Parenting Godly Teens

For the past 14 years, I have been involved in some form of youth ministry. Nine years as a Christian school teacher and five years as youth pastor. I am also a parent of three children, one who is a “teenager.” The idea of a “teenager” is new to human history, a product of the 20th century. For the better part of American history, family life consisted of two stages: childhood and adulthood. There was no intermediate “adolescent” stage, but once children began to be seen in this way, churches responded with various forms of “youth ministry,” and this has been the de facto standard of church ministry ever since. Not until recently (the past couple decades at most) have many started to question whether or not formal, segregated youth and children’s programs are good for the spiritual health of families.

As I said, I have served as a full-time youth pastor. I do not believe that youth programs are necessarily bad for families and their teens, but I do think that in most present contexts, they are contributing to the statistics we often read – that the majority of young adults are leaving the Christian faith after graduating high school and moving on to college. Let me explain why I believe this.

The biblical model for child-rearing is simple: that God and His word are regular parts of daily conversation in the home (Deuteronomy 6:1-8), and that parents instruct their children in the ways of God (Ephesians 6:4). Many passages of Scripture could be cited that support this and you can search it in the cross-references in your Bible if you wish to find more. The point is this: raising godly children doesn’t happen at youth group or the Christian school. It happens at home. Take away the youth group and Christian school and you can still teach your children to love God with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Take away godly family instruction, and no matter their exposure to youth group, church, Christian school, youth camp or whatever else, in becomes increasingly unlikely that they will be followers of Christ. Now – there are always exceptions, and thank God and His gracious election for that. There are exceptions on the flip side as well – parents can do exactly what God has required of them in the raising of their children, and yet one or more child may eventually walk away from the faith. Exceptions aside, the normal pattern is that parents who raise their children in godliness have a reasonable expectation that their children will embrace the faith they have been taught (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

The consistent problem that I have seen in 14 years of “youth ministry” is the abdication of the parental charge to raise our children to love the Lord. However, I believe that most parents have done this unintentionally. Many Christian parents think that by sending their kids to youth group and Christian school, they are fulfilling their responsibility to bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This is not the teaching of the Bible. Truly, Scripture sees the home as the center of spiritual education. If we do not engage our children in spiritual conversations about God, theology, holiness, practical living, worldview and the like on a regular and daily basis, then we are failing in our duty as parents. No amount of instruction they get from Christian school or youth group can make up for what they are missing at home.

Herein lies the problem: parents do not see themselves as qualified to teach their kids about God. We live in a society where we “outsource” to professionals. We send our kids away from the home to learn to do just about everything. Now, I get it. Parents are not specialists at everything. We send our kids to music lessons, basketball camp, swim lessons, tutoring and so on. We “outsource” so they can learn things we cannot teach them, or perhaps so they can be immersed in a discipline in order to master it. But what about training in godliness? Why do we feel that if we ensure they are in youth group or Christian school, then the need of spiritual instruction is being met?

There are a few things parents can do to reverse this trend.

1). Get a white-hot passion for God and His Word. It is often said that many things are “caught” rather than “taught.” This is both true and untrue of the Christian faith, for it is both caught and taught. Parents should both emulate a vibrant faith and teach a coherent faith. All of the spiritual instruction in the world will not make much of a difference in our children if they do not see their parents living with a passion for God. Pray that God graces you with a fervent zeal for Him so that your children see you living out your faith on a daily basis – and they know you are for real, not merely a nominal believer.

2). Learn theology. Theology is simply the study of God and everyone is a theologian because everyone believes certain things about God. It matters that you believe the right things about God and teach them to your children. Many seminaries offer free online courses in Christian doctrine. Ligonier offers a host of ways to educate yourself theologically. We can’t teach what we don’t know. There is simply no excuse for not being theologically conversant given that we have such availability of excellent theological resources at our fingertips.

3. Learn apologetics. One of the reasons consistently cited as to why young adults are walking away from the faith is that their questions never were answered. In this modern age of skepticism and unbelief, all Christian parents need to be equipped to answer the questions their kids are asking. Here are 65 Apologetics Questions to get you started.

4. Lead your family in regular family worship & devotions. This is the heart of the matter. Sit down with your family, open the Bible, read and discuss. Read and study through books of the Bible. Make use of the various catechisms and confessions to help teach your children the faith. I like the Belgic Confession of Faith and Spurgeon’s Catechism.

Do all this, and then send your teen to youth group or Christian school. I have personally witnessed too many parents enroll their kid(s) in Christian school or insist they go to youth group thinking it will “fix” them. Sadly, it does not work that way. As I said, the exceptions are certainly there, but they are rare. Christian instruction begins at home. Everything else is merely an extension of that, meant to come along side the spiritual work that parents are already doing.

It is a tough task, but a task that we as parents are charged with. Let’s get at it.

Living Above Porn

Pornography is a problem for the majority of men today. A recent study suggests that 85% of men view porn on a monthly basis and 68% view it at least once every week. Christian men are no exception. The same study found that 50% of all Christian men consider themselves to be addicted to porn. I have long wondered what precisely defines porn addiction. Does it mean that one looks at porn several times a day? Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? There seems to be great ambiguity among psychologists and counselors as to how exactly to define porn addiction. I would simply turn our attention to Scripture, which doesn’t speak in terms of addiction, but enslavement. 

Jesus says in John 8:34:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.

Peter says in 2 Peter 2:19:

They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

Regardless of how we differentiate between porn addiction and what would be considered “regular” porn use, any porn use is unacceptable in the life of the Christian man.

I make no self-righteous judgments here. I was first exposed to pornography before the age of 10 and struggled with it on and off for a number of years into adulthood before learning to live above it by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit. I write this post in prayer that some may read and gain hope that they too can live above this horrible vice that robs us of our God-given sexuality and replaces it with a satanic self-satisfying perversion of God’s holy gift.

First of all, there is no magic prayer or supernatural declaration you can make that will set you free from porn – I tried all that. I read books and listened to sermons on “breaking free” through “deliverance ministry”, “taking authority over or binding the devil” and all that comes from the charismatic wing of Christianity (I was in the pentecostal/charismatic movement when I struggled with porn the most). No offense to my charismatic brothers, but it just doesn’t work long term – and men who have engaged the war with porn with a genuine desire to consistently live above it know this.

I can’t give anyone a guarantee that what worked for me (and is still working – the war with our sinful flesh doesn’t end until we lay this body down in death) will work for them – but the suggestions below are sound for all men.

1. See porn for what it is – sin against a holy God. Pornography is grossly sinful. It is lustful, sexually immoral, self-seeking and voyeuristic – and that is just straight, man to woman porn. Group sex, sadomasochism, homosexual/lesbian, and other forms of porn exist in the realm of abominable perversion (straight man to woman porn is no less sinful however). Regardless of what you are looking at, you must recognize that pornography is wicked sin and offensive to a holy God – and He hates it as such. It warps a man’s view of sex and disrupts his sexual relationship with his wife. It separates us from fellowship with God and experiencing the joy of His salvation. Refuse to downplay the sinful destructive nature of porn.

2. Admit that you have a problem. A big mistake is to trick yourself into thinking, “Well, I only look at once in a while. I’m not addicted like some other men. I have it under control.” That’s a lie. If you’re even thinking in those terms, you have a problem with porn. As Christian men seeking to be conformed to the image of a holy Christ, we don’t get any “free looks” at porn. Not five a year, two a year, or one a year. Refuse to minimize the seriousness of your porn use – regardless of how infrequent it is. Any use is a serious problem.

3. Open up your life. Give someone access to your computer, smartphone, and tablet and everything that is on these devices: all of your music, your videos & movies, YouTube history, browser history, email, text and picture messages, and apps (you get the picture – did I leave anything out?) Put accountability and filtering software on every computer/device you own and have a report sent a trusted partner weekly. Nothing should be off limits to your accountability partner – all accounts, passwords, computers, devices, and so on should be completely open. For me, that person is my wife. She has unquestioned and unlimited access to my computer, phone, texts, emails and so on. Actually, because my Apple account is installed on both our iPhones so we don’t have to buy apps twice, she can see my emails on her phone as they come in to me. I’m sure there’s a way to turn this off, but it adds an extra layer of accountability for me, so I decided to leave it that way.

