Your Conduct Reflects Your Heart

I love the way Jesus taught. He didn’t try to impress others with His knowledge. He didn’t try to impress others by using big words hoping that others would think He is super-intelligent. When Jesus taught He usually used every day examples to reinforce His point. He used experiences that His students knew so that they would be able to relate the teaching to everyday life. I really want to teach as Jesus taught. I want my conduct as a writer and teacher of God’s Word to demonstrate humiity. I don’t need to impress anyone…I need to serve Christ. After all, my conduct reflects my heart. And if I am being sanctified by Christ, my heart should be humble.

In my last article I introduced the idea that humility is a necessary part of the Christian life. I introduced it through discussing Matthew 6:1. In this article I want to continue through that passage but use some examples from my life that I think everyone recognizes. But before we meet these two men from my life, lets observe what Jesus said in Matthew 6.

  “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:1-8 NASB

Since we already discussed verse one, let’s start this article with verse two and continue through the examples Jesus gives.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” 

In these verses Jesus is specifically speaking about giving to the poor among us. But I think we can take a general approach to this and include al types of service to others. We sometimes get caught up serving others while making it known that we’re serving others. That really isn’t the type of giving or serving that Jesus desires from us. The stress in this passage is on quiet giving. Jesus wants us to give to the poor without making a fuss about it. He wants us to give without receiving any attention from others or accolades from others for what we give. This can also be applied to serving others as well.

Don’t be like the hypocrites

A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another. The Greek word was used of actors who hid behind a mask as they payed their part in a play. That is an excellent image of a hypocrite as used here by Jesus. A hypocrite is an actor. He isn’t truthful about who he is or what he does. Everything – or at east nearly everything – he says and does doesn’t match with WHO he is.

During Jesus’ day, the Pharisees made a show of their giving. They made sure that everyone saw them give to the poor. They were so concerned with looking concerned about the plight of the poor. But that is where it ended. They only wanted to look concerned…they didn’t really care about anyone except themselves.

The Pharisees were masters of looking holy and righteous. They were great actors. They could put on a show that could win an award for the best actor category. We have some of these guys around today, we just don’t call them Pharisees. I bet you have met some of these modern-day Pharisees. As a Pastor I had a few in the flock I shepherded. I’ll call one of them George (not his real name).

Communication with God

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Prayer is intimate communication with God. We should be willing to bare our souls to God in prayer. We need to be totally honest wit God. After all He already knows what you’re going to say before you say it. An important aspect of prayer is the effect it has on us. It should humble us. When we call out to God we acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient. We acknowledge that we do not have all the answers. Prayer humbles us. Or at least it should.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day and George from my own life experiences loved to pray for a show. They would stand up, project their prayers so everyone around them would see how holy and righteous they were. But that is just their problem. They only look to be holy. It is all an act. But not everybody acts this way.

But just like we have folks like the Pharisees, we have folks who imitate Christ today. A person like this in my life is a young man named Jerry (not his real name). When the church I pastored was split and we found ourselves without someone to lead the singing part of our worship, I turned to Jerry since he is a gifted singer and worship leader. I asked if he knew anyone in our area that could help us out. After a few days of looking for someone, he texted me and said “I’m coming up with nothing…I guess you’re stuck with me.” At first I couldn’t believe what I read. I confirmed he was serious. wow, what a blessing this was. Jerry led singing for us for a number of months. He travelled about 90 minutes one-way to get to us and serve Christ in our small, dying congregation. He was faithful and humble. He wouldn’t accept money from us for even his expense in driving up to us. He was – and is – a servant of Christ.

So who do you resemble more, Jerry or George? I know both these men and I can tell you without hesitation that I want to be like Jerry. There are many Georges in the world…and the church. We need more Jerrys. We need more Christians like Jerry who simply want to serve Christ. They care more about the Church than about themselves.

