How can listening to your feet improve running and your relationship with God?
On a recent mid-week run, I was cruising along listening to my favorite podcast. There was the typical fatigue that mid-week anything brings, but this run was more difficult. Something else was going on. What was it?
In a rare moment of silence during my 1.5x speed podcast, I heard it. The balls of my feet were striking the ground, not propelling me. The way my feet were landing was actually fighting each step I took (that is a good way to get shin splints btw). The correction for this is easy: correct your posture, swing your arms like pendulums, and elongate your step. The next thing I knew, I was running confidently, faster, and with less fatigue.
I would never have discovered these things had I not listened to my feet.
This is true spiritually as well. In our relationship with God, lows are common, but we often don’t know the source. And just like my running with podcasts, there are too many distractions for us to actually know the cause of those lows.
Recently, I enjoyed leading 7 couples of church officers, future church officers, and their families in a roundtable Q&A about life in church leadership. We talked about time demands, family demands, church stresses, and unspoken expectations from church members. In the evening, my lovely wife helped me process the conversations. She highlighted that I missed stressing the joys of Gospel partnership and instead, over-emphasized the challenges. As is typical, she was right.
How did I miss that? I love preaching the Gospel. The Gospel is the basis solution for everything we do and the drive of my ministry. The answer? I hadn’t taken time for silence to hear what was going on in my own heart. Upon reflection, and in a bit of silence, I realized that I was struggling with ministerial disappointment and with my expectations with God. That struggle affected the tone of my leadership in that conversation.
So, whether in running or relationships (with God or family), listen to your feet. Where are you dragging them and where are you stumbling? That time to listen will teach you much about your heart and will teach you where to make changes.
We’re definitely at the stage in our home when we tell one of the children not to do something, there is a good chance that one of them is going to respond with “Why?” My options in return are either to get frustrated that they didn’t obey right away or give an explanation. Options for my response include:
- The ever popular, “Because I told you so.”
- If I’m impatient, I can always say, “Don’t ask why; just do what I said.”
- I can go with the, “Because God said you have to obey me,” and see how far that gets me.
- Even if I go with the more caring, “I’m trying to protect you,” often the girls will respond with, “I’ll be fine,” or “I won’t get hurt.”
Now, I really shouldn’t be too frustrated with any of the responses from my girls because my heart, and I imagine yours as well, doesn’t really like to be told no. In fact, adults often get just as upset, if not more, at being told no than children do. Even if the thing we desire is not sinful, being told no to do something that we have experienced before can set most adults off.
Paul in the book of Romans calls the contrast between being tempted to do something and having already experienced it as being, “wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” And for Paul, he knew the best way to avoid falling into particular sin in the future was to never experience that sin in the first place.
Now, how much does that make sense?
- If you don’t want to struggle with heroin addiction, don’t try heroin.
- If you don’t want to struggle with pre-marital sex, then remain chaste before marriage.
But even these practical truths is not enough sometimes to keep the heart from wanting and going after sin. Understanding the heart and character of God within the doctrinal framework of scripture, coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit is what we need. So in light of that let’s ask the exact same question we asked last week as we continue our study of the end of Romans 16
Big Picture Question: Big Picture Question: How do doctrine and obedience work hand in hand?
Last week, if you weren’t here let me give you a quick summary. Paul’s concern as the book closes is to make sure that the church of Rome does not abandon Biblical faithfulness and that they are constantly searching the scriptures for wisdom and truth. So Paul commands the Romans to look out for people who are trying to cause divisions based on bad theology. One of the reasons Paul issues this command is because he knows that people are going to come into the church and either subtly or openly challenge the firm foundational doctrines of our faith. So Paul calls the Romans, and us as well, to know our scriptures so as to both discern wisdom in the scriptures and to defend our hearts from doctrines that are contrary to the Christian faith. Paul, then goes on to give to characteristics of false teachers: they seek to feed their own appetites and they do it by flattery and smooth talk. Paul is saying that though having, gaining, and maintaining wealth is not necessarily antithetical to being a believer, if the emphasis of a particular teacher’s ministry and the representation of their life, is the pursuit of worldly wealth, pleasure, and comfort (thus feeding and overstuffing their appetite), then that person becomes under scrutiny of being guilty of this verse. And being guilty of this verse is not limited just to preachers, evangelists, or people on TV. Paul more than likely is not speaking about what we would call ministers today. He is warning against people within the church who design their entire life for comfort and the feeding of their appetite. Those things don’t necessarily make a person a non-Christian but seeking to live without sacrifice does make that person suspect. So if a teacher of the scripture spends all his or her time talking about how faith in God will help you get enough lettuce for your fetish, then you should probably change the channel.
