Category Archives: Meditations

A Meditation on Psalm 50

Father, you are in need of nothing.  The whole earth is yours.  If you were hungry, you would eat whatever you wanted.  If you were thirsty, you would drink whatever you wanted.  Anything that you ordain to come to pass happens.  You need me to do nothing to accomplish your purposes.  Here is what you desire:  “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving (that is make thanksgiving my sacrifice to you) and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” 50:14-15.

Lord, who am I that the Almighty Creator and Sustainer of all things would have affection for me?  It is unbelieveable that you would save me, but you did not just forgive me – you also adopted me.  You made me family and now you ask me to ask you for help when I am in trouble and you will deliver me – and I will glorify you.  Lord, this is true!  The paths that you have led me down have often times been hellish, wrought with suffering, adversity & pain, but you have been ever near to me.  You have walked with me, shown me my own sins and encumbrances and you have delivered me.  I am so different today because you have marked me with your presence, love and affection.  You have not delivered me from suffering, you have delivered me through suffering.

I feel overwhelmed that you have met me in this way.  With all of the souls on the planet, the stars to hold in place, the magnitude of power and attention that it must take to hold all things together – and still you care for a weak, struggling man like me.  Why?  Because you love me (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).  You love me because I am a blood bought son; a son that brought (or brings) nothing to the relationship but filth – filth that all too often I run back to.  But you, being rich in mercy, made me alive, raised me, forgave me and made me a son.  Thank You.  May my heart worship you.

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What is the Gospel?

Excerpt from What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert

MAN THE SINNER

I just paid a parking ticket the other day. It was easy. I read the charge against me, flipped the ticket over, checked the box that said “I plead guilty to the charge,” filled out a check for $35 to the Metropolitan Traffic Citation Department, sealed the envelope, and dropped it in the mail.

I’m a convicted criminal.

For some reason, though, even though I checked the “guilty” box, I don’t feel terribly guilty. I’m not going to lose any sleep over my walk on the wrong side of the law. I don’t feel the need to ask anyone’s forgiveness, and now that I think about it, I’m even a little bitter that the ticket was $10 more than the previous one I got.

Why don’t I feel bad about breaking the law? I suppose it’s because, when you get right down to it, breaking a parking regulation just doesn’t strike me as being all that important— or all that heinous. Yes, I’ll be sure to drop an extra nickel in the meter next time, but my conscience isn’t exactly torn up over the whole thing.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that most people tend to think of sin, especially their own, as not much more than a parking infraction. “Yes of course,” we think, “technically sin is a violation of the law handed down by God on high, and all that, but surely he must know there are bigger criminals out there than me. Besides, nobody was hurt, and I’m willing to pay the fine. And come on—there’s no need for a whole lot of soul-searching over something like this. Is there?”

Well, I guess not, at least not if you think of sin in that cold way. But according to the Bible, sin is a lot more than just the violation of some impersonal, arbitrary, heavenly traffic regulation. It’s the breaking of a relationship, and even more, it is a rejection of God himself—a repudiation of God’s rule, God’s care, God’s authority, and God’s right to command those to whom he gave life. In short, it is the rebellion of the creature against his Creator.

What Went Wrong

When God created human beings, his intention was that they would live under his righteous rule in perfect joy, worshipping him, obeying him, and thereby living in unbroken fellowship with him. As we saw in the last chapter, he created man and woman in his own image, meaning that they were to be like him, to be in relationship with him, and to declare his glory to the world. Further, God had a job for humans to do. They were to be his vice-regents, ruling his world under him. “Be fruitful and multiply,” God told them, “and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

Man and woman’s rule over creation was not ultimate, however. Their authority was not their own; it was given to them by God. So even as Adam and Eve exercised dominion over the world, they were to remember that they were subject to God and under his rule. He had created them, and therefore he had the right to command them.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God planted in the center of the garden, was a stark reminder of that fact (Gen. 3:17). When Adam and Eve looked at that tree and saw its fruit, they would remember that their authority was limited, that they were creatures, and that they were dependent on God for their very lives. They were only the stewards. He was the King.

