Thursday, August 31, 2017

Husband feels the call to pastor, wife is reluctant

The gift from Jesus of a Godly husband is one that is among the highest in all of Christendom. I was reading the 9Marks Mailbag, where people send in questions to that ministry and receive answers online. The questions are related to church polity, the main issue the ministry deals with.

In this question, a Christian man who teaches and leads many ministries in his church feels the call to be a pastor. Others have confirmed he has the gift. However the man's wife is resistant. The man wrote to 9Marks on how to deal with a call to pastoring in your life but a reluctant wife in your home.

9Marks' answer is passionately loving and scriptural. I hope it encourages you, if you are a wife. Jesus sent your husband to you as a shepherd and a guide and a leader. This is the example to which husbands aspire, for you good and on your behalf. Encourage your husband today.

In turn, if your husband feels the call to change your lives to fulfill a ministry to which you feel reluctant, whether it entails a move, or more selfless service, or being a missionary, etc, please examine whether your reluctance is originating from a selfish seed in the heart, or a true opposition to something where you don't feel the pull. You're a help-meet, which means either helping your husband adjust to his new ministry, or helping your husband be a husband by doing what the 9Marks essay advises...

Life isn't easy. Married life is doubly hard. However with the advice in the Bible, prayer, and the Holy Spirit's guidance, your marriage can be a shining light of vice-versa service and humility, in Jesus' name.

Dear 9Marks,

I have a desire to serve as a pastor. I have been afforded opportunities to teach in my church, to preach at other churches in the area, and even participate in a internship for aspiring pastors at my church. I meet the biblical qualifications including an inward desire and an outward confirmation from some of our elders and mature men in my church.

But here’s the problem: my wife doesn’t support me in becoming an elder. She is fearful for herself of being thrust into the spotlight, so to speak, and having any attention put on her. This has become a point of contention between us and I know I must sacrifice for her and love and pray for her. I’ve tried to reassure of some of her fears, but she doesn’t believe this will be the case. Admittedly I am frustrated and angry over what I perceive to be a calling from God and her unwillingness to support me. What advice can you give me to help love her and deal with her in a godly way?


Dear Troy,

God is not calling you to be a pastor. If you don’t have your wife’s support, you are not called.

Or rather, he’s calling you to pastor your wife and only your wife. So, live with her in an understanding way. Cherish her as a weaker vessel and fellow heir. Wash her with the water of the word. Love her like you love your own body. Do not despise her. Do not nurse self-pity. Do not tell yourself that you are mature, and that she is immature, and that she is hindering you. God has purposes to work out in your life, too. Good ones! Do not tell yourself that she stands in between you and God’s big plans for you. She is God’s big plan for you. And what a remarkable plan she is, more than you deserve and better than anything you could have planned for yourself. God is good. God loves you. And he means to love you right now through the lessons and joys of pastoring her, and being loved by her. What a privilege you have!

Meanwhile, brother, share the gospel. Encourage younger people in the faith. Disciple. Pray for the church regularly. Take any teaching opportunities that she’s happy for you to take. You can pastor without being a pastor. The lack of a title is no threat to your identity. Your identity is secure in Christ. Your lack of a paycheck for being a pastor is no threat to the church. The church’s victory is certain.

One day, brother, Jesus will visibly walk into her life. You want her to recognize him because she’s spent years watching you. Your job is to get her ready for him. And he’s the one who put on the form of a servant and humbled himself to death on a cross in order to love you and her both. Will you love her like that?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book review: Deborah Raney's Above All Things

My summer began at Memorial Day. My summer break from school ended a month ago, when I returned to work on July 31. I'd been making the most of the time off, after spiritual duties and pleasures, to engage in some of my favorite past-times: reading and movie watching. Here is a review of one of the books I read this summer, Above All Things.

I reviewed Randy Alcorn's Deadline previously

Amazon's Above All Things synopsis:
Expecting their first baby, Judd and Evette McGlin are thrilled at the prospect of becoming parents. But their marriage faces the ultimate test when Judd learns he already has a child: a six-year-old bi-racial daughter, born amid secrets and lies. Now, Evette must decide if she can accept the child—and forgive Judd. She thought she was open-minded—until hidden prejudices threaten the future of an innocent little girl, Evette's marriage, and the very notion of the woman she's believed herself to be. Above all things, this child needs acceptance and love. Needs Evette to discover what being a mother truly means. Needs Judd to face his past. And needs them both to discover what it truly means to be a family.

I've never read any of Deborah Raney's books. I bought Above All Things for the Kindle because it was free. I haven't had the best of luck with the freebie notices that BookBub sends me. When a Kindle book is free there's usually a reason. But sometimes a good one is stuck in there so I keep trying. This was one of the good ones.

BookBub "is a free daily email that notifies you about deep discounts on acclaimed ebooks. You choose the types you'd like to get notified about — with categories ranging from mysteries to cookbooks — and we send great deals in those genres to your inbox." BookBub is like Honey or Camel Camel Camel but strictly for books.

My favorite genres tend toward the more manly fast paced thrillers, detective, or legal genres than the Christian ChickLit, which Above All Things definitely is.

I enjoyed how the author set the foundation at first and introduced her Christian characters by showing, not telling. I enjoyed how she brought us through their issue, the unknown daughter Judd had 6 years ago and the other issues of pre-marital sex, betrayal, and blended family that come with it. Included in their issues to work through was also the biracial aspect. The characters were well-drawn, including the daughter, grandmother and in-laws. Raney's depiction of the change of heart and Christian growth were realistic. I especially enjoyed the scene where the couple is counseled by their pastor.

All in all, I was tremendously surprised when I looked up the length for the print version and saw it was 308 pages. It felt shorter.

Raney has been a Christy Award finalist and her first book, A Vow To Cherish earned a Silver Angel from Excellence in Media and was made into a movie of the same name. The print version of Above All Things was self-published. The writing wasn't nuanced or tremendously complex. It is a good, free book. All in all, a good vacation read.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The worst example of fake news

There is a concern with #fakenews these days. It's news that is written to be deliberately misleading, biased, or circulated knowingly with purposes to outrage or confuse. This isn't new. The old Soviet Union Communists of the 1950s were great at propaganda, which is what fake news used to be called. They were masters at spreading disinformation.

The Yellow Journalism age of the US in the late 1800s was another era of patently fake news, sensationalized simply to sell more papers, protect reputations, or to build reputations. ("Puff Graham")

Fake news has been with us a long time. I can point to a very early example. Certainly the worst:

While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15).

Fake news has been with us since forever. It has certainly been useful to the lost, greedy, and craven. Isn't it wonderful to know that there is one source to which you can go that will always be reporting the truth?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Seeking Jesus: My experience with 'life between lives' hypnotherapy

Popular Christianity makes it seem like entering the Kingdom of God is easy. You float airy-fairy into it, light and happy and joyful and basking in love. The narrow road is lined with posies and helpful angels applaud your way in. Or, you raise your hand in the congregation, walk peacefully down the aisle, appear in front to sign a card, and you're in.

That's not how it was for me. And it's not how it is for most, I don't think. My entrance was full of anger, doubt, confusion, anxiety, fervency, seeking, and striving. I was dragged into it, a pawn in a spiritual battle with one side's bony claw clutching at my clothes, doing anything and everything to keep me in darkness. The other side full of power and light and irresistible grace, which I tried to resist, but at the same time tried to understand and desired with all my being. Agony.