So, are you a Jerry or George? Do you want to be seen or do you want to serve? Do you want to serve or beserved? What kind of heart do you have? Your conduct reflects the state of your heart.

Is your heart proud or humble? 

Look Ma! No Hands

Humility is not natural to us. But it is necessary to develop it. Humility is  a by-product of a sanctified life.

I was riding down Ezelle Avenue in my hometown in the 1970’s. I had tried to ride my bike without my hands on the handlebars before but always chickened out at the last moment. But this time I was determined to make it work. i sped down the hill that is Ezelle and built up my speed. When the street flattened out at the bottom I released my handebars. And there I was. My bike was moving straight ahead. I was pedaling it. And I was doing this without either of my hands steering my bike.

I let out my best “Yahooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I continued to scream as I sped towards the stop sign at the end of Ezelle I screamed “Look at me! Look at me!” All my practice finally paid off. I was riding with no hands. I had arrived to the elite of bike riders. And I wanted everyone to know I had arrived and I had achieved this great accomplishment. Do you remember ever doing anything like this? I bet you did.

Parading our accomplishments in front of others, showing off and drawing attention to ourselves is a natural part of growing up. Hopefully though we no longer feel the need to say “Look at me! Look at me!” when we accomplish something once we are adults. This is also true of us as we grow in Christ. Actually is it more important when we consider this attitude in spiritual things.

In Matthew 6 Jesus has some sobering words for us regarding showing off our righteous deeds in front of others hoping they will notice us. He seems to say that the person who does this is not mature – not very far in his or her sanctification process – but needs the attention and approval of others. How are you doing with this? Lets look at what Jesus has to say about this and how we can apply it to our lives

 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:1-8 NASB

Jesus gives us a warning about displaying our righteous deeds so that we will be noticed by others. Why is this a problem? Should we be ashamed of the righteous things we do? Well the problem with having an attitude that displays one’s good deeds for recognition is a heart issue. If I (or you) am doing things just to show off or draw the adulation of others, do I really care about what I just did? Or, did I do something nice for someone else simply as a way of drawing attention to myself. I think the meat of Jesus’ warning it toward our heart and not our action. If we want attention from others for the good we do, we are in trouble. At best we are immature.  At worst, well, lets leave it for the next article.

But notice here that Jesus begins with a broad statement of warning saying if our motivation for doing good lies in the recognition we receive from others, then our Father in heaven will not reward us for the good thing we just did. I want to concentrate on that first statement for now. though Jesus continues with the specific examples of giving and prayer. These were two things the Pharisees did out in pubic quite often. They displayed their holiness for all to see. Sadly though, it was just a show.In giving us the warning in the first broad statement Jesus is basically saying “Don’t be like those guys!” And why? The Pharisees were quite proud and loved reminding everyone of their status and accomplishments. Their motive for doing good works was the recognition they would receive (see Matthew 13 for more on Jesus’ thoughts on the Pharisees)

You see our motivation for doing good is more important than the good deed itself.

If we are looking to get something for the good we do, then the good we do is really not of any eternal consequence. Our heart will be exposed as more concerned with looking good rather than truly helping others.

If I could sum up Jesus’ instruction in this passage in two words, those words would be “Be humble.” Humility is not natural to us. But it is necessary to develop it. Humility is  a by-product of a sanctified life. If one is being more and more sanctified, that person will be more and more humble about the good deeds accomplished through him.

Do you have a problem with being humble? do you struggle with how much to do good works in the presence of others? Yeah, me too. I think we all have difficulty in this area because we all are, to a greater or lesser degree, arrogant and proud. The key is to know that I (or you) have a probem and being willing to work on it.

In my next article or two I’ll continue to work through Matthew 6 and uncover more truths to apply to our lives as we walk this pilgrim’s path. In looking at this passage I hope to help you if you are struggling with spiritual pride. I’ll not only use the truths in this passage but also through some experiences I have had throughout my life. Some of these experiences will bring back painful memories for me. But these things happened so that I can share them as examples with you and hopefully spur you on to a life that pleases God and not yourself.

