Battle Plan Series – Intro – Part 2

Last time we asked the question, , “Do I really want to pursue righteousness and holiness, and count everything loss in order to know Christ and the power of His resurrection in my life?” Do I really want this? Am I willing to work hard, suffer and sweat to gain it?

 

This is not a trite question. You shouldn’t just read it and go on. In order to help us think about this, I’d like to look at several passages of Scripture.

 

The Bible speaks about fleeing some things and pursuing others. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”  One of the things that should be pursued is holiness. To pursue means to chase down or chase after. You’ve seen the police chases. Several squad cars are seen pursuing a car speeding to get away. The point is they are trying to catch the person. They are not just following along after it like they would be during non-chase normal traffic situations.  So we are to chase down holiness, which the writer says we need if we want to see the Lord. Do you have the desire to see the Lord? Do you have the desire to chase holiness? Are you chasing it?

 

1 Timothy 6:11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

 

There are things to flee, but in this case I’m focusing on the pursuit. Here we are told to pursue several traits. Look these over and ask yourself, “Am I chasing these things?” Look at each one of these traits one at a time.  Do I have a desire chase them? Am I willing to ask God for the desire to chase them? Do I want to chase righteousness? Godliness? Faith? Love? Patience? Gentleness?

 

2 Timothy 2:22 Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

 

Am I fleeing and do I desire to flee youthful lusts. Older people can have youthful lusts. Sex is certainly one of these, but young people also have other inordinate desires for prestige, acceptance, power, recklessness, etc. Sometimes as we get older, these lusts don’t disappear. We need to run away from these lusts with as much energy as we can. And here again we are to pursue righteousness and other traits. So if you can picture this, we are to be running away from some things in hot pursuit of other things. This is not a lazy afternoon walk. This is a chase. Paul says he beats his body to keep it under control and in subjection to his mind (1 Corinthians 9:27). The author of Hebrews challenges us by saying that we haven’t resisted to bloodshed in our fight against sin (Hebrews 12:4).

 

And from Philippians 3:8-14 we learn that, like Paul, we should count things that are normally thought of as gain, we should count them loss. Keeping those things would be a negative. The reason is because of the excellence of Christ. Paul wanted to gain Christ. He described his effort as “pressing for the mark.”  He was like a runner stretching out to be the first person across the line. That is the kind of effort he was making in order to know Christ better and to be found in Him.

 

Before we go on to any of the strategies that I will outline for us, each one of us needs to ask ourselves the question: Do I really want this?  Do I want to pursue righteousness and holiness?  Do I really want Christ above all things? If the answer is “no” or if the answer is “I don’t think I really care.” or if the answer is a shrug of the shoulders, then there’s no point in going on.

 

Next time we’ll begin to look at some of the strategies in detail.

Battle Plan Series – Intro – part 1

Every day we are confronted with temptations that attempt to distract us from our primary focus of service and obedience to Christ. These temptations often derail our attempts to live a godly life. Every day we are engaged in a battle to defeat these temptations and to stay the course. What I hope to do in this series is to review some of what the Bible teaches as to methods and strategies we can use to fight successfully. I plan to provide you with 10 or 11 specific statements that you should be able to make about yourself and about your spiritual life. These will be supported with passages of Scripture to help give you a strong foundation for those statements. If these statements are true of you, you will be in a better position for success in this battle against sin, lust, and temptation. If the statements are not true of you, it should provide motivation and a goal that you can work on in order to improve areas of weakness.

 

You can download the Battle Plan Chart here: http://rogert.me/2w6E0sK

 

The first thing we need to realize is that this battle is universal among Christians. As you read this material you are going to be tempted to think that this is a battle for someone else. Often, when we speak of lusts, as we will in the following section, people immediately focus on sexual lust and if that doesn’t happen to be your problem, you might stop reading thinking that you have everything under control. That is a dangerous position to be in because if you are not aware of a battle for your heart and soul, the devil has you right where he wants you. But as soon as you realize that this applies to you just as much as anyone else and as soon as you take up arms to defeat your own lusts, you will find a battle greater than you ever imagined could exist.

 

The first step, then, is to ask ourselves the question: “Do I really want to pursue righteousness and holiness, and count everything loss in order to know Christ and the power of His resurrection in my life?”  In order to accurately answer this question, there are some truths we need to consider.

