Interconnected Strands

strands

Yesterday morning I was awakened by a familiar buzz. I didn’t know who would be texting me that early but I reached over and, fumbling to put on my reading glasses so I could actually read the text, I picked up my phone.

I squinted my eyes to take in the unfamiliar number and opened the text. It was from Discover card, asking me if I had made a purchase at Sunoco in the amount of $4.98. Somehow they had gotten my cell phone number (I do not remember giving it to them) and decided to start texting me about purchases. While most early mornings, neither my husband or I would ever be at a Sunoco gas station, this particular morning was one where my husband was busy doing snow removal. I knew he often stopped there to grab a snack and drink. I was sure the charge was legitimate.

I decided to get out of bed since I was awake and as I did so, I pondered the interconnectedness of everything in our lives. Even a credit card charge by my husband comes to my cell phone. Everything is connected. Here’s another example: Have you ever looked at something on Amazon and then went over to Facebook, only to see ads for what you were just looking at? Personally, I find that rather creepy. And now there are apps out there that track your kids’ phones so you know where they are at all times; security systems, lights, and furnaces that can be turned on and off by your smart phone; and fitness devices that track every step you take and every place you go and then provide that information to any device you desire. In this world of technology, everything is connected.

While I could (and perhaps should) write on the privacy we are giving up willingly in this world that is interconnected in so many different ways, I am actually going to go a different direction.

These strands of life interconnecting and forming one whole is exactly how we should be living as believers. All strands interconnect and wind around one another, each affecting the other.

Sometimes we like to pretend that a certain strand can remain separate from the rest of our spiritual life, but that is a naive thought. For example, we like to believe that our “entertainment” strand isn’t part of the whole. Way over there with that strand we can fill up our minds with ungodly movies, music, and books and oddly believe this will not affect the whole. Or we do it with our “family” strand, acting like a completely different person at home than who we portray out in public, somehow believing that we can freely express our anger and selfishness there in that safe space, all the while keeping that “family” strand far away from the whole of who we really are. One final example would be our “online” strand. So often we think who we are online is separate from who we are in real life. We seem to believe that our “online” strand, and the angry rants and selfish posts that go with it, are there own separate strand far away from the rest of who we are.

But it just doesn’t work like that. Everything we are and everything we do is a reflection of who we are in Christ. We can’t separate any strand of life from the whole. I admit it would be nice if we could. But here is what God’s Word has to say about this–

Mark 12:30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’[a] This is the first commandment.

Matthew 16:24-25 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

James 4:4-5  Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

We can see by these verses (and there are so many more, as well) that following Jesus means giving our whole ball of interwoven strands to Him. We can’t separate out the parts we don’t desire to surrender to Him. To try to do so only leads to one thing: hypocrisy.

It is hypocrisy to say we love Jesus and then to continue in any sin. Whether it be yelling at our spouse; tuning in to a radio station that plays songs filled with lyrics about sex outside of marriage, drug use, and violence; or its being unkind and self-absorbed online. While we are certainly going to sin sometimes (as humans, we can’t reach perfection here on this earth), the Holy Spirit will fill the hearts of believers who are in the Word with conviction and repentance. The more I am in the Word, the more often this happens.

And, contrary to what you might think, this life of surrender and obedience is a much more joyful and peaceful place to be. Sure, it’s no fun facing our sin. But there is something so comforting and amazing in knowing that the Almighty, Omnipotent Creator actually cares enough about me to show me my sin and to grow me to be more like Christ. Life is so much better when we stop rebelling.

Total obedience yields a life of true joy and peace. I am convinced of this more and more each year. But we must remember that this isn’t some solitary decision. As life ebbs and flows and changes, some days it is easier to surrender to the Lord than others. There is no magic pill that makes this lifestyle easy. But we must keep trying.

If you have a strand that you have tried to keep separate from the whole, I encourage you to surrender that strand to the Lord. It’s part of the whole, anyway, whether you realize it or not. Give it all to God. He will not disappoint.

 

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.

Flip-Flopped Unity

hands-1939895_1920

Sometimes the word “unity” scares us Bible-believing Christians just a bit. We know that we are to have unity with other believers but there is also a form of unity that is both heretical and unbiblical which is growing at a mind-boggling rate and this alarms us–and rightly so.

So what does unity mean from a biblical perspective?

My husband taught on this in Sunday School yesterday and as we discussed the biblical perspective it made me realize just how backwards we are when it comes to this thing called “unity” (but more about that later).

Philippians 2:1-4 gives us good insight into what unity looks like in the church–

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

From these verses we can see that believers can and should be unified because we are like-minded–having the same purpose of loving and serving Christ. Unity does not mean we all have the same personalities and opinions. And this is where humility comes in. Humility serves as the oil that keeps the engine of the church humming smoothly. When it works, it is amazing.

But so often selfish agendas interfere. And suddenly the gears are clicking and grinding. The oils of humility and selflessness are missing and without it, unity can never work.

And this is where we are so backwards.

We get all uptight about things that are not biblical but affect us personally. And we are completely apathetic about heresy entering the church that {we think} doesn’t affect us personally. Therefore we will be quick to compromise on big, spiritual issues that compromise biblical doctrine but we are not so passionate about unity when it is messing with our own agendas–our agenda for money, for relationships, for paint colors, restaurant choices. Have you ever thought about the ridiculous things we get upset about?

And yet so many of us don’t even care if God’s Word is being compromised. Interesting since this is the one time we should choose not to unify (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Peter 3:17-18; I John 4:1-6; Matthew 7:15-20; Titus 1:9)

Let’s bring this down to a practical level. Think about the last time you were upset or angry. Was it about you? Or was it about God or His Word?

I know what the answer is for me. And I am not proud of it.

You see, true unity is being like-minded in our purpose to live out our Christian faith according to the Word of God with submission and obedience. When this happens, the things of life that don’t matter fall away. Suddenly, the insignificant things of life aren’t worth arguing about.

All of this is greatly helped by taking time to study our Bible. For it is through this that we will find that the things we must divide over and stand for–no matter the cost–show themselves ever more clearly as we, simultaneously, begin to understand that we must allow the unimportant things to fall away.

Unity is important in our homes and our churches, where we work out our faith and learn to be selfless and to back down from our strongly held but insignificant opinions. Unity is important in our work places where we can shine as bright lights of unselfish and thoughtful individuals–a stark contrast to the “stand up for my rights” and “no one is going to push me around” crowd that mostly exists at work.

True strength lies in not pushing our opinions on others and in doing so, we naturally become part of unifying any group around us. And then when we do find the need to stand for a biblical truth, people will be much more likely to listen to us because they have come to respect and like us. Now there are exceptions to this (some people are uninterested and even hostile towards biblical truth no matter who shares it) and it doesn’t always work like this, but it certainly does help.

Unity is a tough thing to work through in our current age. While, on one hand, we are being told to cave on all doctrinal issues, we find that, on the other hand, we are being told to look out for number one. This leads people–including us Christians–to capitulate on all types of important doctrines but to stand for the ridiculous things that won’t matter one bit in eternity.

I propose that we flip-flop this and that we begin defending the doctrines that dare not be compromised and we start capitulating to our own personal agendas. If we all would actually put this into practice, I do believe we would see an incredible change in our churches. Of course, it won’t happen, but it is nice to dream… And, while we can’t change everyone, we can change ourselves. Let this change begin with us.

 

 

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!

 

 

Why Should I Read the Bible in 2018?

BibleStudy

As a believer, we know that we should read the Bible. We feel guilty when we don’t read the Bible. And we vaguely know that there are some benefits to reading it. And so we often start out strong in the new year in our Bible reading. This will be the year, we say with hesitant confidence. It is my hope that this post will encourage you to make sure this really will be the year that you stick with it. That you make Bible reading/study as much a part of your day as eating.

Why? Well, I am glad you asked!

So why should we read the Bible in 2018? Or anytime, for that matter? Here are six reasons (seven if you count the most important one at the end of this post!)–

1. The Bible is God’s Word divinely given to us. Experiences and feelings can lie to us. They are utterly unreliable. But the Bible–God’s inerrant, inspired Word never lies.We can count on it being the same yesterday, today, and forever. We know that what the Word teaches us about God is true. And we have no doubt when we read the Word that it is God speaking to us. Since we know that Satan comes as an angel of light, counterfeiting God whenever he can (2 Corinthians 11:14), there is really no way to know who is really speaking any “message from God” that is claimed outside of scripture. Only the Bible is trustworthy.

2. The Word will change us and make us more like Christ. Over Christmas, I had the opportunity to talk with my brother (Pastor Dean) at length about the new paradigm of Christians discarding scripture and replacing it with personal experience. There is a tendency to always believe any supernatural experience is from God (when in all actuality there is no way to truly know that it is from God) and so these become much more exciting than the hard work of growing as a believer. Experiences are easier and make us feel better. There is no conviction or rebuke in an experience, is there? But if we genuinely want to become more like Christ and mature as a believer, we must be reading and studying our Bibles. There is just no other way. No experience is going to grow us in the fruits of the Spirit. While our personal experiences can encourage us to change, it is the Bible that leads us into true, selfless, and lasting change that honors God and makes us useful for His Kingdom.

3. Immersing ourselves in God’s Word helps us to discern and to do so with a proper attitude. Discernment is important, whether it be our entertainment, the signs of the times, or regarding what is going on inside of our church. We will be able to discern so much better by being in the Word and understanding God’s heart about these matters. But studying scripture will also keep our attitude in check. We will be kind and loving with people who don’t have the same convictions. We will show humility and gentleness. We are called to discern, but so many claim to have the gift of discernment and yet are full of pride and without love. Staying in scripture will ensure that we discern well and that we do it with the right heart.

4. Being in the Word improves our relationships by revealing our selfishness. Sometimes we are discouraged because we are struggling in our relationships. Our natural tendency is to blame others. But when we start reading the Bible, we begin to understand that so many of the problems begin with us. Scripture is like a mirror that magnifies our selfish hearts. And when we can see just how selfish we are, we can work with the Lord to start eliminating it. This will naturally improve all of our relationships. It can’t help but improve them. Selfishness destroys relationships and sacrificial love and self-denial builds them.

5. Studying the Bible helps to give us the answers we need for our kids, for those we are witnessing to, and for other believers who have questions. Oftentimes, fear will keep us from having the hard conversations. We are afraid we won’t have the answers and will look foolish in front of our kids, co-workers, or others. And so we don’t witness and we don’t talk about doctrine. But there is a remedy to this fear! When we start to seriously study the Word, we start to understand the themes and doctrines within its pages. Sharing them becomes a natural thing instead of a fearful thing.

6. The Bible is a trustworthy, immutable, and pertinent guidebook for life. It gives us perspective and clarity regarding our priorities, moving to the background the temporal things that so overwhelm us and bringing the eternal things to the forefront. It lights our way when darkness threatens to undue us.

So there are six reasons to read your Bible in 2018! But do you know the greatest reason of all? We are to read the Word out of obedience and our great love for God. He gave us the Bible and we are to read it with a submissive, humble, and obedient heart–even when we don’t feel like it. We can make time for so many other things. We can find time to watch TV, to work on our favorite hobby, to go to the gym, or to read other books. Let’s make 2018 the year we find time to read our Bibles!

 

The law of the Lord is perfect,[c]
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules[d] of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

Psalm 19:7-11

P.S. If you don’t have a Bible Reading Plan in place yet this year, it’s not too late to join the G4L Challenge. Find more information here.

The G4L 2018 Bible Reading Challenge

And some thoughts about the purpose of this blog

join

The challenge for 2018 is up on the blog! You can find all the details here at this page.  I have shared this page on Facebook already but am uncertain if that published page made its way to my subscribers. This is why I thought I’d write a specific (and short) post about it this morning.

I started blogging in 2010. It’s hard to believe that this coming year will mean I have been writing posts twice a week for eight years! Time goes so fast. As the years have gone by, the purpose for this blog has gradually become more defined.

Over the past twenty years or so, the Bible has taken a beating. So much so, that most people who call themselves Christians today are not only completely biblically illiterate, but they are actually completely content in being so. This has happened in a number of ways. First, they are distracted. Distracted by commitments, careers, over-scheduled kids, etc. Second, they are not being taught the Word in their churches. Expository preaching has been replaced by stories, worldly entertainment, and worship music that have no basis in the Word. And, third, they have turned to personal experience to verify and confirm their closeness to God. The Word has become superfluous in a church culture that believes you need to hear from God personally to be a really spiritual Christian.

I will write more about this later, but have no doubt that this is exactly what Satan wants. When he can turn our hearts and minds off of the Word, he has effectively captured us. He can deceive, trick, warp…and we will have no idea. Because we don’t even know the Bible.

And, so, over the past few years, this has become my purpose–to turn my readers back to the Word as the authority for their Christian life. To encourage my readers to study the Word with a submissive and obedient heart that leads to real and lasting change.

I have seen the Word transform people. This is how we know God. Knowing the Bible is what makes us stable and sound spiritually. Scripture is sufficient and I am here to shout that out! We don’t need special messages, visions, and dreams in order to be close to God. I hope to write more about that later this year, but I want to encourage you to dig deeply into scripture this year.

It is with this in mind, that I am once again offering the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge. If you don’t have any other plan in place to study scripture this year, I hope that you will consider joining this challenge. It is an easy way to get started (only two chapters per day). We read the same chapters five times, so we really become familiar with them. It is a wonderful and quite doable way to begin scripture study. I hope you will join me!

Happy New Year!

 

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.