 You see our motivation for doing good is more important than the good deed itself.

After all isn’t bringing glory to God the reason we do good things anyway?

Until We Cross The Bridge

Our sanctification wont be compete until we are judged by Christ and we receive our glorified body. What a day that will be! Until that day –  until we cross the bridge that seems both close and distant all at the same time – we will learn, practice, work, strive and press on to that goal.

I entered recruit training aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC, in August 1982.  Parris Island is, well, a rock covered in sand in the middle of a tidal swamp. That is it. Nothing more to see. It is inhabited by Marine Drill Instructors and recruits trying to become Marines. It is not a fun place to live. I spent three months on that island. The three months I spent there are some unforgettable moments.

One thing I’ll never forget is the bridge to the mainland. My barracks was right next to the swamp. I could easily see the bridge that would one day take me off the island. Every day it seemed to get a little closer. In fact a friend of  mine and I would encourage each other every day with a simple reminder: that bridge is getting closer. Until the day came for us to leave the island, we would continue to grow and mature into Marines…and we would look forward to the day when we would cross that bridge.

The same is true for us Christians. In many ways we are on an island that is seemingly disconnected with the rest of the universe. We live among hostile folks who not only don’t believe like we do but are also hostile to our beliefs. But we have a mission here on this island. We have a role, we have things to learn. The lessons may be difficult sometimes but they are necessary. We also have a bridge we can see from here. One day we will cross that bridge when we leave this world with all its problems and difficulties and go to be with our heavenly Father. But until we cross that bridge, we must press on as we press forward.

Paul addressed this in Philippians 3. There he wrote

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may ay hold of that for which I was also aid hod of by Christ Jesus.Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12- 14 NASB

There are many important truths being taught in this passage. I cannot cover them all in one article and do them all justice. So I want to focus on one and really emphasize the attitude I think we Christians should have as we walk through this life.

We are passing though this place much like I passed through my time on Parris Island. But the goal in different. When I was on the island, my goal was to become a Marine and then leave the island. In my life as a Christian, I want to grasp the goal for which Christ grasped me. That goal is to be like Him. I am to be perfected in Him, to the glory of God. I am to be conformed to the person of Jesus Christ. That is what I have tried to focus on in this first series of articles: the progressive sanctification of us as Christians. Our sanctification wont be compete until we are judged by Christ and we receive our glorified body. What a day that will be! Until that day –  until we cross the bridge that seems both close and distant all at the same time – we will learn, practice, work, strive and press on to that goal.

A key to achieving that goal is total abandonment of our previous accomplishments. Paul wrote that he practiced “forgetting what lies behind” while he pressed forward. 

One possible way to take this statement is that Paul chooses to forget his previous failures as he draws closer to Christ. Another way to take this is that Paul chooses to forget his previous accomplishments as he was progressively sanctified. So which is it? And why?

Because Paul so often is combatting those who denied biblical grace and relied on their own efforts, I really think that he is referring to his own accomplishments rather than his past failures. This emphasis would make it clear to those who read this letter that Paul rejected human effort and accomplishment when considering his goal of being Christlike. And so should we.

We like to talk about ourselves and about what we have acomplished. But we are called to a different life. We must not rest in our accomplishments or achievements. We must focus on what Christ is doing in us and through us. We must never look at our accomplishments as important. No, we must…we MUST focus in what Christ is doing rather than what we have done.

So how are you doing with this? It is tempting to say to ourselves and to others “look at what I have done!” But we must resist this. We must forget our accomplishments and focus on what Christ is doing…how we are becoming like Him, which is what we are to do anyway.

So keep pressing on this island existence. Keep reminding yourself that the bridge to this life to come is getting closer by the day. But until we cross that bridge, we must continue forward. We must continue to be more Christike. We must continue in our progressive sanctification Because one day – one glorious day –  we will cross that bridge and we will be like Christ.

