Three Things We Need to Know

Here are three things I think are very biblical and healthy for every Christian to know.  I also think they’re very useful for us to keep in mind for the sake of evangelism and sharing the Gospel with others.

1. Know Who God Is

  • God is Holy and Sovereign (Isaiah 6:1-5).  He is infinitely bigger than you could ever imagine.
  • God is the Creator (Gen. 1).  He made everything that exists… including you.  Not only did he make you, but he made you in his own image!  Whether you recognize it or not, you belong to God.
  • God is the Judge (Rev. 20:11-15).  It doesn’t take much more than a bit of honest humility to see that there’s something seriously broken in the world and in our own soul.  We will give account.
  • God is Love (1 John 4:7-10).  (which gets us to the next thing we need to know…)
    (obviously, there’s more that could be said here about who God is and what He’s like… you can go HERE for a fantastic chart that will help you explore this further)

2. Know What God Has Done

  • God never gave up on us (Gen. 3:15; Isaiah 53).  Even from the moment of humanity’s first sin he has always left a message of hope for us.  He sent prophets to tell us there would be a day when we would be freed the judgment we deserve and reconciled to God.
  • God did the unthinkable – He became one of us (John 1:14).  Think about it, God the Son (the second Person of the Trinity) really, historically, physically became a baby boy who ate, slept, and did other “things” babies do…
  • God died in order that you might live (John 3:16-17).  Yes, I wrote it that way on purpose – for that is who Jesus is.  He took your punishment, your judgment, your wrath, your sin upon himself so that you could be set free.  That’s love!
  • God has adopted you (Eph. 1:4-5).  Christian, He has made you his child by faith.  May it never be lost on you that the God described by #1 above chose to adopt you – not because you were worth it, but because of His grace and mercy and love.  (If this idea of God choosing you sounds repulsive, maybe this could help clarify what we do and do not mean by it?)
  • God has saved you (Rom. 8:1).  This is probably the simplest way to put it.

3. Know Who God is Calling to You to Be

  • God is calling you to be secure (Rom. 8:37-39).  Life is unpredictable and can get turned upside-down in a moment.  Because of Who God Is and What God Has Done, you can stand secure on the unchanging God.
  • God is calling you to live by faith (James 2:18-26).  This might sound simple (and it is simple, in some ways), but it certainly isn’t easy.  You can’t live by faith if you never do anything beyond your ability.  Will you really trust God, or just talk about how trustworthy he is?
  • God is calling you to be a light (Matt. 5:14-16).  A candle doesn’t need to be taught how to give off light and heat, it just needs to be lit.  When you submit yourself to God, He will change you day by day.  The more you simply trust him and grow in your love for him, the more brightly you will burn.  (note: This isn’t something you accomplish by trying to do it, it’s a byproduct of savoring the realities of knowing #1 and #2 above).

The Fatherhood of God: A Sermon Summary

How does your relationship with your father mirror and reflect your relationship with your Heavenly Father?  Maybe this is something you’ve thought about a lot, maybe it’s a new thought – but the more you think about it the more I’m convinced you’ll find many parallels.

The Big Question today is this: If I am painting a portrait of God for my children, what does He look like?  Is this portrait anywhere close to the one painted throughout Scripture.

I want us to look at the Fatherhood of God through three lenses: God’s Authority, God’s Provision, and God’s Love.  Fathers can faithfully reflect these characteristics of God, or they can greatly harm our view of God by abusing or neglecting these characteristics.

Before moving on, there are a few important qualifications that need to be made:

  1. Even if you aren’t a father, this sermon is for you because it is mostly about who your Heavenly Father is.
  2. If you aren’t married, let these characteristics of God guide you young men as you grow in biblical manhood, and let them guide you young women as you consider relationships and future marriage.
  3. If you compare your father to your Heavenly Father, guess who will come up short?  Don’t forget that as long as your father has breath in his lungs he will be a work in progress.  Give grace to your dad, and remember that you aren’t the perfect son/daughter either!
  4. If you have an absent or abusive father, You need to be assured of two things: First, God will never abandon you; and second, God will not abuse you.

God’s Authority
In the midst of his suffering, Job cried out in self-justification that God had treated him unfairly.  In response, God put Job in his place (Job 38:4-12), essentially saying, “Job, where were you when I created the world?  I didn’t see you there… on what authority are you judging me?”  God does not answer to me or to you.

It is good for my kids to have a healthy fear of me.  Not a fear that causes them to wonder if I will stop loving them or if I will reject them.  But what kind of portrait of God’s authority am I painting for them?  If I let my kids run the house, I am not pointing them to a Heavenly Father who has Authority, but to One who exists to do their bidding.

God’s Provision
One of the clearest ways that God has provided for his people is through Manna.  Imagine being among the Israelites in the exodus.  God has delivered you from slavery, sent the Ten Plagues and has now parted the Red Sea.  But then you start to wonder: Where do we go from here?  What are we going to eat?  How am I going to provide for my family?  The people started to grumble against Moses, and then we read Exodus 16:4-5

God literally made food rain from heaven.  Not just once, but every day (except for the Sabbath, but they were allowed to gather for the Sabbath ahead of time).  God loves to provide for his children (see, Matthew 7:9–11).

Will you trust God to provide, or do you give lip-service when you pray?  When you pray for daily bread, do you grumble and complain as if God was faithless when your food runs out at the end of the day?  When God’s will and your will are not the same, will you still pray, “Thy will be done?”  How I pray, how I make decisions, and how I spend my money will teach my kids whether or not they can rely on God to provide.

God’s Love
The story of Hosea might be the most beautiful portrayal of God’s love in Scripture, obviously excluding the Gospels.  While Hosea doesn’t give us a pattern to pursue in how God wants us to pick a spouse, his life is a clear picture of God’s faithful love for his children.  He marries a woman, Gomer, who time and time again is faithless to him, runs from him, gets herself in danger, and even sells herself into slavery.  But Hosea chases after her and refuses to give up on her, regardless of the cost or sacrifice to himself.  Hosea 3:1 provides a wonderful glimpse into Hosea’s story and its significance.

In the end, after relentlessly forsaking Hosea, Gomer receives Hosea’s love after she had done everything imaginable that could’ve caused him to hate her.  As the Apostle Paul would later write, “but God demonstrates his love for us in that, while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Tying it Together
At the cross we see God’s Authority, God’s Provision, and God’s Love at its finest hour.  (John 3:16–17)

 On the cross God’s authority overcame our sinful rebellion.  We had rejected his authority and put ourselves on his throne.  But God showed his power over sin through the resurrection.  The power of sin is death, and death could not hold him.

 On the cross God provided freedom from eternal judgment by taking the punishment we deserve upon himself.  He paid our debt, he took the punishment we deserved.

On the cross God’s love led him to adopt us as sons and daughters.  It was his love, not the nails, that held Jesus on the cross.  He had the authority to come down from the cross, but his love kept him there so you could be set free.

Regardless of what kind of father you are or what kind of father you have – God’s Fatherhood is perfectly marked by Authority, Provision, and Love.  Be thankful for every way your father has shown forth the faithfulness of your Heavenly Father.  Remember that despite every fault your human father has, your Heavenly Father is perfect.  This is most clearly seen through Jesus Christ on the cross, where we are adopted as children of God.

Rest in your identity as his child, and especially you fathers out there, be encouraged to live in such a way that the portrait of God you are painting for your children is faithful to the picture of God we seek through Scripture.

Learning About God From Santa?

Santa and I have an on-again, off-again relationship.  It’s not that I dislike him or what he stands for, it’s just that I find myself so easily loving him while giving lip-service to Jesus around Christmas-time.  Because really… who doesn’t love getting stuff?  I do, and you probably do too.

