Tag Archives: bible

According to the Word of God

This morning in group, one of the men shared that he is thankful that God will never leave nor forsake him, according to the word of God.  

According to the word of God.

I was impressed with the way he stated this and told him so.  What impressed me is that his assurance that God was with him was not based on how he felt but rooted in the trustworthiness of God’s word.   God said he would never leave him and this young man believed it, regardless of his feelings.

No doubt this is why he is 20 weeks sober and continuing to flourish.

In my personal experience in both my own recovery and being a coach for others I have learned that the extent to which we flourish in our recovery – and life! – is the extent to which we have utter reliance on God’s words over any other words.  Those who continue to preach the gospel to themselves, who consistently chew on and digest scripture, who replace the voices of this world with the voice of the Holy Spirit are those who get and remain sober and are less likely to allow the troubles of this life to knock them off the wagon.

It’s imperative for us to daily remind ourselves that we are in a war and there is an enemy that wants to destroy us.  His name is Satan, which literally means “The Accuser.”   The bible says that he is a liar and is the father of lies (John 8:44).  Ever thing that is untrue finds its genesis in Satan, The Accuser.  He lives to accuse those who belong to Christ (Rev. 12:10).  He lives to sow lies into us meant to harden our hearts towards the truth of God, inspire bitterness in our hearts towards others and make us feel unworthy of the abundant life Jesus promised.

And he’s crafty. He has been doing this from the beginning and knows our weak points.  He knows how to whip us into a frenzy of anger or lust or pride or self-indulgence.  He knows how to inspire in us the justifications to seek our own way and defend our rights and put ourselves before anyone else.  He knows how to cause us to doubt the faithfulness of God or the kindness of others.

Your best defense against this liar is a good offense.   My counselor, when he talks about the way Satan works his lies into my head, will get very animated and jump up and scream,

Damn him!

It reminds me that I’m fighting someone very real who is playing for keeps.  My best defense is a good offense.  I need to be in the word. I need to replace the lies with the truth so that my mind can be renewed (Rom. 12:1-2).

I’ve written extensively on this blog about how to do that.   Three very practical ways you can begin today are these:

1.  Get into the word and begin by reading Psalm 119.  It will, if you open yourself to it, nurture in you a love for God’s words.   If you commit to the reading I outline HERE, you will find in a few months a hunger for God’s truth that you’ve never known before.

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2. Pray for people instead of think about them, including yourself.  The Mercy Prayer (click the link) is a prayer that changed my life and my thoughts towards God, myself and others.  Commit to this prayer for the next 3 months and I promise you that your inner world will do a 180.

3. Finally, ask yourself this question often:  Is this feeling, emotion or response I’m about to give one that is produced by the Spirit of God or by some other spirit?  My counselor reminds me that it will always be one or the other.  Recalling this again and again helps me to take every thought captive for Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  If it’s not from God, renounce it and replace it with truth from God’s word.

According to God’s word, you are a beloved child of God (1 John 3:2).  You were worth dying for even while an enemy of God’s, thus proving God’s love for you (Rom. 5:10)!    Nothing, NOTHING, can separate you from God’s love, neither death nor life, not even angels or demons – including The Accuser – nor the present or future nor any other kind of power (Rom. 8:38-39).   Let that soak in.   Let those be the words that shape you.

Let it be so, according to the Word of God.

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Just a word and I am clean

My devotions this morning had me in John 15.  In verse 3 Jesus says something (again) that changes my world.

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Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you (John 15:3).

What an amazing thing it is to learn that just a word from Jesus can obliterate a lifetime of self-seeking, sin, brokenness, waste, shame and guilt.  Just a word can take these filthy rags that I have made of my life and turn it into something beautifully pure, fit for a bride to wear on her wedding day.

The words of God are pure (Proverbs 30:5; Psalm 12:6).   They slice through the heaviness of our world and the baggage we carry and set us free.

IF we will abide in them.  

Keep reading in John 15 and we find the secret of lasting freedom:  Abiding in his words.

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch that withers (15:6)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done (15:7)

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love (15:10)

You are my friends, if you do what I command you.

The words of God are full of if/than statements such as these.   If you will do this, than this will occur. 

