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Friday, July 29, 2016

How to Interact with the World's Influences Without Being Overcome By Them

On Sunday, we talked about how there are no truly neutral influences in this world when it comes to the cross of Christ.  The things we read, watch, listen to, etc., either influence us toward or away from the Lord Jesus.  But does this mean that we should eradicate from our lives every influence that is not explicitly Christian?  As I said on Sunday, I don’t think so.  We are to be in the world while not being of the world.
So how do we interact with the influences of the world without allowing them to push or pull us away from the Lord?   
1. Know the Word.  This one is a bit obvious, I know.  But keep in mind that we’ve never finished this step.  It’s a lifelong journey.  Our hearts need constant, repeated exposure to the Word of God, the standard against which we are to measure all truth.
2. Reject the myth of neutrality.  We talked about this quite a bit on Sunday.  I won’t belabor the point here.  Just keep in mind at all times that just because an influence is not explicitly Christian or anti-Christian doesn’t mean that it is neutral.  There are only two kingdoms – the domain of darkness and the kingdom of the beloved Son (Col 1:13).  Every person is a member of one or the other and therefore in some way espouses the values of that kingdom.
3. Regard interaction with worldly influences as discernment training.  In other words, don’t interact with the world unguarded.  Rather, do so with purpose, using the interaction to sharpen your own discernment.  When watching a movie, reading a book, listening to the radio, or surfing Facebook, don’t do it exclusively for entertainment or information gathering, but also think of it as training – training yourself to catch an enemy trying to teach you to think differently.  For example, when I watch a movie with my kids, I do watch it for entertainment, but not only that.  I’m also watching to develop the ability to see what worldview or “truth” the filmmakers are trying to impart to me. 
4. Constantly question influences.  If it is the case that the god of this world is my enemy, and that all those not in Christ lie in the power of this enemy (1John 5:19), then no influence outside of Christ will miss an opportunity to corrupt my mind and heart.  I must then question the influences around me.  “What is this person or movie or book or program trying to teach me?”  “How is this person trying to change the way I think?”  “What biblical truth is this movie trying to challenge?”  “How is this story trying to contradict the sufficiency of Christ?”  “In what way is this denying the gospel?”
This has become second nature for me and I’ve been training my kids to do it for a while now, too.  Now, whenever my kids hear something unbiblical, they know it.  For example, we were watching a secular Christmas movie last December.  (These movies offer all kinds of training opportunities!)  At one point, one of the main characters said, “A good deed can erase a bad deed.”  I immediately paused the movie, and several of my kids said in unison, “We know, Dad.”  I said, “Somebody correct it.”  They explained that good deeds cannot take away sins.  “What can take away sins?”  “Jesus blood.”  And then we turned the movie back on.  I was encouraged that Hollywood was not training the gospel out of my kids.  In fact, in a sense I was using Hollywood’s own material to train my kids to spot error.
It is possible to be exposed to the influences of the world without them changing the things that you think and belief, but only if you enter those situations with your eyes open.  I encourage you to be in the Word and to compare all that you hear in the world to it, so that your powers of discernment may be “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sermon Leftovers: Philippians 3:16

Because our time was cut short on Sunday, I’m giving you the remainder of the message in a couple of chunks on the blog yesterday and today.  That will allow us to continue on with the next passage this Sunday.
If you missed the message on Sunday, you can find it here. 

