idiots; we look silly. If you’re not willing to die to the desire to appear sophisticated and hip and together in the eyes of the world then we will never be willing to risk conformity and we will never be discerning. We want to serve Jesus, but we want to do so in a way where people will say “Those Christians really aren’t so bad. They’re really kind of cool in their Christian kind of way.” If we allow this desire to rule us, we will let our theology and lifestyle be molded by the world’s pattern and discernment dies.

Discernment requires renewal. Instead of being conformed to our age we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. This means a constant reclaiming of the truths of God’s Word. We don’t just hear God’s Word once and figure we’ve got it down, but instead we need to constantly review and renew the truths of the Word. They need to be constantly renewed.

Discernment requires action. The purpose of resisting conformity and being transformed is so that by testing you may discern God’s will. You can’t discern God’s will by sitting back and evaluating from a distance. Armchair discernment that is never played out in real life is not true discernment. Rather, it requires theologically-informed action. The only way for you to grow in discernment is to act on what God has already revealed to you. We could say that discernment requires application or implementation. You can’t fully understand or appreciate how good and acceptable and perfect God’s will is until you apply it to your life. We don’t test God’s will in the way a teacher might give a pop quiz. We are not in the position of authority. This is saying that we must test and examine it by obeying it and doing it. When by grace we obey God’s Word we are testing the goodness of His way and we find that it is truly good. It is also important to note that when we fail to act on truth, discernment dies. When God makes something clear and you don’t live in light of that truth, you’re not only disobeying God but you’re also stepping into spiritual blindness; you’re deceiving yourself. For many here, the best thing you can do to grow in discernment is simply to obey God in the places that He has already made His will clear in His Word.

Discernment requires the gospel. In the flow of our text this point really should have been the first point, but it’s here because it’s the most important point to make. The work of Christ undergirds all we say and teach about discernment. We cannot rightly live the Christian life, we cannot be holy, we cannot be discerning unless we understand that the foundation of everything is not what we have done and not what we do, but what Jesus Christ has done for us. Paul points us back to the glorious gospel. Even this application is built upon the gospel. Discernment must never be separated from the gospel because it’s only possible to discern because of the gospel. We can only resist conforming to the world because Jesus’ work on the cross has freed us from the dominion of sin. Because of Christ we can now resist the devil and obey God. Our practice of discernment must be done with great humility because we know that it is through God’s mercy that we can discern anything. We discern in view of God’s mercy. There is no place for an arrogant practice of discernment. Self-righteous views of discernment have no place and make no sense. To have a heart of superiority has nothing to do with the mercy that you have been shown. If we practice discernment in view of God’s mercy we will practice it with humility. Any time you open your Bible and see and understand something, anytime you turn from any kind of error, that moment is a moment for you to thank God for His mercy in your life.

The theme for NA 2007 is discernment, but even while we focus on this, let’s not be preoccupied on it. Let’s be preoccupied by the undeserved mercy we’ve been given. We see only because Jesus died for us. Discernment is not an end in itself and is not our destination. God calls us to something greater. He wants all of us and His call on each person is to offer our very bodies to Him as living sacrifices. He calls us to give up any claim we have on our own life, any desire to rule and decide for ourselves. Discernment is simply the fruit of a life willingly offered to God. It is the result of knowing and enjoying our glorious God.

Josh closed with Roy Ortmund Jr.’s paraphrase of these verses, which went on just a little too long and a little too fast for me to be able to capture…

I’ll be back tomorrow with several updates, including summaries of sessions led by Mark Dever, Al Mohler and C.J. Mahaney.

May 26, 2007

This morning Aileen and I are leaving for sunny (we hope) and beautiful Louisville, Kentucky so we can take in the New Attitude conference which runs from this evening until Tuesday morning. It will feature a great group of speakers: Joshua Harris, Eric Simmons, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney and, of course, the ever-present John Piper. The topic, spiritual discernment, is of particular interest to me and I look forward to learning all sorts of things I will only be able to wish I had added to my book before submitting it to the publisher. It should be an educational, exciting and humbling weekend.

Now I am clearly far too old to be at this conference. Looking at the photographs from last year’s conference I can see that the average person there will be much younger and, no doubt, much more energetic. The conference schedule reflects this with the evening sessions ending after my normal bed time!


