Saturday Sampler: May 27 — June 2

balloon-turtle-samplerElizabeth Prata certainly hasn’t “unhitched” from the Old Testament. Her essay, The Man of God and the old prophet (and don’t forget the shriveled hand!) in The End Time, shows how delightful it is to discover lessons from Old Testament history that apply to Christian life today.

In The Upward Call, Kim Shay pleads, Older woman, don’t be a trope. Being officially an older woman, I greatly appreciate her admonition.

Even Beth Moore the Broken Clock can come up with correct ideas once in a while. Okay, her solutions lack Biblical integrity, but occasionally she actually identifies a problem accurately, as Jason Marianna reveals in his thought-provoking post in Things Above Us. Don’t worry — he’s not endorsing Beth Moore. But he acknowledges that the Lord may, in one rare instance, have used her to shed light on a real problem within the church. Who knew?

Catholicism teaches that the concept of Purgatory comes from Scripture. Tom, blogging at excatholic4christ, refutes that error with Does 2 Timothy 1:16-18 teach Purgatory? This entire issue gives one more example of practicing discernment by understanding the Word of God in its proper context.

I’ve never thought of self-control as the linchpin for the fruit of the Spirit. But in her article for Biblical Woman, Courtney McLean celebrates The Gritty, Grace-Filled Virtue of Self-Control by showing how this attribute activates love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness and gentleness.

Oh boy, do we despise being told that we can’t do something! But Kristen Wetherell rightly contends that The Only Way You Can Do God’s Will requires first acknowledging your absolute inability to do God’s will. Intrigued?  Then check out her blog post on Unlocking The Bible.

I once taught that same sex attractions were only sinful if a person acted on them. In his latest Pyromaniacs post, Regarding “Sexual Orientation,” Evil Desire, and the Question of Moral Neutrality, Phil Johnson corrects my erroneous thinking by appealing to the teachings of Scripture. Praise God for Christians who stand firmly on God’s truth, even when doing so contradicts popular opinion!

Appealing to the writings of Martin Luther, Stephen Nicholas of Ligonier answers the question, Is Sola Scriptura a Rejection of Teachers and Tradition? This essay gives a wonderful response to both critics of Reformation principles and people who misuse those principles.

Writing on the Phylicia Masonheimer blog, Anatasis Faith explains How to Avoid the Bible Journaling Mentality that adversely affects so many Christian women. If you only read one blog post featured in this Sampler, make it this one!

We end Saturday Sampler with another Elizabeth Prata essay, this one responding to Kim Shay’s piece above. Act Your Age expands on Kim’s points, drawing from a wider variety of Scriptures to demonstrate how God calls older women (like me) to behave. She beautifully rounds out Kim’s thoughts, adding her own touch of wit.

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Does Bible Journaling Mark Good Bible Study?

Journalig BibleThe other day, I came across a blog post about ways to do Bible journaling. Now, the very concept of Bible journaling strikes me as strange to begin with, and seems even stranger when I realize that the term currently refers to coloring and drawing in one’s Bible. The blog post I read featured several enormous photos of a Bible (presumably belonging to the author) almost totally covered with pastel highlights, post-it notes and pink comments written in the margins.

As I looked at photo after photo of the Bible, with all its artistry, my mind went back to a guest preacher who once spoke at the church I belonged to in California. During the early portion of the service, he sat across the aisle and one row up from me, making it easy for me to glimpse the open Bible on his lap.

The Bible was quite well-worn, with pages that had obviously been handled many, many times. Verses were highlighted and underlined, and copious notes filed the margins. I gazed at the man with admiration, thinking, “This guy really knows the Word!”

When he got up to preach, however, he handled Scripture so badly that I left the church in tears. I’d never heard anyone twist God’s Word that severely in my life! He totally misinterpreted the passage, making points exactly opposite to the text in order to promote a heretical agenda that he hoped our church would adopt. For all the markings and notes he’d made in his Bible, his Biblical illiteracy was astounding.

Ladies, a well-worn Bible laden with markings and notes doesn’t necessarily indicate that its owner properly understands correct doctrine. Those brilliantly colored phrases may or may not be understood in their proper context.

I have absolutely nothing against marking one’s Bible. A good, consistent color code can help you in studying, as long as you don’t overdo it. Turning your Bible into a coloring book, however, distracts from serious Bible study.

