Christianity

That Elusive Contentment

I sat at my computer working on one of my least favorite jobs in our landscaping company. It’s not something I have to do often but it is something that needs to be done. I reminded myself how much I hate this job (inside my head) a few times before remembering a conversation I had had with my youngest daughter a few days before.

She was telling me how she thrives on trying new things and pursuing new hobbies but that sometimes there are seasons in life that there is no time for that because there are other priorities. And how important it is to find contentment even when there isn’t the next and new hobby or adventure or experience. She went on to say how sad it is that her generation is being taught to always look for the next “experience” to fulfill them.

And that is what has happened. While my generation was about getting stuff, her generation is about getting experiences. Many of them hop from one to the next. Their contentment is driven by these new experiences.

But it matters not whether we search after contentment in stuff or in experiences. Both are deceiving us into believing contentment can be found outside of God.  In fact, our search for contentment in anything outside of God is fruitless and disappointing.

As I sat there at my computer, I thought about the impatience I feel when I am doing a job I don’t like. Let’s just get this over with and move on. But this time–and maybe for the first time ever–I took a moment to think about why I am telling myself I hate this job. It really is not that bad. God has given me the tools to do it and it’s a small part of my life. And I suddenly recognized the need to be content even in doing this mundane, ordinary job that I don’t like.

This really made me reflect on this idea of contentment. So many of us spend our lives jumping from one stage, one experience, one remodel, or one big purchase to the next. We have been taught that contentment comes with change. And so we are constantly changing.

Our culture has molded us to want and desire change. How often do we find a favorite scent or flavor of something just to find it has left the store shelves never to return? Or we go into the bank and the person you’ve talked to forever has been moved to a different branch? Just because. (That actually happened to me many years ago– my bank at the time moved their employees every three months so you could never get to know any of them. That was when I left that bank.)

But somehow in the midst of the constant changing, we became convinced that change is what it will take to make us happy. If my kid will just reach this stage. Or if my husband would just do this. If we’d just make more money or be able to redo the kitchen. Or if we could just lose weight or get a college degree. You can fill in your own sentence here. We all have our own “next thing”.

But I am learning–ever so slowly–that when that thing arrives that you thought would make you content, it only lasts for a bit and then your heart feels empty again and that next change calls your name. It’s a vicious and never-ending cycle.

So how do we find real and lasting contentment? Where does it come from and how do we get it?

As always, the Bible has something to say about this! Let’s take a look–

 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Before we get to that beautiful promise that God will never leave us or forsake us, we have this seemingly irrelevant sentence: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. Why would the Holy Spirit direct the author of Hebrews to write that? Perhaps it is because God knows full well that His being with us and never forsaking us is enough. Why do we covet and crave the temporal? We can be content with whatever God has given us at any give time, knowing full well we rest wholly in His sovereign and loving care.

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (I Timothy 6:6-8)

These verses remind us that all of these things we hunger after are just temporary. We cannot take any of this with us when we die. It will all fade away back to dust. Does someone live a fuller, happier life because they have a million dollar house and can buy anything they want? Does someone live a fuller, happier life because they have traveled the world? Well, maybe…but maybe not. Because the Grandma over there who has submitted to the Lord’s will for her life and chosen to obey Him is going to have a much better life than the Grandma that hasn’t, even if they have everything money can buy. The young man who chooses to go into his trade job, joyfully living for Christ, is going to be far happier than the young man who has a prestigious career but follows his own selfish desires.

The choices we make in our lives that bring God glory always also bring us the greatest contentment. God’s plan and workings are both mysterious and quite amazing!

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. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

These are probably the most well-known verses regarding this subject of contentment. When we read Acts, we recognize that Paul isn’t just writing this out of thin air. He’s writing it out of his own personal experience. He has both abounded and has suffered need. He has learned this the hard way.

So what is Paul’s key to this contentment? First, we see from verse 13 that he recognizes that contentment comes from Christ alone. That it is Christ who strengthens us in all circumstances and that turning our eyes upon Jesus and taking them off of our circumstances is the key to this contentment.

But I think we can also gain a little insight into this contentment of Paul’s by turning back a few chapters in Philippians–

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. (Philippians 3:7)

It is here that we recognize that Paul was able to find contentment because he understood that earthly gain matters not a bit. Christ was his center. Christ was the source of his contentment. To live is to live for Christ alone. To die is to be with Christ for all eternity.

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And so scripture reminds us that true and lasting contentment isn’t found in changing our circumstances. Rather, it is found in changing ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13).

May we turn to the Word as we seek after contentment rather than turn to the world with all of its empty promises and fleeting feelings. The world might make fabulous promises but they are barren and hollow. The Bible, on the other hand, not only makes promises, but God keeps every promise He makes. True contentment only comes through trusting and obeying God.

 

 

 

Considering Our Legacy

The other day I was paging through an old photo album. I got to the page which held the sepia-toned likenesses of my great grandparents. I took a moment and stared at those eight faces. All but two of them were gone before I was born. The two that were alive died when I was a young child. Those eight people are strangers to me. I have little recollection of them nor did they have any input in my life.

Or did they?

They must have. For they shaped the grandparents that would shape the parents that would shape me.

But two generations later they are simply photos to those who come after them. There aren’t even memories to warm my heart as I look at their photos.

