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May 13, 2008

This morning ended with Voddie Baucham preaching his second message to us. In this message he wanted to ask Why do we preach what we preach? Why should we remain committed to preaching the gospel? Why should we make up our minds that this is all we will preach? There are so many other things that people are turning to. Why shouldn’t we turn to some of these other things? He turned again to 2 Timothy 4 and showed that the exhortation in verse 2 is simple: Preach the word. There are many who claim to preach the word—many who use the Bible but who don’t actually preach the word. We are talking here about biblical exposition which involves applying the truths of a particular passage first to the speaker and only then to the hearer. Even in the practice of preparing to preach the gospel we need to preach the gospel to ourselves. We are hearers before we become proclaimers. The last thing he passes along to young Timothy before he turns to the personal portion of the letter is “preach the word.”

Why do we make this commitment to be preachers of the gospel? Here Voddie provided several answers:

It is the standard by which we will be judged. Paul could have said many different things instead of this. What he said was that he charged Timothy because the one who judges will judge according to whether or not you do it and do it accurately. Preachers need to come before the Word trembling—to come on their knees with a holy and healthy fear of God.

Because no matter the occasion, it is the answer. In season or out of season this is the answer. There is nothing to which we will be called for which the gospel is inappropriate. The idea is not just that whatever the occasion we preach the gospel, but that we do the kind of preparation necessary so that whether or not we expect it, we are ready to preach the gospel. You need to stay ready so you do not need to get that way. We need to be prepared with a gospel answer for every thing that may arise. We have a tendency to believe that the gospel is for lost sinners—something you graduate from—but we also have this issue that the gospel is for life within the confines of Christian community but not other areas of our lives. We tend to believe that the gospel is appropriate for small problems but that we need other solutions for serious problems. This passage addresses this issue by telling us to be always ready for the gospel. We need to think through how the gospel applies to all the various and sundry areas of life. There is no area of life where the proclaimer of the gospel should feel inferior because of his commitment and allegiance to the gospel.

There is great moral authority for the proclaimer of the gospel. This authority is not his own but rather authority that comes from the Word. We proclaim it in all of its power, proclaiming the beauties and mercies of Christ. It is not because of our own moral authority but because we are proclaiming faithfully what the Lord has communicated. And all of this because we have proclaimed them first to ourselves.

Because people will wander off into myths. There are two reasons this is important. First, we must preach the gospel clearly so people can identify these myths. In the current culture we believe it is wrong to identify particular individuals who are false teachers yet we see Paul, in verse 14, pointing to a particular person who did him great harm. Paul exposed him but did not ask others to repay him. He exposed error, identified falsehood and in this case it required him to be specific. Second, if we are not careful we will do whatever it takes to draw a crowd. In our culture we see a whole lot of echoes but no voices. We see men who do what they can but their ministries are based around what works in other contexts and implementing that in their areas. This is especially harmful when success is defined primarily in numerical terms. We will often reject the myth but take the outer edges and drag it over into our context, superimpose it onto the gospel, and believe that since we haven’t messed with the core, everything is alright. We justify what we do by saying, “Look how the Lord has blessed.” But not all growth is good growth. We are after gospel growth.

As for you…” As for the person who will not succumb to myths and who will be a faithful preacher, he will fulfill his ministry. Proclaim the gospel to yourself over and over and over again. Endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist.

The exhortation of Timothy is this: Fulfill your ministry. There are two groups of people in this world, those whose lives are opposed to the gospel and those who lives are marked by it. He wants Timothy to be the kind of person whose life is marked by the gospel. He wants Timothy to preserve and proclaim it and just watch God bring people to Himself. He warns against the tendencies and weaknesses that, if left unchecked, will carry him away. But he tells Timothy always to remind himself of his old friend Paul and to remember that while he sat waiting to be executed, he had done what he was called to do. He continued to do what he was called to do until he was called to be with Jesus.