Our work will be done, our goal accomplished. One day…one fine and glorious day. 

 

The Soul Canal

“YEOOOOOOOOOOOOW!

Dang dude, that hurt. What did you do?”

The dentist look back at me in disbelief. He said “You have a massive cavity there. I must have hit the nerve. You obviously need a root canal.”

“A root canal?” I thought. “How come I didn’t feel any pain before the torture master hooked me up?” The dentist seemd to sense what I was thinking and answered my question before I could ask it: “The reason you probably didn’t feel it is because your gum had grown into the cavity. Your nerve was never exposed to the air and irritants in your mouth so you couldn’t do anything about it.”

And that was my introduction to the wonderful world of root canals. It wasn’t pleasant or fun. But it was necessary so that there could be something salvaged of my tooth.

That was over twenty years ago. My teeth haven’t improved much. I must have inherited someone’s bad teeth. Being diabetic doesn’t help either. One may say safely that I am intimately aware of the process involved in root canals. I’ve even had a soul canal too.

A soul canal is similar to what needs to be done when we sin.  When we sin there is a cavity forming. Now we can choose to ignore it or allow the gum of excuses to grow into it and cover the damage done to us. That will work for awhile. But the sin will continue to grow.

Now the first thing I need to address is the fact that Christians do indeed sin. With all due respect to Mr. Wesley, we are not perfected in this life. Our perfection awaits us in the life to come. Since we are still imperfect individuals we can expect to sin and mess up. This isn’t ideal of course, but it is true. And it is reality. If you need proof that Christians sin, hang out with me for a day. I’m not proud of that fact, but I;m not going to hide from it either.

So what do we do when we sin? 

“If we confess our sins, He is righteous and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 NASB

When, not if, but WHEN we sin we need to confess them. This word confess is important to understand because we could easily misinterpret it if we are not careful. The Greek word translated confess is homolegeo. Homolegeo basically means to “say the same thing.” SO when we sin, we confess. But confession is not something we necessarily do in front of another person. No, if I understand homolegeo correctly, we name our sins the same way that God names them: they’re sins! They are not mistakes, blunders, poor judgments, etc. We don’t make excuses for them, we see them the same way that God sees them. When we do this we are indeed connected with God in a very deep way. 

“He who confesses and condemns his sins already acts with God.

God condemns thy sins: if thou dost also condemn them, thou

art linked with God.”      –Augustine

When we confess – when we name sin the same way God does – we demonstrate our linkage with God. We do not hide our sin or excuse it away. We name it sin, rely on God to cleanse us and then move on. Think about how our lives would be transformed if we just internalized this truth. God will cleanse us. God isn’t waiting to club us with His hammer or hit us with a lightening bolt when we sin. No, He is waiting for us to recognize our sin the same way He does. Once we do this, He cleanses us.

When we sin there is a cavity forming. Now we can choose to ignore it or allow the gum of excuses to grow into it and cover the damage done to us. That will work for awhile. But the sin will continue to grow. Believer me, I know. Eventually that sin will grow and grow until God has no other choice but to perform a Soul Canal on us, just like I needed a root canal because of ignoring pain in my teeth. When God performs a Soul Canal on us, we can expect it to be less pleasant that the root canal a dentist performs. But is is more than necessary.

So how are you doing recognizing sin in your life? Do you even recognize it? If not, you need to do a little inventory into what you believe.

If you do recognize it, do you make excuses? Do you simply name it sin, agree with God that you did it and was wrong, and have Him cleanse you? I hope you recognize it, name it, and get cleansed from it. That is the best way to avoid the soul canal.

 

Which Way?

Every day we need to further develop our sense of discernment. Before we can do that though, we need to understand what it means.