When Adam and Eve bit into the fruit, therefore, they weren’t just violating some arbitrary command, “Don’t eat the fruit.” They were doing something much sadder and much more serious. They were rejecting God’s authority over them and declaring their independence from him. Adam and Eve wanted to be, as the Serpent promised them, “like God,” so both of them seized on what they thought was an opportunity to shed the vice-regency and take the crown itself. In all the universe, there was only one thing God had not placed under Adam’s feet—God himself. Yet Adam decided this arrangement was not good enough for him, and so he rebelled.

The worst of it, though, is that by disobeying God’s command, Adam and Eve made a conscious decision to reject him as their King. They knew what the consequences would be if they disobeyed him. God had told them in no uncertain terms that if they ate the fruit, they would “surely die,” which meant above all that they would be cast away from his presence and become his enemies, rather than his friends and joyful subjects (Gen. 2:17). But they didn’t care. Adam and Eve traded their favor with God for the pursuit of their own pleasure and their own glory.

“The Bible calls this disobedience of God’s commands— whether in word, thought, or deed—“sin.” Literally, the word means “missing the mark,” but the biblical meaning of sin is much deeper. It’s not as if Adam and Eve were trying very hard to keep God’s command and just missed the bull’s-eye by a few degrees. No, the fact is that they were shooting in the opposite direction! They had goals and desires that were categorically opposed to what God desired for them, and so they sinned. They deliberately violated God’s command, broke their relationship with him, and rejected him as their rightful Lord.

The consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin were disastrous for them, their descendants, and the rest of creation. They themselves were cast out of the idyllic garden of Eden. No longer would the earth willingly and joyfully present its fruits and treasures to them. They would have to work, hard and painfully, to get them. Even worse, God executed the promised sentence of death upon them. They didn’t physically die right away, of course. Their bodies continued to live, lungs breathing, hearts beating, limbs moving. But their spiritual life, the one that matters most, ended immediately. Their fellowship with God was broken, and thus their hearts shriveled, their minds filled up with selfish thoughts, their eyes darkened to the beauty of God, and their souls became sere and arid, utterly void of that spiritual life that God gave them in the beginning, when everything was good.

Not Just Them, but Us

The Bible tells us that it is not just Adam and Eve who are guilty of sin. We all are. Paul says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And just a few paragraphs earlier he says, “None is righteous, no, not one” (3:10).”

The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of stumbling stones, and this is one of the largest. To human hearts that stubbornly think of themselves as basically good and self-sufficient, this idea that human beings are fundamentally sinful and rebellious is not merely scandalous. It is revolting.

That’s why it is so absolutely crucial that we understand both the nature and the depth of our sin. If we approach the gospel thinking that sin is something else or something less than what it really is, we will badly misunderstand the good news of Jesus Christ. Let me give you a few examples of how Christians often misunderstand sin.

CONFUSING SIN WITH SIN’S EFFECTS

It’s become fashionable lately to present the gospel by saying that Jesus came to save humanity from an innate sense of guilt or meaninglessness or purposelessness or emptiness. Now of course those things really are problems, and many people feel them deeply. But the Bible teaches that humanity’s fundamental problem—the thing from which we need to be saved—is not meaninglessness or disintegration in our lives, or even a debilitating sense of guilt. Those are merely symptoms of a deeper and much more profound problem: our sin. What we must understand is that the predicament we’re in is a predicament of our own making. We have disobeyed God’s word. We have ignored his commands. We have sinned against him.

To talk about salvation being from meaninglessness or purposelessness without tracing those things down to their root in sin may make the medicine go down easier, but it is the wrong medicine. It allows a person to continue thinking of himself as a victim and never really deal with the fact that he himself is the criminal, unrighteous and deserving of judgment.

REDUCING SIN TO BROKEN RELATIONSHIP

Relationship is an important category in the Bible. Human beings were made to live in fellowship with God. What we must remember, however, is that it was a specific kind of relationship in which they were to live—not the relationship between two equals, where law, judgment, and punishment are out of view, but the relationship between a King and his subjects.

Many Christians talk about sin as if it were merely a relational tiff between God and man, and what is needed is for us simply to apologize and accept God’s forgiveness. That image of sin as lovers’ quarrel, though, distorts the relationship in which we stand to God. It communicates that there is no broken law, no violated justice, no righteous wrath, no holy judgment— and therefore, ultimately, no need for a substitute to bear that judgment, either.

