Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Civil disobedience, Bearing one another’s burdens, Does our obedience please God?…)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question. I also like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar (at the very bottom of each page) can be a helpful tool!

In these potpourri editions of The Mailbag, I’d also like to address the three questions I’m most commonly asked:

“Do you know anything about [Christian pastor/teacher/author] or his/her materials? Is he/she doctrinally sound?”

Try these links: 
Popular False Teachers /
 Recommended Bible Teachers / search bar
Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring It Out on Your Own
(Do keep bringing me names, though. If I get enough questions about a particular teacher, I’ll probably write an article on her.)

“Can you recommend a good women’s Bible study?”

No. Here’s why:
The Mailbag: Can you recommend a good Bible study for women/teens/kids?
The Mailbag: “We need to stop relying on canned studies,” doesn’t mean, “We need to rely on doctrinally sound canned studies.”.

“You shouldn’t be warning against [popular false teacher] for [X,Y,Z] reason!”

Answering the Opposition- Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections


What are ways to help carry other Christians’ burdens? I’ve been praying for guidance in this area.

What a completely awesome question! It’s so encouraging to hear from readers who are striving to carry out God’s Word.

Galatians 6:2 tells us:

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Now, typically, we tend to think this verse means to help our brothers and sisters in Christ through difficult times in their lives: “weeping with those who weep” due to the loss of a loved one, helping out with a financial need, offering a word of encouragement to someone who’s down, etc. These are all good things that we should be doing. And the Bible does teach us to help others in these ways, it just doesn’t quite teach that in this particular verse.

Let’s take a look at the context of verse 2 and a couple of cross-references:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:1-2

See? Verse 2 isn’t really talking about helping the fam through the tough times. It’s talking about the obligation we have to our brothers and sisters (and they to us) to watch out for them, help them avoid temptation and sin, and, if they fall into sin, urgently, yet gently, pull them back to where they ought to be. The cross-references for Galatians 6:2 help us to see this even more clearly:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Romans 15:1-2

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
1 Thessalonians 5:14

So, Galatians 6:2 may have a bit of a different meaning than we thought it had, but in either of these senses – helping others through difficult times, or restoring a sinner – how do we “bear one another’s burdens”?

Pray– The most important thing you can do in either of these situations is to pray. Pray for the person you’re trying to help. Pray that God will give you the wisdom to say and do what’s godly in the situation. Pray that He will intervene and work things out as only He can. And be sure to let the person know you’re praying for her. If anyone has ever told you she’s praying for you, you know just how meaningful and encouraging that is.

Remove stumbling blocks– For example: If you’re helping someone who struggles with the temptation to drunkenness, don’t offer her a glass of wine when she comes over for dinner. Many men (yes ladies, even Christian men in your own church) fight a constant battle with lust. Help bear their burden by taking an extra look in the mirror to make sure your outfit isn’t cut too low, high, or tight before you go out or go to church. Whatever we can do on our part to avoid making things harder for someone who’s struggling with temptation is helping to bear their burden.

Ask her– No two people are alike. No two situations are alike. The only way to know how best to help another person is to ask her. If there’s something you’ve found helpful in a similar situation, you can suggest that and ask her if she feels like that would be helpful to her as well, but ask before doing it (see “Just do it./DON’T just do it.” in this article). Sometimes the things I find helpful aren’t the same things you find helpful.

Ask your pastor– In order to really pursue “bearing one anothers’ burdens” well in your own church, have a sit down with your pastor and get his guidance and counsel. He may know of a situation that’s just begging for someone like you to step in and be helpful. Just think of that – God could use you to be the answer to your pastor’s or a fellow church member’s prayers! And even if there’s not a specific situation he could assign you to, at the very least, just the fact that you asked will be a huge encouragement to your pastor.

The Mailbag: Ministering to the Bereaved


My church teaches that “man” and “woman” in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 isn’t the correct translation, that it should be “husband” and “wife,” because this passage is about marital submission, not women teaching in the church. Is this true?

I’ve answered this question before, but I’ve received it again twice in the last couple of weeks. I don’t know if that’s just coincidence, or if there’s been an uptick in this error, but if it’s the latter, I want to make sure you have the right information at hand.

