Lessons from Listening to Other Preachers

As I’ve been continuing to accept new preaching opportunities, I’ve been following Don Carson’s advice to young preachers which is listen to other men.

Lots of them.

Thanks to podcasts and the internet, this is easier than it’s ever been.

I’ve got an interesting mix of guys I’m listening to right now. Driscoll, MacArthur, Chandler, my own pastor Norm Millar, Joshua Harris, Josh Howerton, and a few other preachers. And it’s been really interesting to discover the things I’m learning from listening to other preachers. Here are a few:

A man’s arrogance comes through in his tone and grates against the spirit of his hearers. I was listening to one man recently (who is not on the above list) who—I don’t know what it is, but his tone just grated on me. I felt like I was being berated just listening—and I wasn’t even in the room. It truly grieved me. He came across as a man puffed up without reason.

What I am learning from this man is that my words must be heartfelt and honest and my spirit must be broken by the Holy Spirit before I get in the pulpit.

When Scripture is used only to prove a point, it cripples the power of the truth we speak. Listening to the same man, I noticed that he rarely ever used Scripture outside of an allusion or just to back up something that he was saying. It wasn’t that much of what he was saying was bad—in fact, some was quite good and true—but it lacked power because it wasn’t rooted clearly in the Scriptures.

What I am learning is that my ideas and opinions—even if they are true and align with Scripture—do not carry the weight and power of Scripture. Therefore, I must rely on the words that God inspired, rather than my ideas that may have been shaped by them.

A man’s love for his congregation is most apparent when he is speaking hard truth. The last thing I noticed listening to this same man was an appeal to have a personal relationship with Christ… without an explanation of why we need to have a relationship with Christ. The gospel was not present; our hopeless state as sinners, the Father’s appointing of the Son to accomplish our redemption and sending the Holy Spirit to apply it… none of it was there.

What I am learning is that if I love the people to whom I am preaching, I need to speak this hard truth—that we are far worse than we ever feared, but God is far more amazing and gracious than we could ever imagine.

These are some of the lessons I’ve been learning from listening to other preachers.

What lessons are you learning?

Think Hard, Stay Humble: Francis Chan on the Life of the Mind and the Peril of Pride

Audio: : (Download to listen later)

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Francis Chan’s message at Desiring God’s 2010 National Conference, Think Hard, Stay Humble, is incredibly challenging and more than a little convicting for me as one who is very much a “love the Lord with all your mind” kind of guy.

A few standout remarks from the notes:

Some of you in this room think really hard through the Scriptures. My challenge to you is, How hard do you think about people? About the lost? When was the last time you wept for the lost?

It’s so easy to seclude ourselves from the world of lost people. We step out of it for a season to think hard about the Scriptures and keep going on in school to learn more, and we eventually get to the point where we realize that we don’t love the lost like we should. The point isn’t that we shouldn’t pursue learning, but we ought to be able to do both, to love people and know the Bible better.

John MacArthur wrote years ago, “Knowledge is essential, but it’s not sufficient.” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Some of you could be brilliant and worthless. You could be like a great basketball player that never misses a shot but always shoots at the other team’s basket. He’s a great shooter, but he’s killing the team.

Why did God gift you the way that he did? It’s for us, not for you. We should constantly be thinking, How can I build up other people?

Now here’s the big question that Chan’s talk has left me with:

Does my knowledge of God my study of theology lead to an increased love for God and for His people?

Am I “puffed up” by my knowledge of God—or does it break me?

Watch the message and leave your thoughts in the comments.

Humility and Notoriety: The Danger of Pastor as Rock Star

Mark Driscoll and Dustin Neeley sat down at the recent Acts 29 Boot Camp and discussed the need for humility as a church planter and pastor—and how difficult it is to cultivate when you’re considered a rock star.

Questions to consider:

  1. What level of scrutiny is appropriate when looking at “celebrity” pastors and leaders?
  2. Are you naturally more inclined to be critical or encouraging?
  3. Have you ever found yourself intentionally looking for things to criticize about a pastor or leader?
  4. In your own sphere of influence, are you open to hearing from your critics?

HT: Z

Book Review: The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur

Title: The Jesus You Can’t Ignore: What You Must Learn from the Bold Confrontations of Christ
Author: John MacArthur
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2009)

Who is Jesus Christ? Just about everyone has a different answer to this question. Some see Him as a great moral teacher and ultimately a really nice guy. “Gentle Jesus, meek & mild.” A Jesus who is, ultimately, easy to ignore.

But is that the Jesus of the Bible? According to pastor and author John MacArthur, the answer is an emphatic “no.”

And in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore: What You Must Learn from the Bold Confrontations of Christ, MacArthur carefully examines the Scriptures to show readers the powerful and provocative character of Jesus of Nazareth.