More importantly, every Saturday morning she gets my Covenant Eyes report (and I get hers) that details where and when I’ve been on the internet that week and what I’ve been looking at, highlighting any potentially objectionable material. Now, some men would be hesitant to have their wife as their accountability partner and it is often suggested that this person be someone other than your wife, but this is what works for me. Believe me, it is much harder to make the wrong click when I know my wife is going to see it – not because she will be angry with me, but because I love her too deeply to see her hurt by my unwillingness to bring my sinful flesh under the authority of Christ and His word.

One more quick word about openness. Bring your computers out in the open at home. Protect yourself from being alone in a bedroom, home office, or any room separated from the main family area in your house with your laptop or other internet connected device. Refuse to plead your “right to privacy.” If you are serious about living above porn, your privacy should be the least of your concerns.

4. Cultivate your relationship with your wife. I realize this will only apply to married men, but as a married man, this is a big help to me. The women we look at in porn are no match for the excellency and beauty of our wives once we clear the fog of lust from our eyes. Even if you are in the struggle of your life with porn addiction, cultivate your relationship with your wife. There are a host of books (this is one of my favorites) and resources that help give us practical ways to do this, but I would briefly suggest three simple ways to cultivate your relationship with your bride: 1) date your wife regularly; 2) go to bed the same time as your wife (before you both succumb to the exhaustion of the day); 3) have sex often. You will be surprised at how your relationship with your bride will improve if you practice these three things.

Regular dates with your wife tells her that you are interested in spending time with her and that you enjoy her presence and companionship. Going to bed at the same time as your wife reinforces the oneness of the marriage relationship and as a bonus, removes a typical period of temptation to look at porn (i.e. when you are up alone after everyone has gone to bed). Having sex often – well, that speaks for itself. Your wife is infinitely better in bed than the “hottest” porn star will ever be. Consider why:

  • she is your wife and you have been given the freedom and blessing of sexual intimacy from God. Proverbs 5:18-19 says, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” That’s quite an exciting verse for a married couple to meditate on. In similar fashion (though not quite as titillating) Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” This passage assumes and even expects regular sex between married couples. In my own experience, regular sex with my wife serves as a main line of defense against sexual temptation.
  • she knows you and loves you. Your wife is better than the porn girls because you are sharing a God-given intimate experience with a woman who knows you, loves you for the man you are, and has committed to loving you for the rest of her life. Consider the words of the new bride in this powerful text from Song of Solomon 8:6-7a, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it…” The anonymous girls on the screen do not exist and are nothing to men but expendable quick thrills. They neither know nor care for us, but our wives offer us the security of unquenchable love – a thing never to be found in the pixels of a pornified computer screen.
  • she is yours to satisfy. Notice I didn’t say she exists to satisfy you (like the porn girls). Paul quotes Jesus in Acts 20:35, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This principle goes far beyond taking care of the needy and I suggest that it extends, very appropriately, to the marriage bed. May I also suggest that most of this “giving” occurs before the bedroom door is ever closed. Nothing enhances sexual intimacy more for me than to know that I have satisfied my wife – at the start of the day with a kiss, throughout the day with a sweet text or in the evening with a warm embrace or long back rub. Pepper these acts with genuine verbal interest in her and by the time you get in the bed, the truth of Jesus’ words will become experientially real to you in a way that completely dismantles the illusion of pleasure that porn gives. (Disclaimer: I am hardly perfect at loving and satisfying my wife in this way, but it is something I strive to get better at.)

I say all that to simply tell the married men, cultivate your relationship with your wife. It is a sure-fire defense against the lies of porn.

5. Devote yourself to the Word & Prayer. I place this last, but it should be assumed to be the first priority. If you do all of the above, and neglect regular Bible reading, study and prayer, you are building on sand. Get one Bible, pick a reading plan (I use the M’Cheyne plan), choose the same time every morning and commit to it. I suggest using just one Bible because by doing that, you have set apart or “sanctified” that Bible for a specific purpose. I suggest reading and praying in the morning because it sets your trajectory for the day. It turns your focus God-ward, preparing you to live in light of God’s close presence. If you have an alternative schedule (like third shift), choose the time that starts your day. My daily habit is: wake up (before everyone else), shower and clothe, get my coffee and Bible. Pick a time and stick with it everyday, without exception.

Block off 30 minutes to an hour for this. Get a general one-volume commentary like The MacArthur Bible Commentary or The New Bible Commentary to help you as you come across difficult parts of Scripture. Don’t read just to check off the daily reading. Scripture is life. Read it for life. Nothing is more devastating to the shackles of porn than God’s living word (Hebrews 4:11-13).

6. Read Theology before going to sleep. This may seem odd, but again, I’m giving you the steps that empower me to live above pornography. Theology is simply the study of God. Could anything be more frustrating to Satan’s lies than the study of God? Every year, I read through John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. It amounts to about 3 pages and 15 minutes per day. I take it to bed with me and read before I go to sleep. Calvin can be a tough read for new theology readers. I suggest John Frame’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief as a lighter, more user-friendly, yet meaningful and substantive read. You can get through its 1280 pages in about 3.5 pages per day. The benefits from reading theology are too numerous to list, but suffice it to say, it will help you mature and grow spiritually and by doing so, strengthen your resistance against Satan and his pornographic schemes (Ephesians 6:11).

By reading theology at bedtime and starting your day in the word and prayer, you bookend everyday with the things of God, keeping to a morning and evening pattern of spiritual discipline.

7. Never think yourself above looking at porn. Men are highly sexual beings. That is not inherently sinful, but in this fallen world and highly pornographic culture of 21st century America, it is inherently dangerous. If not kept in check, a man’s sexuality can damage his relationship with God, his purity, marriage, family, relationships with others, even his health. It can ruin his life and the lives of those dearest to him. Be aware of your own sexual tendencies and weaknesses. Regardless of the victory you experience in this area, refuse to get to the place where you think you can withstand the temptation to look at porn on your own. We need the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit at work in us daily to enable us to “put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). 

These are the things that worked for me. They may work for you too. You may discover you need to take additional steps or create a variation on what I have listed here. Regardless, every man of God can live above porn. We have no choice but to. Holiness “without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14) requires it. God wills it (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and empowers us to do it (Philippians 2:13).

This post turned out longer than I planned, but for the better I hope. I leave with you Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 3:14-21. It is my prayer for each of you who have read this post and renewed your own commitment to live above porn.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The Rider on a White Horse

I hear this track in my mind when reading through the last parts of the Revelation. Christ first came as a humble baby. The next time will be as a Conquering King. Epic.

 

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

- from Revelation 19-20, ESV

 

 

 

The Christian Mind

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “thinking” as: the process of using one’s mind to consider or reason about something. The ability to engage the mind in serious thought is often taken for granted, especially in American culture. Irish playwright and political activist George Bernard Shaw once said, “Two-percent of the people think. Three percent of the people think they think, and ninety-five percent of people would rather die than think!” While his grim assessment may not quite be statistically accurate, his sentiment rings true.

We live in a “brain-drain” culture that majors in “screen-time” and instant web searches and minors in careful reasoning and serious thought. So often our minds sit in neutral while we absorb everything we see and hear. But as Christians, that is not God’s will for our minds. Theologian John Stott says, “One of the highest and noblest functions of man’s mind is to listen to God’s Word, and so to read his mind and think his thoughts after him, both in nature and in Scripture.”

The Christian mind should be one that carefully considers ideas, opinions, arguments and thoughts and filters them through the lens of Scripture. In fact, this is a major part of the believer’s spiritual warfare. Notice what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6,

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Ideas, opinions, arguments, and thoughts are the basis of an individual’s worldview. If you consider every major “hot-button” issue in our culture today – human sexuality & marriage, abortion, science & education, just to name a few – you see that one’s position on these (and every other issue) comes from their worldview. The important matter for us as believers is to seriously consider and submit the thoughts, ideas, opinions, and claims that form our worldviews to the authority of Scripture. Indeed, the very truth claims of Scripture should be what forms our worldviews!

