Posted in discernment, encouragement, pastors, preachers, truth

Aren’t there ANY good preachers/churches left?

I hesitate to begin this essay by saying “In these times of apostasy” because the times have always been apostasizing. The moment that the truth is declared, someone falls away from it (Eve, Cain, Judas, Demas, Simon Magus…). The truth is always opposed by those who hate God.

Of late, however, it seems that some men we have always been able to count on are falling. The Bible is clear that even leaders who have been seemingly faithful over decades are not immune from the ravages of apostasy. Length of time in the faith is no guarantor of continued faithfulness. Ending well is just as important as beginning well. (2 Timothy 4:7).

In addition, the Spirit is always revealing the wolf in sheep’s clothing. John Piper has been displaying zero discernment. I wrote about Ravi Zacharias’ questionable credentials, heretical associations, and leaky theology here. Billy Graham said that anyone who is sincere and really believes something is up there will be in heaven with the saints. I think those are the three best recent examples of how sin works in the heart and how the Holy Spirit works in the Body to reveal it.

Just as the truth is always opposed, the truth is always upheld. The Lord raises up good men to speak His Gospel. In Romans 10:14 Apostle Paul asked the following questions

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

The questions are not rhetorical. They are actual. The mechanism through which God has said He will use as the catalyst for conversion is His Gospel, preached by truthful men, to hearts He will release from the bondage of sin. (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). Therefore it makes sense God will always have good men preaching it, does it not? Because if He didn’t, who could hear?

Therefore in every generation God raises up men who will stand for truth and speak God’s word. In Isaiah 55:11 God told prophet Isaiah

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 it.

So though it seems today like there are no trustworthy pastors and preachers and teachers, there are. There has to be, for where else will God speak His Word and souls be claimed?

So who are these good or solid preachers? Well, first, do not overlook your own pastors and teachers. I know that many of you are grieved deeply that there seems not to be a good church in your area. With apostasy rising fast it is true that a solid church is a gem these days. Remember, this has always been the case. Throughout every age, even in America, there have always been large, geographical dead spots where the Bible is being proclaimed in perverted or twisted manner, or there isn’t any truth being proclaimed from a set body of gathered believers at all. Miles and miles might separate one good church from another, neither of them reachable for many people.

But laboring quietly in some corner of a church might be a good Sunday School Teacher. You could go to his class. Quietly knitting together some women under a ministry in a church there might be a woman with a heart for theology and the Bible. Maybe your church has a good music minister who sings hymns. Though the church in its entirety may not be great food perhaps there is one hook onto which you can hang your hat- and support and pray for the others who are not as solid. Come alongside them and help with encouragement and pointing to solid doctrine. Sometimes all it takes is one, strong, praying, persevering person to turn things around in a church. You don’t know what the Holy Spirit has in mind the next week, day, year.

Meanwhile, here are some men who are currently pastoring churches and speaking the truth as unmixed by man’s contamination as it’s possible to do. These are men we hear on the radio but are actually pastors of actual churches many people actually go to. You could, as well.  A friend of mine is moving out to CA to attend The Master’s College and will attend this church and will be present at the 47th anniversary of MacArthur’s installation as pastor-teacher at GCC.

Don Green, pastor of Truth Community Church. 4183 Mt Carmel Tobasco Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45255. Sermons can be heard at sermon audio here, or iTunes, Facebook page.

Alistair Begg, pastor of Parkside Church, 4520 S Arlington Road, Uniontown, OH. Radio program where sermons can be heard,Truth for Life.

Phil Johnson, pastor GraceLife Pulpit, one of the ministries at Grace Community Church, 13248 Roscoe Blvd, Sun Valley, CA 91352. Sermons here

Dan Duncan, Believers Chapel, 6420 Churchill Way, Dallas, TX 75230. Mr Duncan is BC’s current pastor, sermons here. S. Lewis Johnson was formerly pastor of Beleiver’s Chapel. Vast sermon archive here.  Both men are featured on the sermon schedule at Expositor.fm

John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church, 13248 Roscoe Blvd, Sun Valley, CA 91352. Since February 1969, John MacArthur has been preaching verse-by-verse at that location. I’ve listened to him since 2007 or ’08. He is my favorite pastor.

