Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

Tag: Bible

The Truth about LUST

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The word “Lust” is used numerous times in the New Testament.  It is basically a word that means a strong desire or craving.  It is similar to the word “covetousness” in the 10 commandments.  And it is extremely dangerous.  Lust created Gollum.  Sure, you can lust for good things (Luke 22:15; Phil. 1:23; 1 Thess. 2:17), but in Scripture, overwhelmingly the word for “lust” is used in a negative way.  It is either a sin (Matthew 5:28), or it leads to sin (James 1:15).  Whether it is lust for money, possessions, another person’s life, or another person’s wife, lust has the potential to kill you.  So, before giving in, remember the truth about LUST.

Lie:  Lust lies to you.  Lust promises far more than it can deliver.  Lust told Adam and Eve that they will “not” surely die when they ate the fruit.  Lust told them that it will make them wise like God.  It told them that the beautiful garden and provision from God was not enough.  And it tells us the same things.  Lust tells us we don’t have enough to be content, we need more.  It tells us our house is not big enough, our spouse is not good enough, and our car is not fast enough.  It tells us the lie that satisfaction and “the good life” is always just out of arms reach.  We always need a little bit more money, sex, entertainment, and stuff to reach it.

Unsatisfying:  Lust is unsatisfying.  You might enjoy the momentary pleasure of that video on the internet, that evening with a woman that you’re not married to, or that recent impulse purchase at Sam’s Club.  But soon enough, buyer’s remorse begins to arise.  Guilt and regret spread throughout your soul.  You do not see yourself as the person you want to be.  You return to the empty, shallowness that you tried to fill with some forbidden fruit.  And your lust returns stronger than ever.  You begin chasing the high that you so desperately long for, only to be disappointed every time.  It steals your satisfaction (and gratitude) with what you already have, and replaces it with an unsatisfied craving for more.

Selfish:  Lust is not about satisfying or helping others.  People usually don’t sit at home and crave mowing a widow’s lawn, or helping their spouse clean the bedroom.  Lust is all about us.  Jesus said that lusting after a woman is the same as committing adultery with her in the heart (Matthew 5:28).  This is the ultimate way to devalue a person.  A Princeton psychologist conducted an interesting study that showed men view scantily clad women as objects rather than humans.  When you are in lust mode, you are not seeing a human being with goals, purpose, and intrinsic worth.  You are seeing a means to satisfy your craving.  You are seeing a tool that you can use to accomplish a task.  A selfish, demeaning task.

Terrible:  Lust does terrible things to you and others.  How many people have been raped, killed, dehumanized, insulted, cheated, abandoned, impoverished, evicted, fired, and used because of lust?  Lust devalues others and leaves you feeling empty, regretful, and dissatisfied.  It harms your heart (Matthew 5:28), and it leads to your death (James 1:14-15).  Over time it robs you of your humanity and decency.  It is a terrible plague that is destroying the entire world (1 John 2:15-17).

The next time you begin to feel strong sinful cravings arising in your body and mind, change your environment.  Fill that craving with something else.  Give a friend a phone call, go for a run, stand outside, build a chair, read your Bible, do gymnastics, go to the store, put an ax through your computer, pray, give thanks for the blessings you already have, do something!  Find hobbies, find help, and strive for satisfaction and contentment.  Leave lust behind, because the truth is, lust is a terrible, selfish, unsatisfying, lie.

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You Need Some Self-Control

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I know a guy who drives me crazy.  No one can get me more upset than him.  He makes me sick.  I refer to him as “Past Travis.”  He’s a lot like me, only he’s not here anymore.  He has turned into “Present Travis.”  Let me tell you why he makes me so angry.

Do you know why I don’t have washboard abs?  Because “Past Travis” was too lazy.  Wondering why I don’t know French, German, Italian, or Latin?  Ask him.  Guess why I don’t have more money?  He would rather fritter it away on his worthless impulses!  He has set me up for failure in so many ways.  I could be so impressive if he just would have taken some initiative.

Now, let me tell you about someone who I can’t wait to meet. He is going to be smart, athletic, and remarkably interesting.  He will be fluent in many languages, eat right, be great with money, and probably be in the NFL.  I call him “Future Travis.”  I’m supremely confident that he will be amazing!

But here is the problem I’m beginning to realize. In order for Future Travis to be amazing, Present Travis needs to get busy.  I certainly can’t rely on Past Travis…lazy jerk.  And since Present Travis needs to get busy, that means I need to get busy.

