Portia's No Fluff Summer Reading List

Portia's No Fluff Summer Reading List

I love to read and that’s no secret. Although I’m pressed for time nowadays, I do try to plan accordingly for daily reading (outside of regular Bible reading). This summer I’ve picked up a few books that I think would be awesome additions to any book collection. There’s literally a little bit of something for everybody, lol! However, you will notice that the running theme behind all of these books is that they are written by Christian men and women and (so far) I've found each book to be incredibly edifying. (Note: These are not listed in any specific order).

  1. Intro to Covenant Theology by J.I. Packer

  2. Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian by Michelle Lee-Barnewall

  3. Lies Women Believe w/ study guide (Updated & Expanded) by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemouth

  4. Plain Theology for Plain People by Charles Octavius Boothe

  5. From Death to Life by Allen S. Nelson IV

  6. How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit by A.W. Tozer

  7. On Writing Well by William Zinsser

  8. Unseen Realities by R.C. Sproul

  9. Words of Counsel by C. H. Spurgeon

  10. Why Can’t We be Friends?: Avoidance is not Purity by Aimee Byrd

  11. The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul

  12. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley

  13. Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson

  14. In His Image by Jen Wilkin

  15. Heaven on Earth by Derek W.H. Thomas

  16. The Message of Romans by John Stott

  17. Knowing God by J.I. Packer

  18. The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield

  19. Cling by Kim Cash Tate

  20. New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotion by Paul David Tripp

Happy Reading!!!!

Seeing God in Judges

Seeing God in Judges

One of the things I love most about the Word is that it is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12).  I love the way you can read a passage of Scripture that you feel familiar with, perhaps you even read it every time you face a particular struggle;  then one day, you flip those well-worn pages to that same passage of Scripture and this time it hits you fresh.  Maybe the emphasis falls on a new word, maybe you turn the phrase over in your mind and pull out something different. However it comes about, God is in the business of giving fresh revelation as He sees fit.

Recently I had this experience with Judges.  I am currently reading a couple chapters in the morning and re-reading them later in the day. A few days ago, I skimmed over Judges 3 for the second time when these verses stirred my soul,

“These are the nations the LORD left in order to test all those in Israel who had experienced none of the wars in Canaan. This was to teach the future generations of the Israelites how to fight in battle, especially those who had not fought before.”  (Judges 3:1-2, CSB)

As I studied, my first response was to think about how this applies to me. The initial application that came to mind was how God has plans to teach me something through the circumstances of my life; particularly, through events/circumstances that are sometimes upsetting to me.  Additionally, the passage moved me to reflect on how God has orchestrated every minute of my life. Those events or circumstances that I typically deem unfair, He uses them to teach me how to lean on Him, trust in Him, and get on my knees to do spiritual battle against a very real enemy. He also uses these moments in my life to reveal the true sense of my devotion. During times of tribulation am I unyielding in my devotion to Him or do my circumstances change the depth of my devotion?

GOD-CENTERED SCRIPTURE APPLICATION

I don’t consider this application to be a terrible one; however, I am learning that our goal in studying Scripture should not revolve around manipulating the text or its application to fit our man-centered thoughts. The goal in studying Scripture is to learn about God first and to rightly understand His attributes.  Each verse needs to be studied in context and once we have finished this hard work, we can pull the principles we’ve learned and rightly apply them to our lives. 

CONTEXT MATTERS

Examining this passage in it’s biblical and historical context helps us to better grasp God’s intended message. Let’s take a deeper look at the selected passage of study.

In the preceding chapters, we learn that God had commanded the Israelites to drive the opposing tribes out of the promised land.  Instead of following God’s command, they allowed these tribes to remain in the land. Consequently, the Israelites began intermingling with the other tribes and also began engaging in pagan worship. In Judges 2:20-23, God in his anger states, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left.” Thus when we arrive at Judges 3:1-3, we see that these verses are outlining a specific purpose behind God’s choice not to drive out the remaining nations. God wanted to “teach the future generations of the Israelites how to fight in battle, especially those who had not fought before” (Judges 3:2). Because these Israelites had not fought in previous wars, they were oblivious to God’s hand in strengthening them to fight and win. God was not concerned with Israel learning the techniques of war as much as He was concerned with them realizing that He was the source of their previous victories.

God is omniscient (Hebrews 4:13, 1 John 3:20) so we know He wasn’t testing Israel because He was unsure what the outcome would be. Rather, God was giving Israel a chance to see how flippant they were. Furthermore, the victories obtained during Joshua’s era were granted on the condition that the Israelites would remain faithful to God. God’s point here is to show them that unfaithfulness brings consequences and if they wanted to be delivered then they needed to turn back to Him. He left them in the land to fight on their own so that they would be brought to a place of repentance. In the Commentary on the Old Testament by Keil & Delitzsch, they state, “For just as the realization of the blessings promised to the nation in the covenant depended upon its hearkening to the voice of the Lord, so the conflicts appointed for it were also necessary, just as much for the purification of the sinful nation, as for the perpetuation and growth of the kingdom of God upon the earth.”(1)

SEEING GOD IN JUDGES

Now having just picked the surface of context and historic setting, we gain insight into our Lord’s character. God is merciful and God is faithful.  Israel does not deserve to live, and they certainly do not deserve the hundreds of chances they receive.  However, God continues to deliver them because He is faithful, merciful and loving even when we are not. 2 Timothy 2:13 CSB if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”

Additionally, this passage reminds us of our dire need for God. God’s dealings with Israel was purposeful in that He wanted them to see how powerless they were without Him and God desires the same for us. We must realize our desperate need for Him and we should praise God for His mercy towards us. Psalm 103:10 CSB says, “He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses.” In the most merciful way, God goes above and beyond to turn us back toward Him, just as He did with the rebellious people of Israel.

