Starting Over…

•April 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I am now blogging at www.johnscheepers.wordpress.com

You Can Change 18: How can we support one another?

•February 3, 2011 • Leave a Comment

These are my notes and some reflections on Tim Chester’s book: You Can Change

Change in the Bible is a community project

A Community of Change

1. Change is a community project

When Paul is talking about becoming mature in Christ – he is talking about the body as a whole.  It is the Christian community that together displays God’s wisdom.  That means sin is a community concern – it impedes the growth of the community as a whole.  My sin stops me playing the role God intends for me and that means that the church as a whole suffers and fails to grow in the ways it ought.

2. Community is  the God-given context for change:

Christian community gives us models of Christ-like behaviours – not just godliness but also growth and grace.  Our different experiences of grace become part of the rich council that we in the church have for one another.  There also exists within the Christian community a collective perseverance, stronger than any one individual.

Your church is not simply a collection of random individuals.  But Christ has selected these people to create a perfect fit – placed in your life to help you change.   God is using the different people, the annoying people to trample on your idols, to reveal your sin and to change your heart.

A community of Truth:

Paul says we grow in maturity by speaking the truth in love to each other (Ephesians 4:15).  We need to be communities where everybody is speaking the truth to everybody.  We must stop stroking one another’s sinful desires in the name of grace or authenticity.  We meet together so that we can encourage one another – we come together to proclaim the worth of God to one another.  We will only speak the truth effectively to one another in the context of daily loving relationships.  A shared life beyond attending a service together once a week.

A community of Repentance:

We do not rebuke one another day by day, and when we do it creates a sense of crisis and rebuke becomes confrontation.  That may at times be needed but it can often be avoided if rebuke becomes a normal part of the way we disciple one another.  As Tim is regularly asked by a friend: “What is the question you don’t want me to ask you?”  Allow a daily, weekly accountability of sin and openness to minister the truth of the gospel to one another.

A community of Grace:

We can be communities of repentance only if we are communities of grace.  I am then free to portray myself as I truly am, a sinner who constantly receives grace from Christ.  We can rejoice in being “a messy community of broken people.” (p177)  “Mess reflects… a culture of grace.”(p178)

You Can Change 17: Sowing to the Spirit

•January 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

These are my notes and some reflections on Tim Chester’s book: You Can Change

Sowing to the Spirit:

John Stott: “To ‘sow to the flesh’ is to pander it, to cosset, cuddle and stroke it, instead of crucifying it…. Every time we allow our mind to harbour a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fantasy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company whose insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we read pornographic literature, every time to take a risk which strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh.  Some Christian sow to the flesh every day and wonder why they do not reap holiness.”  (p151)

Sowing to the Spirit is about cultivating that new affection for God.  Here are seven things that reinforce faith – or the more traditional term – means of grace.  These are ways in which God strengthens grace in our heart and feeds our faith in Him.

1. The Bible:

This is God’s primary means of changing us.

a) The Bible reveals our own hearts.  “We should read the Bible not primarily that we may expound it, but that it may expound us.” (p154)

b) The Bible reveals Christ’s glory:  The Bible “speaks liberating truth to our enslaved hearts” (p154).  It is the source of truth that counters the lies the world perpetuates.  Horatius Bonar: “He that would be holy must steep himself in the Word, must bask in the sunshine which radiates from each page of revelation.” (p154-5)

2. Prayer:

We do not pray not because we lack time but because we deem other things more important.  When we believe God to be the great change-agent, prayer must naturally move up our priority scale – but this will require planned neglect of other things.

3. Community

4. Worship:

In worship we not only proclaim God is good but that he is better.  And we call one another away from the worship of false gods, reminding ourselves instead of God’s majesty.  The Lord’s supper is a fresh invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good – Psalm 38:4.  (p158)

5. Service:

Service helps to redirect us away from our self-centred habits and self-absorption, directing us outwards instead.  We become the people we were meant to be by serving others.  “When we pour ourselves out we find ourselves filled up.” (p159)

6. Suffering:

Often the events of our lives can seem meaningless and mundane but God is training us in godliness.  Suffering tests, strengthens and perfects that faith.  Without suffering sinful desires lurk unnoticed in our hearts.  Suffering “assaults the irrationality of personal sovereignty” (Nicole Tripp, p161)  Suffering frees us to experience a deeper comfort and hope than we would have otherwise.

7. Hope:

We need to dream of the new creation.  Thinking about Christ’s return loosens the hold the world has on us and inspires us to change.

You Can Change 16: What strategies will reinforce your faith and repentance?

•January 18, 2011 • 1 Comment

These are my notes and some reflections on Tim Chester’s book: You Can Change

Understanding your sinful desires and the gospel strategies and disciplines required to fight them does not on it’s own bring change.  Faith and repentance are a daily struggle.  So what strategies do you need to put into place to reinforce your faith and repentance?

Reflecting on Galatians 6:7-8, there is a principle that God has built into the world – a man reaps what he sows.

