Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from May 28th, 2012. ”Cross Training in Prayer: Praying Persistently.”
If you want to get in shape, you have to have discipline. Either discipline to exercise or count calories. So many Christians are powerless and don’t see transformation in their lives because they are so undisciplined in spiritual matters. We live in a culture of comfort and convenience that has tainted our spiritual lives. Playwright George Kaufman was enduring a sales pitch from a man selling stakes in a gold mine. The salesman told him, “This mine is so rich, you can pick up chunks of gold off the ground!” To which Kaufman responded, “You mean I would actually have to bend over?”
I learned in training for a marathon you can’t just run. You have to do other exercises. I talked with a number of personal trainers and asked them what are the best exercises for overall good fitness. When I compiled all of their answers (which were very similar) I had a list of over a dozen basic exercises that cover numerous areas of fitness such cardio, strength, core, and flexibiltity.
The same is true for our spiritual health. There are a number of areas where we must practice discipline if we are to grow. These areas include Bible study, prayer, worship, service, stewardship, and sharing/defending the faith. If all we did was just one exercise, other parts of our body would go lacking. For example, have you ever seen that guy in the gym who does noting but work out his upper body? He has huge arms, shoulders, chest, etc., but his legs looks like toothpicks!
We can’t just work all the time at serving, but fail to study and pray. We can’t work at studying if we never go out and put it into practice through serving and sharing the Gospel with others. My plan is to write a series of posts on the basic spiritual disciplines, but I want to start with looking at the topic from a general perspective. It seems to me that Paul’s instruction to Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:6-10 is a good place to start.
1 Tim. 4:6-10- “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
A key word in this text is “godliness.” We do discipline with the goal of godliness. The word literally means reverence, but a reverence that leads to action. Like Isaiah who was filled with awe at the vision of God, but then took action. Isa. 6:8- “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’” Isaiah didn’t say, “Thanks for the show God” and then left unmoved. Godliness means we are filled with awe at God, filled with overwhelming appreciation that he would die for us, and bless us, and give to us, and comfort us- and then we go take action in response to that!
Godliness is active. It is not just piety that sits with bowed head and folded hands. It is worship that leads to obedience every day of the week. So, how can we develop spiritual discipline that leads to godliness?
Good Teaching: Godliness Requires the Proper Diet
To get in shape you must eat right. You can’t do this eating Twinkies. Paul says to first reject junk food. Note the phrase “Old wives tales” in v.7 is sarcasm. The phrase was used in Greek polemics of something that had no credibility. Don’t believe everything! Instead, consume good spiritual food. In v. 6 Paul says be nourished on words of faith and sound doctrine. 2 Tim. 2:15- “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.” We need to saturate ourselves with the Word of God, good, sound teaching, good books, music, etc. In essence, we grow in godliness when we are disciplined to put good stuff around us- an athlete in training doesn’t go to Taco Bell for every single meal.
Note the phrase “in pointing out these things” in v.6. This means if you are a minister or teacher, lay out good food in front of your parishioners and students. If you are a parent, lay out good food in front of your kids. Good parents don’t serve Ding-Dong casserole topped with Cheetos every meal! The right diet is essential for spiritual fitness.
Godly Training: Godliness Requires the Proper Exercise
Getting in shape means not just the right food, but also the right exercise. The word “discipline” in v.7 is also translated “train.” The word referred to intensive physical training- hard work, sweat, discipline. We kill ourselves to lose weight, build muscle, and run long distances. It’s tragic that we will do this because we are so dialed in to the world’s definition of beauty. The world says what determines your beauty is what you physically look like. A recent news story revealed that a size 6 is now considered a plus size by many in the fashion industry. That’s interesting when over 50% of the women in this country wear a 14 or larger. It’s not reality and it isn’t true. However, God says what makes you beautiful is what’s on the inside- your heart and character. Prov. 31:30- “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”
We strive to physically to look good, but when it comes to disciplining ourselves spiritually we hesitate. Are we more passionate about what we look like than growing in the Lord so we give more effort to that? Some criticize spiritual discipline because they say it is legalism. I disagree. Legalism is self-centered, spiritual discipline is God-centered. Legalism says I will do this in efforts to earn merit with God. Discipline says I will do this because I love him and want to please him regardless of what I get.
