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The Basics Conference 2008

May 14, 2008

This morning Alistair Begg continued the message he began yesterday. In the first message he covered the first point and today he covered the final two.

The Method

The tools of the trade are words and the ministry we exercise is a ministry of the Word, proclaiming Christ as the living Word, by using words. Even a casual survey of church history shows that whenever the church has lost sight of the importance of the Word, it has been destructive to her mission.

There is a staggering ignorance of biblical truth in evangelical churches today. At the very heart of this is the absence of biblical, expository, teaching ministry in the pulpits of this country. There is a preoccupation with images, senses, intuition; these things are so predominant in the minds of people that while we could never imagine this being the case, a generation is growing up that is fascinated by sitting in a basement with a number of candles and documents from the Middle Ages and some kind of music playing in the background and a variety of sensual experience…and what is missing is some kind of didactic, helpful proclamation of the Bible. The message of the gospel cannot be proclaimed without words.

Begg offered two points dealing with the message of the gospel:

Do not peddle the Word of God (2:17). The word “peddle” in chapter 2 and verse 17 refers to a person who bought something, fiddled with it, and sold it for a higher price. Certain men would buy wine, dilute it with water and otherwise tamper with it, and then resell it—they would make it more appealing and more profitable. They were masters of deception. But the gospel minister is not to be like this. He is to bring the gospel pure and undefiled. It is not that pastors today do not believe that the Bible is not God’s revelation but rather that people tamper with it a little bit, adding to it or taking a little bit away from it.

At this point Begg referred several times to The Courage To Be Protestant by David Wells (a book he has mentioned often at the conference).

We preach Jesus Christ as Lord. Pastors are the servants of God and are called to make much of Christ in all the Scriptures. This involves setting forth the truth plainly. There is to be nothing fraudulent or crafty. He is to be removed from any kind of double-dealing. We preach Jesus Christ as Lord and preach Him clearly. He spoke of the three “c’s” of gospel preaching—candidly, clearly, courageously. Paul resisted every inclination he had to play the rhetorical game that was so popular in that culture. Paul preached only Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And this is the model for pastors today.

God is pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. The task of gospel preaching is not just difficult, but impossible, because God has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see who Christ is. In our preaching of the Bible we preach to those who are perishing and blind to the truth. The problem does not lie in the gospel or in the clarity of God’s proclaiming of the gospel, but in the condition of the listener. It takes God’s revelation to even show the listener that he is blind.

The Men

What is to be the character of the individuals who are to be the communicators of this truth? Here, with time running out (actually, with time long gone) he mentioned four things:

Self-effacing. We do not preach ourselves. Paul was being accused of doing just this kind of self-promotion and he was willing to acknowledge this as a problem. Self-promotion and pride is the cause of the vast majority of the moral collapses of ministers.

Servants. As a servant of Jesus the pastor is also a servant of the followers of Jesus. Yet he must remember that the followers of Jesus are not his master.

Saved. This is no case of academic theorizing; a gospel minister must be truly saved. Here Begg paused to give an evangelistic call since it really is possible that even in this assembly there are men who are pastors or in church leadership for whom the story of the gospel is as a light shining right into their souls revealing the absence of personal, living faith in Jesus.

Fragile. Human frailty is not a barrier to usefulness. Weakness is an advantage because of the dependence it brings about. Pastors are to be expendable messengers who bring an indestructible message.

We must then be clear about the message, its source in God and its substance (a gospel of grace); clear about the message, saying no about peddling and yes about preaching Christ; and asking God to make us men who are entirely dependent and men who are utterly disposable.

May 13, 2008

Tonight Jerry Bridges provided his second address, this one look to 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 which says “For the love of Christ controls us [that we] live might no longer live for [our]selves but for him who for [our] sake died and was raised.” He continued to speak on the theme of preaching the gospel to ourselves. And in this case he taught that we need to preach the gospel to ourselves because it reminds us of the love of God. This is the biggest motivating factor in the passage. The love of Christ for us should be the compelling motive for living the Christian life. We can often be motivated in life and ministry by a sense of duty rather than the love of Christ. Duty is not wrong, but it will not get you out of bed in the morning. This is not the way to live the Christian life. We need to be motivated by something more.

Bridges expressed again his indebtedness to John Owen’s Communion with the Triune God. Owen teaches that we enjoy communion with God in His love. The focus of the book is the love of the members of the Trinity to us and how we are to respond to that love. At the basis of this communion is love for us.

Owen speaks of the infinite ocean of love which is in the bosom of the Father. He speaks of the love of God’s purpose to do good for us which prompts Him to send His Son. This is true but it does not go far enough. God also has a love of friendship and approval and this is a level of God’s love we may not think much about. God loves with a love of affection. He quoted a paraphrase of Owen - “The greatest burden and sorrow you can lay on the Father, the greatest unkindness you can do to Him is ___.” What would you say? To commit a scandalous sin? To have a moral failure in the ministry? No, it is not to believe that He loves you. But how often do we doubt the love of God? There are two main causes for doubt: the first is our sin as we ask “How can God love me, the sinner that I am?” But God’s love is not conditional; it is self-generated. The second reason we might doubt God’s love is when we go through adversity. The thought comes into our mind that if God really loved us He wouldn’t allow this to happen. Yet when we go back to the Scripture we find that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God.

He turned to Zephaniah 3 and again pointed to God’s love. Love is the lover’s delight in the beloved. His love will not allow Him to complain about anything He sees in the beloved. What a mind-boggling statement because we know there is plenty in each of us to complain about and we know how often we complain even about those we love. God could look down and wonder when we’ll finally get our act together, but He doesn’t. He loves us without complaint or hesitation.

The love of Christ also has two components. The first is the love to do us good which is what we see when Christ died in our place. Most of us are aware of this aspect of the love. But there is also the love of affection in Christ. Owen uses Isaiah 62:5 and points to the marital image. As the bridegroom rejoices in the bride, Christ rejoices in the beloved. He paused here to read several portions of the Song of Solomon (acknowledging that this book is primarily a poem celebrating marital love but also acknowledging that it works as an allegory of Christ’s love for the church). We are beautiful to Christ because He has made us beautiful. When He looks to us He sees His own impeccable righteousness with which He has covered us.

And finally he turned to the Holy Spirit. There is no text that says explicitly “The Holy Spirit loves you” but it is inferred. The main ministry of the Holy Spirit is to be a comforter and this is an expression of love. All of the blessings that come to us have been provided by the Father. The blessings are purchased through Jesus Christ and they come to us through the distribution of the Holy Spirit as the one who dispenses and applies them. All of these blessings come to us through the merit of Christ and through the administration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to us even though He knows that we will be unthankful and unwilling. But in His love and tenderness He continues to do us good.

Bridges closed with this exhortation: “May God help us to learn to bask in His love and to have fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their expressions of love to us.” Learn about how God loves us and allow that to transform your faith.

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!