My Favorite Bible Verse

Want to know what I think may be my favorite Bible verse?

Galatians 5:16

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

I know, I know. It’s kind of a weird verse to call favorite. I’m not sure that it’s really my absolute favorite verse…I mean, there’s so many other great verses to call favorite! But I definitely would say it’s in my top 3.

The reason is quite simple – I love how easy Paul says it is to get over sin. Just walk by the Spirit, and you won’t do sinful things.

Everyone has trouble with sin. Some people think they don’t, but they don’t realize they’re lying to themselves (“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8). Lying is a sin (9th commandment, if I’m correct). Lying to ourselves may be an even worse sin than lying to others, since there is a sense of pride in telling oneself that I am without sin. And pride is one of the seven deadly sins (I really don’t even know what the other 6 are….isn’t that a catholic thing? Sorry…I’m not catholic…).

My own struggle with sin has kept me from having the relationship with Christ that He wants to have. I walked the aisle and was baptized at 8 years old. I’m not sure that I was truly saved at that point – I understood what salvation was, to some degree, but I wonder if at that time salvation was not much more than a get-out-of-hell-free card. Then when I was 18, I went to a Bible camp with a friend, and although I wasn’t drawn to the charismatic tendencies of that camp, I was drawn to Jesus that week. I prayed, for myself, for true salvation one night, sitting in the back of the sanctuary of that little camp. Then I went home, and less than 2 weeks later, I was back to my old self. Sin, sin, sin.

But at least at this point, I believe the Spirit in me made me hate my sin. Because when I was in it, I wanted out. And for the last 15 years that has been a good description of my relationship with Christ. I go for short while, “walking by the Spirit,” then I go for a long while, “gratifying the desires of the flesh.” It’s not always  as bad as it sounds – there were times of hate, lust, and greed. Then there were other times of just selfish ambition, lying, and pride. But each of those times would be characterized as giving in to my sinful nature.

So that brings me back to why I love Galatians 5:16 so much. I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and articles on how to pull myself out of these sin-fests that have defined my existence so long, even during the time I consider myself to be a Christian. And they’re not short books either! Hundreds of pages devoted to actions I can take to get myself out of trouble, and how to avoid temptation to sin. And in the end, it was only 17 words that I needed to hear.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Walking is easy. The Spirit is already in me. All I need to do is follow it’s lead and the sinning will stop. Maybe not forever, but if I continue to walk by the Spirit, the sin won’t take control again. And that’s not just the life that Jesus wants for me….it’s the life I want for myself.

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Feeling Bad About Feelings

Did you ever get your feelings hurt?

Of course you have. We all have. And if you’re like me, you probably feel guilty sometimes when you get your feelings hurt. Like, somehow, you’re just being silly, or over-emotional, or a little too touchy and sensitive.

That was me this morning. Someone made a comment at work about how they were going to fix something that I had worked on. They basically insulted my work and made it seem like I was incompetent. And it really hurt.

As a man, I don’t always go straight for the hurt-feelings emotion. I sometimes go for the anger, indignation, and bad mood before admitting that I was hurt. But for some reason this morning, I realized right away that I was just hurt. I wasn’t angry (well…not that angry)…I was just hurt. I literally felt that same feeling I remember feeling as a kid right before I started crying. I’m not saying I almost cried (I am a MAN, after all…), but there was a definite feeling of sadness and maybe even a slight sense of betrayal.

I’m sure this isn’t uncommon in workplaces across America. Everyone deals with getting their feelings hurt at work at one point or another. But I wonder how many people are like me, and actually feel bad about it afterwards. Like it’s our fault, we probably had it coming, so we just need to get over it.

I believe deep down that I’m good at what I do. I’m not the best, and I know there are others around me in my own workplace who far exceed my skills and abilities. But that’s okay with me. I get the job done, and I know I do my best. I take pride in what I do. So when someone comments on something negative about my work, I think it’s only natural to be hurt about it. What I don’t know is if it’s natural to feel bad about feeling bad.

Anyone else have these kinds of experiences?