This will be the first time Aileen has accompanied me to a conference and she is looking forward to seeing what these conferences are all about. We’re also bringing the baby with us (is she still a baby at one year of age?) so if you’re going to be there, look out for the two old people with the little red-headed baby. We’d love to meet you. Also, keep an eye out for the Crossway booth or table where I believe they’ll be giving away downloadable copies of a portion of my book.

This will be the final conference on my busy spring itinerary and it looks like it will be a great way to close out the season. Check back later today (quite a bit later, really) and I should have the first update long after the sun goes down. See you in Louisville!

By the way, here is a funky video about the conference.

May 09, 2007

This morning, after a great breakfast supplied by Chick-Fil-A (who knew such quality fast food could be had this far north?) Edward Lobb delivered a session on “Preaching God’s Glory” and he spoke from John 17, a chapter in which Jesus tells us in what language and terms He has been praying for us. The question before us is this: what is Jesus actually requesting from the Father in this chapter, this passage that comes the day before His death? If we can see what Jesus is asking for, we can look around and see how these prayers are being answered today.

There are five requests He brings to the Father. The first is for Himself—glorify me. Does it not seem odd that Jesus, characterized by His humility, requests that He be glorified? But glory is the Son’s prerogative; glory is His real and eternal nature. For Him to return to glory is to return to His home and to His natural state. Verse one opens up the Lord’s motive—that the Father may be glorified. Christ’s own glory is not His ultimate request but His further goal is that the Father should be glorified. In verses two and three this further glory is revealed in historical action which led to eternal life. The Father gives the Son authority, the Son gives eternal life to the third gift—those that the Father has given to the Son. The gist of this verse is that the Father has given people to the Son and, for their benefit, has given authority to the Son so He can give eternal life to the people. Jesus derives His authority from the Father and God has given us as a gift to the Son. Food for thought: are we the kind of gift the Son would be pleased to receive? When the Father gives us to Jesus, He is giving us people He loves as much as His Son. We are struggling people beset with weakness and evil, but we have been given as precious gifts, deeply loved by God. The other gift we are given is eternal life and this is defined in verse three.

In verse four Jesus declares that He has glorified God through accomplishing all the works He did through His life. We can assume that this verse also points forward to the cross for at this point Jesus was already deeply committed to what was going to happen the very next day.

The second request is that the Father may keep these people (verse 11). This request is derived from the fact that Jesus is about to leave the earth. He tells the Father that He can no longer keep them by His own presence and guardianship. Jesus’ guardianship has been entirely effective and now He asks the Father to guard them. Is the Father as trustworthy as the Son in keeping and preserving the people? Of course He is and of course He will answer His Son’s prayer! But how do we understand the position of those who seem to be believers but who quickly fall away? The Greek verb for “keep” is the same verse he has used back in verse six where He says “they have kept your word.” Those who are to be kept are those who themselves keep. Those whom the Father keeps are the ones who keep the Father’s Word. This points out that human responsibility and divine sovereignty work hand-in-hand. The evidence here that God is keeping His people is that they are keeping His Word. The consequences of this, as we see in verses seven and eight, is that the people know that everything that Jesus has and does is from God.

One small point of interest that was mentioned but which did not receive much attention: We see that Jesus prays for us with a view to the malignant power of Satan. Should we not also pray with this same view in mind? We tend to pray about everything more than we pray to be protected from the evil one.

The third request is that the Father may sanctify them (verse 17). Time did not allow Lobb to discuss this one any further.

The fourth request is that the Father may make them one (verses 20-23). This fourth request is for the unity of Christians but when you scrutinize you can see that there is a further goal: that the world may believe that you have sent me. This oneness, though important in itself, is the means to the further end of allowing people to see that the world may make the connection that Jesus had come from God. We can sum up the thrust of these verses by saying “Jesus prays that Christians be united to the the world may be persuaded.” Jesus does not pray directly for the world but shows that He is, indeed, concerned for it. A point of challenge: as a pastor what view of the world to you seek to cultivate? Jesus longs for the world, desiring that they may come to believe in Him. The Christian has a dual relationship with the world. At the one level we are not to love it, it’s values and godlessness. But at another level we need to love it deeply because of its desperate need for the good news of the Savior.

In this passage Jesus teaches that the unity of Christians is modeled on the unity of the Father and Son. He often relies on the preposition “in.” This seems an odd way of talking—we do not use the word “in” to describe our friendships. We do not speak of friendships so close that we are in one another. Yet Jesus and His Father are in one another. There is something about this relationship that is so close that this description is the best and truest way of describing it. How do Christians then find unity? Not by being in one another but by being in the Father and the Son. We do not develop unity by looking at each other, but by looking together to God. Real joy and friendship and unity comes from serving the Lord together with our eyes on Him.

