Reflections from Together for the Gospel

yumWhen I think about Together for the Gospel 2014, there is so much for which to give thanks! Before all the specifics of the week fade into the past, I want to share seven of them. May they be reasons to give thanks for your own time there or reasons to prompt you to come to Together for the Gospel 2016.

1. The Preaching. As expected, the brothers who preached at Together for the Gospel brought weighty, glorious, gracious truth for us. Beginning with Mark Dever’s hope-giving message from Isaiah 36-37, the preachers called us to place our confidence in God, his Gospel, and its power to save. Particularly helpful for me were David Platt’s and John Piper’s messages. Together, they challenged me to pray and plead that God would save and sanctify those to whom I preach. Likewise, Kevin DeYoung’s message was a needed encouragement to preach the Word. Since I missed a couple of the messages, I will be visiting the T4G website to listen and watch (for free until June 1). You should do the same.

2. The Singing. Like the preaching, the congregational singing deeply encouraged my soul. Continuing the pattern of “mere worship” (i.e., a style of music that emphasizes the human voice over amplified instrumentation), Bob Kauflin led us in song from “center-court.” The music richly described the gospel, but my favorite songs were those written or adapted by Matt Merker and that can be found at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Especially, in light of rising hostility towards Christianity, the song “He Will Hold Me Fast” comforted my soul.

3. Meeting and Making Friends. After the preaching and the singing, the reason I went to Together for the Gospel is to see friends—friends from college, from seminary, from ministry, and from a number of other places around the way. For instance, I had a chance to catch up with one of my oldest running mates in ministry. He and I met in college (ca. 2001), when we were both in Campus Crusade for Christ. Thirteen years later, it is a precious joy to see how God has worked in this brothers life. For me, chances to grab coffee or Qdoba with gospel-centered friends reminds me of God’s faithfulness in my life. It also spurs me on to keep walking with God and praying for others to do the same. One of the sweetest gifts in the Christian life are friends who point us to Christ; at T4G I have reunited with and made many.

4. The ERLC Dinner. On the same note, it was a blast to catch up with a ton of brothers from Southern Seminary at the ERLC Dinner. In an evening sponsored by Dr. Russell Moore, my former Sunday School teacher and School of Theology Dean, it was a joy to see so many serving the Lord all over the country. Even more, the evening concluded with a Q & A about ethics and country music (go figure ;-) and the way that the ERLC serves Southern Baptists and beyond. It was encouraging to fellowship with young pastors, theologians, and ethicists who stand on God’s promises and lean into the public square.

5. The CBMW Conference. From one acronymed-ministry to another, the CBMW pre-conference, national conference was a hit. Occurring in the same room as the first T4G, more than 1300 men and women listened to John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Russell Moore, Danny Akin, Eric Mason, Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Owen Strachan, and a panel of wise, godly women discuss topics related to biblical manhood and womanhood. The night before, the impossible was done, as a small army of kind-hearted servants helped pack bags and put out books for all the conference attendees. On the whole, this conference started the conference well and showed great promise for CBMW’s continuing voice among young evangelicals.

6. My Father-in-Law. With all the joys mentioned so far, the greatest joy of the conference was introducing my father-in-law to all the speakers, the singing, and the ministries represented at T4G. Upon the conclusion of the week, he wrote to me and said

I don’t know how to tell you how thankful I am that you invited me to the conference.  I would not have gone without your encouragement.  Truly the Holy Spirit spoke, challenging me on many fronts. The spiritual challenge, the fellowship and the wealth of resources combined to bless and overwhelm me, like getting a  drink from a fire hydrant!! 

My wife’s father is one of the most diligent servants of the Lord that I know. He is an associate pastor at Ashburn Baptist Church in Orland Park, Illinois. At that church, whose pastor happens to be his father, he leads in music, organizes (just about) everything, and makes endless visits—to name only a few of the things he does. He loves the Lord and the gospel, yet to date, he’s never been to T4G (or heard of Kevin DeYoung or Matt Chandler, if you can imagine). Consequently, he had a blast, was deeply encouraged, and edified to go back to Chicago and continue reaching the lost with ongoing zeal.