Thinking carefully and critically about our worldviews and the worldviews that we face each day at work among co-workers, at school among peers and teachers, or in the media and pop culture can be a challenging task, but Scripture gives us a simple, but effective paradigm by which we can consider the values and belief systems we encounter daily. Consider Romans 12:2,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul tells us in this verse that we are not to conform to the pattern of this world (in its values & beliefs), but to be transformed by renewing our minds. Then, with renewed minds, we will be able to test and discern the will of God and what is good and acceptable and perfect. The mind is the object of renewal here, which will result in a transformed life that pleases God. This principle – that our behavior flows from our beliefs – is basic to the Christian life. The renewal of the mind that Paul talks about is understood to be a daily and life-long process of submitting our thoughts and opinions to Scripture and bringing them into obedience to Christ. But, this cannot happen apart from regular exposure to the Word of God. Whether it be through daily Bible readings in personal devotions, listening to sermons throughout the week (from godly, biblical preachers), or participating in a Bible study or home fellowship group, we renew our minds through God’s Word.

The Christian mind is a renewed mind that informs our choices, behaviors and how we interact with the world around us. Let us be faithful to avoid the “brain-drain” that can easily ensnare us and think biblically so we can be effective ambassadors for Christ in a culture that is growing increasingly hostile to the truth claims of Scripture.

Verses for further study:

Colossians 3:1-10Ephesians 5:1-21John 17:1-19Ephesians 4:17-241 Peter 1:13-16

Lessons from the Fall

Genesis 3:1-7

Genesis chapter 3 is the Biblical record of the Fall of Mankind. It’s a chapter we should frequently read to remind ourselves how this world became the way it is. You see, we only know this world in its fallen state, but it didn’t begin that way. When God ended His creative work in Genesis chapter 1, He declared it to be good. Genesis 1:31 says God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. So at the end of chapter 1, God declares the goodness of His creation and by the end of chapter 3 we have a world plunged into complete turmoil because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve – the account that we read today. 

But before we dig into our passage, let me take a few minutes to address another issue that we must face any time we open this part of the Bible – and that is the historicity of Adam and Eve (by that I mean that Adam and Eve were real people and Genesis 3 is a true account of a real historical event). There is an enormous amount of pressure on Christians to surrender the historical account of a real Adam and Eve and to reinterpret it into something less literal. This comes from the conflict between evolutionary theory which denies that all mankind descended from one pair of humans and the Biblical claim that Adam was the first man and Eve was the mother of all living – and our young people especially feel this tension in their biology and life science classes and it will only get worse as they move on through college.

So in order to resolve this conflict, some very creative solutions – sometimes even ridiculously creative solutions – have been suggested by some theologians and scholars to reinterpret the first 11 chapters of Genesis so that they fit the claims of evolutionary theory. Now, dealing with this issue could be a sermon or a series of sermons in itself, but I just want to make a couple of statements to lay a foundation for us today.

The Bible always treats Adam and Eve as real, historical people. They are mentioned 24 times in Scripture including 10 times in the New Testament and not once are they understood as anything other than real, historical people. Adam is specifically mentioned in 2 genealogies – one leading to King David in 1 Chronicles 1 and one leading to Jesus in Luke 3. In fact, the genealogy in Luke 3 is one of the clearest Biblical supports for Adam as a real historical person. It is a reverse genealogy starting with Jesus working back through David, Abraham, Noah, Adam – all the way back to God the Father Himself. Luke was a doctor and historian – he wrote with precision and Adam would not have been included in his genealogy of Christ if he were merely a mythical figure or some character in an allegory.

Both Jesus and Paul treat Adam and Eve as real historical people and the fall as a real historical event with real sin. You can read through Matthew 19, Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 to see specifically how Jesus and Paul viewed the historicity of our first parents. They never assumed they were anything but real people.  

You see if you we deny a real historical Adam and Eve, we open up all kinds of theological problems that put us on a slippery slope that ultimately ends in denying the inspiration, truthfulness and authority of Scripture. We’ve given up enough ground in Genesis already. So my challenge to the young people here today is that when you are presented with an alleged conflict between the claims of science and the claims of Scripture, don’t automatically assume that it’s the theology that’s wrong. Take a high view of Scripture with you into the classroom. If you don’t, by the time you get through college and into young adulthood your faith will be dismantled by secularism piece by piece until you’re so full of doubt that your entire belief system collapses under the pressure of the secular worldview. 

I hope that gives us all something to think about and study. With that dealt with, let’s get into the text before us today.

It is here in Genesis 3 that we are first introduced to mankind’s mortal foe – Satan who approaches Eve using a snake and sets in motion a process of temptation that will end with all of humanity being alienated from God and brought under the slavery of sin. Revelation 12:9 calls him “the great dragon that was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…” In fact, the first seven verses of this chapter can serve as a case study for temptation. Satan’s strategy has changed little really – and why should it? He managed to deceive our perfect and pristine parents who were created sinless and innocent in their original state, so we shouldn’t think that we would have done any different than Adam and Eve. Today each time we are tempted to sin, we find the same basic process that we see here in Genesis 3.

The first thing we see here in Satan’s temptation of Eve is…

The Goodness of God Doubted (vv.1-3)

Look at verse 1: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” What Satan does here is to call into question the goodness of God. The question “Did God actually say?” is a statement of disbelief. It’s as if some of you teens tell your friends that your parents said you couldn’t go on a spring break trip with them to the beach and they say, “What? Did your parents really say that? Do they not trust you? What is wrong with them? Man, your parents are weird.” That is the sense of the serpent’s question to Eve. 

Satan is not yet directly challenging God’s command, but he wants Eve to doubt that God has her best interests at heart. He wants her to doubt the goodness of God. Notice the way he asked the question: “Did God actually say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” He frames his question in a way that makes God’s original command seem more restrictive than it really was. The original command in Genesis 2:16-17 reads this way: And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” God told Adam to freely eat from any tree in the garden. The idea in the original Hebrew is that Adam could eat to his heart’s content from any tree except one – the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So – God’s command was not so restrictive as the serpent implied in his question. Of all the trees in the garden, Adam and Eve could eat as much as they wanted. There was just one they couldn’t eat.  

In verses 2-3 we see Eve’s reply to Satan’s question: And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” Now her first mistake was talking to the snake. She should have immediately dropped what she was doing and ran after Adam and he should have crushed that thing’s head right then and there in the garden. And that’s exactly what God promised in Genesis 3:15 about Christ our Redeemer – that He would one day crush the serpent’s head – He would do what Adam failed to do. That’s why Paul calls Christ the second Adam in Romans 5 - because Christ would succeed where Adam failed. 

But you can already see the doubt beginning to creep up in Eve’s reply to the serpent – verse 2 “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden.” But that’s not what God said. He said “You may surely (or freely) eat of every tree.” The original command is full of freedom and goodness, but Eve leaves out the words defining the freedom of God’s command. She is starting to question the goodness of God in what He had given them. Instead of her trusting in God’s gracious provision, Eve began to fixate on the one thing that He had set a boundary around. 

The next thing that Eve says to the serpent is in verse 3 – “but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Now the part about touching the tree isn’t in God’s original command. Scripture doesn’t tell us where it came from. One theory is that because the original command was given only to Adam (Eve had not been created yet), Adam may have told Eve not to even touch the tree as an extra measure of protection against disobeying God. That seems very reasonable but where Scripture is silent, we must be silent also and avoid reading certain things back into the text. In any case, regardless of whether it came from Adam or if Eve added it herself, the command not to touch the tree is yet even more restrictive than what God originally said.

So, Satan’s first strategy is to get us to doubt His goodness toward us.

The second part of Eve’s temptation we see here is…

The Wrath of God Denied (vv. 4-5)

Look at verses 4-5: But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan finally shows his true nature in this direct, blatant, flat out denial of the word of God. God told Adam that if they ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die and Satan calls God a liar. Notice that the first thing Satan denies in Scripture is the doctrine of divine wrath. 

