Posted in preaching, theology

A Pastor’s Thoughts on Preaching

By Elizabeth Prata

The following was published as a Twitter thread last night. I thought it encapsulated the inner thoughts and struggles of a preaching pastor so well. As you head out to church services this morning, please think on these things, and if possible, contact your pastor sometime in the following days or week to let him know how the sermon impacted you, to encourage him.

Zach Putthoff is a pastor for preaching in his church in Lafayette, CO.

A thread on the recent complementarian kerfuffle:

Referring to the practice of only allowing men to preach in the gathered church as a sign of disrespect

As great of a privilege as it is to proclaim God’s good Word to the gathered church, it is nevertheless not a sexy job. It’s kept me up at night as I agonize over how far short I fall of its call and command, wondering how I’ll ever be able to preach it without hypocrisy.

It’s stretched my brain and heart to the limit as I work within the boundaries of time and fatigue and my own weak intellect and lack of knowledge.

It subjects the preacher to frequent criticisms and empty atta-boys on the one hand, and utter silence from the pews on the other. How many times have I preached my heart out and heard literally nothing about the sermon from anyone afterward? Did it have an impact? Who knows.

None of this is to complain whatsoever about the ministry of preaching. As I said, it’s an immense privilege, one that I am in no way worthy of, but for the grace of Christ.

Preaching the word is a bit like dying in public, one week at a time, for the good of others. I get that some have become quite famous and made good money doing it, but they are the exception not the rule, and are often not the best examples of what it means to be a preacher.

In the best of complementarian thought, leadership in the home and church is not a place of glory and honor, but a place of sacrifice and service. Same goes for preaching. It is a ministry of service, not a symbol of respect.

So, the practice of only allowing men to preach to the gathered church, should not, in and of itself, be taken as a sign of disrespect for women. It is instead a call to specific men in the church to die in public one week at a time, for the good of their brothers *and sisters.*

Not Pastor Putthoff’s church. EPrata photo


Posted in encouragement, ephesians, martyn lloyd-jones, preaching, predestination

The greatest sentence in the entire Bible?

“It is always a foolish thing to say that anyone thing in scripture that one sentence is greater than anything else. But I think we can safely say this; that this is certainly the greatest sentence in the whole Bible.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that quite possibly the opening sentence of Ephesians 1 is the most important in the entire Bible.

“Once more, we are looking at this great sentence, which starts as you remember, at the beginning of verse 3, and runs right on until the end of verse 14.”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-14).

Find out why Dr. MLJ believes this, here in his great sermon from Ephesians 1:11-14, “We…Ye Also

Posted in encouragement, pastors, preaching

Jesus will never leave you or forsake you

John F. MacArthur

Our Lord is so faithful. I am often astounded with knowing the great thread of faith that runs through the centuries, unbroken, in men God has raised up. He never leaves us or forsakes us. This means personally, Jesus never leaves us. It means He is immanent. He is indwelling us. He raises up good men through whom He perpetuates the faith, to the blessing of the current generation (whichever generation that may be, whether 1st century or 21st century).

Readers of this blog are often treated to quotes from pastor-teacher John MacArthur, or links to his sermons. I think highly of the man, and I think even more highly of our faithful Jesus who raised him up, empowers him in learning the bible, and strengthens him to persevere.

I’d like to offer you some reasons why I feel this way.

A very kind reader sent me a link to a sermon Dr MacArthur delivered at the Believers Chapel in Dallas, Texas on June 29. This was the church eminent S. Lewis Johnson preached at for many years. I love Dr Johnson’s sermons too, and readers will know that I’ve often linked to, where blessedly most of Johnson’s sermons can still be heard.

The reader said in his email to me that Dr MacArthur visited Believers Chapel “because S. Lewis Johnson preached here.”  MacArthur grew up on Johnson’s exposition and has often said that he was was greatly affected by Johnson’s theology, exposition, and demeanor.