Just a word from Jesus can make you clean.   And yet, how often do we run to the “words” of this world to find our nourishment?  How often do we turn to the compulsion of our choice, or the praise of our friends, the words of our family, the advice from the media, or any number of other words in order to get through the day?

If we would but only abide in the pure words of God, the only words which have the power to make us free, we would know life and life abundantly (John 10:10).

What words are you abiding by today?   Whose words are you abiding in?  When we realize that the bible is not full of old words written by dead men but the very words of Life which promise to heal, it will no longer be a chore to read, but a gift we can’t live without.

Just a word and you will be clean.   Read them, and be clean.

The Anatomy of Temptation

Genesis 3 contains everything we need to know about what goes wrong in all of us.  It contains the anatomy – the inner workings – of temptation, from the beginning seed planted by the enemy to the tragic fall which follows. It’s a fall that need not happen to us because we know how the enemy attacks.  And yet, we fall for it time and time again.

Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthian church that we should not allow Satan to get an advantage over us, for we are not ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11).   That we are not ignorant of how Satan works may have been true in the first century, but is it today?   Do you know how the enemy sets out to destroy you?   Do you even know that you have an enemy?   Peter, another one of Jesus’ first followers, warns that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).   If you don’t know this, nor understand how he works, you are easy pickings.

So, looking closely at Genesis 3, learn this “anatomy of temptation” well so that you can be better prepared to defeat the lion, and even see him coming a mile away.

The Enemy Subverts

  1. Bring into question whether God really said something or not.
    • “Did God really say…?” (3.1)
  2. Twist the command into something absurd.
    • “You must not eat from any tree?” (3:1)
    • Notice how he twisted God’s original command, that they may eat of every tree but one (2:16-17), into one that seems absurdly restrictive.
  3. Implants doubt in the mind that God has my best interests at heart.
    • God must be holding out on me.  He is not a good Father.

The Unprepared Response

  1. A misquote of the original command, even adding something (we may not touch it) that is not there (3:3).
    • Because we are ignorant of what the bible actually does say, the lies the enemy tells us ring true.
    • How easily we fall into the trap of adding more rules to the perfectly good ones God has already given, thus adding to our delusion that God is not a good Father and is holding out on us.
  2. Water down the punishment.
    • This is more evident in the original Hebrew, but God’s initial command came with the warning that if they disobey, they will surely die.   Eve misquotes the command itself and then diminishes the punishment, essentially saying, “If we do this, God said we might die.”

The Enemy Pounces

  1. Seeing an opening, Satan presses in on the angle of non-punishment.  “You will not surely die!” (3:4).  You will be fine!
  2. He then appeals to our sense of entitlement, desire and independence.
    • You deserve to be happy. Everyone else has it.  You have the right to be your own boss. 
  3. Satan convinces us this will make us like God.  It will give us life.  It’s what we have been missing all this time.

The Fall

  1. After seeing that the thing wanted is appetizing (isn’t all sin?) Eve reaches outside of God’s design and grabs something she shouldn’t.
  2. Result is estrangement from God rather than unity.
  3. Result is shame and guilt rather than a deeper intimacy with God and with each other.
  4. Result is blaming everyone else, never taking responsibility for the choices made.
  5. Result is a sure death, both physical (one day) and spiritual (immediate).

Consider how this plays out in your life.   If you are addicted to something – sex, porn, food, fame, career, money, whatever – then every point above has been compromised as your reaching for something outside of God’s parameters has become habitual.   We addicts have, over time, whittled away at what God has really said about how we should live our lives (if we ever knew it to begin with), convincing ourselves that God is holding out on us and that we must seek happiness on our terms.  Even more, we have watered down the punishment God promised would come to us if we do this.   The enemy has pounced on this and each time we do it without getting caught we think ourselves more and more invincible.

And yet, if we are honest, in the cool breeze of the evening (3:8) when God comes looking for us, we are found hiding.  The intimacy and connection we crave is broken, not only with God but with all our relationships.   Our reaching for life on our terms has not delivered anything the enemy promised.   We are dying, both physically and spiritually, with each successive bite.

