Spiritual Discernment

Have you ever read a book or heard a sermon and said to yourself something like “That has been inside me for a long time, I just could not get it out.” That is exactly what I have been thinking as I have been reading “The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment” by Tim Challies. He is best known for his website http://discerningreader.com/. (The website is dedicated to book reviews of books that would be beneficial to the believer and offering warnings to books we should look out for and why.)

The book on Spiritual Discernment has come at a critical moment in my life both personally and as I attempt to minister the Word in this age. Spiritual relativism has duped our minds into taking at face value and accepting what they say as true anyone who quotes a Bible verse or calls themselves a Christian. Recently, one of my daughters and I were talking about stuff. One of those talks that I enjoy so much. She said to me, “Dad, one of my friends said that we should listen to the music of a particular group(I will not name them) because they are Christians.” I replied, “What did you say?” She basically said to her friend “They do not seem to act or sing like Christians.” To which she was met with hostility by both her friend and the others present, “Oh yes they are they said so!” Her young heart and mind was attempting to move toward spiritual discernment when she said to me “Dad, is that true?” A conversation continued with far deeper conclusions and I pray lasting impressions on her mind and heart.

Part of that conversation had to do with what Challies meant when he said “Many Christians wish they could live in a bubble…a bubble that would protect them from false teaching and allow them to avoid having to develop or use spiritual discernment…We live in a world that is in direct opposition to Christianity. Just as germs are constantly waging war on our bodies, false doctrine is constantly waging against our faith. God has provided us with discernment to enable us to withstand these attacks.”

The bubble is not possible long term. Spiritual discernment lasts a lifetime.

Discernment is the anti-bacterial soap that we carry in the pocket of our minds.

Next time–I will offer an opportunity, concerning Oprah and McDonalds, to practice a little discernment…

Sunrise Sermon by Dr. M.O. Owens, Jr.

Dr. M.O. Owens, Jr. is the founding Pastor of Parkwood. He is now 94 years old. Each year he preaches for our Sunrise service. I was so moved by his message yesterday that I wanted to share with you today.

RAISED FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION

Romans 4:13, 18-5:2

It is difficult for us, even though we are believers, to keep God in full perspective. The Christian faith is full of paradoxical declarations. God is love – and we know that is true. We have experienced it in so many ways. He has shown it in its fullness in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the sacrifice for our sins. – But God is also wrath – wrathful toward anyone who refuses to take Him seriously. But He is also wrathful toward all sin.

The same can be said for Jesus God’s only Son, whom He sent to be one of us, yet at the same time the very embodiment of God’s being. This man demonstrated love in its totality. His life was a continual manifestation of profound and unprecedented love. Yet He could, and did, deal out decisive and devastating wrath. He is a loving Messiah, who has been sent to bring us God’s greatest blessings. But He is also a Messiah who has the will to be punitive and wrathful against that which seeks to block God’s will.

Jesus’ love is of heroic proportions. In Himself He was entirely free and innocent of any evil whatsoever – no finger could ever be pointed at any deed of His as evil. Yet this man volunteered to die the death you and I deserve. It is difficult for us to even imagine the tremendous pain, suffering and humiliation He endured in order to provide to us the possibility of our receiving mercy from God, our Judge. If you saw the movie The Passion of the Christ you saw a disturbing depiction. But the real road of the cross was probably far worse. And He did not have to do what He did. He didn’t owe it to us. We did not, and do not, deserve such a sacrifice. The universe could have gone on just fine with the whole lot of us condemned to destruction. The stars would still have stayed in their places. But it was His love – a God-like love – that took suffering and death upon Himself so we could avoid the ultimate suffering of hell.

But we should never forget the coming wrath of this same Jesus, which will be of epic proportions. The day will come when this Jesus – raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the throne of God – will declare judgment on the earth. When He comes, He will come with a sword – a sword sweeping across all who have opposed the truth He proclaimed. He will not then be coming to forgive, but only to judge unbelief – the only truly ultimately unforgiveable sin.

Those who have looked upon Jesus as a cuddly, toy Messiah, who could be played with as a toy, will be destroyed. Those who have believed in Jesus as their tolerant, kindly, all-accepting enabler, will meet their doom on that day. Those who have looked upon Him as life-giving sugar-daddy will be cast into darkness in that day.

