Be Responsible (1 Kings)

Warren Wiersbe helps us glean understanding in Be Responsible (1 Kings): Being Good Stewards of God’s Gifts.

The book of 1 Kings begins with the death of David, Israel’s greatest king, and ends with the death of Ahab, one of Israel’s worst kings.

In-between those two kings, the temple was built, but then the kingdom of Israel split in two. The southern kingdom, Judah, was ruled by David’s line. The northern kingdom with the rest of the tribes was ruled by various people.

A few of the kings were good to some degree, but most were bad and led Israel in their besetting sin, idolatry.

God raised up prophets to warn the kings and the people about the danger they were in due to their disobedience. This book had Elijah’s famous showdown with the prophets of Baal and Elisha taking up Elijah’s mantle. But there were many unnamed prophets faithfully doing God’s will.

Here are some of the quotes that stood out to me from Wiersbe’s writing:

The two books of Kings record about four hundred years of the history of Israel and Judah, while the two books of Chronicles see the history of the united kingdom and then the kingdom of Judah from the priestly point of view. Besides recording history, these books teach theology, especially the faithfulness of God in keeping His covenant, the sovereignty of God in directing the destinies of all nations, and the holiness of God in opposing idolatry (p. 13).

Integrity is one of the vital foundations of society, but integrity involves taking responsibility and facing accountability. This includes leadership in the home and church as well as in the halls of academe and the political chambers. It’s one thing to make promises at the church altar or to take an oath of office, but it’s quite another to assume responsibility and act with courage and honesty and seek to please God (p. 11).

God took the consequences of David’s two worst sins—a piece of property and a son—and built a temple! “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Rom. 5: 20 NKJV). This isn’t an encouragement for us to sin, because David paid dearly for both of those transgressions, but it is an encouragement to us to go on serving God after we’ve repented and confessed our sins. Satan wants us to think that all is lost, but the God of all grace is still at work (1 Peter 5: 10) (p. 53).

“Because of our proneness to look at the bucket and forget the fountain,” wrote Watchman Nee, “God has frequently to change His means of supply to keep our eyes fixed on the source” (p. 160).

Responsibility means our response to His ability (p. 214).

I appreciate Dr. Wiersbe’s help in getting more from 1 Kings.

Lamb of God

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

Years ago I heard a story about a guest preacher who was just getting ready to board his train after speaking at a church. A man hurried to him, saying he had been in the meeting and was anxious about his spiritual state. Could the preacher take time to talk to him?

The preacher’s train was the last of the night, and it was about to leave. All he had time to tell the man was to read Isaiah 53:6, and then to go in and the first “all” and come out at the last “all.”

The man was puzzled, but when he went home. he looked up Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” As the man read the passage several times, understanding dawned. He was a sheep gone astray, stubbornly following his own way. But Jesus took his iniquity. If he trusted in Jesus, he would be saved and forgiven.

I don’t know if this is a true story, but the point it makes is true.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ, by man rejected;
yes, my soul, ’tis he, ’tis he.
‘Tis the long-expected Prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
proofs I see sufficient of it:
’tis the true and faithful Word.

Tell me, as you hear him groaning,
was there ever grief like his,
friends through fear his cause disowning,
foes insulting his distress?
Many hands were raised to wound him,
none would intervene to save;
but the deepest stroke that pierced him
was the stroke that justice gave.

If you think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great,
here you see its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
here the refuge of the lost:
Christ, the Rock of our salvation,
is the name of which we boast;
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
who on him their hope have built.

Thomas Kelly, 1804

Isaiah 53:6

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

Be Restored

The second book of Samuel covers King David’s reign in Israel. Warren Wiersbe offers insights and helps for our reading 2 Samuel in his commentary Be Restored (2 Samuel & 1 Chronicles): Trusting God to See Us Through.

David first shows up in 1 Samuel, where Samuel finds him as a young shepherd and anoints him king after Saul fails. Then David has his encounter with Goliath, becomes a seasoned warrior, and flees from Saul’s murderous jealousy for many years.

David appears in the beginning of 1 Kings, where he sets up Solomon to take over after he dies.

