Be Gentle, Budding Young Theologian

Be Gentle, Budding Young Theologian

For Christians, there are few things that amount to the blessing of truly loving God’s Word. I can recall the moment in my walk with Christ when the flame of hunger and thirst for God’s Word was ignited within me. This was a beautiful gift granted by God. It supplied my ongoing need to be taught, reproved, corrected, and trained in righteousness that I may be complete and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16). Unfortunately, in my eagerness to teach others all that I was learning, I misused this gift. My freshly ignited flame singed every sinner and saint within arm’s reach. It was my newly appointed duty to cut you off in mid-sentence to correct every wrong, interpret every misinterpreted Scripture, and call out all your favorite false teachers. I was going to fix you and your theology! 

I find that, like my former self, young Bible scholars are often brutally blunt and loveless in their corrections. We pardon this ill-mannered behavior by disguising our true intent. We masquerade as soul-saving truth defenders when, in reality, we just want to show how much we know. We do so in the same way that people who share the details of another person’s problems under the guise of prayer requests really just want to spread a little gossip. 

According to the Bible, we are to hold one another accountable and offer redirection when necessary. In Galatians 2, Paul even opposed Peter for his hypocrisy and conduct that was not in step with the truth of the gospel. It's a good thing to want every believer rightly dividing the word of truth and obeying it. And we should be concerned if we aren’t eager about this. So certainly there is biblical support for what I was doing, but definitely not how I was doing it.

So, then, how should I have been sharing the knowledge I possessed? Learning to examine myself and my responses through the following filters has changed the way I engage with others. 

Check your motives

Do you want to correct people in order to look or sound smart to others? If it makes you happy or prideful to find another Christian in theological folly, you may be the one who needs to evaluate the Word of God more closely. Ask God to cleanse your heart so that your true intent is to see your brother or sister recognize truth. Ultimately, God should receive all the glory for any individual’s enlightenment to His truth.

Pray for them. 

When Paul learned that the Colossian church was being infiltrated by false teachers, he had already been praying for them. He and Timothy prayed for them at the point it was relayed that they had come to faith in Christ Jesus. It seems from the Scriptures that he did not wait until they were entrapped by the snares of false gospels, but, rather, he proactively prayed to God on their behalf (Colossians 1:3). When we hear of new brothers and sisters joining the body of Christ, our prayer for their spiritual wisdom should start then and continue thereafter. Paul and Timothy prayed that the Colossian church “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy(Colossians 1: 9-11). 

Consider that you may be wrong.

As learned as one may be in the things of Christ, we still live in fleshly bodies and are capable of error. Sometimes doing a little research before we make that opposing comment on Facebook can save us a lot of trouble. I’m not saying to be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). We should stand firm in the truths of the Bible. But I am saying that we don’t and won’t know everything about the Word of God in this lifetime. There will always be more we can learn. 

Be creative in your methods.

Sometimes simply leading a person in the right direction complements the truths we speak. This might mean sending the person encouraging messages from sound teachers or playing a sermon from a trusted source while the person is riding in the car with you. It could be buying the person a book that covers an area of biblical doctrine you know they struggle with. It could be by sharing stories of your own biblical misinterpretations and how God brought you to truth. Ask God to show you ways that will help reach the individual, although one should be careful not to force ideas on others or attempt to orchestrate countless schemes to convince someone of something. Remember, God is all-knowing. His timing and intervention are best.

Speak the truth in love.

“Rather speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love”

(Ephesians 4:15-16). 

This passage teaches that every member plays an important role in building up the body of Christ. We must remember that Christ is the head of that body and every action we take in building one another up must be done in love. We cannot use the act of speaking truth as an excuse to demean someone. And we certainly cannot force them into obedience. We must speak the truth in love. 

As followers of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit must be operative in all we do. We must employ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I’m partial to the notion that the latter two components are really where we budding young theologians ought to focus. It has been said that graciousness is truth tempered with love; let’s be careful to remember that as we seek to share the truth with others.


 

This post was contributed by Samandra Murphy.

Click HERE to read her bio!

