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.

What My Gingerbread House Taught Me About Social Media

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Our culture has an obsession with pictures. In fact, most of the younger generation has abandoned Facebook for more photo-based apps like Instagram and Snapchat.  There is no denying that we live in a world that is dominated by photos.

Photos demanding we look better.

Photos demanding we have more stuff.

Photos telling us our homes aren’t enough. Our parenting skills are lacking. Our creativity is wanting.

Photos crying out that we just aren’t enough.

This has led to a culture of perpetual dissatisfaction and restlessness. If we aren’t careful, even those of us who are older can get caught up in this. We see warm family photos on Facebook and we think to ourselves–I wish I had that. We see teens winning awards, homes that should be in a magazine, and the creative projects of our talented friends and we think–if only…

But photos don’t show the whole story. They never show the whole story.

Which I learned in a big way the other night.

One of our daughters planned a family gingerbread house contest. Building gingerbread houses has been part of our Christmas family traditions for years now but this is the first time we had a contest. We took photos of the houses and put them on Facebook and let Facebook viewers choose the winner.

My husband and I were a team and I was excited because he is a master gingerbread house builder! As you may already know, he is a landscape designer so he has a great eye for design. Unfortunately for me, he had also had very little sleep the night before and had been out for a snow/ice event the whole day. The timing was not going to be helping us to clinch a win!

We started out pretty well. He was manning the icing bag and I was holding the graham crackers in place. It was going pretty well until we got to the roof. Just as we carefully placed the last cracker in its designated spot, the whole thing caved in. It was around that time that our grandson started to fuss in his high chair, so I decided to take on baby duty, confidently leaving the building of the house in the hands of my very capable husband.

A few minutes later, I came back to find my husband decorating half of a house!

I found out that he had tried twice more and the house just kept collapsing. Now on a different day– with a little more sleep and without a cute baby grandson begging his attention nearby–my husband would have kept trying. But on this night, he gave up. I handed the baby to him (which is exactly what he wanted!) and told him I’d finish decorating.

Then it was time to take the photos for Facebook. We moved our house to just the right angle and ended up with this–

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What the carefully taken photo didn’t show was this–

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So, we had an adequate house for our contest photo (can’t say it is our best work, by any means) but what no one could see was that it was completely unfinished in the back!

Oh, how this is the same for so much of what we see in our photo-driven world. How much we don’t see!

The model’s desperate battle with anorexia.

The movie star’s drug addiction.

The neighbor-down-the-street’s marriage issues.

The rebellious son’s antics of our picture-perfect church friend.

Social Media is a wonderful tool. It keeps us in touch with each other and we are able to cry and laugh and rejoice with one another. But sometimes the photos we see creep into our soul and give us a deep longing for something more. We start believing that God hasn’t give us enough and there is this illusive “perfect” life waiting for us out there somewhere.

Don’t be fooled! Not only is this untrue, believing this lie can potentially ruin marriages, families, and churches.

Scripture shows us that God is intentionally designing and directing our lives (Proverbs 16:9; Psalm 139:16), and it also shows us that it is God’s will that we be content with the life He has given us (Hebrews 13:5; I Timothy 6:6).

This can be a challenge for us in a world that is a swirling, writhing mass of discontentment.

If this is something you struggle with (like I do!), may I recommend the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. It is an old book so it isn’t easy to read, but it is full of profound wisdom in this area of contentment.

I hope that our gingerbread house incident hasn’t only reminded me of the inadequacy of a photo but that it has also reminded you. I hope that we are all encouraged to consider this area of contentment in our lives as we view the world around us–particularly social media. Choosing contentment when everyone else around us is in a constant state of complaining dissatisfaction is truly one way we can really stand out as believers in Jesus Christ.

Does God Only Care About My Heart?

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I remember having a conversation many years ago with someone about what to *wear to church. The verse used to support their argument for dressing down was I Samuel 16:7–

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Since that time I have also heard that verse used many times to support licentiousness (which–simply stated– means the freedom to continue living in sin after salvation). The argument is that God only cares about my heart and He doesn’t care about my behavior. And it has had far-reaching effects on families and churches, as it condones living in sin while still having assurance of salvation.

But is this what that verse is saying? Does God only care about our hearts? If you are a regular reader, you probably already know the answer to this, but let’s go to scripture and unpack this a bit. I think it’s kind of interesting.

First, let’s talk about what’s going on behind I Samuel 16:7. Samuel has been told by God to anoint Israel’s new king. Things have gone badly with the people’s choice (Saul) and now God is going to choose the king. Samuel travels to the home of Jesse as directed and quickly spots his tallest, strongest son: Eliab.

