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Preaching in the Old Testament

* This post is part 2 of a series on Expository Preaching in the Local Church, where we are taking a look at the meaning of “Expository Preaching”, its Biblical precedence, and the importance of Expository Preaching in the life of our church. Read part one here.

I’ve been enamored in my recent reading of the gospel accounts. As I’ve read through Mark’s Gospel account, I’m intentionally focusing on how Jesus responded to the culture, lived amongst his disciples, and spoke to the gathering crowds. There is so much we can learn from the recorded history of Jesus’ time on the earth He created.

One very teachable moment comes in Matthew 4 when Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, is being tempted by the Devil. Satan throws three temptations at Jesus: turn a stone to bread, jump from a balcony, and fall down and worship him. The intentions of the three temptations are what the Devil hurled at Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden in Genesis 3 and what he continues to hurl at us today.

As Jesus models for us how to fight and flee temptation, His immediate response to the temptations come directly from God’s Word. He fights temptation by wielding the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). Charles Spurgeon states, 

Jesus used Scripture to battle Satan’s temptation, not some elaborate spiritual power inaccessible to us. Jesus fought this battle as fully man, and He drew on no “special resources” unavailable to us. “Out flashed the sword of the Spirit: our Lord will fight with no other weapon. He could have spoken new revelations, but chose to say, ‘It is written.’”

Jesus understood the Bible is sufficient in all things.

The Bible is sufficient in all things, meaning, the Bible is enough to equip us to know God, to serve Him, and to honor Him in all things. The Bible is sufficient for our work life and home life. It is sufficient in our holiness. It is sufficient in the conduct of our church. It is sufficient in fighting sin and temptation. It is sufficient in our preaching as well. 

In order to understand what preaching is all about, one must establish what the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, says about the proclamation of the Word of God.

The Old Testament is often neglected when it comes to preaching and Bible study. Many say it is outdated or that it does not apply to the church, but they have greatly missed the importance of the Old Testament which happens to have the same goal as preaching: pointing the world to Christ. Peter Adam states, “On many occasions when God spoke, His intention was not that His words would constitute revelation to the original audience, but that they would also serve a revelation for future generations.” (Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching)

In other words, If God wanted it written down, then the Word of God needs to be heard. The Old Testament may be filled with a long list of genealogies and chapters full of Priestly rituals, but the message that it contains needs to be preached. This section will contain examples from the Old Testament on preaching. 

The Example of Moses

Moses lived a very interesting life. He spent his first forty years in the palace of Pharaoh, the next forty years herding sheep for his father-in-law, and the next forty leading a bitter people to a land God promised them. He saw God work powerful miracles first hand and even saw the back of God on Mount Sinai. He may have led the children of Israel out of Egypt, but Moses should be attributed a title that he rarely receives: preacher. Though he never had a church building and never had a personal office to use for studying, Moses “has the distinction of being the first preacher whose ministry is described to us”. (Adam, 39)

Peter Adam mentions four aspects of Moses’ ministry. First, Moses spoke for God. Second, Moses then wrote down everything God told him. Third, Moses read the Words of God to the people of Israel. And fourth, Moses preached. Adam establishes through the examination of Moses’ life that preaching was not just getting up in front of a crown and speaking. It involves understanding God’s Word. 

Moses was the man who stood between God and His people. Moses was the one who relayed God’s message to them. God established Moses to be the leader of the Hebrew nation and therefore Moses spoke for God. And when Moses received God’s calling, he understood that God wanted him to speak to the people because he was concerned that the people would not believe what he said and that the people would not be able to understand him due to his “slow tongue” (Ex 3:13, 4:10). Once Moses received God’s words, he realized the importance of writing them down. Not only did he write them down, he saw how valuable they were to the people of Israel and read the Words of God to them (Ex 24:7; Dt 31:9, 32:44). Moses performed these three steps before he expounded on God’s Word. 

Preachers today can learn from his example. Explaining the Scriptures should be the last thing they do. Moses made sure he understood what God was saying before he proclaimed to the people of Israel God’s Word. Once Moses began preaching, there are three sections to his sermons that every preacher should follow. First, there is an exposition, then there is an application, and last, there is an exhortation to the hearers. These three aspects of Moses’ preaching ministry are clearly evident in his sermons (Dt 1:5, 5:1-21, 29). Moses’ role as preacher helps establish the Biblical idea of preaching. “Indeed, it is possible to see Moses’ ministry as the foundation of all Old Testament ministry of the Word.” (Adam, 40)

Of interesting note, Jesus’ Scriptural response to Satan in the Wilderness in Matthew 4 comes from three of Moses’ sermons found in Deuteronomy.

Other Old Testament Examples

Moses is not the only Old Testament preacher whose ministry can help establish the role of preaching in the Old Testament. Prophets such as Elijah and Ezra both preached what God had given them to say and their recipients understood that what they were speaking was truth from God (1 Ki 17:2; Ezra 7:11; Neh 8:1-4). Ezra was clearly devoted to the Word of God. Ezra’s position as priest meant that people would come to him as their mediator to God. But people flocked to him to hear the Word of God (Neh 8:13). They wanted to understand what it said. They wanted to hear it read and they knew Ezra understood the importance of God’s law. 

