The Toolbox

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 God is the Master builder of our lives. We may help a bit, but He is the one who brings us the tools.

 

When I was in the Marine Corps many years ago, I remember a saying we had: the right tool for the job is the tool that does the job. This was a nod to the improvising the Marine Corps had to do just to survive. We rarely had what we needed so we would have to figure out a  way to use something else to get  a job done.

But life with God isn’t that way. And this is especially true when our fear collides with our faith. God has given us every tool necessary to build (or rebuild) our lives, either from the rubble of our sin. Now I have to emphasize that God is the Master builder of our lives. We may help a bit, but He is the one who brings us the tools, the blocks and the mortar to rebuild the broken down walls of our lives. He not only does that, but He takes us by the hand and rebuilds our wall, our hand in His.

Nehemiah’s fear could have led him to be timid. Instead he used the tools very effectively.

 

Tools in Nehemiah’s Toolbox

I like tools. But I have to be careful with them because I have been injured by some. I have burned myself with a soldering iron, cut myself with a jigsaw, smashed my thumb with a hammer and cut my knee open with a chainsaw…but this didn’t happen at the same time! Anyway, just like us now, Nehemiah had the right tools for the job. Lets take a look at Nehemiah’s toolbox in the Nehemiah 2:1-3 (this will continue in my next article as well).

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Nehemiah 2:1-3 NASB

So what tools do we find in Nehemiah’s toolbox?

 

The Wrench of Waiting

The first tool Nehemiah used was the tool called waiting in verse 1. He was a man of decisive action, and when he prayed it was natural for him to ask God to provide an early, if not immediate, opportunity to speak to the king. Remember the closing verse in chapter one indicates that Nehemiah wanted success today in the presence of the king. But Nehemiah waited patiently on the Lord for an answer, just as we’re urged to do in Hebrews 6:12: “…imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what was promised.” Nehemiah could weep and pray and he could also wait and pray.

Why do I think Nehemiah had to wait? While we don’t know exactly when chapter one ended, we know when it began: the month of Chislev. That month roughly corresponds to our month of November/December. So I think it is safe to say that Nehemiah began his journey to Jerusalem in November/December. But what about when he approached the King? Well, in verse 1 the Bible states that it happened in the Month of Nisan. The month of Nisan corresponds roughly to our time of March/April. So Nehemiah waited for at least three months before he approached the king with this matter.  Did Nehemiah not see the King during this three month period? That is highly unlikely since Nehemiah was the King’s cupbearer. Although it is not stated here, I think Nehemiah waited on the nudging of the Lord before he approached the king.
Have you had to wait for God to answer a prayer? In Nehemiah’s prayer journal, nothing was entered for four months because nothing happened. Waiting time is not wasted time. Quiet reflection may have provided Nehemiah with fresh insight about how to approach the king. God wants each of us to get real familiar with this tool – we’re going to have to use it a lot.

The File of Faith

The second tool he fished out of his toolbox is faith in verses 2-3. Nehemiah was “sad” in the last part of verse 1. This word is used three other times to describe how he looked when he was in the presence of the king. The king asked him a question to find out why Nehemiah was not his chipper self. Nehemiah wigged out when Artaxerxes asked him this question because he knew the king only wanted to be around happy people. In verse 2, Nehemiah says that he was “very much afraid” which can  be translated, “a terrible fear came over me.”

I think he was very much afraid for at least two reasons. He knew that he was expected to be perfectly content just to be in the presence of the king. Subjects who were sad or melancholy around the king were usually executed for “raining on the king’s parade.” Second, he was about to ask the monarch of the Persian Empire to reverse a written policy he had made several years earlier about Jerusalem’s reconstruction. that is recoded in Ezra:

Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. Ezra 4:21 NASB

Nehemiah knew it would take the power of God to get Artaxerxes to change his mind. I think I’d be afraid too. Here is the most powerful human being on the face of the planet. He wants only happy, happy, happy people around him. He is such a hard man that if your are anything but that happy, happy, happy person, he would execute you. Wow. That would cause some fear to creep into my life. How about you?

 

What are you afraid of this morning? Some of you might be afraid of the past. You’re worried that something you did long ago will catch up to you. Maybe you’re afraid of the present and find yourself crippled by the fear of people, snakes, or confined spaces. Others of you might be fearful about the future and even death.

