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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cultivating Self-Control

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Pro 25:28)
I just came across an app called “Self-Control.”  It’s a program that allows you to block distracting websites on your computer.  You just set a timer for however long you want to want to block distractions and you will not be able to access the internet even if you restart your computer. 
The name of the app is ironic to me.  Seems like it should be called “App-Control” or “No-Self-Control.”  The app appeals to those who lack the ability to control themselves.  If only having self-control was as easy as downloading it…
The New Testament term self-control is defined as the ability to regulate one’s behavior.[1]  Many things that we enjoy in moderation are good things, but done excessively can lead to evil.  A person without self-control is one who is unable to control the impulse to go beyond moderation into excess.  Self-control can also be thought of as the ability to control one’s bodily passions.  For example, abstaining from extramarital sexual activity is a self-control issue (1 Cor 7:5, 9).
Proverbs 25:28 has something interesting to tell us about the person with no self-control: he is like a city broken into and left without walls.  To our modern minds, this might not make much sense, but those familiar with the OT and the ancient world understand the importance of having walls around a city.  The walls were a city’s first line of defense.  They were the greatest obstacles to that city being taken and plundered by the enemy. 
My family has just recently finished watching The Lord of the Rings movies.  In each one, the significance of city walls is obvious.  As long as the walls held out, there was hope for the good guys to survive.  (I’m not a Lord of the Rings nerd, so I’m not sure about their names.)  But once the walls were breached, things turned ugly in a hurry.  After destroying the walls, the enemy could pour in and overwhelm the inhabitants of the city.
So how is a person without self-control like a city broken into and left without walls?  To say that he is vulnerable to attack would be an understatement.  It would be more accurate to say he is inviting attack.  Attack by whom?  The enemy and sin.  Without self-control he is inviting attack because he is easy prey, low-hanging fruit. When attack comes he is unable to withstand it.
Many of the sin problems we have are the fruit of a lack of self-control.  Drunkenness, gluttony, and laziness all come from an inability to regulate one’s behavior.  But there are other things we do that might also point to a lack of self-control.  How about over-Facebooking or over-smartphoning.  (Do you spend more time looking at your smartphone than at the people you love?)  What about over-spending, living beyond your means?  Habitual indulgence in almost anything could qualify.  If I see things like these in my life, there is most likely an underlying issue – I lack self-control.
At its core, a lack of self-control is a desire to seek ultimate satisfaction in less-than-ultimate things.  A moderate amount of something fails to satisfy so we pursue more and more of it.  But it’s like trying to fill up on cotton candy; it’s not going to work.  And without self-control we are susceptible to chasing after any number of lesser things.  An inordinate amount of one thing doesn’t satisfy so we try an inordinate amount of something else.  The enemy is able to pick us apart.
Where does self-control come from?  It just happens to be a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), so ultimately it is produced by God’s power in the lives of true believers.  Yet, as with all obedience, we have a responsibility in its production as well.  So what kind of Spirit-empowered steps should we take? 
First, we need to think rightly about true satisfaction.  The psalmist said it perfectly, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psa 16:2, 11).  We must train ourselves to think rightly about the satisfaction that is in the Lord.  He alone can satisfy the human soul.  The things of this world are a paltry substitute for the fulfillment found in Him.  We must begin to tell ourselves that every time we are tempted to indulge in something sinful or over-indulge in something good.
Second, we must pursue enjoyment of Him.  We should take the psalmist at his word, and “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psa 34:8).  That entails spending time with Him in the Word (reading, studying, meditating), in prayer, and in meaningful fellowship with His church. 
Third, we must seek to cut off those things that are carrying us away.  Jesus recommended extreme measures: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Matt 5:29).  Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely…(Heb 12:1).  If we have trouble saying no to a certain activity, we should cut off all association with it, and concentrate on learning to desire Jesus more than anything else.
Fourth, we must regularly meditate about how the gospel addresses the issue.  Those who are in Christ have been saved from the penalty of sin and have also been given the ability to walk in faithfulness (Rom 6).  The Lord Jesus died to save us and transform us into His image (Rom 8:28-30).  Therefore, it is incumbent upon true believers to live lives characterized by self-control (1 Cor 9:25; 1 Tim 2:9, 15; 2 Tim 1:7; Titus 2:2,5, 6, 12; 1 Pet 4:7; 2 Pet 1:6).   
Fifth, we must obey!  All of the above references assume this truth.  We must believe the truth about God, the gospel, and our salvation…and obey.
By God’s grace, we can cultivate self-control.  And like the walls around a city, self-control will have a fortifying effect on our ability to resist temptation and pursue godliness.