Oftentimes I’ve heard people say that John MacArthur is the Spurgeon of this generation. Well, is he?  I decided to check. I am familiar with Charles Spurgeon, loving his sermons and reading them online quite often. I’ve also read his biography. Spurgeon’s output was prodigious, and his nickname “The Prince of Preachers” is well-earned. Is John MacArthur’s output even close to the beloved Spurgeon’s? Does he earn the privilege of being compared to the Prince of Preachers? I decided to do a comparison.

Now, comparing is difficult because of the time gap between the two men’s preaching eras. But as a quick draft, I put together the following information:

So that will give you an idea as to why I am blessed to have been led by the Spirit to John MacArthur’s radio program and then to the rest of his output, his associations, and his ministries.

Readers might be familiar with the fact that I write some discernment essays. One indicator of the first steps of drifting away from the truth is who a person associates with. In 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul said,

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

In Proverbs 22:25 we read that we should not be hanging around angry people “or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.

Associating or worse, partnering with, immoral or sinful people engenders deception and ensnarement, so saith the LORD. So when we read of Ravi Zacharias praising heretic Joyce Meyer on her television show or joining with New Apostolic Reformation conferences, or Beth Moore teaching alongside Christine Caine and Roma Downey, or John Piper with Louis Giglio or Christine Caine, or Ronnie Floyd embedded in IHOP or partnering at Synergize Conference with John Bevere or Leonard Sweet…you know that even if someone has the best of intentions their good character will be corrupted. “Do not be deceived.” At the very least, such decisions betray an astonishing lack of discernment and disregard for the holy nature of the faith these teachers are supposed to be upholding. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

But the opposite is true too. In discernment, if you are not as strong on discernment as you’d like to be yet, and you have found one good bible teacher to listen to either in real life or online, draw a circle around that man and then widen the circle. Who is in that pastor’s circle? Who does that pastor praise and recommend? Who does he quote favorably? Who does he partner with in spiritual endeavors such as book collaborations or conference speaking? I learned of most of the above men after having listened to John MacArthur’s conference sessions and in that way, was introduced to more men of faith I could trust.

Magnets have a north pole and a south pole. Though the iron filings at first are mixed, the nearer they draw to the magnet, the more the magnet will pick up and attract the filings that match that pole. I say these things to remind us that in days of apostasy (which is every day) the world will constantly be trying to pry open your tolerance. But the way is narrow. It bears repeating, the way is narrow, AND there are only two roads, narrow and broad. There is no middle ground. So it is the same with true doctrine and false. Eventually, a person will be attracted to one pole or another, as this experiment demonstrates.

Other men who I recommend who either are currently pastoring a church or who have gone on to glory or are in another teaching position, are,

Mike Riccardi, RC Sproul Sr, James Montgomery Boice, Steven J. Lawson, Ligon Duncan, Paul Washer, any teacher from The Master’s Seminary.

Don’t despair. There ARE good churches. If there isn’t one in your immediate area, pray and perhaps the Spirit will lay on your heart to either plant one or move closer to one. If your church seems to be struggling, don’t despair then, either. Maybe the Spirit is preparing you to take on a role there which will swing things upward. Sometimes the Spirit allows a person to be the lone beacon of light at a church in order the strengthen them for something ahead, or to teach endurance. In that case it would be for Jesus’ glory and your good that you remained. (Romans 8:28).

I hope this list and the encouragement has helped you.

Posted in bible, don green, lloyd-jones, macarthur, phil johnson, preachers, spurgeon, steven lawson, the word

Through the Years: Faithful men and praise to Jesus for raising them up

What is it? Answer at bottom

The above is the sermon list by year of sermons available in Dr. John MacArthur’s sermon archive.

