It’s that time of year once again. The leaves are beginning to fall, the temperature is ever so slightly beginning to drop, and Saturday afternoons are filled with hot wings, hamburgers, and bragging rights. Football season is back in full force. And for those who are actually playing the sport, it is a season of hard work and preparation.
The late comedian George Carlin had a stand up routine wherein he compared the sport of football to war. Carlin quipped, “In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.”
In a sense, Carlin was right. In order to be triumphant, the coaches and players must approach their game preparation with the perseverance and mentailty of someone who is getting ready to enter the battlefield. And the responsibility of equipping the team with the knowledge and training that will lead them to certain victory falls heavily upon the head coach. There is no doubt that at times grumbling and complaining can be heard within the locker room.
Battle worn and wearied from the grueling days of practice, perhaps there have been players who wished that their coach would be easier on them. That the practices were more fun and relaxed instead of being so intense. But a good coach knows that to watering down the team’s preparation even to the tiniest degree would be as good as waiving the white flag of defeat come Saturday. To those who play football, it is not just a game, it’s war.
When it comes to preparing for battle, the training can never be easy. In Ephesians 6:12, the Apostle Paul writes that Christians are in a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the demonic rulers and principalities of darkness. Believers in the first century held the pulpit in the highest esteem for this reason. The preaching of the Word of God was not viewed as entertainment for the family, but as a means for teaching, reproof, and training in the ways of the Lord (2 Timothy 3:16).
In the years of the Reformation, reformers such as Martin Luther made it a point to gather the family and teach them Biblical doctrine through the use of Catechisms. And preachers like John Bunyan were so dedicated to training saints through exegeting the scriptures that he had sooner rot in a prison cell than to water down or abandon the preaching of the Word. This was because the primary focus of the pulpit was to equip the saints with the knowledge of God, not to pacify the crowds.
This war time mentality has historically always been the approach taken regarding the gathering of the church and the preaching of the Word. However with the societal introductions of ideologies such modernism, postmodernism, secular humanism, many of these man centered philosophies have slowly crept into the church. So much so that the modern view of the pulpit has been warped and distorted. For a great majority of American churches, the pulpit is no longer seen as a place for doctrinal training, but a place for social acceptance.
It is no longer seen as training for engagement with the enemy, but a place for the appeasing the masses. Rebuke has been traded for encouragement. Spiritual correction exchanged for cool relevance. Exegesis has given way to devotionals. And Spiritual enlightenment swapped for entertainment. In short, equipping the saints with deep doctrinal truths that will press them forward into greater sanctification has been shunned in hopes of filling up the sanctuary with cutting edge motivational speeches.
Preaching is not fundamentally the pastor giving his opinions on the text, but rather an act of war. There have been preachers who have used the analogy of taking the cookies off of the top shelf called doctrine and putting them on the bottom shelf for easier accessibility. When our six year old son Luke was four years old, we employed this very tactic regarding cookies. He was beginning to grab them off of the bottom shelf of our pantry every time he walked past.
So in an effort to curb his constant sugar high, we moved the cookies to the top shelf. I was shocked and a bit proud the day I walked into the kitchen and saw Luke so determined to get those cookies that he had taught himself to climb each shelf in the pantry until he could reach the cookies on the top. Believe me, it was a tough climb for a child of four years old. But his perseverance paid off in the end.
After decades of low shelf preaching, can we agree that its time to raise the shelf? Young people will go to school and learn hard subjects such as calculus and chemistry each week. Adult men and women go to their respective places of work daily and handle many complex situations. Yet these same intelligent people will tune out if what is preached from the pulpit is not taught on a very elementary level. We are people who can memorize multiple songs on the radio and learn the complex plays of our favorite football team. Can we not also learn Biblical doctrine?
I am by no means in favor of preaching so far above the heads of the congregation that the sermon feels like a lecture in Greek or Hebrew. But I do believe that proper Biblical orthodoxy can be taught and explained in such a way that even a child can understand. God does not need our help in editing or repackaging His Word. He doesn’t need us to make it more relevant or add entertainment to the message in order to draw others to Himself. Dr. Owen Strachan rightly said, “People don’t need a Tony Robbins course and they don’t need a pastor who is trying to be a comedian. People need to hear about the sufferings of Christ and His subsequent glory.”
Unfortunately still there are many ministers who forsake exegetical and doctrinal preaching on Sunday mornings in exchange for modern day fire side chats. And most of the time it is due to external pressures and a desire to grow people in numbers rather than grow people in sanctification. Many times the excuse is that the ministers are trying to reach people on their level. But the implication in saying that is that the Word of God as it is not sufficient without undergoing a 21st century makeover.
There is a supernatural element to God’s Word that has been forgotten by many ministers to their detriment. We have forgotten that the power of salvation does not lie in our ability to say the right words, use the right examples, or captivate our audiences. As ministers of the Gospel, we are totally incapable of drawing anyone to Christ in and of ourselves. Only Christ has the power to bring the spiritually dead to life. Only Jesus has the power to open the eyes of the blind. The only duty of the preacher is to preach the Word of God. As Steven Lawson once said, apart from His Word we have nothing to say. We see this example clearly in the book of Acts.
In Acts 16, the Apostle Paul was preaching in Philippi to a group of women. One of the women in the crowd was a lady named Lydia. We don’t know much about her, but what we do know is that she was a business woman. She was a dealer in purple cloth the scripture says. Purple was a color worn primarily by the rich in the 1st century due to the difficulty in making it, therefore her wares would have been pricy. We also know that Lydia was ‘a worshipper of God. This implies that she was religious, but had no true relationship or knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord.
Lydia was like many professing believers today. She came to church and most likely endured the message with little interest each Lord’s day so that she could check it off her weekly to do list and feel justified in her salvation. But this day as Paul preached, the text doesn’t say Paul told a funny joke that got her attention. It doesn’t say that Paul preached the perfect sermon that opened her eyes. Rather, it says that the Lord ‘opened her heart to receive the message and to respond.
Again, the implication is that prior to the Lord doing this, Lydia had no power to revive or respond to the message of the Gospel. Paul only preached the Word. It was the Lord who captivated her heart. And this is the biggest relief to the pastor. Because we have the assurance that if we preach His word faithfully, God will call to Himself who He pleases in spite of our many flaws.
In training his young protege and son in the faith Timothy, Paul said these Words to the aspiring preacher;
“Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2.
There was no lesson from Paul on eloquence or contextualization, because Paul himself was not a great speaker (2 Corinthians 11:6). The Apostle simple said to Timothy ‘preach the Word.’ As modern day pastors, this still holds true today. We are to preach the full council of God’s inherent Word in love and complete faith. Notice that Paul first told Timothy to preach the Word. What follows is reprove, rebuke, and exhortation. These are not so much things that Timothy does, but rather the effects of the Word being preached upon the hearts of the people.
Christian, you are a Royal Priesthood. And preaching is the means that God has ordained that He work through in order to bring people out of darkness. 1 Peter 1:10-12 says that the angels are amazed at how God brings salvation through those whom He has ordained to preach the Word. If the angels stand in awe of this high calling to preach, so should the minister be all the more captivated and emboldened in their reliance upon Holy scripture and proclaiming the truths of who God is with the greatest of passion. Preacher, equip the saints with the only thing that can sustain them in the day of trial. Preach the Word of Christ.
There is a prison called sin, and it’s captives are many. It lies to the inmates, whispering that true fulfillment can only be found behind its iron doors. And the only way this prison can contain the lie is to board up all of the windows that would allow the grace of God to shine within its walls. For this grace filled light from the outside would expose the lie.
If you find the Christian life to be a burden, I write this for you. If you view the commands of God as merely a collection of binding, moralistic rules, I write this for you. If you have felt that the joy found in knowing Christ couldn’t possibly compare with the fleeting pleasure found in your pet sins, I write this for you.
If you have these perceptions and fears about submitting your life to Jesus, I will lovingly tell you that you don’t know Christ. You have heard of Jesus, but you’ve never tasted the sweetness of knowing Him personally. You are like a prisoner who has grown so comfortable in his cell that he cannot imagine that true life can be found outside of its walls.
It is my aim to convince you through the word of God that greater joy and freedom can only be found through submitting your life to Christ. It is my prayer that the windows to your cell would be shattered, and the grace of God would become more precious than your sin.
First, we must determine what it means to be a prisoner. One of the definitions of a prisoner is a person who is or feels confined or trapped by a situation or set of circumstances. They cannot escape by their own volition. By our fallen nature, sin is the prison to which we were all born into. It is the addiction of which we cannot break from on our own.
