Silly Putty Or Hard Truth?

Distorted BibleReading my blog, I suppose, might lead readers to think I dislike Catholics, Charismatics, Gay Christians, those who believe in Christian psychology and people in seeker-sensitive churches. Okay, I understand how readers might reach such conclusions. I’ll even admit to feeling a certain level of anger toward leaders who promote such distortions of Christianity. Truth shouldn’t be treated as a plaything, manipulated to suit our expectations, and it upsets me to see it stretched and pulled like Silly Putty.

But most of the people who fall victim to these theological aberrations honestly believe they follow the Lord. Some are genuine Christians, as I was. Yes, they need correction. So did I. But those who really want to know the truth will listen to correction and go to Scripture in an attitude of prayer. Consider the apostle John’s remarks, referring to the apostolic teaching preserved in the New Testament.

They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. ~~1 John 4:5-6 (ESV) 

I see a terrible trend among evangelicals to make compromises with various worldly philosophies, and those compromises distress me. Sometimes my frustration boils over, and I fail to temper my zeal for truth with compassion and understanding. I forget where I’ve come from in my own walk with the Lord, or else I get so annoyed with the deceptions I once believed that I lose sight of the fact that they ensnare precious children of God who desperately need proper teaching.

So, to be clear: I hate teachings that distort God’s Word. I hate teachings that make salvation dependent on human effort, and I hate teachings that deny God’s authority to determine what behaviors constitute sin. I hate teachings that mix Biblical principles with worldly philosophies. I hate these things because I love the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word enough to want people to conform to His Truth.

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David, Saul’s Robe And President Trump

Pray For AmericaReading through 1 Samuel today, I noticed something in a familiar story that made me think about attitudes that people have toward President Trump. Let me begin by quoting the passage, which narrates part of David’s flight from Saul.

When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord‘s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord‘s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. ~~1 Samuel 24:1-7 (ESV)

From there the narrative goes on by saying that David was conscience stricken, and confessed to Saul (from a safe distance, mind you) that he’d cut a piece from Saul’s robe. His confession, however, wasn’t 100% humble, as he used it pretty much to say, “You owe me.” In response, Saul acknowledged that God would indeed give David the kingdom.

This story has several components, and in emphasizing one aspect I certainly don’t mean to neglect the greater context of God’s sovereignty in humbling Saul. But as I read it this morning, David’s insistence on regarding Saul as the Lord’s anointed fascinated me.

Saul had rebelled against the Lord on several occasions, causing God to take the kingdom from him and transfer the kingly anointing to David. David had yet to ascend the throne, and Saul had tried relentlessly to keep that from happening. In short, Saul was determined to kill David in order to remain Israel’s king. He had absolutely no regard for God’s decision to give David the kingdom.

David knew that Saul was a corrupt man. Completely aware that God had judged Saul by rejecting him as king, David still remembered that Saul remained on the throne at that moment. For that reason, David respected Saul’s office as being given by the Lord. He refused to assassinate the king, even though he had first hand experience of Saul’s wickedness.

As I read 1 Samuel 24:1-7 today, I couldn’t help thinking about attitudes that even Christians have been exhibiting toward President Trump. I understand the frustration of having a president who, in your estimation, will severely harm the country. I felt the same frustration eight years ago, and dreaded a Hillary Clinton presidency. I nevertheless prepared myself to trust that, if Clinton won, the Lord would have sovereignly given her that position (Romans 13:1).

I don’t pretend to approve wholeheartedly of Trump either, so please don’t misconstrue this blog post as a ringing endorsement of him. Some of his policies have pleasantly surprised me; others have disappointed me. Certainly, I believe he has low moral character, and therefore don’t see him as a champion of Christian values.

Furthermore, I honestly don’t know whether God placed Trump in the White House to restrain evil or as an instrument of judgment. Neither do you, incidentally. But I know from the Word of God that, precisely because God did put him there, I must respect him as David respected Saul.

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Believers Who Miss The Gospel

Old Fashioned Girl

A couple years ago, “false convert” seemed to be the latest buzz word in the types of blogs I read, and I struggled with the suspicion that we might over-apply the term. Looking back on my own life, for example, I can’t determine the genuineness of my own conversion during the time I participated in the Charismatic movement.

I embraced a lot of bad doctrine during those years, and yet I knew deep down that much of the theology didn’t really square with Scripture. I just didn’t know Scripture well enough to argue against Charismatic doctrine. But I did know that I had no claim to heaven apart from the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Trusting in Christ rather than self-effort marks a true Christian. Although we must pay attention to other points of doctrine (particularly the sufficiency of Scripture), the basic Gospel must underscore everything else. The true Christian knows his depravity, and therefore has no option other than to rely exclusively on Jesus to atone for his sin.