“Which way do I go?” I asked myself. I was in a pickle. I, with some fellow Marines, had decided to drive around the Memphis, TN area. We didn’t know where we were or where we were going. It was all fine until the fog rolled in. And then we found ourselves on a street with no name. We didn’t have a map anyway and this was long before smart phones and GPS. We came to a “T” in the road. It was spooky. Imagine this: fog rolling over an unfamiliar piece of road around 11 pm. Four Marines in a Mercury Capri with a case of beer. Not the best circumstance in the world!

“So, Alvarez, which way do I turn?” I inquired.

“I dunno” he answered.

So without a clue I turned left. The fog got worse and our paranoia grew. Complicating matters was the Ozzy Osbourne blaring over my cassette deck. These were my pre-Christian days, just in case you were wondering. We began down this road and stopped just a few hundred yards down. At this point Alvarez chimed in with this wonderful question :”What would you do if a vampire appeared in the road in front of us?”

“I’d run over him” I answered.

Sandoval, another Marine in my car, then asked “What if he got up after that?”

Dead. Silence.

Sometimes I think we try to figure out which way we should go in our path of life the same way I did all those many years ago on a back road in Memphis. Just guess and hope there aren’t any vampires coming around. But we don’t have to settle for guessing about what we should do next or the path we should trod. We have the Bible and we have the Holy Spirit in us. Add to that the fact that we can approach the Creator of the Universe with our questions and have confidence that He will answer them and, well, we don’t have to worry about vampires or foggy roads, or even that Ozzy Osbourne spooky music!

Every day we need to further develop our sense of discernment. Before we can do that though, we need to understand what it means.

John MacArthur defines discernment as “…nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.”

So discernment is basically making good decisions that honor God and glorify Him. But how do we, as fallen, imperfect, men (and women) achieve that goal. Hmm, that is a good question. Let’s cogitate on that for a few moments.

We begin to discern when we begin to examine everything carefully. In 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 we are told to examine everything and hold onto what is good. In the context  the specific thing that Paul is referring to is prophetic utterances. In Paul’s day (not unlike ours) there were folks claiming to be prophets of God everywhere. Paul is saying that when these utterances occur, don’t just take them at face value but look closely at them. Comparre them to the word of God to see if they are consistent with it.

O how we need that today! And this doesn’t just apply to prophecy. Have you ever heard something novel and new from a charismaic person? Before you jump at a “new” interpretation of any part of the Bible, examine it carefully. There isn’t a lot of field to plow theologically. Oh there are areas where folks disagree. But there isn’t much new. If you hear somehting you’ve never heard before about a particular verse or passage of Scripture be very careful. Investigate it further. Check out who said it. Does he/she have any training to make a statement like that? Be critical of the statement. If it is true, ir will stand the test. If not, it will fail to all except those who are blind to the truth. Put this effort in, after all, you need to be careful about your decision regarding this “new” way of thinking.

To discern what is right or wrong in doctrinal issues means you must know the Bible. This doesn’t mean you have to memorize it. But you must know it. Many men who can quote a verse here and there rarely really know the Bible. To know the Bible mens to study it each day like you’ve never studied it before. To know the Bible means to listen to what the word says to you. To study it means you decide that it is your teacher and Master…you’re not the master of it. To study the Bible means you place yourself under it rather than on top of it. You decide to change where the Bible and you disagree. This is absolutely necessary but is very difficult to do.

We all have biases. I have them just as much as anyone else. What I have learned to do is to try to set those biases aside and come to the Bible fresh each time I read it’s pages. This take practice and someone whom you trust to check you out, but is a worthwhile thing to do. A person who is a law and interpreter to himself, really doesn’t care what God says anyway. Don’t listen to such a man.

The result of this testing of everything, including our biases, is that we can be firmly entrenched in the essential doctrines of the faith and not tossed about as an unanchored ship in the stormy seas (Ephesians 4:14-16).

