Monday, February 22, 2010

A House Divided

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church entitled "Jesus: Deranged, Demonic, or Deliverer". Click on the title to find the message online.]

As I think back over Mark 3:20-30, and all that was said about it in the message from yesterday, I want to take a few moments and focus on the point of the first parable Jesus tells. Jesus said, "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end" (v. 24-26).

The general idea here is that divided entities cannot withstand time...they lose power, they lose influence, and they fall apart. One brief application mentioned was the need for the local church to remain unified. The church must remain unified under God, His Word, His gospel, His priorities, His authority, and the fellowship in which He has placed us. Apart from this, the local church can lose power, influence, and it can fall apart (and many have).

Now, let me ask an honest question...have you heard pastors or leaders talk about the need to be unified in the past? I have...I've been one of those pastors. Even yesterday, though the thrust of the text was not about the unity of the church, it seemed a reasonable application of the principle laid out in Jesus' parable. What I want to do today is help "put flesh on" what it means to remain unified. What types of things can I be doing, as a church member, to dwell with the brothers in the bonds of unity (Ps. 133:1)? What can I do so that the joy laid out in this psalm will be our congregation's experience? Well, let me give you a few suggestions...

1) Stay committed to hearing and doing the Word of God. This is paramount. Everything else that may be listed here is simply an outworking of this one principle. In the Word, God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pt. 1:3). In other words, the Bible is our sufficient authority and guide for all of faith and life...including the life of the local church. Please note...this is not just a call to learn but also to implement what is learned. For, in the eyes of the Scripture, nothing is fully learned until it is applied.

2) Stay committed to being with the people of God. It is difficult to maintain unity of mind, heart, and purpose with a congregation you never see. On the flip side of that same coin, it is seemingly easy to become critical, disjointed, and divided from those with whom you never spend time. In small groups, in homes, in corporate worship, and in life itself, we must stay committed with those to whom God has called us.

3) Stay committed to praying for the people of God. Jesus has told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt. 5:43-44). Part of what is being said here is that love and prayer go hand in hand. In Jesus' teaching, we have a synonymous parallelism (i.e.- a pair of similarly structured sayings to strengthen or emphasize the point). So, "love your enemies" and "pray for those who persecute you." In other words, to love our enemies must at least begin with praying for them. Now, we are not enemies in the church...we are family. However, family conflict does happen, and tensions can rise. Praying for one another is a way to diffuse these things. Let me give an example. If I find myself in friction with Joe (not a real person, by the way), I can intentionally pray and specifically thank God for Joe's redemption, His spiritual gifts, His service to the body of Christ, and anything else that may come to mind. Praying for others (especially in thanksgiving for them) helps us keep proper perspective as we work through conflict. That person is not the enemy...he is my brother.

4) Stay committed to giving to and with the people of God. Now, there are two things meant by this. First, stay committed to giving to the people of God. By this, I mean remain active in service to others. Consider others as more important than yourselves (Phil. 2:3), and work hard as a good soldier of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Simply "doing something" or "having a job at church" is not what is meant, but we must genuinely put others ahead of ourselves and serve their needs. Action is necessary; however, the attitude, rather than the mere action, is to be emphasized.

Also, stay committed to giving with the people of God. Yes, we're talking about money here. Laying up treasure in heaven through investing in the gospel-advancing mission of the church does something to your heart (Mt. 6:19-21). Giving cheerfully, willingly, and generously to God through the local church aligns one's heart with God's plan for that church. Just as in serving, the attitude of the heart is paramount. The placing of a check in an offering plate does not promote unity. However, that same action changes with the prayer like this one, "God, we give our resources together, as Your people, to accomplish Your work, to promote Your gospel, and to support Your servants here and around the world."

5) Stay committed to repentance, confession, forgiveness, and restoration among the people of God. The principle of repentance, confession, and forgiveness in personal relationships obviously plays a big part in promoting unity. While it is true that refusing to repent, confess, and forgive is grounds for church discipline (Mt. 18:15-20), it is also true that maintaining the habit of repenting, confessing, and forgiving one another is to be a mark of the love we have for one another (Luke 6:37-38; Luke 17:1-4; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12-14). The end goal, even in the most heinous of sins, is restoration; for an example, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 is followed by Paul's instructions in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.

Even the smallest words can intentionally or unintentionally hurt others. When we see that our words or actions have hurt another, we must be quick to repent and confess our sin against them. When we have been hurt by another, we must stand ready to forgive at any time that he/she repents and confesses their sin.


I think those five are a good starting place, don't you? Did you notice the two common themes that ran through all five applications? First, it takes commitment to maintain unity in the body of Christ. Unity that just simply happens is not real is something that must be worked at through good times and bad. The presence of sin in this world and our own personal battles with sin ensure that difficulties in relationships will come. So, remember that each of these takes hard spiritual work. Second, the emphasis is on me and not on others. It is tempting to think that if "so-and-so" would just change, we could be more unified. We who see the speck in the other person's eye must remember the log in our own (Mt. 7:2-5). So, let us be committed to the hard work of unity in our local congregations, and let us begin with ourselves.

Why? "...if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand" (Mk. 3:25).

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Post from Glen Lockwood

[This post follows a sermon preached by Glen Lockwood at Gray Road Baptist Church, entitled "The Enemy Within." Click on the title to listen to that message.]

Today's entry has been written by guest blogger, Glen Lockwood. Pastor Lockwood served Gray Road Baptist Church for 25 years, and he continues to be a blessing to our congregation. Here are his thoughts after yesterday's service:

As I reflected on the service yesterday, I praised the Lord for the many truly serious Christians there are in our church. And the Christian life is serious business. A casual attitude toward our spiritual progress, a complacent spirit, or a careless approach to our walk with God - all these will end in defeat.

Outside of our Lord Himself, the greatest man in the New Testament is Paul the Apostle. We are told five times to be like him. And if there was ever a man who was not casual, complacent, or careless, it was that man. His intensity, his passion, his burning heart, his utter abandonment to Christ are great examples to us. The Holy Spirit evidently wanted us to know about those things, because they are so clear in the Scriptures.

If we assume that a Christian is sincere and serious about his Christian life, where do we tell him to begin? The first principle I would communicate to a serious Christian is that the Lord is much more concerned with what we are than with what we do. What we do flows out of what we are. So we must concentrate on ourselves. Pogo said, "I have met the enemy, and he is us." We must take ourselves in hand and discipline ourselves to godliness.

What does that involve? Let me say it this way: The most difficult work you will ever have as a Christian is with yourself. And if God is to change you, you must be with Him daily, or more. Beginning and maintaining a daily, life-changing devotional habit is the key. What does this mean? It means daily time with God in the Word and in earnest prayer.

How much time should you spend? Ask God. If you are ready to do whatever He tells you, He will impress you with an amount of time. Many Christians spend the first hour of their day with God. Choose a place that you can use every day, where no one can hear you when you pray. Spend half of the time in vocal prayer. Make a prayer list, and determine you are going to learn to pray! Read the Scriptures first; this is a good preparation for prayer.

If you begin to do this, you will experience opposition. It may come from unexpected sources. Persevere! You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you! God bless you!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Testimony of a Me-Centered Girl

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, entitled "Taking Jesus On His Terms." Click on the title to listen to the message.]

Tonight, I began a five-day Biblical Counseling Training Conference (BCTC). I am excited about what the next five days will bring. They will be long, but I'm sure they will also be profitable. The conference is hosted by Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, IN. Tonight, I was introduced to one of the ministries of the church, called Vision of Hope. This is a residential treatment program for young ladies between the ages of 14 and 28. These young ladies live in a house and undergo intense biblical counseling as they deal with unplanned pregnancy, drug/alcohol abuse, eating disorders, or patterns of self-harm.

As part of the opening session of the BCTC, we heard the testimony of a girl named Martha. One year ago, her parents were attending this same conference while she was planning to commit suicide. Tonight, Martha spoke about several of the underlying problems that led to her decision to hurt herself and the biblical truths that helped set her free from a destructive sin pattern.

One of the biblical truths that she mentioned is relevant to our text. In Mark 3:7-19, we see the crowds coming to Jesus for healing. They come from all over Israel, seeing Jesus as a means to their desired end...physical healing. These types of 'followers' are not interested in denying themselves and taking up a symbol of death like the cross (Mark 8:34). They simply want a better life here and now. When the harder teachings come from Jesus, many of those who may have followed Him around go home (John 6:60-66).

In contrast, we see the twelve who are appointed by Jesus because He desired them (v. 13). They are not merely attracted to Jesus for what He can do for them; they are called to be with Him, to preach His message, and to carry out His mission (v. 14-15). Jesus initiated the relationship, and Jesus set the terms of the relationship. Likewise, God has initiated a relationship with us by calling us from death to life...from darkness to our lives must be lived in submission to His will and His ways. These two groups represent different views of saying God is a means to my desired end, and the other that God has the right to rule over me because He is Lord and has graciously saved me.

