faith

Every Bubble Pops

I was babysitting this past Saturday and the boys decided they wanted to blow bubbles while their baby brother napped. And so we went out into the backyard and found a shady spot where I blew bubbles and they chased them. It was great fun. What a joy watching a three and five year old happily chase bubbles, completely unaware of all that is happening in the world.

As I sat there waving the bubble wand back and forth, all sizes of bubbles were formed. There were tiny ones, medium-sized ones, and great big ones. Of course, the great big ones were the favorite and the boys would often set their sights on the same bubble, even though several others wafted around their heads.

At one point, a huge bubble was lifted by the air out of their reach. Up, up, it went. The oldest followed it, knowing it would eventually come down again. But, alas, it floated over the fence and into the neighbor’s yard, where it hung for a bit and then finally drifted to the ground and popped.

But it did pop. Every bubble that formed popped. Some popped immediately. Some floated awhile and then popped. But not one bubble was left when they grew bored with blowing bubbles and moved on to something else.

Sooner or later, every bubble pops.

Let’s think about about those bubbles in the context of lives. The other day I ran into someone and he mentioned to me how many people are dying recently. My family and I have discussed the same thing. There seems to be much more death than even last year when the pandemic was at its height. At least in my circle of friends and associations. It might be different for you.

But this got me thinking about how we always think we will have tomorrow with people. We will apologize later. We will do that promised thing next week. We will take that anticipated family vacation in a few years. We will work on our marriage or spend time with our kids after this busy season or that project is completed. We will share the Gospel some other time.

We will…we will…

But we never do.

And then one day, that person isn’t there. And it’s too late.

All bubbles pop. And all people die. Two laws of the universe that cannot be changed. What do we need to do today? Right now? How do we need to fix, improve, or change a relationship today? How can we encourage or support someone today? Who needs to hear the Gospel? What would the Lord have us do today–before it’s too late?

 

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

Colossians 3:12-13

 

And now let’s think about the bubbles in the context of the world. It feels like there are some pretty big bubbles around us that have to eventually pop. Particularly a financial one that is, quite impossibly, still floating. How can an economy go on when its government simply creates money with nothing to back it? When it kills small businesses by paying their employees more to stay home? Watching this happen should lead us all to a be wary of a government that claims to care about its citizens. I think the whole world is just in a waiting mode this summer. What is next? But let’s take a moment to look at a few bubbles in this world that have already been popped.

The bubble of stability. We Americans blithely thought our country was pretty stable. Sure, we’d hear the arguments from opposing political parties and we knew, eventually, down the road sometime, things would probably change, but the uncertainty we all live with now has brought that time to now–to this very specific time in history. The stability we all enjoyed (which I have discovered was just an illusion to begin with) is no longer. And while most of us are still living pretty comfortably, we now understand that any earthly foundation beneath us could shake and move and change at any time.

The bubble of abundance. I can never remember a time when the shelves of the stores in my country were not abundantly full of goods. We American Christians (and perhaps all of us in westernized countries) have had little opportunity to experience needing something that we cannot get. And, suddenly, last year, shelves in stores were empty. The bubble of abundance had been popped and we now realize that we may have to go without. That those full shelves are not guaranteed in this life.

And then there is the bubble of freedom. We thought we were free. But we are finding out that we clearly aren’t. We are being censored, we are being mandated to, we are treated as sheep to be controlled. We are not free. Many are losing jobs because of not wanting to take a va[[ine that is untested and unapproved. Think about that for a moment. In what world? But, you see, this is because, we aren’t really free. We thought we were, but we now know we really aren’t. And, while most of us are still living life as normal and haven’t experienced the fall-out of this tyranny, we can see it coming on the horizon, barring God’s sovereign intervention.

All of these bubbles popping around us should be turning the eyes of believers from this crazy, unpredictable, changing world to our rock-solid, unchangeable, awesome God. This is where our hope and faith should have always been. But, if you are like me, it wasn’t.

And God has been teaching me so plainly: Every bubble in this world will pop. There is not one thing in this world that will last. Kings and Kingdoms come and go. Humans may shine brightly for a time and then they grow old and weak and die. Stuff tarnishes, rusts, and fades.

This world is passing away. Which is why we need to be focused on the next one. Paul tells us so clearly that we are to be focused on the eternal world to come. Our souls will last. The souls of our children will last. The souls of our parents, siblings, extended family, neighbors, co-workers, and friends will all last. The souls of the clerks and the parents on the soccer field sidelines and the childrens’ teachers and the doctors we go to–they will all last.

Oh, to live with this in mind. Oh, to put our own selfish agendas, desires, and fears aside and to go about our Father’s business with zeal and passion as we perceive that this world is just passing.

 

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.

Colossians 3:1-2

 

Life is so short and it changes constantly. Nothing stays the same. If we think on one thing today from this post, I hope it is this: Focus on the eternal, recognizing that we may not have another day with someone. We may not get the opportunity to apologize, show love, or share the Gospel if we don’t do it today.

 

 

 

Are You Ready for Death?

Kobe Bryant and his daughter died a few days ago. Along with thousands of other people. Those two weren’t the only ones who faced God on Sunday, January 26. Many passed from this life to the next. Some were expecting it and many, many, like Kobe, were not.

None of us knows what day we will leave this earth. That’s why it is so critical that we are ready to go at all times.

This isn’t going to be a long post. I just want to encourage you (and myself) to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are ready for the inevitable. 100% of us will die. The question is not “if”, it is when.