My uncle was addicted to nicotine and as a result, he smoked close to three packs of cigarettes a day. Although our family pleaded with him numerous times to kick the habit, he refused to give it up. He would always say with a smile, “How can something that brings me so much joy be wrong?” My uncle died of lung cancer when I was a freshman in high school. He couldn’t see the prison he was in that was under the guise of a temporary pleasure. And as a result, he forfeited greater joy found in better health as well as longer life.
The apostle Paul exposed sin for what it truly is. The lie that our culture buys into is that our deepest longings can only be satisfied in practices of sin.
“But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.” Galatians 3:22.
Sin gives the illusion of total satisfaction. It’s a mirage of perpetual pleasures. But the pleasures found in sin do not last forever. The lusts of the flesh are temporary and fleeting. And in order to continually find satisfaction in a life of sin, you must lock yourself in its cage and throw away the key. It is to be like an addict who cannot fathom any joy outside of his harmful addiction. And a life enslaved to sin is one that is ignorant and unaware of the exquisite joys that can only be found outside of its cage.
In the summertime we will occasionally take our boys fishing. In one of our outings, Luke caught a small catfish. Upon taking it off of the hook, it was apparent that this fish had been snagged by a fishing hook before. It amazed me that as many times as this fish had most likely seen a worm with a shiny hook through its center, he had never wised up and learned from his past. He had never realized that what promised the satisfaction of a fully belly would ultimately lead to his demise. He was imprisoned to his own desires.
“Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” Philippians 3:19.
And then it dawned on me that as we chase after our favorite sins, we are no different from a gullible fish. In Genesis chapter 3, Satan caused Adam and Eve to doubt the promise of God that greater joy would be found in obedience to His word. Satan is the ultimate deceiver. Just as a fisherman seeks to deceive the fish with the false promise of a taste meal, Satan duped man into thinking his life would be more prosperous if he were to be his own God. The devil has no need to change his bait or tactic, because mankind continues to trust in the lie over the truth.
The truth of how we came to become shackled to sin angers those who are self-righteous and repels those who are slaves to their sins. Satan receives way to much credit from our post modern evangelical culture. It is common place to hear Jesus painted as this battle wearied solider who is doing His best to clean up the mess that Satan is causing. But Satan poses no threat to God, and even on His best day has no power to frustrate the plans of the sovereign Lord.
It was God’s providential will to allow humanity to fall into the prison that is sin. Mind you, God did not cause us to sin, but He allowed us to become enslaved to its shackles.
“For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.” Romans 11:32.
This flies against how mainstream evangelicals tend to think about God today. It is easier to see God as a victim who was simply unable to stop Satan from leading into sin. It’s so much more palatable for us to see God as one who is begging us to find a way out. And if we can only muster up enough discipline, we can set ourselves free with the key of our self-imposed will.
But it’s quite another thing for man to come to grips with the truth of scripture that God willingly subjected his creation over to futility. A futility that in our flesh we have absolutely no power to escape from, so that he would be seen as the merciful rescuer and therefore receive all glory and praise.
“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:20-21.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that at first glance, a God who’s highest aim was to glorify Himself through His created seemed to make the Lord out to be as “a little old lady begging for compliments.” However, Lewis went on to refute this idea, saying that we were created and wired to find our greatest joy in worshipping Christ!
David writes in Psalm 16:11, “In your [God’s] presence there is fulness of joy, in Your [God’s] right hand are pleasures for evermore.“
As John Piper often says, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” The mandate for God to receive glory from His creation for rescuing it from the bondage of sin and man’s quest for tapping into unending joy go hand in hand. They are inseparable.
Saint Augustine was a man imprisoned by the lusts of his flesh. In his written Confessions, he recounts his unquenchable desire for sexual exploits, even at one point had a live in prostitute. He was shackled and unable to abandon His sin, even though he knew it was wrong. Then one afternoon, he heard the voice of a young child saying “Take up and read.” He took this to be a sign from God and he picked up the book of Romans and read this verse;
“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:13-14.
After this reading, Augustine wrote, “No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” Through reading the Word of God, He saw the beauty of obedience to Christ brought more joy to his soul than all of his previous transgressions.
When recounting his life running in sin in comparison to his new life in Christ, Augustine wrote, ““How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose..! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place…. O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”
The sins that once imprisoned Augustine, those that brought him temporary pleasures he willingly admitted that he was at one time afraid to lose them. But after his eyes were opened through his mind being opened to the word of God, he labeled the sins he once held so dear ‘fruitless joys.’
“Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1.
Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin so that those who are in Him are now free to be who they are called to be; spotless, blameless, holy, and perfect in the sight of God. All remnants of their bondage to sin now washed away by the blood of Christ. For a Christian to choose sin over obedience to Christ is to settle for less. It is to choose imprisonment over freedom. It is to cling to that which is temporal rather than eternal. To relinquish all rights to practice sin is not a martyrs duty or a religious burden. If your sin is more precious than Christ, you are still in the prison cell. When we abandon our sins in exchange for a life lived unto the Lord, we walk in liberty. And we gain far more than the prison called sin could ever promise.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” -C.S. Lewis
I have been married to my wife Lacy for fifteen years this past June. She is without a doubt one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given me. We’ve had our ups and downs. There has been laughter and tears. But through it all I’ve never regretted a single moment with her.
Looking back and thinking upon our wedding day, it seems like it flew by in such a blur. Truth be told, it was my hope on that day that the ceremony would go by as quickly as possible.
At the time when we were married, I was extremely nervous at the thought of standing at the front of a church before hundreds of people. And yet years later God would call me to be a pastor. Now I stand at the front of His church full of people each Sunday morning. Oh, the irony.
I have a few regrets when I think back to the day of our wedding. I wish that I had paid more attention to the vows that we spoke to one another. I wish that I had been walking in a true relationship with Christ at that time in my life. I wish that I had read Ephesians chapter 5 with a proper understanding of what the Apostle Paul was writing.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:25-32.
Marriage was designed by God. Not primarily for our happiness, but rather to conform us into the image of Christ. In the above text, Paul writes that the husband is the mirror image of Christ, and the wife represents His church. The implications of this are huge. In the covenant of marriage, we see a living breathing picture of the Gospel. We see a picture of Christ and His bride.
When we think of the relationship between Christ and the church, many words come to mind. Words such as unconditional love, grace, mercy, long-suffering, and unwavering commitment. Although we, the church, have been rebellious at times and have been unfaithful in our affections towards Jesus, He has always remained faithful, displaying grace, mercy, and unconditional love even when it was not deserved.
Marriage is a reenactment of divine love. It is a depiction of the Gospel. And because of this, marriage is under great attack from Satan. The evil one has been defeated by Christ and has no power against Him. So if He cannot destroy Christ, the next best thing is for Him to set his sights on demolishing the very image of the Gospel on earth.
Sadly, numerous marriage are falling prey to Satanic attack. And it is because our culture lacks an understanding of what marriage portrays and what love is. Love in our world is only understood in a post modern context. The word love in today’s society has no concrete definition. It is like a boat without an anchor.
Love is used carelessly for anything that makes us happy at the moment. Case in point, we love our spouses, but we also love our sports team. And we love certain movies and certain foods. Love in our world today merely means that the object of our affection makes us feel good in some way.
Culture speaks loudly into this false idea of love. Iconic movies and popular songs portray love as just some overwhelming, euphoric, emotion or feeling. Here is the problem with that. If love is truly nothing more than a good feeling, then no marriage is safe. Because feelings and emotions change.
We love our sports team until they begin to consistently lose games. We love our favorite food until it makes us sick. And we love our spouses as long as they are meeting our standard for happiness. But once we become unhappy, society tells us that its ok to move on. Even the old cliché “I’ve fallen in love” feeds this notion. Because as one theologian properly put it, “Anything you can fall into you can climb right back out of.”
My wife Lacy once spoke with a woman who was on the brink of filing for divorce from her husband. The man had been emotionally cold and shut off from his family for months. No adultery or physical abuse had taken place thank goodness. But still, the situation was not good.
The husband had finally reached a point to where he claimed he was willing to work on the marriage. But after all the damage, the wife wanted a divorce. The wife made the comment to Lacy, “I know God doesn’t approve of divorce, but when is enough enough?” Basically this woman was looking for justification to file for a divorce.
So what is the answer to her question? If marriage was created by God to be a reflection of Christ and His church, then we should look to that relationship to answer the question, “When is enough enough?”
The bride of Christ, His church, has never loved God as He ought to be loved. We have carved out other God’s for ourselves in the form of hobbies, vices, and earthly relationships and places them above our love for the Lord. We have consistently strayed only to return to Him repenting of our sins.
Has God ever once denied to forgive me of my rebellion against Him? Has the Lord ever told you that He was unwilling to put up with your sins any longer? Never. Christ’s love for His church was never based on His feelings. When we deserved His wrath, He repaid us with grace and mercy. Jesus forgave the unforgivable, going so far as to take the punishment upon Himself for our transgressions. Jesus didn’t feel like dying for our sins.
