Category Archives: Spiritual life

Renewing the Mind in an Information Saturated World

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We have restarted this blog with a link to the Grace Bible Church of Pleasant Hill Facebook page. It is our hope this will result in a wider dissemination of the posts. The posts are primarily designed to promote the fellowship of our local congregation by deepening our grasp and application of the truths of God’s Christ-centered word. Thank you for your patience.



“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life,” writes Solomon in Proverbs 4:23.

The heart or mind of mankind (biblical categories overlap at this point) is the starting point of all behavior. Deep in the recesses of our inner person lie the images and ideas that become the ruling motives of our lives. In our technological age the gateway to the inner being is bombarded with images and ideas clamoring for our attention. It is the glory of Jesus Christ that through our union with Him He is willing and capable of bringing His light to the darkest corridors of our hearts. Praise be to our God that He not only justifies us on account of Christ but purifies us through Christ as well.

This transformation involves our cooperation with God’s grace. We are to be about the business of renewing our minds with the Word of God. To be sure, it is God who does all the transforming and growing and changing. But His appointed means include our efforts under His influence. We must teach ourselves to think Christianly about all of life and this involves effort. It involves efforts at limiting and controlling what comes in, how it comes in and when it comes in. It also involves efforts at flooding and saturating our hearts with biblical truth.

I want to offer you a few examples largely informed by James Sire in his book Habits of the Mind by James Sire. They are directed at individual and not corporate renewal. At each point I believe you will once find that we must resist the currents of pop culture and the rapid pace of life.

1) Solitude: Renewing the mind involves thinking and contemplation. Not the kind that takes place in a few minutes on a noisy and busy bus ride. But the kind of thinking that is the result of extended solitude. The kind of thinking that is the result of tracing biblical truth to its furthest points of reference. This involves waiting as you ponder who God is and what He is teaching you. Waiting– wow! I can hardly explain how difficult this is for our American mentality. We are an instantaneous society. But beloved, renewing the mind will rarely be the result of a “pop-tart” approach to spiritual feeding. It will be difficult for you to renew your mind without halting busyness and insisting upon creating pockets of time for solitude where you will meet with God’s thoughts till they saturate you and result in praise, wonder or a new direction.

2) Silence: Solitude naturally involves silence but in some cases this involves yet a deeper discipline. The discipline of being content to think without the T.V. or music filling the air. The further discipline of unburdening the mind of all the voices that demand your attention and clamor for a decision or an opinion. This involves a renunciation of all the noise that crowds-out our deepest thoughts of God and disrupts our contemplation. It is both the noise of environment and the noise of busy-body minds that must be set aside if we are to aggressively renew our minds with the Word of God. To this end we must practice the fine art of detachment. Detaching ourselves even from important things for in the end they are all secondary things to the voice of God in Scripture and we desperately need to hear Him if we are to renew our minds.

3) Attention: We may finally set aside time to be alone and shut out the sounds and voices that trigger so many reflex thoughts, but if we have not learned to maintain attention upon the Word we will drift away and the benefits of this important time will be lost. Attention is a difficult thing to define and understand. As Sire notes, “one can’t simply pay attention by paying attention to paying attention!” What comes to my mind is the sense of a free and natural focused concentration. Like the swing of a natural baseball player. All the rules of the game and the conditions of the environment inform him. There is a man on second, there are two outs, the left fielder is playing on the line, the pitcher likes to throw inside fastballs on two strikes and today’s umpire has a large strike zone. All these things are there in the back of his mind and they are true but for those few seconds his attention is completely focused upon the pitcher’s wind up and release. He swings with a natural beauty and sense of timing that is the result of a focused attention and hits the ball. At that moment his desire was to hit the ball not analyze all the details I just mentioned. Likewise, if we desire to know and to understand God and what He has said then His Word will have our focused attention. It is this yearning desire that keeps us on edge. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;” (Ps 42:1-2a)

4) Meditation: So often the word “meditation” conjures up Eastern ideas of emptying oneself. But biblical meditation is really the opposite. It is not emptying but filling. It is filling one’s mind with biblical truth and then contemplating the various angles and connections this truth has to other truths and finally to one’s life. Both ideas are brought together by the psalmist when he writes “I will meditate on Thy precepts, and regard Thy ways” (Ps. 119:15). Meditation cannot be rushed. It is mulling over biblical statements and ideas over and over again. It is like staring at a sunset that is just unbelievable and longing to hold onto it forever. I find my meditation is helped by reading out loud and stating the implications of what I am reading as I pray to God. You might also try keeping a notebook with you to jot down your thoughts in order to return to them in contemplation.

