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.

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!

 

 

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.

 

The great god Entertainment

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Entertainment surrounds us. It has become the lifeblood of our communities, our homes, and our churches. Sometime in the not too distant past, life became more about being entertained than it did about living a good, moral life. Life became more about playing and less about working. And the ramifications of this in the church are quite sobering.

I subscribe to a newsletter from Grace Gems. They send me all kinds of really good quotes and excerpts written by godly Christians already in glory. When I share any of these with my readers, it is generally on my Facebook page. However, this particular passage–written in 1955 by Tozer–is so perfect, so applicable, and so accurate that I wanted to share it with all my readers.

We need to see entertainment for what it is–an idol that has stolen the hearts of many and threatens to steal even our own hearts. It is a bit uncanny just how right Tozer is here and what he could see happening to the church even in the middle of last century. He was a very wise man.

(A.W. Tozer, 1955)

The great god Entertainment is ardently worshiped by many. There are millions who cannot live without amusement–life without some form of entertainment for them is simply intolerable. They look forward to the blessed relief afforded by professional entertainers and other forms of psychological narcotics–as a dope addict looks to his daily fix of heroin. Without them, they could not summon courage to face existence.

No one with common human feeling will object to the simple pleasures of life, nor to such harmless forms of entertainment as may help to relax the nerves and refresh the mind exhausted by toil. Such things, if used with discretion, may be a blessing along the way. That is one thing. But the all-out devotion to entertainment as a major activity for which men live, is definitely something else. The abuse of a harmless thing is sin.

The growth of the amusement phase of human life to such fantastic proportions is a portent, a threat to the souls of modern men. It has been built into a multimillion dollar racket with greater power over human minds and human character, than any other educational influence on earth. And the ominous thing is, that its power is almost exclusively evil, rotting the inner life, and crowding out the eternal thoughts which should fill the souls of men. The whole thing has grown into a veritable religion which holds its devotees with a strange fascination–and a religion, incidentally, against which it is now dangerous to speak.

For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was–a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from accountability to God. For this, she got herself roundly abused by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse, and has given up the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment–she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers.

So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called Christians. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God. Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders, who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it!

The great god Entertainment amuses his devotees mainly by telling them stories. The love of stories, which is a characteristic of childhood, has taken fast hold of the minds of the retarded saints of our day–so much so that many manage to make a comfortable living by spinning yarns and serving them up in various disguises to church people. What is natural and beautiful in a child, may be shocking when it persists into adulthood, and more so when it appears in the sanctuary and seeks to pass for true religion!

Is it not astonishing that, with the shadow of atomic destruction hanging over the world and with the coming of Christ drawing near–the professed followers of the Lord should be giving themselves up to religious amusements? That in an hour when mature saints are so desperately needed–vast numbers of believers should revert to spiritual childhood, and clamor for religious toys?

 

Our Most Treacherous Enemy

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There are few things that affect our love for God and our growth as a believer more than our love for self. For out of that many (if not all) sins are born. The world and even the church are telling us these days just how important it is that we love ourselves. We are told that we cannot experience success in any area of life unless we do.

And, yet, is this what the Bible teaches?

Of course not. In fact, if we are a true believer, we recognize that we are our own worst enemy, no matter what the world (and worldly preachers) tell us. But if we have been in the faith for awhile, we may begin to think that we are winning our battle against self-love. We compare ourselves to the world around us and, in comparison to that, we look pretty good. But therein is the issue, is it not? We are to compare ourselves to the Word of God, not to sinners around us.

If you prefer to continue believing that you are winning your battle against self, then I’d encourage you to stop reading now. The essay below, written by Richard Baxter, a puritan from the mid-1600s, will quench that thought in a heartbeat. I share it here to challenge and convict. To cause you to think and to grow. I was dismayed to realize just how very selfish I still am, but also encouraged to know that I am less selfish now than I was twenty years ago. And I guess that’s how life is, isn’t it? No perfection this side of glory, but slow and steady progress as we work our way there. I hope that you are challenged–but also encouraged–by this essay–

SELF-DENIAL

“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23

You hear ministers tell you of the odiousness and danger and sad effects of sin; but of all the sins that you ever heard of, there is scarce any more odious and dangerous than selfishness; and yet most are never troubled at it, nor sensible of its malignity. My principal request therefore to you is, that as ever you would prove Christians indeed, and be saved from sin and the damnation which follows it—take heed of this deadly sin of selfishness, and be sure you are possessed with true self-denial; and if you have, see that you use and live upon it.

