Do I Need a Special Experience in Order to Know God?

Experience

There is an atmosphere of mystery within the church these days. As if we must somehow reach a higher spiritual plane through a special experience in order to reach God in a deeper way and receive His special blessing. This is taught in Charismatic circles, where they teach that one must speak in tongues and receive a separate baptism of the Holy Spirit in order to be truly spiritual. It’s taught in the New Apostolic Reformation, where they teach that apostles are God’s especially “anointed”. And it’s taught in Keswick theology and ministries such as Eric Ludy’s program at Ellerslie*, where mystical means are used to move us towards a sinless life here on earth (according to them). This is also the main premise of the contemplative prayer movement and the monastic teachings such as the “silence”, lecto divina, and the labyrinth. All of these things supposedly take us to a place where we will truly experience God.

So this begs the question: Do I need some kind of special experience in order to know God?

Of course, we must go to scripture to answer this question. One of the best places to answer this is I John 2, verses 18-20–

Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the[c] Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.[d] 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.

According to this passage, we are assured of four very important things–

First, that there are going to be many antichrists before the actual Antichrist comes on the scene. Just because someone mentions the name of Jesus does not mean they are talking about the same Jesus you are. We Christians have gotten into a very lazy habit of assuming that any mention of God or Jesus or prayer means that someone is a genuine believer in Christianity but this just isn’t the case. Paul tells us clearly that Satan will masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). We must remember this and test the spirits (I John 4:1).

Second, we have all been anointed by the Holy One. Under the New Covenant, all believers are anointed by the Holy Spirit. There is nothing in scripture that would lead us to believe that we need a second, special anointing.

Third, as believers, we know all things. There is no secret knowledge that we must somehow obtain by using contemplative prayer, listening for special messages from God, or receiving some special, extra dose of God’s presence. In contrast, scripture says here that we already know all things. All we need to know is in God’s Word. If it’s not in His Word, then it we don’t need to know it.

And, fourth, we know the truth. We know the truth by studying the Word. John 17:17 confirms this–

Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

To understand the timelessness of this book, we need to look back at just why John was writing this epistle to an unknown group of people. John MacArthur writes this in his introduction of I John

These false teachers advocated new ideas which eventually became known as “Gnosticism” (from the Gr. word “knowledge”). After the Pauline battle for freedom from the law, Gnosticism was the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first 3 centuries. Most likely, John was combating the beginnings of this virulent heresy that threatened to destroy the fundamentals of the faith and the churches.

Gnosticism, influenced by such philosophers as Plato, advocated a dualism asserting that matter was inherently evil and spirit was good. As a result of this presupposition, these false teachers, although attributing some form of deity to Christ, denied his true humanity to preserve Him from evil. It also claimed elevated knowledge, a higher truth known only to those in on the deep things. Only the initiated had the mystical knowledge of truth that was higher even than the Scripture.

What does this sound like? Sarah Young with her messages from God that are outside of scripture? Beth Moore’s visions that yield special knowledge? Countless others claim to have special knowledge that comes from God to them personally. Secret knowledge that yields a special relationship.

If we go back to the garden, we can see that Satan used a similar ploy–

 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4)

“Listen to me and I will give you special knowledge,” he whispers. The only difference between then and now is that he wasn’t masquerading as God back then. But it is the same message.

Gnosticism is dangerous because it takes the focus off of Christ’s finished work on the cross and the Bible–which is our only trustworthy source for knowing the full story of God, who He is, and what He has done for us. And, instead, subjective experiences, feelings, and emotions become the focus.

From what John wrote in his epistle, we can see that this has been going on for ages. It ebbs and flows but it has always been a danger to Christianity. But perhaps never so much as in these last days when we can see it all working towards a one-world religion that must bypass Jesus Christ and His work on the cross.

At some point, we must move our eyes from our own personal experience, even as Bible-believing Christians, and get a glimpse of the bigger picture. History has so much to teach us.

John combated Gnosticism, just as we are combating it. There is nothing new under the sun. Let’s heed the words of scripture and realize that God has given us all we need. There is no special knowledge out there that we need to somehow attain. No special experience that is going to make us closer to God. The cross did the work! Praise the Lord, it was finished there!

When we are saved, our response to this is simple. Jesus makes it clear: If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15).

Of course, simple isn’t always pleasant and sometimes Jesus’s commandments are burdensome to a heart that loves the world and wants to be loved by the world. So as those who claim Christ find following His commandments distasteful, a vacuum of desire for closeness without self-denial opens wide its mouth. And guess what enters in? Special experiences that deceive us into believing we can be close to God without submission and without obedience.

Look, we can’t change the direction this is going. It’s just not possible. But we can be informed, so that we can be on the look-out for ourselves, our families, and for those that God has placed in our path who genuinely want to know the truth. My prayer is that this post will lead a few of you to search for the truth as we read it in scripture. This view is certainly not popular (how’s that for an understatement?!) but it is biblical. And that’s why I write.

If this has disturbed you or you don’t agree, may I encourage you to do your own digging? Do so with a humble spirit, open mind, and a heart that honestly desires to know the truth and is willing to obey that truth. Pray and ask God to show you His truth about these matters and He will. I have seen God answer this prayer on many occasions. He is so faithful. Our God is faithful. Praise His name!

Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments;
Deuteronomy 7:9

 

*Eric Ludy and Ellerslie carefully conceal their mystical leanings and rather bizarre teachings quite well. You will not find them in their marketing materials or on their website. My daughter experienced this firsthand and, after sitting under their teaching for just a few short weeks, made the choice to leave. This happened almost ten years ago now, so perhaps they have changed. If you are interested in his ministry, please do your homework. Here is a post that echoes our concerns with this place.

The Rogue Fire Alarm

And what it can teach us about discernment

I Don't Wanna Hear

Last night we went to bed, as usual. Around 1am we were abruptly awakened from sleep by our household fire alarm. Beep! Beep! Beep! The whole house rang with the sound. This may be one of the scariest sounds in existence, quite honestly. We jumped out of bed to figure out what was going on. We explored the whole house from top to bottom but couldn’t find any smoke anywhere. Within a minute or two it stopped.

We lay back down but sleep seemed almost impossible. “Should we be worried?” I asked my husband. He assured me that we didn’t need to be and said the system must have malfunctioned. We tried to go back to sleep. No easy task with such a rude awakening.

Five minutes later it happened again. Only this time it stayed on. By this time, I am starting to wonder if we are missing something. After all, it seemed strange that it would go off again on its own. So once more we did a swift search, both of us running about checking every nook and cranny in the house. But, again, we found nothing. Meanwhile, the alarm continued its incessant beeping.

Deducting that it must be malfunctioning, my husband headed downstairs to turn off its power. Unfortunately, none of the switches worked. It just kept beeping. And beeping. And beeping.

By this time our college-aged daughter sleepily descended the steps wrapped in a blanket, “What’s going on? Why can’t you turn it off if everything is ok?” She was rather frustrated at being awakened. I didn’t blame her one bit. So was I. Although I did remind her that at least we weren’t out in that dreadful winter wind watching our house burn down.

Meanwhile, Eric had decided to detach every single unit. He started with the basement. The crazy beep softened as he removed that one. Next was the downstairs hallway. He disconnected it from the electric wires and pulled the unit down from the ceiling. And that’s when it stopped. They all stopped. Oh, what blessed relief!

We were soon tucked back in our beds, listening to the wind whipping around our house, immensely thankful that we weren’t outside, standing in it.

Within a few minutes, I heard a fire alarm go off again. But this time it was just one unit, a bit distant.

It was the hallway unit. It was giving one last-ditch effort at keeping us from sleep. Eric took one final trip downstairs for the night and removed the batteries. When he was back in bed, he expressed his relief in knowing for sure that this was the unit that was malfunctioning. I agreed!

And then we tried to go back to sleep. Which took a very long time. It was during that time of trying to get back to sleep that this post came to me. There are some lessons to be learned from this rogue fire alarm. And I think we would all do well to heed them.

The fire alarm is a valuable tool set in place to warn people of a fire. When a fire alarm goes off, we have a few different options on how we can respond. We can–

1. Ignore it.

2. Get angry and throw things at it to try to get it to stop.

3. Complain about it.

4. Investigate.

Of course, all sane people will investigate. It would be foolish not to, since our very life could be at stake.

Don’t you think it is curious then, that we don’t handle those who sound spiritual alarms in a similar fashion? I confess I am incredibly puzzled by the response of Christians to those who would practice discernment and sound warnings. Since most view these warnings as unnecessary and unpleasant alarms, they choose to ignore them. Or throw harsh, angry words at them. Or complain about them. So few actually investigate what they are saying against what the Bible has to say.

Why is this? Why aren’t people willing to investigate a warning? Or to even practice discernment themselves? So many are literally committing spiritual suicide in this era of rampant apostasy. They are sleeping in a burning house. It is insanity!

So what if a discerner brings attention to a beloved teacher and you find out that the discerner was wrong in their conclusions? What will you have lost but a little time? Isn’t it at least worth an investigation?

We base all on the Word of God. We can remove the power of a discerner’s false alarm by showing them the truth from scripture. But we can’t do that if we aren’t even willing to investigate.

I am appalled by the attitude of the general population of Christians towards discernment. I honestly cannot believe how Satan has deceived so many into thinking it doesn’t matter. I hope that if you haven’t recognized the importance of listening to spiritual fire alarms, that you will start today. Unfortunately, most of the fire alarms we hear today are not rogue, but are true alarms sounding a warning that should be heeded. There are so few that remain on the straight and narrow path of solid, biblical teaching.

So that’s what I was thinking about at 2:30am last night. If this helps even one of you think about discernment a little differently, I will consider my interrupted night’s sleep well worth it!

 

 

Enjoying the Ride

16067224582_d443cd1985_b

The other night we decided we would spend the evening looking at some Christmas lights. After paying $15 to drive through a display that was considerably short of impressive, we decided to drive across the county to check out another one that came highly recommended.

The thing I haven’t told you is that there were seven of us so in order for us to all drive together in the same car, two people would have to sit in the rarely used backseat. I really thought we’d have more fun if we went together so I offered to sit there. After all, my car was made to “seat 7”. My son-in-law offered to sit there, as well, and so we both climbed into the back. This was our first clue that it was going to be tight.

We weren’t back there more than 30 seconds before we realized that the backseat was definitely not meant for adults. With the two of us sitting a bit sideways and with our knees to our chests, we all set off on our adventure.