As Dr MacArthur’s sermon opens, he is introduced by someone at the Chapel. He said of MacArthur:

–He has been teaching verse by verse through the New Testament, at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles for 45 years,
–He is the President of Masters Seminary (which he founded),
–He is the President of Masters College (which he founded),

S. Lewis Johnson

–He is the President of Grace To You, where his teaching is aired on the radio over 1000 times a day throughout the English speaking world, in every major population center, on every continent,
–His teaching program airs on the radio nearly 1000 times a day in Spanish, in 23 countries from Europe to Latin America,
–He has written over 400 books,
–He preaches at his home church weekly,
–The cornerstone of his works is the MacArthur study bible, which has been translated into 9 languages,
–But the main work has been as husband, father, and grandfather, because he truly lives as he preaches.

I offer double honor to this man and his family, because it is surely a blessing to be able to access such stellar exposition, and to be witness to a federal headship in a home filled with Christ’s love. (1 Timothy 5:17).

I offer all praise and glory to our Christ, who said He will never leave  us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).

In raising up men to edcucate us, shepherd us, and love us, this is one of the ways Jesus never leaves us.

How about your pastor, your teachers, your deacons? God has raised them up too. Tirelessly they toil in love for you and under submission to Jesus, who called them to a difficult ministry. When you see those good men of the church, see Jesus in them, and realize you are not alone, you are loved and cared for by them. Jesus has not forsaken you.

Posted in gracelife, Judy Luenebrink, nahum, phil johnson, preaching, tim challies

Three great sermons: Phil Johnson, Tim Challies, Judy Luenebrink

Here are a few good thoughts, AKA God’s word preached from good men and women.

I love a good sermon on the Old Testament prophets. I love a good sermon on wrath every now and then. Wrath is part of God’s attributes, and we must study all of God’s attributes in order to know Him completely. Learning about His wrath also sensitizes me to His grace. The comparison is astounding. You really know grace when you study wrath, and vice versa. I was under His wrath until I was saved, and this compare and contrast exercise always humbles me…and makes me love Him all the more. Old Testament sermons from credible men are hard to come by though. One of my favorite pastors, Pastor Phil Johnson, often preaches from the Old Testament. Recently he preached on Nahum in a sermon titled “Wrath Poured Out Like Fire.” It is tremendous.

I wrote recently about “Finding God’s Will for Your Life“. I mentioned that God’s will is for us is not necessarily to sell all our goods and run off to Burma as a missionary or otherwise to be excessively ‘radical.’ Christians living the regular life is what God calls most of us to do.

The issue was still on my mind as I perused the list of wonderful sermons to choose from at the Grace Community Church. Pastor Tim Challies from Toronto was a guest pastor at the GraceLife pulpit. He preached on “A Life Pleasing to God” from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. He directly addresses the Radical craze and the Crazy Love craze and presents a theologically solid and thoroughly enriching sermon on how to please God with your life. Please take a listen, I am sure you will find it comforting.

I posted once before of the Women’s Ministry of MacArthur’s Grace Community Church. Judy Luenebrink is teaching through Hebrews. If you long for the softness of a woman’s voice, teaching credibly with solid oversight, trustworthy content, and a gentle spirit, go through Hebrews with Mrs Judy. She is on her second lesson now, The Superiority of Jesus.
What better way to spend half an hour or so, learning how and why our gracious Savior is superior to all in the universe?

I wrote earlier today on my other blog about television before computers. I mused on whether the advent of computers was a good thing or not. It was both, I concluded. The upside of advanced technology is that I can listen or watch these wonderful edifying sermons. I love particularly on Saturday afternoons to cook soup and while I peel and chop, listen to the richness of God’s word being preached and explained. I hope you find these sermons and the others on the links edifying to you as well.

Posted in listening, preaching, sermon

How to listen to a sermon: part 2 "Expository Listening".

Yesterday I’d posted a piece called How to listen to a sermon: part 1 “The mechanics of listening”. It examined the surface elements of how to listen and looked at what distracts us from listening well. Listening is a skill that needs to be practiced and honed, actively. The ultimate goal of a good listening is to be able to listen to a sermon and to the man preaching it, to the highest ability we possess.

Expository listening goes deeper. I am going to take portions from Ken Ramey’s book “Expository Listening” and present them for your consideration. His book is a handbook of biblical listening and I found it to be very helpful. The blurb on the back of the book states,

In many people’s mind, if they don’t get anything out of a sermon, it’s the preacher’s fault. But that’s only half true. The bible says that listeners must partner with the preacher so that the Word of God accomplishes its intended purpose of transforming a life.

In the first part of this two part series, I said that listening is a process. The process moves through three steps—receiving, attending, and understanding. They happen in order. Read the first part for more information on how those work and what hinders them.

In Expository Listening, AKA biblical listening, first are the visual cues that ready the mind for receiving information auditorially. There is a connection between theology and church architecture. The Christian Pundit published a tremendous series on ecclesiastical architecture and how it got to be that way, and why. In part two of their series on pulpits, we read, “because the Word is indispensable, the pulpit, as the architectural manifestation of the Word, must make its indispensability architecturally clear” (Bruggink and Droppers, 80.) Proclaimed gospel, however, has historically held and should hold primary importance in Protestant worship. Everything else in worship and the sanctuary should revolved around it and point to it.”

Visual cues both support the Word and set a stage for listening. Your ears expect something different when your eyes see a high, formal pulpit versus a stage with bright colored lights and no lectern. The Christian Pundit explains this in their  ecclesiastical architecture series, regarding pulpits,

“The pulpit was large, not only so that it was visible from all parts of the sanctuary, but also so there was space to hold the preacher’s notes, a hymn book and a copy of the Scriptures which the congregation could see. The other reason that pulpits were large was to make the minister look smaller, hiding most of the man behind this architectural manifestation of the Word. When a man preaches Christ faithfully, he himself begins to disappear in the minds of the hearers, as God and His work is magnified. Large pulpits facilitate this reality. Pulpits were the center around which every other piece of furniture in the sanctuary was arranged.”

In former times, pulpits looked like the ones below. The reason was because the Word was magnified and the man speaking it was reduced. John MacArthur on large screens in church:

I actually try to minimize myself, if I can. That’s why you will never see big screens in here, because people need to hear the Word of God, they don’t need to see my nose hairs. They don’t need to become overly familiar with every nuance of my face and my expressions, it’s not about me.”

Pulpit of the Gallus chapel in Greifensee ZH, Switzerland. Wkipedia Commons

When you go into a church, look at the pulpit. Is everything arranged so that the place where the Word emanates is promoted to primary position? How does the church elevate the word and prepare you for hearing it? Seeing a majestic pulpit tells your mind that this place takes the word seriously and this helps to prepare you in a mindset that lays the ground work for sober listening.

Below we have a pulpit from puritan times in at the Old Ship Meetinghouse, in Hingham Massachusetts. This architecture is similar to most early pulpits in New England- high, wooden with stairs at the side. For a fascinating story on pulpits, this one at Boston, go here, “Mystery of the Old South Meeting House Pulpit

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance 
Proverbs 1:5

Think of it this way. At a concert, your ears expect something different if you’re laying on the grass at a 4th of July Concert in the Park in Central Park NY than if you were inside the Rockefeller Center listening to the Opera Aida. Don’t underestimate the setting as to how it coaches your mind to receive text.

The Christian Pundit said,

“a central pulpit makes a clear statement to any stranger walking in the door: “We have something for you to hear. It’s not what we say, it’s what God says in His Word. The pulpit looks important because what you are going to hear from it is essential for life and eternity.”

I’m not saying we all have to build high pulpits. However, today’s listener sees a man on a stage, a man dressed in torn skinny jeans and sweatshirt, one gluteal cheek perched on a wobbly stool, and a music stand, if that. We have gone from this,

To this:

Rob Bell speaking at Rick Warren’s Willow Creek Community Church

We don’t have pulpits today. Joel Osteen doggedly refused to even call his stage a pulpit when pressed by Larry King. “It’s a podium,” he said. He has no cross behind him or anywhere on stage.

So the expository listener of today has been coached via architecture (or the lack of it) to prepare for a reduced word or prepare for a heightened word before a word is even spoken.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15)

Gill’s Exposition explains the verse:

“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. A way of speaking used by Christ, when anything serious, and of great importance, was delivered; and which required attention, and was not easily understood”

As Ken Ramey stated in his book “Expository Listening, “Those who take to heart God’s call to listen will transcend the discouraging trends in the church today.

Ramey continues in describing the sacred partnership the preacher and the listener has with each other, and the Word of God binds them. We come to church to hear a sermon, but in addition to listening, we must also heed it. Almost every book of the bible contains a reference to hearing and obeying God’s word. Mr Ramey said,

“We might systematize everything the bible teaches on the subject of listening by arranging the verses under four summary statements, or theological truths, as follows:

1. God has spoken and commands us to listen and to obey what he has said,
2. We all fail to listen and obey God and deserve to be punished by Him,
3. God grants us the ability to listen to and to obey Him by His Holy Spirit, whom we receive through Jesus Christ,
4. God promises to bless us both now and for all eternity if we listen to and obey Him.

How do we do this? We know the parable of the soils explains that there are four kinds of soils. One of them is hard packed. If you garden, then you know that for the soil to receive the seed, it must be prepared by aerating, breaking up the clods and making rows to put the seeds into. Our heart is like that hard packed soil. We need to prepare it before we listen to the seeds the preacher sends forth from the Word in a sermon.

We do this in several ways. One is, we must read and meditate on God’s word every day. Mr Ramey wrote,

Reading the Word on a daily basis will develop in you a healthy appetite for God’s Word. You can’t expect to come to church on Sunday with a hunger for God’s Word if you haven’t been feeding on it throughout the week.

We prepare to listen by praying throughout the week.

“Pray for yourself. You should pray that God would grant you an honest and good heart that would hear and accept the Word and that it will bring lasting fruit in your life, that he would make your heart receptive to the Word. … Second, you should pray for the preacher. Pray that the preacher would preach with great liberty and boldness and clarity (Eph 6:19-20; Col 4:3-4), that God’s Word would run rapidly, transforming people’s lives for His glory.”

Let us not forget about sin. In order to be good, biblical listeners, we need to confess our sin on a regular basis so that it does not form a block, a wall, or a stronghold against the implanting of the seed. James 1:21 says “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Here is another tip for becoming a biblical listener which you may not have expected as a tip for how to listen to a sermon. Mr Ramey suggests,

“Reduce your media intake. …  The media saturation in our society has a deadening, dulling effect on our hearts.” These conditions diminish our receptivity to hearing God’s word.

Do you prepare to listen? Just as architecturally, the pulpit is central in a sanctuary, do you orient your week with the focal point being the ministry of the Word? Is Sunday the most important part of your week? In Mr Ramey’s book “Expository Listening,” he wrote,

You should try to schedule your work activities, get-togethers and vacations around church. You should live by the principle that Sunday morning begins on Saturday night. Here are some practical suggestions on how to prioritize the Lord’s Day:
–Make it a habit to be home Saturday night
–Be careful not to do, watch, or read anything that will cause lingering distractions in your mind the next day
–Get things ready on Saturday evening to alleviate the typical Sunday morning rush
–Get a good night’s sleep so you can be sharp and energetic to worship and serve God. It’s hard to listen when you’re nodding off!

And so on. The book contains many more instructions for how to be a good, biblical listener. I recommend it.

I hope these tips on how to become a biblical listener have helped you in any way. There is so much more to receiving God’s Word than plopping down in the pew in a huff and a rush, and half listening with a closed heart. We honor God to do our part before-hand to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.

“The Gospel is not the doorway into Christianity, it is the unending, ever-expanding, always sweetening country that we will be exploring for eternity.”


Further Reading

How to listen to a sermon: part 1 “The mechanics of listening”.

What is expository preaching?

What is biblical theology of worship?

Posted in old testament, preaching, sermons

Satan blurs lines, rubs the sharp edges off Christianity, hates distinctions

“Thus Saith the Lord” sermon on Jeremiah 17:5-8
Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“I sometimes imagine that the supreme achievement of the devil is to blur essential distinctions. He is interested in gray always. He doesn’t like black or white. And he has taught mankind to listen to him. ‘We don’t like these either-ors,’ they say. ‘We don’t like these stark, striking contrasts’. But those, my dear friends, are the very essence of the subtlety of sin and the devil. … the great lie of the present century is to have blurred the distinct edges of Christianity and the Christian faith. The Christian is distinct, stands apart. It is a lie to say you cannot ultimately define a Christian at all.”

