Is there anything worth complaining about?

Is there anything worth complaining about? Not when we understand two words: substitution and forgiveness. This four minute video explains the benefits.

Three Questions to Prepare for Change

The Christian life is about growing and changing. Three questions are essential. Each question includes a member of the Trinity.

Questions #1: What does God think?
When Peter attempted to move Jesus away from the suffering of the cross (Matt. 16:21-28) notice Jesus’ admonition.

But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get out of my way, Satan! You are tempting me to sin. You aren’t thinking the way God thinks but the way humans think” (Matthew 16:23 GOD’S WORD Translation).

Peter and Jesus have this conversation in the context of the cross, and Jesus’ impending crucifixion. Jesus teaches us a vital lesson: Clearly to avoid sin you must learn to think like God thinks about a matter. How does God perceive suffering? What does God think about trials? How would God define obedience?

Question # 2: How will the Spirit help?
Jesus promised the disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit as a helper. Notice his words,

However, I am telling you the truth: It’s good for you that I’m going away. If I don’t go away, the helper won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7 GOD’S WORD Translation).

The word for helper (parakletos) combines two Greek words. Para which means to be alongside (as in parallel), and kletos which means to call. Hence, we get “one who is called alongside to help.” Understanding the Holy Spirit’s role in the helping process is essential to change. How can I be filled with the Spirit? Upon which element of the fruit of the spirit should I focus? How can I grow increasingly sensitive to his leading? He was sent as a helper, and I need help to change. What does this look like and how is it lived out.

Question # 3: How did Jesus live?
Jesus is the ultimate case study for living the godly life. We rarely ask this question, because we assume he lived his earthly life in the power of his deity. But the Scripture makes it clear that, being fully human, he lived this life in the obedience of his humanity.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications . . . to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:7–8).

When Jesus walked this earth as a human being he prayed and God answered. He learned to obey, and God blessed him.

John who defended both the deity of Jesus (John 1:1-4), and the humanity of Jesus (1 John 4:2) gave us this simple reminder:

. . . Whoever says he abides in him [Jesus] out to walk in the same way that he walked (1 John 2:6).

This final question gives me my practical example. How did Jesus respond to conflict? How did he handle suffering? Rejection? Betrayal? What was his response to the praise of men? If I can find an example from the life of Christ for how to respond in a given situation I am one step closer to responding in the right way.

Three questions to daily ask ourselves: (1) What does God think? (2) How will the Spirit help? (3) What did Jesus do?

Why both offense and defense matter…

For several years now I have been memorizing the verses in the Bible with the lie/truth formula. I discover one of temptation’s lies: If it feels right it must be right, and I find the corrosponding biblical truth to memorize: “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt thought deceitful desires, and …be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and …put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4:22-23).

This has been effective in helping me gain short-term victory over my sins; because the Word of God (which is true) helps you see the deception in the temptation. Memorizing Scripture in this way is like playing good defense. It is essential, but only half of the game.

We must learn to say more than “no” to our temptations; we must learn to say “yes” to the love of God. While denying the sin that delights us temporarily, we must be growing in the love of God that delights us enduringly.  

Both the Old and New Testaments encourage us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut 6: 5; Mark 12:30). What if this was not only a command, but a strategy? What if the Holy Spirit had articulated a plan for overcoming sin, by increasing in one’s love for God? What if increasing in the love of God is how we overcome sin by playing offense?

There are two practical ways this could be done: (1) study the character of God, and (2) dwell upon the nature of the Gospel. Both cause us to increase in our love for God.

 Besides simply memorizing the Scripture in a lie/truth formula (good defense), perhaps we should also memorize it in a promise/passage formula (good offense).

Something like this:

The promise: God is good, loving and faithful.
The passage: For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 100:5).

The promise: God loves me and acts on my behalf
The passage: The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV).

The promise: God sacrificed his Son to show his love for me.
The passage:  …but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:8,10).

As any athlete knows, playing defense and offense is important. Developing both, so that you become proficient on both sides of the court, is as well.

Walking in the Spirit – Step 3

Walking Truth 3: Be Focused. Developing daily habits requires changing habitual thought patterns (Eph. 2:2-3; 4:18).

 . . . You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind . . . (Eph. 2:2-3 NASV).

We often think of habits as the things that we do. Yet, few things become habits so quickly as the thoughts that we think. You probably do a number of “mindless” tasks to prepare to go to work or school in the morning. Yet, are they really “mindless?” Or are they mental habits? Things like: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, pouring the cereal, and making the coffee. Our hurried culture even captures this truth. We say: “I never gave it a second thought.” Are we not inferring that we gave it a first thought?

This truth brings both good news and bad. The good news is that our thoughts are only habits, not involuntary actions. So, by the power of the Spirit, we can choose what we think about. There is hope for the destruction of old thought patterns and the development of new ones. The bad news is that because these thoughts come so quickly and frequently they are challenging to break.

