Every Pastor is a Translator

It was my first extended vacation from the first church I served.

I really didn’t want to take the time off. But, wisely, the men insisted.

With my first Sunday off, I decided to visit Grace Community Church to hear Dr. John MacArthur, Jr. I would often attend the Sunday evening service at Grace. But I had never been there on a Sunday morning.

That morning, Dr. MacArthur was preaching about the family. The conclusions he drew from the scriptures affirmed convictions I already held.

However, for some reason, I became angry as I listened to the message. I felt that Dr. MacArthur, whom I had (have) never met, was being harsh, insensitive, and uncaring.

These feelings startled me. Biblically, he did not say one thing I disagreed with. So why was taking this message the wrong way?

My mind began to drift. Rather than listening, I started looking around.

All of sudden, it seemed that I was surrounded by families. A husband, wife, and children sitting in front of me. Sitting behind me. Sitting on the pew beside me.

I then began to understand what I was feeling.

Dr. MacArthur preached a strong word to challenge the families of his congregation to stay together and be what the Lord orders Christian families to be. I felt he was being insensitive because he was not factoring in the issues represented in my congregation.

But my congregation was not there. His was. And he was doing what he was supposed to do. He was preaching to the congregation the Lord had assigned to him. It was my job to explain the word to congregation and to exhort them to live it out.

John MacArthur was preaching to families that needed to be challenged to stay together. I was preaching to single parents, broken families, and young people who had never met their fathers.

We were both heading for the same destination. But we had to begin at different starting points, considering the different people we shepherded.

That day, as I sat in worship, I learned an important lesson: Every pastor is a translator.

Truth is truth, whether I experience it or not. And we can and should learn from anyone who is teaching the truth.

But all preaching is venue specific. We must interpret, translate, and apply the word for the people the Lord has called us to.

As a result of that experience, I determined to learn everything I could from John MacArthur and his church and then go home and “color” what I was learning to speak directly to my congregation.

This is what every pastor must do, no matter what context in which you minister. Be yourself. Start where you are. Use what you have. Preach with confidence in the sufficiency of the scriptures. And trust God to do what you cannot do.

We do not need to abandon the word of God to meet people where they are. There is no reality our people face that the word of God cannot reach. But we must speak the word to our people where they are, believing that God’s word will never return to him void.

Do you agree? Join the conversations in the comment section. 

Thank God for Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr.

I am happy.

I came home from work, there was a package on the porch waiting for me. I knew what it was. And I had been waiting on it. It was my copy of the new biography written by Iain Murray and published by Banner of Truth: “John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock.”

I was introduced to the ministry of John F. MacArthur Jr. early in my pastoral ministry. I was being confronted with claims of Charismatic experiences in my congregation. And I needed a better understanding of the matter. Somehow – I think it was through a magazine advertisement – I heard about MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos.

I went to a local Christian bookstore to find Chaos. When I asked the young lady behind the counter if they had the book in stock, she replied, “Yeah. But I wouldn’t recommend it. He doesn’t believe in the gifts.” I was shocked. I have never had a bookstore employee to discourage me from buying a book. It made me all the more eager to read the book. Honestly, I thought the MacArthur was harsh at points. But the book settled my convictions. And they have not changed. Chaos also deepened my passion to know the truth and strengthened my confidence in the sufficiency of God’s word.

I then began to pick up everything I could find by MacArthur. If he wrote it, I read it. I regularly listened to his “Grace To You” broadcast. And when I found out where his church was – about a thirty-minute freeway drive from where I lived – I would drive out to pick up tapes of his recent sermons.

During the first extended vacation time I took as a pastor; I spent my first Sunday off at Grace Community Church. This began my regular attendance in MacArthur’s Sunday night services. I remember with fondness the messages he preached through Romans 8 on Sunday evenings. Hearing them joyfully settled my convictions about Eternal Security, once and for all.