Surely this is whom God has chosen for Israel! Or in Samuel’s words: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

This is when God says to Samuel that He looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. By the way, aren’t you so glad God doesn’t care anything about how we look? He has made us all so different. Some are short, some are tall. Some have large feet or big noses and some do not. We have a variety of shades and colors for our skin, eyes, and hair. And this is all good! We are told in Psalm 139:13-14 that God made us fearfully and wonderfully, which means our physical features are not only good but are actually  just the way He designed us!

So this is what God is talking about in I Samuel 16:7. He will often choose the weakest or the youngest or the most unlikely candidate to use for His glory.

So why do people so often use this verse to defend their sin or their own personal agenda?

It is the age-old temptation to twist a verse in the Bible to make it mean what you want it to mean. And I’d like to prove from the Bible why this verse could never mean that God doesn’t care about our outward behavior. There are an abundance of New Testament verses that will show that God most certainly does care about how we behave. Here are two of the most compelling–

Romans 6:1-2What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

James 2:17-19Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

We can see very clearly from these verses that I Samuel 16:7 does not give us any right to continue in our sin at all.

BUT–you may say–I thought I don’t have to do anything to be saved. Isn’t what you are describing legalism?

No! A thousand times No! This is the lie in which Satan has so many ensnared.

Let me clarify–Legalism is believing that you have to do something to be saved. That you have to do x, y, and z in order to go to heaven. And if you don’t do x, y, and z, you can’t be saved. The Bible shows us that this is false! In fact, this is the easiest way to tell if a religion is true or false–does it require works or is it simply based on faith?

But this does not let us off the hook to continue in sin, as we read in Romans 6. We have been saved from sin to go and sin no longer! We have not been saved from sin to continue in its destructive path. True faith in Christ yields a transformed life. It isn’t a based on some legalistic set of rules but on a deep and abiding love and desire to please our Savior.

O, how tragic that so many are deceived. How many Christians are living weak, powerless lives because they are living in sin–believing that God only cares about their heart.

If we think about this further, we can see that someone can have a clean outward appearance and be filthy inside–like the Pharisees. But it is impossible to be humble, holy, and pure on the inside and not have that shine forth on the outside. True believers are yielded to God and He is the one who works in them for His will and good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). This shines forth as fruit in a saved life (Matthew 7:20).

Of course, we can understand how appealing it is to think that we can be saved but still continue in our sin. This would mean that no sacrifice or self-denial or hard work would be required. Who doesn’t like the idea of that? A free ride to heaven with no sacrifice here on earth. But, of course, again, there are a myriad of scripture verses to dispute this, as well. My favorite is Luke 9:23-24. This passage makes it very clear what we should expect when we choose to follow Christ–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

The Christian life is hard work. It is a life of sacrifice and denial. If we are saved we have an overall desire to stop sinning and to please the Lord. While we still battle our flesh every day–even every hour–we have the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and help us to overcome it. We experience victory over sin and develop a hatred for evil and a love for righteousness, growing slightly more like our Savior with each passing year. The Christian life leads to victory over sin not to a broken, sin-ridden life!

I don’t know why God placed this on my heart this morning, but I hope that it may help at least one of you who is struggling with this–or perhaps even help some of you use the Word of God to help someone else caught up in this lie.

Let’s never be satisfied with status quo and may we continue to grow in our faith for our entire lives!

*Of course, conversations about what to wear to church are completely irrelevant now but that was at the time when everyone still dressed up to go to church and there was this movement–that was quite successful, I might add–for churches to dress down so as to appeal to the lost. If you would like to know my thoughts on how to dress for church you can find them here. But one thing I didn’t see when I was writing that post was the reason behind this push to dress down and how unbiblical it is. The argument was that we needed to make the lost feel comfortable at church and our suits and dresses just didn’t do that. But here is the problem: Church is for the saved. And the saved are to seek the lost. But everyone wants a shortcut now and they just want to bring their lost friends to church instead of having tough conversations about sin and hell and eternity. It is my opinion that this philosophy has deprived Christ’s bride of boldness and has really curtailed their knowledge of scripture, as churches dumb down their teachings for goats instead of feeding the sheep.

Why Are You So Offended?

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The other day I was shopping for groceries right around lunchtime. Spotting the beautiful salad bar in the store, I decided to buy a salad for lunch. Choosing one of the containers that has three different sections, I filled it up and then carefully set it in my cart. There it lay, with salad ingredients in one half and some beautiful fruit in the corner. Perfectly separated.

I managed to get it to the check out counter without mixing the items all together and there I lifted it out of the cart, holding it in such a way that the salad would not get mixed with the fruit, and rested it behind the rest of my items on the conveyor belt.