Is it worth it to turn away? As you are about to face the righteous judge, what could possibly be worth turning away? What are you facing in your life or ministry that is even causing you to turn away? Is it bigger than a dead Jesus? If God can raise Jesus from the dead, He can overcome anything I can face. Our goal should be to live faithfully to the gospel and die faithfully to the gospel so that even if they take our lives, the last thing they hear from us will be the gospel message…

May 13, 2008

I love the relaxed pace of The Basics conference. Some conferences are almost frantic in their pacing; this one is relaxed and subdued. I like it! It makes for a very pleasant experience.

This morning brought us Alistair Begg’s first message. For this message and the next his text will be 2 Corinthians 4. He began with an explanation of why he chose this text and how he approached it (and though this may sound dry, it was actually quite interesting to hear how he wrestled with the passage to make a sermon out of it. His comments were directed primarily to younger pastors who may wonder how to prepare a sound message). He showed how this passage fits within the context of the surrounding chapters, the full letter, and Paul’s wider teaching. And what he found is that what Paul addresses here is emblematic of a prevailing problem in contemporary evangelicalism. We are a sound bite generation adopting sound bite theology that is increasingly vague and ill-defined.

Over the course of his two addresses he will look to this passage to find The Ministry, The Method, and the Men. In this first address he covered only the first of these points.

The Ministry

The Source of the Ministry - This ministry is not the product of human means but the product of Divine mercy. It is evangelical ministry arising from evangelical mercy. This ministry begins in the counsels of God in all eternity and begins with His unmerited favor that works in unwilling people the desire to hear and receive His Word.

The Substance of the Ministry - It is the ministry that brings righteousness (see 3:9). The gospel brings hope to man by opening the gate of life. This is at the heart of the issue in both preaching and personal living. In declaring a gospel to others, and one we seek to live ourselves, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus has achieved everything necessary for our justification—that the obedience of Jesus is reckoned to the sinner on the ground that the penalty of the sinner’s disobedience has been borne by Christ who suffered the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God. The issue of penal substitution is foundation to the gospel and we must study this issue, know it, and teach it.

Begg pointed to the distinction between explaining the gospel to people and explaining their need for it. We can urge people to receive the benefits of the gospel or warn of the perils of ignoring the gospel without actually announcing the gospel. The distinction between the message and the demand to believe it is absolutely critical.

He paused also to ask this: What is the difference between a lecture and a sermon? Here he turned to John Murray who defined a sermon as “a personal, passionate, plea.” And this is what we see in our text. “Be reconciled to God!” This is what the gospel minister is saying—he is asking people to receive the reconciliation that is offered to them. He is passionately pleading with them on a personal level.

His next message will continue the examination of this text…

May 12, 2008

In this evening’s session (and after a wonderful dinner or barbeque ribs and chicken) Voddie Baucham preached from 2 Timothy. He expressed great affection for the book of 2 Timothy pointing out that it is written by a man who is about to die; he is about to be martyred. There are two striking things in the book: first, he asks Timothy to come to him quickly. He is about to die and desperately wants to see Timothy before he goes to be with the Lord. Second we need to notice what is absent. What is absent is Paul’s “flinching” at death. Paul is not afraid to die and is not trying to find a way out of this. He didn’t flinch at death because of the nature of the letter. It would not have been in keeping with his desired end if he flinched at death. The message of the book is this: “They are about to kill me for preaching the gospel. When they do, take my place until they kill you too.” You can’t flinch at death and then ask someone else to face it bravely.

Paul’s message is one with two prongs: first, the preservation and proclamation of this gospel, and second to endure the suffering that will inevitably follow as a consequence of doing the first. Baucham led us through a brief survey of the book looking for examples of these themes of “preserve and proclaim” and “endure.” Each chapter has these two themes within it.

The question he wanted to answer from the passage is this: why must we proclaim the gospel to ourselves?

He provided a variety of answers.

First - Because the gospel is not just what we preach, but also how we preach and why we preach. This is all we have, but it is all we need. We need to remember the gospel because suffering has a tendency to convince us to preach something else. Paul exhorts Timothy to follow the pattern but to understand that there is a power entrusted to you by whom and through whom you will guard it. Paul runs through two alternating patterns—things Timothy cannot trust in and things he must trust in.