Isaiah, another Old Testament prophet, is probably the most well-known of all the prophets. He prophesied of the coming Messiah and “part of Isaiah’s ministry of the word is to point forward to the great ministry of the Word that will be the preaching of the gospel to the nations”. Isaiah’s preaching was focused on Christ and His role as Messiah. His intended purpose for his preaching was to point his listeners to the coming Messiah. Just as God gave Isaiah this message, God has given preachers today a message very similar to Isaiah’s: Christ is coming, so be prepared! Preachers today must focus their message on Christ, just as Isaiah did.

Preaching is an extraordinary task. It is a joy to stand in front of God’s People and deliver a message from God’s Word. The sermons preached at Grace Life must be from God’s Word, because only God’s Word is sufficient. Expository preaching understands the text drives the sermon. And our response to expository preaching must be the same as the people in Nehemiah 8:1-3; “Bring us the Book!”

And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. – Nehemiah 8:1–3

What is Expository Preaching?

*For the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the meaning of “Expository Preaching”, its Biblical precedence, and the importance of Expository Preaching in the life of our church. 

Before the first words came out of his mouth, John the Baptist was destined to preach (Mk 1:1-4). His sole purpose in life was to pave the way for the coming of the Messiah. As a blood relative of Jesus, John could have easily developed anger towards his cousin (or jealousy for that matter). But he strived to prepare the hearts of the people of Israel to hear and see their Messiah. Dressed in camel’s skin and probably in need of a bath, John proclaimed God’s message to anyone who was in hearing distance. Though John’s ministry was short lived, he was constantly preaching, and what he was preaching is still the same message today: Jesus Christ. Preachers of the Word of God can learn from John the Baptist and see the need to bring people to Christ. The “Prince of Preachers” Charles Spurgeon understood this:

“The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’  A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.” 

Charles Spurgeon understood the importance of preaching and the importance of Christ in the sermon. Many pastors today have forgotten what preaching is all about. The desire for their sermons is that they be presented creatively and for entertainment. Like Spurgeon states, these men should just go home. Their desire to help the people of God has turned into a hindrance in their congregation’s spiritual walk with the Lord. This is because they have forgotten, or possibly never understood, what preaching is all about. 

One of my biggest concerns is the growing problem of Bible illiteracy in our country. We have professing Christians that haven’t opened up the Bible in years, and we have politicians misquoting Scripture to fit their political agenda and Christians applauding how their politicians love the Bible. 

This is why we preach the Bible here at Grace Life Church. We preach God’s Word to God’s people because the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to help us know God and the power of the gospel. We do not need to be entertained, but rather fed from the Word of God. My heart for you is to see Christ formed in you. To see you grow in holiness. To see you grow in Christlikeness. And to see this happen, I know you need to know how to study God’s Word on your own.

Preaching as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “to urge acceptance or abandonment of an idea or course of action”. Haddon Robinson states that preaching was God speaking “through the personality and message of a preacher to confront men and women and bring them to Himself”. Preaching is not simply standing in front of a congregation and delivering a creative sermon, it is proclaiming the message from the True God to people who need Him and need to walk closer with Him. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5,

[1] And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. [2] For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. [3] And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, [4] and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (ESV)

It is the preaching of God’s Word that leads us to know Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is my heart for you. And this is why we are committed to expository preaching. Let’s define what expository preaching is:

Expository Preaching is taking a specific text of Scripture and proclaiming the truth of the text through intentional study of the geographical, historical, and redemptive context, exposing the one intended meaning of the text and then applying it to modern day listeners within the church for the glory of God.

Expository preaching brings our attention to the Word of God. It begins with the text, stays in the text, and drives us to the text. And when we look at the text, we see that the whole of Scripture is not about us but rather the glory and splendor of a redeeming God. 

Allistar Begg states, “Since expository preaching begins with the text of Scripture, it starts with God and is in itself an act of worship, for it is a declaration of the mighty acts of God. It establishes the focus of the people upon God and His glory before any consideration of man and his need.”

Mark Dever goes on to say, “The first mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. It is not only the first mark; it is far and away the most important of them all, because if you get this one right, all of the others should follow… If you get the priority of the Word established, then you have in place the single most important aspect of the church’s life, and growing health is virtually assured, because God has decided to act by His Spirit through His Word… The congregation’s commitment to the centrality of the Word coming from the front, from the preacher, the one specially gifted by God and called to that ministry, is the most important thing you can look for in a church.”

The preaching of God’s Word is a vital ministry within the church. No church can function Biblically without it. The preaching of God’s Word must bring attention to Jesus Christ and the listener’s need for Him. The goal and desire of every preacher must be to preach Jesus and Him crucified.

And as we’ll see next week, the Old Testament and New Testament have much to say about the proclamation of God’s Word to God’s people.

