Taking Every Thought Captive

“I find myself saying it all the time. When people hear it they laugh, but actually I’m being quite serious when I say it. Here it is: no one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.” So writes Paul Tripp. What Tripp is saying is that we are constantly thinking and that the content of our thoughts is heavily directed to ourselves. Tripp unpacks more of what this looks like:

 

“You are talking to yourself all the time, interpreting, organizing, and analyzing what’s going on inside you and around you. You may be talking to yourself about why you feel so tired. Or maybe you woke up this morning with a sense of dread and you aren’t sure why. Maybe your mind has traveled back to your distant past and, for reasons you don’t understand, you’re recalling events from your early childhood.”

 

Whatever the case, we are masters at talking to ourselves and we must ensure that our own personal conversation is edifying and beneficial. The worst thing would be for us to waste the precious time we spend each day conversing with ourselves. The apostle Paul is helpful in this regard. He writes:

 

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV)

 

Essentially, Paul is saying that we must dwell on what is pure and holy and pleasing to God. And then as we go about our everyday lives, to “practice these things.” But it all starts with thinking the right thoughts. As you converse with yourself in an edifying and pure manner, your conversation is soon directed in a vertical direction. In other words, you think about God and invite Him to become a part of the conversation.

 

The struggle, of course, is that there are all kinds of distractions that war against having a healthy thought life. Much of what we encounter through media is not pure, true, commendable, etc., etc. It is not what is pleasing in God’s eyes and it has the potential to negatively affect our thought life. A few questions to consider:

 

–       What are you feeding your mind?

–       What are you exposing your eyes to?

–       What are you listening to?

–       What kinds of conversations are you participating in?

 

The Bible tells us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). As you evaluate your thought life, what are you noticing? Does the content of your thoughts align with Philippians 4:8? Are your thoughts regularly leading you to the beauty and glory of Christ? I think we are all going to see areas we are lacking in this regard. There is always room for improvement.

 

One very simply yet helpful tip is to go to the Word of God. That which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise is most certainly God’s Word. As we allow the word of Christ to dwell richly in our hearts (Colossians 3:16), it begins to realign our thoughts. The problems we face on a day to day basis don’t seem so large as we encounter God’s truth.

 

Bottom line: your thought life matters! Don’t buy into the lie that what starts in the mind won’t eventually affect your heart and spill over into your life. Rather, “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).

 

Training up the Next Generation of Christ-Followers

In my estimation, evangelical churches today are failing when it comes to training up the next generation of men and women. We are not mentoring and discipling younger Christians the way we should be. Discipleship happens in a number of different ways and contexts, but an important component of that is in person-to-person relationships. While giving some instructions to his young apprentice Titus, Paul makes it clear that older men and women must be willing to mentor and teach younger men and women (same gender). In other words, those with life experience and Christian maturity should desire to impart their wisdom to the next generation. And those who are young and lacking in maturity must demonstrate a submissive spirit and be willing to learn.

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:1-4).

In some churches, these types of relationships are common and they are reaping the benefits. But I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that those churches are not the norm. I say that for three simple reasons. Older Christian men and women don’t feel like they have anything to offer the next generation. Secondly, the younger generation is too proud to admit they need godly counsel. Third, those in church leadership are not encouraging and facilitating Titus 2 mentoring relationships. Thus our churches lack depth and maturity – something that is essential for healthy and flourishing churches.

We need one another as Christians. As Paul Tripp has said before, God designed our spiritual growth to be a community project. We need the church and we need one another. The local church offers a way for older and wiser Christians to connect with younger, less mature Christians. It is also important to mention that age doesn’t matter when it comes to having Titus 2 relationships.  We all need a Paul (a mentor), a Silas or a Barnabas (an associate) and a Titus or Timothy (an apprentice) in our Christian walk. Even if you are younger (I’m around 30), God can still use you to mentor and disciple teens and young adults.

This brings up another important question. What about older believers who are new to faith? Is it all right to seek out someone younger, but more mature as a Christian? The answer is yes! It will take some humility, but both parties will be blessed from that type of relationship, as the Holy Spirit works in their lives.

If this is where your heart is, but you don’t know where to start, a simple place to begin is by praying. Ask the Lord to put someone in your life for you to mentor or for you to be mentored by. Sometimes finding a good match is the hardest part, but that is certainly not beyond the ability of the Creator God. So trust God in this whole process and then intentionally seek out Titus 2 relationships. Perhaps you already have someone in mind that would be a good fit.

I often remind our church of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and the need to “make disciples.” There is no question that Titus 2 relationships are an important part of the disciple-making process. Let’s ensure that we are doing all we can to make this happen in our own lives and in our churches.

Loved By God

Every Christian knows that love is important. The Scriptures are full of love verses and perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, is an example of this. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What I want to explore is the question – how does love become a reality in the life of a believer? We know that God is love (1 John 4:8), but how does that love begin to manifest itself in the life of the Christian? I would like to suggest that it is a process that follows a somewhat predictable pattern. What follows is not intended to be a rigid list, but is more of an outline. As God’s love fills our lives, we can expect this 4-step process to happen in our lives.

1. Experiencing the Love of God

What an amazing thing to think that the Creator of the universe knows me and loves me. Have you ever stopped to ponder that? Because I am “in Christ,” God actually likes me. God is fond of me. God calls me His friend. God will never leave me nor forsake me because I am His child. This blows me away.

Many people have a hard time believing that God could ever love them. They know their past and they know they are a sinner. They are also aware that God is holy and just and cannot simply “wink” at sin and pretend everything is ok. Of course, the solution to this dilemma is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through the electing grace of God, every believer is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. How can God love us? Because the blood of Christ covers our sins and we become a child of God.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) You mean God is actually for me? You mean God is actually pleased with me? God loves me? Yes, yes, and yes!

When we start to understand the love of God, it tends to overwhelm us. We can never fully understand it, but as we begin to comprehend the redeeming love of God, we can’t help but be amazed. God was not required to rescue us…..but He did, by His grace. Praise God. Praise God. Praise God.

There are people who have faithfully attended church for decades who have never come to know or experience the love of the Savior. They are committed to doing what they can to please God and to “do things for God” but they have never come to understand or experience the love of God. Unfortunately, all their striving and toiling will count for nothing at the end of the day. The bible tells us, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) In other words, they are disgusting. Why we would ever think God would be pleased with us, apart from the perfect righteousness of Christ? So first, we must come to know and experience the love of God, in Christ.

2. Loving God 

The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God’s love always precedes our love. Keep in mind that loving God is not simply a matter of doing our best to keep the moral law. Some people think that if they don’t perform up to par, God will not accept them. It’s always our default position to think that if we do our best to please God, He will love us in return, and grant us acceptance into His kingdom. However, this is not a biblical understanding.

Ephesians 2:4-5 explains this amazing reality. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” Here we see that God’s love always precedes our love. Cleary, that which is “dead” cannot love. But as the Spirit of God fills our lives, we begin to experience the love of our Heavenly Father. Over time this love begins to be reciprocated. We gradually fall in love with the One who saved us. We can actually say (and mean it) I love God.

Clearly, love is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just as we continue to grow more and more in love with our spouse, so too do we grow in our love for God. It’s true that we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) But I don’t think anyone would say they have fully mastered this. It is a process that God performs in our lives over months and years and decades. God turns our self-centered, world-focused hearts towards Himself, so that our affections and desires are rightly directed. Gradually, we begin to love God in place of the world and ourselves. Let’s praise God for this amazing work of grace in our lives!

3. Loving our Fellow Christians

If we truly love God and are born of God, it will result in loving our fellow Christians. As 1 John 4:20-21 explains, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” In using “brother,” the apostle John simply means a fellow Christian. What this tells us is that there are certain outcomes we can expect to see when we truly love God, and this is one of them. We are deluded if we claim to love God, yet fail to love and serve our brother in Christ.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) This is a remarkable statement. Instead of trying to take advantage of one another, disciples of Jesus will strive to love and serve one another. The world can’t help but take notice of this.

The apostle Paul expands on this by listing several ways we can serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:10-13) It’s safe to say, we have a high calling as Christians. We are responsible not only to God, but also to the saints in Christ. Our love for God will manifest itself in love for fellow Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Does this mean that love among the brethren is where the love stops? You already know the answer to that question. As Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) Simply put: do good to everyone, especially our brothers in Christ.

4. Loving the World Around Us

Part of “loving the world around us” is sharing the greatest news in the world with them. The apostle Paul is a good example of this. He writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:4-5) This is the gospel in a nutshell. Paul could have kept it to himself, but he didn’t. He chose to share what was so graciously delivered to him – the good news of Jesus Christ.

The people of God are spread out all over the world, which means we live among the heathen. Whether at work or home, there are non-Christians around you. This is not something to be fearful of, but something to embrace. God has placed you in a particular context for a reason and He will use you, if only you are willing. All too often, Christians cut themselves off from the outside world. They are not willing to do the hard (and sometimes messy) work of building relationships with those around them. This means they won’t have the opportunity to share the love of God, which is very unfortunate.

