Monthly Archives: January 2010

Gather Your Thoughts

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

Peter wrote these words to believers who were enduring suffering for the cause of Christ. He told them to prepare their minds for action (i.e., “be sober-minded”), because he knew all-too-well the difficulties that come with suffering.  Without intentionally–and consistently–engaging the mind, Peter knew that these believers would not be able to successfully endure their suffering for the glory of God.   It is interesting to realize that the spiritual battles are most fiercely fought on the soil of the mind.  The very shortcomings of our flesh are usually reflected in the mind, and the mind seems to be the place most targeted by the enemy.  In many ways, the mind is the seat of the soul as the heart is both rational and emotional.  The two can hardly be separated.  Spiritual ground to be won or lost starts in the way that we think about God, ourselves, and the world around us.  Through the Spirit’s work upon our minds, we are given new and precious thoughts of Christ and a resolve for eradicating the sin that so easily entangles.

In Peter’s words, he uses the image of “girding up the loins of your mind” when he says, “Prepare your minds for action.”  The image, as most commentaries note, signifies wrapping up the loose thoughts of one’s mind and taking them captive to the cause of Christ.

In the day that Peter wrote, men wore long cloaks that extended from their shoulders to their ankles.  When they were enjoying a leisurely walk or the refreshment of their own homes, they would let the cloak rest freely upon their body.  However, when they were about to run or work, they would gather up the excess portions of the garment into a belt that would be tied around their waists.  They wrapped up the loose clothing so that it would not trip them up as they ran or went about their labors.  Peter used this image as an illustration for carefully collecting the thoughts of the mind.  Since, the believer is always about the work of the Lord, he/she should endeavor to gather any loose thoughts that may prove sinful or unhelpful to the tasks at hand.  He doesn’t want to be hindered from his work or tripped up as a result of temptation or distraction.  Our thoughts have the capacity to shape our behavior and lifestyles.  In fact, the mind is one of the clearest expressions of our hearts.  Thoughtless thinking and mindless activity do nothing for the cause of God.  Obviously, they hinder the work that the Lord has given us to do and distract us from our holy calling.   Casual, reactive thinking, also serves to trip us up when temptation comes knocking.  We’re unprepared to fight and unwilling to sift our thoughts and speak truth into those which are ungodly and unhelpful.  We must gather up loose thoughts of doubt, despair, fear, lust, selfishness, and use the word of God to bind them to Christ.  It’s not easy to gather them up and rein them in, but it’s necessary for our growth in godliness.

Our minds should be steadfastly focused on the eternal hope that has been given to us through Jesus Christ.  It’s hard work guarding our thoughts.  Anyone who has tried knows that it takes great diligence to consistently focus on the grace and goodness of God.  That is not natural, but it is necessary.  By contemplating the gospel throughout the day, we are equipped to grow in grace and fight the temptations that seek to distract us from the calling that we’ve received.  Careful thinking enables us to more effectively resist sin as we employ our energies toward the advancement of God’s Kingdom.

As this passage instructs us: We used to be ignorant and follow the sinful passions of our flesh.  However, the gospel has informed us about sin and given us deliverance from those futile ways by the grace of God.  We have not been left in our wretchedness.  We are no longer ignorant and helpless, but instead we have been called to holiness and given the power to display it.  Such holiness starts with the purification of our minds.  Christ died to give us new hearts and new minds.  He died to redeem every part of us from the effects of sin.  Through Christ’s work on our behalf, we are able to live in a way that pleases God in both thought and deed.  So, let us be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:1-2) as we speak truth into the many lies and emotions that seek to carry us away from Him.  What we do with our minds actually matters.  God gave them to us in order that we might know, love and serve Him.  He desires that we use them to display the grace and knowledge of His love through the way that we live, move, and have our being.  So, let us realize that we are not held captive by our thoughts, but that we must take them captive for the glory of God.  No matter what wanders through our minds, we have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to make every thought captive to Christ.  Let us love God will all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Blessings,

Gabriel

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Case for a Christ-centered Reading of Scripture

Many years ago, some friends of mine began teaching me to understand all of Scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ.  The more that I grow, the more I realize that understanding Scripture requires me to consider how it points to Christ.  Obviously, this requires the honing of skills in order to make accurate observations/interpretations.  The scarlet robe in the story of Rahab is not a connection to Christ.  An example of responsible, Christ-centered, interpretation means seeing that God delivers His people out of the hands of the enemies, and even offers refuge to Rahab who (though not Jewish) identifies herself, by faith, with God’s people.  That parallels Christ’s deliverance of us by faith.  Lord willing, more examples from Scripture will follow in the days ahead.