Second - We see that Timothy was a converted man, that he had a wonderful heritage, that he had been called by God and set apart for the ministry, and that he was given a gift of God within him. Yet Paul did not say that he was to trust in his conversion, in his heritage, in the calling of God on his life or in the gift of God in his life. Instead, he calls on Timothy to remember that he is suffering for the gospel by the power of God. We are egocentric by nature rather than Christocentric. If we do not preach the gospel to ourselves we forget that the gospel is about Christ rather than about me and mine. We want a God who is omnipotent but not sovereign so that He only uses His power in the ways we want Him to. But the reality is that we serve a God who is sovereign so that when suffering comes we don’t fall into the knee-jerk reaction that insists something must be wrong when we suffer. If the sovereign Lord of the universe sees fit that you will suffer for the gospel, there is nothing wrong with that.

Third - We see here Paul’s brief encapsulation of the gospel. “He saved us and called us to a holy calling.” God did not save you and call you so you could then grab your sorry life and take it in the direction it was going before, only now with His blessing. He set you apart for Himself. You are His and no longer your own. When suffering comes we need to remember and believe that we’ve been set apart for God’s purposes…and His purposes may include this suffering.

Fourth - We did not earn this “setting apart.” I’m set apart by the grace of God. He saved me and set me apart; it is not because of my works. Why do I get upset when suffering comes? Because I’m not thinking gospel. The gospel says I’m not saved through my works but through the finished work of Jesus Christ. But I begin to compare myself to the people around me and compare myself favorably. When suffering comes my way and my first reaction is not to say that this is not about what I’ve done, but rather “God, haven’t you been paying attention to all I’ve done.” If I don’t preach the gospel to myself over and over and over again, my reaction is to look inward. When I remind myself of my sinfulness and the depths from which I’ve been saved I ask, “Why don’t I suffer more?”

Fifth - We remind ourselves of the gospel because only in the gospel do we realize that this is not as good as it gets. This is not ultimately what I was made for. Paul ends the way he starts in this letter with longing for the glory of heaven. Only in the gospel do I realize that my heavenly resume is much more important than my earthly one. Without the gospel I begin to live for here and for now.

In this letter Paul does not call Timothy to do anything he is not already doing himself. In and of ourselves we do not have what it takes to endure the kind of suffering that Paul was enduring. We don’t have the faith and courage and character necessary to patiently await our execution and to do so with dignity and honor. But the God who saved you is the God who keeps you. We don’t have the grace to live and preach the gospel, but the great news is that we do not have to. It is not us but Christ in us. We must proclaim the gospel over and over again because difficult days will come and they will have the tendency to frighten us into fearing men more than God; unless you have proclaimed the gospel to yourself consistently you will cry “Woe is me and where is God!” If we keep our minds set on Jesus and remember that He saved us and set us apart and did so for His own glory and by His own grace, and if we remind ourselves that He is the only means by which any who have suffered have been able to endure, we will proclaim and preserve the gospel on the one hand and endure the suffering that will come on the other. Preach the gospel to yourself!

After the session Keith and Kristyn Getty led us in several songs including a great new one which made its world debut tonight. It is titled “Creation Sings the Father’s Song.”

I’ll be back tomorrow with updates of talks from Jerry Bridges, Voddie Baucham and Alistair Begg.

May 12, 2008

Here I am in Cleveland to take in The Basics conference. I drove up here with my friend Jason and after an early start we arrived just around noon. We ate at a local restaurant and I continued my strategy (borrowed from Thabiti Anyabwile) of always asking the server just to bring me whatever she thinks I’d enjoy. So far it has proven a good strategy. I recommend trying it!

The conference began at 3 PM with a round of seminars. Like last year, I led a seminar dealing with blogging (“Blogging Your Ministry”) though this time we did more of an interactive Q&A format. Though it may not make much sense to a person simply listening to the recording, I think it was a reasonably valuable time. I enjoyed it, at the very least! Tomorrow I’ll tackle discernment in a second seminar.

