Let the Lion Loose!

Charles Spurgeon famously compared the Word of God with a lion: “There is no need for you to defend a lion when he is being attacked. All you need to do is to open the gate and let him out.” Pastors must have such a high view of the sufficiency of Scripture that we would say with C.H. Spurgeon, my job each Sunday morning is to let the lion of the Word of God loose.
lion cage

I have been preaching through the Gospel of Mark, and I have just come off of the two Sundays that everyone who has preached Mark verse by verse knows are coming: the back-to-back passages on Hell (the end of Mark 9) and divorce (the beginning of Mark 10).  Not exactly the way to become known as “the popular pastor.”

But this is the Word of God. My job is not to change the message in any way, but to deliver the Bread of the Word right out of the oven. Jesus said that our very life is dependent upon every word from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).

As we understand Hell better, we understand grace better. We understand our own need for Jesus better, and we are motivated to share the gospel more. As we understand divorce better, we understand marriage better. We understand God’s wisdom for life and human prospering better. And we understand Jesus’ love for his Bride, the church, better.

We need not fear when we get to these difficult passages, but we need to let the lion loose. Explain the text clearly, illustrate it winsomely, and apply it with grace. One of the best ways that we as pastors can love God and love people is to preach all of God’s Word, not just the parts people are excited to hear. This Sunday I get to preach on Jesus’ love for children (Mark 10:13-16). But I’m so glad we heard Jesus’ words on Hell and divorce first. We need all of Jesus’ teachings for all of life because we need all of Jesus for all of life–and eternity.

I am not Jesus’ editor, I’m his messenger.

So let the lion loose, brother pastors. Make sure you’re in a church where the lion is let loose every Sunday, brothers and sisters. When the lion of the Word of God is let loose, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah reigns. Which means that the impostor, the evil one, who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, will go hungry this week.

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The Congregation

preach the word

Note:  This is part of an on-going series as I blog through D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “Preaching and Preachers.”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones turns to the congregation in Chapter 7 of Preaching and Preachers.  Considering that this book was originally published in 1972, it has amazing relevance to today.  In talking about modern men and women and how the “pew” too often now tries to dictate to the “pulpit,” Lloyd-Jones defends the idea of a pastor opening the Bible and preaching from the text.

We are told that today they cannot think and follow reasoned statements, that they are so accustomed to the kind of outlook and mentality produced by newspapers, television and films, that they are incapable of following a reasoned, argued statement…

…Another form which it takes is to say that these people cannot understand the biblical terminology, that to talk about Justification and Sanctification and Glorification is meaningless to them… (135)

Lloyd-Jones explains that although people in the congregation at different levels of maturity (and even different ages) will be able to comprehend biblical truths on different levels, that there should be a simplicity to our preaching that all can understand: “There is no greater fallacy than to think that you need a gospel for special types of people.” (141)

I praise God that I serve a congregation who hungers for God’s Word.  We are a local body that ranges from men with Master of Divinity degrees to stay at home moms to university professors to little children.  We have union workers and high-level programmers and custodians all sitting in our pews on Sunday.  We have believers who have walked with God for over 60 years and others who are still asking questions about who Jesus is.  My job is to tie myself to God’s Word and proclaim Christ Jesus and Him crucified.

Times will change.  Times have changed since Lloyd-Jones wrote Preaching and Preachers.  Education level and careers and technology and even spiritual maturity will be in a constant state of flux in our world.  But there are several constants that I thank Lloyd-Jones for reminding me of: people are sinners, Jesus is a great Savior, and the Holy Spirit speaks powerfully to people through His preached Word!

With the Apostle Paul I declare, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)  The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and points to the Lamb of God to bring people to God.  That will never change.

Source:  Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn.  Preaching & Preachers: 40th Anniversay Edition.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Do You Tremble at God’s Word?

open bibleIsaiah 66 holds an incredible promise and posture that we should have toward God’s Word.  The LORD God who made the Heavens and earth declares:

Thus says the LORD: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool … All these things my hand has made; and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD.  But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.  (Isaiah 66:1a, 2)

Jeremiah Burroughs, a Puritan who preached a series of sermons around this verse in 1644, helps us today:

Who are more despised among men than those who are poor and contrite spirits, whose hearts shake and tremble at God’s Word? … All the beautiful objects in the world are not so lovely in the eye of God as a heart that trembles at the Word.  The Lord accounts nothing in all the world worthy of looking at in comparison to this object.  But at this the Lord looks with abundance of delight…

