Questions To Challenge Us For The New Year
by DSB

What If Questions

1.  What if I really believed I have – right now – the God-given capacity to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, along with the ability to know that I love Him that much?
    1a. What if I desperately wanted to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength – even though I could admit I do not as yet love Him in this way?

2.  What if I loved God enough that any unnecessary distance between us bothered me, and even grieved me because I knew it grieved Him?

3.  What if I valued or treasured holiness the way God does?

4.  What if I hungered for, thirsted after, and relentlessly pursued holiness in every area of my life – as much as God wants me to be holy?

5.  What if I was as eager and hungry to see my own sin as I am in wanting others to see their sin?

6.  What if I really believed a broken and contrite heart is what God is looking for, and longing for, as my first response to those times when I sin – whether I sinned knowingly and deliberately or carelessly and thoughtlessly?

7.  What if I methodically and diligently measured every thought, fear, hope, desire, word, and deed by the measuring stick of God’s Word and the example of Christ’s life?
    7a. What if I nurtured my conscience and protected it from misuse so it would function as God intended it to function?
    7b. What if I believed I could hear the Holy Spirit’s convicting voice each time I was about to sin or after sinning, but only if I really wanted to hear Him?

8.  What if I really believed God would never allow me to be tempted, tried, or tested beyond my current ability to remain faithful to Him and His Word?
    8a. What if I had the utmost confidence that God always provides a way of escape from every temptation, trial, and testing?

9.   What if I took seriously God’s directive to “count it all joy when I encounter various trials?
    9a. What if I treasured God’s commitment to strengthen my faith and perfect my character through the use of trials and testing?

10. What if I believed being conformed, some more, to the image of Christ was the very best thing God could do for Himself and for me today?

11. What if I really believed God is my “all-in-all” so that I confidently rested in the fact that He is my first and foremost source of provision, protection, security, love, personal well-being, contentment, inner peace, joy, and power for living the Christ-like life?

12. What if I believed that what was going on between God and me had far more influence over my response to a situation or person than what was going on between myself and the person or the circumstance?

13. What if I really believed prayer changes things – from me, to my home, to our church, to my neighbors, to my workplace, to circumstances, and beyond?
    13a. What if I prayed for my pastor and his teaching times as if the spiritual health of our church depended on my praying?
    13b. What if on Sundays I came early to pour out my heart before God concerning our time together and express my burning desire for Him to work among us and in us?
    13c. What if I really believed our church needs a revival type move of God in our midst – right now!

14. What if I really believed my sinful, unfaithful, wrong, and otherwise ungodly behavior hindered my prayers?
    14a. What if I really believed the prayers of a righteous person are effective and can accomplish much?
    14b. What if we gathered on a particular Sunday and our confession of personal and corporate sin brought a work of God among us such as we have never seen before?

15. What if I prayed with as much passion and urgency for the things that matter to God as I pray for the things that matter to me?

16. What if I expected God, by His Spirit, to bring His Word to life as I read it so that the life of His Word gets into me and has its proper impact on me?

17. What if I really believed that because I am a Christian I am salt and light – already – and that I have the power to choose whether I will use what I am – already – for the glory of God or the shame of God?

18. What if I really believed my neighbors’ and co-workers’ separation from God and unbelief in God was just the most horrible thing that was happening to them, and that I had the means of offering them a way to be reconciled to God?

19. What if I lived up to what I know and practiced what I teach?

20. What if God meant so much to me that I was willing – indeed, eager – to do all this for Him regardless of the cost to me?

Two Exhortations and One Encouragement For The New Year
by DSB

For many years now, it has seemed wise to me to go into the New Year with some sense of caution, planning, zeal, and longing for more of God and godliness in my life. This year is no different. Therefore, I wish to present you with two exhortations and one encouragement for the coming year.

FIRST, guard against treating as acceptable (or overlooking or living in denial of) anything that remains within you that is not of God – such as known sin or worldly pleasures or fleshly longings or unholy affections or earthly cares or pride or coveting or the desire for earthly praise or whatever else you know does not belong there.

Why? Because, whatever is not of God turns you against God.

Consider carefully the following truths about those things that are not of God. Whatever is not of God dulls your ears to the voice of God and dulls your mind to the truths of God’s word. It desensitizes you to the heinousness and destructiveness of ungodliness, so that you treat as acceptable or even necessary – given certain circumstances – some sin or unholy passions or selfishness. Whatever is not of God damages your conscience and adds hardness to your heart – making you that much more insensitive to the convicting and teaching work of the Holy Spirit. Whatever is not of God prevents you from loving God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength – thus doing damage to the quality and depth of your relationship with God.

So once again, guard against allowing anything to remain in your thoughts, desires, pursuits, possessions, words, and deeds that is not of God, because it will turn you against God.

