My Life, A Digression, And An Exhortation

My Office

My office space is 4’ x 5’. A cheap angled desk made of metal and glass takes up two-thirds of the space and my chair fits into the inside corner consuming the rest of my office real estate. I have a small dim light that shines down on my Apple keyboard and track pad, a Mac Pro, a Thunderbolt display, a few cables, a box of tissue, a coaster, and two cups filled with coffee beans. One of the cups has a letter opener thrust into the beans that looks like a miniature Excalibur sword. Engraved on its tiny blade is Hebrews 4:12. I use the sword to stir the beans to release their pleasant aroma. My paper Bible, a small black zippered case with a Countryman ear microphone and an assortment of Lavalier cables along with a few other odds and ends rests on my glass desktop as well. Underneath my desk, dodging the X shaped supports, is a trash can, power strip, and rolling brief case that I have not used in months, but still stands at attention just in case I might have need of it.

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On the wall to my left is a picture of George Whitefield preaching to the masses, his hearers broken unto repentance. On the wall to the front and right of where I sit is a single leaf from a 1611 pulpit edition of the King James Bible that survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. The text on the page begins at II Tim. 3:1 which describes the godlessness that now reigns in our world during these last days. The leaf ends at II Tim. 4:13 where Paul requests study and writing materials as he awaits execution in prison. My favorite text in all the Bible is found in the middle of the page at II Tim. 4:1-4:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (that was the NASB not the old KJV)

This is my office. It is in this space that I have my morning quiet times reading, praying, meditating, and pondering the Word of God. My corner is where I read my devotions, write posts for my website and Facebook, craft sermons, create Bible studies, give sermon feedback to pastors wanting help with their preaching, answer questions from pastor search committees, work at filling my website up with content (www.drivennails.com), and wait on the Lord.

 

My Library

My theological library exists in two different forms and resides in three different locations. Seventy boxes of paper books are stacked into a large rectangular cube, covered with plastic, and sit untouched in the garage. They wait for God to provide me with a larger office space. The largest portion of my library consists of e-books. I have about 5,000 books in Logos Bible Software, my Kindle App, and iBooks. In my web browser I have many links to websites that give me access to thousands of additional digitized books and articles. There is only one paper book in my office, which I never read except when preaching, and that is my calfskin, Shepherd’s Conference edition of the New American Standard Bible. I use my paper Bible in the pulpit as I preach from a PDF version of my sermon notes on my iPad. The Bibles I most often read are found in Logos Bible Software. I think I have over fifty, but regularly use six different versions. I like to read and study my Bible in Logos Bible Software for it gives me the ability to change the font type and size, add notes and quotes to specific texts, create diagrams, outlines, and both add and remove colored highlights.

 

My Support Staff

I don’t have a secretary, although my wife kindly proofs some of what I write and brings me tea. I don’t have a web programmer, office manager, or support staff, and I work for free. My office space consists of books, computer equipment, the Lord, and me. When I disciple people or give them biblical counsel, it is usually by phone or email. Teaching and preaching at various churches as a guest preacher accounts for the majority of times I actually get to speak to people face to face. Yet circumstances have forced me to decline most of my preaching invitations. I don’t believe it’s wise to fill up my calendar with commitments in case a church might extend a call.

 

The Local Church I Don’t Attend

We don’t have a specific church we attend in our area. We have been visiting churches for months whenever I am not preaching. Though many churches have solid doctrinal statements, profess to value expository preaching, and claim to be “gospel centered,” I’m sad to say these claims are false. I have not heard a single sermon in our local area where the preacher accurately handled the Word of Truth. Yes, there have been sermons where the preacher took a large text and plucked out of it what he wanted to talk about. But we haven’t found a single preacher who knew how to find the main point of the text. Haven’t found a preacher who accurately explained a biblical text in its context either. We visited eight churches before we heard the gospel preached clearly enough for someone to be saved -- and we praised God for it. Many of the preachers we have sat under are men pleasers, B grade comedians, spouting moralisms, using the text as a springboard to talk about what they want to say, seeking to meet the “felt needs” of men, to not offend people with the truth, rather than seeking to love and give God glory by preaching what, and in the way, God prescribes.  

The very sad state of local churches today both saddens me and puts a fire in my bones that I fear might cause me to self-ignite some Sunday. I am tempted to stand up during a sermon “moment” and tell the preacher to either give us an accurate, clear, engaging Word from God with all authority, like the Word of God commands him, or to sit down. It would be better to have the text of the Bible read with no explanation than to sit under a man-pleasing, ill-prepared, Scripture twisting preacher.

What are we, and the multitudes of other starving saints, to do about the pathetic state of preaching in most churches today? Though it is a bit of a trek, and though we had hoped to find some place closer, we have finally concluded that we will drive 1 hour and 15 minutes to a church so we can sit under a man of God who is gifted, called, trained, and diligent to craft sermons that accurately communicate the truth of God’s Word in a clear, understandable, and memorable way.

J. C. Ryle in his most excellent work, Practical Religion, gives us a good illustration of what a hungry Saint is willing to go through in order to hear God’s Word preached when he writes:

The true Christian delights to hear something about his Master. He likes those sermons best which are full of Christ. He enjoys that society most in which people talk of the things which are Christ’s. I have read of an old Welsh believer, who used to walk several miles every Sunday to hear an English clergyman preach, though she did not understand a word of English. She was asked why she did so. She replied, that this clergyman named the name of Christ so often in his sermons, that it did her good. She loved even the name of her Savior.[1]

An hour drive in a car with air conditioning or heating, and soft seats is nothing compared to what some Saints have endured to hear God’s Word preached. Charles Spurgeon, commenting on Ruth’s willingness to go out into the fields and work to glean grain made these comments:

She rises early in the morning, and she trudges off to a field; if that be closed, she hastens to another; and if that be shut up, or gleaned already, she hurries further still; and all day long, while the sun is shining upon her, she seldom sits down to refresh herself, but still she goes on, stoop, stoop, stoop, gathering the ears one by one. She returns not to her home till nightfall; for she desires, if the field is good, to do much business that day, and she will not go home until she is loaded down.

Beloved, so let each one of us do when we seek spiritual food. Let us not be afraid of a little fatigue in the Master’s fields: if the gleaning is good, we must not soon weary in gathering the precious spoil, for the gains will richly reward our pains. I know a friend who walks five miles every Sunday to hear the gospel, and has the same distance to return. Another thinks little of a ten miles’ journey; and these are wise, for to hear the pure word of God no labor is extravagant. To stand in the aisle till ready to drop, listening all the while with strained attention, is a toil which meets a full reward if the gospel be heard and the Spirit of God bless it to the soul.

A gleaner does not expect that the ears will come to her of themselves; she knows that gleaning is hard work. We must not expect to find the best field next to our own house, we may have to journey to the far end of the parish, but what of that? Gleaners must not be choosers, and where the Lord sends the gospel, there he calls us to be present.[2]

That’s why we must all do what we can in order to get to a church that accurately preaches God’s Word, sound doctrine, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must find a church where the preacher is called, gifted, trained, and more afraid to offend God than men, a preacher who keeps his finger in the text and keeps referring us to the text so we can hear God speak to us from His Word.

Everything God glorifying in the local church comes through bold, authoritative, fearless, expository preaching that corrects, reproves, rebukes, and exhorts with great patience and instruction. I marvel that so many professing Christians fill the cushy seats of local churches to listen to preachers who refuse to preach God’s Word! They wouldn’t take their dog or cat to a veterinarian who was ill equipped to treat their animal. They wouldn’t take their car to a hackneyed auto mechanic. They wouldn’t keep paying for cable or Internet service that didn’t work, but they will sit patiently, sometimes until grass grows over their graves, giving to support a shallow, superficial, ill-trained, lazy, man-pleasing preacher! What folly! What a sad but clear commentary on the state of their own souls!

I admit that some people may not know what biblical preaching is and so they don’t know what they are missing. They think they are getting biblical preaching but are not. Yet this could only be true if they never listened to Christian radio, never listened to preachers like John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Steve Lawson, etc. I think for most, the problem is not that they don’t know what biblical preaching is, but that they don’t want it. They don’t want the conviction, the guilt, the admonition, correction, reproof, rebuke, and exhortation, so they find a preacher that will tell them what they want to hear.

The Holy Spirit predicted the moral decline that we are experiencing in these “last days,” (II Tim. 3:1-9), summarizing the problem in II Tim. 3:13 when he says, “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” His advice to cope with the ungodliness and religious hypocrisy in the church is given in three general categories. First, in II Tim. 3:10-11 Paul says, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, . . .” You want to keep your church giving glory to God? Then follows Paul’s teaching and example. This is the first step to being a God glorifying preacher that is the greatest blessing to Christ’s Church.

Second, after warning that the number of derelict preachers will increase in the last days as Christ’s second coming approaches (II Tim. 3:13), Paul concludes chapter 3 by giving the second way to combat moral decline in both society and the church. He reminds Timothy, and every preacher for that matter, that the power to transform the life of a preacher so that he is fit to be used by God as an instrument to transform the lives of others is to remember that, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The second way to become a God glorifying preacher is to never forget that the power to save and sanctify sinners is found in preaching and teaching the inspired Word of God. Notice that preachers must first seek to be equipped themselves, before seeking to equip others. It is only after the man of God is adequately equipped for every good work that he is fit to be a blessing to others.