MLloyd-Jones sermons here

Posted in bible, preaching

A good word from the Shepherds’ Conference: quotes and quotables

I love the annual Shepherds’ Conference at Grace to You. It is a conference organized thirty years ago at John MacArthur’s church with the sole and express purpose of training up men and supporting them in their leadership positions at their home churches. It is a time for the pastors of our faith to come and enjoy being preached to, nurtured, prayed over, and to worship together. It is a moving experience to see them gather and sing, praising the Lord and loving on each other.

Of course, the preaching is stellar. It is expository, the word is central and it is illuminated by men of maturity and wisdom. There is audio available for the sessions here. The web page will soon have the video of these services, but they are already appearing on Youtube as you can see the links below.

Here are some of the many words of wisdom which struck me to the heart. I share them with you and hope that you may find time to click on one or more of the links to listen to the singing or hear a good word. Have a blessed Sunday.


[Street demonstrating atheists] “are not nearly as dangerous as church leaders who cultivate a gentle, pious, friendly demeanor but they hack away at the foundations of the faith, under the guise of keeping in step with the changing world.” ~Phil Johnson, Shepherds’ Conference 2013, general session #2

“No Christian should imagine naively that heresy is always conspicuous. That every purveyor of theological mischief is going to lay out his agenda in plain and honest terms. They almost never do that. Wolves come in sheep’s clothing.” ~Phil Johnson, Shepherds’ Conference 2013, general session #2

“There is a dramatic account of God’s judgment in Leviticus 9 and 10. The people had been ready to worship. They now had priests. They had standards by which they were to come before God, and offer Him their worship. In the 9th chapter, they came according to God’s law, a sacrifice was offered, God sent down miraculous fire and consumed the sacrifice. In chapter 10, however, another sacrifice was offered, and God consumed the offerers, because they violated His standard, and offered strange fire.” … Worship is a very serious matter. How you come before a holy God is the most important thing you will ever do.” ~John MacArthur, Shepherds’ Conference 2013 – General Session #9

“A high view of Christ leads to a high and holy regard for the church that He purchased with His own blood. A high view of Christ leads to a driving commitment to reach the world for Christ. But conversely, a low view of Christ produces low worship, little regard for His word, low esteem of the pulpit, low standard of holiness, low involvement of spreading God’s word. Everything hinges upon your vision of who Jesus Christ is. That is why we need to see the awe-inspiring vision of Christ.” Steve Lawson, Shepherds’ Conference 2013 – General Session #3

“Too many people see the Christ of the manger. The Christ of Galilee and Jerusalem. Too many only see the Christ of the Garden of Gethsemane, the Christ of the cross at Calvary and the empty tomb. As glorious as these aspects of Christ’s earthly and ministry are, they do not tell the whole story. If we are to grow in grace and mature in faith, we must not only see Christ as He once was, but as He now is: KING of Kings, and LORD of Lords! We must see not only the meek Messiah and the humble Galilean, but the Sovereign Lord, the Head of the church. The enthroned Christ invested with all power and authority in the universe. … The one before whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” ~Steve Lawson, Shepherds’ Conference 2013 – General Session #3

Of hymns: “We were singing songs the saints have sung for a very long time. I am not on a rant against modern technologies- I use them. I am not on a rant against all contemporary and modern hymns. There are many that are wonderful and we sang one of them tonight. But it is very important that we sing songs that people know are as worship of the One True and Living God. That these songs are not merely emotional expressions that end up flashing on a screen and then disappear. They are songs that belong to the saints. ~Al Mohler, Shepherds’ Conference 2013, General session #6 [emphasis mine]

I second that. I appreciate OUR music. It is not the world’s music, it is immediately identifiable as ours, the church’s, and separate from the world. It is worshipful music, not just worship music.

“God is not just the mayor of Jerusalem. He is the judge of ALL.” ~Al Mohler, Shepherds’ Conference 2013, General session #6


Now for some good, short essays on other topics:

What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

Locusts arrive in Tel Aviv, Israel (it’s a small pack and not a massive swarm. Officials hope that already-completed preventative spraying will keep them at bay)

Damascus, Syria is still imploding.
The danger of Syria’s impending implosion”: 5 ways the collapse of Syria might be more dangerous than most people realize.”

Specks and Beams: the importance of judging

The sun isn’t producing many sunspots like it was ‘supposed’ to in its solar maximum. Scientists can’t figure out why it’s quiettoo quiet.