God Is Closer Than You Think #4 – What Is The Bible?

by JT Holderman

Our Topic: “God is closer than you think.” This is the title of our twelve week series on the basics of biblical doctrine, theology, what we can know about ourselves and God. This morning I have the privilege of addressing the topic: “What is the Bible?” And I am so glad to, because the Bible has transforming power. Scripture gives us wisdom, it reveals who God is, it reveals who you are, and it will transform you. Do you believe this? Gregg has taken us through “What is Man” and “What does God look like” and Jeff has taken the tough task of “what is the Trinity.” But how do we know the answers to these three sermons. Through Scripture, what God has revealed. Let’s ground our discussion of Scripture in a couple of verses.

 Scripture Reading: If you have your Bibles this, please open them up to 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Listen to the Word of God…

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Context: We have this morning and incredibly rich passage of Scripture before us to study. Verse 16 is perhaps one of my favorite verses in the New Testament. What we have before us is a letter from the Apostle Paul, the same guy who wrote Romans and Corinthians. This letter is unique in one major way, it is written to a specific person, Timothy. Most of Paul’s letters are written to churches, to a large group of people. But here we have a unique glimpse into the correspondence between Paul and his young disciple and student in ministry Timothy. It’s a personal letter, from one friend to another. And here in our text, at the beginning of verse 14, we see that Paul is contrasting Timothy to someone else, but as for you. From the beginning of chapter three Paul lays out those who are living a godless life, those who are opposing truth and wisdom and virtue, those who are corrupted in mind, heretics. And in verses 10-13, directly preceding our passage, Paul commends timothy for being steadfast in his life as a Christian. So in v. 14 here, when Paul says but as for you, we must read him as an example in contrast to those who were against the Gospel. It is here in our passage that Paul therefore instructs Timothy, his young disciple, how he can continue to live in accordance with Jesus.

Purpose: And Paul instructs Timothy with one overriding point, really the whole purpose of this passage. Timothy is to become a mature disciple, to grow in the faith he has been brought up in. And Paul says this is primarily done through the power of the Scriptures. And this is the purpose of the text to you and I this morning, we are to become mature disciples by trusting God’s Word. I mean this is the reason that you and I come to church right? We sit under people who preach the Gospel to us for a reason don’t we? We don’t just come to have our ears itched and to hear funny stories, we come to be transformed. I think if we really ask ourselves, “Am I satisfied with who I am?” Most of us would say “no,” I would say “no.” We long to be the person God wants us to be. We are never complacent with who we are. On my drive this morning to church, I passed a pond. This was a stagnant pond, it had no fresh water flowing into it and it had no water flowing out of it. It was covered in green algae and looked disgusting. If the pond had moving water, it would become clearer. The same is true for you and I. If we are not being transformed by the Gospel, by what Jesus has done for you and I, we begin to look a lot like a stagnant pond. Think about why you came to church this morning. For many of us I’m sure it was because “well it’s just what you do on Sunday, or my wife wanted me to come, or I wanted to see friends, or I have to preach.” Think about why you came. Church is a place to worship God together and it’s also a place to grow together. We come to church because we love Jesus and we want to be transformed to be like him. If this isn’t why you come, check your heart.

Trusting in His Word: So Paul tells you and I that we grow and become mature disciples, we become more like Jesus, by trusting in His Word, in the Bible. Look at vv. 14-15. Paul instructs Timothy to become more mature by continuing to know the reality of the Gospel through Scripture. There are people, like his mother and Paul, who have instructed him as they themselves have been instructed by the Scriptures. So our call this morning, what we are primarily looking at, is the call to become mature disciples in Christ. What pictures in your mind do you associate with the word “maturity.” We think of an aged woman who simply exudes wisdom, we picture an old tree by the ocean that has withstood the trials of time, we think of a boy’s voice transitioning from really squeaky to deep, we think of composting and how it takes time for the soil to mature. I think the image of the tree is profound. The prophet Jeremiah uses an image of tree to talk about maturity, he says in Jeremiah 17:8.

