Up Next from the Pulpit


With the Gospel of John in the rear view mirror, the question comes “What’s next at Orlando Grace?” In the short term, as I mentioned in last Sunday’s message (listen here), I will tackle a topical series called “The Peacemaking Church: Striving for Excellence in Preserving Unity in the Body of Christ.” We’ll look at passages that suggest the best church fight we will ever have is the one we never actually experience. I hope to kick things up a notch or two in the quest for a culture of peace at OGC.

Come the New Year I hope to plunge headlong into the book of Genesis for the next expository series. Now I know what some of people are thinking. If John with its twenty-one chapters took as long as it did, how in the world will he ever finish the fifty chapters of Genesis before he starts using a walker? Good question. Let me remind you that most of the first book of the Bible is narrative in nature. One can make much faster tracks in that genre than in didactic portions. Anyway, I plan to try to move at a quicker pace just as I did in my series from First Samuel back before John.

I would very much appreciate prayer for these preaching endeavors that God would give me favor in doing my best to present myself as a workman who does not need to be ashamed handling accurately the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).


Preaching at All Women's

Believers on mission for Jesus in the places where they live, work, and play wield weapons of warfare that “are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). In the town where I live, right up the street from my church, exists one of the more formidable castles of destruction upon which we at OGC and other churches have declared spiritual war. I mean, of course, the All Women’s Health Center, an abortuary where babies perish regularly in the name of the right to choose. 

This morning a platoon of us gathered on the sidewalk to engage the battle for life yet another time. We employed three mighty weapons for the fray. First, we took up the weapon of praise. We sang Christmas carols within earshot of the waiting room where women prepare for their abortions. They heard carols like “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Away in a Manger,” ” O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and other tunes as well. You could feel the Spirit of God come with power. 

Second, I took up the weapon of preaching. Originally I was asked only to pray. This I was only too happy to do. But then this morning the invitation came to bring the Word of God. I didn’t hesitate. I spoke from John 1:12. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, glory of the only begotten full of grace and truth.” Once again, I sensed the Spirit come with power as I exhorted the faithful to carry on the campaign for life until the abortion mills in our city close and that the saving of babies would occur through the sidewalk interventions day in and day out. 

Third, and finally, we picked up the weapon of prayer. We pleaded with the Lord of life to save children from destruction. We begged Him to bring down the fortress of death upon which we had descended. We asked Jesus to convict the doctors and nurses within its walls. And we asked for fathers and mothers to choose life over death for their children in the womb.

One never knows just how any of these firefights will go. On this day, the Lord scored a major victory for life. During the battle with its praise, preaching, and prayer, one couple hearkened to the counselors invitation to come over to the sidewalk and talk. They listened to the passionate and informed pleas of the trained advocates for life. AND THEY CHANGED THEIR MINDS! They turned back. They chose not to abort their baby and left the premises. And we rejoiced at the goodness of God to hear our prayers and grant such a merciful encouragement in response to our feeble efforts to subdue evil. 

The One who abhorred not the womb nor the cross, King Jesus, showed up in the fight for life today and granted us a victory. May He be inclined to do so all the more as we carry on the struggle into 2014 and beyond, as long as it takes. 

Every Pastor’s Priority Pursuit

My entrepreneurial son, Joel, calls me “old school,” but nevertheless I still conduct my ministry by means of a “to do” list. Any given week my legal pad version accumulates a lot of items. With a myriad of responsibilities on the pastor’s plate, how does a man triage them to keep the main thing the main thing, first things first? In 1 Timothy 4:11-16, Paul leaves no question in our minds as to what should be every pastor’s priority pursuit, regardless of what else may constrain his efforts.

Before we get to that remember that 1 Tim. 3:14-15 provides the controlling purpose to this first of the Pastoral Epistles. Paul wants Timothy to know how one ought to behave in the church. At the outset of chapter four, in the first five verses, he addresses the principal threat in Ephesus to that concern, namely the presence of false teaching. In v. 6ff Paul turns his attention as to how to counter that threat. In v. 11-16 he continues with that trajectory.

The main thought, I think, is this: To ensure right conduct in the church, pastors must give themselves to a fanatical concentration on the didactic dimension of their ministry with all its functions. As one writer has put it: The best antidote for error is a positive presentation of the truth.