The short answer to this question is no. This is eisegesis. Bible translators are hired for their expertise in the biblical languages (which is not a skill set the average pastor teaching this error has). If it were supposed to be translated as “husband” and “wife” they would have translated it that way. Check out all of the reliable English translations of the Bible. Across the board, they all translate it as “man” and “woman”. Even the unreliable versions/paraphrases of the Bible (like The Message and The Passion “Translation”) translate it as “man” and “woman”. This is just another silly and preposterous attempt to smuggle an unbiblical teaching (i.e. It’s OK for women to preach to/teach/hold authority over men) into the church.

For the longer, more detailed answer, see the second section of The Mailbag: Potpourri (Heretical church music, Mistranslating 1 Tim. 2:12, Books for women…).


I’m struggling to get a handle on how the idea that our obedience is pleasing to God fits with the idea that God is pleased with us because of Christ’s righteousness in us. I know our obedience to God doesn’t save us or keep us saved, but in what way is our obedience pleasing to God? Can you help me sort this out?

Another phenomenal question from a godly woman who’s a good student of the Bible!

You’re quite right in saying that our obedience to God cannot and does not save us or keep us from losing our salvation, so let’s box that one up and shove it out of the way. You’re also right in saying that God is pleased with us because of Christ’s righteousness that was imputed to us at the moment of salvation rather than any so called “righteousness” we have on our own. But God can be pleased with more than one thing about us, right? And He can be pleased with different things in different ways, can’t He?

So to answer your question: Yes, for Christians, our obedience, springing from our love for Christ, is pleasing to God.

Think of it like a parent-child relationship (an illustration God often uses in Scripture).

When you have a baby, you are pleased with and love that baby simply because he exists and has been born into your family. He doesn’t have to do anything spectacular to earn your good pleasure with him (In fact, he’s doing all kinds of things, like pooping and crying all night, that aren’t pleasing at all!). He’s your child. You’re pleased by that fact. End of story.

Now, if you see your child busily cleaning his room, being kind to his sister, saying please and thank you, etc., those things that he’s doing are also pleasing to you, but is that what makes him your child? Of course not. He’s your child because he was born into your family. He would be your child whether he was doing those good things or making a mess, hitting his sister, and being rude. But it’s more pleasing to you when he’s obedient out of love for you.

Being pleased with your child’s behavior is a separate matter from being pleased by the simple fact that he’s your child. It is the same way with those of us who have been born into God’s family and are now His children. He is pleased by the fact that we were born into His family and are robed in the righteousness of Christ, and He is pleased when we show our love for Him by obeying Him.

Check out these Scriptures about our obedience and good works – as Christians – being pleasing to the Lord.


What are your views on civil disobedience? Do you believe it can be a sin since it involves the refusal to submit to authority?

This question came in as a response to lesson 4 of Living Stones: A Study of 1&2 Peter, which dealt largely with submission to authority.

Civil disobedience – intentionally breaking a civil or criminal law, or disobeying the command of a governmental authority because you don’t feel you can, in good conscience, obey it – can be a sin. It also can be obedience to God. It totally depends on the situation, the law you’re contemplating breaking, and what the Bible says about it.

Submission to the authorities in our lives – including governmental authorities – is a huge theme of the New Testament. Romans 13:1-2 says:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

God has put certain people in certain positions of governmental authority. He says we are to submit to them, and that, if we don’t, we’re rebelling against Him and will incur judgment. This is a command straight from the lips of God that we are to take just as seriously as all His other commands.

The only exception to submitting to the authorities in our lives – whether it’s the government, our husbands, our pastors, or our employers (and for children, their parents)- is when that authority requests or requires that we disobey God’s (rightly handled, in context) written Word. No human being has the authority to go over God’s head, cancel His clear commands, and expect to be obeyed. God is our ultimate authority.