Jesus chose to die for the sins of His bride.
Therein lies one of the great mysteries that the Apostle Paul was revealing about marriage. Marital love is not grounded in emotion or feelings, but rather it is a daily choice. A dying to self. Marriage is about putting your spouse and their needs above your own desires, even when they don’t deserve it. Marriage is meant to remind us of how God loves us.
And when we come to grasps with how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, even in the midst of our sins, it is then that we can truly love our spouse. We can then forgive the unforgivable, because we know that we have been forgiven by God. We can then show grace and mercy, because we understand that we were given these gifts undeservedly. And it is in loving our spouse as Christ loves His church, we then become like the God we worship.
Isn’t it amazing that so many professing Christians worship Jesus for the qualities of forgiveness, grace, and mercy, but they are unwilling to practice them with others. Especially with those closest to them. And so when the enemy succeeds in destroying a marriage, he shatters the literally image of the Gospel.
It is in loving our spouse in the worst of times that we gain a glimpse of the unwavering love that Christ has for us. In a sense, the hard days of marriage are gifts from the Lord to allow us to see and understand the amazing grace of God upon our own lives.
Marriage is a profound mystery to the world. But through the knowledge of Christ, we know that the husband and wife union is the representation of Christ and His church. And the reality of this great mystery leads our marriages into an unimaginable joy.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31-32.
Once of the greatest fallacies that we as professing Christians make is to assume that God is like us. When a person is not firmly grounded in the Word, it becomes the default mode to create images of God that are based on our own preferences and scriptures that are ripped kicking and screaming out of their proper context.
Sadly, much of the Christianity we see in America today is more devotional than doctrinal. Much of our Christian culture is based on cliché phrases that serve the purpose of making us feel better about ourselves, but not so much in leading us to gaze upon God as He has revealed Himself through the scriptures.
Far too often, professing believers pick and choose the attributes of God based on how we want God to be. God’s wrath is ignored in order to elevate His love. God’s sovereignty is disdained in order to set on high the free will of man. God’s justice is downplayed so that those living in habitual sin might not feel the weight of His Holiness.
In doing this, we end up repeating the sins of the Israelites in Exodus and mold our own golden calves to worship rather than the true and living God. The dangers of this are many. For one, when we make God out to be who we want Him to be based not on scripture by ourselves, we end up worshipping a version of God, but not the God of the Bible. In essence, we form an idol of a God molded by virtue of attempting to make God more like us.
This is not something God takes lightly. He will not overlook the ignorance of man, because His Word has been given to us and we are without excuse. On the great day of the Lord, those who have made God into their own image will have to stand before His accusation of them. And they will stand guilty.
“These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.” Psalm 50:21.
Why does our human nature lead us to contort scripture? Because in our sin nature, we are self-centered creatures. At the core of our being, we want to be front and center. We want to have our needs met. And we want to be the motivation for everything that God does. In short, the Gospel is extremely offensive to humanity.
“To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.” Jeremiah 6:10.
At the very heart of this matter, all of our misunderstandings of God stem from one pivotal truth that is so often overlooked. Are you ready? Here it is, so brace yourself.
God is first and foremost for God.
Many may wonder what is so controversial about that. But when we dig more into that statement, we see that humanity comes second to God’s own affections for Himself. God’s primary commitment is concern is for His own glory, and this great truth in turn is the basis for ours as well. God’s primary love is for His own glory.
To the devotional believer, this truth stings. It may even cause resentment or anger. But lets slow down and consider for a moment the far reaching implications of God being for God.
For starters, we know that God cannot sin. Throughout the scriptures, the Lord warns us of falling into certain damnable sins. One of which is the sin of idolatry, which is putting anything in our lives or our affections as being more important that our love for God.
Now I ask you, is God an idolaters? If God places more of His affections upon anything other than His own glory, then He would be guilty of committing the sin of idolatry. This means that man cannot be primary in God’s affections, because it would go directly against God’s own character.
John Piper wrote of the God centeredness of God, “Why is it important to be stunned by the God centeredness of God? Because many people are willing to be God centered as long as they feel that God is man centered. It is a subtle danger. We may think we are centering our lives on God when we are really making Him a means to self esteem. Over against this danger I urge you to ponder the implications, brothers, that God loves His glory more than He loves us and that this is the foundation for His love for us.”
The Lord’s primary desire is to see Himself glorified. And as offensive as this truth is to our flesh, we wouldn’t want it any other way. Because we were designed to find our deepest satisfaction and joy in making much of Him. When we are the center, we will constantly be let down. Not so with God. We were wired before the foundation of the world to find our greatest contentment in life in glorifying Him. God does everything for His own name sake and loves His glory above everything.
“For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you,
that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” Isaiah 48:9.
God saves sinners for the sake of His great name and His own glory.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” Ezekiel 36:22-23.
One has to ask, what were God’s intentions in creating man. God didn’t create us because He was lonely, for He had perfect and complete fellowship with the Son and Spirit. God didn’t create us to have children to dote on. Why did God create humanity? The answer is for His great glory.
“…everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”Isaiah 43:7.
Why did God save the Israelites from Pharaoh? What were the motivations of the Lord for leading His people out of bondage? What caused God to act in their redemption? Was it primarily due to His love for the people, or for the love of His name sake?”
“But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.” Exodus 20:14.
In like manner, why did the Lord bring Israel back from the Babylonian Captivity? Did Daniel pray for the Lord to save His people for the sake of their well being?
“Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.” Daniel 9:17.
And what was the purpose of God the Father sending Christ the Son into the world? Yes, it was in order that sinners might be saved. But lets go deeper. What was the motivation for Christ being sent to dwell among sinful man. It was no other reason than for the glory of God.
“But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”John 12:27-28.
Piper again writes, “When Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful,” it does not mean that we are saved in spite of our faithlessness. For the verse before says, “If we deny Him, He will also deny us.” Rather, as the verse explains, “He remains faithful” means that He cannot deny Himself. God’s most fundamental allegiance is to His own glory. He is committed to being God before He is committed to being anything else.”
One of the staple verses that we teach our children in our home is 1 Corinthians 10:31. “No matter if you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God.” This was one of the very first verses that Lacy and I taught our children, because it impacts everything pertaining to how they view God.
God gives lavishly to His children that He dearly loves. But His motivation for this great love is grounded in His own glory. God has given us food, that we may give Him the glory. God has given us drink, that He may receive the glory. God has given us breath, that He may receive the glory. And God has given us eternal life, that He may receive the glory forever and ever.
There is not greater joy found than that which is found in God. We will find our contentment nowhere else under the sun. The call to glorify Christ is for His name sake, but it is for our greater joy! C.S. Lewis nailed it when he wrote, “In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”
The command for us to glorify God is not an order from an overbearing slave master, but rather it is an invitation from a loving Father, calling us into our deepest enjoyment. So writes the Psalmist;
“In your [God’s] presence there is fulness of joy, in Your [God’s] right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Psalm 16:11.
It would be a horrible thing for the affections of God to be primarily centered upon us. Because life and contentment cannot spring forth from man. We desperately need the fulfillment of that which is outside of ourselves, and only found in Christ Jesus!
Satan would rather have man focus on Himself, because self centered pride led to his own fall. But God leads us to see that our fulfillment can only be found in a God that is for Himself. God’s desire for glory is where we find true abundant life.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10.
Our thoughts about God are shaped and forged throughout life. The question is what is it that is molding our perceptions of God? I imagine that most Christians would say without questions that our ideas regarding who God is and how He is to be worshipped should be shaped and guided by the scriptures. However, throughout the ages and even in our present time, there have been many who glean their views on God more from the culture and preferences rather than the Lord’s infallible breathed Word.
Believers seem quick to make a stand against blatant heresies, such as pagan rituals or the worship of false deities. But when it comes to tiny variations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, more times than not Christians will compromise on the truth of scripture in an attempt to widen the narrow road that Jesus spoke of in Matthew’s Gospel.
Our Americanized quasi Christian culture has taken the immutable Gospel and has ever so slightly made changes in attempts to give Jesus a make over, so that He might be more attractive to the world. It seems too harsh to view Jesus as a righteous judge, so modern culture has attempted to make Him less of an authority and more of a buddy. The world doesn’t want a God who is wrathful against sin. Instead, it would rather have a God who would prefer that His children turn from sin, but merely shakes His head in a ‘boys will be boys‘ type attitude and just overlooks it.
Books fill the shelves of our so-called ‘Christian’ bookstores promoting variations of the Gospel that are in truth fabricated lies. We have hundreds of novels sold each year of people claiming to have died and gone to see Heaven, only for God to then send them back to earth to tell their story. And professing believers buy them by the dozens, proving that they get their views of the afterlife more from man than from God. Listen to what God says about such tall tales.