Fear is a natural human emotion. To deny one’s fear is to deny one’s humanness. But though we experience fear, we must not succumb to it. Fear can paralyze us. It can make us not move forward with what God has for us. Fear can intimidate. Fear can be a real bummer! But what happens when our fear collides with our faith? Look at our example from Nehemiah.
Nehemiah’s faith was greater than his fear. He did the right thing because he believed the promises of God. Notice what happened, “I was very much afraid, but I said…” Instead of paralyzing him, fear propelled Nehemiah to action. Months of prayer had prepared him for these crucial minutes. Courage filled him when he realized it was no longer possible to hide his grief.

The Hammer of Honesty

Then, using wisdom, he affirms his boss by saying, “Long live the king!” He honestly explains why he was sad in verse 3:

“Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried                      lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Nehemiah 2:3 NASB

Did you notice that Nehemiah never mentions the name of the city? Jerusalem’s history of independence might have turned the king’s thoughts toward questions of politics and national security. Instead of going political, he chose the personal route – that’s usually the better choice. What Nehemiah did say was, “I want to honor the burial place of my fathers.” This made a lot of sense to the King because the Persians honored their dead as well.

Nehemiah’s fear could have led him to be timid. Instead he used the tool of trusting very effectively. He wielded these tools effectively but doesn’t stop with these three. No, next week we’ll continue in Chapter Two and discover more tools in the toolbox we can use as our fear collides with our faith and we rebuild from the rubble that is our lives.

How are you doing using the tools God has given you to build the wall of your life? Are you using them effectively? At all? Do you even know you have these tools at your disposal? I sure hope so. While a stone mason can have all the knowledge in the world regarding his craft, that knowledge is useless if he doesn’t use his tools.

Nehemiah’s faith was greater than his fear, and propelled Nehemiah to action.

Laying Brick with Mortar and Prayer

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“Pray as if everything depends on God, then work as if everything depends on you.”  –Martin Luther

 

We should never ask God to use us then make ourselves unavailable. If we do that, then our prayers are mere words, devoid of conviction. We should always present ourselves for God’s use to answer prayers if He chooses to so use us. That is what Nehemiah did here in chapter one. This attitude should permeate us in our sanctification.

Do you see the progression in Nehemiah’s prayer? His concern about the problem led him to brokenness. While he was weeping and fasting, he expressed his conviction about God’s character. As he focused on the greatness and awesomeness of His holy God, he was quickly reminded of his own wickedness and therefore cried out in confession. After owning his role in the nation’s depravity, he prayed boldly and with confidence in God’s promises. This then leads him to a commitment to get involved. We see this in verse 11:

“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man. I was cupbearer to the king.”

While Nehemiah was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and his vision of what needed to be done became clearer. He didn’t pray for God to send someone else – he simply said, “Here am I, send me!” He knew that he would have to approach the king and request a 3-year leave of absence and so asked God for “success,” in his request to the king. He wanted to see God break out on his behalf when he goes in front of the king to make his request. Proverbs 21:1 states “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse where He pleases.” Nehemiah was committed to get involved and not just sit on the sidelines and lament the condition of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah was a different type of guy. We should be like him. He saw a problem with Jerusalem, was burdened by it, asked God to bless him with a plan, and then acted on the plan. How often do we follow these steps in our prayer time. Far too often we treat prayer as a one-way device: we summon God to listen to us but we fail to listen to Him. We lay our requests at His feet and then walk away. Instead of waiting and listening, we just move on as if God is constrained to do as we please.

God is not at our call. We are at His.

And this is how we should approach our responsibility in our progressive sanctification. As we saw in the last article, God has promised to fully sanctify every person He calls to salvation. We can count on His promise to do that. But we do have a responsibility to participate in our sanctification. God’s plan for each of us may vary greatly. The trials we face may be different – well, they WILL be different. Their difference may be in the nature, depth, intensity, or length of the trial. But there will be differences. All trials make us more like Christ and we need to embrace them fully…wait, I’m getting ahead of myself!

In our prayer life we must be willing to commit to God’s plan for our sanctification, rely on His promises, be very honest with God, understand our problem and ask God to bless us with a plan rather than for Him to bless our plan.