So here are just a few thoughts for us all today–

1. If you do not believe the Bible is 100% true, then what are you basing your belief about the afterlife on? Is it a man? A religious system? And on what is that person or system basing their beliefs on about the afterlife? This is one area of life we cannot afford to get wrong! This is the difference between heaven and hell. Between a life of eternity with God or an eternity without God. We owe it to ourselves to thoroughly research this. If you don’t believe the Bible, then I challenge you to actually put reasons to your belief. Make sure that you’ve done a thorough study. While true faith isn’t based on logic and rationalism, it is often the starting point of the search for many.

Don’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand when it comes to the subject of death.

(If you wonder what the Bible teaches about life after death, you can read more here.)

2. If we do know where we are headed, then shouldn’t that change how we live? Shouldn’t we be more interested in treasure in heaven than treasure on earth? Shouldn’t we be more interested in pleasing God than pleasing people? And shouldn’t we spend more time looking in the mirror of the Word than the mirror in our bathroom? Remembering how close death is for all of us should really remind us of (or even change) our priorities.

3. If we do believe the Bible is true and we are confident that we will spend eternity with God through our faith in Jesus Christ alone, then a good majority of us really need to ask ourselves these questions: Why aren’t we more passionate about our faith? Why are we so caught up in all of the stuff that is so temporal? Why don’t we care more that so many are not going to be in eternity with us, given their own declarations and wicked lifestyles?

Is this not a sobering thought? The co-worker next to you could get in his car tomorrow and crash. The unbelieving family member could face his Maker next week. That terminal diagnosis could be told to our lost spouse or parent in a month.

Are we praying fervently for them? Are we taking the opportunities we are given to share the Gospel? Be sure that I am not talking about smashing them over the head with it in a harsh way. But, rather, are we having heartfelt discussions with them? Are we pointing them to the anchor of the Word?

Dear friends, life is short. Our days are like grass. May we seek the things that are above. May we live each day with eternity in mind.

 

As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is b]”>[b]”>bb]”>]gone,
And its place remembers it no more.

Psalm 103:15

 

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

 

 

Should I Expect to Understand Everything?

The other morning we were talking in Bible Study about how there are just some things we can’t understand. I mean can we really wrap our brains around how we are chosen by God (Ephesians 1; John 6:44) and yet we have a free will to choose Christ? (John 1:12-13). Or can we comprehend how God moved men to write the Holy Bible–using their own styles and personalities–and yet every word written by each of those fallible authors was and is the timeless, infallible, and inspired word of God (2 Peter 1:20-21)? And then there is prayer. I am supposed to pray (Philippians 4:6) and yet God has already ordained what will happen (Daniel 4:35; Acts 2:23)? How can this be?

I am here to tell you that I have no idea. I can’t fully understand quite a few things that I believe scripture teaches.

And, honestly, I am okay with that. Now, in writing that I am okay, it may lead you to believe that I am simple-minded and too easily satisfied. But, before you set your opinion, let me try to explain exactly why I am okay.

The other day my daughter told my three-year-old grandson that they were going to go vote. Here’s a bit of the conversation–

As she was explaining that mommy and daddy were choosing between two men who would help make decisions for our state, he asked a very wise question:

“Is one red and one blue?”

Amazed that he actually chose the right colors that signify the two political parties, she said “Well, yes, something like that.”

“Can we vote for the red man since that is my favorite color?”

She laughed and responded “yes, because the red man believes a lot of the same things we do.”

So far, so good.

However, she realized how little he really understood when he asked this question after they were done voting: “Now that we are done ‘boating’, can we bring the red man home with us?”

(Our family all had a good laugh over this story.)

Now we can see that he really didn’t understand. And, actually, there was really no possible way for him to understand. As my daughter said, he doesn’t even know what a state is yet. He is absolutely incapable of understanding the voting process.

Of course, we’d never expect a three year old to fully understand this process, would we?

SO why then do we expect to understand everything God understands? If there is such a large gap between the comprehension of a three-year-old and an adult, then how much bigger of a gap must exist between the comprehension of a created human and the God of the universe?

Consider Deuteronomy 29:29–

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

You see, there are secret things that we can’t understand. There are questions we can’t answer. And there are doctrines that are totally beyond our comprehension.

At some point, we need to accept this.

It is pride and arrogance that demands understanding. It is the idolatry of intellectualism that pushes man to insist he can make sense of it all.

This pride and idolatry has led to broken relationships, messed-up families, and split churches. Scripture gets twisted to mold God and His ways into something that makes sense to our human brain. How important that we take scripture literally and at face value–even if it doesn’t make sense or seem fair.

While the Bible does contain some puzzling things, oh, how much we can understand. God has revealed what He wants us to know. What we need to know, we know.

The world and even many in the church will call us foolish for not insisting on knowing every single detail. But who cares? Just like a three year old can’t understand voting, so a human brain can’t fully understand how God works. We must bow humbly before our King and realize that God is way bigger than us and His ways are much higher than ours.

 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

 

 

How We Are Like the Moon

Isn’t a full moon so incredible? Of course, most of the month, the moon is not near so bright. And some nights it is simply an unimpressive sliver up in the sky.

Even though early astronomers didn’t realize it, we now understand that the moon is simply a reflection of the sun’s glory. The moon itself does not have light, but it reflects the light of the sun.

A reader recently brought to my attention how much we believers are like the moon–

Our light is not our own, but is merely a reflection of God’s glory.

Our reflective light is easily dimmed by the dark shadows of sin and worldliness, just as the moon’s is dimmed by the shadow of the earth.

Our light, if we are a true reflection of Jesus Christ, lights up the dark night just like a full moon does.

And we know that some love that light. And some hate it.

Some love the moonlight and the way it helps them see. And others, with things to hide, hate it. They want the cover of darkness to hide their evil deeds.

While I know that sin does serious damage to our reflective light, I want to write a bit about worldiness and the damage it does. I have been writing a series on worldliness (which you can find here) and so this seems to be very relevant to that series.