On a recent blog essay, someone posted the following question to me:

Why do you worship MacArthur so much? You quote him on your blogs more than you do the Bible.-Jeff”

I answered this way:
“Great question! However I don’t worship Dr John MacArthur. I worship Jesus. You know that. I quote MacArthur a lot for several reasons:

–He is doctrinally correct on every issue I’ve heard him speak to. This means his interpretations are aligned with the bible. This is a precious rarity in these days,
–His entire body of work is online, and easily obtainable. Therefore he is easy to quote,
–He has addressed all of the relevant cultural issues, and these also are online and available, and once again therefore easily quotable.

I also often quote GotQuestions, for the same reasons, and Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. I’d quote Phil Johnson just as often as I do MacArthur but his sermons are not transcribed as MacArthur’s are. And as a side note, he said a couple of years ago that the same lady has been his transcriber for over 40 years. What a blessing to the faith these people are! We all benefit.

I have quoted in the past Jonathan Edwards, but his language is further away from ours, being almost 300 years old. Same with Charles Spurgeon and Matthew Henry. But I still quote them on occasion as well.

If you came across a doctrinally correct, easily obtainable body of work freely given to the body of Christ from a persevering man of faith, why would you NOT want to use it as much as possible? That is what it is there for.”

My response got me thinking about how grateful I am for the good men and pastors God has raised up. I was thunderstruck by Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“. I have an excerpt of it which I carry constantly in my bible. I occasionally re-read it in its entirety to myself aloud so I can remember and value the feeling of gratitude I have that Jesus saved me from His wrath. The sermon is almost 300 years old, but God carefully preserved it for us so that we can be edified these many generations later.

I was deeply moved by Charles’ Spurgeon’s sermon on God’s Providence. His proposal that the cherubs of the wheels within wheels could be part of the machinery of God’s providence as it works out in our lives was completely amazing to me. I often re-read that sermon to gain further insights that the Spirit will have me learn.

But it was with the advent of technology that we are blessed with being able to hear these preachers as they preach. Many of the later Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s sermons were taped and put onto more current media. John MacArthur’s first sermon at Grace Community Church in 1969 was cassette-taped and transcribed and so have all the rest ever since.

These men are good expositors. The Lord raised them up for the benefit of the church and the edification of souls. When Charles Spurgeon was actively preaching, his sermons were re-printed in the newspaper. He was endlessly quoted. His magazine Sword and Trowel enjoyed a high circulation. Thousands came to hear him in the Tabernacle and the tens of thousands read his sermons each week.

When Spurgeon died, in January 1892, London south of the Thames went into mourning. Sixty thousand people came to pay homage during the three days his body lay in state at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. A funeral parade two miles long followed his hearse from the Tabernacle to the cemetery at Upper Norwood. One hundred thousand people stood along the way, flags flew at half-mast, shops and pubs were closed. It was a remarkable demonstration of affection and respect, even in an era when people were scrupulous in observing the rituals that accompanied death.” (source)

Yet would anyone in those more Godly times peevishly complain that a person was sourcing Spurgeon’s material too much? Worshiping him? I doubt it. “Stop reading his sermon every Monday! You do that too much!” It’s laughable.

I respect the men who came before us and the men whom God raises up today. Their commentaries, books, and sermons are for the benefit of the church members and ultimately are to glorify Him. It’s been true ever since this verse was spoken,

I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” (1 Samuel 2:35)

God did that and continues to do that until He raised up Jesus, the final High Priest and the Priest forever, bless His holy name. After the cross, back here on earth, God still raises up men to teach and preach to us, because God’s word goes out forever and will never pass away (Matthew 24:25).
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)

The apostasy is growing at an exponential rate. My job as an encourager and a discerner is to point people to credible men whose teaching is solid. We are long past the tipping point where most preaching is solid. Nowadays, most preaching is NOT solid. We have gone from being a ‘God-fearing’ nation, to a God-mocking nation.

Therefore when as Bereans you compare to the bible the links I offer you, I believe in every case you will find it matches. Therefore I am unashamed to continue to quote Dr MacArthur, and I refuse to be browbeaten into seeking other men for people to read who may not be as solid simply to cater to whims and wishes of those who are peeved for some reason.

Now, if someone wants a wider array of Godly preachers to select from, I can accommodate. I listed below my favorites, men to whom I give my respect as elders of the faith and to whom I daily and weekly listen or read. They are all expositors.

What is expositional preaching?
Expositional preaching at its simplest is preaching that is focused on explaining the meaning of Scripture in its historical and grammatical context. Expositional preaching involves explaining what the Bible says to a contemporary audience that is likely unfamiliar with the cultural and historical settings that the passage was written in. The word exposition simply means to “a setting forth or explanation.” So expositional preaching is the explanation of Scripture that is based upon diligent study and careful exegesis of a passage. It is the primary call of the pastor or preacher as we see in 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”

These first three men have been or are in service to God in a mighty, MIGHTY way, and what a ministry! I praise and thank Jesus for raising them up!

John F. MacArthur, 3,000+ sermons. He has been preaching at Grace Community Church for 45 years. (b. 1939- ). Bio. Sermon archive. I especially enjoyed his preaching series from Genesis

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, (1834-1892). 3,561 sermons. AKA The Prince of Preachers, preached at New Park Street and then Metropolitan Tabernacle for 37 years. (Bio). Sermons. My current favorite is the sermon on God’s Providence.

Lloyd-Jones

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, (1899 – 1 March 1981). 1591 sermons available. He preached for 41 years at Westminster Chapel in London. (Bio). Sermon archive here. My current favorite are the Great Biblical Doctrines, especially, The Fall.

Also:

I also enjoy Dr Steven Lawson. I just listened to a wonderful sermon of his from Philippians, about daily Christian living. Sermon archive here. (Bio).

Phil Johnson is a personal favorite of mine. I’d quote him as often as I do MacArthur but his sermons haven’t been transcribed until lately. Pastor Johnson preaches at the GraceLife Pulpit of John MacArthur’s church. I enjoy the sermons from Dr. MacArthur, but I personally identify with Johnson. My current favorite sermon of his recently has been What Creation Reveals. (Bio and other Bio)

Don Green

Finally, though certainly not least, is Pastor Don Green. He preaches at Truth Community Fellowship. (Bio). My current favorite sermon of his is called “What is Sin?

I hope these links and the thousands upon thousands of wonderfully exposited sermons available to you will edify you in a great way. May the spotless name of Jesus be glorified through their ministry and by us as we receive His word into our hearts and minds from these men. 

Posted in abendroth, green, johnson, listening, lloyd-jones, macarthur, preachers, sermon

How to listen to a sermon: part 1 "The mechanics of listening"

Part 2 here: “Expository Listening”

As I’m sure you do, I like to listen to sermons. I listen at my laptop, while I am doing dishes or cooking, and in church. The former means I have no visuals to accompany the listening, and the latter does.

The catch is finding a good preacher who treats the scripture with respect, doesn’t promote a false doctrine, and is clear in his preaching. That is hard to do these days! Once you find some pastors like that, phew, it is easy to settle into a routine that contains your favorite few. Mine are John MacArthur, Mike Abendroth, (and also herePhil Johnson, and Don Green.

However, I have an Old Testament prophet’s heart and I LOVE to listen to good exposition on the OT texts. The problem is, pastors who preach those texts are few and far between. Pastor Johnson has a great series on the Psalms, and Dr. MacArthur has a very few on OT texts (his series on Genesis 1 is fantastic) and Pastor Green as a tiny amount, but that’s it.

Martyn Lloyd Jones was a well-known British preacher. He lived from 1899 to 1981. He preached for a long time. Recently, his recorded sermons were combined into a trust and released to the public via the internet. There are 133 sermons on the OT. There are 55 on the great biblical doctrines. There are 1,600 sermons overall. What a treasure trove! I got so excited!

This week, I listened to two of his sermons from Jeremiah and I had a hard time sticking with it. I like Jeremiah a lot, and  was truly interested in the exposition of the text. So why was my mind balking? Lloyd-Jones is an old-fashioned fire and brimstone preacher, which I love. So why was I having a hard time? You know me, I have to analyze everything.