And I’m sure we all have pictures of immaturity. I can remember going to a wedding once. It was a beautiful wedding. A few rows behind my wife and I there were a couple boys, maybe 8 years old. During the service I heard this sound that every 8 year old boy knows. I creaked my neck around to see them blowing on their arms like this, making fart noises. There’s something that has taken place between when we were 8 and where we are now that we know this is immature to do at a wedding. Our hope as disciples is that every day we live with our faith in Jesus that we would become more mature. This isn’t always the case. For every three steps forward we often take two backward right? I had a dry period in my faith a couple of years ago and it felt like I backslid and lost years of growth. So what is Paul’s encouragement to you and I that we may become mature? We are to trust the Scriptures. But in order to trust them, we need to look at two questions:

  1. Are the Scriptures trustworthy?
  2. Why should I trust them?

1) Are the Scriptures Trustworthy? This last year I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. It has been a tough transition learning how to change my diet. It was frustrating to hear, but I trusted the doctor’s diagnosis. Why? Because the doctor has an authority that I don’t have. Years of schooling, years of diagnosing health issues like mine. She had an authority that I trusted. In the same way, the Scriptures have an authority that did not come from man, like my doctor’s diplomas for med school, but from God alone. Look at v. 16a. We see here that Scripture, the Bible, attests to its own authority as being literally breathed from God. If God is real and if God is good and loving and if God has spoken, has breathed out this word, it has authority that is unparalleled. If the God that the Scriptures describe has Himself made these words come into being, there is no greater authority. Do the Scriptures have authority in your life? If God spoke them, they are worthy of our trust. It is God’s revelation to you and me of just how much He loves us. The Gospel, the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for you and I, is contained within these pages. In them we see a God who became man, forsaking His Godly powers. We see a God who in becoming man suffered and died for our sin, a God who loved us enough to die for us. It has authority not only because it is God breathed, but because of the character of God Himself.

And because God’s words are authoritative, they have power. Power and authority are synonyms. One of the most powerful pictures in Scripture that illustrates the power of God’s words is found in the Gospel of John. In chapter 11: Lazarus come out! PAINT THE SCENE. God’s words have authority, they have power to simply create life, to do things!

2) Why Should I Trust the Scriptures? We have already answered this a bit, we laid a foundation with authority. But really, of what value is the Bible to me? We should always be asking this question, it prevents us from just reading the Bible out of routine. There is a purpose God has for His Word, and we should seek it. There are two reasons we should trust the Scriptures personally.

  • First, we should trust them because they are necessary. The Bible is a necessary component in coming to love and know God. We cannot know God, as He has revealed Himself to us as a good, loving, gracious father, without seeing it in Scripture. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in natural revelation. As a Christian when I see a sunrise or sunset, when I’m hiking with my wife, when I put my feet in the sand on the shore of the ocean, there are certain things that bring me to my knees in wonder and cry out “God made this!” There is a certain knowledge of God we can gain from the world around us, his beauty, his power. But we cannot know specific realities of who God is, or what he has done for us, apart from Scripture. It is necessary.
  • And secondly, theologians say Scripture is sufficient. Sufficient for what? If Scripture is necessary to know what God has done for you in Jesus Christ, then Scripture is sufficient for bringing you on your knees in faith, to trust in Jesus. Scripture is sufficient for salvation. Look at v. 15b.. Scripture brings about the reality of salvation, God uses it to touch your heart and reveal to you your sin and great need of redemption. But not only is it sufficient to save you, Scripture is also sufficient to mature you as a disciple. Look at vv. 16b-17. We see Paul list a few things that Scripture does, it doesn’t just fall idly by, it does stuff! Here are a few things the Bible says that it does: the bible initiates faith (Rom 10:17), the bible gives new life (1 pet. 1:23), it helps us grow spiritually (1 pet. 2:2), it searches the heart and convicts (heb 4:12), it liberates you (john 8:31-32), it refreshes and renews (ps. 119:25) and it revives and enlightens (ps. 19:7). These are just a few things the Bible says it does.