I think of this as I consider the children of my grandchildren. I will most likely not have any great impact in their lives. If God would so bless me then, for sure, that blessing would end by the time the great-great grandchildren came along. You see, we are always just a couple generations from being forgotten.

I was struck by this same brevity and insignificance as I have been reading Daniel. As God gives Daniel prophecies of the things to come, it brings to mind just how small I really am. It is both humbling and important to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Most of us will die less than a hundred years after we are born and the majority of us will go unremembered in the annals of history.

But there is much we can do to bless future generations. We are given this precious opportunity to shape our children who will then shape their children who will then shape their children and on and on it goes.

So often, godly heritage is lost as the following generations go on a downward spiral. Whatever you choose to do, your kids will go just a step further, and on and on, until the future generations are lost to worldliness and immorality.

While we surely can’t stop this from happening, we can do our best to keep it from happening.

And I am reminded once more of the critical nature of following hard after God. We get lazy and we think our choices to not study the Bible or to remain prayerless for weeks on end affect only us. We somehow believe our choices to sin or to compromise are personal choices. But these choices echo into the halls of eternity through those that come after us.

Our daily choices are, by God’s very design, affecting future generations.

In light of this, we are led to a very important question–

Am I living life in a way I want my children and grandchildren to emulate?

So many people are just living for themselves these days. It’s the way of the world. As believers, we need to set a much higher standard. We need to not only live for Christ, we need to strive to be like Him. We must be intentional and single-minded in our submission and obedience to God.

Of course, we are reminded of God’s marvelous grace when we remember that some of you have been plucked right out of your worldly, ungodly families to be saved for God’s glory and His purposes. How awesome is that? You actually get to be the beginning of godly heritage for those future generations that come after you. What a privilege!

And, while setting a great example is of utmost importance, let’s also remember the critical nature of passing on the baton of godly heritage through communication. Let’s talk about the things that are of eternal significance with our kids and grandkids. Let’s point them to the Word, explaining why it is our only true anchor in this life.

We also can’t underestimate the power of prayer as we consider the future generations. Many years ago now, I started praying that the generations after me would grow stronger rather than weaker. It has been an awe-inspiring thing to watch God begin to answer that prayer as my kids grow–and that despite the many weaknesses and sin struggles of their parents. I didn’t realize until recently that my mother has been praying the same thing for her kids and grand-kids for many years. Prayer is an invaluable blessing, given to us by God.

So what if you don’t have kids? Does that give you a free pass in this legacy stuff? We know it doesn’t. There are young people around you that need a godly example. You can support godly parents of children you know by confirming what they are trying to teach their children. You can come alongside a child or teen that sadly lacks a godly example in their lives. How many people have been affected by godly men and women who are unrelated to them because that person reached out and gave them the gift of time and wisdom?

God will give all of us ample opportunity to build our legacies, if we will just look for the opportunities.

I don’t know how long we will be on this old earth but, for however long it is, may it be our deepest hope and ongoing prayer that the generations coming after us desire nothing more than to know Christ and to make Him known. May they stand firmly on the Solid Rock, be full of faith, and be bolder, stronger, and wiser than we are.

Because, as we watch the crumbling world around us, it’s pretty clear they will need to be.

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Praise the Lord!

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.

His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed.

Psalm 112:1-2

 

 

What Really Matters When Life Falls Apart?

This world is full of so much suffering. The latest we’ve been hearing about (or experiencing, depending where we find ourselves in the world at this time) is the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. There are many different stories, accounts, and reports making their rounds and, as has become the norm for us, we wonder who we should believe. There are so many lies. So much false information.

This is why hearing from reliable, first-hand sources becomes important in these situations. What is really going on? While there is much we can’t know, there is also so much we do know.

We know, with certainty, that the lives of millions of people have been thrown into utter turmoil in just a few hours. Sleep, food, water, gas have all become so much more precious as the Ukrainians strive to survive in the midst of an invasion by a neighboring country. They are sleeping in bomb shelters or corridors in order to protect their lives. Can’t imagine any of them are getting much sleep in that situation, can you? The shelves at the stores are becoming empty and they are starting to wonder how they will get food. If they want to escape the city, they find they can hardly move as they fight their way through all of the chaos and confusion. If you can even get gas, which has become scarce. Overnight, apartment buildings of peaceful citizens have been bombed in several cities, leaving innocent victims without homes in the middle of the winter. If they even survived the bombing…

Some of these struggling people are our Christian brothers and sisters. There is a thriving church in that country. Years ago, I was in Ukraine for a couple of weeks and one of my fondest memories is worshiping with the Christians there. I can remember singing in English while they were singing Ukrainian and feeling our bond in Christ. If we are believers, then we have family in Ukraine. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And they are really struggling right now.

Last week, my daughter, Jess, sent a couple text messages that are the heart of today’s post. She said something that really made me reflect on what really matters when your life falls apart. Such as what is happening to our Ukrainian siblings right now. At this moment.

Basically, her thought was if your Christianity can’t sustain you through these times, then it probably isn’t genuine. If it doesn’t work for Ukrainians in bomb shelters, Chinese imprisoned for their faith, or Nigerians and Indians under death threats from extremists, is it even real? Or is it, rather, some made-up ridiculousness that has absolutely no value when life grows ugly?

