Preaching in an Era of Spiritual Decline

From my youth, growing up in the church, preaching has always had a sort of glamour to me—the man of God ascends to the pulpit holding the congregation captive by the word of God. That image is riveting. However, the idealized picture of my youth has been tainted by much of what is considered to be preaching today.

  • The men of God seems to be in increasingly short supply. It seems each week brings new pastoral scandals of the increasingly salacious variety.
  • The pulpit to proclaim the word of God has been replaced in many churches by the barstool of self-help, as preachers usurp a verse of Scripture only to bounce off it like a diving board just to herald their own wisdom.
  • The congregation captive by the word of God is scarce, with far too many suffering from chronically itching ears.

Yet, this is not another blog post lamenting the state of preaching today. Instead, this post aims to find some comfort in the seemingly cyclical pattern of God’s people, going all the way back to Israel herself. Decline begins with a neglect of God’s word. Lacking discernment or wisdom, people accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. God sends messengers of warning and calls for repentance, only for those messengers to be ignored and abused.

Jeremiah lamented his calling, even wishing he had not been born. His God-given message of warning earned him both derision and shame from his own people. In that sense, the word of God brought affliction to the preacher. He was given a message of judgment that earned him the ire of Israel, which boiled over in cruel persecution. In Jeremiah 15, he remembers how the word of God brought him great joy as he ate them—they were the delight of his heart. However, that word brought him isolation, rejection, and pain.

Ezekiel’s calling also replicates the of barren ministry pattern of the prophetic office. The Lord insisted that Ezekiel open his mouth and eat the scroll, a scroll filled with “lamentations, mournings, and woe” (Ezk 2:9). With the word of God in his belly, the Lord gives him a repeated command to preach that word faithfully even though “the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you” (Ezk 3:7).

These scriptural observations reveal a good deal about the nature of the ministry of the word; it is often barren and desolate, particularly during eras of spiritual decline. True preaching often brings suffering to the preacher as the people reject the true Word of God for the tickling words of false teachers. Yet, true preachers are called to preach God’s true words, no matter how they may be received. Silence is not an option, nor is twisting God’s word. Pastor’s are not privy to solicit marketing gurus to fabricate a message that will win them public appeal.

However, one would think the church of Christ would be different. After all, the church was birthed by the word of God. Yet tragically, the purity of Christ’s church has been so neglected post-Constantinianism that there are just as many in the church who recoil at the true preaching of the word as there are those who receive it gladly. The pattern of Jeremiah and Ezekiel is replicated in every church where there are more tares than wheat, goats than sheep.

When it comes to the western church, it’s no secret that we are in an epoch of spiritual decline. The size of the church is shriveling and the church’s influence wanes as the chaff of cultural Christianity is burned up by the inferno of secularization. Who knows how long this season of spiritual decline will endure. However, it’s during these eras of history that the men of God refuse to pollute themselves and continue to preach the whole counsel of God with fervor and zeal. We cannot manipulate the message to muster the masses.

Now more than ever, preachers must herald the word of God with greater intensity than ever. We must proclaim the wretchedness of human sin and the condemnation every soul is under. We must proclaim the spectacular love of God in the sending of Christ into the world in order to both bear the punishment of divine wrath and provide divine righteousness for fallen humanity. We must proclaim the necessity of the new birth, the response of repentance, and the necessity of faith. We must call the saints to holiness, obedience, and mission until Christ returns for his church. We must herald the surpassing beauty of God and the all-sufficiency of his grace provided to us in Christ.

Preachers who expound the word of God and proclaim this gospel may endure affliction, but such is the demand of all those called by God to herald the Word. It is a labor, but one in which we are compelled by the Spirit. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). Christ has bid every believer to come and die. Why would the preachers of Christ escape this calling?

So preachers, may we keep a close watch on our life and our teaching. Let us not grow weary in the preaching of the gospel. Let us do it with love and patience, but also with boldness and urgency. If we long to see God bring a revival in our day, he will do so through preaching. It is the means by which God will build his church. May the Lord find us faithful in this most weighty of assignments, as we entrust him with the fruitfulness of it.

“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (Colossians 1:28–29, ESV)

The Most Frustrating Thing About Being a Pastor

Shepherding a church can be an incredibly frustrating work. As a pastor you do your best to lead in accordance to God’s word. You seek his wisdom and his direction for his church. You preach your heart out week after week hoping to be catalyst for spiritual growth or even revival. Yet, the road to achieving that vision seems dark, lonely, and filled with bruises. Shepherding God’s church is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts, endurance, patience, and above all the work of the Spirit of God. I guess that is what I find the most frustrating thing about being a pastor. Despite all my efforts and all my labor, all I can do is plant or water the seed of the Gospel into the hearts of my people. I cannot cause the growth. In this since, the Pastor is impotent and unable to cause true revival and awakening in the hearts of his people, no matter how much he may long for it. The hardest part about leading a church is not the teaching, the meetings, the counseling, or the criticisms. The hardest part is waiting on the Lord.

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, the pastor stands before the people proclaiming the whole counsel of God to his people hoping that the seed scattered would take root and grow. Often God doesn’t work in our time table, but God works slowly over time. Revival is great and spiritual awakenings are wonderful but they are an extraordinary working of the Spirit’s work in a condensed amount of time. When it comes to revival in a local church, normally that revival comes slowly over many years of faithful Gospel teaching that exhorts, challenges, and admonishes.