We need to remember that spiritual discipline is not me earning anything. It’s not even me growing in the Lord in my own strength. Paul had great energy for the Lord and great discipline, but he said in 1 Cor. 15:10- “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
Paul gives a huge reason why our spiritual discipline should excel our physical discipline in v.8. Physical exercise is of temporal benefit. Stop exercising and eating right and the flab comes back. Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 146: “Why so large cost, having so short a lease. Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?” That’s a fair question. Why do we spend so much time, energy, and effort on a lease that eventually runs out. But spiritual discipline lasts for eternity.
Global Task: Godliness Requires the Proper Mission
Why train if there is no event or goal? Imagine playing football without an endzone. Why would an Olympic athlete give so much for four years except to perform in their event? Don Whitney shares the illustration of a boy strumming “Home on the Range” on his guitar while he looks out the window and watches his friends play ball in the park. That is discipline without direction. It is drudgery. But suppose an angel came to this boy and showed him a vision of a man playing the guitar in Carnegie Hall in front of thousands of people making the guitar sing like he thought could not be done. The angel says to the boy, “That man is you. But you have to practice!” Suddenly the boy’s practice on the guitar is no longer drudgery. He has direction, a goal.
Why should we work hard at spiritual disciplines? Two reasons:
First, as already noted, spiritual exercise counts for eternity, physical exercise does not. Imagine an athlete spends thousands of hours and years of practice to run a 10 second race. In a flash- it’s over. But spiritual discipline leads to lifelong transformation that stores treasure for you in heaven for all eternity.
Two, v.10 reveals we have the goal of sharing our faith with the world. We discipline ourselves spiritually so we can tell and live by example the gospel of Jesus Christ- the Savior of all men who believe. We labor and strive because our hope is fixed on Jesus Christ (v.10). Spiritual discipline does not earn our way to heaven, but passion for growing in Christ and being transformed by Him is fruit/evidence that we have indeed been saved. When we give of ourselves and discipline ourselves and pay the cost it shows that our faith is not in vain. Our hope is not placed in a false hope, but the true, saving hope of Jesus.
Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from May 20th, 2012. ”Cross Training in Prayer: What Happens When You Get Alone with God?”
In recent days I have read numerous articles by Southern Baptist leaders on the issue of a person “asking Jesus into their heart.” The debate is whether or not this is a biblical concept. Some younger, and more Calvinist leaning authors and church leaders have strongly renounced the notion. They claim that we never read about anyone in the New Testament saying the “sinner’s prayer” or “asking/accepting Jesus to come into your heart.” David Platt has gone as far as to say that “asking Jesus into your heart” is a “superstitious prayer” that is “dangerous” and “damning.” See Platt’s comments on the issue here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPhEEzjU8xQ
Of course, Platt’s argument is that leading others to believe they are saved and right with God just because they have said a prayer (and the fruit of conversion is void from their lives) is not a biblical response to the true gospel. In this sense Platt is correct.
However, in recent days, older and non-Calvinist SBC leaders have endorsed their approval of the terminology of “asking Jesus into your heart.” Most notable is the sermon by Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN where he defends “accepting Jesus into your heart” as a biblical teaching. Watch the part of his sermon where he addresses the issue here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQBduikVS5E
Gaines makes a pointed argument defending the terminology on the basis of the Greek word lambano (to receive or accept”) in the Gospel of John. Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Bapt. Theol. Seminary has written a blog post defending Gaine’s position and tracing through church history how the patristics would have been comfortable with such terms. Read Yarnell’s post here: http://baptisttheologians.blogspot.com/2012/05/is-it-biblical-to-ask-jesus-into-your.html
In short, I can see both sides of the argument. Trevin Wax, on the Gospel Coalition blog, has just written an excellent summary of the debate and draws solid and helpful conclusions. I highly recommend you to take a moment and read it here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/05/15/is-it-biblical-to-ask-jesus-into-your-heart/
Wax reminds readers that this issue really isn’t about who is Calvinist and who is not. The real issue is false assurance of salvation that can easily be generated through the “sinner’s prayer” and “ask Jesus into your heart” approaches. I wrote about this on my blog a while back in this post: http://etoddfisher.com/?p=680
To answer the question I pose in the title of this blog- I would say yes. Gaines gives a good argument from the biblical text affirming this. The problem is that we all too often fail to say what else the New Testament says about the gospel and what it means to be a true disciple. We should never encourage people to “pray to receive Christ” and then not tell them that being a disciple is dying to self, repenting of sin, and following Jesus as a King which means living life on His term, not ours. Because this is so abused today in emotional settings (such as the invitation on the last night of a youth camp), or by individuals trying to win another convert (perhaps for their own glory, not the kingdom), or churches trying to get another baptism (to pad their numbers for the annual yearbook) Platt is correct in saying it can be dangerous.
