Let the Lion Loose!

Charles Spurgeon famously compared the Word of God with a lion: “There is no need for you to defend a lion when he is being attacked. All you need to do is to open the gate and let him out.” Pastors must have such a high view of the sufficiency of Scripture that we would say with C.H. Spurgeon, my job each Sunday morning is to let the lion of the Word of God loose.
lion cage

I have been preaching through the Gospel of Mark, and I have just come off of the two Sundays that everyone who has preached Mark verse by verse knows are coming: the back-to-back passages on Hell (the end of Mark 9) and divorce (the beginning of Mark 10).  Not exactly the way to become known as “the popular pastor.”

But this is the Word of God. My job is not to change the message in any way, but to deliver the Bread of the Word right out of the oven. Jesus said that our very life is dependent upon every word from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).

As we understand Hell better, we understand grace better. We understand our own need for Jesus better, and we are motivated to share the gospel more. As we understand divorce better, we understand marriage better. We understand God’s wisdom for life and human prospering better. And we understand Jesus’ love for his Bride, the church, better.

We need not fear when we get to these difficult passages, but we need to let the lion loose. Explain the text clearly, illustrate it winsomely, and apply it with grace. One of the best ways that we as pastors can love God and love people is to preach all of God’s Word, not just the parts people are excited to hear. This Sunday I get to preach on Jesus’ love for children (Mark 10:13-16). But I’m so glad we heard Jesus’ words on Hell and divorce first. We need all of Jesus’ teachings for all of life because we need all of Jesus for all of life–and eternity.

I am not Jesus’ editor, I’m his messenger.

So let the lion loose, brother pastors. Make sure you’re in a church where the lion is let loose every Sunday, brothers and sisters. When the lion of the Word of God is let loose, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah reigns. Which means that the impostor, the evil one, who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, will go hungry this week.

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Only God Can Write a Story that Starts Out Perfect and Ends Better

Note from Pastor Tim: for privacy reasons, the names have been changed.

Words of Comfort from God’s Word at a Memorial Service in our Community

This afternoon, as I have the opportunity to bring you a message of hope from God’s Word, I want us to think about the basic message of the entire Bible in less than 10 minutes as we look at 4 movements in the Bible, just like a symphony has different parts or movements. Immediately as humans when we are faced with a tragedy like this, when it is forced on us that someone who we saw at the park a few days ago took his own life 2 days later, we want answers. I have heard many try to figure out answers over the last few days. What we do know though is that we will never have a final answer, except to accept that this is a choice that Sam made, and to not take responsibility ourselves. The immediate thought is, “If I had only known ______________.  Or if I had only done __________________.”

But the Bible gives answers for how things like this can happen. The Bible, as a message from God, faces reality. It does not gloss over the fact that we live in a broken world.

But this brokenness is not how it all began. The Bible begins with God, and God making a perfect creation. God created man and woman, and He created Adam and Eve in His own image. God set humankind apart because He simply spoke when He created everything else…but when He created man and woman, God touched them. He formed them with His own hands out of dust and the Bible says in Genesis that God breathed into them to give them their breath. This means that humans are different than any other part of God’s creation. We are made in God’s image. This means that every one of us in this room, whether elderly or disabled or healthy or in our 20s or in our 70s has meaning and a purpose in life. And that purpose, that identity is given to you by God Himself when you come to know God as your Savior through Jesus Christ.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The 1st movement in the Bible is Creation, and when God finished His work of creation He looked at it and said that it was, “Very good.”

The 2nd movement in the Bible is the Fall, and this is where sin and evil and suffering and brokenness enters God’s perfect creation. When Satan came to tempt Adam and Eve they had a choice to either obey God and to be His representatives on earth as they were made in His image, or to try to be King themselves and do things their own way. This rebellion against their Creator is when separation from God and suffering first began to happen, and it is the reason that we live in a world in which there is so much pain and hurt and tears.