 

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Children of Promise

I recently took a series of surveys as an exercise assigned by my church, as a part of the new members’ class. One of those exercises was a spiritual gifts analysis, and as I already knew, I came out very strongly…I hate to say “gifted”…I’ll say “pre-disposed”…toward knowledge and truth and what the survey called “teaching.” In other words, I like learning new things from Scripture. And because of that, apparently I’d make a good teacher. I don’t know about that, but we’ll leave it as-is.

One of the downsides to being someone who revels in new knowledge and deep truths is that sometimes you tend to look for the depth in things when in reality the crux of that truth is as simple as can be. I think that describes me to the letter. Yet, as I continue to walk with the Lord, or maybe more appropriately described, as I begin to attempt to walk with the Lord a little closer, one of the things He is teaching me is the value of simplicity. And that truth was no less evident today than in days past (or is it passed? IDK…).

Today, my devotional reading was from Galatians 4, specifically versus 12 through 31. The goal of my reading was to identify the concerns of Paul, especially the illness he speaks of in verse 13. And while I followed the instructions (I’m a rule follower…), it was a different verse and a different theme that really popped out at me. In verses 21 through 31, Paul makes an analogy of Abraham’s sons and us as believers today. Here’s a general overview of what he says:

Abraham had 2 sons. One was from Hagar, a slave woman, and the other was from Sarah, his wife. The son from Hagar, Ishmael, was the son born when Abraham attempted to take matters into his own hands, after having already received the promise of a son through Sarah. The other son, Isaac, was the son born as a result of the promise of God. So Paul says that we, today, can be children of either son – children of slavery, like Ishmael, or children of promise, like Isaac.

And Paul tells the Galatians in verse 28, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”

If you study Galatians, you’ll see that they were struggling with a heresy called legalism, in which they attempted to earn the favor of God by following the Law of Moses (like being circumcised and participating in rituals). But Paul tells them, “Look, you were saved by grace through faith…what makes you think you should now live by Law? No, continue to live by faith!” And in the culmination of him telling them this, he says “C’mon! Don’t you realize that you are children of promise? Quit returning to slavery!”

So what does this have to do with the value of simplicity?

The phrase “children of promise” stood out to me, because I realized that I’ve added way too much depth to the definition of faith. To me, faith has been this complex thing that is one part belief in God, another part trusting Him (even the demons believe…so there must be more to faith than belief), and another part mystical spirituality that can’t be described in words. Because the Bible says that faith and works are not compatible, I always thought that faith had to be something completely abstract, or else it could be construed as something we did and therefore would be works. And our works are like filthy rags before Him, yet our faith pleases Him. So to me, faith was something deep that I couldn’t put into words.

Then, I studied Galatians.

In convincing the Galatians that they should refrain from legalism, Paul twice uses this word “promise.” In Galatians 3, he tells them that the promise God made to Abraham 400 some odd years before the Law was given still stood even when the Law was given (and still stands today!). And that promise was that Abraham would have a son (with Sarah), and that all nations (even the Galatians…even us today!) would be blessed through that bloodline. Of course, on this side of the cross, we know that blessing was Christ himself, a direct descendent of Abraham and his son Isaac. But at that time, it was simply a promise of a future blessing. And Abraham believed (faith!). And God credited it to him as righteousness.

The other time Paul uses the word promise is when he tells the Galatians that they are children of promise…which really means they are children of faith. Faith is really nothing more than taking a promise given you and saying with all sincerity, “I believe you will fulfill it.” When I was married, I promised my wife I would not cheat on her or beat on her, among other things. And she believed me. That’s faith. In the case of God’s promise…He promised to bless everyone in the world through His son, and anyone who believes Him can be said to have faith. And it is that faith that is credited to us as righteousness still today.

So faith is really quite simple. It is belief. It is trust. But it’s not mystical, and it’s not an action. It’s simply a decision to take God’s promise and say, “I believe you will fulfill it.” And as is often the case, simplicity is more beautiful than the depth of a thousand oceans.

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A New Perspective on Wasting Our Lives

In the opening chapter of John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Life, he talks about his father who was an evangelist. He says that he recalls times traveling with him and hearing him preach, and how his father’s message, in his own words, “struck me as absolutely blood-earnest.” He then goes on to tell of a man who came to Christ at one of these times:

For me as a boy, one of the most gripping illustrations my fiery father used was the story of a man converted in old age. The church had prayed for this man for decades. He was hard and resistant. But this time, for some reason, he showed up when my father was preaching. At the end of the service, during a hymn, to everyone’s amazement he came and took my father’s hand. They sat down together on the front pew of the church as the people were dismissed. God opened his heart to the Gospel of Christ, and he was saved from his sins and given eternal life. But that did not stop him from sobbing and saying, as the tears ran down his wrinkled face — and what an impact it made on me to hear my father say this through his own tears — “I’ve wasted it! I’ve wasted it!”

The remainder of the book talks about the wasted life, what it looks like, and how to avoid it. I haven’t finished it yet (I’m close!), but it’s had a definite impact on me already.

I’ve laid in bed several nights thinking about that man lamenting over the fact that he had wasted his entire life. He had spent all those years living for the glory of himself, which amounted to absolutely nothing. Of all the tragedies that afflict humankind, few are as awful as the thought of your entire life amounting to nothing. This man’s tears were completely understandable, at least to me.

But then, as I was doing my morning Bible study today, I had a revelation that perhaps puts a twist on this whole idea. My study right now is in Galatians, and I’m still working through the first couple of chapters. In Galatians 1, Paul spends a significant amount of time building his own credentials, probably to defend against that which had been said about him by false teachers who were ravaging the Galatian churches. As a part of those credentials, Paul gives his testimony in Galatians 1:13-16:

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But…God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles… (emphasis added)

My devotional bought up an excellent point that I had never considered. Paul was most likely around when Jesus was active in His ministry. He undoubtedly could have been called as an apostle by Jesus before His crucifixion. So why wasn’t he? Why did God choose to wait to call Paul until later, and until after he had done some of what he considers his worst sins (persecuting the church)?

The answer is that God did it when He “was pleased” to do it. It all falls back to God’s plan and His own timing. My devotional put it this way:

Have you wept over your past and been, in a sense, tormented in your thoughts because you didn’t come to know Jesus earlier? Rest, beloved child of God, for God saved you when it pleased Him. His promise is there to comfort and assure you that the Sovereign God — the God of all flesh — is able to cause all things, even your “before Christ” days, to work together for good. He will use them to make you like Jesus.

So while in that moment when one comes to Christ it is right to express grief over the fact that we were wretched before we did so, as it points to the repentance in our hearts, it is not necessary to continue in that sorrow. As we grow into a fuller understanding of the nature of our God, and how even Paul’s life was foreordained by Him who knows all, past, present, and future, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God was pleased for it to happen just as it did.

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The Reason People Hate Christians (Regular Revelation #2)

Don’t you hate it when you see a sensationalist headline? I know I do. Some “news” sources are worse about this than others. Take the Weather Channel’s site, Weather.com. If you go there now, there’s a bunch of stories about the tornadoes that just swept through the South, but on a not-so-busy weather day, you’re more likely to see stories like “The World’s Scariest Airport Runways” or “Beached Whale Explodes!” These are not exactly weather-related, and even worse, if you read these stories, the runway turns out to be fairly normal (never even a crash!), and the whale didn’t explode, per se, but just kind of broke apart – like dead, rotting animals tend to do. The headline was meant to draw you in, to get you to read a story that, in actuality, wasn’t interesting enough by itself to make you want to read it.

So with that said, I must apologize for my headline to this post – The Reason People Hate Christians. Because I’ll admit that there were some sensationalist motives behind the choosing of that title. Technically, this is the second post in a series that I titled Regular Revelation, because it revolves around a study of the book of Revelation I’m doing (in my defense, I did sub-title it with parentheses). But the name Regular Revelation didn’t seem strong enough to portray what I wanted to get across in this post. It definitely didn’t catch anyone’s attention! And unlike the Weather.com stories, I believe I can actually touch on some of the reasons people in America are growing to hate Christians more and more.

In the most recent session of Beth Moore’s Here and Now, There and Then: A Lecture Series on Revelation (session 3, to be exact), she touches on Revelation 1:10-11, and then Revelation chapters 2 & 3. To give you a brief overview, Revelation starts with the apostle John introducing himself and admitting that he has been exiled on the island of Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (1:9). He then describes a vision he had of Christ. In that vision, Jesus tells John,

Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea. (1:11)

These 7 churches were located in the province of Asia, and they were all connected by the infamous Roman road system. As you can see in the image below, they were found pretty much in the center between Rome (which is in Italy, or the boot-shaped country in the far top-left) and Israel (on the far right, where Jerusalem is found). And you can also see that the island of Patmos is just to the southwest of Ephesus. So when these letters were carried to the churches, they would follow the path just as Jesus mentioned them in v. 11 – first to Ephesus, then to Smyrna, Peramum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea – in that order.

Chapters 2 and 3 then contain the content of these 7 letters. Beth Moore spent the majority of the session talking about just one of those letters – the first one, to the church at Ephesus. And it is in this letter, and specifically one statement that Beth Moore made during the session, that I believe God revealed a truth about Himself to me last night.

The letter to Ephesus says this:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand,who walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 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. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ (Revelation 2:1-7)

In this letter, Christ commends the Ephesian church for their recognition and intolerance of falseness (v. 2). He then warns them that they have “abandoned the love you had at first” (v. 4). Finally, He commends them again, saying “Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (v. 6). Beth Moore summed up these commendations and warnings with one sentence:

The Ephesians hated the things Christ hated, but they did not love the things Christ loved.

This, again, was like a slap to the face, because I believe it describes so many of us in the church today! I think if you asked a random non-Christian off the street what they think of when they think of Christians, most of them are going to think first of the things we’re against. Homosexuality. Abortion. A whole slew of other things. But what about the things we’re for? I’m not sure the world around us knows exactly what we stand for…only what we stand against.

There’s no doubt the animosity toward Christians, even in America, is growing. And there’s no doubt this is to be expected (see John 15:18-19). But at the same time, Christ says we are to be identified not by the things we hate, but by the things we love (see John 13:35).

From this letter to the church in Ephesus, I’d say that it’s awful easy to get this one wrong. It’s awful easy to fall into a pattern of hating things that we know God hates, and forgetting that love is what defines us! And while we do this, the world sees so-called believers displaying hate in some of the worst ways (can you say Westboro?), and they hate us for it. Because it’s easy to hate a hater.

Thoughts?

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Regular Revelation #1

Darling. Sweetheart. Beloved. These aren’t names I get called very often by anyone other than perhaps my wife. But if I ever am in the mood to be called such things, I know where to go. I can just do a women’s Bible study.

Have you ever done a women’s Bible study? If you’re a woman, then I’m not really asking you. But if you’re a man like me, have you ever done one of these? They pass around more terms of endearment than you’d think would be possible. One of the worst offenders (offenders is a strong word…I couldn’t think of a better one) is Beth Moore. She’s a women’s ministry leader, and she speaks to women. And she speaks to women like a woman. She calls them “honey” and “beloved,” and I’m sure she wouldn’t apologize for it for even one second. But she is an amazing teacher…perhaps the absolute best out there right now…and I know I can learn a lot from her. So I agree to do one of her studies with my wife every now and then. I just have to tolerate being called “honey”….and overall, it doesn’t cause too much lasting damage.

The study I agreed to do with my wife this time around is called Here and Now…There and Then: A Lecture Series on Revelation. Any study on Revelation is guaranteed to be crazy, but I knew that if anyone could teach it with clarity and accuracy, it would be Beth Moore.

We watched the first session last night, and one of the things Beth asks the women (and this man) to do throughout the 10 weeks of the study is to journal things that God reveals to them (about Himself, about His Word, etc.). I’ve tried journaling in the past, and honestly I’m just not much of a journal-er. But one thing I’ve done a bit of is blogging. So I decided, heck, why not turn my journaling into blogging. I shall call it “journalogging.” (Other people have thought of this word before me, according to Google, but that’s okay. We’ll pretend it’s a new word that I made up). I’m going to call this series of posts ‘Regular Revelation’ - I hope it will be regular, though I doubt it will be daily, and I hope that God will reveal new truths about Himself to me that I can journalog here.

After watching the video last night, I was laying bed and I prayed that God would reveal things to me as I go through the study. I want to understand the book of Revelation better (everyone does, I think…even experts), and I want to lose some of my fear of the end times. But I also want Him to just reveal Himself to me. I want to grow closer to Him through this study. I asked Him to make sure that if He’s showing me anything (revealing anything to me) that I would definitely know it. Then I went to sleep…cuz it was late.

When I woke up this morning to my wife saying “it’s time to get up” (and then sending my kids to make sure I was awake 10 minutes later, which I was, thank you very much), I got on my phone and perused Facebook. Randy Alcorn, another great Bible teacher I follow on Facebook, had shared the status of Justin Taylor (I don’t know who this is…), who had shared a link to a blog post by the mother of Alex Malarkey. If you don’t know who that is, don’t worry, I didn’t either. But after reading the blog post, you come to realize that Alex is the boy who is the main character of a book written a while back called The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. Now, don’t get this confused with another book called Heaven Is For Real – it’s a different book about a different little boy. But all the same, it’s about a boy who goes to heaven and, as the title so eloquently tells us, came back.

In the blog post, the boy’s mother, Beth, outright says that the story behind the book is not true. She says that even Alex, the “co-author”, has denied it’s authenticity. He even told a pastor that the book was wrong, and the pastor just told him to let it be, because the book was blessing people. Huh…let a lie continue to spread because people are enjoying hearing it. Interesting.

One of the commenters on Beth Malarkey’s blog post, a woman named Michelle, said “it’s completely incomprehensible to me how people could prefer a lie over the truth.” I totally agree! These heaven experiences that are making millions in book sales and movie proceeds spout some unbiblical ideas about what heaven is like, or more importantly, what heave is all about.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I believe was the first thing that God used to reveal himself to me today. The first ‘revelation’ that He made while I undergo the study of His book which we’ve titled Revelation (with a capital-R). That whole idea, that people prefer lies over truth, and that I have preferred lies over truth, was a slap to my face today. The fact that I knowingly, not ignorantly, have chosen to live based on lies even though I know the truth – to borrow from the commenter Michelle, it’s incomprehensible!

Needless to say, I spent some time in prayer today, repenting of this sin. I refuse to let anything – especially my own stupidity – get in the way of knowing God more fully and experiencing His love more deeply. This is what God revealed to me today. May He continue to reveal more…every day, while I’m doing this study, and forever after.

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Heaven IS for real. But many books about it are not…

I see a lot of stuff nowadays floating around the stagnant pool of the interwebs talking about Heaven. I assume it’s the soon-to-come movie titled Heaven is for Real based off of the book of the same name that’s causing the fevered conversation to raise it’s ugly little head.  As you can probably tell from my written tone, I’m not a big fan of the book or those like it.

To be fair, I haven’t read the book. I haven’t read many other books like it either. Some would say that means I don’t have the right to comment on it, but I would disagree. Because I have read a book (a compilation of books, actually) that gives a 100% accurate description of heaven. (That’d be the Bible, in case you’re not following) So when I read the description of these other “heaven” books, a lot of red flags get raised. There’s one red flag in particular that rises high above the others and is definitive proof (for me, anyway) that these books are fakes.  And I can describe it with 3 little words:

Robbed at Gunpoint.

I know…you’re thinking “What? That makes no sense!” Follow me for a second.

When people are robbed at gunpoint, the police often ask them to give a detailed description of their attacker. A great majority of the time they cannot. Why? Because they never saw him – they couldn’t take their eyes off of the gun. Our brains are wired to focus on the things that induce the most fear, and if we are robbed at gunpoint, the most fear-inducing element is the gun.

The same would be true if someone were to go to heaven and live to tell about it. Being in the presence of almighty God would induce fear – it did in Isaiah when he was given a prophetic vision of heaven, and it did in the apostle John when he was given a similar vision. If a person were to come back from that, the only thing they would write about is glory of God. Yet most of these books peddle unbiblical truths that glorify only the author or the experience. They are self-focused, or focused on details that I believe most people would miss (halos? really??), simply because they wouldn’t be able to take their eyes off of Jesus.

That said, I could be wrong. I haven’t read the books, so maybe I’m just talking about things I know nothing about. What about you?  What’s your take on books like this?

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