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.

New Year's, Sanctification

Sanctification > Resolutions: 6 Ways God Could Sanctify You in the New Year

Originally published January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

There’s just something about the beginning of a new year that brings with it a yen for getting a fresh start. We think back over the past year, evaluate what we’ve spent our time and efforts on – or what we should have spent our time and efforts on – and, invariably, there’s a desire to make this year better.

Lots of people will make lots of resolutions on January 1: to lose weight, to stop smoking, to exercise more. And by mid-February, some 80% of those people will have failed and given up on their resolutions.¹ Why? Partly because (statistically speaking) most of those people are lost and the flesh is exceedingly hard to tame by sheer “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” willpower. Even Holy Spirit-indwelt Believers can testify to the pull of the flesh.

Should we, as Christians make New Year’s resolutions? Is it OK to set a goal to get a certain area of our lives under better control? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, is it possible there’s a bigger picture we need to take a look at?

The Christian life is not one of putting out fires via resolutions. We don’t tackle one problem, get it under control and then move on to each of the other five problems that popped up while we were working on the first one. It’s more like fire prevention. We get up every day and hose down the house and yard by resting in Christ, communing with Him through prayer and the Word, and seeking to obey Him throughout the day. Sanctification is not mainly reactive, it’s proactive. And it doesn’t come by our own outward effort and striving, but by Christ growing us, changing our hearts, and enabling us to obey Him from the inside out.

And guess what? Along the way as Christ is conforming you to His image, you’re going to fail. You’re going to give in to temptation, and you’re going to sin against your Master. But here’s what biblical sanctification offers you that New Year’s resolutions cruelly withhold:

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

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

You don’t just get a fresh start once a year. You get a fresh start every time you confess your sin, repent, and receive Christ’s cleansing and forgiveness. You get the mercy of Christ, the grace of God, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to move forward in submission to God’s Word. You get the steadfast, never ceasing love of the  Father who is out for your good rather than the unfeeling “do more, try harder, be better” taskmaster of New Year’s resolutions.

So, bearing all that in mind, how might God be trying to grow you in Christlikeness this year? What are some ways you can get up each day and proactively rest in, and obey Christ? Let’s prayerfully consider the following aspects of our walk and ask God to sanctify us and help us submit our will to His as we follow Him in this new year.

Growing in the Word

1. Daily personal Bible study. Do you set aside daily time for the personal study of God’s Word? Have you ever read the Bible from cover to cover? Have you considered, maybe just for this year, putting away all of the Bible study books and materials authored by others and using only the Bible during the next 365 days of your personal study time? Evaluate your daily time in God’s Word. Here are some resources you might find helpful:

📖 Bible Study Resources (how to study the Bible)
📖 Bible Studies
📖 Bible Reading Plans for the New Year- 2020
📖 You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible

2. Scripture memorization. This is something God has gotten a hold of me about recently. It’s important to store up God’s Word in our hearts as a weapon against temptation, for comfort, for prayer, and to encourage others. Try starting with verses you’re already somewhat familiar with. Many find it easier to memorize Scripture in song form, or by typing it out. If your pastor is preaching through a certain book, memorize a verse or passage out of each chapter as he comes to it. I’ve found it helpful to recite my verses in my head in bed at night. It helps me fall asleep faster, and there’s actually research that shows retention is improved if you study right before bed.

Growth In Prayer

3. Daily prayer time. Of course we should be talking to the Lord throughout the day as we go about the routine of life and work, but that’s not a substitute for having a daily block of time set aside for focusing all of our attention on communicating with God. Jesus set this example for us, and we should follow it. Do you have a daily time of prayer? Do you know how to pray in a way that’s pleasing to God and helps you grow in Christ?

🙏 Prayer
🙏 After this Manner Therefore Pray
🙏 Basic Training: 8 Things You Need to Know about Prayer
🙏 Sweet Hour of Prayer (Bible study on prayer)

Growth in the Body of Christ

4. If you don’t have a church, find one. Physically gathering with the Body of Christ for worship, teaching, fellowship, prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, giving, serving – and so much more – is not optional. It’s vital to your growth in Christ.

 Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians
 Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly
 Searching for a new church?

5. Faithful church attendance. At a minimum, Christians should be at Sunday morning worship and Sunday School/Bible study class/small group every week unless Providentially hindered (circumstances beyond your control: illness, emergency, the rare out of town trip, occasionally having to work). That’s not legalism, that’s loving the Bride of Christ and having your priorities in line with Scripture. Contrary to popular metrics, habitually missing Sunday worship twice or more a month (when you could be there if you made it a priority) is not faithful attendance. If you’re lackadaisical in church attendance, examine your heart. What’s going on in your spiritual life that’s keeping you from wanting to gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ? (And if it’s a problem with the church itself, see #4.)

6. Don’t just “go to church,” invest yourself in it. Are you serving your church in some capacity? Do you regularly and fervently pray for your church, your fellow church members, and your pastors, elders, and teachers? Have you poured yourself into personal relationships with others at church for fellowship, care, and discipling? Do you regularly, sacrificially, and joyfully give offerings? Are you sharing the gospel with the lost? As with anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. God loves you and wants you to invest yourself in His Bride for His glory and for your joy.

⛪ The Servanthood Survey
⛪ Let Me Count the Ways: 75 Ways Women Can Biblically Minister to Others
⛪ Servanthood
⛪ Top 10 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor
⛪ To Tithe or Not to Tithe…
⛪ Evangelism
⛪ 10 Fun, Practically Effortless, and Free Ways to Do Missions and Evangelism

How might God want to conform you more to the image of Christ this year? Could it be in one of these areas? Maybe another area? New Year’s resolutions are often about how you want to shape your life. Sanctification is about how God wants to shape your life. Not just for the new year, but for eternity.


¹Luciani, Joseph. “Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail.” U.S. News & World Report. December 29, 2015. Web. December 29, 2017.
Sanctification

Throwback Thursday ~ Discipleship Requires Relationship

Originally published September 30, 2016

discipleship-relationship

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20

You probably know the verses above as the “Great Commission.” Jesus spoke these words to His disciples after His resurrection and before ascending back into Heaven, and they are still our marching orders as Christians today. It’s an action-packed passage, wouldn’t you say? Go. Make. Baptize. Teach. We are to be about the Lord’s business, not sitting around doing nothing or busying ourselves with other things to the exclusion or neglect of the task to which Christ has called us: sharing the gospel with the lost and training the saved to follow Christ.

But how do we put shoes on the Great Commission? What does it look like to “Go ye therefore” and carry out this action plan of making and teaching disciples of Christ in our day to day lives? Like so many other aspects of working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, there is no one size fits all checklist of specific, “do it this way” tasks to choose from. Why? Because God created you as a unique individual with a particular background and placed you in a certain life venue. Yours doesn’t look like mine, and mine doesn’t look like yours. And that’s a good thing. God has woven all of those elements together in our lives to place us in the exact spot He wants us in to glorify Him, grow in our own faith, and make the disciples He has specifically assigned us to reach in the way He wants us to reach them.

But while you may be counseling a fellow church member about her marriage and I might be teaching my children the book of Colossians and another sister might be praying with a hospitalized co-worker, there’s one thing that’s foundational to all these divergent discipling situations: relationship. You can’t disciple someone unless you have a relationship with her.

Now let me stop and clarify something here. I’m not saying you have to have a relationship with someone before you can evangelize her. We should absolutely be sharing the gospel with lost friends, family, and others we already have relationships with, but we can (and should) share the gospel with complete strangers we’ll never see again as well. When Jesus first called His disciples and said, “Come follow Me,” He didn’t, humanly speaking, know any of them, as far as we know.

But Jesus didn’t stop with the call, just like we’re not to stop with the conversion. He gathered those twelve guys to Himself and they literally did life together for the next three years. They lived together, ate together, traveled together, went to the temple together. Everything. Together. For three years. That’s what turned them into disciples- true followers: time spent together with Christ, learning from Him.

There were three main ways Christ discipled the Twelve: formal teaching (as with the Sermon on the Mount), situational teaching and correction (as when James and John wanted to sit on His right and left in the Kingdom), and setting an example (as when the disciples watched Jesus minister to Zacchaeus), and all of those methods required Jesus to spend time with and bond with the disciples. These weren’t mere acquaintances of His, they were brothers.

Is that what God is calling us to do today? Should we quit our jobs, gather up a dozen ladies, move in together, and disciple them? (Goodness, it almost sounds like a reality TV show, doesn’t it?) Probably not (Especially if you’re married and have children. In that case, your family members are your live in disciples.). But we do need to make sure we’re clearing time in our busy schedules to bond with women or children who need a “big sister” in Christ. Time to disciple them in the same ways Jesus did: formal teaching, situational teaching and correction, and setting an example. Work through a book of the Bible together, be a shoulder to cry on, pray with her when she’s had a bad day, go to the movies together, let her watch while you share the gospel with someone, have a cup of coffee. Develop that close, trusting relationship that creates a safe haven for confession of sin, sharing fears and inadequacies, instruction, rebuke, encouragement, grief, and rejoicing.