I knew that I was in love with Crystal when I invited her to join me for a Sunday evening service at Grace Church. I had never attended a service there with anyone before. I kind of viewed it as my own time to have my faith fed. Thinking that Crystal would one day be my wife, I wanted her to visit the church that was having such a profound impact on my doctrinal convictions and philosophy of ministry.

After the service, we were in the “Book Shack.” As we saw all of the books and tape series, we talked about the discipline required to produce this kind of work. When we were making our purchases, Crystal asked the young man what Dr. MacArthur was teaching on Sunday mornings. He answered 2 Corinthians. She asked was he in a series. He answered that Dr. MacArthur had been in 2 Corinthians for the past 3 or 4 years. I can still see the shocked look on Crystal’s face.

Some years later – being married with children – I was able to briefly continue my formal studies at The Master’s Seminary, which is on the campus of Grace Community Church and where Dr. MacArthur is the president. Though only there a short time, my understanding of scripture was deepened and my vision for pastoral ministry expanded.

I have never met John MacArthur. But he has been a dear friend to me for many years now. His example has challenged me. His preaching has nurtured me. His courage has inspired me. His books have taught me. His commentaries have aided me. His congregation has blessed me.

As I heard the news that Dr. MacArthur has recently completed preaching through the entire New Testament – verse-by-verse – I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for this faithful servant of the word. His defense and confirmation of the truth is formidable. Sure, there are times when I disagree with positions that Dr. MacArthur takes (It seems that most who read or listen to him give this qualification). But even when I disagree with him, I cannot easily dismiss him. He has done his homework on the text. And he forces me to do mine.

I know that it may not be best to write a biography on a subject while he is still alive. All of the evidence is not yet in. But I am grateful for the providential orchestration of circumstances that have caused this new biography of MacArthur to be written. And I am looking forward to reading the story of this man of God and his commitment to Christ, the scriptures, and the church.

Thank God for Dr. John F. MacArthur, Jr.

Two Special Days with the Master’s College and Seminary Family

This past Monday and Tuesday, I had the rare and special opportunity to speak in the chapel services at The Master’s College and the Master’s Seminary in Southern California.

I was invited to speak at the Master’s College last year. But my move to Jacksonville forced me to cancel the engagement. And I concluded that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would never have again. But I was graciously extended another invitation to come. And I was extremely grateful.

Monday, I spoke in the chapel service at the college. It was the beginning of their Outreach Week. It was a moving time of worship. And I was grateful to have such an attentive group of young people to minister to.

Later that afternoon, I taught a freshman class that was opened to the student body. We discussed biblical evangelism and practical strategies for sharing your faith. After a brief devotional like talk, we spent most of our time in questions and answers. I really enjoyed the passion of the young people to reach lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Later Monday evening, I had the opportunity to speak at the chapel service of the Los Angeles Bible Training School. It was the fourth or fifth time I have spoke at the training school. So we are pretty familiar with one another. Likewise, there were some Mt. Sinai members present, who attend the school. Pastor George Hurtt teaches there. He is presently teaching Philippians. It was a great time of worship.

Tuesday morning, I spoke at the Master’s Seminary. I was privileged to attend the seminary for a period. And the ministry of John MacArthur and the wisdom of the faculty has have a tremendous impact on my life and ministry. It was an unspeakable honor to have the opportunity to minister to the young men who are preparing themselves for pastoral ministry.

I pray that God will be pleased to use the messages to be a spiritual benefit to those who heard them in the days and years to come.

Tuesday afternoon, I sat in on a class at the WHW Expository Preaching Conference. Tuesday evening, George and I attended the annual banquet. And I had the opportunity to hear Dr. A. Louis Patterson Jr, pastor of the Mt. Corinth Church in Houston. Dr. Patterson is one of my heroes. And it is always a joy to hear him minister the word.

Tuesday night, I caught a red-eye home. And Wednesday evening, I was back in my own pulpit. There’s no place like home! The Lord blessed our time together, as we continued our study of the Great Commission. I preached on “A Conspiracy of Kindness” from Matthew 5:7.

Thank you for your prayers during this busy week of preaching and teaching.

Unafraid to Preach

The modern obsession with “user-friendly” ministry has stoked the fear of preaching into a pervasive phobia. Seminaries these days train men to be storytellers, entertainers, and motivational speakers – and discourage them from dealing with profound of difficult theological concepts from the pulpit.

Suddenly “too much Scripture” is deemed a greater homiletical faux pas than a whole sermon with no reference to Scripture whatsoever! Seriously, in some circles it is perfectly acceptable to give a motivational lecture of comedy routine practically devoid of any biblical content, but a verse-by-verse exposition of Scripture would automatically be deemed too weighty and (this is the unpardonable sin) insufficiently “relevant.”

Meanwhile, real preachers, men willing to stand in the pulpit, open the Word of God, and proclaim it with authority and conviction, are in seriously short supply. It seems the whole church is seized with a fear of preaching.

- John F. MacArthur Jr. (in Whatever Happened to the Reformation, edited by Gary L.W. Johnson & R. Folwer White, p. 270.

Free Downloads of John MacArthur Sermons!!!

Grace to You, the radio and television teaching ministry of John F. MacArthur Jr., Pastor-Teacher of the Grace Community Church in Sun Valley (CA) has recently taken a great step of faith and generosity by posting all of the sermons of John MacArthur for free download.

Yes. You read the previous sentence correctly. John MacArthur sermons. Available online for download. Free!

I can’t believe it. Praise God that the teachings of one of the great expository preachers/teachers of our generation will be available in this way to be a blessing to some many people.

Click HERE to get to the Grace To You website resource page.

And if possible, send a donation to Grace To You when you get the opportunity, to help support this great work as it continues to “unleash God’s truth one verse at a time.”

On Preaching and Clock-Watching

There was a time when churches placed clocks and bells in the steeples of their buildings, and they would “ring the alarm” for the community when it was time for corporate worship or prayer. Now churches place clocks on the back wall to make sure the pastor does not preach too long. After all, there are many other edifying things people need to do Sundays, aren’t there? They do not need to be in worship so long that it interrupts the other important plans for they day that they have made, do they?

During the days of the Puritans, the preacher would be given an hour-glass to be placed on the pulpit. And the congregation would give him a couple of turns of the hour-glass to complete his sermon. That was then. This is now. Now, the preacher, as they say, only has about thirty minutes to raise the dead. The contemporary church has learned to be more timely. This is a good thing. But many have also inadvertently developed congregations who have a drive-thru mindset about corporate worship and a microwave oven attitude toward the ministry of the word. This is definitely not a good thing.

I have wrestled with this matter in my own preaching over the years. Admittedly, I can be longwinded at times. Most of the time, it seems. But, believe it or not, I am always sensitive about the time factor in my preaching. And I have become somewhat anxious about it again as I begin a new assignment. Basically, my struggles with this issue reveals that I still have a lot of growing to do as a preacher. Ultimately, there is no morality attached to the length of a sermon. A good sermon can be long or short. And a bad sermon can be long or short.

Here is the (biggest) burden that weighs me down as it relates to this subject. The world gets my people all week long. TV. Music. Movies. Book. Magazines. The Internet. You name it. And we as pastors get our people once a week, in most instances. It just feels odd that the goal of the meetings where you have a prime opportunity to teach and preach the word of God to your people would be brevity. Just like healthy Christians, healthy churches need to spend time in the word of God.

There is another reason why this has been on my mind today. I read this morning an article by John F. MacArthur in Pulpit Magazine’s blog. It is adapted from the book, Rediscovering Expository Preaching. The entire book is worth your read, brother preachers. But click here for a good introduction to the book and the subject of sermon length, as Dr. MacArthur addresses it from the perspective of a serious and faithful Bible expositor.