Category Archives: Preaching

Fighting Truth Decay

Truth has fallen on hard times.  As I read the headlines each day, I can’t help but wonder:  “What happened to truth?”  Then I think of all the ways God’s people are bombarded with lies every day.  They’re carefully crafted lies and they so easily deceive.  Satan, the head trafficker of lies, is doing booming business.  Though it comes from an entirely different context, Isaiah 59:14-15 seems to have been penned just this morning:

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.  Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

How can we as Christians continue to stand in the face of this truth crisis?  How will the church survive?  It’s going to be like it always has:  on the basis of the public, objective truth of God’s Word.  Let me point out four ways we need to work with God’s Word to battle truth decay in our day.

The Preaching

When you come to worship each Lord’s Day, you’ll hear your pastor proclaim God’s Word as steadfast, eternal truth.  You can’t underestimate the impact that has.  When you hear a man himself firmly convicted of the truth he’s preaching, that’s going to be a boost for your own grasp on the truth.  Moreover, if that preaching is faithful to God’s Word, it’s not merely a man you’re hearing.  In fact, Scripture teaches that the preaching of God’s Word is God’s Word (1 Thess. 2:13).  It’s a word from him who will never lie (Titus 1:2).  Faithful preaching is the Word of Christ, who is not only the way and the life, but also the truth (John 14:6).  There’s a reason why the Holy Spirit tells believers not to forsaking gathering together (Heb. 10:25) — the Spirit of truth drives home the word of truth in our gatherings.  So come each Lord’s Day and get your truth supplement.

Regular Daily Family Worship

Imagine if every family in the church were to gather regularly for the reading of God’s truth.  Imagine the good that would do not only for our children, but also for parents.  To listen to the truth of God’s Word each day and then to reflect on it together is going to be powerfully reinforcing its message for us.  A super helpful resource for reflecting and discussing every chapter of the Bible together is the Family Worship Bible Guide.

Regular Daily Bible Reading

One of the biggest regrets of my pastoral ministry is that in my first congregation, I didn’t teach the importance of developing the discipline of reading through all the Scriptures — that was so foolish!  God taught me this in my second congregation through a godly elder in a home visit.  More than ever, we need to be imbibing the truth of Scripture for ourselves every day.  It’s not enough just to read a Bible devotional.  Bible devotionals are selective — they only give you a verse or two chosen by the author of the devotional.  Bible devotionals are sometimes defective — too many of them neglect the fact that the Bible is first of all about Jesus.  Bible devotionals are always subjective — as you read it you only get the limited viewpoint of that author.  Bible devotionals can be helpful, but it’s not the same as doing the hard work of reading and studying the Bible for yourself.  It’s through that hard work that you appropriate God’s truth for yourself.  Developing that habit means that every day we’re letting the Holy Spirit speak truth to our hearts through the Word.  There are all kinds of Bible reading plans out there — you just need to pick one and starting running with it.  It may be hard at first, but if you persevere for the long haul, you won’t regret it.

Studying the Bible with Others

Finally, the truth gets reinforced as we study the Scriptures with one another in the communion of saints.  We have brothers and sisters who have seen truths in the Bible that we have not yet seen.  We need them to share that with us.  Similarly, we may have grasped truths from the Scriptures that they haven’t yet.  They need us to bring those truths to them.  Getting a better handle on the truths of God’s Word needs to be a communal effort.  Together, we can see and grasp more of the truth we need for life in this world in the grip of lies.

Let me leave you with Phil. 4:8, where the Holy Spirit says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true…think about these things.”  What is more true than God’s own Word?


Get With The Times

Every pastor knows the value of a good illustration.  I have a few in my pedagogical toolbox and I use them regularly.  Some are timeless and I’ll likely keep using them as long as I teach and preach.  Others made sense to everybody 10-20 years ago, but fewer people are grasping them with the passage of time.

One of my favourite illustrations has to do with baptism and the covenant promises signed and sealed by God in this sacrament.  I’ve used it countless times in sermons and catechism lessons.  I didn’t come up with it — I don’t even remember where or from whom I first heard it.  It’s the illustration of the cheque.

This is the illustration as used in my book I Will Be Your God: An Easy Introduction to the Covenant of Grace:

We must distinguish between extending the promise and receiving what is promised.

An illustration might help.  It is not a perfect illustration, but it will get the point across.  Imagine if I were to give you a cheque for $10,000.  Another name for a cheque is a promissory note.  It is a promise from me that you will receive $10,000 from my bank account.  But say that you take my cheque and put it in your pocket and then forget about it.  Next week you pull those pants on and you put your hand in your pocket and there is a crumpled wad of paper.  It has been through the washing machine, so you are not quite sure what it is anymore.  You throw it in the garbage.

Did I extend a promise of $10,000?  Yes, I wrote the cheque and gave that promissory note to you.

However, did you receive $10,000?  No, because you did not take the cheque to the bank and deposit it or cash it.  You did not do anything with that cheque and so you missed out on what was promised.

Do you see the difference now?  It is the difference between extending a promise and receiving what has been promised.  It is the difference between giving a cheque for $10,000 and getting $10,000 in your hand.

That is what happens in the covenant of grace.  God proclaims the promises of the covenant to all in the covenant.  Every single person — and that needs to be stressed.  However, not every single person receives what is promised in the covenant: the blessings.  That is because there is a human responsibility within the covenant relationship.  Everybody needs to bring the cheque to the bank, so to speak.  The big question is how.

Do you see a possible problem this illustration might encounter today?

When we moved here to Australia in 2015, we right away noticed that cheques are almost completely extinct here.  It was getting like that in Canada, but Australia is even further along in electronic payments for everything.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen an Australian bank cheque.  Still, I’ve kept on using the cheque illustration, banking on the hope that most people still know what I’m talking about.  Most probably do, even the kids in my catechism classes.  Yet the illustration is undoubtedly losing its currency.

I’m mentoring a couple of young men from my church in teaching catechism.  I have a sabbatical coming up shortly and they’ll be taking over my catechism classes.  One of them was teaching on baptism.  Afterwards, we got to discussing this illustration and I asked how it could be updated.  “A gift card,” was the reply.  Hmmm…..

Indeed, if someone gives you a gift card for $10, it’s like a promise for that amount.  However, in order to cash in on the value of the gift card, you need to do something with it.  If it’s for iTunes, you need to get yourself to the iStore.  If you leave that gift card in your pocket and forget about it, it’s given you no benefit.  You have to redeem it.  Similarly, with God’s covenant promises, you have “to redeem them” in order to receive their value and benefit.  The way that’s done is through faith in Jesus Christ.  I think that works to bring the illustration into a new era.

As I intimated in the book excerpt above, it’s not a perfect illustration.  It can only be taken so far.  For example, it doesn’t reckon with the reality that not appropriating the promises for yourself doesn’t leave you in a zero-sum state.  If you don’t deposit your cheque or redeem your gift card, you’re just left with nothing.  There’s no penalty.  But if you neglect or spurn God’s covenant promises, there are serious consequences (e.g. Hebrews 10:26-31).

It’s often said that the best way to teach is to show and not tell.  A well-crafted illustration does exactly that.  “Well-crafted” means also ensuring our illustrations are relevant and easily grasped.


The Preacher’s Doubts

Preachers are just regular people.  We’re not uber-Christians who never struggle with sin or weakness.  I’ve been preaching now for 19 years and I’ve experienced my share of ups and downs directly related to my calling on the pulpit.  A lot of my downs have had to do with doubts.  Let me share what some of those are and how I’ve been led through them so I can carry on.  I’ll divide them into two categories.

Doubts Before the Sermon

Sometimes as I’m preparing my sermons, I’ll be struck with doubts about the message I’m proclaiming.  It’s not that I doubt the truth of it; it’s that I doubt the congregation needs to have it repeated.  I repeat myself so often.  Yes, I try to frame the old gospel message in fresh and creative ways, but I’m always wondering:  will Sunday be the day someone comes up to me and says, “Can you preach something new for once?  Really, it’s always the same old.  You never give us anything new.”

When I hear these thoughts I need to go to 2 Peter 1:12-15,

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth you have.  I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.  And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

I know this passage and I have known it since seminary — one of my fellow students gave a memorable chapel message on it.  But, ironically, I forget.  I forget that, in God’s Word itself, the necessity of repetition is laid upon us.  Even for those who know the truth, there is no harm but only benefit from hearing it again and again.

I also need to remember the parishioners who’ve told me about understanding something about the gospel only after I’ve told them ten times or more.  There’s the psychology of listening.  Some people hear something and grasp it instantly.  Others hear it and it doesn’t register until the fifth time, or maybe even the tenth time.  Moreover, there might be children or teens in the congregation who are truly listening to a sermon for the first time — the previous times they may have been present, but weren’t really listening.  What about visitors who might be there for the first time?  Or new members who weren’t there the last nine times you said it?  So, away with you doubts!  I must keep repeating myself.

