Saturday Sampler: December 24 — December 30

bible-sampler

In a devotional study based on 1 Timothy 6:6, Pastor Colin Smith of Unlocking the Bible examines various pitfalls of material wealth. Why is Godliness with Contentment Great Gain? recalibrates our perspective on`our possessions.

It’s that time of year! But before you adopt a Bible reading plan that you’ll abandon once you hit Leviticus, consider John Chester’s approach in Reprise: You Don’t Need A Bible Reading Plan; You Need A Philosophy, which appears in Parking Space 23. Personally, I probably won’t implement all his suggestions, though I heartily agree with his overall concept.

Sometimes, however, people really need the accountability of a definite reading plan. For such people, Denny Burk offers A Plan to Read through the Bible in 2018 that may help. I’m not certain I agree 100% that we must read the entire Bible each and every year, but we should do so more often than not in order to gain context. The plan Burk recommends might encourage you to overcome any fears of tackling Genesis through Revelation this year.

Still undecided on how you’ll read God’s Word in the New Year?  Michelle Lesley of Discipleship for Christian Women links to a wide variety of Bible Reading Plans for the New Year – 2018 for our consideration. Whether we choose one of these plans or adopt a philosophy of Bible reading, make it your priority to stay in Scripture regularly and systematically, remembering that it’s the very Word of God.

Abigail at Hope and Stay reflects on resolutions in her essay, A New Year’s Invitation: Resolved, to Tear My Heart to Shreds. She rightly convicts me to examine my own progress in killing sin.

Returning to the topic of Bible reading plans, Leslie A of Growing 4 Life introduces The G4L 2018 Bible Reading Challenge by explaining why Bible literacy is so important. Even if you have already selected a reading plan, her insights on the priority of spending time in God’s Word deserve attention.

As I’ve said before, the Church needs more people like Elizabeth Prata who boldly declare the truth! In her essay, Doing my best to puncture the balloon that Ladies Ministries try to inflate for The End Time, she takes on the self-esteem teaching that so many popular women teachers propagate.

 

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New Year’s Resolutions Remind Us

2018 ResolutionsLast year at about this time, I wrote a post explaining my reasons for not making New Year’s resolutions. In it, I made the point that repentance should be a daily practice for Christians rather than annual resolutions that we can’t keep anyway.  I still believe that’s the more Biblical attitude.

I find the concept of New Year’s resolutions sort of interesting, though. Despite the fact that most resolutions concern themselves with superfluous matters with little eternal significance, the whole idea indicates a deep-down sense that we don’t quite live the way we should. We almost acknowledge that we have sin in our lives.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ~~Romans 3:23 (ESV)

We may even quote that verse in a self-justifying manner that implies we’re no more sinful than anybody else. Sure, we have a few character flaws, but doesn’t everybody? And our little New Year’s resolutions, even if we break them by January 20th (which we probably will), surely demonstrate a willingness to own up to our shortcomings.

Of course, by mid-January, life has resumed its dull rhythms, and we’ve all but forgotten those resolutions. We’ve also forgotten that we have flaws (really sins, though we’d prefer not to use such terminology) that require correction.

But perhaps the problem goes even deeper. If we’ve actually sinned, it follows that we’ve violated God’s standards. That premise leads to the idea of His authority to judge us. And if He does show us the mercy of forgiveness, He has a claim on us. Either way, He has us in His debt, and we don’t like it. New Year’s resolutions are much more comfortable than coming to Him as sinners in need of repentance.

Making New Year’s resolutions can be fun, so please enjoy your Christian liberty to make them as part of celebrating the holiday. But don’t use them as a substitute for dealing seriously with sin. The Lord will show mercy as we repent and trust Him to change us. Let’s resolve to live in repentance throughout the coming year.

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Rejoicing Like The Prostitute

Forgiveness

Every time I read the first few verses of Psalm 32, I remember the joy I experienced as a new Christian.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah ~~Psalm 32:1-5 (ESV)

The relief of the Lord’s forgiveness absolutely exhilerated me, flooding me with a desire to pour out my gratitude. I of course served the Lord imperfectly (to say the least), making myself more obnoxious than useful to the Kingdom, but my zeal came from sincere motives. Jesus had forgiven me, changing my eternal destiny from the torments of hell (which I deserve) to the joys of heaven. For that extreme mercy, I adored Him then and adore Him even more today.

God’s forgiveness isn’t something we should take lightly. The person who truly understands the enormity of his or her sin appreciates His forgiveness in ways that someone who doesn’t take sin seriously never will.

