Category Archives: Interviews

Bono Interview – Who is Jesus?

Gay Byrne interviewed Bono, lead singer of U2. When asked, “Who was Jesus?,” Bono answered, “That is the defining question of what Christianity is about… Either he is the Son of God… or he was nuts.”

For the full interview from the television series website, click here and look for the interview for “The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne” June 25, 2013.

Or watch this video below. I do not know how long the below video will be on Youtube, but it is the full interview:

Journey in Grace: An Interview with Wendy Alsup

This interview was done in 2007. This is a repost of the exchange.

I want to thank Wendy Alsup for her time and thoughtful answers to my questions. Wendy is a member of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. I believe this Q&A will be a blessing to you as it is to me.

Q1: What are some challenges you face ministering in Seattle, Washington? Compared to South Carolina?

A1: Well, some might call it a challenge. I call it refreshing. But growing up in SC, everybody claimed to be a Christian but nobody acted like one (I generalize of course). The Apostle Paul uses a child’s expected growth as an illustration. When a baby drools, it’s an expected result of their stage of growth. When an adult drools, we know it represents some type of disability. That adult isn’t functioning as expected for its years of life. Growing up in the Bible belt, I knew a bunch of Christians who had been believers (in theory) for many years but still acted like toddler Christians. I admit that I have lost my patience with believers who should have long since learned better. It was God’s wise hand that moved us to Seattle at the time He did. Here, people either are or are not Christians, and their lives pretty consistently testify to the truth of their claim. There are many hostile unbelievers here. Our papers, politicians, and cultural figures tend to be much more frank in their opposition to Biblical truth. On the flip side, most of the new Christians in our church are blissfully ignorant of the concept of a lukewarm believer. When they came to Christ, it radically changed their lives. Christianity here isn’t a culture–it’s a radical change of life based on a completely new identity in Jesus Christ. There are still plenty of immature believers, but as they grow older in the faith, godly maturity follows.

Q2: What advice do you have for other women who are also trying to juggle ministry in marriage, family, and church?

A2: You need to have your priorities in a godly order. I used to drive to church praying that God would bless my ministry to women there. Then one day I was convicted that I never prayed the same as I was driving back toward home afterwards. Ministry at church had become exciting and fulfilling, and I rightly wanted to be a good steward of those opportunities. However, I have an even clearer calling to ministry in my home. It’s less glamorous, so I have to constantly fight to keep my husband and boys my first priority. I’ve learned to give my husband first right of refusal when a new opportunity arises for ministry at church. I’m also learning to not make him feel guilty if he doesn’t want me to take on a ministry opportunity that excites me. He knows better than anyone the stresses I am currently facing and has a good perspective of which opportunities would end up being a distraction from my true calling. Generally speaking, it is much better to do a few things well than a lot of things halfway.

Q3a: What has your church done to prepare you for “Deacon in Charge of Women’s Theology and Training”?

A3a: Honestly, I became a deacon before we had a streamlined training process. Back then, training consisted of extended conversations over coffee with whichever leader was available at the moment. We have a more formal process for deacon training in place now, which includes reading books, answering discussion questions, writing out statements of doctrinal belief, and apprenticing with a current deacon or elder.

Q3b: What responsibilities does “Deacon in Charge of Women’s Theology and Training” entail?

A3b: The analogy I use to illustrate the ministry at our church is that we are building the plane while it’s flying. With that said, it’s highly probably my responsibilities will change between the time I send this to you and you actually publish it. But right now, I help organize women’s teaching events, both our small weekly Capstone training and our quarterly large group events.

Q4: I know Elisabeth Elliot is one of your female heroes of the faith. Who else has influenced you? Why?

A4: I did a lot of Bible reading on my own growing up. At some point, I read the greatest command and took it to my pastor (I was probably around 18 at the time). I was curious why I had never heard a sermon in my fundamentalist church on the command to love–after all, it was the GREATEST command and therefore one would think it should be covered at some point. My pastor answered that I was reading neo-evangelical stuff and that they had an overemphasis on love and therefore our church didn’t like to talk about it. That seemed really odd to me, but that pastor and his cohorts were the only spiritual authorities I knew at the time. Then a few years later, someone gave me Desiring God by John Piper. It was the first confirmation I got that what I was seeing in Scripture in the Greatest Command wasn’t some evangelical compromise but the heart of the gospel itself. So I have great appreciation for John Piper–he gave me confidence that I was reading Scripture correctly. And I of course love Spurgeon, Luther, and Pascal.

