The only truly good sermon you will ever hear

good-sermon

“Did he tell us where we can see Jesus in the text?”

It’s a question I’ve asked on more than one occasion after hearing a message. It’s hard to hear someone speak—even when they explain the text more or less correctly—and wonder, “Did he say anything about Jesus here?” It’s common to wonder this if you’re used to messages that involve five points beginning with the letter “p,” but I’d argue that a commitment to preaching verse by verse does not guarantee we’ll keep Jesus front and center. In fact, I sometimes think it’s easier for us to lose sight of Jesus as we examine the veins on the leaves of a particular tree in one section of the forest.

Truly, there is no worse sermon than one that misses Jesus. By that, I don’t mean ham-fisted attempts to force him into the message, or a tacked-on memorized gospel presentation at the end of the message. What I mean is to always show the connection to Christ. Charles Spurgeon reminds us of this in the following story, previously told by a Welsh minister:

A young man had been preaching in the presence of a venerable divine, and after he had done he went to the old minister, and said, “What do you think of my sermon?”

“A very poor sermon indeed,” said he.

“A poor sermon?” said the young man, “it took me a long time to study it.”

“Ay, no doubt of it.”

“Why, did you not think my explanation of the text a very good one?”

“Oh, yes,” said the old preacher, “very good indeed.”

“Well, then, why do you say it is a poor sermon? Didn’t you think the metaphors were appropriate and the arguments conclusive?”

“Yes, they were very good as far as that goes, but still it was a very poor sermon.”

“Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?”

“Because,” said he, “there was no Christ in it.”

“Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.”

So the old man said, “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?”

“Yes,” said the young man.

“Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business in when you get to a text, is to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savour of Christ in it.”1

There is no worse sermon than one where you cannot find Christ in it, no matter how good the explanation of the details of the text. There is no worse devotional thought than one devoid of the presence of our Lord and Savior, no matter how encouraging or motivational it may be. The only truly good message is one where we’ve shown Christ in the text. Every text, every road, as the old divine said, leads to him. Whether we go over hedge and ditch, it is worth it, for good of all who hear—and ourselves—to point the way.

The world needs strange Christians, not relevant ones

rolling-stone

One of the things we Christians tend to make fun of ourselves over is our desire be culturally relevant—to be hip, cool and engaging enough to hold the world’s attention. We know, at least to some degree, that it doesn’t work. We’ve seen what happens when people go too far in their attempts to be like the world (think the former megachurch pastor whose message to the world bears no resemblance to biblical Christianity), and we know that when we do try to be with it and hip, we wind up being neither.

Instead, we get stuff like this:

Russell Moore reminds his readers repeatedly throughout his upcoming book, Onward, that Christians should seem strange to the world—because the gospel itself is strange. Think about it: Christians believe that God became a man, a poor carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus who was crucified, rose from the dead and now rules over the entire universe.

When you actually say it out loud, yeah, it’s kind of strange. But that’s the thing about Christianity: either it’s true or we’re all nuts for believing it.

And this also shouldn’t surprise us. After all, as Martyn Lloyd Jones pointed out in Preaching and Preachers, “Our Lord attracted sinners because He was different. They drew near to Him because they felt that there was something different about Him.”

So for us to go about trying to win the world by being basically like the world is “basically wrong not only theologically but even psychologically,” he wrote. “This idea that you are going to win people to the Christian faith by showing them that after all you are remarkably like them, is theologically and psychologically a profound blunder.” (139, 1972 edition)

What Moore and Lloyd-Jones before him encourage us to do is recognize that trying to be relevant is a lost cause. We can never reconcile Christianity to the culture on its own terms. After all, “culture is a rolling stone, and it waits for no band of Christians seeking to imitate it or exegete it” (Onward, 107 [ARC]). Instead, we need to embrace the strangeness of Christianity—remembering that our “distinctive strangeness,” as Moore puts it, is what the world needs.