…only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Phil 3:16)
Another way of saying this is, let’s walk in conformity to the standard we’ve been given.  A number of commentators believe that Paul is once again calling the Philippians to walk in a manner consistent with the gospel.  I agree with them.
The gospel is what we have attained.  And the gospel is something that is to be believed.  And as we’ve seen numerous times in our study of this letter, if we believe the gospel, our lives will exhibit certain characteristics. 
The gospel teaches that the holy God of the universe created all things for His own glory, including the pinnacle of His creation, man.  He gave man His law to abide by and He commissioned man to be His representative in the world.  But the first man rebelled against God and his sin tainted the whole world, including all those who would come after him.
So everyone born since then, including you and I, has come into this world with a heart bent against God and His righteous standard.  And for our sin we all deserve eternity in hell.  There is nothing that we can do to change our own hearts or to get out of receiving that penalty.
But the creator God is gracious and merciful and loving, so He sent His Son to come to earth to live sinlessly in our place and to die on the cross for our sins.  Jesus Christ was the perfect substitute for us.  He lived and died in the place of sinners.  Three days later the Father raised Him from the dead so that now anyone who repents and trusts in Christ is joined to Him so that they share in His righteousness and their sins are removed and forgiven and they become heirs with Him of all the blessings in the heavenly places.
In that union with Christ, the believer receives a new heart that wants to serve God.  The Holy Spirit comes to live inside the believer to continually testify to Christ and to empower them to live for Him.  And the believer is slowly conformed to the likeness of Jesus in his character and conduct.  The gospel is all about what God has done in Christ to transform sinners who hated God and one another into saints who love God and one another.
So if someone has repented and believed in Christ and has received a new heart and has the Holy Spirit living in side of them, they should live in a manner consistent with the gospel.  They should be growing in Christlikeness.  They should have hope.  They should have faith.  They should desire Jesus more and more all the time.
Paul is simply saying here, let’s not forget what we’ve received – the gospel and all that it means, including the call to live a lifestyle consistent with it.
I’m very excited to open the Word with you this Sunday to Philippians 3:17-21.  See you then, Lord willing!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sermon Leftovers: Philippians 3:15

Because our time was cut short on Sunday, I’d like to give you the remainder of the message in a couple of chunks on the blog today and tomorrow.  That will allow us to continue on with the next passage this Sunday.
If you missed the message on Sunday, you can find it here. 
There are three ways that keeping my eyes on the prize helps me in the race. 
Keeping my eyes on Christ keeps me constantly aware that He is what truly matters.  I don’t know about you, but I’m easily distracted.  But when I’m enjoying fellowship with Him in the Word, prayer, and Christian fellowship, it is kept always in front of me that He is what matters and I find earthly distractions less and less appealing.  The Word testifies to this in many different ways and many different places.  And if my prayers are being informed by that Word, the content of my prayers affirms to myself and the Lord that He is ultimate.  And if my fellowship with other believers is intentionally Christ-centered, then I’m constantly hearing other people testify to His surpassing value.  So in those ways I’m kept constantly aware that He is what truly matters.  Second:
Keeping my eyes on Christ keeps me constantly aware that the race is not over.  When my eyes are on the Lord, my mind is on the Lord, my speech is on the Lord, its patently obvious all the time that I don’t have Him in all His fullness.  I’m straining forward to that time.  Clearly, the race isn’t over and I’m compelled to continue pressing on.  I’m moved to continue serving Him and His gospel.
Keeping my eyes on Christ keeps me constantly moving in the direction of godliness.  When my eyes are on the Lord, I’m always aware of His great holiness and my desire to be like Him grows and grows.  And I’m prompted to recognize sin in my life, parts of my character and conduct that are not like Him, and I’m prompted and empowered to kill that sin and grow in godliness.  Keeping my eyes on the Lord keeps me moving in the direction of Christlikeness.
 And our final point:
The Mature Believer Thinks This Way
V15: Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
Think what way?  He means adopt the kind of mindset that he’s just described in himself.  Think of the Christian life as a race that is still being run.  Think that there is still much left to do.  Think that what is left outstanding of the kingdom is worth straining forward to attain.  Think that the fullness of Christ is so desirable that there is no sense in resting on our laurels.  Think that being like Christ is so wonderful that making every effort to kill sin and grow in Christlikeness is worth it.
Let those of us who are mature think this way.  So then does it follow that those who are immature shouldn’t think this way?  If you are new to the faith or you know yourself to be particularly immature, do you have a green light to consider that you have arrived spiritually?  Certainly not.  He’s simply saying, “what I’ve just described, this way of thinking, this is how mature believers think.  And it’s how you should strive to think.” 
So if you look at your own mind and heart and you don’t see this attitude of Paul’s, this holy dissatisfaction with where you are spiritually, this holy discontentment with your current fellowship with Christ, this holy hunger to run the race well, that is a mark of spiritual immaturity.  If you find yourself to be quite content with your spiritual progress, if you are satisfied with how much you’re currently like Jesus, if you’re fine marking time rather than pressing forward for kingdom work, if you don’t really have a preference about how soon you see the Lord, that’s a sign that you’ve got some maturing to do. 
In other words, if you’re thinking and living as if you’ve arrived, that means you haven’t.  The spiritually mature realize that they have a lot more maturing to do.  The spiritually mature realize they haven’t arrived.  There’s much left to do.
So if we see that marker of immaturity in ourselves should we be depressed about that?  No.  We should do just what Paul models for us here: we should forget what lies behind and press on to what lies ahead.  The great news is that Christ matures people.  The Holy Spirit makes people like Jesus. 
Then he writes, …and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  So this idea that I’ve arrived, feeling no sense of urgency to press on, you see how God has shown you that that isn’t a sign of maturity but of immaturity, and that you should reverse course in your thinking?  Well, there may be other things like that about which you are thinking wrongly, too.  But good news.  The Lord will reveal that to you, too. 
(To be continued tomorrow…)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