Q5: Was there a single point in time or series of points in which you began to understand the Gospel is for all of life AND for the believer, not just for the unsaved?

A5: It’s been ongoing. I would have said quite boldly that I understood it years ago. Then last month I reread Ephesians and was hit with it again in even deeper ways. I think it’s something we get layer by layer, slowly with meditation and experience over time. I’m burdened anew that women need to really get this. We are the worst at comparing ourselves to each other. We feel shame if we don’t measure up and pride if we do. We compare ourselves on looks, husbands, education, career paths, children, cooking expertise, Martha Stewart decorating abilities, and so forth. And that path is SLAVERY. But when we find our identity in Christ and our self-esteem at the foot of the cross, we can start walking the path of freedom from both the shame and pride of comparison living.

Q5a: You said, “when we find our identity in Christ and our self-esteem at the foot of the cross, we can start walking the path of freedom from both the shame and pride of comparison living. ” Do you have any advice for women (and men!) on how to combat comparison with the Gospel?

A5a: For me, it started by getting a grasp on the idea that the gospel was something I needed to meditate on and apply to my life DAILY for the rest of my life. The only advice I can give to someone is to meditate on Scripture. John 15 was key for me (I am the Vine, you are the branches … Apart from me you can do nothing). It was life-changing when that last phrase finally settled into my psyche–apart from Jesus I can do NOTHING. Understanding the implications of Christ being the vine and I the branch and of Christ being the Head and I part of His Body were key. Meditating on Ephesians has also been life-changing. The phrase “in Christ” dominates chapter 1. And everything else in the book, including the call to Christian unity and principles for marriage and family life all flow from this first chapter.

I was taught to read the Bible as a young person, but I read it much like the Pharisees (John 5:38-39). I missed how all of Scripture testifies of Jesus. I’m learning to seek the Word whenever I read the Word. I love Luke 24:25, “…then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Him (Jesus) in all the Scriptures.”

When I don’t get the Word and my identity in Him, I inevitably look to find my identity in whatever else I can. For me, it was boyfriends and popularity as a teenager and young single adult. Did people notice how I dressed? What about my hair? After marriage, it started to be how well I kept my home. The worst for me was realizing that when I signed up to take a meal to a sick church member, I decided what to take based on what made me look like the best cook. And it’s opposite reflects the same wrong thinking–I felt condemned by Satan after the birth of my 2nd son when all my friends brought over GREAT meals that I could never replicate myself. Why did that matter? Why was I comparing myself to them and either finding status or self-condemnation by how well I measured up? It’s ridiculous, but when I’m not meditating on my identity in Christ, I can follow that line of comparison thinking on a 1000 different issues. I’ve noticed that if I don’t deal with how I think about myself in relationship to Jesus, I just keep going from thing to thing to thing to bring me comfort, find status, and generally make me feel good about myself.

Q6: In what ways does Andy minister at your church? Do you have a ministry in which you participate together?

A6: We participate in all our ministries together, whether our names are both listed or not. Andy is a private person, and most of his service in the church is never seen by the masses (though many benefit in my humble opinion). He takes seriously his ministry to the boys and me and is a constant source of wisdom and discernment to me in my public ministry at church.

Journey in Grace: An Interview with Mark Lauterbach

I have enjoyed and benefited from Mark Lauterbach and his blog- Gospel-Driven Life (for his old site here). I want to publicly thank Mark for his putting the time, effort, thoughtfulness and grace in his responses to some questions I posed to him via email. I have, once again, benefited from a man who has tasted and seen that the Lord is good most clearly in the Gospel and has committed himself to helping others to see and taste that the Lord is good most clearly in the Gospel.

For starters, would you tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your ministry?
Thanks for asking. I am a native of Pittsburgh and a lifelong Steeler fan. I was there for the immaculate reception by Franco Harris (and if you don’t know what that is, look it up on google). My wife Rondi and I have been married for almost 29 years and she is my sunshine. We have three adult children, all graced by the Lord with faith. We have served church in the West primarily, since 1976. We have been in Oregon, Arizona, and California. I am currently the pastoral team leader for Grace Church in San Diego. I follow on the heels of a godly and gifted planter (Craig Cabaniss) who started Grace 11 years ago from scratch and laid some great foundations. I love ministry with my wife, and we cannot believe we have the joy of serving this body of people.

