christian disciplines

Listener Questions: Can We Know God? Should We Suffer More? How Different Should Christians Be? (Carnivore Theology Ep. 72)

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We couldn’t find Chad, so we wandered down to the mailroom to look for him — and decided to stay and answer some questions: Can We Know God?  Should We Suffer More? How Different Should Christians Be? If God Wore a Superhero Suit, What Would it Look Like?

Podcast Audio:

Book Recommendations:

Knowing God – JI Packer

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

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How to Have a Quiet Time (Carnivore Theology Ep. 62)

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Devos Contest.PNG

Doing your devos discussed! We talk about what devotions are (and are not), why they’re important, and some practical ways to spend time with God.

Podcast Audio:

Behind the Scenes Video:

Links:

Spiritual Journaling Using Scripture as Your Guide

Two Traps To Avoid in Your Daily Time with God

How Can You Help Carnivore Theology?

1. Pray for us!

2. Record a question in your voice on our SpeakPipe page! (Or Facebook or E-mail!)

3. Comment on our Facebook page, Twitter, and iTunes!

4. Share www.CarnivoreTheology.com with your friends. Sharing is caring!

5. Give financially: If you’d like to help us with our productiong costs, send us a financial gift through PayPal by clicking here. (We are not a registered charity, so you won’t get a tax receipt — but you will have the good feelings that come with helping out a friend!)

How Important are Bible Schools, Seminaries and Other Forms of Formal Theological Education? (Carnivore Theology: Ep. 23)

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Formal Theological Education

The 23rd episode of “Carnivore Theology”.

Formal Theological Education

We live in the world where Google is a verb, student loans are reaching epic proportions and Ted Talks, how-to videos and info-graphics are everywhere. At the same time, people are giving up on institutionalized religion and theological schools are struggling. So, is formal, theological education important and, if it is, who should pursue it?

Podcast Audio:

Click here to download the episode MP3.

Here’s the link to the behind-the-scenes YouTube video.

Here’s the Resources We Promised

The Graeme Goldsworthy Trilogy

Concise Theology by JI Packer

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Local Church by Michael Lawrence

Everyone’s a Theologian by RC Sproul

Al’s Intentional Discipleship Series (Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5)

Al’s Four Core Christian Disciplines Series (Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6  Part 7  Part 8)

As Always, We Want Your Feedback

Please give it a listen and then give let us know what you think in comments section below, by e-mailing me, commenting on our Facebook page, or on Twitter! It would be great if you’d rate us on iTunes too! We’d also really appreciate if you’d pass them around to your friends. Sharing is caring!

Church Attendance: Getting the Most out of Sunday Service (Part 2) – The Four Core Christian Disciplines

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Sunday morning isn’t the sum of the Christian faith experience, but it can be a conduit, a beginning to it, if we take the time and effort to prepare ourselves and be ready for what God wants for us for each Sunday morning. I spent some time yesterday going through the first five ways we can prepare ourselves and get the most out of the Church service and today we’re going to jump right into the last five.  As I told you before, this sermon is an expansion of a top-ten list that John Piper posted on his blog a while back.

The Four Core - Church

6. Forbear One Another on Sunday Morning

His full title for this section was “Forebear one another Sunday morning without grumbling and criticism.”

We should already know that there are lots and lots of different kinds of Christians. God calls all kinds of people into His Kingdom. And because we are not the same, it stands to reason that we are not going to agree on everything all the time. We are going to have different opinions, styles and ideas – not about core issues, but about non-essential things that have to do with our personal preferences. Some people like having flowers up here, others don’t. Some people want to have more music, others less. Some think that church should have a certain dress code, others believe that church definitely shouldn’t have a dress code. None of this is core to the faith, and it creates many disagreements among brothers and sisters that make Satan laugh.

Do you want to know the best way to ruin your Sunday morning, or someone else’s? Start grumbling. Grumbling is demonic, did you know that? It’s a sin. Muttering under your breath, rolling your eyes, making others feel small, elevating your own opinion above others… all sin. Grumbling will ruin your Sunday morning because you won’t be able to see the good things going on, but only the bad. It’s like putting on the sunglasses and gas-mask I talked about during the anniversary service. Grumbling comes from a bitter, upset heart.

Listen to the words of Philippians 2:14-15:

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”

Every Sunday there is a demonic little voice inside your head that says:

“You deserve more.

You’re important.

Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt.

Your opinion outweighs others.

Everything is miserable.

Nothing’s going right.

You mentioned this and it didn’t change.

You should go somewhere else.

You should let others know how upset you are about this, but don’t tell them because nothing will happen… just grump around.

Feed the bitter root.

Start an argument with someone about something trivial.

It’s your right to complain and since everyone is here at church, this is the best time.”

Grumbling is a temptation for families on the way to church, when they arrive at church, during service, and then after service as well. There are lots of opportunities to grumble, ever Sunday morning.

So how do we combat this? By making the choice to have a longer fuse on Sunday morning.

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with [Forbear] each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

What that means is that we give each other the same grace and forgiveness we have been given by God through Jesus Christ. We embody the gospel in our relationships to one another.

Does this mean that we just ignore everything and never have a conversation about what we like or dislike? Sometimes it does. Sometimes we just suck-it-up and drop it –

James 1:19 says that we are to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”.

But other times, when we just can’t let it go, on Sunday morning we must “forbear”. To forbear means to refrain, abstain, hold back, and to be patient and self-controlled when you are annoyed or provoked. It means to hang on to it for a little bit and wait for the right time and place, and then privately talk to the right person about the issue to come to a peaceful resolution. Wait until Monday or Wednesday after you’ve had a chance to think and pray about it, and then if you still have a problem, call that person on the phone, or better, invite them over for coffee.

We don’t want to be like the people described in Psalm 106:25 where it says “They grumbled in their tents; they did not listen to the voice of the LORD.” Nobody wins when we grumble against each other and then refuse to gather together because of our own hard hearts.

