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The World, The Christ, and Us – Part 3

The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life…

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NKJV)

15Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  17The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NASB)

15 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. 16 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. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NKJV)

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vain glory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.  (1 John 2:15-17 ASV)

15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. Because everything that belongs to the world— 16 the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1 John 2:15-17 HCSB)

15Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  17And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15-17 KJV)

15Love not ye the world, nor the things in the world; if any one doth love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,  16because all that [is] in the world — the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and the ostentation of the life — is not of the Father, but of the world,  17and the world doth pass away, and the desire of it, and he who is doing the will of God, he doth remain — to the age. (1 John 2:15-17 YLT)

15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NIV)

15 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. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the des ires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)

It is interesting to note, also, that what the Apostle is doing in this warning passage is not just referring to the world, but to all three of the cords that bind our souls for destruction: the flesh, the world, and the devil.  The lust of the flesh obviously refers to the flesh.  The lust of the eyes refers to the desire to obtain and find pleasure in the things of this world.  And the “ostentation” or vain-glory of life is that Satanic influence to exalt and glory in ourselves, rather than to be humbled to the dust by the glory of our magnificent Creator.

Consider what our Lord Himself says in the gospels.  In the gospel of Matthew, we read his words:

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:28-30)

In the gospel of Mark, we hear something very similar:

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'” (Mark 9:43,45,47-48).

In the passage from Matthew, Jesus starts with the heart and the sinful intent.  He then goes on to say it is better to cut off your hand or tear out your eye if they cause you to sin.  Of course, it is not the hand and the eye that cause the sin; they are the just the medium for its consumption.  It is the heart (or mind or affections) that control the members of the body.  The addition of the foot in the gospel of Mark is interesting, since this suggests the way we walk as well as that which we stand upon.  The Greek word “peripateo” means “to live” or “to walk”.  For a practical example of how our “walk” is basically the same as the life that is lived out of our heart, see Ephesians chapters 4 and 5.

Considering these warning passages in the gospels, there seems to be many parallels in John’s epistle.  I do not think that Jesus, the great physician meant for people to literally maim and mutilate themselves.  I do think He intended to underscore the severity of dealing with our sin.  The hands that so often feed the flesh the desires of its appetites; the eyes full of desire, seeking their satisfaction in whatever delights them; and the feet–the way we walk and what it is we are standing on.  They are both saying the same things different ways.  Seeking sensual pleasures, earthly treasures, and self-glorification will separate you from God eternally.  They are antithetical to the will of God.  Their end is hell and hopelessness.  If we are pursuing such ends, we MUST REPENT and turn again… for “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:26)

It should also be noted that the fruit of the hand and the eye grows from the root of heart.  A rotten heart may produce bad fruit (the works or use of the hands and eyes), but they do not make the root bad.  It is not the fruit that corrupts the root, but the fruit stems forth from what is in the root.

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Luke 6:43)

And he said, “Are you also still without understanding?  Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:16-20)

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.  Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” (Luke 11:34-35)

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John Newton – Prayer for Faith and Grace

I have been listening to a CD by Indelible Grace lately and there is one hymn in particular on there that has struck a particular chord with me. It is a hymn written by John Newton, and it has really ministered to me this past week that I heard it as the Lord has really brought me low this last month or so. I went out searching for the words to it and found this post from almost three years ago to the day on another blogger’s site. As I read through what fellow blogger John Meade wrote on his blog (http://chaosandoldnight.wordpress.com), I thought what he wrote in reflecting on the words of this choice hymn so good that I would just reprint what he wrote in its entirety. I pray that these words may somehow comfort you as they have me, when you walk through the valley.

From John Meade’s post, “Newton on Inward Trials”:

For a while and more recently, I have been thinking about John Newton’s hymn, “I asked the Lord that I might Grow.” Most people know Newton for his hymn, “Amazing Grace,” but few people have ever heard of this hymn. I must confess that I was ignorant of it until Indelible Grace resurrected it in their latest album. This hymn represents the other side of Newton. Allow this hymn to challenge your view of self and God. It seems Newton would conclude that God is not as tame as we would like Him to be, but He is good.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

As one can see, Newton begins the poem with a prayer. He prays a seemingly good prayer, “That I might grow in faith and love and every grace; might more of his salvation know, more earnestly seek his face.” Praying for these virtues and blessings is not wrong in itself, but Newton is about to discover a new insight into how God answers these types of prayers. Newton affirms that God taught him how to pray, and he affirms the truth that God has answered prayer for him in the past. However, God will not always answer our prayers in the way we want, “But it has been in such a way, that almost drove me to despair.” Most times, we struggle with this view of God. Could God really be like this, we might ask? Let’s keep reading.

