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Understanding God's Will

Thursday, March 14, 2019

 

Last week, I mentioned that Sister Margaret and I had had some conversations about me providing some basic outlines that the members here could use to study with others.  I thought that was a wonderful idea, so I solicited outline topics from y’all. 

I got several suggestions, and I had a few ideas of my own.  This morning, I’m going to be presenting the first of those outlines.  My hope for this sermon, and for all others in this series, is that it will equip you to lead a short, half-hour study with somebody on this topic.

Logically speaking, the study I’m about to present has to come at the very beginning.  I can teach somebody any number of things from the Bible, but before that, we have to agree on what the Bible is and the significance of what it says.  Without that, what makes the Bible any different than some self-help book I pull off the shelf at Barnes & Noble?  For that matter, what makes the words of the Bible different than the words of some random priest or pastor?  These are important questions, and we need to answer them by understanding what the Scripture says about understanding God’s will.

The first issue that we must settle from the word is HOW GOD SPEAKS TO US.  Consider here Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:4-5.  Notice that this passage describes a process. This begins with the mystery of Christ.  Here, I don’t think that Paul means that Christ Himself is mysterious.  Instead, I think the point is that Christ had a mystery, some unrevealed thing.  The Holy Spirit took that mystery of Christ and revealed it to God’s apostles and prophets, of which Paul was one.  Paul wrote that revelation down in the book of Ephesians.  The church in Ephesus then could read what Paul had written and perceive his insight into the mystery of Christ.  This is how God reveals His will to His people.

This is extremely important for a number of different reasons.  First, there are plenty of people out there who think that God speaks to them directly.  A question to ask them from this text is “Do you think you’re an apostle or a prophet?”  If they do, well, a little later, we’re going to be doing a study on spiritual gifts, and that would be a good thing to study with them!  If they don’t, then they are not the recipients of revelation.  Only apostles and prophets are inspired.

Second, we need to pay particular attention to what Paul says in Ephesians 3:4.  Speaking to the ordinary Christians of the Ephesian church, he tells them that they could read his letter and understand his insight into Christ’s mystery.  By extension, when we read the Scriptures today, we can understand Christ’s mystery too.

It’s almost impossible to overstate how important and empowering this is.  There are whole denominations out there that are founded on the notion that ordinary Christians can’t understand the will of God for themselves.  Well, the apostle Paul tells us that we can understand it!

This is not to say that figuring out God’s will from His word will always be easy for us.  Nor is it to say that we can’t make mistakes, or that we won’t grow in our understanding.  Figuring out God’s will takes work and skill. 

However, it is possible.  It’s possible for me, it’s possible for you, and it’s possible for everyone who is spiritually accountable.  God has given us the power to learn the truth for ourselves, and that is a beautiful thing!

Next, we have to see what the Bible says about THE RELIABILITY OF SCRIPTURE.  Consider the words of Peter, another one of those inspired apostles, in 2 Peter 1:19-21.  Once again, there are many things to note in this passage.  First, though we might think of prophecy as only foretelling the future, in this passage, the word has a broader meaning.  It’s not only about foretelling.  It’s about forthtelling.  It’s about revealing the will of God.

Second, Peter says that these foretellings and forthtellings are fully confirmed.  Particularly important here is the Bible’s record of fulfilled prophecy.  If the Bible isn’t the word of God, how come David could predict in Psalm 22, a thousand years beforehand, that Jesus’ enemies would pierce His hands and His feet and gamble for His clothes?  There are many other such fulfilled prophecies.  They reveal that the Bible is the product of supernatural wisdom.

Third, Peter tells us that none of the prophecies of Scripture originate from human will.  Instead, every one of them comes from God and the Holy Spirit.  Everything in this book is inspired!  The same God who can foretell the future can protect His revelation from people who want to tamper with it.

We can have confidence, then, that the books of the Old and New Testaments that we have are the books that God wants us to have.  None of them are the work of human authors and ended up here by mistake.  If God permits mistakes in such things, 2 Peter 1:20-21 is not true.