7. Be Meek and Teachable When You Come

James 1:21 says, “In meekness receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” This goes for all of us, including me. If we show up thinking we know it all, have a chip on our shoulder, and assume that we are God’s gift to the Church, then we are going to get absolutely nothing out of Sunday service.

Scriptures says “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” so if you are sitting in service thinking “I could run sound or powerpoint better than that. I could sing better, pray better, read better, teach better, play better, or make better coffee…” then scripture says God is opposing you this morning. I know I sometimes struggle with this whenever I go to another church. I have to be extra careful that I don’t harbour critical thoughts.

When it comes to the sermon, to come with meekness and humility doesn’t mean that you are blindly accepting every word I say as though I’m Moses or the Apostle Paul. Dr. Piper says this:

“Meekness and teachability are not gullibility. You have your Bible and you have your brain. Use them. But if we come with a chip on our shoulder and a suspicion of the preaching week after week, we will not hear the Word of God. Meekness is a humble openness to God’s truth with a longing to be changed by it.”

The simple point here is to come asking the question, “What does God want to say to me through the people who are leading the service this morning?” The service leader prepares an opening scripture… what did God say to you during that reading? Did you miss a blessing because you forgot to listen? The music was prayed over and specially chosen. Did you pay attention to the words and what the Spirit of God was doing during the singing? Were you paying attention to the offertory prayer? Maybe God had a message for you there. What does God want to tell you in this sermon, at this time? If you come with a “longing to be changed” and a “meek and humble openness to God’s truth”, He will do something special.

Let me also say this: I love teaching and if you want to challenge something I’ve said, something I’ve done, something you think you’ve heard, or whatever else about me or the service, let’s talk about it during the week. Contact me or let’s set up another time so we can chew the issue out together.

8. Purposefully Focus Your Mind on God

When you come into the sanctuary, sometimes there is a lot of noise, kids, music practicing and activity. I praise God for that activity, because I’ve been in churches where it’s more like a mausoleum and that’s depressing. No matter the conditions of the room, when you come in seek to “focus your mind’s attention and your hearts affection on God.”

What do you do when you first pull up into the church parking lot? That’s a great time to start obeying Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Take the steps from your car to the church to prepare yourself for service. When you enter the sanctuary, focus your mind on why you are here, Who you are here to meet, and then choose to give you attention to God.

Perhaps just a quick prayer to God, thanking Him for this place, these people, this time, and asking Him to begin tilling the soil of your heart so you are prepared to receive Him. Something simple like, “God, I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad you’re here. I want to meet you today.”

Come expecting to meet God because He is here to meet with you! Socializing is really good, and I encourage everyone here to be super-friendly and loving and supportive… but taking that moment to focus on God will change your whole attitude. Maybe, as the old hymn says, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim” for just a little while.

9. Think About What is Sung, Prayed and Preached.

We’ve covered this a bit already, but the encouragement here is to keep your brain in gear. One of my struggles in life is not activating my mind – it’s focusing it. I have to make a conscious effort each week to read the words on the screen, sing them with meaning, and not go into auto-pilot even during the sermon. Do you ever go on auto-pilot during the service, and then wake up an hour later and can’t remember what happened? I’ve done that, and I can’t tell you how many blessings I’ve missed out on.

1 Corinthians 14:20 says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything”.

Some of us were raised on Michael Bay films and Teletoon, and have been conditioned towards 30 second attention spans. I’m sure some of us could really use a commercial break or two during in the middle of the message. My encouragement is to do your best to stay with me, and stay with the music. I’ll try to prepare something worth hearing, if you’ll make the effort to listen.

It’s a good habit to try to memorize the songs so that you can sing them during the week without using the PowerPoint so you can close your eyes and concentrate on God. It’s a little depressing when the PowerPoint goes down and no one remembers a song they’ve sang 50 times. Open your ears, you minds and your hearts to listen to the words God is bringing to you.

10. Desire the Truth of God’s Word More than You Desire Riches or Food.

1 Peter 2:2 tells us: “Like newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”

This is something that comes as you mature in Christ. I know you can’t simply will yourself to want the word of God more, but you can put yourself in a place where you learn that the Word of God is of more value to you than anything you could possibly buy, and where you realize that it provides greater sustenance than anything you could possibly eat.

Each week,

“as you sit quietly and pray and meditate on the text and the songs, remind yourself of what Psalm 19:9-11 says about the Words of God.” (Piper) They are “true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

They really are. The words contained within the Bible, the Spirit which empowers them, the God who wrote them, the Lord Jesus whom they are all about, are good, precious, filling, wonderful, and are worthy to build our lives on.

A Christian church service can give you a taste of heaven and a hint of what Christian maturity is all about. Sunday morning service, if you let it, can give you a thirst for God, a closer fellowship with the Holy Spirit and the people of God, and help you want a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus.

Church Attendance: Getting The Most out of Sunday Service (Part 1) – The Four Core Christian Disciplines

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Attending Church is one of the Four Core Christian Disciplines, but some believers are not in the habit of attending church on a consistent basis — or, hop from church to church seeking to find the perfect place to “get fed”. Being around other believer is an important and complex endeavour. We come to church from a variety of different situations, perspectives and backgrounds, with different needs and requirements to get the most out of our time at church. Consider how different we are.

The Four Core - Church

A Diverse Group

Most of us are busy people. There’s a lot going on these days. It’s summer, the weather is warming up and it’s time to for yard-work, fishing and vacation. There have been a lot of sports finals to watch, and even more coming this summer, so there’s lots to be interested in. It’s block-buster movie season so there’s lots of good things playing at the theatre. There’s a tonne going on in local, provincial and national news – not to mention all the global crisis’ that we are supposed to keep up with. Some of you have some very serious things on your mind, experiencing troubles with your family or friends while others are struggling to make ends meet. And then there’s all of our other day-to-day tasks and events. We’ve got a lot on our plates.

Physically speaking, some are feeling pretty good, had a great rest, a nice breakfast and can’t wait to get to whatever you’re doing later today. Others had really rough sleep last night and can barely stay awake. Maybe you’re feeling physically ill today or have been in chronic pain.