So, are you ready to work on your discernment? Are you ready to try to get better at making decisions. Practice looking closely at doctrines. Look at the WHOLE Bible not just a verse here or there. Make some decisions and then check yourself out with a person you trust…one who has been trained by others to properly interpret the Word of God. Read books and commentaries on whatever subject you are investigating. And by all means, pray for understanding. Pray that God wold give you a hearing heart. And then make some good decisions about what is right and what is wrong. About what is good and bad. About what is righteous and what is evil.

When you do this, you’ll be discerning correctly and not just guessing which way to go, or which way to think.

 

A Successful Day

I don’t want to teach what I know. I don’t want to teach what I believe. I want to teach what is true.

My dad gave me some of the best advice I ever received so that I could consider each and  every day a success. My dad told me over and over to learn something new every day. If I did that, I could view that day as a successful day rather than a wasted day. I’d like to say that I aways heeded that advice but, sadly, I haven’t always learned or wanted to learn something new each day. This is even more important when we consider our progressive sanctification. Am I really dedicated to learning God’s word each and every day of my life? Does the Bible even address this attitude that my dad tried to instill in me? Let’s take a look at a passage of Scripture and observe some important points regarding our learning His word.

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 2 Timothy 2:15-19 (NASB)

There is a lot to unpack in these few verses. I want to consider a few important truths regarding how we should learn and what the effect of learning not only the proper things but also the proper way. Let’s dive in and see what we can observe regarding this very important topic of learning God’s word.

The first observation I want to bring to the front is that this passage is about false teachers. Paul dealt with people like this all the time. He worked on defeating them and did battle with them willingly. But for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on the steps we can take in order to be prepared for each and every challenge of life – each and every challenge to biblical Christianity.

In v. 15, NASB translates the beginning as “Be diligent”. Some other translations use the word “study” here. So which is it? The Greek behind this word means “to hasten, exert ones self, or to give diligence.” So both ideas could be included though I personally like “be diligent”. I think it captures the idea here better and the emphasis is on exerting one’s self toward be properly prepared. So the first thing I want to observe about learning is that it is a process that takes effort on our part.

We need to work at learning – and stick to it – to be properly prepared. There are no shortcuts. Learning God’s word is hard work. It is rewarding work, but hard. Don’t be afraid to embark on a new study. Don’t be intimidated by it. Embrace the challenge and be diligent in pursuing to know the truth.

The next thing I want to draw your attention to is the idea of “accurately handling the truth”. This is really important to understand. To handle the Word of God is one thing. To handle it accurately is whole  different thing. Simply memorizing the Bible is not enough. Simply memorizing some Greek terms to impress others is not enough. To accurately handle the Word of God means that we research it. It means we look into the background of it. It means we endeavor to understand the various contexts of it – the culture it was written in, how it was written, and the grammar used to write it.

Once we understand these things, then we can observe what it says, interpret it correctly and then apply it to our lives. If we miss any of these steps, we may as well not even try. Whatever conclusion we draw will be incomplete at best and at worst dead wrong and false.

We are not to mess around arguing about a word here and there. We are not to have empty conversations about nothing edifying. We need to be diligent –  theres that word again – to seek out the essential and true meaning of any passage of Scripture. If we don’t diligently seek to understand His truth, then we will teach what we think is correct. We will teach the bias we have. We will teach what we think is right and it may not be right.

I don’t want to teach what I know. I don’t want to teach what I believe. I want to teach what is true.

 I must be willing to change what I know and change what I believe in order to conform myself to His truth. Then, and only then, am I truly learning the truths of His word. Then, and only then, can I accurately handle His truth. Then, and only then, may I share His truth with others.

After all, isn’t that the goal of learning something new each day. To share it with others so that they are then able to pursue the truths of God’s word for themselves.

Now THAT is what I call a successful day!

Holy Marksmanship

Does anyone remember this commercial? (the fact that this commercial appears here does NOT mean I endorse its products, employment practices, environmental record, etc. Its just an illustration, ok?)

