Lost. Search. Rescue. These are the words we were challenged to repeat again and again by Grady Higgs, Director of Missions for the BMA of America at this week’s symposium. It was an all around exhilarating experience. I’ve been attending these symposiums for about a dozen years, and I was more encouraged by this year’s than ever before. Here are the highlights of my own experience. If you attended and you’re reading this, please add your own in the comments…
May I beg you carefully to judge every preacher, not by his gifts, not by his elocutionary powers, not by his status in society, not by the respectability of his congregation, not by the prettiness of his Church, the grandeur of the ceremonial, or the peculiar beauty of his vestments, but by this – does he preach the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation? If he does, your sitting under his ministry may prove to you the means of begetting faith in you; but if he does not, you cannot expect God’s blessing, for you are not using God’s ordinance, but the ordinance of man.
From a sermon entitled “The True Position Of Assurance,” delivered October 2, 1864.
W. A. Criswell defined teaching (from the pulpit) as “instructing a man in the will and ways of the Lord,” and preaching as “seeking to drive a man’s will God-ward.” There is a raging debate today over how much freedom people really have. A renewed fascination with Calvinism has brought this debate to the forefront. I’m not opening the whole can of worms here – just this one point. Preaching should be directed to the will of a person. Decisions count.
If you carry Calvinism as far as many, you’ll begin to say that there is no free will or free agency with man. This morning I read from Spurgeon’s evening sermon from December 27th, 1874 called Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth. Spurgeon never started a sermon softly. The second sentence declares “This every Christian minister must do if he would make full proof of his ministry, and if he would be clear of the blood of his hearers at the last great day.”
What Spurgeon said just moments later, however, issues a clarion call for addressing the will of our human hearers…
Remember, dear hearers, if the preacher does not push you to this–that you shall be converted, or he will know the reason why; if he does not drive you to this–that you shall either willfully reject, or cheerfully accept Christ, he has not yet known how rightly to handle the great ‘sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’
We all do what we want every moment of the day. We make choices and decisions that impact eternity and preaching that does not appeal to the will of man fails to satisfy the expectations of the Great Commission. In case you wonder where I stand on the issue of God’s grace and His role in our salvation, I agree just as strongly with what Spurgeon said later in the same message:
The Lord alone must save you as a work of gratis mercy, not because you deserve it, but because he wills to do it to magnify his abundant love.
The sovereignty of God is an ever-mysterious issue that we must struggle with and come to terms with as we seek to have an understanding of God’s role. Salvation is all of Him and not of us at all. But there is a receiving, an accepting of Him that must be decided in the human heart upon the call of one sent with the gospel.
Preach to change the mind. Preach to move the emotions. And preach to drive the will of man God-ward.
Today was the first time that we’ve had two worship services. I couldn’t sleep very well over the weekend. I was nervous that things wouldn’t go well, that I would preach all the way through Sunday School, or that people would be uncomfortable with the situation. I was pleasantly surprised.
Things went smoothly. The music was excellent in both. We ended up with 80 people in the early service (more than I expected) and 170 in the second service. With about 8 or 10 who stayed for both, that made close to a record attendance. The senior adult class even had a record attendance of 35!
As far as preaching two services is concerned, I noticed that I changed the message just a bit between the services – moving an illustration and re-ordering a couple of points. I also didn’t eat any breakfast so by the time the second service was over, I felt spent! Pleasantly spent.
We have an opportunity to reach more people and we need to focus on growing both services together. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Thursday I visited the Native American Museum here in Bentonville with our Keenagers group and enjoyed lunch with them. Friday we dropped in on the Refuge Lockdown and were blessed not only by seeing 30 teens show up to stay up all night, but were also privileged to exit and sleep in a nice comfy bed! Saturday we watch the University of Arkansas Razorbacks get decimated by Alabama. And today, we had a great day together in worship as a church family.
Today was filled with the second installment of our Marriage Matters class, where couples laugh at each other’s inability to get basic communication quite right. The time of worship was rather powerful and we threw a shower for Kenneth and Christa, who will be wed at Bethel this weekend, which reminds me how happy I am for my cousin John in Louisville who has found a bride and will be wed this weekend as well.
We closed the book of Exodus in our Journey throught the Word and will be jumping into Leviticus in another couple of weeks. I must say, closing the second book of the Bible in this series is a bit like saying goodbye to a friend – I’ve learned much. In fact, I’ve learned far more than my congregation. We closed this evening with a look at the fact that God didn’t allow the nation to move until He was ready, and He wanted them to move as a community. What a lesson for every church. We need to stay in step with God and move as a community directed by the presence of God.
I can’t wait until next Sunday!
Yesterday, I preached about depravity. We’re journeying through the entire Bible and I came to the passage where Moses comes down off the mountain and the people have made a golden calf. God prepared him with the information, but Moses was still utterly shocked at their rebellion. That’s how we approach the subject of depravity – we can hardly believe it. I mean, sure, people mess up, but totally wicked to the core from birth?
We’re journeying through the Word of God at Bethel, one passage at a time. It’s created some amazing opportunities to communicate the gospel from a variety of stories so far. I will admit the challenge of connecting every passage to everyday life, but I still wouldn’t trade this expository approach for anything. It’s one of my own concerns about contemporary Christian culture. I am positive about a new wave of creativity and evangelistic ingenuity, but often the preaching (the most important part of what happens on Sunday) is limited in its content to only those topics that are deemed most relevant and presentable in a flashy kind of way.
So a study on the Tabernacle seems out of place today. It’s probably one of those things that many contemporary church growth gurus use as a joke to demonstrate howirrelevant expository preaching is. But do I care? Not at all. The Tabernacle is already opening up to me as an amazing symbol of Jesus Christ Himself, and of our life in Christ.
I’ll admit the toughness of organizing my own thoughts – Exodus is a challenge to outline – yet I’m convinced that our people will grow spiritually through this part of our journey. I hope and pray to lay out a blueprint for real intimacy with God, demonstrated by a simple tent more than three thousand years old. So pray for me as I preach, and join us on Sundays or catch us at BibleJourney.org to keep up.