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T4G C. J. Mahaney: Ordinary Pastors

Here are my notes from the last session of the T4G 2010 conference, a gracious exhortation from C. J. Mahaney to pastors based on 2 Timothy 4:

Some pastors are remarkable gifts to the church, with massive intellects and unusual insights, but most of us are ordinary pastors with ordinary gifts & ordinary areas of spheres and abilities to serve. We’re consistently preaching average sermons Sunday after Sunday, without writing best selling books or having thousands downloading our sermons from around the world or being recognized as we walk down the street. All of us are called and gifted, but not unusually so. But ordinary pastors are predictably tempted to unfavorably compare themselves to these unusual men, and become discouraged. Too often ordinary pastors are discouraged pastors.

To combat this temptation and discouragement, we must turn to a true definition, a true charge, of pastoral ministry. It’s not about gifting or even fruitfulness: all we are called to be is faithful to this charge.

Three Ways a Pastor Can Be Faithful To His Call

One: Be Faithful to the Message 2 Timothy 4:2

Never assume your people have an exhaustive knowledge of the Gospel.

You must resolve to be UNoriginal to remain fixed on the matter of first importance, the Gospel.

The simple Gospel might not look like much, (like one pastor’s first car ( a pink 1957 Ford)), but there is power under the hood. You can say “I can do this! I can preach this Gospel!”

Once Charles Spurgeon’s grandfather remarked, “My grandson may preach the Gospel better than I can, but he cannot preach a better Gospel.”

Faithfulness to the message requires knowing your people, using pastoral wisdom and discernment. That is what Paul means by reprove, rebuke, exhort. You cannot prepare your teaching in isolation from your flock.

Pastoral ministry requires complete patience (verse 2). If we are not patient with our people then we are not being faithful to this charge. Don’t let faith in your people become frustration with your people.

How do you cultivate patience? 1. By marveling at God’s patience with you. 2. By realizing sanctification is a loooong process. 3. By marveling that people who heard you last week actually are coming back to hear you this week. 4. By realizing that many of God’s metaphors are based on agriculture, on timespans of seasons & years. 5. By not assuming you are sufficiently patient.

Two: Be Faithful to your Ministry 2 Timothy 2:5

We are called to relentless faithfulness, today, tomorrow, every day, for all your life.

One of the hardest and most crucial tasks for any ministry is just to keep doing the same things year after year, instead of being distracted by doing “new” or “better” things.

Three: Be Faithful to the Savior 2 Timothy 2:8

Look forward with an eternal perspective to your reward as an ordinary pastor.

On that Day there will be a parade of ordinary pastors, who you have never heard of, who will hear Christ say, “Well done, good & faithful pastor.”

For further reading: Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson by D. A. Carson

T4G Joshua Harris: Dug Down Deep

This afternoon’s session at the T4G 2010 Conference was by Josh Harris, pastor & author, based on his new book Dug Down Deep: Helping Others Build Their Lives on Christ-Centered Doctrine.

Evangelical Christianity in America today is now characterized as moralistic,therapeutic deism. People think it’s all about doing good things, getting their problems fixed, under the eye of a benevolent but uninvolved God.

The question is: What are we going to do about it? What is our reaction?

Do we see the contemporary Christian landscape as sheep without a shepherd who need the truth?

As we look at luke 6, we see that Jesus faced the same sort of problem that we face today, people who call Him Lord but do not do the things He said. People do not know the Gospel, so they don’t know how to apply the reality of the Gospel to their lives.

What did Jesus do with these people? He spoke grace to them, shepherded them, and that is what we are called to do. Pastors, don’t study Barna, study your people, the individual people that God has brought to you. Here are four points as you shepherd your people in the life-transforming reality of the Gospel.

One: Tell Them Simply

When Jesus spoke to the immature, He spoke simply. Don’t preach your message for fellow pastors. You can feed a child a steak, but if you love him you will cut it up into bite sized pieces.

Two: Tell Them Why

Let them know the real benefits of a transformed life. You can do this without pandering to selfishness. Tell them why doctrine matters to real life. Tell them the storms are coming to their lives, and what they believe about God & Jesus will make all the difference. Show them that we are all theologians. Make them confront the questions: Do you see the foundation you are building on? Do you see how you will be swept away if you keep clinging to your incorrect beliefs about yourself & God?

