Growing Our Minds to Avoid Spiritual Ruts – J. P. Moreland

love-god-mind-morelandWe often read the Bible, hear the news, listen to a sermon, or talk to friends, yet we don’t get much out of it. One central reason for this may be our lack of knowledge and intellectual growth. The more you know, the more you see and hear because your mind brings more to the task of ‘seeing as’ or ‘seeing that.’ In fact, the more you know about extrabiblical matters, the more you will see in the Bible. Why? Because you will see distinctions in the Bible or connections between Scripture and an issue in another area of life that would not be possible without the concepts and categories placed in the mind’s structure by gaining the relevant knowledge in those extrabiblical areas of thought. Thus, general intellectual development can enrich life and contribute to Bible study and spiritual formation.

There is a closely related reason why intellectual development can enhance spiritual development: The mind forms habits and falls into ruts. One day at a chapel meeting, a missions professor showed a film clip of a foreign culture unfamiliar to most of us. He asked us to write down everything we noticed. He then showed the clip a second time and asked us to repeat the exercise. Everyone in the chapel meeting compared his or her first and second lists and, in every case, they were virtually identical! The professor’s lesson: our minds get into ruts in which we tend to look for things we have already seen  in order to validate our earlier perceptions. We seldom look at things from entirely fresh perspectives!

If we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we get into ruts in our thinking and develop habits of thought that can grow stale after a while. This is where renewing the mind comes in. A life of study can give us a constant source of new categories and beliefs that will lead to fresh insights and stave off intellectual boredom. Many people become bored with the Bible precisely because their overall intellectual growth is stagnant. They cannot get new insights from Scripture because they bring the same old categories to Bible study and look to validate their old habits of thought.

Taken from J.P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (NavPress, 1997), pp.79-80 (found in chapter 3 “The Mind’s Role in Spiritual Formation” and in a section titled “How a developed mind helps us see”).

Published in: on December 7, 2016 at 6:38 AM  Leave a Comment  

Note to Self: Repent

Start by reading and meditating on 2 Corinthians 7:10.

Dear Self,

You will never be done with repentance – at least, not until death or Christ’s return. While it is something you should be doing frequently, it is not something you just ‘get used to.’ Repentance requires a daily intentionality. And let’s be honest; you will have more to repent of by the end of the day than you can possibly remember. So, where should you start?

…It will be helpful to think of repentance in three parts: revulsion, resolution, and repetition. Revulsion is finding something offensive or distasteful. In this case, it is seeing the heinousness of sin and pulling back from it. Sin, your sin in particular, should make you recoil. …Revulsion will come only when you see the holy, just, and good character of God in contrast to yourself. Until you understand that your sin, all of it, is a self-destructive rebellion against God that betrays your purpose and denies his worthiness, you will not experience revulsion.

Resolution is purposing to walk in righteousness, delighting in God’s law, laying off the old self, and walking in newness of life. Repentance is more than feeling sorry for what you are and have done. It is having the resolve to live for the glory and pleasure of God.

Repetition is the ongoing nature of this work. Without repetition, it is all for nothing, for as long as you continue to sin, you need to repent.If your repentance is not continual, it means, at the very least, that you are simply choosing some sins to deal with, while ignoring others.

…The deepness and consistency of your repenting will have a direct impact on the liveliness of your faith and the brightness of your confidence. This is not because you repent so well, but because in repenting you know the darkness and trouble of your own sin, and the great work of grace in Jesus that overcomes it all.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.30 “Repent” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp. 99-100.

Remembering (and Forgetting) God – December “Tabletalk”

tt-dec-2016Yesterday I began digging into the featured articles in the December Tabletalk (daily devotions continue on the gospel of Mark).  This month’s theme is a rare one – “Remembering God” – and judging from what I have read so far, it is another timely subject.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this theme with his article “God Never Forgets Us” (be sure to read it!).

The first main article I also read yesterday: “Forgetting God” by Dr. Benjamin Shaw (professor of Hebrew and OT at Greenville Presbyterian Seminary, SC). He deals with the counter reality in our lives, namely, that we are called so often to remember God because we so easily forget Him.

Today, I give you a portion of his article, urging you to read all of it at the Ligonier link below.

Yesterday in God’s house of prayer and worship we heard the reminder to remember our God. As we start the work week now, let us not forget Him in the ways Shaw mentions. Let the truth that the Lord never forgets us motivate us to remember Him in all we do.