Here are just a few Scripture passages that most clearly provide the foundation for a Christ-centered reading of Scripture:

Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27, 44-47).

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have eternal life.” (John 5:39-40)

But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike.  I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen–that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22-23; cf. 8:34-35)

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.  And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Cor. 1:20)

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.  It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.  Even angels long to look into these things.” (1 Peter 1:10-12)

“Jesus Christ, whom the two Testaments regard, the Old [Testament] as its hope, the New [Testament] as its model, and both as their centre.”  (Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 12.740)

In other words, the Old Testament is fundamentally about Jesus Christ in that it portrays Him as the long-awaited Messiah, the Obedient Son of God that is typified by various persons and practices (i.e., Moses the deliverer, David the anointed King, the Temple, the sacrificial lamb, etc) that are imperfect.  Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament hope that points to Him.  The New Testament is fundamentally about Jesus as the fulfillment of the OT hope and God incarnate.  He is the fullness of God manifested in the flesh.  Jesus is the Obedient Son who not only models godliness for us, He also succeeds in every place that we have failed.  He is our model, both as an example and as our Substitute.  Our sin was exchanged for His righteousness.  Both Old and New Testament take Christ as their center-piece, their foundation, their supporting pillar, their climactic expression of the revelation of God.  Reading Scripture in light of Christ means seeing the gospel from the OT seed-form all the way to the mature flower that it has blossomed into throughout the NT.

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Confession

Confession:   I rarely borrow posts from other blogs; however, this one seemed especially beneficial.  It’s a helpful 7-step process toward practicing biblical confession and repentance.

From Peacemakers Ministries:

As God opens your eyes to see how you have sinned against others, he simultaneously offers you a way to find freedom from your past wrongs. It is called confession. Many people have never experienced this freedom because they have never learned how to confess their wrongs honestly and unconditionally. Instead, they use words like these: “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” “Let’s just forget the past.” “I suppose I could have done a better job.” “I guess it’s not all your fault.” These token statements rarely trigger genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If you really want to make peace, ask God to help you breathe grace by humbly and thoroughly admitting your wrongs. One way to do this is to use the Seven A’s.

1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
7. Ask for forgiveness

See Matthew 7:3-51 John 1:8-9Proverbs 28:13.

HT: Justin Taylor

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Evaluating Corporate Worship

Music is one way in which we offer our worship to God.  We express praise to Him that is often accompanied by music.  So, who decides what is and is not an acceptable “accompaniment” of our worship?  Does anything fly as long as we enjoy the experience and feel close to God?  Or does God’s word have anything to say about the way He should be worshiped?  Is there any larger purpose for the music than to lift our hearts toward God?  Let’s consider a few thoughts.

My premise is that the music ministry of the church actually falls under the larger umbrella of teaching.  Since music includes lyrics that should inform the congregation about God and involves a corporate response to Him, it should be saturated with God’s word in order to evoke a response that is accurate and reverent.  God seeks those who worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:21), therefore appropriate worship can only be offered by those who worship according to God’s revelation of Himself.  Music is an extension of the teaching/preaching ministry because it uses the medium of song to instruct the people of God about the One they worship.  Since music has such a pivotal role in the corporate worship of the church, it is essential that every song be evaluated as to how it communicates God’s truth to His people and how it compels His people to respond to Him in reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28).  His word suggests that He is a “consuming fire” and should not be trifled with.  God has high standards for His children and for how they worship Him.

