Monthly Archives: July 2011

How Not To Apply Philippians 4:13

It was the summer of ’92 and I was bored.  I loved baseball but my closest friends did not, plus it was just so blistering hot outside.  So what did I do?  I pulled out my Beckett magazine (a mag which shows the current value of most every baseball card in print) and I turned to the last section where they had all the team addresses printed out.  Systematically I began to write some of my favorite players to ask them for an autograph.  I tried to pick players that weren’t too amazingly popular (although I had to send one to Ken Griffey Jr.), and I inserted a card with an addressed, stamped envelope.  As the weeks and months went by I got cards back from a few of the players, one of which was Albert Belle who played for the Indians.  With his card I saw something different from the others I had received.  There was some writing below the signature that read “Phil. 4:13” (this is surprising considering Belle was found to be corking his bat two years later).  I grabbed my Bible and looked up the reference…  “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me”.  Since then I have seen the reference on a variety of Christian t-shirts and paraphernalia associated with sports.  This has led me to wonder what the thinking is behind using this verse in that way.  Is it that through Christ we can complete more passes, score more points, and win the big game?

The context of this verse will help us understand how to apply this verse and how not to apply it.  In the preceding verses, Paul is writing about his response to the different financial situations God has brought him through.  In verse 12, he writes, “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”  To shed some more light, Paul says in verse 11, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”  It is obvious, then, that Paul is saying in verse 13 that he can be content in whatever financial situation he finds himself through the strength Christ provides him.  This is a direct application for us as well.  We too can be content when we have very little resources or when we have an abundance of resources…  through Christ who strengthens us.

But does the application stop in the financial realm?  Paul does say “I can do all things“.  What does “all things” mean?  Does it include hitting home runs and making game winning shots?  Certainly “all things” cannot mean all things that a person sets out to accomplish because we know there are plenty of things that God does not want us to do.  We cannot apply Philippians 4:13 to the bank heist we’re trying to pull off or the smearing of someone’s reputation so we can climb the corporate ladder.  If that’s the case, then “all things” must mean “all things God wants us to do”.  So then the next question must be, how do we know what God wants us to do?  And the answer is, we know what God wants us to do because he tells us in his Word.  I do not know of any commandment or principle in the Scriptures that makes it clear that God wants us to win sports competitions and defeat our recreational opponents.  What I do see is a principle that we must glorify God in our bodies because we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  This includes playing hard and pursuing excellence, but we can do this without winning a game or making the glory shot.  Brothers and sisters, let’s be careful in applying God’s Word.  Just because we wish something were true doesn’t mean it is.

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The People We Neglect To Pray For Most

When we pray for other people, I think we usually pray for those people we think really need prayer.  It’s usually those people that we know are going through some hard times, people we know are making poor life choices and getting caught up in sin, or people we know who don’t believe in Jesus.  That leaves out a significant group of people in the population of those you know: the mature Christians who have a healthy spiritual life and are not going through any major trials.  We don’t get mass emails asking prayer for the guy who is reading his Bible every day and serving his family faithfully in the midst of normal life.  We must think that people like this have achieved some kind of higher spiritual plane where they only need prayer if they’re going on some insanely intense mission trip to a headhunting tribe in the Amazon.  Regardless of whether we think about it in that much detail, we do tend to think that those kind of Christians don’t really need much prayer because they’re doing so well.

The truth is that these people need the power and love of Jesus just as much as anyone.  They too have sinful hearts, a powerful enemy (Satan), and ongoing temptation from the world around them.  We may assume that a mature believer doesn’t have much need for prayer, but if he truly is mature, then he’ll easily have five different requests for prayer if you ask him.  Why?  Because mature believers have a pretty decent understanding of their hearts – the pet sins they struggle with and the idols they worship.  That brings up an assignment I’d like us all to participate in.  Some time in the next week, find someone you consider to be mature in the Faith and ask that person how you can pray for him/her.  Not only will you be blessing this person, but you will, most likely, find that the requests he/she asks for will be prayers you also need to pray for yourself.  Some of the most convicting and inspiring moments of my Christian life have come from asking people how I can pray for them and realizing that their request wasn’t even on the radar for my own life.

I’m not saying we need to stop praying for the people in trials, in sin, and in unbelief, I’m just asking us all to add in this other segment of Christianity that I think is too often neglected in our prayers.

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Should Christians Ever Just Tolerate Life?

When was the last really bad day you had?  Perhaps it was recently and the effects are still lingering or maybe it’s been awhile and things are hunky-dory right now.  Regardless, we all have those days when we think, “The faster I can go to sleep, the faster today will become tomorrow!”  Those are the days when we shift into survival mode so we can just get through it all.  On those days we try to at least tolerate life, because we can’t imagine doing any better than that.