What Do I Mean By “Trust?” So remember, Paul is encouraging Timothy and You and I to become mature disciples, to become spiritually mature. He longs for us to live as a reflection of Jesus, to be like Him. And he tells us we are to do that by trusting in His word. But what do we mean by trust? Trust involves three things:

  1. For us to trust Scripture we must know it. This one is kind of a no brainer right? We can’t put any trust in the authority, necessity and sufficiency of Scripture if we haven’t read any of it, right? It would be like trying to say something intelligent in class about a book you have never read. You have to read it first in order to know what it is talking about. Now do we need to have read the entire Bible cover to cover, no, but we need to have read enough of it to see what it is about. So in order to trust the Bible we must first know it.
  2. Secondly, we must believe it. Now I think this is the most crucial step in trusting the Bible. Without a faith, a deep seated belief in what God has done for you in Jesus Christ, the words in the Bible are simply that, words on a page. They have no life. They are black pigment on a piece of paper. Our faith ignites the words on the page, bringing them to life, bringing them to reality as something worthy of our belief. Jesus Christ taking your sin on the cross and giving you a new life is something worthy of believing. A vital part of trusting the Bible is believing that in it God is speaking truly to you so that you might be transformed, you might be mature. This makes me think of the greatest theologian this world has ever known, a man named Augustine. Augustine lived in North Africa. He was a womanizer and self-confessed perverse man. He sought the comfort of women, not God with his life. But slowly over time God began to chip away at his heart. He knew the Old and New Testaments, but they were just information, literature. One day Augustine was sitting in a garden in Milan, Italy. On the bench next to him was a bound letters of Paul. He opened it up and read the first verse his eyes came across, “not in wantonness and drunkenness…” As soon as he had read this verse, he believed. The Word of God had such power in that moment to transform Augustine and give him faith. The Bible is nothing more than a textbook without faith in Jesus. It is our faith that brings this book alive!
  3. The third thing trust involves obedience. Trusting your parents when they tell you not to touch the hot stove means that you obey them, otherwise your hand is blistered and your parents are asking you why you didn’t trust them. Football season started a few weeks ago, thank goodness! Next time you watch a football game, when they cut with the camera to the coaches, look at them. What is in their hands? They hold their guide to the plays their team has learned. Many QB’s have this guide in short form on their forearm. These are the plays they have practiced and learned, the plays the team knows. When Tom Brady calls blue 42, it means a certain play. And when the team knows what to do with this play, their chances of success are much greater. But what if the players don’t obey? The play often falls dead. It doesn’t work. Likewise, obedience is a key factor in trusting what is in Scripture with our faith. But we have to be careful whenever we talk about obedience. Obedience that doesn’t first stem from love is legalism. We are not for this. Instead we should view obedience as the overflow of our heart to love and know God. Love should drive any obedience.

Conclusion: And Paul this morning wants you and I to be mature. He wants you to be continually transformed into the person God desires you to be. Maturity requires one thing from us this morning: response. Maturity beckons response. A mature person is someone who takes responsibility for their actions. And our call to be mature is grounded in our action, a call to respond to what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Paul here specifically says that if you want to be mature, if you want to be the person God longs for you to be, trusting Scripture is essential.

Some of us need to know Scripture in order to respond to it. Some of us need to believe in what God has written for us to respond. And some of us need to simply be obedient to Scripture. Which person are you? Do you have trouble knowing what’s in the Bible? Do you have trouble believing it? Do you have trouble obeying it? I would guess we would say “JT, I have trouble with all three.” Me too. Trusting this book is difficult. But when we realize that God wants us to know Him, that He died for us to be able to know Him, it gives us a strength to grab hold of this book and love Him. Every time we read this text we are saying, “I love you God and I want to know you as you know me.” And isn’t it true that the more we love someone, the more we want to make them happy? The more I have loved my wife, the more I have realized what makes her happy and the more I want to do those things for her. And so we become mature by responding. We read the Bible not because we are supposed to, but because we love Him and want to be the person he wants us to be, mature, just like Paul wanted Timothy to be mature. Our love of God beckons a response.

