Sermon – “The God of All Comfort”

Had the privilege of preaching at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Soldotna, AK back on the 5th of May. Their founding pastor – Andrew Allen – had recently gone home to be with the Lord after a two-year fight against lung cancer.

In light of his passing, I chose the following text for my sermon:

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 

– 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Click here for the sermon audio.

Faithfulness in Ministry

The dark side of talking about ministry in terms of faithfulness is that people can use it as an excuse for accountability and to justify a ministry style that is overly defensive, cautious, fearful, and perhaps even lazy and defeated. This is not always the case, of course, but sometimes Christian leaders hide their incompetence behind a smokescreen of ‘faithfulness’. Often what we call faithfulness isn’t faithfulness.

It’s worth double-checking to make sure that our faithfulness really is faithfulness and not self-deception. Faithfully preaching sermons week after week that are boring or unclear without taking steps to improve your preaching isn’t actually being faithful. Nor is faithfully doing the same things in the same way over and over again and never reaching anyone in the neighborhood around your church. Never trying to do anything better or differently is not being faithful.

Our job as Christian leaders is to faithfully do everything we can think of, taking some risks and enduring some pain, to explain the gospel, love people, and preach the whole counsel of God to everyone we can, as best we can. Genuine faithfulness isn’t a front for complacency or laziness. Faithfulness in doing everything God’s word requires of us is our job. Be faithful and God will help you. Then let him do his job. Let him focus on the results.

You focus on doing your job and let God do what only he can do.

– Craig Hamilton, Wisdom in Leadership, p. 64.

Luther On Preaching

You may ask, “What then is the Word of God, and how shall it be used, since there are so many words of God?” I answer: The Apostle explains this in Romans 1. The Word is the gospel of God concerning his Son, who was made flesh, suffered, rose from the dead, and was glorified through the Spirit who sanctifies. To preach Christ means to feed the soul, make it righteous, set it free, and save it, provided it believes the preaching. Faith alone is the saving and efficacious use of the Word of God, according to Rom. 10[:9]: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Furthermore, “Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified” [Rom. 10:4]. Again, in Rom. 1[:17], “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” The Word of God cannot be received and cherished by any works what ever but only by faith. Therefore it is clear that, as the soul needs only the Word of God for its life and righteousness, so it is justified by faith alone and not any works; for if it could be justified by anything else, it would not need the Word, and consequently it would not need faith.

– Martin Luther, “Treatise on Christian Liberty”

How Long Does Your Preacher Preach?

Consider this example from 18th century America. Archibald Stobo, was a well-regarded Scottish Presbyterian pastor who came to Charleston, SC after an ill-fated trip to Panama. Once he and his family landed in Charleston, their boat was sunk when the area was hit by a hurricane, stranding them there.

Stobo was at once offered a pulpit – the congregation being “obedient to the finger of Providence” – and in time he became a Charleston institution, his customary sermon running to such length that it was possible to leave in the middle, go home for a large midday meal, and return to find him still going strong.

– from David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life, and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt, pp. 40-41.

Some Princely Thoughts on Preaching

Delightful stuff from Spurgeon (HT:JW):

When a man has nothing to say, it generally takes him a long time to get to the end of it; like a man who is going nowhere he finds he has not reached his point, and thinks he may as well keep on. When the gutters of a town run with water, one would not be surprised if the current continued for a week; but when the conduit floods them with wine, even a king’s bounty cannot afford many minutes of it. Excellence enforces brevity: you cannot have a diamond as large as a pyramid, nor a pearl of the size of a Swiss lake. In some measure with a conscientious preacher the converse of the proposition is also inevitable, and brevity enforces excellence. If the minister is allowed only forty minutes for expounding a great truth he feels that he must not multiply words; but must compress much meaning into every sentence. If only a few pounds of provision can be carried by the members of an Arctic expedition, they are wise enough to secure the essence of meat, and not an ounce of mere bone or garnishing is tolerated. Give a man abundance of stowage in a vessel, and he will not spend time in close packing; but drive him hard in the matter of space, and it is quite wonderful how much he will contrive to get into it. A truss of hay brought upon a wagon to Whitechapel is one thing, but a truss compressed by hydraulics for ocean transit is quite another. Condensation requires labour: you cannot get an Australian sheep transformed into a pot of Liebig’s essence without careful cookery; neither can you distil a garden of roses into a drop of the precious otto without laborious art. The same holds good with thought, you cannot deliver it from the incumbrance and alloy of verbiage unless time and mental effort are given to the task. Of course a man can talk nonsense during the briefest period allotted to him, and it is to be feared that a great many do; but, at any rate, they cannot lay to their souls the flattering unction that the quantity made up for the quality; and the likelihood is that they will discover the nakedness of the land and endeavour to improve.