When we believe in our own supposed goodness, thinking that we somehow merit salvation, we end up robbing ourselves of tremendous joy. We expect God’s forgiveness, almost viewing it as an entitlement rather than a gift that calls us to love the Giver.

We most clearly see this principle demonstrated in Luke 7:36-48, which I beg you to read. Jesus, in this passage, was dining at the home of a Pharisee named Simon when a known prostitute entered the house. Coming up to Jesus, she began bathing His feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. This unwelcome interruption confirmed to Simon that Jesus couldn’t possibly be a prophet! Otherwise He would have realized what a contemptible creature was touching Him.

Look at the Lord’s response to Simon’s secret thoughts in telling, and then applying, this parable:

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” ~~Luke 7:41-48 (ESV)

Jesus knew exactly who touched Him! He knew the gravity of her sin, and her horrendous reputation. But He also knew her sorrow over her sin, and her faith that He would forgive her.

I identify with that woman. Knowing the vileness of my sin, and yet the wonder of His forgiveness, brings me immense joy and causes me to love Christ. From the backdrop of Luke 7:36-48, I can claim Psalm 32:1-5 as my testimony. I can experience the blessings of forgiveness because I know how desperately I needed forgiveness. And I know He has been gracious.

 

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Sometimes It Causes Me To Tremble

Intricate Boarder 01YouTube has almost everything! Including R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God series, which John and I have been watching all weekend.

The Lord’s timing in getting me interested in watching this series couldn’t be more fascinating. Throughout 2017, I’ve opened my private prayer time by worshiping God for His holiness and recalling the opening scene in Isaiah 6.

 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” ~~Isaiah 6:1-7 (ESV)

Perhaps that’s a familiar passage to you. I hope so in the sense that I hope you read your Bible regularly and thoroughly. But I hope it’s not so familiar to you that you gloss over it without trembling at the description of God’s powerful, almost dreadful, holiness.

And yes, I realize I blogged about holiness less than two weeks ago, quoting this same passage. In that article I focused on how casual we are toward God in contrast to Isaiah and the apostle John. Although they trembled and fainted when they encountered God’s holiness, we consider Jesus our buddy who will overlook our sin and give us whatever we ask.

Today I want to briefly remark that truly coming into contact with the holiness of God confronts us with our sinfulness. When we recognize His absolute purity and see His separation from even the slightest degree of corruption, we can’t help but also see our wretchedness in comparison. Isaiah certainly saw the contrast, and immediately wailed over his unclean condition.

The Lord cleansed Isaiah by applying a burning coal to his lips. While we shouldn’t interpret Isaiah’s experience as allegorical to our own, may I suggest that cleansing us from our sin also requires pain. In our case, it’s often the pain of separating from sinful habits, relationships or situations that corrupt our souls.

Encountering God’s holiness demands that we repent of our unholiness. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit Himself empowers this repentance as we walk in obedience to Him. Our flesh won’t like this obedience any more than Isaiah liked the searing coal on his sensitive lips, but the joy of having the Lord make us holy is well worth it.

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A Dalliance With Hypocrisy

Bible Shadow

What a wonderful feeling to wake up having my blog post completely mapped out, including cross-references! Such a thing rarely happens, so I tingled most of the morning with anticipation.

The idea came to me after I went to bed last night. In bed, I can’t hold either a physical Bible or my computer, but that didn’t bother me. I knew the passage I’d use. I’d look it up after my devotional reading in the morning, and then I’d write a fantastic post that would surely impress my readers.

Successfully avoiding the temptation to replace my regular reading with blog research, I deliberately slowed my pace to make certain that I properly understood the passage in my devotional reading. I took careful notes, making sure I read each verse in context. At last I finished. Confidently, I located the passage for my blog post and began reading.

Oh no! In my prideful little mind, I had merged two distinct instances from Jesus’ life. The entire premise of the post I’d planned had no historical basis. For a naughty moment, I tried to figure out ways to make my narrative work, only to realize that doing so required mishandling the very Word of God.

What a vile thought! How could I consider such a thing?

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit convicted me right away, making it abundantly clear that the blockbuster post I’d concocted in bed last night couldn’t be written. At least not with any sense of integrity. Obviously, any attempt to write such a flagrant misrepresentation of Scripture (besides being absolutely ridiculous) would be the height of hypocrisy.

Actually, the temptation happened much more quickly than this account indicates. I’ve only realized the seriousness of it by typing it all out. I don’t believe I really would have attempted to mangle God’s Word that badly.

So I didn’t know what to write today. I considered not writing at all, or reblogging something from my archives. I decided that humbling myself and confessing my dalliance with hypocrisy might help you appreciate the importance of handling Scripture respectfully. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Paul’s instruction to Timothy also applies to lowly bloggers.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. ~~1 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

God’s Word must never be manipulated to suit our convenience. Scripture is nothing less than the very Word of God, and therefore deserves to be treated with the utmost respect. Perhaps the Lord used my self-serving moment of folly to remind me to handle His Word reverently and with the awareness of what a valuable treasure it is.

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It’s Just A Small Little Sin

Coffee Stained Wedding Gown

The Gospel teaches that men and women are sinners by nature and by choice, unable to stand in the presence of a holy God. But that same God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, came to earth and lived a sinless life before voluntarily suffering a painful crucifixion during which He accepted His Father’s wrath, thus atoning for the sins of all who would believe in Him. Three days later He rose from the dead, signifying that the Father accepted His sacrifice as well as assuring believers of eternal life in His presence.

The Holy Spirit regenerates Christians by enabling us to believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior. This faith is immediately demonstrated by an attitude of repentance as an acknowledgment of Christ’s  authority over us.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.~~John 3:16-18 (ESV)

Believers know these things backwards and forwards…or at least they should. Sadly, most 21st Century evangelicals don’t readily articulate the Gospel when asked to do so. Even more tragic, many who claim to be Christians live as though Jesus exists to serve them when they ought to recognize themselves as His slaves.

As I see it, a major reason that evangelicals misunderstand and pervert the Gospel stems from difficulty accepting the fact that we actually need a Savior in the first place. Surely we aren’t that bad! And doesn’t  our good outweigh the mistakes we’ve made?

Think of it this way. It’s your wedding day, and you take your expensive white gown out of the closest. Laying it on your bed, you notice a few small spots. Coffee stains!  Your bridesmaids try to comfort you, pointing out that most of the  gown is still white. People probably won’t even notice those tiny brown stains,  they assure you with soothing voices.

But you know (and so do they) that the dress is ruined.

Even the smallest sin ruins us when we measure ourselves against God’s holy perfection. Everything else about us may be pristine, just like a wedding gown, but the yards of white linen and tulle can’t  atone for those tiny coffee spots.  And all our self-perceived goodness can’t make us acceptable to God.

That’s why Christ’s death on the cross is such good news. He paid the penalty for our sins, clothing is in His righteousness. He presents us to the Father in His purity, as though we’d never soiled ourselves.

If you haven’t yet placed your faith in Him,  I beg you to stop trusting the notion that your so-called good outweighs your sin. The stain may appear small to you, but it leaves you with damage that only Jesus can repair. Once you recognize your desperate need for the salvation that only He can accomplish, the rest of the Gospel falls easily into place.

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We’re Just Like Hollywood

Mirror Mirror

It’s easy, as Christians, to look down our self-righteous noses at Hollywood, sniffing sanctimoniously that their culture of sexual permissiveness is finally bringing judgment upon them. That assessment is, I believe, true enough, but I question whether or not we ought to gloat over their implosion. Shouldn’t the Weinstein and Spacey scandals cause us to examine our own hearts?

The apostle Paul, after writing that blistering portrayal of rebellious sinners in Romans 1, turns to the religious establishment with penetrating questions. Those of us who identity as Christians might do well to apply these questions to ourselves.

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” ~~Romans 2:17-24 (ESV)

I know, most of us have been physically faithful to our husbands, but let’s be honest. Haven’t we felt twinges of envy when Darcy pursues Elizabeth Bennett in Pride And Prejudice? Do some of us harbor secret fantasies about male co-workers or men in church? Would we be embarrassed if people saw our online histories?

We must remember that Jesus said a disturbing thing about our secret thoughts:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. ~~Matthew 5:27-28 (ESV)

And ladies, we know that principle applies to our thoughts about men other than our husbands! The uncomfortable fact is that every one of us has been guilty of sexual sin, even if we never carried our thoughts into physical actions. Let’s make sure, before we click our tongues at “those sinners” in Hollywood,  that we’ve confessed our own sexual sin to the Lord, and that we’ve genuinely repented.

We should respond to Hollywood’s sexual permissiveness with horror and revulsion. But we should also praise the Lord for His grace in pulling us out of those same sins. How kind He’s been to rescue us from ourselves.

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