An Open Letter to Immanuel Bible Church VBS Volunteers

Dear Immanuel VBS Volunteers:

One of my greatest joys as the Pastor of Family Ministries at Immanuel is to work so closely with so many volunteers in ministries within our church. From Sunday School to Children’s Church to childcare to Awana to Indoor Park to Good News Club to Middle and High School Ministries to even parenting and marriage ministries, your joy in serving the Lord is contagious. And VBS this week was no exception!

It is one thing to volunteer simply to fill a spot, but it is quite another thing to minister to others out of an overflow of love for Jesus because of a deep commitment to the truth of God’s Word and the gospel. The children know the difference. The families can tell the difference. And I witnessed the grace and truth of Christ pouring out of your lives this week as you served the One who said, “Let the little children come to me.”

Gotta MoveIt is only in pulling together as the body of Christ that VBS can happen and have any lasting fruit. In addition to those of you who prayed at your jobs or homes or brought snacks, there were about 100 of you when all was said and done from last Sunday until Friday afternoon who were here at least one day if not all six days.

Under the excellent leadership of Hilleary Sorenson, our Children’s Ministry Coordinator, you decorated, coordinated, planned, cooked, cleaned, served food, did tech work, took pictures, shepherded children from station to station, took care of the babies of other volunteers, led crafts, led games, taught on missions and evangelism, led songs and motions, danced, taught God’s Word, prayed, and simply loved children and families in a way that reflected Christ! I saw the fruit of the Spirit pouring out of your lives this week as you served with the strength and the joy that God provides.

Let’s pray together that the gospel will continue to bear fruit in the 160 children (and their families) touched through VBS this week! As a dad, thank you for loving my kids in such a Christ-like way. They had a blast and I already see fruit in their lives because of this concentrated time of fellowship, fun, worship, and teaching. As a pastor, thank you for representing Christ so well to each child and family who came through our doors.

As we think back on a blessed week of VBS, join with me in praying, “…to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” (Eph. 3:21)

For the fame of Jesus in all generations,
Pastor Tim

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The (Week In, Week Out) Preparation of the Preacher

preacher studying

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”  I continue to plod, learn, and be encouraged–chapter by chapter.

Lloyd-Jones turns to “The Preparation of the Preacher” in Chapter Nine, meaning how a preacher prepares himself personally (apart from specific sermon preparation, which will be the next chapter) week in and week out to preach.  He covers the areas of self-discipline, prayer, Bible reading, and other reading–all areas that are helpful to any Christian to consider now and then.

Self-Discipline
It is important for a preacher to have self-discipline because of generally having more control of his schedule than other jobs.  Lloyd-Jones is not saying that this is because a pastor has too much free time, but rather that he must be self-disciplined with the time he has because the demands of ministry will take away the time needed for study for preaching otherwise!  His recommendation is to safeguard the mornings for study and use the afternoons for other ministry responsibilities, but he also gives great wisdom in encouraging each pastor to personally realize what time of day he is most effective in study.

Prayer
Surprisingly, but refreshingly for a “spiritual giant,” Lloyd-Jones does not say that a pastor must begin prayer at 4am or he has not done his duty.  But of course, he encourages times set aside for regular prayer.  The most helpful nugget to me in this section was the recommendation to always respond to every impulse to pray.  As he explains, “The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text.  I would make an absolute law of this–always obey such an impulse.  Where does it come from?  It is the work of the Holy Spirit…So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy.  Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing, but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect.” (182-183)

This is one of the great privileges of being a pastor that we may miss if we are not reminded that it is indeed a privilege.  When I worked as a Sales Rep during seminary, there were countless moments of quick prayer in my heart.  But I never could have stopped what I was doing and spent even a minute in concentrated prayer because then I would not have been doing my job.  The pastor, on the other hand, can pray, and pray often.  Some of the most intimate times of personal prayer and worship have been when I have been studying for a sermon, and suddenly the truth of what I have been seeing in God’s Word will explode in my heart in praise.  Surely this should be expected.  God’s Word should move us to worship.  But Lloyd-Jones encourages us to go with it–to actually stop and pray when those moments come.

Bible Reading
Lloyd-Jones’ main advice is to read the Bible systematically so that you do not only read favorite sections of Scripture.  He also recommends that all preachers read through the whole Bible in its entirety at least once every year.  There is another invaluable nugget in this section of Chapter Nine: while Lloyd-Jones says to not read the Bible to find texts for sermons–but rather because it is the food that God has provided for your soul, he also strongly recommends stopping and making skeleton outlines of sermons when a passage hits you hard or opens up while you read.  There is wisdom from years of preaching here: “A preacher has to be like a squirrel and has to learn how to collect and store matter for the future days of winter.” (185)

Reading for the Soul
In addition to Bible reading, Lloyd-Jones insists that other reading is necessary for a preacher to stay sharp and educated, to get wisdom, and to hone his thinking skills.  This is a constant, and he acknowledges that it is a constant battle to find time to read in addition to Bible reading, sermon prep, prayer, and other ministry duties.  He recommends the Puritans (especially Richard Sibbes) for devotional reading, as well as regular reading in theology, church history, biographies, and even personal reading in other areas such as history or science.