The conference proper began an hour later with Alistair Begg welcoming the 600+ attendees. He made a point of pointing out that this year they asked for each person’s denominational affiliation…and that we were true post-modernists with almost half of those in attendance being undeclared! The attendees come from 35 states and 9 countries. It is truly a diverse crowd.

After Begg’s welcome, Jerry Bridges provided the first of his addresses. In all the conferences I’ve been to, this is the first time I’ve ever heard Bridges speak. He is a natural fit for this event. The subject of this conference is “Preaching the Gospel to Ourselves” and it will focus on the gospel in the heart and mind of the pastor. When people think of preaching the gospel to ourselves I’m sure many think of Bridges who, in his terms, “paparazzized” this term, borrowing it from another preacher.

He began by saying that we tend to slip into the understanding that the gospel is addressed only to sinners. We can forget that we are practicing sinners—sinners every day in thought, word, deed and motive. Hence we need to continue basing our lives on the gospel and need to continue to preach the gospel to ourselves. This is the foundation on which he will build his messages.

This talk started by introducing his two all-time favorite books. The first is The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement by George Smeaton and the second is Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (and here he recommended the modernized version edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor). As he gave this message, by his own admission, he broke the first rule of homiletics by quoting extensively from another person. And the man he quoted is John Owen. Because the talk was based around extended quotes, I was not able to really do a whole lot to encapsulate them (understanding Owen is hard enough—transcribing him is near impossible). So I’ll refer you to the audio if you’d wish to learn more…and will try to do a bit better with the remaining messages!

May 12, 2008

I am off to Cleveland in just a few moments. 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 two different seminars at this year’s conference (an upgrade from the one I led last year). The first will deal with blogging (with quite a bit of overlap from last year’s seminar) and the other with discernment (as you might expect).

Speakers at this year’s conference are Alistair Begg, Jerry Bridges and Voddie Baucham. It promises to be a good event as it focuses on “the weighty responsibility, spiritual energy, exacting demands and increasing joy of ministry shaped by ironclad commitment to careful study and clear communication of the Bible.”

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

April 20, 2008

This is my last planned post about Together for the Gospel. I want to use it to provide some final links and information. Then I’m going to move on to other things. Or at least that’s the plan for now.

T4G Audio & Video

Here are links to each of the sermons:

Session I Ligon Duncan - Sound Doctrine - Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry Download

Session II Thabiti Anyabwile - Bearing the Image: Identity, the Work of Christ, and the Church | Download

Session III John MacArthur - The Sinner Neither Able Nor Willing: The Doctrine of Absolute Inability | Download

Session IV Mark Dever - Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology | Download

Session V RC Sproul - The Curse Motif of the Atonement | Download

Session VI Albert Mohler - Why Do They Hate It So? The Doctrine of Substitution | Download

Session VII John Piper - How the Supremacy of Christ Creates Radical Christian Sacrifice | Download

Session VIII CJ Mahaney - Sustaining a Pastor’s Soul | Download

To watch the various YouTube videos that were posted online through the conference, simply click here.

To listen to the audio from the Band of Bloggers event, visit this link.

T4G Books

Here is the first batch of books:

Here are the rest of the T4G giveaways along with most of the Band of Blogger book giveaways (though a couple were not available at Amazon):

T4G Posts

Many of the people who were present at T4G have been writing about their experiences. It may be easiest just to click here to read the Google Blog Search roundup.

One that caught my eye was Zach Nielsen’s Is There A Uniqueness To Men Singing Together About The Gospel?. He gives three good reasons that such singing is a sign of gospel humility.

Another good one is Bob Kauflin’s list of the songs he chose for the times of worship.

April 18, 2008

No sooner had the T4G ‘08 conference wrapped up than I jumped in a van with a pack of guys from my church and headed straight home. We made it back to Toronto in pretty good time and with fewer adventures than on the way down. I enjoyed talking to the guys about their impressions of the conference and benefited from debriefing with them. There were lots of laughs and lots of good talks. Though there was a variety of opinions on which of the messages was best or most applicable or most challenging, we all agreed that it was a very good conference and I think we all returned home much encouraged.