Q1. Would you explain your journey toward Gospel-Centeredness? Was there a watershed moment or sequence of moments?
That all began with an older man in our church in Tucson telling me one day that I did not preach Christ. Since I was in the middle of Romans I was quite perplexed. For a year or so he would make his point in various ways and I would try to understand him. I respected him greatly and thought I should hear him. About that time a friend moved to be near us. He had just completed his PhD, and when I asked him what it was about, he said he focused on the theme of the New Testament: “Jesus the Son of God came, lived a sinless life, died for sin on the cross, and rose again from death – now live in light of that.” I pressed him for more but that is what he kept coming back to . . . I was surrounded.

I set off on a journey of years. I started with the New Testament and circled or noted every reference to the achievements of the cross as I read and studied. I was shocked at how much the NT was blood stained and how I had turned it into a book of moral guidelines and rules. I was also reading Spurgeon, Charles Bridges, plus whatever I could get my hands on. I was being helped by the Lord to see that everything in the NT is a response to the Redeemer’s work. It took years. The final two “Wow” influences were Tim Keller and C J Mahaney. Keller showed me the Gospel everywhere and CJ showed me how to apply it and not just preach it.

I think the key was my re-reading of the entire NT. There are also more books coming out to help: Goldsworthy’s book on hermeneutics, and Dennis Johnson’s new book on preaching Christ.

Q2. Has your understanding of “the Gospel is for Christians” altered other facets of your theology? Why? Why not?
It has changed everything. I think all theology needs to be read through the Redeemer’s work. I think the character of God is most clearly seen through the cross and the empty tomb. I think the church is valued because Jesus died for it. I think eschatology is Redeemer centered not Israel centered (oops, that will get me into trouble with some). I could go on. There is no reason to fear that we lose something if we are focused on the cross and the resurrection. I am careful with theology that makes people feel burdened and heavy (that seems to be a side effect of Calvinism) and look for God-glorifying joy in a great salvation that brings us to God.

I now measure my own life by how much I live in the good of the Gospel every day. I measure my preaching and counseling by how clearly I help people grasp the full salvation achieved by Jesus and rest in it. Are they seeking to commend themselves to God? Are they defending themselves? Are they living under condemnation?

I have a sixth sense now for moralistic preaching. Anything preached that instructs, exhorts, admonishes, convicts – all the stuff we think makes it good – anything that does that but does not lead people to the cross seems to fall short of the apostolic pattern of ministry.

Q3. In your opinion, why do many Christians view the Gospel as only for unbelievers?
I would guess because we are all slow of heart to see the Gospel clearly. Luther said we have to remind ourselves of it all the time and beat it into our heads continually. I am so deeply self-righteous and self-reliant that it takes effort to remind myself of the grace of God. Take that tendency in all of us and mix it with lack of reading the Bible where we see the Gospel everywhere, and you have all that you need to have a “front door to salvation” view of the Gospel. I also think God is doing this work of making us Gospel centered in a new way in our day.

Q4. How do you stay Gospel-Centered in your preaching without allegorizing?
Who needs to allegorize? Most texts are Gospel centered – but there are lines to the Gospel everywhere. One of the key lines is to show how any law-demand cannot be met by us but is met in Christ. Another line is to show the sinfulness of the people in the situation and how they need a Savior. I think I read the passage praying for eyes to see Gospel issues – sin, redemption, grace, self-righteousness, etc. I think the link is often in application in its best form.

So, for example, the other day I read in Luke 22 what I have looked at a dozen times but never noticed before. Jesus tells the 11 that they will abandon him. He celebrates the Lord’s Supper with them. They immediately start fighting about who is the greatest! It is shocking. There they are in the presence of the Son of God who humbled himself for them – and they are arguing for pre-eminence in the group. So, Jesus teaches them about servanthood. That is Gospel-rich by itself. They need a Savior before they need moral teaching about humility. Luke makes that clear. But then the next verse bowls me over – he looks at these 11 who have been bickering and contending for honor and he says, “You are they who have continued with me in my trials.” Wow, — that is not what I am thinking. I am thinking they ARE his trials. But he, in grace, anticipating the cross, points out grace in their lives. I can use that passage to show how we all need a Savior – and how grace-filled eyes see people differently – and Jesus is the example for us. I can also point out to people that this is how Jesus sees his own – including them.