This passage of Scripture also vividly displays God’s sovereignty.  Joshua was not fighting off tribes on his own, God was delivering them into his hand.  When the Lord declares He will no longer hand over tribes that Joshua left, and when He goes on to raise up Judges to whom He will give victory in battle, God is illustrating His continuous control in all things.  Everything we face has passed through the hands of God before getting to us.  Much like the tribes that were left to test Israel, anything allowed to touch us is ordained by God for His glory and can be used to bring us into a greater revelation of Him, and to shape us in His image. 

APPLYING THE SCRIPTURES TO YOUR OWN LIFE

One major point that I noticed in studying these verses is that Israel’s current generation could not rely on the faith and obedience of the previous generations. God required faithfulness and obedience from the current generation too! For those of us raised in Christian homes, we must know that we cannot rely on the faith of those around us. We must have faith in God for ourselves. Maybe you are currently dealing with something troublesome in your life and God is allowing it to remain so that for the first time, you can exercise faith and learn how to fight a spiritual battle by relying on Him. God isn’t being cruel or distant, but rather He is growing you in your faith.  He could be providing you with an opportunity to know Him intimately instead of leaving you in a state where you are relying on others (moms, grandmas, church family) who have a relationship with Him. Just as we can’t rely on the faith of others, we also cannot rely on the obedience of those who have come before us. God requires obedience every day from each of us and more importantly, we should know that disobedience on our account brings about severe consequences. 

THE BEAUTY OF GOD’S WORD

God’s Word is living! It never gets old or out of date. The Word reveals those things that we should know about God and because God is immutable, we know that who He was then is who He is now. When we rush through God’s Word or approach it in a man-centered way, we often miss out on deep, rich truths about God’s character.  Sisters, today I encourage you to spend the extra minutes unpacking context. Aim to learn more about our Lord before simply looking for ways to fit yourself into Scripture. Trust and know that God will reward your earnest searching. I’m sure you’ll be blessed by learning who He is!

1)  Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament (Vol. 2, p. 200). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Additional References:

Block, D. I. (1999). Judges, Ruth (Vol. 6, p. 134). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.


 
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Sara Arnett is an undeserving follower of Jesus and is continually learning what this looks like as she fills the roles of disciple, wife, and mother to four. She’s passionate about authentic discipleship, women loving Jesus as they learn to drink deeply from the Word of God; churches where broken people feel truly welcomed, and all things cooking. In her free time, she can probably be found at target, but also attempting to keep a few houseplants alive and dreaming of world travel. Sara lives in Michigan where she is currently pursuing seminary.

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus

What can wash away my sin? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 
What can make me whole again? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 


For my pardon this I see: 
nothing but the blood of Jesus. 
For my cleansing this my plea: 
nothing but the blood of Jesus.


Nothing can for sin atone: 
nothing but the blood of Jesus. 
Naught of good that I have done: 
nothing but the blood of Jesus.


This is all my hope and peace: 
nothing but the blood of Jesus. 
This is all my righteousness: 
nothing but the blood of Jesus.


Refrain: O precious is the flow
that makes me white as snow; 
no other fount I know; 
nothing but the blood of Jesus. 


I love hymns! Having been the daughter and granddaughter of a church organist and pianist, I grew up listening to and singing hymns regularly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to contemporary Christian songs, but there is something about a good hymn that I find soul-gripping and nostalgic. Honestly, I took for granted the depth as well as the theological and doxological implications found in the many hymns that I sang in my small, Missionary Baptist church during my younger years. During that time, the doctrine of atonement is certainly one element of my faith that I did not fully understand from a theological perspective.

ATONEMENT (Ȧ·tōnʹ mĕnt) - the biblical doctrine that God has reconciled sinners to Himself through the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ.(1)

Atonement is simply God’s way of bridging the gap between Himself and sinful man.  Without atonement, we are all lost and forever without hope. In order to better understand this theological concept, it is best to take a walk through Scripture. The concept of atonement spans throughout both the Old and New Testaments.  To start, we’ll first take a look at the book of Leviticus. 

He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.  (Leviticus 1:4 ESV)

At the outset of Leviticus, we find Moses and the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. Israel had failed to live up to God’s righteous requirement; thus, a means of atonement was necessary.  Additionally, in Leviticus we see a continuation of the major premise that God is holy; thus, His people are to be holy as well. Through the law, we are provided with God’s very detailed instructions on how his people are to worship Him.  However, the grand issue is that God’s people typically fall short. Our inclination to sin is very strong and we are incapable of escaping it without help. 