1 Chronicles documents David’s reign as well, including his preparations for the temple that he was not allowed to build, but that Solomon would.

But 2 Samuel begins with David’s finally coming into his full kingship and ends with his final battles, a list of his “mighty men,” and his “last words.”

Within the overarching progression of God’s Word and purposes, most notable in this book is the covenant God made with David that He would establish David’s line as an everlasting kingdom and that David’s son would build a house for His name: the temple which would be the centerpiece of Israel’s worship system for years to come. Ultimately David’s descendants would culminate in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the everlasting King. Jesus is sometimes called “the Son of David.”

David is a favorite character of many, with his rags-to-riches story of the shepherd boy who became a king, his unabashed faith that God would use him to take care of Goliath, his earnestness in following the Lord, his outpouring of his heart in so many psalms that we can identify with.

David was never perfect, but he was teachable and usually readily admitted when he was mistaken.

Then came his fall with Bathsheba. Instead of turning away, as Joseph did when tempted, David continued to entertain the thought of the beautiful woman he had seen, until he called for her and lay with her. Then when she became pregnant, David tried to manipulate her husband, Uriah, one of his mighty men, to go home so the baby would be thought to be his. But Uriah was honorable and would not partake of the pleasures of home while his brothers were on the battlefield. So David arranged to have Uriah put in the hottest part of the battle, where he was killed.

When David laid aside his armor, he took the first step toward moral defeat, and the same principle applies to believers today (Eph. 6: 10–18). Without the helmet of salvation, we don’t think like saved people, and without the breastplate of righteousness, we have nothing to protect the heart. Lacking the girdle of truth, we easily believe lies (“We can get away with this!”), and without the sword of the Word and the shield of faith, we are helpless before the enemy. Without prayer we have no power. As for the shoes of peace, David walked in the midst of battles for the rest of his life. He was safer on the battlefield than on the battlement of his house (p. 83).

David’s house was in turmoil for many years after that. God forgave him when he repented (Psalm 51), but there are consequences even for forgiven sin.

All during David’s months of silence, he had suffered intensely, as you can detect when you read his two prayers of confession (Ps. 32 and 51). Psalm 32 pictures a sick old man instead of a virile warrior, and Psalm 51 describes a believer who had lost almost everything—his purity, joy, witness, wisdom, and peace—a man who was afraid God would take the Holy Spirit from him as He had done to Saul. David went through intense emotional and physical pain, but he left behind two prayers that are precious to all believers who have sinned (p. 91).

Chastening is not punishment meted out by an angry judge who wants to uphold the law; rather, it’s difficulty permitted by a loving Father who wants His children to submit to His will and develop godly character. Chastening is an expression of God’s love (Prov. 3: 11–12), and the Greek word used in Hebrews 12: 5–13 means “child training, instruction, discipline” (p. 92).

The next-to-last chapter of 2 Samuel contains David’s “last words”—not the last words of his that we see in Scripture, but probably a psalm written near the end of his life. Wiersbe suggests that since the psalm’s subject is godly leadership, it may have been written for Solomon, who would succeed David as king. In verses 3-4, David writes: “The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.” Wiersbe comments that godly leadership “is an awesome responsibility. It demands character and integrity (‘just’ = righteous) and a submissive attitude toward the Lord (‘the fear of God’). Without righteousness and the fear of God, a leader becomes a dictator and abuses God’s people, driving them like cattle instead of leading them like sheep” (p. 183). Wiersbe expands:

David used a beautiful metaphor to picture the work of the leader: rain and sunshine that together produce useful fruit instead of painful thorns (23: 4–7) (p. 183).

With God’s help, leaders must create such a creative atmosphere that their colaborers will be able to grow and produce fruit. Ministry involves both sunshine and rain, bright days and cloudy days; but a godly leader’s ministry will produce gentle rain that brings life and not storms that destroy. What a delight it is to follow a spiritual leader who brings out the best in us and helps us produce fruit for the glory of God! Unspiritual leaders produce thorns that irritate people and make progress very difficult (2 Sam. 23: 6–7) (pp 183-184).

With all his faults and failures, David was, for the most part, such a leader. How we need such leaders today.

Laudable Linkage

IMG_0195

Welcome to my almost weekly list of good reads found around the Web.

This Dying Young Woman Has a Message for Us, HT to Challies. “Brooklyn may face dark moments, but they are never so dark that the light of Christ does not breakthrough. Along with telling her story, she wants to speak directly to us, and even when she wants to tell us hard truths, her sense of humor steps in to help us swallow the medicine. ‘I’m sick. Soon to die. But so are you. I’m just doing it faster.'” Brooklyn did pass away March 1.

Truth in Small Bites Is Truth Nonetheless. “When life takes a turn, most of us tend to push Bible reading aside until our circumstances return to normal. If you’re not able to sit down at your kitchen table for a quiet hour of in-depth study, you don’t even crack open God’s Word. Somewhere along the way, you’ve told yourself that if you’re not able to feast, you shouldn’t eat at all, not realizing that a handful of almonds in the middle of the night is far better than allowing your soul to starve.

Sexual Sin Is Not Inevitable, HT to Challies. “God never commands us to do anything without providing the resources to obey by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Death, Miracles, and Tears from a missionary in Cameroon, HT to Challies. “About three years ago I took a girl in our village named Mami to get an ultrasound. At the clinic I met her boyfriend named Koo who was visibly concerned about her pregnancy. So much so that he made a deal with God: if his baby survived, he would dedicate his life to the Lord.”

The Friend Who Sharpens Me, HT to Challies. “While it’s great to have friends we agree with theologically and mentors who can teach us more about the historical faith we hold to, I’m learning that it’s important to make friends with those I disagree with. It’s important to learn from those with a different viewpoint than me.”

Tell Me a Story? “There are many nights when both Dan and I draw a complete blank. Four sets of eyes stare at us longingly as we frantically rake our minds for something to say, only to come up as empty as one of Pooh’s honey jars. Over the years we have developed a strategy for handling situations like this. It’s easy to implement, and it has never failed.”

This is a good reason to get those dust bunnies when they’re small and few. 🙂

Happy Saturday!

100 Best Bible Verses to Overcome Worry and Anxiety

100 Best Bible Verses to Overcome Worry and Anxiety is compiled from writings of several authors and published with Bethany House.

Each two- to three-page spread begins with a Bible verse. The author then adds a brief paragraph about the context the verse was set in. Then several paragraphs about the meaning of the verse and one or two of application are included. Then a few references are listed for additional reading.

When I first saw this book reviewed at Joanne’s, I thought it was a great idea. I’ve mentioned before that anxiety is probably not something that can be conquered by answering an altar call or sitting down for one massive Bible study. Rather, battling anxiety is a matter of continually feeding our souls truth. This book is a wonderful way to keep God’s provision, protection, and promises continually before us in small but substantial doses.

I very much appreciated that the writers delved into the context of the verses before explaining the meaning and applying them. The context enriches our understanding of the passage and keeps us from spinning our own take on a single sentence.

I’ve repeatedly heard that there are 365 Bible verses that say, “Fear not.” That declaration is often followed by the quip, “One for every day of the year.” I had thought this would be a collection of those verses. It’s not (though such a collection would be a great idea for a devotional book). I was surprised at some of the verses used, as they didn’t seem to directly relate to anxiety or worry. But I came to understand they were foundational verses about God’s character or promises. The more we know Him, the less reason we have to be anxious about anything.

Here are just a few of the quotes I marked in this book:

[On John 16:33] It’s a strange way to promise peace—Jesus starts by telling his disciples that they are about to go through a time of sorrow and fear. How is that peaceful? they might have wondered, especially after Good Friday, when their teacher was killed, and it seemed like the world had won.

Still, Jesus’ words, “Take heart!” are a command in the original language, not just an inspirational phrase but something God wanted them—and us—to actively do. It could be phrased “Choose hope!” or “Be encouraged!” (p. 39).

Some seasons, taking heart might be among the hardest of God’s commands to follow. Until we remember the rest of the verse: “I have overcome the world” (p. 40).

