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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Great job! You're in terrible danger...

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.  (1 Thess. 4:1)

In a couple of recent sermons, I have had the occasion to paraphrase these words of Paul in my exhortations to the congregation at Providence.  In our study of 1 Peter, we have come across imperatives that our church obeys very well.  Therefore, I have been moved to acknowledge that to you, while calling you to “do so more and more.”

Our natural inclination as humans is to notice a job well done and relax.  We’re done.  For that reason, it would make more sense—humanly speaking—for Paul to note the Thessalonians’ obedience, and then write, “Great job.  Now I want you to work on this other thing.” 

But consider the verbs at the beginning of the verse, “we ask and urge you.”  Paul likes to stack synonyms for emphasis, and these convey a sense of immediate necessity.  We might expect the apostle to use such an urgent rhetorical device on those pesky Corinthians, who seemed to be doing nothing right (1 Cor 1:11, 5:1, 6:1-6, 6:15-16, 11:17-21).  Yet, he presses hard for action among the Thessalonians, where there was already such remarkable faithfulness that word about them was spreading to other churches throughout Macedonia and Achaia (1:8-10).  

There is a great principle at work in 4:1, which is demonstrated again a few verses later… “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more (4:9-10).  The great principle is this: our current obedience should lead us not to complacency, but to press further into faithfulness.  

Complacency is a sense of self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of danger.  The rest of the passage indicates that danger is lurking and that complacency is on Paul's mind.  Among those things the Thessalonians were successfully doing to walk and to please God was pursuing sexual purity.  How striking then that Paul not only repeats previous instruction to abstain from sexual immorality, but includes the warning, “the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you” (4:6) and “Whoever disregards this disregards not man but God…” (4:8).  Again, we might expect such a warning in an area of current disobedience, yet Paul has just acknowledged their faithfulness in this and other areas.  How easily must we be able to regress if the Holy Spirit inspires warnings for those who are obeying?  How persistent must indwelling sin be if we are called to “do so more and more” when we are already “walking and pleasing God”? 

Paul is calling for urgency where there may be the temptation toward the opposite—complacency.  The warning helps us to understand that the call to “do so more and more” may not only mean “let’s not be satisfied with our current state of holiness,” but may include the idea, “let’s be wary of the terrible danger of complacency.”  From this we can deduce a principle related to the first: The danger of spiritual regression lurks behind spiritual complacency.  

You see, there is no maintenance phase of the Christian life.  As Spurgeon famously stated: “If you want to know how to backslide, leave off going forward.  Cease going upward and you will go downward of necessity.  You can never stand still.”  Paul’s pressure on the Thessalonians to do so more and more indicates he is aware of the danger of settling for any level of faithfulness.  Satisfaction breeds apathy, which will lead to a regression in our walk. 

You may recall those sermons in which I was moved to paraphrase 1 Thess 4:1 regarding 1 Peter 4:9 (“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling”) and 5:5a (“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders”).  As the church at Thessalonica stood out for their faith and love, so also does Providence Bible Fellowship.  Let us not become complacent in these things, but recognizing how easily we regress, purpose to walk and to please God more and more.  

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Correction Connection

Raise your hand if you need more wisdom—insight into life and ways of dealing with problems?  Me, too.  

The best way to conceive of wisdom is that quality of the Lord Jesus’ that enabled Him to see the world rightly and live in it in a way that pleased the Father.  We could say that Jesus is the personification if wisdom.  It’s very easy to desire wisdom because it will make our lives easier.  Certainly, it will.  A grander, higher reason to desire wisdom it that it is a reflection of the character of Christ.  The wiser we become, the more we are like Jesus.

The good news is that God says wonderful things to those who desire wisdom:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom…if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom…he stores up sound wisdom for the upright… Proverbs 2:1-7

God desires to give to all those who desire it this mind of Christ.  However, in isolation, the verses above may lead us to believe that if we simply seek wisdom by praying for it, God will simply plant it in our hearts and minds without using means.  That is, we may expect to wake up tomorrow or the next day or next week miraculously wiser.  

Certainly, such a feat is not beyond God’s power, and it does appear that in Solomon’s case this may have been what God did (1 Kings 3:1-12).  Yet, Solomon himself—who wrote most of the book of Proverbs—teaches us to expect God to use means, or tools, to impart wisdom to us.  

Prominent among those means, particularly in the book of Proverbs, is the tool of correction—someone or something saying to us, “hey, you messed up there.  Do it this way next time.”  There are numerous near-synonyms for correction in the book of Proverbs—reproof, instruction, and discipline.  Proverbs connects all of these words to growth in wisdom, beginning in the opening verses of the book:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice…“If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.” Proverbs 1:20-23  

This is crucial.  Coming under correction alone will not make us wise.  Rather, a right response to correction will lead to wisdom.  Everyone, even fools, receive correction.  The critical question for each of us is, “what will I do with that correction?”  Pride would move each of us to bristle under correction and reject it.  Guess what Proverbs calls those who do that?  Stupid (12:1). Scoffers (13:1). Disgraceful (13:18). Fools (15:5). Self-loathers (15:32).

