Friday, April 28, 2017

The Next Pitch

I have the joy of coaching my sons' baseball team this year which consists of mainly 9 year old boys. (The exception being my younger son who is 7)

In our league, this is the first year of live pitching. I enjoy baseball. I enjoy hitting infield. I love seeing the boys improve in fielding and hitting. But I have never pitched in my life! So, that has been a real challenge. 

However, in working with these young pitchers I've learned a principle that I believe applies very well to the Christian life and this is this: Next Pitch. 

You see, sometimes a 9 year old throws a terrible pitch. It bounces on the ground or flys over the batter's head or maybe even hits him! But once that ball leaves the pitcher's hand, there's nothing he can do about it. He can't allow a wild pitch to turn into two wild pitches. He's got to settle down, forget about the poor pitch, remember his mechanics, and throw again. 

Sounds similar to what Paul says in Philippians 3 doesn't it? "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead..." (Philippians 3:13). 

Next pitch. 

This isn't an excuse for sin or making light of it. But it is a realization that you can't get back mistakes you've made. You've got to own them, learn from them, and repent of them. But if you are in Christ you must keep straining forward. You can't let past sins define your trajectory. In Christ we are a new creation. You are no longer who you once were. 

Furthermore, you can't focus on defeating 3 sins ahead. You can't fight what you don't know is coming so to speak. You must strain forward where you are. If you're 35 you can't focus on what your walk will be when your 60. You've got to focus on the next pitch. I'm not dogging long term planning obviously! I'm just saying sufficient for the day is its own troubles. And thankfully, dealing with these things now will help you when you're 60. 

But this leads me to another point in this analogy. The same principle of 'next pitch' also applies when my pitchers throw a strike. You see, in baseball, there are no trophies for 1 strike. If a pitcher throws one strike, it doesn't mean he'll throw 3! In fact I've seen boys throw TWO strikes and still walk a batter. It's all about the next pitch. Remember what you did last pitch and then do it again. 

How does this apply to the Christian life?

What I've noticed in my own life and the lives of others is sometimes we try to use one day or more commonly one 'season of life' to coast us into the next. So a great start to our year of bible reading can sometimes lead us to slack off in May. Or a great few weeks of prayer might cause us to slack off one day. But Paul says we are to be 'straining forward'. We don't look back and say "I USED to be disciplined or cultivate habits of grace". What are you doing TODAY? To switch analogies, being ahead 28-3 in the third quarter doesn't equal a Super Bowl ring. 

While yesterday's bible reading bears future fruit, the lack of today's bible reading can have consequences. So, focus on the next pitch. The Christian life isn't about how well we began but how we finish. And we don't finish well without cultivating godliness today. Straining forward today. Learn from both past defeats and failures but leave them where they belong: in the past. And don't let fear of future failure or overconfidence in future victories distort what needs to be done today. Focus on the next pitch. 

The point of today's post has been that much of the Christian life has to be about right now. No doubt that the past and future are immensely important but we live in neither of those spheres. We live in the present. The last pitch is gone. What are you going to throw now?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Keep Moving Forward

car, driver, exhausted

As we journey through the 1st Epistle of Peter together at Perryville Second Baptist, it is evident to me that one of the themes of the letter is that Believers are to be holy. As a Minister of the gospel, I have alway sought to try and carefully balance the exhortation to pursue holiness while understanding that we won't attain perfection in this life.

Recently, thanks to a free gift from Ligonier, I acquired John Calvin's A Little Book on the Christian Life. I think what Calvin writes about this in the first chapter is superb. I hope you are encouraged and challenged:

"I'm not saying that the conduct of a Christian will breathe nothing but pure gospel, although this should be desired and pursued. I'm not, in other words talking about gospel perfection, as if I were unwilling to acknowledge or recognize a man or a woman as a Christian who has not obtained perfection. If that were the case, everyone would be excluded from the church, since we do not find any in it who are close to being perfect. Indeed we find many in the church who have progressed little toward perfection, but who, nevertheless, it would be unjust to reject as Christians.  
What I am saying is this: Let us fix our eyes on the goal and sole object of our pursuit. Let that goal, toward which we must strive and contend, be established from the beginning. After all, it's not right to barter with God regarding what we will and won't undertake form those things He has prescribed for us in His Word... 
Of course, none of us is capable of running swiftly on the right course while we remain in the earthly confinement of our bodies. Indeed, most of us are so oppressed with weakness that we make little progress - staggering, limping, and crawling on the ground. But let us move forward according to the measure of our resources and pursue the path we have begun to walk. None of us will move forward with so little success that we will not make some daily progress in the way. 
Therefore let us keep trying so that we might continually make some gains in the way of the Lord, and neither let us despair over how small our success are. For however much our successes fall short of our desire, our efforts aren't in vain when we are farther along today than yesterday. 
So let us fix our eyes on the goal with sincereity and simplicity, aspiring to that end - neither foolishly congratulating ourselves, nor exusing our evil deeds. Let us press on with continual striving toward that goal so that we might surpass ourselves - until we have finally arrived at perfection itself. This, indeed, is what we follow after and pursue all our lives, but we will only possess it when we have escaped the weakkness of the flesh and have been received into His perefect fellowship." (Emphases mine)

Ah! How refreshing! Keep pressing, beloved. Keep fighting.