Practically speaking some of you are visual learners and have a hard time listening to someone speak for a long time – so just the idea of a 35 minute lecture puts you to sleep – so you stare at the PowerPoint hoping that it will keep you interested. Others of you are auditory learners and get distracted by the PowerPoint. Some of you are tactile learners who are having a really tough time right now because you’re having to sit still and try to pay attention, so you have to fiddle with a pen or tap your foot, or do something or you’ll go bananas.

There were some people who like “church music”, others don’t. Some like guitar, others piano. Some like to sing, others don’t. Some love going upstairs to hang out with people, others just want to get in and out without being bothered by a bunch of people who don’t really care about them anyway.

Some looked at the title and thought “that might be interesting”, others groaned knowing this had nothing to do with them. Some people  are mad at other people. Some are mad at people who aren’t even alive anymore. Some have been hurt but won’t show it. Some are barely holding it together, hoping that no one notices. Others are desperately hoping someone will notice. Some are wondering why the intro is so long and wondering when we are going to get into the Bible. Others are glad there’s an intro because there’s been way too many verses for them to follow lately. Some have a deep, growing and flourishing relationship with their friend, Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. Others don’t even know what that looks like.

So, with all this diversity of background, levels of spiritual maturity, emotional and relational baggage, personal preferences, unique life situations, and learning styles, how can we possibly create a Sunday morning experience that helps everyone in the church grow closer to God, learn more about Jesus, worship Him in an intimate, personal way, grow closer in relationships with the group, and then go home blessed, comforted, uplifted and challenged to apply something new to their lives throughout the week. That’s a tall order!

You Have What You Need

Here’s the thing:

If God is present with us,

Jesus is alive and active,

and the Holy Spirit is still powerful,

then you already have everything you need

to experience Him no matter where you are.

If you’re at church and the worship music is well rehearsed, has God-honouring lyrics, and presented with excellence, regardless of style a path to worship is available for you to take. If the Bible is being read and preached with humility and truth, then there is something to learn. And i you are surrounded by people who love Jesus, then I believe we have some very good conditions to see God do some special and amazing things. Yes, we are going to make mistakes, and sometimes the songs are a little off, and my sermon is boring, and the technology doesn’t work, and the room is too hot or cold… but by and large, I believe deep in my heart that most church services are fertile ground  for God to grow our spirits each week.

What must be done is for you and I to come in a receptive condition for what God wants to do. We must stop using others as the excuse for our own spiritual weakness and realize that getting the most out of the Sunday morning experience falls on us as individuals.

Getting the Most out of Sunday Service

So if that’s right, then the question we must ask ourselves is this: “How can I ensure that when I come to church I can experience the presence of God, worship Jesus from the bottom of my heart, obey Him in whatever He desires, and walk away encouraged and challenged as a disciple of Jesus each Sunday?” In short, “What can I do to get the most out of Sunday Service?”

I read an article by Pastor John Piper a while back called “Take Heed How You Hear” where he presents 10 different ways we can ensure that we are spiritually ready for whatever God wants to do during the Sunday service. I found them very helpful, and I believe you will too.

1. Pray that God Would Prepare Your Heart

So, as we’ve been saying all along, prayer is where all of our spiritual development begins. I went through a book a while back called “Power through Prayer” by E.M. Bounds which was written to preachers to implore them to realize the desperate necessity of constant and passionate prayer. One of his points was that no matter how good the scholarship, the illustrations, the force, the emotion, and excellence of the delivery of the sermon, it will mean nothing – and could even do damage to the people listening if it is not built on the foundation of a prayerful relationship with God.

But it works both ways. Those who come to listen, to sing, to serve, to give, and to learn need to come with their hearts prepared to receive. Piper says, “The heart we need is a work of God. That’s why we [have to] pray for it.” A soft heart for God isn’t something we can generate within ourselves, it must come from God. Remember Ezekiel 36:26 where God says “I will give you a new heart.” We’ve covered this many times before, but remember that if we don’t take time to ask God to prepare our hearts, we have no chance of being changed by the music we sing, the word we hear, or the believers around us.

Think of your heart as a cup. If we come each week full of jealousy, pride, covetousness, fear, sin, unrighteous anger, worldly pleasure, or anything else, what else can fit into it?

Think of your heart as soil. If the soil is hard and dry, and hasn’t been tilled and turned over, softened by the healing rains of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, then whatever seeds of change are cast out by the music, offering, prayers, sermon, service or fellowship will just bounce off the ground and won’t take root.

Our prayer each week should be before we come on Sunday, “[Lord, I don’t know what you have for me at church today, but please] give me a heart for you. Give me a good and honest heart. Give me a soft and receptive heart. Give me a humble and meek heart. Give me a fruitful heart.” (JP)

2. Feed Yourself During the Week

Don’t let the Sunday service be the first and last place you see God’s Word, worship Jesus, and talk to Him each week. The Christian life is so much more than Sunday morning! The meat and potatoes of your faith happen during the week – this is just the appetizer before the meal that will be your week.

Psalm 34:8 says, “O taste and see that the LORD is good.” Imagine that the word of God is your food, and prayer, worship and fellowship is like your drink. It is certainly nourishment for your soul, but what if it also affected your body. What if you only ate and drank once a week? What if you starved yourself the whole week long and then came crawling into the building each week, famished and exhausted for the one meal you know will be set for you. Would you enjoy the food? Would it help you grow and strengthen your muscles? No, you would come in starving, barely surviving, and when it was served you wouldn’t treasure it, smell it, taste it and enjoy it… would you? You’d barely taste it, and it wouldn’t be enough. Your body wouldn’t be prepared for it and might even make you sick because you’re not used to eating.

Sunday morning can’t be your whole spiritual diet. Think of it like a big pot-luck dinner with your family and friends each week. It’s a special time where you get to experience foods that you don’t have to make, and which you don’t usually get. It’s a place you can savour, and pause, and converse over the food, push back from the table and drink from your cup, try things you’ve never experienced, and lean over to people and say “try this, it’s good!”.

