For So We Once Walked

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We once walked as the world walks. We were foolish, slaves to our passions and pleasures, and living an ungodly, worldly lifestyle. We were unrighteous, sexually immoral, and idolators. We passed our days in malice and envy and hate. This is how Paul describes those who are not in Christ (see passages below).

But then we were saved through God’s great mercy and loving-kindness! And everything changed! Everything!

You may say “Wait a minute. My neighbor isn’t saved but he is a really nice guy. He doesn’t sound anything like what Paul describes.” But we must remember that even our thought lives and secret sins are known to God. He knows why we do what we do. He knows where our thoughts turn when we are tempted. He knows if our kindness or peace-making are motivated by selfishness.

We are all wicked. There is no exception. No, not one. (Romans 3:11 & 23)

One of the things I have noticed as I have started to study scripture in a more in-depth way is its miraculous cohesiveness and consistency. How often I will read something in one book and then see the same thing reiterated in another. Sometimes by the same human author, but not always. Over and over, we see the same principles repeated.

These past few weeks as I have studied Titus 3, the phrase “But such were some of you” kept coming to mind but I just couldn’t remember where it was from. When I finally did some research, I found it in I Corinthians 6, where Paul lists those who will not inherit eternal life but then goes on to add “But such were some of you.Titus 3 says something similar where Paul puts it like this–“For we ourselves were once…” And then yesterday in church, our pastor read Ephesians 2 and, lo and behold, here was another passage emphasizing what we were and what we are now. Here we read, “…in which you once walked” .

Each of these passages has a similar theme. Paul first describes unbelievers and then goes on to say how we–you and me (and all who are saved)–once walked the same way. But now we no longer walk in this way. We are changed. We are transformed.

How has it happened?

I Corinthians 6 says it this way– “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.”

Titus 3 puts it this way–“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

And Paul writes it in Ephesians 2 like this–“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Each of these start with the word “but”. We were once lost in sin, but God! God reached out and saved us. It had nothing to do with our own righteousness or good works, but is solely because of God’s rich mercy, great love, grace, loving-kindness, and goodness.

These passages, as we study them together, hold four important lessons for us–

1. First, these passages teach us to truly appreciate our salvation. We so easily forget just how wicked we were before salvation. We start to think we were pretty good and it makes salvation seem like no big deal–particularly if we were saved as children or always lived a fairly moral lifestyle externally. But these passages remind us of what we really were in our core–wicked; selfish; dead in our sins. And this realization then fills our hearts with gratitude and joy that God loved us so much that He provided a way of salvation and eternal life. Oh, how much more we appreciate salvation when we remember the chains of sin that held us so tightly in hopeless despair!

2. Second, these passages teach and emphasize the significant differences between the lives of the unsaved and the saved. These three passages (and many others) consistently remind us that a life saved by Christ is a life lived in direct contrast to a life not saved by Christ. It is incredibly clear that salvation changes us. I understand that reflecting on this can be frightening when we think of some we know who claim to be a Christian while living in sin without conviction or repentance. But this is what the Bible teaches. Life before Christ looks nothing like life after Christ. While it is not our job to judge any individual’s salvation, it is certainly our job to teach this principle of a changed life when we talk to people about the Gospel. Clearly, throughout scripture, we find that true belief yields true change.

3. As we consider the first two lessons, we also learn (or perhaps are reminded) that the lost are not our enemies! As I read these passages, I was filled with real sorrow and tremendous grace for their terrible state. Dead in their sin, slaves to their flesh, and hopeless that anything will change. This was us! We were there. Can you remember that hopelessness? That feeling of being enslaved? Even though I was a child when I was saved, I have started to comprehend as an adult who I was without Christ–who I would be now without Him. This should fill us with such loving-kindness towards the lost. I am so saddened when I see people who call themselves Christians treat the unsaved with arrogance and judgment. This is never the proper response of any believer– in fact, it is exactly opposite of what Christ would do. We must follow God’s example of kindness, grace, and mercy as we share the Gospel and the truth of God’s Word. Perhaps this is one of our highest callings.

4. And, finally, these passages remind us that a saved soul is one prepared to do good works. We do not do good works to be saved, but instead do them because we are saved. This is what we are called to as believers (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8) So exactly what are good works? We have gotten a little confused in this world of politically correct “social justice”. Feeding the poor and digging wells are worthy causes (as long as the Gospel is being shared) but so, too, is visiting your elderly neighbor or babysitting for your friend who is a single parent. Cooking a meal for a hurting family or regular visits with a lonely widow are good works. We can do good works for God by being a godly example to those younger than us, by training and nurturing our children, teaching children about Jesus in Sunday School, praying for a missionary, or by writing notes of gratitude and encouragement. How important it is that we don’t narrow our definition of good works down to what is politically correct in the church in this particular era.