Additionally, God has safeguarded the contents of His revelation.  Biblical skeptics like to raise a fuss over the fact that we have manuscripts of the Bible containing 100,000 variations.  However, 99.99 percent of those variations are utterly insignificant, and even the more significant textual disputes do nothing to change our understanding of God’s will one way or another.  In short, we can be completely certain that we can rely on the Bible as the inspired word of God.

Finally, let’s learn about THE SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE.  Here, look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17.  There’s a lot of meat to pull off this bone too.  First, this is another passage that confirms the inspiration of the Scripture.  It claims that all of it comes from God, and as we have seen before, we have good reason to believe that claim.

Second, this text describes the operation of the Scriptures in our lives.  I read this as having a main heading—teaching—and three subheadings or kinds of teaching—reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.  Basically, what Paul is describing here is a spiritual U-Turn.  Reproof is a fancy word, but all it means is telling somebody that they’re doing wrong.  In other words, “Stop going this way.”  Correction is turning somebody around, “Not that way, but this way.”  Then, training in righteousness is helping somebody to keep doing the right thing.  “Keep going this way.” 

Last, we come to Paul’s inspired views about what the Scripture can accomplish.  He tells us that through them, the man of God—or woman of God, for that matter—can become complete and equipped for every good work.  This is an extremely strong claim, brethren.  Paul does not say mostly complete or equipped for some good works.  He says complete, period, and equipped for every good work.

In other words, if we need something to make us spiritually complete, it’s in the Bible.  If there’s a good work that we’re supposed to do, the Bible equips us to do it.  As a result, we can conclude that the Scriptures are sufficient.  We don’t need anything other than the Bible in order to please God.  Everything else that anybody might say is at best unnecessary and at worst harmful. 

King Me or King Jesus?

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

 

A few weeks ago, I realized something interesting about my preaching.  Growing up, I heard many sermons about the authority of the Bible.  Today, I frequently preach about the authority of Jesus.

I think this is a significant switch.  The justification for the first tends to be, “Follow the rules ‘cause they’re the rules.”  Frankly, that leaves me a little cold.  By nature, I’m not a rule-follower.  I gain no satisfaction from doing something because the rules said I should do it.

On the other hand, doing something because Jesus said to do it is very different to me.  Jesus loved me before I ever existed.  He left the glories of heaven to come to earth and shed His blood for me.  Without my Savior, I would be dead in my sins.  I owe Him everything, and that makes me want to honor Him in everything.  Every little scrap of Bible that tells me anything to do that would make Jesus happy, that’s what I want to do.  That’s what the authority of King Jesus means to me.

Lots of people claim they honor Jesus like that.  I hope everyone here would make that claim.  However, the way we handle the Scriptures and order our lives reveals the truth about us.  With a tip of the cap to my wife, who came up with the title for this one, let’s consider whether we’re honoring King Me or King Jesus.

The first step in this analysis is to ask whether we are TWISTING THE SCRIPTURES OR SEEKING THE TRUTH.  Consider what Peter says about this in 2 Peter 3:16-18.  I think it’s kind of funny that Peter starts out by saying something about the writing of Paul that most of us would agree with—some of it’s hard to understand!  Some will take those hard parts of Paul’s writing and twist and distort them.  They get something out of them that the Holy Spirit didn’t put in.  However, the result of this twisting process is not salvation but destruction.

We certainly see examples of this in the denominational world.  One of the most glaring is the way that many handle 1 Peter 3:21.  The verse says, “Baptism now saves you,” but by the time they’re done twisting it, the verse comes out meaning, “Baptism does not now save you.”  That’s a lie, and everyone who believes that lie will lose their souls over it.

We must be aware, though, that we ourselves can twist the Scriptures in ways that are every bit as dangerous.  I think the key question is this:  When we come to the word, do we come in wanting to find something and then finding it?  Or, instead, do we come to the Bible with silence in our hearts, eager to do whatever Jesus wants, desiring only to figure out what that is? 