We face many obstacles to solitude, silence, attention and meditation. But beloved, as Os Guiness notes, there are only two possibilities– “to think Christianly or to think un-Christianly.” Christ’s own disciples were guilty of thinking “as men think, not as God thinks.” If we are to have reformation in this area, and beloved we must, then we must make a commitment to renewing our minds as active obedience to the great commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your mind!”



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Sabbatical Reflections

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First Things First

Before anything else is said, on behalf of my wife Sheri and myself, I want to express our heartfelt thanks to the elders and congregation for making this past summer possible.  Just before our departure a member of our church family came up and kindly quipped, “You have a great group of elders around you.”

How true. I knew it, of course. But now everyone else does. A functioning plurality of elders with shared vision, a shared passion for Christ’s glory and love for His family is the Lord’s design for the church but sadly often not a reality.  What you witnessed this summer was the visible expression of Ephesians chapter four and the fruit of nearly 20 years of ministry.

Christ has given grace-gifts to each Christian and gifted men to the church in order to equip the flock for the work of the ministry. The church grows in maturity and love as each member does his/her part. In this manner, the body faithfully continued along the normal path as sheep were fed, Christ was preached and attention was given to the apostle’s doctrine, the breaking of bread, fellowship and prayer (Acts 2:42). No dog and pony shows. No trickery; just the bread and butter of life together in Christ. He supplies the divine power.

I can honestly say, as I did in my first elder’s meeting this week, I never had an anxious moment about the care and condition of the flock during the sabbatical – not one. I knew true shepherds and not hirelings were lovingly watching over you.

All of this did, however, come at a price. The pulpit ministry and care of the flock was distributed among the remaining elders who each had to carry a heavier load than normal. For this, I will forever be grateful.

Perhaps you developed a new habit of praying for all the elders with an increased sense of urgency. Might I encourage you to make this your new normal? They have always been there.

So how did it go? What did you do?

As you can imagine, we have already had more than a few conversations with individuals and groups of people curious to hear of our ventures and learn if the sabbatical served its purpose on our end. I’ll share just a few personal insights in this post and will let you in on some of the fun stuff in the next few entries.

When all is Stripped Away

Let me begin by reminding you that we were asked to rest, get away with Christ and each other and be refreshed. I was under strict orders (Ha, ha!) not to make this a working sabbatical. I thought I would have no problem with that but low and behold after a few weeks I felt ready to return to the normal rhythm of life. My pulpit preparation and study patterns provide a built-in mechanism for personal spiritual maintenance and growth. When that was stripped away and it became clear that I wasn’t coming back any time soon, I began to feel like I was in a free-fall.

By God’s grace I eventually reached a place of peaceful rest through deep meditation and contemplation of Scripture. This was different. It was not as utilitarian as my normal reading. I’m usually reading with pen in hand, jotting down ways this passage could be taught or applied in the church.

But now all the props were gone. It was time to let the word have its way with my heart alone. It was time to listen long and with the sole purpose of being ministered to and responding in prayerful adoration. I thought of one the songs we sing in corporate worship.

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless Your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart

The Heart of Worship by Michael W. Smith

The Two-Edged Sword

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

God’s living word indeed searched out corridors and penetrated deeply into my heart. I saw much that needs to change in the mirror of the truth (James 1). I fought with regret. It’s easy to look back on nearly 20 years of decisions and focus on the ones you wish you had again. But mere accusation is the devil’s work. God aims to sanctify through Spirit wrought repentance.

Soon our compassionate Savior buoyed me by the hope found in the promises of the gospel. What God reveals He intends to change and this by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by my striving in the flesh (2 Cor. 3:18). His grace flooded me like the cold snow-melt streams we saw cascading in Glacier national park.

Run, John, run, the law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands. Far better news the gospel brings:

It bids us fly and gives us wings

John Bunyan

Yes I have been refreshed and renewed. But not without spiritual effort and tears of repentance. My greatest fear now is that I’ll get back in a groove and forget about it all. I’m doing all I can not to. This ground was gained at a great price and I’m unwilling to move backwards. But I need grace for this as well. Pray for me in this regard.

That’s enough for now.  (Next post: Two are Better than One)

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Can’t God Speak to me Like Siri?

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Isn’t There an App for That?