Notice, he hoped that God would answer his prayer “in some favoured hour.” He hoped that God’s constraining love would subdue his sins and give him rest. Newton is asking for God’s perfect work of complete sanctification to be worked in him. If God grants this prayer to Newton, Newton will still be reliant on God to work in him, but Newton will no longer be mindful of his immediate and total dependence on the Lord for every breath, every good work. Newton will be more prone to boasting if the Lord answers this prayer in exactly the way Newton desires. How does the Lord respond to this prayer?

The middle stanza reads:

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

How many of us have experienced this? Notice that Newton attributes this work to God! God made Newton feel the hidden evils of his heart. Now, one can see why Newton did not perceive God as answering his prayer. God did not answer the prayer immediately, but rather through subjecting Newton’s soul to the angry powers of hell, he begins to answer it.

The next stanza continues in the same vein. Newton, again, attributes these woes and inward torments to the hand of God. Furthermore, Newton perceives the Lord as frustrating his designs in prayer, and finally, God lays him low. How many of us have experienced this action of the Lord? By laying him low, the Lord completely contradicted the way Newton thought he would answer the request.

Newton then comes to the end of his rope, “Why Lord, wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?” The Lord replies, “In this way, I answer prayer for grace and faith.” The Lord continues in the last stanza, “These inward trials I employ, from self and pride to set thee free; and break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou may’st find thy all in me.” The Lord revealed to Newton the motivations of his heart for requesting what he did. Newton had motivations of selfish pride when he prayed for grace and faith. The Lord showed him exactly how he answers prayers for grace and FAITH. The Lord graciously brought him to the point where he needed to cry out to him in brokenness, asking, “why Lord?”

The Lord truly answered Newton’s prayer for grace and faith, but grace and faith do not equal immediate subdued sin and rest for the Christian. Rather, the Lord answered Newton’s prayer by breaking him and graciously leading him to trust Him. This poem cuts to the heart of many issues in the Christian’s life. All too often we think, if we could just have relief from this one besetting sin, we would be more holy or we would be free to trust God more. Rather than thinking like this, we need to be asking God for broken hearts, hearts that are contrite and humble before him (Ps 51). A corollary to these requests means we need to be completely open to how God will answer these prayers. He is the sovereign Lord, and if he deems necessary, he will employ inward trials to make us more dependent on Him, to make us more like Jesus.

Praise the Lord, that Newton was placed in a position to help us understand these inward trials that the Lord brings in our lives.

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Soul Idolatry

SOUL IDOLATRY

David Clarkson (1621 – 1686)

“You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or covetous person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a such a person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world.” Ephesians 5:5

A covetous man is an idolater. Not only the covetous, but the immoral, are idolaters. For the apostle, who here makes covetousness to be idolatry, considers voluptuous people to be idolaters also, where he speaks of some who make their belly their God (Phil. 3:19). Indeed, every reigning lust is an idol—and every person in whom it reigns is an idolater. “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.” Pleasures, and riches, and honors are the carnal man’s trinity. These are the three great idols of worldly men, to which they prostrate their souls! And giving that to them which is due only to God, they hereby become guilty of idolatry. That this may be more evident—that covetousness, immorality, and other lusts are idolatry—let us consider what it is and the several kinds of it.

Idolatry is to give that honor and worship to ‘the creature’, which is due to the Creator alone. When this worship is communicated to other things, whatever they are, we thereby make them idols, and commit idolatry. Now this worship due to God alone, is not only given by the savage heathen to their stick and stones—and by papists to angels, saints and images—but also by carnal men to their lusts.

There is a twofold worship due only to God–

1. External, which consists in acts and gestures of the body. When a man bows to or prostrates himself before a thing, this is the worship of the body. And when these gestures of bowing, prostration are used, not out of a civil, but a religious respect, with an intention to testify divine honor, then it is worship due only to God.

2. Internal, which consists in the acts of the soul and actions answerable thereto. When the mind is most taken up with an object and the heart and affections most set upon it, this is ‘soul worship’—and this is due only to God. For He being the chief good and the chief end of intelligent creatures, it is His due, proper to Him alone, to be most minded and most loved. It is the honor due only to the Lord to have the first, the highest place, both in our minds and hearts and endeavors.