As MacArthur leads his audience through a study of Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees and Sadducees, he reveals that every encounter was antagonistic—and instigated by Jesus Himself. So opposed was He to false religion, that, writes MacArthur, “[b]y today’s standards, Jesus’ words about the Pharisees and His treatment of them are breathtakingly severe.” (p. 21)

MacArthur’s examination of Jesus’ encounters with the religious leaders of His day bring to light the author’s concern about the state of modern evangelicalism—that we’ve confused niceness for godliness, which has resulted in an anemic faith that has sacrificed a willingness to earnestly contend for the Truth for a willingness to accommodate virtually any and all viewpoints or perspectives, no matter how contrary they might be to biblical Christianity. [Read more…]

Sermon Audio: Do You Trust Me?

On October 3, 2010, I had the opportunity to preach the above message from Genesis 18:1-15 at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario.

My original notes follow:

In March of 2009, I was rushing to the hospital, chasing an ambulance that was carrying my wife. She’d lost a lot of blood due to complications related to a miscarriage. So I’m driving and I’m kind of freaking out and praying, “God, please let my wife be okay.”

So I got to the hospital and I wasn’t allowed to see my wife for about 20 minutes. They were trying to stabilize her, I learned later. But those 20 minutes may as well have been an eternity. For a while a number of things were running through my head—Am I going to go home as a single dad? How would I explain something like that to a two-year-old? Will work give me the time off that I need to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of?

And as I prayed and pleaded with God, I had got this distinct impression that God was asking me a question, “Do you trust me?”

That’s the big question, isn’t it? [Read more…]

Around the Interweb (10/03)

Should Christians Trade Services for Serving?

Kevin DeYoung offers some extremely helpful insights into the question. Here’s an excerpt:

Consider what it may communicate when you replace services with serving. It sounds like a good idea: let’s do something for the community instead of going to church for ourselves. But ultimately we worship because God summons us to worship. It is for ourselves (see below), but it is also for God. He commands it. So why cancel it instead of something else? But why not do the soup kitchen on Saturday or pump people’s gas on Friday night? I suppose it’s possible you can have some meaningful conversations explaining why you are a Christian and not in church. But it also seems quite likely that churches replace Sunday services with Sunday serving because that’s the time they are already meeting. It’s the best time to get most of your people doing something and it doesn’t require any more time out of their week. Except for doctors, police officers and the like serving in their professions, are there really service projects the church has to do on Sunday morning?

Read the whole article on Kevin’s blog.

HT: Trevin Wax

In Other News:

Leadership: Four Ways to Kill Your Church

Marriage: Elyse Fitzpatrick explains why submission is harder than you think

Evangelism: Trevin Wax interviews J.D. Greear about his new book, Breaking the Islam Code: Understanding the Soul Questions of Every Muslim

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Peter Jones’ One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference

James MacDonald & C.J. Mahaney discuss genuine humility

Don’t be who you aren’t

Martin Luther’s sermon on the Wheat and the Tares

How can I know God’s will for my life?

Martin Luther: The Wheat and the Tares

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

The Savior’s Interpretation

The Savior himself explained this parable in the same chapter upon the request of his disciples and says: He that sows the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil; and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.

These seven points of explanation comprehend and clearly set forth what Christ meant by this parable. But who could have discovered such an interpretation, seeing that in this parable he calls people the seed and the world the field; although in the parable preceding this one he defines the seed to be the Word of God and the field the people or the hearts of the people.

If Christ himself had not here interpreted this parable every one would have imitated his explanation of the preceding parable and considered the seed to be the Word of God, and thus the Savior’s object and understanding of it would have been lost.

Be Sure and Firm

Permit me to make an observation here for the benefit of the wise and learned who study the Scriptures. Imitating or guessing is not to be allowed in the explanation of Scripture; but one should and must be sure and firm.

Just like Joseph in Gen. 40:12f. interpreted the two dreams of the butler and baker so differently, although they resembled each other, and he did not make the one a copy of the other. True, the danger would not have been great if the seed had been interpreted to be the Word of God; still had this been the case the parable would not have been thus understood correctly. [Read more…]

Don't Be Who You're Not

As I’ve been continuing to develop as a preacher (albeit slowly), one of the great temptations I’ve come across has been imitating other men. I mean, seeing these guys who are extraordinarily gifted by God to preach His Word—guys like my  pastor, Norm Millar, and guys like Driscoll, Chandler, Francis Chan, Piper, MacArthur, Platt—and it’s really tempting to want to be like them.

To say things the way they would say it. To act the way they would act.

But isn’t that dishonoring to God?

The other day, I came across this video where Matt Chandler reminds us of the danger of trying to be who you’re not:

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Tim 4:5)

Fulfill the ministry God has intended for you, not for someone else. Don’t be who you’re not.

HT: Zwinglit

How Can I Know God's Will for My Life?

Great thought from Kevin DeYoung’s excellent (and underrated) book, Just Do Something:

Simply put, God’s will is your growth in Christlikeness. God promises to work all things together for our good that we might be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29). . . . God never assures us of health, success, or ease. But He promises us something even better: He promises to make us loving, pure, and humble like Christ. In short, God’s will is that you and I get happy and holy in Jesus.

So go marry someone, provided you’re equally yoked and you actually like being with each other. Go get a job, provided it’s not wicked. Go live somewhere in something with somebody or nobody. But put aside the passivity and the quest for complete fulfillment and the perfectionism and the preoccupation with the future, and for God’s sake start making some decisions in your life. Don’t wait for the liver-shiver. If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something.

