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Archive for July, 2008

 

“How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice. Practice. Practice.”

You’ve probably heard that before – it’s funny, but it’s absolutely true! If we want to make it to the stage and perform at Carnegie Hall, we’ll have to practice and practice hard.

Here comes the link: what’s true for Carnegie Hall is true for Christianity, too. If it’s our aim to follow Jesus Christ and be a faithful child of God, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and practice. 1 Timothy 4:7b-8 says, “Rather train yourself for godliness; while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Paul tells Timothy to “train” himself to be godly. The word means “exercise, work hard, or discipline.” It has to a lot to do with hard work and practice. Most of us don’t enjoy hearing that – a shortcut would be better (we think). but like Tiger Woods’ golf coach told him, “There are no shortcuts.”

Piano players have to practice. Violin players have to practice. Electricians have to practice and get better at what they do. Swimmers have to be in the pool a lot in order to improve. Becoming a better reader takes practice. Learning another language takes practice. If I want to preach or teach better, I have to do it a lot (meaning practice). Nobody is comfortable doing something the first time, but with practice comes greater levels of competence and confidence.

The first time we opened God’s Word it seemed foreign and we didn’t know quite how to interpret it. It gets easier with practice, though. Prayer seems very unusual to us at first, but with practice it becomes more natural. Sharing Christ with someone can be terrifying the first time, but with practice we become much more comfortable. If we want God to be more glorified by our worship and service, we have to practice. Forgiving people takes practice. Spending time with other Christians in order to do them good spiritual takes practice. Loving our neighbors, especially our family, takes practice and hard work. There are no shortcuts in any of these areas.

So, how do we get to spiritual maturity in our walk with Christ?

Practice! Practice! Practice!

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A man in Milwaukee, Wisconsin got so angry at his lawn mower that he shot it with a double-barrel shotgun. Not surprisingly, alcohol was involved. You can read about it here.

Most of us have been tempted to do violence to some inanimate object at some time or another. I’ve been mad enough at a computer to think about throwing it out the window. A VCR has frustrated me to the point of wanting to hit it with a sledge hammer. But by God’s grace, I didn’t do it and you didn’t, either (I hope!). No booze was involved, either.

The point is: Don’t get liquored up and shoot your lawn mower (either or both). Trust God for the strength not to do stupid things.

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(I wrote this a number of years ago, but it’s still relevant today.)

In the movie Saving Private Ryan, a man had once been saved at a tremendous cost by a number of other men. Private Ryan, the one who had been rescued, heard these words from one of his dying rescuers, “Earn this. Earn it.”

As we move ahead to the end of the film, Ryan – now quite elderly – visits the grave of one of the men who had saved him fifty years earlier. As he’s trying not to cry, he says, “I lived my life the best I could. I hope that was enough.” Then he looked at his wife and said, “Tell me I’m a good man.” As his children and grandchildren looked on, she replied, “You are.”

This scene epitomizes the human view of religion, especially the American view. If you work hard enough, if you do more good deeds than bad, and if you live a good life, then you will go to heaven because you have earned a right standing with God.

That sounds good, but there’s one big problem with it – we never know how much is enough. That’s precisely the question that haunted Private Ryan. “Have I done enough?” There is no possible way to know if we’ve done enough, or been good enough, or worked hard enough, or if we have done enough good deeds.

By far, the largest problem with this false notion is that it is clearly unscriptural. Romans 3:28 says, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Ephesian 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” We cannot save ourselves no matter what we do.

The question then arises, “If works don’t save me, then what does?” The answer is found in the gospel.

God created us and therefore we are accountable to Him. We’ll  have to answer to Him for our everything in our life someday.

God demands perfection from us (not just sincerity or a good effort). One hundred percent obedience, one hundred percent of the time.

We don’t obey Him perfectly all of the time. Why? Because we’re sinful by nature, by choice, and by habit. We’re hostile, disobedient, and rebellious to God. Therefore, we’re under His wrath, judgment, and condemnation. We deserve death and separation from Him in hell forever.