I’m sure there are people reading this who have had far worse days than me, I certainly don’t want to belittle that reality.  We are sinful people living in a sinful world surrounded by other sinful people, so life can be brutal.  But if we are Christians, I know this for sure: our days are never as bad as they could be.  In fact, if we believe God, then we don’t really have bad days, we have good days that are harder than other good days.  Why?  Because God’s sovereign hand of goodness is behind every detail in your life.  This is true for us because we are united with Christ.  Paul says in Ephesians 2:5, “…even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ…  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”  When we came to Jesus by faith, God bound us to his Son, and now God is always loving us as he loves Jesus.  God is always treating Christians on the basis of our union with Christ.  That means there’s not a nanosecond that goes by that God is not being gracious to you.  Think about it…  we should all be in hell right now for our innumerable crimes against God, but instead God has made us his sons and daughters.  Every day of our lives is a day when we have all of the astounding privileges of having our name changed from “Enemy of God” to “Child of God”.  With this new status should come a new appreciation for life, even the “bad” days.  To “tolerate” something is just another way of saying “putting up with”.  Can we truly honor God by just putting up with His glorious plan for us as his sons and daughters, even on the hardest of days?

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If You Don’t Have It, Then It Must Not Be Good For You

I think it’s safe to say that we all have a list of things, people, or experiences that we just know would make our lives so much better if we had them.  There are people who we know that have them and they seem so much happier than we are.  Joe Camero down the street has the best yard in the neighborhood and Peggy Perfect’s kids can walk through the grocery store without a leash.  We find ourselves wishing we had what other people have or not having what we do have…  like that those pesky car repairs or that chronic back pain.  We constantly believe the lie that the grass is greener on the other side.  The truth is, when you are born again through faith in Jesus Christ, then the grass is always greener on your side.  I get this from texts like Romans 8:32 where we read, “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.”  Because Jesus died in our place, we lack nothing that is good for us.  We live and breathe in the grace of God and for us he “causes all things to work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).  With this reality, you should conclude that if you don’t have something, then it’s not good for you at this time in our life.  The same is true of the things you have that you wish you didn’t have…  if you have them, then it is not good for you not to have them.   If God sent Jesus to die for us, then there is no good thing that he holds back from us.  But we have to remember to let him define what is good.  If we define what is good and we don’t receive that that “good” thing, then we are tempted to believe that God is denying us good.  When we allow God to be God and let him define what is good, then we can be content with whatever we have or don’t have because we know that it is impossible for God to deny us good if we belong to Jesus.

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Idolatry: God’s Prescription

Our four year-old has been sick this week, so my wife  is taking him to the doctor this morning.  We’re taking him to the doctor because our doctor graduated from medical school and has decades of experience in pediatrics, so we’re banking on him knowing more about practicing medicine than we do.  Our hope is that he will accurately diagnose the problem so that he can accurately prescribe a remedy.  In order to do this, the doctor’s diagnosis has to go just as deep as the problem.  If my son has the flu and the doctor diagnoses the problem as food poisoning then his prescription will be inaccurate because his diagnosis didn’t go deep enough.  Yesterday we explored the reality that our idols go deeper into our hearts than we realize; they have multiple levels:

1) An object or person (money, a spouse, good grades, etc.) that leads to…

2) A deeper desire (comfort, respect, pleasure, etc.) that leads to…

3) You becoming your own god.

The diagnosis of our idols must reach to this bottom level of our hearts or else the prescription won’t really solve the problem.  If we diagnose our idolatry, for example, as simply loving money too much, then the prescription becomes giving money away or letting your spouse handle the finances instead of you.  But in this instance, the heart has not been addressed and as a result the problem remains.  The diagnosis did not go deep enough, so the neither did the prescription.

But now that we have an accurate diagnosis of our idolatry as seen above, we can get an accurate prescription.  The problem, as with our sick child, is that we’re not experts…  in this case, when it comes to our hearts.  We don’t know what our hearts need, but God does, so he, like a doctor, must prescribe the remedy.  This is where the doctor metaphor starts breaking apart because unlike the doctor, God is the remedy! In Jesus Christ, God has provided us with everything necessary to put our idols to death.  Putting your idols to death involves believing and acting on a number of Gospel realities:

1) Jesus is your God.  You are not your own god, so you must submit to His authority (Jn. 14:7; Phil. 2:9-11, Lk. 9:23)

2) Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has freed you from your slavery to idols so that you will live a life pursuing the glorious riches God has for you in him (Romans 6:20-23).

3) Your idols will not satisfy you, but because of God’s love for you in Christ you have pleasures forevermore, ever spiritual blessing, and every good thing (Jer. 2:13; Ps. 16:11; Eph. 1:3; Rom. 8:32).

4) In Christ you have all the necessary resources to put your idols to death and instead, choose life in him: his truth, his power, his church, and his love (1 Cor. 10:13; Jn. 8:32; 2 Cor. 12:9; Heb. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:14-15).

