Unwelcome Thoughts

Friends, please accept my apologies for the lateness of this post. I have had a  heavy programme of meetings, which took up my time.

Few of us would say that we are not troubled with unwelcome thoughts. Our minds are never at rest during our waking hours, and they wander on to subjects which we would prefer not to think about. This is not because we have directed our thought to these things, but because the mind very often seems to ‘have a mind of its own’. One of the mysteries of the workings of our minds is the initiation of mental activity. Some lines of thought are triggered by something seen or heard, but we find ourselves on other lines of thought, and we are baffled as to their origin. Not only baffled, but dismayed that such thoughts entered our head.

We are filled with guilt by these thoughts, and we would love to be rid of them. While we must try our best to fight against such  thoughts, we will never get complete victory. Even the saved person, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, can never get total victory over unwelcome thoughts. One day we will be separated from these and all other sins forever when we get to be with Christ in heaven. Until then these thoughts are a reminder to us that there is in all of remaining sin: what Paul calls in Romans 7: 22,23, “another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind”, that is, against what I know to be right. Paul, like ourselves was grieved by this “other law”; indeed he is forced to cry out. “O wretched man that I am!”

But Paul elsewhere does give us some real help in this battle. It is what we might call, ‘Replacement therapy”. In Philippians 4, he is winding up his letter to the Philippians, whom he dearly loved. His desire for them is that they would be “careful for nothing” (verse 6), that is, that they should not be anxious about anything; and that they should enjoy the “peace of God” continually (verse 7). Then, as if conscious of the difficulty of maintaining these things in the face of unwelcome thoughts, he gives them in verse 8 his ‘replacement therapy’.

It comes in the form of a list of good things to think in place of these unwelcome thoughts. Every believer should learn this list by  heart, and allow it to rule their minds:

“Whatsoever things are true”. Avoid letting our imaginations drift into the world of fantasy.

“Whatsoever things are honest”. Things which are sincere  and  wholesome.

“Whatsoever things are just”. Things which are untwisted, and straight forward.

“What soever things are pure”. Things which are morally clean.

“Whatsoever things are lovely”. Things which are in themselves beautiful.

“Whatsoever things are of good report”. This is over against things which come to our notice which are unsavoury: news of the moral lapse of someone we know. The kind of thing which gossips love to hear. Let us not feed our minds on such reports, but on good reports that come to  us.

“If there be any virtue”. It may be difficult to find anthing virtuous in the world of today; but if you find any, let your mind dwell on it.

“If there be any praise”. If you can think of something praiseworthy which anyone has done, let your mind dwell on it.

Paul finishes with the simple exhortation, “Think on these things”. The battle against unwelcome thoughts is not easy, but it is a battle which must be fought. Being RightWithGod does not come with winning the battle, which we will never do, but with fighting the battle. This is the good fight.



True Repentance

Last week we looked at the openness of David before God, when he was brought to realise the seriousness of his sin in his adultery, murder and trying to cover his guilt by self-righteous anger at another’s sin. (The latter is a common strategy among the guilty to take the focus off their own guilt.) David’s words in Psalm 51:4 describes the openness of David’s confession when brought to a full realisation of the seriousness of his sin before a righteous and holy God.

As we now look at the second part of Psalm 51:4, we read, “that you  might be justified, when you speak, and be clear when you judge”. Here we are brought face to face with one of the key marks of true repentance: the urge to justify God as he passes sentence on our sin. David’s words show his desire that God would be given His place as the “Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25). This is a sure mark of one who is now RightWithGod, even though he has seriously sinned.

“That you might justified when  you speak”. This has nothing to do with what we know as our own justification from our sins on the basis of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. God, of course, has no sin and no need of such justification. What David is expressing here is his desire that God would be shown before all the world to be a just God in His judging of David’s sin. David’s desire goes far beyond sorrow for sin, but reaches the highest point of all our motives: that God would be glorified.

David goes even further: that the rightness of God’s judgment upon him would be clear to all the world;  that His very words might be absolutely clear to all:  “That you might be clear when you judge”. Again these words show the same supreme motive: that God would be glorified. David is more concerned that the  whole  world would see the righteousness of God, than he is about his own reputation. This is true repentance.

Far removed this  is from what we often hear: man seeking to minimise His sin rather than magnify it. We sometimes hear from the lips of one whose sin has become public such things as,  “I was not well at the time”, or, “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time”, or, “I was caught off guard”, and so on. Such excuses are attempts to minimise sin, and they are unworthy of any true christian. They are simply attempts to salvage some reputation, or court some sympathy. They indicate that there has been no true repentance, and they are dishonouring to God. How different they are from the words of David.