But for the last week or so I’ve really been thinking about Santa.  Not in a typical “Santa vs. Jesus” type of way, but in a totally new way for me – I’ve been thinking about how Santa can actually teach me something about God.

Santa teaches me that God is just.  Santa has a “nice” list and a “naughty” list (presumedly, not just so parents can bribe their kids into obedience).  Nice and Naughty really do exist.  Some thoughts and behaviors really are good, and some really are bad.  God has instructed us how to live, and he’s made that known through the Bible and through nature in a general way.  Really, if we’re honest with yourself, which list do you truly belong on? If I’m on the “nice list,” it’s only because my righteousness comes from Christ, not from my own nice-ness.

Santa teaches me that God knows me intimately.  He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good… it sounds a bit creepy, doesn’t it?  BUT, it means that he’s watching me and he knows me.  Even when I think I’m doing something in secret, I’m not.  Even when I think I’ve gotten away with something, I haven’t.  I don’t like that.  Isn’t this why we have “privacy settings” and control what we make public knowledge and what we keep to ourselves?  God knows me completely, even the rapidly decreasing number of hairs on my head… and he still chose to love me and adopt me as his child.  I am fully known, and fully accepted.

Santa teaches me that God is generous.  Santa is a giver.  But no one outgives God.  As Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

In the midst of all the talk and chatter about Santa vs. Jesus, I’m trying to train myself to see Santa as a shadow and a longing for Jesus.  Santa can serve as a shadow, pointing us to the fullness of God in Jesus Christ.  Of course, Santa can also overshadow Jesus when we make him an idol and love “stuff” more than the Maker.

What do you think?  Am I off my rocker?  Am I just thinking too hard?  Or, am I on to something here?  And if I’m on to something… what are some other ways that Santa can serve as a shadow pointing us to God?

Religion Among the Millennials

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released “Religion Among the Millennials” back in February, but I just came across the study this morning.  I haven’t had time to read through the full report yet, but there’s a very helpful 1-page overview I’ve embedded below (also available at the link above).

Here a few observations that I’m noticing off the bat:

  1. More people are “Unaffiliated” and yet the same amount attend a worship service “nearly weekly” as in the 90’s… but more people pray on a daily basis than ever!
  2. I’m not too concerned about the statistical change in those who say they are “certain God exists.”  Yes, the number has gone down since the 90’s, but it’s about the same as in the 80’s.  I could easily imagine someone answering this question differently depending on the day or week you ask them, since faith among Millennials is so subjective (rather than objective).  If anything, I’m surprised the number of those who are certain God exists is as high as 53%!
  3. So 53% of people are certain God exists… yet 82% believe in life after death?  This tells me that people are desperate for hope.  This is pure conjecture, but I imagine someone’s inner dialogue saying this: “Nothing I see or experience today tells me there is a God.  There might be, there might not be… but I believe things will somehow get better than this someday, even if it’s after I die.”  What a giant inroad to holding out the hope of salvation to a generation in search of hope!
  4. The Bible has held up pretty consistently despite everything else.  I hesitate on this question’s use of the word “literal.”  Honestly, I’m not sure how I’d answer this question.  I would probably answer “Yes,” because I’d assume that the question isn’t intended to have precise theological accuracy.  While I fully believe the Bible is the fully-inspired Word of God, there are many portions of Scripture that are intended to be read metaphorically or symbolically.  I’m not pointing this out to nit-pick details over the question, but the option “The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word” sounds to me like it could be taken either as I have state above or to insinuate that the Bible as a whole is inspired, but not every part of it is inspired.  This is a theological issue, and I’m not so sure it’s right or fair to lump this crowd in with those who say the Bible is “a book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by men.”  These are two very different groups being lumped in together.

I hope to write a followup post next week after giving time to work through the full report.  Until then, what are the ministry implications that flow out of this study that you see?

The Drama of Redemption: Redemption Through Christ

What is Redemption, and why does it matter?  One of the best pictures of biblical Redemption is the video embedded below, it gives a beautiful and powerful picture of this Drama of Redemption.

What is Redemption?

To “redeem” something simply means “to buy back.”  Think about bringing back a can or a bottle: you bring the can and get five cents for it because they’re buying the can back from you.  When Jesus died on the cross as our substitute, he took our sin and our punishment upon himself in order to “buy” our freedom.  It’s not like God “lost” us to Satan and He needed to buy us from Satan, He desired to purchase our freedom from His own wrath again sin.

Think about the video again:

  • The girl was created by God, enjoying intimacy with Him
  • She sinned and gave into temptation: Sex, Money, Alcohol/Partying, Image/Eating Disorder, Despair/suicide.
  • When she wants to return to God, her sins step in and hold her back.
  • All throughout, God is there, watching… waiting… pulling her to Himself until He eventually steps in and does for her what she isn’t able to do – overcome her sin.
  • God defeats her sin, lifts her up, and puts his white coat on her – symbolizing that He has clothed her in his righteousness and she is no longer guilty, but innocent (Justified).

“Justification” is when God declares that your sin has been forgiven and that you are righteous in his eyes.  Two verses in particular stand out:

  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
  • If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

Based off these verses (and many many many others), we see that Redemption and Justification are only through Christ Jesus and they focus on ETERNAL LIFE and BEING SAVED (saved from judgment).  Through Christ, I am declared to be something I know I’m not… innocent!  Jesus paid my debt and suffered my punishment on the cross so that would receive the righteousness of Christ the same way the girl in the video was given God’s clean white jacket after being rescued from her sin.  Redemption is only through Christ,

Why does Redemption Matter?

Redemption matters for many reasons, but a few of the most important are:

  1. We don’t need to worry about earning God’s love and forgiveness.  It’s a gift that we receive by faith, not a paycheck we need to earn (because we never could!).  Since we don’t need to worry about earning God’s love and forgiveness, we are set free to worship Christ and enjoy God by serving others.
  2. We have confidence when facing death.  We know what’s coming, because Jesus has gone there and back.  While we shouldn’t desire death, we also trust in God’s amazingly good promises that will be ours eternally.  While we all obviously fear what we don’t know, we don’t face death with dreaded fear, but with faith.
  3. We have security because we have God’s approval.  We don’t need to live for the approval of others, because we already have the approval of the One who matters most.  This doesn’t mean we don’t care about the approval of others (1 Timothy 3:7 even goes so far as to say that an Elder/Pastor must have a good reputation with “outsiders/nonbelievers” in order to be qualified to be an Elder/Pastor!), but we do not live for the sake of gaining approval from those outside the faith.
  4. God transforms what He redeems!  He doesn’t save you from sin and then leave you in it!  He gives you the Holy Spirit and begins to sanctify you and make you holy.  When we’re justified, God declares that we are holy and righteous; that’s when the ongoing process of sanctification begins, where God starts to actually make you what He says you are.  If we have been Redeemed from sin through faith in Christ, we cannot be content to fall into sin whenever temptation comes our way.  God transforms what He redeems.

Hope for the Lonely

My friend Walt Mueller posted the following video on his blog and I’m really wrestling with this.  Give it a look and really listen to the lyrics as the story unfolds.

I’m increasingly growing convinced that loneliness is one of the biggest epidemics of this generation.  Despite being “connected” to thousands of “friends” through Facebook, Twitter, and Cell Phones, it seems that everyone is so busy keeping in touch with everyone that they never get close to anyone.

I hope I don’t treat my Bible and prayer like I treat Facebook – something I go to for a quick check-in, read a status update, but then mindlessly move on to the next thing mostly unaffected by what I just read.  Sure, Facebook can be a great tool to deepen relationships, but I think that takes intentionality and effort… and I seriously question how much effort most of us put into Facebook.

