When Steve Lawson Told Me I’d Never Preached

IMG_0004About nine years ago when I was an associate pastor in south Louisiana, Dr. Steven Lawson taught a workshop for our local association on Expository Preaching. I was actually sick and had a headache at the time but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Dr. Lawson did a phenomenal job (as he always does) of explaining the nuts and bolts of Expository preaching and its Biblical mandate and model.

At the time I was still young(er) and had not had the pulpit time or pastoral experience I have now had. I was a good student at an undergrad Bible college and was currently enrolled in seminary and had spent a lot of time with biblical languages, background, and even travel in biblical lands. When I had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Lawson after the seminar I remarked to him, “I think I am really good at giving biblical background and an explanation of the text, but where I really struggle is the application of the text… ” Dr. Lawson, in a kind and pastoral tone, basically told me I had never preached. He responded, “well, I believe application is when a sermon becomes a sermon.” That gentle correction has helped me over the last near-decade in thought and preparation for sermons. Not that every sermon has been a “homerun” or that I’ve even felt good after every message preached, but I have made it a pastoral priority in study to consider how the text actually applies to the group I am speaking to and how the biblical truths touch our every day lives.

As Dr. Lawson himself would point out, the Puritans were quite effective with this and would’ve spent anywhere from a third to a half of their sermons on application (after textual explanation and doctrinal truths). We should never go to the pulpit claiming to be expository if we are not also explanatory in how these biblical truths speak to our lives.

I doubt Dr. Lawson would remember me, but I am thankful  he took a moment to be pastoral and prophetic in my life and I pray that it has resulted in pastoral benefit to many other lives. Thank you Dr. Lawson!


Fruit in Its Season: An Ode to Psalms.


“everything written about me in the. . .Psalms must be fulfilled.” – Jesus. (Luke 24:44)

Tonight I end a journey that began on Wednesday night, August 26, 2011. It was on that evening I began walking Psalm by Psalm, stanza by stanza, and at many times verse by verse through the book of Psalms with our Wednesday night Bible study. Our time has been broken up by once a month business meetings, travels, and special events such as VBS and special guests, so by God’s providence tonight is the end of that journey as we study Psalm 150. It is with a jubilant heart of peace and tears of thankfulness I arrive here today. This will not be my last journey and I encourage you as an individual or pastor to take a similar journey. To encourage you, here are a few of my reflections on the Psalms.

The Psalms are the heartbeat of the Bible and therefore the heartbeat of God.  If you want to stay close to His heart, you need to hear His heart. You will find the rhythm in the book of Psalms. I knew as a first time/ full-time senior pastor, I desired to lead in prayer meeting by focusing on prayer. This led me to the conviction (before I knew for sure when and where I would go) our Wednesday night Bible study would initially consist of a study in the book of Psalms.  I read early on, “the Psalms paint pictures.” With that in mind the journey over the landscape of this vast book has been like a hike through the largest National Park with the highest of heights, the deepest of valleys,  with the brightest of sunlight, the darkness of night, the bitterness of stagnate water (of my own heart) and the refreshing and reviving coolness of a mountain stream (of God’s heart). The Psalms tickle the imagination and inoculate the heart with Truth. Spend time in this book and you will find the words more delightful than honey and more valuable than gold.

There are so many things I have learned throughout the study of the book it would be impossible to innumerate them all. However, there are three returning truths one can see from the vantage point of every hill and valley in the book: the mercy of God, the justice of God, and the mission of God. I have also included a word on His protection, providence, and Messiah.

His Mercy

By far, one of the most repeated words in this book is kesed – God’s love. I will never forget an evening cup of coffee with my pastor and a Hebrew professor, Dr. Wayne VanHorn, when he walked me word by word through Psalm 23 (I carry those notes in my Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia to this day) and his bright eyes as he spoke of God’s love (most often translated “mercy”) in Psalm 23:6. Without this kind of love, all of our lives, efforts, and trials are in vain. This is the kind of love God has for His people – very well characterized by the translation “mercy.” Dr. VanHorn told me that night (and I’ve never forgotten it) that one could consider this the “Covenant Love of God”. I have also seen it recently rendered by Alec Motyer as “God’s committed love” and it is also often translated “steadfast love” and “lovingkindness”.  Just as we would have no hope or salvation apart from the kesed of God, there would be no book of Psalms apart from that same kesed. Go to great lengths to find this covenant love throughout the book. It is never far away.