Do you notice a similarity between the blogger in my opening paragraph and the guest preacher with the open Bible on his lap (during a part of the service when nobody else had their Bible open)? Both gave onlookers an opportunity to admire their evident devotion to God’s Word. Of course, only the Holy Spirit can judge their motives, but I can’t help wondering why they made it so easy for people to see their Bibles.

In pondering this whole subject, I thought of something Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount.

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ~~Matthew 6:1-6 (ESV)

Is it possible that this Bible journaling fad is more about showing others how much attention we give our physical Bibles than about learning and obeying the Word of God? It depends, obviously on each individual. Not every woman who marks her Bible does so for the purpose of showing off, and those who don’t practice Bible journaling must be careful not to judge. But, and pay attention here, it’s extremely easy to mark up our Bibles with secret hopes that someone will happen to see those brightly colored highlights and admire our spirituality.

Might I suggest that you have two Bibles? Use one for your private times with the Lord, marking it in whatever way genuinely helps you study and properly understand God’s Word. If your husband and kids happen to see you marking it, okay. But don’t go out of your way to show it to them. Keep it between yourself and the Lord. Take the second Bible to church and Bible Study, marking it very seldom. Your Father Who sees in secret will reward you.

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Perspectives In Titus: The Fellow Worker Of Paul

463ca-ladies2bstudy2b01In our study of Paul’s letter to Titus today, I want to use the fourth verse of Chapter 1 to offer a character sketch of  Titus. Normally I would ask you to read the verse in context, but in this particular case we’ll just use it to introduce Titus (next week we’ll examine it in context with Paul’s letter).

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. (ESV)

Paul addresses Titus as his true child,  indicating that he led Titus to the Lord. Luke never mentions Titus in the book of Acts, so we have no way of knowing when or where Paul met him, nor do we know the details of his conversion. Yet various epistles that Paul wrote enable us to piece together enough facts about Titus that we can glimpse his faithfulness to both the Lord and to Paul.

To begin with, Titus was a Gentile, as evidenced in Galatians 2:3 by the fact that he was uncircumcised. His Gentile heritage matters in respect to the Council of Jerusalem. Commentor Albert Barnes believes Titus was present at the Council of Jerusalem  (Acts 15:1-35), where the apostles determined that Gentile Christians needn’t be circumcised. If indeed Titus attended that Council, he would have been a concrete example of God’s grace to extend salvation to the Gentiles.

According to Galatians 2:1 he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem on an earlier occasion when James and the other apostles verified Paul’s conversion, so the conversion of Titus occurred within fourteen years of Paul’s. This fact suggests his maturity in the faith by the time the Council of Jerusalem took place.

The close relationship between Paul and Titus shows up most explicitly in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. As you look at the verses I’m about to cite, please notice both Paul’s trust in Titus and the character Titus displayed that earned Paul’s trust.

In 2 Corinthians 8:23 Paul calls him his “partner and fellow worker.” Clearly, Paul considers him an equal.  Furthermore, they evidently worked together in establishing at least the Ephesian church. Commentators believe that Titus was with Paul in Ephesus, based on the fact that he helped Paul write  1 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 7:6-9 says Paul sent him to Corinth to follow up on their response to Paul’s first letter. The same passage tells us that Titus returned to Paul with the glorious news that the Corinthians had repented. 2 Corinthians 8:1-6 tells us that in Corinth Titus took up a collection for the Christians in Jerusalem. In reference to that collection, 2 Corinthians 12:18 attests to his integrity.

As we approach this epistle, we learn that Paul left Titus in Crete (Titus 1:5) to finish establishing churches there and to appoint elders. Obviously, he had the character qualities befitting a church leader  (Titus 1:6-9). This seems to be a temporary arrangement since Paul planned to send Artemas or Tychicus to relieve him so he could join Paul in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). Titus was with Paul during Paul’s final imprisonment in Rome, but it appears that Paul agreed to his going to Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10).

I’ve spent this time going over these Scriptures to help you see that Titus held the necessary qualifications to continue Paul’s work in Crete. These passages demonstrate that Paul recognized Titus as a trustworthy man. This trustworthiness brings us to the letter we’re studying in this series. So join me next Monday as we discuss the mission Titus had in Crete.

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Hey Jude — How Should We Contend For The Faith?

Biblical UnityHappy New Year ladies! Isn’t it fitting that, as we pivot from 2016 to 2017, we’ve reached the point in Jude’s epistle at which he pivots from describing false teachers to explaining how true believers can contend for the faith (Jude 3). The two verses we’ll study today rather surprised me, since so many discernment bloggers have used Jude 3 as a rallying call to publicly expose and denounce false teachers. While other Scriptures certainly support such exposure and denunciation, Jude 20-21 proposes a different, more foundational strategy.

I’d really like you to prepare for this study by reading the entire epistle  (it’s only God 25 verses) to remind yourselves of the context. Click this link to make it easier. I know I’m always beating the context drum, but context helps more than I can say in sharpening Biblical discernment. When we view verses within their proper context, we get a much better sense of their intended meaning. So please, before you read any further in this blog entry, click the link and revisit Jude’s epistle.

Now, let me quote Jude 20-21 in its more immediate context.

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. ~~Jude 17-23 (ESV)

Last Monday we saw that the First Century apostles had directly warned Jude’s immediate readers that false teachers would arise. Jude verified that the apostles spoke of the people who, because of their worldliness and lack of the Spirit, cause divisions in the church. Now Jude draws a contrast between such apostates and true believers by giving us four practical ways to stand against heresies.

Jude begins by exhorting us to build ourselves up in the “most holy faith.” Notice the plural pronoun. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown juxtapose building up the body with the false teachers in verse 19 who cause divisions.

Where false teachers divide the church, we must edify the body of  Christ instead of tearing it apart. And, according to Jude, we build each other up in the “most holy faith.” By this phrase, he means specifically the Christian faith as opposed to the unbiblical ideas of false teachers. And how do we build each other up in the “most holy faith?” MacArthur comments that this building up happens through the ministry of God’s Word  (Acts 20:32). So we contend for the faith by bringing each other back to the truth of Scripture, which shows us the false teaching of apostates.

In addition to building each other up with sound doctrine, Jude instructs us to pray in the Holy Spirit. I could, with probably way too much relish, write an entire article on the topic of praying in the Spirit, basing it on the ways that Charismatics use this verse fragment to support their practice of speaking in tongues. However, I will restrain myself and simply say that praying in the Spirit means nothing more than praying according to the Lord’s revealed will in Scripture.

Rather than distract ourselves with a debate on Charismatic misinterpretations of this phrase, let’s concentrate on Jude’s point. Again,  Jamieson, Fausset and Brown draw a contrast between praying in the Holy Spirit and the apostates being devoid of the Spirit. Contending for the faith requires that we align our prayers with God’s Word. In so doing, we keep ourselves in His Spirit.

Next, Jude calls us to keep ourselves in the love of God. Those of us with Calvinist sensibilities understandably bristle at this clause, which clearly teaches a synergistic dynamic. But Philippians 2:12-13 helps us understand that any efforts on our part ultimately depend on God’s work in us. Remember also that Jude 1 stated that God keeps us for Jesus Christ.

Here Jude encourages the obedience that results from true faith. Jesus made a similar connection between faith and obedience in John 14:21. Since Jude has been  highlighting the permissiveness of false teachers, he directs us to combat their ungodly influence by living in obedience to godly principles.

Finally, Jude tells us to wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. The commentaries I read didn’t belabor this point except to say that it refers to Christ’s return. After Jude’s repeated warnings about the judgment awaiting false teachers, he assures us that we can expect mercy!

Contending for the faith really boils down to basic Christian living that contrasts the rebellious lifestyle of apostates. Next week we’ll discover ways to minister to friends and family who have been deceived, or at least influenced by false teachers.

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Hey Jude– They Live Life On Their Own Terms

dark-crossLast week we introduced Jude’s concern over false teachers who worm their way into Christian assemblies. We began examining verse 4 to determine the characteristics of false teachers, and learned that they typically assimilate into churches so that they seem indistinguishable from true believers. Additionally, we noted that God would ultimately condemn them.

Today I want to look at the ungodliness of these stealth teachers, which we find in the last two points of verse 4: their perversion of grace and their denial of Christ’s authority. So let’s review verses 3 and 4 to remind ourselves of Jude’s purpose  in wanting us to identify these people.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

The ungodly nature of false teachers manifests itself first through their distorted representation of grace. Before we get into this aspect of their characters, however, I want to mention that Paul addressed teachers who were equally false, but who err on the side of legalism (see, as an example, Galatians 2:4-5). Jude’s epistle doesn’t give an exhaustive description of false teachers, therefore, but it instead emphasizes arguably the most prevalent type.

So Jude gives us people who regard the wonderful grace of God as a license to continue living sinful lives. The apostle Paul also encountered such people, and boldly repudiated their heretical thinking (look up Romans 5:18-6:4 to see his argument). Peter likewise recognized that false teachers presented a libertine mischaracterization of grace.

18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. ~~2 Peter 2:18-19 (ESV)

Peter more clearly shows that the false teachers appeal to fleshly desires, sexual or otherwise, promising a type of freedom from God’s expectations. They ignore the true benefit of grace, which actually empowers Christians to  resist ungodliness (as Titus 2:11-14 makes plain).

Their abandonment to sensuality leads to the second characteristic that Jude brings up. By advocating (as well as modeling) a distorted “grace” that embraces sin, false teachers deny that Jesus Christ has authority over how they conduct their lives. Jude strongly counters this self-serving attitude by emphasizing Christ’s deity (in the word translated “Master”) and authority (in the word translated “Lord”). While they may give lip-service to the  lordship of Jesus Christ, their doctrine and lifestyle betray their rebellion against Him. Again, Paul offers insight into this denial:

They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. ~~Titus 1:16 (ESV)

Jude highlights, then, the hypocrisy of these false teachers. Their pretense of devotion to God crumbles when we measure their gospel of self-fulfillment against the true Gospel of repentance and faith that leads to obedience.

Next week, we’ll move on to Jude’s finer details concerning these heretics. But for now, maybe we can take stock of our own response to the Lord’s grace. Does His grace so fill us with gratitude that we joyfully submit to His ownership of us? Or do we mumble an obligatory prayer of thanks before rushing back to our sin with a giddy sense of entitlement? I pray we’ll bow before Him as our loving Master and Lord.

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Hey Jude — The Letter Begins

Background July 2016Do you remember being ten and having to write letters to relatives in other states (because your mom made you do it)? After you wrote “Dear Aunt Ruth,” what were you supposed to say? Usually, to buy time until your creative juices started flowing, you’d awkwardly write, “How are you? I am fine.”

When you grew up, you developed a bit more skill at letter writing, but that opening sentence still demanded that you adhere to certain conventions of etiquette. Now you wrote, “Dear Aunt Ruth, I hope this letter finds you well.” Neither you nor Aunt Ruth had any illusions about your originality, but both of you understood that you’d used a standard approach to beginning a letter.

Letter writers in the First Century also had fairly standard ways of beginning their letters, as we easily see by reading the New Testament epistles. In studying the short book of Jude, let’s keep in  mind that he’s writing a letter that almost requires him to use a certain protocol before launching int his subject matter. After identifying his audience, therefore, Jude writes this brief greeting:

 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.~~Jude 2 (ESV)

In some respects, I feel hesitant to devote an entire blog post to this tiny verse. My caution comes, for the most part, from having seen so many Bible Study teachers (particularly in women’s Bible Studies and retreats) read way more into a verse than the author intended. And perhaps, as part of today’s Bible Study on Jude 2, it wouldn’t harm us to recognize that, to some extent, Jude’s greeting represents little more than our polite hope that our letter finds Aunt Ruth in good health.

Over scrutinizing a Scripture verse, especially by isolating it from its context, can lead us to develop spurious teachings. We generally mean well, and I do understand that point. Every false teacher I’ve named in my blog posts pretty much means well (at least from their perspective), but Satan tempts them into thinking that they’ve gained special insight int that verse. Before long, they create an elaborate doctrine around the verse, making it say more (and probably something other) than the Holy Spirit intends it to say.

So I don’t want to make more of Jude 2 than I should. Furthermore, I want to warn you against making more of isolated verses than you should. 2 Timothy 2:15, though written primarily to instruct pastors, makes it clear that God’s Word requires proper handling. Let’s respect the Word of God enough to handle it reverently.

Am I saying, then, that Jude 2 doesn’t really mean anything? Can we skip over it? Not necessarily. Although it is, for the most part, a convention in First Century letter writing, I believe it serves a particularly important purpose in Jude’s epistle.

Jude is getting ready to write an extremely brutal condemnation of false teachers who have infiltrated the church (Jude 4-16). As anybody who dares to confront false teachers will tell you, even Christians are quick to label such confrontation as unloving.

So several New Testament commentaries I read made a point of comparing Jude’s greeting to those of Paul and Peter. Interestingly, whereas Paul and Peter generally wish mercy and peace to their readers, Jude uniquely adds love. The Believers Bible Commentary  puts it this way:

Jude wishes for his readers mercy, peace, and love. The greeting is peculiarly suited to those who were facing the onslaught of those whose aim was to subvert the faith. Mercy means God’s compassionate comfort and care for His beleaguered saints in times of conflict and stress. Peace is the serenity and confidence that come from reliance on God’s word and from looking above circumstances to the One who overrules all circumstances for the accomplishment of His own purposes. Love is the undeserved embrace of God for His dear people—a super-affection that should then be shared with others.
He wishes that these three blessings be multiplied. Not measured out by mere addition, but by multiplication!

By the time Jude puts quill to parchment, he’s already realized that God wants him to urge his readers to  contend for the faith (Jude 3). Consequently, he understands that if his readers follow through on standing for sound doctrine, they’ll definitely need assurance of God’s mercy, peace and love. I can tell you from personal experience that taking a stand against aberrations from Scripture often results in intense pain as people malign your    character. God’s mercy, peace and love become cherished treasures amid the hostile words and actions of false teachers and their followers.

So, while Jude’s greeting holds to typical letter writing practice in the First Century, it also offers assurance to all who follow his counsel to withstand those who distort God’s Word. Just as my Aunt Ruth knew that my hopes for her well-being went beyond a mere letter writing courtesy, Jude’s readers can trust his prayer that the Lord will multiply mercy peace and love.

 
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Saturday Sampler: September 11 — September 17

Five Easter Babies

I wasn’t going to read Erin Benziger’s Remembering 9/11: Fifteen Years Later, God Is Still Sovereign in Do Not Be Surprised, but praise the Lord that I did! Her words are sobering and convicting, but also encouraging as they exalt God’s providence and sovereignty.

In a similar vein, Ligon Duncan writes PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE — Should Christians Worry in These Times? for Mississippi Christian Living.  Appealing to 14th Century history, he helps us see how God used calamities like the Black Death to set the stage for the Reformation. History can deepen our appreciation of God’s sovereign providence.

In a brief Bible Reflection, Mark McIntyre of Attempts at Honesty shows us how Obedience, trembling and embracing characterize a healthy relationship with the Lord.

Please, if you have any inclination to use Scripture as a means of self-improvement, consider Elizabeth Prata’s essay, Why the therapeutic gospel is another gospel, in her blog, The End Time. Evangelicals have played with psychology far too long, and it’s led us to develop a gospel much different from the Gospel of the Bible.

In his blog post, These Words Shall Be On Your Heart, Gabe Hughes addresses Andy Stanley’s infamous assertion that “we need to take the spotlight off the Bible.” Pastor Hughes reminds us that the Word of God provides the very foundation of Christianity. At the end of his post, he lists further resources on various problems with recent statements Andy Stanley has made.

Eric Davis of The Cripplegate writes Decision Making & “I Have a Peace About It” to challenge the subjective approach many Christians take in determining what to do. He encourages us to trust the sufficiency of Scripture.  The very Scripture that tells us to battle against our flesh.

Rachel has returned to blogging at danielthree18, and her post, Theology Thursday: Psalm 46:5 helps Christian women correctly apply a popular, but widely misunderstood verse by putting it in context.

When Michelle Lesley gets riled up, look out! I’ve already shared Evangelical Misogyny and the Oppression of Christian Women on Twitter and The Outspoken TULIP  Facebook page, but I’m including it on the Sampler because it’s that important! Ladies, we don’t need fluffy “Bible studies” that dumb down the Word of God. Praise the Lord for women like Michelle who encourage us to eat the meat!

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