So, where does Martha fit in this contrast between the crowd and the twelve? Well, she spoke about how, in the process of her counseling, she was smacked with this realization, "God doesn't need me." She had lived her life believing that she was the center of God's universe and of His attention...believing that God's very purpose was to serve her and fulfill all her desires. She had known from childhood that "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever," but she had come to believe that the chief end of God was to glorify her. When God wasn't doing this, she felt that God had abandoned her, and she didn't believe she had a reason to go on living.

Do you see the crowd's mentality in statements like these? Do you see the false belief that God is a means to my end rather than the Sovereign of the Universe? I hope so...because if we are not careful, we will find ourselves accusing God of unfaithfulness, as Martha did. After all, if our view of God is wrong when trials come into our lives, we may interpret them as God's betrayal rather than His gracious sanctification.

Thankfully, God brought Vision of Hope into Martha's life, and through biblical counseling, her unbiblical view of God and of herself were exposed and are being corrected. She is now doing very well and is attending the BCTC so that she can help others grow spiritually.

Thinking about the implications of life with "Jesus on my terms" or "Jesus on His terms" is not just an exercise in Bible study or a clever sermon outline. It shapes the way we think of ourselves, and it shapes the way we think about God. If our perception of God and of ourselves is wrong, then it can be destructive to our spiritual growth.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Forgetting the Gospel

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church entitled, "The Lord of the Sabbath, Part II." Click on the title if you'd like to listen to that message from Mark 2:23-3:6.]

The Bible has a lot to say about pride...more than I could possibly cover in one blog entry. However, let me roll out a short list of texts that address this sin...this vice.

1. "It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than divide the spoil with the proud." (Prov. 16:19)
2. "Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin." (Prov. 21:4)
3. In the wake of King Uzziah's great success, we read these words, "But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction..." (2 Chronicles 26:16)
And the result of this pride...
4. "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5)

Pride is something that we, as Christians should most certainly avoid. As we read in Mark about the Pharisees...of their self-exalted place of authority in interpreting the Sabbath and their prideful desire to "catch" Jesus healing on the Sabbath...we are reminded just how ugly pride can be. Yet, as we reflect on the ugly pride of others, we must very quickly turn our gaze inward. In looking at the Pharisee, are we tempted to puff ourselves up...or to think, "I'm definitely better than the people who think they're better than other people."

When I first heard someone utter that phrase, I remember giggling...maybe you, too, can see the ironic humor in such a statement. However, honest reflection finds that this statement hits closer to home than we'd like to admit. We see those often labeled "legalistic," and we are tempted to exalt ourselves for not falling into such a trap. We wonder why they would possibly act like that...why can't they wake up and see things like we see them? Can't they see, as we do, the truth about playing cards or dancing or any other such activity?

Re-read that last paragraph. Have you ever had those kinds of thoughts? Have you ever felt yourself superior to others because of your knowledge or your choices in behavior? The statements of the last paragraph and affirmative answers to these last two questions point to pride in the heart. It is this that Paul urged the Roman believers NOT to do when he wrote, "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment..." (Romans 12:3).

What lies beneath these kinds of thoughts? How does one get to a place where he feels himself spiritually superior to others...whether because of knowledge or behavior? What's underneath this kind of spiritual pride? ("Spiritual pride", that's an oxymoron!)

It seems that underneath spiritual pride is a memory loss. The only way that one can look at himself as spiritually superior to others seems to be by forgetting the very gospel which called him out of darkness and into light. We would have to forget the gospel which breathed new life into our dead bones. It seems that this one would have forgotten that it was "by grace you have been saved through faith. And this not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).

I know this is a familiar text to many of us, but imagine what happens when we forget it. We forget that God's sovereign grace reached out of eternity to make us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:4-5). We forget that even the faith to believe the gospel was a gracious gift of God. We forget that we contributed nothing to our salvation, and we can add nothing to our status before God. We forget that our righteousness is as filthy rags, and only the righteousness of Christ is acceptable to God. And...we have been counted righteous through the gift of faith by the sovereign grace of God.

These are the truths of the two-edged sword of God's Word. When we are tempted to stick out our chest in pride over our theological knowledge or our seemingly impeccable behavior, we must fight against it with this sword of the Spirit and "pop our big heads" with it. So, let us examine our minds, our hearts, our words, and our motivations. Let's humbly pray with David, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Ps. 139:23-24)