The Bible’s teaching is that sin is indeed a breaking of relationship with God, but that broken relationship consists in a rejection of his kingly majesty. It’s not just adultery (though it is that); it is also rebellion. Not just betrayal, but also treason. If we reduce sin to a mere breaking of relationship, rather than understanding it as the traitorous rebellion of a beloved subject against his good and righteous King, we will never understand why the death of God’s Son was required to address it.

CONFUSING SIN WITH NEGATIVE THINKING

Another misunderstanding of sin is to say that it’s just a matter of negative thinking. We saw that in some of the quotes in the introduction to this book. Get rid of your old wineskins! Think bigger! God wants to show you his incredible favor, if you’ll just get rid of all those negative mind-sets that hold you back!

Now that’s a compelling message to self-reliant people who want to believe they can take care of their sin all by themselves. That’s probably why men who proclaim that message have managed to build some of the largest churches in the world. The formula is pretty easy, really. Just tell people that their sin is no deeper than negative thinking and that it’s holding them back from health, wealth, and happiness. Then tell them that if they’ll just think more positively about themselves (with God’s help, of course), they’ll be rid of their sin and get rich, to boot. Bingo! Instant megachurch!

Sometimes the promised goal is money, sometimes health, sometimes something else entirely. But however you spin it, to say that Jesus Christ died to save us from negative thoughts about ourselves is reprehensibly unbiblical. In fact, the Bible teaches that a big part of our problem is that we think too highly of ourselves, not too lowly. Stop and think about it for a moment. How did the Serpent tempt Adam and Eve? He told them they were thinking too negatively about themselves. He told them they needed to think more positively, to extend their grasp, to reach toward their full potential, to be like God! In a word, he told them to think bigger.

Now how’d that work out for them?

CONFUSING SIN WITH SINS

There is a huge difference between understanding yourself to be guilty of sins, and knowing yourself to be guilty of sin. Most people have no problem at all admitting that they’ve committed sins (plural), at least so long as they can think about those sins as isolated little mistakes in an otherwise pretty good life— a parking ticket here or there on an otherwise clean record.

Sins don’t shock us much. We know they are there, we see them in ourselves and others every day, and we’ve gotten pretty used to them. What is shocking to us is when God shows us the sin that runs to the very depths of our hearts, the deep-running deposits of filth and corruption that we never knew existed in us and that we ourselves could never expunge. That’s how the Bible talks about the depth and darkness of our sin—it is in us and of us, not just on us.

On the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, there is what is said to be the largest flawless quartz sphere in the entire world. The sphere is a little bigger than a basketball, and there is a not a single visible scratch, pockmark, or discoloration on the entire thing. It is perfect. People often think human nature is like that quartz sphere. Yes, every now and then we may smear it up with dirt and mud, but underneath the grime it remains as pristine as ever, and all we really need to do is wipe it clean in order to restore its brilliance.

The Bible’s picture of human nature, though, is not so pretty. According to Scripture, the sphere of human nature is not pristine at all, and the mud is not just smeared on the outside. On the contrary, we are shot through with sin. The cracks, mud, filth, and corruption go all the way to the center. We are, as Paul said, “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). We are included in Adam’s guilt and corruption (Romans 5). Jesus taught this, too: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). The sinful words you speak and sinful actions you do are not just isolated incidents. They rise out of the evil of your own heart.

Every part of our human existence is corrupted by sin and under its power. Our understanding, our personality, our feelings and emotions, and even our will are all enslaved to sin. So Paul says in Romans 8:7, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” What a shocking and frightening statement! So thorough is sin’s rule over us—our minds, understanding, and will—that we see God’s glory and goodness, and we inevitably turn away from it in disgust.

It’s not enough to say that Jesus came to save us from sins, if what we mean by that is that he came to save us from our isolated mistakes. It’s only when we realize that our very nature is sinful—that we are indeed “dead in our trespasses and sins,” as Paul says (Eph. 2:1, 5)—that we see just how good the news is that there is a way to be saved.

God’s Active Judgment against Sin

One of the most frightening statements in all the Bible is in Romans 3:19. It comes at the end of Paul’s indictment of all humanity—first the Gentile, then the Jew—as being under sin and utterly unrighteous before God. Here’s what Paul says, as the grand conclusion of the matter: “Every mouth [will] be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (NIV).

Can you even begin to imagine what that will mean? To stand before God and to have no explanation, no plea, no excuse, no case? And what does it mean to be “held accountable to God”? The Bible is very clear, as we saw in the last chapter, that God is righteous and holy, and therefore he will not excuse sin. But what will it mean for God to deal with sin, to judge it and punish it?

Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” In other words, the payment we earn for our sins is to die. That’s not just physical death, either. It is spiritual death, a forceful separating of our sinful, wretched selves from the presence of the righteous and holy God. The prophet Isaiah describes it like this:

Your iniquities have made a separation

between you and your God,

and your sins have hidden his face from you

so that he does not hear. (Isa. 59:2)

Sometimes people talk about this as if it is just the passive, quiet absence of God. But it’s more than that. It is God’s active judgment against sin, and the Bible says it will be terrifying. Look at how the book of Revelation describes what the end will be like on the day of God’s right and good judgment. The seven angels will “pour out on the earth . . . the wrath of God,” and “all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Rev. 16:1; 1:7). They will call out to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:16–17). They will see Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and they will cower, for “he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Rev. 19:15).

The Bible teaches that the final destiny for unrepentant, unbelieving sinners is a place of eternal, conscious torment called “hell.” Revelation describes it as a “lake of fire and sulfur,” and Jesus says it is a place of “unquenchable fire,” (Rev. 20:10; Mark 9:43).

Given how the Bible talks about hell and warns us against it, I do not understand the impulse some Christians seem to have to explain it in a way that makes it sound more tolerable. When Revelation speaks of Jesus treading the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty, when Jesus himself warns of the “unquenchable fire . . . where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43, 48), my incredulous question is, Why would any Christian have an interest in making that sound less horrific? Why on earth would we comfort sinners with the thought that maybe hell will not be so bad after all?

We Didn’t Just Make This Up

The images the Bible uses to talk about God’s judgment against sin are truly horrifying. It’s really no wonder the world reads the Bible’s descriptions of hell and calls Christians “sick” for believing them.

But that misses the point. It’s not as if we just make these ideas up ourselves. We Christians don’t read, believe, and talk about hell because we somehow enjoy the thought of it. God forbid. No, we talk about hell because, finally, we believe the Bible. We believe it when it says that hell is real, and we believe it with tears when it says that people we love are in danger of spending eternity there.

This is the Bible’s sobering verdict on us. There is not one of us righteous, not even one. And because of that, one day every mouth will be silenced, every wagging tongue stopped, and the whole world will be held accountable to God.

But . . .”

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Psalms 37:11 ESV)

““Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5 ESV)

Meekness is not weakness; it is power under control.

“The meek do not rail against the Lord in their persecution. They might not understand why something has happened to them—it is hard to understand how God’s love and our own suffering coexist—but the meek don’t demand answers. Instead, they trust God because of who he is, what he has said, and what he has done. They wait. They walk before the Lord in humble obedience. They know his ways can sometimes be veiled, but there is much they do know. For example, they know that the persecuted meek will inherit the earth, the Lord will be their stronghold, and they will see the legacy of the wicked perish.

Jesus is not just identifying those who know shame in this beatitude, he is guiding them. Most shamed people know poverty of spirit. You don’t have to learn that. And you certainly know about mourning. But meekness might not describe you. Instead, you might insist on understanding rather than trust. Your questions to God might verge on the angry and accusing rather than the submissive. Maybe you aren’t shaking your fist at the Lord, but you don’t exactly trust him. Our instinctive response to shame is to take matters into our own hands. We withdraw; we self-protect.”

Welch, Edward T. (2012-04-30). Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (p. 145-146). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.

We Live live out of our identity

Human beings live out of one of only two identities: that I am ultimate and autonomous or that I am created and dependent on God. . . . It is when I am confronted with my utter inability to meet the demands of God’s standards that I am also confronted with the reality and majesty of His grace. . . . Sex reveals my need of grace. God’s call to sexual purity is as impossible for me to achieve without His help as it would have been for me to save myself.”24

24 Paul David Tripp, “The Way of the Wise: Teaching Teenagers about Sex,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 13 (Number 3, 1995), 39–41.

Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex by John Freeman, Page 72

 

Whiffs of Glory

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24–26 ESV)

At times, there is a fleeting fulfillment and pleasure that comes with hard work (Ecclesiastes 2:10 & 24) – this is a grace. The capacity to enjoy any created thing (work, food, drink, sex) is a true gift from God. Outside of Eden, everything should be thorns and thistles, but God’s grace restrains utter chaos and maintains some semblance of order and beauty. Though creation groans (Romans 8:23) for the day of ultimate redemption, hints of creation’s previous glory can, at times, be found and enjoyed because of God’s benevolence to humanity. Our ability to enjoy this is only due to His goodness and grace. All that we have that is good – beauty, intelligence, natural proclivities & acumens, physical strength or ability, wisdom & insight, the homes we were brought up in or the educations we received that placed us into gainful employment – are ALL gifts that we have received from the Almighty (1 Corinthians 4:7, James 1:17). God owes no man anything and we will indeed agree with Solomon that much of this world is a meaningless chasing after the wind. A sober awareness of the brokenness of this world in which we are owed nothing and yet still smell periodic whiffs of goodness & beauty is at the root of how we glorify God in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31). These aromas should make us long for our eternal home.  We are owed nothing, but are given some good things and the ability to enjoy them should cause our souls to be stirred in worship for a God who is so kind to us.

Morning Prayer

Lord, help me to see You for who You really are – sovereign, holy and just – and help me to see myself for who I really am – a sinner that regularly seeks substitute saviors.  Lord, help me to experience your glory and free grace so that they irrigate my parched soul.  Lord, change my heart, enlighten my eyes and open my ears to see and savor You as supreme.  Lord, transform me and cause me to walk in joyful obedience to your commands.  Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, the king of sinners.

 

 

Echoes of an Empty Tomb

Echoes of an Empty Tomb
by Tad Pruitt (@tadcpruitt)

An echo starts then fades away
While dawn begins a dreaded day.
A thought perhaps that three days on
Will bring more hope than three days gone.

She rises, tired, restless, sad.
All seems lost, as if a fad
Deemed useless now to all with reason,
Faded faith, a worn-out season.

Hoping not to hope as past
But just to share a moment last
With lifeless, shrouded, silent friend
Who’s life less sounded Law, but End.

Less Law, but what? The echo rang
Around inside her heart and brain,
But came confused with curse and fears,
Drowned out by questions, sobs and tears.

Down the path to hated tomb
She walked and murmured funeral tune
And prayer, for death and Rome had taken,
Tortured, pierced and left forsaken

Her good friend, her healer, teacher,
Prophet, shepherd—more than preacher.
Echoes of Hosanna ringing,
Then replaced with chains and clinging

Blood-soaked tunic, jeers and jibes
From those so easily turned by bribes
Of peace or order, power kept
If under rug The Way was swept.

For dangerous, disruptive was
The Way, the Teacher’s sacred cause.
It seemed to tear apart the Law—
The life religious all now saw.

And what then? Echoed words from wise,
Both skeptics, guards from false-taught lies,
And seekers, wandering, wanting still,
But wondering how Law’s void to fill?

But she cared not for thoughts so lofty,
Philosophical while softly
Near the cave she came so sure
That death was final, hope no cure.

And what of sin? What did He say?
It had not died that skull-cross day.
Or so it seemed at this dark hour
New day dawning bitter, sour.

But at the tomb a thing not right
Filled her with dread. This horror might
Get worse! “Dear God, I could not bear,”
She thought, “if desecration paired

With death.” The stone so massive moved,
Unsealed the grave, unlocked and shoved
Aside by forces greater than
The guards could muster or demand.

So now unguarded was the trail
That led to final lifeless tale.
Now all had left, abandoned him
Who came to join those cursed by sin.

But wait, where is he? There’s no bone
Inside that shroud now left alone,
Abandoned as like chains put down
And walls now echoed different sound.

It was a voice, a face so glowing
Speaking what her heart was knowing,
That he was not here, not now,
Nor ever more; and more, ’bout how

Death could not keep him in that grave.
His life had lived to ransom, save,
Secure and station at His side
In Father’s love—for that he died!

She knew it! Surely he had come
Not just to teach, then die or run
From what we needed most of all,
A cure from sin and warped wrong call.

But his life in exchange for yours
And mine and hers. An open door
To any who will call his name
As Savior, Chosen One Who came.

Now echoed from that tomb her cries
Of marvel at His sacrifice
And songs of praise and thanks resounded
From the stone the slab surrounded

Out into the sun she bolted,
Hope renewed, despair revolted
From, as those she rushed to tell
Came all to mourn their friend who fell.

“He is not dead! He lives, I’m sure!”
She said three times because they were
So stunned. “Her grief has made her mad,”
They first thought, til she visaged glad.

And as she spoke His words came back
To mind and heart, and now unpacked,
Now understood, the Good News clear
And what he said made sense to hear.

For grace now echoed from the tomb,
And gospel filled that hopeless room,
And all believed or soon would see
The Law fulfilled on alter’s tree.

And echo of the lifted curse,
It rang throughout the universe,
And rings today in Easter’s bells
For all to hear and all to tell

The Good News that his power to save
Is yours; it’s mine! But more, He gave
In grace, sustaining, changing might,
Not ours, but His! Because the fight

Was won that day as Jesus rose
From death to life. And so it goes,
The echo of that empty tomb
Is grace for all, our new found tune.

Yes, Christ is risen from the dead
For sinless life he crowned his head
And Church is made His chosen bride
Sing loudly, Church! His grace is life!

The Power to Change

“You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV)

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14 ESV)

Often times, in our Christian experience, we believe that morality is the goal of our faith.  It is relatively easy to define, there are many scriptures that reinforce that we should live moral lives and we are able to accomplish morality by being disciplined; in short, morality is measurable.  We can produce morality on our own which should scare us!  There are plenty of non Christians who are very moral (far more so than I am):  they don’t cheat, steal or lie, they are benevolent, faithful to their spouses, and kind to others.  These are good things, right?  YES, they are!  Morality can be easily defined, and sometimes produced, by a list of things “to do” and things not “to do.”  We like lists because they put us in control.

Morality is not, however, the goal of the Christian life – holiness is the goal of the Christian life.  Morality doesn’t require Jesus, but holiness is built entirely upon Jesus.  Far too many have settled in to a Christless Christianity.  If morality is the target then we look to ourselves and our own power to produce it, and when we do we become very self-righteous.  Those who have a hard time producing morality are looked down on because they aren’t strong enough, disciplined enough or don’t measure up.  So should we not be moral people?  No, we should be!  But morality is not the aim.  When our target is holiness then we are driven to Christ in despair because we know that we are not holy as He is – and as we are commanded to be.  When we aim for holiness, morality is produced as a byproduct.  One is built upon us and our own efforts and one is built upon Jesus and the work He did for us.

Morality focuses on behavior and the consequences associated with our behaviors; holiness focuses on the heart’s motivations and the power of God to transform our hearts of stone.  Should we not be concerned with our external behaviors, should we just live however we want?  NO!  But we all know that managing behavior, suppressing our feelings or just trying to take our thoughts captive never results in true and lasting transformation.  Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are indicators of what we really believe down deep in our hearts – in our gut!  It is so hard to change because the root of our sin runs very deep and we seldom do the work that is required to unearth what we are really believing so we become content with just replacing our sinful thoughts, feelings and behaviors with less offensive ones. This is why Jesus said that our work is to believe (john 6:29).  So let us learn to do the painful and difficult work of excavating the false beliefs that are driving our sinful thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Beliefs -> Thoughts -> Feelings -> Behaviors.
Our beliefs lead to our thoughts which lead to our feelings which lead to our behaviors.  Most people who attend church are pretty good at managing external behaviors because we know what is acceptable and what is not and we really want people to think highly of us.  So we become content with not swearing, sleeping around, drinking too much and trying our best to stay out of the ditch of the really “bad sins.”  We aren’t overly concerned that our hearts are filled with anger, impatience, angst, lust, jealousy or discontent.  All we are really doing is replacing “unacceptable” external behaviors with more “acceptable” ones like self-righteousness, self-reliance and self-control.  Managing behaviors is rooted in self.  If we are really honest, we’d far rather deal with the self-righteous elder brother’s life than we would deal with the egregiously sinful life of the younger brother (Luke 15:11-32).  This is because the consequences of the elder brother’s self righteous behavior is not as disruptive to our lives as the consequences to the younger brother’s sinful life.  Despite the fact that the younger brother is the one in the parable – and normally the one in real life – that understands his need for grace.  We prefer good behavior over contrite hearts.

Our feelings are underneath our behaviors and they are far more difficult for us to manage.  They come on like a wave and can be overwhelming.  Feelings of angst, impatience, lust, covetousness, jealousy, inadequacy, guilt, shame and discontent – just to name a few.  Who hasn’t resolved to be more patient only to find themselves stuck behind a intolerably slow driver or picking the slowest check out line at the grocery store?  Most won’t scream out the window at the driver ahead of them to “hurry up,” or yell at the clerk at the store to “put a move on it!”  This is because we have learned to manage our external behaviors, but the feeling of impatience (and probably growing angst) is overwhelming and nearly impossible to manage.  We don’t know what to do with these feelings so we try our best to ignore them or shove them down.  This is not the biblical way to handle our feelings.  Instead of suppressing them, we should follow them – all the way to the root belief that is producing them.  This takes time, energy and dependent surrender upon a good and gracious God to do this.

Instead, we resolve to change how we think; we resolve that we should take every thought captive to obedience to Christ (and we should 2 Corinthians 10:5) and we resolve to think on excellent things instead of those things which stir up our anger, lust, jealousy and impatience (Philippians 4:8).  So how’s that working for you?  We all know the answer to that question!  Resolving to think differently does not work because your thoughts are a byproduct of your beliefs – you are closer to your beliefs, but attempting to just change the way that you think is a frustrating and unfruitful endeavor.  We must follow our sinful thoughts to their roots of unbelief in the heart.

Just because you didn’t kill someone, didn’t steal something or didn’t honk at the driver in front of you doesn’t mean that you are free.  And make no mistake, Jesus came to set you free (John 6:36; Romans 6:7, 18, 20, Galatians 5:1).  Angry hearts aren’t free hearts, lust filled hearts aren’t free hearts, impatient hearts aren’t free hearts.  Therefore, we must learn to follow our thoughts, feelings and behaviors to their roots – we must use them to diagnose the roots of sinful false belief in our hearts.  The unbelief in our heart is the root of all sinful behavior (Matthew 12:34, 15:18-19).  We must learn to repent of the sin underneath the sin.  We must learn to ask and mine out why we are angry, greedy, lustful, selfish, rude, prideful?  We must ask ourselves, “what have I really set my hope upon, where is my treasure really?”  When you begin to ask these questions you will ALWAYS FIND that your real problem is a worship problem.  You will always find that you have attached ultimate value and worth to a created thing (relationships, marriage, success, pleasure, children, morality, service, acceptance) and this thing is not able to hold the weight of your worship.  And whatever we worship converts us in to its image.  You BELIEVE that this thing at the center of your heart will produce security, significance and happiness – it will not, it cannot.  This is why the gospel always invades the heart – not primarily the thoughts, feelings or behaviors.  As Christ begins to reign in those areas of our hearts as its greatest treasure then our thoughts, feelings and behaviors slowly begin to change.

It really is simple, it’s just not easy!  Running is not mechanically complex – anyone can run.  Running is simple, but driving your mile time to 7 minutes, 6 minutes or even less is not easy!  Just because following our behaviors, feelings & thoughts to their root of false belief & false worship in our hearts is simple does not mean that it is easy.  It requires grace driven effort.  But let us not shy away from pursuing godliness – for it is what we are called to.  If you will pursue Christ like this then you will find liberating joy, regardless of the circumstances that you face.  God is most glorified when you are most satisfied in Him.

A profoundly practical way to build belief

We must fill our lives with things that inspire a worship of God instead of our idols. We must find things that stir our affections for Christ!

The Gospel Centered Life

 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8–9 ESV)

The post from yestereday, beating fear, anxiety & worry involves a transference of trust, was about how we must build belief in the fact that God is good, sovereign and faithful if we wish to overcome fear, anxiety & worry in our lives.  Today, we will explore a profoundly practical way to begin doing that.  The Apostle transitions from telling us not to worry (because God is in control) to telling us to fill our lives with things that inspire and worship of God instead of our idols.

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