Lloyd-Jones’s voice is upper crust, ‘veddy British’. He rolls his rrrr’s dramatically. He has a high nasal

voice, not helped by older recording equipment from the 40s, 50s, 60s that makes him sound more tinny than likely he was in real life. The vocabulary he uses is slightly different that I’m used to, and it included British words as well as simply a different phraseology than I’ve heard before. All these surface elements of the skill of listening negatively impacted my listening experience.

I thought about it for a while and I came to the conclusion that our ears settle into a comfortable rut. Just as we enjoy living in a routine, so do our ears. People’s voices are like blankets. We become used to how our pastors sound, we know their verbal tics, and go along with their vocal rhythms. Listening is an ability. It needs to be kept in good working order, the wheels of the mind greased and stretched. I was having a hard time not because of the content of Lloyd-Jones’s sermons, which are tremendous, nor because of any spiritual conviction I was experiencing, but simply because my listening ability was being stretched.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this when a guest preacher comes to your church. It takes a while for your mind to settle down and get used to hearing a new tone of voice, an new rhythm, a new way of speaking. All this stretches your listening vocabulary and listening skills. And listening is a skill.

I used to watch foreign films a lot. I don’t like dubbing so I always went for the subtitles, which never bothered me. Foreign films of course show foreign things, contain foreign ideas, use a different approach to story telling, and even the cinematography is different because of different type cameras used in the making of the film. It has been about ten years since I’ve seen a foreign film and I watched one recently. I had a hard time settling down at first because I’d lost the skill of watching them. Same goes for black and white movies, which I’ve recently gotten back into, and the same goes for silent films. I was surprised that the 2011 American/French film “The Artist” won so many Academy Awards (five) because it was a silent film. A silent film hasn’t been made nor an old one released in a long time, and many of us have lost that skill of how to watch one.

It is the same with listening. The mechanics of listening to a sermon are just as important. Keep honing your skills in listening to a wide range of good preachers. Here is a little tutorial on how to keep the mechanics of your listening skills in good shape. In another blog entry, I’ll discuss the spiritual mechanics of biblical listening.

Literacy is reading and writing, listening and speaking. It is via literacy that we create meaning in our lives. The US Air Force has a University called The Air University, or AU. In this good series on Listening Effectively, we read,

“Listening is a complex process—an integral part of the total communication process, albeit a part often ignored. This neglect results largely from two factors.”

“First, speaking and writing (the sending parts of the communication process) are highly visible, and are more easily assessed than listening and reading (the receiving parts). And reading behavior is assessed much more frequently than listening behavior; that is, we are more often tested on what we read than on what we hear. And when we are tested on material presented in a lecture, generally the lecture has been supplemented by readings.”

“Second, many of us aren’t willing to improve our listening skills. Much of this unwillingness results from our incomplete understanding of the process—and understanding the process could help show us how to improve. To understand the listening process, we must first define it.”

The essay goes on to explain that, “The process moves through the first three steps—receiving, attending,

Group of people listening to a sermon.
Coranderrk, c.1860-c.1865
source

understanding—in sequence.” Receiving is what it means, someone transmits a body of information auditorially and your ears receive it. There are many things that can impact receiving. If you’re in a car and driving, of course that impacts you because you get distracted. The speaker is still sending, you’re not receiving. Even if you are in a pew and seated comfortably, receiving can be impacted by the preacher’s speech, any impediments, his rhythm, tone, or distracting verbal tics.

My old pastor used to punctuate every half phrase with “Amen?” as in, “Paul was about to set out in his second missionary journey, amen? And then he got in the boat, amen?” etc. Like that. Drove me nuts. I’m exaggerating a bit on how frequently he said it, but it was frequent enough that it became a distraction to me rather than a pattern of speech unique to him. Sometimes I’d just count the amens rather than listen to what he was saying. That is what I mean by verbal tics. MacArthur repeats a sentence he really wants us to get. He doesn’t do it often within a sermon, but only at the introduction of a new main idea, so it doesn’t distract me. In the former case, it was distracting, in the latter, a comforting vocal blanket to my ears.