Here is John MacArthur on a seeker's journey in Which Way to Heaven?
You must enter, you must enter the narrow gate, you must enter alone. Listen to this one: you must enter with great difficulty – with great difficulty. Now, I know that shocks some people, because we hear all the time that getting saved is easy. All you have to do is just believe, sign on the dotted line, walk the aisle, raise your hand, go to the prayer room, whatever. And we've made it easy. 
In Luke 16:16, the Lord said, "Every man who comes into the Kingdom presses his way into the Kingdom." Now, this is not what you hear, but this is what Jesus said. The Kingdom is to those who seek it with all their hearts. The Kingdom is to those who strive, who agonize to enter it, whose hearts are shattered over their sinfulness. Who mourn in meekness, who hunger and thirst, and unquenchably satisfied, long for God to change their life. It's not for the people who come along in a cheap way and want Jesus without any alteration of their living. When Jesus emphasized that one cannot sleep his way into the kingdom, Jesus was saying, "In order to be in My Kingdom you must have earnest endeavor, untiring energy, utmost exertion."
I knew there was a heaven. Too many cultures spoke of an afterlife to deny the internal, global human urge to accept that there's nothing after we die. So many people had reported after-death or near- death experiences with a white light, experiences that seemed likely to validate a continuation of life after death. I mean, if there wasn't life after death, what was the point of life? Did we evolve only to live a mere 50 or 60 or 70 years then turn to dust for all eternity? It seemed incredibly inefficient.

God's existence seemed obvious- the earth in its beauty and complexity didn't form from a Big Bang and a void and tumble together perfectly so as to give life to forms in a delicate balance of perfect biology. It seemed like a pretty sure bet we possessed a soul. No, God existed.

But who was He? Where was His heaven? How do we get there? And my most burning question, what was the entry requirement? It's also obvious that humanity is evil. We're terrible. I never believed the cultural mantra that "we're all basically good." There is an entire human history showing that we're not. Stalin, pogroms, Jew-hatred (which always perplexed me), tyrants, dictators, wars, genocide. And even close to home, thievery, adultery, lying, cheating, killing. No, people are bad. So if we go to heaven, what made it heaven? If we all just transfer to heaven, it'd be just like earth. That seemed inefficient, too.

Before salvation, we are all sinners, (Romans 3:23 Ecclesiastes 7:20) in bondage to our sin nature (2 Timothy 2:26, 2 Peter 2:19, Acts 8:23) and loving the darkness because we love our sin. (John 3:19).

I had tried Wicca, other earth pagan religions, New Age, (I had my aura photographed Kirlian photography), Buddhism, and self-righteous attempts at goodness. Nothing worked. I felt trapped in what I called "my badness." I did not grow up Christian, never had attended church, nor was I familiar with any of the Christian terms, like sin or repent. I just knew people were bad, I was bad, and I wanted to be good. Frustratingly, nothing I tried swung me to the good side, or if it did, I never seemed to be able to maintain it.

I had read a book called Journey of Souls by Dr Michael Newton. The book deals with the eternal questions, why are we here on Earth? Where we go after death? What will happen to me when I get there? The book presupposes that we have a soul and that it goes somewhere after death. It also presupposes that our soul comes back to earth in a reincarnation. But what about in between? Newton said he had the answer.

Dr Newton realized through his research that people (under hypnosis) could recall what they were doing between lives, and decided to create a cottage industry of trained hypnotherapists to help people unearth their between states. I thought that submitting to such hypno-therapy would help me see what was what, celestial-soul wise. I made an appointment with a Newton-trained hypnotherapist in San Mateo, CA, and off I went. I'm from Maine, so this was quite a jaunt. Talk about placing all my marbles in one basket.

His office was normal, no crystals in sight or anything like that. I sat in a large recliner, and he gave me a type of intake interview. I'd wanted to find out what happened to our souls after death and before the next life. (I wasn't sure I subscribed to the reincarnation theory, but I went with it for now). I forget exactly what he did to "put me under", but under I went, deeply. I could sense the physical environment around me, and hear him asking questions and prodding, but my mind also enlivened itself with vivid visions and details of past lives.

Later, I realized that under hypnosis I was recalling details of past "lives" but none were "between lives" For example, in the 1800s I was a captain's wife aboard a sailing ship, and I fell off and drowned. In another I was a farmer's daughter in the Netherlands grinding wheat at a mill. Where was the insight into what happened BETWEEN lives? The soul journeys? As advertised?

I have no idea where the details about past lives came from, as we all know we only live one, long, eternal life. I was never a medieval Netherlands farmer nor a whaling wife. No such thing, but my mind presented these lives (and other "lives", I forget now) quite vividly. I was simply a sinner seeking eternal answers in all the wrong places.

I came out from under hypnosis in what felt like 5 minutes, but it had been five hours. He made a CD of all that was said and gave it to me to take home. I never listened to it.

The weekend wasn't a washout, I visited San Francisco and enjoyed that. I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, ate at a great Asian restaurant, etc. But my seeking was not satisfied and my questions remained. I was in slavery to my sin and the only answer was casting myself upon Jesus, our Savior, who died for our sins and took my wrath unto Himself. I didn't know that yet. I still thought I could "figure it out." Entering the door through Him is the only way, and it's narrow. Rattling my cage for answers only got me more questions.
No, it's when you come to the brokenness, and the recognition that you of yourself cannot do it, then Christ pours into you grace upon grace to strengthen you for that necessary agonizing to enter it. In your brokenness, His power becomes your resource. You must enter, you must enter the narrow gate, you must enter alone, you must enter with difficulty, and next, you must enter naked. You can’t go through a turnstile with luggage. Have you ever noticed that?  It’s a mess; can’t do it.  It is the gate – watch it – of self-denial. It is not the gate that admits the superstars, who want to carry all their garbage in. It is a gate where you strip off all of self, and self-righteousness, and sin, and immorality, and everything. You unload it, or you don’t come through it. JMacArthur

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Full of Eyes: Love is the measure of knowledge

Artist, visual theologian, and animator Chris Powers of the ministry Full of Eyes with a visual representation of the verse from 1 Corinthians 8:3. His work can be viewed on Patreon (where you can support him also), website Full of Eyes, and Youtube. His explanation is below.

Artist's statement below:

1 Corinthians 8:3, "…if anyone loves God, he is known by God."

The Passage Explained

The tense of the verbs used in 1 Corinthians 8:3 sheds some light on Paul’s intended meaning. Translated in a way that emphasizes the verbal tenses, 1 Corinthians 8:3 could read:

"But if anyone is loving God (present active tense), he has been known by God (perfect passive tense)."

Paul's point here is not that our love for God somehow causes us to stand out in the crowd so that God acknowledges us, or that our love "earns" or "secures" or "attracts" His knowledge of us. Rather, he is teaching that God’s knowledge of us is the foundation for our love of Him.

Now, of course, since God’s knowledge is perfect and infinite, God "knows" all people. How, then, can I say that His knowledge of a person is the basis of their love for Him? If God knows all people, and if Paul tells us that God's knowledge of a person leads to their love for God, then how is it that all people do not love God?

The answer comes when we realize the sort of knowledge Paul likely has in view here. He is not talking about God’s general knowledge of all people, but of the saving, choosing, predestining knowledge that He has for His elect people. It's the sort of knowledge that we read about in Romans 8:29-30,

"For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified."

In this passage, God’s knowledge of a person constitutes their being predestined to glory in Christ. The idea is not that God knows that a person will trust Christ and so—on the basis of that knowledge—predestines them. Rather it is because God knows them as His own that they subsequently trust Christ. In Romans 8:29-30, God’s knowledge of a person is an effective knowledge, a choosing knowledge, a knowledge that causes the one known to become what God—in His sovereign will as Creator—knows them to be, namely, His elect people.

