Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
- Mark 1:14-15

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

You Are What You Think

This is part of the sermon Two Ways to Live by Dr. Donald A. Carson, and it really convicted me and hit me between the eyes:

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not whither.  In all that he does, he prospers.  The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish."
Psalm 1:1-5

Psalm 1, verse 1 describes the righteous one in three parts, in terms of what he does not do, "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers."  It describes someone who gets more and more trapped into the ways of sinners.  There's a kind of a grinding to a halt: they walk, then stand, then sit.  Verse 2 then describes in just one part what the righteous person does, "But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night."

D.A. Carson told a story from his youth about living in Quebec near a paper plant that stunk up the air and made the water undrinkable.  There were a lot of different people that sold bottled water.  He remembered one particular company with the slogan, "You are what you drink."  They were right in a sense, since the body is over made up of over 90% water.

But the Bible says, you are what you think.

Proverbs says, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he."  When conversion and transformation takes place in a Christian, it must go to the root of your mind.  This what Romans 12:1-2 says: "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."

You are transformed by the renewing of our mind because you are what you think.  As some wag put it, "You're not what you think you are, but what you think...you are."  You're not even what you say, because what you say may actually hide what you think.  It may be an external civility, a courtesy.  It may not even be what you do, because the social constraints may keep you in the straight and narrow in some sense, while inside you're a mass of seething resentments.

That's why Jesus taught us in the Beatitudes that the person who hates has in a sense committed murder already, the person who lusts has in a sense committed adultery already.  This is true even if your hand is withheld from either concrete action.  The reason, of course, is because you are what you think.

This is why there is so much stress in the Scriptures on thinking God's thoughts after him, and learning to delight in them.  Joshua is told in the beginning of his ministry in Joshua 1:8 that, "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.  For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."

Also, think of this passage that is too often overlooked.  This is written before there is a king in Israel, but Moses is looking forward to when there will be a king.  Deuteronomy 17:18-20 says, "And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel."

So the king comes to the throne.  What's his first job?  Appoint a secretary of state?  A commander in chief, perhaps?  Construct a cabinet?  Audit the books of his predecessor?  No.  His first obligation is to write out what Moses calls this book of this law.  This does not mean downloading it from a cd to his hard drive and letting it pass through his brain.  It means writing it out by hand, in Hebrew; so clearly that it becomes his own reading copy for the rest of his life.  That's what it means.  He is to copy it down and then he is to read it every day. 

And the reason he is to read it every day is that so he may learn God's words; and in consequence, not think of himself better than other people, and learn to revere everything God says; and in consequence, not turn from the left or the right.  In other words, he is to delight in the law of the Lord, and on His Word meditate day and night.  If only those three verses had been followed, all of Israelite history would have been massively different.  Just those three verses.

So, the question becomes, "What do you think about when your brain goes into neutral?"  When you wake up in the middle of the night, where does your mind go?  When you come up to a stop light and you are waiting for it to turn green, you're not thinking about much in particular, where does your mind go?  What do you think about?  Because, you see, you are what you think.

And unless you put in lots of biblical content, that's not where your mind will go.  It's not that to which it will gravitate.  You will not think of life shaped by what Scripture says.  I don't care how knowledgeable you think you are about Scripture, that's something that you lose, unless you constantly have the input.  Unless it's layered in again on top, again and again...and again...and again. 

In the next verse, Psalm 1:3, the righteous person is described metaphorically.  "He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not whither.  In all that he does, he prospers."  The problem in the Middle East is that water is seasonal and in the dry season, everything seems to die.  So that tree that is carefully planted near the streams of life has the best chance of living.  It is not just planted by one stream, it is carefully planted by the nexus of several streams.  That's the significance of the plural here.  He is planted (not a wild tree), planted carefully by streams of living water.  And its leaf does not whither; that is, there is no dry season, it always shows signs of life.  And in due course, it brings forth its fruit in the right season.  And whatever it does prospers.  This is describing the righteous person metaphorically, not the prosperity gospel.

This is unlike the tree planted next to the wadi, which turns green when there is water around and then looks dead and produces nothing when there is a dry spell.  This is not an infrequent contrast in Scripture.  Jeremiah puts it even more emphatically with some blistering words when he quotes God in Jeremiah 17:5-8: "Thus says the LORD: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.  He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come.  He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.  Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.'" (16:26)

Psalm 1:4 says, "The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away."  The wicked are not planted by the constant streams of water, and consequently, they dry up and are blown away.  They are rootless, dead, profitless.  If you look at it from an eternal perspective, it's even more serious yet.  Psalm 1:5 says, "Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." 

