On Guard: Watching for the Things that Influence Us

Like most schools, Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth has a security staff that patrols the campus 24 hours a day. One of my good friends worked for them for a while. Since he was the low man on the totem pole, he had to work the night shift, which is not really conducive for a seminary student taking classes during the day, but he took the job anyways.

At night my friend had to patrol mostly by himself. As he did, he told me he always had to be watchful, never letting his guard down because he never knew who or what he might encounter.

In the same way, Paul tells us we have to always be watchful, not getting too comfortable and letting our guard down. Instead we must always be aware of what is influencing us.

What influences should we be watchful for?

(1) Culture’s Influence 

Everyday we are bombarded with messages on the tv, in the newspaper, and on the internet that have the power to shape our worldview — how we view or see the world. That’s a problem because as Christians, our worldview should be shaped by God’s Word, not by the culture’s word.

One way to avoid being influenced by the culture is to consistently run its messaging through the lens of the Bible. In other words, we must constantly check our culture’s ideas against that of the Bible’s. The only way we are going to be effective at checking the world’s ideas against the Bible’s is for us to know God’s Word, which is where we run into a problem. As senior research Professor David Wells says,

Every study on the internal life of churches shows that they are becoming increasingly less literate biblically. With that, our ability to judge where our culture is intruding upon our souls is diminished [1].

Wells’ research not only looked at new Christians, but seasoned Christians as well. His conclusion, then, is representative of both groups, which tells us that we don’t know the Bible as well as we should. In fact we are trending more and more biblically illiterate by the year. Our biblical illiteracy is the result of a lack of prioritizing God’s Word.

How should we response to Wells’ research? 

We shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it. Instead, we should feel the conviction, repent, and then commit to making a better effort in prioritizing God’s Word in our lives.

If you don’t know where to start, let me encourage you to start by reading through the Bible. So you don’t get too bogged down, start by reading two or three chapters in the Old Testament and one or two chapters in the New Testament. By doing that, you will read the New Testament faster, which is ok. When you get finished, just start back in Matthew.

As you read, write down questions your reading sparks, then spend some time later on answering those questions. Don’t get too bogged down in all the laws and genealogies you will encounter at the beginning of the Bible. If you find your eyes glazing over, just skim them while asking yourself, what characteristics do these laws reveal about God.

(2) Bad Theology

I am often shocked by what some Christian bookstores put on their shelves, and advertise front and center as you walk in the door. Just because a book is on the shelf of your local Christian bookstore, doesn’t mean it can be trusted. There is a lot of bad theology out there, which means we have to always be on guard. Every sermon, Bible study, tv or radio broadcast; every book, article, or blog could be an opportunity for bad theology to creep in, so we must keep our guard up.

How do we guard ourselves? The same way we guard ourselves from culture’s influence — by knowing our Bible and using it. We must make it a point to check everything against God’s Word, just like the Bereans did when Paul taught them. I know many of you have heard the phrase “Be Berean’s”. Well, that’s what we have to be. We have to be Bereans in order to guard ourselves from bad theology.

(3) The Company We Keep

Back in Chapter 15 in verse 33, Paul says,

“Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Cor. 15:33)

As much as we would like to think that we will remain strong no matter the people we are around, it’s simple not true. If non-Christians are our only friends, we are going to be influenced by them. I know this first hand. When I transferred to the University of Georgia, I roomed with some great guys but they weren’t Christians. As a result, I started living and thinking like them.

In order to combat the influence of non-Christians in our lives, we need a solid support network of Christians. I say it like that because I don’t want you to get the impression that you should severe all relationships with non-Christians, because we shouldn’t. As Christians we can’t just gather in our holy huddles blocking out the world completely. We must have non-Christian friends. We are called to make disciples. If we don’t know anyone who isn’t a Christian, it is going to be hard for us to win people to Christ. So we must have non-Christian friends, but we must balance those relationships with a strong Christian support network, one that will hold us accountable and help us grow in God’s Word.

(4) Our Own Actions 

I include this as something we should watch out for because our actions reveal a lot about our heart. They can tell us if we are being influenced by God’s Word, the culture, the company we keep, or our own sinful flesh. So when it comes to our actions, we need to ask ourselves: Are we treating each other harshly, or with love? Are we acting self-centered, or selfless? Are we greedy, or generous? Are we practicing sexual immortality, or sexual restraint? Are we worshipping idols (the things of the world), or Christ?

Our actions tell us a lot about our heart. They tell us a lot about what we are being influenced by, so we need to watch our actions carefully.

Question for Reflection

  1. What are other influences we need to be watchful for?

Resources

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Post adapted from my recent sermon: How can we live in the world, while living for Christ?

[1] David Wells, The Soul-Shaping Reality of the Gospel, an interview in Table Talk Magazine, January 2011.

6 Ways to Begin Developing a Gospel-Centered Culture

Over the last several years, there have been numerous ministries, books, conferences, blogs, and churches gravitating toward gospel-centered ministry. Thankfully, I was blessed to be a member of one of those churches during seminary. Through that church I came to understand that the gospel must be what all our ministries are based on, empowered by, and result from. After seeing that modeled for three years, when I left for my first pastorate, I immediately began working to create a gospel-centered culture within my church. Three and a half years later I am still working, but by God’s grace a lot of progress has been made.

Recently, I was asked what exactly I am doing to help create a gospel-centered culture here at Sycamore. Although my ministry and I are imperfect, I want to share with you six things I have been doing over my time here.

