Where is Your Mind Set?

Our sons John (age 6) and Jeremiah (age almost 4) love to play. From the moment they wake up in the morning until the moment we tuck them into bed, they are consumed with play. When they are not actually playing…..they are thinking about play. Of course, this “play” mindset is realized in a number of different ways. They play with their toys, they play with one another, they play outside, they play with other friends, and they even play with their older sisters.

You are probably not surprised by this – they could be classified as typical boys, especially for their age. We might add that this desire for play is healthy and can even stimulate growth and development. Now, I have to qualify this because they are not always able to satisfy their appetite for play (Mom and Dad have something to do with this). But when they have the opportunity to play, it’s always a no-brainer….they play. It’s safe to say that this desire totally dominates their lives.

As I pondered this all-consuming desire in my boys, it got me thinking. What should consume us as Christians? Where should our minds be set? Not surprisingly, Scripture gives us insight into these questions. Consider the following verses:

Colossians 3:1-2:“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

Romans 8:5: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

Philippians 4:8-9: “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.”

In contrast, Paul says that those who are enemies of the cross have their minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:18-19). One Biblical example is Demas, who is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:10. Paul explains that he “loved this present world” and ended up deserting the great apostle.

Just to summarize, there is a Christian way to think. We should have our minds set on heaven, the Lord Jesus, the Spirit, and things that are noble and worthy of praise. To set our minds on “earthly things” will only lead us in the wrong direction, and not in the direction of deeper intimacy with Christ.

Another passage that deals with this subject is Mark 7:21-23 where Jesus says, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” This verse well describes the fruit of the unredeemed soul. These “evil thoughts” eventually lead to the catalogue of sins mentioned here and even more. But for the one who is in right relationship with Christ, slowly but surely, their minds and their hearts begin to reflect the heart of God. This is what we should be striving for.

When was the last time you took inventory of your thought life? If you do this honestly and soberly, it will be a painful experience. The number of thoughts and go through our minds each day is staggering. If all those thoughts were somehow broadcast for everyone else to see, I am sure they would embarrass us. But remember, the goal is for our thoughts to increasingly reflect God’s thoughts. We will not reach sinless perfection this side of heaven (Philippians 3:12), but we can grow and mature in our faith. Clearly, we need God’s grace and power in this endeavor (James 4:6) but there is hope. Change is possible!

My counsel is to look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), the One who never had a bad thought in his earthly life. His consuming passion was to bring glory to His Heavenly Father and live in obedience to His will. You will fail as you strive to progress in your sanctification, but look to the One who has never failed, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will give you grace in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Some Parallels Between Discipleship and Nursing

A few months ago, my wife Stephane came up with some parallels between discipleship and nursing. I thought they were insightful and decided to pass them along to you.
1. Both must take place often.
Mothers know that every few hours, her baby must be fed. The baby only has a small stomach and therefore needs regular feedings to continue growing and maturing. The same could be said of the disciple. Ideally, the growing Christian will meet regularly with a spiritual mother or father who will guide them in understanding God’s Word and following Jesus. The Bible tells us, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).
2. Both require the right kind of nutrition.
Stephane quickly learned during her time of nursing that it is important to eat the right kinds of food. For example, oatmeal increases the milk supply, while cabbage decreases milk supply. The most obvious parallel to discipleship would be reading the right kinds of literature. For example, the Bible = oatmeal while a Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer book = cabbage. I can almost assure you that a steady diet of God’s Word will result in a growing Christian. In contrast, a steady diet of your token pop-Christian book will result in a stagnant Christian at best.
3. In both, the relationship will eventually change.
Eventually, the mother will take steps to get her child off of the breast and onto solid food. We would be a little alarmed in a child was still nursing at 4 or 5 years of age. Unfortunately, many professing believers don’t grow up to Christian maturity (check out Hebrews 5:12-14). Many people who populate our churches today don’t want to leave behind their comfortable Christianity to take up their cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24-26).
4. In both, the ultimate result is multiplication.
Years later, every parent has the hope that their child will eventually “be fruitful and multiply” and make them grandparents. In the same way, Christian parents want their children to grow up to be disciple-making-disciples. This is where the snowball effect kicks into play – disciples of Jesus Christ are being multiplied left and right as God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6) and that’s exciting!
What about you?
Are you involved in an intentional, one-to-one discipling relationship? If you are not, let me encourage you in that direction.