[1]Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, 88.94.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Man Who Fears the Lord - Psalm 128

(You can read Psalm 128 here.)

Our culture seems to have a vendetta against the notion of the male-led home. From the school system to the work place to the market place – and in some instances – to the house of worship, there is an effort to decapitate the family. But the attempt to create an atmosphere of “equality” in the home, where all authority and responsibility is shared by the husband and wife, has resulted not in shared leadership, but a complete lack of leadership.

Why is the church in decline? Why is marriage in decline? I believe Psalm 128 gives us an indication. It provides a picture of the bliss and blessing enjoyed by a family in which the husband and father functions as the spiritual head, fearing God and walking in obedience. Conversely, it can be deduced that an absence of biblical male leadership in the home results in an absence of biblical families, which results in a lack of biblical churches, which results in a lack of biblical communities. Psalm 128 shows us what happens when men fear and obey Almighty God.

1. Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!

First of all, this verse says that all who fear the LORD will be blessed. That means man, woman, and child. So some might be inclined to say that this psalm is not pointed toward the man of a house. True it is written for all of us, but if we look closely at the rest of the psalm we will see that each of the blessings bestowed on the family are referred to in relation to the husband and father: …your wife…your children…thus shall the man be blessed. Women ought not be bothered by this – for the man is blessed by his wife and children being blessed.

The Word of God is clear that blessings come upon those who obey, while curses follow those who do not. What is the key characteristic of the blessed? Fear of the Lord.

We don’t do fear very well anymore. A failure to study the doctrine of God from both Testaments has led to a church that thinks of God as a sweet old uncle, something akin to Santa Claus, a buddy, rather than the sovereign Lord and God of all creation. The loving God who sent His Son to atone for our sins is also an infinitely holy God of wrath. Indeed, it is that holiness and wrath that made the sacrifice of His Son necessary in order to save men.

We would do well to read of the God who spoke the world into existence. We would do well to keep ever before us the God who drowned all but eight members of the human race as the just condemnation for their sinfulness. We would do well to remind ourselves of the God who struck dead the sons of Aaron for worshiping in a way that Yahweh had not prescribed. He is holy. He is awesome. He demands awe, reverence, and worship.

The man who fears the Lord is a man who humbly comes before the throne of grace, bowing before the God who made him, determined not to offer strange fire, but to be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

Verse 1 says that the blessed man walks in His ways. This, of course, assumes that the man knows God’s ways. So, a blessed man is a man of the Word. We find in Psalm 119 that “walking in his ways” is inextricably linked to knowledge of Scripture.

2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

The man who fears the Lord will enjoy prosperity. This doesn’t mean that he’ll be rich, but he and his family will be taken care of. Psalm 37:25 says “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” A man provides for his own by his hard work and his fear of the Lord.

3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. 4 Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.

The man’s blessing is a blessed wife! She is prosperous and brings forth the fruit of her labor as well. She makes the home a place of refreshment and bounty. If a man has a wife who is not flourishing, who is stifled in her heart and in her labors, it may be that that man has failed to fear the Lord and walk in His ways.