And for your help herein, I shall tell you how your self-denial must be tried. I shall only tell you in a few words, how the least measure of true self-denial may be known: wherever the interest of carnal self is stronger and more predominant habitually than the interest of God, of Christ, of everlasting life, there is no true self-denial or saving grace; but where God’s interest is strongest, there self-denial is sincere. If you further ask me how this may be known, briefly thus:

1. What is it that you live for? What is that good which your mind is principally set to obtain? And what is that end which you principally design and endeavor to obtain, and which you set your heart on, and lay out your hopes upon? Is it the pleasing and glorifying of God, and the everlasting fruition of Him? Or is it the pleasing of your fleshly mind in the fruition of any inferior thing? Know this, and you may know whether self or God has the greatest interest in you. For that is your God which you love most, and please best, and would do most for.

2. Which do you most prize—the means of your salvation and of the glory of God, or the means of providing for self and flesh? Do you more prize Christ and holiness, which are the way to God—or riches, honor, and pleasures, which gratify the flesh? Know this, and you may know whether you have true self-denial.

3. If you are truly self-denying, you are ordinarily ruled by God, and His Word and Spirit, and not by the carnal self. Which is the rule and master of your lives? Whose word and will is it ordinarily that prevails? When God draws, and self draws—which do you follow in the tenor of your life? Know this, and you may know whether you have true self-denial.

4. If you have true self-denial, the drift of your lives is carried on in a successful opposition to your carnal self, so that you not only refuse to be ruled by it, and love it as your god—but you fight against it, and tread it down as your enemy. So that you go armed against self in the course of your lives, and are striving against self in every duty. And as others think—it then goes best with them, when self is highest and pleased best; so you will know that then it goes best with you—when self is lowest, and most effectually subdued.

5. If you have true self-denial, there is nothing in this world so dear to you, but on deliberation you would leave it for God. He who has anything which he loves so well that he cannot spare it for God, is a selfish and unsanctified wretch. And therefore God has still put men to it, in the trial of their sincerity, to part with that which was dearest to the flesh. Abraham must be tried by parting with his only son. And Christ makes it His standing rule, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).

Yet it is true that flesh and blood may make much resistance in a gracious heart; and many a striving thought there may be, before with Abraham we part with a son, or before we can part with wealth or life; but yet on deliberation, self-denial will prevail. There is nothing so dear to a gracious soul, which he cannot spare at the will of God, and the hope of everlasting life. If with Peter we would flinch in a temptation—we should return with Peter in weeping bitterly, and give Christ those lives that in a temptation we denied Him.

6. In a word, true self-denial is procured by the knowledge and love of God, advancing Him in the soul—to debasing of self. The illuminated soul is so much taken with the glory and goodness of the Lord, that it carries him out of himself to God, and as it were estranges him from himself, that he may have communion with God. This makes him vile in his own eyes, and to abhor himself in dust and ashes. It is not a stoical resolution, but the love of God and the hopes of glory—which make him throw away the world, and look contemptuously on all below, so far as they are mere provision for flesh.

Search now, and try your hearts by these evidences, whether you are possessed of this necessary grace of self-denial. O make not light of the matter! For I must tell you that self is the most treacherous enemy, and the most insinuating deceiver in the world! It will be within you when you are not aware of it and will conquer you when you perceive not yourselves much troubled with it. Of all other vices, selfishness is both the hardest to find out and the hardest to cure. Be sure therefore in the first place, that you have self-denial; and then be sure you use it and live in the practice of it.

Published by gracegems.org. If you have enjoyed this (and others like it that I have shared on the Growing4Life Facebook page), then I encourage you to get on their e-mail list.