If you are a follower of Christ, that means someone in your life loved you enough to share the gospel with you. We can praise God for sending messengers into our lives – people who were willing to tell us the truth about God, man, sin, and salvation. My question for you is this – are you willing to be a messenger of truth? The bible teaches that it is not the messenger who does the saving – that’s God’s work. But if you are willing, God will use you as a bearer of good news. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15)

There are many ways we can love and serve our neighbors. I want to in every way encourage this. But perhaps the most loving thing you can do is to share Jesus Christ with the world around you. After all, it is only Christ who can save us from the power of death and it’s only Christ who gives us the hope of eternal life. You have a unique circle of friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors, which means you have a unique opportunity. It’s not an accident you are where you are today. Why not pass on the truth that was so graciously delivered to you?

And so we see, what starts with experiencing the love of God, manifests in us loving those around us. As God transforms our lives, we begin to love our neighbor as ourself. Why not spread the love?

Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation

The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

Abraham Lincoln

The Importance of Teaching and Doctrine in the New Testament

1. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” Acts 2:42

2. “Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.” Romans 16:17 (NIV)

3. “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” 1 Corinthians 11:2

4. “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” 1 Corinthians 11:23

5. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NIV)

6. “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (NIV)

7. “Keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (NIV)

8. “So that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” 1 Timothy 1:3

9. “Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.” 1 Timothy 6:1

10. “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” 1 Timothy 6:3-4

11. “Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 1:13

12. “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2

13. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” 2 Timothy 4:3 (NASB)

14. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Titus 1:9

15. “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Titus 2:1

16. “Show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” Titus 2:10 (NIV)

17. “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” 2 Peter 2:21 (NIV)

18. “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” 2 John 9 (NIV)

All quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

Contrasting the first Adam and the last Adam

Romans 5:15-20 offers 5 contrasts between Adam and Christ:

1. The contrast of death and life.

“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” (verse 15) Simply put: Adam = death and Christ = life.

2. The contrast of condemnation and justification.

“And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one man’s trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.” (verse 16) “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” (verse 18) All those who remain in Adam will be rewarded with “condemnation.” They will be declared guilty before God, while all those who embrace Jesus will be rewarded with “justification.” They will be declared righteous in Christ and will enjoy an infinite reward in heaven.

3. The contrast of the trespass and the free gift.

“For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (verse 17) In the Garden of Eden and the fall of man, the “trespass” resulted in death. But thanks be to God that on the cross, the “free gift” of salvation was offered, which resulted in an “abundance of grace.”

4. The contrast of disobedience and obedience.

“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (verse 19) When we talk about the “trespass,” what it boils down to is that Adam disobeyed. As a result of Adam’s sin and disobedience, there were consequences. Not just for him, but also for his offspring. This takes us back to #1 and the contrast of “death” and life. The wages of sin is “death.” (Romans 6:23)

5. The contrast of law and grace.

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” (verse 20) What does the law do? It exposes sin and uncovers iniquity. But Paul has already established that death reigned because of sin (Romans 5:14), so what good is it? This is where grace (the free gift) comes in.

One very simple way to understand the difference between law and grace is this: Law = do/don’t do, while Grace = done. The gospel frees us from trying to work our way to heaven. The Bible tells us that the work of salvation has already been completed. We don’t have to save ourselves because Christ has already accomplished what God required. Instead, we must repent (of our sins) and believe (in the finished work of Christ) for our salvation.

One concluding passage: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive…..The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49) Praise God for the last Adam!

God’s Deliverance

“And Moses said to the people, Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

Each time I read these two verses, I find myself amazed. The context of this passage is the crossing of the Red Sea, where God delivered Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. What’s amazing to me is that right from the beginning, this is clearly the Lord’s battle. Through his servant Moses, He would win the victory and destroy Egypt. God was not looking for assistance from His people, just obedience. Their task was only to “be silent” and watch “the salvation of the Lord.”

I will be the first to admit this does come naturally to us, Christ’s followers. To sit in the passenger side of faith and let God take control is not always easy because it requires total surrender, something essential in our Christian walk. Until we are willing to let God fight our battles, we will never experience deliverance. We simply don’t have the strength in and of ourselves to fight the enemy apart from God.

Not too long ago, I stumbled across a similar verse in 2 Chronicles. “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:17) Indeed, we find this same message through the Scriptures – God’s deliverance – when we trust Him by faith.

This all starts with salvation. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13) In salvation, we are delivered from sin and death and eternal damnation and given the keys to the Kingdom. But the battle doesn’t end at the point of our conversion – it’s just the beginning. As a child of the King, you will face temptations and trials for the rest of your earthly days (2 Timothy 3:12). Deliverance will only come to those who yield themselves to the power of God.

Friend, I don’t know what you are going through, but I do know the battle belongs to the Lord. If you are willing to step aside, surrender, and give it over to God, you will experience His deliverance. You might have to wait awhile (the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years), but take heart, “it will surely come, it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).