 

20 of my favorite quotes from The Prodigal Church

Recently I’ve shared a couple reflections on, as well as a review of, Jared Wilson’s new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo. This was a book that I underlined quite heavily—probably more than I’ve done on any since Keller’s book on prayer. There’s a ton of wisdom found within its pages. So today, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites (some of which have been made into nifty shareable graphics):

“‘Healthy things grow’ sounds right. But cancer grows too.” (40)

“I want to suggest that it’s possible to get big, exciting, and successful while actually failing substantially at what God would have us do with his church. It’s possible to mistake the appearance of success for faithfulness and fruitfulness.” (46)

“Pragmatism is anti-gospel because it treats evangelism as a kind of pyramid scheme aimed at people who have it all together, not discerning that, in the Gospels, those most ripe for the gospel were those at the bottom of the social caste system, the undesirable, the non-influential.” (53)

“Pragmatism is legalistic, because it supposes that evangelism can be turned into a formula for ready results.… The pragmatist has forgotten that Christianity is supernatural, that it is capital-S Spiritual.” (53)
2

“When you try to help the Holy Spirit, you quench him.” (54)

“It is not in the best interest of the very unbelievers we’re trying to reach to appeal to consumerist tastes in the interest of offering them the living water of Christ.” (67-68)

“When we stage a worship experience that hypes up experience, feelings, or achieving certain states of success or victory, we miss the very point of worship itself: God.” (68)

3

“Neither the Spirit nor the gospel needs help from our production values.” (70)

“We have not prospered theologically or spiritually when we emphasize the professionalization of the pastorate.” (75)

“Fortune-cookie preaching will make brittle, hollow, syrupy Christians.” (77)

“We must have a stronger faith to trust that a sermon mainly about Jesus will ‘help people grow’ more than our set of tips will.” (80)

1

“I will go so far as to suggest to you, actually, that not to preach Christ is not to preach a Christian sermon. If you preach from the Bible, but do not proclaim the finished work of Christ, you may as well be preaching in a Jewish synagogue or a Mormon temple.” (80)

“The self-professed ‘culturally relevant’ churches are the chief proponents of legalism in Christianity today.” (84)

“The ‘dos’ can never be detached from the ‘done’ of the finished work of Christ in the gospel, or else we run the risk of preaching the law.” (85)

“When we preach ‘how to’ law sermons instead of the gospel, we may end up with a bunch of well-behaved spiritual corpses.” (89)

“The reality is, worship does not begin with the worshipper. It begins with God. It is a response to God’s calling upon us.” (97)

4“We do not worship the Father, the Son, and The Holy Ingenuity.” (167)

“If you worship God in a less-than-clear or in a doctrine-less sense, you end up worshiping another god. You worship the god made in your image. When we divorce theology from worship, when we fail to cultivate a theology of worship, we compromise our worship. It may look great, but it is hollow and shallow.” (99)

“Part of moving forward and away from the functional ideologies of the attractional church is also abandoning ourselves to the sovereign mercy of the Spirit, who cannot be measured or leveraged or synergized or whatever.” (162)

“The Spirit doesn’t wear the church’s wristwatch. You cannot control him.” (166)

We talk about hell so we can marvel at grace

hell-scare-straight

I’ll be honest, in the last while, I can’t remember the least time I read a book or blog post or heard a sermon that spent much time dealing with hell. Now, there are some good reasons for this, obviously. If you’re preaching and it’s not really relevant to the text you’re focused on, you probably don’t need to bring it up. If you’re writing on marriage, you may not need to deal with it (unless it’s to counter the “marriage and/or singleness is…” attitude).

But I suspect one reason we shy away from talking about hell is we don’t get why it matters to us as Christians. We easily imagine every mention of wrath or hell as being straight out of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (despite most of us never having read it). We hold it at an arm’s length because it’s too unpleasant to deal with. Because we don’t want to be scene as fear-mongering—trying to scare people straight.

But preaching about hell, writing about isn’t about scaring anyone straight (at least not ourselves). Not really. We should grieve, certainly, as we consider what awaits those who die apart from Christ, and we should warn them to flee from the wrath to come. But there are good reasons for believers to think about hell, too. And chief among those is to help us appreciate the grace we’ve been shown. Sam Storms puts it this way in To the One Who Conquers:

Thinking about hell and the second death has immense practical benefits.…It is remarkable how tolerable otherwise intolerable things become when we see them in the light of the second death.… It puts mere earthly pain in perspective. It puts tribulation and poverty and slander and imprisonment and even death itself in their proper place. The collective discomfort of all such temporal experience is nothing in comparison with the eternal torment of the second death in the lake of fire.