From the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, the Bible explains how they no longer had a close relationship with a holy God and death even entered the world. Their own son Cain even killed his own brother Abel, and Adam now had to work hard to put food on the table and Eve now had pain in childbirth. Creation began to unravel. The rest of the Bible, from the moment of the Fall or sin entering the world in Genesis 3 to Matthew chapter 1 when Jesus comes on the scene, is a picture of what happens when people try to be King rather than letting God be King.

Then we have the 3rd movement of the Bible. First we saw Creation, then the Fall which answers why there is so much pain in the world today, then the 3rd movement is the Cross. Mark 1:1 explains it like this, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Do you know what “gospel” means? It is good news! It is not just any good news, it is an announcement of something that has been done for you.

Religion tells you that you have to do “x” “y” and “z” to be able to work your way back to God, but the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ—tells you that Jesus has already done “x” “y” and “z” for you. The diagnosis for you and I is worse than we ever imagined. We are more wicked and evil than we ever imagined, but the good news is that we are more loved and important than we ever imagined. Jesus came to give us life, to give us forgiveness, to bring us to God. So Jesus lived for 33 years exactly like you would expect a man who is also fully God to live—healing, loving, caring for and teaching those who were the most rejected by the rest of society like the lepers and the sick as we read in the Gospels—doing miracles because He was fully God and the wind and the waves knew His voice. And then Jesus died on a cross to pay the punishment for your sins, the punishment you could never pay, and then He rose from the dead, to show that the price for your sins had been paid in full—and so that all who trust in Him alone for their salvation can become children of God.

Jesus brings us back to God! Jesus explained how He came to reverse the work of the devil in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” You see, we saw the Fall earlier. Satan comes to destroy, but Jesus comes to give life!

But it doesn’t end there. This is where the 4th movement of the Bible comes in, the New Creation. The Bible started out in a Garden, and at the end of the Bible there is a Garden in the capital city of Heaven, the New Jerusalem. Only God can write a story that starts out perfect and ends better.

Here is God’s promise for all who will trust in Jesus alone for their salvation, and accept that the good news of the gospel is that the work has already been done by Jesus: we just have to accept salvation and confess that we have sinned, and that we want Jesus to be our King and Savior, and ask Him to save us and help us to follow Him.

Here is what God promises for all who will do that, in Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will be with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.” Do you notice how at the beginning of the Bible humans were made to be with God, but then sin separated us from God, Jesus came to bring us back to God, and then in the end we can be with God if we have trusted in Jesus?

God goes on in Revelation 21: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”  God will make everything sad come untrue.

Today, we wipe away our tears with Kleenex, but on that day God Himself will wipe our tears away. Will you be there? Have you asked Jesus to save you? It’s ok to shed those tears now. When Jesus was faced with his friend Lazarus’ death, Jesus wept even though He would raise him from the dead just a few minutes later.

One of the things that I will miss most about Sam is seeing him at the park. My family loves going to the Manchester Rec Park and in fact that is the last time that I saw Sam just over a week ago—we waved and smiled at each other. About 1 year ago, I was with my 2 youngest who loved seeing “Mr. Keene” at the park, and Sam stopped me and said, “Pastor Tim—I need to show you some things on my phone. Why do I keep seeing crosses everywhere?” And he showed me picture after picture of shadows of a cross that he would see in nature or somewhere. I told Sam that day what I beg you to believe today so that you can be part of this New Creation that God will create for those who believe in Jesus, “Sam, the cross reminds us of God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 explains, “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’”

Do you know God’s love? God wants to comfort you today, but you need to come to Him and trust in Jesus only.

The Preparation of the Sermon

20141008_111221Note:  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.

The picture above is one of the reasons that I am reading and blogging about Preaching and Preachers.  I received this note today from a Kindergartner in our church.  We too often forget that preaching impacts everyone in the church–even 5 year olds.  As you can see, she wrote, “Dear Pastor, Thank you for preaching the God.”  That is what Lloyd-Jones is trying to help us do better.