The fifth request is that they may “be with me where I am” (verse 24). With time running out (actually, with time having already run out), Lobb was able to give only a few moments to this verse. Pastors are sinful men, morally pockmarked. Yet Jesus craves our eternal company. Let’s revell in this because it is the truth of our eternal destiny. It has been a long journey from Genesis 3:24 to John 17:24, from the moment men were driven out of Eden to the moment where Jesus desires our company. He looks at us, the scum of the earth, and wants to share His eternal and glorious home with us. And what shall we see? We shall see His glory and shall see Him as He is.

Will the Father grant this final request? Of course He will. Jesus is not asking for something that Father will be reluctant to give. We will come to see on that day that this last request was the greatest of them all.

May 08, 2007

When you show up for dinner and find your table set with extra napkins, wet-naps and toothpicks, you know you’re in for a good meal. Tonight we were spoiled with a dinner of chicken, ribs and beans followed with Klondike bars and chased with some Pepsi. Very nice. And then, on a full stomach we reconvened for a few songs and a session led by Derek Thomas and discussing “Preaching as Warfare” (based on 2 Timothy 1:1-14). But before he began Thomas gave me a chuckle by mentioning the word postmodernism and saying the following: “I’d like to propose a moratorium on the word “postmodern” for five years to see if anyone is still using it.” Not many people laughed so I assume that not many people keep up with Brian McLaren…

The purpose of tonight’s session was to look at the extraordinary relationship between Paul and Timothy. Timothy had been Paul’s apostle for many years when this letter was written and all he knew about ministry he had learned from Paul.

In this life we face an enemy who hates Christ, who hates the gospel, who hates God. We sometimes say that the devil is “pure evil,” two words that don’t really go together. Satan is committed to the church’s destruction. This letter represents Paul’s last words for shortly after writing it he was executed. This letter is his swan song, his final letter to his dear friend and his son in the faith. He remembers the bond they shared, the deep-seated affection. He remembers Timothy’s sincere faith—the same faith he saw in Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Paul also brings to the surface not only the sincerity of Timothy’s faith but the sacrifices that faith has to make. One of the sacrifices Timothy must make is that he must be prepared to overcome shame in suffering and in testifying about the gospel. He must not be ashamed of the Lord and the testimony about Him.

Thomas then spoke about Christians of our day and Christians of days past who have suffered greatly but who have not been ashamed of the gospel—people like the men who were recently martyred in Turkey, the missionaries who were sent from Geneva in Calvin’s day and David Brainerd. Paul speaks of the gifts of faith and issues a commission in verse six to fan into flames this gift. He refers to this as the gift of God. Why does he do this? So there is no boasting for any gift is but a gift of God. He speaks also of the form of faith, saying in verse fourteen to guard the deposit, the pattern of sound teaching. This is especially applicable today as doctrine after doctrine comes under attack in the church.

We are in a time of battle—no doubt about it. But perhaps the battle has not yet really begun. Perhaps we just hear the sound of hooves in the distance. Pastors have reading to do, studying to do. Pastors who prepare to stand will lose friends, will be accused of being reactionary simply for defending the historic truths of the gospel. The best way to defend against these things is to preach the word. The systematic, expository application of the Word of God will serve as a defense. Preach it all and preach it for all its worth. It is war out there. The gospel is not about our ease or comforts. At the end of the day it is about “Are you willing to give everything for the gospel? How far are you willing to go? What are the limits?” We have to agree with Jim Elliott that “He is no fool who will give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

May 08, 2007

Today’s second session was led by Edward Lobb who spoke on “Preaching as Work,” carrying on the theme begun by Derek Thomas earlier in the morning. Work is, by its very nature, difficult in this post-Eden world. There is a part of us that longs to avoid work and to do something else. But preachers have been called to labor.