Because of our sinful condition and sinful actions, we can’t save ourselves. In other words, we can’t “dig ourselves out of this hole.”

We are hopeless and helpless before God. But God, in His grace and mercy, promises to forgive our sins, to adopt us into His family, to give us new and everlasting life, and to declare us to be right with Him! But how can He do that?

Jesus Christ – who is God in human flesh – lived a sinless life of perfect obedience to His Father in our place. He died a sacrificial death for our sins as our substitute. He victoriously rose again from the dead in our place. Jesus attained the perfection the Father demands through His life. Because He is holy and just, the Father must punish sin. Jesus took our punishment and paid for our sin by His death. The resurrection of Jesus proved that He is who He claims to be and that He accomplished what He set out to – to save His people from their sins.

Our response is to repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. We’re to turn form our sin and put our trust in Christ – who He is and what He’s done – to save us and reconcile us to God.

The point is, we can’t “earn this.” Jesus has earned it for us and we accept it as a gift from Him through faith. What a message! What a Savior!

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Author Dorothy Sayers had this to say about Hell and how we sometimes try to skirt it:

There seems to be a kind of conspiracy, especially among middle-aged writers of vaguely liberal tendency, to forget, or to conceal, where the doctrine of Hell comes from. One finds frequent references to the “cruel and abominable mediaeval imagery of physical fire and worms”…

But the case is quite otherwise; let us face the facts. The doctrine of hell is not “mediaeval”: it is Christ’s. It is not a device of “mediaeval priestcraft” for frightening people into giving money to the church: it is Christ’s deliberate judgment on sin. the imagery of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire derives, not from “mediaeval superstition,” but originally from the prophet Isaiah, and it was Christ who emphatically used it…It confronts us in the oldest and least “edited” of the gospels: it is explicit in many of the most familiar parables and implicit in many more: it bulks far larger in the teaching than one realizes, until one reads the Evangelists through instead of picking out the most comfortable texts: one cannot get rid of it without tearing the New Testament to tatters. We cannot repudiate Hell without altogether repudiating Christ.

A Matter of Eternity, p. 86

I’ve heard it said that we must preach the reality and horrors of Hell, but we must do so with tears, not with glee. I couldn’t agree more.

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Our main goal, according to 1 Corinthians 10:31 is to glorify God – “Whether, then, you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”  In this case, the word “all” includes everything (in addition to eating and drinking) that is not sinful. Therefore, it encompasses work and school (yes, it’s getting closer!).

I’m sure there are many more ways we can make God visible and put Him on display (which is what it means to glorify God) through our work, but these twelve are a good start. If you can think of more, let me know!

How can we glorify God at work or in our studies at school? Here are twelve ways with Scripture references included.

  1. God is glorified when we put our whole selves into our work, with a view toward pleasing God, not men (Col. 3:23-24).
  2. God is glorified when we are honest, even when it hurts us or prevents us from getting ahead (Psa. 15; Gen. 39).
  3. God is glorified when we honor our superiors (including teachers, principal, coaches) and submit to their authority (1 Tim. 6:1; Rom. 13:7).
  4. God is glorified when we treat our work associates (fellow-students) with kindness and respect (Luke 6:31; Rom. 12:18).
  5. God is glorified when we expose fraud or dishonesty or unethical behavior (Eph. 5:11-13).
  6. God is glorified when we approach our work (or studies) prayerfully (1 Thess. 5:17),
  7. God is glorified whne we avoid complaining or grumbling, even in less-than-ideal situations (Phil. 2:14-15).
  8. God is glorified when we refuse to make work (or school) and money our idols (Matt. 6:24; Eccl. 5:10-12).
  9. God is glorified when we diligently plan for the future (Prov. 21:5).
  10. God is glorified when we live simply and give generously (Prov. 22:9; 1 Tim. 6:17, 19).
  11. God is glorified when we trust Him to provide today what we need for today – which includes physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, and social needs (Matt. 6:11).
  12. God is glorified when we rest from work (Deut. 5:13-15; Psa. 46:10).

