When It’s Good to be in a Gang

Paul tells Timothy that if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, “he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

This is a concept I’ve been dealing with a lot lately in messages at The Gathering, though it’s a concept I’ve not mastered.  I certainly struggle, not so much with the concept or idea of “cleansing oneself”, as much as the practice of it.  The concept basically addresses the outworking of sanctification (the process by which the Holy Spirit begins making changes and also empowers us, through discipline, to bring about changes, as well).  Whereas salvation/transformation is solely the work of the Holy Spirit, sanctification is a divine partnership, in which I have responsibility.  Admittedly, it would be much easier if God just DID IT all, Himself, but that’s not the way He’s chosen.  Instead, He has equipped me to do battle within myself and those deep-seeded sins that “so easily entangle” (Hebrews 12:1).

Because of the work Christ has already done in my life to change my position before the Father to that of Holy and blameless, I have the power to say no to conditional sin that, before, I could not.  Before, sin had me chained…I was under it’s power, fulfilling all the things that my flesh dictated to me (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Now, the Word tells me I’m no longer a slave to sin and that the only reason I am under any authority of sin is that I, willingly, place myself under it’s control, wrapping myself again with the chains that once held me, choosing the sin from which I’ve been freed.  In short, I sin now because I want to, not because I have to (Galatians 5:1).  That’s what is troubling.  I want to sin. Man, I hate even saying that, because I really don’t and, yet, if sin ever dominates my life, according to Scripture, it’s because I let it.

I think this is why Paul encouraged his young son in the faith to “Fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Timothy 6:12a)  It is most certainly a fight, but it’s a fight that involves retreating…running away from an enemy.  Sounds crazy when talking about standing firm and fighting, but being an overcomer, in this case, involves running away from enemies we cannot beat if we remain in their presence.  Samson was the strongest man in the neighborhood, but the only way he could have beaten the Philistines was by running away from that which tempted his heart…the great temptation of Delilah.  He was defeated, not by the brute force of an army, but by remaining under the influence of a single individual who offered him all that he wanted…momentary pleasure.

Wow, that’s it right there.  Momentary pleasure.  Even though it doesn’t last, it still has the ability to train wreck our spiritual lives.  This is why Paul kept encouraging Timothy to run away from it.  Don’t try to stay and fight because, eventually, you’ll let your guard down and the fight is over.  Clean knock-out.  As a matter of fact, right after Paul encourages Timothy to cleanse himself, he tells him how:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant[e] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2: 22-26)

In this passage, there is both a “run away from” and a “run towards”.  Both words used, “flee” and “pursue”, communicate both an urgency and an exertion of effort.  One involved running away from as hard and fast as you can while the other involves chasing after something as to catch it.  In other words, we should never be standing still!  The question is where should the most emphasis be placed, on fleeing or pursuing?  Which one do I focus on more?  The great news is that they are in opposite directions, but only sort of.  Here’s what I mean: I can flee from unrighteousness, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily pursuing godly righteousness.  It might mean that I’m simply pursuing self-righteousness.  I might still be trying to overcome sin under my own power and that will just lead to a pride that is nothing more than unrighteousness in disguise.  So, in truth, I’ve never actually run away from anything!

The key, then, to dealing honestly with sin, is to chase after godly righteousness “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  In other words, I will never actually overcome sin in my life using a “Lone Ranger” approach because I’ll just drift towards self-righteousness and never even notice.  It’s actually a great weapon of the Enemy, “the Father of Lies”.  However, if I am in a community of humble people who are honestly seeking these same things, we can ” gang up” on sin, keeping each other in check, moving towards true godliness together, pointing out that slow drift away from our godly pursuits.

This is why “Gospel friendships” are so important, where we are deliberately speaking into each others lives; where almost every conversation contains some level of Gospel conversation, encouraging and challenging each other and simply “checking up”.  It doesn’t happen by accident and takes a great deal of cultivation.  If, though, I want to overcome sin in my life, sin that my flesh really wants to give in to because I like the momentary pleasure it offers, I have to pursue such relationships with everything I have, knowing that it’s worth the effort.

