Where Would You Attack Yourself?

“If you were the Devil, where would you attack yourself?”

I came across this question this morning (thank you Tim Challies) and it made me think…

  • How well do I know my sinful patterns of thinking, my sinful tendencies, my greatest temptations?
  • If Satan could inflict the most amount of harm to my soul, where would he start?
  • What seeds of deception would he sow first?
  • How would he cultivate the soil of my heart to bring forth his weeds and death?
  • What lies would he have me to believe first?
  • What truths would he want me to forget first?

A faithful friend asked me a similar question once before I became a deacon: “If you were to fail to meet one of the qualifications of being a deacon, what would it be?” This was a helpful exercise in evaluating the Godly character traits of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 and considering where I might not be above reproach if I do not stand firm.

A Master’s Seminary professor urged us as students: “What are your fatal flaws?” As a pastor or servant in the church, what are the first ways you would begin to fall into sin? He warned us that we can’t afford to be ignorant about our fatal flaws. He called us to great humility and contrition and repentance. He called us to be on guard unless we fall.

A Resident Director once told me and the other Resident Assistants at The Master’s University, “You need to be the most suspicious person of your own heart.” It is true! The heart is deceptive and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). The only one who can know it is the Lord (17:10). With His help, you can begin to see when you are being led away by sin and temptation (Psalm 119:23, 24). With the wisdom of His Word, you can begin to sort through the motives of the inner man that lead you to the way you live your life.

Advice: Don’t just ask yourself the question; talk it out with another faithful friend and mature mentor. May your discussion lead you to greater devotion to Jesus Christ who has defeated our ancient foe! And above all, keep your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of your faith!

Fear of the Lord = Faith in Jesus Christ

I love finding little continuities/similarities between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Yes, there are discontinuities/differences (Israel/Church, Law/Grace, Old/New Covenant, etc.), but the overall continuity of God’s Word astounds me.

Since I have been personally reading through Deuteronomy (OT Law), Proverbs (OT Wisdom), and Jeremiah (OT Prophecy) in my quiet time, several OT realities have brought to mind certain NT realities that correspond.

Here is one. See if you can see it too.

OLD TESTAMENT

Deuteronomy 10:12, 13 say, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?”

God requires/expects His people to fear, walk, love, serve, and keep. And to fear Him comes first (see Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10 too). And last (see Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14). Beginning and end, fear God.

But in Jeremiah 32:39, 40, after God announces a New Covenant that will dawn a new day for God’s people, He promises:

“I will give them one heart and one way that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.”

God. God will give the new heart. God will provide the new way. God will make an everlasting promise/covenant to do good to His people forever. And God Himself will put the fear of Him in His people!

What God requires (Deuteronomy 10:12) God also supplies (Jeremiah 32:40)!

Now, shift gears into the church age. Tell me if you can’t see a strong connection between OT fear and NT faith.

NEW TESTAMENT

From the beginning of the good news message the requirement is clear: “Repent and believe!” It is John the Baptist’s message (Matthew 3:2). It is Jesus’ message (Matthew 4:17).

Whoever puts their faith in Jesus as the Promised Messiah and Son of God is commended and rewarded with salvation and healing and peace all throughout the New Testament!

John makes a special mention of what God requires of us at the end of His Gospel:

“…these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

We are NOT saved by our good works. In fact, salvation is by turning away from our works (repentance)—which are sinful altogether—and by trusting in Christ’s work on the cross (belief)—which is righteous altogether!

Requirement: faith. (Repentance and faith are two sides to the same coin and happen instantaneously upon conversion.)

Now, check these verses out:

“Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” John‬ ‭6:29‬

Belief is the work of whom? God!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians‬ ‭2:8‬

Being saved by grace through faith is whose doing? God!

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Philippians‬ ‭1:29‬‬‬

Belief has been what? “Granted to you!” By whom? God!

TWO CONCLUSIONS:

  1. Old Testament fear of the LORD = New Testament faith in Jesus Christ
  2. What God requires He graciously supplies!

“Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:35, 36).

Know You’re Not

Self-righteousness. It seems to spring up in the church like the weeds in the lawn after the cold of winter breaks. You glance across the yard and see green. You look closer, and there they are, grassy and broadleaf weeds sprouting up everywhere.

Photo Credit: https://emeraldlawnsaustin.com/common-texas-winter-weeds/

Not only is self-righteousness an eyesore right in the middle of Christ’s church, it is not easily uprooted, it steals the light, and it strangles out much needed spiritual growth too.