Lloyd-Jones turns from the personal preparation of the preacher (as a man growing in Christ), to the preparation of the actual sermon in Chapter 10, “The Preparation of the Sermon.”  The importance of this topic cannot be overstated.  As Lloyd-Jones explains, “Preaching prepares the way for all the other activities of a minister.” (199)

I appreciate how Lloyd-Jones shows a dependence on the Spirit of God for leading to a particular preaching text, while also strongly advocating series that preach through a book of the Bible.  He not only advocates this dependence on the Spirit during normal seasons, but also during holidays when people’s hearts are more tender, or during exceptional times in the community like a great tragedy.  “Though you may have planned out the greatest series of sermons the world has ever known, break into it if there is an earthquake!  If you cannot be shaken out of a mechanical routine by an earthquake you are beyond hope!” (207)

Although Lloyd-Jones personally preferred regular preaching through a book of the Bible, he is eager to tie preachers back to the Word even when not preaching a series.  “The matter should always be derived from the Scriptures, it should always be expository.” (210)  One way to do this, is to ask questions in the preparation of the sermon.  Why did he say that?  Why did he say it in this particular way?  “One of the first things a preacher has to learn is to talk to his texts.  They talk to you, and you must talk to them.  Put questions to them.” (215)

We do not want to be guilty of preaching our own theological pets or our own advice.  We need to preach the Word of God!  “I cannot overemphasize the importance of our arriving at the main thrust, the main message of our text.  Let it lead you, let it teach you.  Listen to it and then question it as to its meaning, and let that be the burden of your sermon.” (217)

Kindergartners can understand this.  My little friend in our church family hit it right on the head: “Thank you for preaching the God.”  I will only preach the true God as I preach His Word, His gospel.  As the Apostle Paul exclaims, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

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

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.

The Preacher

preach the wordNote:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”  I did not reach my goal of blogging through “Preaching and Preachers” by the end of the “Fall Semester,” but I realized that I am now a pastor, not a seminary student, as people, discipleship, and upcoming teaching and preaching are more important than my blog.  That does not mean I am not a student though!  The pastor is always a student–so I press on through “Preaching and Preachers” for the benefit of my own soul and the people that I have the privilege and joy of preaching to.

If you are not a pastor, Chapter Six, “The Preacher,” may at first seem to not apply to you.  But I encourage you to read on as there are several helpful points for anyone who listens to a sermon every Sunday, as well as for those searching for a church home.

A Concern for Souls
Lloyd-Jones points out several factors that a man considering the call to preach must take into account:

The true call always includes a concern for others, an interest in them, a realisation of their lost estate and condition, and a desire to do something about them, and to tell them the message and point them to the way of salvation.  (117)

Surely this concern for the souls of others is of utmost importance.  As Lloyd-Jones has reminded us before, the pastor is to be shepherding people to God in Christ–which means there will be a concern for either their salvation or discipleship if they already profess Christ as Savior.

Four Indispensable Things
After discussing the importance of a thorough seminary education including Bible knowledge, theology, original languages and church history, Lloyd-Jones discusses the ability to speak publicly as a consideration.  Then he boils it all down to four indispensable things that a preacher must have:

The chief thing is the love of God, the love of souls, a knowledge of the Truth, and the Holy Spirit within you.  These are the things that make the preacher.  If he has the love of God in his heart, and if he has a love for God; if he has a love for the souls of men, and a concern about them; if he knows the truth of the Scriptures; and has the Spirit of God within him, that man will preach.  (131)

What About Those Listening to Sermons?
Pray for your pastor!  My overwhelming sense as I read this chapter was one of inadequacy, which he addresses as he points to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:3, where Paul openly admitted that as he preached God’s Word he had a sense of weakness, fear, and trembling.  I praise God that Paul also pointed to the sufficiency of Christ: “Who is sufficient for these things? … as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:16b-17)  Pray that your pastor would find his sufficiency in Christ rather than himself–any pastor worth listening to would be grateful for those kinds of prayers.  And if you are looking for a church, look for the kind of pastor who has a humble boldness that depends on and points to Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2), seen through his reliance on God’s Word as he preaches, and a concern for the souls of people.

But in the end, Lloyd-Jones does not leave those who listen to sermons off the hook.  What attitude should we have when we come to hear God’s Word preached?

It is always the Word of God, and no one should ever listen to it except in a spirit of reverence and godly expectation of receiving a message.  (130)

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