The passage in Ephesians is an excellent reminder of the location of our battlefield. When we formerly lived in the lusts of the flesh we were indulging our desires and our minds. Walking in the Spirit means we develop a new set of thought patterns that help us control those sinful desires.  There are different Greek words that the translators of Scripture captured with the word “mind.” The one used here (Eph. 2:3) could also be translated as “understanding or imagination.”

What are you imagining right now? What are you thinking? Are your imaginative fantasies developed from the “course of this world” or from the “mind of your Master?”Are you bending your mind around a sexual fantasy? Are you dreaming about how you might spend a million dollars? Are you imagining the pleasure of the upcoming weekend or retirement? Such imaginations are thinking like the world. They are making your thoughts all about you. There is nothing of the sweet service of Jesus in them (Mark 10:44-45). This is why Paul challenged us to control our minds (2 Cor. 10:5; Phil. 4:8). He also gave this strict warning “. . . do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

One of my favorite childhood memories was hearing my grandfather say grace at the table. I confess it wasn’t my favorite memory at the time, because his prayers were long, and grandma’s cooking was good! But you always knew when Grandpa’s prayer was coming to an end, because he would say, “Lord, forgive us where we have sinned against you in word, deed, or thought.” In his simple way he grasped the importance of your thinking if you were to be victorious over sin.

My Grandpa understood that if you were headed into battle you better know the location of the battlefield.

Having the right thoughts matters to God

It’s hard to describe what goes on in the thinking process. It often feels like we’re not in control of it: like a thought is suddenly there.  Often our senses trigger these thoughts. The smell of a lake always takes me back to my teenage fishing experiences. The taste of a cider donut sends my mind in rewind to the country fair in my childhood hometown of Grabill, Indiana. Music can do the same for me. When James Taylor comes on the radio, I’m back in college. When I hear a song from our wedding I’m a newly wed even though I’ve been married 25 years. That’s the power of our mind to tap powerful memories.

Yet the Bible gives us commands to control our thinking (Phil 4:8; 2 Cor. 10:5).  More so the Bible reminds us that we will give an account for our thoughts and our words (Matt. 12:33, 36).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus communicates that our thoughts matter to God. On two occasions he explains that God is aware of and holding us accountable for what we’re choosing to think upon.

The first has to do with anger, and the second has to do with immoral sexual thoughts.

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Matt. 5:22).

Because the Bible teaches that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouths speaks.” We can be certain, that when we’re angry, what we say was first a seed thought in our mind before it found its way onto our lips. God reminds us that we will be held accountable for our angry words that were first carefully developed as angry thoughts.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28).

Jesus is saying: Pursuing wrong thoughts brings disastrous consequences

Remember, how the mind and your senses our connected? In this case, as the man takes that second look, his mind is memorizing the image for recall at another point in time. He is looking on purpose. God holds him accountable for those thoughts. Jesus says, “Listen, your thoughts matter to God, and he knows them as you think them.” Such a proposition clears up my fuzzy thinking about what I’m thinking. I always want to remember: My thoughts matter to God.

Remembering that life is a “Y”

Years ago someone introduced me to the benefit of viewing my life through the letter “Y.” That singular image has helped me understand the desires of my heart (and the consequences of following those desires) more than any other image. I continue to use it in discipling, counseling, and with anyone who is willing to listen. Today’s devotional is simply this image. Look at it. Study it. Pray through it. And make choices today in the light of it.

Idols of the heart

If you’ve read the Bible, then you know it’s no secret that God hates idols (Deut.32:21). I know it’s a strong word. We usually think of God and love in the same sentence not God and hate. I used to think that God’s abhorrence of idol worship was simply about his glory (Ex. 20:2-6). After all, he made us so it only makes sense that he is worthy of worship.

But avoiding idols is also about something more. It’s about our protection. God declares that idol worship is a trap to us, and actually equates it with worshiping demons.

They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and daughters to the demons (Psalm 106:36-37)

God desires that we give the best of ourselves to something that really matters: the worship of the true and living God. He understands that when we elevate our desires to that all-consuming status they will drain the very life out of us.

Ezekiel the prophet wrote to the nation of Judah.. Remember, the nation of Judah had been exiled to Babylon because of their infatuation with idol worship. While it appears they had put away their external idols, it seems they had only embraced them internally. So we read,

“Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols (Ezekiel 14:3-5).

I can think of several reasons why idols of the heart are more dangerous than idols made of wood or stone.

Reason #1: No one else can see your idols. If you had an idol shrine in your living room everyone would know. But because your “idol factory” is internal, you’re the only one who knows you have a problem. Unless you share your struggle with others for added prayer and accountability you will continue to worship secretly that which pleases your desires.

Reason #2: Your heart can deceive you. Jeremiah 17: 9 states,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds (Jer 17:9-10).