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Why We Should Study the Word for Ourselves

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Why We Should Study the Word for Ourselves

The Internet is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? Abraham Lincoln stated in 1874 that “[t]he problem with internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy.” If you didn’t catch it the first time, re-read the previous sentence again. The first time I saw that meme, it made me laugh; however, there is definitely a truth to be learned here. Fake news is increasingly common, and we love to get in on the hype. Fake news isn’t limited to politics and entertainment, however. False gospels celebrating self-empowerment and prosperity are also on the rise. It is critical that we learn to study the Word for ourselves, not only for our own good but for the good of others around us as well.

We must always be lifelong students of the Word.

If we look at the life of Ezra, we can see the importance of what it means to be diligent in studying the Word. Ezra was a scribe of the law, was well educated, and is believed to have authored the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. As the Jews were returning to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity, Ezra documented two of the three returns.  Note what is stated in Ezra 7, where we first meet Ezra:

Now Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the Lord, obey it, and teach its statutes and ordinances in Israel. (Ezra 7:10 CSB)

Ezra was never satisfied with what he knew. He didn’t just sit back, content with being someone who could quote bits and pieces of Bible; he determined in his heart to study it.

But he didn’t just stop there. The more he studied, the more he was determined to obey, and he didn’t keep what he learned to himself but took it to the people of Israel. We must decide in our hearts to do the same thing.

When we determine to study the Word, we must do it prayerfully. We can’t just decide in our own strength that we are going to become Bible scholars because when we determine to study, Satan will do everything in his power to distract us. We will become lethargic, we will become distracted, and we will be satisfied with snippets here and there.

What happens when we get satisfied with the snippets? We are prone to take things out of context and then blame God when the things we “claimed” didn’t come out the way we wanted. One common example of this is Psalm 37:4, which states, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart's desires” (Psalm 37:4 CSB).

If we look at this verse without context, we can claim that God will give us a million dollars because that is what our desire is or even, “God will heal my ailment.” In context, though, if a person is truly seeking God, their desires will line up with His. There is a big difference in the way we can interpret this verse. Another example is in Philippians 4:13:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”Paul actually wrote this from prison, modeling contentment in all situations for his readers.

I could continue on with several examples, but the point is this: we must be students of the Word or we will not only be led down a dangerous path, but we could also lead others away from the truth as well.

Another reason we must learn to study for ourselves is that an almost truth is still false.

Marketing conventions have taken our country by storm. We have conferences that feature speakers who speak on empowerment, self-love, and confidence. We are putting people on a platform and taking their words for the truth and running with it. It breaks my heart to see self-focused social media hashtags coming from dear friends who are so far away from biblical truth, especially when their empowerment comes from a “Christian” event. Speaking the truth in love sometimes means having difficult conversations. 2 Timothy 2: 15 -17 states,

Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. Avoid irreverent and empty speech, since those who engage in it will produce even more godlessness, and their teaching will spread like gangrene.

People who don’t study the Word for themselves will have a conviction to do what other people tell them instead of a conviction to be led by the inerrant Word of God, and we can easily fall prey to the almost truths.

One of my prayers for my daughter is that she makes her faith her own. I don’t ever want her living out her life assuming she has a relationship with God because it is simply inherited from me. I want to shepherd her, teach her, and help her grow; however, I don’t ever want her to believe God just because I told her so. I want to guide her to seek the truth for herself and be there to help her along the way.

We must learn to study the Bible for ourselves so that we can help others do the same.

Acts 17 introduces a noble group of people called the Bereans. It states, “As soon as it was night, the brothers and sisters sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. Upon arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. The people here were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica since they received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men” (Acts 17:10-12 CSB).

People who are like the Bereans are eager to learn. When we speak about our faith, many times people will listen, sometimes with glad and discerning hearts and other times simply to prove us wrong. What is great about being a student of the Word is that when we speak the truth, people will seek it. The Bereans were attentive, they received the Word with all readiness of mind (which in this day and age people are ready to refute), they searched for themselves, and God moved.

Studying the Word for ourselves isn’t easy, but it is imperative. We must be prayerful, we must be consistent, and we must be able to stand on the truths we discover in it. If we do this, not only will we continue to grow in wisdom and knowledge, but we will also grow closer to the very Creator who divinely inspired the Word. Let’s not hesitate; let’s make the decision to get into the Word today. 


 

This post was contributed by Chelsi Woods.

Click HERE to read her bio!

