Lord, Make Me Like You

April 28, 2017

Dr Odd (Picasso)

I don’t recall where or when I first heard following story, but it has often caused me to stop and ask myself about my attitude and motivations:  Prayer

A man prayed to the Lord: “Lord, make me like you; may my words & thoughts be like yours; may my actions produce great fruit…”

This was his regular prayer.

Then one day a voice from within – perhaps the Holy Spirit, perhaps his own mind – simply said one word: “Why?”

“What do you mean, ‘Why?’  Lord, it’s a standard prayer!”

But why did he want to be like the Lord?  Why do I want to be like Jesus?

1.     So people will think highly of us?

-or-

2.     For God’s Glory

-and/or –

3.     Because the Lord is pleased with Jesus

How we answer makes a world of difference.

I’ve been there. Likely, so have you.  The year begins with good intentions, and maybe even a strong start, only to fizzle days later.  The Statistic Brain Research Institute reports that 75% of New Years Resolutions are broken within the first week of the New Year.  No doubt most of the others go down soon thereafter.

Among the more frequent vows is a renewed commitment to read the Bible:

  • Read the whole Bible in one year
  • Read the Bible daily, or just more often

This seems a noble resolve. And as a church pastor, it is certainly one I applaud.  In fact, I often share some Bible Reading plans for anyone who endeavors to take up this challenge.  (Like this one: Bible Reading Plan for Slackers & Shirkers)

But in the brief (3 minute) video above, Steve Childers, of Global Church Advancement, offers a caution about making such resolutions – even resolutions such as to pray more or to read the Bible.

It may seem odd that I am posting such caution about making spiritual resolutions, especially since I commended the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards in a post just yesterday.  But without denying the potential benefit of reflecting upon Edwards’ Resolutions, nor even the positive effects of increased Bible reading and prayer during the coming year, I think Childers makes a good point.

Consider this:

The state of our heart is of utmost importance as we practice spiritual disciplines. It’s possible to read our Bibles, pray, attend Lord’s Day worship, and even take the Lord’s Supper for all types of reasons. But unless we do it for God’s glory, and our joy in him, it does us no ultimate good.

Or as Charles Spurgeon reasoned:

“It is not enough to do the correct thing; it must be done in a right spirit, and with a 
pure motive. A good action is not wholly good unless it be done for the glory of God, 
and because of the greatness and goodness of his holy name.”

In no way would I ever dissuade anyone from increasing their spiritual vitality through partaking in such means of grace as prayer and Bible study. Nor does Childers.  But Childers does wisely warn against resolutions that may result in merely going through religious motions – even if those motions come more frequently.  Instead Childers points us to the source of all grace, and encourages us to avail ourselves of all that is offered.

Take a moment to watch the video, and to consider what Childers says.  For those who prefer to read, a transcript of the message can be read on Childers’ blog: Pathway Learning

Desiring Truth

February 21, 2015

An Evening Walk (Besnard)

by Wesley Hurd

At the end of one of his films, Deconstructing Harry, writer/actor Woody Allen delivers a movie-ending confession that offers a perverted coherence to the film:

“All people know the truth. Our lives consist of how we choose to distort it.”

For believers, though, desiring truth – undistorted – is central to the process and experience of our salvation. Nothing is more fundamental in our striving for sanctification – our striving to be good as God is good – than our embracing the truth at every level at which it confronts us.

One of the most common names for the presence of God in our lives is the Spirit of Truth. He is the author and source of all that is valuable, good, pure, and true. It follows, then, that believers in the true Gospel – a work the Spirit of Truth authors in our hearts – will seek what is true. Our commitment to living according to what is true is a “litmus test” for whether we are authentically interested in knowing God and learning to love what He loves – truth, justice, and mercy. Are we interested in knowing God? Then, in the end, we will be open to following the truth wherever it leads us. This will be a lifelong process for us, however, because, like our distant ancestors Adam and Eve, we are more inclined to hide from truth than to seek it or to embrace its consequences. Our fallen, darkened hearts do not naturally respond well to truth, especially when it surprises and inconveniences us, when believing and acting upon the truth costs us something.