I am thankful for Lloyd-Jones’ continued practical advice and encouragement to pray without ceasing, and to make time for Bible reading and other books.  All of this is not to make a pastor puffed up, but to keep him fresh and growing. “The preacher is not meant to be a mere channel through which water flows; he is to be more like a well.” (192)  There are always many things crying for a pastor’s attention, but to use another analogy, the blade must be polished and sharpened constantly.

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

The Message of the Preacher

preach the word

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”

In explaining the importance and high calling of preaching God’s Word, Lloyd-Jones reminds both preachers and listeners alike that “…the pew is never to dictate to, or control, the pulpit.” (156)  But just as many aspects of ministry and theology are a tension, Lloyd-Jones as a pastor is quick to labor the balance point (in Chapter 8, “The Character of the Message”): “But having said that I would emphasize equally that the preacher nevertheless has to assess the condition of those in the pew and to bear that in mind in the preparation and delivery of his message.” (156)

The pastor that I work under, Pastor Mike Pohlman, has often explained this principle as, “Exposition is not done in a vacuum.”  In other words, while the exposition of God’s Word is what outlines the message that will be preached on any given Sunday, the congregation needs to be kept in mind as the preacher forms the delivery and application of that message.  Lloyd-Jones gets scriptural warrant for this idea from 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 and Hebrews 5:11-14.  The writer of Hebrews would like to get into the doctrine of Christ as the great High Priest with more depth, but he doesn’t believe that his listeners are capable of receiving it yet.

This principle in preaching does not mean that a preacher changes the message, but that he explains it in a way that the people can understand and are more likely to receive.  As I recently taught through Philippians with our High Schoolers on Sunday nights, the universal principle in the text was always the same as what I would have preached on a Sunday morning, but the delivery was not the same.  I not only taught for less time on Sunday night to High Schoolers who had already sat under a 45 minute expository sermon and Sunday School class that morning, but I also tried to carefully choose illustrations and applications that they could use the next morning in their high school hallway.

Another aspect of this is the importance of a pastor knowing his people.  I chose to preach through Romans 8 recently during a time of great mourning in our church because those bedrock, big picture truths of how God in the gospel brings His children all the way home, through both life and death, were what we needed under our feet.  As I look out on the people in our church and see joyful marriages, struggling marriages, young believers, charter members of our 64 year old church, children, disabled people, people fighting cancer, widows and widowers, healthy single people and young families, I see sheep who need and want God’s Word.  I must make sure that I do not change the message of God’s Word, but that I preach it to them–at this time and place–and to these precious people with all of their struggles and joys.

Lloyd-Jones also reminds us in this chapter that not everyone who regularly attends church is a believer.  As ministers of the New Covenant we must preach the gospel as we teach the Bible.  Not only will the Holy Spirit use this to awaken faith and to save, but keeping the gospel before believers will keep them fresh in their relationship with the Lord:

It is inconceivable to me that a man who is a true believer can listen to a presentation of the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the glory of the Gospel, without being moved in two ways.  One is to feel for a while, in view of what he knows about the plague of his own heart, that perhaps he is not a Christian at all; and then, to rejoice in the glorious Gospel remedy which gives him deliverance. (163)

Humanly speaking, the job of the preacher is impossible.  To be faithful to the message while keeping the listeners in mind, and to feed both seasoned believers and preach the gospel to unbelievers, would be a task too great for any human to bear alone.  But as preachers, we are not alone.  As I said in my last post:  the Spirit of God takes the Word of God and points to the Lamb of God to bring people to God.  Or, as Lloyd-Jones explains it, “In a lecture you know what is happening, you are in control; but that is not the case when you are preaching.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, this other element may break into a service–the touch of the power of the Spirit of God.” (166)

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

The Congregation

preach the word

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones turns to the congregation in Chapter 7 of Preaching and Preachers.  Considering that this book was originally published in 1972, it has amazing relevance to today.  In talking about modern men and women and how the “pew” too often now tries to dictate to the “pulpit,” Lloyd-Jones defends the idea of a pastor opening the Bible and preaching from the text.

We are told that today they cannot think and follow reasoned statements, that they are so accustomed to the kind of outlook and mentality produced by newspapers, television and films, that they are incapable of following a reasoned, argued statement…

…Another form which it takes is to say that these people cannot understand the biblical terminology, that to talk about Justification and Sanctification and Glorification is meaningless to them… (135)

Lloyd-Jones explains that although people in the congregation at different levels of maturity (and even different ages) will be able to comprehend biblical truths on different levels, that there should be a simplicity to our preaching that all can understand: “There is no greater fallacy than to think that you need a gospel for special types of people.” (141)

I praise God that I serve a congregation who hungers for God’s Word.  We are a local body that ranges from men with Master of Divinity degrees to stay at home moms to university professors to little children.  We have union workers and high-level programmers and custodians all sitting in our pews on Sunday.  We have believers who have walked with God for over 60 years and others who are still asking questions about who Jesus is.  My job is to tie myself to God’s Word and proclaim Christ Jesus and Him crucified.

Times will change.  Times have changed since Lloyd-Jones wrote Preaching and Preachers.  Education level and careers and technology and even spiritual maturity will be in a constant state of flux in our world.  But there are several constants that I thank Lloyd-Jones for reminding me of: people are sinners, Jesus is a great Savior, and the Holy Spirit speaks powerfully to people through His preached Word!

With the Apostle Paul I declare, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)  The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and points to the Lamb of God to bring people to God.  That will never change.

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.