Do you think our Ukrainian Christian brothers and sisters are talking about their dreams or self-fulfillment? Are they sitting around and discussing the feminist agenda or social justice? Do you think getting wealthy is even on their list of priorities?

When life falls apart, none of these things matter. Not even a bit.

What matters are God’s promises to sustain us. To be our shield. To protect and shelter us. To give us peace and joy and comfort. The kind of peace and joy that goes far beyond “happily ever after” because, let’s face it: We all know life doesn’t work like that. It is not happily ever after (at least not in this world) and Christians do die in explosions. They get cancer and heart attacks at the most inopportune times. They lose their businesses and their savings. They get viciously killed by those who oppose them.

Christians are not guaranteed a happy life without problems. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest we are. Christians are not to fight for social justice (a Marxist term, never a Christian one) or to fix the world. We aren’t to be focused on our own selfish agendas or to use God like a genie in the sky to get what we want.

If anything can show us that these types of “Christianity” are false, it is what is happening right now.

What exactly does the Bible teach us about the Christian life? What does it say we can expect?

Yes, we can expect trials and troubles. Rather than avoiding them, the Bible says God will use them to grow us (Romans 8:28-29; James 1:2-4).

Yes, we can expect to be hated by the world, because our own Lord was hated. But we know that this is proof that we are Christ’s own and that the Holy Spirit will help us endure…even unto death (John 15).

So, contrary to much that is taught from “Christian” pulpits today, we cannot avoid these things. There is no magic prayer or sum of money we can give to a {fake} apostle that is going to miraculously make our life wonderful.

But, while we know these things will come (and may already be upon us), we also have the rich and abundant promises of our Heavenly Father to carry us through–

He will never, ever forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

The peace He gives is not like the world; it surpasses understanding (John 14:27; Philippians 4:6-7).

He will walk with us through the “valley of the shadow of death” so that we need not fear evil (Psalm 23).

When we fall, we shall not be utterly cast down for the Father upholds us with His hand (Psalm 37:23-24)

Of course, as we read of God’s promises, we also find in scripture that there is an attitude we must have in order to experience these promises of God to the fullest–

We must keep our mind stayed on God (Isaiah 26:3)

We must trust in the Lord (Psalm 112:7)

We must choose not to worry or to be anxious (Matthew 6:34; Philippians 4:6-7)

We must cast our burden on the Lord (Psalm 55:22)

We must draw near to Him in truth (Psalm 145:18)

We must forsake the world and purify our lives (James 4:1-10)

And, then, after all of this, there is one important thing to remember that helps us to keep all of this in biblical perspective: The true believer knows that their best life isn’t now. It is the one to come!

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:1-4)

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

The verses I’ve shared above are just a small sampling of the promises, the hope, and even the instruction that we find in God’s Word for those who have repented and trusted in Christ alone for their salvation. We can experience peace in the midst of the greatest storm. It has been a great joy reading of Ukrainian Christians testifying to this very thing!

I don’t think there are any Ukrainians turning to God’s Word to find out how they can be rich this morning. They are trusting in God to see them through the next day, the next hour…perhaps just the next few minutes.

What kind of Christianity are you hearing about on Sunday mornings? What is your preacher preaching? Is he pointing you to God’s Word as the final authority for the Christian life? Is he interpreting the Bible historically, grammatically, and literally, rather than allegorizing great chunks of it and casting doubts on its authenticity?

These are important questions we need to ask ourselves as the world grows darker. If we aren’t being fed true, biblical Christianity we are at much risk for having shallow roots that will not hold in life’s storms, much less in the chaos and confusion that threatens to consume us in the days ahead. We must be in the Word, both personally and in our churches. If our church is not preaching biblical Christianity, then we should not stay.

I don’t know how I ended up on challenging you all on your churches, but I believe that it is probably a challenge that we all need to hear. So many sit under and are influenced by ungodly preaching these days. May we not be numbered among them.

 

 

What Do They See?

This past week, when I was at Target, I noticed a line of men about ten or fifteen deep snaking towards the back of the store. Without obviously staring, I assessed that they all seemed to be somewhere in their twenties and thirties.

I looked around to try to figure out what they were waiting for. Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked a store clerk who stood nearby.

“Oh, some new Pokémon cards or something are coming out today.”

Wait. What? Grown men waiting for Pokémon cards? Are you kidding me?

The clerk at the check-out counter elaborated further. Pointing over to the lady who was restocking the shelves, she informed me that the men weren’t allowed to go to the shelves until they were fully restocked.

While I can’t know the story behind why any particular grown man was in that line (maybe it was for his kid?), the fact that there was a line of grown men waiting to purchase something that was designed for children was mind-boggling to me.

These full-grown men who are still interested in the toys of children stand in stark contrast to the three men of Daniel 3. Some commentators estimate that the incident in this chapter happened around 15 years after they were taken as exiles into Babylon. That would put Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego around thirty years of age.

They had left childish things behind many years before. While only teens, they had had to make the difficult decision not to eat the King’s food out of their loyalty to God. They were already thinking about what is most important and who gets their allegiance.

When, years later, they were faced with the choice to bow down to the golden image as Nebuchadnezzar demanded or to stay true to God, they were prepared.

