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

Luke Short’s Long Life

sowingIn the Puritan Paperback, The Mystery of Providenceby John Flavel, Michael Boland gives the publishers introduction. Commenting on Flavel’s remarkable influence, he writes of Luke Short, a man deeply impacted by Flavel—some eight decades after Short heard Flavel!

Here’s what Boland writes:

Luke Short was a farmer in New England who attained his hundredth year in exceptional vigor though without having sought peace with God. One day as he sat in his fields reflecting upon his long life, he recalled a sermon he had heard in Dartmouth as a boy before he sailed to America. The horror of dying under the curse of God was impressed upon him as he meditated on the words he had heard so long ago and he was converted to Christ—eighty-five years after hearing John Flavel preach. (John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence11) Continue reading

The Gospel: Mere Facts or Mouth-watering Feast

Perhaps more than any other place in Scripture, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 provides a ‘definition’ of the gospel.  He writes,

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

As Paul closes out his first letter to the church at Corinth, he reminds those who have received the gospel to continue to stand in the gospel.  But even more than reminding them of the gospel that they know, he reiterates the four main events of the gospel–Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and glorious appearing—so that they (and we) will might delight in the feast of knowing the triune God.


Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Gospel Preached Beforehand

Yesterday I preached a pair of messages on the “gospel preached beforehand.”  In Galatians 3:8, Paul writes, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

I have thought much about what the contents of that ‘gospel message’ would have been, and yesterday I sought to explain from Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 22, how the Lord proclaimed the good news to the patriarch Abraham.  In short order, I argued that the content of the gospel can be witnessed in God’s promise of grace (Gen 12), justification by faith that results in a covenant relationship (Gen 15), circumcised citizenship in the kingdom of God (Gen 17), and the necessity of the Lord’s sacrifice, substitution, and resurrection (Gen 22).

Only when all of these elements are included do you have the full gospel message. Maybe I saw too much Christ in the Old Testament, maybe not enough. Tell me what you think.

Here is the sermon audio. The first message begins in Luke 24 and turns to look at Genesis 12, 15, and 17; the second message covers Genesis 22 with an introductory excursus asking this question: ‘Since we have the full gospel (Heb 1:1-4), why should we spend much time on the gospel preached beforehand?”



Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Gospel is God’s Power to Save (Romans 1:16-17)

Last Sunday, I began a series on the gospel—what it is, what it isn’t. Much has been written about ‘the gospel’ in the last few years. This sermon series is my attempt to help our church fall in love with the gospel all over again.

Over the course of the next two months, I hope to tackle a number facets about the gospel and to help our church to stand firm in the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the subject of the gospel interests you—as it does the angels in heaven (1 Pet 1:12)—please check back to hear the audio and/or leave a note. I’d love to keep up the conversation with you.

Here is a rough outline of what we will cover in the days ahead.

1. The Power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16-17)

The Good News in Time and Eternity

2. The Eternal Gospel (Revelation 14:6; cf. Genesis 3:15; Revelation 21-22)

3. The Gospel Beforehand (Galatians 3:8; Genesis 22)

4. The Gospel Fulfilled (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)

The Good News of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

5. The Triune Gospel of the Kingdom (Mark 1:1-15)

6. The Gospel of God (Romans 1:7; cf. 2:16; 10:16; 11:28; 1 Corinthians 4:15)

7.The Gospel of God’s Glory (1 Timothy 1:8-11; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4)

8. The Gospel of Christ’s Cross (2 Thessalonians 1:8; cf. Romans 1:9; 15:19; 1 Corinthians 9:12; 2 Corinthians 2:12; 9:13; 10:14; Galatians 1:7; Philippians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 3:2)

9. The Gospel of Christ’s Resurrection (Preaching in Acts)

10. The Gospel of the Spirit’s Grace (Acts 20:24)

11. The Gospel of the Spirit’s Gospel of Truth (Colossians 1:5; Ephesians 1:13; cf. Galatians 2:14)

The Good News in the Church

12. The Preached Gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:1-20)

13. The Church’s Gospel (Ephesians 3:6-7; 1 Timothy 3:15)

14. The Fruit of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27)

15. The Passion of the Gospel (Colossians 1:24ff.; cf. Philippians 1:12; Philemon 13; Ephesians 3:1; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:12; 23)

16. ‘My’ gospel (Romans 2:16; 16:25; Galatians 1:8, 9; 2 Timothy 2:8; cf. Galatians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 11:4)

If you are interested in keeping up, here is the first message: “The Gospel: God’s Power to Save.”


Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Aesthetics Is Not Optional

Why aesthetics?

