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Monthly Archives: January 2008
Today (Monday) was an exceedingly sad day — I had to preach a funeral of a member who was of great encouragement to me. While I feel the immense privilege of preaching a funeral and being able to minister at such a critical time, I find that there are some lessons that I have learned in regards to preaching a funeral sermon.
First, spend time with the family of the deceased. There is no substitute for this. It’s not enough to simply preach a sermon during this occasion. There is pastoral work to be done. Be there at least by the day after the family members’ death — after the funeral arrangements have been made and other personal issues are in order. Go to where they are and just sit and listen. Some would say, “I don’t want to intrude on family time.” To that I say, if had the choice of erring on the side of a personal presence or no, I would err by risking intrusion. You will be able to tell in about 15 seconds if it is a bad time — but they will appreciate the gesture and may well give you a better time to come by. And when you do, be prepared to listen, to inquire, to go through pictures, read letters, hear wonderful stories. But most of all, be prepared to be the Lord’s presence to them at that time. Since you are a minister, you are an ambassador for Christ — and even the most pagan individual will see you as such (and may not understand why).
Second, when you preach keep it short — 12-15 minutes top — unless the family asks you otherwise. Yes, the family asked you as the minister to do the funeral — but this time is not about you or your sermonic skills or for you to take pride that the family asked you to preach at such a life-altering occasion. You are there to represent Christ and to give his Word — but take care. The family is emotionally, spiritually and in all likelihood physically drained. And listening takes energy. An economy of words would suit everyone well here.
Three, share the Gospel without fail. Yes, address the reason why you all are gathered in that place. Yes, eulogize and recall some fond memories. Yes, address the family and send your condolences on behalf of yourself and the church you serve. But shame on any minister of the Gospel who does not share the Gospel to people who are most open to hearing about this. Some would object and say, “This is manipulation! You shouldn’t take advantage of people in that state.” But death is what the majority of people are most afraid of, and the finality and mortality of this age is clearly front and center. And, as was the case with this individual’s funeral I did on Monday, this person dealt with some severe medical issues and remained resolute, the family and friends looking on need to know why. So tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give them the encouragement that the Apostle Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Fourthly, be the last one to leave. If you end with a graveside service, stay until everyone else is gone. Don’t say, “Amen!” then run to the car. Stay with the family until they leave. Walk out with the last family member if possible. Be the Lord’s ambassador right until the end. If there is a meal afterwards for the family and they invite you to stay and partake, stay and partake. Some very pastoral and teachable moments happen on such occasions that would not happen at any other time. So take advantage of the opportunities God brings your way.
Lastly, touch base with the family one week after the funeral. By now you may be saying, “Matt, I thought this was about preaching a funeral.” Yes, and by you showing that you care outside the pulpit, you will give more credence to what was said in the pulpit. There is something to be said for living a sermon, not just preaching one.
Those are my tips. What about you? Any tips come across your mind?
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A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after give minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it; and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: MacMillan, 1952, pp. 124-125).
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via Boone’s Creek Baptist Church on 1/20/08
We as Baptists are at a critical time. We are defined more by what we do than by what we believe. I come across this mindset quite a bit. Some say they do not want their doctrine to get in the way of the Christianity — as if the two are mutually exclusive. We grow quite content with the basics rather than drinking deep and meditating on God’s revealed Word to us.
Weekly, I read through the Western Recorder (our state Baptist newspaper). One day, I decided to respond to much of what I read in this manner. I mention this note not simply to draw attention to this, but share with you my desire as your pastor here. We need to remember who Jesus is and the mission which he sent us to accomplish. That we all agree with. But do we see the cruciality of knowing who He is and what He accomplished? For instance, when we see the Great Commission, do we see that Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18)? Well, who is this Jesus who possesses this authority? If we simply say, “He loves me and died for me” — that could apply to a U.S. soldier. So it’s more than that!