If you’ve ever heard someone say that they left a church because “they weren’t being fed”, I would almost guarantee that they didn’t have the practice of feeding themselves during the week. “Not being fed” isn’t a biblical excuse to leave a church. Heresy, which is where the church is serving poison food, is a good reason to leave a church.

I promise that if you come prepared by feeding yourself the word, and drinking in prayer, worship and fellowship regularly during the week, that you will have a much better appetite for Sunday morning and will enjoy it more and grow more quickly in Christ.

3. Purify Your Mind

A corrupt, sinful, indulgent heart and mind will dramatically affect your spiritual life during the week and on Sunday mornings. You know this, but perhaps you don’t realize how dramatically it effects your attitudes towards worship, study, prayer and other Christians.

James 1:21 says that Christians need to be, “Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.” Philippians 4:8 implores us that, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” This is a challenge to me because I’ve incorporated worldly entertainment into my rest time. I’m not as bad as I once was, but it’s still something I have to watch and be careful of.

Let me read directly from Piper on this because I’m not sure I would have ever written this sentence myself.

“It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch. This makes us small and weak and worldly and inauthentic in worship.”

Chew on that for a moment. Consider the tv shows and movies that you watch and ask if they are banal (meaning unoriginal, obvious and boring), empty, silly and trivial. I only get about 5 channels on my TV, but if I ever turn it on to surf I always regret it because it really is empty, silly, trivial and boring. It’s like eating cotton or listening to white-noise – just empty filler with no redeeming quality.

Worse, perhaps, are the shows and movies that are titillating, suggestive and immodest. The most popular shows today, on the specialty channels like HBO, Showcase and Spike have these sensuality designed into them! You say you want to watch it for the plot, the action, etc., but right along with is sexual immorality, suggestive themes, and outright pornography.

Watching these shows makes us small in our minds – because we import no new, good, helpful information. It makes us weak in our spirits – because we are consistently giving Satan more and more images and memories to distract, tempt and entice us to sin. It messes up our vision of reality and creates unholy and unrealistic desires that make us unhappy and discontent.

It would be amazing if Christians could stop putting this stuff in their brains altogether, but at the very least, let’s try to make Saturday night a “garbage free zone” where we only watch or read “something true and great and beautiful and pure and honourable and excellent and worthy of praise.” I love how Piper says the result will be,

“Your heart will shrivel and be able to feel greatness again.”

I have felt that shrivelling of my heart before, and I have also experienced God unshrivelling it and filling my heart back up to make it full and ready for Him. I know that there are some people who have slain this demon already and can attest to this truth too. This isn’t about burying our heads in the sand and begin afraid of culture, or about throwing our TV’s out and never going to the theatre. It’s about being able to focus our hearts on God. Can you imagine how different your Sunday morning would be if it began on Saturday night?

4. Settle Your Mind

This is all about trusting in the truth that you already have so you can grow and develop more truths. Some people have struggles with their faith that they just can’t get past, and it is a roadblock to their spiritual development. They come week after week, but they are not growing because they are stuck on one or two big questions that make them doubt God, their Salvation, their Faith and the grace of God.

There are other people who have many answers, but have not put them into practice. They are theoretical, but they have not become real. This means that they never really learn the lesson that God is trying to teach them because it never goes from their mind to their heart and hands – so God keeps repeating the same lesson over and over and over because they’ve never taken the step of obedience so they can move to the next lesson.

The encouragement here is to settle certain things in your minds – and move on. If you have a struggle with some aspect of Christianity then investigate those areas and settle them in your minds so you might be able to extend your roots deep into the soil. Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream.” Do the work of learning what God says, do what needs to be done practically to make that real, and then settle your heart and mind on that subject.

For example: If you come every week doubting that the Holy Spirit is real and wonder if the book He wrote may not be truth, then you will not be able to grow deeper. If so, then you need to read, study, and talk to me and other believers about the authority of the scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit. Do the work, have it settled, then move on.

If you spend your week in difficulty and wonder if God is good or bad, present or absent, it will stunt your spiritual growth. Settle in your hearts that your immortal soul was purchased once and for all on the cross by Jesus Christ, that if God is for you who can be against you, and that there is nothing you can do to earn or lose your salvation because it is the free gift of grace. If you have to wonder each moment if you are good enough to be accepted by God, or if the sin you committed means God doesn’t love you today, then there is no way you will be able to worship effectively, pray personally, sing joyfully or listen to the Bible attentively. When trials come, if your roots are not deep, and your faith is unsettled, your faith will fail you.

If God has been working on you in an area of obedience like how much time you spend doing something so you can avoid your family, indulging in pornography or courting an affair, something that you need to change in your attitude or outlook, or something you need to give away… whatever it is… it’s my experience that your spiritual growth will be stunted and stalled until you deal with that area. You can tinker with the car engine, adjust the mirrors, clean the carpets and get all the pretty decorations you want, but if your tires are flat, you’re not going anywhere.

5. Get Some Sleep on Saturday Night

This one seems like a no-brainer, but needs to be said. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says this, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” That’s Bible talk for “Yes, you’re an adult and you can go to bed whenever you want… but being an adult also means doing the right and responsible thing.”

There is no law for what you are supposed to do or not do on a Saturday night. There is no bedtime or specific bible verses that say what you are supposed to be doing the night before. Sure, you’ve got some guidelines about drunkenness and orgies, but there are lots of things you can do on Saturday nights that aren’t sin, but that will absolutely ruin your Sunday morning worship experience. When you are tired you are more susceptible to temptation and Satan can use your weakened physical state to distract you, play with your emotions, and enslave you. And you get into a cycle of lack of sleep and then spend the day jacked up on stimulants like coffee or energy drinks, then you are absolutely destined to fall for temptation – you’re easy prey.