Let me tell you:  If you want to lie to yourself about what the Bible says, if you want to slide around the hard truths of Scripture, the devil will be delighted to help you do it.  He’ll feed you those sweet, sweet lies about marriage, divorce, and remarriage, the practice of homosexuality, women’s roles in the church, and so on.  Believing those lies might reassure us, but it will not give us eternal life.  For that, only the truth will do.

Second, we must ask ourselves whether we are FOLLOWING TRADITION OR HONORING THE WORD.  We see this distinction in the words of the Lord Himself, in Matthew 15:7-9.  Some brethren read this passage as saying that human traditions are bad.  That’s not true.  There is nothing wrong with traditions per se.  We have human traditions in this church right now, and we always will.  That’s not the problem. 

The problem is when we elevate human tradition to the same level as the word of God.  Again, there are obvious examples of this in other religious groups.  Every church out there that’s got a catechism or a creed book, guess what they’re doing?  They’re teaching as doctrine the commandments of men! 

We don’t have any creed books here, but that does not mean that we have dodged the problem.  Let me tell you what I’m afraid of.  I’m afraid that too many members of churches of Christ do not honor the word of Christ.  Instead, they follow “Church of Christ” traditions.

Let me explain.  Brethren like this, they don’t know much at all about the word.  If you handed them a Bible and asked them to explain the first-century pattern of worship, they couldn’t do it. 

Instead, they come to church and follow that pattern not because they understand it, but because it’s what they’ve always done.  If that’s all they know—that the right way to do things is what they see—they won’t be able to distinguish between tradition and the word.  If the traditions of the church change so that the word of Christ is no longer honored, the religion of these Christians will change right along with the tradition.

Brethren, ignorance and tradition-following is a breeding ground for apostasy.  Sheep who can no longer distinguish the voice of the Shepherd are going to go astray.  The only way for us to avoid the problem is to continually seek Jesus in His word.  We must love Him enough that we can tell His will for us from anything else.

Finally, the truth about our relationship with King Jesus will be revealed by our GIVING UP SOME OR SURRENDERING ALL.  Let’s look here at 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.  Paul doesn’t say here that his work is to take some or even most thoughts captive to obey Christ.  Instead, it is to take every thought captive.  King Jesus wants everything in our minds and in our lives to belong to Him.

Of course, all of us know people outside these walls whose every thought has not been taken captive by Jesus.  On the one hand, they spend a lot of time crying out, “Lord, Lord!”  On the other, though, they live however they want.  Really, they serve themselves, not Him.

The problem is that this sad story can be about us too.  We must beware the temptation of shunning only the sins we don’t care for.  For instance, I myself never have drunk a drop of alcohol, and I’m not likely ever to do so.  It’s no temptation to me.

Does that mean, though, that I’m righteous?  Not hardly.  I can go through my life never having had any alcohol, much less getting drunk, and still go straight to hell!  I can give the sins I don’t care about to Jesus while keeping the sins I do care about for myself, and that is not surrendering to Him.

If we want to know the truth about how we feel about our Lord, all we have to do is look at our performance in the areas where we are tempted.  How am I doing when it comes to gossip?  How about loving my unlovable brother in Christ?  How about generosity to the poor?  We don’t have to be winning all the time in those difficult areas, but we need to be fighting.  If we aren’t trying to surrender everything to Jesus, it shows that we already have surrendered to the devil.

The Kingdom of Jesus

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

 

As we’ve been going through the gospel of Mark in our neighborhood Bible study, I’ve been reminded of what a sneaky writer Mark is.  Let’s say that Paul, for instance, has four things that he wants to say to you.  They might be complicated things, but Paul is going to give them to you straight:  here’s the first thing, here’s the second thing, and so on. 

Mark isn’t like that.  Instead, if he’s got four things to say to you, he’s going to tell you four stories about Jesus, expect you to see the point of all four stories, and expect you to see the way that those four things fit together.  Often, there will only be the tiniest clue that he’s up to something.