Aesthetics is kind of a funny word.  Using it in casual conversation could easily gain the charge of being esoteric (another funny word), but indeed, the word and its employment are essential for the Christian.

Even those who have never dabbled in the academic discipline of aesthetics are being shaped by someone to think about beauty, art, and culture.  It may come from the paintbrush of Thomas Kinkade or the pen of Wendell Berry.  The source does not make someone an aesthete.  We all assign beauty to certain things, and thus we should learn what the Bible thinks about beauty and how it plays a formative role in the believers salvation and sanctification. Consider four reasons why aesthetics is so vital for the Christian.

Continue reading

Who is Upholding Who?: Preaching in the Face of Adversity

Sunday by Sunday, faithful pastors labor to uphold the glory of God in the face of Christ, but such labors can often be overwhelming.  I have garnished much encouragement that this wearying task is not something that only a few experienced.  Rather, any who desire to walk faithfully with Lord will wrestle with sorrow, fatigue, feelings (and realities) of inadequacy, and the like.

David experienced this.  In Psalm 139, he is undergoing some sort of adversarial assault.  Those who surround him are accusing him, attacking him, and/or perhaps questioning his leadership, integrity, or faithfulness.  Maybe some pastors can relate.  What does he do?  He spends eighteen verses recounting the glorious truths of God’s knowledge, presence, and power.  Only then does he ask God for protection and deliverance from these enemies.  In the end, he lets the trial he is facing to be a source of purification.  He once again submits himself to God’s opinion and judgment.  He is a man whose center holds, because he has made God the center of his life.

As I prepared Psalm 139 last week I remembered John Piper’s words to pastors taken from his biography of Charles Spurgeon.  Ten years ago, I was given a cassette tape (remember those) of that Spurgeon message.  I listened to it numerous times, long before I ever was in ministry.  However, the words heard many years ago still resound in my mind and have more relevance and weight to them today then they did then. Pastor, let his words remind you that as you uphold the gospel, God himself upholds you!

Preaching great and glorious truth in an atmosphere that is not great and glorious is an immense difficulty. To be reminded week in and week out that many people regard your preaching of the glory of the grace of God as hypocrisy pushes a preacher not just into the hills of introspection, but sometimes to the precipice of self-extinction.

I don’t mean suicide. I mean something more complex. I mean the deranging inability to know any longer who you are. What begins as a searching introspection for the sake of holiness, and humility gradually becomes, for various reasons, a carnival of mirrors in your soul: you look in one and you’re short and fat; you look in another and you’re tall and skinny; you look in another and you’re upside down. And the horrible feeling begins to break over you that you don’t know who you are any more. The center is not holding. And if the center doesn’t hold—if there is no fixed and solid “I” able to relate to the fixed and solid “Thou,” namely, God, then who will preach next Sunday?

When the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God, I am what I am,” he was saying something utterly essential for the survival of preachers in adversity. If, by grace, the identity of the “I”—the “I” created by Christ and united to Christ, but still a human “I”—if that center doesn’t hold, there will be no more authentic preaching, for there will be no more authentic preacher, but a collection of echoes.

O how fortunate we are, brothers of the pulpit, that we are not the first to face these things! I thank God for the healing history of the power of God in the lives of saints. I urge you for the sake of your own survival: live in other centuries and other saints.

Father, let those who uphold the word tomorrow do so upheld by the power of your Spirit and the promise that your word NEVER EVER returns void (Isa 55:10-11).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Christ Is a Blazing Sun, His Word is a Lightning Bolt

Asking the question, what are preachers sent to do, Doug Wilson gives a powerful and clear answer in his Desiring God message from 2009.  Here is what he says,

We are not sent to preach a distant star or moon. We are sent to preach a blazing sun that lights and heats every creature, that dominates all things, and around which everything else must necessarily revolve.

We are not sent to make a few mild suggestions. We are not sent to have a relational dialogue. We are sent to preach and to declare. We are commissioned—ordained—to compel every manifestation of worldly power, glory, wisdom, and exaltation to yield to and obey God’s word.

We come to declare that all men need to repent and believe. The kingdom of God is here. We declare what has been accomplished, not what we would like to be accomplished. We are ordained to feed the sheep and drive away the wolves. And if needs be, we have been ordained to preach the word as if we were thunder and lightening. How can we not? The Scriptures themselves are thunder and lightning.

God, help us pastors and preachers as we deliver your Word tomorrow.  May it strike with the power and precision of a lightning strike, and may the world know that you are speaking.  May the light of Christ illumine our minds and shine forth in our messages so that your people will turn from their sin and flee to their Savior.

Let us Proclaim Christ, dss