Self-righteousness is the reckoning of oneself as righteous, others as sinful, and Christ as unnecessary.

In the words of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” The self-righteous are spiritually proud. Smug. Self-centered. They are disgusted with the sin of others but not their own. They think the world of their own opinions, perspectives, convictions, strengths, abilities, growth, and accomplishments.

The self-righteous are little kings in little kingdoms with little regard for God and little impact on eternity.

Here is an example…

In Deuteronomy 9:1–12, the disadvantages were stacked against Israel, but God had promised to give his people the promised land. He would go before his people as a consuming fire and subdue his enemies. The land was as good as theirs! But he gives them three clear warnings with one message as they walk toward this tremendous turf:

  1. Do not say, “It is because of my righteousness…” (9:4)
  2. It is “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart…” (9:5)
  3. The Lord is “Not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness…” (9:6)

God knows something about his people, whether that is Israel or his church. He knows that we have a tendency to think that blessing comes because we deserve it. We are quick to take credit for God’s work of grace. We can think too highly of ourselves. We can see why God would favor us. Weeds.

Truth: God is sovereign, not man. He is righteous, not us. He is King over the nations, we are a drop in the bucket. And God keeps his good and very precious promises to his people, not because of our righteousness, but because of his faithfulness.

Take time today to “pull up some weeds” of self-righteousness in YOUR life. Ask yourself:

  • Do you look at the sin of others and thank God that you are not like them? Read Luke 18:9–14.
  • Do you think that God has blessed your life because you have made all the right decisions? Read Psalm 32:1, 2 and Matthew 5:3, 4, 5.
  • Do you preach more than you practice? Read Matthew 23:1–12.
  • Do you practice your righteous deeds for the reward of being seen by others? Read Matthew 6:1.
  • Do you have a hard time respecting the decisions that other believers make when it is something you would not do? Read Romans 14:1–12.
  • Do you tend to take credit for the good things that happen to you in life? Read James 1:16–17.
  • Do you search for the praise of men? Read Galatians 1:10.
  • Do you duck from the criticism of others? Read Proverbs 12:1.
  • Do you consider your own interests as more important than the interests of others? Read Philippians 2:1–5.

Do you think you are going to the Promised Land because of your righteousness? Do you have it all together? Are you the hero in your story?

Know you’re not.

To enter the fertile, free, forever kingdom of God, humble yourself, confess and forsake your sin, and trust in the promise of God for eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Why God Chooses Underdogs

Much to my dismay, I have never claimed a National Football League team as “my own.” Sure, I like to watch football when at a friend’s or family’s house, but I have no dog in the fight. People ask me from time to time, “Who is your team?” and the first thing I think of is the 49er snow jacket I had as a kid. Maybe I am a ‘9er? Then I think about how I’ve always felt drawn to the Lions and the Dolphins because I liked their colors. And the Lions get a two-point conversion because my wife is from Detroit. Maybe I am a Detroit Lions fan? Do they ever win? I know, I know, that may cause me to “lose my man card”, but I drop those things all the time.

One thing I can say is that when I watch an NFL game, I tend to root for the team that is losing. Wherever I jump in on the game, I always cheer for the losing team. Maybe it is my disgust for blowouts. Maybe it is the competitor in me that likes a close game. So the next time someone asks me who my team is, maybe I should tell them, “Whichever team is losing.” They have my vote, my allegiance, my fanfare.

Rudy Ruettiger overcoming all odds and playing for the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame.

Reading through the Old Testament is interesting. Ever since humanity was scattered and given different languages after the tower of Babel blunder, nations formed as if they were teams set against each other in different conferences. Wars and battles were fought year-round. Most lasted longer than three hours. All of them ended in sudden death.

You know some of the ancient near eastern people groups of Moses’ day–the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. These are the big seven to watch as each team makes a run at the playoffs.

But there is another team. They are not as numerous. They are not mightier. In fact, they have the lowest seed which almost disqualified them. But, they are the real team to watch. These are the Israelites.

In Deuteronomy 7, God is bringing His team to the playoffs which will be held on the fertile turf of the Promised Land in Canaan. These seven other nations are used to this land. They have the home field advantage. They are bigger and better in nearly every way. There is just one thing these nations do not have–the LORD as their God.