Third, only after the preacher has reminded himself of the sufficiency and power of the Word of God and through diligent study and practice has been equipped for every good work, is he now qualified to obey the central command found in the book, II Tim. 4:2, “preach the Word!” Notice, the main command in the book is to preach, to herald, to proclaim, or cry out with a sense of urgency. And what is the preacher to preach? This may seem obvious but if you visit most churches today, it is obviously not. Paul says, “Preach the Word!” The Bible must be diligently studied, accurately interpreted by the preacher, so that the inspired meaning of the text is discovered and put on display before men. This is where the power is at to change the lives of people.

But that is not all. One might argue that once a year or once a month preaching is enough. They might argue that preaching doesn’t need to be a major part of corporate worship, but that a sermonette now and then is sufficient. They might argue that it is the preacher’s task to preach only when people want to hear a Word from God. But Paul is clear about when preachers are to preach, “in season and out.” There are only two times that preaching is to be done, in season, when people want to hear God’s Word proclaimed, and out of season, when people do not want to hear the Word of God proclaimed. In other words, preaching is to be done all the time, in any season, regardless of whether people want it or not.

Fourth, after explaining that preaching must be done in every season, he even explains how preachers are to preach. They are to always and continually be reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. Each of these words is a very strong word. The verb tenses tell us that the preaching of God’s Word is to be an ongoing, never ending ministry in Jesus’ Church. Jesus wants preaching that is bold, confronting, reproving, rebuking, exhorting, admonishing, correcting, delivered with all authority so that no one escapes (see Tit. 2:15). Preaching that glorifies God brings sinners face to face with the truth of God’s Word. Jesus knows that hard hearts need hard preaching. The preacher may not see instant results however. He may preach and preach but not see much change in his congregation. This is why Paul adds at the end of II Tim. 4:2, “with great patience, gentleness, and instruction.” As the preacher preaches the Word, week in and out, in season and out, he must not get exasperated, dejected, or seek to find some alternate method of preaching if he doesn’t see the results he wants in his congregation. The preacher must remember it is his job to keep on preaching, but it is God’s job to save and sanctify. A preacher must be gentle and patient as he continues to instruct his congregation in the Word, while God saves and sanctifies them in His own time and way.

Finally, Paul gives the reason why there must be an constant ministry of expositional preaching in the church, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,” (II Tim. 4:3). The word desires, as the NASB translates it, is the Greek word for lusts. This is what we are seeing in many churches today, people coming to church to have their own lusts gratified, rather than to offer a self denying sacrifice of worship to God. Too many pastors are trying to attract worldly people to their church buildings by appealing to their lusts. When unbelievers come, they hear sermons that tickle their ears, stroke their egos, and satisfy their desires to be left alone in their sin. But this is never what Christ wants for His church.

Christ wants us to know that ungodliness and religious hypocrisy will increase in the last days in which we are now living. He also wants us to know that the number of deceivers and false teachers will also increasingly fill the pulpits of local churches (see also Mt. 24:11). He wants preachers to remind themselves of the sufficiency and power of the Word of God to save and sanctify sinners. He wants preachers to first be equipped by the Word themselves before seeking to equip others. He wants preachers to preach the Word whether it is popular or not, to boldly preach but also to be gentle and patient with people as God saves and sanctifies them. And then coming around to the problem stated at the beginning of II Tim. 3, he again reminds preachers that the last days will be characterized by religious people who want to have their own personal lusts satisfied by the preacher.

 

A Word of Commendation and Exhortation

For you who travel a great distance to hear good preaching, I commend you. Never trade ease, pleasure, an extra hour of sleep, a style of music, or a cozy atmosphere for gospel saturated expository preaching of God's Word that strikes you to the heart and clearly explains and applies a biblical text from its context. We have so much sin in us that a lifetime of fiery preaching can never burn it all out.

For those of you who go to a church simply because it is easy, pleasurable, convenient, because you like the style of music, or to escape being convicted of your sin, you need to repent to the Lord. You are selling your souls to the world and letting your flesh drag you around by its carnal leash to hell. Confess to God that you are hiding from Him, for indeed you are. Confess that you fear the scalpel of His Word judging and cutting into the thoughts and intentions of your heart. Confess that you have been more concerned about getting what you want from your local church, then giving God what He wants in Christ’s Church. Make a commitment to walk, drive, and travel as far as necessary to sit under the expositional preaching of God’s Word. God says you need preaching for the salvation and sanctification of your own soul.

[1] J. C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (London: William Hunt and Company, 1889), 349.

[2] C. H. Spurgeon, Farm Sermons (New York: Passmore and Alabaster, 1882), 254–255.