About three and a half years ago, I posted the following sample prayer plan to serve as a guide for those who were looking to add some structure to their times of personal worship. Over the past few weeks, a number of people have happened to mention that this was helpful to them. I’ve also had occasion recently to refer to it in some pastoral counseling contexts. With it on my mind, I figured I’d re-post it for those who missed it the first time. As always, I pray it’s a benefit to you.

In his classic, Desiring God, John Piper diagnoses that a main hindrance to prayer is our lack of planning. He tells us,

Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the main reasons so many of God’s children don’t have a significant life of prayer is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to. If you want to take a four-week vacation, you don’t just get up one summer morning and say, “Hey, let’s go today!” You won’t have anything ready. You won’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned.

But that is how many of us treat prayer. We get up day after day and realize that significant times of prayer should be a part of our life, but nothing’s ever ready. We don’t know where to go. Nothing has been planned. No time. No place. No procedure.

And we all know that the opposite of planning is not a wonderful flow of deep, spontaneous experiences in prayer. The opposite of planning is the rut. If you don’t plan a vacation, you will probably stay home and watch TV. The natural, unplanned flow of spiritual life sinks to the lowest ebb of vitality. There is a race to be run and a fight to be fought. If you want renewal in your life of prayer, you must plan to see it.

Continue Reading…

Little_country_church_Cedar_Valley_near_Winona,_MNIn my first five years of pastoral ministry, I can look back at a lot of different situations that shock or surprise me. Some people had far more spiritual depth than I thought and others were as shallow as a shower. But one of the simple, surprising blessings in my life is the opportunity to preach the Word of God weekly and to never miss a Sunday gathering.

As a pastor of a smaller church, I don’t get to sleep in, call in sick or take a quick family vacation over the weekend. I’ve heard people say, “it’s your job” or “you get paid to do this.” I understand that, but I want to communicate to them what an awesome blessing it is to be, in a sense, “forced” to go to church week in and week out. I want to encourage other pastors and people to embrace the monotony of weekly attendance by looking at some of the grace that rubs off on us.
shower-head

Fellowship

Each week Christians gather to worship God and celebrate the gospel the first day of the week through prayer, music, giving, the preaching of the Word, baptism and the Lord’s Table. But there are many other benefits that we get by “not forsaking the assembling” (Heb 10:25).

One of those is fellowship. We are forced to spend time with other people. In a culture saturated by social media, electronic devices and sixty-hour workweeks, church is often one of the few places of fellowship that people have throughout the week. We need other Christians to sharpen us spiritually (Prov 27:17), hold us accountable and practice the one another’s of Scripture. Just as marriage is sanctifying because of my wife’s influence on me, so the church is sanctifying for each member as they interact with one another. This can be through the positive acts of serving and helping others or through significant challenges or disagreements. Different people bring out different parts of each person, the best and the worst, and both help us grow in our relationship with Christ. Continue Reading…

coreIn just about every physical fitness plan these days there is talk of one’s core. Trainers talk about needing to strengthen your core. They often attribute various physical weaknesses to the core. Pour posture or back issues often are due to an issue with one’s core. Good balance often comes back to core strength.

The same can be said of church planting and revitalization. The faithfulness and fruitfulness therein will often come down to the strength of the core team which sets out to plant or revitalize.

In church planting and revitalization, the core team is the seed which must grow into a healthy sapling, bear fruit, and so set the tone for a disciple-making, one-anothering church for years to come. So, destabilization within the core team will typically prove to be a major hindrance to planting or revitalizing a healthy church.

Gods-graceIf one were to gather 100 church planters in a room and interview them, a similar story would be heard. It would involve a battle; multiple battles, actually. But among the majority, there would be a theme common to all of the battles: a battle involving the core team.

Whether disunity with the lead planter, disunity among one another, an ill-equipped core team, wrong expectations about the church planting process, or simply the hard work involved as the core, battles involving the core teams are one of the more common contributors to destabilization in church planting and revitalization processes.

