The Bible

Our Best and Highest Endeavor

There are lots and lots of people saying the wrong thing these days. They are promoting the unbiblical. They are promoting lies. And so many are swallowing them.

I’ve written often about how you can know if something is unbiblical. But I am not sure many people care about that all that much anymore. Yesterday, I ran into an old acquaintance. Her church is studying Revelation. As she expounded a bit, it soon became clear that it was a totally unbiblical rendering of what is actually taught in that book. By ripping a verse or two out of context, they are teaching that we are to bring God’s Kingdom to earth before the return of Christ. She trusts her church and when I gently and awkwardly mentioned that this might not be what the Bible teaches, the conversation ended. I knew that was a possibility, but I was willing to take that chance in the hopes that it would plant a seed of doubt in her mind regarding what she is being taught at church.

The thing is: Of course, I don’t know everything either. I am still learning. Don’t blindly follow me. Don’t blindly follow anyone. Don’t follow any human without checking their words by the Word. We often get ourselves in a lot of trouble when we follow a person or a group or a church without discernment.

This is why our highest and best endeavor is to study the Word of God in its literal, historical, grammatical framework in context.

If you have learned anything from reading this blog–anything at all– I hope that it will be this.

That’s all I have for today. It’s short but it’s profound. And it is what is missing from so many homes, churches, and “Christian” organizations. Instead of keeping the focus on the Word, it has moved to experiences and feelings. It has moved to keeping the peace or bending to society. It has moved to what is “truth for you” and “what works” so that what actually is true hardly matters anymore.

If we don’t have the Word, we have nothing. It is our anchor. It is where we learn about God and about Jesus and the cross. It is where we find out why we can have hope and peace and joy. It is where we learn how to live our lives in a way that pleases God. And it is where we can find out what is ahead for this world’s future and for our own eternal future.

When the Word is ignored in families, when it is disregarded and pushed to the side in churches, when it becomes twisted and warped and traditional interpretations are changed after 2000 years–well, this really does explain what is going on in our Christian culture, doesn’t it?

But, while we can’t change the world or even the church, we can change our own lives and our own homes. There, we can make a difference. If only a small one, we can be different and, in so doing, plant Gospel seeds of faith and encouragement.

So let’s be different today. Let’s live a Christ-centered life that is based on God’s Holy Word, no matter how unpopular it is.

 

What Makes You Really Angry?

I think we’ve all been angry at some point or other. There are probably some universal causes of anger–such as inept or rude customer service representatives; arguing children; or being betrayed by someone you trusted.

And then there are some causes of anger that seem to be more related to our personalities. Some people get angry at laziness or lack of common sense in those around them. Others get angry at circumstances beyond their control. Some people get plain mad at God when things don’t go their way.

We know that anger is not a righteous emotion. Most of the time.

There is that little caveat in Ephesians 4:26 where it says, “Be angry and do not sin.” This means there is sometimes a righteous cause for anger.

What is something that should make us very angry?

As I was studying in preparation for my upcoming study of Galatians, I realized that the main thing that should make us angry is any attack on the Gospel. Read these verses to see just how serious this is–

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert[a] the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be [b]accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-10)

These are not simply Paul’s words but these are God’s words. We can see from these verses that God takes an attack on the Gospel very seriously. Let anyone who warps and twists the true Gospel be accursed (which means devoted to destruction; imprecate evil or misery upon.)

Has the deluge of false gospels being pandered today made us immune? What other reason can there be that Christians aren’t up in arms regarding the countless attacks on the true Gospel? Why aren’t we defending it and refusing to allow the lies to creep in? Even in to our own “Bible-believing” churches?

What must God think?

I am not sure I ever really gave this much thought until reflecting on these verses yesterday (and listening to some sermons regarding these verses.)

There are two specific ways the Gospel gets perverted. Every perversion falls under one of these two.

First, there is grace plus works (legalism) perversion. ANY presentation or teaching regarding the Gospel that adds any works is not the true Gospel. This means that if you “need to get baptized” to be saved, it’s a false gospel. If you need to take communion or pray to saints in order to be assured of your salvation, it’s a false gospel. If you need to eat certain things, wear certain things, do anything to be saved, it is a false gospel.

