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Warning: Discipline Can Be Hazardous To Your Health, Part 2

From the series Balancing Life's Demands

You’re doing all the right things - reading your Bible, going to church, being generous with your finances - but you feel spiritually dead inside. What’s wrong? Chip shares how to break the spiritual activity trap and begin experiencing the peace and power you’re longing for.

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Message Transcript

He said, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies.’ But I tell you, love your enemies” and then listen to this, “pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

And the idea of sons, especially in Hebrew culture, it has family likeness as the idea. You’ll be like your Father in heaven. “He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you” – duh! “what reward is that? don’t tax collectors and sinners do that?”

And so, He makes this point. He says, “I want you to demonstrate to the Romans mercy and grace.” And then now, He says, “What do you do to your enemies? You don’t give them what they deserve.” Grace is giving people something they don’t deserve. Mercy is withholding what people do deserve. And so, when your enemies do, He says, “I want you to withhold what you would normally give them, and I want you to overcome evil with good.

You’ll never be more like your heavenly Father than when you love people who have wounded and hurt and abused and betrayed you.”

And do you see? I mean, He is turning the paradigm of what it means to be an authentic follower of Yahweh completely upside down. This is a righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees, because this righteousness is a matter of the heart. This righteousness requires supernatural help. This righteousness is not a religious system of rigid, personal discipline, of doing the right things. And we can do it ourselves! “I go to church; I’m on the missions committee. I’m in a small group. I give ‘x’ amount of dollars. I’ve got my little checklist – boom, boom, boom, boom, boom! – and I am doing great. I must be right with God.”

And then it develops two things: number one, a very tired, weary Christian, with not much joy, and usually, a self-righteous person who looks down on other people who aren’t doing as much.

Jesus was the most winsome human being on the face of the earth, and His life of love and grace and mercy and truth and strength and courage caused prostitutes and sinners and people to be drawn to Him, like bees to honey, and it caused people who genuinely wanted to know God to see the Father as He really is, and it caused people who were religious and self-righteous and controlling to want to kill Him.

And sometimes I ask myself, If I lived in that day, I wonder which one of those groups I would be in? I tend to read the New Testament like I’m always one of the disciples. Try reading it sometime like you’re one of the Pharisees. My righteousness, your righteousness, must exceed that.

And so, here’s the summary: Jesus condemns external righteousness, spiritual activities, when it does not flow from internal relationship with God. True spirituality is always an issue of the heart. God’s love is never dependent upon your performance. If there’s one thing, if we could be set free, God’s love is not dependent on your performance.

I remember, early on, I was helping out with a school, and part of trying to negotiate some tuition for my kids was coaching the basketball team as I pastored this little church. And I had a group in one of those big vans, fifteen-passenger vans. I had the whole team, and we had about an hour and a half away, we played the game, came back. And you know, the highlight, for some of the guys, was stopping at McDonald’s on the way home, regardless of the game.

And so, I’ve got about ten or twelve of these guys, and we’re eating at McDonald’s, and there was a very, very old lady there. And she watched these young men bow and pray, and a conversation started. And I just had a little prompting from God. I wasn’t trying to be ultra-spiritual, but got in a conversation with this lady, and I asked her about her spiritual roots: “Oh, yes,” and, “Yeah, very spiritual,” and “I love God,” and this and that.

I said, “Well, tell me a little bit about – would you explain to me” – and I’ve got all these guys here, and I’m thinking, This is a good window of opportunity – “would you explain to me, how do you develop a close relationship with God?” Because she a lot of jewelry and things that would tell you that she’s very religious.

And she goes, “Oh, yes, yes.” And she was from the Old Country. I don’t know what old country she was from, had a little bit of an accent, but she was from the Old Country. She says, “You need to understand that there’s this great God, and between me and this great God is this huge boulder of granite. And every day, I get up, and God gives me a little hammer, and He gives me a chisel. And I chisel a tiny piece of that boulder away. And I do it with a good work here, and I do it with a prayer here, and another prayer here, and another good work.” And, I mean, the lady’s, like, ninety.

And I said, “Well, how’s it coming on the boulder?” You know? You know? Like, You had a lot of time to work on this one, you know? And she goes, “Oh, well, I’m not through yet, but I just pray and hope desperately, someday.”

And she began to share a little bit of her life, and I will tell you, it is one of the simply saddest experiences I’ve ever. She knew a lot of the Bible. She quoted lots of verses. She was a modern-day – her theology was the righteousness of the Pharisees.

And that’s a vivid picture, but I think, at least subconsciously, there are a lot of us that think that way: Ooh, I missed my quiet time. Oh, I haven’t prayed in a couple of days. Oh, I’m giving “x” percent, but I ought to be giving “x” percent, and you know what? And there’s this unconscious, Oh, I feel okay and I’m doing okay, and God loves me, when I perform, perform, perform, and when I don’t.

Now, we’re going to learn in a second our spiritual activities. You’re thinking, Wait a minute, Chip. You just told us – man, you’re giving all these sessions about how important it is and to be disciplined and all this, and now, you’re just messing with my mind, Ingram.

No, no, no. Jesus is. Okay? Everything we’ve talked about so far is absolutely true, absolutely of a necessity. But it’s the difference between doing those things to walk into the house and meet with the person, than to get focused on the driveway. It’s those spiritual activities.

And just a quick FYI, in case it never got clear, because I lived in America, and I went to church, though it be not a good one, I never heard it. So, just let me take two minutes, before we go on. I want to explain, the good news of the gospel is this: God loves you, and there’s no way, no effort, no good work, no means you can ever have to earn His favor, and there is no boulder between you. It’s a chasm that’s impossible to cross.

From the eternity past, in the mind of the Triune God, they predetermined that the Son of God would come to the earth and take on human flesh, being fully Man and fully God. Fully Man, He would have the ability to die. Fully God, He would live a perfect life, and His sacrifice would have infinite value.

And after revealing, by His life and His words and His teaching, the very character of God – truth and grace – it was preordained, from the foundation of the world, that the Son of God would be unjustly accused of many crimes, and He would hang upon a cross. And He would hang upon the cross, not for one single thing that He did, but for the sins of all men, for all time. And as He hung upon that cross, He would be the offering for you and for me, and all the sins of all people of all time would be absorbed by Him. He would become sin, a sin offering on our behalf.

And, because God is holy and God is just, He would, because He can’t see sin, for the first time – and this was the agony – He would take His just wrath and pour it on the Son of God, so there would be separation. And Jesus would receive that, and why He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” because in that window and moment of time, for the first time in all eternity, your sin and my sin was paid for, completely, by Him.

And He gave His life, and He now offers a gift to every human being on the face of the earth, that is free, for by grace you’re saved through faith. That’s not of yourself; it’s a gift of God, not of works, least any man should boast. And then, three days later, not by a dream, not by a prophet, not by a religion, not by something in the sky, He would rise from the dead, and for over forty days have personal interaction with five hundred eyewitnesses documented. And just to throw a little icing on the cake, God had a number of other people be raised from the dead, and they went around and talked about what was happening. In space/time history.

And the offer and the message of Christianity is not be a nice person, go to church, clean up your morals, and be a little bit kinder and nicer than other people. The message is we are lost in our sin; we’re separated eternally from God. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me,” Jesus would say, and He makes an offer to you and to every single person: “Whosoever would believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Eternal life isn’t something that happens after you die. It is a quality of life where the chasm is closed; your sin is atoned, or covered, for. You are taken out of this kingdom of darkness, ripped out of it, by faith, through His grace, planted in the kingdom of His beloved Son, in the kingdom of light. The Spirit of God enters your physical body. You’re sealed with the Spirit, He deposited spiritual gifts in you, and His purposes now, is Christ lives His life out through you. That’s the gospel, the righteousness of Christ. And living the Christian life is not hard, and it’s not about trying hard. It’s impossible.

When Paul explains it in the book of Romans, he will tell us the first three chapters is the problem. Chapters 4 and 5 is the solution. Then chapters 6, 7, and 8 are how the supernatural righteousness is achieved. It’s achieved, first, by reckoning that you died with Him; you rose to walk in newness of life, that there’s a battle of the flesh and the spirit – chapter 7 – but, praise God, there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It’s the Spirit of God that manifests the very life and presence of Jesus inside you. And He lives His life through you, before God, manifesting through your personality and your life, the righteousness and the life and the love of God.