The purpose of this session was to bring a fresh challenge but also a real encouragement to pastors. As his text Lobb used 2 Timothy 2:15. This verse derives its force from both what it says and from its context. The force of this letter is very plain. Paul encourages Timothy to keep on with his labor despite and through the difficulties inherent in it. Throughout the epistle Paul has warned Timothy about things he may be ashamed of and things that will come with the position he has been called to. By the end of even the first chapter, Timothy must be feeling weak and beaten down. In the second chapter Paul tells Timothy where his strength must come from. Ultimately the preacher and pastor works among many thorns and thistles. Ministry will never be easy. Those who pastor are put into a particularly thistley and thorny patch and in this we hear the exhortation of 2 Timothy 2:15. Even if the world were near-perfect this would be a difficult command to obey, so how much more so in this world? In verse one there is great assurance of the grace of Christ that will strengthen the pastor, but there are then several commands that are all about what the pastor must do to play his part. Verse fifteen cannot be seen as separated from the assurance of the first verse.

Approval or shame are the two alternatives held out in this verse. Behind the word “approved” is the concept of tested or tried. In the case of the pastor, when does this testing take place? Is it when he is young and goes before the selection board of his denomination? No, of course not, for here Paul is discussing God’s approval. Paul is thinking of the testing that will take place in the rest of Timothy’s life—the ongoing testing. This shouldn’t surprise us because testing is one of the Bible’s great themes. God tests his workers and these tests tend to come not at the beginning of the ministry but in the middle and the later years. Will pastors, in these years, be ready to stand firm, to suffer for the gospel? The biblical evidence, particularly Hebrews 12:23, makes us believe that Timothy was able to stand firm until the end. Pastors will either rightly handle the truth and persevere or swerve from it and be ashamed.

The fundamental character of the preacher’s task is to handle the word of truth rightly. In the Greek the word translated as “handling” really means “cutting straight.” The metaphor of straight cutting is a metaphor of cutting a straight road through the countryside. Timothy’s task is to communicate this word of truth to others, cutting a straight road so it can travel into their hearts and minds. The preacher’s task is to get truth from his heart and mind to the hearts and minds of the listeners. There are many obstacles to this. One obstacle is intellectual fog (either in the preacher or the listener, though the preacher cannot do much about the listener). The fog in the pulpit is part of the labor. The first hour of sermon preparation is not too difficult but then you need to start bracing yourself and start asking some serious questions of the text. Really understanding the passage is only the first task and the preacher must also consider how he will cut this road to the hearer’s heart. What is said in the pulpit must be coherent and logical. The single main thrust of the passage needs to be made unambiguous. The price of clarity in the pulpit is anguish in the study. Another obstacle is lack of confidence that this Word is the sufficient truth. Many pastors today do not quite believe that the Word is sufficient, turning instead to stories and illustrations and anything but the Word. The reality is that real expository is not Bible-based but is just Bible. This is not to say that illustrations are useless, but that there is a danger when the illustrations become the big thing and the thing people remember. The Word of truth is not able just to hold people’s interests but to remake the minds and hearts of God’s people. It is important to note that learning to cut it straight is not just the peserver of young men. Rather, men of fifty and sixty can still be significantly learning to be better preachers.

The fundamental character of the preacher himself is that he is a worker. His work is at the core this task of cutting a straight road—of preaching and teaching the words of God. Paul did all sorts of things: he traveled extensively, made tents, raised money. But his work was to preach and teach and this is the activity to which he gave himself year after year. He knew that people could not be saved if they did not believe and that to believe they need both the preacher and his preaching. When asked your vocation, do you say I’m a pastor or I’m a clergyman or do you say “I’m a preacher?”

Let’s consider this word “worker.” Paul clearly regards preaching as labor and toil. If pastors are to be workers, the work requires planning. He cannot be rigid in his planning and needs to be flexible. Preaching preparation requires planning and this must take into account the specific pastor’s skill and ability. This work also requires vigor. The Scriptures do not yield their treasure to chance inquiry but require dedicated effort.

There are two things that shouldn’t characterize the work of a pastor. Pastors are to be workers but not workaholics. To be a workaholic is to court sorrow and disaster. He may get away with it for a while but there will be inevitable painful payback in the end. Secondly, pastors are workers, not orators. Any preacher knows the temptation to be an orator and knows that oratory can have its own power. But this, at heart, is an attempt to gain leverage over the listener and shows that the preacher doesn’t quite trust the Bible. It relies on stirring oratory to woo the peoples’ hearts. It can also become a self-promotion, a look-at-me technique designed to win men’s praise. Orators really proclaim themselves rather than Christ Jesus.

What is the purpose of preaching and teaching? That listeners should understand the passage, being built up and nourished by it. This work is the best toil and labor in the world, for through it God brings salvation to the lost, joy to the saved, and great nourishment and understanding to His servants.