In the Gospel of Luke, the rich man and the poor man named Lazarus both died. The poor man went to be with Abraham in Heaven and Lazarus went to Hell. The rich man begged Abraham to allow Lazarus to cross back over from the after life and back into the world so that he could go and warn his lost brothers of the horrors of Hell. Here is Abraham’s rely to the rich man’s request that Lazarus be allowed to reach out to Hades to give him a drop of water;
“And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” Luke 16:26.
And to answer directly the request of the rich man in allowing Lazarus to cross back over into the physical world after death in order to strengthen people’s faith, Abraham said;
“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Luke 16:29-31.
Keep in mind that so many professing believers today will defend these Heavenly tourism type books by claiming that there is nothing wrong with them if they strengthen people’s faith. Yet God said through Abraham that Moses and the prophets is all that we will ever need. No new revelation is needed. If we need extra biblical stories in order to strengthen our faith, then what we are saying is that the scriptures God has given us are not enough.
Also, there is a great chasm says Abraham, between the afterlife and our world. And no one is allowed to see it and return. The Apostle Paul didnt physically enter the afterlife, but was given a vision of it and told never to speak of it by the Lord. Clearly, God has given us everything we need contained in His word in order to properly know, worship, and follow Him. The scriptures need no additions and they lack nothing. God’s Word is sufficent.
Culture poses the questions, ‘What is wrong with a book or a movie is it is off a tiny bit theologically but serves as an encouragement? Are those opposed to such books just being nip pickers?’ The answer is not at all, because it skews God as He has revealed Himself throughout scripture. And if we alter the scriptures or the truths that God has revealed concerning Himself even just a little bit, it is as I mentioned in the previous blog, no Gospel at all (Galatians 1:6).
Our views of God matter, because they bleed into how we worship God. When it comes to the differing views of God inside the church, there are three doctrinal principals that are used to categorize them. The first is called the normative principal. This states that our worship of God teaches that whatever is not prohibited in scripture is permitted in worship. Basically if the scriptures don’t directly tell us not do to it, then its ok to go ahead and do it.
However there is a problem with the Normative principal as seen through scripture. In the book of Leviticus, the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, came to the tabernacle to offer worship to God and brought with them what scripture called ‘strange fire.’ However, God had previously given instruction on how He was to be worshipped in Leviticus chapters 8-9. And this strange fire was not on the list of how God said that He was to be worshipped.
Therefore, in Leviticus 10, God killed the sons of Aaron for going beyond what God had commanded of them. Clearly going beyond the word of God is not advised. To clarify, this principal does not pertain to modern day additions such as lights for the sanctuary, or using a drop screen for hymnal words. Nor does the normative principle ban certain styles of worship. It is not a matter of style, but rather content.
The question we ask is, Does this glorify the Lord? And are we glorifying Him according to His ways? These things are not different methods of worship, but rather they help to enhance what the Lord has required. The idea behind the normative principal is the manner in which you are entering into worshipping the Lord.
Next there is the Regulative principal, which states that our worship of God is to be guided and informed fully by the scriptures. This is the principal that I personally align with. If it is not outlined in God’s Word, then its not to be included in worship or our perceptions of the Lord. The regulative principle is related to how we view God. As seen in our modern day culture, if our world begins to add or change what God says about Himself through scripture, then it is to be viewed as heretical lies.
Regarding the Regulative principal, Derek Thomas wrote, “Where does the Bible teach this? In more places than is commonly imagined, including the constant stipulation of the book of Exodus with respect to the building of the tabernacle that everything be done “after the pattern … shown you” (Ex. 25:40); the judgment pronounced upon Cain’s offering, suggestive as it is that his offering (or his heart) was deficient according to God’s requirement (Gen. 4:3–8); the first and second commandments showing God’s particular care with regard to worship (Ex. 20:2–6); the incident of the golden calf, teaching as it does that worship cannot be offered merely in accord with our own values and tastes; the story of Nadab and Abihu and the offering of “strange fire” (Lev. 10); God’s rejection of Saul’s non-prescribed worship — God said, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22); and Jesus’ rejection of Pharisaical worship according to the “tradition of the elders” (Matt. 15:1–14). All of these indicate a rejection of worship offered according to values and directions other than those specified in Scripture.”
Also in defense of the Regulative principal, The London Baptist Confession states, “The acceptable way of worshiping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures”
But there is a third principle that is not derived from scripture but rather from man. It is called the Affective principle. The Affective principal is probably the most popular of the principles of worship in our society today. It is not based on what is or is not mentioned in God’s Word. Rather, the Affective principal states that whatever has the greatest affect on my emotions and how I feel about God is the means of how I will worship God.
Simply put, it says that God will be worshipped in a manner based on my own preferences, with little to no regard to His Word. This is clearly seen in our churches today, particularly in more charismatic circles. Churches like Bethel in Redding California and many worship bands associated with them focus less on glorifying the Lord through their worship songs and more on creating a hypnotic state of meditation. Their songs do not focus on glorifying and exhausting Christ so much as they repeat certain words like ‘Fire’ over and over again, creating almost a paganistic trance like state.
Why do people lean towards a principal of worship like the Affective principal? For the same reason that so many heretical books and movies that claim to be Christian are so popular in the culture. Because people in our flesh tend to be more drawn towards what is emotionally pleasing rather than what is scripturally true. And thus, our culture becomes a Romans 1 culture;
“…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Romans 1:25.
Within the confines of the Affective principal, we worship the creature, which is ourselves according to our preferences, rather than the creator God as He has directed through His Word. Clearly this is wrong. Yet still, it is a predominant principle adopted by evangelicals today.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns the church that there will be many faulty version of Christ that are imposters and antichrist. And that by them many would be led astray.
“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” Matthew 24:24.
This still rings true today. So many faulty versions of Christianity being presented to the church through the avenues of entertainment and media. And due to a lack of the knowledge of God and proper discernment, many professing believers are being led away from the faith and the orthodox teachings of Christ, proving that they never were in the truth to begin with.
“These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.” 1 John 2:19.
It is crucial that we get the Gospel right. Therefore we must know God as He has revealed Himself through His Word. Although pop culture may paint versions of God through the media that strive to give us these warm and fuzzy feelings while calling itself Christian, we need to explore if what is being said is Biblical, regardless of our emotional investment.
The Apostle Paul urges us to stay grounded in the Word and not stay off into myths.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-2.
We need followers of Christ who will plant their feet firm in the Word of God and be unwavering in truth. The world will argue that we need to present a picture of Christ to the lost that is more appealing in order to win them. But we need ask, win them to what? Because again, if any attribute of God is raised or lowered above what the scriptures have lain before us, then it is not the Jesus of the Bible, but a golden calf made of our own imaginations. To believe or become a proponent of anything other than the truth of God’s Word is to have a belief that is in vain.
Let us be a people who heed the warning of Paul as given to young Timothy, and not be people that are given to fall for the deceptions of our world today.
“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” 2 Timothy 4:3.
May our views of God be as the reformers of old, shackled to the Word of God, in saying; Sola Fide, by faith alone, Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone, Solus Christus, through Christ alone, Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.
When we think of false teachers leading people astray, we tend to picture leaders of Satanic or overtly pagan religions prophesying about their differing Gods. However, the attacks of Satan on the church of Jesus Christ is much more subtle than this. All throughout church history, Satan has led professing believers away from the truth of the Word of God with the slightest of departures from scripture. At times, these perversions of the way of Christ are so small that unless one is grounded in the Word of God, they will all together miss them.
In the first century, the Apostles battled the ideology of Gnosticism that was infiltrating the church. In short, the Gnostics taught that all things of the material world were evil. Therefore, according to these false teachers, Jesus could not have been God, because a deity would never encase himself in sinful human flesh. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved addressed the church, warning them of these false teachers in the letter of 2 John, calling them antichrist.
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” 2 John 1:7.
The Apostle Paul confronted the Judaizers, who were teaching a false Gospel of faith in Christ plus works. And in the first chapter of the epistle, Paul warned the true church that if anyone came preaching a different Gospel than the one he had preached, they were considered accursed. Paul even accused those who were being led astray as being under a spell and not trusting in the Gospel truth of Christ crucified with their own eyes.
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” Galatians 3:1.
There are countless other accounts of people straying from the truth of the Gospel found in scripture. And in many of these situations, it was never an out right denial of the existence of Jesus as a man. Rather, most times it was either a denial of His deity or perhaps an affirmation of His deity with a misconception of His attributes.
As Paul said in Galatians, if so much as one tiny aspect of the Gospel is changed, even ever so slightly, then it is no longer the Gospel. Satan doesn’t have to keep us from the truth in order to deceive. He just has to change the truth just a little.