If one gives an answer before he hears...

As I’ve listened to people talk and as I’ve read people’s thoughts regarding all the violence that has taken place in the last couple of weeks, both the shootings of the two African American men and the shootings of the police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, I’ve noticed something largely missing from all the communication: a willingness to hear before making a judgment.  It seems to me that this has been taking place at all levels of society, government, and sadly, the church.  So I’d like to just offer a brief, loving reminder of some biblical principles that we are all aware of but that we tend to forget in the heat of the moment.
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
To make a judgment, to size up a situation, to decide who is right and who is wrong before hearing from all sides is foolish and shameful.  Why?  Only a fool makes a decision based upon a fraction of the available information.  This is patently obvious when you think about it in everyday terms.  What if the engineers at GE built aircraft engines without looking at 75% of their testing data?  All kinds of things could go wrong, from inefficient use of fuel to squandered profitability to the potential loss of lives.  Who on earth would hold those engineers harmless for such carelessness?  They would be regarded as fools at best, murderers at worst.
Likewise, only a fool would try to build a house with only half of the dimensions?  Only a fool would try to skydive having received only a third of the instruction.
But we use that same essential methodology all the time in our relationships at work, home, church, and on social media when forming and expressing thoughts and opinions.  We make judgments, definitive statements, and weighty decisions possessing only part of the available information.  And yet we know not only from Proverbs 18:13, but also from our own experience that it is best to withhold judgment until you have all the information.  If required, each of us could come up with many instances when we’ve made hasty statements, judgments, or decisions only to receive information later that showed us to be completely wrong.  If we continue this practice in spite of so much personal data showing that it is folly, what can be said of us but that we are shameful fools?
Regarding recent events, it seems that many are concerned primarily with being heard rather than hearing others.  Implicitly, we are declaring to those at whom we are shouting, “there is only one perspective here – mine!  There is only one side to this story!”  This too violates a biblical principle found just a few short verses below Proverbs 18:13:
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)
Who has not had this experience, too?  You hear one side of a story and the details paint such a clear picture that a definitive conclusion seems obvious…until you hear the other side.  I have experienced this phenomenon too many times to count as I have counseled couples.  The first to speak always seems right.  Always.  As I listen to the first spouse talk, I routinely begin to think, “My soul, he’s/she’s married to a monster.”  But then spouse #2 speaks, and always, the picture shifts to a more balanced situation in which there is some fault or misunderstanding on both sides.  It’s not that this happens a lot of the time, or most of the time, or even the vast majority of the time.  Every time.  It happens every single time.  That’s because there is a biblical principle at work there.  In any situation in which there is more than one person involved, there will be more than one side.
When we hear or read a news story, we have heard one side.  When we hear an eyewitness, we have heard one side.  When we hear a police officer, we have heard one side.  When we hear the President, we have heard one side.  
The person who arrives at a settled conclusion without hearing all sides is a fool.  That’s the Bible talking.  That person is a fool whether it is the President of the United States or the pastor of a small, Midwestern Baptist church.  We, as people of the Bible, even if we do so alone, must follow biblical principles when interacting with those around us.  This is part and parcel of existing as salt and light in the world.  It takes great discipline and care in moments of high emotion to stop and remind ourselves, “I don’t have all the facts, yet.  By God’s grace, I need to slow down here and withhold judgment.”
The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near. (Proverbs 10:14)
Perhaps as believers our first inclination should be to just listen for a season, rather than launching salvos before we have even a fraction of the information necessary to speak wisely.  By doing this, we’ll honor God, and we’ll be much more likely to eventually having something worth saying.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Book Recommendation: The Cross of Christ

