Blogging Bible Bits

Capture

If you’re reading this, then chances are you already know that writing has been a part of my life for many years now. And despite the fact that I’ve not been especially active in the blogosphere over the last 12 months (sorry!), I've often felt that my ministry would involve a commitment to writing on a regular basis.

Another aspect of my life you may or may not be familiar with is that I'm a firm believer in the importance of Scripture memorization. Scripture Memory Fellowship, a ministry that has been instrumental in my own spiritual life over the years, is one of few organizations dedicated solely to the practice and principle of memorizing Scripture, and I've been honored by an invitation to serve as a weekly contributor to their brand new website which debuted today: www.scripturememory.com.

In case you're unfamiliar with the ministry of SMF, our goal is a simple one: to get God's Word into people's hearts systematically. We have a variety of resources available, including memory books which organize verses by topic, and audio CD's with whole chapters set to music. My blog posts will point to these resources when appropriate, as well as highlight other methods of Scripture memorization I have found to be effective.

To be clear, this does not mean I’m discontinuing my posts here. In fact, as I return to writing on a regular basis one of my goals is to publish more devotional materials right here at A Look at Life from Deerstand. I’m simply sharing this news in hopes that you'll take a few minutes to look around the new site and send me any feedback or questions you may have. I'd also be interested in knowing what you'd like to see written about on the blog.

Please check back often and, as always, keep in touch!

NOTE: If you’d like to purchase any Scripture memory tools from the website, be sure to use the coupon code “welcome” during your checkout for 20% off through 11/30/14.

No More Pretending

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
-James 5:16

Our culture is one that glamorizes perfection. If you're not sure what I mean, just turn on your T.V. or take a trip to the mall. Commercials tell us we're incomplete without the latest and greatest gadgets. Photoshopped supermodels tell us what we should wear. The car that just passed you on the highway was newer than yours. In some way or another, we are confronted on a daily basis by the lie that our shortcomings are unacceptable.

But the truth of the Gospel is that God sees our shortcomings as opportunities to lavish us with His grace. Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10,

"And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

"Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."

Take a moment to reread these verses and fully grasp what Paul is trying to teach us here. He's saying our weakness is not only acceptable, but it is actually a glorious thing when placed in the hands of our loving Savior. We don't have to have everything together emotionally, financially, or even spiritually - which is a good thing for people like me. Instead, Paul insists that our inadequacies can actually bring glory to God when we allow the power of Christ to “rest upon us”. This means abandoning our own tendency to "just try harder" and allowing the strength and grace of Jesus to reign over every aspect of our lives. As in Paul’s case, this could mean learning to live with a “thorn in the flesh” that God chooses not to remove for reasons we may never understand (2 Cor. 12:7).

My experience over the last several months, however, has been that viewing my own weaknesses through the lens of grace is much easier said than done. Even though most Christians I know would agree with everything I've written so far, it seems that most believers, including myself, are obsessed with convincing everyone else they've got it all together. We try to look perfect every Sunday morning and play the part of a Type A Christian, while on the inside a majority of us are battling doubt, fear, and/or depression on some level.

How do I know this? Because I’ve seen too many people who played the part of Super Saint simply give up without warning. Everyone thought they were happily married until he left. No one knew she was depressed until she attempted suicide. He never talked about his doubts until he quit going to church. People who played the part perfectly week after week were entrenched in the greatest spiritual battles of their lives, but were too afraid of condemnation to reach out for help.

Do you see the resemblance yet? While pop culture is telling us how many Instagram followers we should have, the church world is setting its own standards of spiritual excellence. If you need just one more friend on Facebook, you might be tempted to accept that request from someone you may or may not have passed in Walmart last week. If you lack a little faith in God, pretending to be stronger than you really are is usually easier than admitting your doubt, especially when you’re convinced no one else will relate to your struggle.

The only problem with this masquerade of perfection is that it’s just that: a masquerade. Somewhere along the line we tend to lose sight of our daily need for grace and then exhaust ourselves trying to impress God and everyone else with our faithfulness. We’ll request prayer for a sick relative or a lost family member, but dare not admit our own discouragement for fear of appearing weak. We try to measure up to standards of commitment set by other believers, not realizing that many of them are playing their own small role in this charade.

What's so wrong with this type of Christianity is that it effectively "sets aside the grace of God" (Gal. 2:21) in one's relationship with the Lord and his relationship with fellow believers. And a life devoid of grace is hardly worth living.

"Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?"
-Galatians 3:3

Despite my own propensity to overcomplicate things, I have arrived at the conclusion that the key to victory in almost every battle one can possibly face is simply to trust in God's love and grace, to lean on the “rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). Paul's point in Galatians 3:3 is very clear: grace is what saved us and grace is what keeps us going. To the extent that we trust in our own strength we are prone to failure, but when we cast our burdens upon the Lord it becomes evident that only He can sustain us (Psalm 55:22).

The Danger of Exclusiveness Among Christians

In many ways this is a post I never thought I would write. It’s not that my beliefs have changed at all over the last several months, but for most of my Christian life I’ve been the kind of guy who defends what I like to call “absolute truth.” Relativism – the idea that absolute truth does not exist – is a worldview entirely incompatible with Christianity, but one that seems to be common even among some professing Christians. With that said, exclusivity is not a bad word; in fact, it’s Biblical to some extent.

“Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.”

                 John 18:38

Within every person is a desire to know truth. Not everyone likes the truth once they find it, but nobody intentionally lives for a lie. Whether you’re a devout Christian or a loyal atheist, your commitment comes from the underlying belief that you are right. I’ve seen evolutionists invent evidence to support their worldview, and I’ve known Christians who misquote Scripture or use it out of context as “proof” that their beliefs are accurate. They could just as easily decide to believe what they want independently of the facts, but human nature means we all hate the idea of being wrong.

In a world and culture saturated by evil and false doctrine, some level of exclusivity among Christians is healthy. For example, we must assert that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to heaven (John 14:6), that the virgin birth is a reality, and that His death and resurrection really occurred. Certain issues like these are simply not up for debate, as John indicated in his second epistle. According to verse 10, if any person “abideth not in the doctrine of Christ”, especially by denying the reality of His first coming, they should not even be welcomed into our homes.

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

                                  -Jude 1:3

Too many Christians, however, extend this principle to every aspect of their spiritual lives. They leave churches or look down on fellow believers over things like predestination and Sabbath keeping. They argue about whether the rapture will be pre-, mid-, or post-millennial. Your time reading the Bible each day doesn’t even count unless you’re using their favorite translation. I understand there are definite truths at stake in each of these debates, but at some point all but excommunicating fellow believers for their differing beliefs does more harm than good – both to their walks with God and ours.

“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us…”

                                        -John 17:20-21

We understand that apostasy is and will continue to be prevalent in the last days (II Tim. 4:3). It is for this reason that we must “watch and pray” lest we enter into temptation ourselves (Matt. 26:41). But since God’s ultimate desire for His saints is that they experience unity, we must be careful not to undermine His divine work by looking down on everyone who’s understanding of Scripture is slightly different than ours. Why? Because such an attitude is devastating to the individual Christian’s spiritual life: not only will it discourage those who “aren’t good enough”, but it typically isolates the supposed “elite” Christian from the fellowship of other believers. Let us instead learn to live by the words of Paul in Romans 14:

[4] Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.

[7] For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.

[8] For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.

[10] But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

[12] So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

[13] Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.

 

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99% – Part 1: Fully Persuaded

Commitment never exceeds assurance. In fact, by simply examining a person’s devotion to a particular ideal, you can usually gain an accurate understanding of just how much they do (or don’t) believe in it. A Christian who still occasionally wonders about the divine inspiration of Scripture, or secretly doubts whether God actually exists, will never be fully committed to his faith or have much success in convincing others he’s found the truth.

“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform.”

                    -Romans 4:20-21

Several years ago when God called me to preach, I remember a period of one or two days when I felt about 99% sure of my calling. Of course there are some areas of life when that level of certainty is sufficient, as we discussed last week. Would you hesitate to schedule a picnic on a day with a 99% chance of sunshine? Of course not. But I recognized that a call to the ministry carries with it much more significance than a day at the park. It’s a permanent calling and one that would require my daily attention.

Sure, 99% would have been enough at first. I would still have been able to preach my first sermon with enthusiasm and gladly accept any invitations to speak at local churches. But what about when things got rough? What about the times I faced criticism for my beliefs, or felt my service wasn’t being appreciated? Suddenly that small bit of doubt would have occasion to grow, and the devil would likely succeed in convincing me that I misunderstood the Lord in the first place.

With this in mind, I told God I needed absolute assurance that the voice I heard was in fact His. It took several more hours of prayer and soul searching, but I came away without any doubt of what God had called me to be.

Of course not everyone reading these words has been called to this same type of ministry, but you still need a relationship with God that is free of doubt and uncertainty. 99% may be enough for you today when everything is going well spiritually. But sooner or later, you’ll go through the fire. Your faith will be put to the test, and any doubts you have now will only grow then. Let today be the day you let God erase any doubts hidden deep in your heart and replace them with His truth.

 

99% – New Series Introduction

You’ve seen the ads. Chances are you’ve bought the products. Air fresheners, disinfectant wipes, and…well…99% of cleaning products on the market generally make the same claim: they’ll kill 99% of germs, 100% of the time. The question is whether or not 99% is good enough, and the answer inevitably depends on the context of the claim.

For example, a police department that successfully solved 99% of local crimes would be doing pretty good, as would any doctor that managed to send 99% of cancer patients into remission. For all intents and purposes, a bottle of hand sanitizer that sterilizes 99% of the germs on my hands is worth the money.

But there are as many scenarios when 99% is simply unacceptable. What if a hospital advertised a 99% success rate when it came to giving the right baby to the right mother? What if credit card companies charged only 99% of purchases to the right account, or your bank properly processed only 99% of transactions? Chances are it wouldn’t take an expensive advertising campaign for these inadequacies to become public knowledge.

On a more personal level, would you be satisfied in knowing your spouse was 99% sure he/she loved you? What if 1 John 4:8 read, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is mostly love?” Suppose the Word of God Itself claimed only to be 99% accurate? Chances are you would be hesitant to invest your life in a relationship if you weren’t entirely sure your feelings were reciprocated, or to follow God wholeheartedly if you thought there was a chance He didn’t exist.

In the same way, serving God is one of the many areas of life that requires absolute commitment. It’s not difficult to fill the majority of one’s time with godliness. You may attend church Sunday morning, listen to Christian music on your way to Cracker Barrel afterwards, and engage in Christian conversation around the table. But if you refuse the Lord’s leading to share the Gospel with the waitress, you successfully filled roughly 99% of your day with God but came up short when it mattered most. As the apostle Paul would have said, a little leaven leavened the whole lump (Gal. 5:9).

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the difference between partial commitment and complete devotion. The differences may not always be obvious, but they are nevertheless important and often carry with them eternal consequences – both for you and those you influence.

Part 1 is scheduled to go live one week from today, so check back on Sunday or subscribe via email to make sure you don’t miss it. In the meantime, please leave a comment or shoot me an email with your thoughts or favorite Bible verses on the subject.

 

 

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