Where are you in this prayer process right now? Are you concerned about your requests? Do you have a conviction about God’s holy character? Are you ready to confess your sins? Do you have confidence in God’s promises? Are you ready to make a commitment to get involved in God’s kingdom work?

The walls of our lives have been toppled by our sin nature, deafness to God’s voice, selfishness, and arrogance. We are confronted with only two choices now:

1. To learn to live in the rubble of our lives

2. To be bold enough to admit our sins, ask God for His plan for our sanctification, and then commit to be  involved in that plan.

Which way are you going to proceed? The choice you make will affect you in a monumental way.

Deflated Footballs, Inflated Egos, and Repentence

Changing our mind toward our sin is key if we ever hope to be more Christ-like.

The current “scandal” involving a American football team – the New England Patriots – has enthralled Americans and taken over the endless news cycle. There has been many discussion with some becoming quite heated concerning whether the Patriots did indeed cheat in a football game. The evidence (at least that which has been released) seems to indicate that the Patriots cheated by using under-inflated footballs for when their team was trying to score points. An under-inflated football is easier to grip when the weather is nasty – and the weather was nasty for this game. The “they cheated” crowd is yelling about the principle of sportsmanship and fair play while the “they didn’t cheat” crowd makes a point that every team cheats in one way or another so, hey, what’s the big deal?

After I reflected on a discussion I participated in where the “everybody cheats” excuse was brought up I discovered why I find this whole event so disconcerting. And you know what? It has nothing to do with the apparent cheating. It also has nothing to do with the fact that cheating is prevalent in society. No, my reason for being so upset had to do with something much deeper and, in my opinion, more important that the cheating itself.

FIrst some facts…

We all sin and cheat

I am not using this as an excuse for anyone else cheating and thus saying their cheating does not matter. No I am observing a simple fact. All of us – you, me, everyone alive on this planet right now – have cheated and sinned.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God  – Romans 3:23 NASB

We are all in the same boat. We all do things that are wrong. We all try to game the system. In the parlance of this scandal, we all use under-inflate footballs to gain a competitive advantage. Yes even those reading this that think yourselves as good, moral people. So get over yourself – and myself – already. We are imperfect cheaters who want to win at just about any cost.

We are all helpless to change on our own

I don’t care how much you try to change, you will remain stained with sin as long as you try to change. “Turn over a new leaf” those around you may say. “Take some behavior modification classes” others may offer. Regardless of what you try to do, you will never be able to stop sinning on your own accord. Why? Because we are all as a dead person when it comes to sinning. What can a dead person do to change his condition? Yeah, thats right, nothing.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  – Ephesians 2:1-2 NASB

So what’s the rub here?

So if we are all sinners and cheaters and we can do nothing to change that fact, why then should we get so upset about the Patriots apparently cheating their way to the Super Bowl? If everyone does, what’s the big deal? It’s just humans being human, right?

It is about their attitude

The Patriots have come out and said they didn’t cheat. They have given implausible (my opinion) explanations about how a football will lose pressure. Their denials actually create more troubling questions for me. Their attitude seems to be of indifference to what they have done. They seem to be trying to dismiss this from everyone’s memory. I don’t think that will work.

So what is the Secret Sauce here?

What would help them get over this scandal and move forward? Simply put, they need to ‘fess up and repent of this mess and then they can move forward. Without that, this will follow them throughout the rest of their history as a team and franchise. And that is a good thing. But what does it mean to “repent”?

Repentance

The Greek verb for repent is metanoeo (meta-no-e-o). It means simply “to have a new mind”. The idea of this word is to have a new mind regarding Christ (for issues of eternal salvation) or a new mind regarding the issues of one’s sin (temporal salvation). Though both aspects are important, I’m mainly concerned with the latter point.

How often do we feel bad or sorry about what we have done that is wrong? Whether what we have done is run a red light, take more than allowed, taken something not ours, or some other act, do we feel a sorrow for having done that thing?

 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 2 Corinthians 7:9 NASB

The passage above is referring to Paul’s scathing letter to the Church in Corinth that roundly condemned their hedonistic practices and perversion of the Lord’s Supper. If you want a good dressing down about sin, read through 1 Corinthians sometime. read it all at once. I dare you to stay the same after that. But in the selected passage here, Paul refers to the the sorrow that produced repentance. The Corinthians evidently repented of their wrongs when confronted about it. And here in 2 Corinthians Paul is commending them for it and even rejoicing that they did repent.