Let me give you an example.  Let’s read together from Mark 1:14-15.  Here, we learn that Jesus is proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.  We might think that this is only a random comment.  After all, the word “kingdom” doesn’t appear again in the whole first chapter of Mark.  However, a closer examination reveals that the kingdom is the theme of much of the rest of the chapter.  Let’s consider, then, what Mark has to say about the kingdom of Jesus.

First, we see that the kingdom has to do with FISHING FOR MEN.  Consider the story of Mark 1:16-20.  This story contains a double contrast with the wisdom of the world.  First, this is a kingdom that is going to advance with words, not with swords.  Jesus isn’t recruiting soldiers.  He’s recruiting disciples. 

Second, these disciples aren’t the kind of people that worldly wisdom would expect Jesus to call.  These aren’t philosophers.  These aren’t lawyers.  These aren’t scribes.  Instead, they’re fishermen, uneducated men from the middle of nowhere who probably never have made a speech in their lives.  Yet Jesus says, “These are the people I want telling others about Me.”

How heartening this is for all of us!  If we want to serve the Lord, we don’t have to go kill somebody for Him.  We don’t have to be experts in the Bible who know every Scripture forward and backward.  Instead, we get to be us.  We can be ordinary, flawed people because Jesus has chosen ordinary, flawed people from the beginning. 

We don’t have to do great things.  All we have to do is reveal the greatness of Jesus in our words and our lives.  All we have to do is follow Him as the people we really are.  In Him, that will be enough.

Next, Jesus reveals that the kingdom involves TEACHING WITH AUTHORITY.  Look at Mark 1:21-22.  Remember, Jesus is a Capernaum resident.  At this point, He still owns a home in Capernaum.  Probably, everybody in town thinks of Him as good old Jesus, the carpenter. 

Now, He pops up in the local synagogue one Sabbath, and He starts teaching with authority.  The natives react with astonishment, likely both at the authority of His teaching and that a carpenter could be teaching so authoritatively.  However, if Jesus’ teaching isn’t authoritative, He isn’t really proclaiming the kingdom.  A kingdom with no authority is no kingdom at all.

Today, we still have to remember that the kingdom of Jesus consists of His authoritative teaching.  Lots of people want to call that into question.  They deny that Jesus and His chosen messengers speak with authority when it comes to the practice of homosexuality, or to marriage, divorce, and remarriage.  They deny that Jesus needs to be King in the work and worship of the church.  Instead, they claim that we get to do whatever we want, and Jesus—if He even exists—doesn’t care much one way or the other.  However, denying the authority of Jesus doesn’t make it so.  Either we hear His authoritative teaching, or we will face His authoritative displeasure.

After this, we see that the kingdom includes POWER OVER THE SPIRIT WORLD.  Let’s keep going in Mark 1:23-28.  In this case, the illustration is provided by a demon-possessed man who helpfully shows up in the middle of Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus immediately demonstrates that His kingly authority isn’t limited to teaching.  Instead, He sends the demon right back to Hades.

Imagine for a moment that you are in the synagogue on this day and you see Jesus cast out the demon.  What are you going to think?  Judging from the Scriptures, demon possession was common in Galilee during the Lord’s ministry, but there was nothing anybody could do about it.  How can a human being fight a demon?  Jesus, though, proves that through His power, He can fight demons and win.  This one act gave a lot of suffering people hope that they had never had before.

Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with unclean spirits today, but it is still true for us that our worst enemies reside in the spirit world.  Ephesians mentions rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of darkness.  Over them all, of course, is Satan himself. 

None of us can see these enemies, though their handiwork is obvious, and if we have to fight them on our own, we will certainly lose.  Jesus, though, defeated them.  Indeed, through His death He defeated even the devil!   We can’t fight the evil rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers in the heavenly places, but we don’t have to.  Once we are in the kingdom of Jesus, we are safe from their hatred.

Finally, Jesus reveals His kingdom in His POWER OVER ILLNESS AND DEATH.  Our last story for the evening appears in Mark 1:29-31.  I suspect that most brethren pay attention to this story because it proves that rather than being celibate, the supposed first pope was married. 