I am sure there are many more lessons we can learn from these passages. These are just four that really struck me as I studied. Studying the Word of God starts to open our eyes to the reality that much of what is being preached in the name of Christ today is really not true Christianity. It is heart-breaking to even write that sentence, but, nonetheless, it is true. When we compare scripture to what is popular today, we can easily see that somewhere–sometime–biblical Christianity and popular evangelical Christianity started to part company. Let us not forget what the Bible teaches us about the saved and the unsaved. This is the only reliable resource for answers. No book, no article, no preacher, no author overrides the Bible. Ever.

 

Here are the full passages. Notice their similarities and differences–

Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 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.

Ephesians 2:1-10  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 

Learn to Discern: What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church?

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

As we learn to discern, we are forced to ask this question: What in the world is happening to the evangelical church? We have been watching men and women we have trusted form alliances with false teachers. Churches present secular rock music as entertainment during their worship services. Pastors have become much more concerned about growing the numbers of their congregation than growing deeper roots of faith in their flock. We have seen the church become zealous to help the poor, while completely negating and ignoring scripture’s clear commands for holiness and separation from the world. And, finally, we have watched the pulpit become a place to provide entertaining self-help speeches rather than the careful exposition of God’s Word. These aren’t all of the changes but these are certainly very tragic and important ones.

Wow.

Just writing all that makes me feel discouraged. But it is here. This is what the “Christian Church” has become. So what is going on? And how did we get here?

Many of you have enjoyed the guest post my brother, Pastor Dean, wrote on the Corruption of Christianity. A few weeks ago, I took the time to listen to the series that was the basis for this post. This was presented a couple of years ago and is an excellent overview to help us understand what exactly is going on and why. I believe you will find this series very much worth a few hours of your precious time.

Here are the links for the entire series–

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 1)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 2)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 3)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 4)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 5)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 6)

What Is Happening to the Evangelical Church (Part 7)

 

If you have enjoyed this series and would like to hear more of Pastor Dean’s sermons, you will find all of them here.

 

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.

For My Mom

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A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a dear lady who quite unexpectedly escaped the tragedies, sorrows, and fears of this world and headed to glory to be with Jesus. Although I didn’t know her well, I had been blessed by her warm smile and happy laughter many times. And one can easily see the beautiful legacy she has left in the lives of her husband and children and their families. Such a sad and painful time for all who loved her and yet how comforting to know she has left this world to go to a far better place.

At that funeral a letter was read that was written by her daughter. It was not only a tribute, but it was filled with many sentences that started like this: “Did I ever tell you…”

It got me to thinking about my own mom. Have I told her what she has meant to me? What she continues to mean? There is nothing like a sudden death to remind us that the person we love and appreciate may not be there tomorrow. We need to say these words now. There is no guarantee that there will be a tomorrow.

So it is with this in mind that I write this post. To my regular readers, I hope you will forgive me for dedicating this post to the woman who has helped me become the person I am today. Mother’s Day seems like the perfect time to write such a post, doesn’t it?

MOM, have I ever told you…

♥ That you are still the first person I call when I am excited, scared, happy, or sad?

♥ That your godly wisdom has spared me so many heartaches and so much unnecessary drama?

♥ That you are one of my very best friends?

♥ That your unfailing love and support has been a bulwark of strength for me in any battle or struggle I have faced throughout my life?

♥ That you have inspired me by your warm, kind, and unbiased treatment of others?

♥ That your never-ending godly example of rolling with all of the punches and flexing with all the changes life throws at you has encouraged me to follow in your footsteps? (although I’m certainly not very good at it yet…)

♥ That your loving support of your grandchildren in all of the stages of their lives–support that continues unceasingly even now as they start their own lives as adults–has been so incredibly important in shaping who they have become today?

♥ That your infectious laughter and warm smile bring such light to any room?

♥ That your willingness to laugh at yourself has made our family so much more fun?

♥ That your refusal to hold grudges has been an inspiration to your family, instilling in us a desire to follow your example?

♥ That your “lamby heart”, head rubs, abundant grace, and permission to give our lima beans to the dogs after Dad had left the table were just what we kids needed sometimes?

♥ That your refusal to simply “take my side”– encouraging me to instead consider my husband’s point-of-view in those early newlywed years– changed the course of our marriage?

I could say more. So much more. And I recognize that I have made you sound almost perfect. But, of course, we both know you weren’t. In fact, you’d be the first to say you aren’t perfect. However, your faithfulness to God and His Word has changed the course of the future for your family. Your desire to live a godly life has not gone unnoticed. And your care for your children and grandchildren is a tremendous blessing to all of us. I am forever grateful.

Love you, Mom.