Then you say, “Well, he died for my sins!” What qualifies him to do such a thing? “Because he died on the cross!” Why a cross? Many died on a cross — why was Jesus dying on a cross 2,000 years ago any big deal? The usual answer is, “So we could go to heaven!” But even in the Great Commission, Jesus exhorts us to teach those who would be disciples everything that he has commanded. My point is, the glory of Jesus is not that he simply put us on a mission, he wants us to know the One who commissions us.
1. See the divine dignity of Jesus.
Luke 3:21-22 tells us:
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened,  and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22, ESV).
Notice that Jesus’ divinity is seen in a number of ways. First, the heavens opened up! That’s right — the clouds parted in a way that likely no filmmaker could reproduce. We see this happen in a number of other times in the Scriptures.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove. What was the purpose of this? When John the Baptist noted that Jesus would come along baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire, the fire represented the Word of God that has a two-fold function: it purges in judgment, but also reconciles by bringing peace. John Piper rightly puts it:
The dove suggests to Jesus purity, meekness, innocence. It was not majestic like the eagle or fierce like the hawk or flamboyant like the cardinal. It was simple, common, innocent, the kind of bird poor people could offer for a sacrifice.
Jesus called his disciples to minister in a rather interesting way. Matthew 10:16 says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves”(ESV). Various political administrations are marked by a certain propensity for aggression or non-aggression. If they tend to lean toward war and aggression, they are called hawks. If toward a more peaceful understand and an aversion to war, they are called doves. But do not mistake us saying that Jesus’ ministry in being marked by a dove means that he is weak. It means that he will be tender with the weak.
Then the Lord calls from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is of the same substance as the Father, thus he is fully God. This is not the only time the Father calls out of heaven. He did so during Jesus’ transfiguration. God is showing His seal of approval on his Son.
Let me ask you, when you think of Jesus, what comes across your mind? Is he someone that may cramp your style? A cosmic killjoy who wants to take away your freedom and fun? Or maybe you have gotten past this, but look around and really wonder if Jesus lives up to the biblical billing? Do you see his meekness as weakness? Do you see his humility as someone who is a chump before the world? Make no mistake about this One. His power conquers death. His power conquers the very thing that separates us from God.
With this we also see…
2. … the human dignity of Jesus.
The fact that God would condescend to minister to us as a human being is such an amazing fact and feat, words can hardly describe this. In fact, in the early part of church history, the average Christian had a difficult time grasping how Jesus could be fully divine and fully human. IN Jesus’ time, they had an easy time seeing Jesus as a human (after all, he was standing right in front of them) but not as divine. In our day, the problem is the exact opposite — all divine, but too far removed from being human.
In Jesus’ time, they had a difficult time seeing him as holy God! Yet, that’s exactly what the Scriptures in general teach about Christ — and what this passage teaches us about him. Here we see the emphasis on his divinity with some of his humanity intertwined. Notice the humanity. Jesus was ‘baptized and was praying.’ These two things seem like very human things, doesn’t it? If Jesus is God, two questions arise: why did he need to be baptized, and why was he praying?
Why did Jesus have to be baptized? To many, this looks very undignified. If Jesus is truly God, and if he is King of kings and Lord of lords, why would he come to John, asking to be baptized by him? This baptism was a baptism of repentance. Was Jesus coming up and confessing some sin or shortcoming in his keeping of the law? It goes back to why Jesus came to begin with. Jesus came to save his people from their sins. In order to do this, Jesus needed to identify with his people. Remember from Galatians 4:4-7:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Look at this again. God sent forth his Son. In what way did he enter into the world? He was “born of a woman.” Under what conditions? He was “born under the law.” What was the result? “To redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.” This explains what the Gospel of Matthew was referring to. Look with me at Matthew 3:13-17:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;  and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
So what was Jesus doing? Jesus was being undignified — at least as far as the world is concerned. How many dignitaries and famous people do you know who would condescend to merely speak or shake hands with and ‘ordinary’ person? Yet why would he do such a thing? He did this to identify with our situation so he may be able to be a worthy substitute in paying for our sins. Consider this passage from Romans 5:12-21:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—  for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus came as a Second Adam to overpower the curse of sin in this world. The grace He brings is far superior than the bleakness and the devastation of the curse. And on a day to day level, let’s see why Jesus coming as a human is so important:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV).