But all that care ended up being in naught as I watched the store clerk lift up the salad and recklessly turn it to and fro looking for a bar to scan. Finally, she sighed and asked the clerk beside her how to check out a salad.

Upon receiving the necessary information, she checked out my now thoroughly mixed salad and put it in a bag.

Now, in my earlier life I may have grown a bit frustrated over this all. Yes, it’s just a salad but she had undone everything I had so carefully tried to avoid in just a few seconds. Literally. She had carelessly lifted it up and mixed it all together, with no thought given to how I might feel about that.

But here’s the thing– she had no idea whatsoever that she was frustrating me. None at all. Her only thought was that here was something she didn’t know how to check out and she knew she had to figure out how to check it out and she had to do that quickly.

So often we get so offended with people who have no idea they are even offending us. They are just living their life from their perspective without a care for anybody else’s and their agenda collides with ours. In this case, my agenda was to keep the container flat so that my food wouldn’t get all mixed together. The clerk’s agenda was to find a price for that salad. When these agendas clashed, I knew a moment of irritation.

So why in the world am I talking about something so unimportant? Because– let’s face it– a salad that gets all mixed together is about the most minuscule thing in life you can imagine.  I share this because I think there is a much deeper lesson to be learned.

Well, two lessons, actually.

First, we get offended about the wrong things. I mean who cares about a salad? Or the car that cut in front of us on the highway? Why do we care so much about the co-worker who got the credit we deserved or when our spouse shares something that they would like us to change? We care because we care so very much about ourselves.

In contrast, think about the last time you got offended when you heard God’s name taken in vain or heard someone take a Bible passage out of context or make some heretical statement. Did this offend you? Did it fill you with the same irritation that it would have if they had taken your words out of context or used your name as a swear word?

My guess is no. And this is a great test about who we love most, isn’t it? Just when I think I am making some headway, God will show me that I still love me most. It’s a discouraging, disheartening thought. Until I remember how far I’ve come. I am still struggling, but I love God now in a much deeper and fuller way than I even dreamed possible when I was a teenager. Filling my mind with His Word is how this came about. There is no shortcut full of special experiences and feelings (but that’s a really, really long bunny trail and a post for another day).

So are we getting offended about the right things? This is a question we must ask ourselves.

The second lesson to be learned from the salad incident is that, whether we are personally offended or offended for the sake of God and His Word, how we react says a lot about us. Do we grow angry and defensive? Do we speak unkind words or give someone the silent treatment? This says we love ourselves so much more than we love God.

But if we overlook small, inconsequential offenses we show a desire to be like Christ. If we address worthwhile offenses with love and kindness, using God’s Word as our guide, we show that our love for that person is far greater than our desire to “be right”. If we practice patience and joy when someone is frustrating us, we show that we have eternal perspective.

Now let’s think about this practically for a moment. What would these reactions show to a world overflowing with self-absorbed, easily-offended people? It would be a welcome and wonderful change for store and hotel clerks, for co-workers, and for churches, too. It may even give us an opportunity to talk about the Gospel. At the very least, it will be evidence of the light of Christ that is within us.

We are never going to change anybody else. But we can change ourselves. We can choose to overlook a slight offense. We can show love and grace when confrontation is necessary. And we can choose to challenge people on the stuff that really matters–the things that offend our loving, heavenly Father. And, in doing these things, we are shining witnesses for Jesus Christ and also help to make the world a gentler, kinder place.

It begins with us.

 

 

A Battle You Can’t Afford to Lose

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People can be placed into so many different categories. Are you Type A or Laid Back? Are you Extroverted or Introverted? Are you a Half Full or Half Empty type of person?

Are you Proud or are you Humble?

The other day I was doing a Bible Study on the Repentant Woman in Luke 7:36-50. It’s so interesting to me how I can read a chapter many times and yet not quite get its meaning until I really take the time to study it. I always thought this passage was about the repentance of the woman, who, weeping, washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. And so it is. Sort of.

But what I realized as I studied is that it is just as much about the proud Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner. The two people –the Pharisee and the Woman are about as opposite as they can be. One is proud and one is humble. And since we cannot be reconciled to God or saved from our sin without repentance, and since there can be no repentance without humility, we know that only one of them will find peace with Jesus (unless, of course, that Pharisee changed after this passage. It is never too late!)

I have often wondered how people can say things like “I read my Bible every day” or they declare to know God in a most intimate way through personal experiences and yet they remain so far from true, biblical faith. How can this be? I see people who go to solid churches every Sunday and yet their lives show no power or obedience or submission to God. How can this be? I see people who follow the rules. They don’t drink, watch bad movies, dance, play cards, or swear and yet they are miserable, joyless creatures. How can this be?

These are all because of pride.

Since God created Adam and Eve, pride has been a fierce enemy of mankind. It has propelled millions upon millions to seek salvation through their own works and merit. It has kept millions upon millions in rebellion against God.

But for those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, pride becomes the enemy that demands a fierce battle almost every day of our lives. It requires our constant attention, as it will seep into our hearts and minds relentlessly.

Our definition of pride, along with so many other definitions, has become severely damaged in this postmodern age. One would tell you that it is prideful to declare anything as true without wavering. That to be dogmatic about your beliefs is nothing but pride. And, yet, when we read the Bible we see there that truth was always spoken with conviction–from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament apostles to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so we know that speaking the truth (in love!) that we find in God’s Word without apology is not prideful. Once again, how thankful I am for the Word of God–our only anchor. Praise be to God for His Word!

But we Christians often struggle with this sin of pride. So where do we get derailed? I believe that, first and foremost, it comes from a heart of rebellion that leads to this sin of pride. We don’t want to bow our will to the Father’s but, instead, want to do things our way. We don’t want to obey the Word of God, so instead will pick and choose and take out of context what is there to manipulate it to our viewpoints.

Until we can submit to God and obey His Whole Word, we will have a lifetime struggle with this sin of pride. When we think we know best, this is when we fall (Proverbs 16:18). But when we recognize our weakness, this is when we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:11).

I know you are thinking of someone you know right now. You are thinking “I wish so-and-so would read this post”. But stop for just a moment and examine your own heart. Where in your life has pride raised its ugly head? Ask God to show you. I will be doing the same thing.

An honest, humble examination of our hearts is the only way to be on the winning side of our battle with pride. And if we aren’t winning the pride battle and approaching all of life with a deep, abiding humility, there is grave danger that we will not interpret the scriptures correctly, that we will destroy relationships, and that we will be rendered useless for God’s eternal kingdom. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose!

I leave you today with these wise words from Jonathan Edwards–

Remember that pride is the worst viper in the heart–and the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ. Pride was the first sin that ever was. Pride is the most difficult sin to root out. It is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts. It often insensibly creeps into the midst of religion, and sometimes under the disguise of humility!

 

 

A Look at the Modern Day Church

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Most Americans are obsessed with comfort and convenience. We may as well admit it. We do not like to do anything that takes us out of our “comfort zone”. We spend millions of dollars each year on making sure we are comfortable in our homes, our work places, and, yes, even our churches.

I have been mulling this over in my brain for a few weeks now–this obsession with comfort in the church and how we have gotten a little mixed up. Yesterday at church my pastor talked a bit about it, too, explaining how feeling welcome is not the same thing as feeling comfortable. Oh, how true!

Since when should unbelievers feel comfortable in church? Who decided that? Since the inception of the church, unbelievers felt uncomfortable. Oh, many times they felt loved and welcomed– but they certainly did not feel comfortable.

How come?

Because they were in a place where their sin was exposed. Where they came face to face with the fact that they need a Savior. It was the pastor’s job to encourage his congregation towards holiness and purity of life and this was in direct contrast to the self-centered lifestyle of the unregenerated sinner. This, naturally, created a bit of discomfort.

I heard John MacArthur say this in a recent Q&A: “If an unbeliever isn’t uncomfortable in church, it’s not a church.”

That’s something to consider, isn’t it? And I believe it is absolutely true. When we study the church in scripture we can see that it is always referring to a body of believers. Together, they strive to serve Christ and to grow in holiness (read this if you want to know what the Bible says specifically about church).

This was the definition of church for thousands of years.

Until one day some guy decided that it’s the church’s job to witness to unbelievers during the worship service. Oh, it doesn’t matter that we do not find this purpose for the church anywhere at all in scripture. His theory caught wind and it took off, forever changing what we know as church.

I have a passion for the lost and many other Christians I know do, as well. But we believers should be getting fed in our churches so that we can reach them as we live our everyday lives. We shouldn’t be bringing them to church to get saved. That’s not our pastor’s job–it’s the job of every believer (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

As this movement took hold and has infiltrated almost every congregation to some extent, it has literally changed the face of Christianity.

No longer are true believers getting fed meat, but they are forced to squeak out a meager existance on milk in their church homes so that no sermon makes anyone feel uncomfortable. This leads to Christians who are not growing in their faith.

No longer are true believers feeling a passion for the lost because we rely on our churches to do that messy, unpleasant work.

No longer are true believers focused on serving and pleasing God, but on fulfilling personal dreams and desires as they search for happiness. (Well, these people may not even be true believers, as this is the antithesis of saving faith. But I am not the judge. People do get caught up in lies.)

But, probably, most tragic of all, is the fact that millions of unbelievers are sitting in churches across this nation on any given Sunday and are never being taught the truth! They are sinners in need of a Savior. This need isn’t focused on making their dreams come true or making them rich or in making them happy. The true Gospel has taken a backseat to a self-centered, false gospel–a necessity if preaching to the unregenerate. For they wouldn’t stay for anything else.

Oh, I know there are many churches that sit somewhere in between these two. Fence-sitting–just like many believers– trying to make both styles work somehow.

But what are the fruits of this?

It is my belief that this movement is full of bad fruit. We now have a “church” that thinks it is wrong to judge sin. We have a “church” obsessed with personal fulfillment. We have a “church” full of the unregenerate–people who, tragically, never even hear the true Gospel in a service. And we have a “church” captivated by the world and its methods.

So what can we do?

If we are in a good church already, first and foremost, be thankful! There aren’t many of us and we are truly blessed. And then let’s make sure that any unbeliever that comes to visit  feels welcome. An unbeliever can walk into a church full of people who are dressed up and singing hymns and feel loved. They might not feel comfortable, but they can feel loved. Why we have equated feeling comfortable to feeling welcome is beyond me. They aren’t even the same thing.

If we are in a church that is fence-sitting, perhaps it is time to take your concerns to leadership. Ask them to give a scriptural reason for their latest shift or change. Find out if leadership is more interested in pleasing God or pleasing man. Yes, this takes courage. But, if done in love and with respect, it can be a wonderful thing. But, beware, this can also grow really ugly really fast if leadership is full of pride. It is definitely a risk, but one worth taking if we care about God’s true church.

If we are in a church that has sold out to the world, then it’s time to get out. I heard recently –from two different people– of young persons living in sin who just love the worldly mega-church they attend. What is wrong with this picture? If your church is allowing their members and attenders to live in sin, it is time to leave. If your church is infusing the worship service with the things of this world to attract unbelievers, it is time to leave. This is not church. This is entertainment.

So perhaps it isn’t so bad if we feel uncomfortable in our churches. In fact, it’s a good thing. Feeling uncomfortable often leads to spiritual growth. If we are humbly and eagerly sitting under a pastor that is challenging and encouraging us from the Word of God, we can’t help but be changed. We can’t help but to grow. It is how it is meant to be.

I truly believe that the church has been infiltrated by the enemy and it is time to kick him out!

 

The One Thing Needful

Seven Ways to Grow in the Busy Seasons of Life

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In preparing a Bible Study on Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) recently, I was convicted once again how important it is to do the “one thing needful”: Hear the words of the Lord. Today we do this by filling our hearts and minds with God’s Word.

As I studied, I was reminded just how difficult it was for me to have my quiet time when I was a young mom. Life is really hectic then and it seems like as soon as you sit down to spend some time with the Lord, the baby starts crying or the children start fighting. With the unpredictability of days with kids and the overwhelming amount of cleaning, cooking, and laundry, it felt almost impossible for awhile.

Or you may be a caretaker for an elderly parent or be raising your grandchildren and feel exhausted all the time. Work may be demanding and you see no way to change your schedule right now. Whatever you situation, circumstances may be crowding out the hours you used to spend with the Lord.

Life will change and before you know it, you will have the time you so desire now, but until then, I thought you might appreciate a few ideas. In the list below, you will find some creative ways to make time for the Lord in the busy seasons of life. Some of the ideas are ones I have used and others are things that could have helped me if I had thought of them. I hope that they may help some of you incorporate worship and spiritual growth into your life, whatever stage you find yourself in!

1. Commit to reading just one chapter from the Bible each day and writing a summary sentence of the chapter in a notebook.

2. Listen to sermons of godly, trustworthy men. Some examples: John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Justin Peters, Donald Grey Barnhouse, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Adrian Rogers, J. Vernon McGee, James Boice, Steve Lawson. Search for these men in these apps and websites: iCatcher, OnePlace, SermonAudio

3. Commit to replacing some of your recreational reading or TV and Internet time with Christian classics, missionary biographies, and other books that will grow you as a Christian. Use discernment because the wrong book can change your theology! Some books to get you started: Loving God with All Your Mind by Elizabeth George; The Attributes of God by A.W. Pink; Soul Heights and Soul Depths by Octavius Winslow; Discipline: The Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot; George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer; Gladys Aylward by Sam Wellman

4. Use the snippets of time in your life. Time spent in the car, in the shower, waiting in the doctor’s office or at soccer practices, and doing household chores can be used to memorize verses, listen to sermons, or pray.

5. Instead of automatically turning on that country or pop station, play Christian music. In fact, consider finding a CD or creating a playlist of hymns. You will be surprised at how these will   bless your heart if you pay attention to the lyrics. Consider teaching these to your children.

6. Hold a Bible Study in your home or at your workplace for one or two other women during nap time or break time. This will function as an accountability for you because you will have to dig into the Word and be prepared! God will use this in your life and in the life of others if you are committed to teaching the literal Word of God, use biblical resources, and are humble enough to admit that you don’t have all the answers.

7. Memorize Bible verses and passages, using bits and pieces of time that would be otherwise wasted by scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or whatever is your choice of wasting time. You can even do this with your kids, teaching them to hide God’s Word in their heart at the same time you are hiding it in yours!

Do you have other ideas? I would love to hear how you have incorporated worship and devotional times into your busy seasons of life.

 

The Curious Thing About Chick-Fil-A

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Have you been to a Chick-Fil-A restaurant anytime recently? We don’t frequent fast food restaurants on a regular basis but if we choose to go to one, this is the one we choose.

Why?

It goes far beyond their delicious chicken sandwiches, waffle fries, and fresh-brewed iced tea (and no I am not getting paid to advertise for them!) The reason people love Chick-Fil-A is about the experience you have when you are there.

Respectful young people stand up straight and look you in the eye. They look clean cut and they act like they care about your experience there. They say things like “Can I help you?” and “My pleasure”.

While not all Chick-Fil-A restaurants offer a wonderful experience and certainly not all employees are Christians, we have had mostly positive experiences in any we have visited.

Why is Chick-Fil-A so different than other restaurants? Could it be because it is run with Christian principles and biblical morality?

The Bible teaches us about sin and God’s wrath and God’s justice. But it also teaches us about things like kindness, unselfishness, thinking of others before yourself, loving others, being honest, having personal integrity, caring about others, having compassion, and being joyful.

People that exhibit these behaviors are pleasant to be around, aren’t they? And restaurants who train their employees to behave in such a way make for a much more enjoyable experience.

As the code of morality changes in this culture, places like Chick-Fil-A stand out like a beacon of light. And what I find most interesting is that the world loves Chick-Fil-A as much as we Christians! All of us, no matter what our religious preference, enjoy being around kind, respectful people.

I can’t help but think of a stark contrast I experienced the other day. As I was out and about, I heard an acquaintance (who didn’t know I was nearby and also one who would never, ever read this blog–so no worries for any of you who know me!) speak very unkindly to an employee. As the employee referred this person to another employee, they sarcastically said under their breath, “Have fun with this one.”  What I know (that these two employees didn’t know) is that this person claims to be a Christian. My heart sank at this bad testimony.

And this begs each of us to answer this very personal question: Am I more like a Chick-Fil-A or am I more like this acquaintance with the bad testimony?

We Christians are to share God’s light with a very dark world. We are to preach the Truth in a sea of relativism. And we are to courageously defend God’s Word among those who are more interested in pleasing man than in pleasing God. And we are to do these things with a gracious and kind spirit.

Chick-Fil-A trains its employees to be kind to all who enter their restaurant. Just as customers will enter Chick-Fil-A who are unpleasant and selfish, so we, too, will face those who want nothing to do with Jesus. But should that change us and our message? Should we back down, shout back, or get angry?

Of course not.

We need to continue to be pleasant and kind, while preaching the truth of God’s Word, no matter what the response is. The world may hate us. They may strive to shut us up. They may exert great pressure on us to stop our message, trying to obliterate the true Gospel, as written in scripture.

But may they never say that we were unkind and unloving.

May they never accuse us of being self-absorbed.

May they never call us arrogant.

May they never say we were rude or called them names or attacked them with our words.

Because there is never, ever an excuse for these things.

This reminds me of Proverbs 15:1–

A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.

Let’s stand for the truth, but let’s do so in a humble and gracious way, striving to do so with kindness and love, avoiding harsh and angry words. For this is the best way to make a real difference for the cause of Jesus Christ. May we shine like a beacon of light in a world that has forgotten its manners.

 

 

The Question of Authority

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I remember the moment vividly. I had made an off-handed comment about something unbiblical I had noticed about a very popular pastor. Suddenly, the atmosphere around me grew icy cold. Unbeknownst to me, those I were with highly esteemed this pastor and I had offended them greatly.

The temptation for all of us, of course, is to follow a person. We can see them, hear them, and touch them. And so when someone who appears to be following Jesus comes along, we are very tempted to latch on and follow them religiously.

I believe God knows this tendency of human beings, as Paul encourages his readers to follow his example as he follows Christ (I Corinthians 11:1). In Philippians 3:17 we read more about this, where Paul says to his readers–

 Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.