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If you are reading this, I hope that this post will encourage you to tell your mother the things you have just never gotten around to saying. And if she is no longer on this earth, then I hope that you will tell your children and grandchildren about your mother, keeping her memory alive by sharing about her. I wish everyone a wonderful Mother’s Day! ♥

 

Learn to Discern: Reawakening the Conscience

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

So some of you are going to really hate today’s post. You may decide that I’m a little crazy and never read anything at Growing4Life again. But I’m willing to take that chance. Mostly because I have seen this all play out in my life and in the lives of others around me. I will share about that a bit further on in the post. But here is my premise–

When we fill our minds with worldly entertainment, we deaden our consciences.

Let me explain. Sometimes I wonder how so many who call themselves Christians cannot see what is going on within the church. How can they not understand how ravenous wolves–posing as sheep–are changing the very mission and vision of the church?? As I was thinking about this the other day, I realized that it’s because many of them have so deadened their consciences, that they aren’t even willing (or able?) to call sin sin. Not only can they not tell the difference between true and false, but they are starting to fudge and rationalize about the differences between right and wrong. And when we lose our ability to discern right from wrong, our ability to discern what is true from the false has already left us.

So you may be asking: How does worldly entertainment affect my discernment? I have an answer for that and any thinking person will have to admit these are true. Worldly entertainment changes us in the following ways–

1. It keeps us from our Bibles. While this may not be true 100% of the time, it is certainly often true. How many times have you heard someone say that don’t have time to read the Word but they will somehow have had time to watch TV?

2. It keeps us immersed in the goings-on of the world. When we think of worldly entertainment, we often think of the bad things, but I would submit to you that even the news and sports can steal our affections if we aren’t careful. While these things aren’t bad in and of themselves (most of the time), they will keep us immersed in the culture and, instead of separating from the world (as we are told to do in James 1:27 and James 4:4) we become fascinated by it.

3. It changes our values and hardens our hearts. I can’t tell you how many people have told me they can watch anything they want on TV because they know right from wrong and it doesn’t affect them. That they can listen to worldly music espousing sex, drugs, and alchohol because they aren’t going to ever do those things. Besides a stance like that begging the question why any believer would desire such entertainment (why would we–as a believer–want to fill our lives with the things God has clearly said He hates? Galatians 5:19-21), it also does have to be acknowledged that these things do change our values. They make us less sensitive to sin and harden our hearts.

4. It makes us more susceptible to needing the world’s approval. When we become immersed in the world the approval of the world can be all-consuming. When we love the world, we want to be loved by the world. But this, carried out to its fullest, will keep us from salvation. In John 12, this very thing happened, when we are told that some of the Pharisees believed but they so feared man’s opinion, rather than God, that they did nothing. John 12:43 simply puts it like this: for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. When we fill our minds with the world, we become much less interested in truth and much more interested in popularity.

5. It keeps us from caring about what matters in life. Entertainment is meant to entertain. Its goal is to distract us from real life for a little while and give us some refreshment. It is not a bad thing in and of itself. But we have become so enthralled with being entertained that we are distracted from our real lives much of the time. With our smart phones, our tablets, and things like Netflix and Youtube, we are constantly entertained. Many of us can’t even stand in a line at a grocery store or sit at a booth in a restaurant without pulling out our phones. This has exponentially compounded our interest in the trivial, while eliminating interest in the serious stuff of life at the same time. How many Christians do you know who ever discuss God? Or heaven and hell? Or the Bible? When serious matters do arise, most arguments are based on popular opinion rather than the Word of God. I believe this is in much part due to our obsession with entertainment.

So why do I say this? What proof do I have? Let me share three different testimonies about this–

First, I want to share something my brother, Pastor Dean, has shared with me. Shortly after college, he made two decisions. He stopped watching football on Sunday afternoons and instead read the Word. And, second, he removed all rock music from his life (including Christian rock). He credits these two decisions with changing his life completely. He says it was like withdrawing from a drug (if you have ever tried to give up rock music, you will find that it is extremely addictive) but that it was a life-changing decision. These two decisions not only strengthened His walk with the Savior, but also deepened his love for the Word and his hatred for the world.

Second, I want to share my own testimony. Mine is a little more like one of those jagged lines that goes up and down and all over the place. While I have always been conscious that worldly entertainment has great potential for evil in my life, I have not always been as careful as I ought. And I have had stages in my life where it has drawn me into its snare. And let me say this: It does change me in all of the ways listed above. I have seen these things in my own life. I know it is true.

