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Friday, January 15, 2010

Feeding on the Trivial

Often if you ask someone for their most recent edifying read or what they've been studying in their Bible, you'll hear how they're too busy for those things right now. It's always a challenge, isn't it? Just when you think you've got a handle on a God-honoring use of your time, you find yourself drifting off into meaningless, trivial activities once again.

Recently I found myself starved for more time to read edifying books, so I began searching my schedule for "free time". That lead me to the few hours between cleaning up from supper and bedtime. Yes, it lead me to... the "TV Zone". Now I enjoy an episode of LOST as much as the next guy, but the rest just leaves me cold. So why do I leave it on? I swear it mesmerizes me into submission! No more, I told myself! I'll still watch LOST, but I now make an effort to turn it off the rest of the time. It didn't take too many nights before my brain woke up and I was able to read with understanding and without falling asleep! It took just a week to jog my brain out of its TV daze. (Perseverance pays off once again! And remember... I'm the one with brain damage.) Then I came across a little devotion by John Piper about the problem of TV. It's a far greater problem than being just a thief of my time! Here's an excerpt.

If all other variables are equal, your capacity to know God deeply will probably diminish in direct proportion to how much television you watch. There are several reasons for this. One is that television reflects American culture at its most trivial. And a steady diet of triviality shrinks the soul. You get used to it. It starts to seem normal. Silly becomes funny. And funny becomes pleasing. And pleasing becomes soul-satisfaction. And in the end the soul that is made for God has shrunk to fit snugly around triteness.

This may be unnoticed, because if all you've known is American culture, you can't tell there is anything wrong. If you have only read comic books, it won't be strange that there are no novels in your house. If you live where there are no seasons, you won't miss the colors of fall. If you watch 50 TV ads each night, you may forget there is such a thing as wisdom. TV is mostly trivial. It seldom inspires great thoughts or great feelings with glimpses of great Truth. God is the great, absolute, all-shaping Reality...

Do you ever ask, "What could I accomplish that is truly worthwhile if I did not watch TV?" You see, it isn't just what TV does to us with its rivers of emptiness; it is also what TV keeps us from doing... For example:

* You might be inspired to some great venture by reading about the life of a noble saint like Amy Carmichael and how she found courage to go alone to serve the children of India. Where do such radical dreams come from? Not from watching TV. Open your soul to be blown away by some unspeakable life of dedication to a great cause.

* You might memorize the eighth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans, and penetrate to the depths of his vision of God, and discover the precious power of memorized Scripture in your life and ministry to others. No one could estimate the power that would come to a church if we all turned the TV off for one month and devoted that same amount of time to memorizing Scripture..."

Heavenly Father, help us know the wonders of Your Word and your world.
Keep us from the trivializing effects of our culture.
Help us fight for the joy of seeing great things.
Put us out of taste with trifles.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Battle for a God-Honoring Mind

The following excerpt is from a devotion by John Piper entitled "Passion for Purity Versus Passive Prayer". [FBCers ... you will soon have an opportunity to order this 31-day Devotional by Piper to read in preparation for Easter. In a few weeks there will be an offer in the Bulletin.]

"If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." (Romans 8:13)

"Too many people think they have struggled with temptation when they have prayed for deliverance and hoped the desire would go away. That is too passive. Yes, God works in us to will and to do his good pleasure! But the effect is that we "work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil.1:12-13) Gouging out your eye may be a metaphor, but it means something very violent. The brain is a "muscle" to be flexed for purity, and in the Christian it is supercharged with the Spirit of Christ. What this means is that we must not give a [sinful] image or impulse more than five seconds before we mount a violent counterattack with the mind. I mean that! Five seconds. In the first two seconds we shout, "NO! Get out of my head!" In the next two seconds we cry out [in prayer].

Good beginning. But then the real battle begins. This is a mind war. The absolute necessity is to get the image and the impulse out of our mind. How? Get a Christ-exalting, soul-captivating counter-image into the mind. Fight. Push. Strike. Don't ease up. It must be an image that is so powerful that the other image cannot survive. There are [sin] destroying images and thoughts. For example, have you ever in the first five seconds of temptation demanded of your mind that it look steadfastly at the crucified form of Jesus Christ? ... If you will use the muscle of your brain to pursue - violently pursue with the creative energy that you use to pursue [sinful temptations], you will kill them. But it must start in the first five seconds - and not give up.

So my question is: Do you fight, rather than only praying and waiting and trying to avoid? It is image against image. It is ruthless, vicious mental warfare, not just prayer and waiting. Join me in this bloody warfare to keep my mind and body pure for my Lord ... and my church. Jesus suffered beyond imagination to "purify for himself a people for his own possession" (Titus 2:14) ... "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness" (1Peter 2:24)"

[from: Pierced By the Word, John Piper] 

Friday, January 01, 2010

Encourage One Another

Tim recently posted a  funny song by some Bible students about the advantage of knowing Koine Greek. It's not that we don't have good, reliable English translations, we do. It's that the two languages aren't exactly the same, so there can't always be an exact word-for-word translation. There's also the difficulty of the cultural baggage we may have attached to certain English words. One such example is the word "encourage". When we read that word, many will think of "making someone feel better", perhaps to the point of encouraging them in their sin! Let me give you an example. Suppose you have a friend who is having a tough time dealing with a particular sin. They are convicted, they feel guilty, they feel really horrible about it. How many of us would focus our attention on making that friend feel better, rather than on helping them conquer their sin? I can hear the consoling words now... "It's not that bad."... "God understands you're not perfect." ... "Think of all the other things you do that please God". Our love for our friend makes our top desire be to cheer them up.

But what does Scripture say it means to "encourage" another believer? I was reading through Acts today and came across some interesting examples. In Acts 14:21-22 Paul & his "fellow-workers" are returning to Antioch of Syria, their "sending church" at the end of a Missionary Journey. They stop to visit believers on the way home. 
... they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch (of Pisidia), strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'
What did they "encourage" the new believers to do? They encouraged them "to continue in the faith". And HOW did they do that? What did they say to accomplish this goal? They told them, "Through many tribulations we must enter they kingdom of God." Doesn't sound like OUR idea of encouragement, does it? What they were saying is... times are going to be tough, guys... you'll have many trials/tribulations before going home to be with the Lord. Persevere! Keep on keeping on! Hang in there! Trust in God! Keep walking in faith! That, my friends, is biblical encouragement!

Look ahead to Acts 15:32. "Judas [Barsabbas] and Silas... encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message." After the Jerusalem Council, the Disciples & the elders of the church at Jerusalem sent Judas and Silas back to Antioch of Syria with Paul & Barnabas, in order to verify Jerusalem's authority concerning the decision that had been made, thereby backing up Paul & Barnabas. While they were at the church in Antioch of Syria, they "encouraged and strengthened" them. How did they do that? Yes... they gave a lengthy message based upon Scripture. Scripture was the SOURCE of their encouragement.

The Greek word translated "encourage" is "parakalew", a compound word of the prefix "para-" ["beside"] and the verb "kalew" ["to call"]. Literally the word means "to call along side". It is vaiously translated "exhort", "urge", "implore", "beseech". [Rom.12:1; 1 Cor.1:10; Eph.4:1]. The noun form is used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls "the Paraklete", "the Comforter", "the Helper". [John 14:16]

Hebrews 3:13 says believers are to "...encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Those are our marching orders, people. Let us be busy about the work!