 

In 1 John 2:15-17 we read: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

 

There is a distinction between the things of the world and the things of God. These verses very clearly teach that it is not possible to love the world and love God at the same time. This means a decision is required. Do I really want to abandon the world for Christ?  This is an overarching decision, but it is also a decision that has to be made hundreds of times a day. Making the decision during a momentary temptation without having made it as a principle of your life will make the battle ultimately impossible to win. So, before you go any further you need to decide – Christ or the world.

 

In this passage, the Bible focuses on lust.  Lust is a strong desire that is excessive to the point of being sinful. In this passage we have three components given for worldliness – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. We don’t have time to go into each one in detail, but if you think about it you will realize that many of the things we do and decisions we make are made based on these lusts. We covet what we see other people have. We lust for sex or excitement or other flesh-based pleasures. We desire to have people look up to us as someone important or powerful or contented.  Yes, we can be proud of our contentment and wish for others to be jealous of our contented life. All of these temptations come from the world and not from God.

 

In James 1:14-15 we read this:  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

 

Here’s the issue then. The world and Satan provide attractions that feed the lusts that John referred to.  But our temptations come from within us, from our own lusts or desires and we are drawn away by them. Everybody has their own set of personalized lusts. Because of them, we are pulled in a wrong direction. The desires come from deep within us. They are part of our sin nature, our fallenness, our brokenness. As these desires are conceived and gestate within us they give birth to sin. Sin is a thought or deed that is not within the will and character of God. These sins begin to grow and then, as James writes, they bring forth death. The Bible teaches that sin has wages and those wages are death.

 

A Christian, having been born again and now a child of God, has a new desire in competition with the old tendency and therein lies the conflict. Paul writes it this way in Galatians 5:17 – For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

 

So this leads us back now to the first point in what I’m calling Battle Strategies for the war on lust and sin. The first step is to ask ourselves, “Do I really want to pursue righteousness and holiness, and count everything loss in order to know Christ and the power of His resurrection in my life?” Do I really want this? Am I willing to work hard, suffer and sweat to gain it?

We’ll follow up with part 2 tomorrow.

Basic Devotion Plan

Sometimes it’s hard for people to figure out how to have a regular devotional life when life is busy and time is limited. I’ve put together a 20 minute plan that might be helpful as a start. I’m not suggesting that only 20 minutes is ideal, but I’m trying to help get you started on a regular practice.

Basic Devotion Plan

20 minute quiet time; 10 minutes in the Word; 5-8 minutes in prayer; 2-3 minutes reviewing memory verse for the week. Do this at a time when you are alert, not just when you are ready to crash. If you have to, get up a little earlier, shower, eat a little something and then take time for this.

 

4 times a week. (You could make it 5 if you think you can). There’s no commitment as to which days, but by Wednesday night 2 should be done and by Sunday morning 2 more.

I’ve broken up Ephesians into small sections below. Do not read more than one section. Read and think about the same section for the full ten minutes.

Buy a small notebook to keep prayer list and notes in. Put your prayer list(s) starting in the back and use the front for writing down one comment or question or challenge or encouragement you got from the day’s reading. Every day write at least one sentence, comment, question or thought.

Don’t allow any interruptions.

Develop a prayer list – keep it simple: someone’s name and a word or two to remind you what the key point is. After you’ve added and crossed things out, create a fresh page.

 

Ephesians 1:1-6; 7-14; 15-23

Ephesians 2:1-7; 8-13; 14-22

Ephesians 3:1-7; 8-13; 14-21

Ephesians 4:1-6; 7-16; 17-24; 25-32

Ephesians 5:1-7; 8-14; 15-21; 22-33

Ephesians 6:1-9; 10-20; 21-24

 

Before you go to bed, read one chapter of Proverbs based on whatever date it is. On Nov 15th, read chapter 15. Then short prayer thanking God for the day’s blessings.

 

Let me know what you think.

 

Discipleship

I’ve been reading a book by Eusebius. He lived in the 300’s and wrote the first history of the Christian Church. What makes it very interesting is that he lived very close in time to the time of the apostles and those who heard them directly.