 

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

Why We Are Reading The Apostles’ Creed Together On Sundays

On Sunday, I introduced to you the Apostles’ Creed, a statement of faith that I hope will strengthen our theological framework and deepen our affections for the Lord. I want to take a moment and give a brief overview of the Apostle’s Creed and why we will be reading it together when we gather as a church on Sundays. First, here is the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW

A creed is a statement of what we believe and teach.

The Apostles’ Creed does not come from the apostles, but its doctrines or teachings are rooted in the doctrines and teaching of the apostles found in the Holy Scriptures. Written sometime around the 3rd century, local churches around the world have recited this confession of faith and have made it their own. 

The Apostles’ Creed gives a very clear and Biblical summary of the doctrines we hold dear to our hearts. It speaks to the Trinity, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it speaks to the church, and it even speaks to what will happen in the end. It’s really a summary of God’s redemptive mission through the message of the Gospel.

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin stated that the Creed “furnishes us with a full and every way complete summary of faith, containing nothing but what has been derived from the infallible word of God”

Church history shows us that Christians have used the Apostles’ Creed as a guard against heretical teachings. In fact, that is likely why it was written in the first place and one of the reasons why we will read it together as a church in the 21st century.

WHY WE ARE READING IT TOGETHER

When it comes to memorization, one of the most helpful tools we can implement is consistent repetition. The Apostles’ Creed was written in a way to be easily read, understood, and memorized. The more we repeat something, the more we will know it. This is the case with the Apostle’s Creed. The more we recite it, the more we will know it and the more we will be able to teach it. 

It’s also a great tool to read with during your family worship time. As you gather at home to read the Bible, sing to the Lord, and pray together, you can implement the reading of the Apostle’s Creed with your children and then teach them the different elements of the creed that come from God’s Word.

It’s important for us to be frequently reminded of what we believe about the God of the Bible. If we do not, then we will be tossed around by every wind of doctrine and likely give in to the demands of the culture. Knowing what we believe is not only a defense against heresy, but is solid ground in a wicked culture. Theological formation is one of the biggest needs within the church today. We need to know what we believe and by faith, believe it to be true!

As we read it together on Sundays, we will take the time to give a brief description from Scripture to explain the contents of the Apostle’s Creed. I pray that as we learn this confession of faith that has been read and recited numerous times throughout history by our brothers and sisters in Christ, our love for the Lord will be greatly enriched.

 

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

 

Additional Resources:

 

The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic in an Age of Counterfeits by Albert Mohler Jr.

The Apostles’ Creed by R.C.Sproul

He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease

We are just a few days into the new year and by now, you are well on your way to failing accomplishing your New Year’s Resolutions. 

With every new year comes a renewed focus. Some focus on healthier habits, others on exploring new places, while some of us are content with just continuing with what we are already doing. Either way, we love a fresh start; a time to wipe the slate clean and begin again. 

As followers of Christ, we have an opportunity every morning for a fresh start. It’s why we are so grateful for verses like Lamentation 3:22-23

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness”.

Every morning we wake up and there waiting for us are new mercies from the One who gave us a clean heart (Psalm 51:10). With these new morning mercies comes a reminder of the faithfulness of God. We look back and see His faithfulness and we look forward and know He will be faithful towards us again. His covenantal, unconditional love for us never ends. Did you catch that? It NEVER ends!

The days we live can be played out in one or two ways. We can make our days (which are very short according to Psalm 90:12 and James 4:14) about ourselves or we can make them about Jesus. Obviously for the Christ follower, the answer is to make our days about Jesus. This is what it means to live for the glory of God. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:31

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Just so we’re clear, Paul says that in the mundane things and in everything else, we are to glorify God with our lives. It’s the answer to the beginning question in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Q: What is the chief end (purpose) of man?

A: To glorify God and to enjoy him forever!

What if we made this our ambition every morning before our feet hit the floor, before our eyes scroll the endless corners of our phones? “Lord, today I will seek to make my day about you and will seek to live out every moment of my day for your glory.” Maybe we could proclaim what John the Baptizer proclaimed about his own life in John 3:30

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

More of Jesus. Less of me. 

Is this not our heart’s ultimate desire? To have more of Jesus than the day before? To know him and the power of His resurrection in our own lives? (Philippians 3:10) To long for the Lord just like a deer longs for water? (Psalm 42:1)

This more-of-Jesus proclamation, this desire to see Jesus increase in our church will be the focus of our next sermon series and will propel us into the focus for the coming year. 

When I say increase, I do not mean church attendance, though, seeing this place close to standing room only is quite thrilling, but the increase I’m praying to see in you and in me, is what John the Baptizer states in John 3:30,

Jesus must increase. I must decrease.

More of Jesus. Less of me.

John the Baptizer was in a very unique ministry. He was called by God to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. His sole job was to point people to Jesus! He did when, earlier in John 1, he proclaimed to the crowd around him, “Behold, the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world!” Though Jesus was now engaging the people, John the Baptizer’s ministry continued, albeit behind the scenes. 