Look at the way he denies the wrath of God – in verse 5 he promised them that they would be like God. Again, suggesting to Eve that God was withholding something from them that could make them better. He says, “You’re not going to die! That’s not the real reason God doesn’t want you to eat the fruit. He just knows that you’ll be like Him.” This is a false promise for two reasons: 1) Adam and Eve were already as much like God as they were going to be. Genesis 1:27 says that God made man in His own image. Humanity bears the divine stamp of the Creator – but that’s as far is we go. The other reason is: There is no one like God. The triune God exists alone as the sovereign creator and ruler of the universe – of everything – and there is no one like Him. 2 Samuel 7:22 says Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you. Isaiah 46:9 says I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. Satan replaced the promised wrath of God against sin with the lie that they could be like God. 

When we diminish or deny the wrath of God against unbelief and disobedience, the very fabric of the Bible begins to unravel. Listen young people – if you have a friend, teacher, or pastor who diminishes the consequences of sin or altogether denies the judgment of God against sin, beware of that person. Do not listen to them. They are selling you the same lie that the serpent sold Eve – “you will not surely die.”

The current culture of Christianity in America is obsessed with distorted view of the love of God. The Biblical God has been replaced by a god who is more like a passive and permissive parent whose threats of punishment are hollow and who just forgives everything in the end. But the only way we can get a glimpse of the glory of God’s love is by viewing it against the backdrop of His wrath and hatred of sin. Paul spells this out for us in Romans 5:8-9. He says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Did you see that? The love of God for sinners is demonstrated in the deliverance from the wrath of God – not the denial of it.

The last part of Eve’s temptation we see in Genesis 3 is…

God’s Command Disregarded (vv. 6-7)

Look at verses 6-7 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

With this, the serpent’s deception was complete. Eve believed Satan’s lie and demonstrated this by her total disregard for God’s command not to eat from the tree. Notice the progression in verse 6: she saw that the tree was good for food, pleasant to look at, and desired to give wisdom. Nothing about that sounds dangerous. Nothing about that sounds like it can bring the death God said it would. But you see it wasn’t the tree that was dangerous. We shouldn’t think that this tree’s fruit had some magical quality that enlightened Adam and Eve when they ate it – it was the act of disobedience that brought guilt, shame and death – not the fruit.

You see this whole account is not about trees, fruit, wisdom or being like God – It’s about LORDSHIP. Are we going to submit to the Lordship of God and be obedient to His commands, or are we going to do things our way? The serpent enticed Eve to eat the fruit, but they could already eat of any tree they wanted except one. The serpent said this fruit would make them wise, but they already had immediate and unbroken access to the God of all wisdom. The serpent said they could be like God, but they were already made in His image.

In the end, Adam and Eve wanted God’s provision and blessing apart from God. That’s the same fruit Satan entices us with everyday. We want God’s stuff without God Himself. In one of his sermons on Genesis 3, John Calvin comments, “There is nothing better than yielding ourselves to God’s governance…If we are not resolved and persuaded within ourselves that everything God has taught us is right and good, we will not be upheld by his promises and find our complete rest and contentment in them.”

Notice that at the end of the day, the serpent is nowhere to be found. Once the deed is done he leaves Adam and Eve standing there afraid and ashamed, trying to sew together fig leaves to cover their nakedness. Students listen – Satan cloaks sin in beauty, happiness, fun, a good time – but after we eat the fruit of disobedience, he leaves us naked and ashamed – picking up the pieces on our own, trying to put our lives back together. But we can’t – nothing we do can fix the brokenness that sin brings to our lives – only Christ can do that. Down in verse 21 of Genesis 3 we see God making Adam and Eve clothes from animal skins – and with this we see the very first death for sin to take place on this planet. This points us to nothing less than the death of Christ in our place, to satisfy the wrath of God against our sin, so that we could be clothed with His perfect righteousness and not our own feeble attempt to cover our sin and shame.

I want to give you some brief thoughts of application as we bring this to a close: 

1) There are things that God has told us not to do. Sometimes Christians are so afraid of legalism, that we forget that there really are certain things that God has set boundaries around. Galatians 5:19-21 says Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. We live in obedience to God’s commands not out of legalism, but out of submission to His Lordship.

2) Do not linger around temptation. Recognize when you are being tempted and get away from it. Do not experiment with sin. Satan is smarter than us and we have to Be sober-minded and watchful. [Because] our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 

3) Be satisfied with God. The Westminster Confession of Faith so beautifully states “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Is it not enough that the Creator of the universe made us to be in communion with Him? Is it not enough that the same God who flung the cosmos into existence and upholds it by the word of His power also created us to enjoy Him? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23: all things are yours, 22 …whether the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. We will never experience the true freedom and joy we seek until we seek it in the enjoyment God Himself. 

Trusting God in the Dry Places

The manuscript from a recent sermon of mine. – 

Please turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Exodus, chapter 7. We are going to be Dry-Placeslooking at verses 1-7. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the text printed in your bulletin under the first lesson. 

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

The book of Exodus is one of the most remarkable books in the Bible. It contains some of the most significant events in all of Scripture starting with God’s revelation of Himself to Moses at the burning bush, the rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the giving of the Law, and some of the most spectacular miracles in the Bible are found here in Exodus.

In order to put our passage today in context, let me give you a quick, bird’s eye view of what has happened so far in Exodus. In chapters 1-6, we see the first 80 years of the life of Moses – his birth and early life in Egypt, his marriage to a Midianite shepherd girl, his encounter with God at the burning bush and his return to Egypt to confront Pharaoh.

In chapters 7 through 12 we see the ten plagues that God poured out on Egypt resulting in the release of the Israelites from Pharaoh’s oppression. In chapters 13-16 we see God miraculously bring them through the Red Sea and then into the wilderness, providing food and water for them along the way. So, this brings us to our text today in chapter 17. (I left out a lot of details, so if you want to get a clearer picture of these events, read the first 16 chapters of Exodus when you get home today).

Exodus is a book of history – it contains the accounts of real people, real places and real events. It is a book of theology – it tells us a lot about God, his will and divine nature. Exodus 34:6-7 says:

The Lord passed before Moses and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’”

But Exodus is also a book that vividly illustrates our proclivity to unbelief. When we read the account of the Exodus from Egypt, it may seem hard for us to understand the unbelief of the Israelites in the face of God’s miraculous activity among them, but human nature has not changed in the 3500 or so years since the events in Exodus and this passage in Exodus 17 is rich in meaning and application for us today.

The first thing we see in this text is…

God Providentially Leads His People Through Dry Places (v.1)

Look at verse 1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 

The Israelites are moving on from the Wilderness of Sin. Now this is not a reference to their sinfulness, but rather a barren, desert area that the Israelites passed through on their way to Mt. Sinai. Notice that the Bible says they moved “according to the commandment of the Lord” – literally, “at the mouth of Yahweh.” God was personally leading them through the wilderness and while it’s not specifically mentioned here in chapter 17, we know that the Israelites were led through the wilderness by a pillar of fire and cloud. Exodus 13:21-22 says,

“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” So we are forced to conclude that God led them to this place that had no water for them to drink.

The immediate question is why would God lead them to a dry place that couldn’t sustain them? Remember, this is not the first time God led them to a place without water – Exodus 15:22 says,

“Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water.” So, here they are again, in a place without water – at God’s providential leading. Why??

The Bible answers this question in Exodus 15:25,

“And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them…”

Why did God lead them to places without water? To test them. God tested the Israelites in the wilderness and He continues to test His people today. This is an inescapable conclusion that we must come to when we carefully read the Bible. Now, don’t confuse God’s testing with Satan’s tempting. Testing is not an enticement to sin, but rather the enduring of adversity that God providentially brings into our lives to prove or strengthen our faith. Let me give you eight verses that bear this truth out:

Exodus 16:4 -

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.

Deuteronomy 8:1-2 -

“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

Psalm 66:10 –

For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 

Proverbs 17:3 –

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts. 

