The Congregation

preach the word

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones turns to the congregation in Chapter 7 of Preaching and Preachers.  Considering that this book was originally published in 1972, it has amazing relevance to today.  In talking about modern men and women and how the “pew” too often now tries to dictate to the “pulpit,” Lloyd-Jones defends the idea of a pastor opening the Bible and preaching from the text.

We are told that today they cannot think and follow reasoned statements, that they are so accustomed to the kind of outlook and mentality produced by newspapers, television and films, that they are incapable of following a reasoned, argued statement…

…Another form which it takes is to say that these people cannot understand the biblical terminology, that to talk about Justification and Sanctification and Glorification is meaningless to them… (135)

Lloyd-Jones explains that although people in the congregation at different levels of maturity (and even different ages) will be able to comprehend biblical truths on different levels, that there should be a simplicity to our preaching that all can understand: “There is no greater fallacy than to think that you need a gospel for special types of people.” (141)

I praise God that I serve a congregation who hungers for God’s Word.  We are a local body that ranges from men with Master of Divinity degrees to stay at home moms to university professors to little children.  We have union workers and high-level programmers and custodians all sitting in our pews on Sunday.  We have believers who have walked with God for over 60 years and others who are still asking questions about who Jesus is.  My job is to tie myself to God’s Word and proclaim Christ Jesus and Him crucified.

Times will change.  Times have changed since Lloyd-Jones wrote Preaching and Preachers.  Education level and careers and technology and even spiritual maturity will be in a constant state of flux in our world.  But there are several constants that I thank Lloyd-Jones for reminding me of: people are sinners, Jesus is a great Savior, and the Holy Spirit speaks powerfully to people through His preached Word!

With the Apostle Paul I declare, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)  The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and points to the Lamb of God to bring people to God.  That will never change.

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

See God’s Glory Through Your Children’s Eyes

This morning, I was sitting next to a 4th Grade boy and I witnessed something that made me thank God for the marvelous way that He has created children.  We need to learn from them.  Study_of_the_human_hand

I was in chapel at the Christian school that my son attends, and as we were singing before I got up to teach I noticed the boy next to me flexing his hand again and again.  It didn’t seem that it was hurting, but simply that all of a sudden he was fascinated with how his hand was made and how he could open and close it.  Then, just as soon as he had gotten distracted from singing to marvel at the intricacy of the human hand, he began to sing to the Lord again.  And I mean belting it out, eyes closed in worship.

As we sang about how awesome our God is, I was moved to thank God for the ways that we can see His glory through children’s eyes.  Children are naturally curious.  They are sponges.  This is why your 2 year old’s every other word is, “Why?”  They are constantly learning about the world, which is why it is so important that we are there and willing to take the time to point them to the God who created the world: “Young men and maidens together, old men and children!  Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth and heaven.” (Psalm 148:12-13)

maple leafI brought my 20 month old to the mailbox the other day, and as we walked back he stopped, fascinated with the way the breeze was blowing the leaves in the tree near our house.  I had never even noticed that tree there.  My 2 1/2 year old daughter and 6 year old son would have sat for over an hour on our front porch recently if I had let them, as they were enthralled with the trail that a snail was making across the step.

Do you have eyes to see the world the way a child does?  The human hand, the dark red of a maple leaf waving in the breeze, and the slow inching along of a snail all speak something of God’s glory.  He is a creative, omnipotent God.  If we have eyes to see, they are pointing us to Him.  Your children, grandchildren, or the kids in your class delight in the details that we as busy adults often miss.  Just as they point out these glories of God’s creation, we need to be ready to point them to the glory of our matchless God who created all of these things.

Do You Tremble at God’s Word?

open bibleIsaiah 66 holds an incredible promise and posture that we should have toward God’s Word.  The LORD God who made the Heavens and earth declares:

Thus says the LORD: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool … All these things my hand has made; and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD.  But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.  (Isaiah 66:1a, 2)

Jeremiah Burroughs, a Puritan who preached a series of sermons around this verse in 1644, helps us today:

Who are more despised among men than those who are poor and contrite spirits, whose hearts shake and tremble at God’s Word? … All the beautiful objects in the world are not so lovely in the eye of God as a heart that trembles at the Word.  The Lord accounts nothing in all the world worthy of looking at in comparison to this object.  But at this the Lord looks with abundance of delight…

…Certainly, if you tremble at God’s Word, you shall be comforted.  Though perhaps you do not yet find comfort, yet if the Word of God can make your heart to tremble, it will comfort you.  Wait for it…

…Whenever you come to hear, do not hear it as the word of men, but as the Word of God.  Though it seems to be harsh to you, oh, it comes to your good.  And there is cause why you should do so. It is the Word from whence you had your life.  That’s the immortal seed of the Word by which you are begotten.  If your souls are begotten to God, it was by the Word…

One of the great comforts to our soul that we know Christ as our Savior and have peace with God is if our hearts tremble at God’s Word.  Only the Lord knows if your heart truly trembles at His Word.  If that is true, He looks to you!  If that is not true, beg Him to make it so!  For He loves to answer the prayer that exclaims, “For you have exalted above all things your name and your word”! (Psalm 138:2)

Source:  Burroughs, Jeremiah.  Gospel Fear: A Heart that Trembles at the Word of God.  Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1991.

Do You See Election as an Act of God’s Eternal Love?

Believer, you may have had times of great struggle or confusion in your theological understanding of election.  Even those of us who have long held to a reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation will often admit that although we think there is great clarity in God’s Word regarding election, there is also great mystery in this doctrine.

diff-lighthouse-waveBut brother or sister in Christ, I hope that there are times in your pursuit of the Lord and your understanding of Him and His Word that you throw out all of your objections and cling to this doctrine as a beloved anchor for your soul.  I am not suggesting that you should not continue to study and think hard about great sections of Scripture like Ephesians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

What I am saying, though, is that Scripture does not present election as a great conundrum but rather as a great comfort.

When you feel as if the earth has given way under your feet, you no longer question God’s ways but you cling to Him and His promises with all that you have.  This is strongly implied in Romans 8:28-31.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, doesn’t answer, “What then shall we say to these things?” by questioning God’s unconditional decrees and purposes.  Rather, Paul sees God’s sovereign election mixed right in with God’s sovereign goodness:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35)  The answer is a resounding “nothing” (Romans 8:39)!

He who chose those He would save in eternity past is intimately involved in every detail of their lives today, and will continue to be until He brings His bride to glory.  When I read, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4b-5), my heart no longer questions my Lord and my God.  But my heart rejoices in my Savior’s eternal love, a love that loved me long before I loved Him.  That is security.

Jesus Wept with Gospel Hope

The last ten days have found me thinking about mourning more than I ever have. Just last week a dear young wife and mother in our church family, the fathers of two different church members, and a young jungle pastor many in our church know all passed from this earth into Glory.  The grief was palpable in our church last Sunday, even as we worshiped and rejoiced.  There were many tears and there will be tears in the weeks to come.

Jesus’ words in front of Lazarus’ tomb, found in John 11, are one way to describe why we are sorrowful yet rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).  I often turn to John 11 when I think about death, partly because of Jesus’ riveting proclamation: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)

Rather than comforting words, you could see Jesus’ words to Martha as a riddle, spoken in her time of grief.  Why would he talk in what seems like a paradox?  What does he mean in one breath that those believers who die yet live, but in the next breath that those who believe will never die?  Wasn’t Lazarus already in the tomb?

Jesus so often amazes me.  We should expect to be amazed by God in the flesh, but sometimes we are surprised by His words of life.  Only One who can call Himself “Resurrection” and “Life” can talk this way.

Jesus lovingly acknowledged the fact that people–like Lazarus–die.  There is a finality felt by those who lose a loved one.  While we know that our believing friends and relatives who have died are experiencing nothing but gain (Phil. 1:21), we know that we are experiencing loss.  Do you hear His words?  “Whoever believes in me, though he die…”  Christians die.  And Jesus wept as He stood in front of that tomb with Lazarus’ grieving friends and relatives.  Jesus didn’t tell them to stop the funeral and have a celebration of life service; He entered into their suffering.

We cry.  Jesus cried.  But oh, how we love and cling to Jesus’ next words:  “…yet shall he live…”  Christians never die.  This is the “gospel paradox.”  Death is real, yet eternal life is oh so real.  Christians die, yet Christians never die.  Jesus said both truths in the same sentence.

It’s ok to call it a funeral (Ecc. 7:2).  It’s ok to say that death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26).  It is Christ-like to weep (Jn 11:35).

Raising_of_Lazarus.

But our weeping is temporary, just as Jesus’ weeping was.  Because we know that for those who are in Christ, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  We know that for the Christian, what is mortal is “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).  We know that the same Lord who wept is the same Lord who will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4).  And we know that the same Lord who commanded Lazarus to come forth from the dead will joyfully command the dead in Christ to rise first (1 Thess. 4:16).  It is true–praise God that it is true–that because of Jesus, “it is not death to die.”

Our Resurrection, Eternal Life, and Union with Christ

Romans 8 has long Kilimanjaro_Sunrisebeen one of my favorite passages of Scripture, both in happy and hard times.  As I read the incredible truths all throughout Romans 8 in happy times, it only adds to my happiness and praise of what God has done and is doing for me and those He loves–and in hard times it adds to my joy in and worship of our good and sovereign God, even if that joy is not a feeling at the moment.

I remember my wife and I reading Romans 8:31-35 with a high school girl in our youthgroup years ago who was struggling with depression over an abortion she had had before she was a believer:  “…If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  The answer, of course, was that since she was now in Christ, even in the face of great regret, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1)

Romans 8 has been the solid rock that the Holy Spirit has been using in my heart this week as our church goes through a time of great mourning.  The same chapter that comforts the repentant sinner also comforts the bereaved.  Romans 8:10-11 teaches that our resurrection and the hope of our eternal life is just as sure as the resurrection of Christ, because of the work of the Holy Spirit.  For those who are in Christ, for those who have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), we have this blessed assurance: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:11)

When God saves you, He gives you His Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9-10a).  We usually think of the Holy Spirit as being the agent of our regeneration and sanctification.  In other words, He is the member of the Trinity that gives us a new heart at salvation and brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life (Rom. 8:2).  The Holy Spirit continually works in the lives of those He has saved to transform them more and more in practice into who they are spiritually–children of God (Romans 8:29; 8:16-17).  But don’t forget, brothers and sisters in Christ, that the Holy Spirit does not leave us when we die.  The Holy Spirit who actually resides in you not only is with you to the brink of eternity, He continues the spiritual life He had begun in you (2 Cor. 5:4-5) and ushers you right into Heaven!  Those who had God dwelling in them on earth will then dwell with God in His home (Rev. 21:3)–through the power of the Holy Spirit.  God will never forsake His own, just as He would not and cannot forsake Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).

Your resurrection–and the resurrection of those brothers and sisters in Christ whom we love–is just as sure as Jesus’ bodily resurrection.  The Spirit of Christ has united us to Jesus so closely that we cannot fully comprehend it this side of Glory: “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Rom. 6:5)  What a joy that brings, even through tears.

Two Resolves God Wants Us to Have from Psalm 46

There are many suffering people in our church, just as there are in every church.  We are still on this side of Heaven.  But sometimes it seems that the suffering comes in waves.  There are currently five ladies that I know of in our church fighting cancer, and we just found out about three of them in the last two weeks.  Add this to other forms of physical struggles, marriages and parents that need encouragement, a continued weak economy for many workers, and persecution that some feel for following Christ in their families, schools, or jobs, and Jesus’ words feel stronger right now: “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33)

When you go through times that it feels the earth has fallen out from under you, or just when you are having a bad week, there are two resolves that God wants you to have that I want to remind you of from Psalm 46.

1) We will not fear.
Psalm 46:2 declares, “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…”  Why, specifically?  Verse 1 explains, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Sometimes the cancer goes away.  Sometimes the relationship struggle gets better.  But sometimes it doesn’t.  We will not fear because God is our fortress.  There is no better reason to not fear.

2) The LORD of hosts is with us.
In the Psalms, when a theme is at both the beginning and end of a Psalm–and especially if it is in the middle too–that is an important point that the Lord does not want us to miss. God is not just a refuge and strength, He is also a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).  Verses 7 and 11 also echo this promise: “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The reason that we will not fear is exactly because of Who is with us in all of our trouble.  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But it gets even better–as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are privileged members of the New Covenant.  “The LORD of hosts is with us” would have been enough–but you are identified so closely with Christ now that God loves you like He loves Christ (John 17:26)!  This assurance would be enough, but the Holy Spirit actually indwells you–yes, lives IN you (1 John 3:24)!  The same One who promised, “In the world you will have tribulation,” then assures us: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

These are resolves that God wants us to have.  In our fear, He alone is our fortress–so we will not fear.  And His presence is all we need.

A Worthy Resolution: Living for the Fame of Jesus Christ in 2014!

Recently my 6 year old son surprised me by asking me to “send a picture of you and I to everyone in the world, which everyone would like and would make us really famous.”  I agreed that I would send it to family, but reminded him that the most important thing is for us to make Jesus famous instead of ourselves, and he agreed.  But it did make me pause and think…where did this idea comecross and sunset from?  My wife and I are both on Facebook, but we don’t obsess over how many people “like” a picture that we post.  I realized that my son is growing up in a world where he not only expects to see pictures instantly, but also for at least some of those pictures to end up somewhere on the internet where, if friends and family like them, why not everyone?  He is growing up in a world saturated with social media and reality shows where truly everybody wants to be famous.

Reminding him that we live to make Jesus famous, not ourselves, was not simply a way for me to “shepherd my child’s heart,” but a divine appointment as I am still examining my own heart a few days later.  Am I living to make Jesus famous above all else?  This idea goes far beyond social media, instant pictures, and TV.  This idea goes to the very core of who we are and what we are living for, and on the eve of 2014 I can think of no better resolution than to live for the fame of Jesus Christ more than ever this year.

While words like “glory” and “praise” are used much more often to describe the honor that Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord should receive, the word “fame” is used as well in the Bible.  Moses talks about the fame that the LORD had among the surrounding nations (Numbers 14:15), and Psalm 145:7 sings to God about generation after generation pouring “forth the fame of your abundant goodness” and singing “aloud of your righteousness.”  In the New Testament, the Gospels talk about Jesus’ fame spreading throughout certain regions, often after He taught or did miracles (Matt. 4:24, 9:31, 14:1, Mark 1:28).  As the “gospel of the kingdom” spread, “His fame spread…” (Matthew 4:23-24)

If my highest goal is to spread the fame of Jesus Christ then this will affect how I live in my home, at work, in my friendships, with extended family, in my church, in my neighborhood, and with a desire for His fame to spread around the world.  Maybe it is time for you to refocus.  Jesus died and rose again “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)  There truly is no greater resolution.

Joseph: A Young Man Who Followed God

josephLast Christmas I wrote about Mary as an example of a teenager who loves God.  There are also things we can learn for our walk with God by thinking about God’s work in Joseph’s life as a young man.  While most agree that Mary was probably a teenager when Christ was born, some believe that Joseph was a much older man than her.  The Bible simply does not tell us, but this idea probably came from the fact that the Gospel accounts do not talk about Joseph once Jesus is mature (Harper’s Bible Dictionary, p. 506).  It is true that Joseph had almost certainly died by the time Christ died on the cross (John 19:26-27), but this does not necessarily mean that Joseph was much older than Mary when the angel announced to Joseph that the Messiah would radically disrupt his life and plans.

As a young man, Joseph wanted to follow God.  Matthew 1:19 describes Joseph as “being a just man.”  When the Bible describes somebody as “just” or “righteous,” it should perk up our ears.  There is certainly something we can learn from this person’s life.  The way that Joseph responded to God’s working in his life is something that we can all learn from.

As a young man, Joseph put others before himself.  The Gospel writer next gives an example of this following after God that characterized Joseph: Deuteronomy 22:13-21 would have allowed Joseph to submit Mary to a public trial and even stoning if she was found guilty of sex outside of marriage.  Instead, Joseph, being “unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Mt. 1:19)  His plan was to show Mary grace by quietly breaking off their betrothal.  In a culture that increasingly doesn’t expect a young man to think of others until he is in his thirties and married with children, Joseph’s example should remind us that teenagers and twenty-something Christians have a special call to be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life…” (Phil. 2:15b-16a)

As a young man, Joseph’s daily walk with God empowered him to follow God in the “big things.”  Joseph did not suddenly start to follow the Lord the day that the angel appeared to him in a dream and told him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 1:20)  When Joseph woke up and immediately “…did as the angel of the Lord commanded him,” (Matt. 1:24) no matter what the social consequences would be, it was because he had already been following God for years.  It was the same with when he moved his family to a foreign country overnight because of another command from God in order to protect Jesus as a baby from King Herod.  When life-changing circumstances arose, Joseph did not need to think long about how to follow the Lord.  He simply obeyed because his spiritual reflexes had been trained over years as a child and teenager (1 Tim. 4:7-8).

Joseph and Mary both are great examples, but they both were sinners in need of a Savior (Luke 1:47), the very Savior whose arrival into their lives put their faith to the test.  This Christmas, do not forget your constant need of Christ.  He is the One who has saved “His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), and He is the One who is worthy of following, both every day, and in the big things.

Thanksgiving In (Not in Spite of) Suffering

thanksgiving in sufferingAlthough there were many Thanksgiving feasts and observances throughout the United States for almost two and a half centuries before Lincoln, the nationally recognized holiday that we will soon celebrate was put into place in the middle of the Civil War.  President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863, while the war was raging and the country was truly divided.  While citizens were becoming widows and orphans daily, Secretary of State William Steward wrote:  “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Even in the midst of great pain and hardship, they were recognizing what 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 commands:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  One of the ways that they gave thanks in all circumstances, even horrible ones such as civil war, was by looking to blessings that God had given:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…

They were looking for God’s good providence and for things to be thankful for, so that God would be praised no matter what, recognizing that He is the giver of all good things (James 1:17).   I recently taught a Bible study on Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…”  The word “granted” is the same word used in Romans 8:32 about God graciously giving us all things:  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”  We expect God to “graciously give” us blessings, but we often don’t understand how suffering could be a grace gift.

One answer is because God uses it all.  Nothing is wasted in God’s providence.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)  This is why the Apostle Paul could write, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings…” (Col. 1:24).  As our Senior Pastor preached on Colossians 1:24-29 recently, he asked, “Who talks like this?  Rejoicing in our sufferings?  Christians do!”

We can bubble over with genuine thanksgiving at any time if we look to the blessings God has given us, even if mixed with suffering.  Our God is both sovereign and good.  He is the God who promised Romans 8:28, a promise that rests on the bedrock of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Blessings.  Thanksgiving.  Hope.  Even in Civil War.