The Fight for Purity

                

Purity is something that we battle for all of our lives.  If we’re not battling for it, we’ve already given up on the idea.  For a Christ-follower, purity is not an option, it is a command; an expectation; a requirement.  Purity goes hand-in-hand with holiness, which we are called to be since Christ is holy.  Makes sense really: Christ lives within His followers. Holiness and unholiness don’t mix. Something cannot be both pure and impure at the same time. You are one or you are the other. 

Therefore, the battle must be waged.  It’s not easy. It’s often not fun.  It is, however, a matter of life or death.  I would say ask any one of several who have lost the battle, but most of them are dead now.  Amy Winehouse is one of the most recent examples.  It starts by giving in a bit and in small areas, usually, then the enemy completely overwhelms.  Listen to hints of the progression towards destruction from Winehouse’s own mother (source): 

In an interview in 2008, her mother Janis said she would be unsurprised if her daughter died before her time.

She said: ‘I’ve known for a long time that my daughter has problems. 

‘But seeing it on screen rammed it home. I realise my daughter could be dead within the year. We’re watching her kill herself, slowly.

‘I’ve already come to terms with her dead. I’ve steeled myself to ask her what ground she wants to be buried in, which cemetery.

‘Because the drugs will get her if she stays on this road.

‘I look at Heath Ledger and Britney. She’s on their path. It’s like watching a car crash – this person throwing all these gifts away.’

How bad does it have to be for one to come to terms with a child’s death before it ever happens because you know it’s inevitable?  If we give up the spiritual battle of purity in our lives (and you’re fooled if you think it isn’t spiritual), then you given in to all that is destructive. 

Old married guys (just like singles) have to deal with it, too.  Everyday, married couples have to wrestle with issues of purity: our thoughts, our practices and our habits.  We are called to purity in all aspects of our lives all the time.  It’s a fight.

I just read a really good, article on this struggle and some great advice on how to deal with it.  Read this excerpt (and then read the entire post):

Trisha and I have spent more time apart this summer than we have at any time since our separation five and a half years ago. I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t brought up questions and concerns and conversations. I’ve been free from pornography for almost six years. It no longer has a grip on my heart. But neither of us are stupid either. I’m one choice away from compromising my integrity; my relationship with God; my marriage; my boys. I know that.

 There’s a lot of honesty in there.  Honesty is where it all begins.  Being honest with ourselves, our weaknesses and our failures.  Being honest with God regarding our need for Him.  Then understanding that this is going to be a lifelone fight for our lives and for our families.  

It is hard…very hard, but it is worth the fight.  

Real Community

I’ve been thinking about the real purpose of church and what we’re supposed to be about.  Ultimately, of course, it’s to glorify Christ by making disciples (Matt. 28:19-20), but how do we do that together…as a church; a family?

Hebrews 10:24-25 came to mind:

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

This is all about purpose of meeting together.  Not just on Sundays, but every time we’re together, whether in person or via email or phone, or Facebook and Twitter.  In whatever context it might be, this should be the goal.

The reality is that we’re going to spur one another on.  The question remains to what?  Clearly, what honors Christ is to stir up/encourage/challenge/spur on each other to love and good works.  When we fail to do this with intentionality, we always sink to the lowest denominator–it’s in our nature.  So, let’s do it.  Let’s think up ways we can challenge each other to godliness and love and good works together and risk actually doing it, because time marches on and Jesus is coming back…and the world continues to die without Him.

The Lord Will Fight For You

Reflex Hammer

What do you do when you feel absolutely overwhelmed by life?  When you are trying to live a life of integrity, like I talked about yesterday, but attacks come from every side?  What do you do when, like David talks about in the Psalms, there are “those who speak evil against my life.”  How do you respond?

I know for me, the first thought is to strike back! Been there?  Yeah, I think it’s just our nature.  The question is whether or not that is the right thing, the noble thing, the godly thing…even the helpful thing.  I know that the times I have reacted have been the times that things have been the most chaotic and destructive.  Most of the time, I have to go back and apologize and hope for a mulligan.  The key, then, is not to react, but to respond.

A reaction is like being tapped below the knee cap, causing an involuntary, thoughtless jerk.  “Jerk” is probably a good word to describe us when we simply give a “knee-jerk” reaction to attacks and circumstances, isn’t it?