So what does all this have to do with me or you?

Well, simply put it has EVERYTHING to do with me and you. We have issues confront us every day where we must make a decision to sin or not sin. Every. Single. Day. What we do with that decision indicates where we are in our process of sanctification. If (when) we make the wrong decision and choose to sin or cheat, we suffer loss. Hopefully our conscience confronts us. When our conscience confronts us (as well as anyone else who confronts us) we have choice to either deny it and try to prove that everyone does it or we can choose to change our mind about our sin, agree we were wrong, ‘fess up and move on.

This is much more important than a football game where cheating happened. This has to do with your walk with Christ. Far too often we try to cover up our sin or even deny we did anything wrong. This is a huge mistake. Changing our mind toward our sin is key if we ever hope to be more Christ-like.  HIding behind excuses does nothing but enrage those around us and create further hindrances to our own spiritual growth.

So the next time you cheat, sin, or deflate footballs in order to win a game in bad weather and then get caught at it, don’t deny, obfuscate, or offer other excuses. Change your mind about your sin. Admit what you did, ask forgiveness, and then move on after being a changed person.

Heart Surgery

God cares about the position of my heart rather than the actions of my hands.

 

What is my motive for serving God? What is my motive for sharing my faith with others? Am I learning God’s word so that those who see me will think I’m great, smart, or something else about me? Or am I learning, sharing, and serving out of a grateful heart? Which describes you? Motives are often more important that the act.

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

The fourth plea from the Psalmist comes now to change the position of his heart. The Psalmist wants his heart to be bent toward God’s testimonies. That is really cool if we think about it. The psalmist wants his heart bent toward God. Why would he use such language?

“Incline my heart to your testimonies…”

Well, if we think about this I believe that the answer will be apparent. The heart of man is evil, that much is true from Scripture. Every inclination of mankind’s heart is toward evil, toward rebellion against God and His commands.

Nothing much has changed in the years since the first rebellion in the Garden of Eden. We continue to fight God for control. We continue to kick back at His commands. We scream and yell about our freedom and how God’s rules impinge on our freedom. We are indeed a selfish and arrogant people. God has placed His law to protect us. His rules form boundaries that will keep us from harm. Our harm is from not observing His laws.

The Psalmist is asking God to change the inclination of his heart. He is asking God to change how his heart is oriented. In essence he is asking God to correct the incorrect bend of his heart from rebellion and evil toward God’s righteousness. What a prayer this is to ask.

If God is to “re-bend” our hearts, we need to be ready to experience pain. This pain will be deep. To change the bend of one’s heart means that our every behavior—our every motive—must be changed. But can I change it myself? No. Only through God can our evil heart of stone be turned into a heart of flesh that seeks after God and His righteousness. It is only through the transforming work of God that we can do anything right or good.

The “re-bending” of our heart is a life-long process. It is like progressive sanctification I wrote about earlier. We continually become more like Christ. The process we undergo in this “re-bending” is fueled by trials. We get placed in trials to change our attitudes, heart orientation, and motives. Courage is needed—faith is required—to ask God to re-bend one’s heart. Do I have that faith and courage? Do you?

“…and not to selfish gain!”

The Psalmist wants his heart—himself—to be bent toward God’s testimonies—God’s words—but that is not the end. He desires that this re-bending will cause his motives will be toward God and not toward selfish gain.

Every church has experts in everything who are quick to judge, critique, and condemn. Sometimes these folks are pastors and elders. Other times they are those who sit in the pews. If a man can not serve quietly in submission to an elder or pastor, that person should never be allowed to lead a church. Someone who constantly draws attention to himself instead of being as quiet as possible should examine his motives. Sadly though these folks will probably never truly look at their motives. Remember, they’re the smart ones. But this problem has been around since the church began. It will remain until after the millennial reign of Christ.

We see this in the Judaizers in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We also see it in John’s 3rd letter when he referenced Diotrephes (3 John 9-10). When we read about Doitrephes we read about a man who out for his own gain, his own position. He wants to be first. He wants to be “the man” when it comes to things of church. He always wants to be first. He is not so much a servant as he is a taskmaster.