We ended the discussion of these verses last week by reminding ourselves of these truths.
- Jesus is the end goal of your faith –not the ability to pummel someone with the scriptures.
- Jesus is the end goal of your study – not the flexing of your theological muscles.
- Jesus is the end goal of your obedience – not the acquiring of the elements of self-righteousness
- Jesus is the end goal of your theology – not the ability to bad mouth the folks in the other camp.
- And you know what? Jesus is the end goal of defending your heart against bad theology.
From there, Paul gives this encouragement and this command:
19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.
Right after Paul warns the Romans to against false doctrines and false teachers, he speaks about their obedience in these things across the world. Can you imagine that for a moment? Any time I bump into a verse like this, I have to point it out. In a society with no email, no phone, no twitter, no facebook, hardly anything that we would call communication, the church of Rome had distinguished themselves morally and doctrinally to such an extent, that the world heard of their obedience.
- You have held fast to the scriptural truths about Jesus trusting Him alone for your forgiveness.
- You have held fast to trusting the work of the Holy Spirit and because of that you are living a Godly life.
- You have protected yourself against teachers that you know teach against what is in the scriptures.
- You haven’t been swayed by the sumptuous lifestyles and showy words of teachers who make bold claims about God. You have weighed each and every word against the scriptures.
- And because of these things, the whole world knows about your obedience.
After reading Paul’s exhortation, I thought it would be a good idea to follow the pattern of Paul, so let me do for SK what Paul did for the church in Rome.
- You have held fast to the scriptural truths about Jesus trusting Him alone for your forgiveness. In a society like ours that teaches that each individual must make his own way by his own strength, you have trusted the truth of the Gospel – that is that your only hope is Jesus Christ and His salvation secured for you.
- You have held fast to trusting the work of the Holy Spirit and because of that you are living a Godly life. In a society that tells you to measure yourself by the size of your home the type of car you drive, the type of clothes you wear, how little you weigh and how much money you make, you are holding fast to a Godly lifestyle with the help of the Holy Spirit.
- You have protected yourself against teachers that you know teach against what is in the scriptures. I have seen so many of you become more mature and ardent students of God’s word. You have reconsidered teaching that you inherited and weighed the words that I say each week. For that, I commend you and beg of you to never stop caring about biblical teaching. No amount of Christian showiness need influence you – only the power of God accompanying His word.
- You haven’t been swayed by the sumptuous lifestyles and showy words of teachers who make bold claims about God. You have weighed each and every word against the scriptures.
And because of these things, Garner Raleigh, Cary, Clayton, and beyond have heard about your obedience. SK has the reputation of selflessly loving and caring for the EMS by feeding them and stocking their shelves. SK has the reputation of serving the GPD without any expectation of return or payment. SK has the reputation of loving the Hayes Place when the world refuses to love them. Recently, the denomination called and asked me to fly to Chicago to tell future church planters about the work that you guys are doing. Jesus is alive and at work among us. Just like in Rome, God is doing great things here. But if we want those things to continue, we need keep a couple of things in mind. Listen to the second half of verse 19.
But I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.
How can be wise to what is good, and how can we be innocent as to what is evil? There is no good as God defines that we know in this world other than what comes from Scripture. So often, people wonder, wish, or wait upon for God to speak to them and tell them things. I can’t tell you how many folks talk to me about wishing about God saying this or God saying that. While all the while, God has already spoken to them to make them wise in the scriptures. Unfortunately, the hard work of studying is often left aside while all energy is put into wanting God to jus tell them what to do.
