Christian Living

Superbowls, Chip Kelly, Rocky and Training in Godliness

confweb201-6-webI am a Philadelphia Eagles Fan. This means that when it comes to Superbowl weekend I don’t generally get a chance to cheer for my team. But because I am an Eagles fan I know I can always count on next year. And if not next year, at least the year after next. Right?

In football the goal of every team is to win the Superbowl. It is one of the biggest stages in all of sports and it is incredibly difficult to get to. To get to and win the big game requires dedicated training. Teams and individuals that simply go through the motions all week in practice but try to “turn it on” Sunday afternoons can’t succeed for long. This is one of the reasons why I believe Eagles coach, Chip Kelly, has been so successful in turning around the Eagle’s organization in his first year. One of his core beliefs and emphases is “Win the Day.” This means that to win on Sunday you must “win” each day of the week. That is true whether you are to be resting, recuperating from injury, training in the weight-room, watching film, or whatever. If you work harder than the other team at each facet of your game each day than you have a much higher probability of winning on game-day. Win the Day!

I probably love that because I love Philadelphia – the town that gave us Rocky. And Rocky, if nothing, is about the underdog working and training harder than his competition so that when the big fight comes, the underdog wins. And Rocky always out-trains his competition. Don’t Believe me? Check out this training clip from Rocky 2.

If you watched that video, you probably feel like running. Go for it. I’ll wait…. Okay, so just in case you were wondering, someone did go through the trouble of tracing out his running route. All in all, Rocky ran 31.1 miles and had enough juice at the end to sprint up the Art Museum stairs and celebrate with the kids who had been running with him. And according to that clip, those kids ran something like 12-13 miles with Rocky (kids today are such lazy bums, right?). No wonder Rocky outlasted his opponents!

So what does this have to do with Christianity? Barely anything at all up to this point really. At least until Paul counsels Timothy to “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life  and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV). 

images

We can understand the importance of training ourselves physically – especially in our body-obsessed culture – but training for godliness doesn’t get much attention. I think we all too often fall into the habit of thinking that godliness is something that you are born with or something that you turn on – like a good performance by an athlete during the game. Another popular idea is that any pursuit of real godliness probably will cause you to become legalistic and so you shouldn’t try it neither encourage others to attempt it. But godliness is something that we must train ourselves in. Thus godliness is both a journey that we progress on and a discipline that requires effort – much effort. I think Kevin DeYoung nails it on the head in his book The Hole in our Holiness when he describes this pursuit of godliness as requiring “Spirit-Powered, Gospel-Driven, Faith-Fueled Effort.” Each of those descriptions is necessary for true training in godliness.

And notice that in Paul’s letter he wants Timothy, and by extension us, to see that there are benefits, both temporal and eternal, for training in godliness. That ought to encourage us because once the Superbowl is over the stadium lights will be turned off, the confetti swept up, and everyone will begin thinking about next year. But the promise of winning the day as we train for godliness is eternal.

God help us to pursue this.

Advertisements

Get Jerry Bridges New Book For Free!

Jerry Bridges is an author whose books have touched the minds and hearts of millions – including my own. His writing is theologically grounded, practical and realistic. His writings could not be confused with “feel-good religion” that simply maintains a thin veneer of Christianity. He is a deeply thoughtful man whose writings have led me (and many others) to think and drink more deeply about how the gospel ought to change everything in my life and yours. And I look forward to being brought back once again to the cross as my reference point to all of life in Jerry Bridges’ new book The Transforming Power of the Gospel.

And Amazon has now (for a limited time) made this book available for FREE for Kindle! Remember that you don’t need to actually own a kindle to read this book. You may read this book on your computer or on your iphone or other apple devices.

Click here for the Amazon link.

Click here to read a little of the book itself.

If you prefer to buy the physical book then you may find an inexpensive copy here.

This book is worth it (especially at this price) so please take advantage of this offer!

[Thanks to Matthew Hoskinson for the info!]

 

The Gas Pedal is on the Right!

If you have been driving long you know that there are people who don’t belong behind the wheel of a car. Driving bus for school has given me a yellow-coated perch from which to observe these pretenders on the road. I would suppose they don’t know they are bad drivers (just as you and I may be bad drivers but don’t know it either). But I wish there was a way to tell them – a kind way, not the unhelpful hand gesture – that would explain to them exactly what they could do to improve as drivers. One such comment would be to simply inform them that the gas pedal is on the right. Too often I get behind drivers (in a bus mind you) doing well below the speed limit. They just coast along without a care in the world – especially not caring about the long line of vehicles gathering in their rear view mirror. And while they lead their own little parade I wish their GPS would kindly tell them in that wonderful British accent (just admit it – you use the voice of the woman with the British accent as well) that their gas pedal is on the right and that now would be the appropriate time to push it.

