I Thank God that He never Gives Thanks

We say, ‘thank you,’ when someone gives us something; it’s an acknowledgement of our need and another’s generosity. When you give thanks, you are admitting that you are now better off – someone has filled your vacancy. This does not mean that you were incapable of mowing your own lawn, for example, but that your neighbor did it for you because you were overwhelmed that week  – it was an act of service to you that made your life a little more manageable.

I thank God that he is not like me. He is never put into a state-of-affairs where he needs a little help to manage things. He does not need to say thanks because he has no need of support, generosity, or a helping hand. He is self-sufficient in every way. He brings things into existence with no prior need for raw material (Gen 1:1). He is not to be served as though he needed anything – but it is everything and everyone else that is in need of him (Acts 17:24-25).  If everyone did his duty towards God with absolute perfection, there still would be no obligation for God to say thank you (Luke 17:9).

Now this does not mean that God is unappreciative. He is a happy and rewarding God who will say “atta boy” to all who persevere to the end, to those who remain faithful to follow the Lord (Matt. 25:21). In this way, we are like him: when we see good work we praise it and show our pleasure and approval. But this is not the same thing as saying thanks. I’m not splitting hairs: saying “thanks” and saying “good job ” are not the same. What difference does all this make for our Thanksgiving Holiday?

1. I am reminded how needy I am and how generous God is to me.

2. I am reminded that God can’t ever be lacking in any way. This is good news because God can’t ever be exhausted! He is endless and infinite in mercy, love, and grace. There will never come a time when he is running low on supplies. There will never be a circumstance by which he is flummoxed and needs some counsel and advice from you or me. God will never experience helplessness, but . . .

Since Jesus was both God and Man, Jesus knows our need because he chose to live a life in need. He gave his Father thanks for hiding and revealing the truth to whomever he chose (Matt. 11:25-26), and Jesus thanked his Father for food (John 6:11). And this means,

3. Our Father in heaven will always empathize with our need. Though he knows no need within himself, yet, he knows my need, for he lived it (Heb. 4:14-16). Our Father in heaven does not feel imposed upon when we keep coming to him, as if he wants us to just buck up and be more self-reliant. No, he calls us to keep asking, seeking, and knocking, for he knows our need. The problem is that we don’t know how helpless we truly are – this is why we struggle with thanking him: we are prideful in our false world of self-reliance. But how much sweeter life is when we know who we are in the face of a selfless God!

This is why I thank the Lord that he does not need to give thanks.



What is a Hypocrite?

A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be someone else, they are not true to their real self. This is why the only people who Jesus ever labeled as hypocrite were the religious pharisees (Matt. 23:13-36). A hypocrite is not someone who goes to church and yet struggles with indwelling sin, AS LONG AS that person admits that they struggle with indwelling sin. Which is not what the pharisees did. They went to church and denied that they sinned. They lived a lie about their true self.

When someone outside the church points the finger at church-going Christians and justifies their hatred by invoking the, “they’re just a bunch of hypocrites” accusation, therefore excusing their obligation to turn to God, it is actually that person who is the true hypocrite. Why? Because they live in denial of their sin. I repeat: a hypocrite is not a Christian who sins, but rather, it is either a professing Christian who lives in denial of actual sin or a Christ-rejector who also lives in denial of sin. The reason why I point out the professing Christian as a hypocrite is because there really is no such thing as a sin-denying Christian anymore than there is a water-denying fish. John says,

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:9).

“The word hypocrisy is a Greek word that means “play-acting”, and was a technical term for a stage actor and was not considered an appropriate role for a public figure. In Athens in the 4th century BC, for example, the great orator Demosthenes ridiculed his rival Aeschines, who had been a successful actor before taking up politics, as a hypocrites whose skill at impersonating characters on stage made him an untrustworthy politician.”

In other words, you can’t say that you are a true lover of Jesus while you deny that you have sin in your heart. There is only one who was ever sinless.

Therefore, the person who is truly fraudulent, deceptive, a counterfeit, and beguiling, is the person who pretends to appear sinless. There are many ways of doing this: the performance of religious works, the lack of repentance, shifting blame, self-justification, deflecting the attention away from self, stone-walling accountability and inspection of behavior, and of course the oldest method on the book, lying.

So I have three words of counsel:

1. If you say you are a lover of Jesus Christ, then don’t play the hypocrite by living in denial of personal sin. Agree with what the Spirit says to your heart through the Scriptures about your sin so that you can boast in the forgiveness at the cross. The true Christian Life is one that hides in the cross of Christ by repenting of the very sins that Jesus died for. Lack of repentance of sin is evidence that you do not believe that Jesus died for your sins.

2. If you do not love Jesus Christ, it’s because you love something else – You. But what you love about you is the false view of you. You think that you are good enough to pass the judgment bar because you think that either you don’t sin all that badly or that you perform enough good works to counter-balance and off-set your wickedness. But that too is sinful, to think that your good works are good enough to do what Christ came to do. So you are only piling up more and more sin as you keep pointing the finger at the church.