So here it: this is what God is telling you go do. When God constituted His people in Deuteronomy 10:12-13 – “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?
In the practical wisdom of the day to day, God commands in Joshua 1:8 – 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
If you are agonizing over a decision and want to know how to make good choices, God tells you in Psalm 119:105 – 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path. 106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules. 107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
The scriptures are sufficient to tell you what to believe about God and to guide you away from sinful actions and decision. 2 Tim. 3:16–17. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
Right now, I know several people who are agonizing about what God would have them to do, and there desire is a good one: they want to do God’s will. They want to know how to live by faith and obey God even in the smallest of decisions. I had one of these folks tell me that God had told them what to do, and I asked them how do they know if what they were told was from God or not. They said, “Well if it turns out good, then God told me. If it turns out poorly, then I probably sinned and got it wrong.” Folks this is a terribly dangerous way to live your lives.
First of all, God ordains both smooth sailing and rough waters. He does this not only in the world but in the life of the believer. I Samuel 2: 7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. 8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. Secondly, God ordains tribulation for the perfection of His children. 2 Corinthians 12:10 – 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” So God may very well ordain something in your life to fail for the expressed purpose of advancing the cause of Christ.
So how are you going to know how to live and make a decision? How will you know what is good so you can be wise to it and live. Psalms 19:7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
So, read your Bible, ask God to transform your will into His, make sure not to choose anything that scripture has specifically called sin, then make your decision by faith, and walk in faith. Whether as to you made the right decision or not is not based upon whether it makes you healthy, wealthy, or wise. The right decision is the one that mirrors a life of scripture made by faith with the goal of glorifying Christ and not self. That is being wise as to what is good. As to the day to day actions and our obeying God in both what He has commanded us to do and not to do? It’s simple. Renew your mind by bathing it in scripture so that you will know how to live.
So what does it mean then to be innocent to what is evil? I think there are multiples ways in which we live these verses out practically, but I would like to focus on 3 specific areas.
- Being innocent to what is evil personally.
- Being innocent to what is evil relationally.
- Being innocent to what is evil culturally.
Let’s tackle being innocent to what is evil personally. Let me give you an example: Have you any of you ever tried to diet? Most assuredly, the thing you love the most will be forbidden, and as soon as it is forbidden, it will be the thing you want the most. Have you ever had plans to go out with some friends or get a night out away from the house? How was your heart when something happened and you didn’t get to go? But as a parent, I want my child to not only avoid painful, sinful things, I won’t them to not even have experience with them. Once you experience something painful or sinful, your interaction with it is completely different than it was prior. Temptations are greater. Wants are stronger. Sensations are deeper.
You know where we see this most clearly? Adam and Eve. They were given the prohibition from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Before eating, the idea of sin was just that: an idea. They had no real experience with sin and its effects. But once they ate, rebellion from God was very real thing. They knew what it felt like. They knew what it was like to enjoy it. Every temptation to disobey going forward was tainted with the awful truth of experience.
This is one of the reasons why parents want to protect their kids from experiencing certain sins. This is why parents want their children to avoid pre-marital sex, and drugs, and a host of other sinful activities. Once you’ve experienced sinful things, the desire to do them is greater than before. You know what the sin is like and how it feels and the heart wants what it experiences.
Take for example, pornography. It used to be that you had to work pretty hard to find porn. You either had to find a magazine, a video, or actually visit s skuzzy adult video store. Now I’m afraid, you can find it on your computer or even on your phone and all it takes is about 2 clicks and being in a room by yourself. And once you’ve experienced pornography, the images stay in your head for a lifetime and the temptation is greater because you already know what it feels like.
What is our hope if we have lost our innocence to evil? Our hope is always the Gospel. 1 Peter 3.21 tells us that we can appeal to God and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, He will cleanse your conscience. So trust that God can cleanse your conscience but also remember the command of Proverbs 3:7 that says “keep yourself from evil.”