Today false Gospel’s still make their way into the church. And much of this is done through the entertainment industry. One recent example of heresy infiltrating the church under the guise of Christianity is the new movie The Shack. The movie is based on the book written by author William Young in 2008. The book itself is wildly popular and has sold up to 20 million copies to date. And Sadly, many professing Christians are major proponents of Young’s book and are eagerly anticipating the new movie.
Pastor Josh Buice of Prays Mill Baptist Church rightly said, “Like many books that become popular in evangelicalism (such as Heaven is for Real), when people are captivated by the emotion of hardship or tragedy, they’re often willing to accept the false teaching that walks through the open gates of their heart like a Trojan horse.”
And therefore, a person’s religion becomes based more on how it makes them feel rather than being grounded in the truth of the Word of God. This is why there are so many professing Christians being led astray by The Shack, because their faith is more cemented in emotionalism rather than orthodox, Biblical doctrine.
William Young, the author of The Shack, is not a Christian, but rather a false teacher. James B. DeYoung, professor of New Testament language and literature at Western Seminary in Portland said of Young, “I have known the author of The Shack, Young, for more than a dozen years. In 2004, Young wrote a lengthy document in which he rejected his evangelical faith and embraced universalism,”
DeYoung went on to state about Young, “… He said then: that evangelical faith and its teaching about judgment makes God ‘grossly unjust’; that ‘Jesus is a million times more vicious and vindictive than Pharaoh, Nero or Hitler put together’; that Jesus Christ is ‘not the Savior from sins’; that Jesus died ‘a failure and in vain and never saved anyone’; thus Jesus ‘is not even a good man but a liar, a rogue and a deceiving rascal’; that ‘Calvary is a farce, a travesty and a sham.'”
This fact alone should be an immediate red flag to professing Christians who would look to the novel or movie in order to rightly give a more vivid image to the God of scripture. The Shack does exactly the opposite, in distorting the Biblical image of the one true God.
The plot of The Shack is about a man named Mack and his meeting with God after a horrible tragedy where his daughter was tragically murdered in an old shack after being kidnapped. Mack returns to the shack where his daughter was killed and meets God in trinitarian form. However, Young’s version of the Godhead is not what we find in scripture.
Young’s version of God the Father is an African-American woman named Papa , a middle-aged man from middle easter decent portrayed Jesus, and an Asian lady named Sarayu embodies Young’s version of the Holy Spirit. Immediately, we begin to see problems arise.
Young’s version of the trinity as portrayed in The Shack is actually a resurfacing of a third century heresy called Sabellianism or Modelism. According to Modalism, when Jesus walked the earth, He was merely God acting in one mode or role, and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was God acting in a different mode. Basically according to this teaching, God does not and cannot exist as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time. Rather, He is one person and can only manifest himself in these three modes at various times.
In the book and the movie, Papa says “I am truly human in Jesus.” The Problem is that the Father did not become human, the Son did. Young suggests that there is no difference in the three distinct persons of the Trinity. However, the beginning of John’s Gospel totally demolishes the version of the Godhead that is revealed in The Shack.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” John 1:14.
In one specific portion of the book, Papa (God the Father) insinuates that she suffered with Jesus as He hung on the cross at Calvary. Although the Apostle Paul taught in Colossians that the fullness of the deity lived in bodily form in Christ (Colossians 1:19, 2:9), and that Jesus said that He and the Father are one (John 10:30), nowhere does the New Testament suggest that the Father became human or suffered physically on the cross. Again, this is a gross misrepresentation of the Godhead as seen in the Holy Trinity.
Aside from this distortion of the Trinity, The Shack promotes the idea of Universalism, a belief that as I mentioned earlier, Young was a follower of. Universalism not only promotes the idea that there are many ways to God, but also that eventually all people, regardless of if they have trusted in Christ for salvation, will be saved. Universalism doesn’t believe in the concept of an eternal separation from God in Hell.
In the movie, the character representing Jesus tells the main character Mack that Christ is “the best way any human can relate to Papa (God the Father) or Sarayu (the Holy Spirit).” However, the scriptures tell us that faith in Christ and Christ alone is not the best, but rather its the only way.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6.
In another scene Papa (God the Father) says to Mack regarding the topic of sin, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” While it is true that it pleased God the Father to send the Son to be the atonement for our sins (Isaiah 53:10), the scriptures tell us over and over that God is a righteous judge who will most assuredly punish the wicked. As Albert Molher said, “The idea that sin is merely “its own punishment” fits the Eastern concept of karma, but not the Christian Gospel.”
Pressing further into this idea of Universalism, at one point in the book, the character of Jesus says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.” “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, my Beloved.”
Once again, this is a blatant heresy to say that there are many door or paths leading to the same God. The Jesus of scripture specifically pointed to Himself as not only THE door, but the ONLY door that leads to salvation.
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” John 10:9.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus described Himself as the narrow gate that leads to eternal life, while all other broad gates lead not to God, but to eternal death.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14.
The Shack also distorts the authority of God, suggesting that He is submissive to humanity. At one point, Jesus says to Mack, “Papa (God the Father) is as much submitted to me as I am to him, or Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) to me, or Papa to her. Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect. In fact, we are submitted to you in the same way.”
However, the scriptures themselves paint quiet a different picture. God submits to no man. God is the authority, not humanity. The Psalmist writes;
“He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” Psalm 2:4.
These are only a few of the many subtle contradictions that are strewn throughout The Shack. Some may ask, “What is the difference between going to see a movie like The Shack and watching another secular movie?” The difference is that The Shack is putting forth an unbiblical image of the God of scripture. And as a result, many are being led to believe a false Gospel.
As in the days of the apostles, there are many in our day and age who claim to be Christians because they were baptized or have their names on a church role, yet they have no prayer life and little to no in-depth study or knowledge of the scriptures. Their faith is almost completely based on their feelings regarding who they think God should be. If so much as one aspect is altered regarding who the scriptures say that God is, then it is no longer the God of the Bible, but rather a deviant version of the truth that is actually false.
Christianity is not merely believing in God. Eternal life is not found in simply claiming that we believe God exists. Because as James points out, even the demons say they believe in God, yet they are doomed to eternal damnation (James 2:19). So we see that there is a type of belief that is in vain. True salvation is found in knowing God truly for who He says He is throughout the pages of scripture.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3.
To believe that the version of God portrayed in The Shack is the same God found in the scriptures only proves that a proper knowledge of our Lord is lacking. It is a different God, which is to say it is no God at all. The Shack puts forth a false version of the Gospel.
The question is not to ask if Christians should read the book or view the movie. That is not the issue. Our reaction as Christians should not be merely to ban the movie, but rather it should be to educate believers and equip them to discern doctrinal errors in our society. We must stand firm on who God says He is as defined by scripture and measure what is espoused from our culture and called falsely Christianity by the truth of the Word of God.
Albert Molher said it best when he wrote, “The answer is not to ban The Shack or yank it out of the hands of readers. We need not fear books — we must be ready to answer them. We desperately need a theological recovery that can only come from practicing biblical discernment. This will require us to identify the doctrinal dangers of The Shack, to be sure. But our real task is to reacquaint evangelicals with the Bible’s teachings on these very questions and to foster a doctrinal rearmament of Christian believers.”
The warning of Paul to young Timothy ring just as true as they did in the first century.
“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” 2 Timothy 4:3.
No doubt there will be some avid fans of The Shack who would grow offended by any accusations against this movie that is currently being praised by our culture of Americanized Christianity. But to those who may take offense, I would ask them to measure everything that they learn about the character of God against scripture. Ask yourself, “Is what I am reading or seeing truth?” Is it a version of God that is desirable to my emotions and senses? Or is the book or movie leading me into myths and fables about God? I pray that the Lord give a Spirit of discernment to judge rightly and a passion to chase the knowledge of God as given throughout scripture that leads to eternal life.
There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is cognitive. It is information received and stored in our heads. Wisdom however, is knowledge lived out. Wisdom is knowledge put to action. If I were to tell you that running a marathon was exilerating, you would have the knowledge of the feeling that a race produces from what I had told you. But you wouldn’t know that feeling first hand. It takes an experienced runner to relay a deeper knowledge that is wisdom. You can’t know the euphoric feeling of running a race unless you have actually participated in one. Knowledge requires seeing and listening. Wisdom requires action.
When it comes to experiencing the Kingdom of God, many people have read about it, but few have actually caught a glimpse of it. We are well versed in scripture memorization, but with little life application. What is it that made men like Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Leonard Ravenhill, A.W. Tozer, and so many other giants of our faith preach so passionately while other preachers seem to be merely delivering a dry lecture? The answer is clear. Many a preacher has biblical knowledge. But few have experienced the fruits of wisdom.