Have you ever met on of these folks? You probably have. I have both seen these types of people while sitting in the pew as a congregant and preaching form the pulpit as a pastor. I like how Chuck Swindoll refers to these folks. He calls them “Boars in God’s Vineyard.”

What about me? How are my motives? Am I overly critical about tiny things? Do I want to bend toward God’s testimonies? How about my motives? Do I serve to truly build the body of Christ or do I have selfish motives? The motives of the heart are more important than the actions of the hands. How about you?

Crush me O Lord! Make me into YOUR workmanship and not mine. Conform me, shape me, change me, use me for YOUR glory, not mine. Re-bend my heart toward you and not toward selfish gain.

Hittin’ Nerves

 

“Leaders aren’t born, they’re made.”

I remember this mantra being drilled into my head as I served in the Marine Corps in the 1980’s. Yes I know I’m old. But an aspect of a good leader that is often lost is that a leader is first a good follower. A good leader is willing to be led and has been led.

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

In saying “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” the Psalmist again hits a nerve in our modern culture. Actually I think he hits a few nerves. Especially for those in the Church.

The first nerve is that of being led by someone else. How long will we wrestle with God over just who, between man and God, is sovereign and who is not? How long will we battle with Him over control? And before you think I’m being holier-than-thou in asking these questions, I’ve already asked them of myself. Our battle for control goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. How much simpler and enjoyable would life be if we simply observed God’s leading and His sovereignty over us.

Another nerve is the one of knowing everything, or being the smartest. Being led means I have to admit that I don’t know it all. That can be tough sometimes. Well OK, often times! If you haven’t noticed I am quite an opinionated person. I like my opinions. I think my opinions are right. But I hope I know enough to know I don’t know it all. While I may believe my opinions are right, I know that I’m probably incorrect in some of them. I need to be teachable enough to admit I’m wrong when I’m demonstrated to be wrong. I need to be willing to be led to the truth regardless of how many degrees I have on my wall. Being willing to be led means that I don’t know it all but the One who is leading me does. Am I humble enough to be led? Are you?

“Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.”

And that is exactly what the Psalmist is asking God to do. Look again at our verse for today: “Lead me in the path of your commandments…” The Hebrew word here means “to tread on a path, to march or to cause to march”. Another meaning which I find interesting is that it can mean “to tread a bow (bend a bow to string it) by stepping on it with a foot”. It appears that the Psalmist is desiring that God make him conform his steps to His path. The Psalmist longs to be led into God’s commands, not into a particular place, circumstance, or anything else. Just lead me into the path of YOUR commandments! Are we willing to do this? There’s another nerve! Conform me to You, God!

The Psalmist also states his attitude: “for I delight in it.” Wow, what a great attitude. The Psalmist has his head screwed on correctly. Perhaps this is because he had seen so much disregard for God’s commandments in his life. Perhaps he had seen so much unrighteousness, so much ungodliness that his heart cried out for this. The Psalmist may have seen man at his worst and realizes that man at his worst—or even at his best—requires God to be center of all of man’s desires. Only God can save us from ourselves and our wicked ways.

 I delight in being led to God’s commandments

So the Psalmist not only desires the right thing (to be led God’s way) but also for the right reason and result: delighting in the way of God! How cool is that. Wouldn’t it be great to have a congregation full of folks this way? Wouldn’t it be great to have friends like this? To have those around me (and you) with this type of attitude would be encouraging and a huge blessing.

While we don’t necessarily have this universal attitude today, I know one way we can improve that situation. I can begin to have this attitude. I can desire to be led of God in His commands. I can delight in being both led in a certain way AND in the commands of God. And if every one of us dedicate just himself or herself to becoming this type of person, well, do I have to finish describing what this would look like?

Break my will, break my heart. Crush me O Lord that I might delight more fully in Your commands and Your leadership over me.

Shopping at God’s Feet

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

 

“I want this!” is sometimes heard in my trips into a store. Sometimes the demands for stuff are accompanied by kicks, screams, and tears if the person demanding the stuff doesn’t get what they are demanding. Our selfishness is often on display in the acquiring of stuff.