If you would like to hear the conference messages, they are all available for you (and entirely free). You can find them right here: Together For the Gospel Sermons. Though each of them is well worth the listen, I would definitely recommend R.C. Sproul and John Piper. Those were the ones I found most personally challenging and edifying.

Here is a video containing some “exit interviews” with various participants of the Together for the Gospel ‘08 event. It concludes with some words from one of the youngest participants there—very reassuring about the rising generation!

April 18, 2008

As with the first Together for the Gospel Conference, the final session of T4G ‘08 went to C.J. Mahaney. He opted to speak from Philippians 1:3 and preached a message that was pastoral in tone—a pastoral message seeking to tend to the souls of pastors. There is no true pastoral ministry apart from proclaiming the gospel and doctrinal precision and in this conference pastors have been challenged by these things. But the ministry also demands personal holiness, godly affections, and pleasing God in the privacy of our hearts. It is not solely about the mind but is also about the soul. In this message C.J. sought to address a pastor’s heart and to care for his soul. He wanted to have a personal word with the pastors to prepare them for the challenges that await as they return home from this conference.

The Apostle Paul is a model to pastors because he served and sacrificed and suffered and did it all with joy. To study this man’s life and letters is to encounter this distinctive so it is wise to give attention to joy in the life of Paul and to consider whether this distinctive is present in our lives. For a pastor to adequately do the task of ministry he must serve with joy!

C.J. offered a list of questions that would be of benefit to a pastor as he seeks to understand whether or not he serves with joy. Would your wife say that you are joyful in your pastoral ministry? What would your children say about your attitude and your demeanor every day? Would they describe you as joyful or as normally burdened, moody, irritable? Have you modeled a culture of joy within your church so that this is immediately obvious to anyone who visits?

With introductory matters aside he began to challenge pastors directly. Because a message of this nature is so immediately applicable and so personally applicable, I am providing only bare notes. There is no way I could write out what C.J. teaches and to communicate the impact. I hope that with this outline any pastor will see the benefit of downloading and listening to this message. It will bless your soul and your ministry.

C.J. turned to his text and offered several principles from Paul’s ministry:

Gratefulness to God (3-5) - Paul places great emphasis on gratefulness to God. With Paul we hear gratitude for evidences of grace that he sees in the lives of the people in the churches to which he writes. He continually exhorted his listeners to express thankfulness to God.

Faith for the Future (6) - What strengthened Paul’s confidence in the church’s future was that it was rooted in God, initiated by God. Because it was inaugurated by God he was sure that God would bring it to completion. Your certainty for the future of the church will make all the difference in your ministry. One cannot effectively pastor without faith in God. So don’t only isolate the topic of gratefulness, but focus also on the area of faith.

Affection for Others (7,8) - Paul yearns for them with the affection of Jesus Christ. This kind of affection permeates Paul’s life and ministry and as such serves as a model for pastors today.

I honestly hesitate to say much more than this. My encouragement is to find the MP3 (see the very next post on my blog), download it, and be blessed.

April 17, 2008

Here is a quick introduction to the importance of books at Together for the Gospel—and the amusing effects of free books on the pastors assembled.

April 17, 2008

Here is another gallery of photographs from the conference. Most of these are from day three of the conference, though a couple are remnants from day two:

Together for the Gospel

Together for the Gospel

C.J. Mahaney preaching…
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…and preaching some more.

Together for the Gospel

John Piper preaching.
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John Piper responding to questions on the panel.
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John Piper delivers the Word like he might deliver a pizza.
Together for the Gospel

Dr. Mohler preaching.
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C.J. praying.
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Worship with Bob Kauflin.
Together for the Gospel

And a few more photos of the times of worship…
Together for the Gospel

Together for the Gospel

Together for the Gospel

Photos are courtesy of Together for the Gospel