And, third, I want to share the testimonies of two of my children. Both have told me this at two separate times. But let me back up a bit. When my kids became teenagers, we loosened up our standards a bit. Oh, not near so much as most of their friends, but we didn’t want them to look like complete losers and not be aware of anything in the world and so we caved. At that time we allowed secular rock into our home, as long as it didn’t have “bad lyrics”. We regret that choice. Even if one song of a particular artist doesn’t have bad lyrics, the others probably do. And, to add to that, the artists’ lifestyles are rarely anything we want modeled. About five years ago or so, I just started pleading with God that my children would love righteousness and hate evil. And He has answered this prayer in incredible ways! One of those ways was that two of my children decided–on their own–to eliminate secular music from their lives. And both have told me (in two separate conversations, without the other one’s knowledge) what a difference this has made in their own discernment and spiritual walk with God.

You have to know this: What we fill our minds with does affect our discernment. But there is good news! We can reawaken our consciences! It is not too late. If we start eliminating or drastically reducing (in the case of things like news and sports) the world’s entertainment and filling our minds with the Word of God, we will find our consciences will get back to work, informing and enlightening us about not only what is right and wrong, but also about what is true and false.

Okay, so now I have given you several ways our conscience is affected by worldly entertainment and I have given you three real life examples of how this has happened. As you read, you probably found yourself in one of four places and I’d like to speak to all four.

First, you may be one of those who doesn’t really have strong feelings about entertainment. You may like to watch a show or two, but you aren’t addicted. You may have a pop station on in your car but it’s just there. I would like to encourage you to continue to purify your life and to deepen your desire to please your Savior and to worry less about being “cool” in the eyes of the world.

Second, you may be one who is truly addicted to Netflix binges or your smartphone or to rock music. You realize you should change but you just don’t really want to. You enjoy your addiction and to change it now seems completely overwhelming. I want to suggest to you that you start praying that God would give you the desire to change. Or you may know you need to change and want to start now. Pray for strength and guidance. You cannot do this alone. God is faithful and He will answer these prayers!

Third, you may be someone who thinks I am completely crazy. This post makes you genuinely angry and you honestly believe that I am wrong. If you are one of these, then I ask you–beg you–to go to God’s Word to research what I am saying. Turn away from the viewpoints of popular authors or speakers and turn to the Word of God before you make your final determination.

And, fourth, you may agree with me. You may have witnessed this dynamic in your own life. (If that’s true, I’d love to hear your story. Please share by commenting below.) I would ask those of you in this group to share this unpopular message with your family and friends as the Lord gives you opportunity. So many of us Christians love the world. But this love is stunting our growth and keeping us from discerning. It is removing our effectiveness as a witness for Christ and it is making us so vulnerable to wolves who are invading the church in droves now. If you see this and you believe it, please don’t be afraid to say it. This is the time to be brave and speak up!

God bless you as you continue to learn to discern. Be in the Word, basing all your views on what you find there. And take all your concerns regarding the learning process to the Lord in prayer. He is so faithful and He will answer.

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.

A View from the Other Side of the Story

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When we hear of a fairy tale, kings and princesses and castles generally come to mind. Few of us dwell for too long on the dreadful villains who work their dastardly plans to ruin the happy ending. When we read a novel or watch a movie, we always imagine ourselves in the role of the hero or heroine. Few desire to be the villain of any story.

But, of course, there is always a villain or–in official literary terms–the antagonist. This is the character that is keeping the protagonist (the good guy) from his happy ending. And none of us want to be that, do we?

Who in their right mind dreams of being the Ugly Stepmother in Cinderella or the Evil Queen in Snow White? Who would long to be Fernand Mondego in The Count of Monte Cristo (if you haven’t read this classic, you should!), Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians or Long John Silver in Treasure Island?

But even as we recognize that no one really desires to be any story’s antagonist, we are forced to recognize four things in regards to this–

First, actual villains are villains for a reason. They didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be mean and ugly. Instead most were disappointed in life. Perhaps they felt out of control. Or sad and lonely. Perhaps jealousy or bitterness has eaten away part of their soul. Whatever it was, a variety of experiences and their wrong responses to those experiences caused them to become a negative influence in the lives around them. We see it play out all the time don’t we? In homes, churches, and workplaces. Selfish, unhappy people who want to make the lives of others miserable. Honestly, we should feel sorry for them.

Second, sometimes–many times–antagonists help us to grow spiritually. I remember hearing a sermon about this once. Instead of always dwelling on the unkindness or evil doings of the antagonists (or villains, as the case may be for some of us) in our lives, perhaps we should turn our focus inward and start to consider how our own responses and reactions show our true character. We may not have a choice on how we are treated, but we most certainly do get to choose how we respond (Matthew 5:43-44).

