The danger of being theoretical Christians

heart

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?

hope-for-all

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?

changing-people

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?

true-teacher

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

one-step

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.

Praise Him for everything!

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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). And on he goes, even down to the last verse where he says, “The king shall rejoice in God.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Seeking the Face of God, 135-136


Photo credit: rustiqueart via photopin cc

The only man who truly comes to Christ

Decisions

No man truly comes to Christ unless he flies to Him as his only refuge and hope, his only way of escape from the accusations of conscience and the condemnation of God’s holy law. Nothing else is satisfactory. If a man says that having thought about the matter and having considered all sides he has on the whole decided for Christ, and if he has done so without any emotion or feeling, I cannot regard him as a man who has been regenerated. The convicted sinner no more ‘decides’ for Christ than the poor drowning man ‘decides’ to take hold of that rope that is thrown to him and suddenly provides him with the only means of escape.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers

A brief look at the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Collection (5 volumes)

There are only a few preachers who I hold in very high esteem. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is one of them. His book, Preaching and Preachers, is essential reading for any prospective preacher (even if you disagree with some of it), but this is not his most essential work. Lloyd-Jones was first and foremost a gospel preacher.

During his 25 years as a minister at Westminster Chapel in London, he preached the gospel through the books of Genesis, Ephesians, Romans, Acts, and John, as well as more topically driven messages such as those that became the book Spiritual Depression. All this to say, when I was able to add the five-volume D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones collection to my Logos library, I was delighted.

In this set, compiling several titles originally published by Crossway, readers are treated to Lloyd-Jones’ teaching on the nature of revival, the Trinity, the Church, the last things and what it means to seek God.

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Included in the series are:

Although there is much that could be said about every volume in the collection, I’ll limit myself to a few key points:

1. The set features one of the best books on revival you’ll ever read. Seriously. There’s a lot of junk out there on this subject, and not nearly enough that reminds us of the truth:

Is it not clear… that if the Lord Jesus Christ is not crucial, central, vital, and occupying the very centre of our meditation and our living, our thinking, and our Praying, that we really have no right to look for revival? And yet… [if] you go and talk to many people, even in the Church, about religion, you will find that they will talk to you at great length, without ever mentioning the Lord Jesus Christ. (Revival, 46)

When we talk about revival today, we’re often talking about revivalism and pressing men and women for “decisions,” rather than making Christ known. Or when Christians begin praying for revival, they may mean something closer to wanting more of the Holy Spirit’s power at work in their lives. Yet, revival doesn’t start with a desire for more spiritual power—it starts (and ends) with a desire to make Christ known and to know Him better.

Can you imagine what would happen if we really believed that? My goodness…

2. Lloyd-Jones is ruthless (in the right kind of way). Lloyd-Jones clearly had no time for dilly-dallying about the truth and ambiguity. He astutely observed—during the rise of the postmodern milieu in which we are dealing with the fallout of no less!—that we’re not trying to win people to theoretical notions or to nice feelings. We seek to convince men and women of reality:

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. (Seeking the Face of God, 122)

3. Logos integration makes life easier. As a writer, I love having these titles in my Logos library in part because it makes research so much easier. I frequently preach from the Psalms, but they’re tricky. It’s really easy to get something wrong or to overlook something significant because we “think” we know what’s being said. Lloyd-Jones’ messages on selected psalms (Seeking the Face of God) offer an opportunity to learn from how he’s handled the text—and who wouldn’t want to learn from him?

This collection, along with anything else you can get your hands on, are an absolute must for any Logos user and student of God’s Word. The truth communicated is rich, and the application is eminently practical. If ever there were “must” for your library, this collection is it.

Culture as common grace

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

People tend to glory in Shakespeare, as if he were responsible for his powers, but he was not. He had only what he had received. All these gifts that man and women have come from God. And that is why true Christians, as they look out, not only upon creation, but even at culture, discover a reason for glorifying and for praising God.

You see, what is wrong with culture is not the thing itself, it is rather that people give their worship, their praise and their adoration to those men and women who have produced the works rather than to the God who enabled them to do it. But if you look at these things under the heading of common grace, you will see that they all bring glory to God because it is through the Spirit that He dispenses these general gifts to humanity. We shall be reminded later of how our Lord Himself tells us that God sends His rain upon the evil and the good and causes His sun to rise on the just and the unjust—it is the same thing. The God who sends rain and sunshine and gives crops to the evil farmer as well as to the Christian farmer, dispenses artistic and scientific gifts in exactly the same way, indiscriminately, to bad and good, saved and unsaved. It is a work of the Holy Spirit.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Great Doctrines of the Bible vol. 2: The Holy Spirit, 25-26

Alive and full of power

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

If you look back across the history of the Christian Church, you immediately find that the story of the Church has not been a straight line, a level record of achievement. The history of the Church has been a history of ups and downs. It is there to be seen on the very surface. When you read the history of the past you find that there have been periods in the history of the Church when she has been full of life, and vigour, and power. The statistics prove that people crowded to the house of God, whole numbers of people who were anxious and eager to belong to the Christian Church. Then the Church was filled with life, and she had great power; the Gospel was preached with authority, large numbers of people were converted regularly, day by day, and week by week. Christian people delighted in prayer. You did not have to whip them up to prayer meetings, you could not keep them away. They did not want to go home, they would stay all night praying. The whole Church was alive and full of power, and of vigour, and of might. And men and women were able to tell of rich experiences of the grace of God, visitations of his Spirit, a knowledge of the love of God that thrilled them, and moved them, and made them feel that it was more precious than the whole world. And, as a consequence of all that, the whole life of the country was affected and changed.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival

Knowledge vs understanding

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

There is nothing new about not believing in God; it is the oldest thing in the world to deny Him. This is what I find so pathetic, that people think it is clever not to believe in God, that it is modern, that it is something new, that it is something wonderful! But here is a man, King David, writing all this a thousand years before Christ—nearly three thousand years ago—and there were people saying then, “There is no God”—just what clever people are saying today, those who try to argue that they are saying it in terms of some latest esoteric knowledge that they have been given and that other people still do not have. But is it not clear that this has nothing at all to do with knowledge as such?

No; it is a question of understanding, and that is a very different thing. Men and women may have a lot of book knowledge, but that does not mean they have understanding or that they have wisdom. They can be aware of many facts, but they may be fools in their own personal lives. Have we not known such people? I have known men in some of the learned professions; I would take their opinion without a moment’s hesitation because of their knowledge and because of their learning. But sometimes I have known some of those men to be utter fools in their own personal lives. I mean by that, they behaved like lunatics, as if they had not a brain at all. They have behaved in exactly the same way as a man who never had their educational advantages and who had none of their great knowledge. They drank too much even as a less educated man did; they were guilty of adultery even as he was.

There is all the difference in the world between knowledge—an awareness of facts—and wisdom and real understanding. Though people may have great brains and may know a number of things, they may still be governed by their lusts and passions and desires, and that is why they are fools.… They are men and women who listen to their hearts, their desires; they are governed by what they want to do rather than by true understanding.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Seeking the Face of God: Nine Reflections on the Psalms, 14–15

Neglecting the Holy Spirit is as sinful as misrepresenting Him

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Because of certain exaggerations, excesses and freak manifestations, and the crossing of the border line from the spiritual to the scientific, the political and the merely emotional, there are many people who are afraid of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, afraid of being too subjective. So they neglect it altogether. I would also suggest that others have neglected the doctrine because they have false ideas with regard to the actual teaching concerning the person of the Holy Spirit.…

Let me put it very plainly like this: you would all agree that to neglect or to ignore the doctrine about the Father would be a terrible thing. We would all agree that it is also a terrible thing to neglect the doctrine and the truth concerning the blessed eternal Son. Do we always realise that it is equally sinful to ignore or neglect the doctrine of the blessed Holy Spirit? If the doctrine of the Trinity is true—and it is true—then we are most culpable if in our thinking and in our doctrine we do not pay the same devotion and attention to the Holy Spirit as we do to the Son and to the Father. So whether we feel inclined to do so or not, it is our duty as biblical people, who believe the Scripture to be the divinely inspired word of God, to know what the Scripture teaches about the Spirit. And, furthermore, as it is the teaching of the Scripture that the Holy Spirit is the one who applied salvation, it is of the utmost practical importance that we should know the truth concerning Him.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit, 5-6

How do you know when God is using you in your preaching?

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The worst, powerless, exhausting, futile sermons I’ve ever preached have been the ones where I’ve preached it once before. There are no rules against this, certainly, and it’s definitely not sinful to do (if it were, conference speakers would be up a creek without a paddle).While some do this quite skillfully, when I do it, I fall flat on my face, confident I will never preach again.

Every.

Single.

Time.

Why is this so? Because, as Martin Lloyd-Jones put it so eloquently, “True preaching…is God acting. It is not just a man uttering words; it is God using him.”1

So, how do you know when God’s using you in your preaching? Lloyd-Jones suggests you tend to see it when He’s not:

You are in your own church preaching on a Sunday. You preach a sermon, and for some reason this sermon seems to go easily, smoothly, and with a degree of power. You are moved yourself; you have what is called ‘a good service’, and the people are as aware of this as you are. Very well; you are due to preach somewhere else, either the next Sunday or on a week-night, and you say to yourself, ‘I will preach that sermon which I preached last Sunday. We had a wonderful service with it.’ So you go into this other pulpit and you take that same text, and you start preaching. But you suddenly find that you have got virtually nothing; it all seems to collapse in your hands. What is the explanation? One explanation is this. What happened on the previous Sunday when you preached that sermon in your own pulpit was that the Spirit came upon you, or perhaps upon the people…and your little sermon was taken up, and you were given that exceptional service. But you are in different circumstances with a different congregation, and you yourself may be feeling different. So you now have to rely upon your sermon, and you suddenly find that you haven’t much of a sermon.2

This is a helpful reminder for me, simply because it is so reflective of my own experience. Preaching is not simply faithfully preparing a sermon, it is also God acting in and through preaching. We may not always realize Lord is working through us, but we definitely know when we’re on our own in the pulpit. And it is a dreadful.