I would encourage us all this morning to think deeply on our love of God. Do you love God? Do you want to grow in your relationship with Him? Then take this book and never let go. Love the Word of God and He will transform you into the person He and you long to be. “So what does this mean for how I live this week JT?” Maybe this week as you are at work, you take 5 or 10 minutes over your lunch break and you decide to work through an entire book of the bible. Maybe you choose the letter of James in the New Testament. Maybe you wake up 15 minutes earlier and spend some time reading and praying over it. Maybe when you are at school with a break you pull out your Bible and ask God to transform you, to make you a mature disciple. Maybe you think about reading through the Bible in a year, there are many great plans out there to do that. I’m doing it right now…though I’m definitely failing. If you and I do not see the value, but even more, if we don’t feel a burden of love to read the Bible, I have failed this morning. My prayer is that God would awaken you and me to a love for his Word. We must love Him in order to truly love and trust His word. Long to be mature disciples. Long to love God. And long to trust the Bible so that God may transform you into who you long to be.

The Great Commandment Pt 2 – Matthew 22:39

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

I.   INTRO/REVIEW

A.   We have been looking at what the Bible refers to as the Great Commandment, which is for us, important preliminary vision passage because it synthesizes so much of the Scripture into two VERY straightforward commands.

B.    (It is quite important for us to understand that when the NT authors declare God’s commands for us to be holy and to love our neighbor, etc. These commands are not there to show our ability, but to reveal our inability – and to remind us of our continual dependence on the grace of God to do in us and through us what we cannot do on our own.)

C.    Matthew 22:33-40 (NAS): “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Notice the order – and notice that Jesus was asked to answer with one commandment, but He gave them two…)

D.   We have multiplied this passage into two messages…

  1. Last week: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind – this is the great and foremost commandment.” (Click here to read that post.)
  2. Review of last week: How do we love God?
  • Come alive to God.
  • Find your true joy and delight in the message of the Gospel – and the Person of Jesus Christ.
  •  Come to grips with the idolatry that grips ALL of our lives.

(i)    Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God; it is setting our heart and affections on something, or someone other than God.

(ii)  This cannot be remedied by repenting that you have an idol – or by engaging willpower to try and live differently.

(iii) If we uproot our idols (through repentance) but fail to plant the love of God (or, delight in God) in its place, the idol will grow back – like mowing a weed.  Repentance and rejoicing must go together.

E.  This week: (v. 39)“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  And here’s the questions we’re asking as we unpack these verses…

  • What is God’s heart/vision for Southside Bible Fellowship?
  • And for you?

II.  BODY

A.   The life-changing context of this commandment:

 ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

  1. The overwhelming commandment to “neighbor love.”  Who is my neighbor?  This passage retold in Luke 10 – and is followed by Jesus unpacking the Good Samaritan and Mary and Martha.
  2. John Piper: This is a staggering commandment. If this is what it means, then something unbelievably powerful and reconstructing will have to happen in our souls.  It seems to demand that I tear the skin off my body and wrap it around another person so that I feel that I am that other person; and all the longings that I have for my own safety, health, success, and happiness I now feel for that other person as though s/he were me.

B.    Loving God is invisible. It is an internal passion of the soul. But it comes to expression when we love others.  (Similar to James 2:18: “I will show you my faith by my works.”)

  1. Idolatry and pride are at the root of our sinfulness.  Pride is the desire for our own happiness apart from God and apart from the happiness of others in God.
  2. Pride is the pursuit of happiness anywhere but in the glory of God and the good of other people.

C.   So, Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  How do we get there from here? Four points (adapted from John Piper):

1.     Understand that our self-love is a creation of God.

  • Jesus says in effect: I start with your inborn, deep, defining human trait—your love for yourself.  It’s a given.  Jesus is saying, I don’t command it — I assume it.
  • We all have a powerful instinct of self-preservation and self-fulfillment. We all want to be happy, to live and love with satisfaction, we want enough food, we want enough clothes, we want a place to live, we want protection from violence, we want meaningful or important work, we want sincere and meaningful friendships, and we want our lives to count!  All this is self-love.
  • Self-love is the deep longing to diminish pain and to increase joy. That’s what Jesus starts with when he says, “as yourself.”
  • This is common to all people. We don’t have to learn it, it comes with our humanity. Our Father created it. These longings are natural…

