God Is Not Going to Slap the Cookie From Your Hand

Many decades ago, during my college years, an administrator said that most religions of the world emphasized trying to earn God’s favor. Christianity, however, declared that it’s not by trying, but trusting—trusting the perfect, sinless Son of God who took our place on the cross we deserved.

These words were a relief to me. I had been familiar with Ephesians 2:8-9 for a few years by then: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But I still had to reassure myself that salvation was not a matter of being “good enough,” but rather resting in His goodness.

I had to learn the same principle in my Christian walk. Even after salvation, my standing with God was not a matter of trying to be good enough. My works were not to earn His approval. I would never be more saved or more loved than I already was. My walk, or sanctification, or growth was as much a matter of faith as my salvation. It was still Christ’s righteousness, not mine, that counted before God. The whole book of Galatians was written to people who thought they had to obey certain rules in order to be right with God:

 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

It’s given immeasurable rest to my spirit to know I can always “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

The same college administrator made another statement at another time that has stayed with me all these years: “God’s not going to do your math homework for you.”

I don’t recall the context of that statement. Perhaps there were college students who thought prayer took the place of study. I can understand, as one who prayed my way through various lessons. I’m sure there were courses that were passed only through prayer. But they also required mental and physical effort.

Since then, I have amended that administrator’s statement about what God is not going to do:

God is not going to slap your fifth cookie out of your hand.

God is not going to turn off the TV when the sex scene starts.

God is not going to have devotions for you.

God is not going to make you take the opportunity you’re afraid of.

And so on.

I tend to be overly analytical. I’ve spent a great deal of thought on what’s God’s part and what’s our part in the Christian life. I can’t say I have it all figured out, even now. My tendency is to want to sort it out neatly in a series of points. God does this: 1, 2, and 3. And we do this: 1, 2, and 3. But I don’t think it works like that.

I do know this: As I said, our standing before God and His love for us are totally dependent on His grace, not our actions. My ups and downs, stumblings, faults, and failures don’t threaten His love for me or my salvation.

But Jesus did say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

We don’t keep His commandments to earn His love or favor or salvation.

But we keep His commandment from His love and favor and salvation.

Because He loves us, saved us, changed us, we’re new creations.

We don’t put down the cookie because we’ll lose points with God if we eat it. But His Spirit dwells within us, and part of His fruit is self-control.

We don’t turn off the sex scene because we’ll go to hell if we don’t. We turn off the sex scene because we love a pure and holy God.

We don’t have time in prayer and the Bible because we’ll have a bad day if we don’t. We spend time with God because He is our Father, and we want to hear His great and precious thoughts.

We don’t take the scary opportunity because God won’t love us if we don’t, but because we want to do what He has called us to.

We can’t do anything without Him.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).

But as we walk through the day, seeking grace to help in time of need, asking for His strength, step by step, we yield to Him.

What do we do when we see a “Yield” traffic sign? We let the other drivers have the right of way.

What do we do when we yield to God? We let Him have His way. We acquiesce to His will.

The fact that our salvation is by grace through faith doesn’t mean there is no effort to the Christian life. Grace does not preclude obedience. Grace is not good just for forgiveness. Grace enables obedience.

The verses that seem to most clearly show our effort and His working:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10).

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).

So maybe there is no actual dividing line between God’s part and our part as we seek to live for Him. We don’t muster up the strength or will to serve Him on our own—we feed on His Word for our nourishment and strength and ask for His grace and help through prayer. Maybe it’s like the man with the withered hand or the paralyzed man in Scripture whom Jesus told to do the very things they could not do. With faith and obedience came enabling.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

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Here are a few posts that especially caught my eye this week. Maybe some with catch yours, too.

What to Do When Your Resolutions Start Dissolving. “We’re officially two weeks into 2022. And two weeks also happens to be the average life span of a new year’s resolution. So, even if you’re finding your big plans for “new year, new me” are already floundering, I’d like to offer you a few notes of encouragement.”

Spiritual Covid and Losing Your Taste for God, HT to Challies. “Through the pain of suffering or the false promises of sin, we can come down with a case of Spiritual COVID. We’re fatigued and grumpy, and even worse, we can’t taste anything anymore. We eat to survive, not because the food has any taste. We become sluggish in our service, bored with the Bible, less committed to the church.”

Everywhere Spoken Against, HT to Challies. “There may be a time to leave the local congregation but never a time to leave the church. I’ve compared her to an ugly bride, stumbling down the aisle toward glorification. That’s me, and that’s you.”

Our Escape Room, HT to Challies. “Finding out that you’re not the cream rising to the top is only traumatic if you thought you should be. And who are you to think you should be? A friend once told me, ‘Your problem is not that you think you’re not as good as other people; your problem is you want to be better than other people.’ Ouch.”

3 Simple Ways to Flatten Your Neighbor, HT to Challies. “Unfortunately, many in our society seem to be reverting to fourth-grade categorizations for just about everyone, and often doing so with the zeal of a crusader for a righteous cause.”

When Aslan Wept, HT to Challies. “While it is within God’s power to remove our suffering and make us feel better again, sometimes He does not. We can only trust that He’s grieving alongside us while working things out behind the scenes for our good and His glory.”

Whose Purpose Will Prevail in Your Suffering? HT to Challies. “Satan intends your suffering for evil; God intends it for good. Whose purpose in your suffering will prevail? Whose purpose are you furthering? Satan attempts to destroy your faith, while God invites you to draw near to Him and draw upon His sovereign grace to sustain you.”

Discipline: What If Scripture Isn’t Politically Correct? “Scripture has always been countercultural and while the world remains in its sinful state it always will be. This also means that faithfulness to the Biblical text will lead to cultural conflict. If some texts are ‘troubling to modern readers,’ we shouldn’t be surprised.” Beyond the subject of discipline, this article shows the problem with wrongly interpenetrating Scripture.

End of Year 2021 Book Lists. If you like adding to your ever-growing TBR list, Sherry looked through a lot of end-of-year book lists to get some great ideas.

Temperance and Play: The Weird and Wonderful Word of Wordle, HT to The Story Warren. If you’ve seen those tri-colored grids of cubes on social media and wondered what they were all about, this article explains.

And to end with a smile:

Happy Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Fives

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week
with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

Time just keeps marching on, doesn’t it? Here are a few highlights from this week.

1. Visit with friends. Our church had set up a succession of ladies to bring meals to our pastor and his wife upon their bringing their new baby home from the hospital. I was prepared for the possibility of just dropping off food on my night–sometimes the new mom is sleeping or feeding the baby, etc. And with Covid, it would be understandable if the parents wanted people to keep a distance. But we were able to visit a little while (we wore masks just to be on the safe side and not bring germs in). I was so glad–these are some of my favorite people. We even got to see the new little one.

2. Snow that didn’t impede travel. Northern friends sometimes scoff over this, but Southern cities just don’t have the equipment to keep roads clear during snow and ice. When we were taking care of my m-i-l at home, often an inch or two of snow would keep hospice people from coming. We had snow this week that hung around for three days (unusual here–it’s usually gone within a day), but the roads were fine. Plus we didn’t experience power outages, another factor for snowfall here.

3. A handy husband–not only his handiness, but his willingness to deal with things around the house. Our dishwasher developed a leak that we discovered when the flooring in front of it started buckling. He was thinking dishwashers were only $300 or so, so he didn’t want to put too much money into repairs if buying a new one seemed a better idea. But he investigated—and dishwashers are considerably more than that. Last Saturday, Jim pulled the dishwasher out and took up the affected flooring. He was able to improve the dishwasher problem, but we have to wait on some parts to come in to fix it. He was able to salvage some of the flooring, plus the previous owners had some leftovers.

He put everything back together so I could still use the dishwasher this week.

4. Reading is always a favorite, but I don’t often stop to read (or listen to) a book in the middle of the afternoon. I tend to tuck reading into other times or listen while doing other things. One day this week, I’d had to get up early for a doctor’s appointment, then I went to the store afterward. Plus the day was cold and gray and drizzly. After lunch, I was wiped out. So I leaned back in my desk chair and set my audiobook for 30 minutes. I was close enough to the end, and caught up enough in the story, that I wanted to press on and finish. It was a nice little break in the week.

5. A visit with the kids is always a favorite, too. But just after Jeremy left to go back to RI, Mittu and Timothy contracted Covid, so we haven’t seen them in almost three weeks now except for a couple of Face Times via iPhone (they are still coughing, but overall better. Hopefully we’ll see them this weekend.) We hadn’t seen Jesse just from his being involved in other things, but he came over Sunday for dinner and a haircut. Though it’s nice to visit with everyone together, it’s nice sometimes to visit one on one—and especially after not seeing anyone for so long.

Hope you’ve had a good week!

The Other Bennet Sister

If you are a Pride and Prejudice fan, you might remember middle sister Mary Bennet as being bookish and quiet. In fact, the only significant scene of hers I can recall is when she’s playing the piano at the Bingley ball (the one where all the Bennet family comes across as ridiculous in front of Mr. Darcy) to the point that her father has to pull her away with “You’ve entertained us enough for now.”

Janice Hadlow has crafted a novel from Mary’s point of view: The Other Bennet Sister. Hadlow delves more deeply into Mary’s character and what might have been after P&P ended.

The Bennets had five daughters. Mr. Bennets property is entailed, meaning it will go to a male cousin upon Mr. Bennet’s death rather than a Bennet daughter.

Even though the Bennets are landed gentry, there’s not enough money for any of the girls to have large enough dowries to attract the “right” kind of husband. But most of the girls are pretty enough to attract attention, and their ambitious mother is determined to place them where they can be seen and admired.

Mary, however, is plain. In Mrs. Bennet’s book, that’s almost a sin. At the very least, Mary’s plainness is a great disappointment to her mother. Mrs. Bennet is one of the most annoying characters in literature, and one of my least favorite. Mary’s mother not only has little use for Mary, she constantly berates her daughter. “She had learned from Mrs. Bennet that without beauty, no real and lasting happiness was attainable. It never occurred to her to question what she had been taught.” Mrs. Bennet didn’t even want Mary to get needed glasses because they would further hamper her ability to get a husband.

Since Mary doesn’t have the looks or personality to be “pleasing,” and she loves to learn, she sets herself to study in her father’s library. Perhaps at some point she can discuss books with him. But he demands absolute silence in the library—except when Lizzie, his favorite, is there.

Mary tries other venues, like music, in which to stake her significance, with poor results.

Mary is also in the very middle of the five sisters. The older two are close, as are the younger two, leaving Mary with no one. Lizzie and Jane are not unkind, but they don’t draw Mary in, either.

Since Mary feels invisible, she looks invisible as well, wearing very plain dresses with no color or frill.

The first part of the book covers the events of P&P, but from Mary’s point of view.

Then the book jumps ahead a couple of years. Mr. Bennet had died, and all the Bennet daughters are married except Mary. Mary and her mother go to live with Jane and Mr. Bingley. But the days there are dreary for Mary, with her mother’s constant harping and Caroline Bingley’s sniping remarks. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy for a while, then Charlotte (Elizabeth’s close friend) and Mr. Collins, the obsequious cousin who inherited the Bennet family home. Charlotte and Mary have several talks about life as a plain woman.

Single women did not have many options in those days. Spinsters were pitied and often poor, earning money as governesses or music teachers. Mary is not interested in either profession, but living with one of her sisters is not ideal, either.

Finally Mary goes to London to stay with her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners—the same aunt and uncle Lizzie stayed with in P&P. Things start to turn a corner as Mrs. Gardiner gently draws Mary out and convinces her that it is not drawing undue attention to herself to dress nicely. And the Gardiner’s friend, Mr. Hayward, convinces Mary’s very rational mind that poetry and feeling are valuable.

I loved a lot of Mrs. Gardiner’s advice, some of which had a double meaning.

Sometimes the very best stuff can seem quite plain, until one examines it closely. It is only then that one sees its true quality.

I see plainly enough that you don’t like to make a fuss about dress—that you dislike having attention drawn to you. But there are times when the best way to ensure you are not remarkable is to conform to the expectations of those around you.

There is a middle way between an obsession with one’s appearance and an absolute denial of its importance.

It’s hard to persuade anyone, especially a man, that your regard is worth having if you have none for yourself.

In our house, no-one is obliged to sparkle. Which, I find, makes it far more likely that they might.

There were several things I liked about this novel. One is Mary’s slow “blossoming,” often with one step forward and two back as she makes mistakes.

I thought the author did an admirable job keeping the personality of each of Austen’s main characters close to what they were in P&P. Even though Hadlow’s style is different from Austen’s, the book still had a cozy Regency feel to it.

I had two minor complaints, though. One is that, especially in the beginning of the book, there was a lot more “telling” than “showing.” That improved after the story got into new material after the P&P timeline.

The other complaint is that sometimes there was too much explanation. The narrative would belabor a point long after the reader understood.

Those two aspects made the story drag just a little in places, but not enough to ruin the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I wanted to speed ahead to see how things worked out for Mary, but then I didn’t want it to end. Some parts of the book had me in tears.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Carla Mendonca.

Thanks to Lois for putting this book on my radar.

Blameless?

I can’t wear white until I get to heaven.

At least, I can’t wear white without frustration. I invariably spill food or find scuffs and stains from unknown sources that speckle my white garment.

I can wash white clothes, with varying degrees of success. But eventually they turn gray or yellowish.

So I prefer to wear clothes that make the occasional spill or scuff less noticeable.

Four times since December 30, my Daily Light on the Daily Path devotional book, compiled from Scripture by Samuel Bagster, has had readings about being blameless. Here are a few:

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11).

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (2 Peter 3:14).

Sometimes the word “blameless” caused me the same kind of frustration as a white shirt. My flesh fails daily. How can I ever be blameless?

Well, first of all, we’re not only forgiven, but also cleansed when we trust Christ for our salvation.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him (Colossians 1:21-22)

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul lists some of the kinds of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Then he says in verse 11:

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

The ESV Study Bible comments on this passage:

God has already declared the Corinthians Christians to be ‘righteous’ (see Rom. 5:1; 8:1, 33). God was able to do this because the ‘righteousness’ that belongs to Christ, due to his perfect life, has become ‘our . . . righteousness’ (1 Cor. 1:30; see also 2 Cor. 5:21). Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 6:1-11 is that the Corinthians need to live in a way that is consistent with this verdict and status (p. 2198).

If you’re familiar with the Corinthians at all, you know they weren’t living as people washed and sanctified. They weren’t going to lose their salvation, but they needed to live in light of it. We’ll never be perfect in this life, but our lives should reflect the change God has made in us. We should be continually growing more and more like our Savior.

It can be easy, as Christians, to take grace for granted. I have my sins that I continually battle with; I am sure you have yours. We can be tempted to accept that they are a part of who we are. Under the umbrella of being “authentic,” we can even wallow in our “mess” in ways that make it seem we’re proud of it.

Sure, we want to be real with people. We don’t want to portray ourselves as anywhere near perfection or above anyone.

But the Bible continually points us higher. It’s not that we rely on God’s goodness to save us and ours to walk with Him. No, we depend on His goodness all the way. We don’t compare ourselves to each other. But we strive to be like Christ. Not in our own efforts or strength, but relying on His. We rest in His grace, but we don’t presume on it.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:13).

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Phil 2:14-15).

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12).

Not just forgiven, but actively living unblameable before the world.

Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5: 22-24).

This shows both our effort–our abstaining–as well as God’s keeping us. Isn’t it interesting that verse 24, which we take out of context and apply to all kinds of other things, was a promise given to encourage us of God’s faithfulness to sanctify and keep us?

But how do we live a blameless life when we’re so prone to go our own way?

Our relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Back in Romans 8, our relationship with God is woven through the passage. We’re in Christ Jesus (verses 1-2); in the Spirit (verse 9); Jesus is in us (verses 10-11); we call God our Father (verses 14-16); the Spirit helps us in our weakness (verse 26); God foreknew us and predestined us to be like Christ (verses 29-30); nothing can separate us from God’s love (verses 31-37). These truths of our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are throughout the Scripture.

Remember you are a temple of God. Not your own. Bought with a price.  Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1Corinthians 6:18-20).

Word of God. “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:1-2).  “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9-11).

Prayer. “Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression” (Psalm 19:13).

Confession: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Don’t just “don’t,” but “do“—actively follow right.  Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Don’t make provision for the flesh. “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:13-15).

Be renewed in our minds. Ephesians 4 shows the difference being a Christian should make in our lives. Paul urges us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (verse 1) and explains why. In the middle he calls us to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Abide in Christ. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

Yield to God. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:13).

Walk in the Spirit. “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh) Galatians 5:16).

Beholding His glory. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (Corinthians 3:18). Ultimately, our change comes as we behold Him.

Does this all seem a little overwhelming, a little too much to keep up with? It’s probably supposed to, to remind us that we can’t do it on our own. The word “walk” in Galatians 5 is encouraging to me because a walk is a series of steps. I don’t have to worry about the whole pathway of the rest of my life. I just have to take this step yielding to Him, walking in fellowship with Him.

I think of this similarly to parents and children. In most cases, parents love children even when they mess up or wills clash. They’ll do everything they can to help a child do right. A child isn’t ever going to stop being his parents’ child, even if they aren’t on good terms. But a child who loves and respects his parents will want to do what they say and please them, even though sometimes he fails.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14). But He also said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We don’t do His will to earn or increase His love, but to show our love to Him. And when we fail, we come to Him for cleansing and forgiveness and carry on.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading online

Here are the best of the good reads found this week:

How Do We Process the Scariest Passage in All of Scripture? HT to Challies. The passage discussed is Matt. 7:21–23, where many who think they are going to heaven will hear Jesus say, “Depart, I never knew you.”

Why Does God Hide Himself from Christians? HT to Challies. “’So God never forsakes his people, but he sometimes withdraws from them the sweetness of communion with him. He hides his face, as the psalmist says in about a dozen places.’ His question is, Why would God do that to his own children?”

A Known Way. “The year stretches out before me like an uncharted sea. Some now-secret stories will bring me joy, I know. There will be tender beauty and many good gifts from my Father’s hand. But what if the churning darkness also contains a violent, unexpected storm? What if my ship is disabled? What if I am taken to an unwanted, difficult place?”

Yes, You Need to Talk to the Manager. HT to Challies. Some interesting, and I think accurate, considerations here. “The older generation acts as if the proper recipient of their frustration is the institution itself and that asking them to make it better is reasonable and right. The younger generation believes that their anger should be directed toward the audience, and that the goal of complaining in these spaces is not to get anything fixed by the institution but to see the institution punished by others.”

Song of Songs: The Intoxication of True Love in its Time. An overview of Song of Solomon.

What Does It Mean to be Pro-Life? Good thoughts for any time, but especially in light of Sanctity of Life Sunday tomorrow.

God Is With Us on the Long Walk Home. “The length of our days, as well as what the end looks like for each of us, falls under the purview of God’s sovereignty, just like everything else.”

Winter Crafts for Kids, HT to The Story Warren.

I enjoyed this flight attendant’s attempts to liven up the safety announcements to help people pay attention and perhaps relieve some travel stress.

Happy Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week
with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

This is one of those weeks where nothing horrible has happened, but neither has anything that stood out, at least at first glance. Those kinds of weeks are a little harder to come up with five favorites. But it’s always a good exercise.

1. Wellness and mild cases. Just after our last day all together when Jeremy was here, Mittu and Timothy developed fevers and coughs. Jason took them for Covid tests, and the place did not have any of the rapid kind. They were tested on the 4th and just got back results Wednesday of this week that Mittu and Timothy tested positive. It’s amazing that with all the time spent together the week before, none of the rest of us got it. I hate that they didn’t feel good all week. But I am glad that they didn’t have breathing problems or any of the more severe issues of Covid.

2. Healthy birth. Our pastor and his wife were surprised with an unexpected, middle age pregnancy. My pastor’s wife has several health issues as well, which put her in a high risk category. She safely delivered their little boy this week. They have some issues doctors are monitoring, but all seems relatively well.

3. Unpleasant tasks done. My feeling towards unpleasant tasks (no need to go into details) is to avoid them or put them off. But I was motivated to get them over with so I didn’t have to think about them any more.

4. Convenience foods. I know, they are often not the healthiest. But they are better than burgers and fries, right? And we all have those days when something runs late or we’re tired. I had made ham and potato soup in December with the bone from our Christmas ham. We had lots of broth left, but no more ham. I found some cubed ham at the store, which wasn’t quite as good as our glazed ham at Christmas, but it worked okay for another round of this good, hearty soup. Then one day errands ran late, the last of which was the grocery store. It seems every grocery run these days requires two store trips to get everything as each has shortages. I got a microwave meatloaf, loaded potatoes, and gave mashed cauliflower a try (the latter was runnier than I would have expected and tasted more like grits). I made a salad while everything was cooking. It was nice to have those often for a quick meals after a busy day.

5. Zaxby’s salad. One afternoon, I fell asleep in my desk chair until dinner time. My husband suggested getting a Zaxby’s salad for takeout. I love their grilled chicken Cobb salad.

It’s hard to believe we’re about halfway through January already. January is supposed to be my slow, unbusy month! Oh, well.

Hope you’ve had a great week.

Be Wise (1 Corinthians)

If there was ever a church full of problems, it was the one in Corinthians in the NT era. The church was divided over their favorite preachers. Blatant immorally was tolerated. They turned the Lord’s Supper into a feast which showed up who had plenty and who did not. They were proud of their gifts.

But Paul didn’t wash his hands of them, at least not without trying to help them first. He wrote them in one letter that we don’t have. They responded with questions, and 1 Corinthians is his answer to them

In Be Wise (1 Corinthians): Discern the Difference Between Man’s Knowledge and God’s Wisdom, Warren W. Wiersbe gives us some insights into Paul’s letter.

Wiersbe points out that “when you have proud people depending on human wisdom, adopting the lifestyle of the world, you are going to have problems. In order to help them solve their problems, Paul opened his letter by reminding them of their calling in Christ” (p. 20, Kindle version). Everything Paul would say to the Corinthians would be couched in and would spring from that truth.

Then Paul thanked God for them and commended them. This was not just a softening in preparation for the hard things he would have to say to them, but a recognition that God was at work in them. That’s a good reminder for us when we tend to have “all or nothing” views about people’s standing with the Lord. The Corinthians had some severe problems and some stern truths which needed to be pointed out, yet there was evidence God was at work in them.

Then Paul addresses the Corinthians issues while also answering questions they had sent him. He discusses their divisions, sexual immorality in the church, their ungodly way of handling disputes with each other, marriage, how to handle differences of opinion concerning food offered to idols, the Lord’s Supper (communion), spiritual gifts, and the resurrection.

All of these issues are vital for us today. Most of the world doesn’t have to deal with food offered to idols, but the principles Paul discusses are helpful with differences of opinions believers face over other issues today.

1 Corinthians also contains classic passages like chapter 13 on godly love (placed, interesting, in the middle of discussion about spiritual gifts) and chapter 15 about the resurrection (which we tend to hear a lot from during funerals, but we need its truths daily.

Paul wraps up his letter, as he often does, with personal greetings, news, travel plans. It’s easy just to breeze past this section, but Wiersbe points out good food for thought here as well. For instance, Paul mentions Apollos, one of the preachers that a “fan club” had developed around. The fact that Paul urged Apollos to go to the Corinthians showed that there was no animosity or competition between the men themselves.

Then Wiersbe gives a brief history of Timothy and Priscilla and Aquilla, who are also mentioned in this section, and how their ministries intertwined with Paul’s.

Here are a few of the quotes in the book that stood out to me:

Paul depended on the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not his experience or ability that gave his ministry its power; it was the work of the Spirit of God. His preaching was a “demonstration,” not a “performance” (p. 35).

To “have the mind of Christ” does not mean we are infallible and start playing God in the lives of other people. Nobody instructs God! (Paul quoted Isa. 40: 13. Also see Rom. 11: 33–36.) To “have the mind of Christ” means to look at life from the Savior’s point of view, having His values and desires in mind. It means to think God’s thoughts and not think as the world thinks (p. 43).

A mature Christian uses his gifts as tools to build with, while an immature believer uses gifts as toys to play with or trophies to boast about. Many of the members of the Corinthian church enjoyed “showing off” their gifts, but they were not interested in serving one another and edifying the church (p. 50).

Perhaps we cannot help but have our personal preferences when it comes to the way different men minister the Word. But we must not permit our personal preferences to become divisive prejudices. In fact, the preacher I may enjoy the least may be the one I need the most! (p. 57).

There can be a fine line between a clear conscience and a self-righteous attitude, so we must beware (p. 63).

Church discipline is not a group of “pious policemen” out to catch a criminal. Rather, it is a group of brokenhearted brothers and sisters seeking to restore an erring member of the family (p. 73).

Knowledge can be a weapon to fight with or a tool to build with, depending on how it is used. If it “puffs up” then it cannot “build up [edify]” (p. 99).

“A know-it-all attitude is only an evidence of ignorance. The person who really knows truth is only too conscious of how much he does not know. Furthermore, it is one thing to know doctrine and quite something else to know God. It is possible to grow in Bible knowledge and yet not grow in grace or in one’s personal relationship with God. The test is love, which is the second factor Paul discussed (p. 99).

It is interesting that Paul mentioned the offering just after his discussion about the resurrection. There were no “chapter breaks” in the original manuscripts, so the readers would go right from Paul’s hymn of victory into his discussion about money. Doctrine and duty go together; so do worship and works. Our giving is “not in vain” because our Lord is alive. It is His resurrection power that motivates us to give and to serve (p. 178).

As always, Wiersbe’s knowledge and insights were very helpful in navigating the important truths in this book of the Bible.

Treasures of Encouragement

Although Treasures of Encouragement: Women Helping Women is not primarily about author Sharon W. Betters, the book grew out of her situation. Her teenage son and his friend were killed in a car accident within minutes of leaving the Betters’ home in 1993.

The book’s theme verse comes from Isaiah 45:3, where Sharon found hope in her deep grief: “I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” Though God sometimes leads through dark valleys, treasures are there that can’t be found anywhere else.

Sharon writes:

The healing balm of encouragement eventually stopped the spread of despair’s infection and began replacing it with hope’s healthy glow. God’s Word was the healing balm, and God’s people applied it lavishly to sooth the searing pain in my soul. Biblical encouragement is soul work. God unleashes its mysterious power every time a child of God follows the Holy Spirit’s direction and steps into the suffering of another person (pp. 9-10).

Each chapter starts with one or two women’s testimonies about being either on the receiving or giving end of encouragement.

Throughout the book. two points are repeatedly emphasized. First, encouraging someone else spiritually is the outgrowth of our own walk with the Lord and time spent in His Word. Second, because we have those resources–God’s Word to inform and guide us and His Spirit within us—we have what we need to encourage others.

Part 1 of the book explores thinking Biblically: defining and exploring what encouragement involves and what our responsibilities are as believers to each other.

To ease the guilt of noninvolvement, we charge the church with the job of meeting needs. We forget that we are the church! (p. 18)

Biblical encouragers know that their role is part of a process; it is seldom, if ever, the solution. They understand God is doing soul work through the interaction of members of His body. They recognize that He uses circumstances to strip people of obstacles that keep them from knowing Him, and so they ask themselves, How can I help this person through the peeling process of sanctification without hindering what the Holy Spirit is doing?

Often we want to rush into a difficult situation and make everything better. But that is not God’s method. He uses the rough spots of life to sand away the rough spots in character so that the reflection of “Christ in us” becomes increasingly clear (p. 73).

Because of who our Father is, and because of the riches of our inheritance, we always have something to offer to others (p. 37).

Part 2 covers living Biblically: the necessity of prayer, listening well, helpful vs. non-helpful words, spiritual mothering, pursuing restoration rather than judgment, Biblical exhortation, letting God use your spiritual gifts in large or small ways, offering practical help.

The church, like a home, is not a place where perfect people enjoy each other’s company. It’s a place where spiritual nurture, training, and discipline help imperfect people take on the image of their perfect heavenly Father. The church is not a place for hibernation; it’s a place where we learn, grow, take risks, make mistakes, and get up and try again (p. 99).

Will it be easy? No. Initially, obedience is hard, but in the long run, disobedience is harder (p. 131).

When we have a clear picture of our own sinfulness and inadequacies, we may conclude that we are unfit to carry the great gospel message. But our wrong conclusions will not thwart God’s purposes. For reasons we do not understand, God has chosen us to spread His message of hope and redemption (p. 198).

Spiritual mothering often happens more around a kitchen table that in a structured study (p. 213).

Though the book can be read by individuals, it’s designed for a twelve-week group study. Each chapter ends with six day’s work of questions or exercises. On one hand, I didn’t want to take twelve weeks to read the book. But on the other, I didn’t want to skip over the “homework” between chapters. I felt the time exploring further or meditating on each chapter’s truths would help the ideas take firmer root. I did sometimes combine some of the individual days’ exercises, though.

One appendix shares 50 very practical ideas for extending encouragement to others. All 50 won’t appeal to or be possible for everyone, but they give a rich variety to choose from.

I appreciated the address to older and younger women in the church with encouragement to settle the differences that can sometimes arise between the two groups (pp. 137-138).

This book was originally published twenty-five years ago. It was updated and reprinted in 2021.

Just occasionally, I found the tone in the book got a little more authoritarian than encouraging. One example from the exercise questions after the first chapter: “Who will you encourage today? Write a brief statement about how Christ, through you, can encourage that person. Now do it!” (p. 26).

But overall, I found much good food for thought on both the necessity to be an encourager and the ways God can work in and through us. This is a book I am sure I will return to in the future.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Books Shape Our Thinking

A couple of times in our lives, my husband and I attended churches where we didn’t quite agree with everything, but we felt these churches were the closest we could find to our own understanding of Scripture. The differences weren’t a matter of false teaching or heresy: they were areas where good people could differ and should be able to give each other grace. We felt as long as the Bible was preached and taught rather than a particular system, then everything would be okay.

In one church, over time, we began to notice that everyone from the pastor to Sunday School teachers to lay leaders began quoting the same authors. Then their vocabulary began changing to match the authors they revered. Concepts that used to be alluded to were now main points. Sermons and lessons changed emphasis to feature points from these authors, and Bible passages were viewed through their lens. When one man spoke about this belief system as being “in the club,” it almost seemed a little cultish.

In another church, the issue wasn’t a particular belief system. But every Christian bestseller that came along was eventually taught in our church. When we moved, I found sermon notes from our first year there which were rich and meaty and directly from the Bible. Later sermons were second- or third-hand thoughts from popular books.

One of my favorite writers reads and quotes authors that I am uncomfortable with because their view of Scriptural truth seems a little skewed to me. Instead of following standard hermeneutics, principles for interpreting Scripture, they twist things a little to get a different outcome more in line with popular culture. They are not quite heretical yet, but this subtle shift will lead that way if continued. This lovely author, with so much talent and potential, is getting more entrenched in this kind of thinking every year. It grieves me to see it.

We’ve seen a couple of young men we’ve known get caught up in belief systems that, again, I don’t think are heretical, but I don’t agree with. It wouldn’t be a problem except that these belief systems now dominate their conversation and online presence. They like to bait and argue over their points of belief. Even though they are not being heretical, their ministry and outreach has been hijacked into debating rather than gently persuading people of God’s truth.

We observed over the course of years a definite shift in thinking and beliefs in each of these cases. The speaker or writer didn’t come to their new views from their Bible reading, but from the books they read. Those books then colored their view of Scripture.

One of our former pastors used to frequently quote Charlie “Tremendous” Jones as saying, “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.

If that’s true, and I think it may be, we need to be watchful about what we read. Of course, these days many people read online articles and listen to podcasts as well.

Does this mean we should only read books where we know we’ll agree with everything? Not necessarily. It’s good to exercise discernment. Sometimes when we are entrenched in our own tenets and lingo, we can get a little myopic.

But we should filter everything we read through the Scriptures. The Bible tells us to “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Early Christians were called noble because they checked everything even the apostle Paul said against the Scriptures.

We need to be careful not to swallow everything an author says just because they use Scripture or religious talk. The devil does that. “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). With Eve, Satan questioned what God said and then skewed His meaning. He quoted and misapplied Scripture when tempting Jesus. Peter said of Paul’s writing:

There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.(2 Peter 3:16-18).

Some writers don’t go that far–they are not exactly heretical. But a subtle shift in emphasis can skew their teaching, and therefore our thinking. Then a particular facet of their understanding becomes a hobbyhorse. So we need to be discerning not just with writing we might be prepared to be on guard with, but also with popular writing.

We need to make sure we are spending more time with the Bible itself than even books about the Bible. If we’re spending thirty minutes a day in a theological book and ten minutes in the Bible, we’re off balance. One former pastor used to say that bank tellers were instructed in discerning counterfeit money not by studying counterfeits, but by studying the real thing. The more familiar they were with legal money, the more easily they could tell when something was a little off with money they were handling. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). As we read and study, we need to pray with the psalmist, “I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!” (Psalm 119:125). Then our “powers of discernment” will be “trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

We need to ask God to search our hearts, show us our blind spots, and “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18).

I love good books. I’ve had my thinking shaped in good ways by authors who faithfully studied and represented God’s truth shared in His Word. I especially love writers and teachers who, like the Levites in Nehemiah’s time, “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8).

But we need discernment to know when a teacher is giving the sense of the Word itself or twisting it a bit for their own purposes or from their own mistaken understanding.

And we need to be careful that our thoughts, understanding, and resulting actions are shaped by the Bible itself.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)