Color Catcher

ColorCatcher

Have you ever thrown something brightly colored in the laundry along with your whites? Sometimes we can get away with it, but more often than not the item will tinge the lighter load a dull, sickly shade of itself.

As I have been reading the epistles of Paul this year, I can see how even those of us who are truly dedicated to pleasing the Lord with our lives have been tinted by the world in ways we don’t even realize. Here are a few of those ways–

We’ve resigned ourselves to dissensions and divisions in our families and churches, even though this is clearly stated as sin (Galatians 5:20)

We treat the sin of anger and envy differently than other sins (Galatians 5:19-21)

We retire not only from our jobs but often from everything, letting the young people step in and do the work in the church (Galatians 6:9)

We hold grudges and somehow think this is okay for a Christian to do. (Romans 12:18)

We are so myopic (this is my new favorite word!) This means that we are so short-sighted. Always thinking of the here and now and rarely of eternity. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

We strive to live good lives for the wrong reason and end up in legalism. Instead of our good works being an outpouring of love towards God for his indescribable gift, we actually believe (perhaps without even realizing it) that we are saved only if we do the right things. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

We treat the Word of God like its just any other book, instead of what it really is–the Word of God Himself to His children, full of unsearchable riches and the “mystery hidden for ages in God”. (Ephesians 3:8-9)

We pray for relief from our problems, instead of praying for strength and for deep roots of faith and love through the trials. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Whether at home, church, or work many believers are eager to gratify and glorify self, instead of thinking of others. Instead of being humble, gentle, and patient, we react with pride, harshness, and impatience. Instead of bearing one another with love, we bear one another with irritation. (Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 2:4-5)

We look like, dress like, talk like, react like, watch like, read like, and listen like the world. Instead of separating ourselves from the darkness, we continue in it. (Ephesians 4:17-20)

We easily complain about almost everything and quickly fall into arguments over the most trivial things. (Philippians 2:14)

We accept anything that is labeled “Christian” as if it must be biblical, without any discernment at all. (Ephesians 5:6-13)

We see no sin in having ungrateful, complaining hearts or in considering ourselves first and foremost. (Ephesians 5:20-21)

We live lackluster lives that do not exhibit the joy of the Lord. (Philippians 4:4)

We are imprisoned by fears and worry. (Philippians 4:6-8)

 

There are so many more ways that we have been tinged by the world and by sin but I’ll stop there. You get the idea. The funny thing is that when we compare ourselves to the world, we look pretty white. It is really just like the laundry. We come out of the washer looking a sickly pink but when compared to the red item (the world), we look pretty good. It is only when we hold the tainted item up against a bright white item that hasn’t touched the red item that we realize just how pink it really is.

So what to do?

A few years ago, a company came out with an item called a Color Catcher. It “absorbs and traps loose dyes”. How ingenious. I don’t really know if it works, as I have never tried it, but we Christians have a Color Catcher, don’t we? It is the Word of God. When we read and study the Bible, we come to understand that some of the attitudes and actions we have assumed were okay are not okay at all. But, even more importantly, it keeps us from falling into sins and attitudes that would easily ensnare us if we weren’t in the Word. Just like a color catcher supposedly keeps reds, blues, and greens from bleeding into whites in our washing machine, so the Bible keeps the world from bleeding into our daily habits, attitudes, and actions in our lives.

But, of course, doing this can really cramp our style. We may not want to face that the way we are living is downright sinful. And so we just carry our Bibles into church on a Sunday and then go home the following week, spending our quiet time (if we even have one) reading a light devotional or skimming a few verses, never really being challenged. Never really being changed.

I hope that you are encouraged today to start really getting into the Word. Not only does it reveal our sin, but it also shows us our desperate need for a Savior, making salvation even more precious and wonderful than it already was to us!

So use the Color Catcher you have been given. Get yourself into God’s Word and start studying.

(By the way, if you don’t know where to start, I created a free worksheet that may help you. Please e-mail me at Leslie {at} growing4life {dot} net if you’d like a copy.)

 

 

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.

 

Killing Sin

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Is victory over sin possible in the life of a believer? We are constantly hearing about how broken we are. But is that all there is? There is so much talk about how we are all sinners but so little talk about overcoming sin.

And, of course, it’s true–we will fight our flesh and its sinful desires until the day we die. But that does not mean that we won’t be victorious over sin. It simply means that we will go from one victory right on into another battle. Life here on earth is one battle after the other for those of us who truly desire holiness. No sooner do we fight an intense battle with one sin and win the victory but then the Holy Spirit convicts us of a different sin. It is a lifetime of battles but there are victories. We are not destined to flounder in the same sins all of our lives without hope of rescue. There is growth and change and victory in the Christian life!

This week we found ourselves traveling home from a trip on Sunday and so we were unable to go to church. Since my husband and I are both reading our pastor’s Bible Reading Challenge (which also happens to be the 2017 Growing 4 Life Bible Reading Challenge), we decided to turn on a sermon that had to do with the passage we are currently reading, which is Romans 8. We found it on the Grace to You app, where they have all the sermons broken down by scriptures and topics. We chose a sermon based on Romans 8:12-13 called A Key to Spiritual Victory.

As we drove along listening to John MacArthur expound the Word, we were challenged. One section I found particularly helpful and I started writing notes. As I wrote, I thought of you. I realized that you–my reader–may find this helpful, as well.

He was talking about victory–the power, the people, the pattern, and the passion. When he got to the pattern of victory, he gave five things we can do to “kill sin” in our lives. While this does not mean we won’t ever sin, these steps will help us live a more victorious Christian life.

(The steps are from the sermon, the commentary includes some things from the sermon, as well as some of my own thoughts.)

–HOW TO KILL SIN–

1. Recognize the sin within yourself.  Pastor MacArthur talked about how much we like to place the blame for our sin on others or things around us–we blame the world, or other people, or Satan. Have you ever heard one of your kids blame a sibling for their sinful choice to hit or kick? And, honestly, they learn this from us, don’t they? We lose control of our tempers and then blame our spouses or kids for frustrating us. But we will never be able to kill sin until we are willing to take the blame for our sin. This is a crucial first step.

2. Have a heart fixed on God. This sounds so easy, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s so hard. I find that my heart is so often fixed on me. If I am struggling with sin it is because my heart is fixed on myself. Pastor MacArthur went on to say how this is an important function of church. Church should bring us back to the Word, taking our minds off of the temporal and putting them back on the eternal. It is one of the reasons why we fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters–to sharpen each other spiritually (Proverbs 27:17) and to encourage each other (Acts 11:23).

3. Meditate on the Word of God. Notice that he doesn’t just say “meditate” but specifies that we meditate on the Word of God. Meditation is a word that has been completely hijacked. Most of what you read or hear about meditation today is taken from mysticism and is the opposite of biblical meditation. (check out my post A Vast and Irreconcilable Difference, where biblical meditation is compared to new age/mystical meditation.) When we meditate on the Word of God, we fill our minds with the commands, promises, and knowledge of God. One of my daughters has been doing quite a bit of memory work and she was telling me how doing this has really deepened her walk with God. It is because she is meditating as she memorizes. She is thinking about what the Word says while she is hiding it in her heart. By the way, memorizing scripture is a good way to meditate on it.

4. Be diligent in prayer. Not only should we praying for victory over sin, but we need to be daily confessing our sin and repenting of wrong deeds. We need to ask the Lord to help us hate sin and to love righteousness. John Owen puts it like this: He who pleads with God for remission of sin also pleads for his own heart to detest it.

5. Cultivate obedience to the Word. We need to make it our goal to obey scripture. This sounds so simple but it is a very difficult thing to actually do. Some of the things this includes is forgiving when all we want is revenge; loving when we don’t feel like loving; and turning away from the world’s entertainment when all those around us are filling their minds with it (and mock us when we choose not to). As we study God’s Word, we need to apply what we learn, instead of constantly looking for loopholes that will help us rationalize our sin and our desire to keep feeding our flesh.

 

So those are the five steps. I found it a very helpful exercise to take a hard and honest look at my own life to see how (or if) I have been incorporating these steps. It is my hope that sharing this with you today will be a blessing to you as you evaluate your own battles against sin.

 

Being Molded to Look Like Christ

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Suffering. Something that happens to all of us. When we think of suffering, we often think of the obvious things that we can see. We know someone is suffering when they are fighting cancer or when a loved one dies. We know they are suffering if their child is arrested or when they lose their job. Physical disabilities, car accidents, a child with Down’s Syndrome, a house fire–these things fill us with deep compassion.

But there is so much suffering we never see–a family’s daily struggle to stay financially afloat; being married to a selfish, difficult spouse; a chronic disease or physical injury that isn’t outwardly visible; debilitating anxiety; persecution in all its various forms as we stand for God and His Word in an increasingly hostile world and apostate church; the betrayal of a trusted friend or family member; pornography, drug, and alcohol addictions; sexual or verbal abuse; a neighbor or co-worker who has made it their goal to make your life miserable for whatever reason; church issues; rebellious children…

This list could go on and on and on…and on. In fact, it is probably far longer than the list of troubles we can see in the lives of others.

This came to mind yesterday as I was reading in *Romans 5. Verses 3-5 tell us this–

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

So what is my point? I have two, actually.

First, I just wonder how much more grace we would have for others if we would remember that they may be struggling through something we can’t even see. We are so quick to judge and yet all of us, in one way or another, is struggling. And if we aren’t suffering now, it will come. So often we think we are so spiritually mature and yet none of us knows how we’d act if we were handed the same circumstances as that fellow Christian. This doesn’t mean we let a beloved Christian sister or brother wallow in sinful reactions and choices. But remembering this does fill us with so much more love and grace as we help them.

And, second, let’s remember that God uses all of our suffering–the visible trials and the secret torments– to grow us in endurance, character, and hope. But this can only happen when we are turning to the Lord on a daily basis. Trying to endure on our own strength is exhausting and pointless. It is like being on a hamster wheel–we end up using all of our energy to turn in circles.

And, I guess I do have one final thought on this subject of suffering. I have found in my own life that many times God uses the little irritations and frustrations of life to draw me to Himself and to grow me in endurance. A disobedient toddler or a challenging situation at work can be used to mold us into the image of Christ.

Our whole lives are made up of moments that give us a choice:

Will we grow? Or will we respond with our selfish, human nature?

As believers, God is using everything to shape us and to work things out for His glory. We are all familiar with Romans 8:28–

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

But we need to continue reading verse 29–

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

One of God’s purposes–perhaps His main purpose for us–is to conform us into the image of His Son. May we not forget this as we suffer through trials seen and unseen. May we keep the eternal purpose in mind as we face inconsequential frustrations and overwhelming tribulations.

And may we remember that, through it all, God will not give up on us! Paul let us know this in Philippians 1:6–

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;

And so we must keep fighting our sinful flesh through the trials. We must submit to God’s sculpting hand as He molds us into the image of His Son. And as we do so may we rely on the help and comfort of the Holy Spirit. We can’t give up. Thankfully, God will be right by our side, never leaving or forsaking us. What a glorious encouragement!

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

(By the way, I feel slightly hypocritical even writing this, since many of you know I continue to work through all of the changes in my life over these past few years, but I guess at least you know that a) I am writing to myself as much as I am writing for you and b) I am not giving up!)

 

* I was reading Romans 5 for our 2017 Bible Challenge. If you haven’t started a Bible Reading plan yet for this year, it is not too late to join us! And if you are doing the Bible Challenge, please feel free to join the Growing4Life Facebook group especially dedicated to the challenge. There you will find encouragement and resources regarding our Bible Readings.

 

 

 

Resolutions and Goals

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This time of year abounds with New Year’s resolutions regarding weight loss, exercise, and better eating habits. Articles, commercials, and Pinterest pins about these things really rev up as the new year approaches because this is often when people determine they are going to change their habits. In fact, I know a young man who said he plans to skip the gym the first couple weeks of the year. Two weeks is about the amount of time it takes for all of those gym newbies to lose interest and settle back into their old way of life.

I’d love to tell you how you keep from losing interest but A) that isn’t what this post is about and B) I truly have no idea. If I figure it out I will let you know!

But as I thought about a new year and new beginnings, one thing occurred to me. How many of our resolutions or thoughts about beginning anew have to do with our spiritual health? Oh, I know lots of us don’t even make resolutions or set goals at all. But for those of us that do–how many are spiritual? How much effort do we give to growing us a believer? Or are we content to just be?

Physical health is good. We should desire to be the healthiest we can be because healthy people are able to serve God better. But Paul says this in I Timothy 4:8–

For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

This tells us that–while physical health is good–godliness is better!

So if this is the time of year you often spend some time thinking about where your life is going and setting some goals for yourself, I hope that you will consider setting a goal that has to do with getting into the Word of God. For this is the only way true and lasting growth will occur. Start the Growing 4 Life 2017 Bible Reading Challenge or some other Bible reading plan. Commit to doing a book of the Bible study (using a solid, biblical study method). Or pick a passage to memorize.

Whatever you decide, I know that it will yield great dividends in your walk with God. Studying the Word takes work, but it is richly rewarding.

Remember–there is nothing wrong with goals to be healthy or more organized or to set a budget and stick to it. This can be a wonderful way to serve the Lord better, for sure! But sometimes we can get so caught up in the temporal things of this life that we neglect the eternal things. So, along with other goals you are setting, how about setting a goal that gets you in the Word of God for 2017?

 

 

Conditions for Profitable Bible Study

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One of the saddest things I see going on today by professing believers is how little they are actually studying the Bible. We instead fill our hearts and minds with books about the Bible or with short blog posts, videos, or soundbites of devotional thoughts. We do this and feel pretty good about ourselves, believing we have accomplished our “devotions” for the day.