And when you add the spiritual side of coming to church – the battle that rages to keep Christians away from worship, the preaching of the word, and the fellowship of believers, then you are in real trouble. Lack of sleep is something people use to torture the enemy and weaken their resolve so they will crack under pressure. Sunday morning is a spiritual battleground, and sleepy soldiers are no help to anyone.

I like what Piper says here too:

“Without sufficient sleep, our minds are dull, our emotions are flat, our proneness to depression is higher, and our fuses are short. My counsel [is to] decide when you must get up on Sunday in order to have time to eat, get dressed, pray and meditate on the Word, prepare the family, and travel to church; and then compute backward eight hours and be sure that you are in bed 15 minutes before that. Read your Bible in bed and fall asleep with the Word of God in your mind. I especially exhort parents to teach teenagers that Saturday is NOT the night to stay out late with friends. If there is a special late night, make it Friday. It is a terrible thing to teach children that worship is so optional that it doesn’t matter if you are exhausted when you come.”

I read that knowing that I need to learn it too. I’ve built some boundaries that have really changed my life and my Sunday morning experience, but I need to do better for my own spirit and my family’s’ as well. I hope that you will pray though this list and that you will grow on Sunday mornings even more.

Why to Study the Bible – The Four Core Christian Disciplines

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We’re studying the Four Core Christian Disciplines right now. Can you remember what they are? Prayer, Bible Study, Church Attendance and Serving Others. Last week we talked about “How to Pray” which brings us to this week’s topic: “Why and How to Study the Bible”. Lets begin with “Why” and start with this question:

The Four Core - Bible Study

How You See It Affects How You Treat It

What is the Bible to you?

There are people in every corner in the world who know how they should answer that question… but they don’t really treat the Bible the way they talk about it.

People see the Bible in different ways. Some see it as an emotional antacid that you read only when your life has your stomach tied in knots. Or a sleeping pill that you read to cure insomnia. Some see it as an insurance policy where you may not have read all the fine print but you hope that owning one will get you out of some kind of trouble some day. Some see it as a holy book reserved for monks and gurus but not really something normal people would ever want to read. Others see it as a story book filled with fables and fairytales. Others wouldn’t say it’s fiction, but is interesting, but useless – an ancient book pertinent to a bygone culture, but not relevant for today.

How you treat the bible is directly connected to how you see it. The time you spend in it, the effort you make to understand it, and the authority level you give the words within it will directly correspond to your view of it – even if you would never say so.

Why Study the Bible?

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So, before we begin talking about Bible Study let me give a bit of a plug for why this is such a big deal. You may cringe at the word “study” because it conjures up bad memories of math-quizzes, long classes with a boring teacher going through boring material, dusty books without any pictures full of useless facts that need to be regurgitated for some test. I can completely understand why you’d tune out if that’s what comes to mind when you think of studying. But let me assure you: this kind of study is different.

Listen to the words of Hebrews 4:12-13:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

This book contains the very words of God, given through human agents, to all of humanity, to guide us in this world, and ultimately lead us to salvation from hell and into eternal life. It is the greatest source of moral authority and perfect truth in this world, contains the very words of our Creator, and teaches us about the most important figure in the history of the world – Jesus Christ. It helps us understand the very core of what it means to be human, and speaks to us so individually that at times it feels like it was written to us alone. It shows us our sin, our desperation, our damnation, and the deep and abiding love God has for us, showing us the cost of what it took to come and save us from our sin so we could be with Him.

If you believe that, then you need to read it that way. If you don’t believe that, then you should study this book anyways to see if these claims are true or not. You can’t afford to be wrong about this one. This is a very important book.

5 Reasons to Study the Bible

I came up with 5 reasons why Christians need to study the Bible, and why you should probably pay attention to this sermon.

First, without bible study we soon forget God’s promises. If we are not in the word regularly, we can forget what God has done for us, and is doing through us. We can get bitter, afraid, confused, or prideful if we are not reminding ourselves of the presence and promises of God regularly. It’s amazing how often God will use the Bible to remind us of His goodness, greatness, love for us, and tell us what we need to hear that day.

Second, if we are not studying the Bible we become an easy target for the devil’s schemes. 

Think of the Garden of Eden. What was Satan’s opening line there? The first line he ever spoke to humanity in Genesis 3:1 “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” He challenged God’s word. The whole conversation between Satan and Eve was based on God’s Word. Can you trust God’s word? What did God really say? Can God’s word be modified for this situation? When Jesus was facing His temptation in the desert He didn’t dialogue with the Tempter at all, but quoted the Bible and shut down the conversation. Most of us don’t know our Bibles well enough to shut down temptation so Satan sucks us unto into a dialogue with him, and then we fall. If we don’t know our Bibles… if we don’t know the truth… then we are open to being deceived.

Third, without consisting bible study habits, we become closed-minded. Some people learn one or two verses and use them as the rule for their whole lives, their church, their families, and relationships. For example, think of the person who knows Matthew 7:1, “judge not lest ye be judged” but doesn’t know the rest. They never get to Matthew 18:15 where Jesus says, “If your brother sins go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” They never confront anyone about their sin because they think that they “aren’t supposed to judge people”. When in actual fact the Bible tells us to lovingly challenge one another to make sure we are all doing the right thing and growing our obedience to God. We need the whole counsel of scripture to have the right picture of what it means to be a Christian, not just picking and choosing a few favourites that fit with what we want to believe.

Fourth, if we don’t have good bible study habits then we won’t be able to, as 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I’m convinced that this is a big reason why people don’t share their faith. A some point they were told the truth, believed it, but never locked that truth inside of them to share with others. They are afraid that questions will come up that they won’t have answers for so they don’t start conversations about faith at all. But if we are good students of the Bible, then we will have the answers to many (not all, but many) questions and have more confidence when we tell the story of what Jesus has been doing in our lives and in this world.

Fifth and finally, and most seriously, without diligent study we can be led, and lead others into heresy. The word heresy literally means, “to choose other beliefs.” If God’s word is a revealed word – meaning God gave it to us for a purpose, with a meaning in mind – then there is a right way to read it.