He tells of Ignatius of Antioch who was ultimately martyred by being devoured by wild animals in Rome. Ignatius wrote a letter to the church in Rome requesting that they not deprive him of his longed-for hope by asking that he be released from martyrdom. He wrote:

From Syria to Rome, I am fighting with wild animals on land and sea night and day, chained to ten leopards—a troop of soldiers—whom kindness makes even worse. Their shameful deeds increase my discipleship, but this does not justify me. May I benefit from those wild beasts that are ready for me, and I pray that they are prompt. I will coax them to devour me quickly, not as with some whom they have been afraid to touch. If they are unwilling, I will force them to do it. Pardon me, but I know what is best for me; now I am starting to be a disciple. May I envy nothing seen or unseen in gaining Jesus Christ. Let fire and cross, struggles with beasts, tearing bones apart, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, and tortures of the Devil come upon me, if only I may attain to Jesus Christ!

———————————————–

And I thought I knew what discipleship was! May this short excerpt encourage all of us to be all that we can be for Christ our savior.

 

(Originally Published January, 2005)

Discipleship – Our Purpose

Discipleship is probably the most important task that we as Christians have. I suspect that we don’t emphasize it as much as we should. The commission God has given us is to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). He also tells us to teach “them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20). Faithful men are to commit what they have learned from others to other faithful men who will then, in turn, be able to teach others (2 Tim 2:2). It’s to be an ongoing chain of teaching that each of us is to be a part of.

 

With that in mind, I noticed this verse in my reading in Colossians:

Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Colossians 1:28, NKJV)

 

The goal is to present every man perfect in Christ. Perfect doesn’t mean sinless. It means complete and mature. God has given each of us other people with whom we have an influence. I’m thinking especially of our wife and children to whom God has given us responsibility for ministry. God may have placed others in your life as well with whom you’ve been able to teach the things of Christ. Our goal is to be of spiritual help to these folks so that they become mature in Christ. That should be our conscious and intentional goal. When Paul observed that departing and being with Christ would be a great thing, he went on to say, ““And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith,” (Philippians 1:25, NKJV).

 

As long as he was here on earth, he saw his role as helping others in their progress and joy of faith. That should be our aim as well.

 

Importance of Creating Encouraging Memories

Life is interesting in a number of ways. There are twists and turns that we never expect and yet we continue day by day as God provides each new day for us. I used to tell my kids, “today is one of the days of your life.” Sometimes we think that our real life, the one biographers will write about, will start sometime in the future. But today is one of those days. If there ever is to be a biography it may include the events of today.

               This brings us to reflect on another interesting thing about life. The vast majority of our life is in the past and the future. There is only a small miniscule portion of life that represents the present moment. If you are reading this in the afternoon, your breakfast and all your morning activities are only memories. Nothing about them can be changed. Your evening activities are still only an anticipation. They don’t exist yet. They are not a reality yet.

               This brings me to the theme of this article. We are writing especially to parents and grandparents. Since only the present moment exists and quickly turns into a memory, our opinion is that we should plan the present moment and future moments so that we personally, but especially so that our children and grandchildren will have the kind of memories we want them to have. We’re not speaking here of special memories such as a trip to a museum or amusement park. We’re referring to day-to-day memories of events and conversations in the normal course of life. Do you want them to remember a high priority on spiritual growth or remember that all you cared about was getting ahead and having fun? What they remember from their childhood is probably where they will put the priorities for living their lives and the training of their own children.

You only have one opportunity each moment to provide the memories. Once your children are out of your home, those memories are fixed and there is no way to go back and change them. So it seems to us that it’s important to think ahead. Now it’s impossible to plan perfectly and you can drive yourself crazy wondering if today’s memories will be the kind you want your kids to remember. However, it seems to us that very few people give this any thought at all.  Deuteronomy 6 speaks of this concept: “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6–9, NKJV).

Notice that the writer speaks of “teaching diligently”, talking about spiritual truth while you sit in the house, while you are out walking, at bedtime and first thing in the morning. He says we should have signs and symbols around the house that speak of the kind of life God wants us to be living. All of these things will provide memories of a pattern and atmosphere that permeated your home. Grandparents, you can do the same thing. When your grandchildren are with you, you can speak of things related to God, His creation, His wisdom, His faithfulness to you in the past, etc.

Many times our focus as parents and maybe especially grandparents is what stuff we can give to our children. Stuff wears out and breaks, but the memories our children and grandchildren take with them cannot be destroyed. That’s both a good and bad thing depending on what those memories are like.

As we go through life, it is impossible to do everything. There is not enough time to provide every opportunity and experience for our family. Therefore, we must pick and choose what we will do and what we will provide. The Bible says, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent…” (Philippians 1:9–10, NKJV).

