Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More on God's Will

I'm at school all week, so I may not make any substantive entries here. However, if I come across something that would be beneficial, I will certainly pass it along.

I have come across just that kind of thing. It is an older article entitled "Pitfalls in Finding God's Will for Your Life" by R.B. Kuiper. The concept of "hearing the voice of God" is getting more and more accepted in the evangelical world. A variation of this is "listening prayer". It's the idea that God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit outside of the pages of Scripture. It sounds spiritual but it is an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. This article by Kuiper is a wonderful reminder of how important it is for us to stay grounded in the Word when we begin to think about the concept of God's will. For me to make the claim that God spoke to me is to claim the receipt of extra-biblical revelation and to add to the Word of God.

Take the time to read this article. I pray that it will bless you as it did me. God's Word is complete and sufficient for the salvation and sanctification of His people (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:3-4).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Process of Change: Mind Renewal

So far we’ve looked at the first four components of the change process – guilt, repentance, forgiveness, and replacement. Finally, we come to the last component, mind renewal.

You may remember from our Sunday morning sermon series in Ephesians 4:22-24, that there is a three-step process to exchanging sinful habits for godly ones. We must put off our old manner of life (v22), be renewed in the spirit of our mind (v23), and put on the new self (v24). The “putting off” and “putting on” will never lead to genuine lasting change if our minds are not also being renewed.

There is much confusion over what exactly this means. Do we just sit back and let the Holy Spirit work His magic? That can’t be it because we know that sanctification involves cooperation between the believer and the Spirit of God (Phil 2:12-13). If we sit back, nothing is going to happen. Do we just read the Bible more, listen to more sermons, and memorize more Scripture? Will that renew our minds? Those things are certainly important, but we should understand that there has to be the purposeful application of Scripture to our lives in order for real change to take place. Just reading, listening, and memorizing will expand our knowledge, but will not change our hearts unless we apply it.

Mind renewing application requires a relentless and meticulous effort. We need a coordinated attack, a serious battle plan. The enemy army of ungodly thoughts is vast and there is no spiritual nuclear weapon that will knock them all out at the same time. Rather, it will require some spiritual sniping – we renew our minds one thought at a time.

A passage that is a helpful guide for this process is Phil 4:6-9:

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

We’ll use the sin of anxiety to demonstrate how to renew a sinful thought. If you struggle with anxiety there are any number of ways in which that might be manifested in your life. You may worry about your health, your job, your finances, your family, your reputation, the economy, the government, the weather – you name it. Each of these can be expressed in ungodly thinking. “I’m afraid I’ve got cancer.” “If I lose my job, I don’t know what I’ll do.” “What if she leaves me? I can’t survive that.” The external handwringing is always going to be accompanied by mental handwringing, or sinful thoughts.

First of all, yes, it is a sin to be anxious. Look no further than v6 up there. Anxiety is a result of a lack of faith in God (Matt 6:25-34). To deal with that sin, we have to put it off, put on the godly opposite (faith), and renew our minds with respect to that sin. That renewal takes place one step at a time. To begin, you must identify a recurring anxious thought that you have. I’ll just pick one – “I’m afraid I’ve got cancer.” The Philippians passage gives us the steps to take.

1. Right praying (vv6-7)

Rather than being anxious about the sin you are dealing with, you take it to God with thanksgiving. This serves to put God at the center of the issue. Express your desire to overcome the ungodly thought for God’s glory, acknowledging your dependence upon His strength.

There is a tremendous comfort in being completely focused on God’s glory. When we do that, our hearts and minds will be guarded by the peace of God.

2. Right thinking.

v8 tells us to think on true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things. So our objective is to take the thought “I’m afraid I’ve got cancer” and exchange it for a biblical, God-honoring thought. We can do that by making a list of subject matter in the Bible that pertains to the ungodly thought. That list could include: death, sickness, eternity, God’s sovereignty, fear, God’s wisdom, family (who will be affected by your illness), and faith.

We can then look up the relevant passages in Scripture and construct a new thought. A short list of passages might include:

(Deu 32:39) See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

(Phi 1:21) For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

(Rom 8:28) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

(Rom 11:33) Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

(Mat 6:25-34) "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…"

(2Co 12:10) For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Here is an example of a renewed thought based on these verses: “God alone is sovereign over my life. Cancer cannot take me unless in His wisdom He has decreed it. If He does, it will be for my good and His glory, and His grace is sufficient to see me through that trial. I will not be anxious – for my destiny is in His hands. If I live, I will live for Christ. If I die, I will gain heaven’s joy. Either way I trust His sovereign hand.”

That may be long-winded for some, but it makes the point. Whenever you are tempted to worry about that illness, by God’s grace you reject that thought and replace it with the godly thought constructed from Scripture.

3. Right practice

v9 commands us to practice the things taught in the Scriptures. We must go beyond thinking right thoughts to doing right things. Some examples might include:

- pray for all those you know who are sick
- if you know anyone who is terminally ill, find some way to minister to them or their family; share the gospel with them
- make a renewed-thought flashcard; on one-side write the old, sinful thought; on the other side write the renewed thought and any helpful Scripture passages
- meditate on the love and sovereignty of God
- listen to God-centered worship music

The point of all these things is to take your mind off of yourself and place it squarely on God. If you will follow these steps every time you are tempted to entertain that sinful thought, eventually the renewed thought will become the standard.

And don’t think that you can only deal with one thought at any one time. I am personally working on half a dozen right now. Each morning I pray over each specific one and review each one so that I am ready whenever temptation comes.

If you will be faithful to do this, by God's grace you will find that your thinking has been completely changed in the area of anxiety. Rather than worry, there will be trust. Rather than gloom, there will be joy. Rather than despair, there will be hope. Rather than self-absorption, there will be God-centeredness.

Whatever your sin issue, there is hope and help in Christ. The power that raised Him from the dead, is the power that works in you (Eph 1:16-19; 3:20-21).

(Phi 2:12-13) …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Adapted from lectures given by Dr. Stuart Scott at SBTS.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Practical Relevance of the Sovereignty of God

When I was first persuaded by the Word that God is absolutely sovereign over all things, I accepted it but decided I would never teach it. I believed it was not an essential doctrine. “It’s too hard for people. It raises more questions than it answers. It could destroy the faith of a weaker believer. It just paints a picture of God that would be too much for most people – they would doubt whether or not He is loving.”

However, the more I study theology the more I recognize that the doctrine of the sovereignty to God is absolutely foundational to our understanding of who God is, who we are, and the nature of salvation itself. Without this great doctrine, God is God Most Lucky rather than God Most High, man is exalted rather than brought low, and salvation is by obligation rather than by grace. Essentially, if God is not meticulously sovereign over all things, we are left with a sad shell of a religion. God’s sovereignty is an indispensible part of our whole system of theology.

But what about on a practical level? Does God’s sovereignty make any difference in the way I live my life? By God’s grace, I have recently become convinced that it makes all the difference in the world.

I’ve just finished another semester of seminary. I have two weeks to prepare for my first summer class – Typical Problems in Biblical Counseling. There is tons of reading to do for this class and the book I’m currently reading is “The Christian’s Guide to Psychological Terms” by Marshall and Mary Asher. The book takes what seems like every psychological term in the universe, defines it, gives a description of the term from a psychological perspective, and then gives a description of the term from a Biblical perspective. The terms are laid out in alphabetical order. I’m only up to Bipolar 1 Disorder, and already I’ve been struck by how many of these disorders, when looked at from a Biblical perspective, stem from a faulty view of God, and a faulty view of His sovereignty in particular.

Here are just a few quotes from the book, with the secular psychological term and the Biblical perspective on it:

- Acute Stress Disorder – “[The counselee’s] lack of trust indicates a possible lack of understanding of God’s sovereignty and His active involvement in the life of His children.”

- Adjustment Disorder – “The counselee may not understand the sovereignty of God and that God has brought this new situation into his life for his good. The counselee is not trusting God. He does not see that God is using this new experience to conform him to the image of Christ.”

- Agoraphobia – “Agoraphobia is indicative of a wrong view of God’s character, particularly His sovereignty.”

- Anosognosia (defined as the refusal to acknowledge the contraction of a specific physical illness) – “The godly response to weakness is illustrated by Paul (2 Cor 12:7-10): …Acknowledge God’s hand in the circumstances…Recognize God’s power working through the circumstances…”

- Anxiety Disorders – “Ungodly fear/anxiety focuses on what might happen to you without consideration of the love, wisdom, and sovereign power of God…Fear is focused on circumstances without regard for God.”

There are two Scriptures that are essential for us to keep in mind if we are to find hope and help in the sovereignty of God. The first is Eph 1:11, In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. There is nothing outside the control of God. He is bringing all things to pass. There is no such thing as a random event.

The second is Rom 8:28, And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Not only is God in control of all things, He is making sure that all things are accomplishing good for His believers.

If you take these two references, memorize them, meditate on them, love them, and lean of them, you will have an antidote to many of the things that plague us in this life. The loss of a loved one will not be with sorrow alone, but also with an understanding that this death is not a random mistake, but is part of God’s eternal plan (Deut 32:39). That pain has purpose. It is accomplishing your ultimate good.

Fear, anxiety, worry, disappointment, physical and emotional pain, and less than ideal circumstances can all be met with a conviction of the sovereignty of God. When all those things are looked at through the lens of Scripture (particularly the two verses above), they are put in their proper perspective and can be dealt with in a God-honoring way. In the heart that has embraced a view of God actively working all things for our good, there can be found no place for despair.

If that’s not practical, I don’t know what is. That’s why at PBF, we won’t hide this beautiful doctrine under a bushel. We’ll not wrongly relegate it to the wasteland of impractical theological debate. Rather, we will love it, proclaim it, and bring it to bear on every circumstance, knowing that it is essential not only for our doctrine, but also for our lives.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Difficulty of Evangelizing Loved Ones

Thanks to everyone for all the prayers, kind words, and cards about my grandmother’s death. It’s wonderful to have such a caring church family.

When I first learned that she was very ill and her death was imminent, I was immediately concerned about her salvation. I had not seen her in about 10 years, so I was unable to point to any fruit of repentance in her life in her last years. When we arrived in Texas, she was so heavily medicated that it was impossible to have a serious conversation about spiritual things. I learned from family members that she had professed faith in Christ. They took her at her word and I take them at theirs, still acknowledging that no one can see into the heart of another person to know for sure whether or not they are redeemed. In the end, all we have to go by is the evidence of that faith – good works (James 2:17-18).

Prior to hearing that news, I wondered why it is that sharing the gospel with a stranger can be so much easier than sharing it with a loved one. I think it comes down to the fear of rejection, which is simply one manifestation of pride. What do I care if a common stranger rejects me? I don’t even know that person. But if a family member or close friend rejects us because of our sharing the truth of the gospel, that is different. It hurts. We don’t want to lose them, and conveying the stark demands that Christ places upon those who would follow Him are offensive to those who are in their sins. That loved one will hear the demands of Christ as words of personal attack from us and their rejection of Him will taken as a rejection of us.

But we have to decide if we love our family’s acceptance of us more than we love Christ. Jesus told us to anticipate relationships being strained or broken because of His call on us. He was very upfront about this. It was not His intention to make us popular. Remember His words:

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matt 10:32-37 ESV).

If we love Christ we will share the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ with those we love, in spite of how they might react. Our desire to please Him should trump our desire to please them. If it doesn't, we are not worthy of Him.

But in addition to that, we need to realize that if we truly love these people we will be willing to suffer the loss of a relationship in exchange for the possibility of their being saved from eternal damnation by faith in Christ. Make no mistake about it – our reluctance to share the truth with our loved ones is not based on love for them, but rather it is based on love for ourselves and disdain for the personal discomfort that would come with any rejection. If we really believe that the gospel saves and if we really love these people, we will share it with them. Choosing our own personal comfort and acceptance via the path of least offense will always be packaged with a passive resignation to their eternal demise. My silence is my confession that I am okay with their destruction. How is that loving?

So who is it in your life? Who is it in your family or circle of friends who needs the gospel, but you have resisted sharing it with them for fear of turning them off, offending them, or completely losing the relationship? There is a day set in the future for every one of us when it will be too late (Heb 9:27). Let’s love Christ enough to make Him known and to trust Him for the grace to endure whatever consequences may come.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mother's Day

John MacArthur preached a wonderful sermon on Mother's Day a few years ago. I thought it would be appropriate to share it. He titled it, "Hannah: A Godly Mother". You can read or listen to the message here.

MacArthur makes the point, "To be a godly mother involves a right husband relationship, a right heavenly relationship and a right home relationship. Hannah had all of that. God honored it. And she gives us a model to follow."

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