1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 -

For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.  

James 1:2-3 -

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 

1 Peter 1:6-7 –

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 4:12 –

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

There are two reasons God tests us: 1) so that God can display His glory in our weakness; and 2) so that we can learn to trust and obey Him more fully. This is clearly seen in Israel’s journey through the wilderness. God constantly brought trial upon trial upon them so that He could display His glory in miraculous provision and so they would learn to trust and obey Him more fully.

A central truth to keep in mind when we are in the dry places of adversity is this: Every act of Providence in the believer’s life is for God’s glory and our good. Romans 8:28 and Ephesians 1:11 make this very clear. We don’t always clearly see how the times of adversity are for His glory and our good, but we can be confident in Scripture’s promise that they are.

The second thing we see in this passage is…

Responding to God’s Providence in Unbelief is to Test God (vv.2-4, 7)

Look at verses 2-4, then 7 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (verse 7) And he called the name of the place Massahand Meribah,because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” When God leads his people to camp at Rephidim and they see that there is no water, the first thing they do is turn on Moses and demand that he give them water to drink. As if he could just wave his magic wand or his magic staff and make water flow. Verse 2 says they “quarreled” with Moses. The word “quarreled” in the Hebrew here means to bring legal charges against someone. They were putting Moses on trial. Verse 3 tells us what their charge was: “You have brought us out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst.” Their protest was so bad, in verse 4 Moses cried out to God that they were ready to stone him.

Although they complained against Moses, they were really rebelling against God and His provision – verse 2 says “Moses said to them, why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”

Their root problem was unbelief – look down to verse 7: he called the name of the place Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling), because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Keep in mind – this was the same people who saw God deliver them from slavery in Egypt through ridiculous miracles – all over the course of about 6 months, and yet here they say “is the Lord among us or not?

Psalm 95:8 –

your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

Psalm 78:32 –

In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe. 

This was a display of outrageous unbelief. Instead of the Israelites being tested by God, they tested God. One Old Testament scholar comments on Exodus 17, “Testing God always involves some degree of doubt about whether or not one’s present circumstances are all the one deserves and whether or not God could or should have done a better job of providing one’s needs.” (Douglas Stuart).

We test God when we respond to His providence in our lives with unbelief. Just like them, we say, “Is the Lord really among us?” “Is God really in control?” “Is He really at work in my life?” Do we panic when God leads us to a dry place and begin questioning His provision?

Unbelief is never seeing beyond our circumstances to the God who is sovereign over our circumstances. As Christians, we all can look back over the course of our lives and see the hand of Providence at work. Sometimes, it’s not as pretty as we would like it to be. The Lord leads often leads us through some very dry places, but we’ve seen Him work, we’ve seen him bring us through time and time again. So, when we respond to His Providence in unbelief, we test Him. We act just like the Israelites of old and God is not pleased.

Moving on to the last thing we see in this passage…

God Himself is Our All-Satisfying Provision (vv. 5-6)

Look at verses 5-6: And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” 

This verse is rich with gospel overtones. Throughout the Old Testament, God is called “Rock.”

Psalm 95:1 -

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Isaiah 26:4 -

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

Deuteronomy 32:3-4 -

The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.

The rock that Moses struck at Rephidim was no less than God Himself. He did not merely supply water from the rock, He was the rock. There is a significance in God’s command to Moses to strike the rock: He was to take the same rod or staff that he struck the Nile River with in Egypt and turned it to blood (this is a symbol of judgment) and strike the rock there as the cloud stood in front of it. What is this a picture of?? Let’s look at this event from a New Testament perspective, turn to 1 Corinthians 10. Looking at the first four verses:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 

Just as God’s judgment on Egypt brought freedom and deliverance for Israel, God’s judgment on His own Son bearing our sin brings salvation to all who will look to Christ and be saved. Isaiah 53:4 says,

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 

Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, in the face of rebellious unbelief, stood between us and the holy wrath of God the Father and bore the just punishment for our sin so that we could drink His living water and never thirst again. That’s the gospel. That’s the good news – that no matter what kind of dry place God has brought you to and even if you have responded to His Providence in unbelief, God the Son was stricken for you and you can drink from the Rock that is Christ and find Him to be your all-satisfying provision.

Let me give you three thoughts of summary and application: 1) Realize that God does lead His people to some very uncomfortable places so that we learn to fully trust and obey Him. Remember, every act of Providence in the believer’s life is for God’s glory and our good. Don’t buy into the modern idea that God only wants good things and happiness for our lives. God’s primary aim is not to make us happy but to make us holy and not until we learn to submit to His sovereignty in the dry places and trust Him fully can we be happy along the way.

2) Take the warnings in Scripture against unbelief seriously. Hebrews 3:12 says,

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. Only two out of the original generation of the Israelites ever saw the Promised Land – Joshua & Caleb. The rest of them including Moses never made it because of unbelief and disobedience.

1 Corinthians 10:5-6 says,

With most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Don’t let your heart slip into evil unbelief. Don’t demand that God change your circumstances like the Israelites demanded that Moses give them water. He is not a cosmic genie in a bottle granting our everyday wish.

3) Trust God to be your provision – not to give you provision, but to be your provision. Drink from the Rock of Christ who was stricken in our place and let Him satisfy our thirsty souls. I’ll close with Psalm 61:1-2 -

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. 

The Stories We Tell


We have been slowly working our way through the Belgic Confession in our family devotions. The Belgic Confession is one of the oldest Reformed doctrinal standards, but its warm devotional quality makes it an excellent way to teach basic theology and doctrine. Last night we looked at Article 7 – The Sufficiency of Scripture. A couple lines we focused on were:

For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects…Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule…

Our family devotions are simple, but not simplistic. We don’t avoid using words that the smaller children don’t understand – we teach them the words and what they mean. So, when we get to a concept like the infallibility of Scripture, we teach what infallibility means – that Scripture cannot err; it cannot be wrong. At this point in our devotions, Caroline (our 6 year old) spoke up and said, “But it’s a story.” I asked her where she heard the Bible referred to as a “story” because we do not speak of “Bible stories” (such as the “story” of David & Goliath) in our house. We do not describe the Bible as “God’s story,” the “story of redemption,” or any other “story.”

The word “story” has certain connotations that we do not want associated with the Bible – especially in the mind of a 6 year old. I asked her what she thought of when she heard the word “story” and she said, “a fairytale.” She made her initial observation because if the Bible is a “story,” then how can it be incapable of error? In her mind, a story is imaginary. We explained to her that the word “story” can also mean an account of real people, places and things, but why even toy with the confusion? Words are important. They communicate certain messages, and the last message we want to send to our children about the Bible is any notion that some of it may not be true or that it can be wrong. 

The Bible is thoroughly true and contains accurate history – real people, real places, real events that were recorded by men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So, after a short object lesson to help Caroline understand what it means for an event to be recorded and written down, we were able to show her how the people and events in the Bible are not merely “stories,” but are true accounts and records of God’s activity in the world and in the lives of His people.

As adults, sure, we get that the Bible is God’s “story,” but in an increasingly skeptical age where many see the Bible as no more historically accurate and true than Aesop’s Fables, maybe it’s best we drop the word “story” altogether when referring to God’s infallible Word and talk about the Bible to our children the way it talks about itself:

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created—when the Lord God made the earth and heavens.

- Genesis 2:4, NET (emphasis mine)

Now many have undertaken to compile an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning.  So it seemed good to me as well, because I have followed all things carefully from the beginning, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,  so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.

- Luke 1:1-4, NET (emphasis mine)

 

The Power of God In Preaching

I recently had the opportunity to preach at the church where I serve as youth pastor. My message was on 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 on the subject of the power of God in preaching. This is the manuscript of that sermon. –

When we come to this passage in 1 Corinthians 2, we find Paul giving a sort of personal testimony of his ministry among the Corinthians. In order to set the historical context of Paul’s comments here, hold your place in 1 Corinthians 2 and lets jump over to Acts chapter 18. We’ll look at the the first five verses

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he [Paul] went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. (jump down to verse 11) 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

So from this passage we see the nature of Paul’s ministry in Corinth. Look at the words Luke uses to describe it: verse 4: he “reasoned” in the synagogue; he tried to “persuade” the Jews & Greeks; in verse 5 we find Paul “occupied with the word” and “testifying” to the Jews that Christ was Jesus; in verse 11 he was “teaching” the word of God. So week to week for 18 months Paul ministered the gospel of Christ to the people in the city of Corinth.

Back in 1 Corinthians 2, Paul gives us some very clear statements about the central focus of his ministry and as we discover them we’ll see that they are principles that we desperately need to return to in the 21st century evangelical church.

The first thing we see is…

The Priority of Preaching is the Proclamation of Christ Crucified (vv.1-2)

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Paul had a singular focus to his ministry – the preaching of the gospel. We see this right away back in chapter one verse 17: Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel…

Paul was first and foremost a preacher. The preaching of the gospel is the God-ordained means by which He has determined to save sinners. Romans 10:13-14 says, “13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

This is the essence of the gospel – the proclamation of Christ crucified. Paul said in Romans 1:16,I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation…” In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul says that the “preaching of the cross is the power of God to those who are being saved.”

Now, we shouldn’t think that someone has to hear a sermon preached by a preacher in order to be saved, but the message of the gospel must be presented in order for a person to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. No doubt you’ve heard the clever quote that is incorrectly attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.” That’s rubbish. That’s like saying “Feed the hungry always. If necessary, use food” and there is no reliable record that Francis ever said that. The gospel of Christ is a verbal message. Whether it is preached from a pulpit, shared around a table at Starbucks or delivered to an unreached people group in a far away land, it is a message that must use words.

But notice what Paul said about his preaching in verse 1 of chapter 2: he said he did not come with lofty speech and wisdom. In the greek loft speech means “high-sounding words” or “overpowering oratory.” In verse 4 he says his speech and message were “not in plausible words of wisdom.” In chapter 1 verse 17 he says, he came to preach the gospel, “not with words of eloquent wisdom…”

You see Paul ministered in a time and culture where skills in rhetoric were highly valued. Greek orators would use clever methods of public speaking and rhetoric to captivate and convince their audiences. Crowds of people would even pay to hear famous orators speak. In fact, there were even false teachers who Paul sarcastically called “super-apostles” in 2 Corinthians 11 who employed these clever methods of oratory.

It is against this backdrop that Paul says, “I did not come with eloquence and human wisdom.” Instead of using manipulative techniques and slick persuasion like other powerful speakers of his day, Paul said in verse 2 that he “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Notice that this was a conscious choice on Paul’s part – he determined to leave the eloquence and fancy technique at the door, and preach a Christ-centered gospel.

In today’s Christian climate there is a lot of talk about the “gospel.” Baptists talk about the gospel, Presbyterians, Catholics, Charismatics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Anglicans – everybody talks about the “gospel,” but if the gospel you preach is not centered on the substitutionary life, death and resurrection of Christ in our place for our sin, then what you’re preaching is not the Biblical gospel.

The next thing we see in this passage is…

The Power of Preaching is Not in our Strength & Ability, but in the Holy Spirit’s Power to Open Hearts to the Gospel vv. 3-4

“I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,”

Paul uses three words in verse 3 to describe himself while among the Corinthians: weakness, fear, & trembling (much trembling). In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Charles Hodge says of this verse, “It was not in strength, self-confidence and self-reliance that Paul came to the Corinthians, but with a sense of his weakness and insufficiency. He had a work to do that he felt to be entirely above his powers.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 Paul says,

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 Paul says,

we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Those verses give us a sampling of the kind of affliction the apostle Paul suffered while on his missionary journeys, so when he says to the Corinthians that he was with them in “weakness, fear and much trembling,” that might just be an understatement. His anxious state of mind and often battered physical condition made it unlikely that Paul would stand before the Corinthians or anyone else as a great charismatic speaker, full of personality and clever persuasion – that’s why he said in verse 4 “my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,”

He again repeated his refusal to use eloquence and cunning because only the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit can convert the spiritually dead hearts of sinners. Human eloquence of speech and verbal cleverness is incapable of opening a person’s heart to the gospel and it’s not just because eloquence in itself is unconvincing – a good salesman can convince the average person to buy just about anything.

Eloquence doesn’t work with the gospel because sinful hearts see the cross of Christ as foolishness. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…” In fact, in verse 17 Paul says that human eloquence empties the cross of its power.  The gospel of Christ loses its power to save when we tamper with it or tweak it in order to make it more palatable. Hearts dead in sin simply do not want to hear the gospel. They don’t want to hear anything about God, Jesus, sin, the cross, death, hell or heaven and there is no amount of tweaking you can do to the gospel to make it appeal to them. It’s not at all attractive to them – it’s foolishness.

The cross of Christ is the stumbling-block that we trip over. You can have a conversation about religion, faith, and God with just about anyone, but the moment you mention the name of Jesus Christ, the walls go up and you’ve gone into foolishness.

This past Tuesday night, Bill Nye the science guy and creation apologist Ken Ham met for a debate at the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky. The item of debate was whether or not creationism is a valid explanation of our origins. This was a highly scrutinized spectacle and it is estimated that as many as 3 million people logged onto to watch the debate either live or recorded. There have been over a million views of the official recording on YouTube alone.

At the end of the debate both men were asked the question, “What would it take to change your mind?” Bill Nye responded simply, “evidence.” He would change his mind if he were presented with just one piece of evidence that supported the idea of creation.

Of course, that is just simply not true. No amount of evidence would change his mind – he would just suppress it in his sinful rebellion as Paul says in Romans 1:18,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

One thing rang true in Tuesday’s debate – unless the Holy Spirit opens an individual’s heart to the gospel, he will remain obstinate in his rejection of truth. The gospel is foolish to him. Look down to verse 14 in 1 Corinthians 2-

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

Romans 8:7-8 says,

the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

It couldn’t be said any clearer than how Paul said it in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 –

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” 

You can’t “scientific evidence” someone into being born-again. You can’t reason or argue them into the faith. After all the debates and reasoning with people at the intellectual level, at some point you have to just bring them face to face with a bloody cross and risen Savior who died to satisfy the wrath of God against sin and purchase salvation for those who would believe the gospel and trust in Christ to save them.

You have to appeal to the law of God written on their hearts, point them to Jesus and then trust the Holy Spirit to do what He does best – overcome their stubborn resistance and open their eyes to the beauty of Christ crucified.

We’re not going to convince anyone into believing the gospel – the things we believe and teach are foolishness to the person with a naturalistic worldview. We admit – we have a supernatural faith. Just look at the NT alone: we have a virgin birth, Jesus turning water into wine, walking on water, spitting in dirt, making mud and putting it in a blind man’s eye so he could see, the resurrection of the dead. Look at the miracles in the book of Acts: Peter’s shadow that healed people in Acts 5; Philip’s translation – literally, he was whisked away by the Spirit and was physically transported to another place (Acts 8). In Acts 20, Paul raised a young man from the dead after he had fallen out of a window while Paul was preaching.

But even though we have a supernatural faith, we must guard against suggesting that making a reasonable defense for the faith is unneeded or unimportant. In fact, back in Acts 18 we read that Paul reasoned with the Jews and Gentiles in Corinth about Christ. We can’t diminish that aspect of our responsibility to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have, but we must resist the temptation to rely on skillful arguments and clever rhetoric to elicit a positive response.

Paul says his preaching was in the “demonstration of the Spirit and power.” Some Christians see this as a reference to the miracles, signs and wonders that Paul performed but that seems to be an unnatural reading of this text. The context here indicates that the phrase “demonstration of the Spirit and power” refers to Spirit’s power behind Paul’s preaching that made the gospel effective among the Corinthians as opposed his use of human eloquence and wisdom. Paul talked in other passages about the miracles he performed, it just doesn’t seem to be here.

Finally, in this passage we see that…

The Purpose of Preaching is to Produce Steadfast Faith v. 5

“that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men put in the power of God.” 