The man’s blessing is also blessed children. Again, the picture is one of fruitful existence. When I think of the man who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways, I recall seeing my dad early every morning sitting in his chair with a bible in his lap and his eyes closed in prayer. I knew that somewhere in those moments, he was praying for me. I am a very thankful representation of this verse – my childhood was a fruitful one due in no small part to the godly leadership of my father that gave me security and peace.

Let’s be clear. The book of Proverbs and many of the Psalms should not be viewed as promises, but as principles. I believe this psalm is one of those. There are going to be people who fear the Lord and humbly walk in His ways who have children who live completely fruitless lives and who never repent and believe. We all know people like that. But this psalm is a principle, that is, these are the blessings that can generally be expected of those who fear the Lord.

That said, a blessed home is a home led by a man who fears the Lord and walks in His ways.

5 The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! 6 May you see your children's children! Peace be upon Israel!

While we are not Jews and we do not live in Israel, any man who fears the Lord will be a godly influence to the community around him. I think the implication of these verses is that his influence is one that will be heeded by those around him. Imagine a community filled with this kind of men.

In session two of the men's boot camp, we discussed how crucial it is to the spiritual health of a household that the head of the household is walking closely with the Lord.  This psalm echoes that truth.  Those of you who are husbands and fathers, do you see yourselves in these verses? Are you leading your family by following the Lord? Is that leadership manifested in the form of a regular pursuit of time with the Lord that you might walk in His ways? May the Lord bless our efforts as we seek to cultivate this essential discipline.

Wives, pray for your husbands. Pray that he would pursue fellowship with the Lord and would grow in the love and fear of the Lord.

May Providence Bible Fellowship be full of families who enjoy the bliss and blessings of Godly male leadership.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Pressing On in the Face of Adversity

I was tremendously encouraged by the first session of the men’s boot camp.  What a blessing to be in a room full of men who are serious about following the Lord in obedience.  Numerous men and wives have also expressed their encouragement at what the Lord is doing. It was a great time.
Whenever we are on the precipice of something like this, we can expect adversity to appear.  There may be a number of men who found it particularly difficult to make it last Saturday, for one reason or another.  Others may have had a big conflict with their wives in the days preceding or following that first session.  It’s possible that others have been unusually bombarded by demands at work this week.  Perhaps others have just experienced a myriad of distractions this week.  Maybe circumstances are conspiring to make it difficult to continue on this road.
It would be easy to become frustrated with the circumstances.  But consider that there may be something beneath those circumstances working to thwart our efforts to follow the Lord by leading our families well.  The Church does not fight against material things or material beings.  Our ultimate enemy is the devil and his demons, as we saw years ago in our study of Ephesians 6: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).  Our battle is spiritual in nature.
Since the battle is not material, but spiritual, the weapons we use are also spiritual.  2 Corinthians 10:3-4 reads, For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We have tools at our disposal empowered by God Himself.  They are the spiritual armor and weaponry detailed in Eph 6:13-18a:
13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
I won’t take the time here to explain these verses in the detail with which I explained them over the course of 7 sermons.  But what I would like to note is that we are not to fight spiritual battles by physical means.  We fight spiritual battles by spiritual means.  Each of the pieces of armor is a picture of an element of the gospel.  So one means by which we fight is meditation on gospel truths.  A second means is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  A third is praying at all times.  These are the tools at our disposal.
If you find yourself discouraged this week by unusual adversity, do not be ignorant of the enemy’s designs (2 Cor 2:11).  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world (1Pet 5:8-9).  Meditate on the gospel, stay in the Word, be steadfast in prayer, and stay the course. 
Wives, please continue to pray for your husbands during the journey, knowing that there is a real enemy opposing him, but also a real Savior who answers prayer. 
The last thing our enemy wants is a church full of men who begin to take seriously their responsibility to lead their families to love God above all things.  We can expect some resistance.  But let’s not forget the Lord has not left us powerless and weaponless.  Let’s use the means he’s provided and press on.