7. Prayer, Pleading, and Passion. Finally, and most importantly, I left T4G 2014 with a great burden to pray for the lost. John Piper’s final message in some sense completed for me a course in Christian Hedonism (i.e., Piper’s theology). For more than 12 years, his sermons and books have shaped my thinking about God, the gospel, and ministry. Yet, in all that time, I’ve never connected in Romans 9-10 the relationship between predestination and prayer. That connection was massive for me, and showed me how much farther I have to go in my theology and my prayer life. As I left T4G, I desired and still desire to be more zealous to pray for others and to tell them “Jesus wants you.”

All in all, the week was memorable, motivating, and Messiah-centered (forgive the forced alliteration). For me it truly refreshed my soul, and I pray it did the same for you, or that it will do the same for you in 2016 (April 12-14, to be exact).

In summing up this week, let me encapsulate seven things to make the most of Together for the Gospel, or any conference like T4G.

  1. Go for the content of the messages. Conferences are in vain, if the Gospel of God is not preached. And conferences are also in vain, if we are not letting the message speak to us. Plan to make time for the Word.
  2. Go to worship freely. For those who plan worship services, T4G is a glorious rest. To be able to enter the Yum Center without any care for service planning is tremendously refreshing. Still better than just the freedom from preparation though, the content of the songs, the testimonies, etc. is rich with fuel for worship.
  3. Make plenty of time to meet with friends. This is a doubled-edge sword. It was great to meet new friends and to “network.” But honestly (and I may be wrong in this) it was so much more enjoyable to go and reunite with old friends instead of just trying to met the latest author or blogger. I’ve done that before and it’s tiring. I love meeting new friends, but this week was so good because it was filled with old friends for whom I can be myself.
  4. Make time to pray, journal, reflect, dream, repent and recommit. As much fun as it is to see friends, make sure that during or after the conference, you take time to apply the truth that God shares with you. Life change happens when we look in the mirror, see the mess, and by God’s grace do something about it.
  5. Get to know ministries that matter. To say it differently, support those ministries which are solidly committed to the gospel and find out how you can encourage them and be apart of their work. T4G had a host of ministries worthy of your support. Make sure to engage with those brothers who are doing good work; they can serve your church and they need your support.
  6. Take someone with you. If possible, bring someone new. Or better, help someone else go. On my desk, I have the receipt of a pastor who paid for the hotel room of another pastor (and no, I’m not speaking about myself like Paul did of himself in 2 Corinthians 12). This brother-pastor has been a great encouragement to me, and it spurs me on to know (if only by accident) that he (with his church) footed the bill for someone else to go. May more of us do that, as we can.
  7. Finally, remember that the real work is not conference work; it’s local church work. As Albert Mohler closed the last session with the reminder that the important work is not what happened last week in Louisville, the important work is what happens every single week in chruches in Des Moines, Iowa, Auburn, Alabama, and Anchorage, Alaska—not to mention those brothers in other countries. It’s the work that goes on the churches that proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ that is truly important.

For that reason, I give thanks for all that happened last week, and I look forward to Together for the Gospel 2016, but only through the maze and the haze of two more years of ministry that I pray will be twice as fruitful, by God’s grace, in part because of what I heard, read, discussed, and saw at Together for the Gospel 2014.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

[photo credit: Ivan Mesa's girlfriend]

The Gospel on the Ground

Toby-and-Sonia-300x225Tomorrow, my good friend Toby Jenkins will be coming to preach at our church. I first met Toby when I served at Southern Seminary in the office of financial aid. After pastoring in Mississippi for a number of years, the Lord brought him to Louisville to attend Boyce College. Shortly after his arrival, in 2009, he was called to the First Baptist Church of Henryville, Indiana.

In the first few years of his ministry, he had been praying for God to do something that no man could get credit for. Apparently—and why should this surprise us (me)—God answered his prayer.