It is easy for us as modern Christians to point the finger at the Israelites and take them to task for the fact that they forgot God. The complaining we see in the wilderness, the cycle of apostasy, judgment, and restoration that we see in Judges, the good king/bad king alternations that we see in 1–2 Kings—these all emphasize the incessant inability of the Israelites to heed Moses’ admonition to “take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut. 6:12). We get tired when we read through Jeremiah and chapter after chapter is devoted to enumerating the sins of Israel and telling of Israel’s coming judgment. We feel that we are superior to Israel, more spiritual, less likely to forget God.

But we, too, get distracted by the demands of our days, by the busyness of our times. We forget that as Moses warned that declining from the commandments of God displays a forgetting of God, the same applies to us. We tend to think that ignoring, or rather, not fully living up to one commandment of God is a small thing. But the result is not simply disobedience. It is the beginning of idolatry, of making a god in our own image, a god we can easily obey. But did Jesus not say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)? Yet, we find His commandments so easy to ignore. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32), Paul says, but we want to hold on to offenses and resentments. It feels good to bear a grudge. But that is not the way Christ teaches. To bear a grudge, to envy the gifts and graces of others, to covet the possessions of others—these are steps on the way to forgetting God.

Source: Forgetting God by Benjamin Shaw

Growing in Maturity – Tom Ascol

tt-nov-2016One of the featured articles in this month’s Tabletalk on Christian maturity is written by Dr. Tom Ascol. This third main article on the theme is titled “Growing in Maturity.”

In it, Ascol not only affirms from Scripture that believers must be growing into maturity as they grow older as Christians, but he also treats the means by which we are to do so. These means of the “how” of spiritual growth are not new to us, but they are important enough to be reminded of again.

I give you here his opening paragraph on this and then his section on using the Word of God as our chief means to reach maturity.

The How of Spiritual Maturity

Growth naturally follows birth in one’s spiritual life, just as it does in one’s physical life. That it is normal, however, does not mean that it is automatic. God has provided specific instruments to lead His people to spiritual maturity. The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this provision:

Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto. (WCF 25.3)

Ordinary means of grace have been provided by God for both the “gathering” (conversion) and “perfecting” (maturing) of His people. The means that God has provided for creating faith in His people are the same means by which He intends for them to grow in faith. When Scripture encourages believers to advance in the Christian life, it never has in mind that we can outgrow our need of these ordinary means. Rather, as we continue to employ these means faithfully, we are empowered to grow deeper and stronger in our relationship with Christ.

The Word

Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Scripture is God’s Word written, and apart from it we cannot have a saving knowledge of God or grow in our relationship with Him. The Apostle Paul says God gave us the Scriptures to profit us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness so “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). To grow in maturity, a Christian must grow in his understanding of and submission to Scripture.

A casual acquaintance with the Bible will not suffice, as Jesus makes clear in the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount when He contrasts a house built on a rock that withstands the storms with one built on sand that is destroyed by them. The latter represents the person who merely hears the Word of Christ without submissively complying with it. His life lacks stability. The former is like the wise man who not only hears the teachings of Jesus but “does them.” His life will be characterized by a maturity that stands firm through the trials of life.

God has designed His Word to shape us through reading and hearing (Rom. 10:17; Rev. 1:3), through meditation and memorization (Josh. 1:8; Pss. 1:1–3; 119:11), and especially through faithful preaching (2 Tim. 4:1–5).

Source: Growing in Maturity by Tom Ascol

Note to Self: Stop Complaining

Start by reading and meditating on Phil.2:14: “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.”

Dear Self,

…You complain because you misunderstand (or just miss altogether) the grace you have received and the purposes of God in your life. You misunderstand the grace you have received by not recognizing it and receiving it with gratitude. Life, breath, and all of God’s provisions for your life are acts of his kindness and are truly wonderful, and yet they all seem to disappear when the small inconveniences of life appear.

In most of your complaining you miss the good purposes of God for your life – purposes he has made clear. ‘God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God’ (Rom.8:28 NASB). This truth should remain a constant meditation, particularly in a world filled with frustration, frailty, and failure. Though we are not always aware of the particular ways in which God causes all things to work out for our good, we have this promise, and it should be enough to challenge and conquer our complaining spirit.