One of the clearest examples of this in in Acts 5. The high priest and other Jewish leadership arrest and imprison the apostles for preaching the gospel (which Jesus had commanded them to do in the Great Commission). In the middle of the night, God opens the prison doors and commands the apostles to go back to the temple and keep preaching the gospel. The high priest hauls them in again and says, “Why are you doing this? We commanded you to stop teaching this.”. And Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Our ultimate example, is, of course, Jesus, who always obeyed God even though the governing authorities eventually convicted Him of a capital offense and executed Him as a criminal as a consequence of that very obedience.

We obey God first and foremost and above all human authorities, no matter the cost.

So if you’re thinking about disobeying a human (governmental or otherwise) authority, consider these things first:

• Do you know your Bible, rightly handled, in context, inside and out on the issue at hand?

• Can you objectively differentiate between “This command clearly conflicts with Scripture,” and “I personally don’t like this command even though it doesn’t conflict with Scripture.”?

• Are you absolutely certain the human authority is requesting/requiring that you disobey clear Scripture (either ordering you to do something God has forbidden or ordering you not to do something God has commanded)?

• Do you fully understand the fact that if the human authority is not requesting/requiring that you actually disobey clear Scripture, and you refuse to comply, that you are disobeying God (sinning) by refusing to submit to the human authority He has established?

• Have you counted the cost? What will the consequences be if you disobey God? What will the consequences be if you disobey the human authority? Are you ready to “man up” and accept the consequences with grace and godliness?


I really enjoyed reading your article about the women’s conference you just spoke at. Will you be coming to my area soon?

I hope so! There are two ways to catch an event I’m speaking at in your area:

1. Keep an eye on the “2020 Calendar” section of my Speaking Engagements tab (in the blue menu bar at the top of this page). I’ve got several more events in the works. When I get them finalized, I’ll post the details there and announce them on social media.

2. If you want to attend an event that’s really close to home, contact me to see if I’m available, and set up an event at your own church! There’s lots of great information at my Speaking Engagements tab on how to set up a women’s event at your church.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Suffering

Throwback Thursday ~ God’s Good Purposes in Suffering

Originally published June 16, 2017

In my previous article True or False: Is Your Theology of Suffering Biblical? we examined some unbiblical ideas and approaches Christians often have toward suffering. Why is it important to have a biblical view of suffering? Because suffering is painful enough without piling on things like, “God is punishing me,” or “This wouldn’t be happening if I just had more faith,” that aren’t even true. The biblical view of suffering frees you from from the additional agony of inappropriate guilt, the mindset that God is harsh or unloving, and the burden of striving to appease a God who’s not asking you to. A biblical view of suffering sets you free to rest in Christ and trust Him.

God’s purposes toward you, His child, are always good, even when He permits difficult things into your life. Let’s think about Romans 8:28 for just a second:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

It doesn’t say all things are good. It says that God uses all circumstances for good for His people – even the difficult ones – because He is good and His plans and goals are good.

Even Joseph saw this, way back in Genesis. After everything his brothers put him through, he said,

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,

As parents, sometimes we give our child ice cream to eat and sometimes we give him Brussels sprouts. Do we give ice cream because we love him and Brussels sprouts because we hate him? No. Both are done out of love, the ice cream because it brings him joy, and the Brussels sprouts because it has the nutrients he needs to be strong and healthy. It would not be loving for a parent to give only ice cream or only Brussels sprouts. In the same way, it would not be loving for God to give us only blessings or only difficult times. Everything God does in our lives, He does for His glory and our good.

So what are some of God’s good purposes in our suffering?

1. To bring glory to God
We touched on Job’s story in the previous article and saw how his suffering glorified God. Another great passage that talks about God being glorified through suffering is John 9:1-3:

As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

If you thought suffering was God’s punishment for sin, you’re in good company- the disciples thought so, too! But Jesus was about to do something amazing in this guy’s life that would showcase God’s glory, and it would not have happened had he not suffered.

2. Suffering can be a witness to the lost
When we suffer without forsaking Christ and trust Him to carry us through it, it’s a testimony to others – especially lost people – that God is faithful and worthy of
their faith and trust. Your suffering might open the door to sharing the gospel with someone.