Proverbs repeated tells us that eagerly receiving correction leads to wisdom.  It is the way of life preserving us from evil (6:23-24).  Given that wisdom is more valuable to silver, gold, and jewels (8:10-11), it makes sense that “the LORD reproves him whom He loves” (3:12).  Therefore, what does Proverbs call those who humble themselves and “turn” at wisdom’s reproof?  Lovers of knowledge (12:1). Honored (13:18). Prudent (15:5). Intelligent (15:32).  Wise (8:33, 9:8-9). 

There are three main ways that correction comes to us.  It would behoove us to be aware of them and prepare our hearts to glean all that we can from them.

First, correction comes through faithful Bible intake.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches that All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  We should read the Word, listen to teaching, and discuss the Word with others with an eye and ear for its correcting voice.  All Scripture is profitable for this, therefore, all Scripture is valuable to help us grow in wisdom…if we heed its correction. 

Second, correction comes through circumstances.  This takes place every time we make a mistake in life and recognize it.  Even a fool can see when he has made an error of any kind.  Will he learn from it?  Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly (26:11).  A wise person is not someone who has never made mistakes.  Rather, he has made many, but has purposed to learn from them and never repeat them.

Third, correction comes from other people.  This doesn’t necessarily have to come from someone who loves us.  Even mean-spirited, unloving, and inaccurate correction can be useful to us.  There is always something to learn.  Proverbs makes it clear that the wise man loves correction and those who correct him.  Does he love correction because he is wise?  Or is he wise because he loves correction?  Yes!  He became wise through correction, he knows this, and so he wisely loves correction that he might become wiser still (9:8-9).

If we would be wise, we must love correction.  When it comes, we should mine it as if it contained gold, asking ourselves, “in what way is this showing me how I do not think and live like the Lord Jesus?  How can I turn in response to this reproof?”  The more we pray for wisdom, the more likely we are to receive correction.  Let’s pray that God will give us a godly appetite for it and a growing affection for Jesus.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

June Prayer Requests

We may have suspended Wednesday night activities for the Summer (Kid’s Quest, Youth Bible Study, Prayer Meeting), but we should still look for opportunities to obey the one-another commands amid the busyness of vacations and other activities. To that end, each month this Summer I’ll post a list of prayer concerns that we can bring before the Lord on behalf of the body at PBF.  

Possible Building/Property Transition
  • Please pray for the property steering team.  Wisdom, endurance, time.  James 1:5: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 
  • Please pray that God would move the godly and ungodly entities involved to accomplish His will for gospel ministry at PBF.  Prov. 21:1: The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.  (Ezra 1:1; Hag 1:14-15)
  • Please pray that all members would labor to maintain the unity of the church, as transitions tend to be times of great temptation to contend for preferences at the expense of the kingdom.  Eph. 4:1-3: I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Vacation Bible School (June 10-14)
  • Pray that God would bring a large number to encounter Him.  John 8:12: Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
  • Please pray that seeds would be planted in some, watered in others, and that God would grant growth in all.  1 Cor. 3:6: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
  • Praise God for the workers and ask that they would be blessed in their labor. John 4:35-36: Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.

Youth Camp @ Crossings (June 24-28)
  • Please pray that the saved would enjoy intensified affection for Jesus.  Psa. 63:3: Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
  • Please pray that the eyes of the lost would be opened.  Acts 13:48: And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.  (Acts 26:12-18)

  • Please pray for spiritual renewal and energy for the chaperones.  Psa. 103:2-5: Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Warning Signs Preceding "Big" Sins

The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Proverbs 22:3)

I’ve heard the same question many times: how do people fall into the really big sins?  How it is even possible for seemingly mature believers to give in to what might be considered life-altering sins like adultery?  

We may have a hard time understanding it because we envision temptations to these kinds of sins coming out of nowhere, as if one minute a person can be living a life of complete faithfulness to the Lord and the next minute they are destroying their lives with an outrageous act of rebellion.  Yet, this isn’t really the way it happens.  Big sins are usually the result of the toleration of long series of smaller sins.