Q5. What is the most challenging aspect for you in preaching? What have you done to overcome these challenge(s)?
The biggest challenge is my own dull heart and my tendency to think that I am done with preaching after I have preached – and to miss application. It still takes me 14 hours a week or so to do a sermon. It all depends on if it is a new series (takes more time up front), a topical series (more work), and if the passage is simple or complex. Half of my time is spent on the sermon itself and most of that is trimming and ordering the flow. Seeing Gospel connections is often helped by the other pastors, who will go over the passage with me. And even when we are all committed to the Gospel as central, we still have differences!

Q6. What advice would you share with people who are aspiring Pastors/Elders/Counselors within a church?
The first issue is to put yourself under the oversight and evaluation of your pastors – and if they are not willing to do so, find a church where they will. Proven character and careful evaluation of character is so important. And it can only take place where you are known. Getting a “call” means nothing unless it is tested and you are evaluated. The second is to give yourself to serve the church. Don’t worry about preaching. Find a place to serve. Change diapers. Help in the parking lot. Teach children. Serve because you love the church. This will test your heart motive too! Third, find ways to care for people. Initiate care, friendship, hospitality. Don’t wait until you have an official ministry to do ministry! Fourth, find some avenue for practice and growth in preaching. Get evaluation as you go. Fifth, be more trusting of how other people see you than how you see yourself. Don’t think you have certain gifts if no one else sees it. But they will see where your gifts are and will serve you.

Q7. What are some of the challenges you face as a Pastor in California?
Same as everywhere – sin is real, Satan blinds the unbelievers to Jesus, sanctification is partial, and I am my own biggest problem. I actually think more of about the specific people I serve and know than about statistical averages. I have never met a statistical average.

All that aside, in my opinion the unique features to California are 1. Climate, 2. Cost. Our sunny weather means people are always on the move and rarely at home. The cost of housing affects everything. People have to spend a larger portion of their income to be in a home, even rentals. I may add a third: we are the rootless coast. Mark Dever described it this way. England is made up of the people who stayed. The Eastern USA is made up of the people who left. And the West is made up of the people who left the East. People here are fairly independent and rootless. That is why they came here. So, we call people to apply the Gospel to all these areas of life.

Q8. Who are your past/present heroes of the faith? What draws your attention to them?
I was very influenced by Tozer-Spurgeon-Packer early on. They drove my heart into the grace and glory of God. I have also been very influenced by Piper, Keller, Mahaney. I would say Eugene Peterson kept me sane when I was trying to be a pastor in churches that wanted a CEO. I do not recommend anyone anywhere without encouraging discernment. Only the Bible is infallible.

But I would say my real heroes are people I know and not just people I read. I admire my wife for 26 years of burying her life into our children when she had many desires to do other things besides. She has followed me through many tough times. I admire my children for their love of Christ even though they have seen some painful times in churches I have served. I admire CJ Mahaney for his humility and joy. I admire Steve Shank (who is on the Leadership team of Sovereign Grace) as he has moved so many times for the Gospel I cannot count them. He does it with joy and leads his family to the same. I admire John Piper for living in the city near his church and living simply. I admire my friend Drew because he is more kingdom focused than self-focused and gave me an opportunity to serve short term a few years ago. I admire a whole variety of folks for their love of the church, their teachability, their pursuit of godliness, their grace filled living. I admire people for their lives more than for their books.

Q9. You have written a book called The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline. Can you explain why you wrote it and what your hopes are for the book?
Well. I wrote it because when a friend asked me what God had taught me most deeply in twenty years I discovered I had been through a huge number of church discipline cases. It is a reflection on those lessons and how I grew to see that the Gospel informs how we do discipline. I wish I could redo all those years of ministry as I made so many mistakes. I also wish I could re-write it as I do not think it is well written – but I try to set out the grace motivated, careful process of dealing with sin that I think we find in Scripture. What is funny is that it was published as I went to the Pastors College for Sovereign Grace! As I re-read it during my first year with this family of churches; I found that I was seeing it lived in some clear ways. I am convinced that if the church will humbly and graciously deal with sin and encourage each other, we will see significant grace in our lives. But it takes faith and courage and humility. And that comes from the Gospel.