3. The logical consequences of sin
In the previous article, we dealt with the topic of suffering we “deserve,” and how, even though it’s painful, it’s easier to come to grips with that kind of suffering. That’s because we’re made in the image of God, and one of God’s attributes that is reflected in us is justice. We have this innate sense of wanting to see justice done. And when we, or anyone else, suffer the natural consequences of our sin, that points to God being a just God.
We tend to lump all suffering into the one basket of “that’s unfair!” but this is the kind of suffering that is just.

4. Discipline

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Revelation 3:19

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
   nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:5-11

When we stray off into a pattern of sin, God can use suffering (often the natural consequences of our sin) to correct us and point us back to the Christlike direction we ought to be heading. He does that because He loves us.

5. Suffering can teach us humility and dependence on God
“Independence” is pretty much a motto for us here in the United States. Independence from England, rugged individualism, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps…Guess what? God doesn’t want you to be independent. He wants you to be
dependent- on Him. And nothing can grow that dependence and humility like suffering. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:7:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

6. Suffering can grow us in spiritual strength and maturity
Romans 3:3-4 says:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

Endurance, character, hope. These are all aspects of Christian character that God wants to build in each of us, and even though we wish He would just hit us on the head with a magic wand and instantly give us these things, that’s not the way He does it. He often produces these things in us by way of suffering.

7. Experiencing suffering gives us compassion for others, and equips us to help them

[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:4

God doesn’t do anything, including putting you through suffering, for no good reason. It could be to glorify Him. It could be to do something in you. Or, it could be to help someone else (or all three). God never wastes an experience in your life. If you’ve been through something, God can use that “been there, done that” experience to equip you to minister to someone else who’s going through the same thing.

8. Suffering can cause the lost to cry out to God for salvation
Remember the parable of the prodigal son? Sadly it’s a common tale. Some people basically have to hit rock bottom in their lives before they finally give it up and surrender to Christ, just like the prodigal son.

And how about the story of Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood? Sometimes life is great. You don’t need Jesus, you’re doing life just fine on your own…until something devastating happens that you can’t handle, and you get desperate. Mark 5:26-28 tells us she

had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

She was desperate. And God can use desperation and suffering to turn the heart of a lost person to Himself for salvation.

 

God is a good God, and His purposes in our suffering are always good. So the next time you’re suffering, think of those 8‘s in Romans 8:28, and remember these 8 good purposes God has for your pain, purposes that bring Him glory, work out His good plans, grow us in good ways, and enable us to do good to others.

Holidays (Other)

40 Things to Give Up for Lent

Originally published March 3, 2017

40-lent

Although, as a Louisiana girl, I’ve had a decades long love affair with king cake, and I totally support the increased availability of fish entrées at local restaurants and getting a few days off school or work, I’m not a big fan of Mardi Gras and Lent.

The intrinsic philosophy behind Mardi Gras – a day of revelry, indulgence, and debauchery to get it all out of your system before you have to start “being good” for Lent – is patently unbiblical.

The practice of Lent often is, as well. Lent is the forty day period, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter Sunday, observed by Catholics and some Protestants. Originally, it was simply a time of fasting, prayer, and worship in anticipation of Easter, and for Christians who continue to observe it this way, it can be a valuable and meaningful time of respite and renewal with the Lord.

For many, however, Lent – particularly the aspect of giving something up for Lent in an act of self-denial – is nothing more than an empty religious ritual, or worse, works righteousness. Giving something up for Lent because, “I’m Catholic and that’s what good Catholics do,” or to atone for your sins, or to curry favor with God, or to flaunt your self-righteousness flies in the face of grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone biblical Christianity.

If you give something up for Lent, why do you do so? If it’s for one of the aforementioned unbiblical reasons (or others), or even if you don’t observe Lent at all, I’d like to challenge us all to give up the things below for Lent:

1. Give up Lent for Lent.

2. Give up attending any church that requires the observance of Lent in a sacramental way and find a doctrinally sound one.

3. Give up thinking your good behavior earns you right standing with God.

4. Give up the idea that there’s any such thing as truly good behavior.

5. Give up thinking your good deeds could ever outweigh your sins.

6. Give up willfully indulging in sin as long as you “make up for it” later.

7. Give up the notion that penance or self-denial can pay for your sins.

8. Give up thinking that penance or self-denial curries favor with God.

9. Give up the idea that repentance and obedience belong to a certain season on the calendar. We are to walk in repentance every day.

10. Give up the concept that Christmas and Easter are Christian “high holy days.” We celebrate Christ’s incarnation and resurrection every Sunday, and should prepare ourselves all during the week. Every Sunday is a high holy day for the Christian.

11. Give up rote participation in church rituals. Search the Scriptures and see if they’re biblical first.

12. Give up thinking God concerns Himself strictly with your external behavior rather than the condition of your heart.

13. Give up “sounding a trumpet before you” with humblebrags on social media and in real life about giving things up for Lent, fasting, giving offerings, or any other good works you might do. You just lost your reward, baby.

14. Give up approaching church attendance as punching the time clock for God. The Christian’s entire life, our very beings, belong to Christ, not just a couple of hours on Sunday.

15. Give up the delusion that you’re basically a good person. You’re not.

16. Give up biblical ignorance and become a good student of God’s word.

17. Give up forsaking the assembly and become a faithful, serving member of your local church.

18. Give up thinking that everyone and everything that calls itself “Christian” actually is.

19. Give up the desire to have your itching ears scratched and long for the truth of God’s word. Even when it’s hard to hear.

20. Give up neglecting the daily study of God’s word.

21. Give up rejecting parts of the Bible you don’t agree with. We don’t sit in judgment over Scripture. Scripture sits in judgment over us.

22. Give up neglecting your prayer life.

23. Give up making excuses for failing to memorize Scripture. You can do it!

24. Give up being a non-serving member of your church.

25. Give up being a non-giving member of your church.

26. Give up thinking you’re hearing God speak to you. If you want to hear God speak to you, open your Bible and study it. God has spoken in His word and many are largely ignoring what He has already said.

27. Give up following false teachers and be a good Berean.

28. Give up being afraid to share the gospel and just do it.

29. Give up thinking you can please God apart from faith in Christ.

30. Give up basing your doctrine and beliefs on your own (or anyone else’s) opinions, experiences, and feelings, and base them on correctly handled Scripture instead.

31. Give up following your wicked and deceitful heart, take up your cross daily, and follow Christ.

32. Give up thinking you have to do big things for God in order for Him to be pleased with you and “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.”

33. Give up worrying and trust God.

34. Give up neglecting to fear God’s wrath if you don’t know Christ.

35. Give up fearing God’s wrath if you do know Christ.

36. Give up the idea that “God is love” means God is a pushover who won’t judge you.

37. Give up thinking you’ve been so bad that God could never forgive you.

38. Give up thinking you’re so good that you don’t need God to forgive you.

39. Give up refusing to forgive others when Christ has forgiven you so much.

40. Give up everything and be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and walk in His ways, all the days of your life, to the glory of God alone.

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Sanctification

Throwback Thursday ~ Six Ways to Leave Your First Love

Originally published April 29, 2016

6 ways first love

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Revelation 2:1-7 (NASB)

Love…exciting and new….

If you’re a child of the 80s, you probably recognize those few words as the opening line of the theme song from the TV show, The Love Boat. It was all about romance, attraction, and the first blush of new love. Perfect strangers met, fell for each other in a matter of days and walked off the ship arm in arm when it sailed back into port. (There was also a lot of fornication, so that’s not an endorsement of the show.)

Anyone who’s ever fallen in love before remembers that excitement, the nearly illicit drug-like rush of those first days and weeks of romance. Your heart and mind are consumed with him 24/7. You can’t wait to see him again. Just having a conversation with him sets your toes a-tingle. You start realizing your friends are constantly changing the subject because he’s all you can talk about.

I remember those days when I first met my husband. After twenty-three years of marriage, that initial seedling of obsessive infatuation has grown into a sturdy, sedate, deeply rooted California redwood of love and trust. Our love for each other may not look like it did when we first started dating, but it’s still there. In fact, that love is bigger and stronger now than it ever has been.

It saddens me that it’s not that way for every couple. Sometimes, instead of puppy love growing into mature love, it’s more like a Fourth of July sparkler that burns brightly at first, and then fizzles down to a smoking ember as time goes by. Couples let things get in the way of their relationship. They pull away from each other instead of toward each other. They stop talking. They stop spending time together. Outwardly, they can be going through all the right motions, but, behind closed doors, their love has died.

And that’s where we find Christ’s bride, the church of Ephesus, in Revelation 2.

This is not a bad church where sin is running rampant and false doctrine is being taught. This is basically a good church. Christ commends the Ephesian church for their good deeds, hard work, endurance, and, especially, their discernment. Outwardly, they were doing all the right things, and doing them well.

But that wasn’t enough for Christ. Just like it wouldn’t be enough for a husband whose wife is simply a good cook, a good mother, and a good housekeeper.

Christ doesn’t just want the good deeds and doctrine of His bride. He wants her heart, too. Not just her labor, but her love. And because you and I are the church, He wants that from us as individuals as well. He wants our love for Him to steadily grow from that first spark to deep maturity, not to burn down to a smoldering wick.

Have you, like the church at Ephesus, left your first love for Christ? It can be so easy for our affection toward Him and our enjoyment of Him to slip away that sometimes we don’t even realize it’s happening. Maybe it’s time for a little evaluation? Got any of these dynamics playing out in your walk?

1. You spend a lot of time hanging out in one particular area of the faith.

It’s no secret that I hang out in Discernment Land a lot. Maybe that’s why this passage in Revelation hits me so hard. First Church of Ephesus spent a lot of time there, too. Discernment and contending for the faith are good things. Christ praised this church for standing strong against false doctrine and comparing every teaching to Scripture.

There are a lot of other wonderful areas of Christianity to explore and grow in, too. Studying theology is a good thing. So are prayer, worship, serving, giving, hospitality, evangelism, Bible study, and so on. But too much of one good thing can squeeze out time and desire for other good things. It can be challenging, but we’ve got to maintain a balance of all the good stuff in order to have a healthy relationship with Christ.

2. You’re in a “perseverance” season of life.

Life as a first century Christian was no picnic. People’s families turned against them, many lost their livelihoods, there was the constant threat of torture and persecution nearly inconceivable to us today, and false doctrine continued to creep into the church and had to be fought off. We get a little hint of this when, in the first three verses of this passage, Christ uses the words “endurance,” “grown weary,” and “perseverance” (twice).

When God is allowing or causing circumstances to occur in your life that put you through the wringer, you can slip into survival mode. But it’s not really survival without regularly communing with Christ. It’s vital that you spend time with Christ during these difficult periods of your life so your relationship with Him doesn’t grow cold.

3. Good works are overwhelming your schedule.

The good works God has called you to are a good thing. Just as Christ recognized the “deeds and toil” of the Ephesian church, He has prepared good works for you to do and wants you to do them. But there are those good works that God has prepared for you to do and will provide the time for: serving your family, serving your church, being a faithful employee; and then there can be additional good works you over-extend yourself for. When you are so busy serving – even at church or in ministry activities – that your personal relationship with Christ suffers or your primary area of service to your family suffers, you are too busy. It’s time to reevaluate and cut back somewhere.

4. You’re not faithfully attending church.

If you’re regularly choosing travel, ballgames, birthday parties, sleeping in, shopping, visiting family, or any other non-essential, non-emergency activity over faithfully attending church, you are sinning, and you need to stop it and get your heiney back in the pew every week. When Scripture says gathering for worship with other Christians is your first priority, you need to obey that.

But it’s more than just adhering to some arbitrary rule. God doesn’t make arbitrary rules. His commands are always for our good. When you miss church, you’re missing out on the teaching and proclamation of God’s word, the celebration of Christ with your brothers and sisters, the opportunity to fellowship with and help bear the burdens of other believers, the encouragement and sharpening of running the race with your teammates, and the chance to serve the body of Christ. All of these things direct our focus to Christ, His beauty and His love for us, which, in turn, grows our love for Him.

5. You’re neglecting personal time in the Word and prayer.

I spend a lot of time in and around the Word. I’m normally at church, Sunday school, and Wednesday night Bible study every week. I teach my children the Bible every morning. My husband leads us in family worship. I write about biblical topics, which requires study of the Word. I listen to sermons and Christian podcasts all the time. But even with all that, when I don’t get up and start the day alone with God in prayer and in His word, I can feel myself slipping away from Him. And I know from experience that if I let that go on long enough, there’s going to be a rift between us, I’m going to keep pulling away from Him, and I’m not only going to miss out on that intimate, loving communion with Him, I’m going to leave myself wide open to temptation to sin.

Neglecting your Bible study and prayer time has a similar effect on your relationship with Christ as refusing to talk to or spend time with your husband would have on your marriage. Don’t give Christ the silent treatment. Stay in close fellowship with Him through His word and prayer.

6. You’re cherishing sin.

It’s a sin. You know it because the Bible clearly says so. You do it anyway. You keep doing it because you like it. Maybe it’s something “big” like pornography or embezzlement. Maybe it’s something “small” like coveting or gossip. But every step you take toward that sin is a step away from Christ and your love for Him. Every time you commit that act, you’re saying, “I love my sin more than I love Christ.”

 

Have you left your first love? Are you going through all the right motions outwardly, but inwardly your heart is far from God? Are you committing spiritual adultery with sin, letting busyness crowd out your relationship with the Lord, neglecting time in the Word and prayer? Do you long for that intimate communion with Christ you once had? Great news! He wants that for you, too.

…remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.

God is gracious and merciful, and He wants your heart, not just your right actions. He stands ready to forgive you, reconcile you to Himself, and restore that sweet love and fellowship.

Mailbag, New Year's

The Mailbag: My word for the year is…

Originally published January 7, 2019

 

I can’t seem to find information on one topic that keeps coming up with women I am friends with. “One word” for the year. They are all waiting to “hear” from God what one word they need to focus on for the year. I have been asked what my word for the year is. I just think… the Word Of God is my word for every year. Do you happen have any links, resources, or input?

I wish there weren’t any links or resources on this, but, unfortunately, it looks like a small cottage industry – both secular and evangelical – is growing up around this unbiblical concept. (I’m not going to give anyone free advertising and website hits by providing their links.)

The idea is pretty simple. You pick (or God “speaks” to you) a word that represents some sort of change you want to see in your life and you focus on that word, especially during situations when you want to see that change manifest itself, for the remainder of the year. For example, if you want to be a more peaceful person, you might choose “peace” as your word for the year. You find some way to think about or meditate on the word “peace” every day, but especially in worrisome or chaotic situations, and that’s supposed to make you a more peaceful person by the end of the year.

The only problem with this is – as with so many things in pop evangelicalism – the Bible.

You will not find this practice taught, endorsed, or even mentioned in the Bible. In fact, I suspect this idea traces its roots back to some form of Eastern mysticism. It’s a modern day twist on repeating a mantra. And somebody thought it would be a good idea to “Christianize” it – so she slapped a thin coat of “this is how God can speak to you and work in your life” paint over the surface of it.

That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. You don’t just get to make up Christianity as you go along. That’s God’s job, not ours, and He already set it up exactly the way He wants it – in the Bible.

We know that God is not going to speak a certain “word for the year” to people for two reasons. First of all, extra-biblical revelation is unbiblical. God speaks to us through His all-sufficient written Word, not audibly. Which brings us to reason number two. Because God speaks to us through His written Word, and there’s nothing in His written Word about getting a word for the year, we can be certain that He’s not going to be whispering a word for the year in anybody’s ear.

OK, so let’s take the extra-biblical revelation component out of it. What if we go at it from a sanctification angle? Maybe I’ve noticed that I tend to worry too much, so I decide, for the sake of my own spiritual growth, that my word for the year is going to be “peace”, and I’m going to focus on that word this year?

Still not biblical. Not just because it’s not taught in the Bible (although that’s certainly reason enough), but for a host of other reasons as well.

For starters, we are not in charge of our sanctification, God is. He is the one who gets to decide what work He’s going to do in our hearts, and how He’s going to do that. And that’s a really good thing because He is infinitely wiser and more powerful than we are and He knows our hearts much better than we do. You probably won’t hear many of your girlfriends choosing words like “suffering”, “humility”, or “repentance” as their word for the year, but God knows that areas like these – the ones we often push back against with the greatest resistance – are the ones we usually need the most work on.

Next, sanctification isn’t linear. You don’t tackle peace, master it, then move on to patience, master it, and then move on to whatever’s next. And that’s how this “word for the year” thing is set up. This year, you choose the word “peace”. Next year, maybe you’ll choose “patience”, and so on. But what do you do when you get to the end of the year and you know you haven’t mastered peace yet? What then? Do you choose the word “peace” again? Give up on peace and choose another word?

Biblical sanctification is more like a big bowl of spaghetti noodles. Everything is all tangled up and inter-connected. At any given time, God could be working on one or five or a dozen different aspects of your character. And while you’ll rejoice when you occasionally look back over how much you’ve grown, you’ll never “master” any aspect of Christlikeness this side of Glory.

Finally, God has already prescribed our role in sanctification, and meditating on a particular word for the year is not even a little part of it. Our role in sanctification is to abide in Christ. How? We learn the “how” of abiding in Christ from studying our Bibles. John 15 offers us a little glimpse:

V.1: I [Jesus] am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Recognize that, as I mentioned, God is the vinedresser – the one who prunes, waters, fertilizes, harvests – not you.

V.2: …every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Bear up under pruning as God conforms you to the image of Christ. Cooperate with whatever He’s trying to do in your life by obeying Him, thanking Him, and realizing that He’s doing it to make you more fruitful.

V.4: As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. Recognize and practice your dependence on Christ and His work for you and in you, not on a word you meditate on. You can’t be a fruitful Christian by coming up with your own way to grow in Christ. You can only do it His way.

V.7a: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you… To abide in Christ is simply to live for Him and commune with Him day by day. One of the ways we do that is to study “His words” – the Bible – so that those words will live in us. We ingest the words of Christ by studying our Bibles at home, with our Sunday School or Bible study class at church, sitting under good preaching at our church, and consuming other biblical materials during the week.

V.7b: …ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. If you’re abiding in Christ and His Word is abiding in you – what kinds of “whatever you wish” things do you think you’ll be asking Him for? Your foundational prayer to anything else you might ask for will be for God to be glorified and for Him to make you more like Christ. “Father, please heal me, but only if that will glorify You and make me more like Christ.” “Lord, I’d like You to take away this difficult situation at work, unless letting it continue would grow me to be more like Christ. Help me to glorify You no matter what.” Prayer is one of God’s prescribed methods of sanctification.

V.8: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. Glorify God by bearing the fruit of the Spirit, displaying the fruit of obedience, harvesting the fruit of evangelism, and by doing so, displaying for the world what a real disciple of Christ looks like in order to point them to Him.

V.10,12,14: If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…You are my friends if you do what I command you. Obey Christ’s commands and love one others the way He loves you. That’s the heart of your role in sanctification. It’s an outward focus on how you can bring Him glory in any situation by obeying Him and loving others with a die-to-self love rather than a navel-gazing, self-centered, inward focus on “How can I be a better me?”.

V.11: These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. Don’t forget the joy! What joy is there in a word that you focus on? How can you quantify whether or not you’re a better person at the end of the year and derive joy from that? Sanctification God’s way offers instant, daily gratification in the joy department. Joy dwells in us because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Joy wells up when we see the hand of God at work in our hearts and lives, when He answers prayer, even just from spending time with Him in His Word, worship, and prayer. Joy is communion with a Person, not satisfaction over a job well done of pulling yourself up by your own boot straps.

 

This “word for the year” thing is not necessary, it’s not biblical, and it kicks God out of His rightful place of authority in sanctification and attempts to put self in the driver’s seat. You’re on the right track with your thinking. When someone asks you what your word for the year is, just hold up your Bible and tell her, “All of these.” After all, Christ gives us abundant life. Why would we limit ourselves to one measly little word when we can study all of God’s words?


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.