2.     Make your self-seeking the measure of your self-giving.

  • When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the word “as” is very radical: That’s a BIG word: It means: If you are energetic in pursing your own happiness, be AS energetic in pursuing the happiness of your neighbor. If you are creative in pursuing your own happiness, be AS creative in pursuing the happiness of your neighbor. If you are persevering in pursuing your own happiness, be AS persevering in pursuing the happiness of your neighbor.
  • In other words, Jesus is not just saying: seek for your neighbor the same things you seek for yourself, but also seek them in the same way—with the same zeal, energy, creativity, and perseverance. The same life and death commitment when you are in danger.  Make your own self-seeking the measure of your self-giving.
  • Here’s where this gets difficult: We feel that if we take Jesus seriously, we will not just have to love others “as we love ourselves,” but we will have to love others “instead of loving ourselves.”
  • See the handout: “Developing Practical Skills to Love Well”… (This handout should be in the foyer at SBF.)

3.     It’s the first commandment that makes the second doable.

  • This is why the first commandment is the first commandment.
  • If we try to accomplish the 2nd Commandment without FULLY engaging the 1st it will become the suicide of our own happiness.
  • The 1st commandment is the basis of the 2nd commandment. The 2nd  commandment is a visible expression of the 1st commandment.

4.     Make God the focus of your self-seeking.

  • Take all your self-love—all your longing for joy, hope, love, security, fulfillment, and significance—take all that, and take it to God, until He satisfies your heart, soul, and mind.
  • What you will find is that this is not a canceling out of self-love. This is a fulfillment and transformation of self-love. Self-love is the desire for life and satisfaction rather than frustration and death.
  • God says, “Come to me, and I will give you fullness of joy. I will satisfy your heart, soul, and mind with My glory. This is the first and great commandment…
  • And with that great discovery—that God is the never-ending fountain of our joy—the way we love others will be forever changed.
  • Our quest for joy and happiness becomes a life-long quest for God. And He can be be found [only] in the Person Jesus Christ.  (I wish “all paths” led to God, but they do not…)

III. CONCLUSION

A.   As we bring this to a close, we can say that our ultimate GOAL is to love God with all of our heart, soul, and strength – and the FRUIT is that we will splash His love onto people.

B.    God’s word for us this morning is that we embrace these commandments with tremendous focus and authenticity during this season of learning to express the redemptive love of God in and through SBF.

C.    Let these verses deeply touch and challenge your soul – and remake your priorities.

D.   Get alone with God and deal with Him about these things. Let’s not assume that we fully know what love is – or that love has the proper centrality in our lives.

E.    God is saying:  All of Scripture, all God’s plans for history, hang on these two great purposes: that 1) he be loved with all our heart, and 2) that we love each other as we love ourselves.

F.    A closing verse:  Gal 6:10 – “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

The Great Commandment Pt 1 – Matthew 22:33-40

I.  INTRO

A.   We are going to take the next couple of weeks and look at what the Bible refers to as the Great Commandment.  An important preliminary vision passage because it synthesizes so much of the Bible into two pretty straightforward commands.

B.    Matthew 22:33-40 (NAS): “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Notice the order.  Loving people id the outflow of loving God.)

C.    We will divide this passage up into two messages…

  1. This week: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind – this is the great and foremost commandment.”
  2. Next week: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

D.   Here are two important questions…

  1. What is God’s heart for Southside Bible Fellowship?  And for you?
  2. What is God’s VISION for us during this transition season?  Vision will focus us.  Vision will restrain us – Pro 29:18 (NAS): “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained…” 

II.   BODY

A.   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind – this is the great and foremost commandment” is a quote from Deut 6:5 and is:

1.     Part of the Shema Yisrael (Heb word for hear), vs. 4-9. The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book and is usually the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child learns – as well as the prayer that is most often said each morning and evening by the Jewish people.

4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

2.     Rabbi Julian Sinclair: Oneness, [or] unity, is the aspiration of love, and love emerges from a perception of unity. This insight is also expressed in the Shema: its first line declares God’s unity, and ends with the word “one.” Then follows the mitzvah [commandment] to love God. Love comes out of a sense of God’s unity pervading all things.