Now it is true that some sin or some worldliness or pursuing the gratification of some unholy desires or choosing selfishness over love in a particular area of life will not turn us wholly against God all at once. However, we cannot sow seeds of unholiness in any amount without reaping some form of destruction. And if we repeatedly sow those seeds, we will continue to reap destruction in some form and to some degree. So though we may think we can contain small amounts of sin or our chosen areas of ungodliness, the truth is, we can’t. Evil grows, just like all living things in this world.

God warned the Israelites about this very truth before they entered into the Promised Land. He said to them: “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then it shall come about that those whom you let remain of them will become as pricks in your eyes and as thorns in your sides, and they will trouble you in the land in which you live. And as I plan to do to them, so I will do to you” (Numbers 33:55-56).

When Israel went into the Promised Land, God gave them the responsibility of driving out or destroying all the inhabitants. Now when God said all, He did not mean most of the inhabitants, or the most evil among them, He meant all of them. Why? Because any inhabitants Israel allowed to remain would slowly, yet progressively, turn them against God – corrupting their hearts and minds to the point where they would end up living like the evil inhabitants they were to drive out or destroy.

It is true that God did not expect Israel to clear the Land in a day or a week or a month or even a year – just like He does not expect us to be rid of all our sins of the flesh, mind, and heart soon after repenting and putting our faith in Jesus. However, God did expect Israel to get the job done in a reasonable period of time, and He expects the same from us.

Now think carefully about this with me for a moment. The inhabitants that Israel was to drive out or destroy included soldiers, non-fighting men, women, and children. Imagine having to drive out or destroy women and children. It is possible some of the Israelites thought this was excessive or unnecessary or something a good God would never require of them. Though this is speculative on my part, my point is that some of us today think that having to drive out or destroy ALL sin or worldliness or unholy passions – especially those we consider important to our happiness and sense of well-being – is excessive or unnecessary when it comes to having a pure heart and loving God supremely and living a godly life that pleases and honors Him.

And yet, all sin, whether great or small, repulsive or attractive, obviously destructive or seeming life-enhancing, painful or pleasurable – all sin, all that is worldly or fleshly or of the devil – it all turns us against God, it all weakens us spiritually, it all damages the closeness and intimacy of our relationship with God, it all works against the health of the Church, and it all adds to the dishonor of God in the world.

Think carefully with me here – we cannot love God with all our heart, or gain a pure heart with which to see God, or die to self in order to whole-heartedly live for God, or be a vessel for honor (which is what makes us useful to God) without doing our part in driving out “ALL” that we know does not belong within us or in our life because it is not of God.

This may seem harsh at times, for it requires forsaking or losing out on some things that appear to be vital to a happy and secure life. But I assure you that a day will come when, looking back, you will not regret having turned your back on and having driven out of your life whatever is not of God, in spite of how costly it may be to your self-life. And I also assure you that if you take this path of righteousness, you will come to know more joy, more inner peace, more of the presence and fellowship of God, and more contentment with life than you could ever imagine. May God be this precious to us in 2012.

SECOND, make God your most treasured possession as well as your Lord and Master, so that in living for Him you base all your thoughts, desires, and behaviors on His will and His Word.

Why am I bringing this up? Because too often our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions are driven by the circumstances and people around us rather than being driven by who God is, what His will is, and what His words says – regardless of the circumstances and people around us.

Consider these scriptures that speak to the issue:
    Matthew 13:44-46 . . . The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. [45] Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, [46] and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. God and His kingdom and His word are to be our most precious possession. In fact, they are to be of such value to us that we would forsake all – holding back nothing – to have them.

    II Corinthians 5:14-15 . . . For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; [15] and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Christ died that we might live, not just in heaven for eternity, but for Him, here and now, to the end of our days in this world.

    Romans 14:9 . . . For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Christ as savior? Yes! Christ as Lord? Yes, yes! We are to hold both in equal esteem and give honor to both by how we live each day.

    Mark 12:30 . . . And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  That word “ALL” leaves nothing untouched or left over for loving anything else. And yes, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, so we are not to take the word “ALL” to excess, but neither are we to treat it as if it were equal to the word “MOST” or “ALMOST” or some other such word as that.

The point I am trying to make is that as Christians, we are to guard against responding to life and allowing our behavior to be determined by what is happening to us. As Christians, we are to respond to life according to who God is and what His word says. Of course, we will naturally be inclined to do this when God is our most precious treasure; when we enter each day determined to live for Him; when we willingly and continually submit to Him as Lord and Master; and when we make it our aim to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The reality is, the more precious God is to you, or the more you love Him, the more you live to please and honor and serve Him.

To help you see the truth in what is being said here, consider Jesus’ words which look at this truth from a negative direction: “He who does not love Me does not keep My words” (John 14:24a). In other words, one primary reason we disobey God is because we do not love God.

Now if it is true that one significant reason we disobey God is because we do not love Him, then it is also true that the measure to which we love God has far more influence over our thinking, feeling, words, and actions – in response to a situation or person – than what is going on between us and another person or the situation.

