Sunday, November 25, 2018

Developing Godly Habits: How to Order your Life

Sermon Audio:

I try to exercise regularly. I have to exercise a great deal and be very, very careful about how I eat, because my body is very good at gaining weight and not very quick to lose it. Can anyone relate?

I always have eggs for breakfast, and coffee. I try not to eat again all morning until lunch time. At lunch I eat a large meal, my largest of the day, and then I try not to eat again until 5:00 PM dinner. I play basketball for an hour and a half, full court, on Mondays and Thursdays. Three times a week I do a 20 min workout routine.

It's amazing how much time and effort we put toward our physical bodies. We fight very hard to keep fit and stave off old age. At least for as long as we can. But we know that each of us will one day die, and our bodies will pass into the ground, and our souls will return to the God who made them.

The Apostle Paul, when he wrote his letter to Timothy, told his young apprentice that physical training does have some value. But Paul indicates that training in Godliness has value for all things.

How much time and effort do we spend toward say, our jobs? Forty hours a week? And how much time do we put toward our families? Many hours of time. These things are important. Our jobs help us pay the bills, and provide for our families. Our families are very important. But do we have the right order of priorities? Is God first in our lives, and do we spend real time with Him? Are we training ourselves in Godliness?

Today we’re looking at the topic of developing great habits. So we’re going to look at a theological concept, exam some scripture, and then consider our applications.

The Apostle Paul in his letters, like Romans, Galatians, and Philippians, often returns to a simple formula for the Christian life. I like to call it the Pauline equation. This equation… this balance that we’re going to talk about has been wrestled with by all the greats throughout history, from Martin Luther during the protestant reformation, to John Wesley and George Whitfield, all the way to the 1970s revivals of Billy Graham, and the Jesus movements of the 1980s and 90s. Balance, between faith and obedience. The Pauline equation…

One, recognize that you’ve been saved by the grace of God found in Christ. Jesus Christ, through his life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the grave has paid our debt of sins. Your sins are washed away if you are in Christ. You’ve been born again. You’ve walked out of the tomb of sin and darkness, just as Jesus left the tomb and showed himself to many witnesses. If you’re in Christ, your sins are gone. Jesus has satisfied the wrath of God against sin by dying in your place. Your sins, that whole record of wrongs is wiped clean because your sins were put on Christ, at that moment on the cross when Jesus cried out: “Father, father, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus took our sin, and gave us his righteousness. Theologians call this the great exchange.

Two, Paul next always tells us that we must live the most pure and holy lives in response to this free gift. We’re exhorted to set aside sins of the flesh, and to embrace the fruits of the spirit. It takes dedication to walk in obedience in the Christ-life. If we skip either of these elements we can begin to drift away from Christ, and we begin to be in danger of losing our salvation.

As the 9th doctrine of the Salvation Army states: “We believe that continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ.”

There are two key words in that statement I’d direct your attention to: “Obedient faith.” Faith in Christ’s atonement. Obedience to Christ’s commands. And what's the verb? “Continued.” We have to walk the walk, day by day, month by month, and year by year.

Obedience and faith. If we don’t obey Christ, then we are in danger of antinomianism. That’s a big theological word, but it means that we believe in Christ, but never change how we live. We keep on sinning, and then say “God will forgive me.” That’s not how a real Christian lives. So we need obedience.

The other danger is that we can become too focused on obedience and trusting in ourselves for our salvation. We start to slowly put our faith in self, and our own attempts at righteousness. We become a Pharisee. Either path leads to spiritual disaster. So we must walk faithfully and obediently, with Christ. And to do that, we have to consider how we can develop Godly habits.

We’re going to approach this topic of developing great habits from two perspectives. The first perspective is positive practices, the second is negative practices. In other words, we’re looking at biblical commands that tell us “to do” certain things, and scripture that tells us “don’t do” certain things. Then we’ll address applications.

Turn in your Bibles to 1st Timothy chapter 6, and we’re looking at verses 11-12: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

Verse 11, when your being tempted it is usually acceptable to simply flee the situation. I’ve been there. Don’t stay in the den if you have a choice, get out. That’s biblical. And it says, while fleeing from temptation, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. So on one hand we flee, on the other we actively pursue.

When you pursue someone, or something… let’s say your dog runs away from home. And you’re out there looking for him, you follow his trail, and your after him for hours if necessary. In the same way, when we pursue righteousness, and godliness, it is an active pursuit. It’s a positive, intentional pursuit, something that we incorporate into our daily lifestyle. Too often we as Christians can become too locked in, too normalized. To follow Jesus is a living, breathing, exciting process. If it’s become too normal, then it’s time to stir it up, and go deeper with God.

Pursue faith, faith is an unshakable trust in God. We don’t simply believe that Christ is alive and well in heaven right now, we know it. We know it through and through. When we see chaos around us, division, poverty, and suffering, we are not shaken, not broken by it, instead we center our focus on Christ, and recognize with calm and peace, that His plan is continuing effortlessly forward.

Pursue love. Love is not a feeling, not in a biblical sense. Jesus said this is love: To give up one’s life for one’s friends. Love is action, love is doing something. Love is stopping by at your grandma’s house for no reason, because you love her. Love is calling your dad and just talking for an hour. Love is volunteering for Christmas kettles. Love is praying for your friend who doesn’t know Jesus. Love is action.

Pursue endurance. Does that seem like a strange thing to pursue? Most of us have been through crazy times in our lives when we’re shocked by what is happening. A family member dies. We lose a job. Our child is addicted to drugs. A dark depression sets in. We are in more need of endurance than we might realize. Be ready to fight through when dark times come. Winston Churchill said if you’re going through hell, Keep going!

Pursue gentleness. Men, gentleness is not our greatest ability. We can often be harsh & cold. We need to pursue gentleness. Especially with your spouse, and your children. Be gentle. Women, let’s talk. Have you ever said something rude to your husband in earshot of others? That’s not gentle. Have you ever, while disciplining your children, later found yourself using that same tone with your husband? Believe it or not, your husband needs gentleness from you too.

Those are positive commands. We’re being told “do do this.”

Now let’s look at some negative commands. Turn in your Bibles to Galatians 5:19-21: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”

We looked at some things “to do” and now we see things to “abstain from.” To abstain means to never touch those things. If I’m abstaining from alcohol, I never buy it, I don’t think about it, and I don’t hang out in bars. I stay away from it.

In the same way Paul exhorts believers to stay away from various sins that threaten to shipwreck our Christian journey.

A few things jump out to me. Sexual immorality is always at the top of the list. It’s a sin that we’re especially susceptible to. If we aren’t proactively resisting those sexual temptations, they can and will take over and enslave us.

Idolatry jumps out to me. Idolatry is when we put something in our lives before God, like money, or our marriage, or even ourselves.

Hostility jumps out. How often does hostility occur in our relationships? Or when we’re driving?

Divisions and dissensions. We’ve all seen people at our work places, or in our circle of friend, who like to spread gossip, and stir up drama and controversy. The Bible very clearly tells us, don’t be one of those people.

So I’d encourage you to look over this list in greater detail on your own time. But do recognize the seriousness here. At the end of this list it says “Those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” So if we persist in these sort of sins, and refuse the Spirit’s leading, we won’t be going to paradise. We’ll be going to the other place. Take it seriously.

So, how can we put these various commands and practices into action in our lives? To truly live as a “real Christian” takes an ordered life. It takes intentional weekly practices.

I’d like to recommend a book to each of you, it’s called Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This book is a best seller, and it’s really the gold standard of spiritual disciplines. It’s been instrumental in my life, to develop deeper relationship with God.

The two great practices of all Christians are personal prayer and Bible reading. Let’s talk prayer.

I set a goal of praying for 30 minutes a day, three times a day. When Daniel was in exile in Babylon he prayed 3 times a day. Now, I’m a night owl, so the best time for my long prayer is at night. Usually I begin at 9:00 PM. If you’re a morning person like Major Bob, you could always wake up at 4 AM and pray then.

I’d like to teach you a prayer that I think is great. Everyone look at your hand, doesn’t matter which one. First, your thumb. Your thumb is the one closest to your body. Pray for those close to you, your parents, friends, and family. Pointer finger. It stands over your thumb. Pointer finger means pray for your spiritual leaders. Here you can pray for Major Bob and Lisa, and for other leaders in the corps here. Believe me, they need your prayers, especially during this time of year. Your middle finger, it’s the tallest finger, standing above all the others, so for this finger you pray for those in authority. Pray for the president, and his cabinet. Pray for congress and the courts. And pray for local political leaders as well. The ring finger is our weakest finger. It really can’t do too much. So here we pray for the weak and the hurting. We pray for alcoholics, drug addicts, the abused, the lonely, orphans, widows, and so on. Finally, the pinkie is the smallest finger, so here we pray for ourselves and our needs and desires. Five finger prayer.

Next, Bible reading. I usually read my Bible at the end of the day, after I pray, when I get in bed. I keep my Bible there, and I read one or two chapters from the New Testament and one or two chapters from the Old Testament. Keep it simple. But do it. Be in the word each and every day. It usually takes me a while to fall asleep at night, so what I do is I use my Bible app or my laptop to play an audio Bible to myself while I try to sleep. It’s great. Check out

All these practices start by developing great habits. What do the psychology nerds say about developing a great habit? It takes about two months of “forcing yourself” to do it. It’s a little awkward at first, it’s a little bit of a chore, but after those first few months, it becomes a habit. This is how we develop great habits. It’s by doing it every day, even when maybe we don’t really want to, that it’s going to develop into a habitual practice.

In conclusion, we can do this! God will make it possible. These are practices that will become great habits, that will transform your walk with Jesus, from something that may seem distant or stale, to something living, breathing, close, and active. Let’s pray.