Second, there is the hyper-grace (licentiousness) perversion. This perversion denies the many passages that call us to live a life pleasing to Christ. It denies that we become a new creation in Christ and, instead, says that, since we are no longer under law, anything goes. Here the Gospel is given without the message of sin and repentance. It is more focused on fire insurance rather than a lost and hopeless sinner’s reconciliation with God. Say a prayer and be saved–no fruit necessary, according to this false gospel.

These false gospels are dealt with all throughout scripture but in Galatians, Paul speaks specifically to both of them. Think with me for a moment what you know about many who lump themselves in with the modern day religion of “Christianity”. What do they teach about the Gospel?

If they are not preaching the true Gospel as is clearly presented in scripture they are not actually our brother and sisters in Christ. And this should upset us! This should make us mourn for the thousands–millions–who believe a lie about their eternal destiny. Not only do they believe a lie –but they believe a lie under the guise of Christianity and true Christians are not doing anything about it. Instead, they are encouraging them in their false faith and joining with them, declaring that “we are siblings in Christ”.

This is simply appalling! When you really think about it–could there be anything more unloving than allowing someone to believe they are truly saved– when they aren’t??

But we tend to get more upset about a spilled drink or an unexpected bill than we do about this tragedy taking place across the globe. Oh, how self-centered we are. How self-centered I am.

If we believe the true Gospel, then we need to not only live by it but pay attention when there is a departure from it. We need to stop making excuses and rationalizing away the damning differences. Like Paul, we should be up in arms and ready to defend the Gospel boldly and courageously!

 

*I have a page on the blog called “What is the Gospel?”, where we take a look at what scripture has to teach us about this subject. You can find it here.

*In 2016, I wrote about in some detail regarding some common false gospels. You can find that post here.

*I am looking very forward to my study of this book. If you are in the 2022 Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge, I hope you are looking forward to it, as well. And if you aren’t in the challenge, it’s not too late to join for the rest of the year. Find out more information here.

 

The Power of Social Media

I was following a woman on Instagram who filled her stories with interesting information. Most of it I already knew. Some of it was new. And I was skeptical of quite a bit of it, as well. But she talked about Jesus and the Bible and the return of Christ and, so it seemed, even if a bit misguided, that she was fairly solid.

Until the day she had her followers ask her questions.

Oh, my, what a mess! She was encouraging mysticism while warning against mysticism. It would have been comical if it wasn’t so sad. She was speaking of Christ and His coming, while turning the attention of her followers to the books that “didn’t make it into the Bible” along with scripture. Oh, the danger of this! She is clearly so confused and I can’t help but think of the many women she is leading into confusion right along with her by answering those questions with authority and as if she knows.

For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

(I Corinthians 14:33)

And then, recently, we have been watching many in the reformed crowd, who have been historical amillennialists (believe we are in the millennium right now) turn post-millennial (believe we need to prepare the earth for Christ’s return before the millennium can start). What does this mean? Well, simply put, it means that these powerful presences on social media are encouraging their followers to change the culture and fix the world in preparation for Christ’s return.

For example, Dale Partridge, well-known and trusted by many believers, recently said this (emphasis mine):

“Sadly, the “Left Behind” series has shaped America’s eschatology more than scripture has. As a result, the church has become chronically pessimistic, disengaged, and now embraces a culture where we wait for decay rather than work toward dominion. Do not retreat, revive!”

Wait…what?? There are Christians who actually believe this? Yes, many. Maybe most of them now.

He is accusing the eschatology (the doctrine of last, or final, matters) of Left Behind as being unbiblical. While I don’t necessarily condone the movies; the ideas of the rapture, tribulation, and thousand-year reign are clearly in scripture.

If Partridge doesn’t believe this, then what does he believe IS scriptural? From that quote, we must assume it is the false doctrine of Dominionism. This is the false teaching that we must prepare the earth and build God’s Kingdom before Christ can return. (I probably should write about this false teaching of Post-Millennialism/Dominionism so you can see that this is clearly not in scripture, no matter how many people say it is.)