However, once we read it through the lens of the kingdom of Jesus, we see that there’s a lot more going on than that.  Jesus is not limited to casting out demons.  Instead, He also has the power to go to someone with a serious illness and heal them completely and instantaneously.  Sickness cannot stand against the authority of Jesus.

Even that, though, is not the final point.  As I was studying this, I was struck by Mark saying that Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up.  I thought to myself, “That sounds like a sneak preview of resurrection!”  I checked, and in fact, the Greek word translated here as “lift” is the same word used for raising someone from the dead.  Mark is implying that Jesus is not merely in the healing business.  He’s in the resurrection business too.

For now, death has not yet been defeated.  Even the faithful still get sick and die.  However, the day will come when the final victory of Jesus’ kingdom will be revealed.  On that day, He will say the word, and everyone who died in Him will rise from the dead in Him.  Death will be no match for the authority of King Jesus!

Out of the Depths

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

 

As many of you are aware, a few weeks ago, I took a trip to Texas to work on a project called Timeless.  Its goal is to rewrite all 150 psalms so that we can sing them in our worship.  On the Saturday morning of that trip, several dozen brethren and I sang through about 20 of the psalm paraphrases that have been written so far.

Many of them were good, but there’s one in particular that I haven’t been able to get out of my head ever since.  It’s called “My Soul Waits for the Lord”, and it’s taken from Psalm 130.  I’ve been stuck on it partially because the music is so beautiful, but primarily because the thoughts are so powerful.  I want to share my meditations with you this morning as we consider what it means to cry to God out of the depths.

The first section of the psalm presents God as A GOD WHO LISTENS.  Look at Psalm 130:1-2.  These are dark words, brethren.  These are the words of somebody who is calling out to God from the depths of uttermost despair.  The emotion here is so raw that it should make us a little bit uncomfortable if we understand what it’s saying.  And yet, the Holy Spirit inspired this raw, dark, emotional song so that it would be part of the worship of God’s people forever.

There’s an important lesson here for all of us.  It tells us that we shouldn’t be afraid of darkness in our song worship.  We shouldn’t come in here and only sing about light and joy and happiness because that isn’t true to our walk with God.  Sure, hopefully all of us experience light and joy and happiness from time to time, but we also experience suffering and sorrow and heartbreak.  We shouldn’t try to hide those things from one another and from God.  Instead, we should sing about them together, so that our song worship can spring authentically from our lives.

Second, this psalm should remind us that there are no depths too deep for God.  This is true of the depths of physical and mental illness.  It’s true of the depths of the trials of life.  It’s true even of the depths of sin.  In fact, I think this psalm is about sin.  It’s the cry of somebody who has wrecked his life so thoroughly that only God can fix it.  Even then, no matter what we have done, we cannot go so far that God will refuse to hear us when we cry to Him. 

Second, the psalmist shows us that God is A GOD WHO FORGIVES.  Consider Psalm 130:3-4.  He begins with the darkest thought in a dark psalm:  the possibility that God could be a God who marks iniquities.  Imagine that.  Imagine that the God of heaven and earth is still perfectly holy, perfectly just, but that He is no longer a God of mercy.  Instead, He’s looking down from heaven, writing down every sin that every one of us commits, so that when the day comes, He will judge every one of us justly, and He will justly condemn every sinner to eternal torment. 

Could you stand up and face a God like that?  I know I couldn’t!  If all of my sins were exposed to the light of His presence, I could only hang my head in shame.  If God were only a God of justice, it would be better for all of us if we never had existed.

Thankfully, though, the word doesn’t tell us that God is justice.  It tells us that God is love.  He is rich in mercy, and He overflows with forgiveness.  Indeed, so great is His desire to forgive us that He sent His Son to die in our place! 

If God is only just, there’s no point in serving Him.  I know that I’ve already blown it.  Why bother?  However, because there is forgiveness with Him, it makes sense to fear and honor and worship Him.  He is a God of second chances, and I know that if I seek Him, He will give a second chance to me.