Making Sense of Evil and Suffering

Whenever disaster strikes, such as the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma, or evil happens, such as the recent Boston Bombing, the question inevitably arises – why does a good and loving God allow evil and suffering in the world? This is an important apologetic question and one we must wrestle with as Christians. If you are talking to an atheist, it will no doubt be hard to dialogue. Most people are not atheists, however, and they bring theistic assumptions to the table such as the existence of God and His involvement in the affairs of the world. This means you have some common ground to build upon, at least with most people. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you seek to think intelligently about this subject and then dialogue with those around you.

First off, we live in a fallen world. The sin of Adam and Eve and the fall of man (Genesis 3) had devastating consequences on all of their offspring, including us. There is not an hour that goes by where we don’t feel the effects of the fall and we are most clearly reminded of this in the midst of tragedy.

Second, as Christians we need to grieve with those who grieve and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Evil and suffering are sobering realities in this world and it does not do any good to pretend they don’t exist. Sooner or later they are going to touch us in some way or another. It is critically important for us to be there for one another and to minister to one another.

Third, God is sovereign and governs the affairs of the world according to his purposes. “I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:9-10). How silly it would be to think we could understand all the ways and purposes of God (check out Isaiah 55:8-9). Finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite, but we can have absolute faith and confidence that God knows what he is doing in our own lives and around the globe.

Fourth, God is just and merciful. There are times where God acts in such a way to judge nations and peoples. In our Wednesday night Bible study, we have been working through the Old Testament book of Hosea, where the prophet was preaching to a people on the brink of judgment. Hosea was warning his people (the northern kingdom of Israel) that if they did not repent and turn back to God, they would be judged. History tells us that they were conquered by the Assyrians and sent into exile around the time of the prophet’s death. Bottom line, those who do evil will be judged by God, if not in the present life, then most certainly in the afterlife. But we must always remember that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8). Time and time again in the Scriptures we see this. After sinning by taking the census, David said, “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (1 Chronicles 21:13). Following tragedy, we often hear that it was a miracle that more people did not die. But the Christian already knows why – the mercy of God.

Fifth, in the midst of pain and suffering, God ministers to those in need in remarkable ways. Only those who have gone through the fire truly know this. And often God ministers through His body, the church. Christian’s are always on the front lines of mercy and relief efforts around the world. As ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we are to be reflectors of God’s mercy to the world.

Sixth, God often uses suffering to sanctify his people. “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). We don’t always like this, but God knows we need it and that’s why we can rejoice in our suffering.

Seventh, in the midst of suffering and evil, we must remember to give glory to God. Job is a great example of this. “Naked I came from my mothers womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Can we really fault the One who is the giver of all good things (James 1:17)? One of my hero’s of the faith, Jonathan Edwards died from a smallpox vaccination at the age of 54. His wife Sarah responded to his death in a letter to one of her daughters. “My very dear child, what shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be. Your ever affectionate mother, Sarah Edwards.” Even though her husband had died in this unfortunate way, Sarah still gave glory to God.  

Eighth, the reality of evil and suffering make us long all the more for heaven. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have past away” (Revelation 21:4). And so we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

Ninth, God suffered Himself. This is the most important point because it shows us the way to the gospel. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ suffered and died! Therefore, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Through his suffering, Christ defeated sin, death, and Satan. In essence, He conquered the powers of evil. He did not leave us in our helpless estate, but rescued and delivered us from the domain of darkness. Praise God!

10 Purposes of Marriage

1. Companionship: “Then the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” (Amos 3:3).

 

2. Enjoyment: “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4).

 

3. Completeness: “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man (Adam) said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:22-24).

 

4. Fruitfulness: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28). “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed” (Psalm 112:1-2).

 

5. Protection:

A. The husband is to protect the wife by laying down his life for her. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  B. The wife is to protect the home. “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 2:3-5).

 

6. Typify Christ and the Church: Marriage is to be a human object lesson of the divine relationship between Christ and believers. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

7. Sanctification: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3) It will be readily acknowledged that living in close proximity with another person has a way of exposing our warts and bumps and bruises (in short, our sin). We see our own pride and selfishness in ways we can’t when isolated. God can and will use this to make us more like Jesus and to give us victory over indwelling sin.

8. Support and Trust: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil….a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,12). “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain” (Proverbs 31:10-11).