Being innocent to what is evil relationally. Well let me tell you what it doesn’t mean first. It doesn’t mean sequestering yourself from anything and any one who is evil. If that is case, you can’t even spend time with yourself much less your neighbor who so desperately needs Jesus Christ. The mistake there is often mistaking being around evil for experiencing evil. If you are going to faithfully live out the command of God to proclaim Jesus, the Gospel, and advance the Kingdom of God, then you will have to in the presence of evil. If not, then you have no one to tell, proclaim, and no thing to advance.
So how you do live the life of faith being wise to what is good while being innocent to evil yet spend time with people definitively not wise, virtuous, good, or otherwise? Two ways:
- Love others as Jesus loved them.
- Draw lines where God draws lines
First, loving others as Jesus and other Godly men and women have loved others. What was Jesus’ reputation? Friend of sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. There are at least 3 occurrences of Jesus spending time with tax collectors, multiple accounts of interaction with prostitutes. And in case we think only Jesus did this. John the Baptist did the same. Matthew 21:32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
So how in the world could Jesus and John spend time with such outwardly sinful people and not sin themselves? The answer is that they kept themselves innocent to evil personally. They didn’t participate in the sin, but they were willing instead, not to shun sinners, but to proclaim the hope of Jesus to them.
To do this, we have to draw lines where God draws lines. What I mean is that we shouldn’t add to scripture. If scripture something is sinful, don’t then try to improve upon the scriptures by saying, “Oh I can’t even be around someone who had committed that sin.” That stinks of self-righteousness and makes the Gospel go unproclaimed the heart of people who need oh so badly. The book of Colossians condemns such attitudes as that church took the words of God to far and started saying “Do not taste. Do not touch.” Thus creating a legalistic structure that separated believers from non-believers. You know what God calls these things? Colossians 2:23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Instead, we protect ourselves from experiencing sin so as to be innocent with a purified conscience and then we go and take the Gospel in places it is never heard otherwise.
And finally, and I’ll use this as our conclusion, we are to make ourselves innocent as to what is evil by protecting our selves culturally. There is a great book entitled, “Christ and Culture” by Richard Niebuhr and in it, he offers 5 views of how the church should interact with culture.
Christ against culture: This is the Jesus against culture views which to its extreme produces monasteries and Christians who refuse to leave their home unless the event either is for church or for earning an income. While there are inherent elements of our culture that are sinful, this was not the view, preaching, or practice of Jesus or His apostles. So this view is found wanting.
The Christ of culture: This view swing completely in the opposite direction. It says that there are no apparent contradictions between Jesus and culture, so it produces a social Gospel that makes Jesus the friend of everyone and never speaks of sin or the need for forgiveness. This is typical of most mainline liberal churches that no longer speak of sin, the need for forgiveness or the dangers of hell. So this view is found wanting as well.
Christ above culture: This is a bit more of a biblical view but it does have some weaknesses. This view sees that there are things that God has done within culture (like for example technology and the advancement of medicine). This is true. But Christian culture is ultimately above these things. The weakness of this view is that people spend too much time trying to preserve Christian cultural ghettos instead of advancing the Gospel for the sake of Jesus’ name.
Christ and culture in paradox: This view says that each person is a member of both the culture of Christ and the culture of this world which is true. We have allegiances to civil government and to God. The problem with this view is that it leads to a typical Christian culture war mentality. I’m in the culture of the Kingdom, therefore I will attack the culture of the world.
Finally and what I think is the most biblical and consistent view of being wise to what is good and innocent to what is evil is the…Christ the transformer of culture. This approach appeals to the powerful work of God to transform that which is sinful. If there is something or someone in your cultural interaction that is sinful (and there should be plenty), we don’t avoid them, we don’t think their sin is okay, we don’t create cultural ghetto to run back to, we don’t wage war against them, we offer the hope of the Gospel to transform them.
This is advancing the Kingdom. It says that you and I are to know what God calls good and avoid experiencing and committing sin. We should then be wise personally, relationally, and socially, in proclaiming Jesus who takes the dead and cold heart and transforms into an vibrant, alive, hear for God.