Indeed, God’s nature is the source of HOPE FOR US.  Let’s continue our reading with Psalm 130:5-6.  I think that the entire psalm is beautiful, but in my opinion, this is the most beautiful lyric in the whole thing.  Here is this man who is crying out to God from the depths and the darkness of sin, and he is waiting for God more than the watchmen for the morning. 

I know we have many veterans in the congregation, and I suspect that just about all of you have had to stand a watch that lasted until morning.  In fact, some of you may even have done that in a time of war, when the darkness might conceal enemies who wanted to sneak up and kill all your sleeping friends.  In the midst of exhaustion and fear, how anxiously might a watchman long to see the dawn!  And yet, the psalmist says, we should long for God even more than that.

However, this longing, this hope in God’s presence, isn’t founded on our wishful thinking.  Instead, the text tells us that it is founded on His word.  God isn’t merely a God of mercy.  He is a God of faithfulness.  He has promised to forgive and bless His people, and through thousands of years of Bible history, we see Him doing exactly that, over and over again.  Even if we are down at the bottom of the well, even if we have sunk as low as we can possibly go, still we can wait on the Lord.  We can wait with hope and expectation because of the promise of His word.

The psalmist concludes by observing that God is the source of HOPE FOR EVERYONE.  Let’s read Psalm 130:7-8 together.  It’s clear to him not only that he should turn to the Lord from the depth of his sins.  He sees that his entire nation should turn to the Lord from the depths of their sins. 

In particular, God has three attributes that make Him the source of eternal hope.  They are His steadfast love, His plentiful redemption, and His complete forgiveness.  All of these attributes are based on the first.  “Steadfast love” is a translation of the Hebrew word hesed, which doesn’t have an English equivalent.  Hesed is God’s covenant love, a mingling of love and faithfulness.  He offers plentiful and complete redemption because those things spring from the depths of His nature.

We’ve been talking a lot this year about evangelism, and when you get right down to it, this is what makes evangelism so important.  We have to tell other people about God because there are so many people who so desperately need to know His steadfast love.  They’re down in the depths.  They’re down in the depths of depression and suffering and sin.  They know that they can’t get themselves out, but they don’t know that God can get them out.  They’re hopeless, and they’re hopeless because nobody bothered to tell them the truth.

That’s where we come in.  Evangelism isn’t for us, so we can boost those attendance numbers and puff ourselves up for doing the Lord’s work.  Instead, evangelism is for them.  It is for everybody who is hurting and hopeless and doesn’t know where to turn, because everybody can turn to God.

Stepping Up in Meditation

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

 

In our first “Stepping Up” series of the year, Shawn and I have addressed four topics that are familiar to every Christian:  prayer, Bible reading, worship, and obedience.  I think all of us would agree that these are basic, foundational practices essential to our spiritual lives.

In the fifth and final sermon in this series, I’ll be examining a topic that I believe is no less important, but that is much less familiar.  It is the subject of meditation.  Biblical support for meditation is widespread.  The word itself is used in 23 different places in the ESV, and the concept is commonplace throughout the Bible.  It’s fair to say that meditation is no less important to our spiritual welfare than prayer, reading, worship, and obedience.

Nonetheless, I think brethren often don’t recognize how important it ought to be to them.  Many of us don’t associate meditation with Christianity at all, and that’s something we need to work on.  This morning, then, let’s consider how we can step up in meditation.

First, let’s ask WHAT MEDITATION IS.  If I asked most of you, you’d probably come up with a mental image of some Buddhist monk sitting there cross-legged with his eyes closed, making the sacred sign with his hands.  However, that’s not what Biblical meditation is about.  Instead, consider what Paul writes in Philippians 4:8.  Other translations here will say, “think on”, “dwell on”, or even “meditate on”. 

In short, Bible meditation is when we take some wholesome, spiritual thought, and we spend some indefinite amount of time turning it over and over in our minds.  Along with studying the word and reading the word, meditating on the word is supposed to be one of the main ways that we interact with it. 

Nor does this even necessarily have to be about the Bible directly.  You ever find yourself singing a hymn over and over to yourself, thinking about the words as you’re singing them?  That’s meditation too.  The same is true when we’re thinking about people we know who have revealed the word in their lives and considering the godliness of their actions. 