The first part of the evening wasn’t too bad. After about 15 minutes we stopped for dinner. And then another 15 minutes after that we drove through the first display. But the last ride–the one across the county– ended up taking over 30 minutes (maybe closer to 45). This is when it started to stretch my patience just a bit. We were going on a back country road and I started to feel a bit carsick. And then the other dynamic was that no one listened to us. We’d try to join the conversation but we were back so far, we were generally ignored because it was so hard to hear us.

About halfway through that drive I was starting to get annoyed. My bad knee was starting to hurt, I was extremely uncomfortable, and the carsickness was really starting to get to me. And it was around that time that it hit me: I can choose to focus on the negative or I can enjoy the ride. After all, here I was, with two of our kids and their families, having a good time together. What a blessing! I recognized that I had so much to be thankful for, even if I was temporarily squished into a seat that was meant for children. And, thankfully, our son-in-law has a good sense of humor and made the ride in the back much more enjoyable than if I would have been back there alone.

Ironically, when we finally arrived, we found out to our dismay that the display was in front of us. As we parked the car in preparation for the light show, we realized that we wouldn’t even have a good view to watch. We just had to laugh.

And that was my Friday night.

But I couldn’t help thinking about this in relation to all of life (of course!)

So often we are on a ride we don’t enjoy and we can’t get off. We can’t change it, we can’t fix it, we can’t stop it. We just have to ride through it. But the one thing we can choose is what attitude we are going to have as we take our undesired ride. We can choose to be joyful or we can choose to complain. We can choose to rely and lean on the Lord or we can choose to focus on our own feelings and despair. Keep in mind that we are going to have to take the ride either way. It’s non-negotiable. Having a negative attitude isn’t going to change anything or make anything better (in fact, it will make it worse), while having a joyful attitude not only makes us more pleasant to be around, it is also a dramatic testimony of God’s grace, mercy, and love that is provided to His children during the tough times.

This is a hard lesson for many of us to learn. I feel like I am writing to myself here, quite honestly. I struggle so with this. We have come to have certain expectations in life. We want life to be convenient and comfortable and easy. And so when the road turns a little bumpy and we are stuck in the backseat, we can tend to grow a little discontent and grumpy. But that isn’t going to help anyone–especially ourselves. And, most importantly, it reveals that we don’t really trust God’s plan for our lives. It truly is an affront to God’s Sovereignty, if you think about it.

Isn’t it amazing what you can be reminded of on a ride through the country?

 

Romans 8:28-30

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Isaiah 45:9

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Daniel 4:34-35

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
    and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
    and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
    or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

Serving All, All the Time

Serving All

This is the time of year that we focus on giving. Much of the giving is focused on children. We fill shoe boxes and purchase toys to give to local charities. It is rewarding to watch our children’s excitement as they walk with us through the store and help to pick out toys and toothbrushes and socks for children across the world or in their own neighborhood. It is truly a wonderful opportunity to touch the world with the love of Christ.

Giving to children is so special. There is something especially delightful about it. And Christmastime is such a fun time to give. There are so many different opportunities available that it doesn’t take much work for us to be part of something greater than ourselves. Perhaps we should use this time of year as a catalyst for change– a change that yields a life that intentionally gives and serves all year long.

There are some things to consider as we evaluate our lifestyle of service.

Children are wonderful, but there are so many elderly people who have no family to visit them. They sit, sad and lonely, throughout the year, wondering if anybody cares. Do they have the same value as a child? We would answer of course because we know that is the “right” answer but do we live it out by our actions?

And do we give all year long or do we only serve and give during this one little window of time during the year? Are we practicing a life of service all year long or do we live a life of self-absorption that disappears for a short time at Christmastime?

Time goes so fast. We will be back to our normal routine again before we know it. This holiday season seems a good time to consider our patterns of giving and serving.

Many people have set examples for me in this area of serving others throughout the year, but one example that made an impact on me was something my mother-in-law did when I was a young mother. She would take my kids along with her to the local nursing home to visit a few of the elderly from our church. As a pastor’s wife, it was a way she could bring a little sunshine and joy to their lives. At the time, I didn’t realize just what a service of love this was. Most older people love kids. As I watched her set this good example and as I grew braver and more mature, I hesitantly decided to try it myself. I say “braver”, because my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t know what to say.

So one day I gathered my children and we set off in our minivan. How do you talk to an elderly person that you don’t really know? But what I found was that, especially with kids along, there is rarely an awkward moment. I figured out how to ask lots of questions and we would learn so much about the past. (The incredible upside of this is that so many of these older people have so much to teach us. If we will just take the time, we can learn so much.)

But this post is not just about giving of ourselves to elderly people. Are we serving and encouraging our pastors, and other church members such as the single parents, the downcast and depressed, the sick and weary, and those who are struggling financially? These should all be on our radar throughout the whole year.

There are many ways we can encourage, serve, and build them up. We can do this by sending a card or an email. We can do this by babysitting; providing meals, if needed; by just sitting and talking after church instead of rushing out the door. And, of course, we can do this by praying for them. There are many more ways we can love and serve others.

One of the things I try to do is to think about what I would want someone to do for me if I were in their situation. And you know what? Sometimes I am the one who needs encouraged. Sometimes I need to be the recipient of the love and service of my church family. I have been there, too. And this may be one of the best things about being part of a church family–the love and care we take of each other. Learning to receive gracefully and gratefully is a topic for another post.

As I write this, I can see how I have failed in this area of serving others in such a big way. I can be so blind. I often find myself so caught up in my own agenda that I lose sight of those who need to be encouraged, built up, and supported.

But scripture continues to prod me (and hopefully you, too!) into a holier and more obedient life that is filled with love for others. I Peter 4:10-11 exhorts us to serve one another–

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I John 4:7-8 exhorts us to love one another–

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

And I Thessalonians 5:11 exhorts us to encourage one another–

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

These passages are particularly referring to the Church. This is our first priority–serving other Christian brothers and sisters, loving and taking care of each other in a way that unifies the church and causes the world to step back and wonder what we have that they don’t have.

Scripture will not let us go. It continues to draw us to a more mature faith, showing us how we fail and where we need to grow. Christmas season is a great time to evaluate our life of service.

May we broaden our horizons and see that needs abound across all classes, races, and ages of people. May we never miss an opportunity to share the Gospel as we give to those that don’t know Christ. And may we be especially sensitive to the needs of our Christian brothers and sisters both here and across the world as we faithfully serve and give throughout the whole year!

 

 

Freezing Out Fear

With a Spirit of Gratitude

freezing

The other evening, as my family discussed the recent terrible church shooting, my father-in-law shook his head.

“Can you imagine discussing something like this twenty years ago??” he asked incredulously.

No, we can’t. Because we wouldn’t have. Oh, bad things happened and there have always been evil men and women. But this. This is just beyond anything we could have imagined.

And then someone else mentioned how frequent these things are becoming. The shock is almost wearing off because these types of events are becoming monthly–sometimes weekly.

And this can breed fear in some of us, making us wonder–when will it be us? Or someone close to us?

Or it could be something else that makes us fearful; some other anxiety that is stealing our peace and joy. There are innumerable causes for fear in our lives.

For some of us, this fear can turn into a life full of anxiety and worry, turning our happy smiles into frowns of concern. Fear is a mighty master, controlling our lives with an iron fist.

Of course, much of this comes from not taking Matthew 6:35-34 very seriously. As I have battled my own fears about a variety of things, these verses keep coming to mind–

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

But how do we freeze out the fear that threatens to undo us? What can we do to help eradicate the sins of worry and anxiety from our lives?

I believe one of the most underrated things we can do to help us overcome fear is to cultivate a heart of gratitude. We learn this from Philippians 4:6-7–

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Do you see that little phrase in there?

With thanksgiving.

How often do we practice this as we face our fears and anxieties? Do we come to God with a thankful heart or is gratitude crowded out by the fear that threatens to overwhelm us?

Because you can’t really have both. You can’t be fearful and thankful at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.

Have you ever thought about that before?

And so this week of Thanksgiving, I want to encourage you (and me, too!) to give our hearts and minds to developing a spirit of gratitude. To truly live out Philippians 4 and to be be anxious for nothing, but instead making our requests be known to God with a spirit of thanksgiving. And that is when fear will be frozen out and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds.

 

 

Remembering the Reformation: What’s It Have To Do With Today?

And Resources for Further Study

Reformation

In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I have dedicated about three posts to remembering just what happened during that time. My plan was to delve a little deeper into it and expand–until I recognized a couple of things. First, most of my readers were generally uninterested in reading about the Reformation and so I was doing a ton of research and work for only a few. Which is fine, if not for the second thing I recognized: There are many good people who already did the research and wrote about it. And so, for those of you who are interested, I am going to provide some great places to go to learn more.

But before I do, I want to clarify why I was writing on the Reformation to begin with. My main purpose in writing this series is because the church in 2017 has walked far away from what took place 500 years ago. During the time of the Reformation, Five Solas were developed that took the church back to biblical theology and principles. They were–

Sola Scriptura(Scripture Alone)
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)

(You can read a little more about these Five Solas here.)

In practice, the modern day church has left many of these Solas covered in dust behind them. For example, in its efforts to toss tradition and be modern, the church is uniting with religions that require works for salvation and in its efforts to gratify a congregation that is obsessed with feelings, they are encouraging the people to believe that their personal experiences are the valid and authoritative words of God. And, yet, we can see that if we understand these Five Solas, so much of the confusion in the church today is clarified. It serves us well to reflect on church history as we navigate the current church waters. I found this wonderful article entitled Ten Reasons Why The Reformation is Not Over by Josh Buice over at Delivered by Grace that expounds this thought further. Here are ten reasons why he believes the Reformation isn’t over (and I agree!)–

  1. The Roman Catholic Church has not repented of their perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. Preaching is not, in many evangelical circles, the central mark of the local church.
  3. The present state of the evangelical church is filled with a love for pragmatism and a distaste for robust theology.
  4. The holiness of God is barely referenced much less understood among many evangelical churches.
  5. Worship has become man-centered as opposed to God-centered.
  6. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are often trivialized and minimized.
  7. Church discipline is a missing mark in most evangelical churches in our present day.
  8. Evangelism has been replaced by gimmickry and superficial methods that seek immediate results as opposed to genuine conversion.
  9. Holy living has been replaced by a loose antinomian approach to redeeming the culture.
  10. Church membership has become a shadow of indulgences — one’s ticket to heaven in many evangelical churches.

*pragmatism is doing what works (as opposed to what’s right)
*antinomianism is the belief that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law

(Read the rest of this article here.)

And so we can see that the Reformation will never be over. As long as sinners are at the helm of the church, there will be deception, chicanery, and corruption. While we should never expect a perfect church, we can and should stand and fight for the truth, as it is necessary. The Five Solas can help us understand exactly what is going on and where the church is going wrong. A study of the Reformation is very worth your time and I highly recommend it!

Here are the resources I promised (it is by no means an an exhaustive list, but it will get you started)–

Resources

Luther and the Reformation Series (YouTube series by R.C. Sproul)

Church History Lectures (YouTube series by Ryan Reeves)

The Reformers (Book containing short readable biographies; edited by Chad Stewart)

The Reformation (Book by T.M. Lindsay)

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World (Book by Stephen Nichols)

Reformation Hardware: The Truth Behind Church History’s Greatest Revival (Podcast by Nathan Busenitz)

Celebrating the 500 Years of the Reformation (Video by Nathan Busenitz)

Five Reformation Questions (Video Lecture by Nathan Busenitz)

Misunderstanding the Five Solas (Blog series by Josh Buice)

A List of False Teachings in the Roman Catholic Church (Article at CARM)

The Sufficiency of Scripture (Part 1) (Article by Gary Gilley)

The Sufficiency of Scripture (Part 2) (Article by Gary Gilley)

 

*Please note that I have not read or listened to all of these. Please, as always, be a Berean and compare all you hear and read to the Bible.

 

 

Balanced is Beautiful

Balanced

Have you ever met someone who has a pet topic? Whether it is their kids, their job, a particular sport– they just seem obsessed with this one thing and can hardly keep from talking about it.

We Christians can be like this, too. We should be passionate about Jesus Christ and His Word–that goes without saying, really–but sometimes we can become so passionate about a certain spiritual (and worthy) thing to the point where we are indifferent about all other topics. This can lead us to be very unbalanced as believers.

This is something I have noticed in others and also fight regularly myself. We become passionate about a certain topic (such as discernment, orphans, mission work, the unity of the church, etc…) to the point where we become very one dimensional as believers.

Of course, God uses our different passions to accomplish much for His kingdom. It is not wrong to be passionate about a particular subject. I am thankful for those who are passionate about discernment for they help us to stay on the straight and narrow and spot the falsehood abundant in the church today. I am thankful for those passionate about orphans and missions for they keep us aware of what’s going on and encourage us to make a difference with our prayers, our money, and even our time.

But my caution here is that we don’t become so enamored with one particular topic that we neglect all others completely. We can be wonderfully passionate about finding homes for orphans and still practice discernment. We can practice discernment and still show concern for missions. These things are not mutually exclusive. And yet so often we act like they are.

Of course, the biggest problem facing the church today is probably not even this, is it? As I am thinking about this, I recognize that the thing many people are most fascinated and passionate about is…themselves. I struggle with this, as well. We lose our balance because we are only concerned with our own affairs. We rarely think outside of ourselves and our own needs and when we do, we give ourselves a huge pat on the back and then go on our merry way.

And, yet, the Christian life is clearly to be full of personal growth in obedience and holiness (I Peter 3:10-16), concern for others (Philippians 2:3-4), concern for widows and orphans (James 1:27), separation from the world (James 1:27), a desire to discern truth (Hebrews 5:14), sharing the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20), and unifying together as the body of Christ (Colossians 3:12-15)–to name just a few.

And that’s my point, exactly.

We must give efforts to all of these things. To all of these and to the rest of what scripture teaches. We never want to become spiritually unbalanced, only giving our attention to that which comes easiest or is the most appealing.

Not having the “gift of discernment” doesn’t give us the right to not practice discernment; not being comfortable with evangelizing doesn’t give us the right to not do it; being busy with our families doesn’t give us the right to be unconcerned with widows and orphans.

Being balanced is the key. Not letting ourselves get so caught up with one issue (or with ourselves) that we neglect the whole of scripture. Balanced is truly beautiful and is what we are called to be as believers–paying attention to all that scripture contains and not just our favorite topics and passages. It is in this way that we become well-rounded believers that bring honor to Christ and shine His marvelous light into the dark world.

 

A God-Centered Life

God-Centered

Have you ever stopped to think about what your motivation is for anything you do in life? Why do you take care of your kids? Why do you want to be financially well off? Why do you want to be kind to others?

And the question that begs to be asked is this:

Are we doing it for God or for ourselves?

Are we living a God-centered life or a self-centered life?

I am doing a Bible Study on Colossians right now (click here for this great resource) and I was really challenged by the author’s words in this week’s study. He first shared this about the fall of man that I never thought about before–

“The new creation is the result of Christ’s deliverance from the fall of Adam. In the Garden of Eden, Adam lived before God in a state of righteousness. However, he acted in disobedience, and the result of his sin was disastrous. His entire nature was transformed. He became a self-centered individual instead of God-centered. His sin also affected the entire human race. All men now bear the nature of Adam–sinfully depraved and spiritually separated from God.” p. 67* (italics mine)

I don’t think I ever thought about the fall in this way before.

So if along with our sin nature comes a self-centered life, this means that, after we are saved, we should be transformed from that self-centered, sinful creature into a new creation that is growing more like Christ and become more God-centered every day (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But is this what we are doing? Is this even something that we are being encouraged to do?

And let’s take it a step further: Even if we look like we are becoming more God-centered in our lives, is this actually true?

The author goes on to say–

“So often among Christians, character development takes on a self-centered orientation. We pursue it for our own benefit and self-improvement.” p. 70* (italics mine)

Oh my goodness. If that isn’t convicting, I am not sure what is. Oh, how often have I done this very thing? Claiming my desire is to be more like Christ but really simply desiring to have an easier/better/more fulfilling life.

This becomes very evident when we simply take a look at the Christian bestsellers on the book shelves (or on Amazon) today. There are books about how to have better relationships, better budgets, and better health. Books about how to fix our anxiety issues, our depression, our anger, our addictions. Most of these have one goal: To give us a better life.

But is this what the Christian life is all about? Is it a self-centered quest to have the best life we can have? And even if we say no to this question (because, obviously, we know from scripture that this is not our goal), are we living out what we say we believe?

Personally, I was really challenged by this. Even though I claim high and lofty spiritual goals, when I think of my desires in the light of biblical truth, I can see that they are tarnished with selfishness.

The problem is that, as sinners still stuck with our fleshly desires (I John 1:8), it is so hard to separate these two things. Of course we want to please the Lord. But it is natural to want to please ourselves. We wouldn’t be human if we wouldn’t want better lives. And so we have to sort through this messy dynamic.

And to complicate things further, even the most beautiful thing can be done for the wrong reason. Works of charity may be completed so that we receive personal glory. Supposed grace may just be a cover for our own desire to avoid conflict. Kind words may be a manipulative tool to get someone to do what we want. We want to kick our addiction, live within our means, or organize our homes to make our lives better and, often, glorifying God has nothing to do with it at all.

It’s just all so complicated.

And yet in Colossians 3:17, we can see that our motivation for everything we do–every word spoken and every action completed–should be based on our Lord Jesus–

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul reiterates this–

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

Scripture makes it clear that our life is to be God-centered. And, yet, all around us is a Christianity that is self-centered.

So how do we A) evaluate our motives? and B) change in this area?

These are challenging questions for us, since, as humans, I am not sure we can ever get 100% beyond being tainted by personal motivation. And, thankfully, God–in His great kindness and mercy–actually makes our lives so much better when we follow Him. Isn’t that kind of Him? There isn’t anything innately wrong with wanting a good life, a better marriage, or to kick a sinful habit. These are good things to want and the fact that we receive joy and happiness from these things is exactly what God intended.

The sin enters in when we only do what is right when it conveniences or benefits ourselves. In fact, as I was thinking about this, I realized that this may be the best test for our motivation–

Do I stop doing what is right when I don’t get the results I want?

If I try to be a submissive wife (or a loving husband) but my spouse doesn’t respond the way I want, do I decide that obedience to the Lord just doesn’t work and forget about it?

If I work on a big charity project at church and I watch all of the credit and glory go to someone else who didn’t do near as much work as I did, will it keep me from ever doing it again?

If I have forgiven someone who has offended me but the person keeps offending me–over and over again–do I eventually give up and hold a grudge or do I continue to respond in a biblical manner?

If I have given all of my energy to change a sinful habit in my life and I am not getting the results that I hoped for, do I continue in a path of obedience or do I cave in a fit of hopelessness?

These are just a few examples. We can come up with dozens more we face each day. Are we doing what is right because we want to please our Lord or are we doing what is right for ourselves? What is our motivation?

Living a God-centered life is no easy task. Reading this chapter made me realize just how self-centered I still am. And, honestly, this is one area that you can really only judge yourself. We really can never know the motivations of someone else, as they are locked away deep in our hearts and minds. Sometimes we even have a hard time understanding our own motives, don’t we? Past experiences, choices, abuses, neglects, and sins are powerful contaminators of our motives. These things can heighten our desire to protect ourselves, to look out for number one, and to prove ourselves.

But this is in complete opposition to scripture, where we find that we are to become God-centered in all our decisions (which also means becoming others-centered). (Mark 12:30; Philippians 2:8-9; Colossians 3:12-15).

And, once again, biblical Christianity crashes headlong into cultural Christianity. Biblical Christianity says live for Christ (Philippians 1:21), deny yourself and take up your cross (Matthew 16:24) and do what’s right (John 14:23; James 2:20) and cultural Christianity says “you deserve to be happy” and “God wants you to fulfill your dreams”.

So how in the world do we remove the indoctrination of a culture that is speaking the opposite of what we are to actually be living? There is truly only one anecdote and that is the Bible. The Word is truly like a mirror, revealing our innermost secrets and motivations and giving us the hope for change through the Holy Spirit.

God has not said “fix yourselves” and then left us on our own. Instead, He has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us rightly divide the Word, which will, slowly and surely, transform us more and more into His likeness.

And, yet, so many of us simply spend such little time studying God’s Word. We cannot grow in this area of pure motivation without being in the Word. It is simply impossible.

Life is hard. And evaluating our motivations for purity makes it even harder. Why am I doing what I am doing?  This is a critical question that we must ask ourselves if we are to live a holy and pure life that is centered on God.