Now according to this distinction of worship, there are two sorts of idolatry–

1. Open, outward idolatry, when men, out of a religious respect, bow to, or prostrate themselves before anything besides the true God. This is the idolatry of the heathen, and in part, the idolatry of papists.

2. Secret and soul idolatry, when the mind is set on anything more than God; when anything is more valued than God, more desired than God, more sought than God, more loved than God. Then is that soul worship, which is due only to God.

Hence, “secret idolaters” shall have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. Soul idolatry will exclude men out of heaven as well as open idolatry. He who serves his lusts is as incapable of entering heaven, as he who worships idols of wood or stone!

Before we come to confirm and apply this truth, it will be requisite to make a more clear discovery of this secret idolatry. In order thereunto, observe, there are thirteen acts of soul worship–

1. ESTEEM. That which we most highly value, we make our God. For esteem is an act of soul worship. Worship is the mind’s esteem of a thing as most excellent. Now the Lord demands the highest esteem, as an act of honor and worship due only to Himself. Therefore, to have an high esteem of other things, when we have low thoughts of God, is idolatry. To have an high opinion—of ourselves—of our abilities and accomplishments—of our relations and enjoyments—of our riches and honors—or those that are rich and honorable—or anything of like nature, when we have low opinions of God, is to advance these things into the place of God—to make them idols and give them that honor and worship which is due only to the divine Majesty. What we most esteem—we make our god. If you hold other things in higher esteem than the true God, you are idolaters (Job 21:14).

2. MINDFULNESS. That which we are most mindful of—we make our God. For to be most remembered, to be most minded, is an act of worship which is proper to God, and which He requires as due to Himself alone (Ecc. 12:1). Other things may be minded; but if they be more minded than God, it is idolatry—the worship of God is given to the creature. When you mind yourselves, mind your estates and worldly interests, mind your profits or pleasures more than God—you set these up as idols in the place of God.

When that time, which should be taken up with thoughts of God, is spent in thoughts of other things—when God is not in all your thoughts—or if He sometimes is there, yet if other things take a higher place in your thoughts—if when you are called to think of God—as sometimes every day we should do with all seriousness—if ordinarily and willingly you make these thoughts of God give place to other things, it is idolatry.

If either you do not think of God or think otherwise of Him than He is—think Him all mercy, disregarding His justice—think Him all pity and compassion, disregarding His purity and holiness—think of His faithfulness in performing promises, not at all regarding His truth in execution of threatenings—think Him all love, not regarding His sovereignty—this is to set up an idol instead of God. Thinking otherwise of God than He has revealed Himself—or minding other things as much or more than God—is idolatry.

3. INTENTION. That which we most aim at, we make our God. For to be most intended is an act of worship due only to the true God. For He being the chief good—He must be the chief end. Now the chief end must be our chief aim—it must be intended and aimed at for itself; and all other things must be aimed at for its sake in a subserviency to it.

Now, when we make other things our chief aim or main design, we set them up in the stead of God and make them idols. When our chief design is to be rich, or great, or safe, or famous, or powerful—when our great aim is our own ease, or pleasure, or credit, or profit and advantage—when we aim at, or intend anything more, or anything as much, as the glorifying and enjoying of God—this is soul idolatry.

4. RESOLUTION. What we are most resolved for, we worship as God. Resolvedness for God, above all things, is an act of worship which He demands as due to Himself alone. To communicate it to other things is to give the worship of God unto them, and so to make them gods. When we are fully resolved for other things—for our lusts, pleasures, outward advantages—and but faintly resolved for God, His ways, honor, service—this is soul idolatry.

When we resolve presently for other things, but refer our resolves for God to the future—”Let me get enough of the world, of my pleasure, of my lusts, now—I will think of God hereafter, in old age, in sickness, on a deathbed”—these are idolatrous resolutions. God is thrust down—the creatures and your lusts advanced into the place of God—and that honor which is due only to Him, you give unto idols.