[On 2 Timothy 1:7] Fear is a tool of the enemy that exists to keep us from advancing the kingdom of God. It distracts us from trusting him, and instead tempts us to protect ourselves and rely on our own abilities” (p. 51).

In verses 7 and 8 [of Joshua 1], God connects being strong and courageous to faithfully following his Word. Not believing in God’s Word nor taking it seriously had been the sin that forced the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for forty years (p. 62).

[On Lamentations 3:57] His response will always be, “Do not fear.” Not condemnation for being afraid, but telling us there is no need for it. He is holding on to us tightly, a good Father whose perfect love casts out fear . . . if we just ask (p. 65).

[On Genesis 50:20] [Joseph] endured some of the most difficult circumstances and betrayals and still honored the Lord in the midst of them. He refused to see his journey as one setback after another, but instead chose to believe that God was writing a much bigger story (p. 78).

Allow your confidence to be informed by your faith, not your circumstance (p. 79).

[On Psalm 61:2] We don’t need to strive so hard to be self-sufficient when the chaos threatens to overwhelm us, but we can rest in the truth that God is infinitely more capable than we are (p. 121).

[On Psalm 23:4] Dark valleys don’t stay dark. The beauty of a valley is that it dips down but then rises back up. Valleys aren’t endless stretches of defeat, but stretches we walk through and rise from. What a beautiful promise. We are not alone in our valleys. Even as we “walk through,” we don’t need to sprint through in a panic; we will walk through our valley with Jesus by our side and emerge safely, made stronger by the experience (p. 125).

This book doesn’t just try to make readers feel better. It continually points the reader back to God’s character and His Word. Thus, it is an excellent resource when worries or fears try to pull our gaze away from Him.

Laudable Linkage

Here are some good reads found this week:

Evaluating Evangelistic Phrases. “Sadly, much of what is called evangelism today lacks gospel clarity. Repentance and faith are often missing or muddied in many of our evangelistic endeavors. Over the years, a number of popular phrases, terms, and shorthand expressions have either watered down or replaced the Biblical response to the gospel.”

What Is the Gospel? HT to the above article. “What exactly do Christians mean when they talk about the ‘gospel of Jesus Christ’?” I especially like the definition of repentance: “To repent of our sins means to turn away from our rebellion against God. Repentance doesn’t mean we’ll bring an immediate end to our sinning. It does mean, though, that we’ll never again live at peace with our sins.”

How Valuable to Me Is My Bible Today? “What would it feel like today not to own a Bible? What if I knew hardly anyone who did? What would I be willing to do to have one for myself?” Written by our beloved former pastor.

The Paradox of Parenting and How to Trust God More, HT to Challies. “From the moment our babies leave the safety and protection of the womb, we are literally and figuratively pushing them out. They can’t stay in the nest forever, and this brings us joy and sorrow. Isn’t this the paradox of parenting? The more we want to hold on to them, the more time reveals we have to keep letting them go, little by little.”

A Common Face, HT to Challies. “One of the best things my church’s women’s ministry does is to have someone share their testimony at our events. I am often stunned at what I hear from the ordinary women around me – women who quietly go about their everyday lives while harboring beautiful, compelling stories of God’s mercy. Why do we pander and scramble to hear the famous, successful and beautiful people speak, when God’s glory is just waiting to be displayed by the sisters and brothers around us?”

Sending Love, HT to Challies. “Sending Christ-like love means moving from the busy lane of one’s own life to enter the path of another, just as Jesus did when God sent Him to earth. It’s a selfless kind of love, not one from which the giver seeks to gain. And when such love is given, it brings blessed relief, casts hope over despair, and offers a glimpse of Christ.”

Church Membership–The Biblical Basis for It and Benefits of It. I enjoyed this creative look at what the church is and does and why we need to be a part of it.

A Message for Young Women. “Somewhere out there in the great, wide world, someone is praying for you. She probably doesn’t know you and you probably don’t know her. You may not meet one another for many more years. But she’s praying for you nonetheless and has been for a very long time. She is the mother of a son.”

Resources for Bible Study and Teaching. I came to this through a link from another post on the Knowable Word site.

Incredible performance. An annual meeting of high school choirs in KY led to a wonderful tradition.

I enjoy listening to parts of Stephen Davey’s sermons on the radio while my oatmeal is bubbling. I’m thankful he puts the transcripts online so I can catch the rest. He had a series of messages about David that I particularly loved. This section from last Tuesday (Feb 8) struck me:

And as we’ve already learned, being a man or woman after God’s own heart doesn’t mean you’re sinless. David was guilty of great sin against God and others.

Why could David be called a man after God’s own heart? Was it because David was perfect? No; it was because God was David’s priority.

Being a man or woman or a young person who pursues after the heart of God doesn’t have anything to do with your perfection – it has everything to do with your priority.

And that is exactly the priority that David wants to ring in Solomon’s ears for the rest of his life.

That’s what I want to ring in my children’s hearts as well. I think I put this verse somewhere in their graduation paraphernalia for each of them: “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

Don’t Let Truth Become Cliche

People who write about writing tell us to avoid cliches. I read one article that advised tucking a few cliches into dialogue, if you’re writing fiction, so the conversations sound normal and familiar. Generally, though, cliches are considered trite and unoriginal. There’s nothing modern readers and publishers like so much as an original idea or a twist on an old one.

While I agree with all of the above, one day it dawned on me that the problem with cliches are not the phrases themselves. The problem is us. Most of the definitions and articles I looked up said that a phrase became a cliche through overuse. Why was the phrase overused? Because it aptly or creatively expressed something people identified with. But people heard it so much, they got tired of it. Then the phrase lost its luster, if not its meaning. The phrase still meant what it always did, but we don’t hear it the same any more. We gloss over it or even get irritated by it.

Most of us use cliches thoughtlessly out of habit—thus the admonition to watch for and eliminate them from our writing and speech. But some cliches are used to stop a conversation, according to Wikipedia. For instance, if you’re telling someone your troubles, and they respond, “That’s just the way the cookie crumbles” or “Into each life some rain must fall” (though the latter is from a poem), they’re not really interested in hearing you.

It’s possible to let truth become cliche spiritually as well, isn’t it?

In the church I attended in my teens and college years, we sang “Victory in Jesus” quite a lot. In another church my husband and I attended several years ago, a frequent congregational song was “Til the Storm Passes By.” In another place, it seemed like I heard “Be Thou My Vision” almost every week. For a while, I almost cringed when I heard these songs announced or heard their opening notes.

But was there anything wrong with the songs? No, they are all wonderful expressions of Biblical truth. The fact that they seemed overused was a problem in my own heart.

What about Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Granted, sometimes people use this verse like a band-aid on cancer. They mean well, but they want to “fix” the problem instead of weeping with those who weep, and then the verse becomes a conversation-stopper. But does the frequency with which we hear this verse null its meaning and effectiveness? It shouldn’t.

If someone quotes or refers to Psalm 23, should I glibly think, “Shepherd, sheep, got it,” and move on?

When Israel complained about eating manna, honestly, I can identify with them. But God faulted them for grumbling and murmuring. They forgot the miracle of God’s provision in the wilderness—a wilderness they were wandering in due to their own sin and failure.

In Malachi, Israel was offering to the Lord animals that wouldn’t even be fit for a governor (1:8), much less for a sacrifice for God. Then the people complained, “What a weariness this is” (1:13).

It’s good to be familiar with God’s Word. Throughout the Bible, God expects us to know Scripture enough to be able to think about it in our everyday lives. So if some parts of the Bible seem trite or overly familiar to us, the solution is not to scale back on our Bible reading.

What can we do then?

We can pray with the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). We can remember the incredible privilege it is that the Creator of the universe wants to speak to us. “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17). If God’s Word isn’t feeling so precious and wondrous lately, we can ask God to help us see it that way.

We can pray for revival. “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6). “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Psalm 119:25. Other translations say “quicken,” “revive, “preserve.”) Three times in Psalm 80, the writer asks God to “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”

We can ask God to search our hearts and lead us to repentance if need be. “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite'” (Isaiah 57:15).

We can ask God to restore our delight in Him and His Word.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart (Psalm 40:8).

Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them (Psalm 111:2).

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

We can return to our first love. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5). Maybe thinking back through our testimony, God’s dealings with us when we first knew Him, revisiting our “Ebenezers,” those times we saw evidence of God’s working in our lives, will stir up that first love.

Practically, maybe interrupting our regular scheduled Bible reading plan to read through some psalms or passages that have held special meaning for us in the past might help. So might reading the Bible in a different translation than you’re used to. Slowing down to focus on the words, maybe reading them out loud, can keep us from racing through a passage. A college professor years ago advised looking up the definitions of all the words in a verse, especially if the verse was familiar.

There was a young man in my youth group years ago who, whenever he was asked to pray, asked that we’d learn something new from the Bible that day. We’ll continually be learning new things from the Bible; we’ll never exhaust it in this life. But sometimes we need reminders of what we’ve heard and learned before. “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12-15).

John Newton wrote a lovely hymn called “Waiting for Spring.” First he talks about God’s promise that the seasons will continue, so we have the assurance that “Winter and spring have each their use” and winter will give way to spring. He says, “Believers have their winters too.” “Though like dead trees awhile they seem,” the spiritual life God placed in them will cause them to bloom again. He closes with this prayer:

Dear LORD, afford our souls a spring,
Thou know’st our winter has been long;
Shine forth, and warm our hearts to sing,
And thy rich grace shall be our song.

May God shine in and warm our hearts and renew our love for Him and His Word.

(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!

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.)

Laudable Linkage

Here’s my latest list of thought-provoking online reads:

Meditation. “We have an advantage over Joshua in that we have the completed Word of God. God’s inspired instruction to us goes far beyond the Law of Moses. Joshua had a record of the past works of God, His requirements of Israel, and His promises to them. As Warren Wiersbe once noted, ‘If Joshua was able to conquer Canaan having only the first five books of the Bible, how much more ought we to overcome now that we have a complete Bible!’”

Back to the Word, HT to Challies. “I’m just about ready to give up the rational conversational approach to social intercourse and to start quoting straight Bible to people. The further we go, the more reason isn’t working anymore. In these sputtering last gasps of the Enlightenment, language itself is deconstructing before our eyes.”

Sin Coddlers Are Not True Friends, HT to Challies. “The affirmation-only style of friendship looks good on the surface, and no wonder it’s become mainstream. But the result is a reduced understanding of friendship.”

Prayer for the Unconverted. I love this old prayer.

Social Media’s Anger Problem, HT to Challies. “Someone says something online that we find offensive, and we retaliate with a harsh word, a quick jab, or a joke at their expense. What we have done at that moment is allow them to steal our blessing of a quiet and gentle spirit to pay them back for their worthless words.”

I Can . . . Except I Can’t, HT to Proclaim and Defend. “If ‘I can’t’ paralyzes people, ‘I can do it all’ sends them off pursuing the wrong things and forever wondering if they missed their passion.”

How Does God Equip Us? “It’s said that God doesn’t call the equipped, but he equips the called, and, as we reflected earlier in this 31 Day series, everyone is called and everyone has a part to play. So, how does God equip us for what he is calling us to do? The New Testament highlights three main ways.”

An Unexpected Way to Teach Our Children to Pray, HT to The Story Warren. “After years of praying about whatever her eyes land on, she’s getting her first glimpse of the struggle to come to God in ‘the right way.’  And how do I teach her when it’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn myself? Teaching our kids to pray can seem so daunting when we don’t know what to say too. But the beauty of our gracious God is that he doesn’t need our perfectly crafted words. Growing in our own prayer lives has the ability to speak volumes to our kids.”

The Purpose of Christian Books. “Christian books have a distinct purpose in today’s world and throughout history. What some might call ‘preaching to the choir’ is really ‘reminding the disciples about who God is and what he has done.’ Certainly, the Bible is the greatest example of God reminding us. The choir is a forgetful group.”

This is pretty neat: a piano-like instrument made from Popsicle sticks.

(For some reason, the video won’t play here. But if you click where it says, “Watch on YouTube,” you can see it there.)

Happy Saturday!