As my reader pointed out, just as the world comes between the sun and the moon and blots out the light, so, too, does this same thing happen with us. The world gets between us and the Father and we grow dim because of it.

You see, when we allow worldly thinking to enter our minds, whether it be through entertainment, education, or careers or through social media, our circle of friends, or family–and any other way it finds its way into our hearts and brains–our lights start to dim.

Think about it.

Let’s say you spent the last two hours watching a movie full of violence or immorality. Is that an accurate reflection of God? Are we doing what He would do? Are we making a choice that makes us look more like Him?

Or are we purposely taking a step away in order to satisfy our own selfish desires?

Or how about how we choose to raise our kids, live out our marriages, or treat the boss or co-workers at our jobs? We have a choice to be a reflection of God and His desires or to follow after the world and look like everyone else, causing us to melt into the blackness that surrounds us.

Christian marriages, parenting, and relationships with unbelievers should look very different than that of unbelievers. But, so often, because of our desire to follow so closely after the world, we end up simply looking like everyone else.

Our lives become unremarkable and we end up casting just a dim reflection of light in the inky blackness that surrounds us.

Now this is so devastating for a few reasons–

First, we cannot be used by God. He has chosen to use us but in order to do that we must be pure and holy vessels. When we choose to live in sin or to look and act like the world, we are not fit for service.

Second, we lose opportunities to share Christ. No Christian can honestly say that they would feel comfortable sharing Jesus with a friend after partying for the whole night alongside them. And if someone says they do, there is little to commend any religious message they may spout off. We are automatically discounted when we join in the sinful activities of the world around us. If we look just like the world, they have no need to have what we have. They don’t need it. If our children look like everyone else’s children, if our attitudes are like everyone else’s attitudes, if our friendships, our marriages, and our families mirror the world, what use do they have with us?

Anyone can travel the path of least resistance. In order to stand out we need to stand on the Word. In order to fully reflect God’s light we need to do things His way.

Third, we lose opportunities to testify to the difference God can make in our lives. When we continue to be the best reflection of God’s light that we can be, we show the world that not only is God almighty and able to change us but that His love and grace is all that we need. We show them that being transformed is not about rules but about our deep love for God.

Knowing God is the only eternal light. While earthly things may flicker up briefly, only God gives us a new life that gives us a permanent reflection of light.

_________________________

Perhaps this would be a good time to remember that pure and holy are not synonymous with perfect. We do not have to–in fact we cannot--live perfect lives. Never forget that our Christian lives are not about perfection but about direction.

All believers, whether young or old, are a reflection. The question is this: Are we a teeny sliver of light in the darkness or a full moon lighting up the night?

 

His Will, Not Mine

Shortly after three of our four kids left the house (which happened within a little over a year), I found myself fairly troubled. Perhaps I even experienced a case of slight depression. I was not where I wanted to be. And, in fact, what made it worse was that I didn’t even know where I wanted to be. Did I want to go back to being a mom of preschoolers or teen-agers? No, I certainly didn’t want to do that. But I also knew that I didn’t want to be at this place where I had no idea who I was or what I was supposed to be doing. I had left my comfort zone of full-time mommyhood behind me and had no idea what lay ahead. Compounding this were several other dynamics that, all combined, thrust me into a rather dark period of my life.

Many times, during my quiet time, I would complain and simply pity myself (ashamed to say it but true) because my life had gone by so quickly. I wasn’t ready for this new stage. I just wasn’t ready. I had been very content and comfortable in my mother role and I just wasn’t ready for it to be over. Tears would fall as I reflected on the past. The thought that kept repeating itself over and over in my mind was “This isn’t what I want. This isn’t where I want to be.”

Even as I had this thought, I recognized the utter selfishness of it. If I truly believed the Bible, then I knew that my life should never be centered on what I wanted. While in my head, I knew that I exist on this earth to know God and to make Him known, my emotions put up a giant struggle to be heard and obeyed. I knew there was a much bigger picture (and that what I wanted was fairly irrelevant in that picture)–and yet– even as a committed believer in Jesus Christ, I found myself in a tremendous battle with my emotions.

Thus I was thrust into God’s kiln to be tested and tried in a way I had not experienced before.

(Let me just say here that this is one of the things in my life that God has used to teach me submission to His will. I am aware that there are some women who long for the day when their kids leave the house–I just wasn’t one of them. I know this will seem utterly foolish to some of you and you won’t get it at all. God may be using or has already used something totally different in your life. Honestly, I never had any idea that my whole identity and a good chunk of my security was wrapped up in my role as a mom. But I also recognize that not all of you will relate to this. I do hope this post takes the reader beyond the details and focuses more on learning how to respond when something we want is refused or taken away.)

The last five years or so have been some of the most difficult of my life. I thought I knew who I was and then, suddenly, I realized I didn’t know who I was at all. God gave me the opportunity to live out all that I had talked and written about all through the years and I was failing. Miserably. I became slightly obsessed with figuring out who I was supposed to be now that my mother role was just about over. I faced a whole new wave of uncertainty when my baby left for college a few years later. (I still don’t really know exactly where God is taking me, by the way. Every time I think I am supposed to go one way, God shuts the door and pushes me another direction. What I am learning through all of this is that I need to simply submit and yield without fuss. He is teaching me to be content even when things don’t go at all as I had planned. It’s an excruciatingly slow process and I doubt I will ever be able to say that I have arrived in this area of my life.)

There were two especially bright spots during this time and I treasure them both greatly. First was the birth of my grandchildren. Kids just bring sunshine wherever they go. How can you not smile when they are around?

And, second, and much more importantly, was how aware I became of my need for Jesus. Up until this time, if I am being totally honest here, I thought I was a pretty good person. Yes, I needed a Savior but not as much as some people did. I am almost ashamed to write it and I never officially “thought” it, but as I look back, I can see this is what I believed.