Far to many believers speak of the Kingdom of God as if it is some far off future event that we are waiting for. In one sense, it is true that we eagerly await the second coming of our Lord Jesus (Philippians 3:20). However, a glimpse of the Kingdom of God has already been given to all of those who have professed Jesus Christ as Lord. This is one of the greatest gifts that God has given His children. But sadly, very few Christians have yet to realize the wonder that is theirs in Christ.
When I was a kid my parents gave me a toy car for Christmas. I was never big on Matchbox cars, I was always more of an action figure type of guy. While I thought the car was a generous gift and I appreciated it greatly, the toy just wasn’t all that appealing to me. Then my father took the car and began to show me that it was “more than meets the eye.” This was right about the time that The Transformer toys had hit the stores, automobiles that changed into action figure robots. My joy increased ten fold in that moment.
Many believers are like a child that has been given a mediocre gift. While they appreciate the fact that they have become heirs to the Kingdom of God, they just don’t see how it applies to the here and now. In a sense, they haven’t realized that there is more than meets the eye regarding God’s Kingdom. And as a result, they are missing out on a joy that is their to be had right now.
“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:20-21.
Many believers have the knowledge of this verse. But few have unlocked its meaning.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Have your heart right with Christ and He will visit you often, and so turn weekdays into Sundays, meals into sacraments, homes into temples, and earth into Heaven.”
Dwell on this statement for a moment. What does it look like when a person truly has their heart tuned into seeking the Lord whole heartedly? When we understand the depths of what took place on that cross over two thousand years ago, we are unable to treat it as common. Grace changes everything. We no longer can view our world through eyes of the flesh but now we see things from a Christ centered lens.
Are you pierced daily at the thought of Christ dying for your sins?
Are you broken hearted when see someone lost without Christ?
Are you overjoyed at the grace that the Lord has bestowed upon you?
Are you eyes wearied and your knees calloused by nights of scripture reading and prayer?
These things are not items to be marked of on a Christian to do list. Rather, these are characteristics of a person who has experienced the ‘right now’ portion of the Kingdom of God. When we wholeheartedly seek the Lord, passion for Christ become our new normal. As Spurgeon wrote, our mealtimes become sacraments before the Lord. Our worship is no longer confined to Sunday, because we worship God in all areas of life. Church is no longer the only place we hear Christ taught, but now our homes have become living temples.
Religion and everyday life are no longer segmented. Your Christianity and your weekly routine are no longer compartmentalized. When we live with the Kingdom of God in our midst, Heaven and earth collide in a magnificent way. The Lord doesn’t tell us to live every moment in light of His return to burden us. He requires His children to seek Him wholeheartedly for their joy! What a shame it is that so many believers feel burdened by the commands of God! What joy springs forth from a Christ centered home! How much easier it is to weather life’s storms with Jesus in our midst!
May we all begin to seek the Lord with all of our hearts. May prayer be the balm of our souls. May family worship become top priority in our households. And may we all begin to live in light of the already here, but not yet Kingdom of God! Every portion of our lives is to be a living sacrifice of worship. Not out of duty, but for our joy and His glory! May the Knowledge of the Lord lead to an active wisdom that gives way to unspeakable joy!
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5.
January is known world wide as a month of new beginnings. Each year, people from all over the globe make new commitments, vows, and resolutions to achieve, attain, or aspire towards a certain goal. Unfortunately, if we as humans are defined by anything, it must be our predictability. As the routine goes, these new promises are made on January 1st, and a great majority of them fizzle out months or sometimes weeks later. If and when this happens, we then set our sights on January 1st of the next year and vow to whole heartedly commit again. And so the cycle continues. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
It is a fine thing to have aspirations. We aspire to get in better health. Or to finally get our finances under control. Or to make amends with estranged family or friends. All of these things under the sun are well and good. However, there can be no greater aspiration than to know the living God of the universe. Each new year these resolutions are made. And more times than not, our resolutions revolve around benefiting us in some form or manner. Attaining a better body, more money, better relationships, etc. But how many are concerned with re-centering their lives around God rather than themselves?
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17.
Honestly, the new year should be less about self improvement and more about self examination spiritually speaking. To read a verse like the one above should send shockwaves through our souls. It should cause us to question every intention of our hearts. Do we as Christians do everything in the name of the Lord? Are we so consumed with the glory of God, that we try to live our lives in light of the reality of Calvary? Have we grown so dull in our knowledge of the Lord that we have begun to buy into the idea that we are Christian because we profess it with our lips? Yet our lives at times expose our words to be empty.
The verse is staggering the more we begin to take it to heart. Not only are we to do everything in the name of the Lord, but we are to give Him thanks for everything! When Lacy and I were first married, I was smitten as any man could be by her. We were both young, and every aspect of life together was new. I remember one of the first meals she cooked for us was breakfast. Eggs and toast. The outcome was disastrous. The toast was extra crispy and the eggs were almost inedible. But I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that she cooked me breakfast. She didn’t have to do that. And I certainly didn’t deserve it. Just the knowledge that she cared enough about me to do this for me was enough to send floods of thankfulness through my heart. I didn’t tell her how bad the meal was. It told her how thankful I was for her.
As the years of marriage have gone on, Lacy has become a wonderful cook. Yet I find myself not always thanking her for the wonderful meals she prepares for our family like I did when we were first married. Why is that? Because her grace has become common place to me. Its not that I don’t appreciate it, but Ive grown used to it. More shameful than that, I find in myself that Ive grown to expect her gracious meals daily.
The grace of God is the greatest gift we could ever ask for. God the Father crushing Christ the Son on the cross in our place and for our sins should never cease to captivate us. When the Christian first has his eyes opened to this reality of the grace of God, he is driven to his knees in gratitude for the great sacrifice of our Lord. And rightly so. But as times goes on, if we are not constantly renewed through prayer and scripture reading, the grace of God becomes common place.
We can easily cease to be in awe of the common graces God bestows upon our lives such as family, food, and merely the air we breath. Rather, we begin to expect them from God. We incessantly demand that God bless us with His grace. And we grow angry at God when he seems to with hold blessings instead of remembering that God owed us nothing but His wrath due to our sins. And that everything this side of Hell itself is a gracious, undeserved gift from the Lord.
One of the greatest sins that man can infringe upon is to allow the grace of God to just become common in his life. And this happens when we begin to think that we are self reliant. Jesus gave the parable of the vine and the branches in John 15. The powerful truth is laid out plainly in just a few words by Jesus;
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.
As R.C. Sproul rightly once said, “That nothing that Jesus spoke of is not a little something.” By nothing, Jesus literally meant nothing. The breath we breath is a gift from God. The food we eat is made available by the grace of God. Even the next beat of our own hearts is dependent and obedient to the will of the Lord. Even in our desire to preach the Gospel for the Glory of God, the results are not dependent on our own efforts, but upon the power of Christ alone.
One of my favorite passages of scripture and one that I refer to quite often is Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones. In the passage, the Lord gives Ezekiel a vision of a valley full of human bones. Not only were the bones dead and lifeless, but they were dry. The Lord asks Ezekiel how could the bones live once again. Ezekiel had no solution except to say, “Lord only you know.”
Ezekiel’s audience was a valley of innumerable skeletons. Even with the most eloquent of words and flawless of sermons, upon his closing prayer, those bones would not have responded to the message Ezekiel preached. They couldn’t. The Lord asked Ezekiel to preach to the bones the words of the Lord, and life was given to them supernaturally by the Lord.
Ezekiel had no part in their resurrection other than speaking the words that God had given him. God is the one who brought them to life. Today we have many Christians who falsely believe themselves a great tool in the hand of the Lord. I once heard a pastor say that there is no such think as great men of God. Only weak and broken men of a great God.
If you were to continue to study the life of Ezekiel, you would see that he was not only a man who prophesied, but he was also a man of prayer. Let this be a lesson to us preachers of His word. It wasn’t the preaching of Ezekiel that raised the dead to life. It was his dependence upon the Lord and his communion with Him through prayer prompted God to work through his preaching.
Many a church today can have religion. They can have the most scholarly of men stand in their pulpits and preach impeccably from the scriptures and preach the most captivating sermons. But if the preacher is not a man of prayer, then his words will be that of a man preaching to a congregation of dry bones. It takes the power of God to bring the spiritually dead to life. And it takes a man who acknowledges his total inability and full dependence on the Lord in order for God to work through him. The church doesn’t need more charismatic preachers. And it doesn’t need more doctrine espoused from the pulpit. What the church needs is more modern day prophets on their knees.
Perhaps this new year should less centered on self and more centered on God. The only way to see the power of God is to cease to rely on the arm of the flesh. Giving thanks to Him who gave to the undeserved unconditional grace. This year, no matter if we eat or drink, or whatever we do, let us do everything for the glory of God in all things pertaining to life and ministry.