In the Air University lecture it stated that “attending” is the second part of the process of listening. Attending is hard when you’re distracted. This impacts receiving. Like I said above, I had a hard time paying attention to the content when the distraction of the amens got in the way.

The AU lecture notes that in the second part of the listening process attending, there is such a thing as–

“Selectivity of attention. We direct attention to certain things to prevent an information overload.”

And alternately, we become distracted by things when they are competing for our attention. This is why listening is active. If there arise any barriers to listening, we must mentally work to overcome them.

“Selectivity of attention explains why you “perk up” or pay attention when something familiar to you, such as your hometown or your favorite hobby, is mentioned. In fact, you may have been listening intently to a conversation when someone in a different conversation mentions your name. Immediately, the focus of your attention shifts to the conversation in which your name was mentioned.” (source)

So in listening to a sermon, you may have a favorite topic. If any preacher mentions anything about eschatology, I am all ears. If the sermon is on marriage (I’m single) I tend to want to tune out.

Strength of attention. Attention is not only selective; it possesses energy, or strength.

Attention requires effort and desire. It is possible to get lazy in listening, that is why I’m writing about listening as a skill that needs honing and practice. We make ourselves literate when we connect the new to the known. If you are listening to a preacher for the first time, you have nothing to connect the new to the known with. In other words, I understand without having to think about it that when MacArthur repeats a sentence it means he is emphasizing a point and getting ready to launch into another verbal paragraph. This barely registers with me now but it is what I am talking about when I say that listening is an active skill. When you tune in to a new preacher you won’t know his patterns and it takes a few listens to acquire them. Stick with it.

Words are verbal symbols. Yet there can exist barriers to understanding even when we all speak the same language.

Barrier #1: The same words mean different things to different people.

I laugh when I remember this example. When I was married, my husband and I used to talk of course. All

my degrees are in literacy and my profession is teaching. I live by words. My husband was a mathematician, his profession was databases and computer software. One time we were having a talk. We were both speaking English. We were at home and undistracted. But we were not connecting verbally. Finally, I asked him, “When you speak what does it look like in your mind?” He said, “Numbers. I think in equations. How do you think?” I answered, “I think in anecdotes.”

In the AU lecture, the professor said, “I may tell my colleague that the temperature in the office is quite comfortable. My “quite comfortable,” however, is her “uncomfortable”: 75 degrees is comfortable for me; 70 degrees is comfortable for her. The same word can mean different things to different people.”

If you listen to a new preacher it takes a while to become familiar with what he means when he says such and such.

“Barrier #2: Different words sometimes mean the same thing”

It took me a while after moving from the north to the south in the US that buggy meant cart, soda meant pop, and tea meant cold and sweet. I remember asking one of my kindergarteners to get the wastebasket and he literally didn’t know what I meant. I said “the trash can” and then he brought it right over.

A new preacher you’re listening to might indeed be speaking English but may be using different words in that present a barrier to understanding. With ongoing listening you absorb his meanings into your mental listening vocabulary.

Barrier #3: Misinterpretation of the voice. The quality, intelligibility, and variety of the voice affect the listener’s understanding. Quality refers to the overall impression the voice makes on others.

There is a preacher I listen to who has a tone that tends to become petulant, even though he is not petulant in the least. I have to work hard while listening not to be distracted by it. I love Pastor Mike Abendroth’s voice on his radio program No Compromise Radio. His voice is so soothing, he speaks slowly and clearly, there are no sound effects or distractions. In fact, when I want to be soothed, I’ll listen to him. His voice is like an oasis in the loudness of life. He makes it easy to receive, attend, and understand.

Well, that was a little lesson on the mechanics of listening. In the next essay I’ll offer some information on how to partner with the preacher via maximized listening so that the Word of God accomplishes its intended purpose. It will be geared to the theology of listening: expanding your capacity for expository listening. Meanwhile I’ll urge you all to keep the mechanics of your listening skills honed by occasionally practicing an deliberate expansion of who you listen to, and how.