But there is hope for the lonely… and it’s not found through the internet.  Even as I type I can hear people sighing and moaning, “Ugh, you’re going to say ‘God’ aren’t you, that’s so lame.”  Well, yeah, I am going to say God – but I’ll challenge you to really read your Bible and learn about who God is and what He’s done and then try telling me that God is lame…

We live in a broken and messed up, sinful world.  But God is faithful and close to the lonely.

  • “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” (Psalm 27:10)
  • “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
  • “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
  • “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble, He cares for those who trust in Him.” (Nahum 1:7)

I know people sometimes say that songs like these blow issues out of proportion and that teen loneliness really isn’t as big a deal as people say it is.  I disagree – it is a big deal… and I firmly believe that adults need to make the effort to correct what has gone so terribly wrong in our culture.  We must bridge the generation gap, taking Christ as our hope, our message, and our example (Philippians 2:3-11).

K’naan & Nelly Furtado’s song so clearly demonstrates our need for Jesus Christ, the one who loved us so much to give up heaven, endure loneliness and rejection and suffering for us to the point of dying on the cross.  He did that so he could tell his disciples “And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  Because of Jesus Christ, there is hope for the lonely… will you show them Jesus?

Obedience Flows From Love

My son is turning four in two weeks, which is absolutely mind-boggling to me.  Like most almost-four-year-old boys, he’s not a huge fan of obeying.  That’s not to say that he’s a “bad boy” who’s a terror, but let’s just say he’s not the meek-and-mild type.  He’s great, I love him to death, and look at him at least half a dozen times a day and simply think, “I love that boy so much!”

Lately he’s been teaching me a lot about obedience: his obedience… and mine.  My wife and I feel like we’re constantly having this conversation with him:

Me: “Hey, stop stealing your sister’s toys.  You need to share.”
Son: nothing
Me: “Did you hear me?”
Son: “Sorry”
Me: “Come here, we need to talk.”
Son: nothing
Me: “I said come here
Son: “I love you daddy”
Me: “I love you too buddy, and because you love me you should obey me and mommy.”
Son: “Okay”

We proceed to have this conversation a few times a day.  Now, I’m not throwing my son under the bus… afterall, he’s an almost-four-year-old boy… I’m really throwing myself under the bus, because how often does the Holy Spirit have this same exact conversation with me?!

My wife and I are really careful to make sure that we don’t use God as our disciplinarian who is constantly looking out to see if our kids are naughty or nice.  Too often, Christian parents fall into the trap of using the Bible as a book of morality (Be nice, Help other, Obey mom and dad) and less as a book where God has revealed Himself to us (God made you, You sin – yes, we teach our son that he sins and use the word “sin” – but God loves you SOOOO much that he became a man named Jesus so he could forgive your sins and live inside you).  If you’re looking for a good Bible to read with your kids at night, I recommend the Jesus Storybook Bible, the words are sometimes more geared towards older kids and the stories can be a bit lengthy at time, but I very highly recommend for anyone, not just children!  What I love so much about the JSB is how it captures the Bible story as so much more than a story to tell you to be nice, it makes that connection while demonstrating how the entire Bible is all about Jesus.

God definitely does care about what we do and whether or not we’re “good people.”  But to always use God as a divine disciplinarian and as the one who demands us to be nice and to share our toys is to simply make God into a rule-giver.  Sure, God gives rules… but He’s so much more than a rule giver, isn’t He?

The last few days have been filled with reminders that obedience flows from love.  As I discipline my son for not obeying, it’s a reminder that loving dads discipline out of love while loving sons obey out of love.  There’s a very simple, yet profound, lesson to be learned here.

Obedience flows from love.  When I grow impatient with my son, how can I not feel convicted of my own hypocrisy: demanding of him what I don’t give to God, my Heavenly Father, who deserves so much more honor and respect and obedience than I deserve from my kids?

“Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.'” (John 14:23-24)