God's knowledge of us is foundational to who we are, in fact, it might be argued that we are nothing other than what God knows us to be. We are His creatures, sustained from moment to moment by His will (Hebrews 1:3), if He ever—even for one second—"forgot" about us, we would be obliterated from the timeline of reality….we would cease to exist. We are only because God knows us to be. And since His knowledge of us is the spring of our existence, if He knows us to be His children in Christ, then that is what we are. This is why His foreknowledge of His people as being united to Christ eventually manifests in their lives as individual choices to trust in Christ—we are in Christ because He knows us to be in Christ, not the other way around.

It seems to me that Paul has this sort of "Romans 8:29-30 knowing" in mind when he says in 1 Corinthians 3:8 that, "if anyone is loving God, he has been known by God" (my translation). In other words, a person's love for the One True God as revealed in Jesus Christ is a strong proof they have been known by God and are thus chosen as one of His own. When our hearts and minds behold the glory of God in Christ (2 Cor.4:6) and rise up to Him in adoration and faith and hope, we are bearing witness to ourselves and others that God has known us—from all eternity—to be His own in His Son (this same concept seems to be stated in different words in Romans 8:15-16 where the cry of our hearts to God as "Abba" bears witness that we are His children).

However, it must be noted that there is no love for God if there is no love for others. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 8 and following as he elaborates on the absolute necessity of building others up, laying down one's rights for the good of neighbor, etc. The love for God that bears witness to having been known by God must also be Christ-like love for other.

So, in response to the Corinthians who were using their knowledge as a bludgeon to beat others into submission, Paul dismisses their "knowledge" as worthless and points instead to the necessity not primarily of knowing, but of being known, being known by God. If God has known us, then we will be marked by a love for God that manifests as a self-giving, Christ-imaging love for others.

But how can one seek this knowledge? How can one seek to be known by God? You cannot. Rather, Paul shifts the emphasis from building one's self up to building others up, i.e., to loving others. If anyone has true knowledge, it will bear the fruit of love of God and others, and where such love is present, it bears witness—not only to the knowledge of the one who loves—but (and more fundamentally) to God's knowledge of them. If there is no love, then there is no evidence of knowledge—neither a person's knowledge of God, nor God’s electing knowledge of that person.

The Picture Explained

In this picture I tried to emphasize the two types of knowledge that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. At the edges of the image are those who "think they know something," that is, those whose knowledge builds themselves up rather than building others up. The "light" around their heads is dark gold to show the flawed nature of their knowing, they "do not yet know as they ought to know."

In the center of the image is a depiction of the second sort of knowledge that Paul mentions, namely, being known by God. The woman's head and shoulders are encompassed within the halo that represents God’s knowledge of her in Christ, portraying that not only is she known by Him, but that His knowledge of her illuminates her understanding as well (Galatians 4:9). Her outstretched hands are in the wounded hands of the Son, showing that God’s electing knowledge of her entails her being purchased by the atoning work of Christ.

However, the woman's outstretched hands also place her in a posture that images Christ on the cross. God’s knowledge of her in Christ results in her conformity to the love of Christ. This self-giving love is also pictured by the water flowing from her heart into the Christian community, even over those who do not love in return.

More foundational than knowing something about God, is to be known by God in His Son, Jesus Christ. To be known in this way by the Creator of the universe is to be His blood-bought child, and will of necessity result in our knowing and loving Him in Christ, which in turn, results in our love for those around us. Love is the measure of knowledge.

Friday, August 25, 2017

How does satan snatch away the seed from the hard ground?

In one of Jesus' parables, we read,

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. (Matthew 13:19).

In the beginning parts of the parable, Jesus had given the vivid picture of the sower scattering seeds along the ground. The seeds fell on different types of ground, hard, rocky, thorny, and good. Later, the disciples asked Jesus to explain the meaning of the parable. He did, and His explanation of the different types of ground and the destinies of each seed is above.

The "path" mentioned is the path that the farmers and other people would walk in between fields. It was so heavily trod that they became hard packed, almost like cement. In Leviticus 23:22 it's mentioned as a rule that the farmers were not to harvest to the very edges of the field, so that those who are traveling or poor could glean from the stalks that were alongside the path. You might remember Ruth gleaning Boaz's field. (Ruth 2:2-3). As Jesus and His disciples walked along the fields, they plucked some grain to eat as they passed. (Matthew 12:1). These paths were very hard and well-traveled.

In Barnes' Notes it's explained about the paths. As expected, the vivid picture of the hardened path, the seed, and the birds scooping away the exposed seeds is visually understandable.
He is represented by the fowls that came and picked up the seed by the way-side. The gospel is preached to people hardened in sin. It makes no impression. It lies like seed on the "hard path;" it is easily taken away, and never suffered to take root.
But I'd like to focus on the part of the parable verse that mentions that the evil one comes along and snatches the seed away. I ask myself, how does the evil one do this? In what manner? Thanks to the visual nature of the parable we can readily understand that he does, but how?

Someone asked me recently how does the devil do his work, how does spiritual warfare operate. It's a good question and it is something that though the parable's images are understood, it what is meant by 'digging deeper.' Ask yourself questions as you read. Listen to others ask questions. Pray and ponder a while. Do a parallel verse search. Look up the important words in the verse in Greek or Hebrew. Consult commentaries.

In the Greek, the word for hearing is in the continuous present tense, setting an immediacy to the situation. As stated here in Vincent's Word studies in the New Testament, "the action is exhibiting action in progress, and the simultaneousness of Satan's work with that of the gospel instructor. 'While any one is hearing, the evil one is coming and snatching away, just as the birds do not wait for the sower to be out of the way, but are at work while he is sowing.'"

I am reminded of fishing boats and shrimp boats pulling up a catch, and the cloud of seagulls and other scavenging birds are plucking the fish from the nets even as they are pulled to the boat's deck. The ground is so hard the seed of the Word never makes any impression in it, and the birds come snatch it almost immediately.

Here is Gill's Commentary on the subject of how the devil snatches away the seed. This is aimed at the unsaved, but the point has lessons for the saved, which I'll explore below.
Then cometh the wicked one, Satan, the devil, Mark 4:15 who is, by way of eminency, so called, being the first creature that became wicked, and the worst that is so; who is entirely and immutably wicked; whose whole work and employment lies in wickedness; and who, was the original cause of the wickedness that is among men, and which he is continually instigating and promoting: ... This evil spirit, as soon as ever he observes one hearing the word, especially that has not been used to attend, comes immediately, and, as he is hearing, 
catcheth away that which is sown in his heart: not the grace of God, which being once implanted in the heart, can never be taken away by Satan; but the word which was sown, not in his understanding, in a spiritual sense, nor even in his affections, so as to love it, delight, and take pleasure in it; much less in his heart, so as to become the engrafted word able to save, or so as to believe in it, and in Christ revealed by it; but in his memory, and that but very slightly neither; for the heart sometimes means the memory; see Luke 2:51. 
Besides, the word only fell "upon", not "into" his heart, as into the good ground, as the metaphor in the parable shows; and it made no impression, nor was it inwardly received, but as soon as ever dropped, was "catched" away by the enemy; not by frightening him out of it, by persecution, as the stony ground hearer; nor by filling the mind with worldly cares, as the thorny ground hearer; but by various suggestions and temptations, darting in thoughts, presenting objects, and so diverted his mind from the word, and fixed his attention elsewhere; which is done at once, at an unawares, secretly, and without any notice of the person himself; so that the word is entirely lost to him, and he does not so much as remember the least thing he has been hearing: 
this is he which receiveth the seed by the way side; such an hearer is comparable to such ground, on whom the word has no more effect, than seed sown upon a common beaten path.
The saved can never have the Gospel seed snatched away from Jesus' hand. John 10:28 explicitly says so. But even though satan cannot destroy the salvation of the saved by snatching the gospel seed from the ground into which it is sown, he can diminish our effectiveness. We, too, can be tempted as the unsaved Gospel-hearers can be tempted. The word will never be "entirely lost" to us, as Gill said it will be of the hard ground unsaved, but we can be tempted by--