He continued doing what he was called to do. He continued baptizing people and pointing them to Jesus, and when he was questioned about the crowds being baptized and following Jesus, he didn’t make it about himself. Rather, he dug his heels in and said, “More of Jesus. Less of me.” He goes on to tell his followers that Jesus is greater than all, better than all and that He is worth following!

Why? Because John knew, deep within his soul, that Jesus is truly God and he was not. And that is why he stated those seven incredible words, “He must increase, but I must decrease”.

His words are very much to be the model for how we live our own lives. More of you Jesus! Less of me! Yet, so often we get in the way. We want to build ourselves up. We want to increase. We want to live the day for ourselves and not for God’s glory.

My heart for you is to see Christ formed in you. For you to behold all He is. For you to grasp his unchanging, powerful presence in your life. I want to see Jesus increase in you. Not just in one area, but in all areas of your life. When Jesus becomes the increase in us, we are free to remove the things that may take us away from what He has called us to be. 

Jesus will have the increase whether we desire so or not. And yet, He invites us to forsake all that is earthly to focus on the One who comes from above and is above all. This year, we will seek more of Jesus by increasing in matters that he has called us to. I’m praying that in these areas that are often focused on us, we shift to see more of Jesus in them.

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

A Prayer for the New Year

As we close out the year 2022 and welcome the year 2023, I want to offer this prayer on behalf of our church family. This prayer comes from the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers. From the excerpt: “The strength of Puritan character and life lay in prayer and meditation. In this practice the spirit of prayer was regarded as of first importance and the best form of prayer, for living prayer is the characteristic of genuine spirituality. Yet prayer is also vocal and may therefore on occasions be written. Consequently in the Puritan tradition there are many written prayers and meditations which constitute an important corpus of inspiring devotional literature. This book has been prepared not to ‘supply’ prayers but to prompt and encourage the Christian as he treads the path on which others have gone before.

The prayer below is a prayer for the end of the year and a prayer for the beginning of a new year. I pray the Lord blesses you and your family in the coming year and may we live it out for His glory and His glory alone.

A PRAYER FOR THE YEAR’S END

O Love beyond Compare,
Thou art good when thou givest,
when thou takest away,
when the sun shines upon me,
when night gathers over me.
Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world,
and in love didst redeem my soul;
Thou dost love me still,
in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.
Thy goodness has been with me another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With thee as the blessed pilot of my future as of my past.
I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.
If thou hast appointed storms of tribulation,
thou wilt be with me in them;
If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and temptation,
I shall not drown;
If I am to die,
I shall see thy face the sooner;
If a painful end is to be my lot,
grant me grace that my faith fail not;
If I am to be cast aside from the service I love,
I can make no stipulation;
Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use.

A PRAYER FOR THE NEW YEAR

Length of days does not profit me

Except the days are passed in Thy presence, in Thy service to Thy glory.

Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains

Sanctifies, aids every hour,

That I might not be one moment apart from Thee,

But may rely on thy Spirit

To supply every thought,

Speak every word,

Direct every step,

Prosper every work,

Build up every mote of faith,

And give me a desire

To show forth Thy praise,

Testify Thy love,

Advance Thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,

With Thee, O Father, as my harbour,

Thee O Son, at my helm,

Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,

My lamp burning,

My ear open to thy calls,

My heart full of love, my soul free.

Give me Thy grace to sanctify me,

Thy comforts to cheer me,

Thy wisdom to teach,

Thy right hand to guide,

Thy counsel to instruct,

Thy law to judge,

Thy presence to stabilize.

May Thy fear be my awe,

Thy triumphs my joy.

The Eternal Hope of Christmas

Hope. Peace. Love. Joy. The four themes of advent help us to remember the great impact of Jesus coming to Earth in human form. And hope is a concept that we sometimes have a poor view of. When we speak of the hope of Jesus, it’s not a vague good feeling or uncertain but positive vibe; it’s a solid belief in the fulfillment of the promises of a faithful God.  And so as we reflect on what Christmas means for our sense of hope, we are reminded of several promises.

Christmas reminds us of the hope of life eternally spent with God.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. – 1 John 5:13

For the believer, we know that our future is kept by the Father. And we KNOW that we have eternal life. That’s a secure position, not something that will change on a whim. And verse 14 goes on to say this-

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

We have CONFIDENCE that we have access to the Father’s ear! That alone is a mind-blowing thought, that the Creator of the universe listens to our small voice! And not just listens to us out of obligation, but out of love.And when we hear “eternal” in this verse, we tend to only consider eternity future, the unimaginable life in heaven with Jesus and without sin. But our hope is not just for a future that we wait to attain!