The pastor cannot make spiritual growth happen anymore than he can direct the wind with a baton. The wind blows where it wishes, so it is with the Spirit. Perhaps God will move unexpectedly and profoundly in revival. Perhaps not. Yet, let us pastors not resort to gimmicks, fads, and entertainment in attempt to manufacture it. May we trust in those ordinary means of grace God has ordained to grow his church. Trust the Word to work and let the Spirit move in his time.

God’s sovereignty over the spiritual growth of our people can be so very frustrating, but so very hopeful. God’s work in our churches is not dependent upon our gifting, talents, or abilities, but rather on the omnipotent will of God. This truth brings us to our knees in prayer, trusting in God for growth not in ourselves. It gives us confidence to stand before our congregations each week and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ not knowing that at any moment the glorious light of God might pierce through the darkened veil over our peoples eyes and grant them to see the excellency of Jesus. In our frustration, may we humble ourselves before God in prayer trusting in His Word to pierce the hearts of His people, all the while having confidence in God’s ability to work in us and through us.

Christ Over All: Put on the New Self

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Each Monday (This week Wednesday!) I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12–17, ESV)

As we’ve been walking through the book of Colossians, chapter 3 turns to the practical aspects of the Christian life. Paul has been discussing how our union with Christ by faith changes who we are. We are new people with a new identity. Therefore the old person who we used to be is now gone. Paul tells us in v. 5 to put to death our old self and to put off the vices of worldliness.

Here in v. 12 Paul is going to instruct us what the character of Christ looks like in the Christian life. We must not simply stop doing the sinful activities of our past, but we must put on a new character and a new heart that is birthed out of our new identity in Jesus.

One of the things that I think will surprise you as we study this passage together today is just how much Paul discusses putting on the character of Christ within the Christian community of the church.

Some will claim a “me and Jesus” faith that has no need for the community of the church. They may claim to be able to worship just fine on the fishing boat or may claim to grow just fine disconnected from community and membership to a local body. Yet, this attitude is not found in the NT at all. The writers of the NT always assume that a follower of Christ is always connected to the body of Christ.

If you hope to grow in your relationship with Jesus and if you hope to increase in Christ-likeness it will not happen if you are severed from the church. God has ordained it that we grow together in the loving community of the church. If we hope to put on the character of Christ as Paul instructs us here today, we will see that he assumes it is done within the context of the local church.

If you have a desire for holiness and if you have a desire to live your life for the glory of God than you ought to have a desire to belong and participate in the life of the church as well. The church is God’s gift to us helping us to grow in our faith. As we dive in to our passage for today we will see it over and over again. Putting on the character of Christ is meant to happen within the Christian community of the local church.

In Jesus, we put on the character of Christ and grow through the community of Christ.

1. The Character of a Christian (v.12–14)

Paul kicks off his command of “Put on then” by reminding us of who we are. Again that theme of indicatives and imperatives reoccurs here again. Before Paul tells us what we must do as Christian he always reminds us of who we are. And just who are we?

Paul tells us that we are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. Paul reminds the colossians and reminds us that if you are a Christian who are the elect of God. Chosen to be a member of his family. You have been called by him to be set apart and you have been chosen by him to be a special object of his love as he unites you to his son Jesus Christ by faith.

Paul is reminding us again of our new identity in our Christian life. Our identity in Jesus is the source and power for any hope to put on the character of Christ. Because in Jesus we have been made holy, by the Power of God’s spirit we are able to live in holiness.

I must never cease in warning you of this: It is impossible to live the Christian life without first being made by God a Christian. When we come to Christ there is a fundamental change in who we are. We are made new. We are born again. We become new men and new women in Jesus. It is out of this new identity that we are able by the Spirit to not only put off our former way of life, but put on the character and love of Christ.

Five Virtues

So Paul describes the character of Christ in which we are to put on. Just as Paul gave us a few verses earlier of 5 vices to put off, here he gives us a list of 5 virtues that are to radiate from the Christian life. He tells us to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Jesus transforms our very personality as he brings about the character of Christ in our life. In our Christian life we should seek to be growing in each of these areas.

Our ruthless merciless hearts should be growing more warm and compassionate towards others. The rudeness and selfishness that dominates our speech should be replaced with the kindness of Christ. Our sefl-suffeciency and pride should be replaced with a God given humility and meekness. Our irritableness and frustration with others should be replaced by divine patience for others struggles and weaknesses.

Bearing with One Another

Paul goes on to tell us that we should bear with one another, and be patient with one another. Here already you see the importance of community in growing in christ-likeness. It is easy to get frustrated with one another as church members isn’t it? We all have annoying little quirks and we all have areas of sin in our life and blindspots. Some of us are a little thick-headed and stubborn than others.

Yet maturity in Christ means that we are patient in bearing with one another. For those who are slow to learn we show humble patience. To those who hurt us and harm us we offer forgiveness. To those struggling with sin, we come along side and help them bear their struggle.

The immature Christian is a one who sees the weakness of his brother or sister and gets filled with self-righteous frustration. The mature Christian is the one who sees the weakness of his brother or sister and is filled with compassionate and loving patience.

For those of us who struggle with our weaker brothers and sisters perhaps we are not as mature in Christ as we’d like to think.

Forgiving One Another

Paul even tells us that those who have put on the character of Christ should make us forgiving people. A forgiving spirit is a sign of maturity in Christ. Those who hold on to bitterness and unforgiveness in their heart not only hurt their own soul but bring destruction and disunity on the church. The forgiveness of God changes us.