--various suggestions and temptations,
--darting in thoughts,
--presenting objects,
--and so diverted his mind from the word, and fixed his attention elsewhere
--which is done at once, at an unawares, secretly, and without any notice of the person himself;

Here is John MacArthur on his version of how the devil snatches the seed away from the unsaved, but has application for us in satan's ever-present attempt to divert us from our effectiveness:
In other words, when someone does not respond to the gospel initially, when they're hardhearted and stiff necked, Satan just snatches it away. He just blinds them to its true value. How does he do that? Well, there are a lot of ways. One way he does that is send false teachers along to say all of that stuff was lies. Don’t believe that stuff. Another way he snatches the seed is by the fear of man. People don't respond to it because they're afraid they might lose their reputation or they might be kicked out of their little group or somebody might think they're a religious fanatic.
Sometimes Satan uses pride. People are just know-it-alls. They just don't want to admit that they need some help, that they need some information, that there's some things they don't know. Sometimes Satan snatches it away through doubt. Sometimes he snatches it away through prejudice, sometimes through stubbornness. Sometimes through the love of sin the person doesn't want to give up. Sometimes through procrastination. But one way or another or a combination of ways, when it hits that hard stuff, Satan snatches it away and the person so easily forgets that it ever came.
When we procrastinate, become stubborn, prideful, doubtful, follow false teachers, or fear man, satan is snatching away our effectiveness of His word and our growth.

I told the person asking how spiritual warfare works that it isn't done by being against people. No, our battle is against the evil one who is prince of the power of the air. Also, it is a battle of the mind. Spiritual transformation happens in the mind, and what we think becomes what we say and then what we do. Don't let satan steal your effectiveness. If we're saved then that means the word was sown on good soil. Keep aerating the soil of our heart by turning over His word constantly in our minds. Unearth sin and reject it, confessing and repenting. Let the roots of His truths grow deep into our heart and then we will stand like trees beside the waters, and cannot be moved. (Jeremiah 17:8, Psalm 1:3).


The seed does not penetrate the hard ground


Further reading

Book: Truth Or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Plain of the Jordan, then and now

I love the old photos of the Holy Lands. Here we have a approximately 117 year old stereoscopic photo of a shepherd and a boy overlooking the plain of the Jordan. (Stereoscopic Images of the Middle East)

The caption from the book says,
‎We are looking southeast, across the northern end of the Dead Sea, six miles to the south, over the mountains east of the Jordan. 
‎Yonder on the right we can see the head of the Dead Sea, and beyond it the long line of the hills of Moab. There is the Jordan, after its long wandering, finding rest in the sea. See the once fruitful plain of the Jordan with only stunted trees and bushes growing upon it. Do you notice where the plain rises, nearer us, into a higher plateau, over which a path runs? There stood the Old Testament city of Jericho. All that is left of it now are those ruined heaps, and those are later than the Jericho of the Old Testament. This part of an old aqueduct on which these men are resting was probably here in Christ’s time, as its foundation can be traced out over the plain to the site of the New Testament Jericho, on the extreme right of our view. To the left in the distance are the few buildings that make up modern Jericho.* 
‎Vivid pictures of the past surge before our mental vision as we look out over this site of once proud cities. We see Old Jericho defying the attack of Joshua (Joshua 6:1); we see the collapse of those sturdy walls under the strongest assault history records (Joshua 6:3–20). We see Elijah and Elisha walking down yonder path toward the river, while by the banks of Jordan waits the fiery chariot that shall part them. Centuries later we see Jesus coming up to the gate of another Jericho, while blind Bartimeus cries out to him from the wayside, and eager Zaccheus looks down upon him from the sycamore tree.
‎*See “Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope,” by J.L. Hurlbut, D.D.

The plain of the Jordan figures is in several passages. Here is one

Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: (Genesis 13:10-11 NIV).

That area was home to five cities of the plain, not just Sodom and Gomorrah. Admah and Zeboiim, and also of course Zoar (AKA Bela) to which Lot and his daughters fled when the brimstone came down on Sodom.

Though the plain is a sulfurous wasteland now, once it was grassy and watered like Eden's garden. And once again it will be!

And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. (Ezekiel 47:9-10).

Praise the Lord that what was once fresh and vibrant and living and beautiful, that now has become salty, dead, and barren, will once again be renewed. It will become "very good" again. (Genesis 1:31; 2:10-14)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Movie Review: The Great Gilly Hopkins

Summer time means movie time, but for the discerning Christian that often means spending more time looking for a suitable movie to view than actually getting to settle down and watch one. In my opinion, The Great Gilly Hopkins is an excellent movie for the entire family.

The IMDB synopsis of the movie:
A feisty foster kid's outrageous scheme to be reunited with her birth mother has unintended consequences in The Great Gilly Hopkins, an entertaining film for the entire family. Gilly Hopkins (Sophie NĂ©lisse) has seen more than her share of foster homes and has outwitted every family she has lived with. In an effort to escape her new foster mother Maime Trotter's (Kathy Bates) endless loving care, Gilly concocts a plan that she believes will bring her mother running to her rescue. But when the ploy blows up in Gilly's face it threatens to ruin the only chance she's ever had to be part of a real family. Based on the award-winning young-adult novel by Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia)
The cast includes Sophie NĂ©lisse as Gilly, in an excellent performance. Her face can carry a series of nuanced emotions that many actors of her age only dream of being able to convey. Also starring are Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Bill Cobbs, Octavia Spencer, and others you'll recognize.

I have a huge bias toward kid movies, not just movies for kids like Minions, ToyStory or Monsters Inc, but movies starring kids or about kids. Previously on my link to family-friendly movie reviews I'd reviewed Camp, Raising Izzie, The Blind Side, Walking Across Egypt, On The Way to School, and others, featuring various childrens' plights. Upcoming will be a review of The Queen of Katwe.

Gilly Hopkins is one of the very best of this genre, and with a stellar cast and good production values it lived up to its potential. Gilly has been rejected, marginalized, and shuttled from foster home to foster home, though she has a distant living mother who simply doesn't want her. This is a fact that Gilly understands deep down but refuses to accept, thus, her repeated attempts to contact and reunite with her mother are sprinkled throughout the film as its thread. In the meantime, Gilly's barely submerged anger over her maternal rejection rebuffs all who try to get close to her, and Maime's foster home is threatened to be the last stop before juvie.

Foster mother Bates has one other charge under her care and with the addition of Gilly their placid and loving home life is disrupted immediately. Gilly sneaks, provokes, steals, and eventually lashes out as Bates' character Maime prays, loves, patiently and tirelessly attempts to show Gilly she has nothing to fear by accepting love.

Glenn Close makes her entrance as Gilly's Grandmother after recently learning of Gilly's existence. A custody tussle emerges and presents the vehicle for the climax of the movie.

Other reviewers say that the movie closely follows the book. In order to demonstrate Gilly's character there are a couple of swear words, rebellion, and some theft, but there is no violence, immodesty, sex, or nudity in this movie. Though Christianity is mentioned, and Maime is seen praying, religion is not a major part of the overt script but patient love as an underlying aspect comes through clearly. It is a good movie for the entire family.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

You (I) don't have to say everything

There's always controversy in the world. We live in a contentious world, led by a liar who is also a thief and a destroyer. Ergo...contention.

Contention is not restricted to the secular world. Watching the news has become a chore for those who still persist in viewing it is often seen as simply sandbox yelling and fisticuffs at a juvenile level. The news itself, when the 'journalists' get around to reporting it, is evil, heartbreaking, and soul denting.

