Take every opportunity to know him more


Growing up, I didn’t really think about whether or not there was a God. Matters of faith weren’t really an issue for me, mostly because I didn’t care. Generally I figured, like so many North Americans, that if there were a God like the one I thought Christians worshipped, he was a jerk who wanted to steal all my fun. I didn’t really know though. And I didn’t know if I could even know.

Like so many, I had bought into the spiritual wisdom of the world—that God (if he exists at all) is unknowable. Despite the protest of those who would say otherwise, you can’t really know him. You can’t know what he’s like, what he cares about or what he expects from us.

And because you can’t know, you don’t really have to worry.

But, again, like so many, I didn’t have an important category: that of revelation. I mean, what if this God who I couldn’t be sure existed, did something wild like told us about himself? And what if we could know about his character and his plans for the world? Wouldn’t that be something?

The good news, of course, is he has done exactly this. And he has done it in the Bible—the 66 books that make up the Old and New Testaments. In this book, we have an actual knowledge of God—and essential to that knowledge is knowing him as Father. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:

What the Bible, and especially the New Testament, offers us is an actual knowledge of God. We are to know him as our Father. “No man,” says Christ, “cometh unto the Father, but by me.” So I can know God, not as someone who is far away in the distance, of whom I am frightened, a tyrannical someone who is set against me, but I can turn to him and trust him as my Father. “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption,” says the apostle Paul, “whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). In other words, we realize that God loves us with an everlasting love, that he is so concerned about us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, and that nothing can happen to us apart from God and outside his will.[1. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Let Your Hearts Not Be Troubled]

This is such good news for us. God wants us to know him. He wants us to know him, in Christ, as our loving heavenly Father… And yet, it’s so easy to forget this, isn’t it? It’s so easy to revert to some other idea about God than what he says about himself.

I was reminded of this when I was trying to comfort my oldest daughter after work recently. Emily texted and let me know that Abigail was distraught because she was sure I was going to be mad that her bicycle’s inner tubes needed to be replaced. She remembered that I had cautioned her against riding her bike with flat tires (as it would risk damaging the rims), but my caution grew in her mind to a fear that I would be angry. She forgot who I am.

“Do I normally get mad about things like this?” I asked her.

“No,” she sniffled.

“That’s right. Although I’m not perfect, I try to be a reasonable person,” I said. “So you don’t need to be upset about this, and you don’t need to be afraid I’ll be angry. Even if you’d been riding on your bike with flat tires, I wouldn’t have been mad. Disappointed, maybe, but not angry.”

And then it started to click. Simply by acknowledging the fact that she knows I’m not someone who acts that way, she was able to see her feelings for what they were—real, but not based in reality.

And this is why we need to be reminded, again and again, of the character of God. This is why we need to continually fight the inclination to not read the Bible. Because even as we are prone to forget the character of our friends and family when fear takes control, we are even more prone to do this with God. We can so easily forget that he is our Father. That he, as Lloyd-Jones put it, “loves us with an everlasting love, that he is so concerned about us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, and that nothing can happen to us apart from God and outside his will.”

That is the Father we have. That is the Father we can know—the Father who wants us to know him and really know him, through the everlasting love with which he loves us in Jesus Christ. So let’s take every opportunity to know him more.

The roadblock I couldn’t see

End of the Road

“So what do I have to do then?”

If you’ve ever shared the gospel with someone, you’ve probably heard this question in response. The idea behind it being, what must I bring to the table to get right with God?

Any time I’ve come to this point in a conversation, I know I’m either at a crossroads or a major roadblock. Even when we tell say there is nothing we can bring to the table, there is no way for us to clear the ledger, even the score, or whatever cliché you prefer, people disconnect. It bounces off of them. I know because it bounced off of me for a long time.

For years, I didn’t get the gospel message. Truth be told, I rarely heard it growing up. But I was pretty sure I had an idea of what Christians were all about: working hard at doing good deeds and spoiling fun for everyone else so they could get right with their God.