5. LOVE. That which we most love—we worship as our God. For love is an act of soul-worship. To love and to adore are sometimes both one. That which one loves—he worships. This is undoubtedly true, if we intend hereby that love which is superlative and transcendent—for to be loved above all things is an act of honor and worship, which the Lord demands as His due in peculiar (Deut. 6:5). In this the Lord Christ summed up all that worship which is required of man (Mat. 22:37). Other things may be loved—but He will be loved above all other things. He is to be loved transcendently, absolutely, and for Himself. All other things are to be loved in Him and for Him. He looks upon us as not worshiping Him at all, not taking Him for a God, when we love other things more or as much as Himself (1 John 2:15). Love to the creature, whenever it is inordinate, it is an idolatrous affection.

6. TRUST. That which we most trust we make our God. For confidence and dependence is an act of worship, which the Lord calls for as due only to Himself. And what act of worship is there which the Lord more requires than this soul-dependence upon Him alone? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Prov. 3:5). He will allow no place for confidence in anything else. Therefore, it is idolatry to trust in ourselves—to rely upon our own wisdom, judgments, abilities, accomplishments. The Lord forbids it (Prov. 3:5).

To trust in wealth or riches—Job disclaims this and reckons it among those idolatrous acts that were punishable by the judge (Job 31:24). And our apostle, who calls covetousness idolatry, dissuades from this ‘confidence in riches’ as inconsistent with confidence in God (1 Tim. 6:17). To trust in friends though many and mighty—He fixes a curse upon this as being a departing from—a renouncing of God—an advancing of that we trust into the room of God (Psalm 136:3). Psalm 118:8, 9—”It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” The idolatry of this confidence is expressed, in that the true God is laid aside. Trust in the creature is always idolatrous.

7. FEAR. That which we most fear, we worship as our God. For fear is an act of worship. He who fears, worships that which is feared—which is unquestionable when his fear is transcendent. The whole worship of God is frequently in Scripture expressed by this one word “fear” (Mat. 4:10; Deu. 6:13); and the Lord demands this worship, this fear, as due to Him alone (Isa 50:12, 19). That is our god which is our fear and dread (Luke 12:4, 5). If you fear others more than Him, you give that worship to them which is due only to God—and this is plain idolatry.

8. HOPE. That which we make our hope we worship as God. For hope is an act of worship—and worship is due only to God. It is His prerogative to be the hope of His people (Jer. 17:13; Rom. 15:13). When we make other things our hope, we give them the honor due only to God. It is a forsaking of the Lord the ‘Fountain’—and setting up of ‘broken cisterns’ into His place (Jer 2:13), hereby worshiping them as God. Thus do the papists openly, when they call the virgin mother, the wooden cross, and departed saints, their hope. And thus do others among us, who make their prayers, their sorrow for sin, their works of charity, or any acts of religion or righteousness, their hope—when men expect hereby to satisfy God’s justice, to pacify God’s displeasure, and to procure heaven. Nothing can effect this, but that which is infinite—the righteousness of God. And this we have only in and from Christ. He is therefore called our hope (1 Tim. 1:1); “our hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Those who make their own righteousness the foundation of their hope—they exalt it into the place of Christ and honor it as God.

9. DESIRE. That which we most desire—we worship as our God. For that which is chiefly desired, is the chief good, in the estimation of the one who desires it. And what he counts his chief good, that he makes his god. Desire is an act of worship—and to be most desired is that worship, that honor, which is due only to God. To desire anything more, or as much, as the enjoyment of God—is to idolize it, to prostrate the heart to it, and worship it as God alone should be worshiped. He alone should be that one thing desirable to us above all things. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after—that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.” Psalm 27:4

10. DELIGHT. That which we most delight and rejoice in—that we worship as God. For transcendent delight is an act of worship due to God alone. And this affection in its height and elevation is called glorying. That which is our delight above all things, we glory in it—and this is the prerogative which the Lord demands (1 Cor. 1:31; Jer. 9:23, 24). To rejoice more in our wisdom, strength, riches, than in the Lord—is to idolize them. To take more delight in relations, wife, or children, in outward comforts and accommodations, than in God—is to worship them, as we ought only to worship God. To take more pleasure in any way of sin, uncleanness, intemperance, earthly employments—than in the holy ways of God—than in those spiritual and heavenly services wherein we may enjoy God—is idolatry.

11. ZEAL. That for which we are most zealous, we worship as God. For such a zeal is an act of worship due only to God. Therefore, it is idolatrous to be more zealous for our own things—than for the things of God—to be eager in our own cause; and careless in the cause of God—to be more vehement for our own pleasure, interests, advantages; than for the truths, ways, honor of God—to be fervent in following our own business, promoting our designs; but lukewarm and indifferent in the service of God—to count it intolerable for ourselves to be reproached, slandered, reviled; but manifest no indignation when God is dishonored, His name, Sabbaths, worship, profaned; His truths, ways, people, reviled—this is idolatrous.