What temptations has Jesus faced? All of them. Think of how you are tempted — things in which you would be mortified to see the light of day . Things that you afraid to even mention in your prayers to God. Please know that our Great High Priest (the only priest I need in this life and the next) not only intercedes for us, but also understands our issues. We can approach Him through the Gospel and find sanctifying help whenever the need arises — and that need constantly arises.
In reference to the letter I wrote to the Western Recorder, a reader left a comment that I thought was particularly enlightening. Her name is Wendy Duncan who authored a book entitled, “I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult.”
Hi Bro Matt,
Thank you for responding to the letter in the Kentucky State Baptist paper. As a former Southern Baptist with a master’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I am one of those who “strayed” to a cult. It was a Bible-based cult with a masterful and manipulative cult leader and like several other former Baptists who were involved in this cult, I got hooked. Interestingly, one of the cult members worked for our state Baptist paper.
When I was in seminary I took a course on cults and the emphasis was on the teachings and doctrines of the various cults. Before joining this particular cult, I did my research. I reviewed their doctrinal statement and it could have passed for any mainstream Christian group. I also called several cult awareness ministries to see if this group was included in their list of cults and was told it was not.
I ended up staying in this cult for over seven years before leaving. One of my last conversations with the cult leader was most telling. I said (shouted), “Your voice is so loud, Ole, that I can’t hear God’s anymore.”
After leaving the cult, my husband, who had been a member for twenty years, and I, struggled to regain our relationship with God. The first year after leaving was one of the worst periods of my life, but with God’s grace, we are managing to hang on to our faith. We joined a liturgical church (cult experts recommend going to a church completely different than the cult experience) and are slowly making our way back to a strong relationship with Christ.
Although now I see that the doctrine that this cult taught was heretical, the teachings were only one thing that was problematic. I think it is important that we teach the church and especially our young people, the other signs of a cult, as well as how they recruit and why they appeal to individuals.
The largest number of cults in our society today is Bible-based cults. Thank you for addressing this issue. I pray you will continue to grow your church in these areas and teach your members how to minister to those who leave cults.
My desire is that you are so gripped by the Gospel, you would never find yourself becoming fodder for Bible-based cults who hijack our terminology, but redefine those same terms. Chase hard after God to see what His will is and to understand what his Word says. Let’s not be a mile wide and an inch deep. Let’s explore the depths of Christ as found in His Word!
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When Monday morning rolls around, no one has a clue as to what the week will bring. For me, I had aspirations of doing some major exegetical work on both Sunday morning and Sunday night sermons in the morning, then working on a position paper that is due for a class at Southern in the afternoon. This would free me up to do some ministry visits on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
Oh, the Proverbist was right: “Many are the plans of man, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” This week, one of our elderly members passed away, another member’s brother passed away, another member’s aunt passed away, and our organist was admitted to the hospital with a serious issue with her asthma. At times like this, I am so thankful that God called me into the pastorate to minister in such times as this. For some, a simple phone call meant the world (they lived a ways away). At other times, sitting in the hospital by their bed just to listen and encourage and comfort was priceless to me.
For one of the members who passed away, God granted me the privilege of going down to the hospital to pray with her in the ICU at around 9:45 p.m. She passed away at 12:30 the next morning. Spending time with the family, who asked me to officiate her funeral, was another way I pray God used me.
Yet, it is now Saturday night. I am an expository preacher and am not ashamed to say it! Yet, it’s during weeks like these, that I sweat entering into the pulpit the following morning. I find myself focusing on mechanics (is the introduction a gripper? Do my transitions help the sermon flow smoothly? Is the conclusion a clunker? Etc.).
Yet, I will enter the pulpit confident that God will send forth His Word. I pray I have been a faithful minister during the week, and may God give me the grace as His mouthpiece to proclaim the Word as He intends! My prayer is that my people see that I love Christ, love His Book, and love them all at once!
O Love, work your will and your Word through your people tomorrow morning and forever!