For more on the book, read my review.

Genuine Humility

When is humility genuine? How do you know the difference between pride and loving correction?

James MacDonald and C.J. Mahaney sit down and discuss how to offer guidance and correction to those we love in a way they can receive—and how we can do so with godly motives.

HT: Collin Hansen

Book Review: One or Two by Peter Jones

When it comes to worldviews, belief systems and religious practice, we live in an age of seemingly unparalleled and unlimited options. North Americans today enjoy meditation, practice yoga, and dabble in a variety of different religious practices as they seek to find something that brings meaning, purpose and fulfillment to their lives.

But according to Peter Jones, the choice is really much more simple: There’s the Truth and the Lie. And in One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference, Jones explains how our worldview affects our understanding of God, what we worship and our sexuality.

One or Two is an incredibly challenging read, especially in an age when it’s controversial to be anything but affirming of all beliefs and religions. Tolerance is seen as the highest of values in culture, and increasingly in the Church as well. So doctrinal distinction is downplayed; gender distinction is eliminated; social causes become the new mission of the Church… and eventually Christianity looks no different than anyone or anything else.

But according to Jones, this should not be. He writes, “Western culture . . . is being hijacked by a spiritual ideology that I call Neopaganism.” (p. 11) Neopaganism is at the heart of radical environmentalism, the more extreme elements of the social justice movement, and theological liberalism.

However, Jones writes, “If there is any hope for us in the twenty-first century, gorged as we are on materialism, One-ist pagan spiritualities, endless sensual fantasies and cock-eyed global utopian illusions, the old rabbi [the Apostle Paul] must speak to us again.” (pp. 13-14)

Jones builds his argument by carefully examining culture through the lens of Paul’s writing in Romans 1:24-25:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

What we learn is that these words have, perhaps, rarely been more relevant than today. [Read more…]

He Loved Us Because He Loved Us

At the moment, I’m reading Fred Sanders’ book on the Trinity, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. It’s a very impressive piece of work and as I’ve been reading, I came across this quote from Susanna Wesley, the mother of John & Charles Wesley:

Let me beseech you to join with me in adoring the infinite and incomprehensible love of God. . . . He is the great God, “The God of the spirits of all flesh,” “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,” and created not angels and men because he wanted them, for he is being itself, and as such must necessarily be infinitely happy in the glorious perfections of his nature from everlasting to everlasting; and as he did not create, so neither did he redeem because he needed us; but he loved us because he loved us, he would have mercy because he would have mercy, he would show compassion because he would show compassion.

Susanna Wesley, as quoted in The Deep Things of God, p. 67

It’s easy to wonder if there’s much value in a doctrine like the Trinity—it seems so abstract and we’re not always sure if it has practical value. But the Trinity is at the heart of the gospel and the heart of creation.

God didn’t create us because He didn’t need us. He wasn’t lonely or bored. And God didn’t save us because He needed to save us.

He doesn’t love us because he needs to love us. Instead, “He loved us because he loved us.”

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. 33:19).

The terrifying, awesome, amazing grace of God. And it only makes sense if God is Trinity.

Around the Interweb (09/26)

More than a view of Scripture

When you encounter a present-day view of Holy Scripture, you encounter more than a view of Scripture.  What you meet is a total view of God and the world, that is, a total theology, which is both an ontology, declaring what there is, and an epistemology, stating how we know what there is.  This is necessarily so, for a theology is a seamless robe, a circle within which everything links up with everything else through its common grounding in God.  Every view of Scripture, in particular, proves on analysis to be bound up with an overall view of God and man.

J. I. Packer, The Foundation of Biblical Authority, p. 61.

HT: Ray Ortlund

In Other News

Theology: Ben Reed offers a list of what God owes you

Books: Enjoy a preview of John Piper’s latest, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. (HT: JT)

Bible: Who’s afraid of Inerrancy?

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Matt Chandler talks about an epic beatdown

A review of Bryant Wright’s Seeds of Turmoil

Always get to the gospel

I didn’t want to go to church anymore (but I was wrong)

The Stern-Visaged Christ: Thomas Carlyle

photo: iStock

How different is that honey-mouthed, tear-stained, soup-kitchen Jesus Christ of our poor shovel-hatted modern Christians from that stern-visaged Christ of the gospels, proclaiming aloud in the marketplace (with such a total contempt of the social respectabilities): “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites”! Descend from your Gigs, ye wretched scoundrels, for the hour is come! . . .

Jesus of Nazareth was of all men the least of a “Penny Lady,” or comprehensive universal Soup-Kitchen character; he pitied sorrow and sin and pain, with an infinite, outbursting, helpful pity, wheresoever he met with it; but so likewise did he smite with an infinite, withering indignation whatsoever deserved that; and on the whole went about with a quite other object that consciously seeking either of these. “To do the will of my Father,”—were it even that of being scourged out of existence, as a failure and a nonentity, and disgrace to the world.

Thomas Carlyle, The Carlyle Encyclopedia p. 251 (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 199)