Christmas reminds us of the hope we have in our daily walk with the Lord. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:8-10

The reminder of salvation through faith alone because of God’s calling is a great stabilizer for when we feel unworthy or inadequate. God saved us through His doing, not our own, and yet He also prepared for us good works to do, fueling our desire to become more like Jesus and stay close to Him and His Word! The recreation of our lives in Jesus is a feat that only God could do, and the fact of Jesus’ human incarnation reminds us that we have a Savior who understands intimately what it is like to live on this planet.  The beginning of His physical presence that we celebrate on Christmas is an awesome picture of the Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). The broken world we live in will inevitably have trials and tribulations, but the Christmas story speaks into this as well.

Christmas reminds us of the hope of life beyond the distresses of this world. 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:3-6

Listen to the power of the words here. Imperishable. Undefiled. Unfading. Kept in heaven for you, guarded by God’s power. These strongholds help us as we face our trials. Our hope is not in something flimsy or imperfect, but in an amazingly powerful God who will see us through all difficulties. And while we know this life will have struggles, we know that’s not the end of the story

Christmas reminds us of the hope of a renewed life to come. 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

This is how hope helps us to live out our faith. While hope may be set on things unseen, we have full assurance that God is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. THIS is the hope that we have, not that life will be easy, but that the worst we face here is the worst we will ever experience, and it pales in comparison to our eternal future.As Christmas draws near, I am praying this over you just as Paul did over the believers in Rome at the end of his letter. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).

Love in Christ,
Pastor Ben

Reading as a Hobby

A few years ago, I was having lunch with a church member, talking about the importance of rest. During the conversation, we began talking about new hobbies and finding something to do that frees our minds to rest and relax from the normal grind of a typical work week. From that conversation, I decided my hobby would be reading. And if you’re around me enough, I’m going to try and make it your hobby in 2023 as well!

Reading is a year-long activity that can be done inside, outside, and even in the car (yes, listening to audiobooks does count as reading). When I graduated from Seminary, I would have been content with never reading a book again. In fact, for a few years, the only books I read were often commentaries. Occasionally I would pick up a book on the church or on pastoring but I had forgotten what it meant to read for fun. Now, I consistently read books on a wide variety of topics and genres and I find it incredibly restful. 

Reading fiction books takes my mind away from the present world and into a different world, allowing my mind to remove itself for just a few moments from the anxiety and pressures of the day. Reading biographies helps me learn from men and women from different centuries and how they navigated their own lives. Reading subjects that help me grow spiritually and personally helps me be a better husband, father, and pastor. 

Like any hobby, reading well for rest requires time, resources, and a plan. Allow me to share how I structure my reading.

I don’t just go to the library and choose a book based on its cover, though I have done this in the past. I follow a specific reading plan that keeps me from wondering what to read next. The plan I use comes from Christian blogger and author, Tim Challies. You can find the 2022 Reading challenge here. The 2023 reading challenge will be available soon. Here’s how the plan works:

The Christian Reading Challenge is composed of 4 lists of books, which you are meant to move through progressively. You will need to determine a reading goal early in the year and set your pace accordingly.

  • The Light Reader. This plan has 13 books which sets a pace of 1 book every 4 weeks.
  • The Avid Reader. The Avid plan adds another 13 books which increases the pace to 1 book every 2 weeks.
  • The Committed Reader. This plan adds a further 26 books, bringing the total to 52, or 1 book every week.
  • The Obsessed Reader. The Obsessed plan doubles the total to 104 books which sets a demanding pace of 2 books every week.

Under each section is a list of topics for you to follow. This allows you to read outside of your typical genre or give you a next step. It’s broad enough and specific enough to work within your interests. Here’s the list for The Light Reader:

  • A book published in 2021 or 2022 
  • A memoir or autobiography 
  • A novel 
  • A book by a woman 
  • A book by a man
  • A book published prior to 2000 
  • A book with the word “gospel” in the title or subtitle 
  • A book with an image of a person on the cover 
  • A book about a current social issue 
  • A book for children or teens 
  • A book about suffering 
  • A book about Christian living 
  • A book of your choice

Following this plan has allowed me to go from roughly 0-5 books a year to 100+ each year for the last few years. 

To read at this pace, I’ve developed a few habits for my hobby. 

  • I read while I’m watching a sporting event on TV. Sports don’t require constant attention and the break in action allows for a few moments of reading.
  • I listen to books through my local library when I’m in the car or mowing my yard or on a walk. These books are usually the bigger books like Providence by John Piper or D-Day by Stephen Ambrose.
  • I read a book as part of my devotions. Usually a chapter a day from a book that draws my heart to Jesus. Currently, I’m reading Thoughts for Young Men by J.C.Ryle
  • I read when I find myself waiting. Instead of scrolling social media, I have a book on my kindle app that I work through over time. Oil changes, haircuts, waiting for people to arrive for a meeting, and waiting to pick the kids up are all opportunities to spend a few moments reading a book.

Reading is also a hobby that doesn’t have to be expensive. The only books I purchase are books I plan to keep and use for resources. Which means, I don’t purchase any fiction books. The local library is an incredible resource available to all county residents. We go as a family every week, we’ve built relationships with librarians, and we’ve saved thousands of dollars (minus the late fees!) on books. Having a library card also gives you access to the Libby app to read via Kindle or to listen to the audiobook.