On March 2, 2012, an EF-4 tornado plowed through the town on Henryville. It was on the ground for fifty miles and left a line of devastation in Henryville and surrounding towns that can still be seen today. In the aftermath of that storm, God used FBC Henryville as point of contact of for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Aided by churches from all over the nation, Southern Seminary, and the Disaster Relief of the Southern Baptist Convention, FBC Henryville ministered to the physical needs of Henryville. Still, in the aftermath of the tornado, it was the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ that had the greatest long term effect.

Under the invisible hand of the Lord, Toby had preached about the wrath of God in Romans 1:18-20 the week before the tornado. And in the weeks that followed the storm, as Henryville sought to rebuild, and many came to FBC Henryville, God brought many to himself by the verse-by-verse exposition of Romans.

Two years later, the church is still growing and Toby is still preaching from Romans—Romans 9, to be exact. God has honored the faithful preaching of his Word and he has answered (and continues to answer) Toby’s earnest prayer—that God would do something that no man would get credit for.

Tomorrow, Toby will share about “The Gospel on the Ground,” and how the gospel has brought life to many devastated by the Fall and its effects including the 2012 tornado.

I love this brother. I love how God has saved he and Sonia (see her testimony below). I love their passion for God’s glory, for God’s church, and for God’s gospel. Toby’s life and ministry has spurred me on to pray bigger prayers and trust more simply in the power of the preached Word. And so I am both excited and hopeful about our service of worship tomorrow.

Please pray for Toby as he brings God’s Word tomorrow. If you are anywhere near Seymour, Indiana, please join us.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Power of the Preached Word: Kevin DeYoung, Hughes Oliphint Old, John MacArthur, and You

old1001At Together for the Gospel this week, Kevin DeYoung preached a powerful message on the unity, authority, and power of the preached word. The title was “Never Spoke a Man Like This Before: Inerrancy, Evangelism and Christ’s Unbreakable Bible” (it will be up online soon).

In his closing remarks, Kevin quoted a section of Hughes Oliphant Old’s comprehensive The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Church (the section can be found on the Pyromaniacs blog). Writing about the powerful ministry of John MacArthur, Old observed that MacArthur’s effectiveness in the pulpit has little to do with oratory skill (although, Old does admit that MacArthur has some effective means of keeping his audience attention). Instead, and to the credit of MacArthur’s view of Scripture, Old writes “Surely one of the greatest strengths of MacArthur’s preaching ministry is his complete confidence in the text.” Continue reading

Together for the Gospel

t4gToday begins Together for the Gospel 2014.

For the last decade I have lived in Louisville or near enough to Louisville that I have had the joyous opportunity to be apart of this Gospel-centered assembly. Today, I with about eight to ten thousand other brothers (and sisters) will assemble in the Yum Center to worship Christ through song, conversation, and best of all . . . preaching.

As I go, I think about many messages that continue to impact my ministry and my understanding of the gospel. And so I share four of my favorites. Watch them now, or better, watch them later. Because beginning today at 1:00pm, you can watch T4G 2014 online.

In order, here are my four favorite (read: most memorable, most theologically stimulating, or most spiritually encouraging) messages from Together for the Gospel 2008, 2010, and 2012.

David Platt, “Divine Sovereignty: The Fuel of Death-Defying Missions” (2012). Preaching from Revelation 4-5, David shows how definite atonement fuels universal missions.

Ligon Duncan, “The Underestimated God,” (2012). Taking his lead from the life of Elijah, Ligon Duncan showed a man committed to God, whose greatest desires for God’s glory were not realized in his lifetime, but only in the long arc of redemptive history. This is one of the most encouraging messages for pastors that I’ve ever heard. If you feel alone and discouraged in minstry, this message will strengthen your soul!

John MacArthur, The Theology of Sleep” (2010). For anyone who labors to proclaim the word of God, Pastor MacArthur’s twofold admonition from Mark 4 is to sow and to sleep. God will grow the Word, when his servants preach the Word, therefore we can rest in the power of the gospel.