It’s a tremendously encouraging experience to have the living God speak directly to you in order to tell you exactly what you should do next. Wow! The blueprint for my life revealed and communicated to me via concise verbal revelations and I didn’t even have to “click” a link or say “Siri can you…” It’s also quite a claim. Great and godly Christian men and women down through the ages have never had the benefit of such direct, unmediated and unfiltered communication from God. There must have not been an App for that back then. Reformed smart phone

Direct or Indirect?

Not that God is mute and unable to care for His children by leading and guiding them. Far from it. The Lord is my shepherd and He still “leads me beside quiet waters.” But direct and indirect are two very different things when it comes to verbal communication. I can walk into the next room and speak directly to my wife. I can express my wishes, opinions and provide input on a decision she is making. These are all newly organized fresh words spoken directly to her. I can also seek to shape her decision indirectly by placing certain objects and people in her path without saying a new word.

I can leave a letter on the kitchen counter I wrote to her in the past in which I express my opinions on matters she is considering. I know her well enough to make a pretty good guess as to how she will respond. Just today I guessed what she was thinking about making for dinner by virtue of just one thing she said! I could also leave my favorite cook-book opened to my favorite recipe. I could even turn off the electricity and the gas with the hope of going out to dinner together! (I think you get my point. All illustrations break down at some level.) While my influence was immediate, that is, I’m the one doing these things; the words that are suddenly formed in her mind as she interprets my actions are indirect– I did not speak them. 

It’s Still Your Decision in the End

Now whether she actually chooses to make such and such for dinner will be her decision in the end. My strategic culinary influence will not absolve her of personal responsibility or her moral freedom. Nor will I be responsible for what she eventually chooses. She must still process the information and objects before her and analyze them in order to make a decision. In other words, all my influences must still be filtered by her memories and mental functions. This will inevitably effect what she “thinks I’m saying.”

The idea here is that God, who has decreed all things that come to pass, who doesn’t need to guess my reactions, and who unlike me, does control all details and influences in my life is thus perfectly capable of getting His point across to me without direct new revelations in verbal form. He still speaks to us today in His all-sufficient words of Holy Scripture. He brings the truth of Scripture to bear upon our mind and conscience without bypassing our memory. He illumines the meaning and implications of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:14-15). He produces conviction and repentance (John 16:8) and enlivens the faith He has planted in us (Eph. 2:8). He controls all of life’s providential events.

All of these activities of the Holy Spirit have directional effects that can lead me in my decision making. And He does all this without the use of fallible prophets speaking new direct fallible prophecies and without a Siri-like voice in my head delivering today’s blueprint for my life. But, when it’s all said and done, I have to still process all of His influences with my fallen and imperfect memory and mind. Thus, there’s no wonder I can sometimes erroneously conclude what “I think the Spirit is saying to me” and cook the wrong dish for dinner.   

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV)

More on the Spirit’s communication to come in upcoming posts.

P.S. I must confess I’ve tried influencing the evening’s dinner selection and succeeded! All without saying a word.  

photo by: Kartik Malik

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A Good Smelling Kitchen doesn’t Necessarily Mean a Healthy Kitchen

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A Further Application from Sunday’s Message “Christ the Giver of Gifts Pt 2″

Pie, discernment, spiritual condition

Reading the ingredients on food products and restaurant menus is starting to bum me out. Now that my certified nutritionist brother has made me aware of what ingredients are truly health promoting and which ones are not, I’m wise to the fact that not all that smells good is truly good for you. It’s a trap that churches and Christians can also easily fall into.

We see others doing many and somewhat significant things among the people of God. We find ourselves involved in a growing variety of church related ministries and activities. All of this is OK… right? Intrinsically, yes. Take each activity on its own merit and they are good and healthy things. But don’t confuse busyness with spiritual vitality or even spiritual life. When it comes to our spiritual health you have to read the label and not just rely upon your God-given olfactory sense.

People can have visible gifts and effectiveness outwardly but inwardly they are experiencing a slow death. In fact, it is possible that inwardly they remain quite spiritually dead. Judas, Demas and King Saul were all examples of gifted individuals among the people of God who were self-deceived and devoid of spiritual life. How is this possible?

God Can Cook Great Meals Through Anybody

In our last point this past Sunday we noted that God can use whom he wants for whatever purpose he wants. He even spoke through a donkey. There have always been people in the visible church repeating biblical statements and concepts moved by a variety of motives and inner idolatries who are not even converted– and some very eloquently. John Wesley testified to the fact that he spoke powerfully on certain matters at the beginning of his ministry yet there was something missing. It was some time after he met with Moravians and saw something of their true spiritual life that he experienced the new birth by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus concludes the powerful Sermon on the Mount with the soul-searching truth that some will remain self-deceived to the very end. At the judgment some will come to him and say, “Lord, lord did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name?” As if to say “surely these spiritually dynamic activities are evidence of eternal life.” But the Lord’s piercing response is “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt. 7:22).