His Protection

We are all refugees. If we do not recognize this, we do not understand the mercy of God. He is our Rock, Fortress, Refuge, Strength and many such other names by which He is called that means He is our home (or “dwelling place” Ps.90:1). We find our rest in the shadow of His wings – in the midst of the “mercy seat” beneath the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. This picture alluded to by David many times is proof positive of his understanding of Salvation. Without God’s atoning sacrifice and the blood upon the mercy seat – there is no hope for sinful mankind. There is power in the blood after all. I have told our Wednesday night gathering, “we enjoy singing ‘the old rugged cross’ for David the song was ‘the old mercy seat’.” It is little wonder Luther was teaching Psalms alongside Romans and Galatians when he came to his core understanding of the Gospel.

His Providence

He cares for us. Jesus makes sure we know this when he quotes Psalms to us in the “Beatitudes” of the Sermon on the Mount. God is a God who fills us with “the finest of wheat.” Without the Psalms of David, there would be no songs of Mary and Zechariah in the book of Luke.

His Justice

Some of the most puzzling lines for many in the book of Psalms are those lines labeled “imprecations”. However, in the full counsel of God’s word and understanding of His character, they are not as difficult as they would be isolated from the context. God is a just God. He has or will visit justice on all of His enemies. This includes and is not limited to sin, death, hell, the wicked, and those who cause His little ones to stumble. Every prayer in the book of Psalms will be answered, including the imprecations against the Psalmist’s enemies. The reason for this is that all of our true enemies, are actually God’s enemies.

His Mission

Psalms is a missionary book. One does not have to read too long about God’s special people to realize He desires all the goiim (Greek: ethnay) to become part of His special people. This is the staff on which the music of the book of Psalms is written. The Psalms by nature are invitational and provide motivation for God’s chosen people to be missionaries to the ends of the earth. They will be drawn in by our pure worship of Him as Creator, Sustainer, and Savior.  This is perhaps best illustrated with the shortest Psalm – also the shortest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 117. This Psalm is not only the heartbeat of the book of Psalms, but is quite literally the heart of the Bible. This Psalm has the same number of chapters from Genesis 1 to its first verse as it does from its last verse to Revelation 22.

Praise the Lord, all nations!
    Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!

His Messiah

From the prophecies of Psalm 22 to the promises of Psalm 91, one finds Jesus fulfilling every ounce of unrequited expectation of the couplets and questions of the book. As with the Bible, so goes Psalms. If one reads the Psalms and misses Jesus, he has missed the book of Psalms.

Praise Him!

As I close this time and study in Psalms, I have also crossed another great milestone in reading through Spurgeon’s Treasury of David. Having spent so much time with Mr. Spurgeon, it seems fitting to give him (almost) the last word from his final introduction of a Psalm,

“We have now reached the last summit of the mountain chain of Psalms. It rises high into the clear azure, and its brow is bathed in the sunlight of the eternal world of worship, it is a rapture. The poet prophet is full of inspiration and enthusiasm. He slays not to argue, to teach, to explain; but cries with burning words, ‘Praise him, Praise him, Praise ye the LORD.’

“Here, the word says, ‘let everything that has breath praise the Lord,’ what if that were reversed and it said, ‘let everything that praises the Lord have breath?’” – David Platt.

Indeed. Hallelujah. Amen.

I praise Him not only as one who was found in mud and brought to new heights, but as one who hopes to be planted deep in mud with roots reaching down to the waters of life. On His word, may I meditate day and night.

Study Materials

There is nothing quite like reading the Psalms in one’s heart language and “meditating on them day and night.” However, I have found many sources to be of great value for further reflection and recommend them to the pastor wishing to embark on a similar journey or as the leader of in-depth Bible study. Of irreplaceable value has been the original language of the book of Psalms. This, coupled with Koehler and Baumgartner’s Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon has been a treasure trove of riches. If your Hebrew waxes and wanes, I highly recommend Zondervan’s Hebrew Reader’s Bible (it’s “Bible” feel, sizable font, and accessibility is superb). Of inestimable value at different intervals for personal devotional reflection have been the Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon, Calvin’s commentaries, W.S. Plummer’s Commentary on the Psalms (Banner of Truth Trust), and lately The Psalms by Day: A New Devotional Translation by Alec Motyer. Of instructional value have been Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook by Mark D. Futato and David M. Howard, Jr., the ESV Study Bible, and the MacArthur Study Bible.

The Color of Bravery

halfstaffrespect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed – Romans 13:7

Recently while walking on one of those picturesque Southern courthouse squares, I was troubled while looking upon the granite memorials sitting atop the Saint Augustine carpet. On both the World War I and World War II monuments in this small southern town, there were not one, but two alphabetical lists of men who died in their country’s service. On one monument there were two sides, “Colored” and “White”. On the other monument the “Colored” list came after the first list (presumably the “white” list).

It is one thing to be divided in life, it is quite another to be divided in memoriam. I know the history. I know units were desegregated in 1948. But these monuments are not military rosters, they are monuments dedicated by a small town to honor their local heroes (both monuments were erected in the 50’s).  To add insult to injury, there is not one, but three Confederate monuments on this same lawn (not to say having one is inappropriate).  I am not necessarily advocating the removal of any monument or even necessarily the replacing of present monuments, I am simply reflecting on the sad state of a community that differentiates its heroes in such a graven way. I am not an advocate of erasing history, but I do hope for the day of an equalizing of history. We may also note not in this town, but in other towns, there are courthouses built of red clay bricks bearing the thumb prints of the slaves who made them and laid them while the granite cornerstones give credit to white architects, civic leaders, and financial contributors. Acknowledgement is due to all who built and contributed to communities regardless of their lineage or heritage. Every man and woman who lived, loved, and died in these communities loved freedom and is an indelible part of the American fabric – a quilt woven together by the lives given to hold her together.  The artificial division of those lives on a stone monument is a travesty. What differentiates the men on these monuments is not their color but their courage, not their status but their sacrifice.

The colors that matter are the red that ran through their blue veins and the white in their determined eyes. On this Memorial Day, let us be grateful for all of America’s true heroes with no distinction but the bravery with which they fought.

Where the Fire is Hottest

Johnblackmon's Blog

watergiftLast week at the Together for the Gospel conference, I had a new experience. For the first time, I heard Dr. David Platt sound his usual resounding call to the nations with me knowing I had to some extent answered. Don’t let me misrepresent myself. A little over a week, strange food, and jet leg are no sacrifice. However, I did get to look through the open 10/40 window and see at least, in part, what is before us. Due to a life-long friendship, I have a direct connection to a part of the world where one of the five largest unreached people groups still are lost in darkness, superstition, idol worship, and daily dissatisfaction with life. I’ve walked the streets, I’ve smelled the smells, I’ve seen the people. I’ll never forget my first impression of smells: incense, cigarette smoke, and human feces – in that order. I’ve heard the…

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The Saddest Grave in the World


The above picture seems quite serene and beautiful but legend tells a different story. It is a view of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland from the view of “Mount Pilatus.”  The mountain is named for Pontius Pilate, a former first century procurator of the Roman province of Judea (AD 26 – 36), who ended his political career in shame and exile or execution. Two legends persist. The first indicates he was exiled to modern day Switzerland where he ended his days in despair, most likely taking his own life. The second is that he was condemned, executed, and dumped in the Tiber River where his body was eventually washed upstream. In either case, the end of both stories is his remains came to be in the depths of Lake Lucerne. Legend says his ghost rises every Good Friday from the watery grave and washes his hands in the pure blue waters of the lake crying, “I am innocent of the blood of this man; I wash my hands; it is not my fault!” Though this ghost tale is untrue, it is a ghastly reality that sadly haunts the soul of Pontius Pilate in to eternity.

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Overlooking Lake Lucerne is this Lion statue that recalls the 1792 massacre of Swiss soldiers during the French Revolution. Mark Twain once called it “the saddest monument in the world.”  Perhaps that is true. If tradition is true, it certainly overlooks what perhaps is the world’s saddest grave. Even if tradition proved to be false, the truth remains:

The saddest grave in the world is not the grave Pilate had sealed, but the one he himself would fill.

Though he declared himself “innocent of this man’s blood” the opposite is true. Only the blood of “this Man” makes the guilty innocent.

A Pleasing Aroma to the Lord

GoodfridaycrossRecently I have been reading the book of Leviticus with fresh eyes (maybe “open eyes” in light of Luke 24:32).  I started with my morning reading a little over two weeks ago in Leviticus 1 with a pen and notebook beside my Bible as my mind woke and my hand warmed on my mug of coffee. My heart began to burn as I jotted down words that practically leaped off the page in to my mind and heart. (At this point it would be helpful if you read Leviticus 1 as it is). Now, in re-reading – Allow me to highlight some words:

Offering. Male without blemish. Entrance of the tent of the meeting. Accepted before the Lord. Make atonement. Throw the blood. Flay. Cut to pieces. Wood. Pleasing Aroma to the Lord. Blood thrown. Pleasing Aroma to the Lord. Blood drained beside the altar. Tear but not sever completely. Pleasing aroma to the Lord.

In light of the events of “good Friday” the ultimate “day of Atonement” (see Leviticus  16), these words ring out significantly.

Jesus was a “male without blemish” – He is the “tent of the meeting” (John 1:14). Only He is accepted before the Lord and makes us acceptable. He makes atonement. His blood was thrown, He was flayed, His back cut to pieces. He was suspended from a cross of wood, His blood drained, He was torn but not completely. Pleasing aroma to the Lord? “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him (Isaiah 53:10),” Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2).

Take this Christ-fulfilling way of reading Leviticus 1 and couple it with the other major themes of the book: a demand for God’s people to be holy, the seriousness of sin, the love of God and of neighbor. The crucifixion of Jesus brings meaning and purpose to all of this and to our very lives as God’s people dearly loved and set apart.  Meditating on this passage led me to this thought: If Jesus made satisfaction for EVERY sin committed by His people then it isn’t a stretch to say every Old Testament sacrifice points to Him. A caution, however, is this: when studying the Old Testament, the question isn’t, “how may I search for or find Jesus in this text?” but “how’s this text satisfied & fulfilled in Jesus?”

Finally, one repeated phrase throughout Leviticus is, “outside the camp.” Outside the camp is where the unclean go, where carcasses are thrown and burned and where the “Scapegoat” is banished.  In light of the whole book of Leviticus read these words from Hebrews 13:

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Rejoice. Make Merry. Exchange Presents!


These few words strung together out of context would fit most holiday greeting cards and would dress up and adorn any wreath or ornament hung around the house this December. However, their association in Scripture is not a happy one.

My heart stopped when I read this passage in preparation for our Sunday evening Bible study on Revelation 11. I read them again. Yes. This verse (Revelation 11:10) says exactly what I think it says… “and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents” Without too much detail for this post it suffices to say what the people of the earth are rejoicing over is the gruesome death of martyrs who were witnesses for Jesus Christ who had delivered the very message Christmas brings. That is, that Jesus is God in the flesh who came, lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death, and rose from the dead, in order that we might have peace with God through faith. This they proclaimed, for this they died, and the people of the earth rejoiced, made merry, and exchanged presents.

In meditating on this my mind and heart flooded with all the times I have participated in these activities with little or no thought to Jesus. It then extended beyond myself to the overt commercialization (which Charlie Brown has been complaining about since the sixties) secularization and democratization of “Christmas” particularly in the United States. We should be stunned as we are left with an unavoidable conclusion: It is entirely possible to celebrate Christmas the way the world celebrates Christmas without Jesus. In fact, it is entirely possible to be “merry, rejoice, and exchange presents” entirely opposed to Jesus. This should at least give us pause in what we are doing. Even better, it should motivate us to share good news of great joy for all of these people that the many will be made children of God as they receive the gift of His Son. Let us be so bold as to not let our relatives drink the egg nog or crumple the paper on the floor without sharing Jesus. When the song comes on over the sound system of the department store don’t miss the opportunity to ask the cashier or customer if they know what “veiled in flesh the Godhead see” or “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” means.