I also subscribe to Scribd. Scribd is much cheaper than Audible. An Audible monthly subscription usually gives you access to one book a month while Scribd has unlimited access to their collection at a cheaper monthly cost. The best part of audio books is that you can pick up the book you’re reading at home and continue it in the car! I did this a few times this year with a few fiction books.

For the year 2022, I hit 100 books again and I want to share with you my four of my favorite books from the past year.

 

Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

Many of us have seen the movie starring Tom Hanks but did you know it’s based on the details from this book written by Astronaut Jim Lovell, a member of the Apollo 13 crew? In Apollo 13, Jim Lovell recounts the details behind the entire Apollo program and the entire trip of the Apollo 13 mission. In April of 1970, just a few months after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert launched from earth for another mission to the moon. But due to a cabin fire, they never landed on the moon. Instead, they made a heroic trip around the moon and returned safely to earth. NASA has labeled the Apollo 13 mission as a “Successful failure”.

 

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

In this book, Jon Krakauer dives into the history and structure of the Mormon Church. Founded on faulty lies and promoted by sexually perverted men, the Mormon Church grew in Western United States. From the Amazon Synopsis, “Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God; some 40,000 people still practice polygamy in these communities. 

At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.”

Learning about the Mormon church helped me see how I could communicate the gospel with them more clearly and to also critically think through Religious Freedom issues in our culture. It was also a lesson on how easily it can be for people to pervert the teachings of Scripture for their own gain and for the satisfaction of their sinful desires.

 

Redeeming Your Time by Jordan Raynor

This has been the most helpful book I’ve read the last few years and I wish it was written years ago. Jordan Raynor’s book on “learning time management from the one who created time” has helped me better structure my week, my to-do list, and my priorities. I recommend this book to everyone! 

The book looks at Jesus and how He navigated His time management while He was on earth. He knew His calling and therefore, He knew when and what to say yes or no to. He also looks at the importance of freeing your mind of to do list clutter. We know of the projects months down the road, but now is not the time to think about it. He helps create a system that allows you to put off for tomorrow the things that can wait. 

Two things I learned from this book: 1) Do the things that take less than two minutes and do them now. (Need to send an email? A text message? Print something? Just do it. 2) Create a system for future projects. (This has helped me with upcoming events and for my sermon calendar).

 

Deep Discipleship by J.T. English

The first book I read in 2022 and probably the most impactful. It’s one of the reasons we held a “Gospel for Everyday Life” study over the summer. I love teaching others about the Bible. I love seeing people grow deeper in their knowledge of God. Deep Discipleship helped me think through how to see more discipleship in our church. Jesus gave his followers the mandate to make disciples of all nations. But today, too many people are being “fashioned” outside the churches. It’s time for pastors and leaders to take responsibility for training and growing believers who can be sent to gather in the harvest utilizing three indispensable elements: the Bible, theology, and spiritual disciplines.

 

Reading is a lost love in our day and age. We are inundated with so much television that we forget the wealth of books available to us! We also need to be warned of the desire of knowing everything (Ecc 12:12). But reading can be and is a restful and helpful hobby. Read a book in the coming year. Take the 2023 Reading Challenge with me. Read with your kids. Maybe you’ll learn something new this year or maybe, like me, you’ll rest from the anxiousness of this world and for a few minutes, find yourself in another.

Prepare Him Room This Advent Season

Whether you’re ready for it or not, the Christmas season is upon us. At the MacNaughton house, we’ve got our Christmas tree up, lights hung around the house, and we’re about 37 Christmas movies into December. And we haven’t even made it to December yet!

While the Christmas season is underway, the Church calendar has designated the season leading up to Christmas Day as “Advent”. The word “Advent” simply means “awaited coming” and is mostly used during this particular time of year when we celebrate the coming of a Savior. But it also helps draw our hearts to the awaiting second coming of our Savior when He will bring His church to the home He has prepared for us.

Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these last days (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis, they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people.

There are four themes seen throughout the Advent Season: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. For the next few weeks, we will take a few moments to look at these themes together on Sunday mornings and celebrate the Savior who came to this earth and is coming again. 

Advent both reminds us of the overflowing, extravagant nature of God the Father who, because he loved us so much He sent His Son Jesus (John 3:16), has given us hope (Hebrews 6:9-20), peace (Luke 2:8-21), and joy (Luke 2:1-20). Truly, the Christmas season is an incredible opportunity to reflect on all that Christ has done for us. Without His love, we cannot love Him (1 John 4:19). Without His peace, we are still His enemies (Ephesians 2:1-10). Without His hope, we are hopeless (Romans 8:24-25). Without his joy, we have no joy (Hebrews 12:1-2).

This coming Sunday, we will share with you on the Grace Life App our 2022 Advent devotional guide for you to sit down and do with your family. You’ll have daily Scripture readings centered around the themes of Advent and a few activities to help carry the truth of Christmas home for your family. While we celebrate the coming of our Savior, we wait patiently for the second coming of our King Jesus! 