In spirit and truth means, by the Scriptures and by the Holy Spirit.  Our worship of God should be according to the truth revealed about Him in the Scriptures and by the leading of His Holy Spirit that seeks to magnify Christ and give the Father glory.  It’s not about us, our feelings, or even our experience.  It’s about us being mentally-engaged and emotionally-drawn to the person of God.  Worship is both mental and emotional, it is primarily objective, and only secondarily subjective.  Our emotions must be based on the truth that we hear and sing.  In short, our experience must be shaped by what we know of God as we seek to obey Him.  Worship is our response to God’s truth about Himself.  We praise Him.  We sing to Him.  We listen to His word.  We obey His word.  We repent of our sin.  We put our trust in Christ.  We follow the Spirit’s leading as He transforms us.  We worship God according to His word, and the music ministry of the church is intended to deepen our knowledge of God so that the Spirit may use it to compel us to respond in a worthy manner.

The music ministry of the church informs our theological world-view (our view of God, mankind, and the world).  Therefore, it should not be taken flippantly or enjoyed unwittingly.  Let us consider Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Some helpful questions proposed by music minister Leonard Payton:

1) Did the music ministry today cause the word of Christ to dwell in us richly?

2) Did we teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?

3) Did we sing with gratitude in our hearts to God for Christ’s finished work on the cross?

____________________

[1] Leonard Payton, “How Shall We Sing to God?” in John Armstrong, ed., The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1996), 203.

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A Lifestyle of Repentance

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’ [Mark 1:15], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

That’s what Martin Luther wrote in the first of his 95 Theses that were nailed to the door at Wittenburg.[1]  The truth that Martin Luther uncovered and so aptly articulated is remarkably practical.  He suggested that the Christian life is a lifestyle of faith and repentance rather than a one-time activity.  At first that seems contradictory when one considers that Christ died “once for all” and put an end to sin (1 Pet. 3:18).  While His work is a one-time activity that was completely finished upon the Cross, our growth in grace is not a singular experience.  Transformation takes place from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).

I cannot say that I have always understood the necessity of perpetual faith and repentance in the life of the believer, and even now I struggle to effectively embrace it as a consistent practice.  However, the Lord has continually opened my eyes to see the functional centrality of the gospel for daily living.  What I profess to believe (the necessity of the gospel) should shape my daily practice (sanctification).  The gospel is not only necessary for my deliverance from sin, but it is essential (and fully sufficient) for my growth in godliness.  The grace that saves us also sanctifies us.  As we repent and believe in order to gain deliverance from destruction, so we also repent and believe to gain daily deliverance from the powerful presence of sin.  The penalty has been removed, but its powerful presence is only progressively eradicated.  Our freedom from sin comes as the Holy Spirit applies the sin-defeating power of Christ to our lives.

As the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, He gives us the grace to turn from our sin (repent) and put our faith in the power of the gospel.  As God shows us the depth of our own depravity, we find refuge at the foot of the Cross.  There is mercy and grace in the person of Christ and the work that He accomplished for us.  Through such provision, we are given the ability to deny ourselves and daily take up our crosses as we follow Him (Lk. 9:22-27).  Following Christ requires the daily crucifixion of our sinful hearts (Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:5; 1 Jn. 2:15-16) in order to bring about the death of all that is earthly within us.  Growing in Christ means starving the sinful lusts of the flesh, lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life that wages war with the Spirit (1 Jn. 2:16; Gal. 5:17).  While the Spirit shall win the war, we often lose many battles along the way.  All the more reason for us to repent and believe, for that is how the Spirit delivers grace into our lives as He works sin out.  Everyone who experiences the war knows that it’s terribly difficult to experience victory.  Yet, the gospel promises us the power of success.

As we repent of our sin and put our faith in the gospel, we experience its deliverance (Rom. 1:16).  Most believers know these truths theoretically, but living them out practically is an entirely different–and difficult–thing.  However, it is refreshing for us to know that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).  He will do the work, but we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  Change is never easy, but grace makes it possible.  The Holy Spirit supplies the grace necessary to make my continual faith and repentance possible, and without it I lack the transforming power of the gospel.  After all, God works in us both the willing and doing of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).  He does this through our humble dependence that is most clearly demonstrated through a lifestyle of faith and repentance.