John Piper, Did Jesus Preach Paul’s Gospel? (2010). Unable to address N. T. Wright in person in 2010 at ETS in Atlanta, John Piper gives a stunning vision of justification by faith from Luke 18. The logic of the gospel is on full display in a way that only John Piper can present.

If you are at T4G this week, I hope to see you. If you are not, tune in to what God is doing. Then later go back and watch these messages. They will exhilarate your soul and lead you to worship with greater understanding and passion.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

Pastors, Teach Your People About Suffering

crossYesterday, I preached on the theme of suffering from Matthew 5:10-12, something that I had a chance to consider in the most recent Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. In that journal, I was asked to answer the question: How can a pastor prepare his people for suffering? My answer lists five things that pastors can do.

Below is an abbreviated response to that question.

First, pastors must highlight the theme of suffering in the Bible. Outside Eden depravity, disease, and death are normal. So, pastors must routinely address the origin of suffering, God’s solution, and the means of grace available to pilgrim saints. . . .

Second, pastors must give their people a theology as big as God himself. In other words, for people to suffer well, they must stand on sound doctrine. In particular, pastors must gird their people with a theology that strengthens faith in God’s sovereignty and hope in Christ’s victorious return. While the particulars of suffering are a human mystery, it is vital to reassure believers that their plight has purpose. . . .

Third, pastors must tie all suffering to Christ’s death and resurrection. To every form of suffering, the cross is the answer. On the cross, Jesus bore God’s wrath for our sins and he identified with humanities deepest pain—death. In this act of love, God dealt with the ultimate source of suffering and its deadly effect. For Christians, then, personal suffering is not God’s testimony against us, as it was perceived to be under the old covenant. Rather, in Christ, suffering indicates our fellowship with our Lord (Phil 3:9-10) and God’s fatherly love (Heb 12:3-11). Pastors must remind their people of this regularly. . . .

Fourth, pastors must inform their people about church history. The church victorious stands in heaven awaiting Christ’s return. The church on earth suffers and bleeds. In our Western context, Christians need to hear the stories of faithful saints. Names like Ridley, Latimer, Elliot, and Saint should be as familiar as Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. . . .

Fifth, pastors must call attention to the persecuted church. In obedience to God’s word (Heb 13:3), pastors must lead the charge in praying for and supplying aid for persecuted Christians. Yet, the ministry of the persecuted church is not a one-way street. We must also champion the persecuted church because we need to see what it means to treasure Christ above life itself. . . .

For more on the subject of suffering, take a look at the new journal. For the rest of my answer, you can find it at the end of the SBJT Forum.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

‘My Inheritance’: A Necessary Approach to the Scriptures

goldThere is a dangerous tendency in the life of any Christian, and especially among those who labor to teach the Word, to read the Bible for the sake of someone else. I experienced this recently as I was teaching on the glories of the cross of Christ. Admittedly, my spirit was not exulting in the doctrines I was teaching as much as I was encouraging others to exult in them. Like a dutiful usher, I was leading others to find room at the table, but I was too busy to sit down myself.

It is a scary thing when we lead others to see the glories of God, all the while failing to enjoy them ourselves. Continue reading

Nine Traits of a Peacemaker

peaceIn Matthew 5:9 Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” A few verses later, Jesus instructs worshipers to leave their gifts at the altar in order to make peace with those who have something against them (5:21-26) and just a few verses later he tells us we should love our enemies and pray for those persecute us, that we might be like our father in heaven who provides the righteous and the unrighteous with sunshine and rain (5:43-45).

In short, God’s children are those who make peace. But what does that mean? James 3:13-18 gives a very clear answer. Read with me:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

In this illuminating passage, James, who is writing to a church fractured with partiality, gives nine traits of the peacemaker. Beginning with verse 17, and couched in the language of heavenly wisdom, he gives us nine traits of a peacemaker. Continue reading

Cultivating An Appetite for Righteousness

hungerA few weeks ago, I preached on the fourth beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt 5:6). Jesus words call attention to the fact that those who will be righteous will first hunger and thirst because of their lack of righteousness.