Of this verse, NT scholar C.K. Barrett says, “Preaching that depended for its effectiveness on the logical and rhetorical power of the preacher could engender only a faith that rested upon the same supports, and such a faith would be at the mercy of any superior show of logic and oratory, and thus completely insecure. Moreover, it would not be Christian in its content.”

The fatal flaw of preaching that diminishes the offense of the gospel or relies on manipulative techniques is that it produces fake faith. It produces faith based on the charismatic personality of the preacher instead of faith grounded in the power of God to save.

Preaching the undiluted, unaltered gospel of Christ produces faith that does not waver or vacillate based on intellectual arguments or secular objections to the Christian faith. Consider this: If a new piece of “ indisputable evidence” was found that claimed to completely discredit the Bible, would your faith crumble under the skeptic’s claims or would it rest in the power of God?

I want to leave you with just a few simple exhortations:

Keep the cross of Christ front and center in your own personal evangelism. Use all the apologetics tools available, talk about the evidence for God, defend the reliability of the Bible, engage the skeptic’s objections, but ultimately, point them to Christ and his life-changing power.

Resist the temptation to “decorate” the gospel by trying to lessen the offense of it. Don’t avoid talking about sin, the wrath of God, the necessity of genuine repentance and forsaking sin to follow Jesus.

Minister to people out of your weakness. The efficacy of the gospel rests in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in your strength and ability. If you think the only people qualified to minister the gospel are pastors, then there are friends in your neighborhood, or at work or at school who aren’t hearing the gospel because most of the people you encounter everyday will never walk through the doors of this church or any other.

Don’t let rejection keep you from sharing the gospel again. Before Paul came to Corinth, he ministered in Athens to a group of people who mocked him as soon as he mentioned the resurrection of Christ. Please know this – if you believe this book, you will be mocked. You’ll be called a fundamentalist, an extremist, a joke and probably some other names that aren’t so kind. Don’t let the offense that the gospel brings cause you to retreat into your own little gospel bubble. Jesus said in Luke 7:23, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Trust the power of the Holy Spirit to open peoples’ darkened hearts and keep going. Amen.

Staying Faithful to God’s Call

Jeremiah 3 Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo’s “Jeremiah”

[Occasionally, I get to preach at my church and this past Sunday I was blessed to have the opportunity to preach from the first chapter of Jeremiah. This is my manuscript for that sermon. You can listen to the audio here.]

Our text this morning will be the first lesson, so turn with me in your Bibles to Jeremiah chapter 1 and we’ll look at verses 4-10. If you don’t have a Bible, you will find the text printed in your bulletin under the first lesson. 

This passage usually receives a lot of attention among Christians because of its pro-life implications – verse 5 in particular because it is clear from this verse that God recognized the personhood of Jeremiah while he was in his mother’s womb. This is absolutely true, but the main point of this text is the call of God on Jeremiah’s life to do and say very difficult things in very difficult times. In order for us to fully understand the weight of this passage about God’s call on Jeremiah, we need to do a little background work to set the context.

Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet in the year 626 BC during the reign of King Josiah – the last godly king of Judah. He was probably born somewhere around 645 BC and lived in very turbulent times of sweeping political revolution and spiritual decline. His prophetic ministry lasted around 40 years and he lived through the reign of 5 different kings and saw no less than 6 major events beginning with the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BC, the subsequent fall of the Assyrian Empire, the decline of Egypt as a world power, the beginning of the Babylonian captivity in 605 BC, and in 586 BC, he was eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple – all at the hands of the Babylonian Empire which by this time had become an undisputed world power.

Jeremiah spent his ministry preaching against the spiritual decay that was so widespread in the land. He ministered to a people who were religious, but their religion was merely an outward form, a dry ritual that did not affect their hearts. Their worship had degenerated into ritualism and dead formalism. They were just going through the motions. The vast majority of Jeremiah’s preaching was directed at the covenant people of God – it was God’s people who were in such spiritual decline that he told them “unless you repent, judgment will come.” In fact, Jeremiah tells the people to “turn around” or “repent” over 100 times.

Jeremiah 26:2 says:

“Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. 3 It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.”

God held out His hand of grace repeatedly to His own people, but they would not have it.

Jeremiah 5:3 says:

“O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.”

That sounds a lot like where we are at today – political upheaval all over the world, spiritual decline everywhere, and an iron clad refusal to repent – especially here in the American church.

So this is the context in which Jeremiah lived. He is often called the “weeping prophet” because he wore his heart on his sleeve and was brutally open about the anguish he felt because of the spiritual rebellion of his people.

Jeremiah 8:18-21 says:

“My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me. 19 Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people from the length and breadth of the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” “Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images and with their foreign idols?” 20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” 21 For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.”

Jeremiah preached for 40 years and the Bible only records two converts – two people who responded positively to his message: Baruch (his scribe) and Ebed-Melech (an Ethiopian gentile) who rescued Jeremiah out of a muddy well that he had been thrown into and left for dead. Can you imagine that? Over 4 decades of ministry and only two converts. Jeremiah should have been fired long ago by today’s church growth standards.

But God called him to be faithful in very hard dark times. But what is the key to staying faithful? How did Jeremiah do it? How do we do it today? We find the answer to that question in our passage today.

The first thing we see is that…

Faithfulness is Fueled by Sovereign Grace (v.5)

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Look at the three predestining actions listed in this verse: God knew Jeremiah, He consecrated him, and He appointed him – all before Jeremiah was conceived and born. His call to be a prophet was determined by God in eternity. The emphasis here is on God’s divine initiative and sovereign choice. This is not the only time in Scripture we see God’s sovereign choice in the calling of a prophet or apostle – Isaiah was also called before he was born.

Isaiah 49:1, 5 says

“Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him…”

Two NT examples are John the Baptist and Paul.

Luke 1:15 says of John:

“he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

Now, how can you be filled with the Holy Spirit from your mother’s womb unless you have been predestined to be so?

Galatians 1:15 says about Paul:

“He who had set me apart before I was born, and called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.

So, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John and Paul were all chosen and appointed according to God’s purpose long before they were born. God did wait to consult them on whether or not they wanted to answer His call. He called, and they could do nothing else but obey.

Some people get all discombobulated when the subject of predestination comes up. There is no reason for us to get worked up over predestination and there’s no point trying to wrap your head around it and understand every minuscule detail of it or you’ll end up in some heresy that either cripples the sovereign freedom of God or denies the responsibility of man. It seems for the most part that we are more interested in preserving the freedom of man than we are in recognizing the sovereignty of God over that freedom, so be careful here to simply accept what the Scriptures actually teach and leave the mystery of it to God.

God’s sovereign choice is not something to be afraid of and certainly not something to be denied. Instead it is the driver behind our lives and callings. It’s how we stay faithful when we’re ready to throw in the towel.

Philippians 1:6 says:

“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

That’s a guarantee. God will finish what He started in us. I promise you that Jeremiah felt like walking away from his calling and giving up – but he couldn’t. There was something inside that compelled him to keeping pushing. In fact he gives us a very vivid picture of this in chapter 20.

Jeremiah 20:7-9

“O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

Jeremiah has been preaching, preaching, preaching, and nobody is repenting. For years and years he goes about his ministry in the face of constant rejection. He feels betrayed by God, his people are laughing at him and at times even trying to kill him. Absolutely he gets discouraged and wants to quit. But he can’t. Every time he slides into despair, a fire sparks up inside him that he cannot contain – that fire is the word of God that was deposited into his heart when God sovereignly called him.

So, our faithfulness is fueled by God’s sovereign grace.

The next thing we see in this passage is…

Faithfulness is Grounded In God’s Presence and Power, Not Our Inadequacies (vv.6-8)

“Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” 

Jeremiah’s response to God’s call is “Lord, I’m too young and and can’t speak eloquently.” He was most likely about 20 years old and still financially dependent on his parents when he received God’s call. He believed he lacked the necessary verbal skills to be a prophet – a job which obviously required a lot of public speaking.