How has God forgiven us? Well he has forgiven us in the most costly of ways. That while we are sinners God sent his son, born in human flesh to absorb the penalty for our sin at the cross. Jesus stands in the gap and takes on our shame so that we could receive the favor of God and be adopted into his family. Our horrific, vile, and detestable sin has been forgiven by the blood of the lamb! The forgiveness of God is costly, it wasn’t cheap, and yet God generously gives it to all who might believe in his son Jesus Christ.

Again, I must urge you if you do not know Jesus and if you have yet to be forgiven by God, he is generous and merciful to receive all those who would turn from their sins and place their faith and trust in Jesus as their savior and Lord. Christians are not perfect people, but forgiven people. And God’s forgiveness shapes us and molds us into forgiving people.

So when you have conflict with other members in the church it is vital that you go and seek reconciliation and forgiveness. A church filled with gossip, bitterness, grudges, and tension is not a church that is growing in the image of Jesus Christ. We should be so quick to offer forgiveness when we fail each other and we must be quick to offer grace just as God in Christ has offered to us.

Paul says that above everything else that should define the character of a Christian, a Christian must be defined by love. As recipients of God’s love we love one another. Why is it that we refuse to forgive one another? Why is it that we are not humble or compassionate or patience towards others? It is because our hearts have not been filled with God’s love. Harmony in the church is achieved when the people of God genuinely and deeply love one another. It is the love of Christ that binds our hearts together and puts us together in perfect harmony.

2. The Community of a Christian (v. 15–17)

Paul tells us that the one of the distinguishing marks of the body of Christ should be one in which the peace of Christ rules. The church is to be a group of people growing together in christian maturity. We live under the rule of Christ and under his authority, and we live under the rule of his peace. In col 1:20 we are told that Jesus made peace by the blood of his cross. As we live our life under his Lordship that same peace should be evident in our churches.

The church should not be known for its back-bitting, grumbling, and complaining, but joyful peaceableness as we live under the rule of Jesus together, and for that we should be incredibly thankful to God that he allows us to be apart of this wonderful community of peace called the church.

But a question remains. How can our church became a community living under the peace of Christ? Why is it that most churches seem to be places of hostility not of peace?

Let the word of Christ Dwell in you richly

Well, I believe Paul gives us the answer of how that peace within the body is attained. We live under the peace of the rule of Christ if we allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly. That’s what Paul says isn’t it in verse 16.

As we think about Forest Hills Baptist Church none of us can claim any sense of ownership to this body. Even though I’m a pastor, this isn’t my church. Even though you might have been born and raised in this church, Forest Hills is not your church. The one who owns us, who controls us, and who rules over us all is Jesus Christ himself. After all, he is the one who bought us by his own blood.

This is hugely important for us to grasp. If Jesus rules over us as his body, then that means that his Word is the final authority when it comes to our church. It means that every member of this church should submit our lives to the Scripture not only our personal lives but also in our church.

The reason there is so much hostility in some churches is because their is a conflict of authority. The church is not the place for you to come and exert your own influence, control, and your own way of doing things. When people begin to act like this, conflict ensues and rivalries develop. When Jesus’ word is replaced by our own personal authorities we cease to be His church.

So let me make it clear in case there is any doubt, as pastors of Forest Hills Baptist Church we will only lead our church under the rule of God’s word. God’s word will be our authority, not the opinions and preferences of our members. Why? Because we want the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, therefore we want to allow the word of Christ to dwell within us richly.

Corporate Worship

v. 16 has a lot to teach us when it comes to cooperate worship. One implication is that it means that the word of God takes the primary seat in all we do, particularly in our corporate worship.

This is why there is such an emphasis on the teaching of the Bible here at Forest Hills, because we want to let the word of God dwell within us as a body. As a result, it gets the lions share of time as we come together. The preaching of the word of God and the teaching of the word of God are essential and primary in the life of the church.

In every generation there seems to be an attack on the preaching of the word, but in our own day preaching is especially attacked by a focus of shifting our church worship towards entertainment. There is great pressure for churches to make their worship services something that will attract a large crowd through large scale musical productions, skits, videos, flashing lights, fog machines, and overpowering decibels of volume. The preaching of the word is being reduced to a 15 minute sermonette in which preachers become less like prophets heralding the truth of the Gospels but stand up comedians who tickle itching ears.

Some will doubt that the word of God will be effective in reaching this next generation. The Bible isn’t enough, we need to bolster it with our own ingenuity or we need to come along and bolster the Bible. Some may say that the Bible isn’t enough at all that it should be jettisoned and replaced in the church with something new and fashionable.

Let me tell you something, the word of God is enough. Whenever a man of God stands before a church with the Scriptures miracles happen. Why? Because the Spirit of God works to save the lost and grow the saved through the faithful preaching and teaching of the word.

May God forgive us for making worship about our own entertainment than about God’s own glory. At Forest Hills we are committed to treasuring Christ in worship by seeking to fill our hearts with the word of Christ! Does this mean worship is only preaching? No, not at all.

In the same focus of letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly Paul tells us to use psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to admonish one another with the word of God. Music can be a powerful way to instruct one another with the word of Christ. This is exactly what Paul tells us to do, to admonish one another with the word of God.

When it comes to music in our worship we must always make sure that we are singing towards God in worship but also singing to one another. The point of music isn’t to set a mood, draw attention to soloists or the musician ship of worship leaders, but rather it should function as admonishing one another with the word.

There are few principles of how I think Colossians 3:16 gives us guide when it comes to understanding our singing.

  1. Our songs should be dripping in Scripture.
  2. Our Songs should be directed towards God.
  3. Our songs should be admonishing one another.
  4. Our songs should be sung with thankfulness to God.

The summation of the Christian life both individually and corporately has one aim and one aim only, the glory of God. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, so everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” v. 17.

As we put off our old way of life and as we put on the character of Christ in the community of the church may our life’s purpose be to the glory of God. In whatever we say and whatever we do may our ambition for God’s glorious name be the driving motive in it all. The Christian is one who lives his life wrapped up entirely in Christ. There is no such thing as being to committed or to devoted to Jesus. Christ is our life. He is Lord over all. His peace rules over us as we live in our community of love together allowing the word of God to dwell in our hearts and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Don’t you want to be a part of a community like this? There are some of you that are incredibly connected and invested in the community of Forest Hills Baptist Church, but there are many of you that are not. You come to an event on Sunday morning but you are not engaged in the community of the saints. Your not a member of our church, you are not connected to a Sunday School class, or you are not engaged in serving the body in any way. Let me challenge you today to get connected to what God is doing here in us. If you want to grow in your faith and put on the character of Christ you need the body. You can’t do it on your own.

If you are interested in joining in membership to our church I’d love to talk to you about that after the service. We have our membership class starting again in just a few weeks and we’d love to get you learning more about what it means to be a covenant member at our church.

For some of you who are members perhaps you need to pray today about investing in this community with your time and with your resources. Maybe you need to recommit to pursuing holiness by committing to regularly participating in the life of the church. We need one another to grow together in Christ. Will you join us as we come together as a church to put on the character of Christ together for the glory of God.

Christ Over All: The Supremacy of Christ

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Each Monday I’ll be putting up my sermon notes and audio file for the sermon series from Forest Hills Baptist Church “Christ Over All: A Study from Colossians”. This is an edited copy of my sermon notes, not a transcript of the sermon. You can listen to the sermon audio above or directly for at the church’s website

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15–20, ESV)

Christ is Lord over all as the preeminent Creator God who reconciles us by his blood. We must recognize that Jesus is Lord Over All, which includes your life.

Today we will look at 3 life changing truths that are foundational if we want to understand the supremacy of Christ.

1. Jesus is the Creator God

Jesus is the image of an invisible God. God is spirit. He is the unseen mover of all that happens. How can we know who God is? How can we know what God is like? If we were to look around the universe we could infer some things about him. He is a creative. He is intentional. He is logical and consistent. But there is a lot we would not know. Thankfully God has chosen to reveal himself to us. God has chosen to tell us about himself. One of the ways God does this is through his Word. God inspired the biblical writers to write His words.

Although God’s word is great, profitable, and good. God does us one better. God becomes a man. He sends Jesus to be the image of the invisible God.

This is like getting to know someone online whom you’ve never met in person. Internet dating has become a big thing here recently and a lot of people are finding spouses through connecting online. There is nothing wrong with doing that, but you can pick a spouse through an online dating profile. You might be able to read about them. You can read their interests, their likes, and such. You can even message back and forth and converse via email. But how do you really get to know someone? You’ve got to meet face to face! You can’t just read about them, you have to meet them!

God in his grace does this for us. Not only is he gracious in speaking to us about himself, but he also comes to meet us. This is who Jesus is – He is God in the flesh.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:1–3, ESV)

Do you want to know God? Do you want to know what he’s like? Then get to know Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God.

He is the first born of all creation. This is first born in a positional sense, not a created sense. The first born came with a lot of rights and privileges. Usually this was held by the first born son, but often others receive the positional privilege of the first born.

Jehovah Witnesses (Arians) deny the full deity of Jesus and believe that Jesus was the first created by God. In other words, they deny that Jesus is fully God.

How do we know that jesus being the “First born” doesn’t mean he was created? Well look at the next sentence, “For by him all things were created”. If Jesus was a creature how could he create all things? Wouldn’t he then have to create himself? Paul is not teaching here that Jesus is a creature, that is to grossly and heretically and wrongly misinterpret this passage. Rather, Paul is making the opposite point. Jesus is the Creator God!

  • In Heaven and Earth - The whole universe
  • Visible and Invisible – Both the material and spiritual worlds
  • Kingdoms of Earth – Thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities

Jesus isn’t a creature, rather he is the creator. All that exists from the smallest electrons in an atom to the gigantic masses of the galaxies Jesus created by the Word of his power.

How else does this Christ hymn show us that Jesus is fully and completely God? Well look at v. 19. All the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Jesus isn’t a quarter god. He isn’t half god. He isn’t 99% god. Rather he is 100% divine. All the fullness of God is in Jesus. He isn’t a half human half God hybrid, rather Jesus is fully divine. This means Jesus is the all powerful and all knowing God. He is God of love and compassion and the God of judgement and justice. Do not let anyone tell you the Bible doesn’t say Jesus is God. Just take them right here to Colossians 1, you can’t get any clearer than this passage on Jesus’ deity.

“Through Him all things hold together”. Not only is Jesus the creator God, but he is the sustainer of it all. Without Jesus’ continual active involvement in sustaining the world, it would collapse into nothingness.

We have a high view of our progress as a society don’t we. We look back over just the past 100 years and all that has been accomplished. I think of Richard Ward, our 101 year old man who went to be with Jesus a week ago today. Imagine all that he’s seen in his life? From cars to telephones to aviation to computers to the internet to smart phones, it seems like we are completely sustaining ourselves doesn’t it? Who needs Jesus when you have an iPhone? Who needs answers when you have Google? We have become so self-sufficient in our technological progress that we think Jesus is obsolete. We can sustain ourselves so we think. Yet, we forget that the whole universe is only in existence this very day because Jesus allowed it to be. He holds it all together.

“He’s has the Whole World in His Hands” – A simple song but a powerful truth if we grasp it.

This goes contrary to the way we think of Jesus doesn’t it? The world pictures him as a ordinary guy weak and powerless. We think of him as weak and impotent unable to defend himself. The world thinks of him as a poor sap who found himself martyred unjustly.

Yet, even Christians worship a tiny Christ. We talk about Jesus as our friend or buddy. We treat him as a therapist to help us with our problems or a comforter in need. We pray to Jesus unsure if he can help and often just to make ourselves feel better. We sing to him with eyes glazed over, apathetic and unconcerned.

Church, do you realize who it is you worship? Do you realize just who Jesus is? He is the creator God! He is the Great I AM! He is the King over All, Lord of the Universe! He rules the world by the Word of his power. He brings his will to pass and accomplishes all that he sets out to do! He is the image of the invisible God, the creator of all that is and the sustainer of it all. When we come here to worship and treasure Christ, we are worshiping God himself! Do you get that? Do you understand this? Because based off the glazed over expression on some of your faces it doesn’t seem that way.

Not only is Jesus the Creator God, Secondly, Jesus is also Preeminent.

2. Jesus is Supreme Over All

So if Jesus is the creator? Why did he create it? What’s its purpose? Mankind has struggled and debated especially these last few centuries over the purpose of the universe. Why does the Universe even exist at all?

Creation Has a Purpose – through him and for him. There is great power in these little prepositions. They are powerful little words. Paul tells us through this Hymn that the world was not only created through Jesus, but for Him. In other words he is the reason it exists. Jesus is the purpose of it all. He is the reason all that is, is. Paul says that God does all that he does in Jesus so that he might be “Preeminent”.

What does this word mean? It means he is first. He is supreme. He is of first importance. It means to have the highest of status. There is no one greater and there is no on more exalted. Jesus is Supreme over all, he is preeminent over the universe.

You, me, the universe ALL of it exists so that Christ might be made supreme over all!

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1, ESV)

“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” (Psalm 57:11, ESV)

“everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”” (Isaiah 43:7, ESV)

“I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8, ESV)

Jesus is Supreme Over All

If Jesus is preeminent. If he is the purpose of the universe. If rules over all, shouldn’t he rule over our own lives? Should we be living every area of our life under his authority?

He is Supreme in your marriage. As the husband sacrificially leads his wife and as the wife submits to her husband, picturing and displaying the Gospel of Christ. Jesus is Lord of the marriage both in defining the roles each plays as the two grow together in sweet love. Both man and woman are in union together and friends and companions together. Both husband and wife seek to live together in submission to the will of Jesus.

He is supreme in your family. You love and raise your children for the purpose of Christ. You parent and disciple and do family devotions so that your kids might come to be saved by Jesus. He is the priority of your home and comes first before academics and athletics, entertainment and lifestyle. Your first and foremost priority in your home is to display Christ as supreme over all to your family.

He is supreme in your friendships. You seek to serve the friends in your life. You pray for them, encourage them, correct them, and love them as Christ has loved you. You love your brothers and your sisters in Christ because Christ is Lord Over All, even your friendships.

He is supreme in your church. Not seeking what you can gain from the body but rather seeking how you can serve Christ’s people. You come, active engaged, with humility and a servants heart so that you might demonstrate Christ as supreme in your service to His body.

He is supreme in your calendar. He’s the priority in your time. Putting him before any and other activity you may have. From church attendance to time in prayer your relationship with Jesus comes before any other demand or any other responsibility.

He is supreme in your work. Your not working merely to make money but to show Christ as supreme. You work diligently and hard doing all for his glory. Yet you work with contentment knowing your identity is not found in your job but in in Jesus.

He is supreme in your sexuality. As you submit your sexual desires to him. You channel God’s good gift in the way he has directed, in the covenant of marriage or your deny yourself. He is Lord of your bedroom, for you are not your own. You were bought with a price therefore honor God with your body. He is supreme over your sexuality.

He is supreme in your money. You recognize that every penny you own isn’t yours, but given to you by Jesus. He owns it all, and you are but a steward. Every financial decision is made with Jesus’ Lordship in mind, as we use the money God has given us for provision and our wealth for generosity towards others for their good. He is supreme over our bank accounts.

He is supreme in your speech. You guard your your mouth and bridle your malicious tongue. You are careful in what you speak making sure whatever you say is beneficial for building others up. You submit your tongue to Christ, because he is first and preeminent in your speech.

He is supreme in your passions. There is nothing you love more than Jesus. He is your chief love, your highest treasure, your all consuming passion. He is your hope, your peace, your joy, and your song. Anything else you may care about is secondary compared to the love you have for Christ. He is Lord over your passions.

He is supreme in your hobbies. He is supreme over your hobbies. Not allowing sport or dance or tv or golf get in the way of living your life for the glory of God. You are careful not to participate in hobbies that are either dishonoring to God nor distracting from your pursuit of him. Recreation is secondary compared to your primary purpose of living for Christ. He is Lord over your hobbies.