In my sermon, I spoke about three kinds of people:

  1. those who are self-righteous and boast of their good works;
  2. those who are unrighteous and boast in their unrighteousness;
  3. and those who are unrighteous but long to be righteous.

I argued that only the third kind of person will be justified. The self-righteous can be humbled and the unrighteous can be convicted, but only when the Spirit grieves us about the sin in our lives, will we call upon the Lord in faith and in turn be satisfied with God. (The Spirit, of course, does far more than convict us of sin—he also illumines our mind (2 Cor 2:14-16), regenerates our hearts (Titus 3:5), enables belief (Gal 5:22-23), etc.—but in work or redemption, genuine grief for sin is necessary).

With desiring righteousness in mind, I urged our congregation to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Theologically, I know that such hunger and thirst is a gift from God, but I also know that hunger and thirst can and should be cultivated in the hearts of those who have been born again. Therefore, here are six ways that you can grow in your hunger and thirst for righteousness. These six steps towards cultivating righteousness did not make it into the sermon itself; the rest of which you can listen below.


Cultivating Your Appetite for Righteousness

1. Read Scripture. If you don’t hunger for righteousness, read the Word. That’s why it’s there. The Spiritual man lives on God’s word, because the Word of God created that man’s spiritual life. Just the same, hunger for righteousness comes from the Word. If you don’t feel hungry, sit down with the Bible and watch how God renews your appetite.

2. Pray. Ask God for a greater appetite. If you read Paul’s prayers, it will not take long before you realize that he doesn’t pray the way we do. Though he’s in prison and afflicted with physical pain, his prayer requests are always centered on the Word. Likewise, when he prays, he prays that his spiritual children would have spiritual power to perceive the beauty and glory of the gospel of grace. We should pray for this too . . . pray that God gives you stronger affections for his righteousness. God will never reject the saint who prays for this.

3. Spend time around people who will make you hunger for God and his Word. This can be done through good books, through friendships with people who love God, know his word, and speak the truth to you in love. A couple weeks ago, my wife and I took day away to attend the THINK Conference at College Park Baptist Church. John Piper was the speaker, and he spent four hours teaching through the text of Philippians. It was glorious. But what caused hunger & thirst in my soul was not his Bible teaching . . . it was his Scripture memory. He opened his first session quoting the whole book, and it urged me again to keep working on Bible memorization.

4. Meditate on Christ’s return and the satisfaction you will have when he returns.  I cannot tell you how many times the thought of Christ’s return has given me strength to say ‘no’ to ungodliness.  By meditating on the glories of the new creation, and the beauty of Christ, I have found strength to say no to sin, by means of choosing the greater pleasure of knowing God. There is no greater way to crucify the flesh, than to ponder the satisfaction of knowing God. Meditating on Christ is one of, if not the, greatest tools for fighting sin. Feed yourself on him, and you will have little appetite for unrighteousness.

5. Fast. No, that’s not an imperative to run your life at breakneck speed. Just the opposite, it is the call to pull away from the world and your bodies demand for food. We fast in order to quicken our senses for spiritual need. Just as we eat food when we are hungry, we fast so as to be more aware of the appetites in our life. Fasting cultivates a hunger for God and fasting reveals those created things which are most idolatrous to us. If you are struggling to hunger and thirst for righteousness, God has a specific medicine—fasting! I don’t do this well; I need to do it better.

6. Feast on the Lord’s Supper.  Now this is a little bit curious, because when we come to the Lord’s supper most of us are hungry. In our church at least, the Lord’s Supper comes near the lunch hour or just before dinner (when we observe communion at night). In those moments, most people with normal sized appetites are looking for more than a wafer & shot glass of juice. Therefore, it may seem odd to “feast” on the Lord’s Supper. What does that mean?