“Holiness is a harvest… we sow to the flesh whenever we do something that strengthens or provokes our sinful desires.  We sow to the Spirit whenever we strengthen our Spirit-inspired desire for holiness… Not sowing to the sinful nature is all about reinforcing repentance.  Sowing to the Spirit is about reinforcing faith.” (p146-147)

Avoiding whatever provokes sinful desires:

Not sowing to our sinful desires means avoiding situations where our sinful desires will be provoked. Although simple avoidance cannot bring about  change, change must begin with our heart.  What avoidance does is buy us time, where there is no stimulation for our desires – there is time for the truth to prevail.  Often we hang around in tempting situations, flirting with our sinful desires and then wonder why God does not provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13-14)

Avoiding whatever provokes sinful desires:

Most of our sinful desires can be fed by things in our culture – the Bible calls this influence the world.  Most of the lies behind our sin are perpetuated by the media, our culture and our community.  The world around us celebrates sinful desire and spreads lies about God. We must take steps to reduce its influences on us.  The question is always whose voice are you listening to?  We must listen longer and deeper to the voice of God and screen out the voices of the world.

Saying “no” to sinful desires:

Thomas Chalmers argued that we cannot simply tell ourselves to stop sinning rather: “We need to direct the desires that sin falsely satisfies towards that which truly satisfies and liberates.  God himself.  A renewed affection for God is the only thing that will expel sinful desires.” (p152)

(Download a copy of Thomas Chalmers’ sermon: The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”)

You Can Change 15: What stops you changing?

•January 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

These are my notes and some reflections on Tim Chester’s book: You Can Change

It is not lack of discipline, or knowledge or support that stops us changing.  It ultimately comes down to one of two things – love of self or a love of sin:

1. Proud self-reliance:

Pride is not just a sin – it is the essence of sin.  Pride puts us in the place of God.  It is pride that makes sanctification our effort or achievement.  We are more concerned about our victory over sin than the glory of God.  Change for the proud man becomes an essentially self-centred achievement.  Have you ever thought to yourself – “I cannot believe I just did that again”.  If you are like me then this is actually a veiled form of pride – angry with yourself for repeating the same sin and assuming that you are capable of actually doing good in your own power.

Humility is the paradigm for repentance.  It is the recognition that we can never earn any merit on our own.  It is the recognition that grace is our only hope.  “If you’re frustrated at your inability to change, then your first step is to give up – to give up on yourself.  Repent of your self-reliance and self-confidence.  Your second step is to rejoice in God’s grace: his grace to give forgive and his grace to transform.” (p129)

2. Proud self-justification:

We may admit that we want to change but we are unwilling to admit that we are the problem.  So we employ a number of strategies:

Excusing sin: we refuse to take responsibility for our sin and blame others, circumstances, context, upbringing, personal history or biology.  External factors can of course reinforce or trigger our sin and they often shape the form it takes.  But we choose how to respond to all of these external circumstances.  And what determines this choice are, as always, the thoughts and desires of our heart.  Jerry bridges suggests we should use the language of disobedience rather than defeat when we describe our sin. (p130)

Minimizing sin: We say things like, “It’s not my fault. It’s not a big deal. Overall I’m a good person.  But we need to hear “It is your fault.  It is a big deal.  You are a bad person.”  Your sin was so serious that it demanded the death of God’s Son.  True repentance grieves over sin it never never minimizes it.  The humble tremble at God’s word but pride makes us deaf to God’s word. (p132)

Hiding sin: mostly we hide because we love our reputation more than we hate our sin or love God.  “… we’re prepared to choose sin, reject God, abandon freedom and even risk hell rather than have people think badly of us.” (p134).   Hiding leads to sin and sin leads to hiding but grace breaks the cycle.  Grace removes the fear of exposure. (p135)

“Every day I struggle between the desires  to be known as holy and the desire to actually be holy.  The truth I need to keep telling myself is that reputation is a small price to pay for the joy of knowing more of God and reflecting his glory.” (p136)

3. Hating the consequences of sin but not the sin itself:

For many of us our desire for change is actually a desire to be free of the unpleasant consequences of sin – broken relationships, guilt, fear etc.  But in our hearts we still desire the actual sin more than we desire change – we still think it offers more than God.

“A man who only opposes the sin in his heart for fear of shame among men or eternal punishment from God would practise the sin if there was no punishment attending it.  How does this differ from living in the practise of sin?” John Owen (p137)

The Bible’s language of repentance is violent – amputating, murdering, starving and fighting.  If we hold back in violence towards our sin it’s almost certain because we don’t want to hurt something we still love.

4. The cross centred life:

The cross humbles us – it is here we see the full extent of our sin.  We have killed the Son of God, and nothing but that death can save me!  The cross-centred life is a rejection of all self-confidence and self-righteousness.  “Let his love win your love and let that love replace all other affections.  The secret of change is to renew your love for Christ as you see him crucified in your place.” (p139)

The means of revival

•January 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Tim Keller in a careful, balanced and yet probing blog post that relies on some of William Sprague’s thinking and draws on examples of Edwards and Llloyd-Jones, suggests 5 means of revival:

1. Extraordinary prayer
2. Recovery of the grace-gospel
3. Renewed individuals
4. The use of the gospel on the heart in counselling
5. Creativity

Read the whole thing here

On a related note you can read my review of Tim Keller’s: Ministries of Mercy here

You Can Change 14: A life of repentance

•January 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment

These are my notes and some reflections on Tim Chester’s book: You Can Change

Repentance: turning from our sinful desires:

Sin is fundamentally an orientation towards myself.  Repentance is reorienting ourselves towards God.  Desiring God more than things.  It is putting God at the centre.

Our fundamental problem is that think of ourselves as being at the centre of our world, and God is one of the characters in our story.  But it’s not our story.  It’s God’s story!  “It’s so much better to be a minor character in God’s story than to try to write our own script.” (p116)

A God-centred perspective in both humbling and liberating:

It is humbling because it puts us in our place.  We are not the centre of the world – we are not even the centre of our own world.

It is liberating when we accept that this is God’s world not mine and I no longer have to continually try to be in control.

Continual repentance:

The entire Christian life is one of faith and repentance.  “Repentance is a life-long, continuous activity of turning back to God from God-dethroning desires.” (p117).  To walk in repentance is a life-long journey of mortification – putting sin to death – which is both Christ’s work for us and the Spirit’s work in us.

We are to mortify the roots of sin not just change behaviour.  A common scenario: A sinful desire gives rise to temptation and I think, “I’m not actually sinning”.  So I play with the thought, let my eyes linger, mind wander.  And so the desire grows, I feed it and then I complain that it is too strong.  But all the time I have been sinning – not in action but in my will.  I have not said “No” to sin – I have fed my sinful desires.

A note of warning: all this talk of motives and idols may lead one to endless introspection but that is not Tim’s intention at all.  “Introspection assumes I’m what matters in sanctification.  But it is God who changes us. “For one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”  (Robert Murray M’Cheyne)

Creating habits, building character:

We think the small concessions to sin do not matter all that much – but small concessions don’t satisfy temptation they fuel it!  And in time sin becomes a habit.  Most of our moral decisions are decisions in the moment.  What counts then is not our biblical reflection or moral reasoning its our Christian character.  It’s the habit of holiness of an undivided heart.

You cannot create Christian character overnight.  It’s the fruit of suffering and perseverance.  It’s the harvest of daily weeding out sin and planting grace.” (p122)

We repent by faith:

Believing:

1) God is bigger than my sinful desires

We think of sin as inevitable but “Sin isn’t inevitable for a child of God.  We’ve been set free from its power.  I need to believe the truth that God is bigger than my sinful desires.  I need faith in God’s power if I’m to repent of my sin.” (p124)

2) God is better than my sinful desires:

You Can Change 13: What desires do you need to turn from?

•January 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment

These are my notes and some reflections on Tim Chester’s book: You Can Change

We sin because we worship or desire idols instead of worshipping God:

John Calvin famously called our hearts a “perpetual factory of idols” (p109).  Reflecting on Jeremiah 2:13 – our double sin is that we first reject the truth about God and second we place our affections elsewhere.  “An idol is anything we look to instead of God for living water.” (p109).

Idolatry is not necessarily an overt rejection of God’s existence or character, more subtly it is an over-attachment to lesser things.   Whatever you desire most is the thing that has captured your heart and controls your life.

“Our idols are those things which we count on to give our lives meaning.  They are the things of which we say. ‘I need this to make me happy,’ or ‘If I don’t have this my life is worthless and meaningless.’ ” (Tim Keller)

We often confuse free-will with self-willed: “The truth about our choices is that we always choose what we believe to be our best.  We always choose what we believe will bring us the most delight.” (Elyse Fitzpatrick)

When desires go bad:

Desire itself is not wrong – our problem is “over desire” or inordinate desires. It is not normally not the thing we want, but that we want it more than God that is the sin.  As a result I am dissatisfied with God’s sovereignty over my life.  The good things that God has filled his world with ought to be “bridges to joy in God.” (p114)

Desires deceive us by masquerading as needs (“I need to be loved”).  “We take a good desire (to be loved) and turn it into an idolatrous desires and call it a need.” (p115).

But God is not the key the good life.  He is the good life!  God must be desired for his own sake – because he is altogether glorious not merely as the giver of worldly success.

Which voice do you listen to?

•January 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.  And the first job of each morning consists in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.

CS Lewis

Quoted in Tim Chester: You Can Change p87

Top Posts in 2010

•January 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

2010 was a bit of a slow year in blogging for me.  And I guess it shows of the top 5 posts of 2010 – only 1 was actually written in 2010.

1. Guinness is a Christian beer!

3. Best non-theological books of 2009

4. Free Tim Keller sermons

5. Key Themes in Galatians

Here are a couple of my favourite posts in no particular order:

1. Good News to Our City: Racial Reconciliation

2. Jonah a Missional Reading

3. Eschatology and mission

4. Racism in SA Universities… and the church?

5. Three mindset shifts towards becoming a missional community