…Certainly, if you tremble at God’s Word, you shall be comforted.  Though perhaps you do not yet find comfort, yet if the Word of God can make your heart to tremble, it will comfort you.  Wait for it…

…Whenever you come to hear, do not hear it as the word of men, but as the Word of God.  Though it seems to be harsh to you, oh, it comes to your good.  And there is cause why you should do so. It is the Word from whence you had your life.  That’s the immortal seed of the Word by which you are begotten.  If your souls are begotten to God, it was by the Word…

One of the great comforts to our soul that we know Christ as our Savior and have peace with God is if our hearts tremble at God’s Word.  Only the Lord knows if your heart truly trembles at His Word.  If that is true, He looks to you!  If that is not true, beg Him to make it so!  For He loves to answer the prayer that exclaims, “For you have exalted above all things your name and your word”! (Psalm 138:2)

Source:  Burroughs, Jeremiah.  Gospel Fear: A Heart that Trembles at the Word of God.  Orlando: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1991.

Give Your Teenager a Gift that Can Have an Eternal Impact

If you are the parent of a teenager or are a grandparent of a teenager, I encourage you to consider giving them one of these Bibles or books that can have an eternal impact in their life.  Just as the Apostle John had “no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth,” (3 John 4) speaking of his spiritual children, if you are a Christian parent I know that you will have no greater joy than to know that your children are walking in the truth of God’s Word.  These resources can help.  I have written a brief review of two study Bibles for teens and four carefully chosen books.

I simply ask you to consider something before you choose one of these Bibles:  think deeply about where your child or grandchild is in his or her walk with the Lord before choosing a new Bible.  Which would be the most helpful to him or her?

I have purposefully chosen books that stand alone if a teenager is motivated to read them, but that could also be easily used for parent-teenager discipleship.  Any one of these four books would be perfect for planning a time to discuss a chapter after each of you have read it.  If you have never done this, start with once a month–for example, if you chose Growing Up Christian, it has twelve chapters, so you could plan to meet with your teen the first Saturday morning of every month for one year.  Feel free to comment below if you have ever done something like this with your teenager before!

The ESV Student Study Bible is a great Study Bible for a teenager.  I love my own ESV Study Bible, and the difference between a normal Study Bible and a “Student” version is that it explains things more clearly at times for those who have not studied the Bible for as many years.  For example, at Genesis 1:26 my ESV Study Bible and the ESV Student Study Bible have essentially the same study note.  But the ESV Student Study Bible also has a graphically appealing “Did You Know?” box that explains God’s plural use of “us” in that verse.  See a video here that explains the idea behind the ESV Student Study Bible and if you’re thinking of purchasing it check out the different cover color options available.  I also recommend The MacArthur Student Bible for the same reasons as above, but it only comes in the NKJV.  If your teen is not currently reading and understanding the NKJV well, then I would stick with the ESV (if you have an older teenager, the regular MacArthur Study Bible is available in ESV and has an appealing layout with excellent study notes).

The book Growing Up Christian by Karl Graustein is the best book I have seen for teenagers who have grown up in the church.  Joshua Harris explains, “[the author] wants to see them transformed by Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross–not merely living off the religion of their dads and moms.”  It is easy to read but has great depth and includes questions that you could use for a friendly discipleship discussion with your teen.

Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper is a life-changing book that challenges young people to live solely for the glory of God.  He begins by writing, “The Bible says, ‘You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body’ (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  I have written this book to help you taste those words as sweet instead of bitter or boring.”  I can’t recommend this book more for the teens and twenty-somethings in your life.  It was influential in my own call to ministry.

Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris is subtitled, “A teenage rebellion against low expectations.”  They assault the “myth of adolescence” by challenging fellow teens to live for God now rather than later.  Here is a helpful review of this book by my friend Jesse Johnson.  This is the only book recommended here that I have not read yet myself, but it strikes me as being in the same vein as Don’t Waste Your Life but maybe better for younger teens.

Bitesize Theology: an ABC of the Christian Faith by Peter Jeffery is the perfect book for your teen if you know that what they need right now more than a challenge to live fully for Christ,  is a better understanding of the basics of God’s Word.  I have never seen another book that can explain terms like “justification” and “sanctification” in 3 easy to understand pages.  Unless you have a highly motivated teen, this would definitely be one to do together with them (there are also study questions at the end of each chapter) and it would be well worth your time!