For His judgment on evil was so severe, so intolerant, that He gave Himself as the consummate result of such evil, dying on a cross, so that those whom He loves, and who will put their trust in Him, will be spared condemnation on the day that Jesus returns in wrath.

Today we celebrate a risen Christ. Why did God raise Him from the dead? To bring ultimate defeat to Satan and his rebellion? Yes, in part.

Because God’s mercy overrides His justice? Yes, in part.

Because God in His love provided that our condemnation to death is swallowed up by His gift of eternal Life? Yes, that’s part.

He came forth from the dead as proof of God’s promise that all who are righteous in His sight will live again. Jesus’ words were and are: “. . . because I live, you shall live also. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” (John 14:19b-20 NASB). Had there been the slightest iota of sin in His life, there would have been no resurrection. But His righteousness was complete, and death could not hold Him. – By that same construction, you and I who have faith in Him, are clothed in His righteousness. “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5 NASB).

Through our faith in Jesus, all our sins, past, present, future were gathered upon Him, and He took them to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, not His. On that cross, He nailed the divine statement, “Paid in full.” Now, instead of that sinfulness quivering under the wrath of an angry, retributive God, we lift our faces in glorious freedom, covered by His redeeming righteousness, freed from the penalty for sin.

It is the risen Christ who justifies the ungodly. He “who was delivered up because of our transgressions” has been “raised because of our justification” (Roman 4:25 NASB). In His resurrection is the guarantee that we too, shall be raised on that Day when He returns in all glory and power. But we shall be raised, not to face His anger and justice, but instead, to stand before Him clothed in His righteousness, to hear Him say, “Come ye blessed of My Father; inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34 NASB). God has raised Him from the dead to rule as God and serve as Judge of all the earth. And He will have stood before the Father to say of those of us who have true faith, “Father, these are Mine; they are justified as without the condemnation of sin, for I paid the penalty.”

Raised from the dead, He lives. I am foolish not to take Him for who He is – the Lord of the universe, and King of kings. He has all power and authority. I know that except for Him I will die an eternal death.

Because He lives, I know His message is eternal truth; I dare not turn away from it. I must hear it, and understand it, and heed it. He calls me to follow Him in all seriousness, to make my life count for Him. I must not fritter my life away in the foolishness of this world. There is no place for mere entertainment in His plan. Nor is there any place for the material to become a prime objective.

Because He lives, I must be vigilant to guard my own heart – turning it to love for God and His righteousness. I must diligently seek to learn and know the difference between good and evil and truth and error. I am not my own; I’ve been bought with a price; I’m only a servant in His kingdom. I’ve been made alive to share with Him in His kingdom, knowing that one day, because He was raised for my justification, I’ll share in all His glory.

His resurrection is the forerunner, and the provider of our resurrection. For we died to sin, and have been raised to walk in newness of life, His life is now in us, and we are justified by our faith, for His resurrection has opened the door to heaven for all who are His.

Raised for our justification.

Dr. M. O. Owens, Jr

March 23, 2008

Power and Full Conviction

“We need the Spirit of God, then, all through the sermon to keep our hearts and minds in proper condition, for if we have not the right spirit we shall lose the tone which persuades and prevails, and our people will discover that Samson’s strength has departed from him…To avoid errors of manners and tone, we must be led of the Holy Spirt, who alone teaches…” Charles Hadden Spurgeon

Where is the power?

What is the modern preacher communicating? Consider my ramblings. Those who preach have to look good.(Count out Spurgeon or Edwards in our day) The people communicating have to have the right hair, clothes, weight and age. The atmosphere must be conducive to modern tastes. Children must enjoy what takes place. By no means can little Johnny or Mary be bored. They have never known boredom so we cannot let church slow down long enough for him to possibly associate boredom with God. High energy activity and cutting edge technology must get their attention. Preaching, excuse me “talks,” must be shared in such a way as to not offend the modern emotional state. Sin is offensive, wait a minute that is a true statement. Let me clarify, sin is offensive to God. Reminding a modern that they have sinned against a Holy God is offensive to them. They need practical application. Tell them how to succeed, how to raise athletic and bright children, how have a passionate and enviable marriage(after they finish running their bright athletic children all over town). Tell them how to know God in 5 easy steps. Just give them the ABC’s of asking Jesus into their heart. They really are not that bad but adding Jesus can’t hurt–in fact in will likely help. Tell them how to make lots of money and by all means never tell them to give because that is a private issue that offends and keeps people from coming to church.