The one who conquers, said Jesus, “will not be hurt by the second death.” Not even when Satan viciously accuses me of sins we all know I’ve committed? No, never, by no means ever will I be hurt by the second death. Not even when others remind me of how sinful I still am, falling short of the very standards I loudly preach and proclaim? No, never, by no means ever will I be hurt by the second death. Not even when my own soul screams in contempt at the depravity of my heart? No, never, by no means ever will I be hurt by the second death.

And that for one reason only: Jesus, in unfathomable mercy and grace, has suffered that hurt in my place. (73-74)

I will never be hurt by the second death. I never have to fear for the wrath to come. Why? Because “Jesus, in unfathomable mercy and grace, has suffered that hurt in my place.” Amen.

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.

Joyful news leads to joyful people

joyful news

A couple of years ago, I went through a pretty bad spot emotionally. I was miserable pretty much all the time (there were many reasons for this). This wasn’t so much a depression thing as much as a frustration one, though. Lots of stress and concern about things both in and out of my control were taking their toll. The day it clicked for me was when we were sitting at the table, and my daughter, Abigail, commented that I don’t smile.

Now, strictly speaking, this wasn’t true. But she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen me smile. Her default understanding was “daddy = grumpy.”

(Isn’t it interesting how God so often uses our children to point out what we’ve been ignoring?)

I was like the monks Spurgeon spoke of in Lectures to My Students, “who salute each other in sepulchral tones, and convey the pleasant information, ‘Brother we must die'; to which lively salutation each lively brother of the order replies, ‘Yes, brother we must die'” (197).

This, again, wasn’t an unfamiliar sort of disposition for me. I spent most of my teen years being proto-emo minus the swoopy hair (except for that unfortunate year…). My favorite bands were all rather pretentious, dark and angsty. I was not a cheerful person.

I was reminded of this once again when listening to the audio edition of Lectures to My Students. There, Spurgeon commends ministers to be cheerful people. Not, an an empty sort of “levity and frothiness, but a genial, happy spirit. There are more flies caught with honey than with vinegar, and there will be more souls led to heaven by a man who wears heaven on his face than by one who bears Tartarus in his looks” (198).

Spurgeon is right in commending us to cultivate a happy disposition. Not some false air, but a genuinely joyful spirit.1 No one wants to be around the person who is constantly looking for the grey cloud in the silver lining (or is pointing out to you why gluten is terrible and going to give you cancer while also causing climate change).2 No one really likes being around the person who constantly turns your smiles into frowns.

But good news does not beget grumpiness, and good news people should not be known for their grumpiness. While they might have seasons where they experience it, they should not be characterized by it. People who have been saved by Jesus and commissioned by him to tell that good news should pursue cheerfulness—or if you prefer, joy. Because joyful news leads to joyful people. And joyful people in a bad news world are hard to come by.

Long preaching isn’t always good preaching

least-to-say (1)

Early on in my faith, I was enamored with preachers who would give these 45, 50, 60-plus minute sermons. I would compare what I’d hear in their podcasts to what I was hearing on Sunday mornings, and I always wondered, “Why doesn’t my pastor do what these guys are doing?”

Which, of course, is stupid. But then again, I was kind of an idiot.

(Moving on…)

Over time, I grew less enamored with some of those preachers (or at least their preaching). As I listened, I increasingly realized that the guys that seemed to be able to get up and had little more than a post-it for notes weren’t actually saying much of anything. They were using a great many words to say very little.

When training pastors on the importance of keeping people’s attention, Charles Spurgeon encouraged his hearers to keep their sermons shorter. “Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit,” he said.

We are generally longest when we have least to say. A man with a great deal of well-prepared matter will probably not exceed forty minutes; when he has less to say he will go on for fifty minutes; and when he has absolutely nothing he will need an hour to say it in. (Lectures to my Students, 156)

This is valuable advice (and also helps us understand why TED Talks are so powerful). Sometimes preaching1 “long” isn’t necessary—it’s just long. It’s a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”(1 Corinthians 13:1), revealing a great love of our own pontificating, but little for our hearers. And I really have no interest in that, either as a preacher or the hearer. I’d rather speak five simple words that communicate clearly than 1000 that may be eloquent or funny, but lack substance. What about you?

