Thursday, December 21, 2017

Preach the Word. Just Preach the Word.

“What is truth?”

Pilate asked a fair question. I wonder how the average pastor would answer it?

Your answer to that question may be the most important conclusion you come to in life. It is certainly the most important conclusion you will come to in ministry. 

Have you ever wondered why Paul spent so much time writing about preaching? Maybe you have not noticed it before, but just read through the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) and note how many times the words teach, charge, confess, command, practise, urge, keep, guard, remind, follow, entrust, think over, remember, rightly handle, correct, continue in, rebuke, declare, insist, and preach are repeated. On top of this are the repeated warnings to not get off-track and embroiled in arguments and speculations and basically anything that distracts from the teaching, etc. 

And there is no question that Paul had in mind a certain body of data as he wrote these instructions. There was something to be taught that was not original to the teacher. Hence, the memorable verses…

2 Timothy 3:14–17 [14] But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [15] and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)

We ought to assume then that there is a constant temptation to pull other things into our pulpit than the truth. Why else would Paul repeat the command so many times? No doubt he had sat through his own share of church services where some (perhaps well-intentioned) teacher had read the scroll then waxed eloquent for then next 55 minutes about nothing in particular. As loving and kind as the Apostle was, I cannot help but wonder if there was not the odd time of him standing up in the middle of a useless lecture only to say, “The text, man! Preach the text!”

It is of growing concern to me that more and more preachers in the Reformed tradition seem unable to discern when they are importing their own ideas into a sermon, as opposed to saying what the text says. I would give $100 to hear a boring man tell me what a text says and help me to understand it better, than listen to some tattoo-covered, did-you-notice-my-biceps, infomercial boy blab on and on about his opinions. What good are opinions when you are facing death?

I read the account of Lazarus and Rich Man the other day. That rich man had gotten all he wanted in life. Now he was starting an eternity in the torment of hell. 

Luke 16:24 [24] And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 

What a horrifying image. Just one drop of water. One drop! For a relief that would not last. And there was none. 

Preacher, did that Rich Man listen to opinions his whole life? Where were the prophets calling out his sin and warning him of hell? I do not like preaching on hell. The only reason I ever preach on hell is that it is in the Bible. I can barely handle the emotional intensity of preaching on hell. But I must preach on hell. You must preach on hell. For God has declared there is a hell and he has called us to warn everyone about it. 

Do you have the kind of inner commitment to say what the Bible says, regardless of what kind of trouble it is going to get you in to? Regardless of what kind of discomfort it is going to bring you? More than that, are you committed to study hard enough and long enough with your own mind (not just an assortment of commentaries!) to know what it means? And are you willing to labour to make it known as clearly as you can to anyone who will listen? 

Some people think preaching is easy. I will admit getting up in front of a room and talking has gotten easier for me over the years. But preaching has only gotten harder. The more I learn, the more I realize I do not know. And that means the more I need to study. Brother, if  you feel pretty confident you’ve “got the Bible down,” please don’t be my pastor. 

Do you know who I want to preach to me? I want men that are going to work their tails off getting to the bottom of a passage. Men who will actually work extra hours if needed to figure something out. Men who will take those four hours to study one conjunction since the meaning of the entire passage hangs on how it is understood, even though that will only give them 5 seconds of preaching material on Sunday. I want to hear men who spend all those hours not just getting to what the text means, but getting to God in the process. Men who will not rest until they can get into the pulpit and speak with a confidence that is rooted entirely in the authority of the Word. Not them. Not their personality, nor their ability to draw people to themselves, nor their “charisma.” I want to listen to men who are devastated when it appears to them that people have enjoyed them, more than God, when they are done preaching. 

If you are a young man thinking about preaching, here is my advice. Read your Bible. Read it up and down. Read it until you can almost see the page when someone else references it. Read it and read it and read it. And think hard about it. Don’t let unknown words stay unknown. Don’t let obscure meanings stay foggy. If you really want to serve people, if you really want to love Christ’s church, read and read until you understand and then start telling people what you see. 

We don’t need more personalities in the church. We need men of the Word. Be that man and you will have answered the question.

John 17:17 [17] Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (ESV)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Who Hardened Pharaoh's Heart?

I have found this article by G.K. Beale to be a really helpful resource in understanding the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. It is technical, but you can skip the parts in Hebrew and still get the gist of things. If you are trying to carefully think through the first cause of hardening (was it Pharaoh or God or both?) then this is a must read. I am grateful you can read it for free!
Here is a sample:
"A classic and important objection to this idea is that it associates God too closely with the cause of sin. No doubt the theologian must be very careful in discussing God's relation to sin. Nevertheless, the above exegesis shows that Exod 4-14 says that God was the ultimate, unconditional cause of Pharaoh's volition while holding him accountable for his disobedient volitional acts. While many theologians see an antinomy between divine sovereignty and human freedom in Exod 4-14 and Rom 9, the present evidence places the mystery between divine sovereignty and human accountability."

Friday, June 16, 2017

Interest and Enjoyment: A Father's Day Thought

I was talking with a friend the other day about our fathers. The conversation moved to those men besides our dads who made a father-like impression on us. One of those men for me was my father-in-law, Bob Hueni.
Bob was a man’s man. I mean, he was a little short by my standards, but he was all man. It’s funny what impresses you about a person once they’re gone. As I thought about his deep encouragement in my life I was struck by how few times he actually said something like, “You’re going a great job, Paul.” Because that is almost always what I felt from him. I realize now that so much of that affirmation came from two things.
First, he took an interest in my life. A real interest. Not just in my pastoring (since he was also a pastor), but in all the other stuff, too. We went to Leafs games, worked on the lawn, talked about the Blue Jays… just lots of stuff that he really didn’t have any reason to be interested in other than it was my interest.
Not only did he take an interest in these things, he enjoyed them along with me. Some of my happiest memories of Bob are cheering along the 1993 World Series Champions Toronto Blue Jays from a little hotel room in Southern California. Bob and Letty had come out to visit and made an extended stay of it. We had a blast cheering for the boys in blue. That died in the wool Cubs fan enjoyed my team.
I realize now how precious this all was. And is.
It makes me want to copy him all the more. Take an interest in other people’s lives and enjoy it with them. Sounds like a great plan. In fact, it sounds a lot like how God loved us in Christ.

