Not Your Typical Choice For A Thanksgiving Hymn

Thanksgiving reminds us to thank the Lord for His goodness in providing for us. In an increasingly secular culture, we certainly need that reminder. Yet the wonderful hymns usually sung at this time of year can sometimes emphasize the blessings God gives while minimizing the greatness of the Giver.

Let me be clear: the traditional Thanksgiving hymns are full of rich doctrine. We must in no way despise them, or even consider them inferior. But we can enhance them by also singing hymns that specifically exalt the Lord, especially when they use His blessings as a way of glorifying Him. Today’s hymn does just that.

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Saturday Sampler: November 12 — November 18

raggedy-ann-sampler

In a short post (as in five paragraphs), Tim Challies uncovers The Problem with the “Want Ads” in Denominational Magazines. Sadly, the person he quotes was not exaggerating.

Leslie A. once again uses her Growing 4 Life blog to get us thinking about how we order our lives to honor the Lord. Balanced is Beautiful cautions us against narrowing our spiritual focus so tightly that we neglect other areas that also require our attention.

If you want to change things up in your personal Bible Study time, consider doing some topical studies.  Sharon Lareau of Chapter 3 Ministries walks us through some ideas on How to Study the Bible by Topic that could definitely help you approach God’s Word in a way you haven’t tried before.

Check out Unlocking the Bible to read Why Christians Should Not Get Angry with the Lost  by Pastor Colin Smith. This analogy is vivid enough to stick with you, and may be useful as you spend Thanksgiving with unsaved relatives.

Like Lara d’Entremont, I’m not a fan of having people point out my flaws.  So her article,  The Gracious Response to Criticism in Renewed In Truth Discipleship, challenges me to again confess my perfectionist tendencies and remember that having someone call me out on sin might help me better obey the Lord.

Don’t overlook Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Anger in Erin Benziger’s blog, Do Not Be Surprised. Maybe you’ll wince a little (okay, maybe more than a little) as you read it, but keep reading. Her conclusion alleviates all the discomfort.

Have I called someone you follow a false teacher? If so, you probably didn’t appreciate it. But Michelle Lesley’s post, Throwback Thursday ~ Bad Fruit, Diseased Trees, And the Authority of God’s Word, could help you think through your reactions. Sometimes “discernment bloggers” do wrongfully accuse people of false teaching. Michelle’s article can help you determine whether or not that’s happening.

Whether you watch the short video or read the transcript,  be sure to give Tim Challies’ The Problem with Love Languages – Three Minute Thursdays #3 your attention. John and I heartily agree with all of the points Challies makes, and I particularly liked his conclusion.

Continuing her Bible Study on James, Lisa Morris of Conforming to the Truth writes Genuine Faith Understands the Importance of Taming the Tongue. Ladies,  all of us need this one.

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The Christian Professor Marvel

Psychology AftermathOnce a year, a certain guest speaker came to our church in California.  By God’s providence, I missed his first visit (I can’t remember why, though I suspect I had a cold that I didn’t want to share).

In the days following,  my friends gushed over this man’s ministry,  recounting his “words of knowledge” as verification that he operated in the “power of the Holy Spirit.” Even a friend who had previously expressed skepticism regarding Charismatic phenomena tried to convince me by saying, “He told me things about myself that only the Lord and I knew.”

“Like Professor Marvel in The Wizard of Oz?” I asked, pretty much ending the conversation.

The biggest draw to the annual meetings with this man, however, was that people got “slain in the Spirit” when he prayed over them. My girlfriends anticipated his meetings, positively giddy over this prospect. Even in my Charismatic days, I saw no point in people falling backwards to the floor in spiritual ecstasy.  But this prophetic speaker started coming around after I’d turned from Charismatic theology. Thus the very prospect that made them giddy made me nauseous.

The last year he came, I told my pastor that I wouldn’t attend church that week because I couldn’t support the practice of slaying people in the Spirit.  My pastor, in an effort to persuade me that the practice was godly, blurted out, “But Deb, your best friend gets slain every year!”

No appeal to Scripture whatsoever.  Please notice that point.

In both conversations I’ve recounted today, people based this man’s credibility on the personal experiences of those who attended his meetings, not on whether or not he accurately preached God’s Word (which I doubt, given the Charismatic excesses that routinely accompanied his appearances). And that appeal to personal experience troubles me even more today than it did at the time. Although my friends didn’t realize it, they elevated personal experience over the authority of Scripture.

Yet the apostle Paul warned that not everyone who appears to preach the Gospel actually does.

12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. ~~2 Corinthians 11:12-15 (ESV)

Not once, in all the years that this man came, did anyone tell me he inspired them to study Scripture, that he exhorted them towards holiness or that he helped them see Christ more clearly. As I recall, they always came away focused on themselves instead of the Lord. And that disturbs me.

Ladies, the Lord didn’t institute His Church so that we could enjoy Christian equivalents to psychics or luxuriate in euphoric trances. His Church exists solely to glorify Christ Jesus and to equip His people to proclaim the Gospel. Spiritual goosebumps may offer momentary pleasure, but usually they distract us from Him. We must evaluate preachers, not by personal experiences they make available, but by how faithfully they handle the precious Word of God.

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Creator And Sustainer

Majestic Name

Colossians 1 may well be one of my favorite chapters in the Bible! This morning I read just one section of it, but I couldn’t stop taking notes and marveling at the depths of Who Jesus is and how absolute His power is. Look at the passage with me.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (ESV)

Every time I read this passage, it thrills me! Even beyond being a compelling testimony to Christ’s deity (which alone excites me quite a bit), the idea that He personally created the entire universe, and now holds it together boggles my mind. The more I think about His centrality in sustaining every molecule of creation, the more astounded I am.

I respond to this majestic description of the Lord by worshiping Him. Really, what other response possibly corresponds to His preeminence?

Please run Colossians 1:15-20 through your brain for a few minutes. Think about its richness in portraying the Lord Jesus Christ as the Creator and Sustainer of this universe, from the vastness of outer space to the complexity of a single cell. Then remember that He became a Man in order to shed His blood on the cross to pay for our sins. I believe those thoughts will propel you into worship too.

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False Teachings Or Simply Disagreements?

Bible AloneWho is a false teacher? Sadly some popular “discernment” ministries are currently throwing out accusations of heresy against other well-known Christian apologists, largely over matters of how they approach their ministry.  Occasionally they also use non-essential points of doctrine as reason to anathematize people, but generally the battles boil down to pride.

A reader recently expressed her concern that “discernment ministry” types have been indiscriminately calling anyone they disagree with a false teacher.  In many instances, I must concur. The article she sent me, A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity by Al Mohler,  certainly offers a helpful guideline in determining what issues should divide Christians and when we can disagree without breaking unity. I encourage each of you to read it.

As helpful as Mohler’s article is, however,  perhaps Scripture provides an even better measurement. Some doctrines (such as women not teaching men within a church setting) are clearly stated in Scripture. Other principles (such as women writing Bible Studies on blogs that men will read) lend themselves to more ambiguity. In the first case, I will divide. In the second, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt. The second merely violates my personal convictions; the first violates God’s Word.

Paul addresses Christian liberty in a number of passages. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 directly speak to the necessity of avoiding judgmental postures over matters of individual conscience. Just because I believe, for instance, that I should wear hats to church doesn’t give me the right to insist that my sisters in Christ wear hats. But neither does their freedom to attend church bareheaded give them the right to judge me as being legalistic.

Suppose, however, that I devoted this entire blog to head coverings,  asserting that women who failed to cover their heads in church were in blatant rebellion against God’s Word. Suppose I wrote, in no uncertain terms, that head coverings were necessary to salvation. Ladies, if I did anything like that, I would most definitely be a false teacher. Furthermore, you would have a responsibility to contact First Baptist Church Weymouth to alert the elders that I promoted heresy. That sort of divisiveness must never be tolerated within the Body of Christ!

17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. ~~Romans 16:17-18 (ESV)

As Christians, we must know Scripture well enough to distinguish between simple disagreements with our brothers and sisters in Christ and false teachings that worm their way into the church. In our zeal for doctrinal purity, let’s take care that we divide only from those who truly pervert the Word of God.

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Insights Resulting From A Haircut

Window View Lace CurtainsDo you ever have one of those days where you just didn’t structure your time efficiently? I knew my friend was coming to give us haircuts this morning, and I knew she’d come later than expected. But rather than using the time going through emails or (ahem!) reading my Bible, I experimented with my digital art program.

After she left, I did read my Bible and I went through most of my emails. That, of course, left little time for blogging. Especially about the topics that have been rumbling around in my head lately.

Knowing that I’ll be taking most of next week off from blogging (my sister is coming from California to visit) increases the pressure I feel to blog today. That’s probably not healthy. I should be disciplined in blogging, yes — but not legalistic! This blog exists to honor the Lord, not to keep me under tyranny.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. ~~Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

Even through blogging is my ministry, the Lord never intended that I become enslaved to it. It’s a tool for serving Him, not a means of maintaining His favor. Shame on me for allowing such a wonderful way of serving Him to morph into a thing of bondage!

Yes, I should have organized my time better. But God’s grace is sufficient, even for that. And perhaps that’s the whole point of this blog post. Perhaps some of you feel driven, especially as he holidays approach, to be Ms. Perfect, doing everything you expect yourselves to do in order to keep the Lord happy. Maybe all of us needed this reminder that He’s already clothed us in His righteousness.

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Perspectives In Titus: It’s A Wrap!

Titus 3 12 thru 15

Believe it or not, ladies, today we’ll finish our Bible Study in Titus. Yup, we’ll wrap it up with a pretty pink bow by looking at Paul’s four concluding verses.  Normally, I’d quote the passage in context, but in this particular instance, the context has virtually no bearing on the meaning of these verses.

12 When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. 13 Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. 14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith.

Grace be with you all. ~~Titus 3:12-15 (ESV)

Paul concludes his letter with short, almost staccato, instructions that seem jarring in comparison with the eloquent writing up to this point. Commentators say nothing about this abrupt change of tone, so I probably shouldn’t speculate on the reason behind it. It needs only to be said that he has reached the end of his formal discourse and now leaves Titus quick practical directions. Yet even this passage gives us examples of godliness.

The apostle, in verse 12, announces his intent to send either Artemas or Tychicus to Crete, thus enabling Titus to join him in Nicopolis for the winter. No other Scriptures mention Artemas, Believers Bible Commentary suggests that, since 2 Timothy 4:12 states that Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus, Artemas most likely ended up in Crete.

We do know more about Tychicus, who served with Paul and showed himself to be faithful. In Ephesians 6:21, Paul describes him as a “beloved brother and faithful minister,” and he repeated that description in Colossians 4:7 with the addition of calling him a “fellow servant in the Lord.” From these verses, we see that Tychicus was very qualified to oversee the Cretan churches in Titus’ absence.

Barnes tells us that Nicopolis was in Epirus, in Greece, lying northwest of Corinth and Athens. He believes that Paul wrote this letter to Titus from Nicopolis sometime in autumn, and had decided to stay on throughout the winter. He suggests that, although there’s no record of Paul establishing a church there, the apostle may have wanted Titus to assist him in preaching the Gospel there.

Moving to verse 13, Titus was also asked to either bring Zenas and Apollos with him to Nicopolis or to dispatch them in advance. Zenas was most likely a Jewish scribe, commonly called a lawyer (see Matthew 22:34-35 to understand this point), who converted to Christianity. His associations with Apollos strongly indicates that he devoted himself to preaching the Gospel.

Scripture first introduces Apollos in Acts 18:24-26 as someone who knew how to teach the Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 1:12, 1 Corinthians 3:5-6 and 1 Corinthians 4:6 show that he had an influential ministry with Paul in Corinth. Barnes believes that, when Paul writes this letter to Titus, Zenas and Apollos have already been traveling together preaching the Gospel.

Paul wants Titus to ensure that the Cretan churches provide well for these two men, therefore allowing those churches to practice good works. This thought brings us to verse 14. Following the specific instructions to provide for Zenas and Apollos, Paul again urges Titus to teach the Christians under his care to devote themselves to good works, such as caring for these two men. Beyond serving in this particular instance, however, the believers must be prepared to serve anyone in need. Serving others gives Christians opportunity to bear fruit.

Finally, we reach verse 15!

As a conclusion to his letter, Paul departs from his usual custom of naming his companions who send greetings (as he does, for example, in Romans 16:21-23 and Colossians 4:10-14). Barnes suggests that Titus probably already knew who was with the apostle, particularly since he had traveled with them before Paul left him on Crete.

Quite simply, Paul sends greetings to “those who love us in the faith.” In other words, fellow Christians. There’s really no need to elaborate on this point.

Similarly, his closing sentence, “Grace be with you all,” needn’t be scrutinized. Many of us end emails with phrases like “God bless you,” expressing a desire for the Lord to bestow His favor on the recipients. Paul obviously cared for the well-being of the Cretan churches, and thus conveys that care with this final sentiment.

And so, my dear sisters in Christ, I pray that this study of Titus has blessed you. I’m debating what type of Bible Study (if any) we’ll do next, but that wouldn’t happen until January. In the meantime, let’s remember what we’ve learned from Titus so we can live as a people for God’s glory.

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