In most team sports, team captains and head coaches can make or break a team. They can make such poor decisions that hurts the most skilled and disciplined teams and they can take nobodies and make something worth talking about. What do we know about Israel’s God?

His name is “Yahweh”. He is the eternal God. He is self-existent. He has created the heavens and the earth. He keeps His covenant that He has made with His people. He looms on the ancient battlefield. He has no rival. He is a vicious victor. He is mighty in battle. He plagues kings and nations in His way. His triumphs are glorious. With his right hand He consumes His opponents with fury. He is known for overthrowing adversaries. The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name. There is none among the gods like Him. None are like Him, majestic in holiness. He is awesome and His deeds are deeds of glory and wonder. The LORD will reign forever and ever. (inspired by Moses’ song in Exodus 15)

So Israel is a puny nation with an all-powerful God. How did Israel get such a God? The real question is, why did the LORD God pick such a nation?

Deuteronomy 7:6–8 has this mysterious answer:

“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping his oath that he swore to your fathers…”

There are remarkable continuities and similarities between God’s choosing of Israel and His choosing of the New Testament believers, us, who make up the church.

Ponder with wonder the great mercy and unmerited love of God on his people…

  • God chooses His people to become holy, not because they are holy (Deuteronomy 7:6; Ephesians 1:4). None are holy or righteous. That will never be the basis for God’s choosing. But holy living is His intention for choosing!
  • God treasures His people merely because He took possession of them (Deuteronomy 7:6; 1 Peter 2:9; John 10:29). They are His pick, His own. And His own become a treasure to Him. And they cannot be snatched out of His hand because He treasures them.
  • God chooses His people when He could have had any other choice on earth (Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 24:1; Romans 9:18). The world and its inhabitants are the LORD’s, but He stoops down to love a particular people more than all the others. He shows His mercy to those whom He chooses.
  • God does not choose His people based on any qualities of their own (Deuteronomy 7:7; Romans 9:16; 1 Corinthians 1:26–29). They are underdogs, nobodies. They were not qualified. They did not standout, other than for how pathetic they were in comparison to others. They were foolish, weak, lowly, and despised. But, they were called, chosen, and shown mercy. This leaves no room for boasting unless it is in the LORD.
  • God chooses His people because He set His love on them (Deuteronomy 7:8; Ephesians 1:11; 1 John 4:19). This is the whole basis and reason for why God’s people are chosen–His sovereign sweetness and kingly kindness. He chose beforehand who would be His and He did not let a single thing get in His way from seeing it through. He chooses not because His people love Him, but because He loves His own.
  • God chooses His people with a promise to be faithful to them to the end (Deuteronomy 7:8; Romans 11:29). Like a paragon bridegroom, His vow is to love to the end. With faithful, loyal love, no matter what. He has made up His mind and He will keep His oath. And His calling is irrevocable, irreversible, and incorruptible.

Are you chosen by God? No matter how small, weak, or fallen you are; no matter how much you might be losing in life; know this–God chooses the underdog. Like with Israel, He chooses the lowest in the world’s eyes and the poorest in spirit because of His great, deliberate, loyal love. And this choosing is all to the praise and glory of the LORD our God!

Don’t Let It Be A Winter for the Soul

Dear college students and career singles,

I have been burdened to write to you at this time–your “Winter Break.” Will it be a winter for the soul where you are cold in your heart toward God and His Word, icy toward Christ and His church, frozen toward the world and their great need? Or will it be a wise walk this winter as you make the best use of the time, avoid past foolishness, understanding God’s Word better, and walk in the Spirit?

I call you to the latter.

Ephesians 5:15–18 say, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is…be filled with the Spirit…”

I myself have experienced nine winter breaks as a college student and a grad student at The Master’s College and Seminary. I have walked alongside other college students as “College Pastor” for ten winters. I have noticed a few trends. There are both dangerous pitfalls and delightful possibilities.

Let me provide for you a practical list so that you can “look carefully how you walk” this winter. (Note: These may not be commandments but they are counsel. It is between you and God as to what you do with them.)