But I have found that same truth applies in my spiritual life as well. Sometimes I need (and I imagine us all) need to be reminded from time to time to press our spiritual gas pedals. It is too easy to coast through the easy times (or after perceived spiritual success) and begin to just get comfortable. In times like this I turn to the wise words of Jerry Bridges from The Discipline of Grace.

My observation is that most of us who are believers practice what I call a “cruise-control” approach to obedience. Many cars today have a convenient feature called cruise control. When you are driving on the highway you can accelerate to your desired speed, push the cruise-control button, and take your foot from the accelerator pedal. Some mechanism attached to the engine will then maintain your desired speed, and you can ease back and relax a little. You don’t have to watch your speedometer to make sure you’re not going to get a ticket for speeding, and you no longer have to experience the fatigue that comes with constant foot pressure on the accelerator. It’s very convenient and relatively relaxing. It’s a great feature on cars.

However we tend to obey God in the same way. To continue the driving analogy, we press the accelerator pedal of obedience until we have brought our behavior up to a certain level or “speed.” The level of obedience is most often determined by the behavior standard of other Christians around us. We don’t want to lag behind them because we want to be as spiritual as they are. At the same time, we’re not eager to forge ahead of them because we wouldn’t want to be different. We want to just comfortably blend in with the level of obedience of those around us.

Once we have arrived at this comfortable level of obedience, we push the “cruise-control” button in our hearts, ease back, and relax. Our particular Christian culture then takes over and keeps us going at the accepted level of conduct. We don’t have to watch the speed-limit signs in God’s Word, and we certainly don’t have to experience the fatigue that comes with seeking to obey Him with all our heart, soul, and mind.”

Because of the supremacy of Christ in all things (Col. 1:15-24) push the envelope on your obedience (Col. 3) keeping our eyes on Christ who is above in whom we have life through his death (Col. 3:1-4). And as we race we must watch out for the pitfalls that would seem wise and spiritual but leave us disconnected from the Supreme Christ (Col. 2).

Pursue Christ.

The 20 Mile March, Legalism, and the Gospel

I recently read Jim Collins’ (author of Good to Great) book Great by Choice. It is a business book but the principles and ideas it advocates are universal. And besides, Collins is such a joy to read. Great by Choice explores the characteristics of those companies that became great despite weathering fierce and unpredictable storms.

One of the characteristics of these successful companies is what Collins and his team came to call the “20 Mile March.” While other companies exhibited periods of enormous growth and periods of enormous decline reflecting the current markets and opportunities, these “20 Mile March” companies were far more steady and determined. In periods of decline they expected and worked hard so that their companies could maintain their profitability standards and meet their goals. This in and of itself is nothing new. Every company does this. But these companies would also generally limit themselves during periods of boom and growth so as not to overextend themselves or tire their employees out. This cap on both the bottom and the top end of their working and energy became known to Collins and his team as the “20 Mile March.”

No where is this illustrated better than when Collins points to the race for the south pole in 1911 between Roald Amundson and Robert Scott. They both started on the same day (though from different landing areas), with roughly the same weather conditions yet Amundson beat Scott by over a month (Scott and his team died on their way back to their ship). One of the clear differences between the two men that led to Amundson’s success and Scott and his team’s death was the principle of the “20 Mile March.” Amundson put a goal to march each day – and consequently that goal was his cap. This left his team refreshed on the good days and something to work for on the more difficult ones. Scott did the opposite, pushing too hard on the good days and wearing out his team and then going nowhere when the days were difficult.

This means, at least on a personal level, that striving to meet our big goals for the glory of God (like reading 20 books or the Bible in a year, dealing with a particular sin, or developing more meaningful prayer times) are met by meeting small modest goals on a regular basis. That of course is the hard part. But demanding these little goals from ourselves should not be mistaken for legalism. We work hard to meet the small goals by the strength of the Spirit in union with Christ’s death and resurrection for the glory of God the Father (Rom. 6; 8:13; 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:1-11). We understand that meeting those goals is not the basis of God’s pleasure with us, Christ is. On the flip side it needs to be stated that we do not face God’s judgment when we fail to meet those goals because Christ met those goals for us and took all the wrath of God for all of our sin (not that missing a goal should necessarily be equated with sin). We must work to meet the big goal of enjoying the glory of God and helping others to do the same with the little goals that we set for ourselves daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, etc. out of gratefulness to God for what he has done for us in Christ by the Spirit.