And it’s important that we do this, not only at the individual level, but at the church level as well. My church is somewhat large, with a few hundred or so in attendance each week. A few months ago, I hosted a fellowship for the ladies of my class, just so we could have some fun and get to know each other better. During the evening, I asked if anyone would be interested in a weekly women’s Bible study. Most indicated that it wouldn’t work out with their schedules, and we went on with the evening, sharing various things that were going on in our lives, and even stopping to pray for a few of the ladies who were struggling. Later, one of the ladies pulled me aside, told me how much she had enjoyed the evening, and said something so wise I’ll never forget it: “A weekly Bible study would be nice, but this evening is the kind of thing we need. We get good teaching in church and in Sunday School, but we never get to just sit around and talk and share our joys and struggles- our lives.” And she was right.

Yes, sometimes churches can go overboard on fellowship, but we’ve got to be careful not to swing too far the other direction to the point that we’re a group of isolated individuals who happen to be in the same place at the same time each week to receive good teaching and all go our separate ways when it’s over. Good, biblical, corporate teaching and worship are only one aspect of discipleship- the “theory” aspect of discipleship, if you will.

But what about the “applied” aspect of discipleship, where the rubber of the sermon meets the road of life’s circumstances? That’s where relationship comes in. There are women and children in your church who are fairly starving for someone to reach out to them, listen to them, help bear their burdens, explain how the Scriptures apply to what they’re going through today, give them a hug and an encouraging word. Is your church creating space for this to happen between individuals and in small groups? Are you encouraged to get involved in one another’s lives and walk through joys and sorrows together on a personal level?

Making disciples. Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes intentionality. It takes relationship. Jesus was willing to invest those precious resources into the lives of His disciples. Are we?

world-991082_1280

Sanctification

Throwback Thursday ~ 10 Pet Peeves (with Providential Purpose!)

Originally published June 30, 2017

One of the podcasts I’m enjoying listening to right now is Mike Abendroth’s No Compromise Radio. Recently he posted a series of episodes about his pet peeves with the church, false teachers, and other ministry issues, and used those pet peeves as an opportunity for teaching and exhortation.

It seemed to be a thought-provoking way to address the issues, so I’m shamelessly emulating Mike’s idea today and discussing a few pet peeves of my own:

1. Mispronouncing or misspelling the names of false teachers being critiqued. The names that seem to give people the most trouble are Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. There is no “L” in Osteen. It is not OLsteen or OLDsteen. It is pronounced OH’-steen (also note the emphasis on the first syllable). Joyce Meyer does not have an “S” on the end of her last name. It is Meyer, not MeyerS. When you mispronounce or misspell the name, it diminishes your credibility with followers of that teacher. People tend to think, “This person doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She hasn’t even done enough research to know what my favorite teacher’s actual name is.” Hearing Scriptural truth about your idol is hard enough. Let’s be merciful and not make it any harder for people than we have to.

2. Women who try to manipulate ministries which take a firm stance on biblical doctrine into apologizing or changing said stance by saying how “sad” or “grieved” or “depressed” or “sorrowful” they are that this ministry isn’t nicer to false teachers, more compassionate as to why women can’t submit to their husbands, etc. It reminds me of three year old little girls who have learned that if they turn on the tears and the puppy dog eyes, and burble with quivering lip, “That huwt my feewings!” when Mom disciplines them, that Mom will quickly change her mind about the punishment.

Ladies, godly women do not manipulate by saying things like this (And, as an aside, if you’re using this tactic with your husband, stop now. You’re going to destroy your marriage). If you’re not genuinely sad or grieved, what you’re saying is a lie. If something a ministry says or does genuinely offends you, the first thing you need to do is find out – from correctly handled Scripture, not your opinions – if they’re being biblical. If they are, you need to adjust your feelings so that they line up with Scripture. If they’re not, you need to speak the truth to them kindly, openly, honestly, in love, and with no hidden agenda.

3. People who comment on articles, social media posts, and so on without reading them first, especially when their comment is clearly addressed, answered, or refuted in the text. Have we really become this intellectually lazy? God gave us brains, intelligence, and literacy. We need to exercise those good gifts. The headline isn’t the extent of the writer’s thoughts. Read the article.

4. Mature Christians who positively quote, share, or re-tweet people they know (or should know) are false teachers. I don’t care if the quote itself is OK-ish. When you share something from a false teacher, others see that as your stamp of approval on that teacher, or question your discernment, or both. You’re pointing people who may be weaker brothers and sisters to false teachers. Knock it off.

5. Christian writers who consistently fail to capitalize the word Bible. I expect a surgeon to know how to handle a scalpel, a plumber to know how to use a wrench, and writers to know the rules of grammar. As Christians we should be striving for excellence in our vocations as a way to glorify God.

6. When people try to negate a general rule or biblical principle by pleading the exceptions to the rule. People point to the tiny percentage of pregnancies by rape and incest and say “See? Abortion should be legal!”. Christian women point to the exception of abusive men as though their existence exempts all godly women from the Bible’s instruction to submit to their husbands. There are always going to be exceptional circumstances like the tragedies of abuse and pregnancy due to rape or incest (and there are biblical principles for handling these special circumstances), but those exceptions do not cancel out the general rule or biblical principle that applies to the vast majority of people.

7. Women who confuse their feelings, personal preferences, and opinions with biblical truth and then attempt to use that “biblical truth” to correct others who disagree with them. You may be offended and strongly disagree with someone for calling your favorite preacher a false teacher, but your feelings and disagreement don’t mean that person is wrong. It could be that your opinion is what is unbiblical and that the other person is completely bibilically right in what she is saying. Or it could be another type of situation in which neither of you are wrong but that you’re coming at the issue from two different (yet biblical) perspectives, for example: grief over someone’s sin versus righteous anger over someone’s sin. As Christians, our feelings and opinions about things don’t really matter. We are slaves of Christ, so only our Master’s opinion matters. And His opinions are found in God’s written Word, not in our emotions. We must go to Scripture to determine what is right, godly, and good, and what is not.

8. I could write a whole article on things podcasters do during broadcasts that annoy me, but I’m working on not being annoyed by those things (plus, if I ever have my own podcast, I’m sure I’ll do all of them myself), so I’ll just mention one: repetitive linguistic idiosyncrasies and jokes. Yes, “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” but you don’t need to say it every five minutes. And, it was mildly amusing the first few times you intentionally pronounced that word wrong, but now it’s been several dozen times, and it’s just annoying. And nobody’s buying your shtick about feigning confusion over people’s names (“As Jimmy Carter once said…” “No, that was Jimmy Dean.” “I thought it was Dean Martin!”) anymore. The same linguistic joke or idiosyncrasy over and over and over again grates on my nerves. The spiritual application here? I need to be more patient and overlook things that annoy me out of love for the person doing them. I get that. I’m trying.

9. Making every event into a huge, over the top experience. When I was a kid, Vacation Bible School was a Bible story and a few songs, a modest craft, and some cookies and Kool-Aid. No theme, no decorations, no ordering hundreds of dollars worth of junk from LifeWay. Now VBS is more like Six Flags over Jesus. For centuries, worship services took place without an elaborate set, theatrical lighting, and flashing everything up on a screen. Pastors somehow managed to preach without props, costumes, or references to the latest movie. Bible studies required only (gasp!) a Bible, not a workbook, a DVD, a web site, YouTube videos, four jillion different colored highlighters, a bachelor’s degree in hieroglyphics for margin markings, and the talent of Monet for Bible art journaling.

I once saw a picture of a church in Africa. Not a church building – because they didn’t have one – but the actual church: the people. They met under a certain tree on Sundays to sing, pray, and be taught by their pastor. No programs, no flash, no bling, yet this was a successful church because it built up and trained Christians in the faith. There’s nothing intrinsically sinful about decorations, lights, or a plethora of pens, but sometimes all the hoopla and accessories distract us from our main purpose- the unfettered pursuit of Christ. When we feel like we have to do all that extra stuff – to attract people or to have some sort of feeling or experience – we’re losing sight of our purpose. Simple is good and doable and not displeasing to God.

10. My biggest pet peeve – the one that affects me the most, personally; the one that frustrates and irritates and angers me more than all the others – is my own sin. I know exactly how Paul felt, and I can’t say it better than he did, when he said:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Romans 7:15,18-19, 22-24

Can’t you just see Paul throwing up his hands in frustration, tearing out his hair, banging his head on his desk? I drive through that neighborhood a lot. “Ugh! I gave into temptation AGAIN!” “I just repented of coveting yesterday, and here I am doing it again today!” “Why did I react to that situation with pride instead of humility? I know what Scripture says about that!” I see the goal – Christlikeness. I want to get there, but I know that’s not going to come to completion this side of Glory. And it drives me absolutely nuts.

But then I see the cross. The grace. The kindness of my Savior to forgive me. And I’m reminded to keep moving forward, to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” That it’s His work in my heart that makes me holy and enables me to obey, not my straining and striving. What a merciful and loving and gracious God!

Life is full of little (and big) pet peeves. But if we’ll submit ourselves to God, study His word, and seek to obey Him, they can have a sanctifying purpose. God can use even the most annoying irritation to sand off some of our rough edges, show us our sin, and lead us to become more like Christ.

Do you have any pet peeves?
How could God use them as tools to sanctify you?