A Vast and Irreconcilable Difference

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Meditation has become quite the buzz word in our current culture. In both sacred and secular circles this word has come into frequent use. We are told that we need to meditate in order to succeed at life, to conquer bad habits, and to experience peace.

But biblical meditation as spoken of in scripture (Psalm 1:1-3) is very different than what the world–and even many churches–are promoting. Just what is the difference? And why does it matter?

My brother, Pastor Dean, taught a Bible Study on this subject a few months ago and he graciously shared his notes with me. I love when someone else does the research and all I have to do is write a blog post about it! It certainly saves me a lot of work. So, using his notes and some of my own observations, let’s look at this word meditation from a variety of perspectives.

Let’s first start with Biblical Meditation, so that we set our grid properly in place and have a standard by which to judge the other types.

Purpose: The purpose of meditation as described in the Bible is always to help us understand God’s truth (as written in His Word), to give us a heart of obedience and wisdom, to increase our awe of the Lord, and to renew our mind (Joshua 1:8; Proverbs 2:1-6; Psalm 119:11; John 17:17; Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5; Hebrews 4:12).

Method: We meditate in a biblical way by first preparing our hearts and minds. How do we do this? We do this by humbling ourselves and by prayer, asking God to show us the truth of His Word. We then read scripture, memorize scripture, and pray over the scripture.

Result: We are filled with the spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

Notice that biblical meditation always has a purpose and it is always related to scripture. If you do a study of the word meditate in the Bible, you will find that God and His Word and His Works is always what one is meditating upon. This is an important and critical difference between biblical meditation and unbiblical meditation.

It’s also very important to remember, as we explore other types of meditation, that faith is what separates true believers from unbelievers. The object of true faith is Scripture / Christ as revealed in the Scripture. Faith does not seek an experience or need an experience. Faith believes, trusts and obeys the Word it comes to understand (cf. Heb. 4:2; Heb. 11:1, 6-10; Heb. 10:22). Mysticism takes hold where true, simple faith is absent. This is a point of great import, which you will see as we continue to examine meditation in the light of scripture.

Let’s first take a look at Eastern Meditation. This has worked its way solidly into our culture and is the type of meditation that most secular magazines and talk shows refer to. It has also found solid footing through yoga. In fact, google the word yoga and you will find this definition: a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation. As widespread as yoga is now in this culture, it isn’t hard to understand how the way for eastern meditation has been prepared.

Purpose: To enter an altered state of consciousness and to overcome the desires of the material body. To attain a state of tranquility and spiritual enlightenment and to become one with the universe (or, in other words, to experience “godhood”).

Method: To banish rational thought and open up the mind through mantras, yoga, breathing techniques, and visualization (these words are red flags to help us spot ungodly meditation, avoid them like the plague).

Result: Mystical experiences that defy logic; and demonic oppression–often seen as an experience of light and joy, at first. Remember Satan often appears as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

It is amazing to me how this has taken the American culture by storm. Oh, it’s taken about fifty years for yoga and meditation to become mainstream (anyone remember the flower children and searches for meaning in the 70s?) but it has done so and done so in a big way!

Now let’s take a look at Medieval Roman Catholic Meditation. This particular type is the kind we hear of frequently now in churches, on our Christian college campuses, and will find on the shelves of our local Christian bookstores. It has brought subtle, deadly changes to the Church.

Purpose: To practice the “presence of God” and to enter the “silence”, which is where we purportedly meet God and receive the impressions of the Holy Spirit. It is in this place that we supposedly experience peace.

Method: We do this by asceticism (denying worldly pleasures and practicing self-discipline) and fasting; But, even more popular and what we hear about most often today, we do this by solitude and through praying in a specific way.

Result: We have mystical and supernatural experiences and visions; God “speaks” words personally to us.

This type of meditation is not biblical meditation. It does not fit through the biblical grid we established above and yet many, many believers have started to practice this type of meditation. In fact, to speak against it is to almost be accused of heresy. Do you agree with me that this type of meditation bares an eery and rather obvious similarity to Eastern Meditation?