If we’re not communing with God…

neglect

One of the things my father-in-law often says he has little time for is navel-gazing. That is, the incessant paralyzing introspection that is the aim of the modern self-help industry. We get advice from Oprah and her cabal. We run to Dr. Phil. We dig into some Tony Robbins. We do the hokey pokey and we turn ourselves around. And while we might get a little dizzy, we still don’t know what it’s all about.

As much as this sort of hopeless spiral of self-examination is to be rejected, though, we should always be careful to remember that there is such a thing as healthy self-examination. After all, the Bible frequently encourages us to examine ourselves. But the purpose is not to get in touch with our innermost feelings, and discover what our inner child wants us to do and/or eat this afternoon, but to examine the state of our heart before our God. To grow in our knowledge and enjoyment of him as we better recognize where our hearts really are.

This is something, I suspect, many of us don’t do nearly enough. Or, at a minimum, I don’t do nearly enough. And there is really no excuse for it. For when we fail in doing so, we put ourselves at risk for serious backsliding, as J.C. Ryle explained in Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke:

Occasional retirement, self-inquiry, meditation, and secret communion with God, are absolutely essential to spiritual health. The man who neglects them is in great danger of a fall. To be always preaching, teaching, speaking, writing, and working public works, is, unquestionably, a sign of zeal. But it is not always a sign of zeal according to knowledge. It often leads to adverse consequences. We must make time occasionally for sitting down and calmly looking within, and examining how matters stand between our own selves and Christ. The omission of the practice is the true account of many a backsliding which shocks the Church, and gives occasion to the world to blaspheme.

A friend once described a mutual acquaintance as really knowing God. Not that he and I aren’t Christians, but that this man of whom he spoke was actually his friend, if you follow. That’s really what Ryle is getting at in this passage. The sort of healthy self-examination he exhorts us to, the kind we all would do well do actually do, doesn’t just protect us from backsliding: it is what grows us from followers to friends. To not only know of him, but to know him and enjoy him.

But you can’t get there if you’re not communing with him. Friendship only comes through the time invested. How then can we ignore this privilege?

If you desire shame, be proud

pride-exults

My father and I had lunch recently and we were talking about a particular situation and I mentioned that it’s sometimes hard for people to accept help (or ask) because of pride. He readily agreed, citing it’s inclusion in the seven deadly sins (which lead to a bit of a rabbit trail on a few things).

Everyone, generally, recognizes pride as a problem. Whether we’re Christians or not, we recognize pride’s ugliness. And we are right to do so. After all, it’s reputed to be the sin that got the devil kicked out of heaven! It’s what caused Adam and Eve to accept the devil’s interpretation of what would happen if they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And it’s something every single one of us deals with every day.

And yet, it never does us any good, does it? Who among us can say that being really proud dramatically improved their life? In fact, it’s more likely that if we really stopped to consider it, we would say, along with Charles Spurgeon, “If you, O man, desire shame, be proud.”

Pride exalts it head, and seeks to honor itself; but it is of all things most despised. It sought to plant crowns upon its brow, and so it hath done, but its head was hot, and it put an ice crown there, and it melted all away. Poor pride has decked itself out finely sometimes; it has put on its most gaudy apparel, and said to others, “how brilliant I appear!” but, ah! pride, like a harlequin, dressed in thy gay colours, thou art all the more fool for that; you are but a gazing stock for fools less foolish than yourself. You have no crown, as you think you have, nothing solid and real, all is empty and vain.… A monarch has waded through slaughter to a throne, and shut the gates of mercy on mankind to win a little glory; but when he has exalted himself, and has been proud, worms have devoured him, like Herod, or have devoured his empire, till it passed away, and with it his pride and glory. Pride wins no crown; men never honor it, not even the menial slaves of earth; for all men look down on the proud man, and think him less than themselves.1

Pride leaves us empty and vain. It has no crowns—no rewards to offer. It is not honored and only brings shame upon those who display it—not just from the reproach of our fellow men, but opposition from God. Fight it with all your might, for the good of all those around you, and for the good of your own soul.

Seeing a gift as a gift leads to greater joy

armstrong-kids

I’m very thankful for my wife, who goes above and beyond as a wife and mother every day. With homeschooling, the regular chores, and then added responsibilities when I’m away from home,1 she deserves a lot more than a mere “thanks.” (And yet, this is pretty much what I’ve got for her right now.)

But my wife isn’t some sort of unusual super-star who goes above and beyond. She’s like most of the wives and mothers I know. They work hard—really hard—caring for their families. And more often than not, it’s without complaint, and without a break. It’s easy for the unceasing requests to wipe noses, mouths and other orifices to either supplant their identities or eat away at their spirits; and what is a good gift becomes tiresome toil.

That struggle isn’t exclusive to mothers, though—it’s common to us all. That’s one of the things I really appreciated about this passage from Gloria Furman’s excellent book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full. Gloria writes:

When I view motherhood not as a gift from God to make me holy but rather as a role with tasks that get in my way, I am missing out on one of God’s ordained means of spiritual growth in my life. Not only that, but I am missing out on enjoying God. No amount of mommy angst can compare to the misery that comes from a life devoid of the comforting, encouraging, guarding, providing, satisfying presence of our holy God.…

The gifts that God gives us serve this holy purpose—to direct our praise to the giver of those gifts. If you enjoy the gift of your children and the gift of your motherhood, but your joy terminates in those gifts, then you’ve missed the point of those gifts. (30-31)

Motherhood (and fatherhood, too) is a wonderful gift, as any mother, including my wife, will tell you. If this good gift is given the wrong sort of attention, it makes for a terrible god. But when we give it the right sort of attention–when we see the gift as truly a gift—it is a glorious way to focus our hearts and minds on Jesus.


Photo by Andrea Bartholomew.

Truth is always timeless (and timely)

Truth

Sometimes I wonder why certain books and authors remain favorites over the course of decades or centuries. But the answer really isn’t that difficult to discern. Certain books are just as relevant today as they were when they were written because, though the trappings may change, the truth contained within hasn’t.

Truth is always timeless. It’s also timely.

This is especially true when we consider our ongoing debates about sexuality. Do conservative or traditional views of marriage, gender and sexuality hinder human flourishing and happiness? Is it repressive to believe that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman? Is the way to be freed from this feeling of guilt and shame we feel to be more open and expressive?

Consider these words from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

…you and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex. We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It is not true. The moment you look at the facts, and away from the propaganda, you see that it is not.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not…

Modern people are always saying “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of.” They may mean “There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure.” If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same… But, of course, when people say, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,” they may mean “the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.”

If they mean that, I think they are wrong.1

Lewis wrote about the hyper-sexualizing of society in his day with the same terms that are used today.

It’s funny, for all our talk of being sexually repressed as a society, anyone who has gone into a mall or turned on the TV or tried to eat a sandwich would likely say otherwise. Sex is inescapable in our culture. I can’t go to the mall without being exposed to 9 feet wide images of scantily clad ladies. Why?

Because there’s a sale on bras.

I can barely get through an entire movie aimed at my children without finding numerous suggestive jokes peppered into the dialogue. Why? Because we don’t want the adults to get bored.

But has our society gotten any better in the last twenty years of over-stimulation?

We are seeing more marriages and families than ever devastated by pornography, by adultery, by the idols of (temporary) personal happiness and immediate gratification. You can have bus signs advertising phone-sex lines, run billboards for adultery services, and create apps that facilitate it and one even blinks. We’re all well aware of the unprecedented transformation of western values regarding same-sex relationships, the redefinition of marriage, the irrelevancy of biological gender…

So Lewis’ words have never been more relevant. Their message is urgent. And the urgency grows the longer the message goes unheeded. Lewis’ point was that sexuality will continue to be confused the longer we attempt to define and redefine it to fit our current proclivities. We continue to feel ashamed because we are ashamed. This is the image of God within us at work against us.

And the solution is not to continue to lull our conscience into submission. That only leads to a greater sense of despair. Instead, the answer can be found only one way: by recognizing the truth. By heeding the message that Lewis wrote more than 60 years ago. By rediscovering the wisdom of generations past, and maybe even heeding their warnings. By embracing the truth—because truth is always timeless. And it is always timely.


A much earlier version of this post was published in 2009. But don’t read that one, because it’s terrible.

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.