Want to be free of this insane cycle of destruction wrought through this anatomy of temptation?   Go and read Matthew 4:1-11 and see how Jesus handles the same cycle.  Jesus knows and respects the words of God and their authority.  Jesus knows where the true source of Life is found and never questions the goodness of his Father (even while he is going to a cross!).   Jesus knows the designs of his enemy well, and comes through temptation victorious.

You and I can do the same.  The enemy is prowling.  Are you prepared to face him?

How Psalm 119 Saved My Life (and can do the same for you)

To those who desire to distance themselves from a life of bondage to habitual sin, who cannot seem to muster up enough faith to make it through the day (let alone move a mountain), and/or have lost or never had an abiding love for God’s word nor the discipline of reading it much and often, I offer the following discipline which, by the grace and power of God, helped to save my life (and can do the same for you, too).

My counselor at Pure Life gave me an exercise to do which I thought very little of at first.   He told me to read a portion of Psalm 119 every night for the entire time I was there (7 months).   Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible.  It is broken down into 22 stanzas, each one a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.   My task was to read 3 stanzas a night and 4 on the 7th night.   This would mean I’d read through the entire Psalm in a week.

But I was to do more than just read.   I was to take note of the verses that didn’t describe me at present and pray that the Lord would make that true of me.    Let me give you an example…

Verse one reads (yes, at that time it didn’t take long to find something that didn’t describe me!),

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!

My way was anything but blameless and I knew I did not walk in the law of the Lord.   I continually gave over to my flesh, feasting on whatever my eyes desired, and as a result my life was anything but “blessed.”   I was heading towards divorce, estranged from my 5 children, jobless and homeless.   Not blessed!

So, when I read this first verse and recognized this was not me, I prayed,

Lord, my way is anything but blameless and I have walked my own path for far too long.   Help me!   I want to be blameless in your sight.  Make me know and walk in your ways!

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Verse 7 reads,

I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.

Oh how I wanted to praise God with an upright heart!   For years I would stand in church whether as a spectator or a pastor and could not praise God with integrity.   How many times I would hoist up some shallow prayer of confession just before church, promising I’d not look at porn again (knowing I would at the first opportunity on Monday), just so I could appease my guilty conscious for an hour, further deluding myself that my praise was acceptable and pleasing to God.     Dear God, I prayed, teach me your righteous rules!   I want an upright heart!

On and on this inspired Psalm goes, with verse after verse which did not describe me as I was but as I hoped to one day be.    Over the weeks and months I began to see how the Holy Spirit was using these holy words to change me from the inside out.    I began to rejoice as I read these same words which weeks before condemned me.    What a joy it was to cry out to God in praise, “Yes!  Because of You I have an upright heart!   I can praise you with integrity!  I am truly blessed!   Your law is sweet and good, it is a light for my feet!   Your word keeps my way pure!”

Psalm 119 is about falling in love with God’s word.   It testifies to the power and authority of the words of God to change a heart from being consumed with self to becoming consumed with the Word.   Do you believe that God desires to make you new?   He will use his Word to accomplish this task.   Trust it!

If you are struggling with some habitual sin in your life, or find yourself less-than-passionate about reading God’s word, I challenge you to read/pray through Psalm 119 once a week for the next 6 months.   The person who comes to this inspired text with hands open and head bowed will not be disappointed.    You will be blessed.   God promises to do it!

 

 

The Power of the Gospel To Set An Addict Free

Below are some reflections I have been working on for some time now about the power of the Gospel to change a life.  I’m ashamed to say that for many years as a professing Christian I did not have faith in that power or give much respect to those who claimed it for themselves or others.  I know I’m not alone in that.   I know that much, if not most, of the church world today lives as what Stanley Hauerwas called in the opening convocation service at Duke Divinity, “practical atheists.”   We live as tough there is no God – a real Presence and Divine Power who is actively engaged in the affairs of this world and our lives.   

For me, that Power became intimate as I got lost in the Scriptures and read them with a determination to live.    Rather than reading them as a means to teach others, write a sermon, win an argument or publish a blog, I was reading them because my life depended on these words.  I desperately wanted them to be what they claimed to be!   