Three: Tell Them How

The parable of the two houses in Luke 6 shows us a three step process that we should teach and model:

Step One: Come to Jesus– make it clear there is no solid foundation except in the person & work of Jesus. The point of all theological doctrine is to know and obey this Person. Not ritual or rule keeping or anything else: all else is sand. Jesus is the Rock.
What are the popular false foundations in your church, the things that people functionally stake their lives on, have confidence in, even if they would say that Jesus is their Lord? Ask people: What is special about our church? It probably reveals your false foundation. In reality, nothing makes us special, all we have is Christ. Christ is the only foundation. Are we training our people to be most passionate about their relationship with Jesus?

Step Two: Listen to His Words– We serve a God Who speaks. People want to separate doctrinal truth and relational intimacy into two tracks, but correct doctrine is relational. There is no relationship without knowing God. If you want to feel deeply, you must think deeply. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the interpretation of the facts is doctrine.

Step Three: Put His Words into Practice– we often see people with foundations of sand as people who do not KNOW doctrine, but Jesus says it is people who do not FOLLOW doctrine.

What do people see as the word picture of sound doctrine? A fight, a trophy? Or building?

Doctrine is for building your life. It has to be put into practice. Doctrine doesn’t end when people shut their Bibles and walk out of the church building.

That’s why Paul said, “Watch your life & your doctrine closely.”. Your life must be a testimony to the importance of sound doctrine.

Four: Tell Them Compassionately

We often learn to rebuke like Jesus but not love like Jesus.

Will we gently and compassionately show them the importance of digging down deep?

Will we be an example with our lives?

My life was changed because I had a pastor (C. J. Mahaney) that not only taught sound doctrine, but lived it and showed me his life, his house that he had built on sound doctrine.

There is a whole generation of churchgoers who have not seen a life based on a solid foundation, lived with humility and integrity.

They need to see such a life, they need someone who will let them inside their house, jump on the floor and see that it really is firm, to see that it stands in the worst of storms. They need to see the value and goodness of building their life on Jesus Christ.

Will you be that person?

T4G: The Gospel & Culture

This morning’s first session was taught by Thabiti Anyabwile. He introduced himself by saying: My name Thabiti means “Who’d I tick off to get the 8am time slot?”

Christianity transforming culture is an important & huge idea, but one fraught with complexities and ambiguities and pitfalls.

How do we define culture? What type of culture are trying to influence or engage? Pop, ethnic, political, high, or all of the above?

What is the objective? How do we define when we’ve been successful?

Are these even the right questions? Is engaging the culture even something we’ve been called to do?

While we’re busy engaging the culture, we may miss the more fundamental mission of embodying the Gospel.

Paul’s Purpose

His purpose– Colossians 1:24-29 Make the Word of God fully known in order to present the entire church whole, mature in Christ

Paul repeatedly refers to his purpose throughout his epistles

But Paul warns that there can be types of teaching, ministry that sound right but are wrong, making us think that the Gospel is about something other than Paul’s purpose.

How do we prevent such “mission drift?” by ruthlessly rooting our purpose in the Gospel message, in the Scriptures themselves.

Paul writes primarily to the church, not the culture, the redeemed, not the unredeemed.

Paul always pushes the Gospel to its radical implications to the redeemed (like to Philemon), not to a Roman official.

He engages the culture by engaging the church.

Paul’s Philosophy

How do we get people rooted & grounded in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7)? The simple answer is the Gospel (2:9-15). We need no other philosophy or ideas.

The basic question: are we captured by Christ or captured by the world’s ideas? (Colossians 2:8). Paul sets the Gospel over & against the ideas of the world, it is a Biblical antithesis. There is a dangerous tendency to underestimate the influence of the world on us as we attempt to engage it. Satan is always trying to make the world look innocuous, that there is a spiritually safe, neutral ground between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. James 4. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. 1 John 2 Do not love the world Romans 12 do not be conformed to the world

A Christian who is unaware of the dangers of the culture is being de-Christianized by the forces of the culture.

Paul’s Practices

Colossians 2:16-23 do not let any religious or cultural practices become your standard, but only Christ.

Every human culture is fundamentally apostate. We are all saved from the apostate culture we were in, and we should be like snakes shedding our old skin of culture.

What does it mean to be God’s people? Does it not mean that God gives us a new culture, a way of acting, relating, being? That is what God did with Abraham and his people. Did that process stop with the people of Israel? Look at what God did in the book of Acts with the church.

Paul is saying, “We were culturally Jews, that was our culture, our practice, but now our practice is Christ.”