 

Habits of the Holy will help the

Christian to become more Christlike

but they will not make one holy”

 

Like BASF claims to improve products (but not inventing products), when applied correctly the Habits of the Holy will help the Christian to become more Christlike but they will not make one holy. I see it much like becoming a marksman in the Marine Corps. Once I became a marksman – once I had the rudimentary skills – practicing the acronym BRASS-F became very important. In fact, the more I practiced BRASS-F, the better I got. But doing BRASS-F did not make me a marksman. No, like BASF claims, it simply made my marksmanship skills better.

 

But what is BRASS-F? It isn’t a metal polishing agent—that is Brasso. It isn’t a new way of interpreting evidence for the Big bang and Darwinian evolution. It isn’t even a new management technique.

So what is BRASS-F?

It represents a habit that, if performed each time, will refine the skills a marksman has developed.  I learned this acronym back in 1982 while in Marine Corps Boot Camp. It has stuck with me all these years. So, what does it mean? I’m glad you asked!

Breathe: Slow, steady breathing is essential to hit the target;

Relax: Relaxation of one’s grip on the weapon of choice is important as is the relaxation of every part of the sharpshooter;

Aim: Get your sight alignment and sight picture correct. Place your front sight on the target. One cannot hit where one does not aim!

Stop: Stop breathing for a moment—but just a moment while you perform the next step

Squeeze: With steady pressure, slowly squeeze the trigger of your weapon. Don’t jerk it back, squeeze it slowly while maintaining  your proper aim.

Follow-through: Let the weapon come to its natural rest.

I followed this acronym each time I had to qualify with my M16A1 Service Rifle. (For the record, my rifle serial number in boot camp was 4799618. Some things one does not forget!) Each time I qualified with my weapon during my time in the Marine Corps, I shot what is termed a “possible” at 500 yards from the target. What is a “possible” you ask? Well that means that for each possible shot I took, I hit the center of the target. That’s right. I have never missed the bull’s-eye from 500 yards away. And the reason isn’t because I am a great sharpshooter. No, I followed BRASS-F and formed a habit. While it was difficult the first few times I practiced BRASS-F, as I practiced it it become automatic. I didn’t have to think about it anymore – I just did it. The habit of practicing BRASS-F made me a better sharpshooter.

But what about holiness? Have I formed a habit regarding my walk with Christ that could be characterized as “holy”? Hmmm. What would THAT look like?

In my first post I explained how we are set apart by God as a holy people. That means that we are separated for a specific use.  That use, I believe, is to glorify God in whatever way He chooses to use us. The Habits of the Holy have to do with becoming much more like Christ in our everyday life. It is a habit that does not make us holy, but makes us holier. Much like BASF, the Habits of the Holy will make us closer to Christ in likeness and conduct. If we apply these habits everyday, we will become progressively more like Him

We need to understand that this won’t be instantaneous. We need to be patient and get out of our microwave, gotta-have-it-now  culture and realize life-change takes awhile. Much like becoming a better sharpshooter, the process of becoming more Christlike – the progressive sanctification process – will take time and effort on our part. We need to be patient and continually move forward toward being more Christ-like. We won’t sprint to get there. No, we’ll need to simply move forward with consistency and purpose. It’ll be like a plodder. Just keep moving forward…just plod along.

So how do we do this? Well, at the risk of being too cute, we each become a PLODR. We must

Pray and Persevere

Listen and Learn

Observe and Obey

Discern and Depend

Rinse and Repeat

Each of these habits are good by themselves. But they are better when practiced together. When we practice these habits together, we cannot help but become more Christlike. We’ll consider these five couplets which comprise the Habits of the Holy in the coming weeks. When we look at each one, I’ll be sharing from Scripture examples that teach each habit. So whaddya say? Wanna be a PLODR along with me and be habitually holy? Our first stop is on prayer.