We are called upon to be discerning, to evaluate and then to approve the excellent. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians, “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NKJV).

God would have us evaluate everything and then approve and hold fast to what is good and excellent. We are to redeem the time (Colossians 4:5). The reason for these admonitions is because everything we do, we are to do for the glory of God. And since we cannot do everything there is to do, even among the things that aren’t sinful, we are to choose the best and wisest course every single day. In so doing, we will be providing our children and grandchildren with those experiences that will be worth remembering and will build them up in their faith.

So what kind of memories do you want your children or grandchildren to remember? Order or chaos? A quiet and calming environment or a loud and boisterous atmosphere. A soft answer that turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1), or loud and angry correction (James 1:20)? Will you help your family seek first the kingdom of God so that all of the other things will be provided for them (Matthew 6:33)?

What kind of memories are you creating for yourself and your family? If you’ve been on the wrong course, you may not be able to repair the memories already there, but with God’s help you can change direction and begin providing new memories that will redound to the glory of God.

Why “Go to Church”?

We’re continuing to look at Paul’s admonition to the church in Ephesus in chapter 4. Last time we discovered that we are to walk or live in a manner that is worthy of who we are as called sons of God. The last thing we talked about was the fact that the Spirit gives unity to the body.  We are to maintain this unity as we live and worship together. Just as our spirit pervades our entire body and gives unity to it, the Spirit of God does the same for Christ’s body, the church.

I have a concern that we have developed and maintained a cultural view of the church. We hear people ask, “Where do you go to church?”  Sometimes people will refer to someone who has stopped “going to church.” Church is more like a club to join rather than a living body that has the life of the Spirit flowing through it.

Let’s take a quick look at what Paul writes in Ephesians 4. In verse 11 he tells us that God has given gifts to the church, namely apostles, prophets, evangelists and teaching-pastors. Why are these individuals given to the church? He writes that they are given so that the saints are equipped to do the work of the ministry. This tells me that there should be no fringe members. By fringe members I’m talking about those who show up for a worship service and leave again and are not involved at all in the ministry to one another that occurs within the body of Christ. I’m not just speaking about ministry that happens in the church building but among the members of the body throughout the week. The kind of ministry or service to one another that should occur within the body requires equipping or training. We all need to be taught how to minister to one another.

In any area of life where there are skills that need to be learned, we need to be taught and shown how to do it by someone who knows how – the teacher. Sometimes there are things we don’t know we need to know and so we are coerced in some way to be trained. This happens for children in school and it happens sometimes at the workplace. In the church setting, we rely on the working of God’s Spirit within the hearts of his people to seek the opportunities for the equipping needed in the local church.

The purpose of this equipping is so that the body will be built up until we call come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God with the goal of reaching the stature of the measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13). This is a lofty goal. And in this context it is not so much an individual goal as a body goal. He goes on to elaborate on this in the next couple of verses.

For our purposes today, let’s jump down to verses 15 and 16. Here we see in this edification and growing process we are to grow up in all things into him who is the head of the church, which means Christ.

But verse 16 I think is crucial for expanding our vision of the church and its functioning. The first words in verse 16 are “From whom.” The whom is Christ. From Christ, the whole body…. Now we need to access the English grammar part of our brain. What is the main verb of this phrase? And yes it is important to know this. From Christ the whole body causes the growth of the body, for the edifying of itself in love. So Christ, working throughout the whole body causes the growth of the body. The implication is that this occurs when the body is functioning effectively and properly.

How does it do this? First we notice it is the whole body, not just part of the body. That means everyone who is truly a member of the actual body of Christ, not those who simply gain membership in the local church. Next we see that it is “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.”  Each part of the body is described as doing its part. “Every joint” is a phrase used to stand for each member of the body. But Paul makes this more explicit as he goes on to speak of the effective working as each part does its share. It is this functioning of each individual part doing its share that enables the body to cause the growth of itself. This is analogous to our human body. When each part is functioning and doing what it was designed to do, the body grows and is strengthened.

When there are “members” of a church that are not functioning according to the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them, the church will not be building itself effectively. It might be possible for individuals who are members on paper not to actually be members of the body of Christ. They may be members by profession but not in reality and practice. It seems to me that one of the things we as church leaders need to focus on is building the understanding necessary and the patterns and procedures that will enable and encourage a biblical view of church life. In such a climate, easy church membership without actual functioning in that role would not occur as frequently as it does now in many churches.