Third–and perhaps the hardest of all–is that sometimes, just by simply desiring to obey God’s Word, we become the antagonist in the eyes of a world who wants to do their own thing. We are the worker that won’t budge on integrity. Or the church member that points out a beloved false teacher. We are the parent that won’t let a child listen to rock music. Or the photographer that won’t photograph a gay wedding. There are countless examples of this in our world today. Whenever we keep someone from getting their own way, we become someone’s “villain” in their life story. When men and women are proud and lovers of selves (2 Timothy 3:1-7) and when right is called wrong (Isaiah 5:20) things get pretty confused. Which leads me to my fourth point…

Fourth, while in a story  or movie we can easily determine who the villain is, in real life this isn’t always so easy. People are complicated. A few specifics? Well, first–they lie and exaggerate and gossip. And they love drama. So you put a few people together around a water cooler or at a church social and–wa-la!–innocent “villains” can be created in just a short conversation. Many people are also driven by their emotions and feelings and experiences. This leads them to view anyone who would pull them to God’s Word for absolute truth as an antagonist. People are selfish and they want what they want. This will often mean that anyone who gets in the way of their desires will be called their personal “villain”. Oh, they won’t label them that, but they will treat them as such–gossiping about them, giving them the cold shoulder, or arguing all the time with them–treating them like an enemy. Life is rarely as cut and dried as the books we read.

But, as complicated as life gets and as crazily unpredictable as people are, we do have our anchor for this world in the Word of God. Not only do we find absolute truth there but we also gain an understanding of God’s plans–and who the real villain of this world is. All others–whether they be demonic or human– are just his henchmen.

We must stay in the Word, my friends, submitting to and obeying it, so that we don’t get confused when someone treats us like we are the villain for standing up for Christ. It is there only that we find strength and guidance for a world turned upside down. The Holy Bible teaches us about God’s plan and Satan’s agenda to thwart it, so that we can wisely understand who are truly the antagonists. We must wisely choose to compare anyone labeled antagonist to what scripture teaches instead of relying on the gossip we hear.

The world grows darker and darker and many of us find ourselves wondering how long the Lord will tarry. How thankful we can be that He gave us His Word to comfort and guide us as we see the end drawing near.

 

The Beautiful Moments

honor flight

The other day I had the very pleasant opportunity (yes, that was sarcasm) of spending over five long hours in the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. I was between flights and– with already having a several hour layover and then a delayed flight on top of that– I was stuck there. For a very long time.

Now normally–which will come to no surprise to those who know me–I will while away at least some of those hours by finding someone to talk to. But that particular day I wasn’t really in a talking mood. Last week was a rough one and, honestly, I just didn’t feel like talking. And so I sat in the airport, watching people when I wasn’t being entertained by my iPad.

During the time I was there, two honor flights came in. As the elderly men–veterans of World War II or the Korean War– were wheeled into the airport, almost all of those near me stood to their feet out of respect and started clapping, until all around me the sound of applause rang out for these men who had faithfully served their country.

It was a beautiful moment.

You know, we still are privileged to enjoy a lot of beautiful moments, aren’t we? Sure, the world is headed a wrong direction and the church is going along right with it but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy life!

While this isn’t really a post that is part of the Learn to Discern series, in some ways I feel it should be. You see, when we learn to discern we can develop a really negative outlook on life if we aren’t careful. We can become those people who always see the glass half-empty and who steal the enjoyment from the lives of others with our constant negative commentary about the state of the world.

But there are still so many beautiful moments. In airports. In our homes with our families. On the ball fields. In stores. On the highway. In our churches.

Moments where we still see people sacrificing their own desires for the sake of someone else. Honoring someone. Loving someone. Serving someone.

We can find these moments almost anywhere we are, if we just keep our eyes open to look for them!

Let’s not grow so frustrated or saddened by the state of the world and church that we allow it to rob us of our joy. Life is still so good. God is so faithful. He loves us and He still gives us so many beautiful moments. Let’s not lose sight of this as we learn to discern.

 

Imagine a world without flowers…

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The other day, my mom and I decided to run to the local public garden to enjoy the blooming tulips. We knew we had a small window of time to catch them in all of their glory before they faded away until next year. I grabbed my new camera (a Canon mirrorless camera), excited to see what kind of shots I could get with it.

As we walked around, we realized that, while the tulips were indeed beautiful, it was actually the blooming trees that grabbed our attention. Such incredible beauty. Photographs cannot do them justice.

How incredibly kind of God to provide so much beauty in nature. He did not have to create flowers for plants to procreate. And yet He did. Think about a world without flowers. How drab.

I realize some of you are not interested in flowers. I do get that. But, for me, a world without flowers is a sad world indeed. In fact, when our family took a mission trip to Haiti (Read about our trip here and here), this was one of the first things I noticed. It was a brown world with little green foliage and even less flowers. I think I counted two flowers along the road in all of our journeys around the countryside (and, yes, I actually was specifically looking for them! And, yes, I do realize how odd I am!)