I’ve spent the better part of the last decade of my life contemplating the mysteries of the Lord. When Christ saved me in my early thirties, I noticed two immediate changes within myself. First, a crushing brokenness over my sins to the point which I had never experienced before. And second, an overwhelming hunger to know Him more. As I continually began to read of the supernatural workings of the Lord in creation as well as human salvation, it drove unapologetically to the study of anthropology. The study of man. The study of myself. All of the sudden, I began to see all the little evangelical white lies that Id grown to love begin to crumble like dust.
It seems that many modern day Christians live more in a bubble of pithy Christian cliché’s that are aimed at puffing us up rather than examining the Biblical doctrine of man. Many cling to sayings rather than scripture. One pastor put it best, saying, “We live in a culture that can quote more from things that they’ve read on the back of a Christian t-shirt rather than the scriptures.” I know this to be quite true because I was at one time, one of these self deceived people. However, when I began to study the scriptures for myself, I not only saw the lies that are engrained in Christian pop culture, but I also understood what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote of Satan as an angel of light.
“And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” 2 Corinthians 11:14-15.
Far too often Satan is depicted as some hideous demon that only promotes extreme lies about God. But the truth is that he leads many to the broad road by playing on their ignorance and only ever so slightly bending the truth of scripture. Here are some very common untruths that so many people inside of the church by into today.
1. God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Handle
Although this sounds great, it is inaccurately phrased. Many people love to cling to this promise when they or a loved one are entering into a time of great hardship. The only problem is that this is not a promise that God ever made. The saying is most likely taken and wrongly interpreted from a verse in 1 Corinthians.
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13.
Before attempting to apply meaning to this verse, one must do an examination of what the Apostle Paul is saying. First off, Paul is talking about temptations, not hardships in life. Consider the countless believers through out the ages who were beaten and martyred for their faith in Christ. Their stress due to facing death must have been overwhelming. The temptation to recant their profession of Christ in order to escape death must have been great.
Yet how is it that they stood strong in the face of such a trial? How is it that they didn’t cave in under the weight of this great burden? How is it that they did not succumb to the surmounting temptations? I can assure you it wasn’t due to anything in themselves. It is never the power of man that overcomes a trial or temptations, but rather the power of Christ upon the man.
“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13.
The scripture never says that God will not give you more than you can handle. A more accurate statement would be, “God will never give you more THAN HE can handle.” Because it is only God’s power within a man that allows us to overcome the world.
2. Good People Go to Heaven
Again, it sounds nice. And the saying gives us comfort that we are deserving due to our character. The problem is every man’s perception of what is good is subjective. When we buy into the message that all good people go to Heaven, we must therefore ask, what is the measuring stick for determining good? One man may say he is good because he doesn’t yell at his wife like his neighbor. Yet the neighbor may consider himself to be good because he doesn’t cuss and swear like the first man. And so the measuring stick of righteousness becomes man. The word of God paints quite a different picture.
“But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” 2 Corinthians 10:12.
Paul said it plainly, that if a man measures his level of righteousness by comparing himself to others in the world, then he has no understanding of the plight of man in light of the holiness of God. The reality is there are no good men. Jesus pointed this out in his conversation with the rich young ruler, quite comically I might add.
“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.” Matthew 19:16-17.
We notice immediately that the rich young ruler didn’t consider Jesus to be the Lord, but rather just some good teacher. He didn’t consider Christ to be God, but merely a moral man. The young ruler called Jesus “Teacher”, and he asked Christ to teach him how to do good in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus responded by asking why it was that he thought Jesus could teach him about doing good? Basically the point Jesus was getting at was this. Jesus was in essence saying, “If you think that I am merely a man and not God, why is it that you think I can teach you about good? Mortal man does not know good, because there are no good men except God alone.”
In Romans chapter 3, Paul says that no man is good. Paul presses the point even more by saying that no man even seeks for God. Why do men not seek God? Because in Ephesian 2, Paul writes that men are spiritually dead. We are incapable of choosing to follow the Lord aside from Him first supernaturally changing our hearts, because dead things cannot bring life to themselves.
As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 58:3, we are wicked from the womb. In the book of Galatians chapter 3, Paul writes that all men are under the curse of sin. And that if man thinks he can attain his righteous standing before God by keeping his commandments, then he better be prepared to keep every one perfectly. Because merely breaking one commandment one time makes us criminals in the courtroom of God.
“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Galatians 3:10.
The law of God was never meant to save us, as so many think. The law is powerless to save. If anything, the law was given to condemn us and show us our sinfulness. The law is powerless to save because we are incapable of living up to its standard. And the law is just that, it is the standard of God. It is the true measuring stick of righteousness. It is the picture of the only good man.
“Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins.” Galatians 3:19.
When we compare ourselves with other fallen sinners in the world, it is easy to justify our own righteousness and entitlement before God. However, when we come face to face with the standard of God, no man measures up. Therefore the scripture rings true that no one is good, not one. Therein lies our hopeless state as well as the beauty of the Gospel.
3. The Cross of Christ Proves the Great Value of Mankind
This is not only false, but it boarders on blasphemy. This saying promotes false the idea that God thought we were so valuable and worth having, that he resorted to sending His only Son to die so that He may have us. It places man as the center piece of the Gospel narrative. The fact that God had to send Jesus to die in order that we should live doesn’t show how valuable we are. In fact, it does just the opposite. Evangelist Paul Washer put it best in saying;
“The Cross is not a sign of our great worth, but of our great depravity. That we were so evil that the only way we could be saved is by God’s Son being crushed under the full force of the wrath that was due us.” -Paul Washer
Why did God send Jesus to die for our sins? Was it because God saw how worthy we were? Did He in some way value us so much that He had to have us? The answer is a staggering no.
“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might display the surpassing riches of His grace, demonstrated by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6-7.
God’s plan for salvation was driven by love, but birthed out of a desire to magnify His own attributes that He may receive glory. God is the center of the story, not us. The cross does not inflate how great we are, but it shows how great He is.
4. God Loves the Sinner, But Hates The Sin
Probably one of the most overused clichés in many Christian circles. The Lord is Holy, therefore He hates sin. But in our humanity, we naturally do not want to be the object of hate, especially when it comes to God. We like to think that Christ hates the idea or action of sin, but disconnect God’s wrath from actual people. Not only is this incorrect, but it diminishes the holiness of God while propping up the ego of man. Consider this verse below;
“The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” Psalm 11:5.
The Psalmist writes that the Lord “hates the wicked.” Notice the wicked is not a verb, but a noun. The wicked is a person. It doesn’t say the Lord hates violence, but rather THE ONE who loves violence. Again, the hatred of God is directed at the sinner himself.
“God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day.” Psalm 7:11.
Once again, we see the wicked is not an action, but a person. God’s redemptive love abides on those that are in Christ. Yes, they are still sinners, but they weep and mourn over their sins. They have been washed and sanctified by the blood of Christ. Those in Christ lead lives of repentance and have a yearning for Holiness. Therefore God sees not their sins, but the blood of Christ that covers them. And due to the work of Christ, God can declare them justified. However, for the person outside of Christ, the love of God does not abide on him, but rather he himself remains under the wrath of God.
“And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.” John 3:36.
5. Jesus Knocks on the Door of Our Hearts in Hopes of Coming In
This one is so popular that many preachers will actually say this from the pulpit. Ive heard people say “Jesus is a gentleman, and He would never force Himself upon a person.” The insinuation is that God waits for an invitation from man. It is to say that in the order of salvation, man must act first in order for God to do His saving work. The problems with this line of thinking are many, but for time sake I’ll focus on just a few.
For starters, we can go back to Ephesians 2, as I’ve already mentioned, where Paul described the sinner as spiritually dead. Romans 3 says we are incapable of seeking God in our unregenerate flesh. Jesus Himself says this in the Gospel of John.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44.
It’s plainly clear what Christ is saying. No one in his own power can come to God unless God first draws him. Why? Because in his spiritually dead state, he only wants the desires of his flesh. He doesn’t want God, and therefore does not seek God. It takes a supernatural work of God drawing a man to bring him from death to life.
Some may say, “Yes God must draw man first. But God draws all men, and unfortunately some reject his drawing, hence not opening the door of their hearts.” Keep John 6:44 in mind, that God must first draw in order for man to come. Now consider this.
“All those the Father gives me will come to me,” John 6:37.
Read the verse above. It doesn’t say, “Some of those that the Father gives me will come. It doesn’t say “All those the Father gives me might come. It says “ALL those the Father gives me WILL come.” Behold, the power of God. If God wants to save a man, he doesn’t gently knock on the door of his heart waiting to come in. If this were to be allegorized correctly, the Lord kicks the door down. Because otherwise, due to our slavery to sin, the door would never be opened by anyone.