Simply this: When you come to the table, you are not coming for the wafer and the shot glass. No, if you have eyes of faith, you see through these things to the Lord Jesus who satisfies your soul.  He is the Bread of Life; the Living Water. His blood is the wine that quickens our hearts. He is our portion and our prize. Believers don’t come to him because they “have to.” We come to the table because we love him, and we hunger and thirst for him, his kingdom, and his righteousness. For those who know the Lord, the Lord’s Supper is a feast for your faith, even as we await the Wedding Banquet, where Christ will satisfy us in soul and body.

Surely, there are more ways to cultivate a hunger and thirst for righteousness. What would you add?

May God be gracious to us to give us an appetite for righteousness, and may he increase our hunger and thirst for him, that he might satisfy us now and forever.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Five Ways Preaching Improves Your Theology

preachLast week, at David Prince’s blog I had the chance to share a word with aspiring theologians on why preaching is a necessary goal of theology. In thinking through that article, I landed on five ways preaching improves theology. Space did not permit the inclusion of those, so I include them here, to help give impetus for challenging young theologians to preach the Word.

Five Ways Preaching Improves Your Theology

First, preaching demands you to prove your doctrine from the text.

It is easy to take for granted the doctrines we believe. In academic circles, careful theologians can footnote G. K. Beale’s view of the temple or reference Tom Schreiner’s interpretation of 2 Peter 2:1 when proving a point of doctrine. But in the pulpit, we are naked with only the word of God as our defense. Therefore, we must make our points from the text in a way that a multi-generational, multi-educational audience can understand and embrace. In other words, preaching keeps theologians honest with the biblical text and demands regular exegesis, which in turn improves theological formulation. Continue reading

A Biblical Theology of Dessert

foodBethany Jenkins has kicked off what promises to be a fascinating blog series on—of all things—the making, selling, buying, and eating of . . . chocolate cake, apple pie, and no-bake cookies. Continuing to explore the subject of vocation, Bethany has begun this week’s series by sketching a Biblical Theology of Dessert.

Sounds tasty, doesn’t it?

In truth, I’ve never thought about dessert in the Bible. I’ve considered the importance of food—it’s blessedness in the Garden, its role in the Fall, and its place in redemption. But dessert? I like dessert, but I’ve never considered what Scriptures says about it.

So I am thankful for Bethany’s interest in brownies and her theological inquisitiveness to dive into this subject. I would encourage you to tune in to this series and to let the theology of the Bible interpret the sweets you eat.

Let me give you a taste of her article: After noting the complex relationship of sweets in the Scripture, she speaks of the three modes of eating in the Bible—ordinary, fasting, and feasting. Moving past the first, she quotes Kyle Werner and Tim Keller to explain the importance of food in our lives.

In feasting and fasting, however, we see two very different modes of eating. According to Kyle Werner, a classical composer, amateur chef, and former Gotham Fellow:

In the Bible, we see God regularly calling his people to fast and to feast. Through fasting, we learn an increased dependence on God’s strength; our physical appetite helps intensify our spiritual appetite. On the other hand, feasting reminds us of the original goodness and bounty of God’s creation, the redeeming work he is doing, and our fellowship in the body of Christ. Our regular eating routines can benefit greatly by being expanded in both directions through the extremes of these two spiritual disciplines.

In feasting we see the glorious purpose of dessert. Although it is not necessary to life for daily sustenance, dessert can give us a foretaste of the divine. In Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller writes:

The work-obsessed mind—as in our Western culture—tends to look at everything in terms of efficiency, value, and speed. But there must also be an ability to enjoy the most simple and ordinary aspects of life, even ones that are not strictly useful, but just delightful. Surprisingly, even the reputedly dour Reformer John Calvin agrees. In his treatment of the Christian life, he warns against valuing things only for their utility: “Did God create food only to provide for necessity [nutrition] and not also for delight and good cheer? . . . Did he not, in short, render many things attractive to us, apart from their necessary use?”

For more on a biblical theology of dessert, see Bethany’ whole post: “Toward a Theology of Dessert,” as well as the YouTube video included at the end of her post: “A Theology of Food” by David Kim.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss