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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks for All Things

 I know most believers tomorrow will be taking time to reflect on the things for which they are thankful, and will be taking the time to express that thanksgiving to God.  Family, freedom, warm clothes, homes, food, and certainly for our salvation through Jesus Christ.  Undoubtedly, we have much for which to be thankful, including some things that might not normally be mentioned on Thanksgiving Day.

Those of you who were with us as we made our way through Ephesians may remember 5:18-20, where we are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit,” which includes giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Many times when we read such things in Scripture, we want to write them off as hyperbole, but there is sufficient evidence in Scripture that when Paul wrote “everything” in Eph 5:20, he meant everything.

So the aim of this post is to prompt you to ponder some non-traditional things for which to give thanks to God tomorrow.

1. God’s self-revelation

Romans 1:18-20 tell us that God made known to men some of His attributes through the things that have been made.  There we find that the appropriate response to God’s revelation of Himself in creation (which theologians refer to as “general revelation”) is to worship Him and give thanks to Him. 
You may have thanked God for His creation before, but why did you do that?  Because of its beauty?  Surely, that is appropriate.  But let me suggest that we should also thank God for His creation for the simple fact that through it, He has revealed His eternal power and  divine nature.

Consider what the psalmist writes in Psalm 19:1-6:  The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

David’s celebration of the creation was not due to its own beauty, but because it declared the glory of God. 

David’s celebration in Psalm 19 then moves to God’s fuller revelation of Himself in His Word:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.  Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11 ESV).  

What a travesty that we ever go a day without expressing our gratitude to God for graciously giving us His Word translated into our own tongue.  May the Lord kindle in us the heart of the psalmist: Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psa 119:97).  The one who loves the Word will give thanks for it.

2. Fruit in the lives of other believers

There are so many people in my life for whom I am thankful.  I have a tendency to thank God for their presence in my life, but to thank them for their good works.  There is nothing wrong with expressing appreciation to someone, but we must keep in mind who is to receive all glory and thanks for the good works believers do.

Ephesians 2:1-10 reveals that not only is God to be glorified for our conversion, but also for our good deeds: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  The previous verse makes it clear that the scope of salvation, including justification and sanctification, is God’s doing, “so that no one may boast” (v9).

In Romans 6, after exhorting believers to live as those who are dead to sin, in v17, he goes on to credit God for their obedience: But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.  

Why would Paul thank God for the obedience of the Romans?  I think we find a clue in Phil 2:12-13, where he exhorts the Philippians to obey, noting that it was God who worked in them both to will and to work for His good pleasure.  So whenever a believer obeys, God has worked in them to bring about that good work.  Therefore, He gets the glory and He is to be thanked. 

3. Various Trials

The New Testament calls us to have a high view of the meticulous sovereignty of God in all things.  As we’ve noted so many times, Ephesians 1:11 describes our God as “Him who works all things after the counsel of His will.”  It is because of God’s meticulous sovereignty that Paul is able to write in Romans 8:28-29 that “all things work together for good,” namely, that we would “be conformed to the image of His Son.” 

That means that even the most difficult trials in the life of a believer are tools in the hands of God as He chisels that believer into the likeness of Christ.  With that glorious end in mind, we are exhorted to not only endure our trials, but to rejoice in them (1 Peter 1:6-7, Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4)! 

It is a mark of spiritual maturity, in the midst of one’s troubles, to not immediately look for a quick way out, but to discern how the Lord might be using that situation to achieve our Christlikeness.  It is a mark of even greater maturity to give thanks to God for those trials and to rejoice in them.  May the Lord grow us all in that way.

I pray that you all have a wonderful thanksgiving.  My family will be giving thanks for the fruit He has produced in the lives of His children at PBF!

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Temptation Toward Isolation

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)

It is a natural human tendency to avoid accountability.  We are rebellious at heart, we do not want to submit ourselves to others, and we do not want people examining our lives.  It could be said that it is the sinfully natural thing to desire spiritual autonomy. 

But this verse in Proverbs shows how unwise it is to isolate oneself from others.  It is completely self-centered – whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire – and it is foolish - …he breaks out against all sound judgment.

God gave the church to the church.  Ephesians 4:9-16 makes it clear that we are to be serving one another, building one another up in Christ, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  V15 shows that a vital component of our assisting one another toward growth in Christlikeness is “speaking the truth in love.”  It would make sense that if we are exhorted to do this for one another, we also need others to do this for us.  If we shy away from honest relationships where we can hold one another accountable and speak the truth in love, we are removing from our lives one of the tools Christ has given us to help us become more like Him.

In our Sanctification Series class last Saturday, as we were discussing the issue of forgiveness, we talked some about how important it is to have people in our lives who love us enough to confront our sin.  The more people we have around us who will love us in that way, the less likely we are to sin.  Conversely, the fewer people we have around us who will love us enough to confront our sin, the more likely we are to sin. 

This seems to be one idea behind an exhortation at the climax of the book of Hebrews in 10:24-27.  After explaining the certainty of our salvation in Christ, the writer writes: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.

Why should we make it a priority to meet together? Because in the absence of stirring up one another to love and good works, there is the great danger of deliberately continuing in sin.  And therein lies a possible motive for those who shy away from any kind of accountability.  It may be that such a person wants to hide his sin so that it doesn’t have to be removed from his life.  It’s possible that such a person wants to continue in sin.

Another reason that someone may not seek accountability is that they think that accountability is only for the weak, “addicted,” or immature.  In other words, they consider accountability to be primarily for “serious” sin and “serious” sinners.  However, the New Testament would not support such a notion.  Of all the churches to which Paul wrote letters in the New Testament, the one considered the most mature was the one to which he made numerous calls for mutual accountability.  Indeed, it was to the Thessalonians that Paul wrote about such things.  Even though he acknowledged that they were already living lives pleasing to God, he exhorted them to “do so more and more” (1 Thess 4:1).  Toward that end, he wrote in 1 Thess 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.”  Three verses later, he gave the fuller exhortation, “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” 

We find another strong exhortation toward accountability written to – of all people – a pastor in 2 Timothy 2:22: So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. What a compact, yet complete picture of our responsibility in sanctification – put off sin, put on righteousness, and don’t try to do it alone. 

If such things were written to a pastor and to the godly believers in Thessalonica, should we think that we have no need to be admonished when we are idle, encouraged when we are fainthearted, and helped when we are weak?  Should we think we can effectively flee from sinful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace all by ourselves without the help and encouragement of other believers who are pursuing the same things?  Scripture is clear – we need one another.  And as Proverbs 18:1 indicates, only a fool would deny that.

My wife and I have been trying to teach our children about the “put off/put on” principle found in Ephesians 4:22-24.  When believers deal with sin, it is not enough to simply make an effort to put off sinful desires or behavior; we must also put on the opposite godly virtue or behavior.  Last week, Shelby suggested we make this a routine part of our lives by putting up a large white board in our kitchen.  We installed it the other day, and at the top, we wrote a “put off” Scripture verse, which details an ungodly attitude we all need to remove from our lives.  Under that we wrote a “put on” verse, describing the godly virtue we want to cultivate by God’s grace. 

Then we wrote the names of each person in the family on the board.  Next to each name, we noted the specific Christlike quality we each want to pursue, as well as something for which we want give thanks for the week.  This is a great tool for reminding ourselves what we need to be focusing on.  But without some form of accountability, simply reading the words on this board will be no more helpful than listening to biblical sermons without taking meaningful steps to apply the truth.

So we have incorporated accountability into how we use the white board.  Each day we go down the list and ask each person (including me and Shelby) how we are doing with the specific Christlike quality we are each pursuing.  If we have failed in any way that constitutes a sin against another person, we seek that person’s forgiveness and God’s forgiveness.  If we have failed in a way that constitutes a sin against God alone, then we seek His forgiveness.  Guess what?  With even this simplest of accountability arrangements, I have found it easier to be obedient to the Lord. 

I have the blessing of having numerous people in my life who love me enough to confront my sin and hold me accountable.  It has been an invaluable part of my spiritual growth and I would encourage everyone to surround themselves with such loving believers.  If you do not have any kind of accountability relationship, please approach one of the elders.  We would be happy to connect you with someone.  If you already have someone in mind, please take the first step and ask them to consider such a relationship.  This is an essential part of our sanctification.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can do this on your own. 

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.

Posted by Greg Birdwell 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Forgiveness Fallacies

On Saturday, November 13 from 8:30a-12:00p, we will be having our second installment in our Sanctification Series.  The entire morning will be devoted to the issue of forgiveness.  In our brief history, there have been two or three occasions, on which I have broached the subject, offering a brief explanation of what I believe the Bible teaches on this subject.  However, this will be the first opportunity for us to explore this issue in sufficient detail.

Why study forgiveness?  Don’t we all have an intuitive understanding of what forgiveness is?  I want to save a full answer to those questions for the 13th, but I thought it might be helpful to offer you a number of “forgiveness fallacies,” that I believe demonstrate the breadth of our misunderstanding of this very important doctrine.  You may find that my list of fallacies contains most of what you currently believe about forgiveness.  You may completely disagree that some of these are fallacies at all.  I won’t take the time now to tell you why these things are unbiblical – you’ll have to come next Saturday to find out. 

This list is not intended to be comprehensive.  I’m sure there are others out there.  This just represents the fallacies I have heard most often over the years.  Here they are in no particular order:

1. “I need to apologize.”  Most of us live this one.  We have a fight with a spouse, we raise our voices at our kids, we hurt a friend’s feelings, and then we seek to make things right by apologizing or saying, “I’m sorry.”  Can an apology really repair a strained or broken relationship?  I would venture to say it can actually make things worse.

2. “I’m just not ready to forgive.”  This one is based on an underlying fallacy that forgiveness is related to our emotions.  We don’t feel like forgiving.  “I’m just not ready to forgive” treats forgiveness as if it is a process.  I’m sure thankful God doesn’t view it that way.

3. “I can’t forgive you for that.”  Sometimes people we love may sin against us in ways that are so hurtful, we may think they are insurmountable, they are too big to forgive, or we will never be able to get over them.  However, this completely misunderstands what forgiveness is.

4. “I don’t know how to forgive you.”  This one, like #3, is based on the erroneous idea that forgiveness means ridding oneself of the anger and bitterness associated with a wrong suffered.  If we look closely at what the Bible teaches on the issue, understanding how to forgive is quite simple.

5. “How do I know if I’ve truly forgiven that person?”  Sometimes we may purpose to forgive someone and even say, “I forgive you” to the person who wronged us, but then periodically dwell on that offense and experience the anger and pain all over again.  This leads us to wonder if we ever really forgave them in the first place.  But if we understand forgiveness biblically, we can know for sure.

6. “I’ve already forgiven you.”  It may happen that a person who has hurt us comes to ask for forgiveness, and we reply, “I’ve already forgiven you.”  In other words, we forgive before we have been asked to forgive.  This shouldn’t happen.

7. “I know I should forgive whether that person asks me to or not.”  This is a variation of #6.  If we forgive someone who has sinned against us without them asking for forgiveness or without us even confronting their sin or without them even knowing they sinned against us, we have violated Scripture on two accounts.

8. “You’re not hurting that person by holding a grudge against them.  You’re just hurting yourself.  You need to forgive so you can move on with your life.”  This one makes forgiveness all about the forgiver.  We’ve probably all either heard this one, or said it ourselves…and it’s unbiblical.

9. “Forgive and forget.”  I won’t say anything about this one until the 13th.

10.“It is unloving to not forgive that person.”   That is true in certain situations.  But sometimes the most loving thing to do is to not forgive.  How can that be? Hint: biblical forgiveness is conditional.

You may be thinking “Greg, some of that sounds contrary to Scripture.”  I promise you, I’ll explain it all…but you have to come to the Sanctification Series on November 13.  Bring any questions, skepticism, doubts, or challenges you may have, and we’ll work through them together then.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Posted by Greg Birdwell