May 08, 2007

After last night’s session Julian and I met up with the Dunn family who graciously offered to put us up over this conference. I have grown weary of hotels and it was great to be able to stay at a real house. So we made our way over there and I lasted just a few minutes before I had to head off to bed. The first day of a conference is always a tough one for me!

Today began with Derek Thomas discussing “Preaching as Calling.” By calling he did not refer simply to the question of do I have a call to the ministry, but whether there is that inward burden imposed by the Spirit that compels me to pursue full-time gospel work, corroborated and visibly demonstrated by the church and set apart for this ministry. He went a little wider to ask “What is the calling of a preacher?” The calling to be a preacher is the calling to be an expositor and a pastor to the Lord’s people. It is a calling that has a shape, a dynamic and certain contours. The discussion was framed around a handout he provided that had on it a section from “Of the Preaching of the Word” taken from the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. He feels this is a superior look at the topic and discussed it at length. This document discusses the qualifications for biblical preaching, the specific marks or form of biblical preaching, the method that should characterize biblical preaching and the style that will be characteristic of biblical preaching.

What is essential to a calling to the ministry? A preacher is a workman who needs not be ashamed. The call to ministry is a call to labor and a call to hard work. It is a call to labor in the Word and in ideas. It is hard work and ought to be a toil. There must also be some gifting in some measure. A call to preach requires certain gifts and the document spells out some of these. There must be “ancillary knowledge,” some of which are laid out in this document. More than anything, the document spells out the need to have a love for and a knowledge of good theology. Here he inserted an exhortation to read more and to read better. He encouraged pastors to have a strategy in their reading and in the way they gain knowledge of theology. Pastors must love the Bible and a knowledge of it. There is also what the Divines called “spiritual knowledge.” A pastor must be advanced in this kind of knowledge because a pastor can’t be just an ordinary Christian. As a pastor and as a shepherd you must be constantly growing spiritually, having insight into the hearts and souls of men and women. There is a balance of intellectual and spiritual equipment. The mark of preaching and of ministry is directly related to and proportional to the intensity of our communion and union with Jesus Christ. Am I walking with Him? Am I growing with Him?

The document goes on to speak of the manner and form of biblical preaching. Here it gets very specific. They did not lay down strict rules for expository preaching but recognized different forms of it. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, long, drawn out, verse-by-verse, multi-year expository sermons are not a biblical necessity. This document urges sensitivity to a particular congregation, telling the pastor to preach to the needs of his congregation. There are three principles operative here. The first is the bent of preachers inclination. His thinking and praying about a congregation will be molded and fashioned by the relationship between pastor and people. The second is the balance of Scripture. Are you preaching from both Testaments? Are you preaching from all of the literary genres? Third, the preacher needs to know the needs of the people of God. This document tells us that the most fruitful preachers are not those who are balanced, but those who are burdened. They have a burden for the people of God and who desire to see the Word get home to the people. It also gives a warning that preachers are not to be clones of each other. Personality serves as the conduit for the preaching and is an integral part of it.

The document deals with the form of exposition. It speaks of the parts of a sermon, from introduction to conclusion. A sermon needs to have form. A lot of Christians tend to read their Bibles the way you as preachers preach it. Many young Christians develop habits of reading their Bibles and asking certain questions of the text because of the way they hear pastors preaching it. This is why the form of a sermon needs to be clear, not just in content but in form. All sermons need to have form, but not all sermons need to have the same form. This is an area where pastors may be weak since they may not change the form of the sermon as they move from passage-to-passage and genre-to-genre. Eventually it may all sound like Paul wrote it. This document underlines the unity of structure that ought to prevail.

What is the method of biblical preaching? All fruitful preaching combines both light and heat (and I think time was running short here so I did not get much else out of this point!).

What is the preacher’s calling? It is one thing to understand a text and to have exegete a text or to be able to construct a sermon. It can become quite easy to contstruct a sermon but the difficult part is the “so what?” It is difficult to explain how the text is meant to impact the heart and life of the hearer. The people who wrote this document suggest that each sermon should have an application to the mind, the heart and the will. Every passage may have a thousand ways of being applied and the preacher needs to know his people so he can properly apply it and apply it to the right type of person.