Doubts After the Sermon

These are the worst.  Sunday evenings after being all preached out I’m often a mess on the inside.   You’ve poured your heart and soul into preparing and preaching and then:  “Was it all worth it?”  “Does it change anything?”  I wonder about the power and efficacy of preaching.

I have two passages that I call my Sunday evening lifelines.  With these words from the Holy Spirit, I get bailed out and I can sleep easy.  The first passage is from 1 Corinthians 15:58,

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

While that was originally addressed to the Corinthian congregation, it can certainly be taken to heart by preachers too.  Our labour in the Lord is never in vain — it’s never pointless, it’s always worth the effort.

My second Sunday evening lifeline is found in the well-known passage of Isaiah 55:10-11.  God says,

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, and make it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent.

If I’m preaching God’s Word, it is always going to do something.  God always has a purpose behind it, even if it’s not always immediately obvious to me.  My Father promises this and I need to take him at his word.

Moreover, once I get beyond the tunnel vision of Sunday evening, I can see that God’s Word is doing things.  Hearts and lives are being changed.  There is growth in understanding the goodness of the good news in Christ, and therefore also growth in love, joy, and worship.

I’m quite sure I’m not alone in struggling with these kinds of doubts.  In speaking with other pastors, I’ve heard of how Sunday evenings can be the worst time of the week.  If you’re one of those pastors, I hope you’ll find encouragement from the lifelines I’ve mentioned, and maybe others.  If you’re a parishioner, may I encourage you too?  Provide that feedback to your pastor.  Reassure him and let him know concretely how his labours in the Lord are not in vain.  Let him know that his repeating essential truths has borne fruit.  And maybe, just maybe, those moments of doubt will grow weaker and fewer.


FRC Launceston Livestreaming and Video Archive

The Free Reformed Church of Launceston (where I serve) has just recently started livestreaming our Sunday worship services (9:30 AM and 3:30 PM, Eastern Australia time).  You can also find an archive of recent services.  It’s all here at our YouTube channel.

Additionally, the notes for most of my sermons eventually end up at TheSeed.info


Calvin: Ministers Ought Not to Steal

I’m reading through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.  For the first time.  Yes, shamefacedly, I have to admit that I have never read the work from cover to cover.  I’ve grazed here and there.  I’ve used the handy index to look up what Calvin said on particular topics.  But never, since buying it in 1992, have I had the discipline or desire to digest the whole enchilada.  I’m glad that I’ve finally begun to do so.  Calvin has some remarkable insights, many of which have been noted by others (the law as a mirror, the Word of God as spectacles, etc.).  But frequently you stumble across something which, it seems to me, others may have overlooked.

In Book 2, Calvin works his way through the Ten Commandments.  He approaches them as the guide for the life of a Christian redeemed by God’s grace in Christ.  As part of his explanation of the Eighth Commandment (“You shall not steal”), he points out that this commandment also means that Christians are bound to fulfill whatever duties they have been given, “to pay their debts faithfully” so to speak (Institutes 2.8.46).  He applies this to various callings in society:  rulers, parents, children, and servants.

Interestingly, he also applies the Eighth Commandment to pastors:

Let the ministers of churches faithfully attend to the ministry of the Word, not adulterating the teaching of salvation, but delivering it pure and undefiled to God’s people.  And let them instruct the people not only through teaching, but also through example of life.  In short, let them exercise authority as good shepherds over their sheep.

In other words, pastors obey the Eighth Commandment when they fully discharge their calling.  Particularly, we’re to proclaim the gospel with fidelity.  Anything less is to be considered as theft.  We are robbing God of what he is owed and we are robbing the people of God what they are owed from us.  I don’t think I’ve ever encountered that application before!

But, according to Calvin, sermon imbibers can also be thieves:

Let the people in their turn receive them as messengers and apostles of God, render to them that honor of which the highest Master has deemed them worthy, and give them those things necessary for their livelihood.

When parishioners fail to honor their pastors by listening to them and providing for them, Calvin points out that this is actually robbery.  But by attentive listening and loving support for their under-shepherds, Christians are following the Eighth Commandment.  Have you ever thought about this in those terms?  Didn’t think so.  But it makes sense, right?