(Is it biblical to categorize sins as big and small?  Some would say no, that all sin is the same.  It is true that all sin is sufficient to condemn us to hell.  However, all sin is not the same in terms of temporal consequences.  The consequences of an unkind thought are not going to be the same as the consequences of murder.  This is demonstrated in the OT treatment of various sins.  There were some sins that were punishable by the death penalty and others that were not [Lev 20]. The NT echoes this by indicating that there are some sins that are more serious than others, like sexual sin or creating division in the church [1 Cor 5:1-13, 6:18; Titus 3:10-11].  This is the distinction I am making by using the terms “big” and “small.”)

The Bible teaches that our enemy is cunning (Gen 3:1; 2 Cor 2:11,11:3).  He’s no idiot.  He disguises himself as an angel of light to deceive us (2 Cor 11:14-15).  He’s not going to spook us with a temptation to a huge sin out of nowhere.  He will seek to lead us there slowly.  We could think of lesser sins as training wheels for the bigger sins.  We give in to relatively small things and those sins train us to tolerate sins that are a little more serious.  And those sins prepare us to tolerate bigger sins.  Sin is a progressive thing.  Slavery to sexual sin or compulsive lying or rampant gossip doesn’t happen over night.  We tiptoe into it slowly.  

All along the way, there are signs warning us, “Hey! Look out! Danger!”  As the proverb above indicates, we are wise to see danger and hide from it.  The Scriptures promise us that for every temptation we face, there is a way of escape (1 Cor10:13).  When we sin, it is because we did not take advantage of that escape.  We saw the warning signs and intentionally walked right past them into our sin.  

The most obvious warning sign is the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin.  But are there other warning signs?  Here are just a few:

(1) A gradual shift from a focus on godly influences to a focus on secular influences.  Sin degrades my appetite for truth.  When I find myself not interested in godly influences the way I once was, but secular influences are taking up more of my time, it may be an indication that I am avoiding godly influences so that I can remain comfortable in some sin.  

(2) A progressive appetite for certain smaller sins.  This may not even mean giving in to those sins, but may just be a ramping up of the intensity and frequency of temptation to those sins.  That is a warning sign.  You need help.  

(3) A progressive tolerance for certain smaller sins.  By “tolerance” I mean actually giving in to the temptation and not repenting and seeking help.  If there is a sin in your life that used to be completely out of bounds, but with which you have now become accustomed and even comfortable, that’s huge red flag.  Your conscience is becoming insensitive and you are progressing toward bigger problems.

(4) A cooling of my pursuit of Jesus.  The Lord taught us in Matt 6:24 that no one can serve two masters.  A decreasing passion for Jesus is a sign of an increasing passion for some other god or sin.  

(5) A progressive difficulty spending time in the Word and in prayer.  This is tied closely to the previous one.  We all have days when we don’t feel like praying and when the Bible seems like its written in another language.  But a long season of dryness can be a warning sign that we are in spiritual danger.  There may be sin that is pulling us away from the Lord.  At the very least, these are times when we are more susceptible to temptation.

(6) Pulling away from meaningful fellowship and accountability.  We’ve heard it a million times, but that’s because it’ s true: God gave the church to the church to help the church be the church.  We need each other.  But sin likes to hide: For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (John 3:20).  If we are avoiding other believers, it may be a sign that we are motivated to hide something.  

So, if you see one of these warning signs in your life, what should you do?  Tell somebody quickly.   Grab a brother or sister and tell them you need help fleeing from a certain sin or reinvigorating your walk with the Lord.  2 Timothy tells us that when we flee from sin and pursue holiness, we need to do it with others (2:22).  Sanctification is a team sport!  We must be in the Word and in prayer with others by our side. 

If you feel like you are entrenched in something or even in danger of heading down the wrong road, tell someone immediately.  The elders are always available and our church is full of believers who will encourage and help you.

We’re all capable of the worst of sins.  That’s why we need to pay attention to the warning signs and take advantage of the tools God has given us to combat sin.  

Friday, May 10, 2019

Success! Do These People Know How To Rummage or What?!

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. 
(James 1:27)

All I can say is that our Orphan Care Ministry team is serious about doing whatever is necessary to help others adopt children.  They proved it again by transforming PBF into a flea market and back again last weekend. 

It’s amazing what these people are capable of.  Wednesday evening after our monthly prayer meeting, it looked like a landfill vomited in our sanctuary.  Thursday represented fourteen hours of highly-motivated volunteers organizing, pricing, hanging clothes, and posting signage.  Friday morning a crowd of rummage sale aficionados showed up like we were giving away money.  

By the end of the sale at 3pm on Saturday, my only thought was, “How on earth are we going to get this place looking like a church before tomorrow morning?”  One hour later, my only thought was, “God is so kind and I love the body of Christ at PBF.”  Many hands make light work and the place was transformed very quickly.  

The sale was an enormous success.  The proceeds will be added to our Lifesong for Orphans Fund.  We explained last year that LifeSong For Orphans manages all the funds raised for adoption through our Orphan Care Ministry.  The funds are used for adoption loans, which are repaid via adoption tax credits.  The first loan to use the funds was recently repaid in full.  With the diligent fundraising and generous gifts of the last several months, the fund has quadrupled since that first loan was made.  We praise God for His blessing through the kindness, hard work, and generosity of many.

It’s crucial to remember why we care for orphans.  We serve a God who has a heart for the fatherless.  He sent His Son to die and be raised so that He might adopt a multitude of spiritual orphans eternally.  We are among that number.  We promote adoption because we want to be like Him and because we want to be a living picture of that gospel.

May the Lord bless all who contributed to the rummage sale by donating items, time, and sweat.  It was for an eternal cause!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

God’s Power to Save through Simple Means

Once again, we see the result of faithful gospel preaching: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (v 21). It is quite extraordinary to consider just how often we find this type of phrase in Acts. Regularly, the Lord saves a multitude as the church faithfully fulfills its commission to preach the gospel. Regrettably, in our own day, many churches have turned away from the simplicity of preaching and evangelism. Some churches and Christians seem to think that preaching and evangelism are ineffective means of advancing the kingdom. Instead, many church-growth books advocate an endless array of marketing strategies and clever programs designed to bring people into the church. But God’s ways are far simpler and far more effective. This is his church-growth book: it is called Acts. Spirit-filled and Spirit-empowered preaching and evangelism are his appointed means of bringing people into his kingdom.

We should particularly note that the disciples in this passage did not have access to an enormous amount of money, or any status in the culture, or clever marketing techniques. These Christians were harassed and under constant threat of persecution. Yet God blessed their efforts to simply and clearly communicate the gospel to their friends and neighbors and anyone they met. Let us never doubt God’s power to save through the simple means of gospel preaching.

—R. Albert Mohler, Acts 1-12 For You: Charting the Birth of the Church

Monday, April 29, 2019

Endgame, Excitement, and Enjoying God's Glory

Last week I saw a meme about Avengers: Endgame.  There are dozens of related memes floating around the web, but this one was presented as the rules for watching the movie with one particularly zealous fan:  

They take this thing seriously!  

Even apart from the humor of the post, Endgame is a big deal both financially and culturally. The recent rise of superhero movies is a geek fantasy come to life. More than that, the average moviegoer has been captivated by the consistent world-building and character growth which Marvel/Disney has accomplished across almost two dozen films. Based on opening weekend figures, Endgame is positioned to be a huge money-maker; possibly achieving numbers that make it the biggest box-office open of all time.  It's not hard to see why some fans would take it so seriously!  

But maybe superhero movies aren't your thing. Maybe it's March Madness or the World Series. Maybe it's the return of Hamilton or some other Broadway show to area. Most of us are fans of something and we can be over-the-top about it.

But is it possible that the attention we fans give to such an event betrays how underwhelmed we are by what matters most?  What matters for eternity?

When was the last time we treated a Sunday morning like we did the big game or long-anticipated movie?  Have we ever prepared for listening to the sermon with eager anticipation? Have we ever desired to soak up every word, looking for connections to the Bible and life like we look for clues for the next Marvel film?  Have we thought about the lyrics we're signing together as a congregation?  Have we let their meaning move from head to heart, so that we are worshiping, not just singing?  And what about God's people?  Do we come ready merely to shake hands and throw a few smiles? Or are we determined to actually get to know the people with which we will spend eternity?

Of course, we will all have our ups and downs, spiritually. Not every Sunday will feel like a monumental event. Some weeks we'll need the grace of God to even lift our eyes to the heavens.  But the question still remains: what gets us really excited?  Is it the things of God, or the things of this world?  One answer leads to a wasted life. The other leads to a life that ends with hearing, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

And if you aren't happy with your answer to that question, take heart--there's hope! Scripture is clear that God is a God of change. By his death and resurrection, Christ has secured for us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Through faith in him, we can be changed into people who long for God and are consumed with a passion for his glory.  We need only immerse ourselves in the things of God and stare again and again at his glory and we will changed: “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

Of course the clearest vision of God's glory is seen in Jesus (John 1:14, 16). This is why we look for him as we read throughout all Scripture (John 5:39). Focusing more time and attention on the things of God in an effort to see his glory may start as a duty. But, by God's grace, eventually it will become our delight!  Then, church, ministry, and living the Christian life will be far sweeter to our souls, while, in the words of Helen Lemmel, "the things of earth will grow strangely dim."

So, for this next few weeks, I'd encourage you to commit to praying something like this every morning: 
Father, turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Help me to set my mind on things that are above. Please show me your glory in your Son that I might be changed (Ps 119:37; Col 3:2; Exod 33:18; 2 Col 3:18).