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:

(2 Timothy 3:1)

 

But here’s my point of this post: Christians are being swayed and confused by those they follow on social media. I gave two examples but there are thousands more like them. Christians have followed these people and have found them to be biblical. They have grown to trust them for truth. They view their opinions as authoritative without ever going to the Bible to check if what they say is true. And I understand. It is a lot easier to scroll through social media than it is to get out your Bible and study it. It just is.

But if we have little knowledge of the Bible, then we will be unable to judge if what we are hearing is actually true. Most of us have also never been taught church history so it is easy to imbibe the lies that we read on social media or hear from our favorite authors and speakers.

One such example is the lie that the pre-trib rapture/pre-millennial eschatology is a “new” theory. It’s actually not. There are examples of many from the early church who believed in both the rapture and a literal millennium (It was called Chiliasm back then). It wasn’t until Augustine spiritualized the Old Testament that the eschatology of the church went impossibly askew. But most people don’t know this. I didn’t know this myself until only recently when I finally took the time to delve into the subject because the confusion around it is growing exponentially.

So, my caution for today is that we take great care in who we follow. If someone is talking about fixing the culture or building God’s Kingdom, be wary. If someone is talking about kooky, extra-biblical stuff and taking the focus off of scripture, be wary. If someone says something “new” from scripture that you’ve never heard before, don’t only be wary but research it.

This phenomenon of social media is scary. People can become “famous” overnight. They can go viral just because they put up a cute or compelling video. Just because someone can make a reel or gives interesting information does not mean that they can be trusted. Just because someone has an immense following on social media does not mean they can be trusted.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that where there is popularity there is truth. But I have personally found the opposite to be true: Run the opposite direction of the crowd if you want to find the truth.

So be careful. Be oh, so careful, who you follow. And do your own Bible Study. Do your own study of Christian history. I know, for many of you, your immediate response is probably “but that’s not my ‘thing’ “. I know it is not everyone’s “thing”. But, quite honestly, I am not sure, in this current age, that we can afford to say that anymore. The deception is growing exponentially and the bottom line is this: LIES can only be overcome with TRUTH.

Many of us have viewed eschatology as a “secondary issue” and thought it didn’t matter all that much. But we are finding out that it matters a great deal. For Satan is using wrong eschatology to prepare the world for the antichrist system.

May we be diligent and persevere in our study of God’s Word. May we be dedicated to interpreting it literally, grammatically, historically. May we be willing to do the work to test EVERYTHING by the Bible. May we be willing to research historical statements when necessary. May we be willing to stand strong, no matter the ridicule we get.

And may we gladly join the unpopular remnant in believing what the Bible clearly teaches: The rapture is close and the Tribulation is just around the corner.

It may be a negative message for the world, but for those who are redeemed, it’s the most positive message we could ask for at this juncture!

 

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,  looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

(Titus 2:11-14)

 

Life and Legos

Have you ever had assumptions made about you? People are really great at assuming. They assume they know your motives, your reasons, your “whys”. They make assumptions about choices and decisions. These assumptions are often fueled by rumors. Rumors that we are all too quick to listen to and pass along.

These rumors and assumptions can really get us down for we are rarely given an opportunity to defend ourselves.

Have you ever been faced with a terrifying bit of news? Of course you have. Whether it’s an unwelcome diagnosis from a doctor or a piece of news that comes to our ears through a news anchor, we have all had those moments.

These terrifying moments can bring on major fear and anxiety for they make us realize that we have zero control over what happens.

Have you ever been accused wrongly or unfairly treated? Whether it is through favoritism, a misunderstanding, or because of standing for what is right, these moments come to us all.

These unfair accusations can make us really angry, because, well…it’s just not fair!

Have you ever been broken-hearted or hopeless? Perhaps through the loss of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, or the realization that you will have chronic pain for the rest of your life?

These moments of despair can make us depressed and zap all the joy from our lives because we just don’t feel like going on.

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I just finished reading the *biography of John Bunyan. He dealt with all of these things and more. As a young man, assumptions were made about him because he had been quite the wicked young man. The Lord got a hold of him and radically changed him but people just couldn’t forget the old man. He faced more trouble when his young wife died and left him with four young children to care for. Later on, he received the news of a prison sentence for a crime that wasn’t even a crime by the law of the land. It was totally and utterly wrongful imprisonment. While imprisoned, his precious Mary, his oldest (and blind) daughter passed away. When he was finally released from prison, his rabid opponents tried to stop his ministry through rumors and wrong accusations.