Sometimes our selfishness can slide into our spiritual life. I once heard a man say that he wanted all the rewards he could get. He wanted ALL the rewards. One of this person’s chief disciples said he wanted a huge crown. In fact he expected his crown was going be soooo big because of all the work he was doing. These folks didn’t seem to be serving God out of a thankful heart. They seemed to be serving God out of selfish motives. Is that really service? Motives are very important to God. James 4:1-3 come to mind when thinking of motives.

Some demand things to make our lives easier, life more certain, family more enjoyable. But How often do I ask for something to make a difference in my friendship with God? How about you?

Returning to our text in Psalm 119, we get a glimpse of such a person. Here we read the second thing that reflects a person who is teachable and one I think is used in a mighty way:

“Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.”

“Give me understanding…” 

The familiar “Give me!” is here but look at what the Psalmist asks: “Give me understanding…” Notice that he asks for understanding. This type of understanding is not just mental acquisition of facts. No this includes the idea of discernment. The Psalmist is asking for the ability to discern between things. But to what end?

“that I may keep your law and observe it…”

The Psalmist is not asking for understanding so that he will have a good reputation, be respected, or idolized. No the Psalmist wants to keep and observe God’s law. The Hebrew is interesting here. After the “give me” part, the two words translated “keep” you law and “observe” it are constructed in such a way as to show the purpose of the request or the result of the request.  A translation could be “Give me understanding for the purpose of me keeping and observing you Law” or “Give me understanding with the result of that understand being that I keep and understand your law.” Either way we decide to take this (purpose or result) the motives of the Psalmist are clear.The Psalmist is focused on God’s desires, not his.

Do we have this attitude in prayer? How often do we focus on what God wants for us rather than the things we want? I don’t mean the “if it be your will” caveat we attach to some of our prayers. I’m talking about prayers regarding our sanctification. How about asking God for trials so that we become more like Him? What about asking God to take us to a foreign land? What about asking God for the ability to understand His word so that we might conform to it all the more? How about asking God for challenges so He can glorify Himself in my life? And what about living a life more righteously?

As I look at these few questions, I think “YIKES! Do I have the faith to ask God for understanding so that I will conform to His will more?” How about you?

“…with my whole heart”

Finally, look at how the Psalmist wants to observe God’s law;  the Psalmist doesn’t want to give a half-hearted effort. He doesn’t want to give 90% effort at this. No, he wants to go at it wholeheartedly. He doesn’t want to hold anything back. In sports verbiage, he wants to leave everything on the field.

Have you ever seen someone serving God with their whole heart? Someone totally committed to serving God—totally committed to observing God’s will for their life is a sight to behold. I wish I was that person. I want to be that person. So what keeps me from being that person? What keeps you from being that person? I’ll work on the answers to thee questions and get back to you!

More than a great teacher, fantastic preacher, or renowned theologian we should want to be a teachable people.

We should want to be one who does not know everything but wants to continue to learn. We should never want to think that we have “it” all together but always want to be putting “it” together. We should want to desire to have understanding so that I can discern the things of God from the things of man. We should want to pursue God’s will for his life with our entire being rather than pursuing our own goals.

Will we be satisfied with the respect and admiration of man…or do we desire conformance—and the work that comes with it—to God even though the process of conforming is often painful?

O Lord, how I want you to give me understanding so that I can discern correctly your will from mine and that I would pursue You with all my heart, mind, and soul.

Guard Duty

Stand your ground, fear no man, and guard the truth with enthusiasm, vigor, and humility.

While I was stationed in California during my time in the Marine Corps, I once had to perform guard duty on the flight line. Now the flight line is where the aircraft for the squadrons would park in the evening. I was on guard duty because I was substituting for a friend. When I took my post, I was instructed to enforce all general orders as well as some special orders for the area I was guarding. I was told I was in a “deadly use of force” area. That meant that if I felt the situation warranted it, I could kill someone. Hmmm, not really what I want to do but I understand that it may be required.

Not long into my time on duty I noticed a person waking towards me. He was an older guy in jeans, white Nike shoes, and a plaid (!) shirt. As he approached my area, I yelled “Halt! Who goes there?”

He answered “General Important”. (his name is changed here but he did claim to be a General)

I replied “Step forward to be recognized.” He took a few steps forward. I then said “Halt! Where is your ID card?”

He answered “In my right breast pocket.”