Ok, I will stop rambling and tell you what got me started on these thoughts today. I am studying 1 Thessalonians in my personal Quiet Time and preparing to preach Mark 1:1-8 on the ministry of John the Baptist. What if John were alive today? He would need an extreme makeover, a personality coach, and to attend a church growth seminar to get a grasp on how to communicate with our modern world. Now, he might be a hit with the green crowd. Anyone up for some locust for lunch? Mark 1:3 refers to him as a “voice crying in the wilderness.” Can’t you see poor John out in the wilderness preaching his poor heart out and no one coming. But wait, v. 5 says “all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.” Now consider 1 Thess. 1:5 “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…”

I am burdened each time I hear a “preacher” who uses just words. I hear a lot of clear words and concise words, spoken through whitened and glistening teeth, with perfected smiles soothing and reassuring the hearer. Then, there are those who stand before a congregation mumbling their way through unprepared and meaningless dribble. How about the educated man or woman for that matter with high and lofty words that few understand but many are impressed with? Let us not forget the red-faced hollering brother who wants an amen for what he said 10 minutes ago, last week, and every week for the past several years. Loud yes, but the question remains… In all of this, where is the power? Where is full conviction? Where is the Holy Spirit? Does anyone care???

As a preacher, I listen to preaching. I do not have time to listen to bad preaching. I.e. preaching with no power, conviction, no Holy Spirit. I listen most often to John Piper. He is a man with deep conviction. Having sat under his preaching which is different than listening to a podcast, I can attest to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. His influence is huge and at the same time dangerous. I fear that too many young men try to imitate his power and conviction without first praying for and seeking those things. I fear that because I have done it.

Preaching and the preparation of the preacher go hand in hand. I can attest to the mind numbing and strength sapping success driven model on the one hand and the parson model on the other. One keeps the pastor’s eyes on growth, the other on keeping the people happy. I am not advocating that we preachers become monks that appear once in a while to preach I am saying that if we do not spend adequate time in prayer and saturating, meditative preparation, we cannot preach with power and conviction. Let me offer that there are times that in spite of me and the time that I have had in prayer and the Word, the Holy Spirit has shown up in power. Those times are an exception. I do not long for and look for those days that are an exception. I long for the exceptional. I want that which can only be explained as a work of God. I want to offer preaching that is marked with power, full conviction and the work of the Holy Spirit. I long for that power, I pray for that power, I look for that power, I expect that power.

The power is the Gospel! It is enough and I stake my life and my ministry on that power alone!

Blogging

The word blog has a guttural sound that does not exactly bring an image to mind that is pleasing. It reminds me of a movie that I saw when I was a kid called “The Blob.” The Blob was a gooey mass that swallowed up everything in its path. Blogs in many ways do the same thing. Nothing is now outside the realm of being swallowed up by a blog. The world of cyberspace allows most anyone to say most anything about whatever they wish. As a result, I want to lay down some ground rules for myself as I launch into the world of blogging.

I will not use this blog to personally confront someone over something that I should have confronted them personally. Further, I will not drag personal confrontation into the world of cyberspace for everyone to read.

I will not use this blog as a place of complaining and griping. I commit to be direct with the application of Scripture as I am in my preaching. However, I will not sit down each time to write trying to think of something that I need to critique or complain about.

I will seek to use this blog to present the implications and application of the Word of God in a clear and careful manner.

I will seek to use this blog to to teach and share about things on my heart beyond what I have the time to handle from the pulpit on Sundays and Wednesdays.

I will seek to use this blog to answer questions that I get asked by believers and non-believers about the faith.

I will seek to use words in a careful and concise manner.

I will seek to be conscious of the potential implications of anything that I write or say.

I will seek to edify and encourage believers.

I will seek to glorify the Lord God.

Further, I will seek to be a good steward of my time. I am a Husband, Father, and Pastor. I am not a blogger. In other words, I will likely only blog once a week or less. I want to have something to say that births from reflection, study, and prayer. As a result, I pray that those who read the words found on this blog will be encouraged to live and think in a Christlike manner.