Some suggestions for your journey this year:

  • Keep in mind the result if you fail (this is particularly helpful with Bible reading, prayer, or dealing with sin goals).
  • Keep in mind the penultimate goal of whatever it is your have resolved to do.
  • Keep in mind the ultimate goal – Enjoying and Glorifying God: John Owen writes “Be much in thoughtfulness of the excellency of the majesty of God and your infinite, inconceivable distance from Him.”
  • Keep in mind the gospel. By keeping ourselves in earshot of the cross we will be reminded that the cry of forsakenness by Christ on the cross was for us and so we will be reminded of the seriousness of our sin, we will be reminded that Christ frees us from Sin’s guilt, and by recalling his resurrection we will be reminded that we are freed from sin’s power.

Examine Yourself

In his excellent book The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges reflects on Titus 2:11-12 which says “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” and writes these words which must provoke us to examine ourselves:

…salvation and spiritual discipline are inseparable. The grace that brings salvation to us also disciplines us. It does not do the one without the other. That is, God never saves people and leaves them alone to continue in their immaturity and sinful lifestyle. Those whom He saves, He disciplines. Paul said this another way in Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

This thought is both encouraging and sobering. It is encouraging because it assures us that our spiritual growth is not left to our initiative, nor is it dependent upon our wisdom to know in which areas and in which direction we need to grow. Rather it is God Himself who initiates and superintends our spiritual growth. This is not to say that we have no responsibility to respond to Gods’ spiritual child-training in our lives, but it is to say that He is the one in charge of our training.

…At the same time this inseparability of God’s grace and spiritual discipline is a sobering truth. One has only to look around at Christendom, particularly in the United States, to see that there is a vast multitude of people who claim to have trusted in Christ at some time but do not seem to have experienced any of the discipline of grace. They may have walked an aisle, signed a card, or even prayed a prayer, but grace is not teaching them to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, let alone to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives. Essentially, their lives are no different today than they were before they professed to have trusted Christ.

As I think of these people, I am reminded of the words of Hebrews 12:8, “If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.” And Jesus Himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). It is not those who have merely made a profession, but those in whose lives there is evidence of God’s Fatherly child-training, who are the inheritors of eternal life.

This sobering truth should be reflected upon by each of us. Is God’s grace disciplining me? The apostle Paul said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). And the apostle Peter exhorted us to “be all the more eager to make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). Are you truly trusting in Jesus Christ as your Savior as He is presented in the gospel that we studied?…Is there any evidence that you have died to the reign of sin through union with Jesus Christ? And is the grace of God at work in you to discipline or train you so that you are growing spiritually? If your honest answer is “no,” I urge you to come to Him believing His words that “whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).

Let me be clear at this point. We do not pursue holiness or the evidence of God’s discipline to attain salvation. That would be salvation by works. Rather, God’s discipline in our lives, and the desire to pursue holiness on our part, be it ever so faint, is the inevitable result of receiving God’s gift of salvation by faith. As Martin Luther is so often quoted as saying, ” We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”

The Most Dangerous Place For Your Soul

Someone recently said to me – jokingly – that the most dangerous place for humans isn’t in an airplane or in traffic. The most dangerous place in the United States for you is in your own bed since more people die there than anywhere else. We can all see that though that statement might be true it is also ridiculous.

But what about your soul? Where is the most dangerous place for you spiritually? If drunkenness is the worst sin you can think of then maybe a bar or a club is the place that comes to your mind. Maybe for you it is sex outside of marriage and so darkened street corners are what you think of. Or maybe you are shocked at the vast amounts of time that people spend listlessly in front of their T.V.’s or computer screens and so for you it is the couch at home that you identify as the most dangerous place for your soul. While all of these places may be dangerous for your soul, I think there is one place far more dangerous: the pews in your local church (chairs, stadium seating or whatever seating arrangement your assembly has). (more…)

Video of Powerful Sermon

I was at this conference a few years ago when John Piper delivered this message from Hebrews. It is one of the few sermons that I can recall which caused some of the men there to cry. Not me of course. No really I didn’t cry at all. I just heard about some men who cried. I had allergies that day so my eyes were watery but I wasn’t crying. I wouldn’t do that. Fine. I cried. Happy?