This kind of reluctance to obey God’s call is common in Scripture because God rarely asks us to do easy things. In fact, more often than not, God calls us to do things we think we are not qualified to do. I want to give you three examples other than Jeremiah of individuals who obeyed the call of God on their lives in spite of their inadequacies. The one probably most familiar is Moses -  like Jeremiah, he also was reluctant to obey because of his inability to speak well.

Exodus 4:10 says:

Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

Another example you may be surprised to learn struggled with his inadequacies was the apostle Paul. In three separate places in the his letters to the Corinthians, we see hints that indicate Paul lacked the oratory skill that was expected of great public speakers in Greek culture.

He said in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that his message did not come “eloquent words of wisdom.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:6 he says:

I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

In 2 Corinthians 10:10 Paul’s opponents said his “speech was of no account.”

One last example from the NT is Timothy, the young pastor at Ephesus. There are a few passages that suggest Timothy may have struggled with self-confidence and was timid.

In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul says to Timothy:

God gave us a spirit not of fear (NIV: “timidity”) but of power and love and self-control.

In 1 Corinthians 16:10, Paul tells the Corinthians that he was sending Timothy to them and they were to “set him at ease.” And in 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul tells Timothy to drink a little bit of wine to help settle his stomach. He probably suffered from a nervous stomach.

So, in all these men, there was some deficiency, some sort of inadequacy that would seem to make them unqualified for their callings. So what made the difference for them? Look back in Jeremiah 1:7-8:

the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” 

God wanted Jeremiah to ground himself in the assurance of his presence and power. He said in verse 8: I am with you (God’s presence) to deliver you (God’s power). God didn’t promise Jeremiah that his ministry would be easy and that people would flock to hear him preach, but he did promise that He would be with him and would take care of him through it all.

The same is true for us – we can be faithful in spite of our inadequacies because we are grounded in the presence and power of God.

The last thing we see in this passage is…

Faithfulness is Empowered by the Word of God (vv. 9-10)

the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” 

As we’ve already seen, there was nothing special about Jeremiah that made him God’s choice as a prophet. He was young, inexperienced and afraid of what was ahead. The only thing he had to rely on was the sovereign call of God on his life and the promise that God would be with him every step of the way. Beyond that, there were no guarantees. So, what transformed Jeremiah from a youthful, timid son of a priest to a powerful prophet that spoke to nations was the empowerment of the word of God on his lips.

Verse 9 says that God put his words in Jeremiah’s mouth.  He literally became God’s mouthpiece to the nations.

Jeremiah 5:14 says:

Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts: “Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them. 

The strength of his message was that it was the very word of God and that word was powerful to accomplish what it was sent to do.

Isaiah 55:11 says:

my word that goes out from my mouth; shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

If you look in verse 10 you’ll see the content of Jeremiah’s message:

See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” 

This doesn’t look like Jeremiah’s message is going to be very positive. There are 6 verbs in verse 10 that describe his message: pluck up, break down, destroy, overthrow, build, and plant. Four out of the 6 express the destructive element of Jeremiah’s message and only two express restoration. He literally was a preacher of “doom and gloom.”

The message he preached was one that no one wanted to hear. They rejected it because every time Jeremiah warned of the coming judgment, he would have 15 false priests come behind him and tell the people “relax, everything is ok.” His people hated his message because they thought their outward forms of religion would keep them safe. Turn to Jeremiah 7 and lets look at a passage that describes the spiritual condition of the people he was preaching to and that is super relevant for us today:

Jeremiah 7:1-4, 8-10

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.‘  8 you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 

Jeremiah was preaching to a people who were living in sin, committing social injustice, and going after false gods, but they were still going to church! And they thought that made everything OK. Their priests were telling them that God loved them just the way they were, that they weren’t committing any sin and that He wasn’t angry at them. Meanwhile Jeremiah is standing at the gates of the temple saying “this place can’t protect you when God’s just wrath against your rebellion comes.” These verses precisely describe the church in the 21st century.

Preaching a non-stop message like this will make you weary, it’ll make you want to quit when the only response you get is rejection – but the power behind our calling is the word of God. It is a fire that burns within us that empowers us stay faithful, to press on and keep pushing when we feel like checking out.

So, what does all this mean for us? It means that God often calls us to do things we feel unqualified to do. It means that if we are obedient to His call and true to His word, we will encounter resistance – mostly from the religious community and those who claim to be Christians. You will feel pressure from inside the church to back off and take a less “offensive” stance on things. Stay strong – anchor yourselves in this word and it will empower you to stay the course. We have to cling to the power, authority, and sufficiency of God’s word as we speak to our world around us.

We must be obedient and faithful, knowing that our faithfulness to God’s call is fueled by sovereign grace, grounded in the presence & power of God, not our inadequacies, and is empowered by the word of God. Amen.

Raising Judgmental Kids

One of the realities of parenting is that as much as we try to avoid it, some of our faults inevitably get “passed down” to our kids. I pray regularly that my children only see and learn the more sanctified parts of my character, but I know better. They see everything in me – the good, the bad and the ugly – and kids have a knack for seeing these things very clearly in spite of our best efforts to hide them.

judgmental

What we teach our children through instruction is important, but what what we teach them by example is equally important and certainly more quickly learned. Perhaps the thing they learn most by watching us live is how to relate to and treat others. One of the most damaging things we could teach our children is to be judgmental. Judgmentalism destroys relationships. I have seen it firsthand, numerous times. Each of us has been guilty of judging others unfairly at times – even the most ardently non-judgmental person. By virtue of being a conservative, evangelical Christian who believes that doctrinal orthodoxy is of paramount importance, I am already labeled as a close-minded, self-absorbed, bigoted critic by champions of our culture’s definition of tolerance, but I am not a judgmental person in the true, biblical sense of what it means to be “judgmental.” I understand the difference between judgment, discernment and condemnation. I understand that when Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NIV), he wasn’t saying to ignore which is blatantly wrong and in opposition to the truth of his word. The sad reality is that if we stand for the truth and principles that he taught, we will be labeled as “judgmental” – even by those who profess to be Christians, but that discussion is for another day.

Judgmentalism is the attitude that one is somehow better than someone else because of some external issue – something we do that they don’t, or something we don’t do that they do. Are we teaching our children that there is a rich diversity of people in the body of Christ, or that everyone should believe, look and act exactly like us – a sort of “cookie cutter” mentality – and that those differences somehow result in one group being more holy or more spiritual than the other? This is what is so toxic for our children to learn from us. There is no denial that there are many core principles of doctrine and holiness that we all have to acknowledge as genuine Christians, but is it really a matter of holiness that one family lets their kids read Harry Potter and another doesn’t? Or one person listens to Lecrae, but is judged by another who says his music doesn’t “sound Christian?” We all have clever ways of justifying our own choices but criticizing others for being slightly different in these types external matters.

A case in point: I do not drink alcohol – at all (well, except for the minute amount of communion wine I consume each Sunday). I have never been inebriated in my life, never tasted hard liquor and the only beer I’ve had was a sip that I snuck while helping my dad work on a car when I was a little boy. I simply do not drink. Alcohol in American culture is abused and as a general rule, I believe it to be potentially destructive (a potential that is too often realized in our society). Scripture boldly condemns drunkenness and the overall weight of the Bible seems to warn us of the dangers of alcohol. Yet, there are passages that suggest that wine is a gift from heaven, and Paul even tells Timothy to use it as a treatment for his nervous stomach. I won’t digress into an exegetical argument on the proper use alcohol, but my point is that even though I completely abstain, I do not and cannot judge my brother in Christ who does not. Now, how do my children see me relate to a brother or sister who enjoys the occasional alcoholic beverage? This is the unspoken instruction that teaches them how to relate to those who do differently than they do.

One thing is certain – if we live in scornful judgment of others, our children will too. They will be the one whispering in their friend’s ear contempt for the kid who looks a little different than they do. They’ll be the one who gives the condescending glare at the kid across the room who has an entirely opposite personality than their’s. This is not what we want for our kids to be – and it starts with us.

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24 ESV).