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The Danger of Discontentment

The Danger of Discontentment

I never thought I had a problem with discontentment. Sure, I could develop a bad attitude when my carefully crafted plans didn’t go off without a hitch, and perhaps there were rare instances when I obsessed over how I could attain the latest and greatest novelty item all my friends were talking about. However, for most of my life, I was under the impression that contentment and discontentment were only about materialism, or that you had to build up a track record in this area before it could be pronounced a legitimate issue in your life. I considered myself “safe” from this sin for a long time.

In all honesty, I didn’t consider it much of a sin in the first place. And herein lies the danger of discontentment, especially in Western culture. We don’t grasp just how easily it can distort and destroy our lives when it gains power over us. We even glorify it at times when we describe admirable people (particularly women, in the twenty-first century) in terms of their fierce determination—their unwillingness to take no for an answer. Our society hinges on the perceived value of personal obligation and entitlement to “the good life.” The problem is when we’re speaking of the good life, what we really mean is the life that is absent from discomfort—or at least the life that most closely matches our cherished dreams. The good life is the life that treats us better than—or at least equal to—what we believe we deserve, in a positive sense.

I believed this lie for most of my life. I grew up in a trailer park, wearing hand-me-downs and eating food out of boxes and cans from the local charity organization. Of course, there were people worse off than us, but it was well known among my peer groups that I was “poor.” The kids more prone to bullying made me aware of everything good I lacked, both in a material sense and an immaterial sense. But one thing we did in my family to alleviate our sense of strain and dissatisfaction is that whenever we had the chance, we enjoyed ourselves to the fullest. My dad occasionally splurged at the store and cooked a big meal on the stove—something like sirloin steaks and potatoes—and we gorged ourselves in a spirit of celebration and comfort. Our attempts to comfort ourselves in the midst of bad circumstances typically involved food or some new toy that would set the budget back to an extent that would probably make Dave Ramsey vomit.

Without realizing it, I grew up thinking of myself as “content” because I knew how to live with less on a material level and still be quite happy. What I did not consider is that a slower, steadier, more insidious form of discontentment began to breed in my young adult heart. It manifested an obsession over the little things. I could endure a reasonable amount of discomfort as long as there was something small within my reach that I still could control and take pleasure in: a great latte, a perfectly composed Instagram picture, a beautiful garden, a clean room, or a good grade in school. These seemingly harmless and inherently good things became my source of rest and comfort. If I didn’t get them, or they came to me in less-than-perfect form, I grew miserable. I began to be convinced that God couldn’t possibly be good if He didn’t let me have such insignificant pleasures to comfort myself amidst the pain of my home and relationships. Why would He afflict me in the big things and then deny me simple pleasures on top of that?

Perhaps this sounds insane, but think about it. Haven’t you ever felt the urge to cry when you drop a pen or spill a drink at the end of a really bad day? The cry of our heart in these moments is often, “Why was that necessary, God? Why can’t You just make something go right for me?”

And there it is before we even see it coming. Some minor discontentment has moved us to shake our fists at the God who gives us life and breath. It has made us distrust His sovereignty and, further, has bred in us a feeling of ownership over our lives which are supposed to be abandoned to Christ according to Scripture: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20-21 ESV).

At its core, discontentment is any professed or practiced rejection of the idea that Christ is enough. If it is enough for us to be rescued from the wrath of God and hidden in Jesus for all eternity, then the inconveniences and losses—even of good things—we experience in this life won’t consume us. They may burn, sure enough, but we won’t be consumed (Ex. 3:2-3).

This is exactly what should set us apart from the world. As Melissa Kruger notes in her Contentment series for Ligonier Ministries, this sense of security, peace, and joy in Christ is what should cause unbelievers to ask us to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). On the flip side of this, harboring discontentment only shows that our priorities are in step with the world. It reveals that we don’t value the gospel and God's glory over all other things, people, or experiences. Discontentment diminishes our witness and destroys our hope. It is no small matter.

By the grace of God, may you and I grow in a kind of contentment towards great and little things alike that proclaim the surpassing value of Christ and His eternal kingdom.


This post was contributed by Jessica Hageman. Click HERE to read her bio!



5 REASONS TO MAINTAIN GODLY FRIENDSHIPS WHILE MARRIED

5 REASONS TO MAINTAIN GODLY FRIENDSHIPS WHILE MARRIED

After getting married, there is sometimes a tendency to stop investing in deep and meaningful friendships with people other than our spouse or our family. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle of life and allow our friendships to fall by the wayside. There are quite a few biblical reasons to maintain good, godly friendships. Here are the top five on my list.