The document closes with seven remarks about the style of preaching. These seven can be summarized along three lines of thought. First, the call to be a preacher is a call to seriousness or gravitas. The opposite of this is not dour, but frivolity. This is a serious business and a serious call. Second, the preacher must be humble. The preacher must speak plainly so that everyone may understand. It is not difficult to make things difficult sound difficult, but to make the difficult simple. Third, the pastor must be loving. The pastors has to give the sense that he loves them and they will then be more willing to listen and to believe to what the pastor says.

I suspect you would gain more from this rather excellent presentation by getting a copy of the document and listening to the audio!

May 07, 2007

Voddie Baucham began the conference proper with a session dealing with “Preaching to Postmoderns.” He explained that this is a difficult title because it relies on a term that is nearly impossible to define. Some use postmodernism to describe a generation, a group of people currently in their twenties. But this is unfortunate because postmodernism is not new. Since the sixties at least this postmodernism was shoved down the throats of students. In reality postmodernism is about a specific epistemology. We are talking about individuals who take issue with (though they do not necessarily deny) certain truth claims. Postmodernity is about taking issue with certain truth claims or with our ability to know and to grasp this absolute truth and therefore taking issue with certain constructs. We are dealing with individuals who ultimately come to a place where they are not willing to stake a claim on certain historical doctrines or truths. They may not deny certain doctrines or truths but they also will not go to war with them. It operates under this mantra: what is true for you is not necessarily what is true for me. Another difficulty is that we could actually believe that we have to fundamentally change the practice of preaching in order to suit a group of people. Preaching is preaching is preaching. As Lloyd-Jones said, ultimately if a sermon is going to be preaching, it has to be expository in nature. We don’t start with ourselves or start with a need. We start with the text. Having said that, we do live in an age where people take issue with certain types of exposition. So how do we engage this group? How do we engage the individuals growing up around our college campuses who are immersed in postmodernism, but want to both hold on to the truths of Scripture and be relevant to the culture around us. Can we do biblical exposition with this group?

The answer is yes, you can! From 1 Corinthians 15 we’ll learn how. Here Paul is dealing with people who claim interest in Christianity or identify with it but there are certain aspects that they cannot grasp onto wholeheartedly. The issue of the resurrection is problematic because their way of thinking, their philosophy, their preconceived ideas, must be brought to bear on the text or the message that is being proclaimed. When the message being proclaimed rubs the wrong way of something we hold to, the message loses. This is what he deals with in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul makes three arguments: argument from authority, argument from evidence, argument from logic.

In the first few verses, Paul argues from authority. Paul identifies himself as the one who sends or provides this message but that he does so on behalf of God. God says that there are certain requirements to be His child. This argument from authority points out those who are true believers. You cannot claim to be something without having met the requirements to be what you claim.

In the next set of verses Paul argues from evidence pointing to Jesus. There are so many who are wrong on Jesus, wrong on Christ, and hence wrong on the gospel. They don’t believe that He died for sin, that He was raised. If we’re wrong on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus we’re wrong on the gospel. The argument from evidence is that Jesus, in His life, fulfilled promises that were made hundreds of years before. Jesus dies according to the Scriptures, is raising according to the Scriptures in fulfillment of prophecies. There is also eye-witness evidence of those to whom he appeared (including Paul himself). The third evidence is to look at Paul, saying “Look at me.” We can fall into a trap of thinking we’re sharing the gospel when we’re really sharing our own story. Paul shares his story but only after the gospel, not in place of it. We are prone to simply compare our stories with each other, reducing the gospel to experience. Paul doesn’t leave his story out, but he also doesn’t highlight it.

Then there is the argument from logic. It is a little bit difference because here Paul answers people directly who claim to believe in Christ but not in the resurrection. He takes their arguments to their logical conclusion. In this passage people are saying that Jesus is fine, but they just can’t believe in the resurrection. Paul, though, says that if there is no such thing as the resurrection there are seven things that absolutely must follow. You can’t just get away with saying this. With that one statement you’ve then made other conclusions necessary. Namely, Christ has not been raised; our preaching is vain; your faith is vain; we are liars and blasphemers; your faith is futile and you haven’t been forgiven; those who have died have perished; we are the most pathetic lot around and we may as well just eat, drink and be merry.

Are these three points magic bullets that always work with postmoderns? No, absolutely not. But it is a verse-by-verse, straight out of the text exposition. It means that it’s easy to remember; that, because the Word of God is alive, it is powerful; it validates what we say because it’s rooted in the authority of Scripture; it keeps us from being the authority.