You have to just absolutely stand in amazement of these men as they answered Nebuchadnezzar’s demand for worship and consequential threat of the fiery furnace—

 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up. Daniel 3:17-18

As I reflect on these three young men and the stand they took for the Lord, I can’t help but think of the men who stood in line for… cards.

The world is so obsessed with the things that do not matter.

And the world is teaching men specifically to never grow up. For a man captivated by a world of video games, sports, and children’s toys are men who are rendered ineffective in their families. If they are believers, they are rendered useless for Christ and stand unprepared to face the hard trials ahead.

Instead of digging deep roots of faith through prayer and Bible Study, they squander countless hours on their idols that matter not a bit in the scope of eternity.

Oh, what a sad, sad state this is. While we can expect this kind of thing from the young men of the world, how utterly devastating to see this in the life of Christian young men.

This leads us to consider our own role in creating godly character of the young men (and women, too) in our lives. Are we teaching them to love and serve the Lord above all else? As parents and grandparents, are we teaching them by our words and deeds to reflect and care about the eternal things of life?

Or are we ourselves obsessed with the stuff of life that just doesn’t matter? Education, entertainment, hobbies, popularity, careers, material possessions, recreation, health and fitness…all of these things (and so many more) can so easily become idols in our lives, replacing the eternal with the temporal; replacing what is everlasting with what is short-term; replacing our love for God with our love for ourselves.

Most of the things listed above are not wrong in and of themselves. It’s the obsession that brings the danger.

May we be like those three men in Daniel 3–turning away from those ungodly idols that would demand our time and attention and digging deep roots of faith so that we are fully prepared to take a stand for God and truth when necessary, no matter the cost.

Our kids are watching. Our grandchildren are watching. Your family and friends and co-workers–they are all watching. What will they see?

Will they see that you are sold out for Christ or will they see a person obsessed with something that just doesn’t matter?

What do they see?

 

 

Without Excuse

Several months ago now, we sat down around our conference table in the office and made the difficult decision to discontinue services for a few customers. These are excruciating decisions for any entrepreneur but the reasons were important and varied and the list was a very short one. For some of them, snow removal was included in their contract. We wanted to get this letter of discontinuation of services into their hands as soon as possible so as to give them plenty of time to find a new contractor. The letters were written and sent out.

A few days ago, we had our first snow of the year. Imagine our surprise when no less than three of these customers whom we sent letters to in a timely fashion called to yell at us for not showing up. One claimed they never got the letter. However, because we know of this particular person’s penchant to ignore letters such as these, we also emailed it to her. We know she got it. A second flippantly said he just didn’t bother to open the letter. I am not sure of the third’s excuse.

At first, I was astounded at the lack of professionalism that plagues this world. One of these was an apartment complex. Another was a business. The third was a homeowner. How do you justify not opening a letter if you are in charge of an apartment complex or a business? I have to admit I was floored at the lack of responsibility.

But even stranger– they berated and scolded us for not doing their snow. They listed all of the reasons why we should do their snow. They listed what all their good “customer” attributes were. One just yelled.

As if this were our fault. How dare we discontinue them as a customer?

As I thought about this, I couldn’t help but think on how this is such a wonderful analogy for man’s approach to God’s Word.

God has written them a letter and they refuse to open it. They refuse to read it and see what it says. In it, He has told us His wonderful plan on how we can be saved from eternal damnation. It’s amazing! But people just don’t bother.

And yet, people will shake their fist at God and blame Him. Why didn’t you tell me, God?? How could you send a nice person like me to hell, God?

But He has told us. He has told us everything we need to know.

But, you may be asking, what about that person who doesn’t have a Bible?

The Bible says in Romans 1:20 says that all men are without excuse. That there is something inside all men that tells them there is a God. It’s up to man to search after God rather than to give heed to their own futile thoughts and follow their darkened hearts.

I know of several Christians who tell the story of searching after God. For each of them, at some point in their journey, God provided someone to tell them the truth about Himself. Someone to point them to the Bible and to pure doctrine. God won’t let anyone suffer from the lack of His Word who truly desires to know the truth. Even illiterate Pacific islanders and tribes in the heart of Africa back in the 1800s were able to understand salvation. God will make a way for the searcher to find what he is looking for.

And so all of us are without excuse.

Just as our company wasn’t responsible for whether or not our customers chose to read the letters we wrote, so God is not responsible for the whether or not we read His letter.

May we choose to read that letter. Because nothing is more important. It’s life and death. Eternal life and eternal death.

 

 

Twin Truths

A few years ago, a discernment ministry I had trusted to speak truth promoted an erroneous book. Recently, I was surprised and extremely disappointed to see another ministry I trust promote this book. Needless to say, I don’t quite trust them anymore. I wanted to take today and write about this because the book’s topic is so very important.

Well, I actually don’t want to write about this because, not only is it an important topic, but it’s also an incredibly inflammatory one. But the topic keeps coming to mind since I saw that post and I believe the Lord wants me to write about this. I ask you to read this thoughtfully. I am in no way claiming to be an expert on this topic nor do I have any interest in debating with anyone about it. I simply want to share what I have learned in hopes that it may be helpful to others who are struggling through this particular thing.