Godly friends are faithful members of a local church.

A thriving church looks like deep relationships that are nurtured not only on Sunday mornings but also in doing life together every day. We need the church, and the church needs us—"For the body does not consist of one member but of many" (1 Corinthians 12:14). Paul is speaking here of how the church body is not one member—just like we are not only a hand or a foot—but rather the church operates through many different parts, just like the body. The Bible is full of mandates for believers to be regularly assembling with a local body. One such passage is Hebrews 10:24-25: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." The author of Hebrews exhorts fellow believers to be gathering together and helping one another love like Christ through faith and good works. So the first and most important reason to maintain godly friendships is that the Lord has commanded us to do so, and we are to be obedient to His Word.

Godly friends are a gift from God.

The Lord is kind. He often gives us such grace in allowing us to have friends who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul told the Thessalonians they should continue "encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing" (Thessalonians 5:11). This verse is both prescriptive and descriptive—descriptive in that it explains how the Thessalonians were already building one another up, and prescriptive in that this verse gives current believers a guideline for how we should be relating to one another. This building up of one another also applies to our marriages. We need friends who build us up and encourage us to seek the Lord through our lives and our marriages.

Godly friends are there because you can't do it alone.

We were designed to live in community, and it is folly to believe we can get through this life in isolation. Marriage was not meant to be lived in solitary confinement, but many Christian couples refuse to allow others into their relationship for purposeful counsel and building up. It is prideful to believe we only need our spouses or our spouses only need us. We need the Lord, our spouse, and the community God has graciously given us. The Bible has a lot to say about godly friends, but Ecclesiastes makes a point of how a godly friend is there when needed: "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). When you are falling, your spouse may not be the person who can pick you up. God has given us other believers who can lift us up. We need them.

Godly friends rebuke sin.

This may be one of the most common reasons people reject truly godly friendships. It is hard to allow someone into your life enough to see the ways you dishonor your spouse, struggle with deep-seated anger, or have a prideful heart. It is often embarrassing to have another person rebuke your sin. Our pride helps us turn a blind eye to the truth, and only when it is laid before us from a godly friend are we able to see clearly. Godly friends are means by which God keeps us on the path of godliness and in the race. It is exponentially better to have a friend who offers gentle rebuke than friends who see our sin yet allow us to continue to walk down the path of destruction. Proverbs speaks to this: "Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy" (Proverbs 27:5-6). If our friends are not helping us repent of sin and return to God, we should be concerned. It may be challenging to accept instruction from friends, but the Bible also speaks to this: "Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future" (Proverbs 19:20). If we are to gain wisdom, we need our godly friends to speak truth into our lives.

Godly friends encourage you to remain faithful when things get hard.

The difficulties of this life are inevitable. The Lord has told us through His Word that the path of life for Christians is not one of ease, but one of sacrifice, difficulty, persecution, and suffering. "Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'" (Matthew 16:24). Also, our fallen world guarantees we will see death, destruction, and acceptance of evil all around us. With these hardships, it is easy to lose hope, to allow faithlessness to creep its way into our everyday lives. Godly friends help keep our hearts focused on our ultimate hope. Proverbs says our brothers were literally born to endure adversity alongside us: "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Proverbs 17:17). True friends love us through those difficulties and bear with us in our pain. When things become difficult, our godly friends are there to sharpen us, to help us grow into the image of Christ. As Proverbs 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."  

Walk with Godly Friends, Be a Godly Friend

We are called to be godly friends to others just as we are called to have godly friends. All of the above applies to the way we encourage, rebuke, and love one another as well. We must "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). We need not be afraid to dive in deep with the godly community the Lord has placed us in. We are biblically commanded to love one another, sincerely. This necessitates vulnerability, honesty, and community that rejects isolation. These are the people God has ordained to walk through this season with you. Do not settle for solitude when you have been called to a deeper, more meaningful community.  


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This post was contributed by Haylee J. Williams. Click HERE to read her bio!

REVIEW - ESV GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION STUDY BIBLE

REVIEW - ESV GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION STUDY BIBLE

The Bible is unquestionably my favorite book! God’s Word is so precious to me, and it is no secret that I love to get my hands on a new Bible. Over the years I have purchased and have been gifted too many Bibles to count, but I certainly don’t regret having any of them. One day I hope to have a library with an entire wall dedicated solely to my collection of Bibles. The most recent addition to my plethora of Bibles is the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. This particular study Bible was written by more than 50 pastors and Bible scholars and includes over 375,000 words of study notes, 80,000 cross-references, and even a concordance.

In most cases, it is standard protocol to read each word in a book before writing a review. However, due to the copious amount of content included in this Bible, I had to develop another system for reviewing. I have taken a good bit of time to study this Bible and will organize my thoughts into four categories, followed by an overall review.

TRANSLATION

As indicated in the title, the “meat” or Scripture of this particular Bible is translated in the English Standard Version. This translation is widely used among many believers today and can be easily read and understood by mature Bible readers as well as novice Bible readers. Personally, I am a huge proponent of the ESV for two specific reasons: reliability and readability. While no translation is entirely perfect, (based on my studies) I have found that the ESV is an excellent literal translation that does not compromise the intended meaning of the Scriptures. Known as a “word-for-word” translation, the ESV aligns very closely with original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts. In terms of readability, the ESV is among my top choices of easily understood translations. All in all, I think there are few translations available today that provide such a great balance of textual accuracy and comprehension.

GENERAL CONTENT

What I love most about the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible is the gospel-centered commentary. For many years I struggled with seeing and understanding that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be found throughout all 66 books of the Bible. Unfortunately, I studied Scripture in such a disjointed fashion that I actually viewed the various books of the Bible as isolated stories as opposed to components of one big story. This Bible is perfect for helping the reader to see the “Big Story” of Scripture. The content in this Bible illustrates the fullness of God’s redemptive plan and aids believers in applying those truths to their life. The introductory content found at the beginning of each book is informative, engaging, and lays the foundation for seeing Christ as you read/study that particular book. I also love that the commentary is written very plainly and is easy to comprehend. Each time I open the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible, I am enthused to turn each page and read more!

THEOLOGICAL DEPTH

I must admit that I am a full proponent of theologically rich content in any book, but especially biblical commentary. There is a great benefit in understanding the biblical, historical, systematic, and practical theological truths that are presented throughout Scripture. The ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible certainly does not disappoint in terms of highlighting all of these. Additionally, I have found that the theological insights included in this Bible are not only rich, but they are communicated in a way that is not intimidating or overbearing for the reader. Having examined commentary from both the Old and New Testaments, I would comfortably recommend this Bible to the new or mature Christian.

AESTHETICS

While the look and feel of a particular Bible may not be very important for many, aesthetics is an element that I personally like to take into consideration. As part of this review, Crossway provided me with a complimentary hardcover copy of this Bible through the Blog Review Program. Although my preference is the leather-bound Bible, I was delighted with the design of this hardcover Bible. The ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible is beautifully designed, and the theme seamlessly flows from the cover of the Bible, throughout the pages, and even in the online content shared by Crossway. As for the layout, the Scriptures are listed in a single-column format on each page with cross-references listed in the centermost portion of the Bible. The commentary is recorded in a double-column form at the bottom of each page. Spacing and margins are relatively small, but still large enough to scribble a few notes if needed. This Bible is available in the following styles: TruTone® - (Burgundy/Red) Timeless Design; Top Grain Leather (Black), Hardcover, TruTone® (Deep Brown).

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. This Bible has challenged me to see and apply the gospel-centered truths of Scripture to my own life and ministry. I am truly thankful to those who have contributed to this faithful work, and I pray that this Bible will be helpful to people near and far.

When You Know You Aren't Enough

When You Know You Aren't Enough

A few days ago, my friend Jasmine and I had a beautifully candid conversation about life, mommyhood, and everything in between. As we chatted, we shared our proverbial “wins” (those moments when we feel like a rockstar by accomplishing something) as well as our seeming failures (those moments where we feel we have totally missed the mark). I must admit that it was ridiculously refreshing to engage in such a conversation without feeling ashamed or “judged” about my ability (or lack thereof) to navigate through life. All too often, many women struggle to be completely transparent in our friendships because deep down inside we are afraid that we don’t quite measure up with one another. It’s really silly when you think about it, but I’ve found (through my own experiences and through a few experiences recounted from others) that there is a bit of validity here.

The Image of Perfection

I’ve struggled, more than I’d like to admit, with the image of perfection. Recently, I opened up to a few sisters in Christ by sharing my struggles with perfection during our small group (we’re reading “Identity Theft”). Openly, I spoke of my desperate attempts to check all the boxes as a wife, mother, friend, sister, employee, and even as a Christian. During my single days, I wanted to be identified as the hardworking, relentless woman who is unyielding in accomplishing her goals. Once I became a wife, I wanted to be identified as the loving and devoted wife who is the best helper to her husband, keeps her home impeccably pristine, and makes the healthiest and tastiest meals on this side of the Mississippi River. As a mom, I have found myself desiring to be that perfect mama who nourishes her baby with the best breast milk and freshly puréed foods, patiently instructs, and readily engages with her daughter at a moment’s notice. As a worker, I’ve fought hard to convince myself and others that I can perfectly manage my job as well as my responsibilities as a wife/mom in skilled balance without distress or struggle. And as a Christian, I’ve attempted to portray my life as one of faithfulness that never waivers in devotion or strength. Whew! Doesn’t that sound so good? Too bad none of it is true! LOL! I am not in any way the perfect wife, mother, friend, sister, employee and certainly not the perfect Christian. On most days, I don’t know if I am coming or going. Sometimes I find myself burrowed in defeat because I couldn’t “get it done” that day. And as much as I want to perpetuate the image of perfection, it’s merely nothing more than a lie.

Overcompensating and “Throwing Shade”

Ok, so if you’ve never heard of the term “shade” you’re in for your first lesson today. “Shade” can best be described as casually disrespecting someone by negatively highlighting an area of their life in an inconspicuous manner.

Here are a few examples…

“Girl, you can’t be on time for anything?”

“You’re still breastfeeding? Oh, honey, I stopped when my son turned one.”

“Do you ever do anything other than reading your Bible? You need a hobby, friend.”

At first sight, these comments may seem harmless, but at the root, they are prideful and ill-hearted. Unfortunately, I’ve seen remarks like these escape the lips of far too many women. And I’ve regularly questioned, why? I honestly think that the whole incredulous notion of “throwing shade” has developed because so many women struggle with accepting varying inadequacies. The countermeasure then becomes an attempt to validate ourselves by invalidating others. We fiercely covet perfection and when we fall short of achieving perfection, we’ll do anything to feel good about ourselves. We create systems and categories to discreetly make ourselves appear better about just how far and how much we fall short of impeccability. Sadly, “throwing shade” has become the new way of overcompensating for living a flawed, broken life.

When You Know You Aren’t Enough

In our minds, we equate perfection with being enough. So when we fail at achieving perfection, we despair over not feeling enough.  The question is not whether or not we are enough. We aren’t. On my own, I am not enough. I can never read enough self-help books, check enough boxes, or highlight another’s imperfections to make myself perfectly acceptable before God. Thus, the real question is, how do we respond to not being enough? How can we live encouraged, fearless lives in the midst of imperfection?  Sisters, the answer is found in Christ. Hebrews 10:14 states, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” In Christ, we are freed from the oppressing idol of perfection. In Christ, God sees us perfectly and counts us righteous. We no longer have to compensate or overcompensate for being imperfect. Christ has completely fulfilled the standard of perfection, therefore, the only right response to knowing you aren’t enough is to trust fully in the life and work of Christ. Rest in him dear sisters, rest.


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. I found most of his message to be incredibly refreshing. His posture and message were uncommon for an event of this magnitude, but I was indeed appreciative of the unusualness! Unfortunately, some social media commentators were not. As I scrolled through my timeline, I read several dissenting opinions of people who 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 cannot understand why so many people diminish and 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 an abusive manner) because they fear that many will become legalists? Do we think that we can scare people into obedience? Do we believe 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 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 entirely clear on what love is according to God's standard. Biblical love is more than just intimidation, sexual desire, or passivity. Biblical love is fundamentally understood in light of God's character. God is the true definition of love. Therefore, 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 genuinely love, belong to God and 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 genuinely love people. If I 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

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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

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Beware of the "Elder Brother Syndrome"

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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.

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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).

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