In contrast, many false converts have great difficulty understanding the severity of their sin. Oh, they may give lip-service to the concept, but they secretly believe that they either took part in becoming Christians or have some responsibilities in maintaining their salvation. They sing about God’s grace, but they can’t really believe that He has done all the work. They feel driven to contribute something.

The apostle Paul addressed this prideful attitude in the letter to the Galatians. Of course I can’t copy the entire epistle here, but  consider this passage as an example:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? ~~Galatians 3:1-3 (ESV)

Charismatics, Catholics, proponents of contemplative prayer and adherents of psychology all can fall into this category of false converts, through genuine Christians occasionally fall into these deceptions.  All these groups (and probably others) subtly add human effort either to salvation itself or to sanctification while minimizing the doctrine of depravity. In fact, some of them actively seek to bolster self-esteem, teaching that Jesus died for us because of our worth. The focus, in one way or another, reverts to  man’s ability to earn God’s favor–directly contradicting the  message of the Gospel.

Other false converts minimize the doctrine of sin, either by claiming that they’re free to sin because of Christ’s death on the cross (which paid for their sin) or by manipulating Scripture to excuse their particular sin. They violate the Gospel by refusing to let it conform them to His Holiness. They expect God to make them feel good, but reject any thought of surrendering their lives to Him.

The following passage from 2 Peter describes the attitude of false teachers, but I believe it also applies to others who use a faulty understanding of grace to justify sinful behavior.

19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” ~~2 Peter 2:19-22 (ESV)

Gay Christians (particularly those who once served as leaders in the ex-gay arena before going back to homosexuality), female pastors and elders and emergent church types provide the most prominent examples of those who minimize the gravity of sin. But by trivializing sin, they also trivialize the precious blood of Christ. Additionally, they pull the emphasis away from the Lord’s glory and on to how He can satisfy them.

I’ve merely given an overview of false conversion today, but I hope it’s enough to get you to examine your own spiritual condition . I still test myself periodically. As we all examine ourselves to make sure He has genuinely saved us, may we keep our gaze on Christ, giving Him all the glory and adoring Him for saving wretches like us.

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Perspectives In Titus: Putting Things In Order

Bible contextContinuing our study of Titus, we’ll look at verses 5-6 today.I had hoped to cover verses 5-9 in this post. Once you stop laughing at my unrealistic expectations of myself (yes, it’s funny that I thought I could get through five verses in one shot), let’s read the passage to get our bearings.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. ~~Titus 1:5-9 (ESV)

As I prepared this study, I realized that verses 5 and 6 present a theme of putting things in order. Hmm, maybe it’s God’s providence that I will only get through these two verses.

Starting with verse 5, we learn that Titus remained in Crete to finish Paul’s work and to appoint elders.

Jamieson Fausset and Brown comment that Paul spent the winter there on his way to his imprisonment in Rome. So, coupled with the fact that Cretan Jews heard the Gospel at Pentecost (Acts 2:11), the Gospel had gotten to Crete. But Paul left, a prisoner, before the church could be fully organized, so he charged Titus with the responsibility of organizing the church. Gill argues that Paul left Titus there after his second visit.

Paul wanted Titus to “set in order” what remained of constituting the Cretan church.  Vincent’s Word Studies says that the Greek word translated “set in order”   was “Used by medical writers of setting broken limbs or straightening crooked ones.” In verses  10-16 of this chapter we’ll see why the Cretan church needed correction.

Paul directed Titus to appoint elders in every town of Crete. Elders were responsible to care for the  spiritual needs of local congregations. Thus they had to be men of maturity. For that reason, they had to be men whose personal lives reflected order.

Titus 1:6-8 parallels 1 Timothy 3:2-4  in listing the qualifications for being an elder.  Jamieson, Fausset and Brown  comment that the reiteration of qualifications in this epistle contrasts the wickedness of the Cretans (see Titus 1:10). An elder, because he will reprove unsound doctrine and behavior, must exhibit godliness in his own life.

Therefore he must be, first of all, above reproach. Obviously, no elder can be completely sinless, but God’s Word through Paul requires that they be men of integrity.  The rest of this passage details how he should be above reproach.

An elder’s blamelessness begins with how well he orders his family life. Faithfulness in marriage, therefore, is essential. Commentators vary on how strictly this principle applies in the case of remarriage, but the general idea is that he be a model of sexual fidelity. They also note that this clause doesn’t disqualify unmarried men from serving. The point is that they be chaste.

His children, the English text says, must be believers. According to Barnes, the Greek word here rendered “believers” simply means that they live respectfully toward the Christian faith. The issue is more about his ability to govern than about whether or not God has given his children the gift of faith  (Ephesians 2:8). In 1 Timothy 3:5  Paul explains that a man who can’t manage his own household probably can’t manage God’s church.

Nobody should be able to accuse an elder of spending excessive money or time on selfish pursuits (here called debauchery) or in rebellion against authority. Some commentators believe that this clause applies to the elder’s children.  That explanation seems most consistent with the  text.

As women, of course, none of us will be church elders. But really, every Christian should have the level of integrity that Paul prescribes for elders. Are we faithful to our husbands?  Are we helping our husbands raise well-behaved children? Do our personal lives qualify us to serve our churches?  If not, perhaps we need the Lord to put us in order.

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Effects Of Watching The Shepherds’ Conference

I know what I said two weeks ago. Finding hymns indeed had become frustrating for me, and I certainly was tired of wading through YouTube trying to locate versions that I liked. Posting short videos definitely seemed a lot more appealing.

But as John and I watched livestreamed sessions of The Shepherds’ Conference this past week, enjoying all the magnificent hymns led by the Gettys and by Bob Kauflin, the Lord convicted me that hymns need to remain prominent in this blog for two reasons.

Firstly, many contemporary praise songs water down or distort the Gospel by minimizing sound doctrine and shifting the emphasis from the Lord Jesus Christ to self. While not all contemporary praise songs do such things and  not all hymns present good theology (I think of that atrocious hymn, In The Garden, which has multiple theological problems), the vast majority of old and modern hymns provide helpful teaching that we can easily commit to memory.

Secondly, hymns exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. They allow us to engage our emotions in an act of worship, even as we fix our attention on His glories. In that way, they keep Him central in our thoughts, and keep us gazing at His wonders. This avenue of worship carries over into our daily life, reminding us of Who He is and what He has done. For that reason, I like to share hymns in this  blog.

Today I want to feature a relatively new hymn that focuses on a Christian’s commitment to live for Christ. I pray that it will minister to you as deeply it ministers to me.

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Saturday Sampler: February 26 — March 4

cross-sampler-02Commenting on something she read in The New York Times, Elizabeth Prata has an essay in  The End Time discussing Practical magic’s resurgence that I believe is worth your attention.

In Learn to Discern: The Corruption of Christianity (the latest in a series in Growing 4 Life), Leslie A. shares an essay by her brother,  Pastor Dean. Dean examines six popular trends which have dangerously weakened the visible church.

Once again, Rebekah Womble knocks it out of the park on her blog, Wise In His Eyes. This time, I recommend her blog post, Women, Don’t Feed on Fluff for its Scriptural guidelines on discerning whether an author or teacher is worth our time (and money).

As Reformed Christians commemorate this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we must consider the differences between us and Roman Catholics. Blogging for The Cripplegate, Jordan Standridge asks Which Jesus does your Roman Catholic friend believe in? This post offers helpful guidelines for witnessing to Catholic friends and family.

Michael J. Krueger has been writing a series for Canon Fodder. His latest installment, Taking Back Christianese #8: “It’s Not My Place to Judge Someone Else”, takes on the common misapplication of Matthew 7:1.

Lisa Morris of Conforming to the Truth cautions us about The Upside Down Truth About Quick Bible Devotions. Ladies, we can do better.

Are you observing Lent this year? If so, Michelle Lesley lists 40 Things to Give Up for Lent as an encouragement to think Biblically about the season. If you wonder why (after writing so strongly against observing Lent Tuesday) I’ve included her article on this Saturday Sampler, read what she has to say.

Even through Brian Lee’s article, Repent of Lent: How Spiritual Disciplines Can Be Bad For Your Soul, appeared in The Federalist three years ago, it raises points about the practice that mustn’t be overlooked. Perhaps this is the most Biblical treatment of Lent I’ve read so far.

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For Us, But For His Father

Cross and Bible 4Having introduced the concept of Christ’s deity as an important fact to understand in relation to the Gospel, I now turn to the equally important fact of His humanity. He is 100% God, certainly, and He is equally 100% Man. In this discussion, I won’t try to explain how He can fully possess both natures simultaneously, knowing that theologians much more learned than I scratch their heads in bewilderment over that question. Instead, I want to show you a glimpse of how His humanity plays into the Gospel.

The writer of Hebrews gives us a picture of Jesus’ purpose in coming as a Man.

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. ~~Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV)

Jesus, unlike either God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, experienced all the frailties, difficulties, limitations and temptations that you and I face. As a result of His intimate identification with all the weaknesses intrinsic to humanity, He has compassion for us. That compassion motivated Him to take the punishment  that properly belongs to us by suffering a brutal execution on the cross.
Of course, there’s a great deal more to the Incarnation than the Lord’s willingness to identity with human experience, and I don’t want to do you the disservice of implying that it was primarily about us. The latter portion of verse 17 says very plainly that he took on His humanity in service to God, not in service to us. He died a human death, shedding human blood, to satisfy the wrath of God. Nothing less would atone for our sins!
Without question, those who believe in Him derive eternal benefit from Christ’s death on the cross, but that benefit remains a glorious by-product of His sacrifice to the Father. We rightfully rejoice that His service to God results in His identification with our frailties as we marvel at how completely He does all things.

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God Himself As Our Christ

1-co-15When we say that Jesus died for our sins, we need to first establish Who Jesus actually is. A “Jesus” of our own making certainly couldn’t provide any real atonement since, essentially, He would be a figment of our imagination. So I must begin this exploration of the Gospel with the doctrine of Jesus, firm in my conviction that everything begins and ends with Him.

Obviously, I can’t fully explain Jesus in a few short blog posts, especially when true scholars have written volumes about Him. It should go without saying that I’d be arrogant to think that I could compose a couple short essays and cover all of Who He is. But I hope that, as I report basic information about Him, my readers will search the Bible to gain a more comprehensive understanding of each point I make.

Today, I want to emphasize Christ’s deity, which He claimed using words and idioms that First Century Jews completely understood. As a 17-year-old girl, I found John 8:48-59 riveting. Here’s the passage in the ESV:

48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Notice verse 58. When Jesus said, “I AM,” He referred back to God’s words to Moses from  the burning bush:

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” ~~Exodus 3:13-14 (ESV)

The Pharisees, having great knowledge of this passage in Exodus, instantly caught Jesus’ reference, as evidenced by their attempt to stone Him  in verse 59. They had no difficulty recognizing the fact that Jesus had very openly claimed to be God.

His deity should cause us to marvel at the crucifixion. Think about the amazing humility He showed in taking the punishment for sins that His own creatures commit against Him! I feel tremendous awe at the realization that the Creator of heaven and earth would actually come and die as a common criminal in my place. Yet, His sacrifice only had the effect of redeeming those who believe in Him because of His deity.

We like to get caught up in so many “Christian” issues, and several of those issues legitimately deserve attention. But we must take care  never to lose focus on the wonderful fact that our Creator and Lord shed His precious blood to cleanse us from our own sin. What better reason could we have to worship Him?

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Smelly Preaching Wanted

A friend from church posted this picture on his Facebook feed a few years ago. It definitely contrasts the seeker-sensitive posture of 21st Century churches. In our day, we minimize the seriousness of sin (if we mention it at all), sometimes even denying that certain behaviors should even be considered sinful in the first place. After all, we reason, we must make the Lord attractive, so people will actually want to come to our churches (and, as a result, fill our offering plates).

Making church appealing to our friends and family may be good salesmanship, but it doesn’t fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus never told us to sign up young, potentially affluent, wage-earners to fund our building projects. He instead commanded us to make disciples by passing on His doctrine and calling others to obey Him (Matthew 28:16-20). Part of making disciples necessitates helping people acknowledge their sin and move toward repentance.

Such demands repel those people whom the Lord has not called to salvation. But the elect, who mourn over their sin because they know how deeply it offends the Savior, will embrace such preaching as a portal to eternal life. Indeed, Paul and his co-workers observed this very principle, and mentioned it to the church in Corinth:

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? ~~2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV)


Preaching, whether in a church setting or in personal evangelism, can’t afford to coddle sin. God’s servants don’t sell a product; we proclaim the truth–including the fact that the Lord, being perfect in Holiness, cannot and will not tolerate sin among His people. Wondrously, He shed His blood to atone for the sin of those who believe, providing us the grace to live in holiness!

Those who don’t understand their desperate need for salvation find the Gospel to be odious. The very suggestion that the Lord would dare to condemn them simply because they refused to depend on His righteousness rather than their own, is a stench in their nostrils. But for those of us who know the weight of our sin, nothing could possibly smell as sweet as the Gospel! May we have the courage to declare the whole Gospel, trusting the Holy Spirit with the results.

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