Let me back up a few years to when the “book” first came out. I received an email promoting this book and I was curious. The book’s premise was that Calvinism is heretical. Why would this author (and then this ministry in its promotion of it) put a line in the sand and say such a thing? That would have to mean that they believe that anyone who believes in Calvinism is a heretic, which means they are not saved. That is a very strong (and absolutely FALSE) statement and that, alone, turned me off greatly to the book and, if I am honest, to the entire ministry.

It is one thing to say I disagree with a certain secondary doctrine. It is quite another to say that the person who doesn’t agree with me is going to hell.

As I read the intro to the book in the email, I spotted something troublesome that caused further concern. Here was how the sentence started out: “We cannot believe in a God who…”

Do you see the serious problem with that sentence?

Who are we to decide who God is? God’s Word tells us who He is. We don’t get to decide which doctrines we do or do not like and what we will or will not believe. This was a huge red flag and discounted anything further that was written regarding the book.

But let’s back up a few years before this book to when I had no idea what I believed about free will and election. I had some wrong notions about how it all worked and was okay with that. Eventually, as I started to study the Word more, I began to understand that my conclusions were flawed. And then God led me to a sermon by John MacArthur called Twin Truths: God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility. It was by far the most clarifying and scriptural resource I have ever had the pleasure of listening to regarding this divisive topic. I recommend it highly.

Here is what I learned (in a nutshell): Both are true and run like parallel tracks into eternity. We can’t figure out how they work together and that’s okay.

You see, it’s man’s pride that makes him insist on choosing one or the other. It’s man’s pride that causes these arguments and divisions. It can’t be his dedication to God’s Word because no man dedicated to God’s Word could possibly deny election. And no man dedicated to God’s Word could deny free will. They are both clearly in the Bible.

So what does that mean? It means that our finite brains can’t understand.

We think we have to understand everything and we can’t understand this. And so men come up with (unbiblical) arguments that deny clear passages of scripture. It’s so tragic, really.

The funny thing is that Satan will seem to get you one way or another. Those who believe in God’s sovereign election rarely believe in God’s prophecy regarding the future of Israel. And those who believe in a future for Israel rarely believe in God’s sovereign election. I am here to tell you that both are clearly true. If you cast your preconceived notions aside and just read scripture, both are so very obvious.

But we get caught up in man’s systems and our denominations and intellectualism and following men and we get so confused. We don’t want to be viewed as stupid or unintelligent or unintellectual and so we follow the crowd. Ridiculous and destructive pride often keeps us from backing away from our wrong argument after we have made it.

The one other thing I believe it is important to mention is that, if you believe John Calvin was an evil man set on spreading an evil doctrine, I rather doubt you really know who he was. Spend some time getting to know this man. He was not perfect (as none are) but he did some tremendous things for the Kingdom and has been so wrongly maligned. I learned this upon my own study of him many years ago now.

So what do I want to communicate today specifically regarding this topic? Why am I writing about it?

I think the answer to that is simply that we cannot understand how these things work together and we must humble ourselves and be at peace with this.

The Bible clearly teaches election (Ephesians 1 is the passage that brought this home for me when studying it so many years ago but there are many others). To deny this is to deny scripture. Yes, it’s a hard and unpleasant doctrine to wrap our brains around but we do not have the option to say “we can’t believe in a God who…”! That is just plain sinful.

But the Bible also clearly teaches free will (that man is responsible for his choices).

So the only conclusion we can draw–if we believe God is absolutely fair- is that these two things work together in a way we can’t possibly understand.

As students of the Bible, may we be willing to believe what God says about Himself within its pages. Even when we don’t like it. Even when we can’t understand it. Even if it brings the ridicule of man.

This brings to mind an old song by the Heritage Singers. Here’s the chorus–

God said it and I believe it
and that settles it for me
Though some may doubt that His word is true
I’ve chosen to believe it, now how about you?

 

 

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Betrayal is an ugly word. The heart of betrayal is always love of self. Take Judas, for example. He betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Can you even imagine?

Here he was, impersonating a disciple and professing to follow Jesus, but deep down it was never real. Deep down inside this man had an insatiable desire for money that stuck with him because he was never saved.  He never believed the message of Jesus but was simply pretending.

There are many parables in Matthew with this same theme of impersonation. The parable of the seeds, the parable of the wheat and tares, the parable of the wedding garment, the parable of the dragnet, and the parable of the wise and foolish virgins all seem to focus in on this truth: There will be many who claim to follow Jesus but are actually only pretending. 

At the end of the age and when Jesus comes back in all His glory, He tells us that he will finally separate true believers from the pretenders (Matthew 25:31-46). True believers will go into the Kingdom that has been prepared for them and the pretenders will be cast into everlasting darkness.

This is a sobering truth.

And, with this truth, comes a few questions we all should be asking.

Am I living for God or for self?

Am I a true follower or a pretender?

What would it take for me to turn my back on Jesus? A little ridicule? Unpopularity among my peers? Severe persecution?

Pretenders always show themselves when it becomes difficult to be a true follower of Jesus. And with the way this world is going currently, I would guess we will start to see many who show their true colors.

The thing that makes it difficult to discern is that so many pretenders continue to pretend but they change the rules. They make up all kinds of falsehoods about God and His Word and twist scripture irreparably, all while claiming to be a follower of Christ. This is why all things must be examined in light of the Bible.