He is supreme in your purpose. He is the beginning and the end of why you exist. You live for his glory and you live for his name. With the Gospel on your lips and holiness displayed in your life you are living for God and God alone. He is why you exist and he is why you breathe. Every beat of the heart is another gift from God to live your life for his glory. Jesus is preeminent, he is supreme over all, and he is primary over EVERY area of your life.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” – Abraham Kuyper

So if Jesus is so preeminent, why is it? What is it about Jesus that makes him so great? Why should I make him Lord of my life?

3. Jesus is the Reconciler

  • He is the head of the Church as he purchased the church by his own blood.
  • He makes peace by the blood of his cross and was raised as the firstborn from the dead.
  • Have you been reconciled to the father by Jesus?

Application Questions

  • Do you worship Jesus as the Creator God?
  • Is Jesus Supreme Over You Life? Is he preeminent?
  • Have you been reconciled to Jesus?

4 Problems I See with Preaching Today

I grew up hearing preachers. I’ve heard so many sermons in my life that I’ve completely lost count of how many I've heard. Not only have I heard many preachers over my life, now I am one myself. Yet, I believe that the greatest need for the true is the recovery of true and biblical preaching. Much of what is being called preaching today is weak. Simply put preaching is a man standing before the people who proclaims and applies the truth of God’s word. Yet, much of what is being considered preaching looks more like a TED talk than anything we see in the book of Acts. Much of preaching is but as a guru on the stage espousing his own wisdom. This is not preaching, at least not in any biblical sense. Although I still have a long ways to go in my own personal growth as a preacher (My church would tell you that's an understatement), I have begun to identify four concerns I see with preaching today.

1. The Emphasis on the Preacher not the Message

The American obsession with celebrities has been imported into the church. Although, it is not a bad thing to have men of great reputation with great fame even in the church, the danger is when the focus is on the man and not the message. In many circles or churches the preacher becomes more of a cult leader as the people blindly follow unquestioningly whatever the preacher says. The emphasis in the preaching is on the man – his humor, his eloquence, his vocal dynamics, and his intelligence. Although all those things are important, we must be careful not to create idols out of the preacher.

Rather than combating this idolatrous celebrity culture that can develop, many foster this culture unknowingly in their preaching. When every illustration revolves around the preacher and when he is the hero of all his stories, the preacher may be reinforcing himself as the focus. The task of the preacher is not to draw attention to himself, but to stand before the people pointing always to God. The preacher should stand as an arrow pointing to heaven not an arrow pointing to his own ego. People should not be leaving the service impressed with the preacher, yet apathetic towards God. The goal of true preaching is for the man himself to fade into the background as he joyfully celebrates the truth of God’s word, pointing the people to the Jesus.

2. The Emphasis on Application without Exposition

Another concern I see is the separation of application and exposition. In today's age of short attention spans and 140 character tweets, people want preaching to be less like a 4-course dinner and more like a McDonald’s drive through. There is no patience for the careful exposition of God’s word. Knowing this. many preachers just simply apply while neglecting the teaching of the Bible.

Now most preachers use the Bible at some point in the sermon, but how is the preacher using it? Is he just using a verse to jump into whatever topic he wishes? Is the Bible just a diving board into the preachers own wisdom and opinions? Or, is the content of the preaching demonstrated from the Bible? Better yet, is the content of the preaching derived from the Bible? Is the preacher pointing to an authority outside of himself in the revealed word of God?

Sure people may ask for sermons that are immediately helpful apart from the Bible. They may want to hear your sermon called “5 Ways to Get Your Kids to Obey You”, but doing so on a consistent and regular basis is like giving your toddler candy for every meal. Sure, they will love you for it, but you’ll rot their teeth and spoil their stomach. As preaching strays away from the central focus of the teaching of the Bible, we will continue to propagate a generation of Christians who are biblically illiterate and spiritually anemic.

3. The Emphasis on Illustration without Purpose

Often in replace of Biblical exposition, illustration begins to take a a central focus in the sermon. The best preachers become the best story tellers. They are engaging, humorous, and easy to follow. Illustrations are incredibly important in preaching. Illustrations help people connect to the teaching of the Bible in a practical and experiential way. Yet, I’ve heard too many preachers use illustrations without purpose. I’ll hear a preacher tell a funny story about his children ridding a bike or something, and I stop, wondering what in the world did that story have to do with the text? Illustrations are great tools in a preachers tool chest. Some of the greatest preachers have been the greatest illustrators (i.e. Charles Spurgeon), but a sermon filled with illustrations with no teaching is simply all flash with no substance.

4. The Emphasis on Exposition while Ignoring Application

On the flip side some preachers concerned with the lack of bible teaching react so strongly to the wide-spread weak preaching of the day that they ignore applying the text at all. The pendulum swings to far the other direction. They get up and give an academic lecture, but never call people to repentance and obedience. Although preaching is centered on the Bible and the teaching of the Bible, preaching is not complete if we don’t help people see the relevance of God’s revealed world. We cannot simply teach them about the Grand Canyon without inviting them to go and experience the beauty of it themselves. In the same way, if we instruct people about God, but don't invite them to experience the glory of the Lord, its not preaching.

In addition, preaching should not be boring, dry, and dull. There is nothing more exciting than the redemptive love God displayed in Jesus Christ! The Gospel is anything but boring, to make it so is sinful.