3. If you are in this later category, Jesus pleads with you to take your eyes off others, look at him, and see how wonderful it would be to be loved by someone who knows everything about you, who can heal the brokenness in your soul and restore true joy and peace. Why? Because one day that is the person you are going to see and there will be no one else to point at then. Either you will stand before him clothed in his righteous garments or you will stand exposed and naked with all of your hypocrisy unveiled and seen for what it truly was – a life of pretty play-acting on the stage of humanity while inside of you was a black cauldron of evil desires.

Turn quickly to Christ in faith for the forgiveness of sins, trust in his atonement for your sins on the cross, believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved from what is coming upon you. Hurry! Don’t delay . . . before you are called into the Divine Courtroom without Jesus Christ as your only defense.

“I am Not the Christ” – A needed confession for those who try to do it all.

I am enjoying an easy advance reader copy of “Crazy Busy” by Kevin DeYoung. I plan to use his forthcoming book due out late September to lead a small group discussion. For today, let’s take Kevin’s advice and confess with John the Baptist:

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” (John 1:19, 20)

There is a big difference between caring and doing. We should care about many things in the world, but caring does not mean that I must do something about it. I can do some things, but not all things. Not even Jesus did everything that could have been done. This is not a call for indifference or negligence but rather a call for resting in Christ and not in your own strength.

What area in your life at this very moment needs this confession? Besides, it’s Friday!

The Lamb who died for a Pig like me


God created all things good (Gen. 1-2). But then he temporarily quarantined some things and called them unclean, not the same thing as calling them bad, just unclean. Like pigs. When God did this he was not calling bad what he previously called good. He was however calling some things off-limits for a time so that he might communicate the difference between holy things and unholy things. That brings us to you and me. So that Israel (God’s chosen people) might know that God has made her holy and has separated her out from among the rest of mankind, he separated pigs from Israel’s culinary and social life (Leviticus). Not because pigs were evil, but because to be unholy is to be evil, which, the ostracized animal served to make the point.

Is this arbitrary and flippant? Not anymore than a parent telling a 16 yr old to be home at 9 pm on a school night. There is nothing intrinsically and constitutionally evil about a teen staying out to 9:30 on a school night, but if dad says 9 pm, it’s now law: 9:01 is now, temporarily, “unclean” “off-limits” “don’t go there or there will be consequences.” Not because dad is being mean but because dad does believe in a good nights rest for a good day of school. He loves his son.

Later, God did recall his previous embargo against bacon, demonstrating that God wants us to share the gospel with everyone and enjoy eating all that God has made (Acts 10; 1 Tim. 4:1-5). BUT . . . God never withdrew his calling upon his people to live holy, to keep ourselves unspotted and unstained from the world’s false value system, it’s love of sin, and rejection of Christ as Lord (1 Cor. 6; James 1 & 4; 1 Peter 2:9-12). Times have changed but not God’s character and not my need of inner cleansing. I once was unclean because of my sin – I was a pig. But now I am clean – because of Christ’s cleansing of my sins. The Lamb of God died to make the unclean, clean. This is why we celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We Are Merit-Mongers By Nature

If God’s mercies are new to me this morning (Lam. 3:22-23), yesterdays hard work for him did not merit any favor. That’s too bad; by nature, my heart loves to earn favor with God by standing out in the crowd – just a little in front of the rest. But this is how the gospel informs and shapes my thinking about my relationship with a holy and merciful God who sent his son as an atonement for my sins. Orthodox Christianity is the only religion on the planet that will not allow man to get ahead of Christ and gain any favor with God by working hard. Mercy is counter-intuitive to how we think but it is God’s way.

This past Sunday, as I am preaching through 1 & 2 Timothy on Sunday mornings, we saw that Paul prays that God would have mercy on Onesiphorus and his household (2 Tim. 1:15-18). Onesiphorus ministered to Paul while in Ephesus – where Timothy is now an elder. But when Paul was arrested and taken to Rome, Onesiphorus risked his life searching for Paul and also risked his life refreshing Paul again and again as the old and beaten apostle languished alone in prison. You would then think that mercy is not what Onesiphorus needed from the Lord but rather a paycheck for all the hard work that he did for Paul. But the gospel shapes Paul’s prayer: No matter how hard you work you are still in need of mercy from the Lord, not because your work doesn’t matter – it does, but because your work does not obligate God to be good to you. At the end of the long work day for the Lord, you and I are still saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