That’s what it means to be a Christian, and that’s what Jesus came for and that’s what He was explaining. Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. And so, He condemns external righteousness if it doesn’t flow from internal relationship with God. So, you got it? Good.

Now, let’s look at the second issue He addresses, because you might say, “Well, wait a second. That’s wonderful – grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace. That feels really good. But what about all those teachings we went over about spiritual activities and disciplines? Aren’t we commanded to pray? Aren’t we commanded to give? Aren’t we commanded to fast?” Yes. Jesus’ solution was not to stop spiritual activities, but to ensure that we do them out of grace and relationship, not performance and obligation.

It was that we would do them out of devotion and see them as what they are. They’re just a driveway. They’re just a conduit to get to where you really want to go. Giving, praying, fasting, media fasts, Scripture memory, accountability groups – none of that is the deal! They’re just the driveway to get you where Christ can make His home and have freedom and manifest His life in your heart.

That’s what Paul prays in Ephesians 3, that Christ would take up residence, that He would dwell – and the word dwell there means He would feel comfortable and be at home in you.

And by the way, the whole Christian life, in one word: abide. What do you need to abide? I don’t know. I mean, Scripture gives us some basics, but whatever you need to stay connected to Jesus, just stay connected to Jesus, and let His life flow through you. I mean, if you really want to get it simple. And what we know is that there are certain practices that help us abide. They’re not an end in themselves; they help us abide.

In chapter 5, Jesus corrects our belief, our misguided beliefs about performance orientation, self-effort, guilt manipulation, obligation, and duty. Now, in chapter 6, He’s going to correct our behavior. He’s going to teach us, well, how do we do the right thing, right? But how do we do it in the right way?

And so, I’m going to give you a quick overview here of the first part of chapter 6. And what I want you to notice here is that He’s doing here, He’s going to say, now, in our pursuit of seeking first the kingdom and His righteousness, there’s also the danger of deception.

In Matthew 6, He will give three most common practices of the Christians, the followers, the religious leaders of that day, and what He will do is He’ll show you, “Now, look, your righteousness needs to exceed that of the Pharisees. Let Me show you how to use those practices that does something to your heart and your relationship, rather than tries to impress people.”

So here’s His application. Chapter 6, verse 1: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you’ll have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogue and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

He’s not saying here that if anyone ever finds out what you give, it’s a problem. What He’s saying is, if your motive when you give is to make sure people find out what you give, you got a problem. And He’s saying you can have a reward. Plan A: People think you’re hot stuff; God’s unimpressed. Plan B: God thinks you’re hot stuff and, in secret, wants to reward you, and people don’t know about it. You got it?

The key here is our motive. The key issue is our motive. Giving guards your devotion.

Your heart just always follows your treasure. So, if you want your motives and your devotion to stay true to God and not an idol, what did Jesus say? Well, Jesus said this wild thing. He says, “There are only really two gods: Me and mammon.”

What’s mammon? It’s materialism. And He says, you can’t serve both. And so, giving isn’t this obligation: Oh, my gosh, who made up this ten percent thing? And oh, gosh, I went to that seminar. They’re into this proportional giving. Man, I’m doing ten percent; it took me forever. Now, they want twelve, fifteen, twenty-two, you know, boy, I’ll tell you what, I don’t know where these people are coming from. And, well, okay, I paid my taxes, okay, PG&E bill, oh, gas bill, mortgage bill, Jesus bill. Mmm! Golly.

He said, “You missed. Giving is My opportunity to remind you that I own everything, and your breath is from Me. And what do you have that you don’t receive? And your heart is a very precious thing to Me, and so I’ve instituted this practice that, every time you receive some things, you take a portion of it and, actually, I’m quite generous, since it’s all Mine, and I just ask for a portion of it, not because I need it. I can do anything. But I’m asking for a portion as this reminder for you to take your little claws, because you always want to hang on to stuff, and let go, and love other people, because I’m the most generous being in all the universe. I love so much, I gave My Son. And so, I want to teach you how to love.”

And you know what? You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.

And so, it’s a practice, not to say, “Oh, gosh, I’m really making progress. I used to only be a ten-percenter. I’m up to twelve point five.” “You’re up to twelve point five? I’m giving thirty percent of my income now, and you – oh, oh.”

It’s, “God has more and more of my heart, and I give cheerfully, and I give as as a son who says, ‘Oh, God, thank You. And all this is still to bless me and to richly enjoy. Thank You, Lord.’” I encourage you to give from the heart, first, then, by the way, what many of you don’t do, pay yourself. Save second. And then, live on the rest.

In the next practice, He goes to the motive, again, the key issue in prayer: “And when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray” – how do they do it? – “standing in the synagogues on the street corners” – why? – “to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they’ve received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room” – it’s the idea of the inner room – “close the door pray to your Father, who’s seen in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” And then, it goes on and talks about when you pray and how to pray and the right way to pray, not babbling, and He gives us what’s now known as the Lord’s Prayer.

But He gives us in prayer – what? It’s, again, motive, and it guards your discernment. A lot of the issues you have are discernment issues: What should I do? I just don’t know. And you know what? No one does but God. And He has an agenda for you. And we always want someone to tell us what we ought to do and what percentage should we give, and, “Should I do this, or should I do that, or…?” You know what? God wants to tell you. He wants to tell you. But you’ve got to sit still.

And I pray in the car. I’m going to keep praying in the car. I practice the presence of God. I have quick little prayers here. I have short ones over here. But I have to stop, go into my inner room, shut off the world, sit before Him, and get clear. And, often, I pray through the Lord’s Prayer, so that it’s not just needs, or it’s not just worship; it’s, “Our Father” –it’s relationship – “who art in heaven” – holy, this is who God is – “I want Your kingdom to come, Your agenda, not mine. I’m going to ask for my needs; I’m going to deal with relational issues and forgive anybody You bring to my mind. I’m going to ask You to guard me from temptation. You know what’s coming today. Then, I want Your kingdom and Your power and Your glory.” You see?

So, He says, “I want you to pray, not because if you” – “Okay, I did it fifteen minutes; I’m spiritual.” “I did it twenty.” “I did it twenty-five.” “I pray for an hour every day.” I’m not sure God has a clock or watch up there. I think He’s looking at the heart and the honesty and the openness, and where you say, “Lord, speak. Your servant is listening.” Where you’re the Mary: “Lord, be it unto me according to Your Word. Lord, if You’ll show me, I’ll do. I need to know.”

Because, see, the real goal of all those issues you have – your agenda is, you want to know, like me, so you can do this and do that and know what to do. You know what God’s agenda is? Hanging out with you, enjoying you.

And the more you rub up and enjoy Him, you won’t even notice it happening, but it’s kind of like – when Moses was hanging out with God a lot – remember that? Like, forty days, no food, no drink, just talking. When he came down, what was he like? Whoo. Whoo. Right? He’s glowing. Why? Because you always become like the people you hang out with. And when you learn to hang out with God, it’s not like some mechanical deal. You just become more and more like Him.

And so, the third area Jesus says about this internal righteousness, He talks about fasting, and we pick that up in verse 16: “When you fast, don’t look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they’re fasting. I tell you the truth, they’ve received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it won’t be obvious to men that you’re fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, and He’ll reward you.”

Fasting is a motive, again, and it provides perspective. It allows you to disengage from all the stuff, and spend that time with God.

And try a day or two occasionally, so when those hunger pangs come, you know, drink a lot of water, and you say, “God, I want to be reminded. I want to be reminded that all the busyness and all the pull and all the demands,” You’re just sort of backing up. And I will tell you, as you do that, you get perspective. Your spiritual sensitivity goes up when you fast.

And, finally, the summary of this is pretty clear: Spiritual disciplines are essential. Okay? Spiritual disciplines are essential but become dangerous when they become a means to gain the reward of men, rather than deepen our relationship with God.