6 Ways to Begin Developing a Gospel-Centered Culture

(1) Preach the gospel

Pastor, your pulpit ministry has a huge influence over your church, which means if you want your church to be gospel-centered, your preaching must be gospel-centered. Gospel-centered preaching involves more than tacking the gospel on to the end of your sermon, as if it was an after thought. Instead gospel-centered preaching involves the gospel taking center-stage. You know that has happened when you use the gospel to encourage; convict; draw out; spur on; and promote joy, hope, and courage among your flock. So if you desire to create a gospel-centered culture in your church, make the gospel the center of your preaching.

(2) Counsel with the gospel

A pastor’s ministry doesn’t end after he steps out of the pulpit. In most cases, it is just beginning. That’s because faithfully preaching the gospel week in and week out will inevitable draw questions and sin to the surface, questions and sin that must be dealt with in the counseling room. Just like in the pulpit, the gospel must take center-stage in your counseling. You must not motivate your people to change through positive thinking and bootstrap mentality. You have to motivate them with the gospel. Doing so is not only what is best for them, but also it’s what will help create a gospel-centered culture in your church. As your people see the power and benefit of the gospel for both salvation and sanctification, they will begin applying it not only to themselves, but to those around them as well.

(3) Motivate with the gospel

When it comes to motivation, the tactic most people default to is guilt. I think that is because it works, and it is what comes natural to us. While guilt can motivate in the short-term, it can’t and doesn’t produce lasting and healthy results. That’s because it leaves our people feeling beaten up and, at times, depressed. I know you don’t want that for your people, which means you have to use something other than guilt to motivate them. You have to use the gospel. So the next time you need to motivate your flock to volunteer, tithe, reach the lost, or deal with their sin, apply the gospel, rather than guilt. It is not only what’s best for them, but also it is what will help create a gospel-centered culture in your church.

 (4) Talk about the gospel

I don’t know who said it first, but whoever said, “Your people aren’t really hearing what you are saying, until you are tired of saying it”, was right. Which means, if you want to create a gospel-centered culture in your church, you can never tire of talking about the gospel.

(5) Give gospel-centered resources 

If you are anything like me, you not only grew in your knowledge of gospel-centered ministry through your local church, but also through books, podcasts, videos, and articles. Just as you benefit, your people will as well. So as often as you can, give your people gospel-centered resources to read, listen to, and watch.

(6) Pray for a gospel-centered culture

Prayer is powerful; it truly can change things. It can change the hearts of men, it can bring about healing, and it can change the culture in your church. Often times I believe we forget the power of prayer. When we do, we begin to rely on our own strength, know-how, and ingenuity. But that alone won’t do when it comes to creating a gospel-centered culture because people’s hearts and minds need to be changed. The only way that is going to truly happen is if God changes them. So if you want a gospel-centered culture to take root in your church, go to the Lord in prayer, asking Him not only to change your own heart and mind, but those of your congregation as well.

Question for Reflection

  1. How are you working to create a gospel-centered culture in your church?

Resource

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On the World’s False Promises

De Maupassant’s narrative begins with a pretty woman living in the country who dreams of Paris whilst sleeping next to her snoring husband.

She had never “known a thing beyond the hideously banal monotony of regularly performed duties, which by all accounts was what happily married life consisted of.” For her, Paris is a dream world of escape – the city of lights, “representing the height of all magnificent luxury as well as licentiousness.”

The Promise

The woman’s lusty view of Paris has been cultivated by a steady diet of newspaper gossip, creating in her mind the model of a very different kind of man to her white-collar, small-town, conservative husband. Instead she dreamed of

“Men who made the headlines and shone like brilliant comets in the darkness of her sombre sky. She pictured the madly exciting lives they must lead, moving from one den of vice to the next, indulging in never-ending and extraordinarily voluptuous orgies, and practicing such complex and sophisticated sex as to defy the imagination. It seemed to her that behind the facades of the houses lining the canyon-like boulevards of the city, some amazing erotic secret must lie.”

The Fear of Missing Out

The woman, no longer able to resist the lure of the city, gripped by a nineteenth-century version of “the fear of missing out,” concocts an excuse to travel to Paris.

Giving Into the Allure of the Promise

Once arrived, she searches the streets looking for tantalizing scandal and spectacle. She fruitlessly searches the cafes, “Nowhere could she discover the dens of iniquity about which she had dreamed.”

Her dreams decomposing, she by chance happens upon an aging celebrity writer in one of the new department stores. Throwing aside her usual reserve, she aggressively flirts with him. The writer takes her on a tour of the sights and sounds of Paris.

At the theatre, thrillingly, “she was seen by the entire audience, sitting by his side in the first row of the balcony.” As the entertainment ends, the writer bids her goodnight. She, however, is determined to cross for the first time into the landscape of adultery and offers to accompany him home.

The Let Down

After an awkward and unsatisfying sexual encounter, the woman lies awake in the writer’s bed, wondering what she has done. She spends the night staring at the unattractive features of the man who, like her husband, snores and snorts through the night. She continues to stare, repulsed as the man’s saliva dribbles down his mouth as he sleeps. She flees home feeling as though

“Something inside her, too, had now been swept away, through the mud, down to the gutter and finally into the sewer had gone all the refuse of her over-excited imagination. Returning home, the image of Paris swept inexorable clean by the cold light of day filled her exhausted mind, and as she reached her room, sobs broke from her now quite frozen heart.”

Question for Reflection

  1. When did you discover this world cannot satisfy us?

Resources

Quoted from Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan, 55-56

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