Judas betrayed our Lord for thirty pieces of silver. But many betray him for far less than that. They betray Him for a few extra dollars on their IRS return check. They betray Him for a job promotion or to be liked by their co-workers. They betray Him to avoid discomfort and conflict. Or to gain a popular following on social media.

May it never be said of us that we have betrayed our Lord.

Thankfully, in this same chapter where we learn of Judas (Matthew 26), we also see the failure of the disciples to acknowledge Jesus when He is arrested. This reminds us that a true disciple can really mess up sometimes. We can turn our backs temporarily as we fall to temptation.

But a true disciple will feel deep remorse and repent and change. That’s how we can know the difference. False disciples fall away and never return. True disciples ask for forgiveness and change.

I am so glad God put those verses about the disciples in that same chapter so that we can understand just how great His grace is and that sometimes true followers really fail.

And so Matthew 26 gives us so much to consider. What would it take for you to turn your back on Jesus permanently? Hopefully, the answer to this question for all of us is nothing.

I often think of something I read a long time ago about the martyrs who were burnt at the stake for Christ so many years ago. While they hung on a pole with the flames licking their feet, many of these martyrs sang praises to God. They sang.

Oh, what a great encouragement this is by demonstrating that God can give us a song in the midst of any trial or persecution. Oh, may we keep singing by and through God’s all-sufficient grace, all the while knowing that we have a far greater glory that awaits!

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The worst kind of deception is deception about our eternal destiny. Please click on link below to read what God says in His Word about our eternity–

What is the Gospel?

Just Traveling Through

Imagine you are in a small foreign country on a long-term mission trip. The country might be in Asia or Africa or perhaps you are on an island nation in the South Pacific. Wherever it is, while you are there serving the Lord the country goes to war. You are stuck there. There is no way to escape the carnage you see around you. And this isn’t just any war. This is a civil war that has divided the nation in half.

Do you pick a side? I guess it depends how much you have invested there and if you plan on returning permanently. If you are only there for a few months or a year, you probably stay pretty neutral. There is no reason to be involved. This country is not your home. However, you do stand strongly for life and do what you can to help save lives as well as minister to the needs of the hurting around you.

How you respond in a country that is not your own is probably very different than how you would respond in a country that is your own.

I’ve actually never had that happen to me and I doubt you have, either. But maybe it’s happening to us right now. To all of us, probably no matter where we live. Oh, we may not be in an all-out civil war, but we are in a war, nonetheless. It’s a war of philosophies. The competing philosophies are in utter opposition to one another. It’s especially bad here in the states.

I was thinking on this the other day while I was meditating on I Peter 2:11. This is one of my memory verses from a year or two ago that came up for review. (One of the reasons I love memorizing verses is because of the ability to meditate on the memorized verses in the car or when you are in bed at night.) Here is what it says in the NKJV–

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,

We won’t dwell on the end of the verse today (although it, too, has been the cause of much personal meditation). Today I want to focus on what Peter calls us followers of Christ: Sojourners and Pilgrims.

Let’s take a look at the definitions of these two words–

Sojourner–A person who lives somewhere temporarily

Pilgrim–A traveler or wanderer; especially in a foreign place

Now Peter uses these two words to describe believers. Why does he do this? Why does he feel the need to write down both words? Of course we can’t know for sure, but I do find myself wondering if God, moving Peter to write this, knew how easily it would be for us to set down deep deep roots in this world.

I don’t know about you but one of the greatest lessons this past year and half has taught me has been that very thing. I didn’t think I was so invested in this world, but I found out that I was invested far more than I thought. That the roots of love for the things of this world and for the life that I never thought would change ran deep.

As I am pulling up each root one by one, it’s a rather painful process. But this verse has helped me. It has reminded me that I am no longer a citizen of this world but belong to an everlasting Kingdom. This is just my temporary home.

We need to remember this as we face the uncertain days ahead but I also want to consider this fact in light of all that is swirling around us and just take an honest look at what’s going on and why we must not pick sides unless it is clearly biblical in scope.

There are many divides in our nations. Here in the U.S. it is the divide between the V’s and the unV’s. It’s the divide between the socialists and the capitalists. It’s the divide between the pro-death and the pro-life. And so many more. Sadly, this country has been split in what feels like a thousand different ways.

But we have to be so very careful not to get too involved. We are not citizens of this world. I know this message won’t sit well with some of you. You believe that you are here to bring change to this world. You want to make it a better place. You may even believe it is God’s mandate for us to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Or perhaps you believe that we can still stop the madness that is happening. That if enough of us just come together to fight this, we can make a difference.

So let me address these two viewpoints briefly.

First, the Bible never teaches that we are to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. There is a real push in several “Christian” movements to popularize this inaccuracy and it’s just not true. There is no biblical mandate to prepare the earth for God. None whatsoever. This is probably worth a whole post, in and of itself, and has, in fact, been the subject of several books. If you would like to read more on this, I recommend Alva McClain’s The Greatness of the Kingdom or Andy Wood’s The Coming Kingdom.

Second, not only are we not told to bring God’s Kingdom to earth but we are clearly told that, in the last days, the world will grow more wicked. There are many signs of the last days that we are told to look for in the books of Daniel, the minor prophets, Matthew, I Timothy, I&II Thessalonians, Jude, and Revelation that show us what to expect. (There are other books, too, but these are the main ones that come to mind and are a good place to start for any student of prophecy.)