12. GRATITUDE. That to which we are most grateful, that we worship as God. For gratitude is an act of worship. We worship that for which we are most thankful. We may be thankful to men, we may acknowledge the helpfulness of means and instruments—but if we rest here and rise not higher in our thanks and acknowledgments—if the Lord is not remembered as Him without whom all these are nothing—it is idolatry. For this the Lord threatens those idolaters (Hos. 2:5, 8). Thus when we ascribe—our plenty and riches to our care and industry—our success to our prudence and diligence—our deliverances to friends, means, instruments—without looking higher—or not so much to God as unto these—we idolize them, sacrifice to them, as the prophet expresses it (Hab. 1:16). To ascribe that, which comes from God unto the creatures, is to set them in the place of God and so to worship them.

13. When our care and industry is more for other things, than for God—this is idolatrous. No man can serve two masters. We cannot serve God and mammon—God and our lusts also—because this service of ourselves and of the world, takes up that care, that industry, those endeavors, which the Lord must have of necessity, if we will serve Him as God. And when our time and endeavors are laid out for the world and our lusts, we serve them as the Lord ought to be served—and so make them our gods. When you are more careful and industrious to please men or yourselves, than to please God—when you are more careful to provide for yourselves and posterity, than to be serviceable unto God—when you are more careful as to what you shall eat, drink, or be clothed, than how you may honor and enjoy God—when you are more careful to make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof, than how to fulfill the will of God—when you are more industrious to promote your own interests, than the designs of God—when you are more careful to be rich, or great, or respected among men, than that God may be honored and advanced in the world—when you are more careful how to get the things of the world, than how to employ them for God—when you rise early, go to bed late, eat the bread of carefulness, that your outward estate may prosper, while the cause, and ways, and interests of Christ have few or none of your endeavors—this is to idolize the world, yourselves, your lusts, your relations, while the God of heaven is neglected! And the worship and service due unto Him alone is hereby idolatrously given to other things!

He who makes Christ his chief aim, if at length he finds Him whom his soul loves—this quiets his heart—whatever he lacks, whatever he loses besides. He counts this a full recompense for all his tears, prayers, inquiries, waitings, endeavors.

“Therefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry!” 1 Corinthians 10:14

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Am I Really a Christian?

If I wear a wedding ring and carry a picture of a woman in my wallet, and tell you that I’m married, would you believe me?  Does that mean that I really am – beyond a shadow of a doubt – married, as I say I am?  What if I just bought the ring at a pawn shop, got a photo of a woman I may or may have never met, and made up the rest?  Does just the ring, the picture, and the story make me a husband?

If I wear a uniform and carry a weapon on my belt, and tell you that I am a soldier, would you believe me?  Does that mean that I really am – beyond a shadow of a doubt – enlisted, as I say I am?  What if I just bought the uniform at a used clothing store, and the weapon at a pawn shop, and simply made up the rest?  Does just the uniform, the weapon, and the story make me a soldier?

Could I, in the same way, impersonate a parent, a teacher, and a priest?  Carrying a child’s picture and telling stories does not necessarily make me a father.  Nor does carrying a grade book and a stack of books necessarily make me a teacher, although I sure might look like one.  And carrying a Bible and dressing a certain way may help me look like a minister, but aside from appearances, really it means nothing.

And here’s the thing.  This world is full of impersonators… deceivers… liars!  What is really scary is that people often get so used to their own fabrications that they mostly believe it themselves.  But what is that *really* makes a person a soldier, a spouse, a parent, a teacher, or a pastor?  What is the key ingredient that moves the profession from something I say to something I really am?

In a word: Service.

One is not really a soldier unless he truly serves his country.

One is not really a husband unless he truly serves his bride.

One is not really a father unless he is truly serving his children.

One is not really a teacher unless he is truly serving his students.

One is not really a pastor unless he is truly serving his congregation.

(As a note, this is not a gender-specific message.  I tried writing that in a more gender-neutral way but it came out very awkward and wordy, so please feel free to restate them for your own gender.  Thanks!)

The thing that makes a real soldier, a real husband, a real father, a real teacher, a real pastor… is service.  The same is true of what makes a real Christian.  And who is the real Christian serving?  The answer should be obvious:  One is not really a Christian unless he is truly serving Christ.

Perhaps the best question we can ask is, “What exactly is service?”

First, it is outward in its focus.  It focuses on the one being served.

Second, it is specific.  It renders whatever is necessary to satisfy the needs of the one being served.

Third, it is sacrificial.  It is not selfish or superficial, but seeks what is best for the one being served.  It is, in essence, a giving away of oneself to the one who is being served.

If the key ingredient, then, to being genuine and not counterfeit in these roles is service… what is the determining factor of success in this endeavor, and by success I simply mean the spirit to overcome and persevere when the way is hard and the rewards are few?  It is the desire and the direction of the heart. When an individual is truly committed to the one(s) for whom he is serving – regardless of his sacrifice, irrespective of his gain – then he has assurance in his own heart the desire and direction thereof; his conscience is clean and his service is pure. It is when one has been called to a role of service, however, and they do not serve outwardly, specifically, and sacrificially — and when the desire and the direction of their heart is not for the one they serve but for themselves — that every manner of dissatisfaction will manifest itself in the servant, hindering their joy in serving and rendering their service unsavory.

Take heed!  If you claim to be a Christian, but are not consumed with serving Christ and finding joy in serving Him, then you need to ask yourself what is it that your heart is *really* desiring and directed toward?  And while your soul’s eternal destiny is important, yes, I think it is far more important that we serve our glorious King with a joyful heart and humble obedience.  Our motivation should be our love for Him.  The Great Exchange (our sin for His righteousness, our eternal death for His eternal life) is glorious indeed!  But our focus should not be so much on what we have obtained, for we are not worthy of what we have received.  Our focus should be on Him who called us out of darkeness, for He is absolutely worthy and deserving of at least your heart, and your service to Him is the supreme act of worship, the testament of your love.

Romans 12:1-2
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Deuteronomy 6:5
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Deuteronomy 10:12
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul…

Deuteronomy 11:13
“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul…

Deuteronomy 13:1-4
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.

Deuteronomy 30:6
And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Joshua 22:5
Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

1 Kings 8:23
and said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart,

2 Chronicles 6:14
and said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart,

Matthew 22:37
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Mark 12:30
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Luke 10:27
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Ephesians 5:2
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

2 John 1:6
And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.

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Covetousness and Contentment, in Contrast and Contradiction

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If one had a double-sided mirror, with one side facing directly at the Light, and the other at the darkness, you might say that the side reflecting Light was Contentment, and the side reflecting darkness was Covetousness. That is precisely how close and yet how far apart the two are. They are in direct contradiction to one another, just as are pride and humility. And is not even pride a portion of the effect of that same reflection of darkness which we call Covetousness… and is not humility just as much an effect of the reflection of Light we have called Contentment. It is the heart that is surrendered to the Light, and no longer besieged with its own infernal desire to be exalted as righteous of its own accord—but rather the heart that is abased and that willingly confesses its own deep wellspring of iniquity and depravity—this is where the Light shines. This is where Contentment lives. But the heart that seeks of its own (and for its own) the unrequited passions rooted in feeding and pleasing itself at the expense of all else, seeking to appease its own voracious need for elevation, exaltation, and erudition—this is the heart of the devil himself; it is the heart of darkness. This is where Covetousness grows and spreads like a cancer.

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Covetousness, Idolatry, and the Heart of the Believer – 2

You have heard much against SIN. Are you hearers—or are you learners? How many sermons have you heard against covetousness, that it is the root, on which pride and idolatry grow? One calls it a metropolitan sin; it is a complex evil, it does twist a great many sins in with it. There is hardly any sin—but covetousness is a main ingredient of it.”
–Thomas Watson, The Art of Divine Contentment

Here are some scriptural examples of covetousness–particularly with regards to material possessions.  I think too often we define the sin of coveting in terms of a desire for material things; this desire to possess material things is often translated as “greed”.  However, it is important to understand that the covetous heart does not always desire material things.  In the posts that shall follow, we will see from scripture that coveting can (and in all actuality, almost always does) transcend material desires.  Though at its most base, it can be seen in this desire to obtain material possessions, this is just the farthest reaching branch of this detestable sin.  The root of coveting at its heart is discontentment with and rebellion against God.

We will begin with the branch, though, that we often call greed, working backwards from just a few examples we have in the Scriptures.