A helpful article for further reading: “True Spirituality: The Transforming Power of the Gospel” by Steve Childers.

Blessings in Christ, Gabe

_______________________________

[1] Martin Luther, “Ninety-Five Theses.”  C.M. Jacobs, trans. Luther’s Works.  Helmut T. Lehmann, gen. ed., vol. 31. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), 25-33.

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The Willow Tree: Psalm 1 (Pt 6)

A Study of Psalm 1: (Part 6: Exposition IIC & Conclusion)

C.  Unlike the righteous, the wicked will perish. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The Lord knows the way of the righteous, first of all, because His Son is the “Way” of the Righteous.  In fact, He is the only true Righteous One.  Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  God will preserve the righteous, because their way is through Jesus Christ.  As the Father knows the Son, so the Father knows those who love the Son.  God will preserve the righteous, because He knows them (Jn. 10:15, 27).  God has not chosen to know the wicked, because they have refused to repent and believe.  He has made no provision for them, because His mercy is found only through the finished work of His Son.  Grace flows to mankind only through faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Those who refuse to submit to God in this life will suffer the fate of their sin at the coming judgment.

We all have a lot more in common with the wicked than we ever had with the Righteous. None of us have perfectly abstained from the counsel, lifestyle, and companionship of the wicked.  None of us have had persistent pleasure in the law of the Lord, and none of us have perfectly meditated on His laws.  But the amazing thing is that Jesus did what we could never do. [1]   He is the only man to ever perfectly meditate on the word of God and live an obedient life.  He was obedient even to the point of death on a Cross.  And while we deserved to perish for our wickedness, God punished Him instead.  God poured out His righteous wrath on Jesus so that we might prosper through His resurrected life.  By faith and repentance—turning from our sin and putting our trust in Christ—we share in the prosperity that belonged only to Jesus.  God blessed His perfect Son so that His life would be abundantly fruitful and eternally flourishing.  Through faith, we experience the spiritual prosperity given to Christ, as well as the promise that physical prosperity will accompany us at the arrival of the Last Day.  God knows the righteous through His Son Jesus Christ, for there is no other way that a man can be made righteous.  Those who choose to live by their own merits, in their own wisdom, and by their own way will perish in their sin.  God will preserve the righteous, but the wicked will perish.

Will you be counted among the righteous or will you perish with the wicked?  Do you savingly know God through His written word (Scripture) and His incarnate Word (Jesus Christ)?


Conclusion:

On the Last Day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:1-11).  Some will worship Christ out of joy and gratitude for their salvation, and others will worship Christ out of fear that His anger will destroy them.  Today is the day to decide which way you shall live.  Choose well, for you shall reap what you sow for the rest of eternity.  In this psalm, we have seen a portrait of two different men.  One would prosper and the other would perish.  The righteous man avoided the counsel, lifestyle, and company of the wicked; and instead found his delight and devotion in the word of God.  Through meditating on this word, he received a continual source of refreshment and sustenance.  Even through adversity, that man was fruitful with a life the flourished in whatever he did.  He experienced spiritual prosperity.

The wicked man, on the other hand, had no lasting value or stability in the eyes of God.  His hope was in himself, and he was destined for destruction.  His way would perish in the end.  The wicked man will be brought to his knees and cast out of the presence of God and His people.   The wicked will perish while the righteous are preserved.  God has called every man to be righteous and treasure His word, but the only way that such a lifestyle is possible is through faith in the Righteous One.  By faith we experience the righteousness of Christ, and through His word the Spirit causes our souls to flourish.  His word gives us the saving power of Christ, and transforms us into His likeness. It is in this way that God will preserve the righteous, and allow the wicked to perish.  He will not intervene on behalf of those who treasure their sin in this life, but He will preserve those who treasure His Son.

Are you looking to Christ to be your righteousness or are you counting on your own wisdom, lifestyle, or relationships to save you?  Are you looking to God’s word to be your source of strength and guidance or are you counting on your own wisdom and ways to protect you?