When we read the bible, we are not reading opinion, but the words of God, and we let them speak to us. If we stop reading the bible and start reading into the bible, we will begin to introduce heresies… or “other beliefs”, that can lead us and others away from the truth.

Listen to how serious God takes heresy as I continue to read 2 Peter 2:1-3:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.”

We need to have good bible study habits and consistent accountability or we run the risk of promoting heresy, and what we think about a subject, rather than what God thinks.

What is Bible Study?

brains!Like last week, I wrote a definition that we can take apart:

Bible Study is “making the choice, under God’s direction, to methodologically spend time, energy and concentration to deepen our faith in Jesus through His Word.”

“Making the choice” – Getting to know the bible better is a choice. Anything we do that doesn’t come naturally or will require effort requires us to make a choice. Becoming healthier in mind, body or spirit doesn’t happen to us, by chance or through osmosis or proximity to healthy people. Bible Study is no different.

Sitting through sermon after sermon and attending various bible-based groups does not make you a student of the bible. You need to make the choice to engage your mind, heart and hands in the process. One must say, “I see value in knowing the scriptures, and therefore I choose to invest my time and energy into studying them.” I know many Christians who have attended church functions for a loooong time but don’t know any more about the bible than they did after their first few years of salvation.

In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul says to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Another translation says “Be diligent…” Bible Study requires us to decide to do our best and be diligent to make the effort to learn.

“Under God’s direction”. Listen to the words of 1 Corinthians 2:9-13:

“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

We cannot really understand the bible without God’s help. Yes, we can learn about the people and places the Bible speaks about, but we cannot truly be impacted by the full worth of God’s Word unless He works within us to help us understand it. It is His letter to us, and when He is not involved in the reading of it, it becomes stale and fruitless. If we don’t come to God before we study it, the bible will be foolishness to our ears, and produce nothing but guilt, showing us all the ways we don’t measure up. But if we seek God when we come to His world, then inside of it we will not only find conviction, but also wisdom and freedom.

That’s why I started with prayer last week. In a previous incarnation of this study I started with Bible Study, but realized that really wasn’t where we need to start. We need to start in prayer, and then come to study.

“Methodologically” – That’s just a fancy word meaning that we need to have a plan.

Let me say this: I strongly believe that God speaks to individuals all the time as they faithfully read their bibles. I have often counselled people to read their bibles as though God is speaking directly to them and has a message for them from the verses they are reading that day. I believe that with all my heart, and I know many people who have met God in powerful ways during their daily Bible reading.

I also believe that the Bible was written to be understood. The message of scripture is simple to grasp and God can speak to people of all levels of experience, intelligence and education through His word. It is not merely a book for scholars and linguists – it is a book written for every person in every place at every time. I have no doubt in my mind that if you grab a Bible and start faithfully reading it that God will teach you something about Himself and dramatically change your life.

However, like anything else we learn, be it cars, sports, quilting, cooking or cheese-making, a good student of the Bible requires a plan. Reading the bible “Devotionally” – by which I mean simply reading the words of God and asking God to speak through them – is of great benefit. However, we also need to “Study” our bible – meaning that we need to have a plan to go deeper than devotional reading.

This is a huge stumbling block to some people. They don’t like being told what to do. They don’t want to admit that they need someone else to teach them about the bible. That’s called pride. When a prideful person comes to the Bible they will often make one of three mistakes: They will assume they know it all and don’t need anyone’s help. Or, they will ignore anything they don’t understand and assume it’s not important. Or, they will just start making things up try to make it up all by themselves. That’s a great path to ignorance and heresy.

God has raised people up (Eph 4:11, 1 Peter 5:1-2) who He has specially gifted with the ability to teach us things about the Bible. It is our responsibility to make sure they are good teachers who are following Jesus and submitting to the Holy Spirit (Romans 16:17-18; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:10-11), and then it is our responsibility to humbly and attentively to them (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thess 5:12) – through their sermons, books, study guides, or one on one. They are a gift from God to us.

Reading the Bible is wonderful, but when we study the Bible, we need a good guide to help us, a plan to complete the task, and a system by which we gather the knowledge. If we come to Bible Study without techniques and tools, then we cannot say we are studying it, any more than a scientist can say they are studying something if they have no equipment, system, process, reports, or methodology.

“Time, Energy and Concentration” Bible study will take your time. This is probably the greatest expense to us, because our time is very valuable. It seems that we would much rather spend any other resource we have other than time. Devotional reading will take less time, but Study will require more.

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Bible study will also take energy. It’s not something we can do very well when we are tired at the end of the day. I’m sure you’ve realized that if you are to learn anything that it will require some dedicated energy – not leftovers.

And it will require concentration. We have to choose… there’s that word again… to put our concentration into the study. Anyone who has ever taken a class knows that you can sit through class, take notes, and even do the assignments, and not learn a thing because you’re just going through the motions to get the grade! To get anything out of Bible Study you will be required to concentrate and invest some brain-power.

“to deepen our faith in Jesus through His Word.” At the end of the Gospel of John in 20:31 we read:

“…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

The goal of Bible Study is not merely to understand the Bible, but to understand our salvation from God through Jesus Christ as it is revealed in scripture. The Bible helps us know our Creator, Lord, and Saviour. The whole story is about Jesus, from beginning to end, and it is He whom we are learning about in every verse.

We are not there to figure out ways to manipulate and bend the words of the Bible for our own purposes. We are not there to become “bible-thumpers” who use the word of God to make others feel guilty or stupid. Our goal when coming to Bible Study is to have God speak to us through it, to bring us to an understanding of what God has revealed about Jesus, and to connect to Him for our daily hope.

Conclusion

Tomorrow we will go through the How-To’s of Bible Study — the Tools and Techniques — but my hope today is that you take our first question (“What is the Bible to you?”) and spend some time thinking about it. How do you see the Bible? What do you believe about it? Does how you see the Bible line up with how you treat it? If someone were to see how much time you spend reading it, the effort you put into understanding it, and the authority level it has for you – would they say that it’s the most important book in your life because it points to the most important person in your life? If they would, then praise God and keep up the good work! I’m not trying to put a guilt trip on you – ok, maybe a little – but it is my deep desire for you to love the scriptures and be built up in them so you can be a strong Christian.