…Perhaps the lesson is that you haven’t driven the gospel deep enough into your heart and mind. Otherwise it would bear fruit precisely where you need it. Are you complaining today? Consider the grace of God in all of life, and in the gospel particularly. Be assured of his purpose in all things inconvenient and tragic, and you will find the cure for complaining.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.35 “Stop Complaining” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp. 109-110.

You might also benefit from reading (or re-reading) this “note to self” we posted previously, about giving thanks.

Note to Self: Keep Your Heart

Begin by reading and meditating on Proverbs 4:23.

The call to keep your heart is a call to work on your life internally, not merely externally. …God is first and foremost concerned with your heart, for when you are keeping your heart, the rest of life follows.

To keep your heart means that your focus and work is on maintaining communion with God and pursuing the transformation that only God can accomplish in you. It is not performance-based religion, nor the moral improvement of your life, but the ongoing work of cultivating love for God and hatred for sin. It is the unending effort of guarding ourselves against idols while resting in the promises of the gospel.

To keep your heart is your primary business as a Christian, and it cannot be done with passing interest or any small amount of energy. It requires the consistent use of all the means of grace. You must make the most of worship, Scripture, prayer, and the church gathered in all its forms with an aim at keeping your heart and growing in grace. If you are doing anything less than this, you are keeping up appearances, but not your heart. And you know that the heart is what God is primarily interested in (Ps.51:16-17) – hearts that are broken over sin, healed by God’s forgiving grace, and consequently filled with love for our Redeemer God.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.29 “Keep Your Heart” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.97-98.

November Tabletalk: Christian Maturity

We are nearly halfway through the month of November and we have not yet called your attention to this month’s issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’s monthly devotional magazine.

tt-nov-2016The November 2016 issue focuses our minds and hearts on the subject of Christian maturity, a trait mirrored in the creation in the Fall season as the crops reach their ripened state and are harvested. So believers in Christ are to develop in Christian graces as we go through life, so that in the harvest of our lives we are ripe for glory, to the praise of the God of all grace.

Burk Parsons introduces this subject with an editorial titled “Mature in Christ.” There he writes in his closing remarks:

Paul said to young Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Even the youngest believers can attain and model emotional and spiritual maturity, for maturity is not a matter of age. Some of the youngest among us are the most mature and some of the oldest are the least mature. Young and old alike, God calls all His people to grow into “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), and this not so people will exalt us but so they will exalt our risen and returning Savior, as we strive to live as mature believers, looking to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

One of the main articles I read yesterday before worship was “Immaturity” by Dr. Dan Demas. Part of his message is to put the finger on the causes of immaturity in the church and among Christians in our day. He points to three causes: apathy, laziness, and ignorance – all serious maladies.

About apathy he writes:

Apathy is a primary maturity killer. When self-focus enters our hearts and consumes us, the hunger for spiritual things exits. The cold hard fact is that some people just don’t care and have been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). Small thoughts of God yield a small view of sanctification.

Little thoughts of God snuff out the necessary zeal for mature Christlikeness. The backslider has said in his heart, “I don’t care.” A cold, apathetic faith is an immature faith. Immaturity as a result of apathy doesn’t animate anything; it only steals, kills, and destroys maturity. Apathy cannot be reasoned with and makes us numb to spiritual realities. All sin makes us stupid, but apathy makes us cold and stupid.

But Demas is not simply negative in his approach to immaturity. At the end of his article he points us to the positive side:

We must have sanctification in our sights. Make maturity a high-value target. Ask God to awaken zeal in you to fight the flesh. Ask Him to ignite your zeal for truth. Maturity is not for a select few but is the goal for all of us. Once you’ve tasted maturity, it’s hard to go back.

…We must exchange apathy, laziness, and ignorance for a zeal for spiritual maturity, an insatiable appetite for the Word, the necessary discipline to consistently walk in the Spirit, and a passion for modeling maturity for the next generation. My prayer is that God will awaken us to our apathy, give us a healthy disdain for immaturity, a right theological perspective regarding sanctification, the necessary discipline to pursue maturity with diligence, and a hunger and thirst for a more mature faith.

Is maturity in our Christian faith and life something we are striving for and praying for?

God is the Lord: Implication #2 – H. Hoeksema

Knowing-God-and-Man -HHAnd here is implication #2 (see previous post) from Herman Hoeksema’s Oct.26, 1941 radio message broadcast on the Reformed Witness Hour, “God is the Lord”, treating the absolute Lordship (sovereignty) of God.

As we live in the conscious faith that God is the Lord, a second practical implication of his lordship is that we will be without fear and terror in the world, because we will live the tranquil assurance that all things must ‘work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Rom.8:28).

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who manifested his love toward us in  the death of his Son and who surely will give us all things with him, is the Lord of all. He holds the reins. Whatever happens, he will surely save his church. As the church makes her voyage across the seas of the centuries, tempests may rage furiously, and the waves may rise mountain high, but we know that our God is Lord of the tempest and that the waves must do his bidding. In the world we may have to suffer tribulation, but God is the Lord of the tribulation, and we may even glory in it. The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.

Therefore, we will not be afraid

Though hills amidst the sea be cast,
Though foaming waters roar,
Yea, though the mighty billows shake
The mountains on the shore.
(versification of Psalm 46:2,3 [from PRC Psalter])

Nor will we fear though the nations rage furiously, and though we hear of wars and rumors of wars; yes, though all hell break loose and all the powers of darkness set themselves against us, we will not be afraid but be of good cheer, for we know that we have a covenant with the only potentate and that we are of the party of the living God, who only does wondrous things. The Lord of hosts is his name (p.31-32 in Knowing God & Man, RFPA, 2006)

God is the Lord: Implication #1 – H. Hoeksema

In connection with the 75th anniversary of the Reformed Witness Hour this year (1941-2016), we have been posting some excerpts from various messages delivered on the program in the past, especially from the first series delivered by Herman Hoeksema, when he was pastor of First PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

The third message to be broadcast on the RWH (“The Protestant Reformed Hour” as it was initially called) was “God is the Lord”, based on Deut.4:35 (“Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him.”).

Knowing-God-and-Man -HHBesides being published in individual leaflet form, this early message was later published by the RFPA in book form, along with the other messages in this series on the doctrine of God and another on the doctrine of man that followed it. That book is titled Knowing God & Man (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2006).

Today we quote from the end of this radio message, where Hoeksema is giving two practical implications of the absolute Lordship (sovereignty) of God. Here is the first one (slightly edited):

First, if through the grace of the Lord Jesus we have been called out of darkness into his marvelous light, so that we again confess this lordship of the Most High, we will acknowledge him as our Lord in every department of life and have our delight in doing his will. Always and everywhere we will ask, ‘Lord, what will thou have us do?’

Thus by faith we will fight the good fight of faith so that we may be doers of the word. We will acknowledge him as Lord in our personal lives and ask for grace that we may walk as children of light, crucify our old natures, and walk in new and holy paths. We will ask for his will and for grace to do that will in our home life in the relationship of man and wife, of parent and child. We will insist that he be Lord in the schools where our children are instructed, so that they may be thoroughly furnished for every good work. We will confess that God is Lord in the spheres of industry and commerce, over the relationship of employer and employee.

In the church and in society, in the shop and in the office, in the home and on the street, in the city and in the state, always and everywhere, it shall be our earnest desire and endeavor to walk according to the confession that God is the Lord (p.31).

Note to Self: Hate Well

Begin by reading and reflecting on Proverbs 8:13.

Dear Self,

In all your longing to love as Christ loved, you sometimes forget that true love for one thing will, or at least should, produce a hatred for whatever stands against it. Do not neglect cultivating hatred, an intense hatred, for the right things. Authentic love and zeal for God will produce abhorrence for all that stands opposed to him and his purposes. Genuine love for your neighbor will produce within you antipathy toward all that robs him of his dignity or leads her away from God.

Do you hate pride and arrogance? Injustice and the way of evil? Hurtful speech? Do false gospels and false teachers create a holy hostility in you? Do you hate works-righteousness and the false promise of peace with God through performance? I hope you do.

And what about your own sin? Do you see it? Is it ever before your eyes? Do you really hate it for what it is, or do you simply dislike its unpleasant consequences? If you hate your sin only because of the pain it has caused you in this life, then your hatred stems from self-love and does not come from a burning love for God.

At times you have wondered why you are so complacent, unmoved. You have grown frustrated with your lack of progress in the faith. It may be because you lack true and balanced passion – love and hatred. One will move you to recoil from sin, and the other will move you to hold on to Jesus.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.28 “Hate Well” (found in Part Three, “The Gospel and You”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.95-96.