Paul buries Timothy under an avalanche of imperatives in this paragraph – eleven in all. Command, teach, let none despise, set an example, devote, don’t neglect, practice, devote (again), keep a close watch, persist. Every single one of them without exception is framed in the present tense. This conveys continuous action. These things must represent Timothy’s perpetual focused concentration. And all have everything to do with his principal function – pastor-teacher. Three times, we find same root word – didaske – v. 11 – teach these things, v. 13 – devote yourself to . . . teaching, v. 16 – keep a close watch on  . . . the teaching.

Whatever pastors do they must be Acts 6:4 men above all else – we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. We must fight, claw, struggle, strain, hemorrhage to give adequate time to study, meditation, and the formulation of our sermons. While other components make up our worship services, to be sure, we must get this straight from this text: public reading of the Scripture, exhortation, and teaching — the sermon and its accouterments matter above all else and should command the lion’s share of time and attention in our corporate gatherings.

By way of overview, notice Paul’s concern that in this focused fanatical attention on his teaching ministry, he would have Timothy give attention to three emphases: authoritative confidence, exemplary conduct, and accurate content.

First, his authoritative confidence. Command and teach. Let no one despise you (kataphroneo – to think down). It seems due to his youth and perhaps timidity of character and temperament, Timothy suffered from an inferiority complex of sorts in his pastoral work. Paul charged him to take responsibility for that and teach with authority, even to the point of commanding. Recalling the conditions upon which he was set apart for ministry by the council of elders in the laying on of hands (v. 14) would contribute to that confidence as well and guard him from neglecting his unique calling and pastoral gifts.

Second, his exemplary character. The way to confident authority in ministry is not by throwing one’s ecclesiastical weight around, abusing authority by lording it over the sheep (1 Pet. 5:3), but by setting an example to the flock. Tupos means a pattern to follow. Notice that this must occur on a comprehensive scale — from the words chosen and tones employed in public speech to one’s scrupulous purity, treating all the women of the church as sisters (1 Tim. 5:2). This matters so much that Paul concludes in v. 16 – Keep a close watch on yourself. He echoes his teaching in Acts 20:28 – Pay attention to yourselves and all the flock. Matthew Henry said it well: Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their lives, else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other.

Third, his accurate content. Teach these things. The these is emphatic in the text. Some eight times this Greek word tauta shows up. By which I presume he means what immediately came before but indeed the entire emphases of the epistle. Again, v. 16 – keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching. Second Timothy 2:15 must be the pastor’s rally-cry, his MO, his preoccupation, his fanatical obsession – do your best to present yourself approved to God as worker who has not need to be ashamed rightly handling the word of truth.

Why? Because the stakes are inordinately high. Consider the end of v. 16 – for in so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. The pastor’s is a rescue mission as a preacher and teacher of the gospel. It starts with himself and extends to his hearers. Everything depends upon his faithful communication of the biblical gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.

Who indeed is competent for these things?

Thanks be to God that He makes His shepherds competent as ministers of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6).

How to Get the Most Out of Your Pastor’s Preaching

Nancy Leigh DeMoss has written a helpful blog post for those who regularly submit themselves to the means of grace that is the preached word.

I particularly appreciated this pre-service exhortation at the top of her list:

Pray for your pastor as he prepares for Sunday. Pray that his schedule would be free from unnecessary distractions. Pray that God will give him understanding into the meaning of the Word. Pray that God will speak to him personally through the Word and that he will respond in humility and obedience. Pray that God will help him to communicate the truth with clarity, freedom, passion, and power.

I don’t know any preacher worth his salt that wouldn’t salivate over the prospect of a people who did half the things this sister advises, especially that kind of prayer.

You can read the entire piece here.

No Sixth Sola Banner Period

I nearly drove off the road with excitement the other night as I headed home from the office and saw the steel begin to go up on the property. We really might get to do this building!

The closer we get the more decisions we need to make. Recently someone from the interior design team sat me down over lunch and asked me what I as pastor-teacher envision this place looking like. Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about it. But one thing I imagined came to mind quite quickly. I would love for us to hang banners from the sanctuary ceiling naming the five solas of the Reformation – scriptura, Christus, fide, gratia, and deo gloria – Scripture alone, Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, and to the glory of God alone. These things put the grace in the “G” of OGC.