To quote Daniel Gilbert, “The things we do when we expect our lives to continue are naturally and properly different than the things we might do if we expected them to end abruptly…we do each of these things in the charitable service of the people we will soon become.”[1]

So what do you want your future self to be?  You better start acting on it now.  Just do it.  DO IT!  DOOOO IIITTTT!  Shia LaBeouf will beat you up if you don’t.

The key to being able to set yourself up for the future is self-control.  To be who you want to be, you need to change who you are.  If you can control your desires now, it will be a major boon to your future happiness and well-being.  No one flosses for the momentary joy of bloody gums and spitty fingers.  You do it (or should!) so that your future self can have healthy teeth.

On the flip side, no one wants to be a drunk, drug addict, of massively overweight in the future, but many people want alcohol, drugs, and waffles now.  You don’t want skin cancer, but you want to tan now.  No one wants to wants to be a murderer, but people want to be angry and take revenge now.  King David did not want to be an adulterer, but in the moment he did want someone else’s wife.

When we act based on our present impulses to the detriment of our future selves, we are neglecting self-control.  The Bible describes “self-control” in a number of ways.  It uses the words “self-control” (Galatians 5:23), Self-denial (Mark 8:34), crucifixion (Galatians 2:20), saying, “No” (Titus 2:12 NIV).  Each of these are ways that we control our present selves in order to be the people we want to become.  Or much more, the people God wants us to become.

Christians must exercise self-control, not only to be fit, smart, and wealthy in the future, but because it’s impossible to be the person God wants you to without it.  You will not be benevolent, sexually pure, with a tame tongue, positive attitude, and evangelistic fervor, without a lot of training and practice.  Training your present self in order to shape who you become is a great definition of self-control.

Want to protect your future self?  Take steps now to control your spending, eating, and spiritual well-being.  Practice disciplines like fasting, prayer, study, and meditation which help you master your mind and body.  Set your “Future Self” up for success by being the “Present Self” you wish your “Past Self” would have been.  Like walls that protect a city, self-control protects your future.

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls”—Proverbs 25:28

[1] Gilbert, Daniel. Stumbling on Happiness. New York; Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

You Pharisee!

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“You Pharisee!”  “I’m a recovering Pharisee.”  “That’s just Pharisaical.”  Have you ever heard an accusation or admission that sounded like this?  I know I have.  These statements are generally made in reference to how strictly someone applies the Bible.  Terms often thrown out in conjunction with Pharisee are “legalist,” “ultra conservative,” “judgmental” and, well, “jerk.”  These are fairly common accusations and are sometimes fitting.  However, lumping “Pharisee” with these other derogatory terms can lead to a misunderstanding of what Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees was actually like.

The Faults of the Pharisees:

The Gospels portray the Pharisees as having a lot of negative traits.  They are pictured as elitist, arrogant, and uncaring.  They were hypocrites who taught others hard truths that they were unwilling to do themselves.  They had no compassion for the infirmed or those who were deemed “sinners.”  They cared more about the traditions of their fathers than the actual Law of God.  They cared more about getting praise from men than giving praise to God.  Their deeds of righteousness: giving, prayer, and fasting, focused primarily on self aggrandizement.  They made and broke their vows based on contrived technicalities.  Their goal was to try and trap Jesus with their dishonest Scripture games and word plays.  Simply, the Gospels do not paint a pretty picture of the Pharisees.

Jesus and the Pharisees:

The problem with the modern insult, however, is that it’s rarely used to talk about these negative traits.  It’s usually used to talk about “strictness” and “legalism.”  Interestingly, these are two things that the Pharisees are NOT rebuked for.  In fact, at times Jesus seems to rebuke them for not being strict enough.

Remember the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most challenging sections of Scripture you will ever read.  The call of the sermon is for a righteousness that “surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20).  It is to surpass their righteousness in sincerity (6:1), priority (6:33), but also in practice (5:21-48).  Whether the subject is anger, insults, violence, lust, adultery, divorce, honesty, revenge, self sacrifice, or love, Jesus calls His disciples to an incredibly high standard, unparalleled by anyone, far exceeding the Pharisees.

In Matthew 15 Jesus levels a harsh rebuke at the Pharisees, not for binding the law too strictly, but for ignoring the law in favor of traditions.  “Why do you transgress the commandments of God for the sake of your traditions?…by this you invalidate the word of God for the sake of tradition…In vain do they worship Me, Teaching for doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:3-9).  Jesus appears to have a pretty big problem with ignoring or transgressing the law.