Acts 5: Ananias and Sapphira

1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.”9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Ezekiel 33:30-33

30 “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain.32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it.33 When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

Joshua 7:10-26: The Sin of Achan

10 The LORD said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings.12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the LORD, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the LORD takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the LORD takes shall come near by households. And the household that the LORD takes shall come near man by man.15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.'”

16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken.17 And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken.18 And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I did:21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath.23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the LORD.24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor.25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The LORD brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones.26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.

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Television & Teen Pregnancy

Some people wonder why I detest the television so much.  Here is just another reason why.

Television and teen pregnancy.  Wow.  Who would have ever thought?  Over thirty years ago, studies found that violence and aggression in children had a direct link to television.  Now, it has been linked to teen-age pregnancy.  Could it be that sex and violence are the two biggest pillars of sin that the idol of television rests upon?

Here’s a clip from the CNN story (the highlights are mine): http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/11/03/teen.pregnancy/index.html

<snip>
(CNN)Sexual content on television is strongly associated with teen pregnancy, a new study from the RAND Corporation shows. New information linking sexual content on television with teen pregnancy will help develop prevention programs.

Researchers at the nonprofit organization found that adolescents with a high level of exposure to television shows with sexual content are twice as likely to get pregnant or impregnate someone as those who saw fewer programs of this kind over a period of three years. It is the first study to demonstrate this association, RAND said.

A central message from the study is that there needs to be more dialogue about sex in the media, particularly among parents and their children, said Anita Chandra, the study’s lead author and a behavioral scientist at RAND.

“We know that parents are busy, but sitting down and watching shows together with their teen, talking about the character portrayals, talking about what they just witnessed, and really using it as a teachable moment is really, I think, a good recommendation from this research,” Chandra said.
</snip>

Isn’t it funny that the best suggestions are:

1) Talk to your children about sex in the media; and
2) Watch the shows with inappropriate content so that you can discuss what they just saw.

Who suggests taking your child to a bar, or a drug house, or a whorehouse to expose them to the sin to be found there and then “use it as a teachable moment”?  Isn’t it funny that at no point these solutions even suggested:

1) Do something to limit the amount of content and material that has been proven to be unhealthy and detrimental to our children.
2) Remove the source of the problem (stop watching it, get rid of it, whatever), and teach your kids without the use of the television.  Here’s a suggestion – teach them from Scripture!

No, the best our secular worldview can come up with is, “Go ahead and let them consume the poison, but then talk to your child about how deadly it is and make sure they vomit it up before it has a *really* harmful effect.”

The article goes on to say:

<snip>
To measure exposure, the researchers used a method developed by another research group evaluating 23 shows for sexual content. Then, they asked teenagers how frequently they watched each of those shows, and developed a score based on exposure to the shows.

“We know that if a child is watching more than an hour of TV a day, we know there’s a sexual scene in [the] content every 10 minutes, then they’re getting a fair amount of sexual content,” Chandra said.

Melody Monroe of Norfolk, Virginia, who had her first child when she was 17, said she agrees that sex on television contributes to teen pregnancy. Monroe, who shared some of her views on iReport.com, recalls watching shows on Lifetime Television with her mother that were “almost soft porn,” with kissing and bedroom scenes.

“Oh, the guy gets the girl, they fall in love, happily ever after, babies come, I thought that was one way of being loved,” said Monroe, now 26. “Happily ever after doesn’t happen.”

</snip>

Does this give you some insight into why I have such an issue with that vile instrument of idolatry?  It is the window to the worldview that we are supposed to be protecting our children from, not exposing them to.  I talked about in my previous two articles (The Sin of Abortion and The Abortion of Sin) how that heinous, evil act will continue to be practiced in our society regardless of who wins the election today.  And it is because we are a sinful and selfish society.  And the sad and sobering truth is that for all our talk about morals and values, the vast majority of people in this society (Christian or otherwise) allow themselves and their children to be more influenced by the media (the window to the worldview of our secular society) than by Scripture.

How can we ever hope to affect a change with regards to abortion when collectively as a society we refuse to turn from the idol of television–that altar in our living room that glorifies sin?  Is it any wonder that our devotion and attraction to this deadly device–where sex and violence are glorified to the extreme–would result in a society where abortion is so prevalent.  And is not abortion simply the manifestation of that sick combination of extreme sex and violence that so many of us bow down and worship every we time we grab the remote?

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34)

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