A Recovery of Biblical Preaching

Preaching is an ordained means, given to us by God to help save the lost and build up the church. Perhaps the reason the church in America appears so frail is because pastors and preachers have been refusing to give people the whole counsel of God. The preacher stands before his people as the mouth piece of God. That is a huge weight and responsibility that should lead every preacher in holy terror every Sunday morning. It’s a weight I feel each week. More than ever, I believe we need a revival of true preaching. We need more pastors who shepherd their churches with the rod of God’s Word and who understand the glorious weight and responsibility of expositing and exulting over God’s glorious truth. If your not a preacher, pray for your pastor and for the weight and responsibility he carries each week, not only in caring for the flock of God but proclaiming the Word of God each week.

Do you agree with these concerns about preaching today? Are their concerns that I missed? Share your thoughts with us below in the comments.

Sermon on the Mount Roundup

This past Sunday I finished preaching through the Sermon on the Mount.  It was by far one of my favorite series I have done.  Teaching and preparing for this series was a great challenge but also a great joy.  It was convicting yet encouraging all at the same time.  Within this sermon series not only was I amazed at the message of the sermon on the mount, I was even more amazed at the messenger.  Jesus is the great teacher and preacher, but he is also my savior and my God.

Below is the links to the audio files at foresthillsbaptist.org.  I preached every sermon except the one on the Lord's Prayer which was preached by Chris Dunn.  The audio file from this past Sunday was corrupted, and as a result we do not have that audio file available.

I pray these messages will be used for your spiritual growth.  Feel free to share with others.  In addition, you can subscribe to the Forest Hills Baptist Church audio podcast in iTunes.

To say goodbye to this Sermon on the Mount is bitter sweet.  I will miss it, but I'm excited to start preaching through Jonah in September!

Sermon on the Mount Sermons

Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes Part 1

The Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes Part 2

The Sermon on the Mount: “Salt and Light”

The Sermon on the Mount: “Christ Fulfills the Law"

The Sermon on the Mount: “Anger”

Sermon on the Mount: “Lust”

Sermon on the Mount: Divorce

The Sermon on the Mount: Oaths

The Sermon on the Mount: Retaliation

The Sermon on the Mount: Love Your Enemies

The Sermon on the Mount: Religious Hypocrisy

The Sermon on the Mount: The Lords Prayer

The Sermon on the Mount: Treasure

The Sermon on the Mount: Trust

The Sermon on the Mount: Judging

The Sermon on the Mount: Persistence and the Golden Rule

The Sermon on the Mount: Two Gates

The Sermon on the Mount: I Never Knew You

The Sermon on the Mount: The Two Foundations

The Sermon on the Mount: Jesus' Authority

The Most Discouraging and Encouraging Sermon Ever

We at Forest Hills Baptist Church have been journeying together through the Sermon on the Mount. The journey has been glorious so far, but difficult.  The demands of the kingdom are steep. Martyn-Lloyd Jones has preached through the Sermon on the Mount and has been my companion as I have read through his sermons on the text to glean understanding, insight, and application. He writes this about the sermon on the mount:

Have we not felt that as we have been working our way through this Sermon? Is there anything known to us that is more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Take these passages from verse 17 to the end of this fifth chapter – these detailed illustrations given by our Lord as to how we are to live. Commandments, the ordinary moral standards of decency, are difficult enough; but look at these statements about not even looking with lys, about going the second mile and throwing in the cloak together with the coat, and so on. There is nothing more discouraging than the Sermon on the Mount; it seems to throw us right out, and to damn our every effort before we have started. It seems utterly impossible. But at the same time do we know of anything more encouraging than the Sermon on the Mount? Do we know of anything that pays us a greater compliment? The very fact that we are commanded to do these things carries with it an implicit assertion that it is possible. This is what we are supposed to be doing; and there is a suggestion, therefore, that this is what we can do. It is discouraging and encouraging at the same time.

Lloyd-Jones would want me to be sure to remind you that the only hope we have for doing these things in the sermon on the mount is through the supernatural rebirth.  The natural man is unable to love his enemy or turn the other check. Yet, for Christians although the Sermon on the Mount condemns us it provides us with a encouraging reminder that through the power of God's Spirit we can do these things through God's grace. Jesus is not giving us commands in these passages that we are unable to obey. Jesus not only gives his followers commands but the power to obey them. He is the one who gives us new hearts with new desires and affections. He is the one who empowers us to obey not only the letter of the Law but its Spirit.

If we are to understand this sermon rightly, we must read it in the tension of discouragement and encouragement. The sermon condemns us and yet reminds us of the empowering, transforming grace of God. The sermon brings the poor in Spirit to a posture of mourning, but they will be comforted and they will be filled with the righteousness of Christ.

If interested you can check out my sermon audio through the Sermon on the Mount here. Plus you can subscribe to the Forest Hills Baptist Church Audio Podcast in iTunes.

5 Tips for Preaching through Tough Passages

Recently I’ve been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount with the people of Forest Hills Baptist Church. So far it has been a wonderful series working through some of Jesus’ most well known teachings. However I knew when the Lord led me to this series that there would be some difficult passages to come up. The two I was least looking forward to was on lust and divorce. As a pastor some times you must teach on some difficult passages of Scripture.

The Bible doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear, nevertheless they are all profitable and useful for the building up of the body. Much like the prophet Ezekiel, as a pastor we eat the sweet scroll of God’s word even though it is often a bitter word of judgement (Ez 3:3). All of God’s word is honey to our lips. Yet, the Scriptures function as a mirror. As we hold up the mirror of God’s word to our own hearts and to the hearts of our own people, sometimes we do not like what it shows us about ourselves. The word of God pierces our hearts and exposes our sin (Heb 4:12). It can be an uncomfortable endeavor but yet it is the task of the pastor to teach the whole counsel of God.