In Matthew 23, Jesus makes it pretty clear that His problem is not how strictly the Pharisees teach the Law, but that they ignore important parts of it.  He says, “all that they [the Pharisees] tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds.  They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matthew 23:3-4).  Later in the chapter, Jesus will say, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.  You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23).

Notice several points in this passage.  1) Jesus saw some teachings of the law as more important than others. 2) The Pharisees stressed doing the less important stuff. 3) Jesus stressed doing ALL the stuff.

He didn’t rebuke the Pharisees for doing the less important parts right, but for neglecting the most important sections of Law.  His problem was that they “swallowing camels” not that they “strained gnats.”  Jesus ends verse 23 by saying, “these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”  If it is important Jesus want you to do it.  If it is less important, Jesus still wants you to do it.  The Pharisees majored in minors, and Jesus wanted them to major in all of it.

Are You a Modern Pharisee?

If you pick and choose which of God’s teachings to follow, then you may be a Pharisee.  If you show no compassion to the man on the street because it was his sins that got him there, then you may be a Pharisee.  If you care more about looking “conservative” or “sound” than sincere devotion to God, you may be a Pharisee.  If you bind beloved traditions on others, then you may be a Pharisee.  If you care more about winning arguments with word traps than you do souls, you may be a Pharisee.  If you expect more of others than you do of yourself, you may be a Pharisee.  But, if you are strict or even “legalistic” in your adherence to divine teaching, rest assured, you are following the path of Jesus more than the Pharisees.

Unanswered Prayers

The efficacy of prayer has often been an issue which has troubled believers.  It seems like prayer works sometimes, but other times it does absolutely nothing.  There have been times I prayed for things, even very specific things, and they have come to pass quickly, efficiently, and in a manner I approved.  In those times it is easy to say, “Good job, God, You handled that very well. Bravo.”  However, many times I have prayed for specific things and it seems like the prayer has yielded very little divine attention.

Occasionally, I will have major issues I am dealing with and two facts come to my mind: I know God in His omnipotence can easily and immediately do exactly what I am asking, and I know He doesn’t.  It makes me want to cry out, “How long, O Lord, will I call for help, And You will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2), or possibly, “I cry out to You for help, but You do not answer me” (Job 30:20).  David said, “O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest” (Psalm 22:2).  Clearly, this issue is not new.  Unanswered prayers are a major struggle today, just as they were by many stalwarts of faith in Scripture.

Unanswered prayers not only cause doubt because we feel God’s not listening, but it makes us question the times He does answer us.  “Am I simply attributing dumb luck to a benevolent Creator?  Surely just by chance things will go my way sometimes.  Is there a correlation between how often things go my way when I pray versus when I don’t pray?  Is there a litmus test I can develop to verify or falsify the power of prayer?”

This mindset, I fear, is a lot of the problem.  We judge God’s existence, compassion, and abilities based on how closely He conforms to our desires.  If everything goes my way all the time then God must really exist, care and be quite talented. But when things don’t go my way, it begs some serious questions.  Does God really hear?  Does He really care? Does He really exist?

If I judge God’s abilities or existence based on how well He obeys me, I have really missed the point.  I have essentially switched places with Him.  Instead of God judging me based on my response to Him, I have started judging Him based on His response to me.

In the Bible there are many answers given for why our prayers might not be answered as we wish.  Sometimes we ask things that God simply does not want to do.  Or put another way, “it is against His will.”  Maybe His plans are different than our desires (Habakkuk 1:2-3, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 12:8-9).  Even Jesus faced this dilemma with prayer (Luke 22:42).  Maybe our plans do not fit His timeline (Revelation 6:9-11; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Job 30:20).  Maybe we gave up too quickly (Luke 11:5-10; 18:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Maybe we asked with the wrong motives (James 4:3).  Maybe we have been bad husbands (1 Peter 3:7).  Maybe because of our life choices we have been denied the benefit of prayer (Isaiah 59:1, 2; Psalm 66:18-20).

There are many reasons why God might not answer our prayers, or might not answer as we wish He would.  It should cause us to look inwardly and ask if we need to make some life changes.  It should cause us to trust in God that maybe, just maybe, He knows best.  You know, that whole “Your will be done” thing.  But we should never put ourselves in His seat, and base our view of Him on how well He follows our lead.  We should not design tests for God so we can judge and score His abilities.  We should pray without ceasing, without doubting, without judging, and trust that God is pretty good at what He does.  Let Him be the God in the relationship.

