31DaysOfPurity2-0171Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day twenty-one:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

This passage tells us to come to Christ in our weakness and in our sin. Yet we often prefer a route that is opposed to Hebrews 4:16. I cannot describe it any better than Heath Lambert has:

Mental punishments are not helpful because they deal with sin in a self-centered way instead of a Christ-centered way. Meditating on how miserable and pathetic you are only perpetuates the sinful self-centeredness that led you to look at pornography in the first place. Condemning self-talk still has you standing center stage as you reflect on what you think you deserve because of what you did. … The only way to break this vicious cycle is to get outside of yourself to Jesus. You need to stop talking to yourself in categories of condemnation and begin talking to God in categories of confession. (Lambert, 26)

Jesus doesn’t need your condemning self-talk. Neither do you, for it accomplishes nothing good. What you need is to believe the gospel and boldly draw near to the throne of grace. It is here—in our Great High Priest—that you will find the healing that you long for. It is here that you will find the mercy and grace that you so desperately need.

Lord, you were tempted just as I have been tempted. I am thankful that where I have failed, you have succeeded. You know how strong temptation can be. You know what it is like to be in a mortal body. You can sympathize with my weakness. I am grateful that you know my frame and remember that I am but dust (Psalm 103). Rescue me from foolish self-talk and replace it with your words of grace. You say that when I confess, I am clean. Help me to believe you. Today I draw near to your throne of grace confident that you will meet me with mercy and grace to help in this time of need. 

What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Todays devotional was prepared by Mike Leake. Mike is associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Jasper, IN. He and his wife, Nikki have 2 children (Isaiah and Hannah). Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and regularly blogs at mikeleake.net.

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day two:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

As men we face the temptation to gain our deepest identity from our sexuality. For some, identity is found in sexual prowess while for others it is defined by sexual failures. The Corinthians, like us, suffered from identity confusion. They had forgotten who they had become in Christ and they began to define themselves by things other than their Savior. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us!) that who Christians are is found in a different and better place—our identity is found in a person. We are no longer identified as “sexually immoral” or “homosexual”. Paul places that old identity in the past by saying “such were some of you”. Our new identity is that of people who have been washed, sanctified, and justified. Because we have been saved by Christ, we have been given His identity. Let us embrace that new and better identity, and let us define ourselves by who we are in Christ.

Lord, thank you for establishing my identity in Christ so that I am no longer defined by sin and failure. Because you have purchased me and placed me in union with Jesus Christ, I know that all He has is given to me. Help me to believe that I am hidden in Christ so that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. Help me to live as if that is true. In the times when I feel like I’m defined by sexual failure, help me to remember who I am in Christ. When I’m driven to find my identity in my sexuality, stir my heart so I will live out my identity in Christ instead. In the times of victory, help me to remember that it is only through the name of Christ that I live in freedom from sin’s captivity. I am yours. Amen.

What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men)

pulpitPreparing a sermon is one of the most gratifying and the most difficult tasks you’ll ever face. There is joy in finding meaning in the text, in finding structure, in developing just the right outline, in discovering the perfect illustration. But there is also labor and, at times, intense spiritual warfare. I am a relative newcomer to preaching and as I’ve prepared sermons I’ve relied on others to teach me how to pray and how to prepare. Here are two lists that have been very helpful to me. I combine them into what I affectionately call my Preacher’s Cheat-Sheet.

Praying for a Sermon

A couple of years ago Mike McKinley shared 8 Ways to Pray During Sermon Preparation. I found those 8 ways to pray tremendously helpful and have been following them ever since. I pray in these ways at the beginning, middle and end of my time of preparation.

  1. Lord, please help me to understand the meaning of this text and how it points to Christ.
  2. Lord, please increase my love for the people who will hear this sermon.
  3. Lord, please give me wisdom to apply this text to the lives of the people in our congregation.
  4. Lord, please use this passage to help me grasp and love the gospel more so that I might help my hearers do the same.
  5. Lord, please help me to see how this passage confronts the unbelief of my hearers.
  6. Lord, please help me to be obedient to the demands of this passage. Help me to enter the pulpit having already submitted my life to this truth before I preach it.
  7. Lord, by your Spirit please help me to preach this sermon with the necessary power and with appropriate affections.
  8. Lord, please use this sermon to bring glory to your name, joy to your people, and salvation to the lost.

Preparing for a Sermon

Along with praying during sermon preparation, I also wanted to develop a checklist of sorts—not a guide to help me exegete the text or make sure I have properly found and preached Christ from it. Rather, I wanted something to use as I near the end of my preparation and want to ensure that what I have prepared is well-structured and that it will avoid missteps that may prove hindrances to my listeners. I spoke to seasoned pastors to find what they do and developed this checklist which I like to run through when the sermon is nearly complete, and return to shortly before I preach the sermon.

  1. Have you prayed for yourself and your listeners?
  2. In one sentence, what is the point of the sermon?
  3. Does the sermon have a clear, easy-to-follow outline?
  4. Can you express your outline in a way that makes sense and explains the big point?
  5. Has every theological concept or term been defined or explained?
  6. Is there a clear gospel call that expresses the gospel in a fresh way?
  7. Have you spoken to the children?
  8. Are there places you have planned to pause, or to decrease or increase volume?
  9. Is there anything that can be removed for the sake of clarity and concision?
  10. Does every point have at least one helpful illustration?
  11. Have you included some good turns-of-phrase?
  12. Have you considered how the sermon will speak to people who are: discontent, divorced, abused, addicted, mourning, in a difficult marriage, or other difficult circumstances?
  13. Is there something to jolt the regular, committed sermon-listener?

If you’d like to have these lists in printed form, you can download them in PDF format. I print this document double-sided, crop it down to size, and keep one copy on my desk and one in my car.

Accountability has gotten a bad rap. It is easy to see why, I guess. When it comes to battling against sin, and especially those stubborn, addictive sins, accountability relationships are sometimes held up as a cure-all, a near guarantee of success. Yet often they end up being a means of commiseration more than challenge, a time when Christians sit around feeling sorry for one another rather than full-on battling against sin.

Yet I believe the Bible promotes and even demands accountability relationships for Christians who want to battle hard against a dogged sin. Paul writes, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2). Accountability is a specific—and if done right, helpful—form of bearing one another’s burdens.

However, for accountability to be successful, it must be done well. In his book Finally Free, Heath Lambert includes some helpful principles about effective accountability. He writes in the context of battling against pornography, but the points he makes are equally applicable to any sin.

Here are seven principles for effective accountability; each is further explained by showing what effective accountability is and is not.

  Accountability Is… Accountability Is Not…
1. Effective accountability does not rely exclusively on accountability. …one weapon among many. …the only weapon in the fight against sin.
2. Effective accountability is involved early rather than late. …calling out for help in the moment of temptation and before you sin. …delayed confession—the regular reporting of sins already committed.1
3. Effective accountability involves someone with maturity. …able to function best when it occurs under the leadership of someone who has a track record of victory over the sin in question. …going to work well if you are seeking accountability with someone who is struggling and sinning in the same area as you.2
4) Effective accountability involves someone with authority (Heb 13:17). …involving those who can speak with authority. It may also involve those who “…watch over you as those who must give an account.” …fighting on your own; by definition, accountability is not a solo effort.
5) Effective accountability should avoid explicit details (Eph 5:11-12). …describing sin and temptation in general terms with the goal of enabling your accountability person to help you best. …not a place where explicit details are shared; we must avoid fueling further temptation.
6) Effective accountability places the responsibility for confession on the person with the problem. …full and free confession without prompting, pushing or demands for honesty. …going repeatedly through a list of questions without making honest and up-front confession of a particular sin.3
7) Effective accountability must actually hold people accountable. …being actively involved in the life of another Christian with regular and caring communication.4 …simply the commitment to meet regularly and work through a list of questions.

1 “You will not experience dramatic change in your struggle as long as you use accountability to describe your sins instead of declaring your need for help in the midst of temptation.”

2 “Seeking accountability from those who are in the same place in their struggle as you are may make you feel comfortable but is unlikely to lead to actual change.”

3 “A person waiting passively to provide answers to specific questions is in a far different place spiritually than a person who is willing to take the initiative to expose their struggles in the pure light of day.”

4 “The calling to be a spiritual person who restores another caught in a sin is a high and holy calling that requires time.”

*Thanks to my friend Heather who suggested that this material could be presented in a table.

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 39, sermon number 2,341, “The undying Gospel for the dying year.”

“Beloved friends, whatever the condition of a child of God is, he is not without hope.” 

A believer in the Lord Jesus Christ may be very sorely tried, his afflictions may be multiplied, and they may be very keen; but, even in that condition, he has hope. It is not possible for him to be forsaken of God; his God must help him.

If the worst comes to the worst, and he is altogether forsaken of men, and sees no way of escape out of his tremendous difficulties, still his God must help him. He has no right whatever to be afraid. Since the Lord Jesus Christ saved us when we were ungodly, and came to our rescue when we were without strength, we can never be in a worse condition than that; and if he then did the best thing possible for us, namely, died for us, there is nothing which he will not do.

In fact, he will give us all things, and he will do all things for us, so as to keep us safely, and bear us through. The argument is that, looking back, we see the great love of God to us in the gift of his dear Son for us when there was nothing good in us, and when we were ungodly, when we had no power to produce anything good, for we were without strength.

At such a time, even at such a time, Christ came on wings of love, and up to the bloody tree he went, and laid down his life for our deliverance. We, therefore, feel confident that he will not leave us now, and that he will not keep back anything from us whatever we may need.

He has committed himself to the work of our eternal salvation, and he will not be balked of it. He has done too much for us already ever to run back from his purpose; and in our worst estate, if we are in that condition to-night, we may still confidently appeal to him, and rest quite sure that he will bring us up even to the heights of joy and safety.