Which makes the words of this familiar Christmas song by Isaac Watts even more wonderful when we sing it as it was intended: a song about the second coming of Jesus.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing,

And heaven and nature sing,

And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

 

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!

Let men their songs employ,

while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, 

repeat the sounding joy,

repeat the sounding joy,

repeat , repeat the sounding joy.

 

He rules the world with truth and grace

and makes the nations prove 

the glories of his righteousness 

and wonders of his love, 

and wonders of his love, 

and wonder, wonders of his love.

 

So church, prepare your hearts. Make room for Jesus this Christmas. In fact, and better yet, make Him the central focus in all you do this Christmas. Without him, there would be no Christmas to celebrate. 

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

ThanksGivers

November 1st for many is the start of a new season. Some might call it the holiday season, some the Month of Thankfulness, some the beginning of two and a half months of Christmas. And now that Thanksgiving is upon us, this holiday that may get lost in the hustle and bustle of being busy gives us an opportunity to reflect on things that we are thankful for.  The tradition of gathering with family and friends around a meal, taking a moment and stating aloud what we are grateful for  is an awesome practice, and we know that the Church is called to be the best ThanksGivers around. What do I mean by this?

When we look at the Pauline letters, we see that the New Testament is full of exhortations to be thankful.

Colossians 2:6-7 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Philippians 4:4-7  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Certainly this list is not exhaustive, but this last set of verses contains something that I think most people are very concerned with: what is God’s will for me?  I would argue one piece of the puzzle is to be a ThanksGiver.  Paul here gives three points to consider what that looks like.

First, we should be a rejoicing people. The Greek word here for rejoice comes from the same root that is used for grace. Our understanding of God’s will starts with recognizing that it was His will to save us from our sinful state, and this perspective should transform our outlook on all parts of life. And it’s not just rejoice sometimes, but always! Sometimes we forget about the circumstances of the original writer or the receivers of these letters, but their lives were full of struggles and hardships and celebrations and amazement, just like our own lives. This timeless approach from God’s Word applies to us in the same way it applied to them.

Second, we should be a praying people.  Remember that prayer is a continual, intimate conversation with God that is grounded in knowing who he is and that what He has said from HIs Word is true. This word “continual” may be better translated as “incessant” or “uninterrupted”. The idea here is that we recognize God is always available and that His Spirit is with us, and so we have a companion with whom to share our lives with every moment of the day. It’s not saying that we shouldn’t take time to get away and have uninterrupted prayer (Jesus did this constantly), but if that is the only time we involve God in the daily inner talk of our lives, we are missing out on a piece of God’s will for us.

Finally, we should be a thankful people. I love the phrase that comes along with this command to give thanks- in ALL circumstances. This can be tough because we know life is messy and broken. But if we choose to find thankfulness, the peace of God starts to truly rule our lives in those seasons. Something like taking each letter of the alphabet and making an “I’m thankful for ____” can reorient our hearts and minds back to just how good God is and remind us that He is near to us. The Psalms also provide a great resource as both a prayer guide and a way to infuse thankfulness. Some of them remain unresolved in their conflict but are resolved to give thanks to the Lord regardless.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I promise you that this ThanksGiver approach will make everything easier to endure. It helps us to realize that even when it doesn’t make sense, or it doesn’t fit in the plan you had for your life, or if it came out of nowhere, God knew it was coming, and at some point you will see it is for your benefit. I’ve held on to these truths through my own circumstances-

Rejoice- Psalm 119:68 You are good and you do good; teach me your statutes.
Pray- Romans 12:2- And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Give Thanks- Romans 8:28- And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

So, take to heart these practices.  Seek Christ’s joy daily. Talk to God about everything as you read from His Word. Choose the thankful perspective, no matter what you are facing. This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus, and my hope and prayer for you in the coming weeks.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Ben

Developing an Intentional Prayer Plan

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed preaching through Romans 8 and the recent focus on prayer has been especially helpful to my own soul. The last few weeks have been a reminder to me of the power and necessity of prayer in the life of the Christian and I want us to dive deeper into the gracious gift of prayer. It’s why I love this quote from the German reformer Martin Luther:

“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” 

Do we not understand theologically what Luther is saying? Then why is it practically such a chore to pray? Why is it that many of us can’t remember the last time we breathed a prayer? We know we are to pray (and pray without ceasing as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5), yet we do not pray. To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule. It is a failure to treat God as God. 

Is our struggle to pray due to wrestling with God’s sovereignty over all things? Do we say “What is the point of prayer if God is sovereign?” I’d argue that when we fully understand the sovereignty of God, as it is recorded in Scripture, then the natural response is not prayerlessness, but rather genuine life of prayer. Is our struggle to pray due to a lack of desire to pray or not knowing what to pray? 