But when I came face to face with my self-centeredness and spoiled-brat mentality, I recognized pretty quickly just how utterly sinful my heart is. My appreciation for Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross has increased a hundred-fold in the past few years.

I am still on this journey of putting what I want on the back burner while focusing on what God wants. And He keeps giving me opportunities to yield to Him and His will. It’s not been easy but I do feel like I am moving the right direction.

Why am I sharing this now? I don’t really know except that it all came to mind when Eric and I had the opportunity to spend a few uninterrupted hours talking with my brother (Pastor Dean) a few weeks ago. As most of you know, he lost his wife in April after a year and a half battle with cancer. Even as I write this it still seems surreal. My sister-in-law of 20 years is now with the Lord. Still feels like it just can’t be. As we talked, he shared how he had given Grace to the Lord before he even met her. All he owns is God’s, and that included his much beloved wife. His commitment to Christ is truly a beacon of light in the ever-increasing self-focused, dream-following, mainstream church.

One of the things he said that sort of summed up what I have been struggling through is that he doesn’t ask what he wants but always tries to focus on what God wants. Of course, no one can do this perfectly but this should be our goal.

Sometimes our wants line up with God’s. And sometimes they don’t. This can happen in big things like the heart-breaking devastation of losing a wife and mother to cancer. God called Grace home, despite her family’s longing for her to stay here on this earth with them. Other times, it’s an unimportant, mundane thing where our will doesn’t line up with God’s–like a mom dealing with the empty nest. My time as full-time mom had passed far too quickly and was never going to return, despite my deep sadness and the disconcerting uncertainty that accompanied it. God uses both the big things and the little things to test and grow us.

Perhaps you are facing something totally different. A move you don’t want to make. A lost job. A child that has turned away from the faith. Financial burdens. Family strife. Elderly parents with health issues. There is no end to the problems and struggles that we face on a daily basis. And, often, in these situations our wills don’t line up with God. Many times God seems to says no and the burdens seem to last forever. Or He says wait and we find ourselves stalled in a place we just don’t want to be.

Many times our “wants” are centered on relief from hurt and pain. Our “wants” are often focused on experiencing a carefree, easy, comfortable, and happy life that is free of burdens and problems. But there are also many wants that we have for others, like the salvation of a loved one or relief from pain, disease, or addiction for a family member or a friend. These are wants not centered on us but still leave us wondering when they go unanswered.

And, yet, so often it is when God says no or wait that we experience our greatest growth. These are also the times that we get to shine with real biblical faith before the dark world and the false church. It is easy to smile when things are going well. Having hope, peace, and joy in the hard times–well, that’s when we really stand out as believers. It is actually when we don’t get what we want that we have the potential to be the most effective for Christ!

In this false religion that goes by the name of Christianity, we find people obsessed with self and purpose and following dreams. It is so easy to fall prey to this same mindset if we aren’t extremely careful.

There is a little verse in John 3:30 that flies directly against self-centered Christianity–

He must increase, but I must decrease.

Read that again.

He must increase but I must decrease.

What I want doesn’t really matter in the scope of life. The critical question in regards to our lives is “What does God want”?

Luke 9:23 clarifies this thought even more–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

If we desire to come after Christ, we must deny ourselves. We must pick up our cross and follow Him. Does this sound like a self-centered faith to you?

One of the most effective tests to find out just how yielded we are is when God’s will doesn’t match ours.

Do we put up a fuss and complain (even if it just to God or to ourselves)? Do we desperately try to fix situations ourselves? Do we grow depressed or anxious? These are all signs that we are putting our own wants and desires ahead of God. They are showing us that we don’t really trust God and His sovereignty in all areas of life.

It is a hard lesson to learn. To say the least.

I remember talking with my sister-in-law a few months before her death. She told me that she was at peace. That she had fought her battle with God’s sovereignty ten years earlier when she had been diagnosed with cancer for the first time.

Oh, dear readers, until we can bow before God in all things, we will not experience His peace.

His will, not mine.

When we fully accept God’s will for our lives and trust that He knows best, we will find the peace and joy that is promised in the scriptures. No matter what disappointment and hurt and pains swirls around us. He will never leave us or forsake us. We will never, ever be alone.

Not getting what we want is not an indication that He doesn’t care. Instead, it’s a reminder of our sinful, demanding nature–like an ant shaking its fist at a human being is a little how we must look to the God of the universe when we demand and manipulate and sulk to get our own way.

His will, not mine.

May that be what carries us on through the difficult days and the unanswered prayers.

 

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind

A few months ago, we were able to visit the church where my brother pastors. Many of you know him as Pastor Dean as I’ve shared quite a few things here on the blog by him. In the lobby, I found a mini bookshelf with about ten books that he recommends to his congregation for reading. One of the books caught my attention. It’s title was God’s Battle Plan for the Mind and it was written by David Saxton. The subtitle was: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation.

Kind of like he’s hijacked the symbol of the rainbow, Satan has also hijacked this word “meditation”. So I was interested in reading about the biblical view of meditation. Just what did the Puritans have to say about it?

I picked up the book and paged through it. I saw that, for a small donation, I could purchase the book and so I decided to do just that. Now, I have a bit of a problem. I buy a LOT of books and read so few of them. I have the best of intentions but there are just SO many that I’d like to read. I’ll never have enough time.

But I started reading this one almost immediately and it was so incredibly useful and insightful that I kept right on reading until it ended. I was rather sad for it to end. I find that it’s always hard to come to the end of any good book, no matter what genre it is.

I highly recommend this book. Here are the links for your benefit (I get no proceeds from these links but provide them simply for your convenience). The Paperback edition can be found on Amazon or, for $5 less, you can get it at Christianbook.com  You can also get the kindle version here or the ebook version here.

