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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Jesus' Teaching on Lust (Matt. 5:27-30)

Outline: Matthew 5:27-30
  1. Understand it (vv.27-28)
  2. Obey it (vv.29-30)
Summary: Since Jesus came to fulfill the OT, we can and should excel in our obedience to the OT in such a way that exceeds the surface "obedience" of the scribes and pharisees (5:20). Jesus gives a second example of the type of heart-obedience he desires by explaining and applying the law "You shall not commit adultery."  The scribes and pharisees taught people that purity was achieved by merely avoiding adultery, but Jesus brings us back to the heart of this law, teaching us that true purity will not just avoid the physical act of adultery but also the internal condition of lust that produces it. Jesus teaches that an adulterous heart is just as damning as an adulterous act.  Therefore, to avoid adultery we must deal with the heart issue of lust by ruthlessly removing stumbling blocks from our lives (vv.29-30).

Discussion Questions:
  • What misunderstanding of "you shall not commit adultery" is Jesus correcting in vv.27-28? 
  • What is the proper understanding of this law and how should this shape our view of the Law?
  • What is the relationship between adultery and lust? 
  • When does a natural sexual desire turn into lust?
  • "A adulterous heart is just as damning as an adulterous act." How can this be?
  • How does Jesus teach us to deal with the heart issue of lust vv.28-29?
  • How should we understand and apply the strong and intense language of vv.29-30?
  • What does it mean to be sexually pure in marriage? In singleness?
  • How would you confront this lie: "my lust only effects me"?
  • The heart is the high ground of the soul.  If we win the heart, we win the war. What are some strategies for fighting lust that will help us win the high ground of the heart?
Application Questions:
  • Do I tend to focus on surface obedience or heart obedience when it comes to sexual purity?
  • What objects am I beholding (eyes), activities am I participating in (hand), or places am I going (feet) that tend to cause me to stumble into lust?
  • How might I deal severely with these stumbling blocks and thus win the battle for the heart?
  • What factors most shape and influence my sexual desires? 
  • What would it look like for love, not lust, to shape my relationships with others? 
  • What strategies might be wise to add to my "battle plan" for pursuing sexual purity? 
Prayer Points:
  • Confess any lust you have in your heart and sinful actions that have stemmed from those lusts.
  • Praise God for sending Jesus to live a pure life so that He could purify you with his blood
  • Praise God that the deepest stains from your sexual history are cleansed by the blood of Jesus 
  • Ask God to help you to, by the Spirit, fight the sin of lust and win the high ground of the heart.
  • Ask God to give you wise strategies to fight lust and a heart to help others fight lust.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Jesus' Teaching on Anger (Matt. 5:21-26)

Outline: Matthew 5:21-26
  1. Understand it
  2. Obey it
Summary: Having described the type of kingdom character (5:2-11) that will make Jesus' followers stand out from the world (vv.13-16), Jesus clearly states that he came not to void out but to fill out the OT (5:17-20).  Since Jesus came to fulfill the OT, we can and should excel in our obedience to the OT in such a way that exceeds the "obedience" of the scribes and pharisees.  It is this superior obedience to the Law described in v.20 that Jesus is going to unpack using six different examples in vv.21-48 (anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love of enemies).  Jesus first teaches on the law "You shall not murder," helping us to understand it and to obey it.  With strong and serious language, Jesus brings us back to the heart of this Law, teaching us that it was never about merely avoiding the external act of murder; rather, the Law itself called for a deeper and more demanding level of obedience.  Don't murder, of course.  But also avoid allowing anger to brew in the heart.  Jesus teaches that a murderous heart is just as damning as a murderous act.  Therefore, to avoid murder we must deal with the heart issue of anger by promptly pursuing reconciliation (vv.23-26).