Now, on to one final type of meditation: New Age Meditation. This is really just the same old, same old packaged in a way that has become acceptable to the modern world.

Purpose: Personal wellness, tranquility, to relieve stress, and to overcome anxiety; to reach spirit guides and to channel higher beings in order to receive divine guidance and help.

Method: Same as Eastern Meditation.

Result: Mystical experiences, demonic oppression, and unity across religions (ecumenism).

We can see from this short study that Eastern, Ancient Catholic, and New Age Meditation are, in essence, all the same thing, wrapped up in a slightly different package. The goal is always to grow passive and to experience something supernatural. It is in stark contrast to active and intentional biblical meditation, which is always focused on the Word of God and never has us “emptying our minds” or waiting for a spiritual experience.

Now, on to a few practical helps for us. My brother gave a list of authors, practices, and buzz words that should be considered red flags for anyone who desires to honor the Lord in this area of meditation–

Authors to Avoid: Richard Foster, Matthew Fox, Thomas Keating, Sue Monk Kidd, Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Basil Pennington, Dallas Willard. I would add: Larry Crabb, Phillip Yancey, Thomas A Kempis, Eugene Peterson, Tony Campolo, and Brother Lawrence.

Practices to Avoid: All secular forms of meditation, all forms of yoga (including so-called “Christian” forms), breath prayers, mantras, prayer labyrinths (and circles), lectio divina. I would add centering prayer and spiritual formation.

Buzz Words to be considered Red Flags: Abyss, ancient-future worship, authentic spirituality, centering down, centering prayer, dark night of the soul, God encounters, interspirituality, multi-sensory worship, sacred space, solitude, spiritual disciplines, spiritual formation, the silence, theosis, transformational, visualization, vintage Christianity, and missional.

These lists are far from comprehensive. In fact, new names, practices, and words seemingly are added on a daily basis. This is literally flooding modern Christianity and has become quite mainstream.

If you read this post with a heart that desires to discern truth from error, my prayer is that what I have written here will be of great help to you. One thing we have to understand when we do this study of meditation is to remember this: Satan is working towards a One World Religion (Revelation 17). How will he do this? There is only one way and that is to absorb all religions into one over-riding religion. I firmly believe that he is using meditation to accomplish this purpose.

This is a lot to take in. I surely do know it. There is a vast, and quite irreconcilable, difference between biblical meditation and the way we are being told to meditate from secular sources, as well as from many Christian sources. Some Christians are promoting this and are quite unaware of the grave danger and ramifications of doing so. Others are purposely working to meld the church into the coming one-world religion. We can’t know the reasons why certain Christian authors and speakers have chosen to promote unbiblical meditation, but we should certainly be actively avoiding it and encouraging others to do the same.

We need to pray for discernment in these last days. Whether these “last days” last another five years or another one hundred, we can certainly see the world moving towards One-World everything. It’s fascinating–and just a little frightening–to behold. I believe that unbiblical meditation is part of this move towards One-World religion and that it is, without question, in our best interest to avoid it at all costs.

 

The Greatest Miracle of All

aniwa

When we think about the word “miracle”, our minds tend to think of miracles having to do with a person’s health, wealth, or welfare. Things like miraculous cancer recoveries, disappearing tumors, or an unexpected check in the mail or bag of groceries on the porch. While these miracles are certainly amazing to witness and demonstrate just how personally and deeply God cares for His children, I would like to submit to you that the greatest miracle of all is a heart deadened in sin that is awakened to new life in Jesus Christ.

I just finished a wonderful book called The Story of John Paton or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. As many of you already know, I love reading missionary biographies. They have changed me, because they change my perspective of Christianity. You see, when we are in our comfortable homes with all our modern conveniences and plenty to eat, we can forget what many people give up to tell others about Jesus. It can slip our minds that our faith in Christ is to transform our lives and push us to share the gospel with fervor and zeal.

As I read this book, I was once again reminded of these things. Mr. Paton’s autobiography, which takes place on the New Hebrides Islands (now called Vanuatu) in the mid to late 1800s, includes miraculous escapes, nail-biting journeys, and many testimonies of saved souls. There are so many excerpts I would love to share from this book with you, but I decided to narrow it down to this one testimony of a young chief, troubled and antagonistic, miraculously saved from sin by God’s outpouring of grace on his life. Yet another evidence that the greatest miracle of all is a changed heart.

I hope you enjoy reading this short excerpt and that it will move you to pick up the book and start reading it. The chapter is entitled–

THE CONVERSION OF YOUWILI

THESE events suggest to me another incident of those days, full at once of trial and of joy. It pertains to the story of our young Chief Youwili. From the first, and for long, he was most audacious and troublesome. Observing that for several days no Natives had come near the Mission House, I asked the old Chief if he knew why, and he answered, “Youwili has tabooed the paths, and threatens death to any one who breaks through it.”

I at once replied, “Then I conclude that you all agree with him, and wish me to leave. We are here only to teach you and your people. If he has power to prevent that we shall leave with the Dayspring.”

The old Chief called the people together, and they came to me, saying, “Our anger is strong against Youwili. Go with us and break down the taboo. We will assist and protect you.”

I went at their head and removed it. It consisted simply of reeds stuck into the ground, with twigs and leaves and fiber tied to each in a peculiar way, in a circle round the Mission House. The Natives had an extraordinary dread of violating the taboo, and believed that it meant death to the offender or to some one of his family. All present entered into a bond to punish on the spot any man who attempted to replace the taboo or to revenge its removal. Thus a mortal blow was publicly struck at this most miserable superstition, which had caused bloodshed and misery untold.

One day, thereafter, I was engaged in clearing away the bush around the Mission House, having purchased and paid for the land for the very purpose of opening it up, when suddenly Youwili appeared and menacingly forbade me to proceed. For the sake of peace I for the time desisted. But he went straight to my fence, and with his tomahawk cut down the portion in front of our house, also some bananas planted there—the usual declaration of war, intimating that he only awaited his opportunity similarly to cut down me and mine. We saw the old Chief and his men planting themselves here and there to guard us, and the Natives prowling about armed and excited. On calling them, they explained the meaning of what Youwili had done, and that they were determined to protect us. I said. “This must not continue. Are you to permit one young fool to defy us all, and break up the Lord’s work on Aniwa? If you cannot righteously punish him, I will shut myself up in my house and withdraw from all attempts to teach or help you, till the vessel comes, and then I can leave the island.”

Now that they had begun really to love us, and to be anxious to learn more, this was always my most powerful argument. We retired into the Mission House. The people surrounded our doors and windows and pleaded with us. After long silence, we replied, “You know our resolution. It is for you now to decide. Either you must control that foolish young man, or we must go!”

Much speech-making, as usual, followed. The people resolved to seize and punish Youwili; but he fled, and had hid himself in the bush. Coming to me, the Chief said, “It is left to you to say what shall be Youwili’s punishment. Shall we kill him?”

I replied firmly, “Certainly not! Only for murder can life be lawfully taken away.”

“What then?” they continued. “Shall we burn his houses and destroy his plantations?”

I answered, “No.”

“Shall we bind him and beat him?”

“No.”

“Shall we place him in a canoe, thrust him out to sea, and let him drown or escape as he may?”

“No! by no means.”

“Then, Missi,” said they, “these are our ways of punishing. What other punishment remains that Youwili cares for?”

I replied, “Make him with his own hands, and alone, put up a new fence, and restore all that he has destroyed; and make him promise publicly that he will cease all evil conduct towards us. That will satisfy me.”

This idea of punishment seemed to tickle them greatly. The Chiefs reported our words to the Assembly; and the Natives laughed and cheered, as if it were a capital joke! They cried aloud, “It is good! Obey the word of the Missi.”

After considerable hunting, the young Chief was found. They brought him to the Assembly and scolded him severely and told him their sentence. He was surprised by the nature of the punishment, and cowed by the determination of the people.

“To-morrow,” said he, “I will fully repair the fence. Never again will I oppose the Missi. His word is good.”

By daybreak next morning Youwili was diligently repairing what he had broken down, and before evening he had everything made right better than it was before. While he toiled away, some fellows of his own rank twitted him, saying, “Youwili, you found it easier to cut down Missi’s fence than to repair it again. You will not repeat that in a hurry!”

But he heard all in silence. Others passed with averted heads, and he knew they were laughing at him. He made everything tight and then left without uttering a single word. My heart yearned after the poor fellow, but I thought it better to let his own mind work away, on its new ideas as to punishment and revenge, for a little longer by itself alone. I instinctively felt that Youwili was beginning to turn, that the Christ-Spirit had touched his darkly-groping soul. My doors were now thrown open, and every good work went on as before. We resolved to leave Youwili entirely to Jesus, setting apart a portion of our prayer every day for the enlightenment and conversion of the young Chief, on whom all other means had been exhausted apparently in vain.

A considerable time elapsed. No sign came, and our prayers seemed to fail. But one day, I was toiling between the shafts of a hand-cart, assisted by two boys, drawing it along from the shore loaded with coral blocks. Youwili came rushing from his house, three hundred yards or so off the path, and said, “Missi, that is too hard for you. Let me be your helper!”

Without waiting for a reply, he ordered the two boys to seize one rope, while he grasped the other, threw it over his shoulder and started off, pulling with the strength of a horse. My heart rose in gratitude, and I wept with joy as I followed him. I knew that that yoke was but a symbol of the yoke of Christ, which Youwili with his change of heart was beginning to carry! Truly there is only one way of regeneration, being born again by the power of the Spirit of God, the new heart; but there are many ways of conversation, of outwardly turning to the Lord, of taking the actual first step that shows on whose side we are.

Like those of old praying for the deliverance of Peter, and who could not believe their ears and eyes when Peter knocked and walked in amongst them, so we could scarcely believe our eyes and ears when Youwili became a disciple of Jesus, though we had been praying for his conversion every day. His once sullen countenance became literally bright with inner light. His wife came immediately for a book and a dress saying, “Youwili sent me. His opposition to the Worship is over now. I am to attend Church and School. He is coming too. He wants to learn how to be strong, like you, for Jehovah and for Jesus.”

Oh, Jesus! to Thee alone be all the glory. Thou hast the key to unlock every heart that Thou hast created.

 

Paton, John Gibson (2012-05-16). The Story of John G. Paton Or Thirty Years Among South Sea Cannibals. Kindle Edition.

10 Reasons Why ‘Jesus Calling’ Is a Dangerous Book

jesus-calling-book

I recently came across this very solid article by Warren Smith regarding the book Jesus Calling and I want to pass it along to my readers. This author has provided ten very scriptural reasons as to why this is a very dangerous book (remember–the Bible is the only way we know truth from lies and genuine teachers from false teachers).

I know that, inevitably, some of you will be very upset with me for daring to imply that this book isn’t what it seems, but may I please implore you to at least read this article? We have to judge everything that comes our way using the light of scripture, including this book.

Here’s a portion of the article from WND–

In 2004, in one of her rare, carefully staged interviews, Sarah Young was asked by the Christian Broadcasting Network “How did you learn to ‘dialogue’ with God?” She answered that it was from reading the book “God Calling”:

“My journey began with a devotional book (‘God Calling’) written in the 1930s by two women who practiced waiting in God’s Presence, writing the messages they received as they ‘listened.’” (parentheses hers)

Also, in the original introduction to “Jesus Calling” that stood from 2004-2013, Young specifically praised “God Calling” as “a treasure to me.” However, “The Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs,” published by Christian publisher Harvest House, describes “God Calling” as a channeled New Age book that was spiritually dictated by a deceptive spirit pretending to be the real Jesus Christ. In their lengthy “Encyclopedia” chapter on channeling and spiritual dictation, Christian authors/apologists John Weldon and John Ankerberg explain that channeling is a form of New Age “mediumship,” which the Bible clearly defines as a “forbidden” practice (Deuteronomy 18:9-12). Under a subheading titled “Impersonations of Christianity,” the authors describe “God Calling” as a New Age book “replete with denials of biblical teaching”8 that “subtly encourages psychic development and spiritistic inspiration under the guise of Christ’s personal guidance … and often misinterprets Scripture.”

Removing ‘God Calling’

Soon after Sarah Young’s endorsement of this New Age book was widely publicized in 2013, all references to “God Calling” were completely removed from all subsequent printings of “Jesus Calling.” Like the missing 18 and a half minutes from Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes, “God Calling” suddenly disappeared from Young’s book. There was no explanation, no apology, no anything. But what was even more disturbing than their obvious damage control, was that Young and her publisher expressed absolutely no concern for the countless people who had already read or were currently reading “God Calling” because of Young’s previous endorsement. Nor was there any expressed concern that – thanks to Young – “God Calling” had been resurrected from semi-obscurity and had become a best-selling book in its own right. It was being printed in multiple editions by multiple publishers and was frequently featured alongside “Jesus Calling” in Christian bookstores and other retail outlets.

Young’s silence

To this day, Sarah Young has yet to publicly renounce, much less even acknowledge, her previous involvement with and endorsement of “God Calling.” The Bible says we are to admit our mistakes – not cover them up (Psalm 32:5). And this is especially true when millions of people have been affected by those mistakes. We are to reprove and expose books like “God Calling” – not just edit them away without any explanation (Ephesians 5:11). Scripture makes it clear that in regard to issues like “God Calling,” we are to let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no” and that it is “evil” to try and avoid the matter by refusing to clarify one’s position (Matthew 5:37).

The fact remains that Sarah Young has stated that she was inspired by “God Calling” to receive her own messages from “Jesus” and described the channeled New Age book as “a treasure to me.” Until she clearly specifies otherwise, we can only assume that where her treasure is, her heart is also.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

 

Finish reading the article here to find nine more reasons why this book is not only heretical but also very dangerous.

Wednesday Wisdom: A True Story of Revival

As you know, I stopped doing Wednesday Wisdom officially about a year and a half ago. However, occasionally, I come across something that I can’t resist sharing–like this testimony of a pastor from the former USSR. His memories of what his country was like is so eerily similar to what’s going on in America, that I thought this may help us find the silver lining to the dark cloud. Perhaps true revival will come to America, as well!

By Georgi P. Vins
(Pastor in USSR who spent 8 years in Soviet prison camps for his faith | Author of The Gospel in Bonds)

forest-gathering-color

Photo: A communion and worship service in the persecuted church in 1984 in Kiev, Ukraine (taken from The Gospel in Bonds; from the personal collection of Georgi Vins’ daughter, Natasha Velichkin; used with permission)

Revival

At the beginning of the 1960s, the Lord sent a spiritual revival among the Evangelical Baptists of the Soviet Union. The revival preceded a great assault from the atheistic authorities. Soviet newspapers and magazines spewed an endless flow of articles against believers and the Christian faith, against the Bible and God. Radio, television, and movies were used for anti-religious propaganda. Believers were fired from their jobs, and Christian young people were kept out of educational institutions.

In 1960, the Soviet leader, head of the Communist party, Nikita Khrushchev, announced a twenty-year program of definitively creating communism in the Soviet Union. By 1980, there was not to be a single Christian left, nor one church. All citizens of the USSR would have to become atheists and confess only Communist ideology.

In Evangelical Baptist churches, sermons on salvation were forbidden, and children under the age of sixteen were not to be permitted to be present at church services. As a primary measure, it was also forbidden to baptize young people under the age of thirty. This decision of the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was enforced by the KGB, the police, and other authorities.

 Unfortunately, some of the ministers of Evangelical Baptist churches, fearing persecution, accepted these ungodly decrees as the basis for their ministry and actively began to implement them in the church. The churches were going through great testings. Many thousands of believers raised their voices in fervent prayer to the Lord for help and deliverance. The Lord heard those prayers and answered His people, as it is written in His Word: “It is time for thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void thy law” (Psalm 119:126).