I commanded “With your left hand, slowly reach into your left breast pocket and remove your ID card. When you remove your card, you will show it to me.” He did as I had told him. After he showed me his ID card, I said “Slowly place your ID card on the deck in front of you, picture side up. After you do this, you shall take ten steps to the rear while facing me.” The man did exactly as I told him. When he had finished taking his ten steps to the rear I said “Remain there. Do not move one inch.” I walked to where he had paced his ID card. I bent down to pick up and inspect his ID card. As I began to pick up his card he began to walk toward me. I stood up and barked “Halt!” I think the fact that I was pointing a loaded shotgun at him helped stress the importance of obeying me. He stopped. I continued “Place yourself on the deck, face down.” He complied. I came up to him and said “Sir, I have chambered two slugs. I am pointing this weapon at your head. If you try to get up, deadly force has been authorized and I will exercise it. Please don’t move.”

“OK. I won’t” he replied.

I notified the head of the guard detail that I had a problem at my post and waited. The head of the guard, a Lieutenant, arrived and assessed the situation. I told him where the ID card was located. The Lieutenant retrieved the card. He ordered me to allow the General to stand. I obeyed the order, stood at attention and rendered a salute. When the General stood up, he looked to me. “Good evening, sir” I said. The Lieutenant started apologizing to the General. The General looked at the Lieutenant, looked at me and acknowledged my salute.

He turned to the Lieutenant, who was still apologizing and hyperventilating, and said “Lieutenant, this Marine did his job. He performed the duty that was demanded of him. Stop apologizing.” The General turned to me and said “Good evening, Marine.”  He turned and walked away.

So why the long story? What does this have to do with anything spiritual? Actually a lot. Let me explain.

 

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowedge’ – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” 

In 1st Timothy 6 Paul gives Timothy some orders that sum up what he has tried to address in his letter. The first thing he says to Timothy is in v. 21a “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you”(NASB)  Paul is telling Timothy to take charge of all Paul had taught him and committed to him. This would include this epistle, the gospel and his ministry in general (see 4:12-14; 6:2; 2 Tim 2:2). In other words Paul puts Timothy on guard duty. Timothy’s responsibilities would also include opposing the false teachers that had infiltrated the church while keeping his own life pure. In the verses that follow here, Paul tells Timothy to specifically avoid the controversies and false teaching that Paul had  taught Timothy about,  as well as the other characteristics of the the world system. These controversies have no value, says Paul, as well as those who espouse them.

Basically Paul told Timothy to guard the gospel and his ministry from those who would try to pervert it.  Those same words have meaning for us today.

False teachers existed not only in the first century when Timothy was living, but also in every time since then…and yes, even today there are false teachers. These false teachers may teach various other things but one thing they all seem to have in common is that they teach a perverted grace. They make grace something we earn, work for, or deserve. None of those things are true. I wonder sometimes if the false teachers are more plentiful than genuine Christians. They are all over the place, are generally charismatic, and are ruthless in their approach.

We hear sometimes that we need to “show grace” or “give a grace card” to those who are false teachers, or legalists. Nothing could be farther from the truth!

We need to be willing not only to guard what has been entrusted to us – the gospel, Scripture, the true meaning of God’s grace – but also oppose those who teach these false teachings. Now that isn’t easy. Not at all. I’ve been through the battles with legalists and those who pervert God’s grace into some type of human effort. The struggle eventually led to a split in the church I pastored which in turn led to the death of that church. But if I take God’s word seriously, I had no other choice. I had to stand my ground, challenge the false teacher and his teaching, regardless the cost to me personally. And you know what, you need to do this too.

When you hear something that changes who God is or changes the essentials of the Christian faith, you need to oppose them. You need to fight them. You need to draw you weapon and command them to stop. Just like I did all those years ago in California when I made a General lay face down in a tarmac, I must be ready, willing and able to do the same when a false teacher approaches those I have been entrusted with. The cost may be very high. But the cost of failing to “guard what has beed entrusted” to me is much higher. And so it is the same with you.

Take time to get prepared to defend truth. Know what the Bible teaches about the essentials of our faith. Learn how to effectively wield the “sword of the Spirit” which is the Word of God. And then get posted on guard duty.  Do what you’ve been commanded to do by Paul here in 1 Timothy 6.

 Stand your ground, fear no man, and guard the truth with enthusiasm, vigor, and humiity.