The saying stems from a verse in Revelation.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20.
In this chapter, Jesus is addressing the church in Laodicea, and He goes on to say that He will spit them out of His mouth as a rebuke of their complacent faith. Jesus is not the guest of our hearts, but the Lord over them.
Jesus Himself illustrates this truth in the book of Mark.
“The coming of the Son of Man can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. When he left home, he gave each of his slaves instructions about the work they were to do, and he told the gatekeeper to watch for his return. You, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know when the master of the household will return—in the evening, at midnight, before dawn, or at daybreak. Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning. I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!” Mark 13:34-37.
Jesus is not a pitiful beggar who is pleading with us to come into house. Jesus is the Master of the house. The knocking we see in Revelation 3 is not a plea to enter, but rather a warning that He is about to return. Jesus is saying to the church in Laodicea, “Im about to enter so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19). And to the servant He finds obedient, He will find fellowship with him. But to the servant He returns home to find things not in order, His wrath will abide.
Why is it that we are so prone to quote clichés such as these rather than the Word of God? Maybe because many deem the truth of scripture too harsh. More than likely it is because the Word of God doesn’t really paint mankind in a positive light, and we feel the need to give it a slight makeover in order to present Jesus as more appealing. But as Paul said in Galatians, any deviation from the Gospel proves itself to be no Gospel at all. It is only when we begin to see ourselves as undeserving and hopeless that we can enter into a state of gratitude for the grace of Jesus. And in the end, we find that the scriptures open our hearts to a much bigger God than we ever imagined to be possible. Soli Deo Gloria.
The human body is an amazing creation. It’s in the little moments of life that I am often amazed at the intricate design of God. Last night when arrived home, my four boys met me at the door with grins on their faces and devilish glimmers in their eyes. I know those look all too well. It is my cue to drop my briefcase and follow them to our basement. What ensues next is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is our nightly routine of knock down, drag out, four on one (me being the “one”) no holds barred wrestling. Imagine four ravenous wolves viciously attacking a piece of fresh meat and you’ll get the picture.
After about thirty minutes of non stop body slams and headlocks, my five-year old son Luke called a time out. He was thirsty, and I was thankful for a moment to catch my breath. Luke’s little body had a desperate need. The feeling of thirst was his body’s way of telling him that he was lacking in water.
Now imagine for a moment that Luke acknowledged his thirst, but neglected to get water. I bring him a glass of water, but he refuses, saying, “I don’t have time to drink, Ill eventually get rehydrated.” Sounds foolish right? It is impossible for the human body to rehydrate itself without water. Not only is that line of thinking foolish, but if acted upon it would lead to physical death.
In our pursuit of the Lord, we will no doubt enter into seasons of spiritual dryness. During these times our hearts seem to be more enamored with the things of the world and less with the Lord. This is a warning sign spiritual thirst. When our hearts seem to feel far from God, this is an indication that our soul is in a dire need of revitalization.
Yet tragically, many times this type of thirst is all together ignored. And far too often, when people enter into spiritual droughts in their lives, they tell themselves, “Ill eventually get my passion for God back.” As if one day they actually think they will just wake up and have a rehydrated soul by doing nothing at all.
Granted, it is not man who can set his soul a fire with a flame for the Lord. This is a work of the Lord. However, we must be obedient to tend to the spiritual drought of our lives by drawing near to the only one who can supply spiritual water to our dry souls.
“But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” John 4:14.
A dying man in the desert doesn’t have water come to him in order to relieve his thirst. Tired and unmotivated as he is, he must fight against the desire of his flesh to just do nothing and exert effort to find a true oasis. Jesus uses the analogy of water to describe Himself. The comparison is striking. When our souls are spiritually dry, He is the only means to revitalization. And the effectual call goes out to the children of God to come freely.
“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink–even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk–it’s all free!” Isaiah 55:1.
God speaking through the prophet Isaiah extends refreshment to the parched soul. Come and drink, and nothing is required except your willingness to take a step of obedience. If you are experiencing spiritual thirst, here are some ways to rehydrate.
If there is any man in the Bible that we can easily identify with, it is King David. There were seasons of David’s life where he was a thirst for God, and it was evident by the surmounting sins in his life. Whenever I feel far from the Lord in my own life, the first prayer I think of is the prayer of King David in Psalm 42.
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” Psalm 42:2-3.
Notice the desperation in his plea. King David compares himself to a dying, dehydrated animal that is panting for life giving water. David essentially asks the question in his prayer, “When will my relationship with the Lord be restored?” David realizes this thirst of his soul and asks perhaps in anger or in an accusing state, “Where is God?” Although in reality, it was not God who had walked away.
I remember when my oldest son Andy was young, he loved to go to Walmart with me because we would always make our way to the toy section. One particular outing to Walmart, he was more excited than normal to see the toys. Andy kept trying to run away from me to go to the toys, and I would call him to stay with me. He listened to my command for a few times, and then eventually decided to bolt to the toys.
As I followed him, I intentionally hung back a bit to see when he would notice that I wasn’t around (even though he never left my sight). It wasn’t long until he looked around and didn’t see me. Andy began to panic and tears began to flow as he cried out for his father. I made my way over to my son and picked him up. “Daddy, why did you leave me?” he said. I looked into the tear filled eyes of my son and I said, “It was you who ran away from me, but I never took my eyes off of you.”
Such is the case with God and His children. We are the ones who run from God. And at times, the Lord will withdraw His presence in our lives so that we feel the void. But for the true children of God, He never takes His eyes off of them. And when we begin to cry out for our Heavenly Father, He shows Himself faithful.
“In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” Psalm 18:16.
2. Reading His Word
Often when I counsel people who seem to be floundering in their relationship with the Lord, they will say something like, “I just feel like Ive lost my way.” I love the book Pilgrims Progress by the great John Bunyan. In this allegorical tale of the believer’s life, Christian, the main Character of the story, at one point strays from the path that leads to the Celestial City. When he notices that he is lost, he begins to panic until Evangelist shows up and points him back to the correct path.
“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105.
The only way to cure a soul that has no desire to spend time in the word of God is to actually spend time in the word of God. I recall when my wife and I were dating, we were hanging out with some friends at a local park one afternoon. The girls were sitting around talking, and us guys were playing football. It was smoldering hot that afternoon, and about forty minutes into the game, Lacy brought me over a bottle of water. I said to her that I was fine, but she insisted that I at least take a drink. As soon as the ice cold water hit my lips, I was surprised at how good it was. I was thirstier than I thought, and ended up chugging the entire bottle.
Ive found it to be very much the same in seasons of spiritual thirst. At times, we don’t realize how much in need of God we actually are until we make the effort to spend time in His word. I have found in my own life that the more I read the scriptures, the more I feel drawn into them. The more of myself I give to God, the more I feel my soul stirred for Him. It was Leonard Ravenhill who once said, “Five minutes inside eternity and we will wish that we had sacrificed more, wept more, bled more, grieved more, loved more, prayed more, given more.”
“The instructions of the LORD are perfect, reviving the soul.” Psalm 19:7.
3. Contemplating God’s Goodness in All Things
Lacy and I have this thing we do with our children. We try to point everything in their lives back to God. For example, my middle son Lincoln love strawberry oatmeal. The other morning as we sat at the breakfast table, I asked Lincoln, “Where do you think oatmeal comes from.” Lincoln said, “From oats.” “And who makes the oats that grow in the field?”, I asked. After a moment of thought, Linc replied, “God did!”
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.
We do this with things like the weather, our house, and even the boys toys that they play with. This practice with our kids has bled into my own thought life. The sweetest time that I have with the Lord aside from marveling at His word is driving in my car looking at the things we take for granted such as trees, the sky, and just the air that Im breathing.
Dwelling on these realities fills my heart with abundant gratitude for our God who created all things. Why would we not want to know this God who has blessed mankind with so many common graces? It also presses me into desiring to know the Lord more deeply in a personal relationship. Paul reminds us in Romans chapter 1 that God has clearly shown Himself to us through ordinary things in creation. So if we neglect to follow after Him, it is we who will stand without excuse.
More than anything, consider the cross. Think of Jesus, and how although He was worthy of all things, he considered himself as nothing. Martyn Lloyd Jones said on his death bed, “I am a great sinner. But Christ is a great savior.” This could be said of every man. Remember the greatness of your sins, and how we were owed nothing but separation from God.
But in love, God sent His only Son to die and have our sins imputed to Him, and His perfect righteousness placed upon us. Not only does the blood of Christ quench our spiritual thirst, but it also quenched the wrath of God that we so rightly deserved. Why is it that we should want to live for Him? Because He died for us. God saved us. What more motivation should we need to pursue Him daily?
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.