Accommodating the Gospel to any culture by necessity must diminish the Gospel.

The true church is multiethnic but not multicultural.

Paul’s Perspective

Colossians 3:1-3 set your minds on Christ, not on things of the earth

Earthly gaze results in earthly living, Christward gaze results in Christlike living.

T4G Al Mohler: Trajectories Toward an Adjusted Gospel

Ok, I promised myself I would not try to blog any of the presentations at the Together For the Gospel 2010 Conference today and instead just focus on listening.  BUT…. Al Mohler’s presentation tonight was so full of good information, and I took so many notes, and I thought, “I want to write this down, and there’s just too much information I want to share with people, and it won’t fit on just a facebook status update, and….”  So…. here we go…

Tonight’s presentation by Dr. Al Mohler focused on recognizing some of the different ways that the Gospel, Biblical Christianity, gets off track.  Just like an airplane can get off track, on a wrong trajectory, and end up crashing, the Gospel message, a person, or a church can also get off trajectory, subtly at first, but eventually with disastrous results.  Here is his taxonomy of the different trajectories toward an adjusted, altered, and eventually wrecked Gospel.  Everything in “quotes” are exact or nearly exact quotes from Mohler, the rest is my summation and paraphrase of his points.

Modern Theology

Liberal theology, neo-orthodoxy, and the like, where in the name of logic and rationalism the Gospel is stripped of anything supernatural.  It is “demythologized” so that it can be believed by “modern” man.  The result is that “theological liberals want to rescue Christianity, but they instead end up burying it.”

Post-Modern Theology

In contrast to modernists that want to establish that Biblical theology is false, post modernists reject objective truth altogether, so that Biblical truth is neither true nor false, but simply has subjective value.  “Truth” is considered to be of value simply in its metanarrative meaning.  While Biblical theology’s cognitive doctrine is concerned with objective truth, and liberal theology is concerned with existential emotion and experience, post-moderns see doctrine as merely a cultural linguistic system to hold meaning, which can twist and shift into anything they want it to be.

Moral Theology

These philosophers are repulsed by Biblical concepts such as hell, depravity, & atonement, so they appeal that there is a “higher morality” than the so-called primitive systems of Christianity.  C. S. Lewis referred to this as “chronological snobbery.”  (that just because something is ancient that it is inferior) In essence, these philosophers demand that God conform to their own notion of fairness.  However, as Dr. Mohler points out, “People want God to be fair, but “Perfect” is infinitely superior to fair, & Perfect cannot be interrogated by fair.” (meaning that our imperfect limited concept of fairness as fallen finite humans cannot judge the fairness of an infinite perfect being)

Therapeutic Theology

Where we only find ourselves as sick, but not sinful, and the Bible is self-help, but not a source of external rescue from hopeless depravity.

Pragmatic Theology

Ever since Genesis 3 when Adam & Eve tried to make coverings of fig leaves, we have always tried to fix things our way instead of beginning with God’s way.  The pragmatists battle cry is “Let’s solve it! Let’s get results!”  Truth ends up not being a foundation but only a tool to obtain the desired result.  Managerial expertise and methods can produce apparent and quickly gratifying results, but “It produces crowds, but not churches, results, but not regenerations.”

Emotional Theology

When we lean toward teachings and experiences that have positive emotional reward, but lean away from anything that has emotional cost.  This leads to feel-good theology that avoids anything in Christianity that isn’t palatable.  (I would add one of my favorite word pictures:  no one wants the pain of lancing the boil, but you can’t get real healing without going through that pain.)

Prosperity Theology

Dr. Mohler: “It’s only “Your Best Life Now” if you’re an unbeliever.”  John MacArthur in Q&A was even more direct: “It’s the single greatest lie in the church today, it’s the most marketable, it’s Satanic, it’s a Ponzi scheme, it’s preying on the poor.”  “If Jesus were here, he would make a whip and go straight to the offices of TBN.”

Aesthetic Theology

Embraces only the “good & beautiful” and rejects anything that offends like depravity or atonement, ignoring the fact that our fallen natures cannot be trusted to make accurate assessments of what is truly beautiful about the Gospel.

Dr. Mohler ended by highlighting two factors in doctrinal drift:

Doctrinal Fatigue— having to go against the cultural tide and repeatedly defend Biblical theology over and over can lead to just tiring of it.  But fatigue is disastrous to the metal of a bridge, the pilot of a plane, or the pastor of a church.