I’m sure there are many other ways to make God visible and put Him on display (which is what it means to glorify God) through our work, but these twelve are a good start. If you can think of any others, let us know!

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Jerry Bridges has an answer to that question in his book Respectable Sins. Here’s what he says:

When I talk about specific areas of acceptable sins, one comment I often hear is that pride is the root cause of all of them. While I agree that pride does play a major role in the development and expression of our subtle sins, I believe there is another sin that is even more basic, more widespread, and more apt to be the root cause of other sins. That is the sin of ungodliness, of which we are all guilty to some degree. (Emphasis in original)

So, what is ungodliness? Bridges says,

Ungodliness may be defined as living one’s everyday life with little or no thought of God, or of God’s will, or of God’s glory, or of one’s dependence upon God. You can readily see, then, that someone can lead a respectable life and still be ungodly in the sense that God is essentially irrelevant in his or her life. We rub shoulders with such people every day in the course of our ordinary activities. They may be friendly, courteous, and helpful to other people, but God is not at all in their thoughts. They may even attend church for an hour or so each week but then live the remainder of the week as if God doesn’t exist. They are not wicked people, but they are ungodly.

Now, the sad fact is that many of us who are believers tend to live our daily lives with little or no thought of God. We may even read our Bibles and pray for a few minutes at the beginning of each day, but then we go out into the day’s activities and basically live as though God doesn’t exist. We seldom think of our dependence on God or our responsibility to Him.  We might go for hours with no thought of God at all. In that sense, we are hardly different from our nice, decent, but unbelieving neighbor. God as not at all in his thoughts and is seldom in ours.

The attitude we need – one of godliness rather than ungodliness – is summed up by the following passages and verses in God’s Word.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:22-24)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (Ps. 42:1-2)

In summary, Bridges says,

Our goal in the pursuit of godliness should be to grow more in our conscious awareness that every moment of our lives is lived in the presence of God; that we are responsible to Him and dependent on Him. This goal would include a growing desire to please Him and glorify Him in the most ordinary activities of life.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s worth thinking about.

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“Let us not be weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow slack. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9-10).

The basic idea of Galatians 6:6-10 is that we reap what we sow. We’re going to harvest what we plant – we can count on it. It’s a physical principle and also a spiritual principle.

Drawing on that idea, Paul says that we are to keep on doing good. If we do, then we’ll reap positive rewards.

However, Paul mentions two obstacles to doing good. First, “growing weary,” and second, “growing slack.” Growing weary means “to get tired, to become discouraged, and want to give up.” Growing slack means “to lose heart, to lose focus and concentration.”

By going fishing with my dad, I learned that a slack line is something you definitely don’t want. You want the line to be tight, because you’re more focused and concentrated on what’s going on. If your line is slack, you’re not even in the game (to mix a metaphor).

This applies to all of us who believe in Jesus Christ, whether we’re pastors, church leaders, church members, committee members; whether we’re young believers or mature. It applies to students and teachers, mothers and fathers, and everyone else. We’re all commanded to do good, but we all face the same obstacles – growing weary and growing slack.

Whatever we’re doing, and whatever our “position in life” (or in the body of Christ) might be, it’s not hard to get discouraged, to lose heart, or to lose focus. We do many of the same things over and over again. Sometimes, we wonder if what we’re doing has any real impact. At times, we may see our tasks as bean-counting, pushing paper, or simply busy work.

Even though things may appear this way from time to time (maybe a lot of the time), the reality is that they aren’t. God has placed us where we are through His sovereign providence, and we can do good if we do not grow weary or slack.

Paul encourages us to hang in there, to keep our focus, and continue to do good. When we do, God promises that we will be rewarded for it. That’s worth waiting for!

May God give us the strength and ability to continue to do good!

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