We Judge by the Outside but God Sees the Heart

Herein lies a helpful truth and a warning. When Samuel the prophet sought to identify which of the sons of Jesse God had chosen to be the king following Saul, and he began to fall into the same trap of smelling something good in the kitchen, the Lord retorted, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
The heart. This is where one finds the ingredient list. The heart is that part of us that shapes and controls our character.  The teacher of wisdom writes, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The heart is the “mission control center” of human beings. In Hebrew biblical theology the heart encompasses the mind, emotions and the will. This is where the Holy Spirit begins to transform believers until we yield the outward fruit of love, joy, peace, and self-control, etc. (2 Cor. 3:18, Gal. 5:22).
Get Past the Smell and Check the Ingredients

From this we concluded that character formation is a mark of grace not gifts, abilities or busyness. The trap for believers is thinking that because you are busy for the Lord all is well with the Lord. This was one of the problems with the church at Corinth. They were enamored with the gifts at the expense of the fruit. This is a trap I know all too well. The ministry is a mine field full of this subtle deception. It’s often easier to study than to reflect with the Lord on the direction of my inner life.

To be sure, when it comes to our position in Christ all is always well. There is no being “less justified” in Christ from one day to the next. But our walk with Jesus is not only about unchanging positional realities promised in the gospel. It is also about devotion to the Lord. He is our living and personal Savior. Our walk with Him involves relating to Him with a heart and life of worship and submission. It includes listening to Him in His word, adoration, repentance, mind renewal and the intimacy of prayer. This is not the same as busyness, activity and even — visible effectiveness.

So is this a healthy church? The only way to really know is to do more than smell. We have to read the ingredients. We have to get past evaluating what we are “doing” and consider what we are “becoming” by God’s grace. The fruit of the Spirit is the goal of the gifts of the Spirit. We can’t pursue the latter at the expense of the former.

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Conduits not Containers of God’s Grace

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“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Ephesians 4:7 (ESV)

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV)

California is facing a profound shortage of water. Everyone who lives here is aware of it. Conservation is the buzzword of the day. Most, if not all, of our reservoirs are extremely low and as a result it’s a time for collecting and preserving our precious supply of water. It is not a time to let the water flow freely. It is a time for careful management of our resources. Nevertheless, some water must be let out to sustain the habitat of fish and wildlife as well as irrigate our thousands of acres of farmland or there will be lasting damage.

On Sunday our congregation considered that this is an appropriate image of the Christian life on a specific level. God has granted to each believer not only the immeasurable blessings of His saving grace but has also given carefully measured gifts of grace through which He touches the lives of other believers. We are conduits of this grace designed as channels not end users. His grace is meant to flow through us not terminate with us. This is true of both the gospel message and the bodybuilding gifts of the Holy Spirit.

In the first hour I used the metaphor of “reservoir” but after a brief discussion with one of the members in between services I made a slight change. On one level the example of a reservoir works but on another it doesn’t. There are times when the “inflow” of God’s grace into our lives must exceed the “outflow.” There is a time for healing and replenishment. There is a time for storing up spiritual resources even as we Californians are storing up water.

dry lake bed

At any given time there will be many within our congregation and services who are doing just this. Perhaps there was an imbalance in the recent past and now they are “burnt out” as it were. Perhaps there was something that injured them or deeply disappointed them and this is a time for restoring trust and confidence. There are a number of reasons why one may need a time of simply sitting still and drinking in our Lord’s restoring grace through His word and fellowship. Indeed, our Lord is a good Shepherd who “leads us besides quiet waters and restores our souls.”

But somewhere along the way we come to a tipping point. There will come a time when taking in without putting out will not have a restorative effect but a diminishing one. This is an imbalance of another kind. God’s design is to produce growth in each of us individually and all of us collectively as we “take-in” from some and “put-out” for others. Growth takes place both as God’s grace reaches us and moves from us. We are always to be on both sides of the equation.

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This is an unchanging spiritual principle. He also said, “The greatest among you is the servant of all.” The goal is finding and maintaining a healthy balance between serving and being served; between taking in God’s grace and putting it out. Do you know where you are on this scale? Maintaining this balance I have found essential to longevity and perseverance. There will be more on this in the weeks to come as we make our way through Ephesians chapter 4 so stay tuned.

overflowing dam


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