* From Seeking Things Above by Steve Pettit

Living in the Last Days (Part 2)

last days

Last time we took a look at I Timothy 3 and it’s timely counsel for us as we live in a culture that is speeding towards the last days. Today we are going to continue by looking at I Timothy 4. As Paul prepares for the end of his ministry, he is, in effect, passing the baton on to Timothy. What he tells Timothy applies to all of us, as well. Let’s take a look–

1.  We are to preach the Word. (v.2)

The mandate is to preach the Word. It is not to feed the poor or to meet felt needs or to help dig wells. While nothing is innately wrong with these things, our main priority must be to preach the Word. If this is lost, all is lost.

2.  We are to preach in season and out of season. (v.2)

MacArthur Study Bible has this to say about in season and out of season: “The faithful preacher must proclaim the Word when it is popular and/or convenient, and when it is not; when it seems suitable to do so, and when it seems not. The dictates of popular culture, tradition, reputations, acceptance, or esteem in the community (or the church) must never alter the true preacher’s commitment to proclaim God’s Word.”

I believe this applies to all of us laypeople, as well. We should be filled with a desire to share the Gospel and point people to the Word, being willing to sacrifice our comfort, convenience, and reputation. A difficult calling, to be sure. But when we remember what Jesus did for us, I am not sure how we can do any less.

3. God’s preacher or teacher is to use the Word to convince, rebuke, and exhort. This is to be done with great patience. (v. 2)

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at[a] His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

4. For the time will come that people will not endure sound doctrine. (v. 3)

Paul says not only will they not endure sound doctrine, but because of their own selfish desires, they will actually turn towards false teachers and fables and turn away from the truth. These two verses are playing out before our very eyes today! All across the world, people are falling prey to the bewitching of false doctrine, because of their own desires. They desire a religion that will provide abundant material blessings, make their dreams come true, heal their physical bodies, and make life easy. And there is no dearth of teachers to feed those itching ears.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

5. Be watchful in all things. (v.5)

Many Christians today would have you believe it is intolerant and unkind to be watchful. And yet, we know that we must be. Satan seeks to devour us! We must be watchful!

6. Endure afflictions.  (v.5)

Afflictions are going to come. We are to endure through all of the normal storms of life, as well as through the persecution that will come (which is promised to all who desire to live a godly life in I Timothy 3:12).

7. Do the work of an evangelist. (v.5)

The word “evangelist” is used only two other times in the NT and it always refers to preaching the gospel to non-Christians. Witnessing should be an integral part of the fabric of our lives.

8. Fulfill your ministry. (v.5)

We are to fulfill whatever ministry God has given us.

But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

9. Like Paul, may we say at the end of our lives that we have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. (v. 7)

If we take a moment and think about our lives, are we actually fighting the good fight? Or running a race? Sometimes we Christians get so caught up in our busy lives that we forget there is a spiritual battle raging around us. We forget that we are running a race and must intentionally work to keep the faith. These things don’t just happen. They must be done intentionally or we fall into a lazy, apathetic place from which it is hard to recover.

10. There is reward coming for those who loved the Lord and have served Him faithfully. (v.8)

Our reward is eternal. A good thing to remember when we feel battered by life’s storms and the world’s persecution.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

11. There is no sin in naming names. (v.10-16)

Some Christians will try to convince you that it is sinful to name the names of false teachers or even those who are straying from the faith, and yet, here, below, we see that Paul does just that. He avoids slander and gossip, but simply states the facts: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” and “Alexander the Coppersmith did me much harm…beware of him”

We can see from Paul’s example that it is not wrong to name names, but that we must do so carefully and without added unnecessary criticisms, personal attacks, and drama.

12. Paul had enemies, and we should expect no less. (v.10-16)

I think it is easy for us to raise Paul on a pedestal and think that he was so beloved that he never faced the heartbreak of betrayal, rejection, or abandonment. And, yet, in just a few short verses, we have a window into Paul’s experiences with others. Just as we all do, he had those who supported his ministry and those who desired to destroy it. He had those who were his friends and those who deserted the faith because of a love for the world. Doesn’t this sound so familiar? His experiences show us that this has been going on all through the ages and encourage us to keep our focus on the Lord, as we continue serving Him in a hostile world.

Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. 12 And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. 15 You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.

13. Our strength comes from the Lord and He will preserve and protect us until He calls us home (v.17-18)

When we think about the enemies we face in both the world and in the spiritual realm, it can be a bit daunting. Are there any more comforting verses to consider than these? Here we know that God will stand with us, strengthen us, deliver us, and preserve us, as we seek to glorify Him and share the Gospel. We are not alone!

But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!

14. God uses many people for His purposes and most of them are not famous.

Paul finishes this epistle with greetings and tidbits about other servants of Christ. Many of these we know nothing about. The early church was made up of thousands of people who daily served the Lord in their villages and homes. May we follow the same example as the men and women listed below–faithful servants that Paul would greet in a letter if he was still on the earth today.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, but Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick.21 Do your utmost to come before winter.Eubulus greets you, as well as Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brethren. Farewell

22 The Lord Jesus Christ[b] be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen

I hope that you have enjoyed these thoughts on 2 Timothy. There was just so much to reflect on as I read those two chapters that I just felt compelled to share it here with you. I hope that this has encouraged and challenged you–not only to ponder on what I wrote but also to dig deep into the Word for yourself.

As we approach these last days, it is our only anchor in this crazy world. I don’t know if Jesus will return today or if it will be another one hundred years. But what I do know is that we are hurling at top speed towards one-world religion, one-world government, and one-world economy. The end is coming. And these two chapters in 2 Timothy help us to know how to live in this unprecedented time.

 

Living in the Last Days (Part 1)

last days

So we might be living in the last days. Or we might not. There is no way to truly know. What I do feel safe in saying is that, if we aren’t experiencing the end times already, we are most certainly moving closer towards them each day. Some day soon I would like to write about how so many aspects of the last times foretold in the Bible are converging. It is really incredible and so confirming of scripture. But today is not that day.

A week or two ago, when we started reading our Bible Challenge passage for the week, chapters 3 & 4 of 2 Timothy, a friend texted me and said it sounds just like Paul was writing about our times right now. I couldn’t agree more! And so as we approach the last days, there is much gold to mine from the treasure of the Word, particularly in these two chapters. It helps us know what to expect and how to respond. There are some nuggets there to show us how to personally face our own last days, as well.

Paul wrote the letter of 2 Timothy as he pondered the nearness of his own death. He knew he wouldn’t be around much longer and so he wrote encouraging and challenging words for Timothy that were inspired by the Holy Spirit. If you haven’t read these chapters recently, I would encourage you to go do so now or after this post. They are pretty incredible.

I’d like to share some of what I have learned from chapter three of 2 Timothy today and then finish up with chapter four on Thursday. Please keep in mind that these are simply observations. I am no Bible scholar but I do believe that I am proof that you do not have to be a Bible scholar to read, study, learn about and benefit from the Bible. So here we go–

1. The last days will be perilous. (v.1)

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:

Perilous: full of danger and risk.

i.e. Not fun. Not full of chasing our dreams. Not wealth, health, and happiness. But danger. And risk.

2. Paul describes men and women in the last days and it reminds us so much of right now. (v. 2-5)

For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 

This sounds pretty familiar. But, of course, things could get a lot worse.

3. People will call themselves godly but they won’t really be godly. (v.5)

4. In contrast to the popular message of our day, Paul tells us that we are not to unify with people like this. (v.5)

having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

5. Women are and always will be especially gullible to false teaching. (v.6)

For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts,

Okay, I know women do not want to hear this, but, in many ways, we do tend to be more sensitive to spiritual things and this often puts us at a greater risk to be deceived. We must be so very careful. By the way, this is not a criticism of women. God purposefully designed us this way.

6. Many people learn about God, but they never study His Word with a submissive and obedient heart and this keeps them from the knowledge of the truth. (v.7)

always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

7. Time and truth walk hand-in-hand (v.8-9)

Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.

Eventually false teachers are found out. They can pretend to be biblical teachers for awhile, but time eventually sells them out. Paul uses the example of Jannes and Jambres resisting Moses to make his point. We can see this same dynamic with the likes of guys like Rob Bell and William Paul Young. They pretended to be Christians, but eventually time showed everyone that they were preaching a very different Gospel.

8. Paul’s lifestyle was in direct contrast to a worldly lifestyle. He praised Timothy for following his example. We, too, should follow his example. (v. 10-11)

9. Paul endured much persecution but also experienced the Lord’s deliverance in mighty ways! We serve a mighty God who can do mighty things! (v. 11)

But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me.

10. If we desire to live a godly life we will suffer persecution. (v. 12)

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

Not “might”; not “if”; not “could”, but WILL. We WILL suffer persecution. We may as well just expect it. In fact, if we know it’s coming, it should help us prepare to accept it with a spirit of grace, love, and forgiveness.

11. Evil men and imposters of the faith are going to get so much worse. The deception is not going to improve. (v. 13)

But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Again–we see this so clearly in these days, don’t we? False doctrine abounds more than ever before. The authority of God’s Word has been cast aside for the sake of experiences, false unity, and social justice. It is so incredibly tragic but it’s going to keep getting worse until the appearing of our Savior. Again, we need to expect it.

12. Our only source for truth is the Holy Scriptures. We must continue to study the Bible and hide it in our heart, for this is what will keep us strong in these last days!

But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

13. Scripture is all we need to know God and to live a holy life that is pleasing to Him.

 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Through the years, Satan has tried to eradicate, hide, bury, twist, destroy, mangle, convolute, minimize, and change the Word of God. He gets how powerful it is. He understands that the power for the Christian life is there. He knows that it is God’s very Word to the human race.

Unfortunately, humans–even many believers–don’t get this. They don’t understand that the Holy Scriptures are the only way to know God. They are what make us complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work. They are an amazing treasure!

 

There is much to learn in all of scripture, but I believe that 2 Timothy 3 & 4 is especially encouraging, challenging, and convicting for this time on earth. It is from this passage that we understand the world isn’t going to get better. We can see that it isn’t our job to bring God’s Kingdom to earth (a very popular message these days) but that we are to hold on to scripture tightly, while we preach the Word (ch. 4 will talk about that) in the midst of such dreadful wickedness and apostasy. We learn that we are to expect persecution– not material health, wealth, and fulfilled dreams.

These two chapters offer encouragement and challenges for us in this age–whether Jesus returns tomorrow or one hundred years from now. Keep looking up!