We need to be faithful to the gospel and a proper response to it that isn’t watered down and so drenched in the comfortable Christianity of our culture that it can hardly be recognized. Yes, people should accept/receive Christ into their lives. But temper that with a great statement I read by Russ Moore- “Don’t ask Jesus into your life- your life’s a wreck. Jesus invites you into his life.” Sounds like Gal. 2:20 to me- “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”
Yesterday, President Barack Obama publicly affirmed his support of gay marriage. I am somewhat surprised that many people have acted surprised about this announcement. It seems clear that Obama has held this position for some time. Perhaps the splash is over the fact that for the first time in history, a sitting U.S. President has publically affirmed gay marriage.
My point in this post is not to wade through all of the political ramifications of this announcement. Also, I’m sure I will be criticized for “hating” gay people for even writing about this topic. If you think that, you don’t know me. My point is to express how grieved I was that President Obama used Scripture to defend his stance on gay marriage.
Here is the statement from Obama on which I agree: “We are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.” I take that to mean Obama inferred other Christians. My first thought when I heard this was, “Yes, Mr. President, I agree with you that you are at odds with other Christians, first and foremost the Apostle Paul.” Obama then went on to reference the death of Jesus and the Golden Rule as helping him form his opinion on gay marriage. To infer that Jesus and the Bible condone gay marriage is, as John Piper put it, contemptible.
If you are reading this and think the Bible is an archaic, out of touch document then that is a debate for a later time. My belief is that the Bible contains God’s eternal, absolute, and propositional truth. I firmly believe that truth is not something we create (as many believe), but rather something we find- namely in God’s Word. Scripture is clear in what it teaches about homosexuality (Gen. 19, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-11). The biblical design for marriage is a lasting covenant relationship between a man and a woman. To deny this is a complete abrogation and abandonment of the plain meaning of the biblical text. A person cannot honestly say that the Bible condones homosexuality and gay marriage without eviscerating the authority and divine origin of the Bible.
The President has every right to his opinions and express them as he sees fit. Yet, his use of Scripture and the Christian faith to back his position was a tragic flaw.
Megachurches, Monochurches, and Blog Post Titles: The Debate Cannot Neglect the Real Issue of Compromise and Capitulation
As can be imagined, the debate is heating up regarding the issue I posted about yesterday concerning the very controversial sermon given by Andy Stanley. I linked to an article by Al Mohler wherein he stated part of the problem with compromising the gospel/biblical doctrine and capitulating to the world’s agenda rested with the issue of the phenomenon of the megachurch. Mohler did state that not all megachurches are abandoning the Bible, but the reality is that many are doing so in effort to sustain large crowds of attendees in the context of a culture growing more hostile to Christian doctrine.
Yesterday on Twitter, Rick Warren challenged Al Mohler claiming that perhaps his article, or at least its title, castigated all megachurches as compromising on truth. Warren tweeted to Mohler, “Would a sensational blog title ‘Are THE Seminaries the New Liberals?’ be fair if 1 seminary pres. messed up?” He then asked Mohler to apologize to megachurch pastors for the inference. Yes, there are many pastors of megachurches who are faithful to the Bible (as Mohler noted), but the reality is that there are many, not just one, who are not. The pressures of the culture are making doctrinal faithfulness too challenging for many. That was Mohler’s point- and one that should be well received.