9. Mutual Honor and Respect: “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7). “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

10. The Glory of God: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). This is the goal of everything, including marriage.

God’s Work in Suffering

If we were honest with ourselves, most of us would admit there are times where we wonder – how could God let this happen?  Whether it is an earthquake where thousands of people die or a family member who is sick, we wonder, why is God allowing this to happen? My intention is not to try and explain the problem of suffering (a massive project in itself), but I do want to acknowledge that suffering is something that every person will eventually experience. I think it is safe to say that in the midst of trial, most people direct their attention Godward. We seem to think that God can and should fix our pain and suffering. But is it possible that God might be up to something more than just numbing or eliminating our pain?

I don’t think we ever fully know God’s purposes for our suffering, but the Bible does give us some insight into the matter.  James exhorts his readers to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).  This tells us that trials are not optional, but something we will face. And when we face them, we are to rejoice.  This is remarkable given that the sufferings of James’ original audience were beyond what most of us in our modern context could ever imagine.  Having left everything to follow Christ, they now faced intense persecution.  Obviously, James’ readers would need a very good reason as to why they should be joyful in the midst of suffering.  It’s simply not human nature to rejoice when life is tough.  In a nutshell, James reasons that we can be joyful and happy in our trials because of what God is accomplishing in and through us.  We can be joyful because he is working to grow and mature us through our suffering.  How amazing to think that the sovereign God, who controls everything, uses the circumstances of life (even the bad things) to bring glory to His name and make us more like Jesus.

I don’t in any way want to minimize your pain and suffering. But I do want to tell you that if you are a child of the King, then you can know that God is using that trial for your sanctification. In this you can rejoice.  Life may be hard for you right now, but God will see you through if you put your faith in Christ.  As John Piper once put it: “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”  Whatever you are going through, don’t miss this opportunity to see God at work and to “count it all joy.”

Expecting Great Things From God

As many of your know, my wife and I are expecting a baby any day now. Stephane is very ready and we are excited for the new addition to our family. As I was pondering this, I was reminded of Joshua 3:5 where it says, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Most people would agree that there is a certain “wonder” involved in the birth of a baby. The biologist will tell you that Stephane and I had a role to play in the creation of this child (and they would be right), but ultimately, God is the giver of life (1 Timothy 6:13).

I have a sneaky suspicion that many Christians are not expecting wonders from God. They know that from time to time (such as the creation of a baby) God does great things and performs wonders, but those times are far and few between, at least in their own lives. I want to suggest just the opposite. With God, the miraculous is simply His normal mode of being and acting. The Triune God holds all things together (Colossians 1:17) and there is nothing that God cannot do (Jeremiah 32:17).

With that in mind, let me make it personal. Christian brother or sister, are you expecting great and wonderful things from God….today, tomorrow, and every day? Here are a few of the ways God can and will do wonders among us:

  1. Are you expecting God to do wonders in terms of bringing salvation to those around you who don’t know Jesus? The miracle of regeneration (being born again) is the miracle of all miracles and God can use your words and actions to bring in a harvest of souls.
  2. Are you expecting God to do wonders in terms of your own sanctification? That secret sin that you have been battling for years can be defeated when you place it at the foot of the cross and rely on the Spirit’s power.
  3. Are you expecting God to do wonders in terms of answering prayer? Perhaps you have been praying for something or someone for a long time. My advice – keep praying. Labor in prayer and know that God will answer it according to His sovereign will.
  4. Are you expecting God to do wonders in terms of blessing you and your family? I am not talking prosperity gospel here. I am simply referring to God taking care of your daily needs and even allowing you to be a blessing to those around you.
  5. Are you expecting God to do great things in terms of bringing His redemptive plans to completion? Each day brings us one day closer to eternity and to the New Heaven and the New Earth (Revelation 21-22). We are a very small part of God’s redemptive narrative, but nonetheless, the return of Christ is our “blessed hope” as Christians (Titus 2:13).

As you might have guessed, this is not an exhaustive list. There are all kinds of ways that God is at work and doing “wonders” among us. I hope we are not too busy and caught up in our own agenda to miss these wonders and fail to give God the glory. It all starts with “expecting” great things from God. God would not be God if He did not dwell in the realm of the miraculous and do wonders each and every day. To expect anything less from God would be a mistake.

So get ready Christian, and “consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” This is exciting!