They did not disappoint.   In fact, it is because I am so thoroughly convinved that the Bible contains what we need for “life and godliness” I enrolled last month for a Masters in Biblical Counseling with Baptist Bible College.  I was accepted last week and begin in August.   I’m excited to learn more about how I can effectively use Scripture to help others like myself.   With school beginning soon and my primary ministry being at home, I don’t forsee spending much time blogging, but I want to be available to men who need a word of encouragement or prayer.    Amy will the primary voice here, and with good reason!  She has a powerful testimony of God’s healing power in her own life and I pray daily that God would be glorified through her desire to give back what she has received.   

I pray the following reflections gives you hope that you, too, can be free.

“[I] left Christianity behind as I rarely see transformed lives.”

I appreciated her honesty when she left that comment on my testimony.  It’s not only honest, it’s true.  When was the last time you, church person, saw a radically transformed life?   When was the last time you thought of yourself as radically transformed?   But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I was a hair’s breadth away from joining her exodus a year ago.   When I arrived at Pure Life in November I was at the end of my rope.  Having been through one divorce already (back in 2001) because of my addiction I was now facing another.   I had tried everything I knew to try.   I was an avid supporter and member of SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) for years, attending 1 to 3 meetings per week while working the steps.   I (and my wife, both together and separately) had gone to numerous counselors.   We even forked up over 6 grand to spend time in Houston (twice) with a therapist who specialized in sexual addiction having studied under Patrick Carnes.  

And I prayed.   A lot.  

Needless to say, when I showed up at Pure Life I was a hopeless wreck.  I knew nothing could fix me.   I knew I was destined to be forever tormented.  I knew that I would die an addict, and probably soon.    In fact, I had already made up my mind that after this 7 month stint (actually, truth be told, I didn’t think I’d last one month, let alone seven.  I was sure I’d quit or they’d kick me out), if I was still the same Chad who arrived I was done.

Forget about just walking away from Christianity.  I was prepared to walk away from life.

Perhaps you, friend, are reading this and can relate.  Perhaps you, friend, have spent more tears than you can count and have bruised hands from slamming the steering wheel while crying out to God, “Why!?!!  Why won’t you fix me!!   Where are you??!!”

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  the old has gone, the new is here!”  (2 Cor. 5:17)

Those are words I have heard countless times. I’ve even preached them.  But for reasons I can only chalk up to the mysteries of God, they went into me the night I heard them on my 3rd day at Pure Life.   The man who read them, who was sharing a bit of his own testimony, followed up with this statement: 

Men, God didn’t bring you here to make you better.  He brought you here to make you new.

Friend, do you believe that?  Do you believe God can make you new? Well, I didn’t.  But I wanted to.  I desperately wanted to believe that I could be transformed.   I desperately wanted to see God show up and be real in my life. 

But before God could do anything I needed to be humbled.   I needed to reckon with the reality that Paul’s promise of new creation is conditional.  It is a given fact so long as the first part is fulfilled:   If anyone is in Christ.  

If you are in Christ, you are a new creation.

Was I in Christ?  My lack of transformation presented me with a few options:

1)       Paul was wrong

2)     Jesus doesn’t really transform lives

3)     I was not as “in Christ” as I thought

The first 2 were easier to stomach than the 3rd.   After all, I had built a reputation on the proclamation that ALL were in Christ!   ALL are saved!   ALL are children of God!  My popularity was soaring (along with my pride) and I was convinced that God was behind the message because everything I wrote or said was being eaten up! Surely the number of blog hits or Facebook fans or Retweets one gets is a sign of God’s approval.  Right? 

But the truth is, if I really believed the first two options than I have no reason to call myself a Christian.   Everything seemed to hang in the balance of option #3. 

If I was already in Christ, then Christ’s word is null and void for my reality proves that I am anything but new.

Or,

I was not in Christ, and did not yet know with my heart what I thought I knew with my head.

Let me pause here a moment.   Perhaps, friend, you are like me and weighing the extremes of those two options.  Perhaps you are like me and already thinking of other possibilities.   You, like me, are saying something like, “But wait! I’ve given my life for the cause of Christ!  I have been a pastor, gone to seminary, studied the Bible most of my life.   I was a pastor’s kid and was raised in the church.  I have a Christian blog and write lots of things about Jesus. I do this and that and this and….”  

