Flashback Friday: Promise From God Or Baptized Divination?

Originally published March 22, 2017:

Arriving at the conference, I enjoyed the anticipation. The year before, I’d met Shane (not his real name). Shane and I shared an interest in ex-gay ministry as well as ministry to people living with AIDS, but we also both enjoyed writing. During the year leading up to this conference, he initiated a lively correspondence, often sending me samples of the book he had started writing about how God prepared Christians for marriage. Of course, he’d won my heart. My attendant/roommate and I entered our dorm room to find a tiny scroll, artfully tied with a green ribbon, placed on each of our pillows. She unrolled mine for me, revealing “A Scripture Promise For The Week.”

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland. ~~Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

I knew (intellectually) that I should resist the urge to interpret the “Scripture Promise” as assurance that my long history of romantic disappointment had ended, but Shane did things that week (and afterward) to further kindle my hopes. I’ll spare you the messy details of how my history with Shane played out, and  say only that the “new thing” in verse 19 had absolutely nothing to do with my romantic desires.

That memory comes to mind as I think about the narcissism in contemporary evangelical circles. Interestingly, when I read Isaiah 43 during my Quiet Time all these years later, I keep its historical context, as well as its prophetic intent in mind. Isaiah prophesied about two events: the Jews’ release from the Babylonian Captivity and (ultimately) the Messianic kingdom. Back in that dorm room during the conference, I turned that broad promise to Israel and the Church about God’s glorious plan for His collective people into a horoscope-like prediction tailored to my  selfish aspirations.

Most present-day evangelicals play similar games with God’s Word, I’m sorry to say. To a very large extent, pastors, teachers and   Christian books encourage us to privatize God’s Word into personal promises that spin far away from God’s main point. Yes, He guides us through Scripture’s principles–even in terms of selecting a spouse–but He most certainly doesn’t want us  wrenching fragments out of context as if the  Bible lends itself to some sort of baptized divination.

As I’ve been reading through the Old Testament these past few years, the Holy Spirit has shown me that I must read it at face  value rather than digging around for personal intimations. I may learn from His dealings with Israel, particularly as  I see my rebellion as a mirror image of theirs. I may see His call to holiness and apply it. But when  I make His promises to them for His kingdom into allegories about my personal fulfillment, I err. And I forget that Scripture revolves around Him!

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Flashback Friday: Intimacy With God May Be Less Complicated Than You Think

Originally posted December 20, 2019;

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As my girlfriends and I approached our 30th birthdays, panic and despair set in. We watched other women in the church take wedding vows while we spent lonely Saturday nights without dates. We joked sardonically that we differed from trash because trash gets taken out once a week. (The men in the church failed to appreciate our humor.)

One friend met regularly with me for a while to talk and pray about coping with our singleness. She began encouraging me to develop intimacy with the Lord, explaining only that she sometimes fantasized about Him. I don’t know if those fantasies were romantic — and I don’t think I want to know. At the time, however, I desperately wanted Him to remove the pain and loneliness I felt.

My friend’s exhortations to cultivate intimacy with God left me with the impression that such intimacy came through mystical experiences. I assumed that I would feel His presence in a way that would obliterate my desire for a husband. Obviously, my motives for wanting intimacy with Him were entirely selfish.

Yet the Lord does call Christians to a type of intimacy with Him that has nothing to do with our romantic desires. Even better,  we don’t have to search for spiritual experiences in order to enjoy this intimacy. All we have to do is open a Bible.

In His last discourse with His disciples before His arrest, Jesus talked to them about the intimacy He would have with those who love Him.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. ~~John 14:18-24 (ESV)

Notice the relationship between loving the Lord and knowing His Word. He establishes that relationship because knowing Scripture reveals Who He is.

As we read the Bible systematically and in context, we learn Who God is, how He acts and what He thinks. We see what He loves, what He hates and why he tolerates what He hates. We see His power in creation and His righteousness in judging. We see His wrath toward sin, His compassion toward the repentant and His unwavering commitment to His standards.

We see His humility in becoming a Man Who would die a criminal’s death in order to save those who believe in Him. And we see the powerful promise of His resurrection. We see His plan to return to earth, and then His ultimate plan to create new heavens and a new earth where His Bride will worship Him eternally.