If we are what we think, then it is essential for us to be planted next to the streams of God's Word and to allow it to transform us and renew our minds.  I heard this sermon and came to the stark realization that I was a hypocrite, because my thought life was not what it was supposed to be.  I had taken consolation in the fact that I was doing good because I had not physically sinned, but my mind had sinned and it was dwelling more on wicked thoughts than it should.  It hit me that if you are what you think, then I needed to think a whole lot differently.  How is that possible?   Romans 12:2:  "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind."

You cannot rely on your past knowledge, you must continually renew your mind in God's Word and meditate on it day and night.  The time demands of being a teacher and a football coach during football season make it difficult to renew your mind as you ought to; but without doing this, you will be conformed to this world instead of being transformed by His Word.  If you are what you think, examine yourself and your thoughts and pray for repentance and a new desire to abide in His Word, to delight in it, and to meditate on it day and night.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Being a "Good" Coach is Not Enough to Get Into Heaven

Coaching is one of the most noble professions one can enter into.  The coach does not profit much monetarily from what he does, but what he does profit from is helping others to succeed.  Athletics are one of the few places left in our modern society where the values of discipline and hard work are still being taught.  Too many young people grow up without a father in the home and the coach has been able to help fill that role and help teach kids to do what is right, to get an education, and to keep them from destroying their own lives.  Some coaches even go so far as to take young people from severely dysfunctional homes and take them in to live in their own homes.  There are many people today who owe their lives to that one coach who cared and made all the difference in the world to them. 

There are also some coaches who are only into coaching for themselves.  They want to win and move up in the coaching profession and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.  The good coach still wants to win but he wants to do it the right way and desires to use his position to help to better young people.  To be a "good" coach and to do it and help others to succeed is a pretty awesome deal, but it is still not enough to get into heaven.

The problem is that no one is good, but God.  You might think of yourself as good and point to the good things you have done, but Isaiah 64:6 says, “All our righteousness is like filthy rags.”  You think you are not all that bad, but Romans 6:23 warns that, "The wages of sin is death." You deserve death when you sin just one time against a holy God.  You can compare yourself to other coaches and say, "Well at least I am better than that guy," but that is not enough.  The only for you to get into heaven is to realize that compared to the standard of a holy, righteous, and perfect God, you are not "good" at all.  Most will get mad at this or dismiss it, but it is the truth. 

You may take comfort that you prayed a sincere prayer one time to accept Christ.  Unfortunately, this is not Biblical.  Jesus didn't beg or ask people to make a decision to let him into their heart.  Rather, He commanded men in Mark 1:15 to "repent and believe in the gospel."  If you are not sure what the gospel is, you can read the series on What is the Gospel? at the top of the webpage here.  If you are not sure if you have truly repented and believed, don't worry, the Bible tells you how to know for sure.

"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
Matthew 7:15-20

You will be known by your fruit, either good or bad.  There is no such thing as the carnal Christian, who is both good and bad.  The carnal Christian is not a Christian at all.  If you still cling to and cherish even one sin, you are not saved.  Period. 

You cannot cling on to sin and you cannot cling on to your works nor your own "goodness."  Your only hope is to cling to Jesus Christ.  You must know that God is holy and you are not.  You must repent of your sin and believe in Christ.  To repent means to turn away from sin and to believe means that to trust in His righteousness and not your own.  Salvation is impossible for us because we are born with a sinful nature, but Luke 18:26-27 says, "The things that are impossible with people are possible with God."  God has made a way, but only one way: Jesus is the only way that you can escape the eternity in hell that you deserve for your sins against God.  Repent and believe in Him.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Cost of Being a True Christian - J.C. Ryle

Biblical commentary by godly men is a tremendous resource in understand God's Word and digging deeper into the riches of Scripture.  The Classic Bible Commentary: An Essential Collection of History's Finest Commentaries in One Volume is a good resource, and it has many different people providing commentary on each book of the Bible: Matthew Henry, John Calvin, A.R. Faucett, Martin Luther, Charles Hodge, and others.  The best commentary I read from this book was from some guy I had never heard of before, J.C. Ryle, and his commentary on the gospel of Luke.  Joel Beeke likes J.C. Ryle because his writing style is straightforward and easy to understand.  I like him because his commentary dug deeper into the heart of the gospel and provided me with more Biblical insight than any of the other writers.  I highly recommend The Complete Works of J. C. Ryle which includes his excellent commentary on all four gospels, available on Kindle for only $10.

This post contains quotes from J.C. Ryle's book Holiness, part 1 of the chapter "The Cost."  This portion of the book is very applicable today, since it is easy for Americans and people in many parts of the world today to say they are Christians in societies with relatively little religious persecution (for now) and where it is socially advantageous to appear to be "religious."  Not much thought is given to what is the cost of following Christ. 