Those who make attempts to minimise their sin are forgetting  that God sees into the heart, and sees the motive. It is serious  enough that these things are said in self-defence or even self-justification; but the real wickedness of such excuses is that they diminish God and His holy law. Those who say such things are heaping sin on top of sin.


Being Open with God.

In Psalm 51, verse 4, we read something which is the very soul of true christianity: “Against you , you only, have  I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that you  might be justified, when you speak, and be clear when you judge”.  Here David is openly confessing his sin  before God. He had seriously sinned against God, committing adultery, murder, and for a time, not only failing to confess his sins, but filled with self-righteousness condemnation of the sins of another. This state of self-righteous pretence continued until God sent the prophet, Nathan, to destroy his pretence.

David’s is a typical reaction on our own part  when  we know that we have sinned, and have not confessed our sin to God: a self-righteous pretence: showing outrage at the sin of another, such is the deceitfulness of sin. The period of pretence was not a pleasant one for David, a true child of God who was not living RightWithGod. Everthing was wrong, and nothing was right. We can read David’s description of this period in Psalm 32. He later describes the pain and misery of that period of silence: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring  all day long”. What a miserable state for a believer to be in!

When he confesses his sins in Psalm 51, he is a different person. It is wonderful to read the complete openness of his confession, but also the direction of his confession: “Against you, you only have I sinned”. Although he had offended human beings, his great concern was that his sin was agaist God. This is a mark of true confession of sin. But what ground did such a sinner have to expect the ear of God for his confession? It was the nature of God. He begins the Psalm with the words, ” Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness: according to the multitude of your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions”. The basis of his hope was the lovingkindness and tender mercies of God. He even goes as far as asking to be washed clean from his sin. But how could a righteous God do this and maintain His righteousness? David knew from the Old Testment sacrifices that God was going to send the Messiah to offer Himself as a sacrifice to end all sacrifices. This was the loving kindness of the Lord at work: He would send His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to be that final sacrifice.

All our confessions of sin, no matter how many or how earnest,  would not save a single soul; and confessing all our sins to God would make no sense, except for the fact that God made this great provision, not for the righteous, but for sinners, even the chief of sinners. He sent His only begotten, and dearly beloved Son, and laid on Him the sins of all who will believe on Him. We cannot live without sinning; it is our nature since the fall, and yet we can keep RightWithGod, by being continually open with God. This is the way to  peace of conscience, and a open and joyous relationship with God.



The Sweetness of a Man’s Friend

Friends have become a very important part of modern life: but not in the way that previous generations had friends. Friendships used to be very much ‘face to  face’, and it would have been  unusual for the two not to have met and shared time face to face. A  young person today may have a hundred, or even a thousand ‘friends’, and never have met very many of them. I am of course speaking about social networking sites such as Facebook: a rather strange name for a site which provides opportunity for friendships between people who have never met face to  face. The result of this is that it is all too easy for a total stranger to plausibly work their way into the confidence of a person they have not met, and to do so with evil intent. Every now and then one of these incidents hits the headlines, but only isolated cases, or particularly evil  and tragic cases do.

It has always been the case that, in a fallen world, we should be careful in our choice of friends. It is very easy to get into a relationship of friendship;  but very difficult to get out of one. Hence all of us, but especially young people, need to choose our friends with  care, and avoid getting drawn into a close friendship with someone until we have known them them very well over a period of time, preferably face to face.

The person who is RightWithGod through Jesus Christ, must be particularly careful. The phrase in the title of this short message is from Proverbs 27: 9: “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so does the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel”. The first part is clear in what it says: simply that a lovely fragrance  causes the heart to rejoice. A simple statement, but one which gives us a good illustration of a beneficial friendship. A  true, beneficial friendship is difficult to define, but the verse helps. Everyone brings something of themselves to a friendship. When a good, wholesome friendship develops, our hearts are lifted up, not by any particular fragrance from our friend’s body, but from the fragrance of their wise words, their ‘hearty counsel’: good, sound advice given from the heart. This is what gives sweetness to a friendship. The whole scene as it comes to us in the verse points to a face to face relationship rather than one between those who have never met face to face. It is very much easier on a face to face level, to distinguish between a person who gives us hearty counsel, than the plausible, but dangerous person whom  we have never seen, who may be sending us messages on Facebook. It is not a pleasant thing to be advising young people to be suspicious, but, sadly, this is what we have to do in today’s world.

Of course, this advice applies to young people who are RightWithGod, more than to anyone else. They should cultivate face to face friendship, with those of like mind. It is good for the christian to have many acquaintances, but only a few friends, mainly with those where each is to God, “a sweet savour of Christ”  ( 2 Corinthians  2:15). God delights especially in such friendships.