Discussion Questions:
  • What misunderstanding of "do not murder" is Jesus correcting in vv.21-22? 
  • What is the proper understanding of this law and how should this shape our view of the Law?
  • "A murderous heart is just as damning as a murderous act." How can this be?
  • What is the relationship between murder and anger? (cf. 1 John 3:15). 
  • What do Jesus' two mini parables teach us about how we are to obey this command (vv.23-26)?
  • Who should initiate the reconciliation process, the offender or the offended (cf. 5:23, 18:15; 11:25)?  What principle can we arrive at in terms of dealing with conflicts?
  • Discussion: Anger is a "bottom feeder."  You can feed it and foster it or starve it and spear it! 
  • How would you counsel this person: “I know I'm saved, but I’m struggling deeply with anger!”
  • How should we think about conflict resolution with unbelievers (cf. Rom. 12:18)?
Application Questions:
  • Do I tend to focus on surface obedience or heart obedience?
  • Is there anyone in my life against whom I'm harboring anger or resentment?
  • What would it look like for me to humbly and faithfully obey Jesus words about dealing with anger and pursuing reconciliation?
  • How can I seek to starve anger (the destructive bottom feeder) that can grow in my heart?
  • How can I protect my brothers or sisters from the destructive power of unchecked anger?
Prayer Points:
  • Confess any anger your are harboring against another person.
  • Praise God for sending Jesus to absorbed the wrath that would have been poured out on you.
  • Praise God for the gift of the Holy Spirit to help you understand and obey God's word.
  • Ask God to bring to mind anyone whom you are angry with or whom may be angry with you.
  • Ask for courage and humility to promptly pursue reconciliation with those brought to mind.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Your God Rejoices Over You (Isaiah 62:5b)

Outline: Isaiah 62:5b
  1. The analogy
  2. The reality
  3. How should the fact that the analogy has become our reality shape our lives?
Summary: God often uses analogies in order to tell us more about himself.  In Isaiah 62:5b, God tells us about the joy He has in his people by using a comparison: "I have joy in my people like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride on their wedding day."  But how can a pure and righteous God rejoice over a polluted and unrighteous people?  He can't and he won't.  His integrity won't allow it, which is why God sent Jesus to die on the cross to bridge the massive gap between His perfection and our imperfection.  The cross is our bridge to God, for it is there that we are forgiven and accepted by God though faith in Jesus Christ. The cross of Christ is the explanation for why God can rejoice over people like us and the assurance that God does in fact rejoice over us like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.  Because of Jesus, the analogy has become our reality.  Because of Jesus, God rejoices over us.  The result is that God's joy over us is like a song (Zeph. 3:17) that never skips, a song that God wants us to hear and wants us to help others to hear.    

Discussion Questions:
  • What is an analogy and why does God use them? 
  • What is God teaching us about himself by using this analogy?
  • Can a pure and righteous God rejoice over a polluted and unrighteous people? Explain.
  • How does the analogy become a reality in our lives?
  • How are we forgiven and accepted by God through faith in Jesus Christ? Explain these terms.
  • God's joy over us is like a song that never skips.  How should this fact shape our lives? As individuals? As married couples? As brothers and sisters in Christ? As those called to reach out to unbelievers? 
  • What would it look like to make gospel meditation a habit/discipline in our lives?
  • In light of the gospel, what does God think about you? How does God feel toward you?
Application Questions:
  • How attuned am I to hearing God's song?
  • What types of things am I doing that are hindering me from hearing God's song?
  • What types of things am I doing that are helping me to hear God's song?
  • What changes must be made in order for me to hear God's song more clearly and consistently?
  • What fellow believers can I refresh by reminding them of God's song over their lives?
  • What unbeliever(s) can I tell about the forgiveness and acceptance offered through Jesus?
Prayer Points:
  • Confess ways in which you are hindering yourself and/or others from hearing God's song.
  • Praise God that you are forgiven and accepted because of Jesus.
  • Praise God that He never ceases to sing over you because of Jesus.
  • Ask God to help you make changes that will enable you to more clearly and consistently hear His song even in the face of sin struggles, trials, and less-than-ideal circumstances.
  • Ask God to help you to help others hear His song. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