Let us be people who are planted by streams of water and daily absorb the refreshing truths that will preserve us for all of eternity.  Unless we are connected to the person of Christ by faith, which comes to us by the Spirit’s witness from God’s word, then we shall perish on that Last Day.  Let us find our refuge and refreshment in the righteousness of Christ!!

[1] As a boy, Jesus amazed the teachers of the Law by His knowledge of Scripture (Luke 2:47), and at the beginning of His ministry when tempted by Satan His “encyclopedic knowledge of the Word” allowed Him to defeat the enemy with fitting quotations of His Father’s counsel (Luke 4:1-13; cf. Deut. 8:3; 6:13, 16).  He showed us how to meditate on God’s word and yield to it as the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17).  Jesus was the fullest expression of the word made tangible as the “incarnate word” (John 1), and embodies in flesh what the Scriptures contained in writing, the fullness of God (Col. 1:15-20).  Jesus was the mystery of God revealed (Col. 2; 1 Pet. 1-2).

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The Willow Tree: Psalm 1 (Pt 5)

A Study of Psalm 1: (Part 5: Exposition IIA-B)

II. God does not bless the way of the wicked.

A.  The wicked man is fruitless and worthless: The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

The Psalmist uses the analogy that the wicked man is like chaff driven away by the wind.  Chaff is an agricultural term that describes the fragments of stalk and husk that accompany the grain gathered during harvesting.  The grain is valuable, the chaff is not.  When farmers harvest a crop, they would have to separate the grain from the chaff by throwing it into the air.[1] Since the chaff was nearly weightless—light and lacking in substance—the wind would drive these worthless fragments away, leaving only precious morsels of grain to fall to the ground.

The point of the Psalmist is that the wicked man is as useless and unnecessary as    the chaff.  As the wind drives the chaff away, so shall the wicked man be unable to remain.  He has no value in the sight of God, because he is worthless and good-for-nothing besides wickedness.  He has no staying power, but will be driven away by the wrath of God.  He is unlike the righteous man who will flourish in hard times.  The wicked man will be unable to endure the difficult that he will face on Last Day.  His life will be fruitless and unstable, and he will be completely at the mercy of the destruction that befalls him.

In what ways does your life resemble the wicked man and lead you to confess your sin as you practice faith and repentance in the gospel to deliver you and make you fruitful?

Not only is the wicked man fruitless and worthless, but he is unstable and unwelcome.

B.  The wicked man is ultimately unstable and unwelcomeTherefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

1.  He will not stand in the judgment. This is in contrast with verse one where the wicked man has a way of standing.  In this life, the way of the wicked seems prosperous as though it will forever stand.  Yet, such behavior is only temporarily unpunished.  The way of the wicked is that they will ultimately be unable to stand in the final judgment.  Spiritually, he will have “no leg to stand on.”  He will be cast down for his wickedness, and have no excuse by which to hold himself up.  He will be forced to bow the knee to Jesus, because his legs will have been broken from under him and never restored to their temporal, worldly strength.

2. He will not be included among the righteous.  This is in contrast with verse one where the wicked man has an assembly of mockers among whom he is seated.  While the company of the wicked may seem to prosper in this lifetime, there will be no room for them among the God’s people in the Day of Judgment.  They will be expelled from God, and by extension, from the people of God.  They will find no assembly among the righteous, and have no refuge for their souls.  They will suffer the eternal torment that awaits all who did not confess Jesus Christ as Lord and live for Him in their lifetime.

Might you now take time to thank God that He has accounted you among the righteous and that you will stand in the Day of Judgment.  Celebrate His mercy by praising His name.  If you are not sure that you will be among the righteous who stand in the last day, then confess your sin and cry out to God to have mercy on you and save your soul.  Christ will save you, if you but trust in Him.

*This is the fifth part of a series on Psalm 1.


[1] Cf. Matthew 3:12 uses this analogy as the Father winnows the wheat from the chaff.  The same is seen in Matthew 7 where Jesus says, “Depart from me you workers of lawlessness, I never knew you.”

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