Why I Love The Bible

Why I Love the Bible

One Wednesday evening after speaking in a Summer Series in Durant, OK I was approached by a college student. He had sat in the auditorium while I presented a sermon on the topic of “God’s Holy Book.” After I had finished preaching and the service had ended, he eagerly walked to where I was standing and told me he needed to talk to me about something very important. I had never met this man before and thoughts started racing through my head about what was on his mind. My hope was that his heart had been pricked and he desired to become a Christian. I soon realized that his intentions were entirely different.

He began to unload on how much he despised the Bible, citing it as the reason for all the evil in the world. He had been spending time on atheistic websites that had filled his mind with a tremendous amount of animosity. He had printed off a list of 101 Bible Contradictions which we began going through together. I spoke with him for several hours that evening. The discussion did not result in his conversation to Christ but we both enjoyed it and we left on good terms. I emailed him later, but to no avail.

The conversation that we had got me thinking a lot. I thought about the importance of being prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us. I also thought about God’s providence as my study for the sermon on “God’s Holy Book” prepared me for that interaction. (It also did not hurt that early that day I had finished reading the Warren-Flew debate and was rarin’ to go). However, the feeling that struck me the most was one of great pity. In no way was my pity derived from a feeling of superiority or pride, but from a feeling that where I had experienced great love this man had experienced great anger and animosity. That the book I had grown to love and appreciate from a young age could result in so much hate and anger in another was something I found profoundly depressing. I pitied him for how much he was missing.

I love the Scriptures. I enjoy studying the Bible. I am in full-time pulpit ministry, not because I love performing funerals and weddings. It’s not because I love visiting hospitals and I certainly don’t love wearing suits in the 100 degree heat. I am in ministry because I love the Word of God and the impact it can make in someone’s life. This is not to say that visitation and the honor of performing funerals/weddings are not important (I’m still doubting the importance of me being in a suit in the summer), but these things are not what I love about ministry. I love the Bible.

  1.  I love the Bible because it is the foundation of so many of my best relationships. My relationship with my parents, best friends and spouse are all rooted in our mutual appreciation for Scripture. When I spend time with my parents the Bible is not only what guides our relationship, but it is also the main topic of many of our discussions. Most of my best friends are full time ministers, and all of my best friends are people whose lives have been shaped and molded by Scripture. My beautiful wife means the world to me. I can talk to her about anything. But our relationship is founded upon our common love for the Word of God. It is His Word that unites us and gives us a shared worldview. I could not imagine the turmoil each of these relationships would suffer if God were removed from the foundation.
  2. I love the Bible because I love the people in the Bible. From childhood many of my greatest heroes were men whose lives have been recorded in the Sacred Writings. Daniel, whose faith and dedication to God was so great that the threat of death would not hinder his prayer life. Jacob, who repeatedly overcame seemingly insurmountable hardships without losing faith. Paul, who radically changed his life when confronted with his error, and faithfully served Christ through times of persecution and hatred from every direction. I love to read the accounts of these men. I love to read about Esther, Noah, Peter, Samson, Amos, David, John, etc. Men and women who at times seemed so human while other times their faith soared high above expectation. Men and women who rose above conflict to do what was right. I love to read about these people.
  3. I love the Bible because it changes lives. The Bible has changed my life. I have seen the incredible power of God’s Word in action through the lives of sinners brought to Christ. I have personally experienced positive changes in my life as I have sought to conform to His will. I love teaching the Bible and seeing it “click” in people’s minds. I love to learn the Bible, and I love to help others learn the Bible. When people learn the Bible, they are learning truths that transcend this earth. The Bible does not change lives because it is so well written. The Bible does not change lives because it is so culturally influential. The Bible does not change lives because a preacher might be a great speaker. The Bible changes lives because it comes from God. That thought always blows my mind. The book that I am holding in my hand actually came from the mind of God. When reading Scripture, we are reading insights from the Mind that created and sustains the universe, the God of Israel. This almighty God has spoken. It is an indescribable honor to be able to listen. When we do listen, the Bible changes lives.

I suppose there is a lot more that could be said. For 3,400 years, since the Bible first began to be written and preserved, people have been talking about it. That is not going to stop either. It will continue to strengthen relationships. The lives of the heroes in Scripture will continue to inspire. God will continue to speak His message to generations as long as this earth exists. That excites me! “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass, the grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). I love this book and will study and preach it as long as I am able.

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