"Annoying Things in Worship Songs" - Jeremy Pierce

From Justin Taylor on The Gospel Coalition, written by Jeremy Pierce:
Here are some of the things I really hate in a worship song.
  1. Too simplistic, banal, lacking in depth, shallow, doctrineless: Consider that one that just talks about unity among brothers that only mentions God in passing at the very end.
  2. It’s so repetitive. I mean, come on, how many times can you repeat “His steadfast love endures forever” before you start thinking the song is going to go on forever? Examples: here and here.
  3. For some songs, the focus is too much on instruments, and the sheer volume leads to its seeming more like a performance than worship and prevents quiet contemplation.
  4. There might be too much emphasis on too intimate a relationship with God, using first-person singular pronouns like “me” and “I” or second-person pronouns like “you” instead of words like “we” and “God.” This fosters a spirit of individualism, and it generates an atmosphere of religious euphoria rather than actual worship of God. Worship should be about God, not about us. Or what about the ones that use physical language to describe God and our relationship with him? Can you really stomach the idea of tasting God?
  5. Some songs have way too many words for anyone to learn.
  6. It patterns its worship on experiences that not everyone in the congregation will be able to identify with. If you’re not in the frame of mind or don’t have the emotional state in question (e.g., a desperate longing for God), then what are you doing lying and singing it? Worship leaders who encourage that sort of thing are making their congregations sing falsehoods.
  7. Then there’s that song with the line asking God not to take the Holy Spirit away, as if God would ever do that to a genuine believer.
  8. Then there’s that song that basically says nothing except expressing negative emotions.
  9. Finally, there are those songs that have like four or five lines that people just either have to repeat over and over again or just sing briefly and never get a chance to digest.
At this point I’m so outraged that people would pass this sort of thing off as worship that I’m almost inclined to give in to the people who think we shouldn’t sing anything but the psalms.
Oh, wait. . . .

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Worship Preferences: A Commentary on Christian Liberty in Romans 14-15:7

Before we study Romans 14-15:7, let me explain the context of Romans:
  •       The first 8 chapters of Romans is a defense and explanation of the gospel
  •       Then in Romans 9-11 Paul writes about election, predestination, God’s plan for the Jews, and how us Gentiles fit into God’s plan of redemption. 
  •       Then the tone of the book of Romans changes in Chapter 12 and focuses more on how we are to live in light of this glorious gospel. We see far more commands and instructions on how to live. Paul did this intentionally, and he does it in other books like Ephesians, to show that proper Christian living only flows out of believing the gospel.
  •       Romans 13 reiterates what Jesus said about love for neighbor fulfilling the law.
  •       Then we come to Romans 14-15, which only makes sense when it flows out of understanding the gospel and loving of our neighbor rightly. Romans 14 and 15 are about Christian Liberties and how to love each other despite differing convictions on Christian Liberties. The church in Rome had Jewish and Gentile Christians, and both lived and worshiped in very different ways. Conflict was occurring over eating meat and setting apart certain days as holy. Gentile Christians ate pork but Jewish Christians didn’t. Some Christians didn’t want to eat meat sacrificed to idols. Others were okay with it. Gentile Christians didn’t celebrate Jewish feasts and holidays, and some may have viewed all days as holy.

So that’s some of the context. 

Now as we read Romans 14-15:7, when Paul writes about eating meat or observing certain days, I believe he views them as two “test cases” of Christian Liberties, and he actually wants to speak to all Christian Liberties. 

What’s a Christian Liberty? How would we define it? 

Christ has set us free from sin and from the law. This gives us the freedom to enjoy all the good gifts of creation. So Christian Liberty is the freedom we have in Christ to enjoy his creation and to live and do according to conscience anything that isn’t forbidden in Scripture. A good definition I found on Ligonier Ministries’ website is “Believers are free to act according to conscience in areas where Scripture is silent.”

      Here are some examples of Christian Liberties we all have differing convictions on:
o   How to educate your children (Home, public, online, private?)
o   How many children you have
o   What clothes you wear (new, old, style, cost)
o   Where you live
o   What job you work
o   What hobbies and recreation you enjoy
o   Tattoos and piercings
o   What food you eat
o   Alcohol and tobacco usage
o   Joining the armed forces
o   How you order a church service
o   Financial giving
o   Which politicians and referendums and amendments you vote for
o   When your daughter should wear makeup
o   How you discipline your children
o   What music you listen to
o   Your corporate worship preferences

The thing we must understand with Christian Liberties is that we have the freedom to do this or that, but depending on your own circumstances and your faith it may not be wise to do it or it may even be sinful.  So it depends on circumstances and faith. What is good for one brother to do may not be good for another brother to do.

Now the purpose of this blog post isn’t to answer all the questions about Christian Liberties, so we’ll just focus on corporate worship preferences. I believe Paul would want us to insert our own Christian Liberties in chapter 14 as we read to better understand them, so as we read, instead of reading about eating meat, let’s imagine he’s writing about worship preferences. 

