The Ticking Clock

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I have always been one of those people who is very sensitive to the noise and light around me. I can drive those who love me just a little crazy with this propensity.

For instance, a few weeks ago we were staying in a lovely hotel for a few days during our college visit. Our room had a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately for me, in that harbor was a nightclub. Around 11pm, I figured they’d probably be closed by midnight (Yes, I realize now that this thought was a bit naive of me! After all, it was a night club!) But they were still going strong at 1am, and then 2 am, and, yes, even at 3am. Now everyone else was sleeping soundly, seemingly unbothered by this sound. But, me–well, I tossed and turned for most of that night, finally downloading a sleep machine app at 3am and putting the sound of “pouring rain” in my ears to drown out the night club.

I am also one of those people that could never possibly read while there is music with words on or while the TV is blaring in the background. I just can’t do that. I wish I could.

So a month or two ago, we re-did our living room. It had been painted a dark red shortly after we moved in–in style at the time but quite out-dated now. And so we bought some new furniture, re-painted, and replaced the old, dusty curtains. And then as the final step, I found some accents and frames to complete the project. One of those accents was an adorable little clock. Since this is the room where I do a lot of my Bible Study and morning devotions, I specifically wanted a clock so I could keep my phone and iPad out of the room and yet still have some idea of the time.

One evening, I put the room back together and carefully placed my accents. I set the clock on the end table right beside me (see photo above). And then I stood back, looked over the room with its calming neutral colors, and snapped a few photos of my finished product.

The next morning, I came downstairs, ready to have my prayer and devotion time in my new room. As I started to pray, something invaded my peace.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, Lord, thank you for…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“And, I just want to ask you to be with…”

Tick. Tick. Tick.

What to do?

I decided to move the tiny culprit, picking it up and setting it on the piano across the room.

As I started to pray, the clock, while a little less noisome, was still a frustrating distraction.

It was at that time that I realized that I could choose whether or not to be annoyed by that ticking clock. It didn’t have to annoy me. That was my choice.

I decided to take my thoughts captive and to choose to ignore that clock. And guess what? A few minutes later, I didn’t even think about it being there. Now I rarely think about it. When the ticking sound does make its way into my thoughts, I choose to turn my thoughts away. As ridiculous as I know this sounds, this has become a little exercise for me in training me to take my thoughts captive!

I do realize that this is a very roundabout way to get to my point, which is–

We choose what bothers us. 

So often we are tempted to blame others for our angry reactions or annoyances or irritations. When we are driving, we blame the guy who cut us off for making us angry. When we are at home, we blame our spouse for irritating us because they didn’t put something away.

But we get to choose how we respond. No one does it for us.

As I sat there listening to that clock, the verse that just kept coming to me over and over was this one–

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

You see, we can’t control anything or anyone but we can control ourselves.

I am dismayed at how often I still allow others to control me. Oh, sure, I can change where I set a clock or even remove it from the room altogether. But I can’t change people. And I can’t change circumstances. Do I take my thoughts captive or do I let them spiral me downward into a state of fear, anxiety, or frustration?

Unfortunately, I already know the answer. I live with my sinful self every single day.

But I continue to work on this! I believe this is one of the ways that the Word changes us. We know that ungodly reactions and concentrating on the wrong things leads to a defeated life. And so we must choose to take our thoughts captive and act and react in a godly way, knowing that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort, strengthen, and guide us.

The clock was painfully prominent when I focused on it. But it faded to the background when I chose to put my focus back on the Lord.

So, too, does this same thing happen in life. Our trials and struggles are so prominent when we focus on them. Hurtful and difficult people are ever-present in our minds. Until we remove our focus from them and turn it to the Lord and His Word.

And making this choice to change focus changes our whole outlook. And trials and difficult people become a way to live out and prove our faith, rather than being a threat to our faith.

 

 

Who Has Your Loyalty?

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I have no idea when my husband decided that he is a GM guy. That is short for General Motors for any of you who are not familiar with car abbreviations. But somewhere along the way he decided that trucks made by General Motors were his favorite and, since then, almost every truck our company has owned over the past thirty years has been a GMC or Chevy. And believe me when I tell you that we have had a lot of trucks come and go over the years. I can remember one Ford that had a short-lived stay here and a couple of Dodges.

Some men are Ford guys or perhaps they are staunch Honda or Toyota fans. Some guys don’t really care. As long as they have a car, they are happy. But for those that care, they generally really care.

The other day I saw a beefed-up Ford diesel truck with an older guy behind the wheel. As I watched him take a right turn from across the intersection, I thought, “That guy really loves his truck.” Lots of men love their trucks. And they are extremely loyal to their brand of truck. When they need a new truck they will buy the same brand of truck again.

Men will often do the same thing with sports teams. It doesn’t matter how awful the season was or who was drafted, they will continue rooting for the same team. They are diehard fans.

This is called loyalty. Or allegiance.

And it made me wonder. Are we Christians as loyal to the Word of God as a man is loyal to his truck brand or his favorite sports team? I know this sounds shallow and ridiculous. But, seriously. A man will passionately talk about these things, praising them, discussing them, and spending many precious hours dedicated to them.

Do we show our loyalty to the Word of God in the same way?

Oh, we read it. We take it to church. And we say that we live by it. But how loyal are we, really?

I ask this because–

Over the recent years, I have noticed a disturbing trend. Something clearly unbiblical will come on the scene. Perhaps it is a book that is mostly biblical but contains flagrant and critical discrepancies when compared to the Word of God. At this, many people will flee their loyalty to the Word and, instead, be loyal to this human author. Or perhaps it is in the area of entertainment, where, suddenly we become loyal to our own selfish desires rather than the Word. We hear people say things like this–

“This book helped me. I know the author isn’t biblical in all areas, but it was really a blessing to me.”

or

“Wasn’t that post great? Sure, I know the author isn’t biblical in all areas and they aren’t solid, but I can just pull the good from the bad. Not a big deal.”

or

“I can go to see that movie or watch that TV show. Sure, it goes against everything God hates, but it’s just entertainment, so it doesn’t matter.”

These statements say that I am more loyal to myself or another human being than I am to the Word of God. That my allegiance is greater to my own desires and pleasures than it is to God.

My guess is that a few of you are probably growing a little irritated by now. You claim that you can read any author and just pull the good from their works. Or you can watch or listen to sinful stuff and not be affected. And while I could debate with you over your conclusions, I have one intrinsic question:

Why do you want to?

Seriously, are we really so prideful to think that we won’t be subtly swayed in an unbiblical direction by an author who gives us 95% truth but fills their book with 5% lies?

Do we love the world so much more than we love God and His Word that we would blatantly spend hours listening to and watching entertainment that is filled with the things the Bible clearly states God hates?

I confess I have been so confused over this for a very long time. People who claim to love God but fill their hearts and minds with materials and resources and entertainment that attack, ridicule, malign, and falsely define Him.

It is far more incongruous than a GM guy buying a Ford. And, believe me, even that would make me scratch my head.

When we decide that we are more loyal to authors, scientists, preachers, or entertainment than we are to the Word, we open ourselves up to being easily swayed by false teachers and worldly philosophies. While none of us will ever perfectly eliminate these things from our lives, it is important that our allegiance always be, first and foremost, to God and His Word. For the Bible is our foundation. And when we start chipping away at it, which is what we see going on in an unbelievable scale in both the world and the church, the Christian faith will become null and void.

May we–you and me–hold fast to the Word of God, no matter what goes on around us. Study it. Learn it. Memorize it. So that we may withstand the wiles of the devil. May our loyalty be always to the Word.

How firm a foundation you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

 

Beyond the Clouds

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No matter what weather is going on down on earth, when a giant, silver-winged plane soars beyond the clouds, the sun soon appears. Have you noticed that, too, when you have had the opportunity to fly? Above all of the black clouds or fuzzy gray fog, we always–without fail–will find the sun.

I have often thought that there is a very similar spiritual parallel to this. As you may already know, I am a Bible Study leader. Currently, we are studying Philippians and I have been struck–as I usually am in this epistle–by Paul’s focus on joy. When you really think about all of the pain and suffering Paul endured (much of it because he was standing for truth), it seems almost incongruous, doesn’t it?

How in the world could Paul have been content and joyful through all of these hardships? And yet, we read in Philippians 4:11-12

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

And he wrote this in 2 Corinthians 7:4

Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.

So just how did Paul learn to be content in all circumstances? What was the source of his joy?

It is generally agreed that the key word for Philippians is the word joy. And that is most definitely the main theme throughout the book.  The Greek noun or verb form of the word “joy” is found over a dozen times. But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Paul mentions Christ 50 times in this short epistle. John MacArthur puts it this way in his introductory sermon on Philippians

The theme of these chapters is joy; Paul mentions it at least 16 times in these four chapters.  He also mentions Christ 50 times.  And that is because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

I think that last sentence is worth repeating–

Because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

Now think about this with me for a moment. Is your joy found in Christ? Because I can tell you right now that this is a huge struggle for me. Instead, I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for happy circumstances and personal comfort and convenience. And when all is lined up just perfectly, then I claim to be joyful. But is this really joy? Or is it rather just a temporary state of well-being that I am calling “joy”?

You may be wondering by now what all this has to do with an airplane and clouds and the sun…

Well, I am glad you asked!

I wonder if we are so desperate for sunny skies and carefree living that we forget that Christ is always there–working through all of our circumstances–whether we can see Him clearly or not. And I wonder if our finite and temporal view of things makes us distracted and forgetful? Are we so focused on the here and now that we lose sight of the big picture?

If we can only see the clouds and forget what is beyond them, we can become embroiled in grief and depression and despair. Without proper perspective, we become unhappy, thankless, selfish people who live just like the rest of the world.

But if we, like Paul, can remember that our joy and, in fact, our very lives, are wrapped up in the Person of Christ, then we become a joyful and peaceful person that not only stands through the storms of life, but who can also boldly testify to the strength and power and faithfulness of Christ’s love through those storms.

For He is always there.

The winds may blow, the skies grow dark, and the rains pour down but Christ will not move. He is the constant that our whole world revolves around.  And He is always there, working in and through the shadows and storms for His glory and our good.

Paul says it best in Romans 8:28-29

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

I guess joy and contentment will always be a battle for most of us. It will be something that eludes us as we focus on ourselves and on our temporal situations. But when we turn our focus to the Lord Jesus, the temporal will fade a bit. Oh, it never fades completely, of course, but it fades a bit. And as we become more and more mature in the faith, we become more and more content. And contentment yields greater joy and peace. Isn’t this a most wonderful thought?

Killing Sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

–HOW TO KILL SIN–

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Love Trumps Hate?

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Last night my daughter showed me this picture she drew. It was her expression of feeling regarding the hypocrisy of what has gone on over the past few days. I have been trying to process it, as well. For a campaign that talks so very much about love and freedom, it would seem that love is only for those who are on their side and freedom is not for everyone.

Now, first, let me state that, just as I don’t want to be lumped along in with every person using the name of Christ, I don’t want to lump all Democrats together. I am sure there are many who are appalled at what people are doing in the name of their party.

But they are doing it nonetheless. Making threats. Spewing forth malicious venom. All while getting lots of coverage from the liberal media. I think we always knew that Hollywood leaned far left but this election has most certainly given us a whole new understanding of that, hasn’t it?

Even Trump’s ten-year-old son hasn’t escaped the vitriol of a world gone mad with hatred.

What kind of person picks up a mic and speaks such malevolent words? What kind of person tweets such hateful, ugly things about a child?

It is a person full of hate and wickedness. It is someone like…you and me.

It is who we could be without Christ. Who we were before Christ. Every single one of us has the same propensity to act in such a wicked way.

It is who Paul was before his conversion, as we read in Galatians 1:13-16a —

For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,

God saved Paul and he took on Christ’s righteousness, having his sin covered by the blood of Christ. He then went on to be used by God in tremendous ways.

In many ways, these people who are so full of hatred who we have watched these past few days are no different than Paul was or than any other person who has singled out a person or a group of people and persecuted them. Many times even unto death.

So the question that begs to be asked is what should be our response?

I have to confess as the new stories of such hatred have clogged up my Facebook feed, filled the airwaves, and covered our TV screens, I have not been filled with Christ’s love. My natural inclination is to feel hatred back. To reciprocate. To build the hatred between two very different groups of people with two very different dreams for this great country.

And yet–

I remember Jesus, on the cross, in pain and agony and hated by the masses–

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:33-34)

Father, forgive them. Such love. Such incredible love.

And I remember this, too–God forgave me. Wicked, sinful me. He reached out in love and washed me with his blood. I love how Paul puts this in I Corinthians 6:9-11–

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

And so it is best not to forget who we were before Christ. Who we could be without Christ.

So does love trump hate? Yes, it most certainly does. But it is not the kind of love that hates when it doesn’t get its own way. It is not the kind that feels it can say or do whatever it wants to advance its agenda.

The love that trumps hate is the kind that speaks truth. It is love that will sacrifice personal glory and reputation so that even one man can be saved from eternal damnation. It is the kind that responds kindly when attacked by the enemy. It is love that only Jesus Christ can give.

My daughter reminded me last night, as we talked about the hopelessness we feel in this world gone mad, how the one encouraging thing about this is how brightly we shine as believers in such darkness. She’s right, you know. Even a small light shines in the darkness with an intensity that would dissipate in the company of brighter lights.

And so this is our opportunity to shine with the true love of Christ. May we embrace the challenge instead of joining the hating, throbbing malicious mass on either side of the fence. Let’s stand firmly on the Word of God, loving with a love that doesn’t make sense to the world and speaking the truth of God’s Word without apology. And may we never forget who we were–who we could be– without Christ.

 

 

Being Molded to Look Like Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we need to continue reading verse 29–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Velvet Soft

velvet softIt has been a long winter around here so far. My husband and I have been fighting colds on and off for about a month now. And so the other day I was out and about and found that I needed a tissue. I looked for the nearest box and found one with a label that said Velvet Soft. This makes one think of a luxuriously soft and plush fabric. My nose was expecting to feel something akin to velvet. What if felt was something that was more like sandpaper.

Oh, what a great example of false marketing! It happens everywhere. As if somehow a label on something will actually make it true. I see this especially happening with the label “Christian”. As if putting the word “Christian” on a book or a movie will mean that it is representing biblical Christianity. However, more and more, this label is bringing into the Church books, entertainment, and even sermons that are decidedly unbiblical in their approach to God and His Word.

Why is this?

To put it simply, I believe it is because the focus of Christianity has been removed from our perfect and holy God’s objective truth to sinful, fallible man’s subjective experiences. I like how David F. Wells puts this–

“…And many in the Church have now turned in upon themselves and substituted for the knowledge of God a search for the knowledge of self.”

And this–

“And are we not consumed with what is changing in cultural and personal circumstance rather than with what is unchanging about life, the great universal truths about God, the world, and human nature? Have we not substituted the relative for the absolute, the Many for the One, diversity for unity, the human for the divine, our own private religious experience for truth that was once also public and universal in its scope?”

He wrote this in 1994. What this tells me is that this battle for truth has been going on for many more years than most of us realize. Of course, it has been going on forever. But, within the church, we have had an especially vicious attack and it would appear that Satan has won. Most people who call themselves Christians are far more concerned with their own personal happiness and supernatural experiences than they are with who God is. They are more concerned with being fulfilled and satisfied than they are in taking up their cross and denying themselves. They are more interested in dialoguing than in studying the Word of God.

Where does this leave us true Bible believers? How should we respond? I have a few observations and suggestions–

1. First, we must be aware that not all things labeled velvet soft are actually velvety soft. In other words, just because something has a label that looks appealing or true doesn’t mean it is. We must be willing to discern. If we aren’t, false doctrine will steal in and change what we believe so subtly that we may be completely unaware. We must be on guard at all times. We cannot rest.

2. We have to stop thinking with our hearts. Unlike the “velvet soft” tissue, which revealed its deceit the moment it touched my nose, false doctrine and apostasy will actually feel pretty good. If we use our hearts to judge something to be right or wrong, we will most likely come up with the wrong answer.

Of course, we are being told to listen to our hearts. It’s everywhere–from Disney to Hallmark movies to church. What makes you happy? What works for you? These have become the two litmus tests for truth. But this should never be a believer’s test for truth. We, of all people, should know better. We have the very Word of God and we should know that this is where we discern truth.

Interestingly enough, the other day I heard a Christian song from the 90s that I had loved and listened to often. I guess I never listened to the words because right there in the song was the line–

Until I stop thinking with my head
And start listening to my heart
And there I find my assurance

Wait! What?!? This goes completely against the Word of God (Matthew 15:19; Jeremiah 17:9). This was a song by a popular Christian artist, although I don’t believe the actual song was ever that popular. The whole song is actually a ballad of mysticism and I had never, ever caught it–until yesterday. This is what we have been feeding ourselves for years without even thinking about it. No wonder so many of us are listening to our hearts. We have been told to from all directions we turn. But this is not how or where we find truth.

3. When we find out that something labeled “velvet soft” isn’t velvety soft, we must turn away from it and encourage others to turn away from it, as well. It isn’t enough to turn away and then pretend like it never happened. If we truly love God and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ we must advise others to turn away, as well. If we understand that a book (for example, The Shack or Jesus Calling) is doing great damage to the hearts and minds of fellow believers, it is our duty out of the love we feel for God and our fellow Christians to speak the truth.

But most of us don’t want to do this because it is downright difficult. In fact, we will often be called unloving and judgmental when we are doing the most loving thing possible. People will mock us and make jokes about us. They will talk about us behind our backs and decide they don’t like us. All this while we, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, are reaching out in love to them with the truth of God’s Word. Personal discernment is hard, but actually telling others about what you have learned can feel almost impossible in this current church culture.

(Of course, there are always those who are not loving when they share truth. Instead, they are prideful and arrogant. They have no social sense of when or when not to speak. This is unacceptable for discerning believers. We must be quite sure we are not one of these types! We can hold firmly to the truth without being unkind and annoying.)

If we are trying to lovingly tell someone the truth and it is not so lovingly received, we must remember to keep our focus on Christ. This is when it is critically important to remember that we must find our hope, peace,and joy in God alone. Of course, we want people to like us. We want them to think we are fun and cool. But it is not our calling to be liked by the world (In fact, Jesus tells us we won’t be liked by the world in John 15:18-19). We have one calling only: to know God and make Him known. This includes defending His Word amidst the mass apostasy going on in our churches.  I love how Jude puts this–

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God[b] and our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so, as we find ourselves surrounded by things labeled velvet soft that are actually daggers poised to destroy our faith in God and His Word, may we be wisely discerning. May we look to God’s Word for truth instead of our own wicked hearts. And may we bravely and honorably contend for and defend the faith that was delivered to us once for all in God’s Word.

 

Grateful or Greedy?

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Have you ever been around anyone who talks about Jesus like He is their own personal genie? Instead of a grateful heart, they have a greedy heart. Instead of wanting to serve Jesus, they want to get from Jesus. Instead of denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus (Matthew 16:24), they want sunshine and roses and happy times and, believing this is what they deserve, they fully expect Jesus to fulfill their every wish and desire.

I finished out last year with reading Luke. When I came to verse 8 in chapter 23, it caught my eye. This is what it says–

Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.

As we read on, we can see that Herod had no interest in being saved from his sin, he was just glad to see Jesus because he had heard so much about him and he wanted to see a miracle done by him.

Oh, how often we can be like Herod!

So many of us only want to accept good gifts from Jesus. We come to Him selfishly, fully expecting Him to fix everything in our lives and to give us a happy, satisfying life here on earth. We want Him to fix our broken marriages, our rebellious children, and our dysfunctional families. We want Him to change someone or to give us financial stability or to whisper sweet nothings in our ear.

But this is not how the Bible describes Jesus. Jesus is our Savior from sin. When we are saved from sin and accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, nothing is ever the same again. Life becomes not about what we can get from Jesus but about what we can give to Jesus.

Instead of grasping for peace and joy and material wealth and supernatural answers to prayer, we should rest in God’s Sovereignty. Instead of using unbiblical methods and supernatural experiences to “know God” (I would argue that these do not lead us to knowledge of the only True God but are instead leading us to our deadliest enemy), we should read His word with a submissive heart that is ready to obey–no matter what the cost.

(Truly–I am astounded just how many believers are caught up in experiencing the supernatural. They want to hear Jesus speak to them or they want to feel God’s presence. But these teachings are not found in God’s Word but are, instead, based on principles of ancient Catholic mysticism. And, honestly, it is our human nature to be attracted to this type of thing because it makes us feel good and seems to be a much easier way to be “close to God” than what the Bible teaches.)

But there are few short cuts in this world and certainly none when it comes to knowing God. Knowing God means digging into His Word. Knowing God will mean denying ourselves. Knowing God will cost us.

This is not what most of us signed up for when we said a prayer one Sunday morning or at camp as a teenager. We came to Jesus because we expected Him to solve all of our problems and to make us happy and fulfilled. Like Herod, we were anxious to watch Him work miracles–hopefully in our own lives.

And yet this view of Jesus is so incomplete. Yes, He will help us. Yes, He will sometimes work in ways that astound us. But, mostly, following Jesus will be a hard and narrow path, full of rocks and twists and turns (Matthew 7:13-14). It means we will be hated by the world and even sometimes by those who call themselves Christians (John 15:19). It means we will give up our own personal dreams and purposes and happiness, in order to bring glory to our heavenly Father and to further His kingdom (Matthew 6:19-21). It means we submit to being pruned and shaped as the Father wills (John 15:1-2).

This is not a popular viewpoint, is it? And yet, this is what we read in scripture.

As we grow in Christ, let’s be sure to keep a biblical view on what this really means. Let’s be in the Word, reading it in context to understand who Jesus really is. And let’s turn our backs on the vain philosophies of men and the deceitful workings of false teachers that are in abundance around us, wooing us with promises of short cuts to God through mystical experiences. Instead of being greedy and only caring about what Jesus will give us, let’s have a grateful heart and be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

Instead of being like Herod, let’s be like Paul–

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

 

 

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.

Does God Only Care About My Heart?

heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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