It is interesting to note that earlier in that chapter, Paul makes it very clear that he has not arrived or is in any way a sinless man–

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

And so we know that Paul is humble and presenting himself as an imperfect servant of Christ who desires to set an example for Christians who are following him. (By the way, humility is probably one of the greatest things to look for in anyone we choose to follow!)

This all works great when the person is like Paul (and like so many other faithful servants to the Word of God that we know and love). However, we run into serious problems when the person we follow starts drawing us away from the Word and towards worldly philosophies and false doctrines.

As I sit here writing, I can think of several very popular pastors, authors, and teachers who are–even at this very moment–drawing sincere followers of Christ into false teaching. How does this happen?

I believe it is because we honor the word of man more than we honor the Word of God. I believe it is because we trust a fallible human being more than we trust the Word of God.

When we do this, we give the person we are following great power to wield deception and confusion in our spiritual lives, while we remain blissfully and ignorantly unaware that we have left the straight and narrow path and have joined the throng on the wide road.

Thankfully, if we are child of God’s that is sincerely searching for truth, God will open our eyes to the false teachings of the one we are following. But this can only happen if we know the Word of God and hold it as the authority of our lives, rather than handing that authority over to a fallible man.

This holds true for any man or woman you follow. This holds true for anything you listen to and anything you read–including this blog. One of my gravest concerns is that I lead no one astray from the truths of scripture. My opinions are irrelevant. I desire only to help you understand the Word of God and to draw you there as your authority. I hope that I am setting a godly example, however, since I am a fallible and sinful person, I will not do this perfectly. The same holds true for any person we follow. It is best we always keep this in mind and not idolize any human being.

It is important to remember that some of the people we follow are just off completely and we should stop following them. Others are leading people away from the Gospel as portrayed in scripture subtly and quickly and it is best to stop following them, as well. But, in many instances, the preachers or teachers we follow are off on just one or two trivial points, perhaps being deceived themselves, while being so on target in many other areas. Do we continue to follow them?

I think we can –but only if they are not key doctrinal issues and only if we know the Word and trust the Word over the man.

God has given us an innate desire to follow and believe in someone. We so often turn that passion towards fallible human beings rather than to the one and true God, as revealed to us in scripture. I encourage you today to let no man take the place that only God should hold. And how do we know God? He has given us His Word. This is the only one and true way to know God. Don’t be fooled!

Get in the Word. Study it. Learn it. So that if someone you follow starts leaving the straight and narrow path, you know it!

 

If I Eat, Let Me Eat What is Good

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The last time you were at the grocery store, I imagine you saw the words “organic” and “natural” more often than not. Recently, people have become very passionate about having food that is free from pesticides and poisons. Food that is in its purest form and hasn’t been processed or changed.

Somewhere around the middle of last century, food changed. As we turned from an agricultural-based society where we all grew our own vegetables and baked our own bread to a more industrial society, we became a society eating things like wonder bread and boxed mac and cheese. As shelves at the stores filled with processed, genetically modified, and prepackaged foods we became unhealthier as a nation. As we filled ourselves at fast food chains, we grew fatter and wider.

However, in the recent years there has been a real push to stop feeding people food like this. Some of the biggest industries have been taken on and challenged to change things. Big name restaurants and corporations are doing their best to offer healthier options, while still making a hefty profit. The two don’t generally go hand in hand, so I am sure this has been a bit of a struggle for them.

When my kids were little and I was homeschooling, I remember that we could all eat lunch at McDonald’s for $6. This would be a treat for an especially trying day or on the way home from a field trip. Now many of us won’t touch McDonald’s. If we do, it is with a huge sense of guilt and we don’t do it often. When we go to the store, many of us examine ingredient lists closely as we look for the healthiest options possible. And we try to feed our kids the most organic, pure versions of food available. Even baby food has become suspect and many moms make their own at home. It is amazing how the world has changed in just 15 short years in regards to this. For me, personally, I have become much more conscientious about the food I feed to myself and my family. We have always gardened and we never ate a lot of processed foods, but we eat even less now and, except for an occasional trip to Chick-Fil-A, we rarely go to fast food restaurants anymore.

So why am I talking about food on a blog about spiritual growth?

Because I believe that our passion to feed our bodies and our children pure food should be matched–or even surpassed–by a passion to feed our minds and our children’s minds pure spiritual food.

We are all worked up about making sure we don’t poison and contaminate our bodies–something that is temporal and is going to end up old and shriveled eventually, no matter what we eat. And yet so many of us don’t worry even a second about what we are feeding our souls. We don’t give any thought to if we are poisoning and contaminating our minds.

And, wow, let me tell you–there is so much available that will contaminate and poison our minds and to move us far from a biblical viewpoint. It is unbelievable how unraveled Christianity has become as we have moved far from the Word of God and have turned instead to mysticism and psychology.

I receive an email each day with “Christian” books that are on sale for Kindle at Amazon. I normally will glance through it, looking for classics and authors I trust. I would say that on any given day about 10% of the books in that email are written by authors I trust. Another 40% look like they could be okay, judging by the title, forward, or author’s name but I couldn’t recommend them without reading them first. But at least 50% are pure rubbish. Books that have nothing to do with scripture and everything to do with twisting and mangling the Gospel and biblical truth. In fact, the telltale sign for most of them are their titles. You can also tell a lot by who writes the forward or recommends the book.

Books and music are very powerful. Just like food changes the composition of your body, so, too does Christian literature and music change your composition spiritually. We need to do all we can to keep our minds pure from poisons.

You may be thinking that you don’t know how to discern. If that’s the case, please read this post, where I give five steps to help you get started in this area of discernment.

Of course, being dedicated to purity in Christian resources is not met with such accolades as being dedicated to purity in our food sources. While people understand why we want to feed our bodies and our children pure and organic foods, they do not understand our passion to feed our minds and our children’s minds pure and organic spiritual food. And, so, this move towards purity does not come without its challenges.

Prepare to be called narrow-minded and harsh and judgmental. Prepare to lose some friends and to be ostracized. Just by commenting to a group of friends that you are not reading a certain book because it isn’t biblical or that you don’t allow your child to listen to a certain music group because they aren’t biblical will leave you open to ridicule and criticism. Eating organic food is not cheap, is it? Neither is eating pure spiritual food. While it won’t cost you in dollars and cents, it may cost you in reputation and friendships. We are not in a Christian culture that values discernment.

But what do you get in return? You get a healthy spiritual heart and mind. You get kids who know that scripture is their final authority and go to the Word to discern. This isn’t a guarantee, of course, but God does honor your desires to keep your family pure from worldly and vain philosophies and false teaching. And God fills in the gaps and meets your needs, making anything you may have to sacrifice worth the sacrifice as you step out in dedication to God’s Word and to run everything through its grid of Truth.

We tend to believe this is a new issue for this day and age, but it isn’t. Satan has always been busy trying to get Christians to read and listen to things that are either subtly twisted or in complete opposition to the Gospel. Of course, Spurgeon can say this so much better than I can, so I will conclude with this portion from one of his sermons called The Soul’s Best Food–

Now, dear Friends, I am sure that the topic on which I have been speaking is a very important one, yet it is a very neglected one. A great many young Christians and, I am afraid, some old Christian people, especially women, read no end of tales and novels. That is not eating that which is good—it is doing that which is worse than useless! There is no spiritual nutriment and little if any mental food in most of the stories that come out nowadays. We used to keep our tales for our children—our babies—but, now, the stories are written for grown-up people—and newspapers and magazines sell best if they contain pretty stories for the great babies of the present day. Nothing will suit them but stories. “Eat what is good.” But they eat ashes! They feed upon the wind—that is their spiritual meat. Sometimes we complain of present-day Christians that they have no backbone, no stamina, no strength compared with the Christians of past ages. I should think so—they do not eat the food out of which spiritual manhood can grow. They eat what would not nourish a mouse and then hope that they may be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.”

 

And, then, how common is the neglect of reading the Word of God itself! A great many persons take all their religion secondhand. They never go to the good old Book themselves. Years ago it was a very difficult thing to get milk—it was not milk that was called by that name. The only way to be sure of having milk was to keep a cow—and I recommend everybody to ensure getting the unadulterated milk of the Word of God by keeping his own cow, that is, by reading the Bible for himself. If you want to get pure water, go to the fountainhead. I was once going over the mountains in Northern Italy and I wanted to drink from a little stream, but my guide would not allow me to taste of it. I did not understand why, but he went on some considerable distance and then he allowed me to drink as much as I liked. And I noticed that I was drinking at a spring just where the water flowed out, but, the time before the stream had been running down the mountainside and was full of all sorts of impurities and, besides, it had lost its freshness and sweetness by travelling over the earth in the warm sun. The guide wanted me to have water that was worth drinking—to drink that which was good. And so I would advise you, my Friends, to take no notice of anything I say that is not according to the Word of God!

 

Put it away among the lumber,  for it is good for nothing—and whoever it is that preaches and whatever book you read—if it is not according to this Book, say to yourself, “Well, I have not any time to try experiments. If I do eat, I want to eat that which is good. And if I do delight myself, I want to delight myself in what God calls fatness.” There is plenty of carrion about—plenty of religious carrion, I mean—tainted through and through with false doctrine. And unhappy is that man who has a taste for it—it looks as if he were no true child of God.