Romans 14:1–15:7 (ESV)
Do Not Pass Judgment on One Another
14 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. [Paul is now addressing opinions or preferences or convictions, any of those words work here. The goal is to be strong in faith, to infuse faith into your opinions or convictions or preferences about worship. Love for neighbor doesn’t look like quarreling, it looks like strengthening each other’s faith, even if your convictions differ] [now here’s the first example of Christian Liberty Paul addresses: eat meat or go vegetarian?] One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. [or we could say one person believes he may raise his hands in worship while another just stands still] Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. [Welcome and worship with believers who have differing convictions and preferences on worship. We are not to be a church that only invites people who will worship like us]Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. [So don’t judge the salvation of others on the basis of their convictions on worship preferences, instead see that God has made them to stand righteous before Him. Now here’s the second Christian Liberty Paul addresses: holy days or "holidays"]
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. [Let’s each be fully convinced in our minds about our convictions. Let’s have reasons for why we prefer what we prefer, let’s push ourselves to see wisdom in what we do. Let’s avoid foolish thoughtlessness in worship, where we just do things because we feel like it or because somebody else is likes it. God is more glorified in our worship when we know how our worship is glorifying to him] The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. [So they’re both honoring God even though they’re doing the exact opposite actions! Do all things in honor of the Lord and out of thanksgiving to him. See that other believers can honor the Lord and give thanks to him too by doing the opposite thing you did or having an opposing preference to yours.] For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. [we are servants of the Lord, and so even our opinions and convictions belong to Him and are under His authority]
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,
       “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. [On 9/13/2015, I preached a sermon on Zech 3, urging us to live daily in the courtroom of God and see each other as God sees us: Righteous in Christ. It transforms how we love one another!]
13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. [Do not cause your brother to stumble and don’t hinder their worship. That’s practically what love looks like in worship] 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. [Strive for peace with one another, but NOT the kind of peace that ignores the other person. God is not calling us to say to one another, “You go your way, I’ll go mine. You do your thing, I’ll do mine. You worship over there with your music and preferences, and I and my friends will worship over here. You have your early service, we’ll have our late service.” No! We are to pursue peace AND mutual upbuilding! Mutual upbuilding can only be done if we’re in each other’s lives, encouraging one another to infuse all our convictions with faith and wise reasons and God-glorifying purposes! Let me say that again, Mutual upbuilding can only be done if we’re in each other’s lives, encouraging one another to infuse all our convictions with faith and wise reasons and God-glorifying purposes! We must be at PEACE with believers with differing convictions while we build each other up to be like Jesus! What an amazing vision of love! Let’s strive for this!]
20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. [Don’t think that you can sacrifice love for neighbor in order to love God! It may feel like your neighbor’s preferences are getting in the way of you loving and worshiping God, but do you see how loving our neighbor IS worshiping and loving God?? If you keep worshiping according to your convictions, but in the meantime it causes another person to stumble, your worship is not good to God! Loving God looks like loving your neighbor and learning how to worship God together.] 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. [So we see here that we are to do all our Christian Liberties with faith. We are to infuse each of our convictions about worship, each of our preferences, with faith. Otherwise we are sinning. So we are free only if we have faith. So if you raise your hands in worship, raise them in faith; if you stand still, stand still in faith; if you love hymns, sing them in faith; if you prefer drums, prefer drums in faith; if you say spontaneous praises in worship, say them in faith. Infuse everything with faith! Give all your worship to God out of thanksgiving and honor and trust him that He’s given you the freedom in Christ to worship Him in that way.]
The Example of Christ
15 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. [Be patient with each other. You will please God if you please your brother in Christ in a way that builds him up.] For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” [Here is our hope! Be like Jesus! Jesus was a part of the greatest worship war ever. We didn’t worship God at all, and did Jesus just ignore us and say, “Well I’ll just keep worshiping the Father here in heaven. I prefer being in all my glory and dwelling in the Father’s presence.” That’s Jesus’ worship preference. Did he do that? No! He let His worship preference be disrupted, he came down here in our dirt and loved us and died for us! Talk about sacrificing your worship preference! Jesus did not please himself, but bore reproach. May we be like Him.] For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. [Because Jesus died on the cross for us and has united us to Himself and filled us with His Spirit, he will grant us to live in harmony with one another so that with one voice we will glorify God! When unity in worship gets hard and confusing, He gives us encouragement and endurance through the Scriptures. So let’s stay in the Word, let’s think through all our worship preferences with the Bible.]