In general, a great sermon is a great evil. Length is the enemy of strength. The delivery of a discourse is like the boiling of an egg; it is remarkably easy to overdo it, and so to spoil it. You may physic a man till you make him ill, and preach to him till you make him wicked. From satisfaction to satiety there is but a single step; a wise preacher never wishes his hearer to pass it. Enough is as good as a feast, and better than too much.

Having learned by long experience that we exactly fill the 12 pages which our publishers allow for a penny sermon, when we speak for 40 or 45 minutes, we have come to adopt that period as our stint, and we usually find it neither too short nor too long. In occasional services, when we address persons who have no other opportunity of hearing us, we take more latitude, but our regulation allowance is three quarters of an hour. A man who speaks well for that length of time has told his people quite enough, and from him who preaches badly they have in that time heard too much. Most divines can deliver all their best thoughts upon a text in forty minutes, and as it is a pity to bring forth “afterwards that which is worse,” they had better bring the feast to an end. To men of prodigious jaw it may seem a hardship to be confined to time, but a broad charity will judge it to be better that one man should suffer than that a whole congregation should be tormented.

The speaker’s time should be measured out by wisdom. If he is destitute of discretion, and forgets the circumstances of his auditors, he will annoy them more than a little. In one house the pudding is burning, in another the child is needing its mother, in a third a servant is due in the family; the extra quarter of an hour’s prosiness puts all out of order. A country hearer once said to his pastor, “when you go on beyond half-past four, in the afternoon service, do you know what I always think about?” “No,” said the orator. “Well, then, I tell you plainly, it is not about what you are preaching, but about my cows. They want milking, and you ought to have consideration for them, and not keep them waiting. How would you like it if you were a cow?” This last remarkable enquiry suggested a good deal of reflection in the mind of the divine to whom it was proposed, and perhaps it may have a similar beneficial effect upon others who ought to confess their long preachings as among the chief of their shortcomings.

The Unique Temptations of the Pastor

It is a sacred office, and that very thing draws after it certain dangers that should be candidly admitted. Very often the peril of the pastor is to be unfaithful in delivering the whole counsel of God for fear of awakening the enmity of his hearers. Envy of otehrs who are supposed to have a superior place or success is a strong temptation in the way of many. Some are liable to be led away by spiritual pride, and then to become impatient of opposition, and even to show a domineering spirit that is most offensive. Even the great confidence reposed in the minister, and the love with which he is cherished, give promise of an impunity in yielding that makes certain temptations far more formidable. Slothfulness is one of the besetting sins of this office, and that because of the habits of seclusion and the possibility of postponing duties, and because there is very often no other pressing impulse than the voice of conscience. These are some of the peculiar dangers to which the minister is exposed, and they should be very carefully studied, especially in light of their enormity when yielded to by him who is an ambassador of Jesus Christ.

– T. Murphy, Pastoral Theology, pp. 84-85.

Preacher, Don’t Neglect to Preach to Yourself

“Thou, therefore, which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” is the scriptural rebuke for neglecting this duty. When the preacher delivers the message of God, he should never separate himself from his audience as if he were not addressed. He needs the communications of grace just as much as his congregation does. His own experience of wants, of sins, of trials and of blessings should be wrought into his discourses. His own faults should be kept in view, and rebuked as sharply as those of his audience. Diligently should he listen for the voice of God as addressed to his own particular case, and then reiterate that voice from the sacred desk. This rule, given by another, should ever be his guide: “In your preparations for the pulpit endeavor to derive from the subject on which you are about to preach that spiritual benefit you wish your hearers to receive.”

– T. Murphy, Pastoral Theology, p. 79.

Something for Every Preacher to Consider

Each proclamation of the gospel by the minister either leads souls toward life immortal or sends them downward toward a deeper hell. It softens hearts or it hardens them. It brings men upward toward Jesus, or it will justify God in consigning them to the regions of deepest woe. Is it not, then, an awful thing to preach? Who shall attempt to do it until his heart is bathed in the atmosphere and the blood of Calvary?

– Thomas Murphy, Pastoral Theology: The Pastor in the Various Duties of His Office, p. 41.