So if you feel convicted today that you might say that the Bible is important to you, but you don’t spend much time in it, today is the day to change that. Today is the day you can recommit yourself to learning about Jesus in scripture.

Intentional Discipleship: Preparing Our Heart with Psalm 51

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(For a video of this sermon click here.)

My intention when I started writing this sermon was to give some very practical steps on how to do the Four Core Christian Disciplines (Prayer, Bible Study, Church Attendance & Serving Others — first introduced here) successfully, but then God reminded me that I had missed a step.

I’ve covered the importance of counting the cost of discipleship and preparing ourselves for a long-term commitment. I’ve already said that God looks at our motives before our actions, so I don’t need to go over that again. No, what I missed is how to get our heart right with God before we get into these four disciplines.

It’s kind of like when you watch an F1 or Indy-car race where you see the drivers swerving back and forth keeping their tires hot so they can take the corners properly when the race starts. If the tires get cold, they won’t stick to the road as well. What I want to talk about today is the warm-up before the race, the qualifier, that which needs to be settled before we start practicing the Four Core Christian Disciplines. To make sure that when we come to God in prayer, to the Holy Spirit to learn from the Bible, to the church to fellowship with other believers, and serve others with the gifts God gives us, we have right motives and can get the most benefit from them.

Using Psalm 51 to Prepare Our Hearts

Psalm 51 has always been close to my heart because it reminds me of how much God loves me, and that I can be forgiven. I love the words of this Psalm and repeat them often in prayer. When I sin, no matter how much I sin, and how rebellious my heart is, God is ready to forgive me, restore me, and build me back up. That gives me great hope.

It was written by King David after he had been confronted by the Prophet Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah. It is a pouring out of David’s heart about his guilt, shame and repentance – and a list of requests to God. After he accepted the guilt of his sin and confesses it to God, David gives a list of things that he wants from God.

It might seem strange to come to God with a list of requests after confessing such grievous sins, but David knows the heart of God, and the promises found within God’s law. What I want you to see is David’s heart here. He epitomises what I’ve been trying to say over the past while – that how we come to God and why we come to God are critical factors in how we are going to know, love, and understand God.

David pours out his heart, accepts his guilt, and faces God’s righteous judgement. And since his heart is in the right place, his requests are not driven by fear, or anger, or jealousy, or selfishness, or pride, but by the Spirit of God working within him. His desires are healthy, holy and a good model for us to follow.

Let’s go through this psalm together to see how it teaches us how to prepare our hearts for our times of prayer, study, fellowship and service:

Mercy, Love, Compassion

David’s first and most desperate need is a clean heart. This is where we all must begin. Look at the first few verses of the passage and listen for some key words:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion…”

“Mercy” is another word for pity or grace. “Show me pity, give me grace.” How could he ask for this in light of the sin he had commited? Because he trusted in God’s “unfailing love” and his “great compassion” for his people.

David had spent so much time with God that he knew God intimately. He has spent time in His word, pouring over His laws, reading the stories of God’s faithfulness to his people. His early life was spent alone in caves praying, begging God for help as he was under attack, hiding from a king who wanted him dead. After a long time of dependence on God and God’s plan, he became a “Man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) who had cultivated a very close relationship with His Father God. So even though his sins were terrible – unforgivable by human standards – neglecting military duty, plotting, lying, lusting, adultery, murder – David new that if his repentance was true, and his desire for forgiveness was genuine, that God would forgive and restore their relationship. Yes, there would be consequences to his actions, but no consequence could be worse than losing the closeness he had with God because of unrepentant sin.

Now, how could David know that God would forgive? Because he knew God’s word, and he knew God’s character. God’s love is an “unfailing love”.

Without a doubt David would agree with the Apostle Paul in Romans 8 (vs 31-39):

“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, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

David knew of God’s love and desire to be in a right relationship with mankind. He would have also agreed with the Apostle John who said that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8) and with Paul’s definition of Love in 1 Corinthians 13 — which also describes how God relates to believers when they fall into sin. He’s not waiting for you to mess up so He can withdraw His love. When you sin:

“[God] is patient, [God] is kind…. [God] does not dishonour others, [God] is not self-seeking, [God] is not easily angered, [God] keeps no record of wrongs. [God] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. [God] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Our Most Desperate Need

And so, knowing this, David comes to God with his first request — which is ours too:

“… Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”

David fesses up, knows his sin, realizes his condition, and doesn’t hide from it or make excuse. He knows He broke God’s law. He admits that he’s been sinful since before he was born, that God is right in judging him, and that even on the insides, his “inward being” – the place where no one gets to see – he’s sinful. He admits it.

That’s where we all need to start! Before we come before Jesus in prayer, study, church or service, we must admit that we are a sinner in need of a Saviour. That is the beginning of our relationship with Jesus. We are in need. We are broken and unfixable without a miracle. God doesn’t need us, but wanted us and made a way for us to be cleansed through the shed blood of Jesus. This is the attitude that we come to prayer with. This is the heart behind our study. This is the reason we are faithful to our church. This is the motivation of our service.

 “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” (Colossians 3:23)

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)

David’s deepest desire is to be clean in his heart; to be in a right relationship with God. Listen to verses 7-10,

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

That’s the prayer I pray all the time. The great desires of my heart are found in verse 10: a pure heart and a steadfast spirit.

A Pure Heart and A Steadfast Spirit

Consider the opposite of a pure heart and a steadfast spirit. The condition that most people on earth live with every day is so very depressing. They live with an impure, contaminated, defiled, polluted heart and a wavering, unsteady, shakeable, faltering, bendable, breakable spirit. Too many people live that way. Too many Christians. But they don’t have to!

We want to be able to go to bed at night guilt free. We want to have right relationships with those around us, and with God. We want to know we are forgiven, free, cleansed, and at peace. We want a spirit that can stand up against all the storms that the world throws at us. Unshakable! When sickness, death, fear, worry, and loss come crashing against our lives, we want a spirit that is strong enough to take it. We want to be able to have joy in the midst, not crumble when the earthquakes come. Right?

How can we get that? It’s not something we can create within ourselves. We can’t grant ourselves forgiveness, it must come from God. We can’t shore up our own spirit, it has to be built by God. We can’t calm our own storms, that’s something only God can do.

“Create”

Look at the first word of verse 10: “Create”. It’s a very important word. The same one used in Genesis 1:1 where it says,

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Genesis 2:1 says,

“Now the earth was formless and void [those are the words for chaos, wasteland, unreality, emptiness], and darkness [a word also used for obscurity, a dark prison, hell-like] was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

That’s the power of God. That’s what He does. He creates something out of nothing. Where we have brokenness, darkness, emptiness, and impurity He creates light!

We think we have to clean ourselves up to be ready for God’s forgiveness – we can’t.

We think we need to start doing better before we are worthy of God’s forgiveness – we will never be.

We think can help God out and try out best to be good, pure, holy and right – we are unable!

We need a miracle of God – a re-creation, rebirth, renewal – to clean our hearts and fix our spirits.

That’s why Jesus says we must be “born again” (John 3:3). That’s why Paul says we are a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). We are not fixed, added to, or readjusted. We are not basically good people who just need a little help. We are dead. We are sinful. Totally depraved to the very core. We don’t need a mechanic, we need a miracle. We go from dead to alive, from enemies to friends (Eph 2:1-10), as God creates a totally new being, a new heart, and a new spirit inside of us.

The promise of Ezekiel 36:25-27 is as much for you and me as it was for the children of Israel:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

Professing But Not Possessing Christ

It is only after we have come to God for cleansing and rebirth that we are able to come to prayer, study, fellowship and service with a right heart. Only then. If we are not coming as people who have been born-again we are like those who Jesus prophesied against in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

There will be many who will profess Christianity, but not possess Christ! For their whole lives they may go to church, say some prayers, read their bible, and serve… and then go to Hell when they die! Why? Because they will have been giving only lip service to the Lord. They have been masquerading as disciples, but have known all along in their hearts that they have no real relationship with Jesus. Some will end up being teachers, and preachers… but many will just come week in and week out, putting in the time, trying to make some person happy – but never really repenting of sin and giving their hearts to God.

“Jesus is not impressed by thoughtless and heartless piety. Superficial religion might satisfy the casual observer, but Jesus demands obedience inside and out…. A shell of spirituality may preserve our reputation with others, but it undermines real growth. We are deluded if we think that God might be fooled by fake holiness. God desires ‘truth in the [inward being]’ (Psalm 51:6).” (Pg 141 – Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew)

There is absolutely no point in working through the Four Core Christian Disciplines if you have no real relationship with Christ. You will be merely heaping more sin, guilt and hypocrisy upon yourself. Get right with God, follow Psalm 51, come face to face with your sin, repent of your sin, and ask God to forgive you, and create within you a new heart and a steadfast spirit – then start working through the Four Core Christian Disciplines. It is then that they will have meaning!

The Worst Thing Imaginable

Psalm 51:11 can be one of the most terrifying verses in the whole Bible for people who don’t understand it!

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”

I’ve already said before that we cannot lose our salvation, so what is David talking about here?

He is sharing his greatest fear with his greatest love. He would rather lose the whole world than his connection to God. Let me quote John Calvin who says it better than me:

“It is natural that the saints, when they have fallen into sin, and have thus done what they could to expel the grace of God, should feel an anxiety upon this point; but it is their duty to hold fast the truth, that grace is the incorruptible seed of God, which can never perish in any heart where it has been deposited.”

This is the mark of a believer: that the whole world might be lost, and it would be bearable to them, but the one thing they cannot bear the loss of their connection to the Lord Jesus.

Asking for the Joy of Salvation

Look at verse 12 as we close:

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

This third request impacts me deeply and I hope it touches you as well. I desire a pure heart. I desire a steadfast spirit. And I desire to have the joy of my salvation — even though  I forget sometimes. David isn’t asking God to restore his salvation – he never lost it – he wants the “joy” of his salvation restored.

I’m already in the practice of asking for forgiveness and strength. What I’m not in the practice of asking for is joy. It’s something that I think we all need to do more. Christians tend to have the reputation of being a dour bunch! This request is one I’m working on and I hope you will too.

When I sin, I lose my joy. As long as I am living with sin in my heart, in rebellion from Jesus, and with myself on the throne of my life, I lose my joy. My close fellowship with God is broken, and I feel it. But as soon as we repent from sin, turn our hearts back to Him, ask forgiveness and get it through the shed blood of Jesus, we have joy!

It’s sadly ironic that people spend so much time seeking joy in sinful, worldly things – and for a time, it can provide distraction and entertainment – but it does not provide true joy. Sin brings sorrow.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17)

It is a pure heart and a steadfast spirit that brings true joy. It’s knowing that we have been declared righteous when we don’t deserve it, that our treasure is in heaven where moth and rust don’t destroy, that our future is secure, our Lord is alive, the Holy Spirit is within us and God is on our side – that’s what brings joy! I read one commentary that said,

“The fact that the psalmist prays for so many things indicates how many things he knew he had lost when he plunged into sin.”

I know that feeling, and I’m sure many here do as well. Thank God for being a forgiving God who has much patience with His people.

Conclusion

There are a bunch more things I want to cover from this psalm next week, but this is a good start. Before we get into the Four Core Christian Disciplines we have to get our heart right and our motives straight which starts with repentance and seeking a pure heart, a steadfast spirit, and the joy of salvation. Then prayer, study, fellowship and service really bless God, impact our heart and bring our relationship with God to a place where He can use us to bring healing to the hearts of others.