Of course, I do recognize that the majority of you, for whatever reason, will probably never read it. And so I decided to take a few moments today to share a few of its best quotes and ideas, so that all my readers can benefit at least a bit from this book.

When I read a book, I keep a highlighter pencil (they don’t bleed onto other pages) and sticky tabs next to me. I mark things that really make me think or that I want to remember. This book has a lot of tabs sticking out from it. It will be hard to choose what to share.

These days meditation is pretty much understood to be the eastern, mystical practice of “emptying the mind.” But this is in complete opposition to what scripture teaches us. Here are some thoughts on biblical meditation that I hope will encourage you not only in its importance, but also in its practice. Quotes from the book are in italics.

What is the danger of an empty mind? Henry Scudder explains:

When you are alone, be sure that you are well and fully exercised about something that is good, either in the works of your calling, or in reading, or in holy meditation or prayer. For whensoever Satan does find you idle, and out of employment in some or other of those works which God has appointed, he will take that as an opportunity to use you for himself, and to employ you in some of his works. (p. 41)

What about devotions? Is this the same thing as biblical meditation? Well, not necessarily. The author puts it like this:

Meditation and spending time with the Lord is like a good meal–it takes time to prepare and time to enjoy. Many Christian devotions resemble a person who is wolfing down a burger while driving on the freeway. However, our time with the Lord should look more like a couple who enjoy each aspect of a seven-course meal. (p. 57)

This thought really struck me because it is easy to have our devotions or quiet time just another thing to be checked off of our to-do list. How often do I view it as something to be cherished and savored? Something special rather than something I “have” to do? This was so convicting to me.

Why is meditation important? What good does it do? I’ve really been thinking about this as I have started to give more effort to memorizing scripture in the past few months. I am not as regular or dedicated as I want to be but I am taking baby steps in the right direction. One thing I have noticed about this is how often the words I have memorized will come to me in a situation just when I need them. If I am anxious, I will find Philippians 4:6-7 or Matthew 6:34 ease my mind. If I am going for a second piece of cake, Proverbs 25:16 will leap to mind. If I am worried about the future, Psalm 37:23-24 will come to mind. The truth is that: Unless we really spend time hiding the Word in our hearts–either through memorization or deeply reflecting on what we read, our spiritual growth will be seriously hindered.

Thomas Watson puts it like this–

“without meditation the truth of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation, all is lost.” (p. 66)

Saxton continues–

Although many read the Bible with giving meditation any merit, this is the only way to read the Bible in a completely profitable way. This will bring lasting change and spiritual growth. The believer reads scripture not for the reading itself but to consider its various truths. This gives power to the Scriptures to impact life. Watson wrote:

“Meditation without reading is erroneous; reading without meditation is barren. The bee sucks the flower and then works it into the hive, and so turns it into honey. By reading we suck the flower of the Word, by meditation we work it into the hive of our mind, and so it turns to profit…The reason we come away so cold from the reading of the Word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.” (p. 66)

Isn’t this so true? Bible reading is so much sweeter and profitable when we take some time to chew on what we have read, rather than to read distractedly so we can move to the next thing. Memorizing takes it even a step further and keeps the Word in our minds to chew on when we have a spare moment.

Why should we meditate? What’s the big deal? I greatly appreciated this quote by the author–

Without redeeming the time through godly meditation, one will be overcome with the evil of the age and be left vulnerable to polluted, depraved thoughts that incessantly seek a mind upon which to work their evil. Christians come into the faith with a sandstorm of carnal baggage swirling around in their minds. No believer will overcome the effects of mental pollution without using his time to continually renew himself. Christians who refuse to use their time to meditate upon the Word are as foolish as an army sentry without bullets or a fireman without a water source. (p. 101)

Oh, how true! Aren’t we so much more protected from the evil within our own hearts and the wickedness of the world around us when we are in the Word and meditating upon it?

___________________________

I have so many more quotes and thoughts I could share from this book but I think this is probably enough to chew on for today. I hope I have whetted your appetites and that some of you will consider reading it. I really think you will be glad you did!

God has created a great defense in the battle for our minds and it is biblical meditation. Don’t let the word “meditation” and Satan’s abuse of it scare you from practicing it in the way God intended.

 

My Way or His Way?

In 1969 a song was written by Paul Anka that was made popular by a crooner named Frank Sinatra. The song has a thoughtful and appealing tune and is called “My Way”.  The final stanza of the song does a good job of summing up the song–

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way
Yes, it was my way

It’s pretty clear that this song is an anti-Christian song since the entire song is like a theme for humanism. The author did things his way and didn’t answer to any supreme being or any human being. Of course, the author will answer to God one day, if he hasn’t already. So why am I talking about a 50 year old song?

I’ll tell you why.

Because I have seen more and more people who claim to be Christians live by this mantra:

I did it my way.

I’ll do it my way.

And then, eventually, in our obsession with our dreams, our purposes, and our goals, we end up believing that…

God exists to help me do it my way.

We are concerned only about our way.

The thing is…

Biblical Christianity teaches the opposite–

• Instead of being obsessed with our own plans and dreams, we are to submit to God’s plans. (Rom 14:8)

• Instead of being driven by our selfish desires, we are to deny ourselves. (Luke 9:23)

• Instead of thinking only of ourselves and our purpose and desires, we are to think of others. (Phil 2:3)

It’s easy to point a finger at others and shake our heads in sadness or disgust. See how selfishly they are living? Isn’t that a shame? But, while we may not ascribe to self-centered living in theory, how often do we live it without realizing it?

I am amazed, even though I have been walking with the Lord all these years, at how often I am driven by my own selfish desires and will. And disgusted at how often I find myself obsessing about myself and my happenings. Can you relate? Or am I alone on this one?

I think one of the greatest challenges of walking with the Lord is this:

Living for Him instead of for me.

And, in this current church culture, we aren’t even given this challenge, are we? We are told that we can live for ourselves and expect God to swoop in and be our personal genie to help us fulfill our big dreams and realize our insanely important purposes.

But God cares far more about our holiness than our happiness. (Romans 5:3-5)

And it’s not about us. Our lives are just a teeny-tiny point on the map of the universe and the timeline of history; both of which are utterly and absolutely under the sovereignty of God. (Isaiah 46:10)

God is choosing to use us for His glory and His purposes at this time. His glory. His purposes. (Ephesians 2:10)

I guess Paul sums it up best for all of us in Galatians 2:20–

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

This, as true believers, is our aspiration. We are to die to self and live for God. It is a message that isn’t heard very much anymore. You won’t hear it from most pulpits or read it in the Christian best-sellers. In a culture obsessed with only positive messages, this is a message that isn’t very popular.

Everyone wants to live life their way and they want a God who will bless them as they do things their way. And even those of us who truly desire to live for Christ can be swayed a bit by this wrong thinking about God.

And so I hope that today you will take some time to reflect on how you are living for yourself instead of for God. And while you do that, I’ll be doing the same. Just because I can write things like this, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with the same things you do. It’s one thing to write. It’s another thing to live.

So let’s strive to live for God together, always turning to His Word for guidance and direction. And, in a world full of people obsessed with doing things “my way”,  let’s do things His way.

 

A Crash Course in Systematic Theology

The term “Systematic Theology” can scare us if we aren’t very educated. However, in its simplest definition, it just means organizing all the Bible teaches into categories. See? It’s not really all that scary! Systematic Theology gathers all of the information that the Bible has to say from Genesis to Revelation about a certain topic–such as God, or angels, or Jesus, etc.

We often hear that Christians are disinterested in doctrine. And I do think that is true. But, honestly, I think there are also quite a few who are intimidated by it. If we don’t have a lot of background in these things, the terms and phrases can be rather daunting.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Pastor Dean Good makes it possible to learn the basics while removing the “intimidation” factor. He also makes it clear that we must never make theology or education our goal. As believers, our goal is to walk in the Truth of God’s Word. Nothing should ever take the place of that.

This past September I started teaching a Bible Study on the Fundamentals of the Faith. As I tried to deepen my knowledge of the doctrines we are studying, I found these Bible Study sessions by Pastor Dean, which he taught at the church where he is pastor (Grace Church of North Olmsted). Not only have they benefited me greatly but they have also helped those attending the studies who are interested in going that extra mile to learn more.

As I was reflecting on this over the weekend, I decided to compile these sessions all on one page so that you, my readers, might learn from these, as well. They give a wonderful overview of each topic in a way that anyone can understand.

I really think you will enjoy these if you take the time to listen. I hope this will be very helpful to you as you strive to grow in Christ. In the introduction Pastor Dean does a fantastic job giving us insight into why a study of doctrine is so important, so that’s a great place to start.

(P.S. Don’t let the big words scare you on this list. The academic words simply represent very familiar concepts.)

1. INTRODUCTION

Every good course needs a good introduction and this is one of the best around. Pastor Dean offers an easy-to-understand overview, as well as a few really practical reasons why this study is important.

Introduction to Systematic Theology


2. SCRIPTURE

What does the Bible say about itself? Why do we believe it to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God?

Doctrine of Scripture


3. GOD

What does the Bible teach us about God? Learn why we should be in such awe of God, the Father!

Doctrine of God


4. TRINITY

What does the Bible teach us about the trinity? This session may clear up some of your questions about this rather confusing doctrine.

Doctrine of the Trinity


5. CHRIST

What does the Bible teach us about Jesus Christ? Do you know who He really is, according to the scriptures?

Christology


6.HOLY SPIRIT

This is one of the most maligned and twisted doctrines of scripture in this current church age. What does the Bible say about the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives?

Pneumatology


7. ANGELS

What does the Bible teach about angels? Does what you believe about them match what scripture says?

Angelology 1

Angelology 2


8. MAN

Man is made in God’s image but what exactly does this mean? Find out what the Bible has to say about this.

Anthropology


9. SIN

What does the Bible teach about sin? What is sin? Are there levels of sin?

Hamartiology


10. SALVATION

What does the Bible teach about salvation? Pastor Dean spends four different sessions on this important topic.

Soteriology 1

Soteriology 2

Sanctification

Perseverance


11. CHURCH

What does the Bible teach about the universal Church and what is the role of the local church? This is an extremely important issue, especially with the development of the modern seeker-friendly and business model churches. Is this really what God had in mind?

Ecclesiology 1

Ecclesiology 2


12. ISRAEL

What does the Bible teach us about Israel? There are many people who believe that there is no role for Israel in the future. You may be one of them. I hope you will listen and find out why Pastor Dean believes that God is not yet finished with Israel.

Israelology 1

Israelology 2


13. PROPHECY

What does the Bible teach us about the last days? There are many different ways that people interpret Daniel and Revelation and it’s certainly not a salvific issue. But, while this is something we can agree to disagree on, Pastor Dean approaches Revelation the way he approaches all of scripture: Literally. He shows why we can and should interpret books of prophecy in the same way we interpret the rest of scripture.

Eschatology 1

Eschatology 2

 

 

Who Is Jesus?

Who is Jesus? One of the greatest travesties of this current age is the misunderstanding of who Jesus is. People throw His name around all the time, attributing characteristics and traits to Him. But do they actually match the real Jesus?

I hesitate to even write this, knowing that I can’t even begin to touch the surface of who Jesus really is in a blog post. But I feel compelled to at least write something in the face of all of the bad information that is out there. So here goes…

I want to first do a quick overview of who Jesus is and why He came before we look into some of the myths that are believed about Him.

It is important to start with who we are without Christ. We need to understand that we are sinners, lost and without hope, dead in our sins. We are not good people with good hearts. Romans 3:12 b is one of several verses that makes this abundantly clear–

There is none who does good, no, not one.

This leaves us lost and without hope. As sinners, we desperately need a way to be reconciled to God. All the good deeds in the world will not be enough to make us stand righteous before God. We cannot work our way to Heaven. Isaiah 64:6 a says this–

But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;

Since no good and righteous judge can excuse a lawbreaker, we know that we cannot just walk away without punishment. And so we needed a perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins. Maybe this analogy will help:

A murderer sits before a judge, awaiting his verdict. Perhaps he makes his case–yes, I did murder that man but, judge, I’ve given thousands of dollars here and I’ve spent hours helping the poor there. But, of course, we know that there isn’t any amount of good deeds that can make up for the sin that he committed. There is no “balance” between good and bad deeds in real life and there is no balance when it comes to God, either.

As a good and righteous judge, he must punish this murderer. To not do so would mean he is not just or fair. But then someone comes in to the court room and offers to take this man’s punishment. He is offering to pay the price so that this man can be set free. Who would ever do such a thing? I don’t know of any human.

But this is, in essence, what Jesus did for us. We are in that court room, awaiting our death sentence, and He has offered to pay our punishment with His death on the Cross, so that we may go free and have eternal life. We are reconciled to God through Christ’s death when we trust in Him and Him alone for salvation.

But Jesus didn’t stay in that grave.

He is alive and will return again someday! This is our Savior and Lord and King. The King of Kings (Revelation 19:16), almighty, all-powerful. He is calling us to live a godly and discerning life while we await His return (2 Peter 3:14-18).

I Timothy 1:15 says this: This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 

Jesus came to the world to save sinners. He did not come to make our life here on earth easier, to give us a purpose, or to fill our lives with material wealth and good health. He came to save us from the eternal punishment we deserve because of sin.

But this is not the Jesus we generally hear about today. This modern day “Jesus” is our buddy and he exists to do our bidding and to make our lives better. With this Jesus we can be like the world, we never have to confront sin, and we can join with false teachers. We can lie, we can steal, we can cheat, we can live in sexual sin, we can do anything we want because Jesus always forgives us. This Jesus never gets angry, is never divisive, and never calls out sin. This Jesus accepts everyone into heaven and would never send anyone to hell.

Now before we do a biblical test of these things that we wrongly assume define Jesus, I do want to make it clear that some of the things currently ascribed to Jesus are most certainly true: Jesus loves us. Jesus does have great compassion for the lost sinner. Jesus does forgive our sins. He has no bias for class or race. He is kind and good.

But let’s take a look at some of the other traits ascribed to this character I will call “Cultural Jesus”.  Are the characteristics attributed to our Lord Jesus Christ true or are they false, according to scripture?

1. Our Buddy

The Bible does say that Jesus is our friend. But there is a condition to that friendship. We are only His friends if we do what He commands in His Word (John 15:14). If we do not do as He commands, we have declared by our actions that we are not His friend, no matter what we say.

2. Accepts Anyone and Everyone Into Heaven

“Cultural Jesus” doesn’t care what path people take to heaven. Of course, we know the real Jesus made it clear that He is the only way (John 14:6). “Cultural Jesus” also assures us that everyone is going to heaven. This is another myth. It was the real Jesus who said the way is narrow and few there are that find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

3. Never Confronts

“Cultural Jesus” never confronts sin. But we can quickly find out that this is not the real Jesus. No matter where He went or who He talked to, He called people to repentance and out of their sin. In fact, He had an advantage, because He knew people’s hearts, which often hide the most secret sin: that of motive (John 4).

“Cultural Jesus” also never confronts false teachers. But we can see in scripture that the real Jesus most certainly did call out false teachers–in public! He shows us by his actions that false teachers who pervert the truth of the Gospel can and should be called out publicly (Matthew 23).

4. Never Condemns

The real Jesus does offer us a way to be free from condemnation. And that is to repent and turn from our sins and trust in Him for salvation (Mark 1:15). However, He had little patience for those who were full of self-righteousness and hypocrisy and He did condemn them (Mark 7).

5. No Care for Our Daily Choices, Sinful or Otherwise

“Cultural Jesus” doesn’t care what we do. We can live like the world; go where we want; listen, watch, and read what we want without any break in fellowship. But we know from scripture that all of our choices matter. That they either lead us towards a deeper relationship with Christ or away from Him. And He desires that we abide in Him. In fact, this is the only way to have any fruit of lasting value. Without Him we can do nothing. (John 15:1-8)

6. Loved by the World

The world (and mainstream church) would have us believe that Jesus was the most popular man on earth but we know clearly from His own words that this isn’t true. He declared that we will be hated, just like He was hated. We are to expect this. This flies in the face of “Cultural Jesus” who is loved by everybody. (John 15:18-20)

7. Exists to Make Our Life Here on Earth Happier

“Cultural Jesus” exists to make our life happier and more fulfilled. But the real Jesus says nothing about making our temporal life better. Instead He tells us to forsake all and pick up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 10:38-39; Luke 14:25-33) and that we are to deny ourselves (Mark 8:34). He also assures us that we will experience hatred in our efforts to follow Him (John 15:18-19). While this sounds utterly unfamiliar to so many who use the name of Jesus, it is what we read in the scriptures.

8. Greatest Concern is Unity

“Cultural Jesus” compromises truth in order to be unified. But we know from scripture that this is certainly not true. In fact, Jesus says He came to bring division. (Luke 12:49-53) He also makes it clear that it is impossible to worship God in purity of heart unless we are worshiping in truth (John 4:24) This would then preclude any compromise with a false worship system.

9. Would Never Send Anyone to Hell

While Jesus’s ministry was focused on calling people to repentance, He did mention hell on a number of occasions. He spoke of it as a very real place. (Matthew 5:29; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 23:33; Luke 12:5 to name a few)

10. Indifferent to Sin

Is the real Jesus indifferent to sin? Let’s go to the scriptures to find out. There we will find that Jesus commands people to repent (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 5:32) Merriam-Webster.com gives this definition of repent: to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life. From this I believe we can safely conclude that Jesus is definitely not indifferent to sin but, instead, rightly expects us to turn from it.

He also tells the man healed at Bethesda (John 5:1-14) and the adulteress (John 8:7-11) to go and sin no more. From this we can assume that Jesus, who forgives our sin, desires that we strive to live a righteous life and to make an effort to sin no more.

 

I hope this short post starts you thinking about the difference between the “Cultural Jesus” and the real Jesus. There are so many more things I could have touched on. This is really a subject without end and one post hardly does it justice. But I do hope it at least brings to light that there is a major discrepancy going on here and instills in you a desire to study who Jesus really is, according to the Bible.

It is important as we hear people throw the name of Jesus around lightly that we take the time to study our Bibles and compare what we hear to what scripture says. How important it is that we understand who He really was during His time here on earth and who He is right now–our risen Savior and King who has promised to return for us!

 

What Determines Truth for You?

“You can’t argue against someone’s experience”

“But this book {that doesn’t line up with scripture} helped me and made me feel closer to God.”

“We play rock music in our church service {or have sermons based on movies or hold church poker nights} because it makes the unsaved feel comfortable and want to come.”

These are all things that I’ve heard people say at least once. Some more than once. And it makes sense to them. If something works why not use it or read it or do it?

In other words, truth is determined by consequences.

Pragmatism first became popular in the late 1800s and was introduced to society by several different men–two of whom you may recognize. John Dewey, of library fame (Dewey decimal system) and C.S. Lewis, the “Christian” apologist. I use quotes because C.S. Lewis’s beliefs and interests were actually not all in line with the Cristian faith (see here and here and here for more information). I continue to remain amazed and dismayed that he has become so respected in the Christian world.

There are some real problems with the ideology of pragmatism for a Christian. Although Christians try to join their biblical beliefs with this philosophy all the time, we can see how pragmatism is a slippery slope that leads us away from scripture.

First, we have to recognize that only one thing can determine truth. Is it scripture or is it by what works? We can’t philosophically have it both ways. We will have to make a choice.

For instance, take the Christian who reads a book that makes them feel good but has a message that does not align with scripture and then they go on to recommend that book to all of their friends. They have chosen pragmatism over scripture. By default, they have made the choice to elevate the consequences (their good feelings) over what the Bible says.

Or take a church that brings in secular rock music or worldly movies to their services. They nobly profess to do this to make the unbeliever comfortable. This works. But, again, they are elevating what works (unsaved in their pews and feeling comfortable) over what scripture teaches (Love not the world or the things that are in the world I John 2:15).

In fact, that church had already given in to pragmatism when they realized that their numbers would increase if they chose to market to the unsaved rather than to follow the biblical church model. In scripture we find that the local church isn’t for the unsaved but for the saved; and that it doesn’t exist to make us feel comfortable but to encourage, teach and support us as we strive to grow in holiness. Comfort is never the goal of church. For saved or unsaved. And, yet, pragmatism, would say that comfortable = increased numbers at church. See how this works?

Can you see how this has infiltrated and changed everything?

It has crept into our own lives far more than we even realize. I wrote in this post how I was struggling to get through Jeremiah and mentioned to my brother (Pastor Dean) that I just wasn’t enjoying that particular book of the Bible. He laughed and reminded me that the Bible wasn’t for my enjoyment but to teach me about God. Oh, how dismayed I was to realize that I was viewing my personal Bible reading pragmatically! I was judging my Bible reading by how it made me feel.

Can you see how seductive this belief is? How invasive and natural it has become for us to judge things in this manner? We see it not only in churches, but on a large scale in the corporate world, in the academic realm, and everywhere else. It has invaded en masse and it’s not going anywhere soon.

But we can’t have it both ways. We can’t have our experience determine truth and the Bible determine truth. If we don’t intentionally set a line in the sand and say we choose the Bible, I can almost guarantee that we will be lured away into this dangerous and faith-squashing philosophy.

Second, we have to recognize that if truth is determined by consequences, then it must follow that truth is changeable. What works one year may not work another year. What worked in the past may not work in the future.

But God tells us that truth never changes. His Word is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It is the same forever. Isaiah 40:7-8 puts it like this–

All flesh is grass,
And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.”

Peter repeats this thought in I Peter 1:23-25

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth [i]through the Spirit in [j]sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of [k]corruptible seed but [l]incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides [m]forever, 24 because

“All flesh is as grass,
And all[n]the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
25 But the[o]word of the Lord endures forever.”

From these verses we know that God’s truth does not change. Current culture does not change it. Modern desires and demands do not change it. Because truth doesn’t change.

The Bible remains a blessed anchor in the midst of a world where “truth” is what anyone wants it to be. Where “truth” is what works for that moment.

Pragmatism is a big word but it has literally affected each and every one of us. It is important that we examine our hearts and lives for the fruits of this deadly philosophy that so easily and subtly slip in.

Because we know that the Scripture does determine truth and we know that the truth we find there never changes. What a relief in this ever-changing and mixed-up world!

 

*A link for further research–

ThoughtCo:What is Pragmatism?

 

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