Therefore, when God is our most precious treasure, when He is the one we live for day-after-day, when He is our Lord and Master, when we love Him with all our being, then He becomes the deciding factor in what we think, feel, say, and do – in spite of the circumstances or the people involved. May we make it our aim to love and serve and obey God this much in 2012.

THIRD, The scriptures teach us that the Christian life is one of growth. Take Jesus for an example. We read that He continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:40, 52). And God says to us that we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18).

However, to caution us against treating spiritual growth as an option or something to take lightly, God also condemns the failure to grow when He says: “Concerning [Jesus] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14).

The point I am wanting to make from Luke 2, II Peter 3, and Hebrews 5, is that the Christian life is one of growth, and we are to treat it that way. 

Now when I speak of the Christian life being one of growth, I means it is a life of growth from young to old, from immaturity to maturity, from selfishness to love, and from fighting to preserve my life to eagerly dying to self. It is one of growth from treating God as if He were here to serve me to selflessly serving Him, and from faith mixed with some distrust of God to a confident, steady faith in God and His ways. It is one of growth from outward self-discipline driven goodness to inward love driven godliness, from godly behavior on the outside to single mindedness and a pure heart on the inside, and from an anxiety producing fear of God to a worshipful and obedient reverence and awe of God. It is one of growth  from pride to humility, and from wanting to be the focus to wanting God and others to be the focus.

The Christian life is one of growth from simply saying “Father, forgive me” to confessing our sin, and turning away from the sin confessed. It is one of growth from knowing we ought not to sin to doing our part to put an end to any known practice of sin. It is one of growth from feeling ashamed of our sin should it become public knowledge to weeping over our sin because of what it does to God and how it damages our relationship with Him. And the Christian life is one of growth from a somewhat impersonal relationship with God to a deeply personal and intimate love relationship with Him.

Now what I want us to see in all that I have said about Christian growth is that growth like this takes time, a lot of time. It is not, and in fact it cannot be accomplished in one act or in a day or even in a year. Most probably, we will still be growing right up until the time we see Christ face-to-face.

For those who are wondering why Christian growth like this takes so much time, let me give you three reasons: First, when we begin this journey, we are a long, long way away from what God created us to be. Second, there is so much to learn about God, His ways, His will, and His word that a life-time is not enough time. And third, learning to apply all that we know takes continued learning, more and more experience, self-discipline, perseverance, and the kind of understanding that only comes from doing something for an extended period of time.

The reality is, true spiritual growth, the kind of growth that touches every area of your life, cannot be attained without testing, trials, tribulation, suffering, and retesting over an extended period of time. It cannot be attained without self-discipline, constant vigilance, and  perseverance – through the hard times and over the long haul. It cannot be attained without a growing humility, an insatiable hunger for righteousness, and a passion to know God more. Consider: how many of us start the Christian life or quickly come to the place of being humble, insatiably hungry for righteousness, and longing to know God more?

True spiritual growth cannot be attained without a continuous quickness to confess, to make things right, and to get back on course after failure. Such responses to your sin requires holding God in such high esteem and longing to please Him to the degree that you cannot imagine defending yourself or remaining in your sin or allowing despair to keep you from getting back up and zealously heading toward righteousness. Because of our human weaknesses, valuing the right things so as to live this way takes time.

True spiritual growth cannot be attained without the study and pondering of God’s word, hours of contemplation, and years of meditation on God’s ways and His word.  It cannot be attained without frequently examining yourself in the light of God’s word so as to see what needs to be thrown out and replaced with godliness and to guard against returning to old sinful ways. It cannot be attained without ears willing to hear correction from others, relentlessly resisting temptation – over and over and over again, and redirecting unholy thoughts so as to think on what is good and pure and true and holy. And true Christian growth cannot be attained without heeding the voice of God, responding appropriately to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, living up to what you know, along with much prayer – and all this over a long period of time.

So what is my point in all this? Like a school education from kindergarten through a PhD. degree, growth in the Christian life takes lots of time – along with hard work, diligence, study, application, testing, thinking, memorizing, reading, more testing, and unending perseverance. So do not despair if you have not arrived, or if the journey is hard, or if it feels like you have to turn away from certain temptations a hundred times in an hour, or if you don’t see the kind of progress you would like to see. True Christian growth takes time. If you will persevere, you will make the kind of progress God intends us all to make during our time as a Christian here on this earth.

Therefore, I want to encourage you to say with the Apostle Paul,: “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12). May we treasure and hunger for and pursue spiritual growth in this way throughout the coming year.

In conclusion, spiritual growth is vital for us individually, for surely the way we pursue God and godliness either raises us up or pulls us down. But it doesn't stop there, it is vital for us as a church. Why? Because the way we pursue God and godliness, individually, has the power to influence others either toward God or away from God. And our influence on others either encourages spiritual growth to the strengthening of the church, or it feeds ungodliness to the weakening of the church. Therefore, as living members of the body of Christ in this place, may we, all together, press forward in knowing and loving and living for God in 2012, for our own soul’s sake, the sake of the Body, and to the honor and joy of God.