Controversy also occurs in the Christian world. It has since the beginning, the very beginning. They killed Jesus, the only perfect, sinless, and loving human being ever to walk the earth. People who long for the early days of the first century church need to remember that false doctrines, false prophets, and false teachers crawled in like a tsunami of cockroaches and permeated the faith right away. The Apostles had to spend a lot of time stamping them out. It even affected Peter and Barnabas, who had to be corrected publicly by Paul. There were Nicolatians, the Judaizers, the Gnostics,  those who went the way of Balaam, individual false teachers going from town to town, the Pharisees, and many others who had to be opposed with a voice from the pastor or leader. Vigilance was necessary.

John Calvin said that a pastor must have two voices. One, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.

However, you notice that the Bible's writers did not spend a lot of time opining about the culture. They did not opine about every emperor transition, every tragedy, every riot or mob incident or organization or guild. There was one mention by Jesus of the Tower of Siloam incident which seemed to have happened "off stage" and was only spoken of as an object lesson for death.

Our hurry-up, social media, 24-hour news culture seems to demand from us an opinion on just about everything. These days, it demands that the opinion has to come with some form of outrage or offendedness.

I was a journalist for almost 8 years. I worked for weeklies, dailies, and contributed to a monthly. I was a news reporter so I had to be in tune with the culture and fresh news. I was an editor so I had to have an opinion about it, and write it in such a way so as to help people make sense in their daily lives of what they read. I won awards for news editorials. I was good at it and news opinion was a constant thread in my work no matter what other kind of journalism I was working at.

However all those habits and works were a detriment to me when it came time to be saved and begin a writing ministry. I had to go slower. I had to step out of the cycle. Most painfully, I had to learn that I didn't have to have an opinion.

People smarter than me have opinions on the culture, on today's news, on the secular and religious controversies. People who have more information have opinions. People with more talent have opinions. People who are men, the leaders and pastors have opinions.

I've mentioned that I really enjoy Samuel D. James' writing. He published an essay recently called The Bible is Not a Slideshow for Your Hot Take

Mr James wrote about the aftermath of the news that comedian Robin Williams had taken his own life. It's a good moment and a good impulse when the Chrisitan wants to capture the moment and impart some Christian worldview truths. "This is good, and normal," he wrote. However, too often we do not have all the information necessary to do so in a God-honoring way. As time went on, more information came out that added dimension and nuance to the Robin Williams tragedy. If the Christian who had written superficially in the immediate aftermath did so in a less than God-honoring way ("Click to like!") then it's a tragedy for us too.
What I am saying is that cheaply thought, cheaply written responses to these events by definition betray the Christian commitment to the centrality of truth.
Aaron Armstrong wrote a similar essay with an ever more pointed headline: No You Don't Have to Comment On Everything
I have opinions about politics, including American politics. I occasionally share those opinions. But usually, I prefer to keep my mouth shut. Why? It generally comes down to one thing. A proverb, in fact. “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions” (Proverbs 18:2, CSB).
When the James White-Brannon Howse issue came to the fore, I had an opinion. When it continued, I had an opinion. As it subsided, I had an opinion. I didn't share my opinion, except for one private query with my very short answer. Why? The men were handling it. Phil Johnson was on it. The men of GTY were on it. Others behind the scenes were on it. In the end Justin Peters and his church elders from Kootenai Church were on it. They knew more. They had a bigger platform. They were more humble. They had more spiritual insight. They possessed more experience.

I feel that the above mentioned controversy was a good test for me. It took a long time for me to subside the drive to be first, get a word in, have a published opinion. This was difficult for a hard-boiled journalist taught to be first, get a word in, have a published opinion. It's even harder when the Lord has given the spiritual gift of exhortation. I always want to speak, but I don't always have to speak. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. (Ecclesiastes 3:7).

Sometimes I'll feel led to have a public opinion. That's OK. But not every time. Not all the time.

It IS more relaxing to not feel like I have to publicly weigh in or have a public position on every single controversy in the world. Sometimes in my news days I felt like a minnow in a washing machine. I don't want to feel that way as a Christian. I want to exude a steadiness, a patience, a reserve, a solidity.

I'll let my favorite pastor and one of Christendom's most respected living teachers have the last word. Whether you feel led most times or only sometimes to state your position on social media or other forms of wide communication...

Monday, August 21, 2017

Who else longed to look into the Gospel besides angels?

We're familiar with the part of the verse that tells us that angels long to look into these things. The full context of that verse is pasted below, it's from 1 Peter.

Apostle Peter, formerly Simon, formerly a fisherman, is nearing the end of his life. It's about the early 60s and Peter had been a leader of the church. The elect to whom Peter addressed his letter were beginning to suffer persecution, and his letter, which was to be circulated, was aimed at encouraging them. Peter strongly urges them to link doctrine and practice, a point he makes in chapter 1:12, 15, and he begins in the first chapter with elevating the glory of the Gospel. Here is where we remember that the Gospel is so great, so mysterious, that angels long to look into it.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
(1 Peter 1:10-12).

In reading the passage I realized that not only angels longed to look into the mystery of the Gospel, its wonder, atonement, wrath, crucified and sinless God-Man. The Prophets also wanted to know about it. They, who had the Spirit in them, inquired of the LORD as to the aspects of this religion they were required to speak. Here is the wonderful Barnes with his Notes:
Of which salvation - Of the certainty that this system of religion, securing the salvation of the soul, would be revealed. The object of this reference to the prophets seems to be to lead them to value the religion which they professed more highly, and to encourage them to bear their trials with patience. They were in a condition, in many respects, far superior to that of the prophets. They had the full light of the gospel. The prophets saw it only at a distance and but dimly, and were obliged to search anxiously that they might understand the nature of that system of which they were appointed to furnish the comparatively obscure prophetic intimations.

They were writing to us and for us. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, Peter wrote. Us. The elect saints in the church age would be the recipients of the further information than myriads of angels- who live with God- . and prophets - who personally spoke with God - longed to look.

Next time someone says they "want a fresh experience" or desire the Spirit to fall down and manifest some kind of event, or that they wish to hear Jesus personally calling, or that they feel stale and covet a miracle, please remind them of this glorious truth. We already have the benefit of the most glorious experience of all, the understanding of the plan of God with regard to His Son. The angels and the Prophets wanted to know about Him, who He would be, what would be his life and doctrine and character, and what would be the nature of the work which He would perform on behalf of the people. They didn't know. They wished to know. They asked to know. They did not know. We do.

As Barnes says of verse 12,

By them that have preached the gospel unto you - The apostles, who have made known unto you, in their true sense, the things which the prophets predicted, the import of which they themselves were so desirous of understanding.

knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)
Have a blessed day, pondering these truths into which angels and Prophets inquired and longed to look.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Of Jesus' love: My Value's Fixed

Keith Getty's song "My Worth Is Not In What I Own" is a lovely song. As Mr Getty describes the song at The Gospel Coalition, it
is a song that speaks to the subject of worth by reminding us that true significance is found in our identity in Christ. Kristyn and I recently wrote it with our good friend, Graham Kendrick, in an attempt to reclaim two glorious truths. The first is that we, as men and women created in the image and likeness of the Creator, are created with intrinsic worth.

But there's another truth we want to convey: given our pervasive rebellion—what R. C. Sproul calls "cosmic treason"—against the king, we are all unworthy of the value with which he crowns us. Yet God sent his Son so our worth might be found in something far grander than ourselves. In Christ, no longer do we look to our own accomplishments and achievements to find significance. We look instead to his perfect work on our behalf, and there our souls find the true sense of identity we so crave. The chorus of our song draws from the rich imagery of 1 Peter, which depicts Jesus as an inheritance and treasure far greater than anything this world has to offer.
Getty goes on to describe some of the many themes within the song, but notes that the original thought was the phrase "my worth is not in what I own."

However, another idea came to me that focuses on another part of the lyric. The value of the Gospel is inestimable. In 1 Peter, the passages from which Getty took the thoughts and doctrines for his song, angels and the Prophets longed to look into the glorious coming of the Savior. They were told they were serving not themselves but us. (1 Peter 1:12). They were extremely humbled and intrigued by the notion of the Savior and His coming in Gospel times.

In that sense, we who dwell in the Church Age, AKA the Age of Grace, AKA Gospel Times, have an inexpressible value, because we are saved by grace through faith in the Gospel. Since the Gospel is inestimably precious, we are inestimably precious. As the song says, "my value's fixed."

For those who struggle with low self-esteem, let this song and its lyrics and the verses behind it comfort you. Your value is fixed. Your identity is sure. After salvation, our value is linked to the Gospel which saved us by faith through the work of Jesus. Jesus cannot love us any less or any more than He does at this moment or since before the foundation of the world when He chose you. (Ephesians 1:4). His love for you is fixed and perfect.

If you struggle with a high self-esteem, then the same is true again. His cannot love you any less or any more than He does now. Your value is fixed. Nothing you say or do or work at or accomplish or are noted for will cause in Him an atom's worth of further love, deeper love, or less love than expressed through His lovely Gospel and His saving. His love for you is not based on your worth, but His worth.

Be comforted by this. Be released from worry that anything you might say or do will cause a decrease in His love for you. Be released from the notion that anything you say or do will help yourself to greater love by Him. Your value is fixed in the palm of the One who already loves perfectly and completely.

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every familyc in heaven and on earth is named, 16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-18).

My Worth Is Not In What I Own
Keith Getty

My worth is not in what I own
Not in the strength of flesh and bone
But in the costly wounds of love
At the cross

My worth is not in skill or name
In win or lose, in pride or shame
But in the blood of Christ that flowed
At the cross

I rejoice in my Redeemer
Greatest Treasure,
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.

As summer flowers we fade and die
Fame, youth and beauty hurry by
But life eternal calls to us
At the cross

I will not boast in wealth or might
Or human wisdom’s fleeting light
But I will boast in knowing Christ
At the cross


Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed - my ransom paid
At the cross


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Think about what Paul said- "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you..."

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:3-5).

One of our pastors preached on Colossians last Sunday. He noted the above introduction in Paul's letter. Paul prayed to Jesus in thanks for the saints.

Our pastor said, 'What if we prayed like that? Instead of when we pray and getting straight to our petitions, or even instead of getting straight to thanking Jesus for what He's given ourselves or done for us, we thank Him for our brethren?'

When was the last time I prayed in thanks for the saints around me, the saints around the world, the saints that have come before on whose works I rely? Hmmm, it's been a while I think.

I am thankful for our elders. We have a Teaching Pastor, an Associate Pastor and two elders who lead us in preaching, confession time, prayers, and devotionals. They are Godly men, humble, and filled with a heart of love for Jesus and service to Him. I know I am blessed to be growing under such men, and I do thank Jesus for them. Therefore I say,

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

We have a cadre of elder folks who are seasoned, mature, kind, doctrinally solid, and constant in their attendance, devotions, and service. They aren't coasting, they take nothing for granted, and they are always willing to lead, teach, encourage, or just silently be present. Therefore I say,

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

Some of our folks on a retreat.
In a most remarkable blessing, the largest demographic of members and attendees in our church are youngsters. These are youths aged from upper teens to mid twenties. The college crowd. Many are in undergraduate or graduate school in the area. Their eagerness and fervor is a boon to us elder folks. Their zeal to serve is refreshing. Most of all, they love Jesus and devour His word. Despite a heavy class load or demanding work schedule, they arise before dawn or stay well after dark to attend Bible groups. They faithfully attend church services. They drive 40 minutes and stay two hours just to seek advice from an older member. They happily jump in to serve by setting up or taking down, the drudge jobs. They love each other and they joyously submit to leadership. They are amazing. Therefore I say,

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

Next time, I won't lightly skim the intro to a letter, but as our elder preached, I'll stop and truly ponder what the writer is saying. Paul dwelled on praise to Jesus for the brethren, and I want to adopt that same mindset in prayer by thanking Jesus for them in my sphere and across the world.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Something positive, cute, and endearing

Today, a little something different. We're all used to the world's dark news. The negativity of the world and the evil that is all around us can be discouraging. Here's something I hope will lift your day and bring a smile to you.

From the internets:
The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him! (Proverbs 20:7).

From the BBC, their new kids' network CBeebies- this is 2 minutes-

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. (Luke 18:17).

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).

Even though there is persecution, false teachers, racism, riots, and evil, there are still fathers who love their children, and there are children with a child-like perspective that someday we will all be blessed with. The faith of children, pure, unadorned, unadulterated, and loving. May I be like a child!

Always remember, as long as there is Jesus, there is Hope!

Have a blessed day!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Can we interpret the Bible by finding out what this verse means to me?

Have you ever gone to a Bible study and either they use a curriculum or the Bible itself, and the teacher reads a passage and then opens it up for comments by saying "What does this verse mean to you"? What is happening here is the teacher is confusing interpretation and application. There's a book called Multiply from Multiply Movement, which is David Platt and Francis Chan, written in 2012. Here is an excerpt from link to chapter 9 of their free book-
Know the Difference between Interpretation and Application 
Maybe the most common mistake made in Bible interpretation is when people focus too much on "what this verse means to me." It’s not uncommon for Bible study groups to go around the circle as each person shares an individualized interpretation. Often these interpretations are made with little study and are heavily influenced by opinion and desire. Many times, the various interpretations are incompatible with one another. In this type of setting, the focus is not on what God is saying through the Bible. Instead, each person is focused on what he or she thinks the verse means. Whether it’s clearly articulated or not, this approach reveals the assumption that the Bible has a personalized meaning for each Christian. It might mean one thing to me, but another thing to you.
I'll use an exaggerated example here, by saying, one man might respond by saying 'Yes, this passage says to me that I can sin with impunity." And the other man says, " What it means to me is that I have to follow the Law." Can it be both? No. As with any text, the author had one thing in mind when He wrote it. The fact that there are many different interpretations doesn't mean that we can sow our own agenda into the Bible, come out with different interpretations, and think that that's OK. It isn't.
Sometimes when we talk about "what this passage means to me," we are actually talking about application, rather than interpretation. With interpretation, we are asking what the passage is saying and what it means. With application, we are applying that meaning to our specific situation. Ultimately, each passage has one meaning, but it might have many different applications.
Application depends on our specific life situations, so we may all read the same passage and walk away with different applications. Interpretation, on the other hand, is all about discovering what God has actually said and what He intended to communicate. We should all read the same passage and walk away with the same meaning. Source: Multiply.
The Multiply book is free in pdf format and there are also 24 videos to match each week's lessons.

In the Ligonier online class Principles of Biblical Interpretation, lecturer RC Sproul always says that there is ONE intended meaning for each passage in the Bible. There might be many applications, but the Author intended one meaning. I can give an example of this. In the passages describing the rapture and in the larger context of God's plan for humankind in history, some interpret the rapture to occur before the Day of the LORD, or during the Day of the LORD, or after the Day of the LORD. Since it is one event and it happens only once, there can't be an interpretation of the rapture that includes 'what it means to me' with three different timings.' Only one of those timings is right and the other two are wrong.

John MacArthur at Grace Community Church preached against personal revelation and preached how to interpret the Word properly in this sermon from 2013.

And here is a general lecture on How To Study Your Bible: Interpretation from MacArthur.

Can we understand the one meaning the Author intended? With study, prayer, and the aid of the Holy Spirit, yes. Some passages are admittedly more difficult to understand. Also, we know we can't understand all of the Bible in the same way the LORD does. However let me end with this story I've told and re-told. It fascinates me. Shortly after the Soviet Union fell, John MacArthur was asked by some pastors in the split-off nation of Kazakhstan to come give them a crash course in theology on various topics. The Communist Soviet Union had banned Christianity and when it fell, the secret pastors, new pastors, and new believers needed to get a good foundation in the open. MacArthur came.

At the end of the week, they asked to be taught on eschatology. MacArthur spent 8 hours teaching them from the Bible about last things. At the end of the teaching, they said, "Good. This is what we believe." Having no access to commentaries, external sermons, or other teachings, and relying solely on the Bible, these pastors on one part of the world believed the same thing as another pastor in another part of the world, because they had interpreted rightly and understood the one intended meaning.

Won't it be wonderful when we're there and we all understand the same, and have a strong union in Christ with no error or sin? Meanwhile, in order to reduce the possibility of error, pray fervently and often, study diligently and well, and do not fall for the 'what this verse means to me" claptrap. Stay true to discovering the wonders of the single, intended meaning of the passage you are reading.
Onward and upward!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The arrogance of self-sufficiency

"I'm self-sufficient. I'm proud of it."

That was me, before I was saved. I was saved by grace of Jesus Christ. My parents were intensely interested in raising their children as "self-sufficient" and "independent". I heard those words so often. I had to 'figure it out' or 'do for myself' more times than not. By the time I reached adulthood, I was proud of all the things I could do by myself, for myself, leaning on no other. Asking for help was anathema.

Of course all the instilling of self-sufficiency was a stumbling block to bending the knee, realizing how hopeless I was on my own, and asking Jesus for help. The fact that He calls us and we don't choose Him is a grace that will manifest itself in untold aspects throughout all eternity. I never would have asked. He chose me.

The pagan heart builds many idols. Any and all idols are in opposition to God. Idols are an enemy of God, and at enmity with Him. For me, the root of all that vaunted self-sufficiency is pride. I was proud of all that I could do. I was proud that I needed no one. I was proud of my capabilities- capabilities I'd cultivated and no one else.

Anything can be an idol. Self-sufficiency is one.

The Chaldeans were swimming in self-sufficiency. This idol permeated their actions and drenched their hearts in evil. Habakkuk proclaimed against it in chapter 2 of the book of Habakkuk. This prophet pronounced 5 woes on the Chaldeans (though they were not named, this was the original target audience.) As scripture has one meaning but many applications, these verses can and do apply to us today as we learn object lessons about doing for ourselves and not bowing to God's will for us.

The fifth woe was the woe upon idolators (2:18–20). In poignant verses, God asks if idols can speak-

What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.(Habakkuk 2:18-19).

Oh! How terrible for the idolater who asks dead wood and stone to speak! How sad we seek instruction from dead objects and not the Living God!

Any and all idols in our hearts teach us lies. We are the maker of the idol, so because of our sin nature, it teaches us the lie of sin. Can stone awaken and instruct us in the ways of righteousness?

"But I don't worship idols," you say. "I don't ask stone or wood to speak."

Do you seek instruction from horoscopes? The sun? "Mother Nature"? Do you rely on your intellect? Your capabilities? Your money? All idols! All dead!

The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a). God speaks of this New Testament truth in the Old Testament in Habakkuk 2:8, 2:17...

The Good News is that the rest of the Romans verse continues after speaking of the wages of sin, by a glorious promise.

but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:6b)

The antidote to self-sufficiency is humility. As this woman spoke so eloquently on Twitter this week,

Anna Crouse‏ @annacrouse_
Humility isn't a burden or humiliation or oppressive weight but is the only posture that can receive the wondrous grace gifts of God
Instead of "I can do it" we say "I can't do it. Lord I need you!"



Elyse Fitzpatrick: Idols of the Heart
Do you feel discouraged, even defeated, in your battle against habitual sin? Are you dismayed or surprised by the situations that bring out your fear, anger, or distress? Elyse Fitzpatrick delves into the heart of the problem: deep down, we're all idol-worshippers who put our loves, desires, and expectations in God's place—and then suffer the consequences of our misplaced affections. Yet God loves his people and can use even our messy lives and struggles for his glory. Fitzpatrick shows us how to better search and know our hearts, long for our gracious Savior, and resist and crush our false gods. Includes questions for further thought.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Tongue is a Rudder: A Sailing Story

I lived on a sailboat and cruised up and down the eastern seaboard for two years. Just as there is with any lifestyle, there are niches within that lifestyle. The circumnavigators go around the world, traveling for weeks across the seas from one continent to another. These folks are serious, and they generally have sold all they own and permanently live on their boat.

Then there were people like us who lived aboard and cruised along the shoreline. Live-aboard cruisers don't usually venture far out to sea, though we may be without sight of land for hours or a day or so on an overnight passage. We usually keep our houses and relationship attachments, live this way for a period of time, and then return to life on shore. This is called "swallowing the anchor". For liveaboards like is cruising is more of an adventure than a way of live.

Then there are the folks who own a sailboat and dock it at a yacht club and sail for a few hours on the weekend. Many of these folks dream of living aboard or circumnavigating but haven't been able to do so yet.

Though there are tiers of sailors with varying levels of commitment and skill, the Sea can be kind or cruel to each one of us. When an emergency happens while sailing on the ocean it's just as life threatening whether you're near shore or in the middle of the ocean.

Annie C. Maguire wreck. Portland ME. EPrata photo
photo Collections of ME Historical Society. FMI on the wreck-Source
My husband and I had sailed from Maine to Florida with a variety of passages that included motoring down the Intracoastal Waterway,sailing across huge Rivers and Sounds, and making some offshore overnight ocean passages. We'd finally arrived at Fort Lauderdale's Las Olas anchorage, the traditional launching off point to cross the Gulf Stream to the nearby nation of The Bahamas. It's 50 miles, but a tricky 50 miles.

The Gulf Stream is a fast moving river of water atop the ocean. The Gulf Stream is about 60 miles wide and runs at an average surface speed of 5.5 mph. Since the boat can sail at around 5 mph it means that the combined speed plus the Gulf Stream's fast northward push means you have to make exact navigation maths and be on constant vigilance. You could get pushed to Ireland if you're not careful. A worse disaster would be pushed a few miles, or even a few feet off course and wind up on the rocks, shipwrecked on the shores of a foreign nation or in hazardous waters.
You need to stay on your toes regarding weather. You'll be traveling in open ocean, the islands are low, some anchorages will be exposed on one or more sides, and there will be potentially rough passages through reefs and cuts between islands. Source
The warm waters of the Gulf Stream (red). FL is at bottom,
the topmost island left side is town of West End, Grand Bahama Island.
So you start off from Ft. Lauderdale and let the Gulf Stream push you north and your sails push you east toward the intended harbor. The biggest danger is a wind that flows from the north tot he south, and meets the Gulf Stream waters moving from the south heading north. The collisions of southerly flowing air and northerly flowing fast water makes for a steep waves. Steep waves are rough because the front part of the boat (the bow) goes up and then down fast. At least with a rolling wave the boat can roll with it. A steep chop makes the boat pound. Pounding is hard on everyone and is hard on the boat.

Because crossing over the Gulf Stream is a bit dangerous and not for the fainthearted, mariners usually take off from the anchorage in little groups. Safety in numbers. Not that if anything happens we can go from one boat to another to troubleshoot the problem, but if the worst happens we can rescue a person from the water or call for the Coast Guard for help and stand by.

So our little clutch set off in the dark hours, so we would arrive at a time when the rising sun would be over our shoulders and not in our eyes. The weather report was for gentle winds flowing north, which would actually help flatten the Gulf Stream waters.

All was well ... sailing over the bounding main ... for a while.

The wind unexpectedly shifted from the south to the north, creating that dreaded sharp, steep chop. The boats took a pounding. Then the rain and thunder and lighting started. It was dark and it was of the boats' rudders broke.

I think you know how important a rudder is. It is a tiny thing, relatively speaking, a small part of the boat. Not heavy like the motor, not showy like the sails. However it's the most critical part, since it steers the boat. Without the rudder, our friend's yacht was drifting helplessly in the storm, in the Gulf Stream, toward the reefs. They were at the mercy of waves, rocks, and winds. They had no control and it was terrifying.

When we put bits into the mouths of the horses to make them obey us, we can guide the whole animal. Consider ships as well. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot is inclined. In the same way, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it boasts of great things! James 3:3-5

A small rudder can guide the whole boat. A small muscle like the tongue can guide the whole body. With the rudder not guiding the boat, it was at the mercy of other more destructive things than the pilot's inclination. Just like the tongue. The 'pilot' must be in control of the tongue so it does not become subjugated to other, more destructive things like slander, gossip, tale-bearing, and criticism. These are the rocks and reefs of relationships, as Jude describes in Jude 1:12-13, using the same sailing metaphors of waves, reefs, and winds.

I was busy handling our boat and my husband was on the VHF radio in contact with the stricken vessel. We all had slowed down and were kind of trying to circle around them and stay close. It was hard to do so in the storm. Eventually the other men talked him through and somehow he got his rudder fixed.

We were off course by then so we had to regroup and figure out how to get back on track. The winds were still high and we were in the hump of the Gulf Stream, the current was flowing fast. Entering West End Grand Bahama was a tricky maneuver of sliding between reefs through a narrow channel. We were off by a few feet. However you can see the destruction ready for the unwary in the Annie C. Maguire vintage photo above. They were only off by a few feet also.

Providentially, there was a Good Samaritan who happened to be carrying a VHF radio who happened to be walking the beach who guided us in. If he had not been there we would have ended up on the rocks. It's another example of how the Lord protected me until the appointed time for salvation, 13 years later.

I'll never forget the terror of our friends losing their rudder. Even though the James verse about taming the tongue by using marine metaphors is vividly alive for me, I still failed in this last week. I've repented. After listening to a lecture by Justin Peters on the importance of wholesome talk and the destructive inclinations of the tongue by gossip, I will do better this week. I do not want to end up on the rocks for correction. I am the pilot. I am in charge of my boat. With the Holy Spirit to guide me safely to port, I know I have all the help I need.

EPrata photo
The dark blob in the foreground is a coral head. Their sharpness can rip the keel or underside of your boat like a razor. The boat with two men on it is grounded. The water gets shallow very fast in The Bahamas. In the middle horizon, those brown humps are the land, which is just a few feet above sea level. Now picture trying to find the right channel, in the dark, in a storm, on 0 sleep in the last 24 hours.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Bible is so amazing

In my Bible reading there are some verses that have 'jumped out' at me lately:

do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. (Romans 11:18).

He supports me. Isn't that a lovely thought? I do not want to be arrogant and take HIS glory away.


Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16).

As a writer, I admire the beauty among this economy of words. Only the Spirit could inspire such gorgeous writing that proclaims such truth!


For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face. (Psalm 11:7).

To behold such glorious righteousness is a thought that both encourages me and makes me tremble. What a day that will be!

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. (Proverbs 11:4).

I praise the Lord I do not have a lust for riches. I know people who do (did). Some spend their entire life accumulating, lusting for expensive things, hoarding wealth. Unless there was a miraculous deathbed conversion, they are languishing in a place where their riches do not profit them. Thank You Lord for Your righteousness that is indeed riches beyond measure.


Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35).

How amazing that we will personally hear Him speak these words someday!


The Bible is so rich, so beautiful. The many verses and passages and stories convict, inspire, point to the glory of the's staggering that this Book contains so much and is so everlasting.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Movie Review: The Queen of Katwe

I spend almost more time looking for and reading reviews of movies than I do watching them. I don't have the time to waste on a bad movie during the school year, and though I have more time at home during the summer never do I want to watch something that will be blasphemous, offensive, or pass before my eyes things I can't unwatch. I know you feel the same.

Here is a synopsis and review of a movie I feel is worth watching for the entire family (tweens and up): Queen of Katwe. The movie summary says: A school-drop out named Phiona (pronounced like Fiona) living in the slum of Katwe sells maize along with her brother to help her family survive. Her older sister has already succumbed to the lure of being a kept women and the widowed mother is wearily but with dignity striving to instill in her remaining children hope where it seems that life is hopeless. At this moment in their family life Phiona is discovered to have an agile and highly advanced mind and is a genius at chess.

(Common Sense Media's review & synopsis here.)

That this is a true story and in fact it has recently occurred, which makes it all the more compelling. At the end of the movie you will see each character and what has become of them. In addition to the themes noted above by Common Sense Media is one that is often overlooked: the cycle of poverty.

The slum outside Kampala Uganda known as Katwe is one of the largest and most dire of slums in that country. The overwhelming filth, poverty, and dense living conditions are not glossed over in this movie produced by Disney. As Phiona rises through the ranks in chess championships and her world gradually expands, eventually she must come to terms with who she is and if her origins define her character or if her character will define her character.

The interplay of rich v. poor, impoverished origins v. entitlement impact the girl greatly. It's a similar theme shown in My Fair Lady. As Eliza Doolittle rises from Cockney impoverished flower girl to genteel lady she wonders where she belongs and who she is if she is no longer "poor" and has to struggle for survival. Will Phiona take the daring leap into the unknown or retreat into what she is used to, even though that means remaining a cog in the grinding cycle of poverty? At points, the outcome is by no means certain and the movie deftly shows why.

For family viewing, several scenes are mildly intense. Phiona's brother is run over by a motorcycle and Phiona's desperate near-helplessness to get him to a clinic and obtain the medical services he needs are gripping. Throughout the movie I'd wondered why the slum shacks are entered by walking over planks or pallets situated over a deep trench. The flood scene showed me. Monsoon rains are beyond heavy and Phiona's toddler brother nearly dies in a flood that sweeps through their derelict home. I read later that Katwe's seasonal floods are so bad that people sleep on their roofs - if they have a roof - so as not to drown at night.

The scene that most affected me is when the chess team has traveled to a fancy championship location and they are put up in dormitories for the night. The youth pastor who leads the sports ministry, including this chess team, is momentarily startled when he arrives at their room to tuck them in, all the beds are empty and all the bedding remained where it was at the first, neatly folded and piled on the end of each cot. A momentary panic rises in his eyes until he sees all of the children huddled up on the floor in the corner, slum family style, their own clothes and brought scarves and fabrics for covers. It was what they were used to.

The movie does not gloss over the entrenchment of the cycle of poverty the difficulties in rising out of it, and the lingering issues that haunt those who do, including prejudice of the entitled against the poor. Though one of the main characters is a youth pastor, and his chess club is part of a sports mission, no mention is made of Jesus or what denomination he is from or any religious discussions at all. However, he is depicted as a trustworthy man fighting for his charges with love and devotion. It's produced by Disney so the production values are excellent. Recommended.

Prata's Place / Graceful Garlands: Gradual Growth

My title comes from Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland ...