The Best Christian You’ve Never Heard Of

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Yesterday, I watched this very amazing video. It was a man singing a very popular song, using 21 different character voices that he plays in Disney movies. As he would change singing voices, a little picture of the character would pop up to match the voice. It was so interesting and this guy is unbelievably talented!

And yet, while many of us are more than a little familiar with many of the movies he takes part in (especially if we have kids), most of us have never heard of this guy. We wouldn’t know him if he walked by us in the street. We would not even recognize his name.

It reminded me of something I heard in a question and answer session I just listened to online the other day. The speaker was Paul Washer and he was speaking to students of Master’s Seminary who hope to become missionaries someday. Unbeknownst to me, Paul Washer was a missionary before he ever became an evangelist. This session was really helpful for any Christian — whether you are going on the mission field or not.

One of the things he talked about was that many of the best preachers and missionaries will never have any fame or glory. We’ve never met them or even heard of them. They preach amazing sermons to six people in the jungle or give selflessly, at risk to themselves, when they see a need. He went on to talk about the brother (or brother-in-law) of Jim Elliot. I was completely unfamiliar with him or his ministry, which was exactly his point. This man had labored–had died to himself and his own desires–every day for sixty years on the mission field and no one had ever heard of him. But everyone has heard of Jim Elliot. His point was well-taken.

There are men and women all over the world in the Lord’s service who sacrifice their wants, their desires, and their health for the sake of the gospel every day. And yet, we don’t even know their names.

And, since few of us reading this are official missionaries, let’s bring this closer to home. This isn’t just about being a missionary on a foreign field. In this fame-fascinated world we live in, we can start believing that we can’t possibly be of true use if we are only ministering to a few. We start thinking that, unless we are pastoring a mega-church or writing to an audience of thousands, our work for the Lord is pointless. Bigger is better. Is this really true or have we been deceived?

God asks us in Romans 12:1-2 to be a living sacrifice for Him. There are no conditions on how many, who, or where in these verses.

Did you know that there are most likely amazing living sacrifices as part of your life in your world right where you are? Parents who bring unloved children into their homes, loving them like Christ commands, without any expectation of reward or thought of glory. Faithful Sunday School teachers who pour their hearts and souls into teaching children and adults the Word of God every week. Parents who follow God’s instructions on raising kids, by both loving and disciplining them faithfully. Nurses and doctors who selflessly give to the sick and the elderly,  taking every opportunity to share the hope that is within them because of Jesus. Men and women who bravely tell the truth to a world that loves lies. Men and women who faithfully minister to the sick and needy of their church families.

I guess the Christian life really isn’t about fame and glory, after all. It is about doing well the mundane work that has been set before us and responding to the needs that we see in the world around us. It’s about doing the right thing, no matter what the world thinks (John 15:19). It’s about knowing God by studying His Holy Word (Psalm 119:105-106). It’s obedience (I John 2: 3-6) and striving to live a holy and pure life (I Peter 1:15). It’s about whole-heartedly loving others (I Peter 1:22). It’s about ministering sacrificially for the sake of others (James 1:27) And It’s about sharing the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20). This is sacrificial living.

And, while there are some really wonderful “famous” Christians, I am guessing that many of the most decorated crowns in heaven will be on the heads of those we have never even heard of.

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

The Secret to True Peace

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Some of you are old enough to remember the hippies of the sixties and their use of the word “peace”. It was kind of a buzz word of that era. I think this was probably in reaction to the Vietnam War. I was just a baby during that time so my personal memories are very limited.

I have been thinking a bit about this word peace for a few weeks now. Mostly because I have not really had it. These past few years have brought so many changes so fast–and there are more to come–that I have had a hard time settling into a normal. I have a hard time being at peace when things are not normal. I like routine. I didn’t realize how important routine was to me. But now that life is changing so much so quickly, I can see how I have relied on my circumstances remaining pretty status quo. Most of my change is just normal life change. It’s just–for me–it is all happening at once instead of gradually. My head feels like it is spinning.

I have handled all of this in a variety of ways–crying, denial, just pushing through, fighting back, being irritable with others–but through it all I have not felt peaceful.

And then the other day I heard a sermon by the husband of a dear friend of mine. He had lots of good things to say in that sermon, but the one thing that really resonated with me was the part about peace. You see, I think most of us believe peace is a calm and carefree life without trials. It means a world without war and disease. In fact, many people in the world are working feverishly to bring peace to the world.

But the Bible makes it clear that we will never experience peace in this world until Jesus returns. Even Jesus Himself assured us that He did not come to bring peace–

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34).

This means we shouldn’t expect earthly peace. And it is also clear in God’s Word that we should not expect peace in our circumstances since we read this in John–

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will[a] have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In fact, in James we read that we are to actually count it all joy when we have trials–

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

And in Romans we read–

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have[a] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 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. (Romans 5:1-5)

So from these verses we can see that our peace is not dependent upon a carefree life or a world without war.

So how do we have peace? John 16:33 tells us that our peace will come from our relationship with Christ. Our peace will be inward because we are reconciled to God through Christ. It is not about external circumstances.

In Isaiah 26:3 we find instructions on how to be in perfect peace–

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.

We must keep our mind stayed on God. We must be willing to put our trust in Him that He will work all things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

I don’t know about you but, personally, I can find this quite a challenge. Not only in my personal life but in all of the craziness going on in the world. We read of terrorist attacks and shooting sprees and we come face to face with our mortality. At any time in any place we could breathe our last. If we don’t keep our mind stayed in the right place, we will become anxious and nervous. If we don’t keep our mind on God and His glory and purposes, we will become frustrated and disillusioned when things don’t work out in our lives the way we thought they should.

This is no easy task, mind you. It is our natural human tendency to worry and fret and to long for peace in our external world. While we know from the scriptures that true external peace will not happen on this earth, we are promised internal peace through our saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And this is the kind of peace that truly matters.

Not only should we not expect external peace, but we learn from the Bible that God uses trials and tribulations to help us grow. We read in the Romans passage from above that trials produce perseverance and perseverance produces character and character produces hope. God is using our trials to make us more like Christ!

And so I have been challenged recently to be sure that anything in my life that I am unhappy about will be used by God to draw me to Him and to grow me as a believer. Instead of being a discontented and unhappy person, I want to learn perseverance and to be a light to those around me. And God is teaching me that the only way this can happen–the secret to true peace–is to keep my mind stayed on Him instead of on my circumstances.  He is teaching me that true peace come through my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and is not dependent on being free from trials and tribulations (or life changes happening all at once!)

I have let you see a little bit into my own personal struggles this morning. I don’t know if there is someone else out there who has these same struggles, but I thought I would share what the Lord has been teaching me. It is my hope that any who are struggling will be encouraged to look to the Lord for internal peace rather than grasping for illusive, impossible external peace. I hope that, together, we can grow more like Christ through all of life’s changes and trials.

 

 

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.

What My Gingerbread House Taught Me About Social Media

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

Photos demanding we look better.

Photos demanding we have more stuff.

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

Photos crying out that we just aren’t enough.

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

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

Which I learned in a big way the other night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The model’s desperate battle with anorexia.

The movie star’s drug addiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does God Only Care About My Heart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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