This is one reason why I believe the Bible to be God’s Word. No sane man would write like this. Either you’re a grade A nut-job or you really are an apostle writing the very words of God. There is no religious document in the world that talks this way about man’s work in relation to God’s character of mercy. There is not a human on the planet that naturally gravitates to mercy. We are by nature, Merit-Mongers. We are blood-thirsty for approval based upon our works. In fact, I find myself wanting to do a good work right after I have sinned to off-set my trespass. Have you ever skipped your devotions and then thought, “I’ll read double today to make up for my failure yesterday?” Have you ever gone to church to impress God? Have you ever talked about what right and good things you have done without giving thanks to God, or saying, “God has been merciful to me”? Have you ever compared yourself to someone else’s sin and failure and the slightest infraction, only to put distance between you and the poor beggar so that all can see how better you are? Have you ever minimized your sin in front of your accuser? Have you ever kept embarrassing information about yourself out of the story-line and then slightly embellished the good stuff about you?

Our hearts are merit-mongers, seeking to be seen as worthy before man and God, seeking to be approved by our performance and hard work. But God will not share his glory with us. Our only hope is to plead mercy, look to Christ for all the perfection, performance, and righteousness that we will ever need. You see, the gospel is not something we believed at one time long ago and then got on with the hard work of being a Christian. No – the gospel is my life. It informs and conforms my life to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – for my eternal justification. If I had to work to keep myself in the good graces of God, I would have been tossed out long ago.

Think of it this way: On Judgment Day, would you rather point to all your hard work for entrance into the eternal Joy of the Lord, or would you rather point to Christ’s hard work for you – in your place as your substitution? I’m going with the latter. I advise the same for you. Knowing your need of daily mercy may cut against the grain of your heart, but it is the safest and sweetest and only way to stand before the Lord.

Winter Warlock was a Balanced Calvinist


One of my family’s favorite Christmas movies is “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town!” Last night, we faithfully watched with delight, again. But for several years I’ve pondered whether Winter Warlock was a balanced Calvinist; I think that he probably was (sorry, my brain loves to do this – and yes I need to chill out:), but . . .

As Kris Kringle gives the Warlock a choo-choo present, the icy, wicked countenance of the white wizard changes. Kris asks what is happening and the Warlock responds, “My icy heart – it’s melting.”

“For God, who said, “let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” – 2 Cor. 4:6

And, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” – James 1:18.

Winter got saved because something more powerful than his icy heart overcame it – Sovereign, Hell-Busting, Electing Love. This is what explains why your heart melted at the offer of the most wonderful gift – Salvation in Christ, and did not remain frozen in unrepentant sin (2 Tim. 2:25).

Then Winter says to Kris Kringle, “Suddenly, my whole outlook is changed from bad to good. But will it last? I really am a mean and despicable creature at heart, you know.”

I too have this assesment of my own heart (Jer. 17:9) and I too have wondered if my change will last. I love Winter’s honesty. Truth is, our salvation in Christ will not last through this day if God were not preserving our faith (Phil. 1:6). Our change will not last another minute if God has not determined our complete change as part of his salvation plan (Rom. 8:29-30). We all wonder if our faith, our change will hold. Praise God it will, because God has Ordained it! And though we are new creations in Christ we are still wretched and long to be finally released from this mixture of sin and holiness (Rom. 7:24-25).

Now this is where it gets slippery:-) Kris advises, “Changing from bad to good is as easy as taking your first step.”

As long as we understand that obedience, change, and walking in the Spirit is the duty and delight of the Christian Life, then the entire book of James is sustained: “Faith without works is dead.” In other words, if you are not changing, if you are not obeying, if you are not “making your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:5-11), by making every effort to supplement your faith with good works, then your faith is useless for saving you from your sins. Works does not save – but they do prove that you are saved. And even then, those works are a work of God in your life (1 Cor. 15:9-11).

As Kris, the penguin, and the fawn show Winter how to walk across the floor, it’s time for the changed, yet mean and despicable heart to obey. Winter looks into the icy mirror, and like a good student of the book of James, rhetorically asks,

“If I want to change the reflection I see in the mirror each morn, You mean that it’s just my election, to vote for a chance to be reformed?”                                          

(very practical presbyterianism I might say)

James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (1:22-25).

A balanced Calvinist is one who believes that his salvation was completely and totally a work of grace from the very beginning – even accounting for the reason why you have faith in the first place. This love from God was not simply offered, for you and I would still be rejecting it. Rather, it was a kind of love that was set on you for no other reason than it was God’s free choice to do so (Deut. 7:7-8; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26-27; Eph. 1:4-5; Rom. 8:29-39). But this does not mean that we are passive in our election – we are actively persevering in our faith, in our holiness, in our “walking across the floor” of this life. And soon, we’ll be on the other side.

Ok – now go ahead and sing that great song and put one foot in front of the other and get on with godly living! Keep walking and singing Christian – you’re almost home.

And yes, I know that Winter asks the Lord a little later for one last opportunity to do some magic. But I love to see reindeer fly – so I’m ok with it.