  1. Serve around the church in new ways. You have 2-3 weeks off, so make them count! Ask a ministry leader if they could use your help while you are home. Show up in the church office during business hours and ask one of our three, hard-working administrative assistants if you can help in some way. Have an extended talk with a discipler about where they see you serving in the church this year. Begin to pray and pursue the Lord as to what you can do in 2019. Remember that the church is people; meet the needs of the people.
  2. Invite a friend to a church gathering with you. Not just a repost on Facebook, but a sincere invitation to a friend of yours, old or new. And don’t just tell them when the gathering starts. Offer them a ride, show up with them, stay with them at the gathering, introduce them to others–even if you have to tell your church friends you will have to catch up later! After, ask them what they thought. Faithfully follow up.
  3. Meet up with an unsaved friend from high school for the purpose of sharing Christ with them. You know who needs it. You know they don’t think they need it. It is time. Reach out to them! Be prepared for your friendship to radically change with them. Catch up over coffee. Grab a bite to eat. Go over and hang. Turn the corner. Ask them key, personal, thoughtful, gospel questions. If you have the chance, share what God has done to change your life’s perspective and to give you the hope of eternal life in Christ.
  4. Meet up with a friend from church for the purpose of encouraging them in their walk with Christ. Reconnect! Go deeper! Catch up. Spend some time in prayer together. This may sound too pen-pally, but buy and write an encouraging note in a cute/cool card. The Christian life should be about pursuing, and being pursued by, other believers who have first been pursued by the relentless love of Christ. GO!
  5. Take your Bible and study it for a few hours at a time. You have time! This is the wisest way you could use it–meeting with God face-to-face in His Word. Study a book or a chapter of the Bible that you have been wanting to. Do a topical study with a Bible concordance on something that you want to learn more (faith, sex, grace, truth). Sit still. In a quiet place. Ravage the Scriptures. Get lost in cross-references and find precious jewels buried in the Bible! Write down what you learned. Turn it into a rich time of prayer. Share your findings with a close friend.
  6. Guys, take a girl out. What? That’s right! Dudes, man up. Now, you need to be wise-not-impulsive, intentional-not-careless, and bold-not-cocky. The world says she needs to have “a face like a supermodel and a body like a Coke bottle.” You need a woman who fears the Lord. She is the one that gets a 10. Group dates are always a good way to start, but at some point, you gotta pull the trigger. Stop delaying because of irrational fears and self-centered sheepishness. Repent of those things and actually take initiative when God has given you peace to do so. Who knows? It may be the beginning of something special…or it may fall flat. Be humble. Serve. Lead. Learn. Take steps forwards, not backwards, or sideways.
  7. Girls, let a guy take you out. I know, sometimes it seems like there are more single girls than guys in the church. Do you want to know why it seems that way? Because it’s true! Girls, be wise. Some guys are still playing Nintendo Wii and just not ready to lead. It is prudent to be picky. When it comes to character, be picky. When it comes to direction in life, be picky. When it comes to spiritual life, be picky. While you are “being picky”, be cultivating a healthy fear of the Lord and a faith in Jesus. Wait on Him. And if that guy of your eye gets a clue and asks you out on a date, take him up on it! And don’t feel bad declining a date, before or after. Walk by faith, in wisdom.
  8. Go and be reconciled if you are sideways with someone. If someone has sinned against you, forgive them. It is man’s glory to overlook an offense. However, if it is a situation wherein you need to go and tell him his/her fault; go and be reconciled. Keep your aim always on glorifying God, not taking it personally. Prayerfully remove any pieces of lumber in your own eye before you go to remove the speck in their eye. Seek counsel if you need help. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. If it depends on you, be at peace with all men. This may be one of the sweetest and most picturesque ways to experience and show off the gospel.
  9. Work hard around the house. Yes, this is a “break” but you have not been issued a laziness license! My mom would always let me crash the first day or two after finals. I got most of my lost-sleep back. But there were FULL days of absolutely nothing for me to do once rested! It is too short of notice to return to a part-time job, but you can still work around the house, the yard, the barn, or the field at home. If you need to, ask mom and dad what you can do to help. If you know what needs to be done, don’t ask, just do it. Nike. Serve. Surprise. Unfold the idle hands folded in excess rest and break the hinges off the door that turns back and forth in your bed, as you flip from one side to another.
  10. Take some time to pray like you never have before. This. Is. The. Best. To be able to go and meet with your Heavenly Father in such a personal, intimate way, all because of what Christ has gone and done for you. Once deep in biblically-saturated prayer, wisdom will soon pour down from heaven and crash on your thirsty soul. Buy a journal and write TO God. Keep an on-going list of people you want to be purposeful to pray for each week. Pick one area of your spiritual life to pray for each day of the week. Pray with your phone off and you Bible open. Seek Him while you run, ride, mow, walk, sit, or kneel.

There are so many more ways to walk in wisdom this break between semesters (memorizing Scripture to help you fight particular sins, meeting with a key discipler in your life, going out with a friend to witness to others in need, etc.). Whatever you do, be sure it does not become a lifeless, fruitless, gray, dry winter for the soul. Rather, walk in the Spirit of wisdom and enjoy the life of God that is yours in Christ Jesus.

When Satan Encourages You to Attend Small Groups

Last night, our youth group took a Wednesday off from our weekly Small Groups to have a pool party and to examine just how Small Groups have been going throughout this year. This week I came across a lengthy quote on the Desiring God blog that I would like to share from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. It provided an interesting perspective on what Satan thinks about us being in Small Groups.

You would think that Satan would not want us to meet together to discuss how we should fight sin and grow closer to God, but if Small Groups have become something they should not be then Satan would love for us to still keep meeting.

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Before I share the extended quote, consider the different threats to successful Small Group meetings:

  • Distractions in front of you (cell phone that keeps lighting up with notifications, friends who want to “have a good time” by goofing around, life’s trials and burdens that you bring into group with you, etc.).
  • Divisions within you (fear of sharing what is really going on in your heart, desire for approval of others, pride that manifests itself by trying to make yourself look better than you really are, etc.)
  • Dark forces against you (the spiritual forces of evil–Satan and his fallen angel minions–who work tirelessly to oppose God’s plan of redemption, deceive mankind with many crafty lies, tempt teens with all kinds of evils, blind the minds of those would-be believers from seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, etc.)

Here is the extended quote which is a letter written from a senior demon, “Wormwood”, to his nephew, a junior demon, “Globdrop”. This is a kind of devilish discipleship in the dominion of darkness. Keep in mind that while it is fictional, it may help us imagine the very real craftiness of Satan and some of the most present threats to our Small Group gatherings:

My dear Globdrop,

I noticed in your last letter that you have been trying to separate the rodent from his little pack with whom he does “accountability.” Your reasoning, although sophomoric, tends toward rational thought. Men and women, walking together in that unbearable “light,” tend to be just beyond our dagger’s reach. Often an entire month’s work is undermined by the Enemy dragging the patients out of our shadows through the intervention of one of his fellow vermin.

But in your case, this would be an amateur mistake. Luckily you do not have an ordinary Tempter as your mentor. Even his little “band of brothers” can be used to our advantage. That which to this point has prevented habitual sin we shall now use to reinforce it. This, dear nephew, is delicious deceit! Let me explain.

Your patient, like most males, goes to an accountability group where the dominant struggle is lust. (If it were a group of the female sex, it would likely be anxiety.) What each means by confessing “lust” is largely unknown, but surely it involves some genre of pornography or sexual fantasy, if not outright illicit intercourse.

Now, if you have referred to the registry, you’ll know that, unlike his fellows, your patient alone makes real strides toward holiness (you have obviously failed to convince him that such sanctity is an absolute bore). But he is outnumbered, and this, my dear Globdrop, is the perfect petri dish to allow the bacteria to grow. Observe.

Although undetectable to you, the process of spreading the disease to your patient has already begun — vice does infect more rapidly than virtue cures. Through months of confession in his so-called accountability group, our patient has ever so slowly learned that struggling with this sin isn’t really that bad. Of course, no one has said it aloud, but what they never speak with words, they profess weekly with their lives. Every other week, when one by one they confess their inevitable “fall,” they coddle one another, because, as it is easy to deduce, each desires the same leniency when it comes time for him to share.

This is the maxim you must remember: Where everyone is guilty, no one is. No zeal for rebuking lust or anxiety or any other habitual sin can exist when the would-be rebuker indulges in it himself. If one man consistently shoots himself in the foot, disable him from exhorting his comrade to avoid the same injury! (If any has a flash of courage to love his brother above himself, bring the word hypocrite to his mind, and it should extinguish the resolve.) Keep the hug-fest going! Inevitably, this will wear on his defenses, and he will learn that toiling for self-control may be unnecessary after all. 

So, encourage him to attend.

This group consists of scarecrows for target practice — of which we want your man to become. They are delicious men of the “maybe tomorrow” and “most definitely next week.” Nephew, do not fear these men. Despite what they believe to be their good intentions, they unwittingly work for us.

They actually operate by an unspoken pact not to pursue the Enemy (in real time and space) nor to take up arms in any actual battle. This invisible pact reveals itself whenever they use one of our favorite words: legalist.

Notice your man — there he sits. One after another the others confess their falls — same old, same old. As Job’s friends counsel each other, notice how your man sits as if castrated. He hears resolves and advice — none of it necessarily false — but he can’t quite discern why all of it reeks of such weakness and frailty.

Well, we know, don’t we? Generality! Few things provide comedic relief in this somber life more than general platitudes thrown around a room for accountability. “Read the Bible more.” “Don’t visit the girl.” “Pray without ceasing!” They stand in the heat of battle and cry, “Shoot your pistol!” “Aim your rifle!” “Win the battle!” Children playing with squirt guns talk this way; men at war do not.

Behold the brilliance: They cannot strategize specifics because of that word: legalism.

Your man grows silent and inactive because to take up his sword and actually fight back would awaken accusations of legalism. He cannot shoot back because legalism makes this a gun-free zone (at least for the humans). As the others amuse themselves, he cannot suggest they load their weapons with real bullets through particular instructions, because to use real artillery to fire at real enemies is, in their muddled minds, loathsome works-based Christianity.

Your task, then, is to continue to confuse them into thinking that sweating in the trenches, training for the warfare — indeed, fighting itself — is contrary to everything that the Enemy expects of them. Make them pacifists concerning the war for their souls. Let them say, “Peace, peace” to one another as we sharpen our spears and aim our darts.

Globdrop, it is imperative that you not allow any of them to suggest specifics, for this would lead to planning, and — in the worst case — to discipline.

Maintain this confusion, at all costs.

Let them pet each other: Read your Bible. Pray without ceasing. Don’t visit that girl. Never allow them to play the real soldier. “Read your Bible these next two weeks for at least forty minutes a day.” “Pray without ceasing, especially before work for twenty minutes and twenty minutes before bed.” “Don’t visit that girl whatsoever; don’t even go near the door of her house — we’ll ask you about it throughout the week.”

And if they ever do, cry, Legalism!

Your concerned but expectant Uncle,

Wormwood

No matter how great the distractions in front of us, the divisions within us, or the dark forces against us, JESUS CHRIST IS THE HOPE OF EVERY SMALL GROUP! When He leads your small group, nothing can hold your Small Group back from God-honoring, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, grace-motivated growth!

Colossians 2:15 says that by Jesus’ death on the cross, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities [speaking of the spiritual forces of darkness] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Questions to ask yourself of your Small Group involvement this year. Get specific too:

  • Did you see any spiritual growth this year?
  • What was one of the most helpful SG meetings? Why that particular meeting?
  • Did you come prepared to discuss the book, chapter, and subject assigned?
  • Did your time in SG help you get further from sin and closer to God?
  • Was this the only time of your week that you discussed spiritual things with others?
  • Did you talk too much, thinking only of yourself (pride, boasting, etc.)?
  • Did you not talk enough, thinking only of yourself (fear, worry, etc.)?
  • How teachable were you? How eager to learn were you?
  • Did you view yourself as a partner with your SG leader desiring to accomplish the same goals with your time?
  • Did you keep your discussion and your confession on the surface to try and save face?
  • Did you come up with specific action plans to live differently because of your SG time together?
  • What is the one thing that you would do differently in SGs this coming year?

Reader Beware

 

The church today has been blessed with a plethora of resources to better understand the Scriptures.  Theological dictionaries, journal articles, and commentaries, to name a few, all aide the believer’s ability to understand God’s Word.  Nonetheless, we would be naive to pretend that such resources are as reliable as the Word of God.  In fact, it is sad to say that many authors of such resources can actually undermine one’s trust in the Bible.

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One such subtle undermining can be found in a book I recently had to read and review in one of my seminary classes.  The book is “Can We Still Believe the Bible?” by Craig Blomberg.  Craig Blomberg has written several books and articles in New Testament studies.  My first personal exposure to him was when I watched the apologetic documentary, “The Case for Christ” back in 2007.  Unfortunately, it is in this recent book by Blomberg that he has subtly attacked the reliability of the Word of God.

The fifth chapter of “Can We Still Believe the Bible?” focuses on the different genres of the bible and how they affect one’s interpretation of Scripture.  Blomberg questions the practice of reading and interpreting the Bible literally.  In order to prove such a claim, Blomberg cites the parables of Jesus as stories that “do not intend to recount things that actually happened.  In context, Blomberg states,

“Virtually everyone in the history of the church has recognized that at least small parts of the Bible that are written in narrative form do not intend to recount things that actually happened.  When Jesus is the narrator of such stories, about half of the time the Gospel writers call them ‘parables,’ a well-known form of illustrative storytelling among ancient rabbis.  So it is perfectly appropriate to ask questions of form or genre for books like Job and Jonah or sections of books like the opening chapters of Genesis.” (148)

There is no doubt that parables are different than the actual unfolding narrative of the life of Jesus.  Parables are unique in that they are clearly fictitious stories with a point.  Parables are also unique in that everyone including the storyteller (Jesus), the audience (disciples), the author (Matthew, Mark, Luke, etc.), and the reader (you and I) all clearly know that parables are fictitious stories.  However, there is a huge difference between a parable that Jesus told versus the books of Jonah, Job or Genesis!  For instance, what obvious signal informs the reader that Job may not have been real?  What clear shift in the story of Jonah clearly sets it apart from the true narrative that it appears to be?  How does Genesis 1-3 go beyond narrative into some other obvious genre?

Blomberg spends considerable time questioning several of the events and accounts in Genesis 1-11.  Throughout his analysis he constantly shows the abundance of views that exist for all the narrative accounts of creation and fall of mankind.  He supports all the views that he presents and shows them all to be viable.  To try and bring a conclusion to all of these examples in Genesis 1-11, Blomberg states,

“The genre of much of Genesis 1-11 remains a puzzle; historical narrative as the ancients would have recognized it begins in earnest only with the call of Abram in Genesis 12.” (154)

Honestly, such a statement is absolutely remarkable.  One has to wonder if Blomberg is confused by the literal reading of Genesis 1-11 or the several interpretations of Genesis 1-11 that exist?  Also, what is different about the story that is told in Genesis 1-11 that makes Genesis 12 more of an obvious narrative and storyline?  In reality, one could read Genesis 1-11 and they would have all the information they need to understand the events described in a plain literal fashion.  It seems that it is not until one brings in questions of science, geology, biology, and cultural anthropology that one feels the need to make Genesis 1-11 say something less controversial or more symbolic.

Finally, Blomberg states,

“The process for distinguishing the genres of Genesis 1-11 and 12-50 remains important for an analysis of any part of the Bible.  In every instance, one must ask how close a particular passage is to the central story line of Scripture.” (154)

Blomberg’s statement essentially amounts to saying, “Eh, who cares if this passage means this or that.  It’s not that important in the grand scheme of Christianity.”  However, the question remains about the significance of Genesis 1-11.  Since there is great Pauline theology based upon Adam and Eve (Romans 5; 1 Corinthians 15), then it is safe to say that Genesis 1-11 is important to the storyline of Scripture.  Also, since Jesus Himself quotes Genesis 1 and 2 in reference to teaching on marriage, it follows that Genesis 1-11 can actually be understood.

Blomberg cites the books of Isaiah and Daniel as other examples of uncertainty in the Bible.  He acknowledges that many scholars like to debate the historical reliability of books like Isaiah and Daniel since they document incredible prophecies.  The ridiculous nature of these discussions rests on the fact that there would be no discussion if people were willing to accept the supernatural element of God’s Word.

Blomberg admits that both Isaiah and Daniel have incredibly detailed aspects of prophecy within them that have led many to question these books.  People are skeptical of Isaiah’s ability to prophesy about Cyrus by name (Isaiah 45:1) while others cannot believe the precision of Daniel’s prophecies in chapter 11.  The most obvious question that must be asked in the midst of such skepticism is, why?  Why is there need to question these details?  These are not questions for better understanding of Isaiah and Daniel.  These are questions that cast doubt on God’s abilities!  If believers and scholars are willing to embrace the amazing supernatural work of Christ on the cross and resurrection from the grave, then why do they feel a need to question God’s omniscience in writing through Isaiah and Daniel?  Thus, this entire discussion about genres allowing one to interpret or approach a text differently is simply a lack of faith.

It is truly unfortunate that such Christian scholars have subtly questioned the reliability and interpretation of God’s Word.  For this reason, the need for discernment is vital when consulting various biblical resources.  While many Evangelical scholars might mean well, the truth stands that believers must guard a high view of Scripture and its plain literal interpretation.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  -2 Timothy 2:15