Zephaniah 3:17
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Why is the Super Bowl on a Sunday?

The Super Bowl is tomorrow. Maybe you have heard about it? I was thinking about the big game today and got to wondering what I would do if the Toronto Maple Leafs were in a Game 7 to win the Stanley Cup. That would be the ultimate game of all time I would never want to miss. But I would miss it, if it happened to fall on a Sunday when we had a church service. 

I suppose you could argue that I would have to since I am the pastor of that church, but I am 95% sure I would miss it even if I was not a pastor. You see, there was a time when my love of hockey would have tempted me to change a service time in order to get in a game. But then I had this Game 7 scenario run through my mind and I thought, “At some point, you just have to die to things you love.” That was remarkably freeing. And not just because some people can record games and watch them later. It was freeing because it exposed and toppled an idol in my heart. I looked at a thing I adored (hockey, especially winning Leafs hockey) and the Lord. He tells me to not forsake gathering together with my church. So, I looked at the idol, looked at my Lord’s command, and the decision was easy. I went with the Lord. And these kinds of decisions really are freeing. I was no longer enslaved to a thing. 
I am sure lots of friends will joke that it is not much of a self-denial as my Leafs are perennial losers. Fair enough. But, should they start to win, I am glad to have this decision already made. What does all this have to do with the Super Bowl. Just that I think you should free yourself from every form of cultural bondage. Value God and His people above the Super Bowl. You will be glad you did. Super Bowls crack and rust. The Kingdom of God does not. If your church ends up not having services during the game, then by all means feel free to enjoy wisely. But don't forget that fellowship is not restricted to your church service times. Maybe a brother or sister is going to need you tomorrow night. If you are set free from your bondage to football, then you will be free to serve. And Jesus said, “It is better to give than to receive.”

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The March for Life Wrecked Me

The size of the crowd caught me off guard. Some early estimates placed it well over half a million. I am not one for crowds and find anything more than 6 kind of suffocating, so shuffling in line for 45 minutes to get screened and frisked in order to stand 100 meters from the Vice President of the United States was not my comfort zone. Neither was holding a sign that read, “All people are created in the image of God.” And that is ironic, because I like to preach about that. I like to preach about that in my church or other churches that are friendly to the Gospel and trusting of the Bible. But there was a sense in this very public demonstration that not everyone in Washington agreed with my sign. 
It was just last week another march took place that had a lot more famous people and they laid down the law that anybody like me, anybody who believed in the sanctity of life from the womb to the tomb, was not welcome at their march. And it was like that vibe still hung in the air. So, I felt like a quiet Canadian in a big American thing and it was uncomfortable.

I also felt like I had failed. The March for Life is a Roman Catholic project. Sure there have been evangelical voices in the March over the years, but hardly so. At least 30% of the crowd seemed to be of high school age. Entire Catholic schools had bussed in hundreds of their students to stand for life. I was standing in a sea of the high pitched voices of cheerleaders.  And I was ashamed that my tribe, the evangelical world of which I am happily a part, had done so little for so long. We were a mere flea on this elephantine event. 
When Dr. Mohler spoke last night he reflected on how Catholics had centuries of thought and writings in the area of moral law to turn to when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down. They also had orders of nuns and other social agencies to immediately help women in crisis pregnancies. So, they knew what to do. We didn’t. 
A few years ago I was walking past an abortion clinic in a US city and passed two elderly Catholic women who went there every week to lovingly tell the young moms going in those doors that they had other options. Walking with a friend we inadvertently ended up between the sidewalk counsellors and that girl. That poor, scare girl. It all happened very fast but I was changed that day.

I know my situation is different. Canada has strict rules about how close you can stand to an abortion facility and even what you can say. Plus, we lack that decisive moment like Roe v. Wade to mark our country’s decision to take life rather than protect it. And we are so Canadian. It is not in our nature to march or protest or hold up signs. But I still felt waves of grief for how little I have done to help the marginalized and hopeless in my neighbourhood. I have done some things. But not as much as I should. 
So, marching along the Mall with my new friend, Kevin, was a bit of a surreal experience. I was proud to stand for life, yet ashamed I had never done so before. I was thankful for these dear Catholic friends, yet ashamed that we evangelicals had watched in silence for so long. I was thrilled to stand not just for the protection of the unborn, but the flourishing of all human life (especially of the disabled, the refugee, the minority, the oppressed, the aged); yet wondering what more I could do to help the very people I say I want to protect and serve. 
All of this going on while T-shirt vendors hawked their wares, the odd food truck offered a cup of hot coffee (for a price!) and some guy on a segue dressed up as Uncle Sam handed out flyers. America.

Going to this March, staying in it and actually walking along and carrying my sign was an act of obedience for me. I felt I needed to do this to honour the Lord and take my stand. I am glad I did. But like so many things in life this was only a first step. I am not yet sure what step two and three are, but I know they are coming. Maybe that is what was nagging at my heart all day. There is more to do and the doing of it will not be easy. But it will be worth it, because God loves life and because of that, I do, too.