A spiritual awakening began. New churches started to take shape, and groups of believers who refused to compromise with atheism proclaimed the Word of God as the absolute authority in all matters of faith and life. Young people and children attended newly formed congregations whose worship services often took place in crowded private homes or in forests. These meetings were subject to cruel disruption by the KGB and police, with the police beating up believers, and throwing them out of the meeting houses into the snow. Bulldozers were sometimes used to destroy the places where the meetings took place.

The atheistic authorities went to believers’ work places with threats of arrests and trials. But no one could stop the revival, because the Word of God says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:35-37).

By 1966, several hundred independent fundamental Baptist churches had formed. Sixty to seventy percent of the membership of these churches were young people between the ages of fifteen and thirty. The hearts of believers burned with great love toward God, courage, and selflessness in ministry. My poem “Revival” was written in January of 1966, and five months later, in May of 1966, I was arrested in Moscow for taking part in the revival.

My Savior! How I love Your precious call
To slaves of unbelief, by sin defeated.
You long to bless and have each one delight
In all the joys of our eternal promise.

My Jesus! Mighty is Your matchless love,
Your hands are full of tenderness and kindness,
As constantly You lift to life anew
The sons of earth, to save them from destruction.

Our brethren You have visited once more
With Your pure flame of heaven-sent revival!
For exploits and for suff’ring You inspired
To stand for truth and infinite salvation.

When I behold the vibrant Christian youth
With glowing faces, joyous and exultant,
Their gladness like a boundless ocean’s tide,
Burst forth in ever glorious songs of triumph. . . .

And when I listen to a youthful soul
For the first time, his heart to God uplifting:
Scarce breathing then I reverently pray,
While in my thoughts the sufferers recalling. . . .

I know that not in vain their blood was spilt!
They did not bear the pain and grief for nothing.
For now I see our youth’s pure, fervent love
Their hands stretched out to Christ in supplication.

For the revival burning in our church
And for our youth rejoicing in the Savior—
We may, without misgivings or dismay,
Lay down our very lives in distant prisons.
January 1, 1966
Kiev

Wednesday Wisdom: Unwelcome Changes

packer-gospel-old-new

I haven’t done a Wednesday Wisdom post in a very long time. And I don’t plan on picking it up regularly again, at least not for awhile. But, I heard this today and I just had to share it. It is so profound and describes our current Christian culture so well, that I had to revive Wednesday Wisdom, if just for this week!

This was shared in John MacArthur’s sermon Why We Believe the Bible is True. (By the way, this is the same sermon which I linked to in April’s Bible Challenge Newsletter.)  He quotes J.I. Packer from his introduction for Puritan Theology. I hope that you will take the time to read this whole thing. It is so insightful and helps us to understand just exactly what is wrong with this modern day Christianity we find ourselves in.

J.I. Packer (as quoted by MacArthur) says this–

He said this. “It does not seem possible to deny that the Puritans were the strongest just where evangelical Christians today are the weakest. Here were men of outstanding intellectual power in whom the mental habits fostered by sober scholarship were linked with a flaming zeal for God and a minute acquaintance with the human heart. All their work reveals this unique fusion of gifts and graces. Where the Puritans called for order, discipline, depth and thoroughness, our temper is one of casual, haphazardness and restless impatience. “We crave for stunts, novelties and entertainments. We lost our taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplines, meditation and unspectacular hard work in our study.

“Again, where Puritanism had God and His glory as its unifying center, our thinking revolves around ourselves as if we were the hub of the universe.” And so he writes, “In evangelizing we preach the gospel without the Law and faith without repentance, stressing the gift of salvation and glossing over the cost of discipleship. No wonder so many professed conversions fall away. “And then,” he writes, “in teaching on the Christian life, our habit is to depict it as a path of thrilling feelings rather than of working faith and of supernatural interruptions, rather than of rational righteousness.

“And in dealing with the Christian experience, we dwell constantly on joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction and rest with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith in Psalm 73, or any of the burdens of responsibility and providential chastenings that fall to the lot of the child of God. The spontaneous jollity of the carefree extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, and jolly extroverts in our churches are encouraged to become complacent in carnality while saintly souls of less sanguine temperament are driven almost crazy because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner.” End quote.