Monday, February 29, 2016

Reblog from The Master's Seminary: "Teach Your People to Suffer"

I work with people who have lost children to accident, or miscarriage. I work with people who lost spouses, who have been through trauma or war. Below is a wonderful essay in which the author recounts the agony and the blessing of his and his wife's trial, and the suffering they endured to the glory of God. The author's point is:
Friend, if you’re a Bible-study leader, Sunday school teacher, and especially if you’re a pastor, I beg you: prepare your people for suffering!
Originally published at The Master's Seminary

Teach Your People to Suffer
Eric Dodson February 29, 2016
My lovely wife and I were sitting in a parenting class at church, when the chairman of the elder board came and asked for us. Actually he asked for “the parents of Calvin Dodson.” Slightly embarrassed, thinking our little one must have thrown a fit, or done something else to show we really needed the parenting class, we got up and went with him. 
As we left the room and headed down the stairs, he let us know that our 8-month-old son had experienced a seizure and that the nursery staff had called 911. Stunned, we came in his nursery room to find our son—our youngest at the time—being tended to by a nurse. He had blue lips and barely moved. It was terrifying. 
That scene began what has turned into a nearly three-year trial that’s included many trips to Children’s Hospital LA, two of our sons experiencing multiple seizures, sleepless nights, many tears, and the dreaded news that their condition could end their life before adulthood.
It’s been a terrible trial, and it’s been an incredible blessing. 
That may seem impossible to say, and three years ago, I might not have believed it myself. But the truth is that this trial—the most suffering we’ve ever faced—has been an immeasurable blessing. It has been such a blessing because of the amazing church we attend, a church with leaders who prepare their people to suffer. 
Friend, if you’re a Bible-study leader, Sunday school teacher, and especially if you’re a pastor, I beg you: prepare your people for suffering! 
Suffering is a present reality. 
Just turn on the news, and it’s obvious that today’s culture is a living testimony to the truths of Romans 1. As society continues to rebel against God, reject his teaching, and increase in unrighteousness, suffering is the inevitable result. We live in a fallen world filled with disease, political strife, wars, racial tension—evil! As those who shepherd God’s flock, we must prepare them to live in such a world. We must prepare them for suffering. 
Christians should expect suffering. 
Not only should we prepare our people for the suffering that results from living in a fallen world; we must also prepare them for the unique suffering that is guaranteed for those who follow Christ. Suffering is part of the Christian life. Scripture speaks repeatedly of the suffering Christians are bound to face (Romans 8; 2 Corinthians 1; Philippians 1:29, 3:8-10; Colossians 1:24; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; James 1). Nearly the entire books of 2 Timothy and 1 Peter are devoted to helping Christians deal with suffering. Christ warned the church of Smyrna that they would face great suffering (Revelation 2:9–11). Scripture makes it abundantly clear; Christians will suffer. If we are to teach the whole counsel of God, we must teach our people about suffering.
Suffering produces sanctification. 
Scripture not only promises that Christians will suffer; it also tells us that suffering is not without cause. In fact, we are to rejoice in our trials knowing that they are one of the tools God uses to make us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4). What an incredible encouragement that is! We must not help our people avoid suffering or be chiefly concerned with helping them escape trials as soon as possible. We must encourage them to learn from their trials, to rejoice in the sanctifying work God is doing through their suffering. 
Suffering increases fellowship. 
One of the oft-overlooked benefits of the church as the body of Christ paradigm is found in 1 Corinthians 12:26: 
And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it… 
It’s difficult to overstate the impact suffering can have on the depth of fellowship within the body of Christ. Suffering provides the church a unique opportunity to grow in compassion, understanding, and love for one another. Trials provide a chance for the church to truly, practically bear one another’s burdens, and to model the love of Christ for the world. 
Suffering produces hope.
One of the greatest gifts of suffering is the contrast it provides with the glory that is to come. Paul celebrates this truth beautifully in Romans 8:18: 
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 
Friend, that is far more than a religious platitude. That is glorious truth! The great hope for Christians—suffering any type of trial—is the unfathomable glory that awaits. Our suffering ought to point us to that. Our trials ought to increase our anticipation, increase our longing for future glory. 
There is coming a day, when the curse that weighs heavy on this world will be lifted, when the redeemed of the nations will worship together free from persecution, when there will be no more conflict, political strife, or war. There’s a glorious day yet future when no one is scraping pennies just to get by, no wife loses her husband to cancer, no more little boys with seizures. The trials of this day point us forward with ever-growing expectation of that glorious day.

* * * *

Eric is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, and shepherds a Bible study through the Cornerstone Fellowship Group at Grace Community Church. He works as a Broadcast Copywriter at Grace To You. He and his wife, Tara, have three sons.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

"The Tape Recorder Judgment"

Every human will be judged. There are two kinds of judgment. One is for the lost, judgment for their sin. God will judge them and then cast them into hell for all eternity to endure the punishment of His wrath. (Revelation 20:11-15). This is known as the Great White Throne Judgment.

The other judgment is not really a judgment, more of an evaluation. All believers will stand before Christ after the rapture, and He will evaluate their lives based on what they did for Him, and what their motivation was. Christ will judge our works. We aren't under wrath because as believers we entered heaven through the Door of Jesus, and He already exhausted God's wrath for us by absorbing our punishment for sins when He was on the cross. So, God is not angry with us like He is with the unbelievers, but we can lose rewards that we would have otherwise earned. This is known as the Bema Seat. (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Hebrews 10:31 says "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Though we have nothing to fear, just thinking about standing before Jesus and having all my works and secrets of the heart exposed is cringe-worthy. To add fuel to the fire, so to speak, our pastor said the following last Sunday. I'll paraphrase.

He was in a court situation observing a woman who was about to be sentenced for her DUI charge. As the court came together and the judge was preparing to speak the verdict, our pastor said that he could see the defendant begin to shake. Her arm quivered visibly, then her leg. She soon was shaking uncontrollably. A human judge was about the render a verdict in her crime, and she knew she was guilty. Her shaking increased. It is a fearful thing to be publicly judged for our crimes.

Now imagine this.

Imagine that God put a tape recorder around your neck. For the next year, He recorded everything you said. At the end of the year, He took off the tape recorder and played it back. Imagine then, He uses the same level of judgment that you used when talking to other people or about other people...on you.

It makes us cringe, doesn't it? And if we think that our own words used against us as the benchmark of judgment is harsh, a human standard, what then of God's holy and perfect standard? One cannot even conceive of being able to stand before Him.

If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3)

And yet those who are in Christ, will be able to stand.

The Psalm verse goes on to show the glorious reason why,

But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Psalm 130:4)

If in thinking of the tape recorded judgments you utter make you shrink back in fear of having those same levels of judgment thrown back at you... if thinking of that human standard makes you fear of their exposure before Jesus' much higher Godly standard, that is the fear of the Lord. It is a good fear. It is a Godly fear. It is the kind of fear that keeps our behavior and our sins in perspective. God's holy standard of judgment are perfect and unimaginable, and thinking of them rendered upon the lost makes me feel more compassion for them, instead of irritation. Thinking of my own words used against me to judge me, keeps me more honest about my conversations.

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (James 3:6).

Friday, February 26, 2016

Of Tractor Beams and Irresistible Grace

My walk toward the cross was more like trench warfare. I fought it. During the time of the most pitched spiritual warfare, I created a lot of art in attempts to understand what was going on with me as my spirit fought the Savior but I couldn't express it in words.

In this piece below I felt intuitively that my spirit was trying to transform but something was holding me down while at the same time something was pulling me up. In the piece below, the butterfly is broken and unable to transform because it is caught in a net as it attempts to fight off whatever has captured it. The poem, which I re-typed in larger font, mentions Strigoi. This is a folk personage who, in Romanian legend, is a kind of vampire. I intuitively felt that a dark force of evil had caught me, so I used the reference to Strigoi.

Strangely (though not so strangely if you understand the Bible) I was trying to get "upward" toward something better, BUT NOT JESUS! Horrors, anything except Jesus! I bought Buddhist books, pagan books, New Age gooks, psychology books, all in vain attempts to stave off the one last resort to try- Jesus. I was vigorous about it.

During that time I felt that the world had two elements to it, good, or love, and evil. I represented that fight in this piece, called 'Intelligent Design.'

You might notice that same cupola in Intelligent Design that is in the Suspended Transformation piece. It has a sort of evil eye as a wind vane and to me, seemed very demonic. It represented a strong tower or fortress of evil. My mistake then was thinking that good, or love, and evil were equal combatants in this world. Of course I know now that Jesus has overcome everything and evil bows to His will. The battle is not equal. It is not even.

I remember shortly after I was saved, this battle and its exigencies were still fresh in my mind and very palpable. I said to a church friend of the Arminian type, "I was brought to the cross kicking and screaming." She looked at me and dismissively said, "You were not!" My friend and her circle in which I was involved strongly believed that the believer decides for him or herself to go forward down an aisle and the walk down the aisle is littered with rose petals, dancing unicorns and rainbows. While that may be some people's experience, my own experience at salvation was one of agony, blood, tears, and resistance. I did not want to go. But I could not resist.

Source The Graphics Fairy

On Star Trek, tractor beams were a beam that emanated from a spaceship and when aimed at a lesser vessel, inexorably drew the then-helpless vessel toward the greater vessel. No matter if the lesser vessel had its shields up, or if its thrusters were in full reverse, or if they attempted to bug out at warp speed, once caught in the Tractor Beam, they could not escape and were pulled to the Vessel. The name 'tractor beam' was coined from food chemist and science fiction writer E.E. Smith's original "Attractor Beam." I was a Trekkie (original series) and I always liked the tractor beam. I did not know, but God knew, that decades later I would be caught in His tractor beam of grace.

Today I understand that God wrote our names down in His Lamb's Book of Life before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4). The default condition of every person on earth is that we are all sinners all the time and we do not seek God. (Romans 3:10-11).

However, His grace is such that, at the appointed time, God uses His irresistible grace as a tractor beam to draw people to His Son. (John 6:44). Without it, we would never willingly "choose Jesus." We can't and if we are drawn, initially we resist. However God is so mighty and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, so no one can resist it forever. Otherwise it would mean that satan and man can frustrate God.

John Murray said of irresistible grace:
The enmity of the human heart is most virulent at the point of the supreme revelation of God’s glory. So deep-seated and persistent is the contradiction that the Saviour as the embodiment of grace is rejected. It is when we recognize this that the need for irresistible grace is perceived.
No one cay say to Him, "Nah, I'm good." Could Lazarus reply to Jesus in the tomb, "I want to lay here a little longer." No. The Doctrine of Irresistible grace is the "I" in the TULIP acronym for the Doctrines of Grace. Though personal experience is not the final analysis of anything, I know my salvation walk was fraught with resistance. I dug in my heels.
It is a moral and spiritual impossibility for a person to come to Christ apart from the Father’s drawing. What we find now is that it is a moral and spiritual impossibility for the person given by the Father to the Son not to come. There is by Jesus’ verdict the invariable conjunction of these two diverse kinds of action—“all that the Father giveth me will come to me.” There is invincible efficacy in the Father’s action and this means grace irresistible. (John Murray)
At the time I was revolted by the notion of anything about Jesus, that the something better my heart was wanting was indeed Him. I  now am grateful every day that I know Him and that I can ponder His beauty and wondrous glory at any moment of the day. I can read His word at any time and earn more about Him. I can pray and enter into the throne room. I can see Him in other people of the faith. He is endlessly fascinating to me, to a degree that is as far as the east is from the west as I had found Him revolting before salvation. Only Jesus could turn such a drenched heart of sin and His very name on my tongue made it bitter, to one of cleansed wonder for His glory. Only him. Thank God we cannot resist Him.

For more on Irresistible Grace,

CARM definition and supporting verses

Irresistible Grace is the Power of God

The Doctrine of God's Effectual Call

John Murray on Irresistible Grace, From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: | Phone: 1-800-435-4343”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Prata's Potpourri: The Queen of England, Risen, ShepCon, Narcigesis, more

Risen, a movie centered around the resurrection of Jesus, is just out. The plot synopsis says,
In 33 AD, a Roman Tribune in Judea is tasked to find the missing body of an executed Jew rumored to have risen from the dead.
I won't see "Risen." I'm not a demographic, I'm not a market, I'm not merchandise. I won't trade money on my faith, because it's not entertainment. I won't participate in the merchandising of my faith. (2 Peter 2:3).

That's not to say that I never buy any Christian merchandise. I do. I buy Bibles. I buy theological books. I buy Christian fiction. I pay for movies that have Christian themes. So what's the difference between that merchandising and the merchandising I mention in Risen? Risen purports to show a foundational doctrine of our faith, with an actor playing "Jesus." It purports to show His resurrection, THE main ingredient of the Christian faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14). And as some reviewers admit, there are added elements in the film and other elements which occurred are omitted. Why go see a movie that from the outset you know has twisted the Doctrine of the Resurrection and included errors and omissions?

There is another kind of merchandising I've mentioned frequently on this blog. Whenever a 'Christian' movie is released, churches are inundated with merchandise sales pitches. Study guides, devotionals, bracelets, workbooks, bookmarks...trinkets. That's another kind of merchandising. Both kinds diminish the glory and uniqueness of our faith and makes our Jesus small. Didn't he cleanse the Temple? I'd rather save my money to buy a solid book to give away to a friend than spend the money to see a flawed movie for myself.

However, I hold no judgment against anyone who chooses to see that or any other Christian movie. It's an area of liberty. I personally know that if I see Risen with its added and omitted elements that those will remain in my head and I won't be able to get them out. My mind is weak that way. So my choice is to refrain. If you're considering seeing the movie, here is the author of Gentle Reformation with three reasons to consider not to. And he really is gentle.

Risen: Movies, Faith, and the Bible

Here is AW Tozer  (1897-1963) on The Menace of the Religious Movie


It's time for the annual Shepherd's Conference! It is one conference I look forward to every year. It is a conference ministering to Pastors held at Grace Community Church, annually in March. It makes it sweeter this year because a friend of mine started at The Master's College (a college associated with the Church) this past January. He will be helping there. What a blessing this conference has turned out to be. The dates are March 9-13. Speakers are John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, Paul Washer, Tom Pennington, Phil Johnson, Steven Lawson, and Nathan Busenitz. And time flies, it's the 36th annual conference.
The first Shepherds' Conference was held on March 19, 1980, on the campus of Grace Community Church. That year, 159 men gathered under the leadership of our pastor to focus on the theme of pastoral ministry. ... [in 2015] nearly 1,200 volunteers served in a variety of different capacities—and from our high school students to our experienced senior saints, everyone's effort made a difference. As a result, more than 60,000 printed resources were distributed, 40,000 cups of coffee were served, and more than 13,000 volunteer hours were invested.
Last year, about 4,000 men attended. What a blessing this conference has come to be for the attendees, volunteers, and virtual pastors and participants all across the globe. Definitely tune in when you can. The sound of 4000 men all singing traditional hymns to the glory of God is an experience you won't soon forget.


Narcigesis is a newly coined word. The word exegesis means "critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture." Since our world is so narcissistic today, the word narcigesis is a take-off on that, meaning to make the interpretation of the text be about one's self (instead of about Jesus, John 5:39, Luke 24:27).

Though this clip is new, it's made the rounds quite a bit. That's because it is a classic example of narcigesis. As Beth Moore opens the scripture to explain it, she says,

"We're about to put ourselves in the storyline, because that's what Jesus is after today."

Um, okaaay. So somewhere in the Bible Jesus changed His mind about all scripture pointing to Him, and now says, scripture points to you." I think not. I also think not that Beth knows what Jesus is after and is teaching from this "knowledge".

Jeff Maples explains more at Psalm 12 Outreach.


I like Queen Elizabeth II. My grandmother was from England and one of my early memories is Gramma's dish with the portrait of the Queen on it displayed on the wall of her apartment. The Queen seems nice, from what a commoner can know about a monarch who rules another nation and lives a private life in a castle with carefully scripted and choreographed interview sessions. I've often wondered if the Queen worships Jesus. This article discusses it a bit more.

Queen Elizabeth Calls Jesus Christ 'The King She Serves' in 90th Birthday Book

Did you know QEII watches Downton Abbey? In this article it's reported that the Queen caught a historical error on the show.


A Pair of Adorably Useful Earplugs Shaped Like Each End of a Tiny Dachshund

That is all.


I'm a cat lover but in attempts to be an equal opportunity pet promoter here is another thingie about dogs. (Well not really equal, I'm just throwing you a bone. See what I did there?)

Here is Boo the Pomeranian getting groom, eyes closing in delight as someone plays with his hair. Who hasn't been there? Come on, you know you have.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

False prophets will be stabbed

False teachers and false prophets are a scourge. They always have been. Ever since the beginning, satan has been lying to humans, and as prince of the power of the air he has sent his demon horde to influence false teachers and make them prophesy falsely. (Deuteronomy 13:6–10; 18:20; Matthew 24:11). Gullible Christians and the lost have believed these false prophecies and untrue teachings ever since.

Probably today's false teachers are aren't more numerous than they were in the first century, though it feels like they are. Apologist James R. White said today
there are not more heretics today, there is just more availability of making your heresy known. 
However any Christian with a modicum of faith or any grain of loyalty to Jesus will be aggrieved when coming up against a false prophet or hearing about a heretical teaching. I am. I am a lot.

Like ants at a picnic, these false teachers are everywhere, and more are popping up every day. Jesus is in control and has ordained each and every one. As He does with everything, He has a purpose for false teaching.

What Is God's Purpose With False Teaching? asks and answers John Piper.

Or this, from Dr. Paul M. Elliott, "Why Does God Permit False Teachers in the Church?"
God uses the response to false teaching on the part of the members of the visible church, individually and corporately, to demonstrate who is true to Him and to His Word, and who is not. To put it another way, God is building a record that Christ will use at the Last Judgment, when many will come before Him and claim to have done many wonders in His name, but Jesus will say, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:23).
The main reasons God permits false teachers is that first, sin exists in the world. False teaching is sin. Secondly, it's used to test His people. So though it's a grief, a burden, and a scourge, God has His purposes for allowing it.

And then sweet relief will come! There will come a day when false prophets will not be allowed!

After the rapture, and after the conclusion of the Tribulation, in that order, a Kingdom on earth will be established. It will last for 1000 years. It is colloquially called the Millennium Kingdom. It will be an actual kingdom whereupon incarnated Jesus walks among His people, rules from Jerusalem, (Revelation 2:27) administers affairs of the nations, and receives worship (including sacrifices) in the Temple. (Isaiah 56:6-8; Zechariah 14:16; Jeremiah 33:15-18, Ezekiel 43:18-46:24)

Satan will be bound in the pit along with his demon horde. (Revelation 20:1-3). The people occupying the Kingdom will have relief from satan, finally! However, sin will still be present. Some of the people who survived the Tribulation will be mortal, and thy will enter the Kingdom along with us (glorified at the rapture) and the Old Testament saints (resurrected at the end of the Tribulation) and Tribulation martyrs (resurrected at the end of the Tribulation). These mortals will repopulate the earth through procreation, and their children will do the same and so on, for 1000 years. These mortals will still have a sin nature, which will express itself at the end of the 1000 year kingdom when satan is released from the pit and gathers the secretly sinful like sands upon the sea to rebel against Jesus. (Revelation 20:7-8).

But meanwhile during the blissful 1000 year Kingdom, there will be no false teaching, no false teachers, no false prophecies!

"And if anyone again prophesies, his father and mother who bore him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the LORD.’ And his father and mother who bore him shall pierce him through when he prophesies." (Zechariah 13:3)

False prophets will be immediately stabbed. Even by his parents.
The form of phraseology here is drawn from De 13:6–10; 18:20. The substantial truth expressed is that false prophecy shall be utterly abolished. If it were possible for it again to start up, the very parents of the false prophet would not let parental affection interfere, but would be the first to thrust him through. Love to Christ must be paramount to the tenderest of natural ties (Mt 10:37). Much as the godly love their children, they love God and His honor more. (Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible) 
The dance between false prophets and demons will end. Matthew Henry:
False prophecy shall also be brought to an end: I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit, the prophets that are under the influence of the unclean spirit, to pass out of the land. The devil is an unclean spirit; sin and uncleanness are from him; he has his prophets, that serve his interests and receive their instructions from him. Take away the unclean spirit, and the prophets would not deceive as they do; take away the false prophets that produce sham commissions, and the unclean spirit could not do the mischief he does. When God designs the silencing of the false prophets he banishes the unclean spirit out of the land, that wrought in them, and was a rival with him for the throne in the heart. Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible
Of the Zechariah 13:3 verse, John MacArthur comments:
Because of the salvation of God that has cleansed God's people and made them love Him and His truth, hatred of false prophecy will overrule normal human feelings, causing even a mother or father to put their apostate child to death. This is a stern reminder of hos God feels about and will eventually treat those preaches who misrepresent the truth.
Contrast the Zechariah verse of Millennium parents killing their own child because he speaks false prophecy, to the verse in Matthew 10:21 when in the last days parents will kill their offspring for speaking the Truth.

What a time that will be! When love for Jesus and His truth is the worldwide global attitude! For all my brethren who read this, it's an essay about prophecy, obviously. It is also encouragement. Jesus IS in control. He has a plan, and that plan includes the [hopefully soon] day when He will rule and reign personally and false prophets will not be tolerated. What a day that will be.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Abandoning the Bible Reading Plan

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had decided to adopt a Reading Plan for the first time and include an audio reading portion of the plan. Through Bible Gateway I had been listening to Max McLean read Robert Murray M'Cheyene's plan. I liked McLean's reading and of course I love the Bible, but after a month of it I'd felt my absorption of its truths were temporary, shallow, and not as lasting as when I read the Bible myself in a systematic bot non-externally organized way.

I had succumbed to the New Year pressure of people doing plans and talking about them. It is a good thing to systematically pursue truth by an organized reading plan. We have so many resources available to us these days that it seemed a shame not to endeavor to join the fray and take advantage of one.

But alas, it was not for me. I abandoned the reading plan a few days ago.

When I studied the Bible before the Plan, I'd just pick a book and read it through. I stopped reading for the day when I felt full up and unable to absorb any more. Sometimes that occurred after half a chapter. Other times I read two or three chapters before I felt unable to spiritually absorb any more. Usually while reading, my mind raced with ideas and questions and I eagerly looked up parallel verses, the Greek words, or other verses the Spirit brought to mind. I have a small Post-it notes next to my table and I jotted down ideas and thoughts to pursue later. Here is the pile of Post-its I haven't yet pursued, written before I started the plan:


Here are the ideas, notes, and things to pursue written down after I started the Plan:

So I decided to dump the Plan and go back to the way I used to read the Bible. I think it's good to experiment, and it's good to be flexible. I had been reading Genesis when I started the Plan and one of the readings each day was also in Genesis, which brought me up to chapter 30. Our pastor plans to begin a tour of Genesis in his preaching schedule next week, so I think I will stick with Genesis for now and continue reading my old way. Which is to say, just read it.

Here is Charles Spurgeon with an introduction to his sermon on

How to Read the Bible (No. 1503)
Delivered by C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Have ye not read?...Have ye not read?...If ye had known what this meaneth."—(Matthew 12:3-7). 
THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES were great readers of the law. They studied the sacred books continually, poring over each word and letter. They made notes of very little importance, but still very curious notes—as to which was the middle verse of the entire old Testament, which verse was halfway to the middle, and how many times such a word occurred, and even how many times a letter occurred, and the size of the letter, and its peculiar position. They have left us a mass of wonderful notes upon the mere words of Holy Scripture. They might have done the same thing upon another book for that matter, and the information would have been about as important as the facts which they have so industriously collected concerning the letter of the old Testament.
They were, however, intense readers of the law. They picked a quarrel with the Saviour upon a matter touching this law, for they carried it at their fingers' ends, and were ready to use it as a bird of prey does its talons to tear and rend. Our Lord's disciples had plucked some ears of corn, and rubbed them between their hands. According to Pharisaic interpretation, to rub an ear of corn is a kind of threshing, and, as it is very wrong to thresh on the Sabbath day, therefore it must be very wrong to rub out an ear or two of wheat when you are hungry on the Sabbath morning. That was their argument, and they came to the Saviour with it, and with their version of the Sabbath law. 
The Saviour generally carried the war into the enemy's camp, and he did so on this occasion. He met them on their own ground, and he said to them, "Have ye not read?"—a cutting question to the scribes and Pharisees, though there is nothing apparently sharp about it. It was very a fair and proper question to put to them; but only think of putting it to them. "Have ye not read?" "Read!" they could have said, "Why, we have read the book through very many times. We are always reading it. No passage escapes our critical eyes." Yet our Lord proceeds to put the question a second time—"Have ye not read?" as if they had not read after all, though they were the greatest readers of the law then living. 
He insinuates that they have not read at all; and then he gives them, incidentally, the reason why he had asked them whether they had read. He says, "If ye had known what this meaneth," as much as to say, "Ye have not read, because ye have not understood." Your eyes have gone over the words, and you have counted the letters, and you have marked the position of each verse and word, and you have said learned things about all the books, and yet you are not even readers of the sacred volume, for you have not acquired the true art of reading; you do not understand, and therefore you do not truly read it. You are mere skimmers and glancers at the Word: you have not read it, for you do not understand it.
Spurgeon then mentions something worse. Those who don't skim, but don't even read.
You have Bibles at home, I know; you would not like to be without Bibles, you would think you were heathens if you had no Bibles. You have them very neatly bound, and they are very fine looking volumes: not much thumbed, not much worn, and not likely to be so, for they only come out on Sundays for an airing, and they lie in lavender with the clean pocket handkerchiefs all the rest of the week. 
Ouch. Lord, let not a day go by when I have not attended with all diligence to Your word.

For the rest of Spurgeon's sermon, go here.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Have you laid down your sword of the Spirit?

Jesus promised us trials in this world, but He followed that promise with a reminder, He has overcome the world. (John 16:32-33). There are many reasons we undergo trials. Sometimes it's to count it all joy that we are participating in the trials Jesus underwent. Sometimes it's because the testing we receive through a trial helps us discern the will of God. (Romans 12:2). Trials produce endurance (James 1:2-4). Testing and trials prove our faith. (1 Peter 1:6-7).

We live on a battlefield, and it isn't even our home turf we are fighting for. Our home is in heaven, we are strangers and aliens here. Satan wants to subdue us, break us, entice us into a snare and immobilize us. We are warned to remain vigilant (1 Peter 5:8, Matthew 26:41). So we fight, relentlessly, constantly.

1 Corinthians 16:13 says, Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

The Lord didn't leave us defenseless. He gave us armor. We are outfitted from head to toe, and we hold a mighty sword.

and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, (Ephesians 6:18)

The sword is specifically the word of God. It is the only offensive weapon in the Christian's armor. The helmet, breastplate, shield, belt, and shoes are defensive.

The sword mentioned in the verse is not a broadsword. It is a sharp dagger, which all soldiers had at hand.

Sword: CC0 Public Domain Free use No
attribution required. Grass, EPrata photo
What happens though is that a Christian may be vigilant for a while, and then he lays down his sword (which is the scripture). He is sitting at the campfire, mending his shoes or polishing his breastplate. The vigilant soldier keeps the sword handy for taking up when the battle heats up again. But some lay it down in the grass, and wander a bit away, looking for daisies to pick, or to follow a butterfly. They wander farther and farther, and then suddenly the battle heats up and they are caught without their only offensive weapon! They go back to try and find it but weeds have sprung up and hidden the sword.

Matthew Henry says,
Those who would prove themselves to have true grace, must aim at all grace; and put on the whole armour of God, which he prepares and bestows. The Christian armour is made to be worn; and there is no putting off our armour till we have done our warfare, and finished our course. (Matthew Henry)
Don't let too many days go by without reading the Word. When Jesus was tempted by the Devil, He countered with the word. And the fact that the Ephesians verse distinguishes between the two types of swords, the broadsword v. the dagger and specifically used the word for dagger in this case, means that the the Christian is to wield it with precision. Jesus knew exactly which scriptures to use in reply to the devil. A Christian who knows some scripture but not many isn't going to be an effective soldier nor a good witness.
There is no armor specified for the back, but only for the front of the body; implying that we must never turn our back to the foe (Lu 9:62); our only safety is in resisting ceaselessly (Mt 4:11; Jas 4:7). Jamieson Fausset Brown)
Is your Bible in the weeds, metaphorically? Or is it by your side, in your heart, on your mind? Be a good soldier, and have your offensive weapon ready when trials come. They will come. Jesus promised it. And He always keeps His promises.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

If earth is this beautiful...

When Adam sinned, the Lord our God, creator of all, cursed the ground.

"Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
(Genesis 3:17)

I live in a rural area. Not every place on earth looks like this, I know. But I'm astounded that ANY place looks like this, after the curse.

If God's earth is THIS beautiful after the ground has been cursed, then imagine the beauty of heaven! Look toward the reward- being in God's family, perfected in glory, and seeing the face of Jesus, amid inexpressible sounds and sights of beauty of such scope that we cannot even imagine! (2 Corinthians 12:4)

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— (1 Corinthians 12:9)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How do I lead a home bible study?

Some readers have asked how to start or lead a home group Bible study. This is a great question. There are many reasons why you might want to start a small group study in your home or at work. In these days of rising apostasy, some people are finding they are not receiving good instruction at their church from the pulpit or their Sunday School class. Others have left their church and have not found another one yet, but do not want to leave off fellowship with like-minded believers. Some are in a megachurch and this is the best way to connect with fellow believers for study and prayer. (Acts 2:42). Still others are born leaders with the gift and heart for teaching.

First before starting a group at your home, if you are members of a church, be sure to discuss this with your pastor. You don't need his permission to start one, but if you want the credibility of your church and his endorsement, you will need to submit to him for pastoral oversight- especially if you're a woman intending to minister to other women this way. More on that from 9Marks of a Healthy Church folks.

Another note I'd like to stress is that if you're a woman wanting to start a home group study, you do NOT need to remain in the women's aisle at the book store when perusing curricula. There is no biblical command to study only from guides written by women, and there are many good reasons not to. Here is one prime example of how or why it might be better to study from a curriculum written by a man.

The IF:gathering is the biggest phenomenon you may never have heard of. That is because it is an organization founded by women who do their work mainly online. Though there are small group gatherings in real life, of course, called IF:table, these come about because of their organizational and promotional work in the largely hidden realm of social media. In other words, if you're not clued in, you would never know that this is going on:

Every pin on that map, screen shot from last week, is a gathering under the auspices and curriculum of the IF:gathering, called IF:table. IF:table is women meeting up in homes and back yards to discuss the Bible in a fellowship atmosphere with an outlined curriculum. When I first looked at the IF:ladies and their local gatherings a few years ago, there were white spaces on the map where there were still no gatherings being held. You can see how they have gathered steam over the last two years. Now there are no white spaces east of the Mississippi.

The problem is, the IF:curriculum is less than solid. After all, the name IF comes from the women's foundational premise; "IF God is real, then what?" These women promote a social gospel in lieu of the true Gospel among other issues with their hermeneutic. I'll link to the biblical reasons why I've come to this conclusion below. IF is a liberal, questioning, soft 'Bible' study designed exactly for women who are always striving to learn but never able to come to knowledge of the truth. It's a curriculum designed to feed into women's vulnerabilities and capture them in a snare. We are the weaker vessel, and sadly, the success of IF:table proves it. (1 Peter 3:7).

For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:6-7).

So aside from the biblical vulnerability we have to following the false, how do the IF: ladies successfully get so many women to gather in back yards? By making it easy. Here is their curriculum explanation outline-
IF:table- A place to gather women and share a simple meal and dive deep with people over real stories and Christ centered conversations. A time for a whole lot of laughter – and maybe a few tears – but time spent that leaves us with glad hearts. Full hearts. Grateful hearts. 
We're inviting you to join us by hosting a dinner with us. Once a month in your local communities 
The vision is-
     6 women
     4 questions
     2 hours
     (Acts 2:46) 
Invite your people, prepare a simple meal, and we will provide the conversation cards 2 weeks before each IF:Table.
Therefore the question I was asked, what solid alternatives are there? becomes important. Where can women and/or their husbands turn to find materials that will aid the leader in setting up a consistent, biblical fellowship study in your home?

First let's look at the reasons to have a small gathering in the first place, and what they are and what they are not.

From the 9Marks men, Using Small Study Groups to Cultivate Fellowship defined,
They are not support or counseling groups, and they are not pure study groups. Rather, they are used to cultivate spiritual fellowship together, a fellowship informed by Scripture and pursued through prayer, study, and interpersonal reflection.
I would go to that link above and read that essay from 9Marks and read any others they have at the site. 9Marks is a website dedicated to helping Christians find resources and answers in today's practical church life.

From Grace To You here are some short essays on the mechanics of the small group study fellowship:

Elements of Productive Bible Study: Believe
Elements of Productive Bible Study: Meditate
Elements of Productive Bible Study: Teach

LifeWay has a series of free articles that outline the elements of leading a good Bible discussion at home,

How to Lead a Successful Discussion-Driven Bible Study (Introduction)
  1. Prepare Yourself Mentally and Spiritually to Lead
  2. Develop a Discussion Plan that Works
  3. Handle Conversation Hogs and Rabbit Chasers
  4. Connect Between Group Sessions
  5. Start a Group Strong by Answering Why? Who? and What? First
This is a leader recommended book though Westminster Bookstore:
Iron Sharpens Iron! Leading Bible-Oriented Small Groups that Thrive
Small Bible-study groups are great places for Christians both to interact with God's Word and to share their lives with others. They provide relaxed and informal settings which facilitate growth in grace and understanding. Orlando Saer provides a realistic and practical guide for anyone leading or wanting to lead such a group. This book will give you the tools you need as a leader to see your group thrive.

Now that I have done my duty grounding you and offering resources as to the reasons for and how-tos of leading a small group study in your home, here are a few curricula you may find useful.

The first thing to do is browse for materials at a trusted store. If you've decided to go under the auspices of your pastor/church, he/they can direct you. If you are on your own, then you find that the materials offered at various brick and mortar bookstores or online can be wild and woolly. LifeWay offers much, but much of what they offer is heretical. Picking through their offerings would be fraught with time-consuming danger, even for the most discerning. I like Westminster Bookstore which has a Reformed bent to it. Shopping at their online store one would be less likely to come across heretical materials.

Concordia University is a Lutheran University in Portland OR and branches elsewhere which has a pretty good online bookstore attached to it. You can try for materials there. I have not done a ton of business through Concordia so as always, think, pray, and discern for yourselves.

Also, Amazon is helpful for their reviews as well as their recommendations. One thing that is sometimes useful is that as you browse and buy books at Amazon, the logarithm behind the search function begins to "know" what you like and pairs your search with like-books from your browsing history, your purchases, and others' as well. 'It' makes recommendations for you. If all you do is buy Beth Moore and Lisa TerKeurst books then that is the kind of book that will be recommended to you. After a while of browsing and buying solid books you can then begin to trust the recommendations a bit more and explore them. This is a screen shot from my recommended section:

Here are a few leader friendly, seemingly doctrinally solid, and engaging to the participant materials that yielded up when I searched for "small group Bible study curricula" at Westminster Books and elsewhere. I say seemingly not to cast aspersion but to let you know I have not read these books nor done any studies through them. As always, choose wisely.

The Practice of Godliness Small-Group Curriculum: Godliness Has Value for All Things 1 Timothy 4:8. Jerry Bridges

I have read the Jerry Bridges book The Joy of the Fear of God and it's good.

TULIP: The Pursuit of God's Glory in Salvation (John Piper Small Group, 2009)

For women, by women, there are Bible Studies with Lydia Brownback, a recommended writer from both Challies and Leslie Wiggins at Discerning Reader. This synopsis of Brownback was written in 2008
Lydia Brownback is the author of several books. She served as writer-in-residence for Rev. Alistair Begg and as the broadcast media manager for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. A regular speaker at women’s conferences, Brownback also blogs at The Purple Cellar. She holds degrees from Syracuse University and Westminster Theological Seminary.
There is Todd Friel's Drive By series. The Drive By Theology series has a study guide to accompany it. The Drive By title indicates that the theme is developed in numerous short audio lessons one can listen to on a short drive to work, say, no longer than 10-20 minutes. In the case of DB Theology, Steven J. Lawson is the main lecturer. The study guide accompanies the audio series. It is good for small groups because each lecture is short, leaving time for group discussion, and the .pdf curriculum helps the leader facilitate. There are various uses for the curriculum, as mentioned here in the introduction
How much you learn from this curriculum will depend on how much you put into it. You can go all out and turn this into a year-long project or simply use it as a way to look into a few of the things that catch your interest. If you want to understand more about how different denominations within the Church view the ordo salutis, spend some time looking at their teachings. Whether you are using this as a family study at the dinner table, a self-improvement project, a summer project for your kids to study, or a Bible curriculum for your homeschooler, you will find exciting things as you learn about how God has revealed Himself to us in the pages of Scripture
I also recommend Chris Powers, an artist who makes animations and creates doctrinally solid study guides to go with them. His materials are free. You can download The Word of the Cross study guide here. It is also available in Spanish. The Supremacy of Christ is available too, and it also has a Spanish translation.

John MacArthur's new book Parables is a wonderful read, and a new study guide/workbook will be available on March 1, 2016. The Publisher's synopsis says,
This workbook has been designed to enhance readers' experience of reading the book and is intended both for individual use and for study in a small-group setting.

So now that you know of some of the organizations, people and teachers that come recommended with study guides for small groups, and can continue to search on your own, I hope the Lord leads you to a good one and that your small groups thrive. Fellowship is important and I admire anyone with the gift of hospitality and teaching who bring people together under their roof to exalt Jesus and learn more about Him.

Though the IF:ladies make hosting a groups study look inviting and easy, with their softly photographed flower-laden tables and their 4 easy question cards, but hosting a group is not easy nor should it be taken casually. Also, the ladies make hosting a Bible study look at once inviting and impossible-to-achieve.

Sure. My backyard looks like that.

It's the Lord's own word you're gathering to learn more of, after all. So it shouldn't be casual or easy. But the Holy Spirit gives aid and comfort, leads and directs. HE is in charge of our souls pointing us to Christ, and anyone who wants to lead people to that end will find help from Him. That is a guarantee, because He promised to do so, and His promises never fail.


The End Time: IF:gathering review part 1

TruthKeepers: it a movement of God?

Sola Sisters: Strong warning about the IF:gathering

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The hypocrisy of HGTV's Chip and Joanna Gaines of 'Fixer Upper'

Yesterday I looked at a popular HGTV personality, Joanna Gaines, and her testimony. She and her husband Chip are stars of a new show that are getting so many huge ratings it has sparked a revolution to find other Christians to put on the HGTV schedule. To this end, both Matthew West and Jen Hatmaker have been given series of their own.

With all the national attention given to folks who claim to be Christians, and have been given a platform to speak it or live it out for all to see, we should examine both their theology and their lifestyle to see if indeed what they are saying lines up with the Bible.

In Ms Gaines' case, her testimony was not biblical. That's what we saw in yesterday's essay. Today we examine the Gaines's lifestyle.

Some object to looking at how a famous Christian lives. They say, "Let them be! Their lives are private! We have no business looking at their home lives." Five years ago I received much flak for looking at how Beth Moore lives. More recently I looked at the IF:Gathering ladies to see if their lifestyles are as solidly biblical as they claim. (Answer: no). I learned early on that what a Christian says and what they do are just as important as their theology. (Acts 18:3, 2 Corinthians 5).

If there is a gap between what they say and what they do, this is hypocrisy. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (Matthew 23:1-12) and warning the people not to become like them. "They do their deeds to be seen by others," He said. (Matthew 23:5)

We must look at whether a leader teaches what is true, and whether they live with spiritual integrity. If you want to be sure that examining the life of a teacher or Christian celebrity is biblical, listen to this sermon, "Why Integrity Matters."

That said, the Gaines say they have made a commitment to put Christ first. Well, have they?

From this excerpt from GotQuestions' essay "What does putting God first really mean?", we read the following,
Jesus’ life was characterized by submission to the Father’s will, service to others, and prayer. It is interesting to note that Jesus never pursued worldly ambition in any way and never pursued the glory of this world. He had every gift, talent, and ability to make Him the most famous and wealthiest man who ever lived. But there was only one goal that He considered worthy of His talents—the glory of the Father. 
This should be an example to believers. The time, resources, energy, gifts, and knowledge of God that we’ve been given should be used not to gain influence, make money, or fuel pride, but instead to multiply glory for the Kingdom (Matthew 25:14–30) and to save the souls of the lost (2 Corinthians 5:20) 
In my opinion, though the Gaineses say they put Christ first, they don't. I offer these thoughts for your consideration and meditation and leave the ultimate decision up to you. In other words, I am not making generally dogmatic statements, only that I have done the work of looking at what the Gaineses say and what they do and have come to the personal conclusion that they are hypocrites. The ultimate goal of this essay is a teaching lesson on, firstly, the importance of looking at a Christian's life as they live it as well as their beliefs as they state them, and secondly, as a lesson on how to discerningly do that.

There are two areas I am looking at in regard to the Gaines's lifestyle.
1. Their family
2. Their brand

Please note that I am not saying that it isn't OK to be rich. It is. I am not saying it isn't OK to be in business. It is. What I'm saying is that it isn't OK to pursue one thing and pretend to be another at the same time.


Kids visiting mom at work.
Joanna: "If I could get a couple hours alone to do this work, that'd be great.
Chip: OK, I'll take the kids
Mom & dad leaving the kids to go to work
Joanna: Mommy & daddy are going into town to meet with clients,
so Grandma and Grandpa are going to watch you guys, OK? Bye! I love you!
Joanna and child labor
Joanna brings the kids at work to do some art projects
so she can use them as part of her staging for her client
Birthday party at work
It's Chip's birthday. Usually said Joanna, they like to go out of town
or do something fun, but she was busy staging a house
so she made a party for her husband at her workplace instead.
And most telling of all:
The kids are part of my work (not the other way around)
I love my kids and I love that this [my work] is such a part our our lives
that they don't walk in and wonder.They know, mommy & daddy are on a deadline,
and mommy's probably going to be here late again tonight.
It is well known that
"Every "Fixer Upper" episode is filmed in or within miles of Waco, mostly so the parents can be close to their 4 small kids,..." 
And yet in every episode, Joanna is working late staging the house and someone, either an extended family member, the dad, or a babysitter, brings the kids in and they get a piece of pizza or a burrito shoved in them, the kids re-arrange a few flowers for their mom, and then they get shuttled off the set with promises from mommy to see them real soon. It doesn't matter to a 6 year old if the mommy is 20 miles away or 200 miles or 2000, if there is a babysitter on scene because mommy is working late a lot, and fast food, and daddy taking on roles he is not biblically mandated to, then that is not putting Christ first. Christ maintains that the woman's primary role is oriented to the home. Mrs Gaines is not putting the children first, as even admitted by her husband. He has said many times she is the main part of the show, she's the draw. The show would not go on without her. So when they had a chance, they signed on for four more years. That means they sacrificed the kids. Period.

Secondly, I have to say that there's nothing in this world that gets me exercised than a hypocritical mother. Bible twisting saddens me, spiritual extortion and snake oil duplicity makes me shake my head in disgust. But let me see a mother who is trading on her motherhood in the name of Jesus to make money, and you have another whole level of righteous anger from me. I've written about the hypocrisy of these women previously, examples are Beth Moore, Diana Stone, Raechel Myers.

We have Joanna Gaines who says she puts Christ first, which means she should put her family first, but we have already seen in her testimony that Mrs Gaines' dream is to have a big store. That's her priority. As a matter of fact, when they signed on with HGTV for another four seasons, they were told they WILL have to travel to promote the show. They accepted. So when you see Mrs Gaines on the show, trotting out her children as a Christian trophy, eating a hurried piece of pizza with them and sending them back out into the night with a babysitter, just know that she didn't HAVE to spend so much time apart from her kids nor use them as set props on a reality television show. That was the parents' choice.
As long as I can go home at night and be with the babies. It’s worth it just to be able to do that locally. Joanna Gaines #hypocrisy

-----------------------Magnolia Branding-----------------------

The second area to look at in terms of lifestyle and whether it matches up with the reality is their conscious, deliberate branding of themselves. They like to put out there that they are just an ole country couple, surprised by all this fame, but that is far from the truth. Joanna has always wanted to be on television, and Chip has always wanted to make money. It is their dedicated, conscious, and planned goal in life for their careers. There is nothing accidental about it.

Joanna has a degree in broadcast journalism, interned locally at KWTX, and interned for Dan Rather in NYC at the show 48 Hours. She returned to Waco and spent ten years filming tire commercials for her father in hopes of getting on TV in a more formal way.

Chip started and sold two businesses while still in college, and after graduating with a business degree, earned enough to buy and flip his first house. He made $30,000. Stating in an interview,
"I made $30,000 on my first house flip that I ever did. It became obvious to me that I could work an entire year and make $30,000, or I could work for three months flipping a house and make the same amount of money," he explains. "I became very excited about investing in rental property and flipping property."
Joanna's goal was to be on TV (fame) and Chip's goal was to flip houses (money). It's what drives them. Now, neither of those things are bad. Not at all. But it's the hypocrisy of the quotes you find where they say, for example,
She appreciates the old ways of living, simple and hard-working with home at the center. 
Oh really. Or this one,
Chip and I run a few businesses here in Waco, Texas, but Magnolia Market holds a special place in my heart
Let's see about the "few businesses" and "simple living" with "home at the center." These are screen shots from their business and property holdings, which is public information.

Third Street Ranch is owned by the Gaineses.

Wayfair Partners with Joanna Gaines and Chip Gaines, Stars of HGTV’s Hit Series “Fixer Upper”
BOSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Wayfair (NYSE:W), one of the world’s largest online destinations for home furnishings and d├ęcor, today announced a partnership with Joanna Gaines and Chip Gaines, the stars of HGTV’s hit series “Fixer Upper” and owners of Magnolia Homes. Wayfair will feature the popular renovation duo and their design tips in an upcoming marketing campaign.
What they've got going is-

--a television show to which they have committed for 6 years,
--home renovations,
--a realty office with employees,
--4,000-square-foot store with 140 employees,
--two vacation rental properties (not B&B's),
--speaking engagements at $62,000 per,
--Magnolia Farms and its own apparel line,
--Magnolia Villas, a gated subdivision of 37 garden homes in a pocket neighborhood. Chip's first house flip earned him $30,000 15 years ago. Today he said he invested seven figures for the gated community,
--a new partnership with case goods manufacturer and importer Standard Furniture to create a comprehensive furniture collection called Magnolia Home. Joanna is designing the pieces,
--a bakery,
--Magnolia Market’s online business, ships 700 packages a day, employing 32 people,
--an autobiography due out in Fall 2016,
--a 600 square foot working garden,
--a 40-acre working farm with chickens, goats, cows, turkeys, horses, cats, dogs and bottle calves. Over 60 animals in all,
--craft workshop with tickets costing $100 per,
"I don't know if we'll ever get used to it because I feel like we're just so normal," Joanna said.
Aw shucks. Just a small town couple. Who've hired an entertainment attorney and an agent.

Their brand is that they want us to believe they are a casual couple riding a wave of popularity thrust upon them and cheerfully acknowledging it's all a bit bewildering. But no, it's conscious and planned and exactly what they want. Here is the brand:
To think that my business plans scribbled on scratch paper have turned into this online store is unbelievable to say the least. Joanna Gaines
Here is the reality. Their business plans may at one time have been scribbled on scratch paper but they certainly aren't now. Chip talks of a seminal business meeting where their brand was hashed out and their future decided.
An August 2007 meeting served as a catalyst for the current Magnolia business model. Joanna was spending more time at home, yet adding in time for business at the office. The couple sought inspiration on possible future directions for the business with Chip calling a meeting with some of his closest friends to seek their advice.
"It wasn't all top executives invited from all over the country," Chip jokes. "It was a gathering of friends that God had provided for us. I remember some of the specific bullet-point outcomes--what an asset we had in Joanna and her design style, and her as a human being, her looks and her character. Basically, we established that Joanna had the 'it' factor. That meeting was a defining moment. We regularly go back and recall what was discussed at that meeting."
Like Joanna said, a few notes scribbled on scratchpaper, or a well-thought out tycoon meeting where plans were made to deliberately promote the mother for the power couple's success?

Let's go back to family for a second. Is their priority really 'for the kiddos'? How much is enough? When you have little ones at home and you have plenty of money and a 40-acre working farm, a 600 sf garden, and over 60 animals, anyone who was really putting Christ first would have said, 'I'm stepping out. I want to focus on my home. Working the garden, the farm, and raising the kids will keep my busy enough.' THAT is Christ-exalting. That is putting Him first.

When one owns as many diversified holdings as Joanna Gaines does, how much is enough? When do you stop? CAN one be a home-centered mother raising children with multi-million dollar corporations at stake? Are you really biblically child-oriented and putting Christ first when you have the opportunity to stay at home and you choose NOT to? When in fact, you choose to make your life even busier? When you focus on your own dreams and career?

I am not happy to write this kind of essay. Not at all. I do not like to do it. It's even worse than when I looked at Mrs Gaines' testimony video and compared it to the Bible. These kind of discernment essays are the worst of all. They're unsavory, distasteful, distressing, and sickening.

It is important because Jesus hated hypocrites. He excoriated them, the men who lengthened their tassels so as to look more religious. Joanna marketing her kids on tv to show what a good mother she is and merchandising them within Christianity as trophies of wifelihood is the same as making her tassels long. I hate it. I absolutely hate it and become very angry over it. Beth Moore did it. Rachael Myers did it. Diana Stone did it. I hate it. Using your children to hypocritically say one thing while doing another IS worthy of a woe.

They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues (Matthew 23:5-7).

I know the woes Jesus pronounced on hypocrites and they were heavy. God said,

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'" (Matthew 15:7)

The most I hope for is that I've made you think about what you're seeing and thinking about it a little deeper with some common sense. When you see a teacher or celebrity say one thing, but do another, it's a problem. It's hypocrisy. And it is a sin.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Looking at HGTV's Fixer Upper Joanna Gaines' testimony: Christianity, or Prosperity Gospel?

Part 2 here: The hypocrisy of Chip and Joanna Gaines

Several years ago a Waco business developer/realty/design/construction company generally named Magnolia run by Chip and Joanna Gaines were contacted to star in a HGTV fixer upper show. The first episode aired in April 2014 and has become an instant hit for the network. Ratings in the first season were through the roof. This phenomenon was largely attributed to the couple's likability and charisma, good looks, and business savvy.

It is also attributed to the couples' Christian faith. This World Magazine article lays it out, even stating that the reception to the couple in the form of ratings has "launched a Christian revolution at HGTV":
The difference, at least in all the conversations I’ve had, is that while doing stunning work, the Gaineses consistently reflect an unassuming, recognizable Christianity. ... But even these obvious clues don’t quite capture the subtle loving-kindness the Gaineses exemplify in their interactions with each other and their children. When the first episode of Fixer Upper debuted in April 2014, after watching for only a few minutes, with no clear evidence, I had a strong presentiment I was seeing fellow members of the body. A little web searching confirmed it.
The couple seemed genuinely in love. The pair seemed like dependable, loving parents. In its first season the show was just nice.

So why am I writing about them?

One reason is because the show has taken on massive proportions, huge ratings, and as World Mag says, the husband and wife team are the catalyst for more 'Christian' programming at HGTV. Since the Gaines's have a national platform in which to showcase their Christianity, we look at their testimony.

Also, because of hypocrisy. No matter the celebrity, or perhaps because of celebrity status, we want to make sure of who we are touting and promoting. What brand of Christianity do they adhere to? Do they live what they say they live? The Bereans said they would listen to Paul but then go back and examine what Paul taught (Acts 17:11). Paul welcomed transparency to examine his doctrine, and he was the biggest Christian celebrity of his time. Later when Paul's integrity was attacked, he defended his lifestyle, because integrity in life mattered as much as the doctrine he taught. (2 Corinthians 5:11–15).

Therefore, my examination of the Gaines phenomenon will be two parts. This part 1 will examine Mrs Gaines' testimony, the doctrine portion. The next part will look at their lifestyle.

I mean them no harm and I'm truly happy the couple who has worked very hard for a long time on their business goals and ambitions, are seeing them come to fruition today. I am glad that they have opportunity in interviews to share about their faith and their church. Their long-term and more recent financial bounty has afforded them opportunities to give and support others in a blessed way, as Chip hinted in one interview. I am grateful that they love each other and are raising their children with good values, from at least what we can see through the lens of what is shown to us on camera. They are attributed with almost single-handedly revitalizing the Waco downtown with business, art, and tourism, something that every small town or city hopes for. Because of the Gaines' an entire cable channel is looking for more Christians to produce a show around. These are all good things.

That's what makes raising these issues even harder.

Recently Mrs Gaines' alma mater, Baylor University in Waco, produced a video which has since gone viral with over 4.5 million views on Youtube alone, in which Mrs Gaines is given over four minutes to testify to the glory of Jesus Christ and her gracious salvation. And here is where it gets troubling. Mrs Gaines used the time to speak not of sin, grace, redemption, and Jesus, though she mentioned Him once at the end. But instead the video is a testimonial to Mrs Gaines' ambitions, Mrs Gaines' dreams, Mrs Gaines' plans, and how God was going to fulfill them by giving her what she wants.


And she knows this because He personally told her so.

We learn in the video that Mrs Gaines always knew God was going to fulfill her business dreams because He directly told her, specifically and clearly. She mentions 4 times in the 4 minute video that God spoke to her. Her story, which remains consistent in interviews as well as the testimony video, is that when her two children were young God spoke to her and said she had to close her store which had been open for two years. In the first two quotes below, in order to salve her disappointment at having her dreams of running a business shattered just so she could perform her biblical function as a mother, God comforted her thus-
"I heard Him specifically say, 'Joanna, I have a calling for you. You’re going to have a platform one day.'"

I remember hearing God say, 'Joanna, there’s going to come a time when I’m going to say for you to go, and I’m going to need for you to step out and go.'"

I really felt like God was saying, 'Hey, I want you home, I want you raising these babies at home at this age.'"

I heard God say very clearly, 'If you trust me with your dreams, I’m going to take Magnolia further than you even dreamed. Just trust me.' And I remember hearing that and feeling completely peaceful about it, and I walked away."
First, God does not personally and audibly speak to us today in the way Mrs Gaines relates. Whatever Mrs Gaines thought she heard is not God. Here is a post by Michael Horton to answer the question "Does God Talk to Us?"

Second, God is not a dream-fulfilling machine. God is not speaking to Joanna Gaines. There is no need to hear the voice of God personally direct a mother to stay home and raise her children when the Bible indicates that her entire orientation should already mainly be to stay home and raise the children anyway. (Titus 2:3-5, 1 Timothy 5:14). God places a priority on the woman's direct involvement at home.

In addition, though economic necessity sometimes force a couple to make a tough decision for the mom to work outside the home, and the Bible does leave some room for couples to make their decisions, in the Gaines' case working such long hours outside the home was not necessary. Chip has always been good at making money. He made $30,000 the first year he was out of college, after having started and sold two businesses already while in college. Joanna's store was also doing well at the time. But more on their lifestyle in the next part.

But please note that Joanna's dream in the video that God was going to fulfill was the business, not the children. I'm not saying she isn't a good mother, I don't know that she is or isn't. I do know that on the show there is frequent mention of passing the children for child care to an extended family member or a babysitter. I do know that they incessantly showcase the children on the show. I am saying that when you've been given 4 minutes to testify to the important things about your salvation, the items one would expect to hear are absent. She chose to focus entirely on God fulfilling her business dream.

After the store closure in 2005, Chip and Joanna Gaines had two more children. They now have four kids, Drake (age 11), Ella (9), Duke (7) and Emmie (6) all as of this coming May. Mrs Gaines continues from the testimony video saying that after a few years at home with the children, working her design business from home too, she says 'God said' in 2014 it was OK to re-open her store.
And I felt like God said, 'Jo, it’s time.' And I was like, 'Time for what?' he said, 'It’s time to reopen your store.' I said, I don't think I can do that.' And just cool and calm, 'No, it’s time.'
I find it curious that God told her to stay home with her first two babies when they were young but that it was OK to become a business woman while the second two were young.

From various interviews within the last year or so, Joanna is quoted as saying,
I really felt like God said, 'You're gonna have a platform one day with women.' (source)
I kind of felt like God just kept saying, 'This is gonna be something that I'm going to take to another level,' (source)
But I felt like God said, 'Hey, this is the season to be home, and you need to trust me.' (source)
But I felt like God said, ‘If you trust me with your dreams, I’m gonna make Magnolia bigger and better than you could have ever dreamed.’ (source)
So God is great because He gave her a big store. That's her testimony. Not so much about raising her babies, nor about the blessing of marriage and a husband. Her dream, her store, her things.

The 'key' as Joanna said in the video's conclusion, is to let God speak to you and "let his father heart say this is what I have for you." Again, an emphasis on self and the things God will give her, not the blessing of knowing Jesus, of being redeemed from sin's curse, for escaping wrath, of being made holy in sanctification, for the promise of heaven, for the pleasure of enjoying God forever. Nothing of the sort. Just gratitude that He will "take the store further than she ever imagined."

On a lengthy thread discussing the show Fixer Upper and the Gaines', two comments caught my attention. Here they are, speaking about the close, intimate, audible relationship Mrs Gaines says she has with God.
But apparently Mrs. Gaines has been giving interviews, especially this past fall, attributing their success to Christian faith. She says specifically that God spoke to her directly and promised earthly riches if she was faithful. Which is interesting because that makes her just one more proponent of the self-serving "prosperity gospel" movement.
(I'm episcopalian and many of us regard God speaking directly to an individual as both unlikely and a sign of possible mental health issues or blind ambition.)
Another commenter:
I googled Joanna's testimony on youtube today. I've never had God talk so fluently and directly to me like He does with her. I wish He'd provide me with such specific instructions and reassurances. That's really something.
They nailed it.

When Jesus spoke to Saul He knocked him flat on the road to Damascus, rebuked him for persecuting Jesus, struck Saul blind and told him he must suffer. When God spoke to John on Patmos it was to have John pen letters of rebuke, condemnation, and warning to several churches in Asia. When God spoke to Jeremiah it was to tell him do not marry or have children because the times are going to get rough, then spent 40 years prophesying so through the weeping prophet. Not that He isn't tender, he is. (Genesis 16:7-13).  But not once did God say to anyone He talked with in the Bible "I am going to fulfill your dreams." Even to Moses who God said was a friend, in the end God banned Moses from entering the Promised Land because Moses had disobeyed God.

After the Apostolic era, nothing is ever said that indicates God interposes Himself audibly to specifically instruct or reassure people in life. This is because the completed Bible does that. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Revelation 22:18, Hebrews 1:2).

God wants His people to be people of obedience, honor, integrity, repentance, bearing fruit of the Spirit, making disciples, witnessing to the Gospel, and persevering. Nothing is said about someone's dreams, platforms, or levels. Self-serving prosperity gospel on display, for sure.

The other problem with Ms Gaines' testimony is that it normalizes audible conversations when they are not normal at all, nor are they even from God.

Beth Moore, Kim Walker-Smith of Jesus Culture, Christine Caine, Sarah Young of Jesus Calling, and many other women "with a platform" claim to have nearly daily conversations with God, visions, strong impressions of the heart, and other messages that speak of fulfilling their dreams and hopes or otherwise give specific instruction. These are not from God. The kind of Christianity Mrs Gaines puts forth in her testimony video and in interviews is the kind that diminishes God in holiness and stature and exalts the recipient of these messages to an undeserved status. As in, "Wow, she must be special because God talks directly to her just like He did with Moses and Abraham!"

Millions of women who see Mrs Gaines' seemingly vibrant and healthy relationship with God as expressed frequently and audibly presents itself as the norm - when it is not. And this is a problem when the network goes searching for another person or couple that displays this "recognizable Christianity." It might be recognizable to the world, but it is not recognizable to God.

Part 2 here: The hypocrisy of Chip and Joanna Gaines

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 ...