You can purchase the book from Amazon: The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline.

UPDATE: Mark’s sermons are now online!

The Gospel in Everyday Language: An Interview with Milton Vincent

As I have mentioned in the past (in 2007 to be exact), I have recommended the booklet A Gospel Primer for Christians now a book you can get from Amazon. I liked the Primer so much that I contacted Pastor Milton Vincent, the author of the Primer, and requested an interview. He graciously accepted the opportunity.

This interview has encouraged me greatly, and I am sure it will encourage you, as well. For anyone, and I am sure this includes everyone, struggling with sin in any and every area of life, this Q&A should be fresh, cold water to your soul.

First off, I want to thank you for taking this time to answer questions from a no-name blogger whom you have never met. I really want to make this an opportunity of learning and gleaning the wisdom God has given you relating to the ministry of the Gospel and to share this wisdom with my readers.

For starters, would you tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your ministry?

My wife and I are from Indianapolis, Indiana. We both went to Bob Jones University, and we graduated from there in ’87. I graduated from The Master’s Seminary in ’91, and a few months later I assumed the pastorate at Cornerstone Fellowship Bible Church, where my wife and I have been ever since. I did teach English Grammar at The Master’s Seminary for two years and Beginning Hebrew at the seminary for four years. I have four children, Brooke (17), Brendan (15), Benjamin (11), and Breanna (9). I have a terrible golf game.

1. You have written a booklet called A Gospel Primer for Christians. Can you explain why you wrote it and what your hopes are for the booklet?

To the Christians at Rome, Paul literally says, “I am eager to evangelize you who are at Rome” (Romans 1:16). Apparently, Paul felt that the Roman Christians still needed to be evangelized; and I have found the same to be true in my own life and in the lives of many other Christians to whom I minister. The Gospel Primer represents an attempt to meet the needs of Christians who, like me, feel the need for a simple tool through which they can evangelize themselves each day.

It had been a burden of mine since 2001 to write a gospel tract for Christian people, a tract which lays out for them the basics of the gospel, calls them to faith in that gospel, and shows them how they can come into a fuller experience of it. The Primer is that tract.

My hope for the booklet is simply that Christians will find the truths in it as helpful as I have found them to be in my own life. It has been rewarding in recent months to witness the interest in the primer and to hear of how it has blessed so many. This confirms to me that we all share the same basic need for the gospel each day.

2. Has your understanding of “the Gospel is for Christians” altered other facets of your theology? Why? Why not?

Yes and No. My doctrinal statement looks the same now as it did before. But my emphases are vastly different. Everything I say and do always goes back to the gospel. This wasn’t true of my ministry prior to 2001.

3. In your opinion, why do many Christians view the Gospel as only for unbelievers?

I don’t know, except to say that if I were the Devil, this would be one of my favorite lies. The gospel of Christ is so powerful that, after experiencing the defeat of seeing a person become converted, the Devil rushes in to tell them, “OK, you’ve experienced the gospel. Now let’s move on quickly to the deeper stuff”! This is a scheme that Satan has perfected all too well. Hence, we have Christians who are saved by the gospel, but who walk by the Law. They have entrusted their glorification completely over to Jesus, but have not learned the mechanics of how to leave their justification to Him also.

4. Would you explain your journey toward Gospel-Centeredness? Was there a watershed moment or sequence of moments?

Pardon the length of my reply. But since you asked, I will tell you.

I would have never acknowledged this to be the case, but I labored for most of my life to maintain my justified status before God, and I was always left frustrated in my attempts to do so. The “God” I believed in was easily ticked at me. When I would come into His presence to make right some wrong, His arms were tightly folded, and His eyes were slow to meet mine. I imagined an angry look on His face, and it was up to me to figure out some way to mollify Him.

I figured that if I beat up myself sufficiently in His presence, or pled with Him long enough, or just waited a few hours to put a little distance between me and my sin, then He might warm to me again.

This view of God would work for a short while, but after a couple weeks, the sheer quantity of times I failed God would reach a threshold where I was convinced that He was fed up with me. I also grew weary of always falling out of His favor and having to confess or work my way back into His good graces. Exhausted from such efforts, I would eventually give up actually trying to relate to God.

I would then go weeks and months where all I would do was simply try not to do anything too stupid or overtly sinful. But inwardly I harbored much sin, and, over time, I would find myself acting out in ways that would scare me and bring the Spirit’s conviction upon me. Feeling convicted over such sin, I would return to God as a prodigal and renew my efforts to please Him this time around. With a burst of energy, I would throw myself into trying to relate to God once again, only to end up a couple weeks later exactly as I had so many times before: frustrated, defeated, and exhausted.

I operated this way through college and seminary, and even through the first decade of my ministry as a pastor. All the while, I hung onto my faith, because I knew something better was available. I just didn’t know how to get to it. God was gracious to teach me many things along the way that continued to move me forward, but rest in Christ eluded me.

In April of 2001, I was in the fourth week of a season of renewal in my walk with the Lord. I was relating to God with renewed passion and was experiencing significant growth as a result. But the same wearisome agitation began to grow over me as the days wore by.

Driving home from work one day, my mind came back to the Lord after I had allowed my thoughts to drift for about ten minutes. I was instantly concerned about what I might have just been thinking about in the previous ten minutes. “Have I been thinking anything sinful?” I asked myself. “If so, then God would be angry at me for letting my thoughts wander so. Or maybe I wasn’t even thinking sinful thoughts, but perhaps God is still upset with me because I wasn’t thinking on Him instead.”

My mind began to agitate, and I winced under the Lord’s gaze. “Lord, are we OK?” I asked. “Have I thought any thoughts that have offended You? Do I need to make anything right in order to restore our relationship?”

I anxiously replayed my thoughts from the previous ten minutes. I felt I needed to do this in order to know what the countenance of God was towards me at that moment. If He was angry, then I had to get back into His good graces.

A feeling of nausea began to sweep over me. “Surely, relating to God can’t be this difficult!” my heart screamed. “Why is it so hard to stay in His good graces? I can’t keep track of every thought in order to make sure that He stays graciously disposed towards me! This isn’t possible!”

Feeling exhausted at the thought of a lifetime of having to tend so obsessively to keeping myself in the good favor of God, I felt an extreme urge to trash the whole effort.

The words of a hymn came to my mind and I began to sing them: “Jesus, I am resting, resting, in the joy of what Thou art . . . .” As I sang the words, I agonized over the fact that my own experience was far removed from the rest about which the songwriter spoke.

When I got home, I found that my wife and kids were not at home. So I grabbed my Bible and began reading Romans 5 out loud as I paced the floor in our living room. What led me to Romans 5 I don’t recall. But I’m glad I landed there, because the chapter saved my life.

I started reading: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have an introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand. And we exult . . . .”

As I continued through the chapter, my soul was stirred by the inspired ravings of a man who exulted in, rather than worried about, his justified status before God. This justification brought him into a gracious standing with God that was accomplished and always maintained by Jesus Christ.

The more I read, the more I began to see something I had not seen before. As a justified one, I am under God’s gracious favor at all times because of what Jesus did! This favored standing with God has nothing to do with my performance, but only with the performance of Jesus! As I read through the length of the chapter, I began to see that my justification was not something to agitate over, but to exult in, not something to wrestle for, but to rest in. I stole a glimpse into chapter 6 and realized that even when I sin, God’s grace abounds all the more as He graciously maintains my justified status.

The above realizations may seem like no-brainers to some, but Paul’s teaching on justification hit me that day like never before. Indeed, I had always believed I was justified, but I guess I treated my justification as some sort of legal fiction that had little direct bearing on the mechanics of how God related to me and how I related to Him. I suppose I would have imagined God saying, “Yeah, technically you’re justified, but I’m angry with you anyway for what you did today!”

But now I realized that absolutely 100% of the wrath I deserve for my sins was truly spent on Jesus, and there is none of God’s anger left over for me to bear, even when I fail God as a Christian. Hence, God now has only love, compassion, and deepest affection for me, and this love is without any admixture of wrath whatsoever. God always looks upon me and treats me with gracious favor, always seeking to work all things together for my ultimate and eternal good. All of these realities hold true even when I sin.

Being justified in Christ doesn’t mean that God no longer cares about my sin. He does care, and He is grieved by my sin. But His gracious favor upon me remains utterly unchanged by my sin, and no wrath is awakened in Him against me. In fact, God favors me so much when I sin that He sends chastisement into my life. He does so because He is for me, and loves me, and He disciplines me for my ultimate good.

Over the next few days, I wrote out some truths regarding my justification on a 3×5 card, and I carried that card around with me everywhere I went. I would pull the card out and read it several times a day. As I did so, I could hardly believe my good fortune. I drank in the doctrine of my justification like a dying man drinking a tall glass of water in the desert. The way those truths put my soul at rest was indescribable.

So delicious was the good news regarding my justification that I began to fear that perhaps I had misunderstood something. With fear and trembling, I ran what I had learned by two fellow-pastors and by the elders of Cornerstone. I also consulted a few evangelical theology books to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding something. To my great relief, I got a green light from all of these checkpoints! They all confirmed that I was rightly understanding what the Scriptures taught regarding my justification.

I felt like a kid in a candy store. How did I not see these things before? The Gospel is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. And it’s true!

The 3×5 card soon turned into the front side of a half sheet of paper, and one side quickly turned into two. I called it “A Gospel Primer” and kept inserting it into our church’s Sunday bulletins to make sure everyone was getting the good news of the Gospel. I kept quoting the contents of the Primer to myself in order to remain mindful of the grace of God in which I stood, because I found it too easy to get out of “gospel mode” and fall back into a performance-based relationship with God. Eventually, the single-page primer turned into a 78 page booklet, now entitled, “A Gospel Primer for Christians.”

Released from the burden of having to maintain my righteous standing with God, I quickly found that I had enormous amounts of passion to put into growing in holiness and ministering God’s amazing grace to other people. I had never had such energy available for ministry before, because so much of it was consumed with tending to my standing before God. I also found the grace of the gospel producing in me a huge passion to love and obey God. In moments of temptation, I enjoyed saying to myself, “You know, I can commit this sin, and God’s grace would abound to me all the more as He maintains my justified status. . . . But it is precisely for this reason that I choose not to commit this sin!” In such moments I would walk away from sin with laughter in my heart.

To keep a long story from getting longer, let me close this off by saying that I still struggle with sin, and I daily fall short of what I know God wants from me. But, without question, the Lord allowed me to turn a significant corner in my sanctification in the Spring of 2001. There are still many areas of my life which I have not yet brought the gospel fully to bear upon. And I am still learning and growing in my experience of the fullness of the gospel. But, as exciting as what I’ve already learned is, I see Jesus standing there saying, “There is more.”

And to me, a hell-deserving sinner, that’s just plain crazy. God’s grace is amazing!

5. How do you stay Gospel-Centered in your preaching without allegorizing?

I’m still growing in my ability to be gospel-centered in all I preach, and I have much to learn. While I have found it worthwhile to put forth the extra effort to be gospel-centered in every sermon, I don’t always feel that I have nailed it the way I should. In fact, in some ways I feel as if I am in Kindergarten on this topic. Nonetheless, what follows are some meandering thoughts that reflect my thinking and practice up to this point.

There are clearly gospel texts in Scripture (Isaiah 53, Ephesians 1-3, etc.), and, of course, I preach what’s there.

If I am preaching a prescriptive passage in the Old Testament, I preach the text for what it says in its context, but then tell people that they can only hope to be what the text calls for if they are centered on the gospel. I can tell them that every command in the Law is specifically designed by God to serve as a tutor to show them their bankruptcy and bring them to Christ (gospel!). If they are already saved, then every command in the Law is designed to bring them back again and again to Christ and His gospel.

Where the gospel is not explicitly in the text (as is the case with many proverbs), I preach the text and then bring the gospel to bear on the application. I suppose in such cases I am not applying a gospel-hermeneutic to the interpretation of the text as much as I am providing a gospel method for thinking through the application of the text.

When preaching Old Testament narrative, I think one can always bring the gospel to bear on the interpretation and application of the text. As a case in point, one can preach on David slaying Goliath, and he can talk about God preserving His people (particularly David!) through whom the Messiah would come (gospel!). By way of application, the preacher legitimately can ponder the strong-mindedness of David and ask what resource is available to us today to give us that same courage in the face of our enemies, particularly the principalities and powers we must stand against. The gospel provides abundant fuel for courage. Other gospel connections can easily be made.

One caution is in order. I think the preacher does well to treat Old Testament passages in their original context, and he should do the work necessary to discern how they were intended to be understood by their original readership. Some preachers might bail out on this process and jump too quickly to the gospel. In such cases, they actually diminish, rather than enrich, the gospel appreciation that such texts are ultimately intended to cultivate.

If I preach the commands of Scripture, even New Testament commands, without pointing people to the gospel, then I am nothing more than a preacher of the Law. After preaching some command in Scripture, such as “let all bitterness and wrath and anger . . . be put away from you . . . ,” I frequently tell our people, “Do not walk out of here merely resolving to do a better job of obeying this command. Instead, start gorging yourself on the gospel and you will catch yourself doing exactly what this passage tells you to do.”

6. What is the most challenging aspect for you in preaching? What have you done to overcome these challenge(s)?

For me, the most challenging aspect of preaching is the preparation process. Studying with tools of exegesis in one hand and a sword in the other, dealing with the fury of hell that seeks to impede my advancement in the text, often serves to make preparation excruciating. I envy men who rave about how much they enjoy their sermon preparation. Perhaps one day this will be my experience. For now, it is often the most painful part of what I do (this is not to say that there are not moments of rejoicing!).

It helps me to go into my sermon preparation with the mindset of a soldier. Sentinels of hell have stationed themselves around every truth in Scripture, and the mindset of a warrior braces me to fight the necessary fight to get at those truths for my own benefit and the benefit of the people to whom I am called to minister.

7. What advice would you share with people who are aspiring Pastors/Elders/Counselors within a church?

If you can do anything else, by all means do it. And if you can do anything else, you probably aren’t called. Ministry is not for the faint of heart. It is gritty and often messy. If you wish to be comfortable, do yourself a favor and avoid ministry.

The downside to avoiding ministry is that, when you reach your deathbed, you will have lived but one life. However, if you wish to live a thousand lives, and truly laugh all of your laughter and weep all of your tears, then ministry is definitely where it’s at.

Also, it seems that the longer I am in the ministry, the more I become a “one-tool” pastor/counselor. The one tool I have in my tool box is the gospel; and I’m finding that it works on everything!

Whether preaching or counseling, always direct people to the gospel, and then let the gospel wield God’s power in their areas of particular need. Follow Paul’s example by teaching gospel truth and then helping people to reason their way from gospel truth to whatever practical issue they are dealing with. This will save you a huge amount of work in the long run, and you will see for yourself why Paul calls the message of the cross “the power of God.”

8. What are some of the challenges you face as a Pastor in California?

Probably nothing any other pastor doesn’t face. People are the same anywhere. Actually, one of the greatest benefits to pastoring a church in California is that churches tend to be more racially integrated out here. One of the centerpieces of the gospel is that the death of Christ has obliterated the racial and socio-economic distinctions that once divided us outside of Christ. The journey to a racially integrated church is fraught with fewer obstacles out here than in some other parts of the country. I am extremely thankful for this.

9. Who are your past/present heroes of the faith? What draws your attention to them?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. I look up to so many people! Rather than boring you with a long list of heroes, I will give you just four, two of them from the past and two of whom are alive today.

The Apostle Paul is my greatest hero and dearest brother in the faith. The Lord used his fanatical zeal for the gospel to give me light and show me the way forward when my soul was at a critical impasse.

William Wilberforce. He was a gospel-driven man who worked and spoke with great conviction of the rightness of his causes, yet he did so with a humble consciousness of his own sin and graciousness toward others.

CJ Mahaney. I know of no other man who exudes the spirit of the apostle Paul more than he. CJ speaks and emotes about the gospel the way I’ve always imagined that the apostle Paul did when he was alive. I love him for that.

Jerry Bridges. Bridges’ book, The Discipline of Grace has had a huge impact on my life, and I will always be grateful for his introducing me to the role of the gospel in the life of the believer.
_____________________

I would like to thank Pastor Milton Vincent for this interview. If you have any questions to ask him, I am sure he would not object (I previously asked if I could do a follow-up interview if needed). You can visit his church’s website at: http://www.cornerstonebible.org/