Ultimately what is important is not winning an argument, but winning a soul. It is easy to feel good about using logic and intellect and information to feel superior to an opponent. One thing exposition does to you is making the baser parts take a back seat. We don’t write the mail—we just deliver it. And that’s enough.

Postmodernism is nothing new. If we love the Word and cherish it and the God who gave it to us, and get into this book and get this book into us, we will have ready responses that have the authority of the Word of God that will be alive and active. This does not mean we don’t share our experiences, but we do so as people who have been encountered by truth to show that our experiences do not validate that truth, but merely show an example of a life that has been touched by these truths.

This is only the second time I’ve encountered Voddie’s teaching (you can read about the first here), but I’ve found both of these sessions remarkable in their content, delivery and application. You’ll want to get ahold of this MP3.

As I finish this, Keith and Kristyn Getty have taken the stage again and are going to lead us in a few minutes of song. That will bring us to the end of the first day of this conference. I’ll be back tomorrow with more. And, once again, if I could bother you with a prayer request, I’d be grateful if you could pray for God’s blessings as I speak again tomorrow.

May 07, 2007

We had a good and safe drive to Cleveland (“we” refers to myself and Julian Freeman, a friend and pastor’s assistant from my church. Julian, you may remember, traveled with me to the WorshipGod 06 Conference last year). It was quite uneventful but for a brief hiccup at the border. When I cross the border to go to these events I always mention that I’m going to a “pastor’s conference” or a “Christian conference.” I gave the usual reply this time but the border guard this time asked “Are you speaking at this conference?” This is the first time I’ve been asked this question and, as luck would have it, the first time that I have actually been asked to speak. When I heard that I was speaking, he gave me a little pink piece of paper and told me I’d have to speak to someone in Immigration (“Park over there and enter door one”). I eventually got to speak to someone who asked me what I was doing (“giving a seminar”), whether I was getting paid (“I actually don’t know”) and whether I had any information about the conference. At this point he did the obvious thing: pulled up his browser and Googled the conference and my name. He pulled up my site, saw that I had just posted on my site that I was heading to Cleveland, and then decided that I wasn’t such a bad guy. He stamped my piece of paper and let me go, telling me that I’m not allowed to go into the States and get paid unless its on an honorarium basis. I guess that’s something to remember for the future. Meanwhile, my American friends can rest in the knowledge that the first line of defense for the United States of America is Google.

We arrived at the church at around 1 PM and got the grand tour. And then, at 3 PM, I gave the first of two iterations of my seminar on “Blogging Your Ministry” to however many people could fit in the room (40 maybe?). I thought it went pretty well, though rumor has it I spoke a little bit quickly and perhaps tried to cram in just a little bit too much information. And one person told me (quite helpfully, I think) that it sounded more like a blog post than a seminar. So I suppose it was a fairly successful transition from the written word to the spoken word. I’ve got things to work on for the second time I present it. They did record the audio and I’ll share the link if it’s not too embarrassing. I’ll share the text at some point as well.

Alistair Begg kicked off the conference with an update about his surgery. While most of the news is good and the doctors claim they feel he is now cancer free, he does have some more minor surgery scheduled tomorrow. He will be present for portions of this conference but not for as much as he might otherwise like. Begg then introduced the staff, speakers and blogger who are involved in this event (and at this moment blogging jokes are flying fast and furious). Derek Thomas and Edward Lobb each took a few minutes to introduce themselves and to share their testimonies. This weekend’s third speaker, Voddie Baucham is still in transit and hopes to arrive here before his 7 PM session is set to begin.

Begg provided just a brief exhortation on 1 Timothy 4:16 which reads “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” We were then sent off to eat dinner. The conference will begin in earnest in just a couple of hours when Voddie Baucham leads the first general session.

May 07, 2007

I am off to Cleveland in about fifteen minutes. I’ll be attending The Basics Conference which is held at Parkside Church (which is, of course, pastored by Alistair Begg). Cleveland is somewhere around five hours away by car so I decided to drive rather than fly. I will be there until the conference wraps up Wednesday at around noon.

If you could remember me in prayer, I’d be grateful. Not only would do I ask for traveling mercies, but I’m also leading a seminar (twice) and, since this is one of my first forays into speaking at one of these seminars, would ask that you seek God’s blessing on my behalf. I’m not a natural public speaker so this is definitely a bit of a stretch for me. I know the subject matter and know what I want to say, but really do want to say it in a way that is most helpful.

Check in later this afternoon or evening and I’ll begin to provide updates.