This sermon goes along with what we are studying in our Adult Bible Study at Church this morning as we look at Paul”s life of radical service under the supreme Christ in Colossians 1:24-2:5.

You can also download the full audio here.

Review: The Meaning of Marriage

A few weeks back I ordered Timothy Keller’s (coauthored with his wife Kathy Keller) newest book entitled The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. I have enjoyed Keller’s other books that I have read and so I decided to pick it up. Because of other reading demands I have only just begun to really read the book now and will probably finish it in the next day or two but so far it has not failed to disappoint. This is one of those few books that I think should probably be read by every couple coming to be married. It is also the type of book that I wish I could leave discreetly lying around for some married couples to pick up.

One of the things that makes this book so different from the many other marriage books that litter our shelves and bookstores is that in it Tim speaks with verve and wisdom to some of the modern ideas and complaints against marriage that so many couples seem to grapple with (some more secretively than others). This makes sense since the author is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and has been dealing with these questions and ideas for years (ideas such as “soul mate”, marriage merely as a piece of paper, marriage destroys passion, marriage as self-fulfillment, and many others). The reason I think this is so important, even for longtime Christians, is because I have found that more and more Christian couples are having their minds shaped by popular culture in this area rather than the word of God.  But Keller isn’t content merely to respond to popular ideas like an answer man. He does answer but only so that he can communicate the richness and vividness of the biblical portrait of what marriage should be. And it is a beautiful, soul-rejoicing, truly freeing picture.

But don’t mistake Keller’s book for mere sentimentality. He would not like that one bit. Listen to how he starts his book in chapter one. (more…)

Authentically Legalistic Worship

It was not long ago I attended a local pastor’s conference at a nearby Baptist college. In the general session we were led in worship by the college’s worship band consisting of students. They were a pretty trendy group that differed dramatically from the men in the session. In a moment of authenticity the young man leading worship revealed that he was studying for the ministry (great!) and decided to share a few words before we started singing. He then revealed that he had not been reading his Bible or praying much (not so great!) because he was really busy and we probably understood that because we were busy too. But then he said something even worse. He said that he felt ready to sing and worship God and lead in worship because that morning he had taken the time to get up early and read his Bible and pray.

For some reason I wasn’t inspired by this. Here is why: (more…)

Merely Traditional (Sermon)

Life is full of the mundane, the common, the norm. Everything moves endlessly toward one routine destination. You know exactly where you are headed while simultaneously you are completely lost.  But every now and then you meet a game-changer and the entire direction of your life alters its course.

That game-changer, for me, was Andrew Franseen. It was not that everyone before him was meaningless or unhelpful (quite the contrary) but that God used Andrew in such a way to break through the ordinary and reveal to me the depthlessness (not a word, I get it) of his Glory as seen from his Word. Andrew has the terrifying ability to see what the Word of God says and how it ought to be applied specifically to the lives of his audience and to actually say it. I have found that quality rare indeed. It was not that Andrew was fearless. On the contrary, Andrew was fearful. Just not of you and me.

I have profited from Andrew on many levels since he first took me to lunch to get to know me years ago. I first knew him as my SS teacher. Then I served alongside of him in various capacities and even shared an office with him for a while. I now call him friend and am humbled to do so. Just as the apostle Paul thanked God in Colossians 1 for the evidence of their faith and love so too do I (and my wife) thank God for Andrew’s faithful ministry to our souls during the years that we had opportunity to sit under and learn from him. He was “a faithful minister of Christ on [our] behalf.”

There are few better examples of this than Andrew’s sermon entitled Merely Traditional (click on link to listen or download) which he preached about five years ago in a conservative fundamentalist church across town from Bob Jones University. It was his (and my own) home church at the time. Andrew is now Pastor at Grace Bible Church in the upstate of South Carolina. If you are looking for a home church (or just one to visit as you pass through) let me recommend this church as highly as possible.

(I am having trouble uploading my own copy of this sermon to the web so I have found the only other online recording – from a blog of a member of Andrew’s present church – and linked to that. This is the only copy of this sermon you will find on the web. That is no accident since there was pressure from a certain Christian university to remove this sermon from the web. Now the only way you can get a copy of this sermon is through a friend. It has hence gone underground and gained a life in and of itself. I still receive requests for this sermon as I know others do as well.)

Andrew also serves on the Advisory Board of Kids 4 Truth and has spoken at the Foundations conference hosted at Hampton Park Baptist Church in S.C.