But I can assure you that a sixth additional banner must never fly from our rafters – sola bootstrapsa. I ran across that term not long ago in reading Bryan Chapell’s excellent book Christ-Centered Preaching – Redeeming the Expository Sermon. He explains:

Messages that are not Christ-centered (i.e., not redemptively focused [pointing listeners to the gospel and the finished work of Christ on the cross as the ground of their sanctification]) inevitably become human-centered, even though the drift most frequently occurs unintentionally among evangelical preachers [tell me about it]. These preachers do not deliberately exclude Christ’s ministry from their own, but by consistently preaching messages on the order of “Five Steps to a Better Marriage,” “How to Make God Answer Your Prayer,” and “Achieving Holiness through the Power of Resolve,” they present godliness as a product of human endeavor. Although such preaching is intended for good, its exclusive focus on actuating or accessing divine blessing through human works carries the message, “It is the doing of these things that will get you right with God and/or your neighbor.” No message is more damaging to the true faith. By making human efforts alone the measure and the cause of godliness, evangelicals fall victim to the twin assaults of theological legalism and liberalism-which despite their perceived opposition are actually identical in making one’s relationship with God dependent on human goodness.

He goes on to answer a critical objection:

Preachers may protest, “But I assume my people understand they must base their efforts on faith and repentance.” Why should we assume listeners will understand what we rarely say, what the structure of our communication contradicts, and what their own nature denies? Can we not as preachers confess that ever we feel holier when our devotions last longer, when we parent well, when we pastor wisely, or when tears fall during our repentance? While there is certainly nothing wrong with any of these actions, we deny the basis of our faith when we begin to believe or act as though our actions, by their own merit, win God’s favor. Were this true, then instruction to “take hold of those bootstraps and pick yourself up so that God will love you more” would not be wrong. But sola bootstrapsa messages are wrong, and faithful preachers must not only avoid this error but also war against it (p. 288-89).

Let it be known and never questioned that OGC stands for the doctrines of grace and will always champion the solas of the Protestant Reformation. For that reason we will never hang a sixth sola banner, especially bootstrapsa, period, end of discussion.

That of course is the easy part. The hard part comes with keeping this preacher from avoiding the error, given his nature, and even warring against that error by a relentless proclaiming of the gospel of Jesus within every text of Scripture that serves as the basis of his sermons. You don’t have to hang a literal banner from the ceiling to communicate the same deadly message. It just takes a lethal case of gospel amnesia coming from the pulpit.

God forbid.

Amazing Grace Behind Bars

As I prepare today for another Lord’s Day and the challenging preaching assignment God has given me from John 12:20-26, particularly vv. 25-26, I find myself decidedly grateful for the grace of Christ and His gospel. That and that alone enables anyone to hate his life in this world that he might keep it in the next.

Reminder that only the grace of God can empower extreme devotion to Christ came to me today from some reading I did in Bryan Chapel’s excellent book, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. In the chapter entitled Developing Redemptive Sermons, he writes of John Bunyan, the famous hymn writer, noting how much of his theology came into focus with clarity from behind bars.

Historians tell us that one of the amazing features of the life of John Bunyan was his refusal to let prison deter him from his pursuit of ministry. The author of Pilgrim’s Progress wrote many of his most influential words while incarcerated. In fact, prison helped strengthen and galvanize much of his thought. Bunyan’s theology took more concrete form when, though facing great deprivations, he debated with fellow religious prisoners whether the assurance of God’s love promoted holiness or license. Fellow prisoners challenged Bunyan saying, “You must not keep assuring people of God’s grace because they will do whatever they want.” Bunyan responded, “That is not true for God’s people. If you keep assuring God’s people of his grace, then they will do whatever he wants” (p. 313).

Guess who is praying for grace this evening that tomorrow God will help him assure His people of His grace that they will do whatever He wants?

My New Nickname

My niece and her family attended OGC this AM. Sweet. They’re looking for a budget place to rent in central Florida. If you have a lead, please let me know.

Elise informed me that she dubbed me with a nickname. Something to do with warrior cats or some such that she is into. Never heard of it. She wanted me to guess. I didn’t have a clue. She said, It has something to do with you being a pastor. Still no clue. I gave up.

