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Friday, August 28, 2009

Importance of Context: Morals-Driven vs Gospel-Driven Living

Probably one of the most common problems we face when studying a NT epistle is our desire to "skip ahead" to the "Application" portion of the letter before we have had an opportunity to seriously reflect upon the earlier "Doctrinal" portion which undergirds even the possibility of "Application." As a result we become heavily focused upon "doing" without having a solid appreciation for the rhyme or reason, or the power behind it. Bypassing the doctrine results in a "morals-based" Christianity. We completely focus on the end-product, to the point that we begin to think we are getting "brownie points," "earning" God's favor for having "accomplished" some right behavior. Saved by the gospel, we now abandon its power and turn our focus completely onto ourselves, instead of onto the God who made our obedience even possible. We may even begin to expect that God "owes us," that we "deserve" blessings or at least "a break."

Ephesians 4-6 provides such a good example. In my early biblical counseling training, those three chapters provided a solid basis for Christian living. If you've ever taken "Self Confrontation," you're certainly familiar with the commands in these three chapters: "Be angry and sin not," "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted," "Speak the truth in love." And yet how many times have you heard people say, "I keep working on the same problem!" They know these verses, they try to obey them ... but they continually fail. And what is the eventual result? They might "give up," perhaps contenting themselves in their sin. Or they may concentrate instead on verses that are easier for them to consistently obey, building a foundation of spiritual pride. Or they might conclude, "That's hard." and try to ignore the command. Or even worse, they might say, "I tried that and it didn't work."

It's tragic! Now let's bring in the context. Go back to Eph. 4:1. What KEY connecting word do you see at the very start? You're right... it's "therefore." What does that tell you? Right again... what follows is a RESULT of the truth that has just been written. And what HAS just been written in Chapters 1-3? That's right... it's "doctrine." [You're really good at answering these questions!]

Paul has spent the first 3 chapters explaining what God has done for believers, those who "were dead in trespasses and sins." God "chose" them "before the foundation of the world", He "predestined" them "for ADOPTION as sons through Christ Jesus", He "LAVISHED the riches of His grace" upon them, He "BLESSED them in Christ with EVERY spiritual blessing" ... and so on ... and so on. Stop! Think about these truths, chew on them, reread Eph.1-3 every day for a week and ruminate on truths revealed! Let them seep down in deep, ponder them, think about their implication. Then, and only then, move on to Eph. 4:1... "THEREFORE ... "

Do you see those last three chapters a little differently now? If you truly comprehend the doctrine in Chapters 1-3, then your heart's desire is to respond in obedience. Don't ever separate the doctrine of the early chapters from the commands in the final chapters, or you'll become "morals-driven" and destined for failure, instead of "gospel-driven" and destined to glorify the God who has shed His mercy on you.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Word Pictures of Thomas Watson

One of the books I'm currently reading is Expository Preaching with Word Pictures: With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson, by Jack Hughes. I enjoy reading good books on Homiletics because so many things also apply to good teaching. Thomas Watson is a Puritan author who remains very approachable some 300 years later. Here are a few examples of his work:

"Walking in the ways of sin is like walking on the banks of a river. The sinner treads on the banks of the bottomless pit, and if death gives him a jog, he tumbles in."

"An idle person is the devil's tennis ball, which he bandies up and down with temptation till at last the ball goes out of play."

"The world is but a great inn where we are to stay a night or two and be gone. What madness it is so to set our heart upon our inn as to forget our home!"

If you've never read anything by Thomas Watson, I'd recommend trying The Godly Man's Picture. Don't expect to rush through it, but work your way through it slowly, savoring the words.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"Boredom" & Life Expectations

As many of my teen friends will attest, there are few phrases that raise my hackles as quickly as the words, "I'm bored".  It's a common enough status on fb if you're between the ages of 13 and 18.  I especially find it ironic when their previous status was often, "I have so much work/studying/homework to do I can't stand it."  You would think a little down time would be a welcome break!

I'm sure in many cases it is primarily a call for companionship, but I think there is an underlying truth I find quite disturbing.  It's a call to "be entertained".  The need for constant entertainment and "business" is a siren call for many.  I find myself wondering if we parents have contributed to that by raising kids with an activity schedule that would make your head spin!  There are so many "programs" available that our kids grow up thinking they can't be content unless they are "busy" participating in an organized activity.  I remember struggling with this when my kids were little.  I tried to limit "programs" so there would be plenty of time for "free play", for "reading", for "family conversation"... and especially in our house, for "chores". [Raising animals meant work!]

The "Jollyblogger" recently posted on the subject.  He wrote, "Boredom is a decision we make, not something that happens to us.  There really is no excuse for being bored.  The "bored" of the world are those who believe it is the job of others to make them happy and keep them entertained ... A learner is never bored, an inquisitive person who pays attention to the world and people around him can always find something to engage his attention."

So I encourage parents to consider avoiding the rut of over-programming their children.  Allowing them time to learn to self-engage with the world around them can be a much more valuable gift in the long run.