3.     In the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) there are 613 commandments (explicit and implicit).

4.     The 10 Commandments (Ex 20 & Deut 5) are understood to be the root commands — revealing God’s standard of holiness.  They also reveal our need for a Savior.

  • Gal 3:24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
  • The Law is like a dentists mirror – it can point out decay, but can’t do anything about it.

5.     In Deut 5 – the previous chapter, we find the second listing of the 10 Commandments (also in Ex 20).

  • The first two commandments speak to the issue of idolatry:  #1 is Deut 5:7 – “You shall have no other God’s before me.”
  • The 2nd Commandment states – Deut 5:8-10: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

6.     Theologians think that if someone were to be able to keep the first commandment the others would not be a problem – because they all have to do with idolatry.

7.     Martin Luther:  All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in His favor, grace, and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry.

8.     Tim Keller:  Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.

9.     So, what are we saying? All 613 unchangeable commandments of the Torah can be summed-up in these two verses (or 6 words): Love God and love your neighbor. Every person on the planet has this built-in longing to deeply connect with God and people.  We were designed, created to be worshippers.  This, then, becomes the grand objective and passion of every human heart.  Augustine said it well:  “Our heart’s are restless until they find their rest in God.”

B.    Years ago Rick Warren said something that, I think, begins to put this into perspective: “A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great [Christian and a great] church.”

  1. A key and critical question is, how will this commitment be expressed?
  2. The Church (at least in N America) has placed an emphasis on the Great Commission without a sufficient understanding and practice of the Great Commandment.
  3. John Piper:  Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in evangelism because we cannot commend what we do not cherish.
  4. I believe this is THE most critical issue facing Southside Bible Fellowship during this season – duty or delight.

C.    So, if we are to “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” our question is – How do we get there from here?

1.     Come alive to God.  Ephesians 2:1-10 An explanation of the Gospel…

 1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 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. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. 

2.     Find your true joy and delight in the message of the Gospel – and the Person of Jesus Christ.

  • My prayer for us as a community of believers: “That we would experience Jesus Christ, the sovereign, risen, living, Lord of the universe; and that He would continue to become THE source and content of our real hope and joy.”
  • One of the most important discoveries we will ever make is:  God is most glorified in you when you am most satisfied in Him (John Piper). This is to be the motor that drives our lives.  This concept, I believe, will be key to this transition season here at SBF.
  • Tragically most of us have been taught that duty, not delight, is the way to glorify God. But here is what the Great Commandment is instructing us to do: To delight in God is your duty!
  • John 15:11-12 (AMP) – “I have told you these things, that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be of full measure and complete and overflowing. This is My commandment: [or, out of that joy and delight] that you love one another [just] as I have loved you.”

3.     Come to grips with the idolatry that grips ALL of our lives.

a.     Tim Keller:[1] One of the main ways to read the Bible is as the ages-long struggle between true faith and idolatry. In the beginning, human beings were made [created] to worship and serve God, and to rule over all created things in God’s name (Gen 1:26­–28).

Rom 1:21–25 — Paul understands that original sin as an act of idolatry:

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

b.     Instead of living for God, we began to live for ourselves, or our work, or for material goods. We reversed the original intended order. And when we began to worship and serve created things, paradoxically, the created things came to rule over us.

1 John 5:20-21“And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, [speaking to believers] guard yourselves from idols.”

c.     What is idolatry?

  • It exchanging the truth for a lie.
  • Putting our trust in other saviors – “momentary functional saviors,”
  •  “Exchanging God for pitiful substitutes.” (John Piper),
  • Whoever or whatever we give central value to,
  • Whatever controls us is our Lord.

d.     David Powlison writes in Seeing with New Eyes[2]: The most basic question which God poses to each human heart: “Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s functional trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear, or delight?

e.     Here are some questions that will bring some of our idol systems to the surface:

  • What do I worry about the most?
  • What, do you really want, or expect out of life?
  • What do I use to comfort myself on a bad day?  Cope?  Release valves?
  • What preoccupies me?
  • A Puritan writer from the 17th century said: Our religion is what we do with our solitude (What do you daydream about?).
  • For what do you want to be known?
  • What prayer, unanswered, what make you seriously question God?

f.      Root idols vs. branch (surface) idols:  Lust, like rape, is hardly ever about sex – it’s about self-image, it’s about anxiety, it’s about fear.  These are some of the root idols that seek to control our lives – they are the sin behind the sin…

III.         CONCLUSION

A.   How do we replace our idols?[3]

B.    Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God; it is setting our heart and affections on something, or someone other than God. This cannot be remedied by repenting that you have an idol – or by engaging willpower to try and live differently.