This kind of thinking leads to biblical illiteracy, which we see in vast numbers today within the church. This is the year that I want to really point people back to the Word of God for life and strength. I hope to show that it is through the Bible that we know our heavenly Father and experience spiritual transformation. I want to encourage people to read and study the Word of God with a submissive spirit and a heart ready to obey.

I also want to encourage people to ask the question: “What does this mean?” Instead of the dangerous question: “What does this mean for me?” These two questions are in direct contrast to one another. The first leads to an objective and literal study of God’s Word, while the second leads to a subjective and mystical study. We will talk more about this as the year progresses, but this is a basic thought to keep in mind as you prepare to dig into the Word this coming year.

As I was talking to Pastor Dean about this recently, he highly recommended the book How to Study the Bible by R.A. Torrey. Thankfully, I had a copy of this laying around that had never been read and so I picked it up. It is worth buying for the first chapter alone and I highly recommend doing so. (I have linked the book title to Amazon for your convenience; I get no proceeds from this).

But I would like to share a skeletal version of Chapter One for you here, entitled Conditions for Profitable Bible Study. I think you will find this most helpful as you start any study of the scriptures–whether it be the Growing 4 Life 2017 Bible Reading Challenge or a different one that is completely unrelated to the challenge here at Growing 4 Life.

And so here we go–some thoughts on preparing yourself to study the Word of God. Torrey starts out by writing this:

The secret lies in meeting certain fundamental conditions before you begin to study the Word of God. If you meet these conditions, you will get more out of the Bible, while pursuing the poorest methods, than the one who does not meet them while he pursues the best methods. What you will need is far deeper than a new and better technique.

Here are the conditions–

  1. You must be born again. Little is to be gained from study of scripture if your spiritual eyes have not been opened.
  2. You must have a love for the Word of God and an appetite for spiritual food. Perhaps you are concerned about this one. Let me assure you that when you start to study in earnest, this will be developed. The more you study, the stronger your appetite will grow.
  3. You must have a willingness to work hard. Few things are gained without work and Bible Study is no exception. You will get out of it what you put into it.  Torry puts it this way: “The reason many people get so little out of their Bible reading is simply because they are not willing to think. Intellectual laziness lies at the bottom of a large percent of fruitless Bible reading.”
  4. You must have a will that is wholly surrendered to God. The old hymn “I Surrender All” takes on a whole new meaning when we actually think about living the words we sing. This is a tough one but it is key if we are to truly get anything out of our Bible Study. We must say–like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42)–“not my will, but Thy will be done.”
  5. You must be willing to obey all commands in scripture as soon as you become aware of them. This is related to #4, but it is a bit different in that it requires action. There are many sins we commit each and every day that we may not even think about until we get in the Word and it shows us –like a mirror–the truth about our souls. James puts it like this– But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25). We will get the most out of our study by bringing a heart and mind that is willing to obey.
  6. The sixth condition is a childlike mind. What this really means is bringing to your study a humble and teachable heart. I just love how Torrey puts this: “How can we be babes if God is to reveal His truth to us, and we are to understand His Word? A child is not full of his own wisdom. He recognizes his own ignorance and is willing to be taught. He does not oppose his own notions and ideas to those of his teachers.” Oh, how very important this condition is! This alone may be why so many who claim to be in the Word show no apparent growth or transformation. Whenever we impose our ideas and thoughts on the Word, viewing the Bible through our own already preconceived worldview, we are hindering greatly the work of the Holy Spirit to give us insight into the Word. A teachable spirit cannot be over-emphasized enough in this study of the Word of God!
  7. The seventh condition Torrey gives is that we believe the Bible is the very Word of God! This involves four things– 1) We bring an unquestioning acceptance to all that we find within its pages, even if it seems unreasonable or impossible. 2) We have absolute reliance in all its promises in all their breadth and length. 3) We give prompt obedience to its every precept. 4) We study as if we are in God’s presence–as if hearing the living God speaking the words of scripture to us. This is because the Bible truly is His very words to us and we are always in God’s presence. Torrey puts it like this: “We can have God’s glorious companionship any moment we please by simply opening His Word and letting the living and ever-present God speak to us through it.”
  8. The last condition for profitable study is prayerfulness. Bend over each passage of scripture in prayer. Prayer for a clean and pure heart. Prayer for a submissive and obedient heart. Prayer for insight into what you are going to read in the Word. David puts it this way in Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may see, Wondrous things from Your law.

I hope that you have found this a helpful post to get you started in the greatest adventure anyone can undertake–a study of the very Word of God! Whether you have studied your Bible for years or this is your first attempt, I pray the greatest blessing on you as you begin a new year of studying the Bible. I know full well–if the above conditions are met–you will not come away unchanged from your time in the Word.