CHRIST IS OUR HELP

I am convinced that many people don’t understand the depth of our separation from God. I have had conversations with people who claim to be Christian, yet they will still affirm the belief that there are many paths to God and that Christianity is merely one path. But on the contrary, there is but one path to God and that is through Christ Jesus. No other person could do what Jesus Christ has done. There is no way that any mere human could have bridged the gap between man and God. We are just too sinful; innately sinful. The thing about sin is that it’s not a little oopsie. It’s not something that should be taken lightly. Sin is awful. God hates it and He is so reverentially holy that the very presence of sin is reprehensible to Him. And in our naked sinfulness, we are reprehensible to God. In our sinfulness, none of us can say that we have done good (Psalm 14:3); all have fallen terribly short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) as such, we are completely incapable of meriting justification before Him. And that is precisely why we need Christ.  

HE MADE THE FIRST MOVE

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only So from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 ESV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)

Before we could even fathom turning back to God, God made the first move. God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to dwell among us in the flesh. Not only did He dwell among us, He lived humbly and perfectly. And then, Christ sacrificially gave of Himself by dying on the cross at Calvary. Through the shedding of His blood, Christ’s atoning work on the cross became the single most loving act to ever occur because God successfully did what man could never do. Through Christ’s atoning work on the cross, all who believe are cleansed from the guilty stain of sin and made righteous. Christ became the propitiation (i.e. appeasement) (1 John 4:10) for our sins and through Him, we stand not guilty before God.

POWER IN THE BLOOD

The uniqueness of Christ’s atoning work can best be understood through taking a deeper look at the book of Hebrews. In Hebrews 9:11-28, the author specifically focuses on how we are redeemed through the blood of Jesus Christ. As previously mentioned, atonement was first introduced in the Old Testament where the shedding of animal blood was required.  This is the first covenant (Hebrews 9:18-20). In examining Scripture, we can clearly see that the shedding of blood has always been central to the removal of sin. In Hebrews 9:22, the author emphasizes that there is simply no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood. Although animal sacrifices were the initial means for making penance for sin; this shed animal blood only served as a foreshadowing of the blood that would be shed through Christ Jesus. Animal sacrifices were incapable of truly atoning for sin. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second” (Hebrews 8:7). Sacrifices may have been made, but they were tainted by the sinfulness of man. But Christ (in His perfection) shed His blood once and for all! His sacrifice was unblemished and unparalleled. He is the perfect lamb who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19).

IT IS FINISHED

There is nothing that we could have done or can do to justify ourselves before God. Our sins are great and infinite before Him and it is only through Christ's righteousness that we can be reconciled to Him. Christ’s atoning work on the cross was sufficient, substantial, and satisfactory. He took on the full wrath of God and received the full measure of punishment for sin on our behalf. And in the most merciful way, He clothe us in righteousness and placed us in right standing before God. Our glorious change in status from sinner to saint is eloquently described by the prophet Isaiah,

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  
(61:10).

Today, as I sing and reflect on the words of the old hymn “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus” I will forever be reminded of the preciousness of Christ’s blood and the depth of His sacrifice. He washed away my sin, He made me whole again. It was nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Scriptures on Atonement:  Leviticus 1:4, 16:29-43, 17:11; Matthew 26:28, Mark 10:45, John 1:29; Romans 3:25-26, 5:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Galatians 3:13; Ephesians 5:2; 1 Timothy 2:4-6; Hebrews 2:17, 9:22-28; 1 Peter 1:18-20, 2:24-25, 3:18; 1 John 2:1-2

Recommended Reading: “The Truth of the Cross” by R. C. Sproul


References:  Moore, R. D. (2003). Atonement. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 139). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Love is...

Love is...

Today, as I watched the Royal Wedding and most of the commentary on today's events, I was inspired to consider the subject of love. During the wedding, Micheal Bruce Curry (an American Preacher) touched on love in an unconventional sermon. Truth be told, I found most of his message to be incredibly refreshing. His posture and message was certainly uncommon for an event of this magnitude, but I was certainly appreciative of the unusualness! Unfortunately, there were some social media commentators who were not. As I scrolled through my timeline, I read several dissenting opinions who simply thought the message was not good enough.  And honestly, this response left me a bit perplexed.

Help me out here if you can, but I simply cannot understand why so many people diminish and/or twist God’s message of love (which is a paramount theme in the Bible)? Is it that some fear that teaching love will coddle people into antinomianism? Or perhaps some deliberately twist love (in a way where it is abused) because they fear that many will become legalists? Do we think that we can scare people into obedience? Do we think that love should comfort people in their sins? Why is the simple message of biblical love not enough? Why must we add or take away?

On the subject of the love, the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible states that it is the, "first and last word in Christian theology and ethics. It is therefore important to understand clearly this exceedingly ambiguous term" (1).

I'd wholeheartedly agree with the fact that love has become an increasingly ambiguous term as time has passed.  However, the Bible is absolutely clear on what love is according to God's standard. Biblical love is more than just intimidation, sexual love, or passivity. Biblical love is fundamentally understood in light of God's character. God is the true definition of love. Therefore, in order to truly understand biblical love (and live it out), we must intently study all of the attributes of God.