I believe that part of this process is establishing an effective and church-wide climate of disciple-making. If a church were to have a dynamic, effective and ongoing practice of discipleship so that actively engaged Christians were the ones admitted into membership, perhaps those who don’t really have an interest in growing together in relationship with others and who don’t have an interest in serving together in the local church would weed themselves out. But if people continue to see church membership as meaning merely somewhat regular attendance at a worship service, we will continue to perpetuate a non-disciple-making climate and the body will not be edified and the glory of Christ won’t be displayed the way God would have it to be.

 

Walk Worthy of the Lord

I would like us to think through some of the things Paul wrote to the Ephesian church in chapter 4 of his letter to them. The first thing he does is to challenge them and us to “walk worthy of the calling with which we have been called.” In Colossians 1:10 and 1 Thessalonians 2:12 he says basically the same thing, “walk worthy of the Lord.” The Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul is calling us to a walk that is worthy of God. That means we are to live a life that God himself could put his name on and it would fit! That is quite the challenge, isn’t it?

He goes on to give us the characteristics of that lifestyle: lowliness and gentleness; longsuffering; forbearance.  These traits are almost the complete opposites of characteristics that are valued in our culture today. These are godly traits and if we are to have a lifestyle that is worthy of God, they should be present in our day to day living. This means not only when we are out in public, but in our homes with our wife and children. The final point Paul makes in this list is that we should be maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We’re going to follow up a little more on this next time, but the Spirit of God has unified the body of Christ. The Spirit is the unifying factor. Our responsibility as Christians is to maintain that unity; we are to live it out. Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). The unity is there because of the Spirit, but it needs to be demonstrated in the world at a practical level.

So what does walking worthy of the Lord mean? It means to live as Jesus would live, were he living in your home or working at your job or attending your church.

Christian Worldview 6 – Food

(For Part 1 click here)

We are continuing our thoughts on creation and God’s provision for us and how this helps us establish a biblical frame of reference for living.

One of the key resources we get from the earth is our food. In the Bible we see a progression of revelation about man and his food. In Genesis 1:29 and 2:16 we find God providing mankind with plants for his food. Adam and Eve were given plants of all kinds for their food with the exception of the fruit of one particular tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But as is the case with most of us, we focus more on the thing that we can’t have than the abundance of provision of what God has given. Adam and Eve did the same thing and this ultimately led to their downfall.

After the flood, God gave animals for food along with the plants (Genesis 9:3). The only prohibition was that we were not supposed to eat meat if it still had its blood in it. When the Jewish nation was established there were entire lists of animals that were out of bounds (Leviticus 11 for example).

After Jesus’ death and resurrection when the church was being established, God told Peter to kill and eat animals that had been on the unclean list. Peter refused, but God told him that he should not call unclean what God said was clean (Acts 10:15). So now, biblically speaking there are no foods that are off-limits for Christians.

In 1 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul warns believers about making human rules about what can be eaten and what can’t. All foods were created by God and are to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. He says that every created thing is good and nothing is to be refused if received with thanksgiving. It is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Obviously we are to be careful of gluttony which is prohibited in the Bible and we should eat in moderation, but we should not be making rules for one another as to what we should and shouldn’t eat. The Bible is very clear that these man-made rules do nothing to improve our spirituality (Colossians 2:23).

(Part 7)

Food from the Fallow Ground

As I was reading in Proverbs this morning I came upon Proverbs 13:23: “Much food is in the fallow ground of the poor.” We all heard the saying that it is better to teach a person to fish than to give him a fish. There is a lot of poverty in our world and in our country. The United States government has spent billions of dollars to tackle the poverty problem and the percentages are not much better now than they were 50 years ago. My purpose here is not to provide a naïve remedy for a complex problem. But I thought that this principle from Scripture was interesting.

There is a lot of fallow ground where the poor live, even in cities. What if people could be shown how to till up some ground for a small garden and be shown how to plant a few vegetables? What if several neighbors could get permission to garden on a vacant lot near their homes in a big city? I know this is being done in many places, but there is an underlying truth here in this proverb. There are resources available within reach of most poor people, but they may not know how to access it. They may not have the motivation to access it. They may just not want to do that much work. But whatever the reason, it would be worthwhile to continue helping, teaching and showing how individuals can be more productive where they are using the resources that are right around them.