Jesus warned that there will be plenty who present a biography just like mine, and yet, He will send them away as complete strangers.

All of this and much more was beginning to knead its way into my heart over the course of several months.   What made me break was something that from all appearances seemed a small thing.  It was the end of December and we were given a couple sheets of paper written by revivalist Charles Finney titled, “Breaking Up the Fallow Ground.”  We were challenged to take it seriously and spend some time writing out our own responses to each of the prompts in the letter.   Never being one to back down from a challenge, I took it, and spent the better part of a day in the chapel, alone, writing out page after page of stuff I never before considered.   20 pages later, the evidence of my wretchedness was written before me.   I saw how truly far from Christ I was and how easily seduced I was by pride. 

I was undone.  For the first time in my life I experienced what Paul calls “godly sorrow.”  It’s unlike any sorrow I have ever known.  I saw my sin and all its ugliness.   But I also saw God and all His holiness.  I saw a powerful God who died for me, for even me, while I was yet a sinner.   I saw Jesus on the cross, bearing my sin and shame.   I saw my Savior by whose stripes I am healed, who came to set captives free, who has the power to break the hold of the sin on my life and anyone who will seek Him.  

That was the day I know I became a child of God.   That was the day of my salvation.   I became new! 

I think it’s fair to say that the degree we do not experience transformation in our own lives is the same degree to which we are not in Christ.    If you are someone who self-identifies as a Christian, as I did, yet find your life is not all that different to what it was like before you became a Christian, like mine, then friend, perhaps you are not as “in Christ” as you like to think.    Which is not uncommon, as the comment I began this post points out.   Sadly, what constitutes for being “in Christ” among Christians these days, particularly in America, is little more than showing up to church for an hour on Sunday (isn’t God pleased with me!), saying thanks before eating dinner, and praying for a safe trip to the beach.  

 We are blind even though we claim to see.  Jesus’ indictment of the Laodiceans is apt for us today: 

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked  (Rev. 3:17).  

The Bible teaches us that there is divine power available to us, at work within us, to teach us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).    Really Peter?   Well, yes.   But again, it’s conditioned upon the “knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”   We have to know Jesus.   Really know him! 

Peter seemed to have caught a glimpse of this early on in his walk with Jesus.   He was the one who, after Jesus told the crowds that He is the bread of life – very different from the bread of this world which only perishes – said, “Only you have the words of life, where else can we go?”   You’ll recall that many walked away from Jesus that day.  We would much rather depend on the bread and wisdom of man rather than the Bread of Heaven.  

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life”  (Jesus, in John 5:39-40). 

I spent a lot of time and a lot of money going to everyone and everything but Jesus for life.   Today, because of my time spent at Pure Life, the driving force in my life is to know Jesus.   Today I can say with Paul that I desire to know nothing apart from Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10).     Knowing Jesus, and knowing that I am known by Him, and striving to nurture that relationship above all else, is the difference between living a life in victory over sin versus one fraught with addiction, strife and defeat.

My prayer today is that others would know Jesus.   I pray that we as a Church would once again believe in the supernatural regenerating work of the Spirit of God – the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead is at work in us!– and believe that the Word of God is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, making us thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

Do you believe that?   Will you echo Peter’s confession that we have no where else to turn for only Jesus holds the words of life?  Or will you continue to search for life through anyone or anything but the Author of it?  

In closing, I need to share that I am so grateful for the time God granted me to seek Him at Pure Life.    There may be other places which allow for this, but I don’t know of any yet.   Given my pride, arrogance and very liberal leanings (cynicism) upon my arrival, I was looking for any reason to bolt, and would have had any of the staff or counselors given me enough reason.    Yet they consistently showed the love and humility of Jesus.  The stuff that I only wrote about, they modeled day in and day out.  While the world offered me all sorts of gimicks, models, therapies and programs, the men at Pure Life, who are themselves living testimonies of the transforming power of God, consistently pointed me to the Cross.    It is there that I found the answers I had been seeking.

Friend, if you are reading this with new bruises on your hands from the steering wheel, I hope you’ll find a glimmer of hope in these words, and salve for your soul by running to the only lover and maker of your soul – Jesus.