If you have idols in your heart, not only can others not see them, but there’s a good chance you don’t know they are there either. The only way they reveal themselves is when you’re willing to sin in order to have them. The rest of the time they will work like a silent cancer–growing in size and severity.

Reason # 3: They are all-controlling. 

This is God’s advice with idols of the heart: Destroy them, before they destroy you. Don’t feed your heart-idols. The desires will become stronger, the thoughts all-consuming, and they will feed on your will to say no.

Floridians warn you not feed the alligators. They will instinctively come to the same place, at the same time every day. And one day when you don’t bring food, their small-reptilian mind will assume you are the food. It’s the same with the idols of the heart. Perhaps Paul captured it best,

Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey (Rom. 6:16 NLT)

Heaven is the real world…

I fell in love with another Bible verse recently. Probably because it awakened me to a subtle error I had been participating in. The book of Colossians tells us to “Seek those which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col. 3:2-3).

The Spirit of God used that verse to remind me again that this is not my real home – heaven is. That’s why my heart ought to be there. It’s also why my thoughts should be there too!

I read something by Pastor Eugene Peterson recently where he told the story of preaching on a Sunday morning, following the sermon a high-energy executive came up to him and said, “This was wonderful pastor, but now we have to get back to the real world, don’t we?” Peterson writes,

I bristled. I had thought we were in the most-real world, the world revealed as God’s, a world believed to be invaded by God’s grace and turning on the pivot of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

What I’m growing to appreciate is that heaven is the real world. It’s the one that lasts. That’s why the Bible refers to it as eternal. In heaven there is “fullness of joy” because Jesus Christ is there. (Psalm 16:11).

Answer this simple question: Have you ever wanted something so badly that it held your mind’s attention? It captivated your heart’s desires? Eventually you got it only for it to break? It now lies at the bottom of a landfill somewhere in South Jersey? How is it that our culture has convinced us that that kind of thing is real, and a heaven that lasts and is filled with joy is not?

That’s why I’ve spent my week thinking on things that are above. Thinking about Jesus. Who He is, and what He has done for our world (John 3:16-17). I guess I just don’t want my desires or my thoughts to be consumed anymore with the stuff that doesn’t last. You’ll never find heaven in a landfill, but you’ll find a lot of your personal possessions there.

Listening and obeying

The Bible says a great deal about listening to God’s voice. When we read his Word we need to be attentive listeners. When we hear his Word taught we need to be asking “How can I change because of what I have heard?”

Author Ken Ramey captures this truth well,

Listening is hard work because application is inherent in it. You have to connect the information to your life, and do something about what you hear. . .”

 He goes on to explain,

A proper response to God’s Word begins by having an open, receptive heart. But it is not enough to just humbly and gladly accept the Word. You must act on it. You must be reactive to the Word. A chemical reaction is when chemicals undergo change. Perhaps you remember those high school chemistry experiments, when the test tube boils over after mixing two chemicals together. When you hear and receive God’s Word, it should immediately elicit some kind of reaction. It should produce some change in you.

There is an inseparable relationship in the Bible between listening and obeying. Throughout the Scripture, listening is equated with obeying. In many passages, a direct connection is clearly made between listening and obeying (Exod. 15:26; Deut. 6:3-5; Luke 6:47; 8:21; 11:28). They are like two side of the same coin. They are synonymous terms. In fact, there is a direct lexical link between the words “hear” and “obey” in both the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament word for “hear” is sama. This is the same Hebrew word used for “obey.” There is no separate word for “obey” in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “hear” is akouw. The word for “obey,” is hupakouo, which literally means “to hear under,” is a derivative of the word for “hear.” The implication is that, in God’s mind, hearing and obeying are one in the same.1

Connecting listening with obeying is essential.  Understanding the meaning of these words is so helpful. Hear again the author’s conclusion of his word study:  The implication is that, in God’s mind, hearing and obeying are one in the same.

Doing what God’s Word says is not optional if we are to grow in Christ. It is far better to think of the doing part as the examination at the end of the instruction to determine if you have learned what God is teaching.

For additional study consider: Deuteronomy 8:1-3; 11:13-15; Isaiah 55:1-3; Proverbs 1:33; Luke 11:28

1. Expository Listening by Ken Ramey

The truth about how anger works…

I struggle with anger. Perhaps you do too. When I succumb to my anger it feels like I don’t have control over my emotions, thoughts, and choices. It seems like decisions are being made for me. It feels like I’m in a box. But is that reality? The following video illustration helps to clarify. If you are receiving this via email or Facebook you may need to go to the home page  to view it. Special thanks to Pastor Jack and his family for participating. Running time about seven minutes.

The angry man believes certain things about his emotions, thoughts and choices. He believes them so strongly, because he feels them so deeply. But God’s word offers rock-solid truth, and that unchanging truth brings hope. The best way to correct the faulty belief system of the angry man (and hence gain victory over our angry responses) is to put it up against God’s Word. The following slide shows us how…