He discloses all those things and more through His Word because He loves us enough to reveal Himself to us. The Bible allows us to have incredible intimacy with God — an intimacy so much more powerful than my friend’s fantasies.

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Please Don’t Thank Your Lucky Stars

Moon and Stars

The conversation after church shocked me. If he had been a new Christian, perhaps I wouldn’t have been quite so taken aback. But he had been saved for several years, and church leadership apparently considered him to be spirituality mature.

When he mentioned his horoscope, I couldn’t believe my ears! And he said it so casually, as if it was all very normal for a Christian to read horoscopes and give a little credence to astrology. After all, he wasn’t overly invested in the practice. It was an amusement that maybe had enough credibility to warrant his attention.

How a Christian could hold such an opinion baffled me then and continues to baffle me 23 years later.

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I’d Almost Forgotten That People Still Think God Speaks To Them Directly

Maybe a blessing of the current controversies about John MacArthur opening his church and feminism creeping into Reformed churches is that I haven’t been hearing as many claims about personal words from God. I spent decades in churches and parachurch ministries where such expectations were normative, making it kind of surprising that I’d now be shocked to come across them. But when a friend on Facebook shared a word that God had supposedly spoken to her, it indeed caught me off guard.

In a way, I’m glad it surprised me. How refreshing to think that people depend on the Bible rather than personal revelation to hear the Lord speak! He certainly speaks to me each morning as I open His Word and work through it in context. In the past few years that I’ve approached Scripture using proper hermeneutics, the Holy Spirit has taught me more about spiritual things than I’d ever learned when I believed God spoke to me apart from Scripture.

Apparently I’ve grown accustomed to hearing Him speak through His Word.

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Keys To Discernment: Qualified By The Lord (Reboot)

Week after next, I will resume writing fresh installments for this Bible Study series on Colossians. As most of you know, I’d begun writing it in January, but at the end of February a compression fracture in my back forced me to take a furlough from it. For about a month now, I’ve been rolling the installments out again to provide continuity before we dive back in. Occasionally, I add comments to my original posts, so you might just want to read these reboots.

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Have you ever noticed the way your pastor uses the pastoral prayer at the beginning of your church’s Sunday service as an opportunity to share spiritual truths? He doesn’t do that by accident. He’s so committed to your spiritual development that he takes every possible opportunity to expose you to sound doctrine.

The apostle Paul uses prayer to begin his letter to the Colossian church, eager to steer them away from the false teachings of both the Judaizers and the pre-gnostics that threatened the churches in Asia Minor. We started examining his prayer last week, so let’s look at the passage again and pick up where we left off.

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

13 For He rescued 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 (NASB)

Verse 11 shows Paul praying that, as the Lord fills them with knowledge, wisdom and understanding, the Colossians, will be strengthened. But he hastens to explain that the strength must come according to His glorious might, not from the knowledge in and of itself. The pre-gnostics maintained that knowledge brought power, but Paul turns it around to teach that knowledge comes through God’s glorious might.

Remember that all false teachings point to human achievement instead of looking to God’s grace and providence. The Judaizers and the pre-gnostics each believed that their systems would bring them spiritual prestige. Paul corrects their error immediately by affirming that the strength isn’t originated in them. He puts the spotlight solely on God.

Moving on to verse 12, we learn that the Father qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints of light. Man, do I wish we had the time to unpack everything in this verse! For purposes of our particular study, however, it’s best to concentrate on how Paul uses his prayer to repudiate the wrong idea that salvation depends either on human effort or on the attainment of special knowledge.

The fact that the Father Himself qualifies us for salvation turns both heresies on their heads, doesn’t it? It increases the emphasis on God that we just saw in the previous verse. Paul makes sure that his original readers see that neither works nor mysticism gives them any claim on eternal life. Only the gracious love of God the Father makes us worthy to receive the inheritance of His kingdom.

Verse 13 describes how the Father accomplishes our qualification. He personally delivers us from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of His Son. We make absolutely no contribution, either by religious rites or by obtaining secret knowledge. Paul again deliberately keeps the focus on God, beginning to demonstrate the contrast between the false teachers that inhabited Colossae and the purity of the Gospel.

In fact, verse 14 introduces the doctrine that God’s Son is our source of redemption, providing the forgiveness of sins. Paul adds this clause quite cleverly, attacking both the Judaizers and the pre-gnostics deftly.

Keep in mind that the Judaizers, although they acknowledged that Jesus died for their sins, still insisted on Jewish rituals (especially circumcision) to achieve right relationship with God. To them, Paul insists that forgiveness of sins can be found only — and completely — in Jesus Christ. It is in Him that we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. His New Covenant renders the demands of the Old Covenant unnecessary.

Remember also that the pre-gnostics believed in a complete separation between the physical and the spiritual. Thus, sins they committed physically weren’t actually sins as far as they were concerned. Redemption came through their secret knowledge and they had no need for forgiveness.

Do you see how succinctly Paul addresses both groups of heretics in one small statement? Forgiveness is necessary in dealing with sin, and it can only come through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Paul wants the Colossians to understand this fundamental point so that they can stand against both groups of false teachers.

Like the First Century Colossians, we are bombarded with teachings that take the emphasis off of Christ. Subtly, they suggest that we must add works or have deeper spiritual experiences before we can really know the fullness of the Christian life. We also must keep returning to the basic Gospel message that Jesus atoned for our sins. Clinging to that truth will protect us from a large amount of false teaching.

Today we have watched Paul call out false teaching simply by infusing his pastoral prayer with sound doctrine. Next week we should arrive at my favorite passage of Scripture, which describes the supremacy of Christ. We’ll see how Paul silences false teachers by exalting His deity. I look forward to studying this passage with you.

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Keys To Discernment: Why Paul Prays For Their Wisdom (Reboot)

As I’ve mentioned before, I had started posting these Bible Studies back in January. At the end of February, a compression fracture in my back forced me to discontinue it. About a month ago, I felt well enough to resume it, and I decided to run the original installments again just to reestablish some continuity. However, I’m augmenting these reruns with a few additional comments to provide clarification or because I missed something earlier.

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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.  Therefore these two verses encourage us to pray for each other far more deeply than we generally do.

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Keys To Discernment: Why Paul Wrote To The Colossians (Reboot)

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Last Monday I explained that I’ll repost the few Bible Studies I wrote on Colossians before I injured my back in February. I’ll add a few remarks to these articles where I feel they need further comment, so you really might find it beneficial to read them again. Once we’ve reviewed those studies, we’ll continue working through the epistle.

As a young Christian, I would get impatient when Bible Study teachers would spend time talking about the background to whatever book they taught. I just wanted to grab verses here and there that I could shoehorn into my immediate circumstances. Textual context only mildly interested me; I had absolutely no use for historical or cultural background, thank you very much!

So if you’re groaning at the title of this post, anticipating a boring history lesson about First Century Colossae, I understand. It’s not what you expected from a study on discernment.

Don’t close this article yet, ladies! You need to know that I’m writing a little about the background to this epistle precisely because it will enable us to see how Paul taught discernment without once naming the false teachers that he refuted.

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Throwback Thursday: Psychology And The Source Of Knowledge About The Human Soul

Originally published April 27, 2017:

Lady Reading BiblePsychology makes my blood boil, especially when people try to integrate it with Christianity! Although commonly considered a science, the discipline actually is comprised of theories that haven’t been proven (and really don’t lend themselves to scientific verification). The vast majority of the theories incorporate acceptance of evolution, humanism and occult ideas.

Over the past 40 years, evangelicals have embraced psychology as an augmentation to pastoral ministry, assuming that the Bible falls short of addressing the mental and emotional needs of humans. That assumption should make the hair on the back of your neck bristle! Essentially, “Christian” psychology boldly declares God’s Word to be impotent, while at the same time more than implying that psychologists and licensed counselors possess a special knowledge inaccessible to those of us who “merely” read the Bible.

The attitude that psychologists have a deeper understanding of human nature than the Holy Spirit (Who, after all, authored the Bible) smacks of Read More »

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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