For those reasons, the core team needs to be sufficiently equipped for the normal battles involved in their glorious and privileged work. They cannot take their task lightly. After all, they are placing themselves in the pioneering work of the most important organization on the planet: the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, what are some things I ought to consider as a member of a core team? How can I faithfully and fruitfully play my part on the core team? This study will attempt to answer those questions by looking at ten ways for church plant and revitalization core teams to be strengthened for their work:

Continue Reading…

Preachers_Logo

Earlier this month, The Master’s Seminary launched a new blog named Preachers & PreachingIf the name sounds familiar, it is an intentional hat tip to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ famous work Preaching and Preachers. Since TMS exists to train future pastors with a specific emphasis on expository preaching, it seems appropriate that the seminary’s new blog would point back to the legacy of one of recent history’s most distinguished expositors.

But the articles on Preachers & Preaching are not just for pastors and seminary students. They are intended to benefit and encourage the church at large, not just those in church leadership. Continue Reading…

storm trooper grievingIf you were to line up all 15 billion or so people who have ever lived in order of most godly to most vile, whereabouts would you place Jonathan Edwards? I’m not asking for exactitude, just a rough estimate, rounded off to the nearest billion.

Factors you might want to consider include: Edwards (1703-58) repented and embraced the grace of Christ as a young man, worked as a faithful and exemplary pastor for decades, preached arguably the most influential English sermon ever (one credited with starting the Great Awakening), raised a dozen godly children, was a devoted husband, wrote countless helpful theological works, volunteered to be a frontier missionary to a tribe of Native Americans, and all the while recognized his utter dependence on God and modeled humility and purity.

My guess as to where Edwards features in the godliness line-up would be somewhere in the top—I don’t know— two billion, to be safe? I’m certain we would all agree that he should be at least in the upper half of the virtue queue. (The list includes all the Amalakites, Nazis, serial killers, bohemian hippies, and all the lukewarm Christians in history).

The reason I ask is because I was quite taken aback when I read where Edwards ranked himself…

Continue Reading…

WhitefieldThis week, I came across a remarkable sermon from George Whitefield, entitled, “The Eternity of Hell-Torments,” which he preached in London in 1738. When the reality of the fate of those who perish in this life without Christ is again pressed upon one’s conscience, it always seems like a burden too great to bear. But, as Whitefield would say in the sermon, “If the bare mentioning the torments of the damned is so shocking, how terrible must the enduring of them be!” Truly this is the most solemn of subjects. But we as Christians — as preachers of the Gospel of Christ — we must give our minds and hearts to the biblical teaching of the unbeliever’s fate. And Whitefield has done us an excellent service. You can read the sermon in full here, but I wanted to highlight his conclusion today on Cripplegate.

As a preacher, it was instructive for me to observe the way Whitefield pled with his hearers to flee from the wrath to come. He was not content to simply parrot out a few stock phrases that summarized the content of the Gospel, and give an “invitation.” No, he reasoned with his hearers. He considered what objections their sinful hearts may have concocted in their own spirits as they were listening, and he did his best to respond to those objections. He loved these people enough to get inside their heads, to trace out the probable outworkings of their unregenerate affections, and to leave them no room to think or feel the way they had been when they came in. This is the kind of penetrating, heart-searching application I aim for in my own preaching — not because my hope is to be like Whitefield for his sake, but because my hope is to love my people the way Whitefield loved his, and the way Christ loved His. This is the way that I want to preach the Gospel in my sermons.

But beyond observing a good homiletical example, this sermon penetrated my own heart, just as a fellow-sinner in need of the grace of God, and as a Christian who proposes to be in the ministry of rescuing souls from hell through the preaching of the Gospel. To be reminded of the eternal torments of hell is, in the true sense of the word, awful. But it is so necessary, in order to shake my soul from the complacency wherein I am too often found. I don’t want the miseries of hell; I want the joys of seeing and loving Christ in heaven! Sermons like this — and Gospel-appeals like this — urge me to renew my resolve to fight sin in my life, “lest,” in the words of the great apostle, “that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor 9:27). And I don’t want the miseries of hell for those whom God has providentially placed in my path, either. Sermons like this urge me to renew my resolve to be intentional in proclaiming the Gospel to the people around me, lest I fail to be a God-glorifying watchman (cf. Ezek 3:17-21). I pray you’re benefited by Whitefield.

Continue Reading…

I can picture it already.

It’s July 2038. The world’s greatest sporting event is upon us. It’s the World Cup final. Italy and Brazil are playing to win the cup. The two best teams are locked in a dead end tie.

spiderman

With thirty seconds left Brazil has the ball, and with the referee eyeing his watch they desperately make one final attempt to break the tie and avoid penalty kicks. After a great play the Brazilian striker receives the ball and takes an incredible shot from outside the box. He’s scored several goals already during the tournament. This shot is just as good as the rest and it is sailing in the top right corner. But just as he lifts his hands in celebration Italian Goalkeeper Matteo Standridge, with a Spiderman-like dive, grabs the ball and doesn’t just punch it away but miraculously catches it and holds on. With only seconds left he quickly punts the ball to his teammate, Nico Standridge whose quickness with the ball allows him to dribble several Brazilian players down the right side of the field; all of a sudden he lets off an incredibly precise cross right to the middle of the goal area. In the goalie box, Italian striker Davide Standridge rises above the three defenders around him and heads the ball in for the win. Continue Reading…

One of the key passages that comes up when talking about apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15-16.  Every apologist out there cites it at some point, and everyone has a pretty similar take on it (seeing that many use the text to justify their very existence).  It’s apparently a divine command for every Christian to be continuously ready to let rip when someone challenges some aspect of Christian belief.  Seeing that most Christians aren’t prepared to defend the Christian faith against the wide variety of attacks that come against it, the apologists are the big guns that are necessary to help defend the faith (and train others to do so).

Tank

Now I don’t doubt or question the value of apologists, but rather I do question the generally accepted interpretation of 1 Peter 3:15-16.  Most apologists are decent enough theologians, but almost none of them are properly trained biblical exegetes.  In other words, I can only think of a handful who know their biblical languages and have seminary training that’s relevant to exegesis.  That’s not to condemn them but rather to recognize that there is an area of apologetic thinking that I can help with.  I’m not a trained philosopher, historian or theologian (well, that last one is partially untrue) but I am a trained exegete and I’d like to walk through 1 Peter 2:13-3:16 an offer a little exegetical insight into a commonly cited text. Continue Reading…

Note: I posted this yesterday on Preachers and Preachingthe new blog of The Master’s Seminary. I’ve duplicated it here at the Cripplegate, to make sure as many people as possible know about the resources available from the Summit on Biblical Inerrancy.

Summit_Session

It’s hard to believe the 2015 Summit on Biblical Inerrancy is over. With 16 guest speakers and 18 general sessions, it was a power-packed week celebrating our common commitment to the absolute truth of God’s Word.

In case you missed any of general sessions, you can find summaries of each session below. Videos for the sessions can be found here and also here.

In session 1, John MacArthur opened the conference by listing four reasons why a summit on biblical inerrancy is needed. Those who love God and His Word are called to defend it. Click here for a full summary.

In session 2, Alistair Begg exposited 2 Tim. 4:1-5, emphasizing the divine charge to preach the Word in the midst of a culture that does not want to hear the truth. Click here for a full summary.  Continue Reading…

contortedI once tried to visit Canada without lying. As a South African citizen I needed a visitor’s visa to set foot on their delightful tundra. I was vacationing in Michigan with a friend who suggested it would be very jet-set of me to add Canada to my menagerie of passport stamps since the border was only a few clicks away.

The plan was to pop into the nearest coffee shop that wasn’t a Starbucks, and pose for a picture with a moose or maple leaf or a live Canuck or something equally exotic.

The visa conundrum only occurred to us en route, but my friend assured me that they seldom ask for passports, and if I sat quietly they probably wouldn’t ask me anything at all.

I rehearsed looking unsuspicious and American. As we pulled up to the border the guard cheerfully asked “Are you both Americans?” We paused as we considered any way to answer this truthfully without letting on that we were not both Americans. The pause became the answer.

Continue Reading…