Although I am still a young preacher and have much to learn, having recently taught through both lust and divorce from the sermon on the mount, I offer these five helpful principles for preaching through tough passages of scripture.

1. Practice Expository Preaching

In order to preach difficult passages you must get to difficult passages. With the absence of expository preaching it is tempting for pastors to pick hobby horse passages or passages that will merely tickle the ears of the congregation. As a result, consciously or not, many pastors skip over difficult or controversial passages.

Walking through sections of scripture verse by verse is so helpful because it forces us to encounter and deal with difficult passages. My people know we are walking through the Sermon on the Mount and they would notice if we skipped Jesus’ teaching on divorce. No matter how difficult it may be or though I may not desire to preach it, the accountability of my people force me to deal with difficult texts.

Yet, expository preaching can be a safe guard. When you deal with difficult passages in a expository series, it keeps the difficult sermon from sounding like a personal attack from the pastor. No one in the congregation is saying “I wonder why he picked a passage on lust this Sunday? I wonder who was in the counseling room this week?” The church knows this passage is next, so it removes any perceived hostility people may read into the pastors sermon. Thus the sermon becomes less of the words of a perceived vindictive pastor and more the prophetic, authoritative voice of God.

2. Preach in Humility, as a Man Under the Authority of the Scripture.

When I was preaching the sermon on lust, I tried to set the tone for the sermon at the beginning. I knew I was going to be having to deal with some difficult truths and that it was vital for me to be filled with conviction over sexual sin. I knew that many would perceive as strong word as judgmental self-righteousness, which would be the furthest from the truth. So before I got into the meat of the sermon I said,

This morning I plan to proclaim to you harsh truths that you may perceive are announced in judgement and self-righteousness. Hear me carefully before we begin. I speak as a man who is not above this text but stands condemned underneath it. I am a man who is a condemned sinner redeemed and restored by Jesus Christ. As I read Jesus’ words here what shame and dread come upon me. For which of us can here can read these words and not be condemned?

These words helped remind me and my people, that as a pastor I am a sinner who is saved by grace. The only power that enables me to stand in that pulpit without cowering in holy fear is that I’m clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

3. Speak Clearly and with Conviction

Set God’s word loose on your people. Do not be timid or fearful on difficult truths you know your people might not want to hear. So often our fear of men causes us to be timid lambs in the pulpit when we must be roaring lions. When it comes to the sexual immorality of our culture or the no-fault divorces that happen every day, it is necessary to bring a strong word of judgement against sin. However as you do, highlight the Scripture as your authority and not your own opinions.

4. Share Briefly Multiple Interpretations

The teaching on divorce was exceptionally difficult for me, not just because it is a hot-button issue, but because the text is a hermeneutical gordian knot. Many Christians wrestle on what the Scriptures teach on divorce and many books have been written on the subject. The greatest struggle for me was:

  • How much should I share about the debate?
  • Do I want to only share my position and act like the others do not exist?

Those were the sort of questions that plagued me as I was preparing for that sermon.

If you are preaching on such a text it is wise to briefly mention the debate around this text and briefly highlight some of the other views. But spend the bulk of your time proving your position from the text. The pulpit is not the place for an academic lecture on the precise definition of porneia. In fact most of the congregation doesn’t even care, they just want to know what the Scripture says. They don’t want a seminary dissertation on the subject.

5. Give Grace and Preach the Gospel

My great fear in preaching a sermon on lust or divorce is that I sound like some self-righteous right wing bigot. Although there are sections of those sermons where I must come down hard on what God calls sin, I must always point people to the Gospel. Pastor, if you hold up the mirror of condemnation to your peoples hearts you better point them to calvary before you close in prayer. Sins like lust are so pervasive and are hidden deep within our hearts. When you bring those things up to the surface and expose them to the light, it can get uncomfortable and often guilt begins to take over. Yet, I do not want my people to leave my sermon feeling badly over their sin, but gloriously in awe of a God who would save them despite their sin.

I want to leave them with Jesus. I want to point them to the savior who fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law in their place. I want to point them to the suffering servant who was nailed to that tree for the forgiveness of our sins. I want to point them to the liberator who frees sexual captives and the God who never divorces his adulterous wife. He is the always faithful God who is ready to forgive and restore. When you preach these difficult sermons give your people what they need the most, Jesus.

If you would like to listen to these to sermons you can listen to my sermon on Lust and Divorce. (I'll put up the link to the sermon on divorce as soon as its uploaded)

Pastors, how have you dealt with difficult passages? How do you handle texts that you know will elicit controversy? Share your wisdom in the comments!

Ruth: The Romance of Redemption

We just finished studying the book of Ruth at Forest Hills Baptist Church. It has been a great study as we examined the love story between Ruth and Boaz. Throughout the whole book God is working continuously behind the sciences to accomplish his purposes. It was a great reminder of God's power, love, and compassion in gifting us with our redemption. All the sermon audio at Forest Hills can be found on our church website or you can subscribe to our podcast form the iTunes store.  However, here is an archive of the four sermons from Ruth: The Romance of Redemption.

Part 1: The Need for Redemption

Part 2: The Hope of Redemption

Part 3: The Search for Redemption

Part 4: The Gift of Redemption