Isn’t it amazing the heart behind Jesus’ teaching, here? Do you need to have personal discipline? Yeah. Do you need to get your priorities right? Absolutely. Do you need to get a handle on your time and your money? Yes. Do you need to look at those six things that are misplaced priorities and say, “I need to address it”? But you need to do all that with a righteousness that’s exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees.

I have a final application, here. It’s that secrecy is God’s method of keeping our motives pure. And this isn’t a legalistic, “Oh, no one knows.” If someone finds out you’re doing this or that or, “Ahh! Someone found out I was fasting.” Big deal. That’s not the issue. The issue is if you have a sign: “By the way, did you know I’m spiritual, and I’m fasting today?” That’s what’s being prohibited.

It seems like God lets me do all kind of really silly, dumb things, and looking back now, to help other people, I guess. But it took me a long time to lock in, to really want to be a follower of Jesus. And then, when I did, I can remember the day I woke up and thought, I am a modern-day Pharisee. I came up with a group that was really into Scripture memory, so I memorized hundreds and hundreds of verses. And then, I went to chapters. And then, I went to memorizing whole books. And boy, was I spiritual. And I remember bumping into someone who had known me about four years earlier, and really good relationship. I liked her, and God really used her. She was not a believer.

We passed in a common area outside where this school was, and I said, “Hi, how you doing?” And she said something and I said something, and she said something, and I quoted a verse, you know, appropriately, being the spiritual giant that I am. I mean, you got all these verses, you’ve got to use them, and people have got to know how holy you are, so I mean, bang, bang, tchoo, bing, whoo! Boom, boom. You know.

Hey, you got a problem? I’ve got a verse! Voom! Voom! Voom! Voom!  I mean, I was bad, man, you know. So, I’m – anyway. So, she makes some comment, and I quote a verse.

And then, the Spirit of God speaks through this gal, and she looks, and she goes, “You know, Chip, I knew you about four years ago. And you were a really neat guy.” And she said, “You know, I don’t know what the right word is, but you were easygoing; you were fun to be around. You know, I didn’t know much about Christianity, but I – I remember thinking, I’m not sure where you’re coming from, but you seem to have a song on your heart. You treated people in a way, and I thought, You know, man, if I ever wanted to be a Christian – and I’m not sure I ever would, because I’m not sure what it’s about – I think I’d like to be one like you.

And she said, “Chip, you know, I’ve just kind of watched things, and right now, you’re just a Bible-spouting person that, you know what? Every time I talk with you, I always leave feeling less of a person and guilty. And what I realize is, I don’t like to talk with you, and I don’t like to be around you.”

And I’m, you know, obviously aware that her lack of spirituality is – she’s unable to discern the higher things of God. And you know what? I wish I was joking. When I walked away, I remember thinking, Well, obviously, you know, she doesn’t have the Spirit – because the verse came to me, “Those who,” you know, “don’t know the Lord, the Spirit of Christ is not in them, then they can’t understand the things of the Spirit of God, for they are spiritually discerned, and if they don’t have “ You know?

And then, I got almost back to where I was to be, and the Spirit of God said, “You Bible-quoting hypocrite. All you have is the righteousness of the Pharisees. And you are a driven, focused, disciplined guy, and all you did is change uniforms from thinking basketball or impressing people or getting good grades or making money would make you somebody, and all you did is exchange it for religious clothes.”

And during that time, I had a guy give me a 3x5 card, after being at a little training program for three months – and  of course, I thought I was doing great, because I always got my stuff done. I had more verses memorized. I did all that you’re supposed to do.

And all he did was give me a card with these two verses. And I thought, Maybe there’s a message here.

Luke 16:15. It says, “Jesus says, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your heart. That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.’”

And just in case I didn’t get his point, he had Galatians 1:10: “Am I trying to win the approval of men,” Paul would write, “or of God? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”

And I would like, as your little application is go in your notes, a page or two back, and then, just gaze at those little tests, your pop quiz, and look at objectives, and look at priorities, and look at schedule, and look at discipline, and look at accountability. And now, let’s look at these through the lens of, how are you doing, as those are simply means to know and love God and deepen your relationship.

Because personal discipline is a very, very spiritually hazardous endeavor. You need to be disciplined, but your discipline can always be just a driveway. The means can never be an end. God wants your heart.