I Wouldn’t Have Said It That Way — But I Should Have

John Drawing

I know it’s a drawing of John, but it fits the post

During her pregnancy, his mother had taken Thalidomide. His deformities were severe, though he married young and fathered two or three children. His church sometimes had joint functions with mine, so occasionally our paths crossed and we’d exchange pleasantries.

One evening he propelled his power wheelchair over to me, and opened his mouth to speak. At that moment, some children interrupted and asked him, “Why are you like that?”

He smiled and explained, “That’s how God made me!”

Thankfully, I said nothing aloud, but Continue reading

Keys To Discernment: Why Paul Prays For Their Wisdom

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Although we’re getting into the meat of Paul’s letter to the Colossians today, our text will demand that we look at some background information on the false teachings that he addresses. I aim to demonstrate how he uses sound doctrine, rather than direct discussion of the errors at hand, to steer the Colossians away from faulty theology and practices.

We’ll most likely only get through two verses in this installment of our study, but (as usual) I’ll quote the whole passage for the sake of context.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ~~Colossians 1:9-14 (ESV)

If you take verses 9 and 10 at face value, you could get a fairly accurate interpretation of them. Definitely, Christians should pray for each other along these lines, getting beyond the superficial prayers for health, finances, marriages and other temporal matters.  But how much better would it be if we prayed for each other’s spiritual development?

At the risk of sounding like a late night info-mercial, I’m going to say, “But wait — there’s more!” Paul’s not only modeling an important way we should pray for each other. He’s also attacking the pre-gnostic mysticism that threatened the First Century churches in that region.

That mysticism had too many facets to explain in this article; I’ll talk about specific aspects as they come up in the course of our study. Today, therefore, we’ll look at verses 9 and 10 in light of Paul’s introductory reference to the pre-gnostic ideologies that floated around Colossae.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (ESV)

You can’t help but notice the emphasis on knowledge, wisdom and understanding, can you? Paul beats that drum quite forcefully. As we’ve seen earlier, this apostle has a habit of choosing his words with great deliberation, and these two verses are calculated to counter the claims of secret knowledge that the pre-gnostics purported to possess.

Those false teachers insisted that they offered insights into spiritual mysteries that required initiation into their group (sort of like our present-day Freemasons). Paul counterbalances this error by emphasizing that the Lord is the true source of knowledge, wisdom and understanding. Furthermore, rather than seeking the knowledge that would enhance their pride, Paul prays that they would be filled  with the knowledge of God’s will. He prays that they would be filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding.

The knowledge of God’s will, as well as spiritual wisdom and understanding, comes through the teaching of the apostles — which the Holy Spirit preserved for succeeding generations in the Bible. Thus Paul prays for the Colossians to be filled with sound teaching, not with the mysticism of the pre-gnostics.

Verse 10 elaborates on the knowledge that Paul prays for the Colossians to possess by mentioning its purpose. Whereas the knowledge of the pre-gnostics served only to inflate egos, the knowledge of God’s will enables Christians to walk “in a manner worthy of the Lord.” This phrase targets the pre-gnostic separation of the material and the spiritual that allowed people to claim spirituality while indulging fleshy appetites. Paul prays that his readers will be given a knowledge and wisdom that has implications on their behavior.

The spiritual wisdom Paul desires for his readers will cause them to please the Lord instead of pleasing themselves. Clearly, the apostle makes a distinction between the imitation knowledge of the false teachers in Colossae and the true wisdom that comes exclusively through the knowledge of God.

Interestingly, as Christians please the Lord and bear fruit for Him, we actually increase in our knowledge of Him. The pre-gnostics would never have thought that obedience could lead to even more knowledge. Paul cleverly strikes at their false teaching by simply informing the Colossians as to the nature of his prayers for them.

As I suspected, I can’t go past verse 10 today. Next Monday, Lord willing, we’ll continue with this passage, which is packed with some of the most glorious teaching I’ve ever read! Be sure to join me then.

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Flashback Friday: Forgetful Evangelicals And The Entitlement Mentality

Originally posted April 4, 2018

Glory Of The CrossI believe evangelicals of the 21st Century have by and large lost the sense that God has saved us for His honor and glory. As we’ve incorporated Charismatic teaching and psychological principles into our weakened version of Christianity, we’ve accepted the mistaken idea that God exists to heal our bodies, expand our bank accounts, make our marriages satisfying and remove all temptation from us. We conveniently forget why He calls us to Him in the first place.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ~~1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)

Anyone can distort the Bible into false promises of health, prosperity and your best life now, insisting that God wants us to be happy. But, even though the Lord is a good Father Who gives good gifts to His children, He doesn’t give those gifts to Continue reading

I Thought I Knew, But I Still Have No Idea

When Christ convicted my 17-year-old heart of sin and then sent somebody to tell me that He paid for my sin, I knew that I owed him my very life. Like most teenagers, I was absolutely convinced that I understood both the magnitude of His atoning work on the cross and the depths of my sin.

I knew neither.

In my prayer time lately I’ve been pondering the fact that I really don’t understand how truly wretched I am. The Lord occasionally gives me glimpses of how horrendous my sin actually is, but much of a time I struggle to see how profoundly sinful I am. I know it intellectually, but my emotions resist that knowledge. And thus I confess that I have no idea how great a debt I owe the Lord.

Praise the Lord for erasing that debt, even as He shields me from the devastating realization of it. In heaven, once He frees me from the effects of sin that continue to cling to me, He will show me the extent of His mercy. Then I’ll understand how much I owe.

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Flashback Friday: Displaying The Pearl

Originally posted November 24, 2015:

All humans love the idea that we have something inherent in ourselves that pleases God. We firmly believe we bring something to the salvation table. In dealing with the presumption that we can contribute to our salvation, I’d like you to think of Jesus as a perfect Pearl. (I love pearls.) That image, of course, should remain limited to the analogy I present here–I don’t mean to start a new teaching about Jesus being a Pearl! But consider, for this moment, how your life would best show off His beauty. What about you best displays Him?

Perhaps you might immediately think of your good deeds. You’ve given to charitable causes, worked in Christian ministry, raised relatively well-behaved kids, driven elderly neighbors to doctor appointments, sent Christmas cards every year, all while maintaining good health habits to show everyone that you know your body is the temple of the Lord. Your organization and efficiency dazzles everybody. How much you do for Him.

Against such a backdrop, the Pearl can be seen, but you compete with Him for attention.

Or maybe He’s given you talents, such as a good singing voice or the ability to paint beautiful landscapes. Your blog has over 500 followers, most of whom gush endlessly over your knack for “turning a phrase.” Your signature cherry pie is always requested at church potlucks, or people flock to the women’s Bible Study you lead because your sense of humor is legendary. How creative you are for Him!

Against such a backdrop, the Pearl can be seen, but you compete with Him for attention.

Ah, but it’s possible that your piety impresses Him. You were a virgin until your wedding night, and would never flirt with anyone but your husband. You have filters on your computer, you refuse to be alone (even in an elevator) with a member of the opposite sex, and you don’t buy underwear at Victoria’s Secret. Furthermore, you avoid products that exploit workers in Third World sweat-shops, you never drink so much as a glass of wine, and you would  never dream of jay-walking…even in downtown Boston. How moral you are for Him!

Against such a backdrop, the Pearl can be seen, but He barely shows up against your image of purity. Consequently, His glory becomes almost indistinguishable from your own. Once again, you compete with Him for attention.

Actually, I see my own attention-grabbing attitudes in all three of these pictures. Hopefully, you see yourself as well. If we choose these backdrops of self-righteousness, we may convince ourselves that we best display the Pearl, but the reality demonstrates otherwise. As long as we claim anything good about ourselves, we minimize the Lord’s role as Savior.

Jesus is a Pearl, not because our “goodness” displays Him, but because He turns our wickedness into a backdrop for His mercy, grace and love.

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Drinking From A Fire Hydrant Is Difficult, And It Could Drown People

Fire HydrantPopular false teachers give bloggers plenty of material to keep us busy. And when a false teacher has a Twitter account, he or she becomes the gift that keeps on giving.

I do understand the sense of urgency that compels people to call out these false teachers. Over the years, I’ve used this very blog for that purpose, and I certainly don’t rule out doing so again. As evangelicals grow more and more Biblically illiterate, false teachers gain greater power to spread their deception.

But in our urgency to warn our brothers and sisters against false teachers, we can stumble into a variety of pitfalls that could potentially undermine our message. For example, we could overload Continue reading

Remember Who The Victims Are

Inexhaustible Bible

False teachers and false teaching should, by all the means, make Christians angry! If we love the Word of God, we will naturally hate anything that comes against it. And such animosity comes out of a pure love for Christ and His people.

Did you notice the clause, “and His people”? I didn’t put that there simply for rhetorical value. Loving the people of Christ encompasses many things, one of which is wanting them to reject false teaching in favor of doctrinal purity. It follows that we should approach victims of false teaching just that — victims.

Sometimes we forget that most of the people who fall victim to these theological aberrations honestly believe they follow the Lord. Some are even Continue reading