There is certainly more to believe than what I’ve listed above (which is why we have a whole book of God’s truth), but hopefully this will at least get us started in killing our idols and fleeing to Christ.

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Idolatry: An Accurate Diagnosis

Imagine that you’re at the doctor’s office complaining of chronic pain in your abdomen, but the doctor aks you no questions, runs no tests, and performs no examination.  Instead, he writes you a prescription and tells you to make sure to pay the cashier on your way out.  Would you be hesitant to take that prescription?  I would think so, but why?  Because the doctor gave you no diagnosis, nor did he do anything to collect the data that would help him give a diagnosis.  Diagnosis must come before prescription if the prescription is going to accurately address the problem.

The same can be said of our spiritual condition.  Before we can prescribe the right treatment for our hearts, we need to accurately diagnose the idols inside them.  An idol can be defined as anything that we desire more than God (whether we think that something is good or bad).  Every time we sin there’s an idol at the root of that sin, which is why James says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder”. Idols can be money, a spouse, a job, alcohol, a house, good grades, technology, etc.  But after reading an article yesterday by Lou Going titled Modern Idolatry, I realized that the diagnosis of our idols is much deeper than we realize.  There are actually multiple levels to the idols we crave.  For example, a person may come to the conclusion that his spiritual problem is that he desires money more than God, but it’s not money in and of itself that he craves.  Money is just paper, right?  There is another level to this idolatry.  Money is a means to the end of that person getting what he really wants, which may be security or pleasure.  People don’t go nuts and lose all dignity when they win the lottery because they get loads of paper, it’s because they get loads of paper that they can trade in for something else like comfort or respect.

But in all actuality, there’s even another level to this idolatry.  Think about it, why does this person want what he wants?  In his greed, why is he not concerned with what God wants or what other people want?  Because self is at the center of all idolatry.  When you get to the bottom of it, you find that we are our own idols.  We think we’re great and that we deserve to get what we want, so we diligently pursue things like money and people to get what we want so that we can get what we really want: to be our own god.  It was true of Eve in the garden when she believed Satan’s lie that she would be like God if she ate the fruit (Genesis 3:5-6), and it’s true of us every time we sin.  Christians, our idols go deeper than we think and before we can get an accurate prescription for them we need an accurate diagnosis.  Stay tuned tomorrow when we’ll look at what God’s prescription for our idols.

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A Simple Plan for Studying the Bible

What does your time in God’s Word look like?  Are you just looking for something to grab your attention?  Are you simply searching for some new tidbit or fact that you didn’t know before?  Do you roam from passage to passage hoping that the next one will be just what you need?  Do you study the Bible or just flip through it like a magazine?  I’m guilty of each of these, and perhaps you are as well, but as Christians, we should be archaeologists of the Bible, excavating the depths of its content to find the treasure in each text!  With that goal in mind, our pastor has worked up a simple plan for studying any passage in the Bible.  He actually got the idea from Dr. Wayne Mack, but he beefed it up a bit for more widespread use.  You may recognize some of the content, but this study plan has an added element of transformation at the end that keeps it from being overly academic.  I’ve included the plan below, but you can also get the pdf here: SMAC Bible Study.

S.M.A.C. the Bible

Study Plan

      This simple bible study plan is designed to help us learn the basics of how to study the bible in a way that brings about real change. The basic principles of bible study are as follows: Observation (what does the text Say), Interpretation (what does the text Mean), Application (how does this truth Apply to my life?), and finally Transformation (how is God calling me to Change?)  Here’s how it works. Take a short Scripture (e.g. Gal. 5:22-23 or James 1:22-25) and work it through the following four steps. It may be helpful to stretch the study out over a three or four day period.

Day #1-2

S:  What does this passage say? Write out the text in your notebook, noting differences in various translations and giving attention to key words. Read the text in context (preferably the entire book in which it is contained) to get the big picture. Memorize the text. Write ten different observations of the text.  Write two more from verses in the previous context, and two from the subsequent context. You may want to work on this for a couple days.

Day #3

M: What does this passage mean? Read text in context again. (Define words – see cross-references.) Succinctly, write the interpretation. Is there a doctrine (teaching) to know? A reproof (a sin to avoid)? A correction (command to obey)? Instruction in righteousness (practical steps in how to put off the old nature and put on the new nature, Eph. 4:17-32)? Or any combination of these categories (2 Tim. 3:16)?

Day #4

A: How does this text apply? Read text in context again. Review notes from S & M. How does this passage apply to me? What specific things can I do to apply this truth to my life (What element of false worship or obstacle to pure worship do I need to leave behind?  How does my thinking need to change? What aspects of righteousness do I need to pursue in order to be more like Jesus?)?

Day #4

C: How is God calling you to change? Write down what you are going to do, with whom you are going to do it, for whom you are going to do it and when you will start.

Prayer: Finally, write a short prayer asking God to accomplish in your life what the passage demands.

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