It’s Wild Breath. Really? I suppose that fits, in more ways than one, especially after this morning’s sermon in 2 Tim. 3:14-4:5. You can listen to the message in its entirety here.

Preaching warrants a certain wildness to it, I suppose. I kind of like it.

We heard a testimony from another wild breath type preacher this morning in the person of Pastor Matt Chandler of the Village Church in Dallas, Texas.

Here is the video of his entire presentation at T4G last week.

Pray for him. Pray for me. Pray for all of us who dare step into a pulpit to exposit the sacred writings before a holy God and His Son, the coming Christ.

As for the new nickname, I’m still kind of partial to PCBO – beloved ox. But I suppose it’s not bad to have two nicknames. PCWB it is as well. Thus saith Elise.

J. C. Ryle & Passionate Preaching For Lost Souls

Tomorrow, Lord willing, we step back into John’s gospel and the 6th sign, the healing of the man blind from birth in John 9:1-12. You can listen to part one here.

The title of the message is The Day the Light of the World Made Blind Eyes See (Part 2).

In many ways as we tackle the significance of the means Jesus employed in healing the man – anointing his eyes with mud, commanding his washing in the pool of Siloam – we will return to the gospel and the need for passionate preaching for lost souls.

After my message on Resurrection Sunday last week, someone sent me this quote by J. C. Ryle. It raised the temperature on my preaching thermostat to want to preach passionately and faithfully the gospel particularly when the text so plainly requires it. My hope is it will do the same for you on the listening end.

Would you like to know the reason why we who preach the Gospel, preach so often about conversion? We do it because of the necessities of men’s souls. We do it because we see plainly from the Word of God that nothing short of a thorough change of heart will ever meet the demands of your case. Your case is naturally desperate. Your danger is great. You need not only the atonement of Jesus Christ – but the quickening, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, to make you a true Christian, and deliver you from hell (Old Paths, “The Holy Spirit”, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1999], 275).

May the Lord meet us in and through His word tomorrow with grace and power to convert and strengthen.

Healthy Pulpits, Healthy Congregations

With another Lord’s Day on the horizon, I offer this quote by J. C. Ryle passed on to me by one of our deacons as a way for all of us to prepare for our encounter with God through the preaching of His word.

Let us beware of despising preaching. In every age of the Church, it has been God’s principal instrument for the awakening of sinners and the edifying of saints. The days when there has been little or no preaching have been days when there has been little or no good done in the Church. Let us hear sermons in a prayerful and reverent frame of mind, and remember that they are the principal engines which Christ Himself employed when He was upon earth. Not least, let us pray daily for a continual supply of faithful preachers of God’s Word. According to the state of the pulpit will always be the state of a congregation and of a Church (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke volume 1, [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1986], 128, 129).

That last line sobers me as a preacher as it should every church goer who listens to preachers.

Let us pray daily for a continual supply of faithful preachers of God’s Word.

Back to John's Fulminating Majesty

Tomorrow, Lord willing, we will return to our study of John’s gospel.

I will tackle the disputed text in John 7:53-8:11, the woman caught in adultery (pictured along side).

Though a questionable text for reasons I will explain, I do believe it should be preached for reasons I hope also to explain. And nonetheless, it bears the marks of the rest of John’s gospel in what John Calvin called its fulminating in majesty. He used the phrase in the Institutes of the Christian Religion in his argument for the authority of Scripture in the face of detractors who would deny, as the catechism puts it, the heavenliness of its doctrine. Webster defines fulminate as to flash or strike with lightning. Here are Calvin’s words:

John, again, fulminating in majesty, strikes down more powerfully than any thunderbolt the petulance of those who refuse to submit to the obedience of faith. Let all those acute censors, whose highest pleasure it is to banish a reverential regard of Scripture from their own and other men’s hearts, come forward; let them read the Gospel of John, and, willing or unwilling, they will find a thousand sentences which will at least arouse them from their sloth; nay, which will burn into their consciences as with a hot iron, and check their derision (chapter 8, section 11).

Oh that God might grant an anointing from heaven upon the preaching of His word from John’s gospel and the hearing thereof that arouses from our sloth and burns into our consciences with a hot iron, not to check our derision hopefully but to advance His glory and our joy!