Another response that I found fascinating was one Bart Barber posted on his blog in response to this controversy. He claims that perhaps the issue is not the megachurch, but the mononchurch, that is the problem. Monochurches are ones that have no denominational affiliation and are accountable to no one for the doctrine they proclaim. Barber brings up some very interesting points in this debate and his article is worth reading. Find it here:
The issue that Stanley’s sermon has arisen should not be forgotten in the midst of debating blog titles and what types of churches are foregoing biblical doctrine. The key issue, which Mohler’s article addressed, is that there are a growing number of churches, and ones once considered doctrinally orthodox, that are altering or neglecting biblical truth to accomplish selfish agendas. This is an issue the church must be aware of, address head on, and leaders of all churches must be sure not to replicate similar mistakes.
Megachurches and the Compromise of Biblical Doctrine: Two Enlightening Articles and the Call to Be “Set Apart” for the Gospel
I have read two incredibly insightful articles today about the compromise of the gospel and biblical doctrine in the context of the megachurch. In essence, these articles reveal the apparent necessity of megachurch leaders to dilute or ignore the clear teaching of Scripture in order to grow the church/ministry in light of the postmodern, post-Christian state of our society.
The first article was written by Al Mohler in response to a recent sermon by megachurch pastor Andy Stanley. Stanley has built a reputation of being a proponent of conservative, conversionist theology faithfully preaching the gospel of Jesus and the necessity of His death and resurrection for salvation. However, in his sermon about balancing grace and truth, Stanley makes a clear divergence from biblical teaching in an apparent effort to harmonize a growing social dilemma the Christian church is being forced to address.
Mohler’s article gives an excellent summary on the history of the phenomenon known as “megachurches” and how in effort to sustain crowds or draw larger crowds these churches often feel compelled to capitulate to the sentiments of society rather than biblical doctrine. The larger culture has grown increasingly hostile to exclusivist doctrine in the Bible (e.g. faith in Jesus as the only means of salvation) and teaching that is considered judgmental and archaic (e.g. biblical passages on divorce, complementarianism, etc). Because of this, megachurches are increasingly under pressure to side with the world instead of the Bible on key issues.
I encourage you to take a few minutes and read Mohler’s article- “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/05/01/is-the-megachurch-the-new-liberalism/
The second article I read was by Chris Lehmann published in Salon. Lehmann recounts his recent experience attending a rally held in Washington D.C. in Nationals Stadium by megachurch pastor Joel Osteen. The article is a thoughtful critique of the humanistic, self-help platform espoused by Osteen. Lehmann summarizes the message, testimonies, and music of the event all placing man, not God, as the center of focus and that God’s plan for each person is to seize “destiny moments” in order to have personal, financial, and emotional success. So egregious was Osteen’s message that Lehmann referred to it as “talismanic faith” that was more akin to narcissistic personality disorder than Christianity.
Again, I highly encourage you to read this article as an example of how far the “church” can get away from biblical doctrine. Read the article, “Joel Osteen Worships Himself” here: http://www.salon.com/2012/05/01/joel_osteen_worships_himself/
These articles reveal more and more how we have hijacked the gospel to suit our desires and the demands of our culture. I certainly do not want to give the impression that I think all megachurches have compromised the gospel. That is not the case. Yet, as Mohler noted, megachurches are often the institutions on the front line of difficult cultural issues the church must address.
I paused to reflect on Paul’s writings regarding the gospel, truth, and its role in the world and thought of Romans 1:1- we are “set apart for the gospel of God.” The gospel is God’s gospel- not our gospel. He accomplished and announced the gospel and has merely called us to proclaim and live it. James Boice notes the grammatical structure of the phrase “of God” is subjective genitive rather than objective genitive. This means that God creates and announces the gospel rather than that he is the object of its proclamation.
This is important in that it illustrates how the gospel, not just being about God but initiated by Him, should never be altered by us. The gospel isn’t ours to begin with- it’s God’s. Thus we enter dangerous territory when we edit or truncate the gospel and biblical doctrine to suit our desires and agendas. The world doesn’t like the gospel. The gospel offends sinful nature and political correctness. We live in days where there is great pressure and temptation to make the gospel what we want it to be. In doing so, we abandon the truth and the power of God’s message of salvation. The church must never forget that in its handling of the gospel, it has been “set apart” (i.e. be different than the world) to engage culture in love and grace, while never abandoning the truth.