John found himself in a prison cell for twelve years. The religious wars in England at the time were ferocious and the tides turned every which way at any time. But, no matter which way it turned, his young wife (his second wife) found herself up against a brick wall in any effort to get him released.

Now, he could have grown depressed or angry. He could have ended up languishing in bitter disillusionment and unabated fury. But he didn’t.

Instead, he picked up quill and paper and started writing. And kept writing. And then wrote some more. His best known work is called Pilgrim’s Progress and is still a best seller among Christians today!

What was his key? Why could he continue on, despite the ill treatment and the heartbreak in his life?

There’s a small quote of his that shows us how he managed to do this. I have been mulling it over and over in my mind since I have first read it. I believe it is the key for us all–

“If ever I would suffer rightly I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all as dead to me and myself as dead to them. The second was to live upon God that is invisible.”

You see, he was putting scripture into practice. Paul basically told us this same thing in Philippians 3:8–

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 so we must realize that it’s only in releasing our grip on the things of this world that we can experience the peace and joy that God has promised. It’s only in surrendering our sense of fairness, our reputations, our family members, our health, our finances, our futures to God and His Sovereign will that we can conquer our fears, worries, anger, and despondency.

This brings to mind an example of this I saw just a few years ago lived out right in front of my eyes. How well I remember the calm acceptance of my brother and his wife as they faced the fact that her journey on this earth was winding down to an end. It is because they were learning to release the things of this life to grasp instead the bright shining eternal gift of Christ.

As believers, the more we die to self and gain Christ, the more we are victorious in our Christian lives.

This isn’t exactly what most want to hear. In our self-obsessed culture, we want God to fulfill our dreams and pour down blessings.

But the actual blessings we receive from God aren’t all that appealing to the carnal soul.

__________________________

The other week, my son came into the house and said, “We have lots of legos!” I was confused and followed him out the door. What I saw sitting in the bed of his truck were 5-6 boxes of varying sizes filled with legos! A customer’s children had grown tired of legos and she didn’t want to bother selling them, so she asked if we wanted them. My son loaded them up and brought them home. Thousands of dollars worth of legos.

When our grandchildren laid eyes on those boxes they grew wide with excitement. As we pulled one off the truck and they saw all of the pieces and parts and potential, they were thrilled. Particularly the oldest, who at six years old, could really appreciate them.

Now, to an adult or a small baby, eh… who cares. Legos are not really their thing, right? Not really considered that big of a blessing. And maybe even a nuisance.

But to a child? Wow.

I think God’s blessings are a bit like that. They don’t look all that attractive to the unbeliever. Forgiveness of sins and peace with the God of the Universe? Eh. Not all that important, as they yearn after the worthless “fool’s gold” of this world. Peace and joy in the midst of trial? But they want promises of NO trials.

It isn’t until we are saved that God’s blessings fill us with awe and appreciation. Because they are specifically for those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and eternal life.

And so victory and blessing in the Christian life isn’t going to look all that appealing to the unbeliever or perhaps even to the immature believer.

It isn’t until we give up the temporal for the eternal that we begin to understand.

 

I wish I could say I am able to live out the truth of John Bunyan’s statement above. I wish I could say that God’s blessings are always enough for me. But, unfortunately, in my battle with my flesh and my {ever-loosening but still tight} grip on this world, I cannot. I can only write about it in hopes to encourage us all towards this ideal, knowing that God will faithfully continue His work in those of us who are His as we journey together towards the eternal city.

 

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:13

 

 

*A Pilgrim Path: John Bunyan’s Journey by Faith Cook. Highly recommend!

 

On Racism

Do any of you remember when the Poconos in Pennsylvania used to be a hotspot for honeymooners? Back in the old days, international travel was only for the very wealthy or businessmen. Many of us only dreamed of leaving America and traveling the world. So when our fifth wedding anniversary arrived, we naturally thought about the Poconos. Only a few hours from here, it seemed a good place to spend the weekend and celebrate our five years. We left the kids with Grandpa and Grandma and headed out. When we arrived, we could see that even then already, their better days were behind them. It was already starting to look a bit run down. But we knew we’d have fun, anyway.

At dinnertime, we entered a room with tables for four. Much to our dismay, we were placed with another couple whom we didn’t know at all. This was not part of our plan and it was frustrating to sit with strangers on our anniversary trip. But, unbeknownst to us, God had a very special treat in store for us that would live on in our memories for the rest of our lives.

The couple that sat down to eat with us was a Nigerian couple from New York City. He was a police officer there and kept us entertained with many stories of both New York and Nigeria (it was there that we learned how different and luxurious American prisons are compared to the rest of the world.) But the most special thing of all was that this couple were vibrant believers. The bond we shared around that table was the bond of family. We were related in Christ and it was such an amazing time. It didn’t matter that they were black and we were white. It didn’t matter that they were from the city and we were from the country. We were family through Jesus Christ.

I have often thought of this dinner since this whole conversation about racism has cropped up in the “church” recently. (I use quotes because I don’t believe many God-fearing, Bible-believing churches have fallen for the lies that are being propagated by this movement.)

You see, when racism is truly non-existent in the Body of Christ, all people are treated with respect and love. No matter the color or race, all are welcomed in the bond of unity that we have in Christ. There is no special treatment or “reparations” for past hurts. We accept one another and think of others more than we think of ourselves.

This is not what you are seeing in this modern day movement. Not at all.

And this leads me to the conclusion that this movement is not of God, for they have not reached biblical conclusions.

I love Colossians 3:11–

where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.

In a truly non-racist, unified church there is no thought to race or color. It isn’t an issue. Because we are all one in Christ.

Compare that to the shouts for fairness and the cries for reparations. Compare that to the discrimination that is now taking place against white males. Is this of God? Most certainly not. In fact, this is racism at its finest– sanctioned under the guise of evangelical religion.

Oh, how did we get here? How has this happened?

I want to close with this quote from James T. Draper, Jr., which is based on Titus 1:4. In this verse, Paul asserts that Titus and he have a common faith. I love what he has to say and I think that, although this is an old book, what Draper has to say is quite relevant for us all today–

“Titus was a Greek, Paul a Jew. But Paul was saying, ‘We have a common faith. (Titus 1:4) God loves us both. God has a purpose for both of us, God has a common desire for our lives and hearts.” God’s community is for everyone. His is a universal message, one that all can understand, one that all desperately need. It is good for rich and poor, young and old, black and white, educated and unlearned, men of all races, creeds, and nationalities.

That is the message of the Word of God. None of us are left outside by it. None of us are too insignificant to be touched by it. None of us are too untalented to be used in the community of the faith. That is the good news of the Gospel.”

So may I encourage you to look to the Bible for the answers to your questions about racism and not to the world? And particularly not to the mainstream church, who truly have it ALL wrong.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Why Should You Study the Bible?

Sometimes I sit down to write a post and I just have…nothing. What can I write that hasn’t already been said? At that point, it might be best to just walk away. But I have found that disciplining myself to write something is a good exercise for me. And sometimes that something ends up being one of my best posts. In fact, it was one of those that went viral a few years back and grew the blog beyond anything I ever expected.

I can’t promise that same kind today, but I have decided to take a few moments this morning to share a few of the ways Bible Study has changed my life and why it is so beneficial and necessary for all believers.

For me it all started back in 2012. We had recently left our church and I felt bereft of ministry. I was talking with a friend and she said if you start a Bible Study I will come. This was my venture into actual Bible Study. Up until that point I was like the average Christian who read a few verses and then the devotional someone had written about it. I was faithful to church and I knew the basic gist of biblical Christianity.

However, I was not all that familiar with my Bible and I had never read it through. I had never just studied a book of the Bible (aside from my years in a Christian college for a grade).

One of the first books I remember studying was I Peter. I was flabbergasted at just how much there was in there to learn. So much I didn’t know!

In 2014, I finally read the Bible through from cover to cover. In 2015, I offered a chronological read-through of the Bible as a challenge to you, my readers. In 2017, I began to offer Bible Reading Challenges every year. While I can’t be sure how beneficial these challenges have been in the lives of my readers, I can definitely say that the impact they have had on me has been tremendous. Because I am organizing and administrating the challenges I can’t cop out when I get too busy. Somehow, I must continue to make time to study the Word. People are counting on me.

Eventually, I got to the point where I wouldn’t want to miss out for anything. I prayed that God would give me a love for His Word and I can see that He has answered that prayer over the course of the last ten years.

I am nothing special. I was reading my pleasant devotionals and desiring to do what’s right. Just like most genuine believers. I had never made time to study or memorize the Word and this was a huge hindrance in my growth as a believer.

I didn’t realize that carrying a Bible or reading a few out-of-context verses or listening to wonderful Bible sermons–while all good and even helpful– was not the same thing as actually studying the Bible.

So why should you study the Bible? What is the big deal?

Let me give you a few things that my Bible Study has taught me (in a general sense). This is not an exhaustive, specific list but rather a general overview of the things we learn when we study the Bible–

1.  We learn about God and His character. There are many, many opinions out there. In fact, some of those opinions hit the bestseller list (such as the heretical book The Shack) and can change how we view God. Our only protection is to actually know who God is from His Holy Word.

2. We learn of man’s depraved and hopeless state without Christ. While the world and apostate church lauds the goodness of man, I am learning through reading the Bible that all men are sinners, lost and without hope of reconciliation to God–except through Jesus Christ.

3. We learn about ourselves. As I read the accounts of the people in the pages in the Bible, I can see myself. I see my own sins and weaknesses. As I read the epistles that contain exhortations and encouragement for believers, I am confronted with my own need for change. The scripture functions as mirror that shows me my true self. But it doesn’t stop there. It also teaches us how to turn away from the sin that so easily besets us. And encourages us with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is with us for guidance and comfort in our efforts to eradicate sin and grow in Christ.

4. We learn to know the real Jesus. Since He is literally nothing like the apostate church (and all other false churches) present Him, this is almost necessary these days to even understand the Gospel. One cannot understand who Jesus truly is without studying the Bible. There is just so much false information out there.

5. We learn of the hope, the grace, the mercy, and the deep love that is ours upon salvation. The promises of God are rich and certain. Give by God to His own dear children, they serve as a source of comfort and strength.

6. We learn to discern between right and wrong. If scripture is where we find the truth, then this is what we must know in order to determine what is false. This becomes increasingly important as deception deepens and grows in this current age we are living in.

7. We learn to stand strong for truth–even if it means standing alone. Through the examples of so many in scripture–Noah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Stephen, and so many others–we learn not only the importance of but also the possibility of standing for and even dying for our faith. God will make a way for us to do what is right.

8. We learn how to face both trials and good times. In the Bible, we are given so many encouraging verses in how to handle all states of life we find ourselves in. God shows us how we can best grow and glorify Him in whatever we face.

9. We learn how all of scripture is connected. It has been an amazing thing to see themes repeated over and over. To read one thing in a book and see it repeated in a different book. It really wasn’t until I finally took the time to study the Word that I understood the significance of the consistency and cohesiveness of scripture. It’s truly amazing!

10. And, finally, we continue to learn (and be amazed at) how true and reliable God’s Word is. The fulfilled prophecies alone are simply awesome. One cannot walk away from a humble study of the Bible and not recognize the impossibilities of these very specifically fulfilled prophecies. Confirmation that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God become more and more evident as one gives time to study.

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And, as we learn these things above, we become so much more confident in our walk with Christ. We feel comfortable sharing the Gospel. We lean alone on God’s Word when calling out false teachers. We recognize that our opinions mean literally nothing. All we stand on is the Word, which is easy to do because we are so aware that it is God’s very Word to us, giving us all truth we need for life and godliness.

And, so, I hope that this might reach some believer out there who has never really studied the Word for themselves. I hope that you will give it a try. If you are looking for a place to begin, I hope you will consider this year’s Bible Reading Challenge (find more information here). My goal for each challenge is for it to be helpful to both beginner Bible Students and Advanced and every student in between. I also try to make it so that one can join anytime throughout the year. Right now is the perfect time to commit to study the Bible!

But, no matter what way you choose or where you start your study of scripture, I hope that you will make it a priority. For the Bible truly is the only source of truth and guidance for the Christian Life.

 

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?

 

 

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