What if we, with sincere hearts, asked the same question the disciples asked Jesus in Luke 11: “Lord, teach us to pray”. From this simple statement the disciples both acknowledge the sovereignty of Jesus (“Lord”) and they recognize the immense need to commune with God in prayer (“teach us to pray”).

What is prayer then?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines prayer as “is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies”. 

A few weeks ago, I defined prayer as a continual, intimate conversation with God that is grounded in knowing who He is and that what He has said from His Word is true. 

We could continue to define prayer but no matter how we define it – Biblically of course – it must always lead us back to actually spending time in prayer.

It’s why I want to encourage you to take the time and develop an intentional prayer plan.

Like any good goal, developing a plan helps us see that goal come into fruition. Want to lose a certain amount of weight? You need to develop a plan that includes working out and eating healthy. Want to save for a future purchase? A budget is the plan to help you accomplish that goal. We use plans all the time to help us accomplish goals and establish new rhythms and developing a plan to help you be intentional in prayer is worth considering.

Take the time to answer these questions and enjoy how the Holy Spirit strengthens you as you spend more time in prayer.

Determine when you will pray.

The heart of a believer who prays without ceasing understands the need for an intentional time of prayer daily. It is good to pray at meal times, in the car when you see an accident, when you head into a meeting, or when you are prompted to pray when talking with someone. It is also good to pray when there are no other distractions or responsibilities. It is good to have time just between you and God.

While the Bible is not dogmatic on when you should pray, the Bible speaks on the importance of speaking to God first thing in the morning, even before you speak with anyone else.

“O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” – Psalm 5:3

Your plan might require you to adjust your morning routine by getting up earlier or spending time in prayer instead of scrolling social media. Your plan might mean you take your lunch break in the car and spend a portion of that time praying. Maybe you take the first 15 minutes of your kid’s nap time to pray, and then go take a nap yourself!

 

Determine where you will pray.

I recently mentioned my Prayer Chair ™ in a sermon, not realizing how much time I spend in that chair. It’s a chair in my office that faces two windows and is at a table. There is no work at the table and I can’t see my normal desk. It’s really only me, my Bible, and a few pens. It’s here where I spend my intentional time in prayer.

You don’t necessarily need to have a Prayer Chair ™ in an office, but you need to have a certain location where you pray and the people in your house know that is where you go to pray. Jesus speaks to the importance of a prayer closet in Matthew’s gospel account.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:6

Determine where your prayer closet will be. Maybe it’s in the garage or out on the porch or maybe it’s a walk around the neighborhood. Wherever you decide to pray, know that wherever you are, you are meeting with the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and He hears your prayers!

 

Determine what you will pray.

This may seem like a strange determination but knowing what you will pray is key to intentional praying! Many of us determine the time and the location, but then we sit down to pray and find out we don’t know where to start. There’s a host of helpful tools to help you know what to pray, but the most practical comes from Jesus himself.

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” – Luke 11:1–4

We can see Jesus’ model prayer and establish four key points that you can implement in your intentional prayer time. The four points make up the acronym A.C.T.S.

 

Adoration: Acknowledging who God is and understanding His Holy character.

Take the time in your prayer by praising God for who He is! Need a start? Pray through Colossians 1 or Ephesians 1.

 

Confession: Acknowledging you have sinned against God’s Holy character.

Take the time to confess your sins specifically, not generally. Need a start? Pray through Psalm 51.

 

Thanksgiving: Acknowledging God’s goodness towards you flows from His Holy Character.

Take the time to say thank you to God for all that He has done for you. Need a start? Pray through Psalm 34.

 

Supplication: Requesting from God, in accordance with His will, what you need to reflect His holy character.

Take the time to take your requests to God. He loves to hear His children come to Him with their needs. Prayer is taking everything that is on our heart to God. 

In Romans 8:15, God’s children cry out to God the Father. “Crying out” to our Father in Heaven represents both the crying out of “Dad, help I’m hurting” and the “Dad, come look at how awesome this lego house I built is!” It’s the crying out of both pain and praise. 

When we turn to the Lord, we trust that even when we are not praying the Lord’s will for us, the Holy Spirit Himself is interceding for us, because He knows perfectly God’s will for us. 

 

Determine to pray.

Finally, an intentional prayer plan requires us to actually pray and commit to praying! The plan becomes meaningless if we don’t actually implement it. And one of the surest ways an intentional prayer plan is derailed is through the excuses we create.

Being too tired, not having enough time, being too busy, too much noise, or even not knowing what to say are all excuses that we need, no, we must eliminate them. We make time for what we deem important, even when we are too busy and have little time. We carry on conversations with other people while our kids are around all the time. I could keep going but you see what I’m trying to say. Any excuse is a poor excuse for a lack of praying. 

So determine to pray. Determine to spend a designated time in a designated place with just you and the Lord. Take your heart to Him. Hear him speak to you from His Word. And go to Him in confidence, knowing that you are no longer condemned, but you are now His child whom He longs to talk with.

 

By His Grace,

Pastor Matt

Making Jesus-Centered Disciples For God's Glory


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