Embarrassment– of the scandal of the Gospel, so that you progressively let go of doctrines that are uncomfortable to unbelievers.  But “The Holy Spirit alone can make the Gospel credible.”

The best safeguard to doctrinal drift? Expository preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible, because you are forced to avoid the temptation to pick and choose easy or safe topics and texts. All you have to do is “open your mouth and let the words come out”– preaching the simple direct meaning of the texts themselves.

What John Piper Prays Before He Preaches

Dr. Piper has shared before the acrostic APTA that he uses to guide his prayers before he preaches.  He brought it up again yesterday during the panel discussion at T4G, and so I thought it good to share it here:

A-Admit: admit that within yourself you have no power to effect change in people’s hearts or accomplish anything for the Kingdom of God.

P-Pray: pray for God’s guidance, His strength, His Spirit.

T-Trust: trust that God’s word will not return to Him void and that His Kingdom will be advanced.

A-Act: Go and preach with all your heart and strength.

Books at Together for the Gospel

 T4G 2008 Books

One of the many benefits of attending the Together for the Gospel Conference are the terrific books we receive. Here is a recap of all the books:

From the Band of Bloggers meeting:
When I Don’t Desire God
Young, Restless, Reformed
reThink
A Tale of Two Sons
The Mortification of Sin
Christ Is All
Dear Timothy
Walking as He Walked

From Exhibitors:
50 Crucial Questions
How People Change

From the Conference:
If You Could Ask One Question
The Faithful Preacher
Preaching the Cross
Pierced for Our Transgressions
Why We’re Not Emergent
The Courage to Be Protestant
The Gospel & Personal Evangelism
The Gospel According to Jesus
The Truth of the Cross
Christ and Culture Revisited
Culture Shift
The Future of Justification
In My Place Condemned He Stood
Worship Matters
ESV Bible Outreach Edition

Reflections of T4G Day Three

Yesterday T4G was all about defining and protecting the purity of the Gospel.  Today we moved from word to deed, from definition to demonstration, from affirmation to action, in two passionate sermons from two incredibly gifted pastors.

First we heard from Dr. John Piper.  John has shaped my heart and mind like no one else on earth.  His sermon at the first T4G still stands in my mind as the most moving and profound I have ever heard.  His sermon this morning was entitled “How the Supremacy of Christ Creates Radical Christian Sacrifice.”  If we believe, truly believe, in the truth that Jesus Christ and His glory is the most important thing in the universe, then that must move us to go out of our comfort zone, out of our comfortable American middle-class existence, to give up our materialism (yikes, he actually mentioned iPhones by name!), to sacrifice and suffer in any way necessary to make the gospel real to people.  He went through the book of Hebrews to show both the glory of Christ and that Christ is waiting “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:12-14 ), in the uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and that he calls us to join Him in His sufferings.  He pled for us to see Christ as not only our ticket to heaven, but the very reason that we long for heaven at all.

Lastly, we heard from C. J. Mahaney on joy as the sustainer of a pastor’s soul.  The Christian life is hard, especially that of a pastor (who were the majority of those at the conference).  C. J. said that although most pastors are faithful servants, that many are not truly joyful servants, and the failure to be joyful even in the midst of hardship is sin.  He went through Paul’s letter to the Philippians and pointed us to three characteristics of Paul that allowed him to be truly joyful even in the midst of great hardship:  a life filled with gratitude, with faith, and with love to others.  C. J. emphasized that these characteristics were not isolated or self-generated morality, but rather generated and empowered by the reality of the gospel.

Sacrifice and joy.  That is the way of the true disciple of Christ, and serve as a fitting capstone to a gathering of men who were together for the gospel.

 

All of the presentations at the 2008 (and original 2006) conference are available now for download free at this site.  I would highly encourage you to listen to them.  I particularly consider Piper’s 2008 presentation to be essential listening for all who are followers of Christ.

 

Reflections on T4G Day Two

Day Two

This morning I awoke with the thought, “Less of me, more of God.”  That cry of my heart certainly helped guide me today through the conference.

 

The first lecture of the morning came from Dr. John MacArthur, who has been faithfully pastoring Grace Community Church for nearly forty years.  He gave a wonderful exposition of the doctrine of total inability.  He emphasized how central it is to the Christian gospel for people to know that although a person may do many good, moral, and noble acts, that there is absolutely nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God or to come to God in any way. 