This isn’t a high-intensity activity.  Instead, it’s the opposite.  Ideally, “thinking about these things” is what we find our minds doing whenever we aren’t using them for something else.  We’re at the sink washing dishes, and lo and behold, we start meditating on the things of God!  It’s not some fancy spiritual discipline.  Meditation is as everyday as getting out of bed in the morning.

However, for all its everydayness, meditation is something we can’t do without.  Let’s consider, then, WHY MEDITATION MATTERS.  Look at Joshua 1:8.  The logic here is very simple.  If you talk about God’s word, meditate on God’s word, and obey God’s word, God will bless you.  If you omit any of those steps, you won’t get the result.

Let’s put it this way.  You ever known somebody who went to church faithfully, but was just as mean and hateful as they could be?  People like that probably have a meditation problem.  They hear the word, but they don’t take that word home and think it over.  It just goes in one ear and out the other.  As a result, when it comes time for them to make a moral decision, they don’t have the word in their hearts to guide them into godliness.  The word has not changed them because they did not give it the opportunity to change them.

We have to do the opposite.  We have to meditate on the word we have been taught so that it will change our hearts and our lives.  Otherwise, it’s like trying to get bread to rise by dumping a bunch of yeast on top of the bread dough and letting it sit there.  What happens if you do that, ladies?  You get a floury, watery mess that doesn’t rise, that’s what!  If we don’t knead the yeast into the dough, it can’t do its work.  Meditation is kneading God’s word into our hearts.  Unless we do that, we rob it of its power to transform us.

I want to spend the remainder of the sermon talking about HOW TO MEDITATE.  First, we have to PUT TO DEATH THE EARTHLY.  Let’s read here from Colossians 3:5-8.  Notice that Paul isn’t merely warning us here about ungodly actions or ungodly speech.  He’s warning us against ungodly thoughts.  The problem is that it’s possible for us to meditate on evil things too, and when we’re working those into our hearts, they will surely corrupt us.

Let me give you an example.  Like any of us, I face temptation, and one of the temptations I most struggle with is holding a grudge.  My fleshly self wants to carry a grudge until it dies of old age, then have it stuffed and mounted!

That’s a problem not just because we’re supposed to be tenderhearted and forgiving, but because of what that grudge-holding will do to me or any of us.  When I’m going around meditating on that grudge, first of all, it’s keeping me from thinking about whatever is true, honorable, just, and so on.  All that good stuff has been blocked out. 

Instead, I’m dwelling on evil things—the wrong that I think has been done me and the anger that I feel about it.  I’m hardening my heart against other people, and I’m becoming more and more convinced of my own self-righteousness.  Brethren, that kind of meditation is spiritual poison!  None of us can afford to dwell on things like that!

Instead, we must STORE UP THE WORD IN OUR HEARTS.  Look at the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119:11.  We’ve said that meditation is thinking about godly things.  Well, if we want those things in our heads to think about, we have to put them there in the first place, and we have to love them enough to dwell on them.

Meditation isn’t a self-starting activity.  You don’t just say to yourself, “I’m going meditate on the things of God for the next 15 minutes!”  I don’t know.  Maybe that would work for you, but it would feel very unnatural and weird to me.  Instead, I’ve found that the key is packing my brain so full of spiritual things that I can’t help but think about them.

That starts with our Bible reading.  You know, it’s amazing that every one of us has in our possession at least one complete copy of the word of God.  Our first-century brethren would have turned green with envy!  What a priceless opportunity every one of us has, every day, to put that word in our hearts so we can meditate on it! 

The same is true with other sources of spiritual wisdom.  I know people who keep hymnals on their bedside tables and read a hymn or two every night before turning in.  Among our hymns are some of the most beautiful things ever written in the English language.  They’re perfect for meditation!  If that’s not enough, we need to spend more time with strong Christians whose words and conduct will give us good things to dwell on.  The more time we spend with these things, the more we will learn to love them, and the more we will meditate on them.

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