I want to make this clear, I don't downplay any part of who God is! However, we must understand that the central truth of who God is, is that He is Love! (1 John 4:8)--That is the absolute truth.  And we cannot mute the truth and power of God’s love just because others have twisted it or because we are concerned that others will abuse love. We can't control outcomes. We can't change the hearts. We aren't God; we are vessels. And as faithful vessels, we should aim to live and share the truths of God's love in every way. If you want to understand how God’s love is rightly defined, then commit to studying the Word of God diligently.  Saints, we have been commanded by Christ to abide in love (John 15:9). Remember this! And all who truly love, belong to God and actually know Him (1 John 4:7). 

If I am not known by anything else, I want to be known by two simple truths: First, that I sincerely love God. And secondly, that I sincerely love people. If am truly operating in biblical love, then everything else will take care of itself... 

My obedience will be rooted in love.

My sacrifice will be rooted in love.

My correcting and teaching will be rooted in love.

My ability to receive correction will be rooted in love.

My patience will be rooted in love.

My ability to overlook past offenses will be rooted in love.

My genuineness and perseverance will be rooted in love.

Listen. If God’s pure and perfect love can’t change hearts, then nothing else can. Trust God to be God. He is Sovereign! His love is powerful! If it were not for God’s love, none would be saved. God’s love saves us, and God’s love keeps us. Believe in and NEVER forget the power of God's love!

Scripture references on love:  Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:5; John 3:16; Romans 5:5–8; 1 Corinthians 13:1–13; Galatians 5:14–22; Matthew 22:37–40; John 13:34–35; John 14:21–23; John 15:9–13; 2 Corinthians 5:14–15; Galatians 2:20; 1 John 3:10–18; 1 John 4:7–12; 1 John 4:16–20

---------------------------

1.   White, R. E. O. (1988). Love. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1357). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Social Media and Social Justice: Why Pursuing Peace Matters

Social Media and Social Justice: Why Pursuing Peace Matters

I like social media. For more than 10 years, I have regularly utilized social media networks to engage people near and far. I’ve met so many great friends and I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a variety of awesome conversations. Overall, I’d like to think that social media has impacted my life in many positive ways. However, as of late, I’ve seen a side of social media that I am not particularly fond of. Many voices that probably should have remained silent, now have a platform to spew ugliness around like it’s confetti. Tact and caution in conversation is often thrown out the window under the guise of “free speech.”  Relevancy appears to trump necessity in most conversations, and the list goes on. People have so much to say, and most have commenced to sharing their opinions in a “guns blazing” manner. While I respect one’s right to freely share their thoughts and views, I can’t help but cringe every time I see a Facebook thread with 200+ comments filled with facetious, condescending undertones and snide jabs.

Before I proceed any further, let me simply acknowledge that I, too, am guilty. Oftentimes, I get caught up in the hype of things. “I can’t believe she said that?” or “He is being misleading, I need to address this.”  Or (as much as I hate to admit it) sometimes I am simply so annoyed and frustrated that I feel the pressure to “clapback” in a way that asserts myself as anything but a coward. Reading the aforementioned makes me terribly ashamed. Why? Because, as a Christian, I know that I have been called to live differently.  I have been called to pursue peace, especially with those who are brothers and sisters in Christ. And even if it means taking a hit at my pride. But instead of pursuing peace, I have frequently found myself feeding directly into contentious conversations...hook, line, and sinker.

In the latter part of his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul provides instructions on Christian living. The whole of Christian life can be summed up in the first two verses of the Chapter 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Beginning at verse 16, Paul writes, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Hmmm...just a few verses in and already, I am deeply convicted.

Recently I tweeted, “Morning musings: When I lend my voice to certain issues, my concern is not with whose allegiance I will gain or lose. I’m more concerned with God being pleased. As long as my motives are God-centered/honoring, then I’m less than concerned with how ppl feel about me…” Sounds good, huh? Yeah, I thought so too until I gained a true understanding of what “God-centered/honoring” really looks like. See, I wrote that tweet prior to reading those Scriptures. And at the time of writing I felt justified in my writings because it made sense to me. I had defined “God-centered/honoring" on my own terms and had rationalized all that I say (and post, and tweet) as such. I felt as if my motives were genuine until I read what God actually said in His Word.  Isn’t it amazing how we can think that we are doing what is right and honorable, but then God totally wrecks us by showing that we’re enthralled in our own vain pursuits, and more selfish than what we’d like to imagine? *Pardon me while I drink this tall glass of humility.*

Sacrificial Living

In verse 1, the word “present” (παρίσταμαι - paristamai), is a verb and in this sense it means “to offer - to make available or accessible; provide or furnish.”(1) In essence, Paul is urging us to commit ourselves to being completely available and at God’s disposal in all areas of life. In his book, The Message of Romans, John Stott eloquently frames the conversation for Christian sacrificial living:

"Paul made it plain, in his exposure of human depravity in 3:13ff., that it reveals itself through our bodies, in tongues which practise deceit and lips which spread poison, in mouths which are full of cursing and bitterness, in feet which are swift to shed blood, and in eyes which look away from God. Conversely, Christian sanctity shows itself in the deeds of the body. So we are to offer the different parts of our bodies not to sin as ‘instruments of wickedness’ but to God as ‘instruments of righteousness’ (6:13, 16, 19). Then our feet will walk in his paths, our lips will speak the truth and spread the gospel, our tongues will bring healing, our hands will lift up those who have fallen, and perform many mundane tasks as well like cooking and cleaning, typing and mending; our arms will embrace the lonely and the unloved, our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed, and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God." (2)

The message is so simple. If we truly belong to God, then we will consistently use our bodies for all that is good, purposeful, and honorable before God. The Christian life should be one marked by daily rendering of our bodies and our lives in faithful obedience to God. In Christ, our selfish pursuits are now obsolete. We should be motivated to sacrifice not because we are attempting to portray a pious persona, but because we have truly died to living for ourselves. Our sacrificial living should be evident in every way: thought, speech and deed.

Harmonious living, Pursuing Peace

At the outset of verse 16, Paul reinforces his exhortations against behaviors that promote disunity amongst people. The usage of phrases like “do not be haughty” and “never be wise in your own sight” coupled with the greek term φρονέω -phroneō (3), which means “think”, illustrates that Paul is further underscoring that true Christian love and fellowship is absent of selfishness. In a nutshell, Paul is saying that we ought not to think so much, or so highly of ourselves, but rather we should think one in the same and aim to live harmoniously with one another. Operating in harmony and in true Christian fellowship means that you give of yourself completely without reservation for self. Practically speaking, this could mean making sacrifices in a variety of ways: how we act when something/someone on social media has offended us, how we assert our right to free speech and free expression in our posts and tweets, and even how we yield to our emotions when we’ve been deeply hurt by someone’s words. This is a hard truth. Many of us will draw the line on living harmoniously once our rights and emotions appear to be infringed upon. And while these Scriptures is not a blanket statement for allowing people to sin against you, they are a part God’s truth and must be deeply considered. To this point, verse 18 provides the glue for my overall message today.  Paul urges the Romans to pursue peace, as much as they possibly can, with others. And I also echo his sentiments; to myself, and to you too.

As Christians, we are obligated to endeavor endlessly in attaining and maintaining peace in our personal relations with other people. We need more humility. We need more patience. We need more grace. We must strip ourselves of everything that stands against the mission of living harmoniously with our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially when we disagree. We must kill all the sinful tendencies that we like to hoard as a means of self-preservation. We must truly seek to do the God-honorable thing (as defined by Him, not ourselves). Check your motives, friends.  I understand that many of us are passionate about our particular positions on certain social issues. I most certainly am. But pursuing my passions must not come at the expense of disunity within the body of Christ. And I am not saying that we should simply bury everything we think and feel as if that will create a utopia-like environment. My point is that in all things we must simply aim to live and love just as Christ did. So today, I encourage you to put your offense aside. Seek peace. Seek to love. Seek to honor God in your personal relations with others. Before you engage in another conversation, please consider why pursuing peace is a paramount endeavor. It is truly what God has called us to do!

References:

1. Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

2. Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 322). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

3. Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.



 

  

A Walk Through Ephesians

A Walk Through Ephesians

Last night, our small group finished up the study of Ephesians.  It was certainly an amazing study and I am grateful to have studied with such awesome women.  Typically, when I finish a book of the Bible or even a simple passage of Scripture, I take a min to pause and reflect on what I’ve studied.  I often ask myself, “What did you learn and how does this change you?”  Reading the Bible is great, but if we are walking away not fully/comprehensively understanding what the text says or if we fail to see how the Scriptures should be changing us, then we are missing the whole point of Bible Study.  Personally, I don’t want to just go through the motions.  I want to be transformed by the renewing of my mind through faithful and careful study of God’s Word.  I truly want to see myself be more submissive, less gossipy, less emotionally driven, more giving, more serving, etc.  At any rate, I thought I’d share a few takeaways from our study of Ephesians because it helps me to re-walk through what I’ve studied and perhaps it will be helpful to all of you in how you approach Bible study :)

  1. The major focus of Ephesians centers on two major points:

    • God’s work of reconciliation through Christ Jesus

    • How we are to live in response to God’s Work in Christ.

  2. God’s plan of reconciling man to Himself is soooo awesome and soooo beautiful!  In Christ, we finally have peace with God and it is all a work of GRACE.  God’s Grace.  We do not (nor could we ever) earn this restored relationship with God; instead, we receive it as a pure gift through Christ.  Furthermore, the implications of grace are certainly far reaching.  Because of grace we are: chosen, holy, and blameless (Ephesians 1: 4), adopted as sons through Christ (v. 5), redeemed and forgiven (v. 7), united with Christ and with others who are in Christ (v. 10), we believe and we are sealed (i.e. marked) with the Holy Spirit (v. 13), and we are guaranteed an inheritance through the Holy Spirit (v. 14).  Most importantly, all of this happens not merely by chance.  No, it’s intentional! God’s plan of reconciliation and redemption is done all “to the praise of His glory” (v. 14)! 

  3. Not only is God’s plan of reconciling man to Himself awesome, but God’s plan of unifying His people as ONE is just as great! Ephesians 2:14-16 says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”  The bottom line here is simple:  all that has ever divided Jew and Gentile has been overcome through Christ.  To make this even more practical, think about all of the things that seemingly divide us today:  race, socioeconomic status, education, cultural background, etc.  However, as Christians we must remember that in Christ we are one.  In Christ, we should be unified in our understanding of who God is, God’s purpose for humanity, God’s purpose for the Church as well as the church’s mission, and lastly, we should be unified in our understanding of Christ’s authority over all who belong to Him.  We should understand that Christ’s unifying work does not in any way undermine our differences, but His work redefines our relationships between one another (for the better) in spite of our differences.  As followers of Christ, we are presented with a unique opportunity to transcend all that limits and divides us as humans.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live in unity as ONE!  Do you truly believe that??? I most certainly do!

  4. After detailing God’s plan of reconciliation, Paul then gives us a practical look at how we are to live out our new lives as reconciled/regenerated/renewed people.  Once we were darkened in our understanding and ignorant due to the hardness of our hearts (v. 4:18); however, in Christ we are to do away with the former things of life and put on our “new self-created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (v.24).   We should do away with lying, stealing, unforgiveness, anger and harsh words (v. 25-29).  We should let go of all bitterness and slander and malice and live in a kind, tenderhearted, forgiving manner (v. 31-32). Moreover, we should walk in love and live as light!  Paul makes things even more practical as he outlines our roles as Christian spouses, parents, servants (v. 5:22-6:9).  And finally, Paul concludes by instructing us how to persevere in this new life.  We are to suit-up in a special kind of armor; God’s Armor (6:10-20).  And what is God’s Armor??? His truth, His righteousness, His Gospel, His Word!  I think Gloria Furman (author of Alive in Him) states it beautifully when she calls it “Cruciform Armor.”   In Christ, we are fitted with an armor that matches our new self.   There’s no way we could have ever suited-up in God’s armor without being made new in Christ.  Therefore, as we fight through this spiritual battle as renewed people, we should take heart in knowing that our strength essentially comes from the Lord.  In Him, we are covered and can stand against all the schemes of the devil!

"Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible." (Ephesians 6:23-24 ESV)

Knowledge, Grace, Glory – How Right Theology Leads to Right Doxology

Knowledge, Grace, Glory – How Right Theology Leads to Right Doxology

"… but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." (2 Peter 3:18 NASB)

 The objective in studying God’s Word has become simple for me: To grow in the knowledge of God, which consequently produces growth in grace; thus, leading me to glorify God often and more authentically.  Recently, I’ve begun to see the connectedness between growing in the knowledge of the The Lord, growing in grace, and glorifying God and I realize that there is no separation between the three. Each one flows into the other! The more I learn about God, the more I understand grace; the more I understand grace, the more I want to glorify God. It’s a beautiful cycle that will continue into eternity!

I have read the Bible, and studied the Bible for years, but sadly I was not growing in the knowledge of The Lord. I was approaching the Bible in a "tell me about me" or "tell me what I need to do" manner. And while that approach is not all bad, I realize that it is certainly a very self-centered approach to Bible study. Ultimately, this self-centered approach caused me to miss the bigger picture: God!  When God finally opened my eyes to study with Him in mind, it was like a whole new illumination of Scripture!

I began to see the depth of God’s Grace with every flip of a page and to say that the revealing of His grace has consumed me, would be a complete understatement!  I realize now that every piece of my life is saturated in God’s Grace. There is nothing about my life that I can boast in or take credit for doing. God has become bigger and more majestic to me! The depth of His Grace humbles me daily. My sinfulness and depravity has become more visible to me, yet God’s sovereignty and grace has become precious to me. I am often left completely awestruck by God’s goodness. Even in bad times, I rest in knowing that He is still all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

Through these realizations, I am deeply moved to glorify God all the more! In fact, there is no better response that I can provide than to glorify Him!  Furthermore, I now understand why I glorify Him. It’s not merely because someone else told me to do it.  It’s not because I see other people doing it. It’s not because I believe that God is only good for providing me with materialistic and worldly things. I glorify God because I have beheld His majesty for myself! I have tasted of His grace personally, and I cannot help but to praise and glorify Him in all that I do.

Understand that there is a clear integration between our theology (the study of God) and our doxology (the expression of praise to God).  Right theology leads to right doxology.  As we grow in the knowledge of God, we also grow in grace, and we grow in how we glorify God. Our praise becomes more authentic, more meaningful, and certainly less shallow and superficial. We become worshipers in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24) through the connectivity of God’s truth (the Bible) that has illuminated our minds, and God’s Spirit that has renewed our hearts.

Prayer:  Father, thank you for being such a good Father. Thank you for your grace! Thank you for your love! Thank you for your mercy! We stand in awesome wonder of your majesty, God. Continue to help us come into the knowledge of who You are and grow us daily in grace so that we may glorify You in “spirit and truth.” Remove all pride from our hearts and let our thirst for knowledge be rooted in our quest to glorify you more and more. Remind us daily of the connectedness between our knowledge of You and our worship of You. Let nothing that we do be done in vain. In Jesus Christ’s name, Amen!

 

The Damning Error of Rejecting Scripture

The Damning Error of Rejecting Scripture

There are many people in this world who will try to convince you that you are "safe" in identifying with Christianity (in name only), while rejecting all or even portions of Scripture. This is a frightening reality happening today and it grieves me to my core.  These people will try to diminish the authority of Scripture and convince you that its okay to re-define Christianity to suit your own tastes instead of submitting to Scripture. This is false, it is a lie, and is utter deception authored by Satan himself. With truth and compassion, I cannot lie to you and coddle you with statements that are most tickling to your ears. I must tell you the truth, and that is you cannot create your own version of Christianity, and in attempting to do so, you are in damning error.

Scripture asserts itself as ultimate spiritual authority in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Additionally, all throughout Scripture we see the interrelation between the person of God and Scripture (i.e. the Word of God). Essentially, what you think about the Word of God is what you think about God. If you are rejecting His Word (any part of it), you are ultimately rejecting Him.

I understand that there are areas of Scripture that are hard to grasp. And there are many areas in Scripture that seem to be juxtaposed. However, due to it's infallible and inerrant nature, Scripture does not and cannot contradict itself. When we struggle to see the correlation between passages of Scripture, this is simply our finite minds struggling to grasp the correlation; however, our struggles do not change the inerrant and infallible nature of Scripture. The bottomline is that if ANY person tries to convince you that it is okay to diminish the truth of the Bible, for any reason, then they are standing in direct rebellion to God.  

Recently, I read an article where the author made several erroneous statements while simultaneously claiming that one can remain Christian while believing these damning errors. Below, I have outlined a few heretical claims found in the article (Note: Scriptural rebuttals are found in parenthesis):

  • You can be a Christian and not believe that people born LGBTQ are inherently sinful because of that fact.  (After the fall of man in Genesis 3, all of mankind took on an inherently sinful nature. We are all "born in sin and shapen in iniquity"  and this fact is not exclusive to LGBTQ persons.  We are all sinful and in need of salvation that can only be provided through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Other scriptures that define our depraved nature are: Gen. 6:5, Gen. 8:21, Isaiah 64:6-7, Jeremiah 17:9, John 3:19, Romans 3:10-18).

  • You can be a Christian and trust much of what Science has revealed about the world and how it works.  (The ultimate place where our trust should rest is with God-- Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 9:10, Psalm 37:5)

  • You can be a Christian and not believe in a talking snake.  (The Bible clearly speaks of a talking serpent in the book of Genesis.  To question the authenticity of this account, is to question God's inspiration of Scripture as well as the inerrant and infallible nature of Scripture--2 Timothy 3:16-17).

  • You can be a Christian and believe that Hell might not really exist.  (Scripture is clear in saying that there will be punishment for the wicked who die unrepentantly in sin. This particular punishment is often described in Scripture with an illustration of fire-- Matthew 25:41, Matthew 3:12, Mark 9:44-49, Luke 16:23-24, Revelation 20:10).

  • You can be a Christian and not believe you need a magic prayer to escape eternal torment.  (Scripture does not support the practice of magic.  In fact, coupling the words "magic" and "prayer" with one another is a gross misrepresentation of prayer.  Scripture affirms that it is God's desire that no one perishes but that all come to repentance--2 Peter 3:9. As opposed to resorting to magical tactics, we should pray, repent [having godly sorrow for sin and resolving to turn away from it], and have faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, forgiveness of sin and righteousness).

  • You can be a Christian and believe that there is true stuff not in the Bible, and stuff in the Bible that isn’t true. (To doubt that the Bible is complete is to question its infallible and inerrant nature. Nothing should to be added to or taken away from Scripture.  In the Revelation 22:18-19, we receive a stern warning as it pertains to the changing of that particular book. The seriousness of this warning further underscores the fact that nothing should be changed, added, or removed from Scripture).

  • You can be a Christian and not be completely sure who Jesus is but yet love him deeply and walk in his ways.  (If you are truly in Christ, there should be no separation between knowing, loving, and walking in the ways of Jesus Christ.  In John 17:3, Jesus speaks of eternal life saying, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.")  

Overall, the author of the aforementioned article attempted to re-define Christianity and ended his piece by saying, "Your Christianity is no other human being’s jurisdiction."  While this sounds pleasing to the ears, I cannot agree with this statement.  My Christianity is not merely MY Christianity. Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:2).  We are under Jesus Christ's authority (John 17:1-2).  To deny any of these things revealed through Scripture, is to deny and reject Christ; thus choosing to walk away from the Christian faith...and that's just something that you simply cannot redefine.


References: 

  1. Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Biblical Truth by John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue
  2. www.gotquestions.org

Beware of the "Elder Brother Syndrome"

Beware of the "Elder Brother Syndrome"

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’"  (Luke 15:28-30 NASB)

In many instances, when we read the story of the Prodigal Son, we focus on everything relative to the younger, wayward son. But we often miss the message found in the elder brother's life. I won't recall the entire story (you can read that on your own), but I do want to take a little time to focus on the passage above. Here, we see the elder brother's anger toward his father. He is undoubtedly enraged with his father. And why? Because of his father's gracious actions toward the younger son. You would think that this would be a celebratory time for them all, but the elder brother was so caught up in his own self-righteousness that he failed to see and accept the concepts of grace, love and mercy exhibited by his father.

And is this not like many of us today??? We're so caught up in our own ill-perceived righteousness that we miss out on opportunities to extend and receive grace, love, and mercy. We're too busy making attempts to protect our own "assets" and we fail to realize that everything we have, God has entrusted us to have it. We're merely stewards. Perhaps, I could go on, but I'm sure you are beginning to see the picture here. So the message today is simple: Beware of the "Elder Brother Syndrome" and its damaging effects. Don't be Pharisaical in your ways. Don't forget how wonderfully kind, merciful and tolerant God has been with those He loves. Your perceived righteousness doesn't mean a thing and it is certainly not capable of saving you from eternal damnation. Only the righteousness of the Lord can save you. Therefore, let us all humble ourselves and repent from our sinful ways. Let us rejoice and glorify the Lord for all that He has done! These two brothers certainly had something in common: They both needed their father's love, grace, and mercy. Unfortunately, one came to that realization and the other did not.  

Prayer: Father, help us to understand and see the beauty in your unmerited grace and mercy.  Let us not be so consumed with attempting to establish our own righteousness that we fail to recognize and cherish Christ and the righteousness that He has secured for all who believe. Soften the hard hearts on today. Bring the wayward to repentance, Father. Grip our hearts with your grace and let us live in a way that brings glory to You and only You.  Thank You for salvation. Thank You for grace. Thank You for mercy! Please continue to turn our hearts toward you, In Jesus Christ's name we pray, Amen.

Why I Ditched My Journal

 

I’ve been a writer for most of my life. In fact, I’ve always had a knack for writing, so when it was suggested that I begin journaling, I figured that it would be an easy way to get my thoughts out and talk to God. Over the years I filled many pages with frank thoughts and questions to God. The good, the bad and the super ugly. My innermost secrets can be found in my journals, and for quite some time, journaling was sufficient. It provided me with the release that I thought I needed. But then one day, I got stuck. And I’m not talking about “speed bump” stuck, but rather, “Mt. Everest” stuck! It became very hard for me to journal, and I couldn’t figure out why I had reached this perceived roadblock. At times, I even felt guilty because I couldn’t journal with the same zeal and eagerness that I once had.

So I’m sure you’re asking, “What changed?”

Simple. I had outgrown the place where I merely wanted to tell God all about my issues. Instead, I wanted to hear from Him before an issue even arose and I certainly wanted hear from Him more clearly. I wanted to genuinely know Him. So, I grabbed my pen, and I traded in my little teal journal for a clunky 1 ½ inch 3-ring binder (a pink one to be exact). I sat down with my Bible and other study tools (Logos 6, Exegetical Guide) and I began to exegete scripture. “Exegete” is a term derived from the Greek word ἐξηγητής ‎ (exēgētḗs1; it means to expound or interpret (a text, particularly scripture). I’ll be the first to admit that I was initially intimidated by this process. I questioned my intelligence. I questioned my ability to stay consistent. I questioned everything! But even in my questioning, I knew that I’d remain stuck unless I got down to the true, unadulterated Word of God.

Truth be told, I had had enough of writing endless journal entries and then guesstimating what God was saying to me by relying on what I felt or thought. I needed clear-cut answers and the only way to get those answers is through diligent and intense study of God’s Word. I’m not saying that God can’t speak to an individual directly. If He has done it before, He is fully capable of doing it again. However, allow me to pose a simple question. How many times have you thought God “told” you to do something and later on you began to question yourself on whether you really heard God clearly? Perhaps it was your own heart deceiving you? Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV) says, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The word “heart” (Hebrew לֵ֖ב / lēb) is translated to denote, “heart; one’s inner self; inclination, disposition, determination, courage, will, intention, consideration, and reason.”2 So essentially, this scripture is illustrating to us that our inclination (or any of the aforementioned words) is deceitful. In the following verse (Jer. 17:10), we learn that ONLY God can search our hearts and test our inmost being. And this can clearly be done through deeply studying God’s Word and seeking answers and truth through Him. His Word tests our thoughts, inclinations, dispositions, etc. His Word is clear, concise, infallible and much more reliable than any conjecture we could ever create.

All in all, I’d say that ditching my journal has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Although I do not believe that journaling is a completely invaluable thing, I do believe that it can become destructive and counterproductive for us because it often causes us to approach God with our own conception of Him, instead of deeply studying scripture to truly understand who He is. We cannot allow our worldview to thwart the character of God any longer. We should desire to see Him and know Him in His fullness through scripture (His Word). And, never will we know God more intimately and authentically than when we recklessly abandon ourselves in the pages of His Living Word. Sisters, if you truly want to get closer to God, then seek to know Him personally through His Word.

 

1 http://www.dictionary.com/browse/exegete

2 Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 522). Oxford: Clarendon Press. (Retrieved from Logos 6.13).