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I am genuinely excited about Graeme Goldsworthy coming to Southern Seminary this Spring. He will speak on Tuesday, March 18, in Alumni Chapel at 10:00 a.m. In my Old Testament class for my DMin, I first became acquainted with Goldsworthy and his book “Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture” (see my review of this book) and his most recent work, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics.
Here are some links to help you get to know more about Dr. Goldsworthy.
- Buzzard Blog: Graeme Goldsworthy Interview
- IVP – Graeme Goldsworthy: Biographical information about Goldsworthy;
- Articles from him at Monergism.com;
- More books by Goldsworthy!
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When we think of how amazing grace is, we cannot help avoid. It’s glorious. Philip Yancey one time noted,
As a writer, I play with words all day long. I toy with them, listen for their overtones, crack them open, and try to stuff my thoughts inside. I’ve found that words tend to spoil over the years like old meat. … I keep circling back to grace because it is one grand theological word that has not spoiled. I call it “the last best word” because every English usage I can find retains some of the glory of the original. 
The word ‘grace’ is used in numerous ways. Someone who maintains an air of elegance and charm is said have ‘grace.’ Yet we need to go back to “the glory of the original” for sure and see why grace is so very much amazing!
To this end, we approach Paul’s glorious epistle to the church in Rome and shall spend this Wednesday and the next six or so covering Paul’s magnum opus. Paul wrote this epistle around A.D. 57, just six or seven years prior to his death at the hands of Emperor Nero. Paul had never visited this church. In Romans 1:10-13, Paul shares his heart by telling the Roman church that they were:
…always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles (Romans 1:10-13).
Even at the end of his letter, he was longing to see them on his way to Spain — possibly using the Roman church as a base of operations as he ministered in what is now Western Europe.
The Roman church was filled with both Jewish and Gentile believers, which explains why he spends so much time showing where they both stood before God. More on this in a moment. But the question arises: “Why did Paul write Romans?” Look with me at Romans 1:16-17 to see the central theme of this entire letter:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (ESV).
This book is about the righteousness of God. Leland Ryken and Philip G. Ryken note:
“This book’s thesis statement (1:16-17) alerts us to the central place that the righteousness of God occupies in this plan — the righteousness that God both demands in our obedience and offers to us as a free gift, received by faith.”
We see this in Romans 1:5-6 as Paul presents Jesus Christ, “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:5-6, ESV). God demands our righteousness, but our sinfulness shows that we cannot be righteous, but by the faith that God gives us we are made righteous through the Gospel. The rest of this work is about the righteousness of God: why we need his righteousness, how we obtain this righteousness, how we live out this righteousness, how God maintains control over all things in displaying his righteousness, and how God’s righteousness transforms our spirits!
(Part II next week)
 Philip Yancey, What So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 12.
 Leland Ryken & Philip G. Ryken, ESV Literary Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 1671.
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Greg Heisler’s book, Spirit-Led Preaching (which we reviewed at this blog) wins the Preaching Today’s 2007 Book of the Year for the Preacher’s Soul. Greg and I served together for a brief time at a small church in Nelson County before God took us in different directions. Greg is now a preaching professor at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.
(HT: Hershael York)
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I am currently working through William Perkins’ “The Art of Prophesying” (a Puritan way of saying ‘preaching’). Sinclair Ferguson does wonders in making this readable for today’s preachers, yet still capturing the spirit of what Perkins communicates. Consider how he begins this book:
There are two parts to prophecy: preaching the Word and public prayer. For the prophet (that is, the minister of the Word) has only two duties. One is preaching the Word, and the other is praying to God in the name of the people: ‘Having … prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith’ (Rom. 12:6); ‘Restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live’ (Genesis 20:7). Notice that in Scripture the word ‘prophecy’ is used of prayer as well as of preaching: ‘The sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals’ (1 Chron. 25:1)… . Thus, every prophet’s task is to speak partly as the voice of God (in preaching), and partly as the voice of the people (in praying). …
Preaching the Word is prophesying in the name and on behalf of Christ. Through preaching those who hear are called into the state of grace, and preserved in it.
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