C.    Here’s the final passage for today…

Colossians 3:1-3 (Put On the New Self)

1Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above [i.e., YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, SOUL, AND MIND], not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died [to sin, to idolatry] and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

D.   We are invited to rest in, appreciate, rejoice in what Jesus has done through his hideous death – and resurrection.

E.    Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idols.

F.    If we uproot our idols (through repentance) but fail to plant the love of God (or, delight in God) in its place, the idol will grow back – like mowing a weed.

G.   Repentance and rejoicing must go together.


[1] “Talking About Idolatry in a Postmodern Age.”

[2] Pgs. 132-40.

[3] Adapted from Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller, pgs. 170-172.

Principles of Church Revitalization

Excellent…

From Embers To A Flame: Principles of Church Revitalization
by Harry L. Reeder III

1. God’s glory is revealed in our weaknesses.
2. Guard your reputation in the eyes of the community.
3. Uphold the centrality of God’s grace.
4. Leave the 99 to seek the 1 (church revitalization is seeking to save the church that is faltering).
5. Revisit to strengthen, encourage, correct and restore what is left.
6. Remember[1] from where you have fallen when Christ was leading this church.
7. Believe that the God who won the victory in the past will win the victory in the present.
8. Connect the future with past victories in Christ.
9. Repent[2] of failures in the past that controls the present.
10.  Leaders must be an example by repenting first of past failures, and then lead members to repent.
11.  Provide restitution for past sins. Ask forgiveness and make right where possible especially with those who left hurt and confused.
12.  Focus on Body health and let God handle the increase.
13.  Be faithful with little and God will give big. Do the right things at the right time in the right way for the right reasons.
14.  All biblical teaching is exploring the depth of the gospel. You never get beyond the gospel for it is the alpha and omega of God’s revealed truth in Scripture. You can only go deeper.
15.  All ministries must focus on the gospel of grace to be life changing.
16.  Prayer precedes revitalization and creates unity with God’s will. Prayer affords the privilege of participating in God’s reconciliation of His elect. Then, by faith act on your prayers.
17.  Make a list of all weaknesses and threats from Satan’s attacks and pray over this list regularly.
18.  Make a list of all Scriptures related to church revitalization and pray using the words of Scripture that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
19.  Pray thanking God for the opportunities presented by the bad that has beset your church.
20.  Make a list of all opportunities to do His will, then pray and see His power change the circumstances.
21.  Recover [3] the “First things,” get back to the basics that God blessed. Rebuild on these strengths.
22.  Godly leadership precedes God given church growth.
23.  Affirm what has been done well and identify weaknesses.
24.  Godly people follow godly leaders who follow Jesus and seek God’s glory.
25.  Resources follow Godly vision for ministry. Visualize a future blessed by God.
26.  Worship is the context in which the Great Commission operates. Do not replace worship for Christians with evangelism to “seekers.” Gather for worship, scatter for evangelism.
27.  Diversify evangelism efforts; multiply opportunities for gospel communication.
28.  Small group network is best way to assimilate new people and build community. Protect health of small group.
29.  Qualified leaders who present sound doctrine and are able to refute those who contradict it must lead small groups. Must avoid dialogue in small groups that leads to a compromise of truth or pluralism of ideas that accepts every opinion as valid. Scripture rightly interpreted must be central, then fellowship and prayer for “one another.”
30.  The Christian life is 100% dependence on God’s grace and 100% disciplined by grace.
31.  For a congregation to remain healthy church discipline must be exercised according to Matt. 18 on a regular basis. “Sin in the camp” must be confronted.
32.  A healthy Body of believers will grow as God adds those He wants discipled to maturity. Church growth is a natural by-product of spiritual health.