A Gift that Really Will Last All Year: Children’s Bibles


One of the best gifts that a parent or grandparent can give a child is a good Children’s Bible.  We have found that there is no better time than Christmas to give our son a new Children’s Bible that we can read together all year.  I have given a few questions to consider before choosing one, and a brief review of four excellent Children’s Bibles.  What Children’s Bibles have been helpful to your family?

Questions to consider before choosing a Children’s Bible:

  • Does it contain enough Bible stories to read together for most of the year?  Some only have about 20 stories, but think long-term with reading this with your child every night.
  • Does it have enough pictures, and are they age-appropriate?  Children love to be read to, and you don’t want your child to dread reading their Bible with you as opposed to the other books with exciting pictures that you read together.
  • Is it biblically and theologically accurate?  Read a couple of the entire stories to get a feel for how they have explained the Bible stories.  The last thing you want to do as you read Bible stories together is teach your child incorrect facts about the Bible and God.  It is worth taking the time to look it over closely!
  • Will I commit to reading this Children’s Bible with my child regularly?  One of the most consistent ways that you can disciple your children (Eph. 6:4) is to read Bible stories with them as part of your night-time routine or other set time daily.  I am always amazed at the questions my 4 year old son asks when we read his Children’s Bible together.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones and pictures by Jago is my favorite Children’s Bible.  It ties the stories of both the Old and New Testaments into the hope of Jesus as our Savior.  We read this Bible to our son during the year that he was 3, and he loved the pictures and the way the stories are written–and so did I.  After one year of reading this, I was ready for something different that would teach him even more of the Bible, but you won’t regret getting this Bible for your child or grandchild about ages 3-10.

The One Year Bible for Children by V Gilbert Beers has been an excellent way to bring our son through some new Bible stories this year.  There really are 365 Bible stories including Psalms or Proverbs for the weekend!  My son loves the “classic” Bible story pictures.  It may have been too much for him as a 4 year old though–every other page has no pictures, so I would often google the Bible story as he would request a picture.  I would highly recommend it for ages 5-9.

What do you read to your toddler (or younger) to begin to teach them about God and His Word?  A Child’s First Bible by Kenneth N. Taylor has been perfect.  I would recommend it for infants up to age 3.  Even our 16 month old enjoys a couple of brief stories out of this at night.  For now I paraphrase the story in a couple of sentences and point at the pictures in an excited voice as I talk about God.  She likes looking at the animals in the pictures too.  When she is closer to 2 and above we will systematically go through this whole Children’s Bible and read the text which is simple but faithful.

I am excited to begin reading The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski to my son who will be 5 this year.  It has all of the elements that I listed above:  enough Bible stories to last for much of the year, a picture for each story, and biblical and theological accuracy (It has excellent reviews and I enjoyed reading several stories–it was hard to put down!).  The subtitle, “Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments” reminds me of The Jesus Storybook Bible but for kids who are a touch older.  I think the sometimes abstract but colorful pictures may be too much for a child younger than age 5.

The Big Picture of the Bible in Four Movements

Just as in a great symphony there are different movements that make up the entire masterpiece, in the Bible there are four great movements or stories that make up the whole.  Creation.  Fall.  Cross.  New Creation.  Put together, these four themes can give us the big picture of the entire Bible.  Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees, and we simply need to step back and take in what God has done and is doing.  I hope that this will help you rejoice in His amazing and sovereign plan that is for our salvation and His glory!

Creation.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1) are such familiar words as almost every English version of the Bible translates this first verse the exact same way.  God created all things, showing both ownership and care for what He had made.  His great plan had begun!

Fall.  The Bible wastes no time in presenting the great predicament that mankind has found himself in since the beginning.  At the start of Genesis chapter 3 Adam and Eve are already presented with an opportunity to sin, and they turn from God to sin and death.  So do we: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12).

Cross.  God’s solution to His creation turning from Him and the fact of their spiritual and physical death is effected in His Son, through His death on the cross.  The One promised from the moment of the Fall (Gen. 3:15) came as the God-man who alone could atone for our sin.  “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14)  Christ and His work on the cross is looked forward to throughout the Old Testament and looked back upon throughout the New Testament.

New Creation.  The last “event” in all of history as we know it will be the New Creation, when God will consummate all things by abolishing sin, evil, and death.  Those who are in Christ will enjoy a New Heaven and New Earth in new bodies that will never be tainted by sin or its’ effects.  God will be worshiped and we will enjoy Him and His creation forever with joy that we can only imagine now.  God’s plan for our salvation and His glory will have been realized as He exclaims at the end of the Bible: “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Rev. 21:6b)

May we respond to the big picture of the Bible as John did at the end of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)