In his gospel narrative (John 18.28ff), the Apostle John portrays a powerful scene in which Jesus and his captor, Pontius Pilate, engage in a profound exchange over this issue of truth. Their conversation shows two levels at which truth confronts all humans. Both levels can potentially reflect a person’s moral disposition, but the second level proves to be spiritually crucial. Let me explain.

The first level of discovering truth involves whether or not a person believes truth exists at all in a practical and philosophical sense. Is there truth? If so, how do I know it? How can I be confident in what appears to me to be true? In the John passage, Pilate interrogates Jesus and his accusers, attempting to ascertain the true circumstances that led to Jesus’ arrest. At this level of truth seeking, Pilate assumes the truth can be known and assessed. His inquiry proves he believes truth is objectively available and can be sought and found. Having received adequate firsthand testimony, Pilate determines that Jesus is innocent of the allegations against him. The truth made itself plain to Pilate. Pilate then attempts political maneuvers to free Jesus, but he fails when Jesus’ accusers threaten anarchy that would put Pilate himself in political jeopardy.

Yet Jesus intrigues Pilate, who engages Jesus further, asking Him questions that lead Jesus to claim, “For this I have been born…to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears My voice.” Now the second level of our relationship to truth appears. Once we believe we know what is true, are we willing to embrace it and to act accordingly? Pilate was not willing. His reply to Jesus, “What is truth?”, enables Pilate to keep the conversation at the philosophical level rather than going to the second level of personal, existential response.

Jesus identified himself with the vital truths about a person’s relationship to God and eternal destiny. Jesus spoke the truth about God — who He is, what His will is, and how human creatures can align themselves with those truths. Jesus was concerned not only about the factual truthfulness of what one believes (truth at level one), but also about the deeply personal moral posture of one’s heart toward factual truthfulness. Does one’s heart lean toward or away from letting the truth have its way in one’s thought, choices, and behavior? For example, I can know and agree with the theological truthfulness of man’s sin and fallenness, while simultaneously refusing to allow its factual truthfulness to penetrate my personal conscience and thereby own the truth of my guilt and need for repentance.

Read the rest of this entry »

Preaching Gospel to Self

Paul, in Colossians 2.6, instructs us: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…”  Simple words, but powerfully practical when unpacked.

How did we “receive” Jesus?  By faith and repentance – of by repentance and faith.  We are not quite sure which comes first, but perhaps that does not matter.  It may be that the order is different with different people. What matters is that genuine conversion involves both of these elements: Repentance of our sin and all our desire and attempts to save ourselves through our good behavior; Faith in the gospel – the good news – of what Jesus has done on our behalf, and what is offered to us in him.

If these are the two elements by which we received Jesus, then according to the Apostle’s instruction these are the two elements that should be characteristic of our day-to-day life in Jesus.  The old Puritan Thomas Watson once wisely noted: “Faith and repentance are the two wings by which we fly toward heaven.”  In other words, faith and repentance are not only the instruments by which the journey of salvation is initiated, these are the practices by which we travel.  These are the ingredients of spiritual growth leading to maturity.

The chart above reflects both faith and repentance, and provides a tool to help us be able to “preach the gospel to ourselves”.

It reminds us that when recognize sin in our lives our response should not be to simply resolve to stop it, but we need to discern it’s source.  In other words, the sin we see, the sin which shows itself in our behavior, has deeper roots and causes.  So, like an explorer commissioned to trace the a great river to discover it’s tributaries and it’s origin, we are called upon to discover what “root sins” are tributaries of our behavior, and ultimately what “idols” are the original source.  Once discovered – or even while in the process of discovery – “putting sin to death” requires that we confess it and repent of it.  All of it – the sinful behaviors, the attitudes that lead to it, and the idols that source it.  Growth in grace is greater than mere moral reform.  Growth in grace is a work of the Spirit upon the heart which eventually and inevitably leads to a change in behavior.

