How Do We Hear The Holy Spirit?

Voice Of GodCharismatics have claimed personal words from God for years. That figures, since the bulk of charismatic theology (despite their insistence to the contrary) depends on exalting experience over Scripture. In light of that fact, I can almost expect them to believe that God speaks apart from the written Word of God.

A Facebook conversation with someone from the Charismatic church I belonged to in California reminded me recently that a primary argument for God speaking personally pits the living Holy Spirit against the “dead letter” of the Bible. It’s not a denial of Scripture’s authority. In this person’s mind, it’s not even a denial of Scripture’s sufficiency (though that’s pretty much exactly what he’s doing). Rather, it apparently adds a personal relationship with the Spirit that Scripture somehow can’t provide.

Of course, my friend hastens to add, the Spirit never contradicts Scripture. Which raises the question: Why would He then need to speak apart from Scripture in the first place? Why not trust Him to speak through the Bible He inspired?

The mere suggestion that God’s Word is a “dead letter” needing augmentation with personal experiences absolutely chills me. That very idea completely ignores what the Bible says about itself.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~~Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

As we read God’s Word, the Holy Spirit uses it to convict us of sin, instruct us in righteousness and reveal Who the Triune God is. Through Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us what to look for in a spouse, how to conduct ourselves in business, how to order our families and what His Church should do. Above all that, He shows us His nature and His priorities. He lets us   know what angers Him, what pleases Him and what honors Him.

Certainly, during the course of a day, the Holy Spirit will bring Scriptures and/or Scriptural principles to our minds that we can apply. Even then, please notice, He’s speaking Scripture. He doesn’t, as some claim, direct us to brush a stranger’s hair or purchase an extra bottle of milk. Rather, He commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as much as we love ourselves.

Until we obey everything He tells us in His Word, what would be the point of Him speaking personally to us?

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Perspectives In Titus: Grace As A Personal Trainer

Titus 2 v 12Last Monday we studied Titus 2:11, which introduces a passage that I’ve found particularly meaningful in this era when so many professing Christians understand grace as license to indulge in sinful behavior. In today’s study of verse 12, however, we will discover that the grace of God functions quite differently.

Before diving into verse 12, let’s again look at the immediate context in order to grasp the general flow of thought.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)

And you thought I wrote complex sentences!

Anyway, we see by verse 11 that the grace of God is the subject of this sentence, making it clear that grace actually does something. Accordingly, Paul notes that the grace of God trains us. The Greek word here translated “training” means to discipline, as in bringing up a child by educating him toward spiritual and moral discipline. Hebrews 12:5-10 supplements this idea by depicting God the Father as disciplining His children in order that they bear the fruit of righteousness.

Puritan commentator John Gill makes the interesting observation that, since only believers receive God’s discipline, verse 11 certainly can’t mean that every person is a recipient of God’s grace. Again, cross-reference to Hebrews 12:5-8, which insists that God’s discipline indicates His acceptance of us as His children. I stress this point to remind you to interpret verse 11 by it’s context. Verse 11, in context, does not teach that Christ died for each individual. His grace trains Christians exclusively.

Grace disciplines us to reject ungodliness and worldly passions. Keep in mind that Titus lived in Crete, an area famous for its culture of self-indulgence. Therefore Paul wanted Titus to develop Christians who would differentiate themselves from unbelievers. 1 John 2:15-17 delineates the nature of worldly passions.

In contrast to ungodliness and worldly passions, grace instructs Christians to live in ways that honor the Lord.

Self-control, as we’ve noticed in several verses throughout this epistle, indicates the ability to restrain our desires. The Cretans, much like Westerners in today’s culture, weren’t known for controlling themselves, so Christians needed to model that quality. In our present-day society, we have even more responsibility to exercise self-control.

The word translated “upright” in the ESV means that Christians bear a responsibility to minister to others in righteousness, treating everyone justly. Albert Barnes says that it

…refers to the proper performance of our duties to our fellow-men; and it means that religion teaches us to perform those duties with fidelity, according to all our relations in life; to all our promises and contracts; to our fellow-citizens and neighbors; to the poor, and needy, and ignorant, and oppressed; and to all those who are providentially placed in our way who need our kind offices. Justice to them would lead us to act as we would wish that they would towards us.

Finally, the grace of God trains us to live in godliness, meaning that it disciplines us toward pleasing the Lord rather than living according to our selfish pleasures. Once more, Paul emphasizes that Christians must distinguish themselves from everyone else. However, true godliness emanates from an inner conviction that we belong to the Lord; a mere outward show is nothing more than hypocrisy.

This self-control, uprightness and godliness must be lived out in this present age. As we will see in verse 13, living this way helps us wait for Christ’s return. So please come back next Monday for a discussion of Christ’s return and what sort of people He will redeem upon that return.

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Remember Who Rules Hurricanes

Of course our prayers go out for the residents of Texas as Hurricane Harvey causes unimaginable havoc. I feel particular concern for people who, like my dear husband, depend on ventilators to do their breathing for them. Perhaps you’re praying for a different demographic, like school kids who may not have a school building or hospital patients who now must postpone important procedures. Harvey will negatively impact countless people in a myriad of ways.

Yet the Lord has full control of this disastrous situation. From our point of view, it certainly doesn’t seem as though He does, and we may be tempted to accuse Him of heartless cruelty if we do acknowledge His sovereignty. I get that.

At the same time, trusting His sovereignty can give us peace and embolden our prayers for the people of Texas. Since God actually does control Hurricane Harvey, we know that He will respond to our prayers for Texas with both compassion and wisdom.

I came across a hymn today that I’d never heard before. Although it’s a naval hymn specifically about protecting sailors from troubles at sea, it reminded me of God’s authority over Hurricane Harvey. Please continue praying for all whose lives will be uprooted by this vicious storm, but pray with confidence in our eternal Father Who rules this hurricane.

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Saturday Sampler: August 20 — August 26

Tulips01For those of you going back to school, Ryan Higginbottom’s post, Above All Earthly Textbooks in Knowable Word encourages you not to allow the pressures of school to crowd out your devotional life. Looking back on my own college years, I can attest to each of his points.

Scrolling though Twitter, I found Worldview Changes Everything, which Leslie A published in Growing 4 Life back in July 2014. I normally don’t like including throwback blog posts in Saturday Sampler, but this one deserves attention. The closing paragraphs especially call Christians to healthy self-examination.

Everybody has an opinion, or so the saying goes. Answering that maxim, Elizabeth Prata asserts that You (I) don’t have to say everything in The End Time. Her humility here sets a godly example, especially in this culture of social media.

Beautiful Thing writer Jessica Pickowicz resumes her probing series on superstitions with Portraits of Superstition: The Princess Charming. She writes with a balance that I wish I’d had back in high school when I destroyed a memento from a family vacation thinking it was an idol with demonic powers.

We can find the Gospel even in this earliest chapters of Genesis, as Narrow Minded Woman shows us in Eve: “Mother of All the Living”.

Leave it to Michelle Lesley, a mother of five, to come up with a title like Watch Your Language! 10 Christian Terms that Need to be Cleared Up. Her reasoning on each term grounds itself in God’s Word, forcing us to carefully consider how our words represent the Lord. Are you guilty of saying any of these things?

The Rise of Digital Technologies and the Decline of Reading by Tim Challies may surprise you. His perspectives don’t follow popular wisdom on this topic, but maybe popular wisdom could use a challenge once in a while.

If you doubt my repeated assertions that Christians depend way too much on feelings, go to  excatholic4christ and read Tom’s piece, Emotional feelings and religious rituals no substitute for genuine faith in Christ and His finished work. He presents a sad but fascinating story of a woman who obviously needs discernment  (not to mention true salvation).

Amy Byrd of Housewife Theologian examines the historical context that may help us understand why God honored Rahab’s Lie. Like Amy, I’m not completely sold on this explanation, but it certainly does make sense.

 

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Marriages: Happy And Others

MistyWeddingJoyYesterday, John and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. After his cancer and heart attack five years ago, we appreciate every year that the Lord gives us together.

Even before John and I went through that trial, we savored our marriage more than most couples do. Since both of us grew up with severe physical disabilities, we struggled with the probability that marriage wouldn’t happen for either of us. I distinctly recall my emotional pain as a single woman who wanted nothing more than to marry a godly man, and my many psychological contortions to accept singleness as God’s will for me. So when Pastor Mike wheeled me down the aisle toward John a month before my 49th birthday, my heart flooded with gratitude. I cherished this marriage that had seemed so impossible for so many years.

When the cancer diagnoses came, followed by the heart attack (which delayed surgery for six weeks), I honestly thought the Lord was taking John away from me. Frankly, I believed that surgery would kill my precious husband.  I returned home from the hospital after the surgery saying incredulously, “I’m still married!”

I understand that not all marriages are as happy as mine. Maybe a few of you read this post and pray desperately that I won’t tell you to cherish your marriage. You wish I knew about the physical and/or emotional abuse you suffer. You read this article just before going to bed alone, knowing your husband’s sleeping with someone else tonight. You worry that your children will hear yet another argument. Or you’d like an argument because the silence between you has become unbearable.

You’re right in accusing me of not understanding how you feel. And yet you’re wrong. Until I met John, I knew loneliness. I once sat through a particularly romantic wedding, directly across the aisle from a man who rejected me. I watched him dance with one of my closest friends at the reception. And, slumped over in a wheelchair that didn’t properly support my spine, I felt like a used Kleenix.

As I rejoice in the wonderful marriage that God has given me and John, please keep in mind that I don’t mean to throw my happiness in the faces of sisters who have unhappy marriages or no marriages at all.

Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart
    is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day,
    and like vinegar on soda. ~~Proverbs 25:20  (ESV)

But remember that I attended that romantic wedding in order to rejoice with a happy couple who stood in front of a packed church praising the Lord for bringing them together. In my sorrow, I could still share in their joy because I knew what God had done in their lives. As I weep with those of you who weep, I hope God will give you  grace to rejoice with me and John.

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How Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Almost Torpedoed My Christianity

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Taken at the Dreamland Wax Museum in Boston

Last week I included Leslie A’s blog post, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism: America’s New Religion in my Saturday Sampler collection. I’d seen this term before, most notably in Michael Horton’s book, Christless Christianity. Horton’s book sort of reminded me of how my involvement in Christian pop-psychology eroded my theology over the years, but reading Leslie’s post really alerted me to the fact that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism poses a serious problem in evangelical circles.

To explain Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, let me borrow from Leslie, who in turn borrowed from Wikipedia:

There are five main beliefs of MTD–

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

(from this Wikipedia Article)

While I probably would have intellectually disagreed with pretty much all of those tenets when MTD influenced my thinking, on a practical level I lived out those basic attitudes. The church and ministry I belonged to at the time used Scripture, yes, but often we used it to buttress psychological or mystical ideas rather than evaluating those ideas through the lens of sound doctrine.

I hasten to say that some of us in that group were genuinely saved. I believe I was. Sadly, the overwhelming prevalence of psychological ideology distracted us from properly interpreting and applying God’s Word to our lives. Despite our insistence that we believed the Bible, we in fact followed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in how we ministered to each other. Slowly, at least in my personal life, fundamental Christian doctrines took a back seat to the “deeper ministry” of Christian pop-psychology.

During the height of my deception, I had conversations with two non-Christians who used the same psychological terminology that we had been using in the counseling ministry I worked for. Additionally, I watched Oprah Winfrey on my days off, intrigued that she also used the same psychological jargon. I found myself entertaining the unbiblical idea that, even through someone didn’t acknowledge Christ, they might know Him through pop-psychology.

Mercifully, the Holy Spirit never let me fully embrace such blasphemous notions, but I relate my experience here to augment what Leslie wrote last week. Bible-believing Christians must vigilantly guard against Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, recognizing how subtly it blends in with popular trends in evangelical thought. I anticipate writing more about this topic in future articles, as I believe it’s a top threat to Biblical Christianity. Thankfully, the Lord has power to rescue people as He rescued me.

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The Protestant Reformation: An Example Of Biblical Discernment

Catholic to ProtestantI seriously spent time last night trying to think up a title for today’s article that would emphasize discernment and let me sneak the Reformation in through the back door. The Lord faithfully convicted me of click-bait tactics. Okay, so let’s admit up front that this is another attempt to get you to appreciate the Reformation as much more than dusty history that has little relevance to Christianity in the 21st Century.

The response to my two articles on discernment ministry last week exploded with new readers now subscribing to my little blog, which pleases me in some respects. It disappointed me, however, that only a handful of people read Italian Renaissance Art, My Bucket List And The Protestant Reformation, which I wrote last Tuesday. John and I both lamented that most evangelicals apparently don’t care about their spiritual heritage.

Evidently, discernment is a much more popular topic. And controversy between well-known discernment ministry leaders is apparently even more of a draw. Who cares that Saint Peter’s Basilica, although intended to represent the supposed grandeur of the Roman Catholic Church, convinced Martin Luther to protest the unbiblical doctrine of Purgatory and the exploitative practice of selling Indulgences? What does it matter that he and other Reformers then called Rome to repent of other false teachings that distorted the Gospel?

21st Century evangelicals miss the point that the Protestant Reformation happened because men like Martin Luther exercised discernment as a result of reading the Bible and then comparing Roman Catholic doctrine and practice to it. If you want to read about discernment ministry, studying the Protestant Reformation is probably one of the best approaches to the topic.

If you think the current controversy is a bloodbath, try reading about Bloody Mary’s relentless persecution of the English Reformers. Read about John Calvin’s years in exile or about Thomas Cramner recanting his Reformed faith, only to take back his recantation and (at his execution) ask the executioners to begin by burning the hand that signed the first recantation. Read about the Counter-Reformation, where the Council of Trent doubled-down on the very doctrines that the Reformers challenged.

The Reformers compared Roman Catholic teachings to the Bible and discerned that Rome had deviated from Scriptural teaching. Although they made some glaring mistakes (such as Luther’s anti-semeticism), by and large their discernment ministry restored God’s Word to the elect.

Therefore they’ve blessed us with a powerful example of true discernment. For them, the controversy and conflict was neither wanted nor intended. They simply recognized error in Roman Catholicism and hoped to correct it. They directed people back to Scripture, assuring them that Christ secured the salvation of all who trust in His finished work on the cross.

The discernment of the Reformers shows us how to develop our own discernment. Through studying them, we learn to judge everything by God’s Word. Please, then, reject popular notions about history being academic and irrelevant. Embrace the Reformers (complete with their sinful flaws) as teachers of discernment. You might be surprised at how relevant they really are.

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