Then I became one and found out I was completely wrong. The block for me was a real understanding of my sin—I didn’t realize that sin has as much to do with who we are as what we do. I couldn’t see that it wasn’t actually possible for me to even things out on my own. (I also didn’t care, but that’s a whole different issue.) Fundamentally, I couldn’t grasp the concept that sin was what created a barrier between me and God.

Even as a Christian, it’s easy to forget this. It’s easy to start just encouraging people to live right, or make better choices. It’s easy to treat the problem as a knowledge issue. But it’s so much more than this. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:

There is only one thing between us and God, and that is our sin. It is not our intellect that separates us from God. The barrier is sin, this barrier that has come in. That is the problem: God is there, and we are here. “Why do I not know him?” asks someone. Because of this barrier. The only way to have it removed is through the Lord Jesus Christ. He came in order to be my sin offering. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself . . . he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21). There it is—your sin has been laid upon him, it has been dealt with, it is cleared. Believe it, thank God for it, and you will know him as your Father. Christ “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). “Do you need wisdom?” says Paul in essence to the cultured Greeks. “If you do, go to Christ. He is the wisdom of God; all the necessary truth is in him.” He is the truth.[1. Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled]

The barrier to our reconciliation with God is not simply a knowledge issue. It is our sin. It is this thing that is fundamentally who we are. And this is why the gospel is such good news for all of us. For in coming into this world, Jesus came to remove and destroy the barrier between me and God. He came to take our sin upon himself—to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He came so that we could put an end to our futile striving to earn what can only be given to us—and to help us see and believe the good news for what it is.

Photo credit: End of the Road via photopin (license)

What makes us Christians?


What makes us Christians? In one sense, it is as simple as “confess[ing] with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9, HCSB). Confess and believe. That’s about it, at least as far as our response is concerned.

But that’s still not the full answer, since it doesn’t address the bigger issue behind the question of what makes us Christians—is it our merely confession, or is there something else?

There’s not a magic formula, any more than there’s a magic formula to blaspheming the Holy Spirit (despite what the kids on YouTube were doing a few years back). It’s not something you can plan or strategize into happening, though charlatans experts might tell you. It’s not something that you can schedule, despite what revivalism taught so many in the 1950s. It’s something you can earn or purchase or merit, either, despite what false religions and cults will tell you.

The answer is actually a lot simpler—and infinitely more complex–than any we might expect. It’s an answer I’m always thankful for whenever I get up in the morning and realize, “Yep, I actually do love and worship Jesus.” It’s something I’m grateful for whenever I get to read my Bible, when I get to teach kids at our church, and when I get to write a blog post. It’s the answer I’m grateful for, even when I drive past buildings promising a revival at 8:00 next Saturday.

The answer? It’s the Holy Spirit who makes it happen. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it this way in Revival:

What makes us Christians? The work of regeneration; the Holy Spirit of God doing a work down in the very depths of the personality, and putting there a new principle of life, something absolutely new, so that there is the ‘new man’. Now that, always, is a doctrine that comes out in every period of revival and of reawakening. And that is how you get, invariably at such times, these remarkable and dramatic changes. Men who had been utterly hopeless, and who had been abandoned even by their dearest relatives and friends; men who had even abandoned themselves, feeling that nothing could be done for them, feeling utterly hopeless, feeling rejected of all people and of God: suddenly this work takes place, and they find themselves new creatures with an entirely new outlook on living, and anxious to live a new kind of life. Regeneration. It stands out in the story and in the history of every revival that has ever taken place in the long history of the Christian Church. In other words, everything about a revival emphasises the activity of this sovereign God. He is intervening. He is working. He is doing things. And this is shown very plainly by the results and the effects of the work of regeneration. (57)

Christians can’t be Christians if there is no regeneration—if the Holy Spirit isn’t actively making dead people live, if he’s not breathing new life into those who would believe. This is impossible to schedule, manipulate, or fabricate. We can’t make it happen, no matter how hard we try.

So revival doesn’t start with us. But we can pray that we would see him work among us. That he will bring the dead among us to life. That he will give people the desire to confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts. That he will help us see that, as John puts it in his gospel, all this happens “not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13, HCSB).

And then we can celebrate.

Praising God helps us to know God intimately


While my American friends and readers are spending today hopefully enjoying a delicious meal, time with loved ones and a football game (if they like such things), the rest of us are doing whatever we normally do on Thursdays. For me, that’s going to work, writing stuff, and making smart aleck-y comments on Twitter. For the college student, it’s going to class. For the homeschooling parent, it’s another day’s lesson.

But holiday or no, there’s no reason for us to not take a moment to be thankful for all God has blessed us with. Indeed, this is something we’re reminded to do at all times and in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). And praising God in this way—giving him thanks at all times, in all circumstances, for things big and small—is perhaps one of the best ways for us to truly know him.

As Martyn Lloyd Jones wrote:

If you want to know Him, if you want to know His smile, if you want to know something about this living realization that God is your God and that He has loved you “with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3), that you are His child and that He will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5)—if you want this living witness of the Spirit, this ultimate assurance that is given through the love shed abroad in our hearts, going upward and back to Him in praise, worship, adoration, and thanksgiving, then begin to praise God for what you have.

Praise Him for everything—for the gifts of life and health and strength. Many people are ill and laid aside and cannot attend a place of worship. Do we thank God for our health and strength, our faculties, for all these gifts that He showers upon us so constantly and so freely? Thank God! David, of course, keeps on repeating this: “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name … my mouth will praise thee with joyful lips” (Ps. 63:3–5).[1. Seeking the Face of God, 135-136.]

Praise him for everything? Yep. Everything. All the time. Friends, if we feel distant from God, perhaps the best place to start is to look at all he has done for us, and thank him for it. No matter how insignificant it may seem, there is nothing we should not thank him for, praising him perhaps even with joyful lips (Psalm 63:5). For when we do, we may find we begin to truly rejoice in Him.

Photo credit: rustiqueart via photopin cc

The danger of being theoretical Christians


Buzzwords make me want to die inside. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about in the business world or ministry world, they are just painful. I cringe every time I hear “strategy” or “strategic” (or worse, “strategic strategies”). I squirm when I hear the term “missional.”

It’s not that these words are bad. But what gets me is how easily they can be bent toward passivity or, worse, theoretical living. I know of lots of folks who talk about the importance of strategy all day long, but it doesn’t go beyond talking about why it matters. We believe it in theory, but actually building one and then following it, that’s something else. I’ve heard dozens of sermons about being missional or reaching the community around us, but it doesn’t really seem to go beyond the hypothetical. We believe in the idea in theory, but when it comes to actually doing something like getting to know our neighbors, oh my goodness.

Now, here’s the thing: For me, I don’t have an “everyone else should do better at this” attitude, because I’m just as bad as everyone else. I live in my head. It’s easy for me to live theoretically, but not move beyond theory. And this won’t do, because, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well in Seeking the Face of God, “People are not interested in something theoretical.”

The thing that always convinces people is reality. If they see there is something about our lives, a certain quality, a certain calmness and equanimity, the ability to be more than conquerors in every kind of circumstance, if they see that when everything is against us, we still triumphantly prevail whereas they do not, they will become interested in what we have. They will want to know more about it. I am convinced, therefore, that the greatest need today is Christian people who know and manifest the fact that they know the living God, to whom His “loving-kindness is better than life.” In other words, nothing is more important than an assurance of salvation. (122)

This is what we’re to be about, isn’t it? We’re to be people whose knowledge and love for the Lord are clearly visible. Who recognize that salvation is truly of grace and live like it’s true. So what does that look like?

It means we quit running around as though we’ve got to do “enough” in order to earn God’s continued love. It means we speak up about our faith with confidence, at the right times and the right ways, not to beat people over the head with the gospel, but because we speak about what we care about. We don’t pretend we’ve got all the answers to every question, because we don’t. And we do our best to be honest about the fact that we’re totally going to blow it on nearly everything I’ve just said. And we can do that because we know that we are secure in the loving-kindness of our Savior.

That’s a little bit of what it looks like to live as something more than a theoretical Christian. And a theoretical Christian is exactly what we must not be. The world doesn’t have time for it, and neither do we.

Will we not declare this hope?


One of the things that I really struggle with in communicating the truth of Christianity is making sure people understand there are no barriers to entry beyond one: Believing in Jesus. Recognizing our need for him. Trusting in his death to pay for our sins.

That’s it, the one barrier. For as Acts 2:21 says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

And that “everyone” is important because it really does mean “everyone”. Everyone who genuinely believes, every one of those people—regardless of age, ethnicity, intelligence, gender, you name it—”shall be saved.” There’s no hesitation in these words of Scripture, nor should there be in us to declare them, for as Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote in Authentic Christianity, “Christianity is a message for all people.”

You will need to be very clever to understand the modern books about God, but thank God, you do not need to be clever to be a Christian. “The common people heard him gladly,” wrote Mark (12:37). “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called,” says the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 1:26). Rather, “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty …and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (vv. 27-28). There is a hope for all who realize their need and cry out to Him. (31)

All who realize their need and cry out to him have a great hope—a hope that stretches back beyond human existence to before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Will we not declare it then?

What is our greatest need?


This weekend, as I prepared to teach the grades 4 and 5 kids in our church about Jesus cleansing the temple and righteous vs. unrighteous anger, I was reminded of the danger of simply telling them “don’t be angry,” or “be angry like Jesus.” There’s a trite, simplistic, or naive way to to teach about these complex issues. And the danger of teaching in such ways is that it doesn’t actually allow the gospel to shine through.

This is something I always try to remember when I’m teaching in children’s ministry: my goal isn’t to help kids become good, moral Christian-ish people. It’s to help them discover their greatest need. Our greatest need is to know God in Christ, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it so well in Authentic Christianity:

Do men and women need to be told about some kind of program that will give them better conditions? That is not our greatest need. Our greatest need is to know God. If we were all given a fortune, would that solve our problems? Would that solve our moral problems? Would that solve the problem of death? Would that solve the problem of eternity? Of course not. The message of Christianity is not about improving the world, but about changing people in spite of the world, preparing them for the glory that is yet to come. This Jesus is active and acting to that end, and He will go on until all the redeemed are gathered in, and then He will return, and the final judgement will take place, and His kingdom will stretch from shore to shore.

This is the great need, and more than that—it is what God has done to meet that great need. If our kids don’t hear this—and if their parents don’t hear it either–then we’ve kind of missed the point.

What do true teachers do?


What do all faithful teachers have in common? What separates a good teacher from a bad one? And what do they actually do?

It’s easy to become confused about this. After all, there are plenty of speakers and teachers who are technically excellent. They are captivating personalities and incredibly gifted, yet they are a total train wreck.

Assuming the primary issue is understood—after all, the Scriptures place little emphasis on an individual’s abilities and focus almost entirely upon his conduct and character—there is really only one thing that determines if a teacher is a true one, a faithful one: how firmly he holds to Scripture. Martyn Lloyd-Jones made the point well in Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John:

The most important test is the conformity to scriptural teaching. “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” How do I know that this is a scriptural test? All I know about Him, I put up to the test of Scripture. Indeed, you get exactly the same thing in the sixth verse of 1 John 4 where John says, speaking of himself and the other apostles, “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” The first thing to ask about a man who claims to be filled with the Spirit and to be an unusual teacher is, does his teaching conform to Scripture? Is it in conformity with the apostolic message? Does he base it all upon this Word? Is he willing to submit to it? That is the great test.

Your ability to teach matters, make no mistake. But what’s more important than your ability that you hold fast to the Scriptures. That you grab hold and never let go, no matter how tempting it may be (or how popular it may make you). Pastors, bloggers, conference speakers and authors should always be the first to say, “Do not simply take my word for it. Check the Scriptures—listen to them above me.” He doesn’t encourage closing the book, nor turning off your brain. He doesn’t imply infallibility in his ministry. He is subordinate to the Word of God. He conforms and submits to it.

That’s what a true teacher does.

Every breath is a gift of immeasurable grace

every breath

It’s easy (and tempting at times) to look at the world and consider a “hunker down in the bunker” mentality. The world, after all,  is a pretty messed up place. Western nations seem to be racing back to the decadence and depravity of 1st century Rome. Terrorists are destroying cultural artifacts and murdering people throughout the Middle East. It’s no surprise that there are some who are fully expecting God to rain down fire any moment—and even more who are surprised that he hasn’t already!

But even as we watch the world seemingly go to hell in a hand basket (as some might flippantly put it), even as we see things get progressively worse from a certain point of view, we should remember that the very fact that we’re around at this moment is purely an act of God’s grace.

God could have destroyed the world immediately upon the first man and woman’s fall into sin. He could have ended it all right then and there, and possibly even have started afresh. Why he didn’t, we don’t know. But we do know, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, “that God decided, in His own inscrutable and eternal will, not to do so.” Lloyd-Jones continued:

How can the world go on existing at all in sin? The answer is that it is kept in existence by this power that the Spirit puts into it. It is the Spirit who keeps the world going. Human life is prolonged both in general and in particular. ‘The goodness of God,’ says Paul in Romans 2:4, ‘leadeth thee to repentance.’ Peter says the same thing in his second epistle: ‘The Lord … is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish that all should come to repentance’ (2 Pet. 3:9). God is patient and long-suffering; to Him a thousand years are as one day and one day as a thousand years. He keeps the world going by the Holy Spirit instead of pronouncing final judgment. (God the Holy Spirit, 26–27)

That last line in particular is extremely important. God “keeps the world going by the Holy Spirit instead of pronouncing final judgment.” And this is why God has not yet deemed it time to pronounce his final judgment: he is pouring out his grace upon the world so that all who would turn to him, will. He is patient and long-suffering not because he needs to, but because he is good.

In other words, every breath is a gift of immeasurable grace. Thus, every one of us breathing right now—including every single one of us who acts as though God doesn’t exist or who worships some sort of false god—owes each breath to God. It is a gift of grace to all, just as it rains upon the just and unjust alike. This grace has a purpose, that it would ultimately lead you to give thanks to the one who gives it. But this grace has a limit. Someday, the time will come when his patience reaches its limit. He will pronounce his final judgment. Will we be ready?

The way Christians live


Don’t worry about the future. In fact, don’t worry at all. This is one of the most challenging things the Bible tells us—and consequently, one of the ways we most struggle to obey Christ. It’s so easy to become anxious. To worry. To play the what-if game.

Or is it just me?

So how do we get out of this pattern? What does it take to end the cycle of anxiety and worry? Of trying to predict all things before they happen? It takes a right perspective, one that comes only when our eyes are set upon the Lord. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains in his exposition of Psalm 16:8:

How do we feel as we look into the future? What is going to happen? I do not know; nobody knows. I shall not waste your time trying to predict what will happen or telling politicians and statesmen what they ought to do in order to govern the future. I am in no position to do that, and I know of nobody else who occupies a pulpit, whatever position he may hold as an ecclesiastic, who is in a position to do so. I have a much higher calling. My business is to prepare you for whatever may happen. We do not know what that may be. Look back over the past year and consider the things that have happened to you. How many of them did you predict? How many of them did you anticipate?

I thank God that as Christian people we do not need to know the future. Christians should never desire to do so. Christians live in this way: one step at a time. And this principle, if they put it into operation, will enable them to say, “Whatever happens to me, I know that all will be well, because ‘he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.’ ” Come what may, “I shall not be moved” because I am living in the light of this principle: “I have set the Lord always before me.” (Seeking the Face of God, 141)

“I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken,” David wrote. And David knew of what he wrote. He suffered through tremendous difficulties and trials. He often ran for his life. He frequently made his bed in caves. But he could write “I shall not be shaken” because the Lord was with him.

And this is true of the Lord Jesus, as well. He suffered beyond anything we can imagine—being rejected by those he came to save, being sentenced to death, feeling the wrath of God poured out upon him… becoming sin, though in himself there was no sin. Yet, he was not shaken, for his Father was always before him.

This is the way Christians are to live. And because he was before Christ, and because we are in Christ, he is before us, as well. So do not worry about tomorrow. Take today one step at a time.