"And He was saying to them all, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.'” 
Luke 9:23-24

Jesus didn't water down His message like many preachers today in order to attract larger numbers (and make more money).  Rather, He made it a point of emphasis to discourage fair-weather followers by reminding them of the cost required to follow Him.  Jesus tells us specifically what the cost is: we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, follow Christ, and to lose our life for Him who lost His very own life for us.

Here is J.C. Ryle:

Which of you, intending to build a house, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost?”— Luke 14: 28.

"Many would save themselves much sorrow and trouble if they would only remember the question—“ What does it cost?” But there is one subject on which it is specially important to “count the cost.” That subject is the salvation of our souls. What does it cost to be a true Christian?"

"We live in a day of great religious profession.  Yet nothing is more common than to see people receiving the Word with joy, and then after two or three years falling away, and going back to their sins. They had not considered “what it costs” to be a really consistent believer and holy Christian."

"We must mind what we are about. If we desire to be truly holy, it is a good sign.  But still the cost ought to be counted.  It is folly to shut our eyes to the fact that His way is narrow, and the cross comes before the crown."

I.  I have, first, to show what it costs to be a true Christian.

"Let there be no mistake about my meaning. I am not examining what it costs to save a Christian’s soul. I know well that it costs nothing less than the blood of the Son of God to provide an atonement, and to redeem man from hell. The price paid for our redemption was nothing less than the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary. We “are bought with a price.” “Christ gave Himself a ransom for all.” (1 Corinthians 6: 20; 1 Timothy 2: 6)"

"The point I want to consider is another one altogether. It is what a man must be ready to give up if he wishes to be saved. It is the amount of sacrifice a man must submit to if he intends to serve Christ."

"I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week.  All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, 'Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!'”

"But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible. There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run. Conversion is not putting a man in an arm-chair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of 'counting the cost.'”

"Let us suppose that a man is disposed to take service with Christ, and feels drawn and inclined to follow Him.  His heart may be completely changed, but still he should count the cost."

The Costs of Following Christ

1.  "For one thing, it will cost him his self-righteousness. He must cast away all pride and high thoughts, and conceit of his own goodness. He must be content to go to heaven as a poor sinner saved only by free grace, and owing all to the merit and righteousness of another.  He must be willing to give up all trust in his own morality, respectability, praying, Bible-reading, church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and to trust in nothing but Jesus Christ."

2.  "For another thing, it will cost a man his sins. He must be willing to give up every habit and practice which is wrong in God’s sight. He must set his face against it, quarrel with it, break off from it, fight with it, crucify it, and labour to keep it under, whatever the world around him may say or think.  He must count all sins as his deadly enemies, and hate every false way. Whether little or great, whether open or secret, all his sins must be thoroughly renounced. They may struggle hard with him every day, and sometimes almost get the mastery over him. But he must never give way to them. He must keep up a perpetual war with his sins."

"He and sin must quarrel, if he and God are to be friends. Christ is willing to receive any sinners. But He will not receive them if they will stick to their sins."

3.  "For another thing, it will cost a man his love of ease.  He must daily watch and stand on his guard, like a soldier on enemy’s ground. He must take heed to his behaviour every hour of the day.  He must be careful over his time, his tongue, his temper, his thoughts, his imagination, his motives, his conduct in every relation of life. He must be diligent about his prayers, his Bible -reading, and his use of Sundays, with all their means of grace."

"The soul can have “no gains without pains.”  To be a Christian it will cost a man his love of ease."

4.  "In the last place, it will cost a man the favour of the world. He must be content to be thought ill of by man if he pleases God. He must count it no strange thing to be mocked, ridiculed, slandered, persecuted, and even hated. He must not be surprised to find his opinions and practices in religion despised and held up to scorn. He must submit to be thought by many a fool, an enthusiast, and a fanatic— to have his words perverted and his actions misrepresented. In fact, he must not marvel if some call him mad. The Master says—“ Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15: 20)"

"The cup which our Master drank must be drunk by His disciples. They must be “despised and rejected of men.” (Isaiah 53: 3)  I grant it costs much to be a true Christian. But who in his sound senses can doubt that it is worth any cost to have the soul saved? When the ship is in danger of sinking, the crew think nothing of casting overboard the precious cargo. When a limb is mortified, a man will submit to any severe operation, and even to amputation, to save life. Surely a Christian should be willing to give up anything which stands between him and heaven. A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing!  A cheap Christianity, without a cross, will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown."

Ryle, J. C (2012-12-14). The Complete Works of J. C. Ryle (Kindle Locations 34704-34852). E4 Group. Kindle Edition.