In last Sunday’s message, we saw that the kind of obedience that gives evidence of our salvation is obedience that springs from faith.  When we obey as a direct result of believing the truth about Christ, ourselves, and the world, God is glorified.  Therefore, as we aspire to walk in faithfulness to the Lord, we should consider meditation on the truths of Scripture to be as important as meditation on the commands of Scripture.  If we want to obey Colossians 3-4, we should dig deep into Colossians 1-2.
If you want to begin to learn to meditate on gospel truths, a great tool is a book by John Stott, entitled, The Cross of Christ.  If there could be such a thing as an exhaustive look at the atonement of Christ, this book would be it.  Stott takes a slow, thoughtful look at the cross from every conceivable angle, assisting the reader in thinking deeply about the significance of what the Lord accomplished there.  

I have read much “cold,” technical theology in my life.  This is not that.  The Cross of Christ reads like devotional literature.  In fact, that is how I am using it right now.  I’m reading it for the second time and am finding a second pass to be just as rich as the first.
The book contains four sections, in which Stott answers questions like, “why is the cross central to Christianity?”  “Why did Jesus die?”  “What exactly was accomplished on the cross?”  “How should Christ’s atonement affect the way that I live?”  You may think you know the answers to those questions, and perhaps you do.  But those of us who have been in the church for many years can become somewhat desensitized to those answers.  Because of familiarity, we neglect to think about many essential truths, and in a practical sense, we forget them.  A journey through Stott’s answers to these and other questions has re-sensitized me and I believe it would do the same for you.
So if you are looking for a good, devotional tool to help you think through the gospel, you couldn’t do better than The Cross of Christ.  By the way, if you are not familiar with John Stott, this book is not a recent addition to the local Christian bookstore.  It is a bona fide modern Christian classic, easily worth your time.  You’ll be blessed by it.
I’d like to leave you with a short excerpt to give you a feel for the style and thoughtfulness of Stott’s writing.  Referring to the Jews and Romans guilty of crucifying the Lord Jesus, he writes:
“More important still, we ourselves are also guilty. If we were in their place, we would have done what they did.  Indeed, we have done it.  For whenever we turn away from Christ, we ‘are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace’ (Heb. 6:6).  We too sacrifice Jesus to our greed like Judas, to our envy like the priests, to our ambition like Pilate.  ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ the old negro spiritual asks.  And we must answer, ‘Yes, we were there.’  Not as spectators only but as participants, guilty participants, plotting, scheming, betraying, bargaining, and handing him over to be crucified.  We may try to wash our hands of responsibility like Pilate.  But our attempt will be as futile as his.  For there is blood on our hands.  Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading to faith and worship), we have to see it as something done by us (leading us to repentance).  Indeed, ‘only the man who is prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross…may claim his share in its grace.’”