At the end of the age, we are clearly to expect lawlessness, natural disasters, wars, false christs, certain things in the middle east, and a setting up of the beast system. That’s just a few of the things that we can expect. There are so many more. And, dare I say, every one of these things we are told to expect is beginning to take shape before our eyes in a way never seen on this earth before? A serious student of Bible prophecy recognizes that we must be close to the end. A wise person will never make predictions on dates or time frames, but we are clearly approaching the end of this age.

So what does that mean for us? I think it means that, while we certainly work together to improve situations in our churches, our families, our places of employment, our schools, and any other opportunities we are given, we don’t expect to fix the world. We don’t expect that we can push the snowball back up the hill (so to speak). While we may win small victories and rejoice over them, our expectations should not be shattered when this world continues on its collision course to God’s final years of wrath on this earth called the Great Tribulation.

One final thing that is critically important is the nature of both sides of this current “war” we are in in our nation. Listen closely to how each side talks about God. One side is very clearly going against Him. It’s easy to spot their rebellion against Him and His set laws. But I’d like to submit to you that the other side is doing the same thing, in just a much more subtle way.

Listen closely to the language of the other side. The new age phrases and notions are pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for. Both sides are rotten to the core and the one side may be more dangerous, simply due to its deceptive nature. Be. So. Careful.

If we are sojourners and pilgrims (and we are!) then let’s live like we are these things. May we remember that we are on this earth for just a short time. This world is not our home. Let’s rise up to the opportunities that God gives us to serve and minister in these dark, dreary days but let’s not get too involved in the sides of it. Neither side is “God’s side”.

And there are many opportunities, aren’t there? Practically speaking, what are some ways we can honor God and bless others during this time? A few things come to mind–

1) We can talk to others about our permanent home with enthusiasm and joy (in other words, share the Gospel often and freely!); 2) We can send cards and letters and emails and texts of encouragement; 3) We can face our job losses, our financial setbacks, our health crises, and other trials with a peace the world can’t know but longs for; 4) We can be a light in our churches and work places and schools, pointing others to God and His Word; 5) We can save lives by getting the truth out there; 6) We can join with others in the crucial battles that are taking place in our work places and schools and communities; 7) We can be instruments of God’s peace, joy, and love in this ugly world we find ourselves in.

May we believers step up boldly and courageously to the unique opportunities God gives to each one of us. For such a time as this! But, in the process of stepping up, let’s remember that this world is not our home. We are just traveling through.

 

 

Must We Defend the Bible?

A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter, Marissa, casually mentioned that she had had to write a blog post for a school assignment. While this young woman is artistic, she tends to use a paintbrush rather than a pen to express herself (She recently opened an Etsy store, which you can find here). But I have to confess that, after reading what she wrote, I can’t help but wonder if she may end up as a writer, as well.

I believe what she wrote for her school assignment is an important message that believers need to hear. We can get so mixed up by the noise and cacophony that comes at us from all directions and sometimes we lose our perspective. This short post reminds us of some very important truths. I hope it serves as a wonderful reminder and an encouragement, too.

Here is what she wrote–

Do science and the Bible go hand in hand? Must we have science to believe in Scripture? Must we use science to give proof for the Scriptures? These are all questions that have come into discussion in recent times. There has been a scientific push in this day and age. Everything must be be “fact based.”

I contend that the answer to the questions above is an absolute no. This is an unpopular stance to take. However, let me give my reasoning before you discount my claim.

#1) God never needs man to achieve His purposes. While God can use His people and circumstances to reach a soul, He is never dependent on them. The Holy Spirit can change a heart and give faith as He wills and pleases. To say that an individual needs to know the proof of the Scriptures before they can place their faith in the Bible, is giving absolute discredit to God’s power.

#2) Humans are fallen. This intrinsically means that science is fallen. There have been numerous scientific claims that were proven false years down the road. Pharmaceutical companies give false information for the sake of money. Governments make false claims for the sake of their own agendas. News companies spin stories to receive the reaction they want. As long as sin remains on this earth, science will inherently fail. Why should we rely on misinformation from secular sources to prove the Bible given from a holy and perfect God?

#3) The element of faith. Salvation has never been about knowledge. A person coming to faith doesn’t need to know how the creation is backed up by science before they make their decision. They choose to follow Christ based on faith. They choose to follow Christ because they understand the Gospel and its message. To say that science is needed cheapens the Gospel.

#4) The danger of pride. When we say that science is needed to prove Scripture, there is a larger emphasis on man’s knowledge than on God’s Word. Suddenly, humans have the responsibility to prove the Bible based on human knowledge and findings. It’s important to recognize who God is versus who we are. We are His creation. It’s as if the potter’s clay works to prove that their creator exists. How incredibly foolish. We know the Creator exists because we see His workmanship so clearly and evidently. We believe that He exists because He has given us all that is necessary to do so.

Now listen, I’m not saying there isn’t any purpose for understanding how science and the Bible work together. There are times when scientific proof serves as a great confirmation for a doubting believer or the cynical atheist. God can use science for His purposes. However, even if science and the Bible contradict, I will choose to believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and remember that earthly knowledge is fallen and a result of a depraved society. His ways are always higher than ours.

 

The Wisdom and Controversy of Agassiz

In the mid-1800s a man came from Europe to America by the name of Louis Agassiz. He was asked to be a professor at Harvard but, being a rather eccentric free spirit, he bucked the system. And Harvard, recognizing his genius, allowed him to do so. He smoked cigars on campus. He wore no black robes as the other professors. He allowed students in his classes without passing entrance examinations. And he prepared no syllabus.

I had never heard of this man before this past weekend, when I started reading David McCullough’s Brave Companions. McCullough writes in the introduction of this book that he is much more drawn to the people of history than to the events. I find that I, too, am the same. I was disinterested in history when it was all dates and happenings. But attach people and their stories to those dates and happenings and history absolutely comes alive!

Okay, I guess that is enough of the “History is Awesome” commercial… :)

Anyway…

This professor had a unique way of welcoming new students. He would grab a jar from his shelves of specimens. Inside the jar would be a dead fish. He would ask the student to observe anything and everything about this fish and then leave the room. A young man named Scudder describes his experience after giving his observations to the professor and then being told to look some more–

I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish! But now I set myself to my task with a will, and discovered one new thing after another…The afternoon passed quickly; and when, toward its close, the professor inquired: “Do you see it yet?”

“No,” I replied, “I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before.”

Scudder goes on to write how the lesson lasted three whole days and of how much he learned about that fish. He says it was a lesson of inestimable value.

You see, Agassiz believed the backbone of education was to know something well. He believed that a “smattering of everything was worth little”. He believed that it was a “great and common fallacy to suppose that an encyclopedic mind is desirable. The mind was made strong not through much learning but by the “thorough possession of something.” In other words, “look at your fish.” *

As I read this story from the past I couldn’t help but think of Christians with their Bibles. How many of us have just a smattering of knowledge here and there? How many of us are reading or hearing about the Bible (devotionals, books, sermons) instead of making our own observations of the Bible? How many of us give our time and dedication to learning it well?

As believers, shouldn’t this be our main priority? Do we even recognize how important this is to our lives and how we live them?

The young man, Scudder, thought he had learned all there was to know about that dead fish. And, yet, when the professor encouraged him that there was more to learn, he turned back and found out what it was. He had a teachable spirit and he realized how very much he had missed in those first few hours.

If this is true of a dead fish, just think of how much we are missing when it comes to the Bible! We so often approach the Bible with the same spirit as Scudder in those first few hours, our eyes blind to the fact that there is literally endless treasure there within its pages. The more we study, the more we mine its spiritual depths.

If you have spent any time in the Word, you are already well aware of this. The more you study, the more you realize how much there is to know. And how much you don’t know. The more you study, the more you know your God. The more you study, the more insight you get, the deeper the comprehension and understanding of God’s plans throughout history and for the future. The more you study, the greater your discernment as deception grows in leaps and bounds all around us.

If we know anything WELL, may it be our Bibles!

And now, briefly, I want to touch on the controversy that surrounds Louis Agassiz. This morning as I typed his name in the search box to see if his museum of zoology is still in existence, the articles that popped up show that Harvard is ashamed of this professor. I have not done a thorough investigation, but apparently he was pro-slavery and also anti-Darwinism. These are two huge “no-nos” in the intellectual world today and they don’t seem to be quite sure what to do with him.

I bring this to your attention because it reminds me so much of the book “1984” which I read (for some unknown reason) in 2019. I wish I wouldn’t have read it, to be quite honest. But one of the things that sticks out in my mind from that book is the re-writing of history. It seems that this is what is going on in the academic levels. If they don’t like someone’s view on something they cancel them. As if that certain view makes everything from their lives–even their amazing contributions to mankind–null and void.

Do we realize the tragedy of this??!? And do we realize the absurdity of this? I think it is time we stop looking to the experts and the professionals and academic intelligentsia for answers. It seems they have obviously lost their collective minds.

It reminds me so much of that verse from Colossians 2:6-10–

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding [d]in it with thanksgiving.

Beware lest anyone [e]cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead [f]bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all [g]principality and power.

We Christians have been snookered into thinking that man has our answers to life. We turn to professionals, experts, and academia for everything. We look for answers to our problems and big questions in the wrong place.

If we will but study our Bibles humbly and thoroughly, we will realize that the answers we seek for life are there. We are COMPLETE IN HIM. And that is straight from the Bible.

I do want to make one thing abundantly clear, however: I am not saying that there aren’t times we need help from others. There is nothing wrong in asking for help. But this help should come from someone who is dedicated to God’s Word and the principles for life we find there. These helpers are hard to find. Recently, someone shared with me their conversation with a current student of a biblical counseling program. As he shared what he was learning with this person and how he would handle different situations, it became quickly apparent that there was no “Bible” in it at all. It was all humanistic ideas and concepts.

If you find yourself in need of help, give much prayer and some research, too, before placing your trust in them. So many experts are leading Christians into unbiblical thinking.

As we continue on in this world, the Bible is literally our lifeline. It is where we find our hope, our sustenance, our joy. It is where we are told of our wonderful Savior and where we find principles for living a life that is pleasing to God.

Dedicating ourselves to really knowing it– knowing it deeply and fully–is the first step to living a holy, discerning, peaceful, and joyful life!

 

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for [c]instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

 

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

 

 

*From Brave Companions by David McCullough, p. 25-26

 

 

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