And while I have heard there are beautiful areas in Haiti, we were never privileged to see them. Instead, we spent our time in the countryside outside of Port Au Prince, dismayed not only by the extreme poverty but also at the lack of natural beauty. This trip gave me such a greater appreciation for the abundant flowers found in my area in spring and summer.

At any rate, this is one of my unusual posts that has no spiritual lesson but is, rather, a nice break from all the more serious stuff I tend to cover. I hope it is a refreshing and welcome change and that you enjoy the photos below–

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Learn to Discern: Philosophies in Opposition

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

Has anyone caught the very real differences between mainstream Christianity and biblical Christianity? They aren’t just different–they are in complete opposition to one another. This has happened so subtly and so gradually that many of us haven’t picked up on it.

For example, many years ago I read a novel. When I was through with it, I read the whole series. I loved every single book in that series! Since then, I have grown stronger in learning to discern. When I picked up this same book a year or two ago, I saw it for what it was–an engaging story that encouraged nice Christian ladies right on into mysticism.

But I didn’t see it the first time. I didn’t see it because I didn’t know the Word of God like I should and also because I had no idea how subtle and crafty Satan is in his all-out invasion of all things Christian.

As I have mentioned, I have learned a lot over the past twenty years or so. What I have learned is what I am trying to share here in this series. In a future post, I hope to provide definitions for some of the big words that are really changing the landscape of the church. But in today’s Learn to Discern installment, I’d like to take a look at the everyday philosophies that Mainstream Christianity is purporting and compare it to what the Bible teaches. If we can understand some of these basic things, we will be that much further along in our efforts to discern.

So here are some of the lies that are being taught by many in the mainstream church. Keep in mind that not all are teaching these and that it varies in churches. But these are things to look out for!

1. Mainstream says Find Your Purpose and Fulfill Your Dreams.

The Bible says to surrender everything to Jesus and live only for Him.

Matthew 10:28-29; Matthew 16:25; John 12:24-25; Philippians 3:7-10

2. Mainstream says that Unity is the Ultimate Goal.

The Bible says that truth is more important.

Matthew 10:34-35; Romans 16:17-18; I John 4:1-3; Galatians 1:8

3. Mainstream says that The Church’s Purpose is to Help the Poor.

The Bible tells us the church’s purpose is to teach the Word and share the Gospel.

Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:42; Titus 1:7-10

4. Mainstream says that We Need to Make the World a Better Place.

The Bible makes it clear that this world will never be a better place.

Matthew 24; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Timothy 3:1-9

5. Mainstream says that We Need to Experience God in Order to Be Close to Him.

The Bible tells us that we grow closer to God by submitting to Him and obeying His Word.

John 14:15; John 15:10; Romans 6:16; James 4:7 ; I Peter 5:6; I John 2:3-6

6. Mainstream says that We Should Expect Special Revelation from God.

But the Bible teaches that it alone is sufficient for all we need.

Psalm 19:7-14; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Jude 1:3

7. Mainstream says to Be Like the World.

The Bible tells us we are to separate ourselves from the world.

John 15:18-21; Romans 12:2; James 4:4; I John 2:15-17

8. Mainstream says We Must Learn to Love Ourselves.

The Bible tells us, as we already do love ourselves, we must learn to love others.

Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Ephesians 5:29

9. Mainstream says that Christ’s Sacrifice Covers Everyone In the Whole World, No Matter Their Religion.

The Bible tells us that we must believe on Jesus to be saved.

John 3:16; John 3:36; John 14:6; Romans 10:9

10. Mainstream says YOU Are the Center of Your Religion.

The Bible teaches that it is God who is to be glorified.

Romans 11:36; I Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 2:9-11

Ten major philosophies in opposition. And this is not an exhaustive list. Now, of course, most pastors, authors, and song-writers are not coming right out and saying these things. Instead, they are carefully and cunningly using out-of-context Bible verses to craft these philosophies. They are preying on a people who do not know their Bibles and are even less informed about church history. The lack of understanding of these two things has left the church defenseless. Utterly defenseless.

And if we don’t know our Bibles, we can most certainly understand how easily it would be to be swayed. What they teach sounds great! Who wouldn’t want a religion that is all about them? That feeds their own lusts and desires and dreams, while still giving lip service to a Holy God and a fire insurance policy from eternal damnation?

The humanistic appeal of these philosophies–combined with the fact that there has been a major push to make these a part of the mainstream, evangelical church–is making them hard to resist. The popularity of these philosophies is due in much part to three powerful men (I can’t even bare to call them pastors): Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Andy Stanley. These three, more than any others, have totally changed the church from the inside out. So much so that now, when we turn our backs on these philosophies that are in opposition to God’s Word, we are viewed as divisive and narrow-minded and irrelevant.

But be not deceived! Truth and popularity are rarely used in the same sentence. I know that it is so much easier to follow the crowd. But this church situation–perhaps more than any I have ever seen before–is where the crowd is going to lead us right off a cliff. The church is moving closer and closer to being swallowed up by the coming one-world religion and the subtle, appealing, and extreme differences in philosophies are paving the way.

While we can’t control the crowd, we can keep ourselves informed. We can understand some of these basic philosophy differences (and as we learn what to look for, these things will start to show themselves everywhere you turn). And we can work to keep these philosophies from entering our own families and churches.

The level of deception is so great now that I can hardly believe it. In some form or another, many of these philosophies–under the leadership of unsuspecting pastors who truly want to do what’s right–have entered the doors of even the most conservative of churches. And they have entered many homes– under the watchful, albeit naive, eyes of parents who think they are helping and guiding their kids.

I’d like to conclude with a short and profound portion from John MacArthur’s commentary on the book of Titus regarding the dangers of false teaching–

One of the purposes for silencing false teachers was to remove the poison of their corrupt ideas and corrupt living, which threatened not only the spiritual life of believers themselves but also the very salvation of those to whom they witnessed.

Not only does the spiritual health of a believer hang in the balance with these false teachings running rampant, but the very salvation of those who would believe may also hang in the balance. While we recognize that it is God who draws and saves, it is also of value to consider how false teaching blinds the eyes and deafens the ears of so many.

It is my hope and prayer that, through these posts, at least a few will be awakened to the dangers and deception going on in the modern day church and that it will embolden us to teach our families and impassion our zeal to witness to the unsaved.

 

You can find all the Learn to Discern posts here on this page.

Here’s a Novel Idea

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I am so excited to share this post with you. But let me back up, first, and give some context.

A few years ago, I found myself with some extra time on my hands. And so, with some encouragement from a good friend, I started a Bible Study. One Bible Study grew into four (too many!) and now has backed down to three that I lead on a regular basis. Since the beginning, I have used several different books to lead the studies–a Kay Arthur Inductive Study on I & II Peter, a Bible study on Women of the Bible by Elizabeth George, and Becoming a Titus 2 Woman by Martha Peace (I do recommend each one of these resources if you are looking for a biblical study). One year we did the Chronological Read-Through Bible Challenge. And last fall I even wrote a Bible Study on the Women of Luke for the ladies (I hope to make that available to my readers in the future).

I co-lead one of the Bible studies with a good friend and this winter we came to a bit of a crossroads. What direction should we go with our Bible Study? As we searched for something new, we realized that there are very few studies left that do not compromise the Word. As I talked to Pastor Dean, he suggested that we just study {drumroll please}—

The Bible

Now that’s a novel idea for a Bible Study, isn’t it?

He recommended R.A. Torrey’s book How to Study the Bible (the first chapter of this book is the basis for the post I wrote on Conditions for Profitable Bible Study) and so I purchased it and started reading. As I read an idea started to form in my mind and as I presented the idea to my co-leader, she was beginning to think the same thing and we were in complete agreement. It was time we studied the Bible.

Since this can be rather intimidating (after all, who are we to think we can actually study the Bible??), I created a worksheet to help us. When it was presented to each group of ladies, I could see the hesitation in their eyes. My heart sank. Perhaps this was a really bad idea. I prepared myself mentally to lose a lot of the ladies (and some did drop out due to the change of methods).

But as we have used this over the past few months, I can see that this is the most effective Bible Study I have ever led. We are actually studying the Bible and it is changing us!

As we went along, I made some changes and revisions. I am currently using this revised worksheet in two of my Bible studies and the ladies love it! I knew I loved it–finding out the background and context of the book and going through the Word on my own to dig for treasure has been incredibly encouraging and challenging. I have even started to get the hang of outlining the book. The process has made us all really dig for ourselves into the scriptures and it has been incredibly rewarding!

This is not about my worksheet (a mere tool anyone could create) but about the power of the Word of God! We must stop believing that we can’t understand the Bible for ourselves. This is a lie from Satan. Sure, there are some hard passages (thank you, Dr. MacArthur, Pastor Dean, and GotQuestions for helping me understand some of these!) but this shouldn’t keep us from studying the Word.

Now, one thing I will mention here is that doing Bible Study this way does take work. It takes more time than just filling in a few blanks and it is much more about the Word than about how we feel about the Word. Many ladies are not interested in this. They prefer the kind that focuses on them and their feelings and their problems.

Of course, studying just the Bible does do all of this. But in such a way that we recognize that God is the center of the universe. Not us.

There has been a disturbing trend in ladies’ Bible studies recently. A trend that brings mysticism into every study (“stop and listen to what God is saying to you about this” is A) not ever commanded in scripture and B) straight from the contemplative prayer movement) and a trend that takes the focus off of God and puts it on me. These are both very dangerous trends and we must be so careful. One way we can avoid this is to simply study the Bible.