A response, on the other hand, implies calculation, thought, intentionality.  At least it does to me.  When I react, I lash out.  When I respond, I take the time to think it through and then conduct myself according to those plans.  It’s harder, but most definitely better.  In the end, it takes less time because I don’t have to go through all of the pain of fixing what I just made worse.

There are certainly times when a response may call for firmness and directness.  There are times when confrontation (even sometimes heated) is required.  However, this kind of exchange as a thoughtless reaction will hardly ever (if ever) provide satisfying results.

There are other times, though, when the best response is no response. Sometimes, people act in ways that are so ludicrous that it doesn’t even justify a response.  Attacks that are based on and built upon lies will not, in the end, stand.  Sure, they will hurt for a while and there may be some people who believe them, but fighting back just plays right into the hands of the Enemy.  Sometimes, the very best approach is to just sit still, place it in the hands of God and let Him deal with it as He wants to.  He’s big enough to do that, you know.

I was exploring this subject more in depth this morning and came across the following excerpt from a post by John Piper from way back in 1981.  It was an incredible encouragement to me.  Hopefully, it will be to you.  Let me know what you think on the subject.

Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came up against Jerusalem when Hezekiah was king. So Hezekiah gathered the people and the commanders together in the square at the gate. If you memorize what he said to them you will know the power of God in a new way. He said:

Be strong and be courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with them; for there is one greater with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God, to help us and to fight our battles.

Then the writer adds, “And the people took confidence from the words of Hezekiah, king of Judah” (2 Chronicles 32:7, 8).

I want it to be said of me, “The people took confidence from the words of John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church.” That’s my goal: “the advancement and joy of your faith.” What is the “King of Assyria” in your life? Whatever it is, remember: “there is one greater with you than with him!” If you trust him, the LORD almighty is on your side and will fight your battles! “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still” (Exodus 14:13, 14). (emphasis added)

M.I.A.: The Strong, Silent Type

I have been reflecting on Charles Spurgeon’s devotion for this morning which referenced Matthew 27:11-14. That’s the section that tells of Jesus before the governor, being asked as to whether or not He was the “King of the Jews.” Jesus only response was, “You have said so.” It then follows that Jesus would give no answer to the Jewish leaders.

Now, obviously, there are several ways to look at this. One of which is to simply say that Jesus gave no defense on His own behalf because He had no desire to be released. The endgame was the cross and, therefore, He would do nothing that would jeopardize the mission, such as arguing His way out of conviction (which He demonstrated numerous times that He could have easily done).

Though I think that is a right way of thinking, Spurgeon points out the important example that Jesus set on another level. Sometimes it is best to strictly keep our mouths shut. Jesus was accused of many things, yet He did not feel it important to make great defenses on His own behalf; He did not argue against them. In doing so, His accusers fell under their own accusations and became the targets of the wrath of God, though Jesus, Himself, stood guiltless.

I most certainly believe that there is a time and a place to give a defense of the Gospel. Unfortunately, I believe we Evangelical Christians spend too much time defending ourselves. There is a world of difference between presenting a clear portrayal of the message of Christ love in a way that will clear up misunderstanding of who Christ is and arguing for our own rights or defending our own stands on any number of issues. We are called not to stand up for our rights as Christians, but rather the simple Truth of the Gospel. That is the major issue I have with many politically focused evangelical leaders today who argue for morality, ethics and godliness in society at the expense of alienating the very ones that we are trying to reach. I am all for morality, ethics, and godliness…I just don’t believe they come through debate, legislation, or boycotts.

Spurgeon said, “The anvil breaks a host of hammers by silently bearing their blows.” I believe there is great wisdom in that. I believe that we would find our influence growing among those hostile to the Faith more quickly by bearing the blows that come our way with dignity and grace and a quiet faith that Christ will deliver us in His time than by going on the attack, singing our battle cry of Onward Christian Soldiers. Anyone can become a political special interest group and fight for their rights. Respect comes when we do that which is counter-cultural and actively love those who are waging the attacks. You want to talk about blowing minds.

That’s not a pacifist perspective I am advocating (as I am not a pacifist at heart). There are times when standing up and fighting for causes is important, such as justice for widows, orphans, the outcast, etc. However, I’ve never read that our own rights are among those things to be fought for.

Sometimes, the greatest weapon of offense is a strong resolution to keep our big mouths shut and take the blows to the glory of Christ.

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