Yet growth in grace does not come by confession and repentance alone.  Such may lead to behavior change, if we feel guilty enough and desire to change. But that is not growth in grace.  Growth in grace requires that we believe what grace gives; that we ponder what is true, and good, and beautiful: chiefly among such things is the gospel, the good news of what God promises – and does – when we trust  in Jesus.  (Philippians 4.8)   Reminded of the truths of the gospel our hearts change; they turn toward God, causing us to hunger to grow to be more like him, and enabling us to rely on his promise that what he began he will complete.  (Philippians 1.6)

This is the spiritual discipline of preaching the gospel to ourselves.

Counterfeit Gospels

January 6, 2015

Having begun a new series of messages at our church, Freedom: A Study of Galatians, I am struck anew by the passion with which the Apostle Paul uncompromisingly declares: “There is NO OTHER Gospel!”  What Paul does throughout his letter to the Galatians, and vividly in the opening verses, is to impress that claim upon his readers as he points out and combats the counterfeit gospels – philosophies which purport themselves to be good news, but which are in reality fraudulent teachings dressed in Christianese garb.  Paul’s response to these philosophies is to declare: “Even if we (Apostles, including he himself), or an angel from heaven comes and teaches you something other than the gospel you originally received, let them be eternally cursed!.” The essence of what he says is: “Anyone who tries to teach a fraudulent gospel can just go to hell!”  He is obviously serious about this to offer such a severe retort.

Counterfeit gospels are not just something from the Apostolic age.  They are all too prevalent today – and not only in heterodox churches.  They are present in the best of churches, and in the hearts of some of the most sincere followers of Christ. I suspect it is in our spiritual DNA, part of our broken nature. Are hearts are deceitful. (Jeremiah 17.9)  We are susceptible to gospel distortions – which Paul reminds us “are no gospel at all”.

Some time ago I picked up and read a book by Trevin Wax, Counterfiet Gospels.  I found it to be among the most helpful books I have read.Counterfeit Gospels

In one sense, nothing in the book was new for me.  Still, Trevin does an excellent job of explaining the gospel in it’s various aspects:

  • Gospel Story: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration
  • Gospel Announcement: Life, Death, Resurrection, and Exaltation of Jesus
  • Gospel Community: The Church

Just as important, he takes some commonly held notions and connects them to the different dimensions of the gospel. Included among the categories he connects with and compares to the gospel:

  • Activist Gospel
  • Moralistic Gospel
  • Pietistic or Quietistic Gospel
  • Therapeutic Gospel
  • Judgmentlessness Gospel
  • Churchless Gospel

In exploring these ideas, he shows that while at root they are in may respects good, yet how when misunderstood or misapplied they are contributing to an erosion of  the Faith.

What I don’t think I had ever before adequately considered was the connection of the categories Trevin identifies with the gospel. And what I think I appreciated most is that he identifies and examines not only the negatives of these  ideas, but he also explains their positives points as well.  He astutely points out that it is the very real positive aspects that make these points popular and palatable, and yet which also make them easily confused and dangerous.

In the short video above Trevin Wax provides a quick overview of his book, and briefly explains the categories he identifies.  So even if you find my description of his book a little fuzzy or confusing, take a moment to watch the video so Trevin can clarify what I am trying to convey.

EKG

It might be beneficial to periodically take some moments to consider if, to some degree, we are functionally forgetting the gospel.

“Forgetting the gospel?”

Yep.  As absurd as such a thing may sound, it is a very common spiritual issue for all of us.

Consider 2 Peter 1.3-9:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

What Peter is saying here, after reminding us of some of the implications of the gospel (v. 3-4), that we should be diligent about cultivating godly characteristics (v. 5-7) because this cultivation process is part of God’s means of producing spritual fruit in us (v. 8).  Conversely, the absence of, or lack of, godly characteristic and/or spiritual fruit is not primarily from a lack of diligence, but due to a mental disconnect from the gospel (v. 9).  Peter is not at all suggesting that we have lost our slavation. He is simply explaining that when we turn our attention from the gospel – that we have been “cleansed from our former sins” – the transforming power of the gospel is somewhat diminished in its potency.  This forgetting the gospel is the cause of fruitlessness and lack of spiritual growth.

So it is a good idea to consider things like the following descriptions. If some of these apply, it may be an indication that at this point in time we are functionally forgetting the gospel.

  • The gospel doesn’t interest you – or it maybe it does, but just not as much as some other religious subjects.
  • You take nearly everything personally.
  • You frequently worry about what other people think.
  • You treat inconveniences like minor tragedies (or maybe even major tragedies).
  • You are impatient with people.
  • In general, you have trouble seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life.  (Galatians 5.22-23)
  • The Word of God holds little interest.
  • You have great difficulty forgiving.
  • You are told frequently by your spouse, a close friend, or some other family members that you are too “clingy” or too controlling.
  • You think someone besides yourself is the worst sinner you know.  (1 Timothy 1.15)

If we find some of these description appy, it is not reason to despair. The remedy is simply to remind ourselves of the gospel – ponder it; preach it to ourselves. (Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent is a good resource to remind us of the gospel.)

Remember: We renew ourselves in the gospel by reminding ourselves of the gospel.

Soul Strength

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?”    ~ Galatians 1:10

At this time of the year many of us see an opportunity for a new start. Whether you are one who makes New Years Resolutions or not, there seems to be a sense of “Do Over” that comes almost as soon as that ball drops in Times Square, and as the pigskin begins to make way for the roundball and puck.

The question cited at the top of this post was posed by the Apostle Paul. His question raises another, more fundamental question: Who are we supposed to live to please? I hope that question will be given consideration in this new year (and every year).

It would not be appropriate to suppose Paul is suggest that receiving affirmation from the people around us is a bad thing. On many occasions Paul expresses his thankfulness for having been well received, for the friendships with many among whom he lived and ministered. So clearly, Paul is not indifferent to the benefits of healthy affirming relationships. Yet I hope Paul’s question will remind us that, as the Westminster Catechism says, “The primary purpose of man is to glorify and enjoy God”. In other words, as good as it is to please those around us, and especially those closest to us, the one we exist to please is the One and only God.  And while earning esteem at work, in your neighborhood, or among family members is often a good thing, Paul reminds us that when pleasing those around us is our driving motivation we are then likely to be out of accord with the very purpose for which we are created – and for which we have been redeemed.

So how do we know when we are falling into this pattern of people pleasing? (Yes, when, not if.)

The great English Puritan, Richard Baxter, provides us with some thoughts, and exhorts us: “See therefore that you live for God’s approval as that which you chiefly seek, and as that will suffice you.”

You may discover yourself by these signs:

1. You will be careful to understand the Scripture, to know what pleases and displeases God

2. You will be more careful in the doing of every task, to fit it to the pleasure of God rather than men.

3. You will look to your hearts, and not only to your actions; to your goals, and thoughts, and the inward manner and degree.

4. You will look to secret duties as well as public, and to that which men do not see as well as those which they see.

5. You will revere your conscience, paying close attention to it, and not slighting it; when it tells you of God’s displeasure, it will disquiet you; when it tells you of His approval, it will comfort you.

6. Your pleasing men will be charitable for their good, and pious (holy) in order to please God, not proud and ambitious for your honor among men, nor impious against the pleasing of God.

7. Whether men are pleased or displeased, how they judge you or what they call you, will seem a small matter to you, as their own interests, in comparison to God’s judgment. You don’t live for them. You can bear their displeasure, and comments, if God is pleased.

These will be your evidences.