Keep moving forward.

Though you do not now see Him, you love Him. Press on. One day you will see Him and you will not regret striving for holiness. To Christ be the glory.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What does it mean to love God?

art, background, bark

Everyone in the Bible Belt loves God. 

Well, at least most people say they love God. In fact, when teaching and preaching on the reality of depravity it is difficult to communicate to people our relation to God apart from Christ. Most people view our love of God like our love for our 3rd Cousin that we never visit. We don't wish any ill will toward him or her so we say we "love" them. Surely we don't wish any ill will toward God! So, we conclude that we must "love" His as well.

This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, it's not true. We do wish ill will toward God for we want Him to be like us instead of Who He is. We want Him to love what we love, to be ok with our sin, and to let us live a life unbothered by Him and His holiness. In fact, if it were possible, we would throw off the restraints and cast Him forever into the abyss so that we could rule and reign the universe instead of Him. Secondly, it is problematic because it does not convey the biblical understanding of love. 

So, biblically, what does it mean to love God? For that, we are going to call in a guest writer. Thomas Watson (1620 - 1686). (All words except those in brackets are Watson's) 

"What is love? 

It is a holy fire kindled in the affections, whereby a Christian is carried out strongly after God as the supreme good. The nature of love consists in delighting in an object. This is loving God: to take delight in Him. 'Delight thyself also in the Lord' (Psa 37:4), as a bride delights herself in her jewels. Grace changes a Christian's aims and delights."

"What are the visible signs of our love to God?

1. If we love God, our desire will be after Him. He who loves God breathes after communion with Him. 'My soul thirsteth for the living God.' Psa 42:2. Persons in love desire to be often conferring together. He who loves God desires to be much in His presence."

2. "The second visible sign is, that he who loves God cannot find contentment in any thing without Him. Give a hypocrite who pretends to love God corn and win, and he can be content without God; but a soul fired with love to God, cannot be without Him."

3. "The third visible sing is that he who loves God, hates that which would separate between him and God, and that is sin. Antipathies can never be reconciled; one cannot love health but he must hate poison; so we cannot love God but we must hate sin, which would destroy our communion with Him."

4. "The fourth visible sign is sympathy. Friends that love, grieve for the evils which befall each other. If we have true love in our heart to God, we cannot but grieve for those things that grieve Him. They surely have no love to God who can laugh at that which grieves His Spirit! Does he love his father who can laugh to hear Him reproached?"

5. The fifth visible sign is, that he who loves God, labours to render Him lovely to others. He not only admires God, but speaks in His praises, that he may allure and draw others to be in love with Him. True love to God cannot be silent, it will be eloquent in setting forth His renown. There is no better sign of loving God than to make Him appear lovely, and to draw proselytes [converts] after him."

6. The sixth visible sign is, that he who loves God, weeps bitterly for His absences. What can all worldly comforts do, when once God is absent? 

7. The seventh visible sign is, that he who loves God is willing to do and suffer for Him. He subscribes to God's commands; he submits to His will. If God bids him mortify sin, love his enemies, be crucified to the world, he obeys. It is a vain thing for a man to say he loves God, and slight His commands. If God would have him suffer for Him, he does not dispute, but obeys. It is true that every Christian is not a martyr, but he has a spirit of martyrdom in him; he has a disposition of mind to suffer, if God call him to it. We [only] pretend to love Him [if we] will endure nothing for His sake."

So, the question is, do you love God? Do you love Him? Not do you love Him perfectly, for no man save Christ has done this! But do you love Him at all? And if you love Him at all, then these 7 signs Watson lays out will be evident in your life. And while it is true we don't know anyone's heart or motivations, we can and do see their actions. Yes, we must exercise Christian prudence and grace, but it's not helpful to affirm one's love for God when they manifest little or no evidence that they do actually love Him! Remember, we aren't to let culture dictate to us what 'love' is but Scripture.

Do you love Him?

Consider the gospel. Although we wanted to replace God in hate, He instead, in His great mercy and sovereign grace, replaced us on the cross in love. He substituted His own Son to bear our guilt for all who call to Him in faith. Will you look to Jesus in faith?