[1] Rev. 2:5 – Remember, Repent, and Recover is Jesus’ formula for revitalization.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Stages of Renewal

I listened to a lecture the other day that concluded with Mark Driscoll quoting Rick Warren on seven stages of renewal.  I can certainly see the pattern to be accurate in my experience and I thought it was very succinctly stated.

I have incorporated some of my thoughts and experience to each of the seven stages and conclude with two quotes that, from my viewpoint, help us to to engage the stages.

1. Personal renewal is about loving God and begins with acknowledging Jesus Christ as our greatest treasure and the object of worship. Personal renewal occurs as we recognize our spiritual poverty and surrender afresh to loving care and instruction of a God who is alive and available. The outflow of this active and intentional surrender is prayer, the reading and study of Scripture, and a growing worship of Jesus and connectedness with him – which renews us from the inside out.

2. Relational renewal is about authentically loving others.  As we embrace personal renewal with Jesus an initial effect is that we have new hope for people and pursue them in love. If married, relational renewal begins with our spouse. And, if we are parents our children ensue. Relational renewal allows us to be authentic around others, stop pretending and performing, and simply be in loving community where we are known and know others, with deep gratitude for the work of the gospel.

3. Missional renewal awakens in us a hope and love for the Great Co-mission. Once we have personal and relational renewal, the result is that God’s people want to be on mission together doing what God calls the church to accomplish. Without personal renewal, a church cannot have relational renewal. And, without both a church has no life or unity that allows them to press forward on mission with God together.

4. Internal cultural renewal happens as the fruit of personal, relational, and missional renewal forms a new culture of grace internally and new passion for lost people externally. In a church this results in people trusting their leaders and one another more, wanting to spend more time together, worshiping with greater intensity, and hanging out longer after services – as they begin to realize they are becoming a unified community.  This also increases innovation, a willingness to risk, and a burgeoning missiology.

5. Structural renewal is necessary once the personal, relational, missional, and internal renewals have been initiated and creates the need to change how a church operates. What structures have hindered growth?  What structures can be implemented so the church won’t have a bottleneck as the church grows? There is no perfect structure in Scripture because every situation is different. Rick Warren speaks of changing structures just about every year at Saddleback. We can’t put new wine in old wineskins. As a church begins to get healthier and healthier, the structure needs to change.

6. Institutional renewal happens when Christianity’s institutions change. Institutions – like seminaries and denominations are usually the last ones to change; they have difficulty with the change process. Unfortunately, institutions generally exist to preserve the change of the previous generation. It’s like a tree – the growth of a tree is not on the trunk but on the new branches. Institutions are like trunks. They provide stability not innovation.  Innovation happens at the local church level.

7. External cultural renewal is the fruit of personal, relational, missional, internal, structural, and institutional renewal. It might be best described as the outworking of Acts 2:43-47: A renewed sense of awe, wonders and signs taking place, refreshed and authentic community, mutual identification amongst classes and cultures, equality, unity, enthusiastic joy, heartfelt praise, favor with all the people, and salvations.

Here are two quotes that seem to reflect the attitude that initiates the process:

Charles Spurgeon was converted on January 6, 1850, and on February 1 he wrote the following prayer of consecration:

“O great and unsearchable God, who knows my heart, and tries all my ways; with a humble dependence upon the support of Your Holy Spirit, I yield up myself to You; as Your own reasonable sacrifice, I return to You your own. I would be forever, unreservedly, perpetually Yours; while I am on earth, I would serve You; and may I enjoy you and praise You for ever! Amen.”

James Burns, in Revival, Their Laws and Leaders writes:

“To the church, a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open humiliating confession of sin on the part of her [pastors] and people.  It is not the easy and glorious thing many think it to be, who imagine it filled the pews and reinstated the church in power and authority.  It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to [convict] people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the cross, and to call them to daily renunciation and to a deep and daily consecration.  That is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the church.  Because it says nothing to them of power, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin; it tells them they are dead; it calls them to awake, to renounce the world [system] and to follow Christ.”