God has designed this marvelous book to be readable at all different levels. The more we read and study the more treasure we mine. This holds true for all believers who have placed their faith and trust in Christ.

It is probably no secret to you that this blog, always devotional in nature, has become very much about the Word of God. Reading it. Studying it. Protecting it. Defending it. I firmly believe that this is the heart of the battle. If Satan can get people out of the Word and focused on their own subjective experiences, it will keep their minds focused on themselves and off of growing more holy. It will make them susceptible to Satan’s lies and deception. And it will also render them ineffective witnesses for God’s Kingdom. Scripture is sufficient! (II Peter 1:3) One way to truly “get” this is by giving time and effort to actually studying it.

God bless you as you delve into the Word. If you choose to use someone else’s book or study be sure you know where they stand. Be sure you know that they, too, consider the Word to be sufficient for all of life and godliness. But may I encourage you to try just studying the Bible? Pick up a copy of Torrey’s book or even feel free to e-mail me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net (I have to write it that way because of the internet trolls! Replace with the appropriate signs) and I will be happy to share my worksheet.

And one final note–independent Bible Study can be sabotaged by using unbiblical resources. Click here for some resources to get you started.

 

Learn to Discern: Preparing Your Heart and Mind

Learn to Discern (with blog name)

I guess in some ways this should have been the first installment in this series. After all, if our hearts and minds aren’t properly prepared, then we aren’t going to be very effective discerners. But, alas, this didn’t come to mind early on.

I have found this whole series to be a rather interesting endeavor as it is turning out nothing like I originally planned. But in changing my direction a bit, I hope to be covering some things that are generally not discussed by discernment blogs and ministries, who generally tend to focus on specific false teachers or doctrines. (By the way, this is what we need them to do and is a very important ministry!)

Before we can truly learn to discern, we really need to have these six things as part of our lives (or at least be moving in the right direction). Here are six “BEs” that we should strive for–

BE Biblically Literate (In other words, don’t be ignorant of what the Bible teaches)

My biggest regret–BY FAR–is not studying the Bible more in-depth earlier in my life. It is truly a treasure that is invaluable. The more you study it the more you realize this. We will not have the proper attitudes about discernment if we don’t study the Bible. We will not know the truth to compare error to if we don’t study the Bible. I would go so far as to say that without effort given to studying the Word of God, we really cannot be discerners at all.

BE Bible-Focused (In other words, don’t be “evil-world system” focused)

It is so very easy to get caught up in all we are learning. As our eyes are opened and we start to see connections, for example, between well-known “pastors” and false religious systems or government agencies or we start to study some historical aspect of the church, the fascination of it all can be alluring. If we aren’t careful, it can consume our thoughts and time. And so to be an effective discerner, we must keep our focus on the Word of God, first and foremost, and always.

BE Curious (In other words, don’t be apathetic)

I see this one a lot. People who just don’t care about spiritual things, which naturally leads to apathy about issues of discernment. But curiosity about what’s going on and an interest in knowing (in order to protect, defend, and contend for the Word of God) is a must if we are to really learn to discern. Apathy is a thief of knowledge and the enemy of discernment.

BE Teachable (In other words, don’t think you have all of the answers)

I would credit this one attitude to being one of the greatest assets in learning to discern. When we think we know everything, we close our hearts to learning about anything. This is true, whether we are talking about parenting, growing in biblical knowledge, or learning more about our career field. And it’s also true regarding discernment. The sooner we recognize that we have an awful lot to learn, the sooner we will start learning.

BE Humble (in other words, don’t be proud)

This is rather similar to being teachable, but goes even one step further in that this is an attitude that encompasses our whole being. If we are proud–conceited, self-important, pompous, overbearing, argumentative–we not only limit our ability to learn, but we limit our ability to share what we have learned. When we aren’t interested in the opinions or thoughts of others and always focusing on our own inflated opinions, we shut a door that is difficult to re-open.

BE Observant (In other words, don’t be naive)

Yes, ignorance is sometimes bliss. But it is rarely a good thing in the long run. And so it is with discernment. How much better to know so that we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from the wolves who look like sheep. So it is imperative that we always keep our eyes open! I have to be honest here–the more I learn and realize the scope of the great deception in this age, the more skeptical I become. I don’t take anything at face value but always do some research first. While we don’t want to become hardened skeptics, it is important that we recognize the great invasion of false religion that is sweeping through the church. With this in mind, it is critical that we be Bereans, comparing all we see, read, watch, listen to–everything!–to the Holy Scriptures.

And so there are the six BEs–

BE biblically literate, BE Bible-focused, BE curious, BE teachable, BE humble, and BE observant. If you have these things in place or are at least working at putting them in place, then you are ready to learn to discern!