 

The truth of Christianity stands alone among all religions. All men create a religion in which there is some way in which a person can become worthy before a god or otherwise progress spiritually by their own efforts.  The Bible reveals that we cannot; that we are all born spiritually dead, and that spiritual life can only come through a merciful God choosing to bestow it upon a totally rebellious and utterly unworthy sinner by coming to Christ.

 

Next Pastor Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Bible Church outlined the ways that many in Christianity today seek to “improve” the gospel, by modifying or adding to its essential truths.  He emphasized that we must guard the purity of the Gospel, and must make it the church’s central mission to clearly tell all the world the truth of salvation in Christ.

 

I so admire the faithfulness of R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries and his commitment to teach Biblical theology.  Eighteen years ago a friend gave me some videotapes of a Bible teacher I had never heard of.  Those tapes were R. C. teaching on the holiness of God, and I listened and wept at the majesty and the power of a God who is holy. 

 

This morning R. C. spoke on the cross of Christ and the curse of God.  Al Mohler remarked later that he had never heard R. C. speak so powerfully, and I had to agree.  He passionately laid out the awfulness of our rebellion against a holy God, the curse of eternal damnation that God has justly assigned to each and every one of us, and the love of God in providing Jesus Christ to bear the curse for those who come to Him.  O, how glorious a salvation God has provided, and how much the knowledge of God’s judgment should impel us to preach the gospel to all the world.

 

We finished up this evening with Dr. Mohler giving a detailed overview of the attacks on the doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus.  There are many inside and outside Christianity who do not want to accept that their rebellion against God justly merits His wrath against them, and that Jesus Christ fully accepted that penalty and paid for it with His death for those who believe.  And yet that is what the Bible clearly teaches, and that is what we must clearly stand for.

 

In the panel discussion afterward, it was mentioned that the first step in abandoning a doctrine is to not articulate it.  In other words, unless you clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly teach what is true, then you open the door for what is false.  And that was what today was all about: clearly, emphatically teaching the truth of the Bible in order to leave no room for falsehood, so that God might be rightly understood, rightly loved, and rightly glorified.

Together For The Gospel Conference Highlights

Inside the Conference Hall at T4G
Together for the Gospel is a biannual conference dedicated to upholding Christ and the Gospel and encouraging and informing church leaders.  The speakers include tremendous men of God like Ligon Duncan and Al Mohler, and the pastors who have most profoundly impacted my personal walk with God over the years: John MacArthur, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and C. J. Mahaney.  This page has all the links to the posts I have written regarding the conference.

Pictures from Flickr

Bits From the Band of Bloggers

Reflections From Day One

Reflections From Day Two

Reflections From Day Three

T4G Recommended Books

T4G Books Received

What John Piper Prays Before He Preaches

All of the presentations are available freely for listening and download here.

I also felt “honored” to be among the 5000 who were labeled “theology freaks” by Christianity Today.

T4G Recommended Books

This year at Together for the Gospel the four organizers of the conference have done something new: they have each furnished a list of books that they especially recommend to the attendees. In addition, all of these recommended books are being stocked in the bookstore set up next to the conference hall.  The conference bookstore has another distinguishing feature in that although there are multiple publishers present, the only books that are available for purchase are ones that have been personally reviewed and approved by the conference.  It is certainly a different experience to walk past book tables and not have to wonder if the book you are picking up has accurate theology or not.  Here are all the recommended book lists:
Albert Mohler’s Recommended Books:

Knowing God
The Supremacy of God in Preaching
The Christian Ministry
Preaching and Preachers
The Gospel According to Jesus
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther
God, Revelation and Authority
The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross
The Forgotten Spurgeon
According to Plan

C. J. Mahaney’s Recommended Books:

The Cross and Christian Ministry
The Cross of Christ
The Christian Ministry
The Holiness of God
The Message of the Old Testament
The Message of the New Testament
God’s Empowering Presence
Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth
When I Don’t Desire God
Seeing with New Eyes
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands

Mark Dever’s Recommended Books:

Knowing God
Humility: True Greatness
The Screwtape Letters
New Testament Commentary Survey
George Whitefield 2 volumes
Showing the Spirit
The Bruised Reed
To the Golden Shore
Stop Dating the Chruch
C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography 2 volumes

Ligon Duncan’s Recommended Books:

Basic Christianity
The Holiness of God
Don’t Waste Your Life
A Call to Spiritual Reformation
Holiness
Christianity and Liberalism
Fundamentalism and the Word of God
A Quest for Godliness
Redemption Accomplished and Applied
No Place for Truth
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood